- Influential Albums
There's a game on social media now about posting ten of your favorite albums without any explanation—just the album. Well that's seemed like a pointless exercise to me. In addition, sometimes influential bands' albums can be grouped together when their impact was "personally profound." So the curmudgeon in me said "bah humbug" and compiled an in-depth version instead. Here it is in somewhat chronological order...
Simon and Garfunkel
I was a bit of a folkie in high school and lyrics were an integral part of my listening criteria. The Sound of Silence, I Am a Rock, Homeward Bound, America, Old Friends, The Dangling Conversation, Patterns—these songs were so riveting to me. The lyrics stood on their own as amazing poetry and to this day still resonant with poignant clarity.
What can I say? King Crimson hit home with its strange twist of classical influences and of course the haunting mellotron. At the time, I led a horn band and arranged Schizoid and Poseidon for a 4 horn section with two trombones! Our performances were raucous and unique—especially for a bunch of high schoolers!.
Look into the Sun, Reasons for Waiting, Wond'ring Aloud, Aqualung
—what great songs and what unusual arrangements! I was so enamored with this group that I took up the flute and even managed to stand on one leg when performing way back in my high school days. In addition, I had a shabby used long overcoat from Salvation Army but my parents discouraged me from performing in that.
But seriously, I think Reasons for Waiting
is one the most beautiful love songs ever written.
Ah yes - Chicago: great songs, great arrangements and of course James Pankow: a great trombonist. These guys were probably THE most influential reason I went on to become a musician. I have picked these two records as my faves although their earlier albums were great as well. Soon after Chicago7, I thought the group took a nose dive with their schmaltzy ballads.
Those who knew me in my mid-college days remember the record Feel
because I PLAYED IT CONSTANTLY!
I could never get enough George Duke—his synth playing was so infectious and his uncanny fusion of Brazilian, jazz, soul, pop and rock had me hooked. To this day this song "Someday"
[from I Love the Blues...
] melts my heart. His premature death 2013 probably saddened me more than the death of any other musician. His spirit was ingrained in my blood!
What an amazing catalogue of songs! Even more important to me was the depth of harmonization in the chord structures of the tunes. Fagen and Becker were crafty geniuses...This is what set them aloft to my critical ears. Aja: what a masterpiece of jazz harmonies melded into a pop-song format—its freakin' brilliant! And who can't forget the catchiness of "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" and of course the introductory riff lifted from Horace Silver?
Don Henley and the Eagles
I was a late bloomer to the Eagles - it was Don Henley's brilliant lyrics on The End Of The Innocence that really triggered a deep dive into their songs. The guitar riffs on Henley's The Boys of Summer and the killer lyrics to Learn to Be Still, the Long Road Out of Eden, etc. to me demonstrate their brilliance as songwriters. Of course who could resist their sweet harmonies? The vocal blend was intoxicating...
Stravinsky and Shostakovich
Yes the Russians always stirred me. Both Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 and Stravinsky's Firebird illustrate absolute genius in my book. But... when I first heard the Rites of Spring it blew me away. To use a cliché—it was almost a life changing experience. Holy Moly—what raw, primitive, primeval power. I bought the sketch scores and often kick back to marvel at the writing...
Was (Not Was)
Once again, lyrics are important to me. In our culture, the traditional 3-minute pop song carries a lot of weight and if you can use that medium for powerful and perhaps cryptic messaging - that's exceptional. Somewhere In America (There’s a Street Named After My Dad)
is one of those tunes that should be on everyone's list of amazing songs. "No more bland TV dinners.. No ten car collisions... No showbiz beginners making global decisions..."
...how can you top that?
Hysterically clever lyrics and absolute perfection in production, this short-lived wacked-out group made some of the best albums ever made.
Peter Kater and R Carls Nakai
More recently*, I took up the Native American flute. Its a wonderfully expressive instrument and I believe evokes a lot of good karma when played or listened to. I found the Discovery series "How the West Was Lost" on YouTube and the music somehow hit me really hard. I starting buying Native American flutes and composing music to feature them. This record was the catalyst for all of that. It's amazing...
*I bought my first professional Native American flute in the spring of 2018.
How could I omit anything by Oregon?? ... one of the most amazing ensembles of increbible musicians IMHO that ever existed and of course: Paul McCandless (one of my other all-time favorie musicians)!? Yes, it was tough to focus on a limited number of albums/groups as I have admittedly eclectic tastes: Poncho Sanchez, John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers, Tom Jobim, Klaus Doldinger and Passport, John Martyn (Solid Air), Wayne Henderson and the Jazz Crusaders, Peter Gabriel to name just a few... all in a way deserved equal merit.