Music has always been a part of my life. My dad’s guitar playing would carry throughout our house and the voices of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams took over the car stereo. I love all kinds of music: country, pop, pop standards, rap, R&B, rock. Just take a look at the playlists on my iPod and you’ll see a varied collection of music that often has the husband shaking his and and shrugging his shoulders.
There are bands and songs that energize me and make me feel like I could run a marathon while listening to them (anything by Rage Against the Machine or Pantera), though of course, I could only go a few miles before the side aches started and my legs gave out.
There are those songs that spark a sentimental memory for me (any song from the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack) or remind me of an ex-boyfriend and make me cringe — I have to immediately change the radio station (songs from Led Zeppelin).
It’s funny how songs influence you, are able to hone in on your particular mood, make you angry, and make you cry like a baby.
Here are four albums that have influenced me and that I can listen to incessantly:
Joni Mitchell – Blue
I discovered this album about ten years ago. I was walking by a shop on Venice Beach and heard Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. Her unconventional voice (more folk than pop) and lyrics stopped me, and I had to go inside the store.
“Oh I’m a lonely painter/I live in a box of paints/I’m frightened by the devil/And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid/I remember that time that you told me, you said/Love is touching souls/Surely you touched mine/Cause part of me pours out of you/In these lines from time to time.”
I was floored immediately and ran to Penny Lane (a local Southern California mom and pop music retailer) to buy my very first Joni Mitchell CD.
I listen to this album when I’m feeling melancholy and missing Southern California. It’s a stark reminder of how powerful music and words are. There’s a longing in Mitchell’s voice that you can’t ignore. Although the title of the album is Blue, it focuses less on being sad and depressed and more on the people and places that affect Mitchell’s life. As with all her albums, Mitchell’s songwriting is strong and she’s able to represent her personality seamlessly throughout her songs.
Her words are honest, sometimes showcasing a brave front and other times allowing us to see her vulnerable side. It’s this painful vulnerability and the dulcet acoustic guitar that pulls you in.
George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice
I was in the fourth grade when Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” hit the airwaves and all the girls I knew started wearing big white shirts with the words “Choose Life” emblazoned across them. That song was shortly followed by Michael’s solo effort, “Careless Whisper” — a love-lorn song that made women, teenagers, and pre-pubescent girls swoon.
The Faith album,his first solo,was very successful for Michael and showcased his persistent, pounding lyrics and music.
In 1990 Michael’s 2nd solo album, Listen Without Prejudice, debuted. The lyrics are introspective and reveal a more mature writer from the Faith album. Michael’s efforts to distance himself from the attitude and persona that elevated the Faith album were successful. Where Faith pushed boundaries and was brutally salacious, Listen Without Prejudice examines relationships on a more immediate and intimate level.
In “Waiting” he laments:
“Well there ain’t no point in moving on/Until you’ve got somewhere to go/And the road that I have walked upon/Well it filled my pockets/And emptied out my soul.”There is a subtle fierceness undulating between every word and you’re left with a sense ofsoulful anticipation andunrequited yearning.
Jason Mraz – Tonight, Not Again: Live at the Eagles Ballroom
The first time I heard Mraz was on some VH1 special where he sang an acoustic version of “You and I Both”, strumming his guitar beside his trusty djembe-playing sidekick, Toca Rivera. I couldn’t believe his voice, his arrangement, his lyrical stylings; it bared no resemblance to the radio version of the song. I was an instant fan.
After watching a few of his performances on YouTube, I finally gave in and downloaded this album from the iTunes store (I stopped buying CD’s years ago. I was one of those saps that loved a song and rushed out to buy the CD, only to find out the song I liked was the only good song on the album). Mraz’s studio albums are cleaned-up, polished versions of his concerts — good, but not interesting. It’s in the live albums and bootlegs (that he fully supports) that you can truly experience his unique voice.
He’s part folk singer, poet, and rapper. He scats, he hums, he improvises in ways that a twenty-something shouldn’t know how to do.In his concerts he is off-beat and quirky and seems a lot younger than he is.
“Tonight Not Again” gleams desolate thoughts:
“This time like every other time I believe that I never find/Another sweet little girl with sequined sea foam eyes/Ocean lapping voice smile coy as the quietest span of sky/And I’m alone again tonight, not again…”
There’s an energy that emanates from this album through its liberating and seductive lyrics.
Big Head Todd and the Monsters – Midnight Radio
After years of listening to pop, R&B and rap, my ears were shocked into submission from the music my peers were listening to in college. Why hadn’t I heard this music before?
I was instantly smitten with Todd Park Mohr’s lamenting, troubled lyrics and voice. Each song tells a story of a wondrous journey into abandonment, rapture and tragedy. The driving guitar-playing lends to a gritty and tenacious outlook that can’t be stifled.
“Monument In Green” displays Mohr’s self-discoveries:
“High in the wind/standing in the sun/we’re going to raise up the heavens/with a shovel and a gun/I was so much younger then/I would never ever listen/I am so much older now/I thought that things would end up different/Farewell, lover in green…”
Midnight Radio is quintessential Big Head Todd and the Monsters — metaphysical and transcendent.
Robin Trower — Bridge of Sighs and Twice Removed from Yesterday
I didn’t really listen to classic rock growing up. The first time I’d even heard of Jimi Hendrix was in grade school and I had convinced this little boy in my class that Hendrix was still alive because I saw him at the mall. College threw me straight into the mouth of classic rock and I’ve embraced it ever since.
During one of my first dates with the husband, he gave me these Robin Trower CD’s, and as I listened to it in the car, I was paralyzed. Trower’s guitar playing is reminiscent of Hendrix, but even dreamier and slower. Everything is deliberate and smooth. What is more amazing, however, is Jimmy Dewar’s unfathomable cadence that breathes soul into the lyrics.
Dewar’s voice torments in “Daydream”:
“We were listening down a rainbow/As the leaves fell to the ground/Whispering as they tumbled/And the wind laughed at the sound.” These albums display dizzying talent and songs that permutate the mundane into glorious works of agony and passion that you can’t find in other albums. This is classic rock at its finest.
The next time you’re thinking of buying a CD or downloading a song, look past Justin Timberlake and Madonna and give these CD’s try. Maybe they’ll become a part of your all-time favorites.
Pic of the Day: My two rescue dogs