Friday, February 20, 2009

Top 15 Records

Last night, I did one of those "Top 15 Records" things on Facebook. After I put it together, I got to thinking about why they were/are so important to me, so I decided that I kind of felt obligated to explain myself, to give context.


So here is it. My top 15 records, historically speaking, and why they have come to take such meaning.



Arab Strap - Philophobia

This was the soundtrack to my first time out of the US. I specifically remember flipping through the lyrics book a mattress on the floor of a bedroom in an apartment in Tallinn, Estonia, as sun streamed in the windows. The world still seemed strange, exotic, and mysterious then. It was very early fall, but already getting cold enough to need a jacket. This record inspired me to grow my first beard.


Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain

I found a Portuguese pressing of this LP in a thrift store in my hometown not long after I learned to drive. Got tons of great LPs at that store and would go there constantly—several times a week—and always walk out with tons of treasures. I didn't know much about AC and had only heard their name associated with other music I was discovering at the time. The songs are clean and direct as a knife through the heart. Every time I hear them now, they still sound as great as the first time.


Beat Happening - Jamboree

Kurt Cobain is to thank for this one. Like everyone else of my generation, I was insanely in love with Nirvana in the early '90s. Cobain talked up lots of great bands I'd end up loving, but his description of Beat Happening intrigued me most. I found a cassette copy of Jamboree in the $1 bin at Camelot Music in Regency Mall, Racine, WI, right before Christmas when I was maybe 14. My life was never the same. That's no an overstatement. I immediately joined the K records mailing list and started ordering 7" records voraciously.


Leonard Cohen - s/t

It was 1996 or so. My brother had been into Cohen for a while, but I wasn't really trusting his taste at this time for some reason. Dumb, in retrospect, because he was into lots of great stuff. Anyway, he was out of the house, off at college. I'd just moved with my parents from our house by the park with the big sledding hill to a newly-built subdivision. We had a cornfield in our backyard and you could hear trains not too far off at night. I'd gone to Milwaukee with some older friends and found this LP for $2 or $3 in a record store that is now a tattoo parlor. I remember being awake way after the lights in all the houses in our new neighborhood had gone out. I'd put this on, turn out my lights, and lie awake, taking in the new weirdness of my surroundings. The timelessness of the record was a strange alternate current that somehow helped me make sense of it all, to come to terms with how life was taking a new direction.


Jim & Ingrid Croce - s/t

This was my dad's record. I can't remember where or when I first discovered it—it seems like it's always been with me. I go through phases of remembering and forgetting it. But it's always with me.


Del Amitri - s/t

In high school, along with being record-obsessed, I started getting writing-obsessed. One of the classes I was in did some kind of lit journal and I submitted a piece (really, cringly awful, I'm sure) with a really long title that was a direct quote of lyrics from this record. The whole record is really literate, but at the same time, accessible and insanely melodic and catchy.


Digable Planets - Blowout Comb

Four memories of listening to/singing this record, which is the best hip-hop record of all time and is so great that I don't really like hip-hop all that much because nothing else compares to it:

1. A bowling alley in Phoenix, AZ.

2. A long middle school road trip to Washington DC.

3. A bus on a rafting trip. It was parked & at night.

4. Mowing the lawn, many, many times.


Mark Eitzel - 60 Watt Silver Lining

Another one my brother was into that I didn't understand until much later, when I spent several months in self-imposed exile (I was still too shy to talk to new people and somehow I found that reality really romantic) in an oblong room of a basement apartment in Minneapolis. It was a good, lonely companion to a pathetic, lonely time.


Art Garfunkel - Breakaway

His version of "Disney Girls" was the first I heard. It made me want the same thing Jonathan Richman records made me want: a simple life. I keep striving but I'm not sure I'm there yet to the degree these songs promise. Actually, I'm not sure that degree really exists.


Hood - Cold House

Bought this during my several month stay in Scotland, this record became my soundtrack to Glasgow's hills and soot. I'd listening to it on headphones during my chilly morning walks to the circle line train station (Hillhead, represent!), where my glasses would fog over as soon as I stepped into the entryway.


Montgolfier Brothers - The World is Flat

Bought this in London, while I was deciding where to go, before I eventually went to Glasgow (see above). This reminds me walking around London alone, sitting in the grass in parks or on concrete benches in the unpopular corners of popular parts of town. There was a girl back home I'd been thinking of and this record helped me finally realize that it would probably, definitely not work out.


Joni Mitchell - Blue

Last year of college and I'm dating this hippie girl. From the onset, I suspected that I wouldn't like any of the music she liked. I was in aural denial. One morning we were house-sitting at her sister's apartment, an low-ceilinged, oddly-configured set of rooms on the top floor of an old house owned by a woman who taught French and was probably the worst housekeeper to ever exist (you had to walk through her kitchen to get to the stairs that would take you up to the apartment). Anyway, that morning, the hippie girl played Blue really loud and went around the apartment sweeping the floor, singing at the top of her lungs, and smiling hugely. I told myself then, "This has to work, this has to." It didn't. At least I still have that good memory. And I have a copy of Blue on LP, too.


Nirvana - Nevermind

What can I say? This album is responsible for the direction my life has taken since 1992.


The Smiths - Stangeways Here We Come

Another nighttime record. I'd play this cassette over and over for months to put me to sleep. It helped me embrace the idea of alienation during my early teenage years. This may not be the best Smiths record, but it's probably the one I've listened to most and that had the biggest impact on me.


Trashcan Sinatras - Weightlifting

A few years ago, we saw the Trashcans two times in two days in New York with a friend who is a huge fan. I was familiar with them, but seeing them on this tour and then hearing the record really cemented them/it as one of my favorites. It helped me return to my first love, pop music, after several years of indifference.

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