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25 Albums That Changed My Life

February 2, 2012


OK, it is more like 88, but there is so much more to music than the fixed notes of a piano. I cannot bear to edit,- it is a Herculean task; every time I cut one out, two more pop up.

All these have been a part of me, some more than others, some for a while, many for my whole life, or most of it. So far.

Beethoven Pathetique Sonata and Appassionata; and Brahms 1st Piano Concerto and Intermezzi; and Chopin Nocturnes and Polonaise’s -my earliest memories of Music, as my father played these on a baby grand at home throughout our childhood. As a 3 year old, I remember lying on the floor motionless and entranced, sometimes under the piano, other times hiding under the coffee table – not so much hiding, as it was finding a safe place to listen without risk of being trampled by the rest of the activity in the house. Such was my connection to this music that I felt guilty and cheapened whenever I enjoyed popular music. as if an affair or prostitute. So my early strays from Classical had classical roots. This included listening to Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky – peasant music!, beneath the feet of Beethoven and Brahms. It is, but it is great music, all the same. Man cannot afford to live by Eggs Benedict and Escargot alone, frequently there must also be scrambled eggs with A-1, or velveeta and spam toasted on hamburger buns.

Schubert Death and the Maiden and Rosamund Quartets– Quarteto Italiano – I listened to these every day on a $18 Panasonic Cassette recorder during Senior Year in High School. I imagined all sorts of dramatic and romantic meanings to Death and the Maiden about subjects that I truly knew nothing about. When Roman Polanski came about with a movie Death and The Maiden, I ran to the theater, excited to hear the music as a soundtrack, and was sorely disappointed in the movie.

Jethro Tull: Living in the Past – the first LP I ever bought (1972) – I found it in the Cut-out bin at Wal-mart for $2 (a double album) – I bought it with my paper route money. I remember asking my mother permission to buy it, “Hey, Mom, this record has that Bouree song that they play on the radio all the time.” She replied, “are you sure you want to waste your money on THAT? Well,….OK, it’s your money…” – I could not get evough of listening to Bouree, and I really enjoyed torturing my father with Dharma, in which Evans quotes from Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and Debussy- HERESY! “That is NOT how that goes!!! – turn that junk OFF!”

Jethro Tull – Passion Play – a sad turning point for Ian Anderson, but I listened to it all the time. The first side only. Even I, a fanatic at the time, couldn’t stomach the second side.

Jethro Tull – Minstrel in the Gallery – I know Thick as a Brick and Aqualung are considered by most to be the pinnacle of Tull, but to me, Minstrel is. It has some of Anderson’s best guitar playing. On his Martin 0-16NY salon model. The first side is a return to the acoustic sensibilities of Bouree and Living in the Past, and the second side uses the less heavily amped style of Stand-up, with the occasional Wall Of Sound of Thick as a Brick. A sort of hand-placed stone pasture wall of rural England, not the Concrete walls of New York.

My Son plays Tull on his guitar (even has a 1972 vintage Martin 0-16NY) and lists several albums as his top 25. He became bored with Bach around age 8 (He could play the Solfeggio on his keyboard at rabbit’s speed while talking and looking out the window..) So he gave up classical, but at least has good taste in music, all the same. The best that a non-classical musician can have.

My Daughter sings and prefers The Who over Tull (I chalk this up to the charm of Daltry.) She sang lead vocals in a live performance of the entire rock opera Tommy along with my son playing lead guitar in a band they named Really Hot Tea….  They are experts on hippie culture, and so I am pretty sure the “tea” is not caffeinated – more likely of the herbal variety.

PDQ Bach: On The Air – The “Toot” Suite for Calliope Four Hands, and New Horizons in Music Appreciation with two sports announcers covering a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth. “Wow did you hear that, Bob? Someone down in the horn section really flubbed that note! – do you think that he will be traded to another orchestra?” and the Schleptet in E Flat Major. A silly key for an even sillier piece.

PDQ Bach – the Wurst of PDQ Bach – more of the same. Includes performances by a mezzanine soprano and a bargain-counter tenor. And Eine Kleine Nichtmusik shows that, despite the satire, Schickele knows how to write music.

Layla – Derek and the Dominos – I would cry and not know why

Berlioz Symphonie Fatastique, Georg Solti and Chicago Symphony – another dramatic event, listened to the first three movements over an over. Berlioz was inspired by an opium dream: I got high on second hand smoke. The last two movements are exciting, but tangential and crazed as the smack goes bad.

Kleine Dreigroschenmusik – Kurt Weill – Mackie Messer lives!

Pink Floyd Ummagumma = Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict

Dark Side of the Moon – of Course – though I never smoked pot while listening to Floyd, so I probably do not have a full appreciation

Days of Future Passed – Moody Blues – the perfect melodrama for my late teens. Nights in White Satin? I laugh when I hear it, now. I remember writing out the lyrics in a letter to a friend who happened to also be a girl. She wrote back asking, “what are you saying?” Back then, I didn’t even know how to respond. I have learned that the correct answer is “Nothing” – better yet, don’t write lyrics to a girl unless you want to kiss her.

The Doors – Riders on the Storm

Mingus Ah Um – Goodbye Porkpie Hat! Such a melody – the saxophone tremolo solo always transports me. The following tracks jar me. One can sense the combination of sensitivity and agitation that were behind Mingus repeatedly punching people in the face.

Louis Armstrong – It’s a Wonderful World – an emotionally expressive song that is not about grief and loss. The lyrics aren’t, but the music expresses a poignancy that belies the lyrics. Louie, the supposed originator of scat, and such a raspy, even ugly, voice that paved the way for Waits. I can’t imagine Armstrong punching anyone in the face.

Tea For the Tillerman – Cat Stevens –What a tour-de-force natural talent, and a voice with range and depth enough to forgive the silly, cliché’d, and sometimes stilted lyrics. No one can get away with this sort of raw emotional honesty these days. If they are, I am not aware of it. Please let me know. He went a bit extreme with his interpretation of the Q’uran, but he is off his high horse and playing music again, thanks to the cajoling of his son. So much for his promise to God that he made while drowning off the coast of Santa Cruz. I think God is happier, now.

Tidal – Fiona Apple – why let severe Borderline Personality Disorder hold you back? Write some disturbing songs and reach the top for a few brief months. Maybe a year. Then back over the Borderline. Caught my attention and pulled me in for a while. I was going through a divorce, and it gave voice some of the darker sides of that experience. I stopped listening without resorting to cutting.

Madonna – the original musical Borderline – “She wore the short skirts, she wore the belly shirts” The Lucky Star video was entrancing to me at the time. It was the mesmerizing belly moves, no doubt. The songs were catchy, though. For a while. Until “Like a Virgin” – then she became simply annoying.

Elgar Cello Concerto – Jaqueline DuPre – if this one doesn’t get to you, nothing will.

Schoenberg – Verklaerte Nacht, Daniel Barenboim – no other recording draws me into the flow of the music more than this one – the phrasing sounds like language

Mozart Piano Concerto #20, Daniel Barenboim as Pianist and Conductor – Mozart in a Minor Key, best of both worlds. This music prompted a friend to ask why no one composes music like this anymore. I said, because it has already been composed. Thankfully, Arvo Part and others brought consonance back to music a few years later.

Paganini Caprices, Itzhak Perlman – the first LP to be played on my own stereo. My friend Michael Wheeler and I would torment Lawrence Bramlette by attempting to sing the caprices in unison while driving around in the car. (“Stop it! Or let me out! I can’t take it! I mean it” – doob dob dooblie dooblie doob , do dooblie dooblie doob, dob dobblie dooblie dood — doooob – junkla juckla junckla juckla junckla jucnkla juck juck Dah, dah dahdahdahdah Dah, dadadadada Dah, dadadadada Dah, da dadadada Dah, da dadadada Dah, da dadadad daaaaaa-bleep dah-die dah-di dum, dummmmm – “GET ME OUT OF HERE! )

Dance of the Goblins – Bazzini – Itzakh Perlman or Eugen Fodor – pure fun, and jaw-dropping technique.

Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli – I would gladly cut off a couple of my fingers if I would gain the ability to play guitar like Django. I know it doesn’t work that way…. does it?

Claude Bolling Big Band circa 1982-1984 – I can hear this in my head as if the stereo is on, but I can’t for the life of me find a reissue, or even a mention of this album

Return to Forever Live – Chick Corea Live in Concert – the extended piano solo on Spanish Fantasy, complete with damping the strings with his hand.

Spanish Fantasy – Chick Corea – the string quartet parts are particularly engaging.

Mozart Piano Concerto #20 – Chick Corea – I fooled even my father with this one with the “guess the soloist game” that we like to play. Chick holds his own as well as any classically trained pianist. Except this one can play also jazz. No hints of weaknesses or flaws, as is usually found with crossing over (either way- though jazz players as a whole do better with classical than classical players do with jazz.)

Mozart Eine Kleine Nacht Musik – engaged my attention when I was 9 years old. I used to play it on a Jaws Harp (we called it a Jew’s harp, back then) to the amusement of my family. And mostly myself

Star Wars – Sound track – I sold my original LP version with poster for $20 at a garage sale 7 years ago – damn, damn and double damn. The recording quality sort of sucks, and the music is not really so great, and clearly ripped-off of Holst’s Planet, but the music had such an impact at the time.

Beethoven Violin Concerto – Heifetz/Munch – I remember an original copy of this recording in my father’s record collection. The last movement is playing from an open window in a nearby apartment in the famous canal beating by Alex after the Moloko Plus Bar, not Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra. The Beethoven association is more disturbing, but less cinematic.

Brahms Symphony #1 Academic Festival Overture Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony – I had this on 8-track, listened to it in the car all the time, as a sound track to my life. Or at least to the internal drama of my life. Such rapturous and triumphant sounds.

Violin Duets – Sphor/Leclair/Others – Itzahk Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman – I particularly liked these because I was able to play the Leclair sonatas with my friend Geoffrey Day.

Vitali Chaconne: Eugene Fodor – Violin and Organ – like Chocolate and Peanut Butter, yet even better. Fodor was on the Tonight Show repeatedly after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition, released 3 records or so, the flared out and self destructed into Heroin. He has returned to recording and performing over the last 10 years, but not quite yet anywhere near his level of success and virtuosity of his unstable youth. Studied with Heifetz, among others.

Paganini -Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento – Eugene Fodor – oh, if only he hadn’t fallen for the women and the horse.

Tartini Devil’s Trill Sonata – Itzahk Perlman – I spent one summer listening to this and trying to cry in my room. It didn’t work. Maybe I wasn’t as depressed as I wished myself to be. I had romanticized depression, using Schubert as an example. I didn’t know at the time that his suffering was from Syphilis. Good thing I didn’t know…..

Bruch Scottish Fantasy – Heifetz – the rerelease in on a DVD/CD called “Heifetz in Performance” – The Bach Chaconne is on here, also. As is the Mozart Rondo – AKA Theme to Speed Racer (not quite.)

Sibelius Violin Concerto – Heifetz, Perlman, Kremer, others – Damn, I wish I could play this music.

Bach Partitas and Solo Sonatas – Nathan Milstein – music, pure and simple

Tchiavovsky Violin Concerto David Oistrakh – such purity of tone, yet with chops

Vieuxtemps Concerto #5, Kyung Wa Chung – she looked like she was under 5 foot tall with the hands of a child, but she found her way around the fingerboard and could play the octave chords and even the tenths as if she had the hands of a Marfan’s. And such passion and intensity in the melodies that occasionally flare up out of the pyrotechnics.

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony – another drama, this one left hanging in mid flight. Always an uncomfortable piece to listen to because it is, er, uh, … unfinished.

Ysaye and Bartok Solo Violin Sonatas – Ruggiero Ricci as combination gypsy and maestro. I heard him play this in concert at McFarland auditorium. The Dallas Morning News critic tore him apart for tuning his instrument between the first and second movements. The first movement is full of szforzando chords that will knock any instrument out of tune. The chords of the last three movements would be impossible with an out of tune instrument. What an idiot. I failed to write a letter to the editor. Ricci didn’t really need my defense as I am sure he knows people that know people. To my chagrin, the music critic did not go missing and continued to write reviews. Most of them insulting and just plain ignorant, even stupid.

Mendelsohn Piano Trios – Isaac Stern/Rose/Istomin or the Beaux Art Trio – I played this at my High School Graduation with Lawrence Bramette and Marilyn Roark. Miked and amplified. In a basketball stadium at SMU – Not quite Madison Square Gaarden, yet how I pulled this off at age 17, I do not know.

Schubert Piano Trio – Heifetz/Rubenstein/Piatagorsky – three titans enjoying themselves – I had this on 78 rpm

Mahler Symphony #1 – the Titan – another soundtrack to High School

Beethoven Violin Sonatas David Oistrahk – more pure music. The 10th sonata is transcendent.

Arvo Part – Fratres – with Gidon Kremer, preferably

Book of Silk – Tin Hat Trio – my oh my….. I play this all the time

Sir Michael Tippet Fantasia Concertante on a Theme by Corelli – two solo violins bringing running triplets all over the violin and leading the orchestra out of dissonance into occasional complex and solid chords. Heard Yehudi Menuhin play this with the Dallas Symphony in 1978. Even with the Parkinson’s causing his bow-arm to flail and his tone to break, he was able to nail all the notes.

Reich Music For 18 Musicians – a few chords on the vibraphone mark the shift in key for each of the five minutes of chant-like other-wordly sounds, but the underlying pulse never breaks.

Berg Violin Concerto – Gidon Kremer – The only 12 tone piece that I know of that is listenable, even beautiful.

Beethoven Fantasia for Piano Chorus and Orchestra – Daniel Barenboim – a pre-cursor to the 9th symphony – and a rousing performance, complete with flubbed chords, reaching beyond an octave in each hand.

Brian Eno Music for Aiprorts – music to calm he most savage of breasts

Waitresses – Best of the Waitresses – I Know What Boys Like – pure pop fluff. I have no excuse.

Roman Holliday – Stand Up – more pop, less fluff, great horns

Bow Wow Wow – I want Candy – a song to show off my stereo to regular people. Bow Wow Wow still performs occasionally. I missed them a few years ago in Fairfax, Cali-for-nee-ah. Damn.

Goldberg Variations – Glenn Gould – original recording. Complete with creaky chair, clacking teeth, and cretinous moans. Amazingly, the music that results is indelible. The second recording 25 years later is remarkable insomuch as it is completely different from his first one. But the first recording is the most engaging, to my ears.

Brahms Intermezzi – Glenn Gould – a rare non-baroque endeavor by a crazed genius– I love it, my Dad says not so much.

It’s a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

Kinda Blue – Miles Davis – almost cliché in a list of great albums, but that is no reason to leave it out.

Live at the La Salle Pleyel – Oscar Peterson, NHOP, and Pass – there is no greater jazz – I can listen to this repeatedly and it still sustains its spontaneity – it is amazing what vinyl grooves, or even laser pits, can transmit.

Beethoven Late String Quartets Yale Quartet– imagine being deaf and irritable from lead leeched from your pewter beer stein and/or syphilis. And then creating the most transcendent of all music ever. Ever. I challenge anyone to top this.

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like a Wheel – no comment, Res Ipse Loquitor

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New – with Nelson Riddle and an Orchestra.- amazing tone, and stamina on the long, sustained notes. Rotting out your sinuses with coke and leaving a large resonant cavern apparently has its advantages

A Girl at Her Volcano – Rickie Lee Jones – she is clean and sober, the track marks are fading, and she sings like a wounded angel.

Duets – Bob Wasserman – an assortment of collaborators, unforgettable music.

The Trinity Sessions – Cowboy Junkies – The a cappella solo first track says it all.

Invitation to the Blues – Tom Waits – no RSVP required, he will take you there whether you want to or not.

Philip Glass Einstein on the Beach – minimalism was one a blessing that helped pull us out of cacophony and chaos into Gavin and Part.

Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood, and A Man in Room, Gambling – entrancing! Amazing!

Bruce Springsteen Born to Run – Clarence was the overwhelming attraction, here. You can almost smell his sweat.

Liquid Sky Soundtrack (the soundtrack to the 1982 movie, not the rock group named Liquid Sky) – oh, yeah, Me and My Rhythm Box….

Schumann Fantasiestucke for Oboe – painfully beautiful, whether on oboe, cello, or violin…

Schubert String Quintet in G Cleveland Quartet YoYo Ma – nothing to say about this, this is what chamber music is all about

Mendelssohn Octet – ditto

Faure Requiem – sing these in a choir, and you will now what I mean. Sing it at a funeral, and you will understand even more.

Durufle Requiem – also so.

Carmina Burana – Orff – Eugene Jochum – the dying swan on spit, singing as a counter-tenor…. Oh my.

Lockenhaus – Gidon Kremer and Friends – any of these recordings are worth a listen, but particularly the one with Ave Maria played on a bicycle pump caught my attention. And yes, the experience of a musically expressive bicycle pump did change my life. For the better, I am sure.

The Voice – Bobby McFerrin – All solo voice with underlying counterpoints and rhythms and noises. I will never forget reading the back cover – “walking home one day, a voice in my head told me to start singing” – a bit scary, but at least he legitimized my way of singing. Not that I am as good, but I do like to make some similar noises.

Mu’m – Yesterday was Dramatic Today is OK —- Slow Bicycle: put it on track repeat. Lie down. Forget everything else.

Spirited Away – Soundtrack – simply beautiful, as is the anime’

Walter Piston – The Incredible Flutist – Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, Howard Hanson – one of those pieces that perhaps having been in an orchestra makes a big difference in appreciating. Still, such melodies, and evocation of a story of a flutist coming to a small town (an incredible one, reputedly. The flautist, that is.)

Kenny Drew and Niels Henning Oersted-Pedersen – Duo Live – a bass being strummed like a guitar and notes being stretched like a bluesman… great music, too.

Friends Forever: In Memory of Kenny Drew by the NHOP trio– straight up jazz with clear sonics – my favorite bassist (ok, aside from Edgar Meyers)

Edgar Meyers and Bela Fleck – Music for Two – sounds like improv and interplay. Full of spontaneity and even the occasional joy. Yes, I said it, Joy.

Bach Suites – Edgar Meyer – Contrabass – you will forget this is being played on an upright bass fiddle and imagine the fingerings of a cellist, even a violinist at times.

Giles Apap, Violin – No Piano on That One, and Four Seasons – Violin showpieces alternating with gypsy songs and mad fiddling. Whistling and humming top of the performances. My newest favorite recordings. I cannot overstate my recommendation.

Nightfly – Donald Fagan – Captures my nostalgia for the future, the hope of the space age, the Cold War before Viet Nam, when we thought we knew the distinction between good and bad.

Bookends/ Bridge over Trouble Water/Parsley, Sage and other herbs- Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends and Bridge over Trouble can stop you dead and induce a state of catatonia, Cecilia or 59th street bridge song gets ya movin again. Overall, captures so much of the spirit of the times….

Court and Spark – Joni Mitchell – when I was a bit older, and no longer disturbed by my sister singing and laughing along with Twisted before school every morning, I realized this is great music.

I Melt with You – Modern English – still beautiful, even if the sentiments are a bit overblown. Perhaps because they are.

Mahler Second Symphony – Dallas Symphony – I was at this concert that inaugurated the $80 million plus IM Pei symphony hall in 1989 ($132 million on 2007 dollars, according to westegg.com). Well, the recording is actually compiled from the three performances. So I was at part of the recording, which parts, I have no idea. I do still remember the ground rumbling and a strange sensation coming up through the floor and seat as the Organ doubled the bass notes in the last movement. Doubled them 2 octaves lower. You can literally almost count the number of beats in these sub 20hz notes from the 32 foot pipes of the Fisk Organ, not even possible to reproduce the effect on any stereo. You didn’t hear it, you just sensed it, like an emotion that flowed in from behind. The music before these notes, such as the off-stage brass choirs, one in the balcony lobby behind closed doors, and the pianissimo chorus, are the heart of this music, despite the excitement of the end..