Monday, June 07, 2004

Reader Poll: Essential Jams
Normally those hipper-than-thou music-magazine articles and radio-station countdowns that list the Top However Many Whatever Of Whenever make my eyes glaze over faster than watching Riverdance on Placidyl. And I would have guessed that if I ever surveyed OFGS readers for their favorite music in list form, it would have been something like "Best anti-war folk songs that promote sex as a remedy," "Best butt-obsessed rap artists," or "Best platinum-selling songs that rage against capitalism."

But this is serious business: Benjamin, my beloved first-born, is going off to college this fall. The kid has warmed my heart in the past year by taking exponential leaps in his musical tastes and I thought as a special treat I would send him to Lexington with some essential jams. Of course, being a teenager, he's totally tapped into the new music scene and does not need his father for help there (although I do take credit for turning him onto My Morning Jacket and, more recently, Maktub). But I thought I might stash in his suitcase some essential old-school jams.

This is not all that easy for me. I loathe "classic rock" radio. I just can't listen to the same songs from high school over and over and over again. Never hearing another Styx song would not interfere with my dying a happy man. Same goes for Boston, Bob Seger, Blue Oyster Cult, Foreigner, Rush, and Bad Company. Don't even get me started on Kiss. None of those names should appear in the same sentence with the word "classic," unless the sentence also includes the word "not."

But the thing is, by 1985 I was also sick of most music that probably DOES qualify as classic, such as Zappa, the Stones, the Doors, and Zeppelin. Maybe it's just the bustle in my hedgerow, but after a few thousand listens, it was time to give the May Queen a spring clean, ya know? I often have to say "fare thee well" to even Bob Dylan, whom I regard as the greatest artist ever. ('Cause, you know, goodbye is too good a word, babe.)

Still, this stuff happened and Ben should know about it, no matter how frightening it was. I wouldn't shield him from studying the Trail of Tears or the Nixon administration; why would I hide Black Sabbath?

So I figured I should use this opportunity to encourage his recent experimentation with some older music. This got me wondering: What albums are essential for a youngster to own as he dips a toe into musical history? And what would OFGS readers say?

Of course, even the very notion of "album" is anachronistic these days, as both the album format and our children's attention spans are shrinking faster than an RIAA lawyer's argument's plausibility. Still, I find myself unable to think outside the framework of the album when it comes to old-school jams. Not only is it important to listen to the songs together on an album, but it's critical to listen to them IN ORDER. You wouldn't fire up Waiting for Columbus, listen to Fat Man in the Bathtub and then skip all the way to Dixie Chicken, would you? Of course you wouldn't. You must listen to the album all the way through. (And if you can't start humming the next song as the current one's winding down, that album doesn't belong on a Best Ever list.)

OK, so here are your ground rules: First, I'm not willing to set aside my all-time Beatles ban, even though I know he needs to know those songs. He will simply have to acquire them on the street. Call me selfish, but that's just the way it is. Don't get me wrong -- I loved the Beatles. But when John Lennon died, I heard every Beatles song enough to last several lifetimes and I don't ever need to hear another one as long as I live. I don't care how brilliant it is, once I heard "I Saw Her Standing There" for the 987,394,377,843rd time, it was... well, it was time to dance with another. I also ruled out country music because Ben just won't have it. (And it's hard to blame him when you hear the soulless rock-lite crap they call country today.) Rest assured, once he is open to Hank and Johnny, I will be ready. Finally, the music must predate Ben's birth, which seems like only yesterday but occurred in 1986.

If it helps, here are Ben's contemporary faves: He loves neo-hippie stuff like Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. He likes My Morning Jacket, Dashboard Confessional, Something Corporate, and White Stripes. He's got a strong punk/glam vein running through him and has lately been experimenting with old Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Other than that, his familiarity with the geezer milieu is mostly limited to The Who, Zeppelin, and Hendrix -- and, OK, he went through (I'm not proud to admit it, but honesty is important in these times) an AC/DC phase back when Beavis and Butthead wore their T-shirts. To his credit, he loves John Lee Hooker.

If you're looking for further inspiration, here's what we came up with around the e-water cooler. The first pal I surveyed came up with these gems:

The Best of the Velvet Underground
The Grateful Dead - Working Man's Dead
The Allman Brothers Live at Filmore East
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
The Band - Music from Big Pink

When I put the challenge to a friend who is not only younger than the first guy, but also less old, she suggested these albums:

Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
CSNY - Deja Vu
Queen - A Night at the Opera
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
The Stones - Exile on Main Street
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
The Allman Brothers - Eat a Peach

My sister, who has impeccable taste in everything, suggested

The Clash - London Calling
Eurythmics - Greatest Hits
The English Beat -I Just Can't Stop It
Patti Labelle - The Best of Patti Labelle
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Neil Young - Comes a Time

After searching my own soul, I came up with these albums:

Led Zeppelin IV
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bullocks
The Who - Quadrophenia
Van Morrison - Moondance
Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

I've already decided Blonde on Blonde is going to be on my final list. Not only are most of the songs on this album masterpieces, but even lesser-celebrated tunes like the delicious blues/pop Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat are Dylan at his smartass finest. No doubt Dark Side of the Moon will make the cut as well, partly out of nostalgia for how it sounds when you crank it up with headphones on, even if you're not stoned. London Calling is also a must. I'm not the anglophile my sister is, but how can you not love the piss-off sneer of The Clash? Plus, without this album, punk as we know it today wouldn't exist. Moondance and After the Gold Rush are my top choices from my own list because I am a sucker for Van Morrison's goofball mysticism and Neil Young's stellar writing and haunting voice (plus that piano by the 17-year-old Nils Lofgren on After the Gold Rush!).

What do you say, Oh, For God's Sakesers? How often do you get a chance to impact a young man's life in such a timewasting way? Here is your chance. Even now, my head is rocking with artists I've left off the list: James Brown, Bonnie Raitt, Warren Zevon, Parliament/Funkadelic, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading, Little Feat, Bobby Sherman (just making sure you're still paying attention), Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads, John Prine...

(If you really want to waste some serious time thinking about this, check out Music Plasma or

Let me hear from you. Please e-mail me at with your list of Five Essential Pre-1986 Non Beatles, Non Country Albums Ben Should Own. (If you know music fiends you think would like to weigh in on this survey, please send 'em the link to this page.) Let me know if you prefer to remain anonymous, if it's OK to use your name, or if you'd like me to make one up for you, such as StyxFan or Shania4ever. (Don't worry - I promise not to publish your e-mail address.) I'll blog the results in a future OFGS and let you know what Ben's taking to UK with him.

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