The Love Post: Music

Dire Straits, Love Over Gold. Some people get the attraction to Dire Straits, and some wonder how the hell these guys made it into the popular musical consciousness in the first place. Like many people who heard Dire Straits for the first time in the late ‘70s, the single “Sultans of Swing” was my introduction. However, it wasn’t Dire Straits’ first album that made me into a diehard fan of the band. Rather, it was their 1982 sleeper, Love Over Gold. I had just started my senior year of high school when KZAP in Sacramento, CA started playing “Industrial Disease.” It seemed every morning I was getting ready for school, they played “Industrial Disease”– and I was quickly hooked by the quirky goofiness of the tune. I had some money saved up, so I purchased the cassette and was surprised to hear that none of the other songs were as upbeat and catchy as “Industrial Disease.” But the more I listened to the album, the more it pulled me in, and soon I was pleasantly lost in the musical journey. The lead track, “Telegraph Road,” chronicles the rise and fall of industrialization and toll it takes on the psyche of working men and women — and does so in a sweeping and cinematic manner. It really is a tour de force for Dire Straits that stands as one of the best songs in their catalogue. But more than that, the entire album tackles the theme of de-industrialization in the U.K., and does so from an number of perspectives Knopfler is able to craft in some of his best lyric writing of his career. –Ted Asregadoo

Phish, Rift. I’m a sucker for conceptual albums, and I adore the direction taken by Phish in Rift. It takes place over a single evening, as a man sleeps away the aftermath of a breakup and his dreams become progressively more bizarre. Each track seems to capture an emotion, as the subject’s mind races furiously during the high-octane opening, then settles into sleep, fumbles about subconsciously with the unraveled threads of the relationship, and finally emerges with a contented resolution. –Zack Dennis

Miles Davis, Get Up with It. My gateway to jazz was through the fusion recordings of John McLaughlin (with the Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Herbie Hancock, both former sidemen of Miles Davis. Working my way backwards, I discovered the acoustic classics like Kind of Blue and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. But electricity has always been a staple of my musical diet, and as much as I love the music of Miles’ many protégés, Miles himself always held the strongest sway over me. His fearless personality informs his music through and through, and no other album he released was as fearlessly executed as Get Up With It. Sure, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew were pretty bad-ass, but at that point, Miles had everything to gain by changing his style, and he knew it. By the time Get Up With It was assembled (from sessions spanning 1970 to ’74), Miles’ band was filled with talented, unfairly maligned musicians, and they were opening for artists whose success was due to Miles himself. He totally could have saved face by returning to his roots to reclaim his old glory, but such thoughts never entered his mind until near the end of his life. Rather, he pushed his electric afro-punk-funk to the absolute limit, doing more with one chord than what most artists know what to do with three. He created a haunting, distant, beautiful aural soundscape with his stabbing organ chords and amplified wah-wah trumpet, churning out endless funk jams that percolated both with joy and nervous tension. And while I initially found his half-hour long dirge for the late Duke Ellington, “He Loved Him Madly,” puzzling and pointless, it has only grown on me more over the years, to the point where Miles’ opening organ chord immediately conjures images of gray, miserable, drizzly weather and streams of depressed mourners at the saddest, most silent funeral imaginable. Not exactly “good time” music, but captivating and addictive, like a knock-out film or Miles’ favorite powdery medicine of the time. This is one record I simply cannot live without, both for its musical sublimity and its philosophical inspiration. –Michael Fortes

Jellyfish, Spilt Milk. It’s the strangest thing. Among the staff, I am God-boy. I love old CCM bands, I am a fervent believer. Yet this album, which is hypercritical, oft-times blasphemous and just as often plain rude about the constructs of the Christian/Catholic belief system, never fails to amaze me. It is beautiful, raw, rocking and thoughtful even at its most vicious. “When you wear that lampshade crown of thorns…” How I reconcile these opposing forces is simple. As a believer, am I living out these highest ideals, or am I putting on a show — a show that Jellyfish has so tunefully eviscerated? –Dw. Dunphy

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass. Still the most underappreciated classic album of all time. This was the right album at the right time in my life when I first got it on cassette: two tapes in a mini box that slightly duplicated the feel of the original triple album package. I had always identified with the quiet, most spiritual member of the Fab Four (who also happened to have the darkest sense of humor, what with his backing of and close friendships with the members of Monty Python). And this was the mega opus–coming out from the shadows-that showed that if not for being “trapped” in a band with two of the best songwriters of the rock era, that he too could have become a legend leading any band. The styles on this set go all over the place-country, folk, gospel, R&B, rock, and of course Beatlesque pop-but they all feel apiece. There is a mood to the album, which not much pop music has anymore. It’s a mood of desire, of loneliness. Of dark rooms in old houses. Of nights wandering through gardens. Of barns and churches and fireplaces smelling of cedar and pine. Reflections on the soul: that there is more to the world than fame and fortune–that there is inner peace and peace of mind. Tranquility in the grooves. The third disc of jams shouldn’t be seen as this album’s actual third record–which critics do in bringing its worth down. What it is is the original “Bonus Disc” that’s now part of any CD re-issue’s marketing scheme. That’s how with it Georgie O’Hara was–he had CD bonus tracks ten years even before there were CDs.Matthew Bolin

Sparks, Hello Young Lovers. Before I bought this album, I was only a little bit familiar with Sparks, having heard a few of their songs on various soundtracks and ’80s compilations. But I had always wanted to check out more of their stuff. Not long after its 2006 release, I bought Hello Young Lovers after reading some positive reviews and sampling the song “Perfume.” I think I played it non-stop for at least two weeks after I got it and I immediately set out to collect the rest of their albums. I don’t think I would say that it’s my favorite Sparks album, but it is definitely the album that made me a Sparks fan. –Kelly Stitzel

Leo Kottke, Mud Lark. In high school I went through the natural phase a lot of guys do when they first start playing guitar, in which they devote themselves to technically brilliant players. As time has passed, my interest in many of these artists has waned, yet Leo Kottke still waxes in my mind. Perhaps it’s because as I’ve matured I’ve come to realize that real country music is one of the best American art forms. It could also be because his style is so mind-bogglingly difficult to comprehend. To this day I struggle to understand how he could possibly play his half slide, half-fretted finger picked all at once style on a 6-string, let alone the 12-string he favors. “Mudlark” has fascinated me more than any of his albums because it’s such a brilliant mix of styles. His early albums all tend to mix country with classical, but Mudlark seems to flow exceedingly well. The album was recorded on borrowed guitars after his own were stolen, but he seems just as comfortable as ever. Kottke has described his voice as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day,” but I’ve always found his vocals to be exactly what I want from a country/folk singer, especially on the fantastic “Hear the Wind Howl.” If you want a true experience, find a copy on vinyl. Kottke’s sliding guitar style is, by nature, close to dropping tune, and an old LP will only enhance this fragile balance. –Arend Anton

Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Soul Dressing. The sophomore effort from the Stax house band was no slump. Subtle, understated grooves let its 38 minutes of sublime rhythms do the talking. Booker T. Jones chose a mix of musical styles ranging from jazz (“Night Owl Walk”) to pop (“Tic-Tac-Toe” and “Chinese Checkers”) to sock-hop rock (“Can’t Be Still”) and appropriated them for his inventions, creating the bedrock for the Memphis soul sound in the process. As much as keyboard players venerate Jones, one can’t overlook Al Jackson Jr., “Duck” Dunn, and Steve Cropper for comprehending the less-is-more gestalt, where the spaces between the sounds are what create this undescribeable musical magic that thousands of garage bands have tried to duplicate. Check out “Chinese Checkers,” one of the band’s greatest hits, notable because Jones plays the Wurlitzer electric piano (think Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”) instead of his trademark Hammond M-3 (a travel-friendly little brother of the more famous B-3 gospel-rock warhorse). –Mojo Flucke

Pink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In Chapter 7 of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Rat and Mole set out to find their friend Otter’s missing son, and he Pagan God
Pan assists them in finding the boy. The title of the chapter is The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. (The) Pink Floyd’s debut album is filledwith such whimsies and musings. The Syd Barrett-fronted Floyd conjures
up songs filled with unicorns, gnomes, faeries, planetariums andbicycles. From the fiery space jam of “Interstellar Overdrive” to the sunny contemplation of a scarecrow in a field, Piper is as precious to
me as a childhood memory. The album unfolds, timeless, like lazing in an English garden after a spring rain. –Ben Wiser

The Rails, Wonderfull. You’ve never heard of the Rails, because they never amounted to much commercially (something that was, in the end, partly my fault), but I’ve loved their music from the first time I heard it, way back in November of 1992, when Wonderfull arrived (on cassette!) with a brief note politely asking for a review. I was at a particularly jaded point in my writing career, and wasn’t expecting Wonderfull to do much besides suck, but from the time the first song started until the closing notes of the final track, I didn’t leave my chair. I loved the album so much that I eventually ended up signing the Rails — a duo made up of singer/songwriter Fred Wilhelm and guitarist Richard “Swinging Dick” Pearce — to a record deal, and released their second album, Happy Summer, in 1994. Of course, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and Fred and Swing were living in separate states, so they couldn’t tour, and to say Happy Summer tanked would be overly kind. Still, Fred trusted me enough to sign him to a solo deal four years later, and although it didn’t sell tens of thousands of copies, his 2000 solo release, amidlife, is one of the things I’m proudest of helping to create. Still, it doesn’t move me quite as deeply as Wonderfull, and every time I listen to these dozen songs, filled with the desperate yearning of a pair of twentysomethings holed up over a sausage factory with an eight-track and some fraying dreams, they take me back to my own days of longing and confusion. The feeling is more bittersweet than you might think. –Jeff Giles

Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb, Reunion. Jimmy Webb had written hits for Glen Campbell before they ever met. When they finally did meet, the first thing that the straight-laced Campbell said to Webb was, “get a haircut.” The two, polar opposites in some ways, became fast friends, and Campbell became the great songwriter’s greatest interpreter. So when the two got together again to make Reunion, which was released in 1974, expectations were high. The album did not disappoint.

I suppose the most well-known song to emerge from the album was Webb’s classic heartbreaker “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” but there is not one song of the original 10 that is not permanently tattooed on my soul. And when the album was reissued as Reunited in 1999 with 14 (!) bonus tracks, there were just that many more songs for me to love. –Ken Shane

John Lennon, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. I’ve always wondered what I would have thought of this album when it came out, had I been a fully functioning music fan in December 1970. By the time I heard it for the first time, just over a decade later, John was dead and I was frantically playing catch-up, immersing myself in every Beatles-related book, magazine and slab of vinyl I could get my hands on. No album – from that period in my life, or any before or since – has moved me to the extent that Plastic Ono Band did during those early months of 1981, as I grappled with the first death (celebrity or otherwise) that had any impact on me. Has any single pop album so thoroughly re-contextualized everything a great artist had created before it, or so meticulously laid the groundwork for everything that came after? John did it by stripping away every layer of pop-icon artifice built up through the Beatle years, and laying bare a lifetime of pent-up rage and sorrow – finally achieving catharsis with “God,” an autobiographical statement like no other. As much as I love Revolver and Abbey Road – and Imagine and Band on the Run and All Things Must Pass – this is the Beatles-related album I come back to most often. –Jon Cummings

Jayhawks, Tomorrow the Green Grass. The alt-country bug bit me hard in the middle ’90s, really hard, and I still can’t quite figure out why. I love the sound of a well-recorded acoustic guitar, a high-lonesome pedal steel, and a twangy harmony as much as the next resident of central PA, but I kinda went nuts for a while there. Steve Earle was God (still is). I thought Wilco and Son Volt were going to turn into my generation’s future classic rock staples (they won’t, sadly). And one weekend afternoon at the Park City Sam Goody, some wonderful soul hit play on the store’s CD player, and out came “Blue,” a moment of sheer beauty that stopped me cold in my tracks. Tomorrow the Green Grass, the record introduced by “Blue,” is rife with soaring harmonies, delicate strings, and a rock ‘n’ roll heart, and is, for me, the finest recording in the genre, one of the best records of the 1990s. Key tracks like “Nothing Left to Borrow” and “Over My Shoulder” extend the sense of stillness “Blue” conveys, while “Real Light,” “I’d Run Away,” and a cover of Grand Funk’s “Bad Time” turn up the volume, to great effect. It was as if the band’s principals, Mark Olson and Gary Louris, had cracked open something magical, something that could extend the boundaries of alt-country and enable the Jayhawks and other bands like them to be a force for some time to come. Unfortunately, they never got it quite right again. Olson (the reedy-voiced one) left the band, and Louris (the high-voiced one) turned the Jayhawks into a more sonically experimental outfit over the course of two records, before returning to a more acoustic sound with the brilliant Rainy Day Music in 2003. The two reteamed for a new record released a couple weeks ago, but the magic is, to my ears, largely absent. My affection for alt-country waxes and wanes these days, but my love of Tomorrow the Green Grass is eternal. –Rob Smith

The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed. As though starting and ending the album with “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” weren’t enough, The Rolling Stones pack these 42 minutes with nary a miss, covering as much emotional and musical territory as reasonably possible. There’s the wistful country cover of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” the sweet and raunchy, sex and drug-fueled title track, and the violence of eventual concert favorite “Midnight Rambler,” about a roaming murderer. Throw in the Stones covering themselves with “Country Honk,” and the primitive oddity of “Monkey Man,” easily one of their strangest tracks, and you’ve got the recipe for a consistently endearing and engrossing listening experience. Even the album art kills! –Taylor Long

They Might Be Giants, Flood. This one was a tough one for me because, while there are an awful lot of albums I like, albums I love seem to constantly change. I picked this one because it’s stuck with me ever since it came out in 1990. It was introduced to me by a co- worker at the radio station where I was employed. That love was cemented when two of the songs from this album (“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man”) were turned into music videos on Tiny Toons. I also enjoyed it when a snippet of “Birdhouse in Your Soul” was performed on an episode of Pushing Daisies last season. This album as a whole held up so well for me. It was just the perfect combination of slightly odd lyrics and very singable tunes. None of TMBG’s subsequent albums have hit a groove with me nearly as much as this one. –Tony Redman

Supertramp, Breakfast in America. My musical tastes were, well–”unformed” would be the best way to put it, ’til I got hip in college. My record collection consisted of a few Beatles albums (I only ever listened to the so-called “Lennon side” of Abbey Road; the “McCartney side” was way too daring), Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits (genius, then and now, and I won’t hear otherwise), and K-Tel compilations like Goofy Greats. I was mad at my mom when she threw them all away one day without telling me, but, in retrospect, it was probably a mercy killing. The good ones I retrieved on CD. Including Breakfast in America.

But I didn’t really need Supertramp’s classic on CD. Or in any other format. By the time mom consigned my worn-to-the-stump record to the trash can, sparing my family another 10,000 needle drops on “The Logical Song,” I had incarnated it. Like the killer in Red Dragon becomes the Blake painting, I had become Breakfast in America, though my transformation was more benign. Everything I have ever needed to know about life I learned from that 30-year-old record, which glistens with insights about individuality and rootlessness, romantic and spiritual desire, material success and personal failure– the whole ball of wax to a 13-year-old enduring the ups and downs of adolescence. I’m playing it right now as I write this (though I have the whole thing stored on the iPod of my mind, for instant recall as needed as I try to negotiate one of life’s twists and turns) and what it has to say is no less true today. It’s multiple levels of confusion and longing, for Wurlitzer electric piano.

I don’t know how Supertramp got to the sublime level of that one record, not that they didn’t have other good songs. (But what you take away from, say, “It’s Raining Again,” is that…it’s raining again.) However they did it, it profoundly affected my life, and for that I’m deeply grateful. Bonus love fact: “Libby,” the waitress on the front and back covers, was played by the matronly actress Kate Murtagh, who slapped the crap out of Robert Mitchum in 1975′s Farewell, My Lovely. –Bob Cashill

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Darkness on the Edge of Town. I didn’t discover Darkness… until the early ’90s, after I’d played out Tunnel of Love, Nebraska and The River. On many long drives through the valleys of Los Angeles, this one tape repeated continuously in the cars I drove as I chased the dreams I had of becoming a filmmaker. Listening to that album then, while I was coming into my own as a man and a husband, made me reflect on my blue-collar upbringing back in Ohio. “Racing in the Streets” remains one of the most powerful testaments about dreams ever written and contains one of the most powerful verses in music, a verse that inspires me to keep plugging away at my writing, even though I work 40 hours at my day job:

“Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
And go racin’ in the street” –Scott Malchus

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