Top 20 Albums

I’m a little slow and missed the whole top 20 albums meme on Facebook, so here it is. Twenty albums that are influential to me or have changed the way I think about music.

The Trees at Disneyland
Specifically, the Dixieland music coming from the trees at Disneyland. Not an album, I know, but a formative musical experience for me when I heard it on my first trip to Disneyland circa age 5.

6th Symphony – Beethoven / Leopold Stokowski
Despite years of playing classical music during piano lessons, I never had an appreciation for it until seeing a Disney film in the 5th grade which used Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (a segment of Fantasia) to illustrate programmatic music. I closed my eyes to see the picture painted by the music, and a whole new world of music appeared to me. Still my favorite symphony.

Thursday Afternoon – Brian Eno
An album I got to discover twice. I actually heard this – all 61 minutes of it – on a radio station when I was in high school. They promoed it like crazy and curious, I tuned in. I had never heard anything like it, but was enthralled. Not owning a CD player, there was no point in me buying it, and by the time I entered the digital domain, I had forgotten all about this album. It took a number of years, but I eventually found my way back to ambient music, and by the time I heard it again, it was like the first time again.

Early Works – Steve Reich
“Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” sparked something deep inside my brain that has been trying to come out ever since. There would be no Bangsplat if not for this record.

Speaking In Tongues – Talking Heads
I bought a Super 8 camera for film school and decided to test it by making a music video for “Swamp”. Great record, and the original cover was my introduction to Robert Rauschenberg, whose use of randomness (particularly the “white paintings”) and found materials constantly inspires me.

Neu 2 – Neu
I had the good fortune to purchase a bootleg of this on nothing more than the recommendation of the store clerk. An infamous Krautrock album which is great in spite – or perhaps because – of the difficulties the band experienced in its making. Their ingenuity in finding ways to fill out an album (which never sounds like filler) after running out of money had as profound impact on me as the Steve Reich tape music.

I Am Sitting In A Room, Talking – Alvin Lucier
Half experimental music composition, half science demonstration, this is one of the most spellbinding things I have ever heard. I have tried to digitally replicate his technique of transforming ordinary speech into a beautiful blob of sound, but it never quite works. Fortunately, sometimes the results are interesting in the their own way.

Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns? – Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman was amazing for a lot of reasons. He often worked in very long forms (some over six hours), with non-traditional notation. His use of chance inspired John Cage and every other Experimental musician who followed. Rothko Chapel is my favorite Feldman piece. It is perfect music for its namesake – quiet, contemplative, and provocative.

Music In 12 Parts – Philip Glass
Made me realize that three and a half hours was not too long for a single piece of music, and helped me develop the particular approach needed for listening to minimalism.

In C – Terry Riley
One of those genius I-wish-I’d-thought-of-it ideas, so full of possibilities that each of the multiple recordings that I have are completely different.

Second Edition/Metal Box – Public Image Limited
Two reasons – the realization that music can be this weird, and the obsession I developed wanting to get my hands on a copy of the original pressing (never happened, though Virgin did release a CD version years later, which I have).

Metal Machine Music – Lou Reed
Experimental genius or contractual sabotage? Perhaps unlistenable in 1975, but today it’s a fascinating (if challenging) landscape of screeching feedback.

Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart
A fortunate present from a a co-worker. I may never have bought this on my own, if only because of the Frank Zappa connection (I like the idea of Zappa, but find his actual music frequently annoying). Paul was right on thinking that I’d love this album. It’s the closest the rock world ever got to the minimalism of Philip Glass and Terry Riley.

Music For Big Ears – Charlemange Palestine
I was already a fan of Palestine, but this was a revelation. He transforms a carillon into a drone instrument in the most gorgeous and unexpected way, though I can imagine that the local residents were not happy during his practice sessions.

Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet – Gavin Briars
I bought this because Tom Waits sings on it, but love it because it’s big, long, hypnotic, and surprisingly emotional. Not bad for a $4.50 Philips employee purchase.

The Well-Tuned Piano – La Monte Young
An unfulfilled holy grail quest. I still do not own this, and when copies appear for sale, they are insanely expensive. This is the Bible of Minimalism, and remains stupidly out of print. Not to say I haven’t heard it. I have my ways. A very sparse five hours long, using just intonation, invites the listener to hear music in a different way.

Reckless Nights And Turkish Twilights – Raymond Scott
The soundtrack of my childhood.

We’re All Bozos On This Bus – The Firesign Theatre
The first work of Geek Art. I’m still figuring out the jokes 25 years after first listening to it.

The Sun Bear Concerts – Keith Jarrett
If I had to pick just one album to listen to for the rest of my life, this would probably be it. It’s six CDs, covers a wide variety of musical styles, and contains some of the most sublime music ever recorded (particularly the Osaka set).

Matching Tie And Handkerchief – Monty Python
I borrowed this from the local library and listened to it non-stop for a week, enjoying every minute. When I went to find a particular bit on the second side, I heard something I hadn’t heard before. Side two of the original vinyl pressing has two concentric grooves, making it a three-sided record! What you hear depends on where the needle lands. The CD has all three sides, but it’s not quite the same experience.

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  1. […] record, and the original cover was my introduction to Robert Rauschenberg, whose use of randomness (particularly the “white paintings”) and found materials constantly inspires me. Neu 2 – Neu I had the good fortune to purchase a … […]

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