Fifty Records That Changed My Life (mostly for the worse) (Letter to Adam)

     Dear Adam [Levy] – got your email two hours ago and have been writing ever since! I’m not nearly done, but I am burning out for now, so am going to send this to you as is for the moment. My list seems to be all about records I listened to before I was 22. In almost every case, the cover of the record, and any inside sleeve art and notes, is equally as precious a memory for me as the music.

Anyway, thanks for getting me into my head this morning! Love ‘ya!

50 records that changed my life ( a start)

Among the records that were in my house growing up, there were:
Bernstein’s recording of Peter and the Wolf with the NYP. I totally fell in love with Bernstein’s deep resonant voice, and the way he had an Ellingtonian “You’re so hip, I don’t need to tell YOU what’s up” vibe. I played this record to death, although that will be true of almost everything on this list. And I still really admire this piece, even though I had almost zero curiosity about Prokofiev until very recently.

We had a lot of records of Broadway musicals. I played them all the time (I don’t remember my parents ever playing them!). Three that really stood out for me:
Annie Get Your Gun (with Ethel Merman!): Doing What Comes Naturally, You Can’t Get A Man With Gun; Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)
Guys And Dolls: Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat; I’ll Know; If I Were  A Bell
Fiddler on the Roof: If I were A Rich Man; Tradition; Matchmaker; To Life (L’chaim)

Two comedy records we had that I loved and knew by heart (and still do):
Tom Lehrer That Was The Year That Was I am fascinated by Lehrer. He seems to have been a “typical” East Coast music prodigy, able to play anything and fake almost anything. His songs are incredible genre-pieces, based on classic songwriting elements, even clichés, lovingly rendered. There were plenty of political references that I didn’t get when I was young – who’s Hubert Humphrey? – but I totally didn’t care.

Bill Cosby Wonderfulness. The greatness of Cosby. His sounds, his use of the microphone as an instrument! His musicality. His timing. His insights into childhood. His window into the African-American experience that white people were so ignorant of, but fascinated by. His narration of a go-cart race, with themes for each car, as well as for the pit stops and “fire truck”, is like a Bach fugue for violin, in which one voice suggests multiple layers of counterpoint. My feeling is, we STILL don’t realize what an important artist Bill Cosby is.

My sister Sara – older than me by nine years –  had several records I liked a lot, including the soundtrack to the movie “Lady Sings the Blues”, with Diana Ross. The two I remember most however, was the first Crosby Stills and Nash record, and Johnny Winter Live And. Boy, did I stare at the picture of Johnny Winter and his drugged out band on the inside flap of that record!

Van Halen’s first record – 1979?- absolutely ripped my head off. People look at me weird when I say this, but Van Halen initially struck me as Punk. Not actually punk, but they were scrappy, insolent, raw, and at least as far as Eddie, radical.

Allman Bros. Live at the Fillmore East – this was the bridge to the blues for me. Plus I loved the atmosphere, how it sounded like a living room. The introduction, “all right, the Allman Brothers” – totally casual, no hype. At sixteen I could sing every note on all four sides of this record; today I mostly still can.

I read Rolling Stone magazine a lot as a teenager, and the older rock critics were always going on about four or five records: Exiles On Main Street, Who’s Next, Astral Weeks, Blonde on Blonde, and the then recent addition to those ranks, Born To Run. Growing up, David Fricke, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Charles M. Young and Mikal Gilmore (RS critics) were my Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling. I loved those records intensely and still do (although it’s been about twenty-five years since I last listened to Astral Weeks).

The Ramones – Road To Ruin
Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols

When punk hit, I was immediately on board. The weird thing is that I was somehow ok with being into the Allman Bros AND the Ramones. I didn’t see that as a problem at all. I was scared of Punk, but I loved it just the same (Although plenty of people love Horror books and movies for that reason, and that never appealed to me). I would stare at the picture of the Ramones on the back of Road to Ruin and imagine being in scary New York City, and what I would do if I saw them on the street. The Ramones looked dangerous, but sounded fun. The Sex Pistols album WAS dangerous. I hid it from my parents, and listened to it only with headphones. When Johnny Rotten sang Bodies, it was scared the shit out of me. (See NWA ten years later).

Howling Wolf Evil (a Chess compilation). Bought at a garage sale in Seattle in the summer of 1980. Cover somewhat messed up. Great photo on back of Wolf and band performing at Sylvio’s in Chicago. I listened to this record to death, and stared intently at that photo.

Jeff Beck Wired/Truth
Abbey Road
Led Zep I
Kiss Alive

Steve Martin Let’s Get Small
Kind of Blue
Robert Johnson – 2nd LP, from Seattle Public Library (King of the Delta Blues Vol. 2)

B.B. King Live At the Regal ‘cause it always got mentioned in Guitar Player interviews. Another “I know every note on this record”.

When I was a sophomore in High School, my parents were given a record collection of Jazz records. Where this came from is a mystery to me today – I’ve asked my dad and he remembers nothing about it. I remember something about a divorce. Mostly they were British and European pressings of American Jazz records, but mixed in there were some Blue Notes in early pressings (with the address on the label!). (In my twenties and thirties I sold a bunch of these for a lot of money when I was totally broke.) This collection as a whole totally changed my life. I still have a number of them today, although as I said, the rarer ones I mostly let go. Among them:

Paul Chambers Whims of Chambers (with Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Philly Joe)
Monk Genius of Mod Music Vol I – the mustard-colored one (Vol. 2 was red)
Art Blakey – Indestructible (Wayne Shorter’s solo on The Egyptian changed my life all by itself), Ugetsu
Miles Davis ‘Round Midnight
Count Basie Lester Leaps In (compilation on Epic (!) of early records, Taxi War Dance, Dickie’s Dream, etc.)

Keith Jarrett – Standards Vol. 1 (this came out right around the time I was taking private lessons from Gary Peacock. I mentioned to him that I had just learned God Bless The Child, which is on that album, and that I was surprised it had a 12-bar A section. He said “No it doesn’t!” Then we checked it out, and he too was surprised, and I was surprised that he was surprised.) 

Coltrane “Afro Blue/Impressions” (live in Europe, c. 1962)
Wes – Bumpin’ (mostly just the song Bumpin’, on a Verve compilation)

At some point I got the LP Great Country Bluesmen at Newport on the Vanguard label. It had Son House, Skip James, Robert Pete Williams, John Lee Hooker, Sleepy John Estes, and Mississippi John Hurt, among others. Played it to death. Especially side one with Doc Resse singing Here, Rattler/Oh My Lord

two records that got me into Classical music:
Sibelius Vln Concerto Oistrakh and Ormandy
Orff – Carmina Burana conducted by Ormandy

Each of the following was one revelation after another for me:

Glenn Gould – Goldberg Variations.
Bernstein NYP/Mahler 6th (I almost only ever listened to the slow movement though!)
Mystery Voix Bulgair (Nonesuch) stopped me dead in my tracks in Seattle record store
LaSalle Quartet – Big DG box set of Schoenberg, Berg , and Webern complete quartets, bought used at Cellophane Square in Seattle (Herb Levy’s old copy, he wrote his name on his records, I later became friends with him).
Stravinsky conducts Firebird, Petrushka and Rite of Spring, three lp box.
Cecil Taylor Silent Tounges (Arista Freedom)
Albert Ayler- Vibrations (same)
Bill Evans Village Vanguard ( I had it on cassette, though, does that count?)

In college (1984-88) I discovered:

Elliott Carter – A Symphony of Three Orchestras/Mirror on Which to Dwell (Columbia Masterworks)
Elliott Carter Triple Duo/In Sleep, In Thunder (Nonesuch)
Boulez Rituel and Eclat/Multiples (Columbia Masterworks)
Berio Sinfonia (the first recording, on Columbia)
James “Blood” Ulmer – Free Lancing (Columbia again!)

Shakti (the first record, live in some College campus).

and then I moved to California (1988) and heard:
Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation

NWA – Straight Outta Compton
Paco De Lucia Entre Dos Aguas: the whole record, but especially the title track, with the jaw-dropping run that begins the solo.

And it goes on and on….