Five Important Albums
What follows is a list of five capital-I-Important albums to me
, not necessarily anyone else. And not even necessarily my favorite
albums, though all are amongst my faves, but albums that influenced me in profound ways. These are more-or-less in chronological order when I encountered them.A Child's Introduction to Jazz
Bob Keeshan and the Honeydreamers. Yes, the actor who played Captain Kangaroo but not in in this song.A Child's Introduction to Jazz
, Zip file of mp3s
. The recording is from 1958 or 1959, and it was a fave for many years until I was 9 or 10. This is a 78 (I think), and probably only contained only this one song story, starting on one side and continuing on to the next. I don't remember ever not having this record (and I may have it still, but I'm not going to dig through the vinyl) and always associate it with the other 78s, 45s and even 33 1/3rds heard on our multi-speed but plastic record player: Captain Kangaroo's Treasure House of Best Loved Songs
(w/Mr. Greenjeans) explaining "Walzing Matilda" and "The Bear Went Over the Mountain", and even the Mickey Mouse Club Records
with the March and Annette singing "Beauty is as beauty does". I'm throwing them all in as one record because that's how I played them when I was six: No covers, just put them on the turntable, lower the needle and play.
"A Child's Introduction to Jazz" was especially formative because it introduced me to the concept that music came from somewhere. My admiration for covers and fascination with the folk process probably had its genesis here. Despite being anti-semitic (they do the history of jazz including Dixieland without mentioning kelzmer), the journey from African rhythms to Negro Spirituals to French folk music and so on to American jazz is done really well by kid's standards. The Honeydreamers were harmonizing be-bop, sort of like Manhattan Transfer.
Wow, I'm listening to it for the first time in years, and it's still great.
They were coming from all over when America was young.
And they knew what they were doing when they picked this promising spot.
Oh they came across the sea
to the country of the free.
And the races got mixed in the (beat) melting pot.
America is a melting pot. (xylophone break)
When they settled here they all began to speak the English tongue
But it started sounding different 'cause they changed it rather a lot.
We speak English now a-days
in a lot of different ways.
'Cause the accents got mixed in the (beat) melting pot.
Well, sort of. The Africans didn't exactly come over "to the country of the free" and miscegenation was illegal in many states at the time. Still, for a child, this optimism and recognition of our heritage as a nation of immigrants was pretty powerful.That Was The Year That Was
We had all three Lehrer albums, and in a different mood I might have picked An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer
, but I'm going with That Was The Year That Was
because it's more political and also has my favorite Lehrer song, "Pollution". The 1965 album is the most recent of the three canonical Tom Lerher albums, and we probably acquired it around the release date, so I heard if from about age 10 onwards.
Politics were always serious in our house, as various local and state-wide office holders came in and out. My father's position as a center-left editor in a very conservative county was always precarious. And all of this bounced off us kids. We were exposed, first-hand, to the great issues of the day. Laughing at the foibles and hypocrisy of everyone, even those we agreed with, was part and parcel of the territory.
Tom Lehrer had three things going for him. First, he was a superb pianist and songwriter, and could play in almost any style or from any culture. Second, he was a great stand-up comedian (though he was sitting down) and was truly funny. And third, he had a razor-sharp wit that sliced through political buffoonery rarely matched even today.
Finding out that he did these songs on television
, opened my eyes to the power of parody. I've never seen the show, which was before my time. I'm not surprised that TW3
started in Britain and wasn't a huge success here. Music could be funny and
political. Lehrer wasn't the first nor the last to produce successful political satire, but he was one of the best, and one of the first I was exposed to.Calypso
I'm generally more song oriented than album oriented and found Calypso
when searching for two of my favorite songs: "Day-O" and "Jamaica Farwell". Both on the same album! I got the album, probably sometime in college, which led to a greater appreciation of Harry Belafonte
was the first album to sell over a million copies; a big feat in 1956, during the height of McCarthyism. Despite the tremendous racism and political repression of the time, Belafonte was the first black man to win an Emmy. His association with Paul Robeson helped get him blacklisted.
By the time I encountered the album, I sort of knew all this, but really it's not why the album was an influence nor why it stands up today. Calypso
is a great album and all the songs are strong. Covers of the songs continue to appear. Indeed, the writer of many of the songs, Lord Burgess
(aka Irving Burgie
) never got the acclaim that went to Belafonte for his marvelous singing but went on to write the national anthem of Barbados and even has his own book and CDs. I have Island In the Sun
, which isn't all that good but makes a nice compliment to the Belafonte versions.Calypso
was my first major encounter with what some call "Worldbeat" that didn't sound like be-bop jazz.Now We Are Six
Steeleye SpanNow We Are Six
is not my favorite Steeleye Span
(SSpan) album, but was the current release in 1974 when I was slipping into science fiction fandom and hung out with the Albany State Science Fiction Society and my eventual roommate Frank Balazs. Frank had many SSpan and related albums, and between the two of us we got most of the available recordings. Starting with SSpan led us (or me, anyway) to related groups like Renaissance and Fairport Convention. And, later, groups like Boiled In Lead and The Chieftans.
I've talked about Steeleye Span in depth in many other places including my CD reviews
and don't wish to go on here. Suffice to say that they remain my favorite group (though I haven't heard the most recent CD or two) and lead singer Maddy Prior remains my favorite singer.Horses
I never liked punk, and still don't. It can be fun to watch angry adolescents rage against the machine, but with few exceptions the punk movement produced no music that survived that particular era of pissed off teens. The Dead Kennedy's are one exception, and possibly the Ramones. But as far as I'm concerned the only real artist to come out of the punk movement was Patti Smith.Horses
is an astonishing album. If she had started 20 years earlier she would have been a Beat Poet, as it is she owes much to The Lost Generation and pissed off social commentators like Lenny Bruce.
I can't really understand much of the lyrics on Horses
, but the emotion comes through. I consider Patti Smith a vocalist
while Maddy Prior is a singer
The centerpiece of Horses
is the title song, "Land". I consider "Land" to be the best rock and roll song ever: Angry and danceable, it explores the themes of so many 50s and 60s songs: Sex and death among High School kids. Unlike "Teen Angel" or even "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", "Land" takes you up, then down, and finally inward. Like most punk, it isn't perfect and other performances of the song/poem are very different. Unlike most punk (at least to me), I can listen to it more than a few times. But not too often. Thanks to the internet I can read the lyrics, but even at the time the songs, especially "Land", were too powerful to be background.Horses
was followed by Easter
with the remarkable combination of "Babelogue/Rock N Roll Nigger", which is not about race but is about being "outside of society, away from me" and screams for the acceptance of the outcast.
Which nicely takes me back to "A Child's Introduction To Jazz".