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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Top 10 List : Best Albums Edition

Posted on January 21, 2011 at 3:34 PM

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s well-known quote – well, well-known to anyone who has ever seen an episode of Iron Chef -- "Show me what you eat and I will tell you who you are" might be true. But I think the more modern version of this is, “Show me what’s on your iPod, and I’ll tell you what you’re like.”


Getting a glimpse into someone’s iTunes library is kind of like going through their medicine cabinet. You know, when you go off to use their bathroom, and you leave the water in the sink running so they won’t hear the hinge opening and you see that, oh my, that is just an AWFUL lot of irritable bowel and erectile dysfunction medicine! I’m not saying that’s what I do when I come to your house. Really! I’m just making sure my hands are extra clean!


Looking through their collection of albums and artists and playlists tells you WAY more about a person than you would probably learn from spending hours talking to them or going through their underwear drawer or leafing through their mail.


Since I’m not going to send my iPod around for all of you to pore over, (though I did share the 15 most recently added songs) I thought I’d do the next best thing. Well, actually the next best thing would probably be to post up a giant text file of my iTunes library, and I’m not doing that either. So I’m doing like the fifth or sixth next best thing.


I’m going to share my top 10 albums.


It’s been a while since I’ve posted a top 10 list, and I’ve been thinking about my favorite music lately, so this seems like a good time to do it. These are all albums that are very meaningful to me, and that I can listen to over and over (and over...)  My list isn’t made up of albums that I felt were the most influential or the most likely to stand the test of time or the most of anything else. These are the albums that I would want to toss into a backpack at the last instant as I jump into the raft to float off to the deserted island. Shockingly – well, to me at least – there are no albums here from the band that I call “my favorite band,” They Might Be Giants. None by my favorite angry girl, Fiona Apple. No classic rock like Rush’s “Moving Pictures,” Styx “Paradise Theater” or anything Led Zep. The high-school years (84-88 )  were obviously a massively important time in the formation of my musical tastes, and four of these albums were released during that time period.


As with any great top 10 list, there are some self-imposed rules. One: No live albums. Two: No greatest hits or compilations or other mash-ups. Three: To be a top 10 album, it has to be one that you actually OWN.


I’m posting them alphabetically by artist. As always, I’d love you to share your own lists. You know, give me a peek into your medicine cabinet...


The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I used to play a good bit of tennis in highschool. And I played this one guy for a CD, loser had to buy. That was right around the time of “It was 20 years ago today…” when they released this CD. My uncle, Max, was way into the Beatles, and we used to listen to “Magical Mystery Tour” and I would look through the album cover. But I don’t think I’d ever heard Sgt. Pepper’s before spinning the disc. And it was like I was being introduced to a whole new world of music. It seems like every generation re-discovers the Beatles – which is a great thing – and this was my moment of rediscovery. The arrangements, the lyrics, the orchestration, everything was just so mind blowing. It’s like the CD challenged you to listen to it over and over. And accept the challenge I did. This disc is already so great, it’s hard to imagine that it was also meant to include “Strawberry Fields” AND “Penny Lane.” Obviously, the Beatles were just on a Ravi Shankar, sitar-learning-fueled creative explosion during this time, and we lucky many get to enjoy the results forever. “Would you believe in a love at first sight? Yes I'm certain that it happens all the time. What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you, but I know it's mine. Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends...”


Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars. As much as I love “chick music,” I couldn’t NOT have at least one album on this list that didn’t feature  a female vocalist. I love Fiona, but she doesn’t have a single standout album for me. Regina Spektor’s “Begin to Hope” and “Far” were another strong contender. As was Leona Naess’ “Thirteens.” But I’m not sure that either will stand the test of time. Shooting Rubberbands has been with me since the 80s and I still love it. Edie’s voice has a flowing, airy, folksy, dreamy quality that is like crawling into an aural opium den. While not as downer-ey as some of the other music I like, this album is definitely on the low-low, with slow songs and simple arrangements that is like listening to an almost forgotten dream or memory. “Thursday afternoon you cast a shadow 'round my room, the breeze moved the curtains & lifted my perfume into the air…I remeber you put a chill across my face like the air of December, I swear I remember it that way..."


Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow. Like Blink-182, Everclear is one of those bands whose songs all seem to kind of sound kind of the same. And you either love them or you hate them. I happen to love them, and (obviously) especially this album. This is definitely the “hardest” album on my list, with lots of big guitars and distortion, but Art Alexakis’ lyrics and hooks really work for me. While I don’t LOVE every track on the album – unique for a Top 10 selection – the 8 or so that I DO love, I love so fully and completely with the white-hot passion of pure love energy, that it makes up for the couple that I just ho-hum through. And, I kind of think of “I Will Buy You a New Life” as an ode to Dana. (We got the new life, but I’m still paying on it...)  “I will buy you a garden, where your flowers can bloom. I will buy you a new car, perfect shiny and new. I will buy you that big house, way up in the west hills. I will buy you a new life. Yes I will.”


John Mayer – Continuum. This was Mayer’s third album, and he seemed to really have found his footing here. His guitar work and song writing have just peaked and this album is just perfect. And I think he was going through some really, terrifically painful relationship issues, which makes for just some super deep and depressing lyrics. So, you know I’m gonna love it. The album starts off really upbeat with “Waiting on the World to Change” but quickly gets into the heart of darkness with “Slow dancing in a burning room,” “Dreaming with a broken heart” and – my absolute favorite – “In Repair.” I used to listen to this with Lauryn when she was tiny-tiny, moving her hands to simulate drumming. I’m sure she loved it. Plus the record includes amazing cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love.” The whole album is brilliant and just seems to get better with each listening. “And now I'm walking in a park. And all of the birds they dance below me. Maybe when things turn green again, it will be good to say you know me...”


Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. I know. It’s so cliché to like this album. It’s like you HAVE to put it in or you sound like you don’t understand about music and structure and jazz, the whole birthplace of music. And if “Stuff White People Like” is to be believed, I don’t even LIKE jazz. To quote:  

Every few a months, a white person will put on some Jazz and pour themselves a glass of wine or scotch and tell themselves how nice it is.  Then they will get bored and watch television or write emails to other white people about how nice it was to listen to Jazz at home.  ‘Last night, I poured myself a glass of Shiraz and put Charlie Parker on the Bose.  It was so relaxing, I wish I had a fireplace.’  Listing this activity as one of your favorites is a sure fire way to make progress towards a romantic relationship with a white person.

But the fact is, I *actually* really DO like this album. I discovered it late in life – the disc was given to me at a CEDIA by Dolby I believe – and, I’ll admit, it did take a little warming up to. When you first listen to an album that comes with such a giant amount of baggaged-pedigree as Kind of Blue – “the quintessential jazz recording,” “greatest jazz album of all time,” “best selling jazz album ever” “if you don’t like this, then you just don’t like jazz. And you’re fat and stupid!” – you are bound to have expectations through the roof. But after many, MANY listenings, I can say I do love this album. The smooth way that the quintet works together, easily finding their rhythm and traveling from note to note and change to change. If you buy one jazz album, this is the one to buy. And, listening to it with some scotch or Shiraz surely won’t hurt.


Paul Simon – Graceland. We were driving home from my parent’s house a couple of weeks ago, and some tracks from Graceland came on the i-shuffle play. And I remembered just how much I loved this album. That he would mix horns with Lady Smith Black Mambazo with pop with Zydeco with folk with Cajun with… At the time this came out, I can’t remember hearing anything else like it. Again, as characteristic of the best of the best albums, every song here is just ON FIRE. Even with all of the style changes and a cappella and parts sung in African and crazy instruments; every song is just brilliant. “She comes back to tell me she's gone. As if I didn't know that, As if I didn't know my own bed. As if I'd never noticed, The way she brushed her hair from her forehead...I'm going to Graceland...”


REM – New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I could almost have put Murmur here instead. Murmur is the album that got me into REM (a story for another day...) and is a phenomenal debut album to be sure, filled with great songs that showed the promise of greatness that REM was to become. But there is something about New Adventures that just has me coming back to it over and over. And this is an album that is completely devoid of “hits”; I’m not sure that any track from here received ANY airplay. And like a couple of my other Top 10 albums – Continuum and Kind of Blue – it wasn’t one that I immediately loved on first listen. This album was the follow-up to Monster, which was a little too hard and edgy and for me, so I was concerned that REM and I would be parting ways. In fact, I was so meh towards this release that I didn’t even BUY it. I borrowed it from Pierre. And then just, uh, never gave it back. (Sorry, Yap!) But with New Adventure, they seemed to have found a better balance, and produced an album with songs that grow on you over time. And with titles like “E-Bow the Letter,” “New Test Leper” and “Undertow” this is not an album that screams upbeat and commercial. But, I love Stipe’s lyrics and vocals and this album is all REM and all great. “I know what I wanted. I know what I wanted. I know what I wanted this to be.”


Talking Heads – Little Creatures. I loved the Heads above all others for the longest time. And if they had continued making music instead of breaking up in a horrible blood-feud, I would probably still hold them in the highest place. And they had so many awesome albums, from their debut “’77” to “More Songs About Buildings and Food” to “Speaking in Tongues.” And any of those could have been here. But I have the fondest memories of listening to Little Creatures, and putting that disc on now takes me back to summer and beach days in the ‘80s with Dan and Colleen and Lynn. This was a real style departure from Tongues which borrowed more from African influence, as Little Creatures feels more Americana and country. But the songs all work, and the hits – “And She Was” and “Road to Nowhere” – are huge. And, of course, how could an album with a song called “Television Man” not be in my top 10? “When the world crashes in, into my living room, television made me what I am. People like to put, the television down. But we are just good friends. I’m a television man...”


U2 – The Joshua Tree. I was not much of a U2 fan prior to this album. Like everyone of my generation, I liked the song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” but that was pretty much the extent of what I knew of U2. But then Joshua Tree came out and the record was just so well crafted with such deep, poignant powerful lyrics and had such feeling. This was Bono before Bono became Bono. This Bono didn’t hide behind weird glasses or try and set up meets with Madella and Obama. This Bono didn’t wage his politics on a world scale. This Bono just wrote and sang from the heart and it was amazing. Backed up by some pretty awesome arrangements and stellar Edge guitar work. “Sweet the sin, bitter taste in my mouth. I see seven towers, but I only see one way out. You got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice. You know I took the poison, from the poison stream, then I floated out of here...”


Van Morrison – Moondance. First, when you look like Van, maybe having four and a half separate photos of yourself on the album cover isn’t the wisest marketing decision. But this is a list of best albums, not best album covers, so Van easily earns a spot on my list. We used to take a family vacation every year to Big Sur. And it was like an 8 hour drive to get there. And I can remember hearing this tape over-and-over on that car ride over the years. And at some point pretty early on, I started loving Van the Man and he became a road trip tradition. I know that Astral Weeks is considered the better album by many, but it doesn’t hold any of the allure for me. Our first wedding dance was to “Crazy Love” and then our second dance was “Into the Mystic.” From “And it Stoned Me” to “Glad Tidings,” every track is easy on the ears, and instantly transports me to a happy time and place. “I can hear her heart beat, for a thousand miles. And the heavens open, every time she smiles. And when I come to her, that’s where I belong. Yet I’m running to her, like a river’s song. She gives me love, love, love, love. Crazy love. “


Bonus #11 (Wait! How did that get in here?)

Vivaldi – The Four Seasons. On the desert island, at some point, you’re going to need some culture and refinement. It will be like dressing your soul up and taking it out for a nice evening of couth building. And for those times, I’d like to have The Four Seasons around. And, sure, if “Kind of Blue” was cliché, then picking The Four Seasons is like living every stereotype about classical music ever. Yes, granted, I don’t listen to a lot of classical music. I don’t have a huge wealth of classical selections to choose from. But when I do listen, I like baroque. And I know what I like, and what I like is arrangements for string and cello, and this is the disc I go for. And, oddly, when I picture me listening to this, I’m relaxing and enjoying a cup of tea. Earl Grey tea. Strange...

Categories: January 2011, Top 10 List, Music

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Reply B yron
10:16 PM on January 25, 2011 
I am working on my list. But with these "it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to" rules of you can't use greatest hits or live albums or you have to own the album, it's going to take some time. I listened to an original Sgt. Peppers album every day in 2nd grade until the album cover ripped and the vinyl can crashing to the floor. However, I don't currently own the album.
Reply Byron
10:54 PM on January 25, 2011 
Ok, here we go. 1) U2 ? War. U2 at its most raw sincerity. This was a collection of protest songs 2 decades too late with a little scripture thrown in (?Drowning Man?s ?concluding words ?Rise up, rise up with wings like eagles ? Isaiah anyone). 2) U2 ? Unforgettable Fire. Ok, I?m a middle class white dude. I can?t possibly identify with MLK. But who didn?t get goose bumps when you heard ?In the Name of Love? for the first time even if Bono had a mullet in the video. ?Bad? is one of my favorites with ?A sort of Homecoming? right up there. ?Elvis Presley and America? ? genius 3) U2 - Joshua Tree. Are you sensing a theme here? This was actually the first U2 album I owned. ?With or Without You? is one of the greatest songs of all-time. Every song on this album was awesome. I could go on and on, but this album was their last work of perfection. As Rob Lowe put it on SNL, ?They have so much integrity, they'll never sell out.? Too late. 4) Paul Simon ? Graceland. There was a time when I could recall the lyrics of every song on this album. Simon?s blending of African and Cajun music was pure genius. Seriously, I could probably still remember the lyrics from most of the songs. 5) REM ? Lifes Rich Pageant. ?Fall on Me? was the song that pulled me into the world of REM. I would love to list ?Eponymous? here, but I?m not allowed to go greatest hits. I don?t actually own the CD ?Lifes Rich Pageant?, but I could probably still find my cassette in the attic. 6) Men at Work ? Business as Usual. Another album I had almost completely memorized. This truly was a groundbreaking master piece. I strongly suggest you purchase ?Man at Work?, Collin Haye?s (lead singer of Men at Work) 2005 acoustic album that features many of his old band?s handiwork including an awesome acoustical version of ?Overkill?. 7) Green Day ? Nimrod. A friend of mine won us tickets on the radio to see Green Day at House of Blues here in Myrtle Beach when this album was released. Oh yeah and we could walk around Alligator Adventure (a local reptile park) with the band before the show. Reptiles and Billy Joe Armstrong ? a match made in heaven. Green Day really hit their stride with this record. 8) STP ?Core. Before Scott Weiland was ?Scott Weiland?, this album was mesmerizing. I also saw STP at HOB after their release of No. 4. What a show. 9) Pink ? Funhouse. ?Glitter in the Air? is incredible. Can you picture her spinning on a trapeze while she belts this tune out? 10) Elvis Presley ? Elvis Presley. OK, so I don?t actually own this exact album (his original release), but I own the box sets of every song he ever released including some ultra-rare live performances (yes, I know they are forbidden in this list). My box sets include every song on ?Elvis Presley? the album so it should be legal.
Oh yeah, and having John Mayer on your list is gay.
Reply John Sciacca
4:30 PM on January 26, 2011 
I am working on my list. But with these "it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to" rules of you can't use greatest hits or live albums or you have to own the album, it's going to take some time. I listened to an original Sgt. Peppers album every day in 2nd grade until the album cover ripped and the vinyl can crashing to the floor. However, I don't currently own the album.
Well, I'm glad that you've come around to embracing the blog-o-sphere rules! Yes, it IS my blog, and therefore, I get to set the rules... :-) But, some explanation.... 1st: If you picked greatest hits or live albums, then it really isn't a best album list at all but rather more of a "my favorite artist" list. By being forced to isolate an album, the choice, I think is stronger, and forces you to pick better albums. Also, by limiting it to selections that you own proves that it truly IS one of YOUR favorite albums. Seriously, who wouldn't own an album that they said was their favorite? Though, in your case, I would have allowed Sgt. Peppers due to the tragic loss...
Reply John Sciacca
4:33 PM on January 26, 2011 
Byron says...
Ok, here we go. 1) U2 ? War...
Oh yeah, and having John Mayer on your list is gay.

A note on commenting... I have found that if you type your comment in MS Word and then paste it in, you can get these weird transposition errors like ? instead of - or ". I don't know why it is, but it seems to be. To solve that, you can try typing in word, then pasting THAT text into Word Pad (or Note Pad) and then pasting THAT text into the comment box. It seems to resolve the weird font issues...
My totally hetero, unabashed, natural and beautiful man-love for John Mayer is well known.... Accept that your love for Elvis is equally powerful...