MY FAB FIVE: 5 ALBUMS EVERYONE SHOULD OWN
Five special albums that everybody ought to own in their lifetime
It is safe to say that music has played a fairly significant role in my life.
I have participated in the music programs of almost every school I attended, from elementary through college, playing tenor and baritone saxophone in marching, concert, and jazz bands. I even tried to play the string bass in high school for a year.
Like countless millions of others, popular music, including rock, pop, and R&B, has made an immense impact on me, starting when I was around five years old and listening to people like Elton John, Carole King, Seals and Crofts, the Spinners and the O'Jays while lying in my bed at night, listening to AM stations on my green box radio.
After nearly 40 years of my mother playing me her records, buying cassette tapes and CDs, and watching MTV and VH1, I have made a list of five albums that, in my opinion, everyone should own in his or her lifetime.
Let me go ahead and reveal my list, starting with two albums by a group in which to not include any work by them would be holy blasphemy:
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Beatles
Remember that scene in "The Wizard Of Oz" when everything changes from black and white to color?
This record gives that exact same effect - it marks the point in rock / pop history where things go from black and white to color. It even manifests itself on the album cover.
Chosen as the number one album of all time by Rolling Stone, this set of 13 songs, from the title track segueing into Ringo Starr's feel-good "With A Little Help From My Friends", to John Lennon's "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", to Paul McCartney's senior citizen ode "When I'm 64", made the Beatles into the legendary iconic gods that they remain today, and got them out of their "yeah yeah yeah" mind-set once and for all.
Oh, and it issued in the "Summer Of Love" to boot.
BEST SONG: No doubt John Lennon's "A Day In The Life"; a true symphony if there ever was one. The way the orchestra crescendos at the end to a big climax, then that huge piano chord - it was perhaps the greatest ending to an album ever. All coming from John reading the morning paper!
And to think that the idea for this disk came from a desire to compete with Brian Wilson's Beach Boy masterpiece, "Pet Sounds".
If there had to be one quintessential album of the 1960's, "Sgt. Pepper" would undoubtedly be the one. Nothing else comes close.
White Album (1968), Beatles
This double disk with the whitewashed cover can best be described in one word - Diverse.
The musical styles in this release ranged far and wide, from the sing-a-long "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" to the avant garde "Revolution 9".
Granted, this diversity stemmed from the rising tensions within the band. Things got so bad that Ringo Starr even quit for a couple of weeks, but that didn't stop the music - written during their sojourn to the Marishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India - from being outstanding and memorable.
BEST SONG: Most people would choose "Back In The USSR" or "Blackbird", or John Lennon's moving tribute to his mother, "Julia". Or even the song that set Charles Manson and his family off on that killing spree, "Helter Skelter." Great songs all, but my choice is George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", with guitar solos by none other than Eric Clapton. I love that it starts off with a piano and acoustic guitar and takes off from there.
Needless to say, forty years after its release, this double set still more than holds up.
What's Going On (1971), Marvin Gaye
Simply put, Motown grew up with these bunch of tracks, which Marvin really recorded in 1970 but took a year to get released because Berry Gordy, in his infinite "wisdom", didn't like it, thinking that it was not commercial enough and didn't follow the established Motown formula.
Fortunately for all of us, Berry relented in the end. A good thing too, for we wouldn't have been treated to Marvin's genius that shown through on this disk, singing about war, poverty, drugs, and the environment; issues that are just as relevant today as when this album was first made, if not more so.
I'm certain that it made people almost cry when it was first heard. And I'm sure that it would make people almost cry now.
BEST SONG: The title track. Especially this lyric:
"War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate..."
So poignant. So true. Both in 1971 AND in 2008. A message that SO needs to be heeded now more than ever.
Oh, and the alto sax solo at the beginning makes for a near perfect introduction to this cut.
In fact, the whole album is chock full of messages that need to be heard and followed more than ever. So many that it would take way too long to list them all.
Innervisions (1973), Stevie Wonder
When I was around 7 or 8 years old, my mother used tio play this record constantly in our little apartment. I enjoyed it and all, particularly "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing", with the piano and all the percussion carrying the song so brilliantly.
However, I never appreciated the beauty, genius, and impact of this release until I became a full-fledged adult.
This is one of the few albums where I personally listen to every song straight through and not skip any, because every last one of these tunes, from "Living In The City" to "Higher Ground", are wonderful if not absolute masterpieces. One of the cuts, "Golden Lady", I sort of dedicated to a girl I really liked, saying to her, "This song describes you perfectly."
BEST SONG: In my opinion, "Visions" - a perfect blend of acoustic and electric guitars with lyrics that will nearly put you to tears, they're so beautiful:
"Have I lived to see the milk and honey land? Where hate's a dream and love forever stands? Or is this a vision in my mind?"
And last, but as far from least as one could possibly get:
Songs In The Key Of Life (1976), Stevie Wonder
Released in the summer of our nation's bicentennial and the first record to debut at number one on the Billboard charts, this double album, in my view (and a lot of other people's views to be sure), is the greatest album ever made.
I remember my mom playing this record all the time that summer. I was nine, and songs as diverse and impacting as "Isn't She Lovely", "Sir Duke" with its horn fanfares, "I Wish", highlighting Stevie's childhood memories, and "If It's Magic" with its absolutely gorgeous harp, made for some good listening and boyhood memories.
One tune in particular, "Village Ghetto Land", with its lyrics of poverty, homelessness, and crime, is just as relevant today as it was when it was recorded, much like the songs in "What's Going On". A small sample:
"See the people lock their doors, while robbers laugh and steal...Beggars watch and eat their meal - from garbage cans..."
So true in 1976, and SO true in 2008.
As much as I enjoyed this double set as a kid, it wasn't until I entered my 20's and 30's that I truly marveled and appreciated it for the masterpiece that it is. I would lay on my bed at night in the dark, put that record on my CD player, and get lost in Stevie's genius that shone in that album, bathing in the richness and emotion of the songs.
BEST SONG: The last one, "Another Star". Starting with a piano solo and ending with a flute solo, with an uplifting sax and trumpet line the whole way, plus some kick-ass percussion, Stevie's ode to a past love is a wonderful way to end a wonderful album.
The only negative thing that I could possibly say about this work of genius is that after it came out, everything Stevie Wonder did afterward would be compared to it. Although he had some hits in later years, nothing he has done has matched the masterful imapct of these 21 classics.
And probably never will.