Friday Five: Favorites

I’m participating in the “impact albums” meme on Facebook and I struggled while selecting my ten albums (that’s the number in the version I was tagged in).

From the top, I decided to eliminate “greatest hits” or compilations of any sort (including soundtracks). That took away quite a bit, because in my twenties my musical explorations often happened through those kinds of albums. They might not have been the best compilations for those artists either, but they meant a lot to me because they’re the ones I bought.

Then there were the albums that had a few songs that were big in my rotation at a certain point in my life, but had a lot of other songs I didn’t listen to all that much. These were the hard eliminations because while the albums might have been super important to me, not enough of it was in terms of total percentage of content when compared to others. Even if the songs they carried meant more to me than most, I eliminated them based on that percentage, rather than the degree of love I had for them.

That means there are many songs that didn’t make the final cut for me. So here’s a list of five of those:

5. “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by Colin Hay (1998)
I first heard this song on the soundtrack to the movie Garden State (2004). Colin Hay is the former front man for the 80s Australian band Men at Work.

4. “The Joker” by The Steve Miller Band (1973)
In all honesty, I doubt there’s an album I know better than the second volume of Steve Miller’s hits collection, “Greatest Hits 1974-78.” In the 80s and 90s it was not uncommon for the album to pop into the top 100 in terms of sales, probably based solely on college kids buying it through their Columbia House or BMG memberships. In short, he was the drinking music of many a college keg party.

3. “That Feel” by Tom Waits (1992)
This song (a duet with Keith Richards) is the last song on Waits’ 1992 album Bone Machine. The only reason that the album didn’t make my cut was because one of his other albums was more revolutionary for me. Bone Machine was a close second. This was the stand out for me, a song that sounds like two drunk alley cats singing late at night.

2. “What It Takes” by Aerosmith (1989)
My cassette tape of Aerosmith’s 1989 blockbuster album was as well played as any I ever owned, but almost entirely for side 1. Songs like “Janie’s Got a Gun” and “Love in an Elevator” were the hits that made it such a solid seller. My favorite song, however, was the last on side 2. I nearly wore the cassette out just to play it again and again…

1. “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison (1968)
My first Van Morrison album was his The Best of Van Morrison. I bought it in college and a good chunk of the songs (except for the Christian ones, late in the 21 song collection) were in heavy rotation with me and friends during college. I have a fondness for so many, but “Sweet Thing” (originally from the legendary Astral Weeks) moved me like no other. The slow build up and gradual orchestral feel were among my favorite aspects.

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Friday Five: Have a Drink

It’s Friday. Here’s five songs about bars and/or drinking:

5. “Hey Bartender” (Floyd Dixon, 1955)

4. “Warm Beer and Cold Women” (Tom Waits, 1975)

3. “Gin and Juice” (Snoop Dogg, 1993)

2. “Have a Drink on Me” (AC/DC. 1980)

1. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” (John Lee Hooker, 1966)

Friday Five: 1992

Life is filled with pivotal moments, periods of time that change us in fundamental ways. Most of us don’t have many, but the ones we do have are indelibly part of our story. I’d guess, for most of us again, those moments are far more frequent in our teens and twenties than at any other period of our life.

I turned 20 years old in 1992 and it was a year of pivotal moments for me. I read Marx for the first time and got seriously into Chicano history. The L.A. riots flipped my sense of the world upside down. I studied abroad in England in the fall, my first time needing a passport and my second time on an airplane. I got my first email account.

Here are just five of the songs that I associate with this period in my life. There are many more, but these are all from 1992 and all occupy a soft spot in my heart.

5. “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” (Los Lobos)
Even though I had known Los Lobos for years, this song came from the first of their albums I ever bought, 1992’s Kiko. It’s a mystical album, folksie and spiritual, and the song is indicative of the whole. I was moved by the sound, the organ and the odd chords. It melded perfectly with where I was and who I was, with a nod to where I was from.

4. “Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang” (Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre)
It’s difficult to overestimate the significance of Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic. This song preceded the album’s December release by about a month. It was the first time I heard Snoop Doggy Dogg. All I can say is that it made an impact, seemingly with everyone.

3. “Galileo” (Indigo Girls)
I had friends who were Indigo Girls fans throughout my first two years of college. If not for the success of this song, the folk duo were the kind of sound I might never have encountered if not for college. This mainstream hit, however, made them unavoidable for my generation, and helped put them on regular play on my stereo.

2. “Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton)
I liked this song so much when I first heard it that I bought the soundtrack to the movie Rush, which is how the song–a love letter to Clapton’s son Connor, who died tragically at the age of 4–was first released. It was poignant and bittersweet. On January 16, 1992, Clapton performed it along with some of his classics and other songs as part of an acoustic “MTV Unplugged” concert. The concert would air later in March, result in a best-selling and Grammy-winning album later that summer, and signal the start of the next phase of Eric Clapton’s career. That acoustic version continues to be one of my favorite live performances of any song.

1. “That Feel” (Tom Waits)
Tom Waits was starting the third decade of his musical career when I discovered him. I never knew he existed before that and when he came to me it was like coming home. My first encounters with him where, simultaneously, a live 1974 recording (Nighthawks at the Diner) and 1992’s Bone Machine. This song, the final track to that album (which won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album, go figure…) is a duet with Keith Richards. It sounds about as beautiful as two drunk alley cats singing to themselves as they wallow in self-pity. It’s beautiful.

Friday Five: 1975

I can’t say for certain when my earliest memories are from, but I’m sure they are from no later than 1975.

It was a big year for my (nuclear) family. In ’75 we were a family of 4, my folks and my older sister, and we were living in a rental in Montebello, part of the sphere of LA’s Eastside. I remember that place, the broken TV, the area where the cat ate, the room I shared with my sister, which also housed the locker-style closets where my dad kept his clothes. We bought our first house that year, out in La Puente, which is about 12 miles or so east of East LA.

My folks chose to move eastward because they couldn’t afford a home in the East LA area, but our life still mostly revolved around LA. My folks both worked there, my grandparents lived there, and so did most of my uncles, aunts, and cousins. Not surprisingly, we spent a lot of our time there. But my family’s move to the San Gabriel Valley wasn’t a rare event. Tens of thousands of Chicano and Chicana baby boomers were doing the same, transforming these smaller suburban cities and towns into an extension of Chicana/o LA.

It was a great year in music, too. Fleetwood Mac released their (second) self-titled album, their first with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. It remains one of my favorite full albums of any band, and the song “Rhiannon” is untouchable. “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille topped the charts. As musical and TV celebrities who worked as a duo, they’d be influential for me and my sister, who liked (to force me) to perform as Donny & Marie, Captain & Tennille, or any other boy/girl pairing. Elvis entered recorded and released his last studio album, Today, on May 7th. Queen released Night at the Opera and the single “Bohemian Rhapsody” toward the end of the year.

These 5 songs are all from that most auspicious of years, although most are songs that would mean something more to me as the years passed.

5. “Lowrider” (War)
This is as close to a “Chicano anthem” as it gets. A southern California band (they’re largely from the South Bay area of Long Beach) that blended the multiethnic flavor of working-class communities, War was a slow, rhythmic, funky, rock, jazz, blues, Latin hybrid. “Lowrider” is quintessentially LA and Chicano, maybe even East LA and Chicano. And carries that load without much more than a fantastic beat and rhythm, and without a Chicano in the band! From the album Why Can’t We Be Friends

4. “Sara Smile” (Hall & Oates)
Wikipedia tells me this song wasn’t released as a single until 1976, so its a cheat (maybe) for this year. But it was part of the famed duo’s 1975 album, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and is the song that put the pair on the musical trajectory that made them “famed” to begin with. I love–LOVE–this song for so many reasons, the guitar intro, the strings on the melody, the harmonies, and that falsetto voice from Darryl Hall. Overall, I have a lot of respect for them as a group. Whether or not you cared for them, for somebody of my generation they were one of the heaviest influences on the sound of late-70s into early-80s pop music.

3. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (Paul Simon)
The historian in me can appreciate the historic significance of Paul Simon to the lives of millions of white Americans coming of age in the 60s. The music fan in me gets it, too. I’m a fan of most of the work of Simon and Garfunkel. I can also appreciate that this makes him a special cultural figure for a whole bunch of folks hitting their thirties in the 70s, and coming to terms with life as adults in post-industrial America. All that is to say I “get” the place of his solo, post-divorce 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years. None of this has anything to do with me, though. It has a lot to do with how I remember learning about him. I remember watching SNL re-runs of his performances in those early years, I remember watching the video of his famous Central Park concerts, and I can remember hearing this song so many times in the decade I became aware. Something about the drum intro and guitar work still takes me back. I found it a fascinating song at some point, probably around the time I was 7 or 8, and I still do now.

2. “Love Rollercoaster” (Ohio Players)
Including this song is kind of a different sort of cheat for me. It’s the only song I really “love” from the album Honey, although I have to admit, I don’t remember it at all being associated with this album. I do remember the songs “Honey” and “Let’s Do It” and even “Ain’t Giving Up No Ground,” all from side A. The horns from “Let’s Do It” actually bring back the smell of vinyl and record cleaner to my mind. But that’s all irrelevant to why this album is really etched in my memory like no other. The album cover of Honey features a seemingly naked women pouring honey in her mouth. When you opened it up, she was completely naked with honey all over her body. Needless to say, I used to look at that album much more often than I used to listen to it. That said, it’s an excellent groove, the stand-out track on the album.

1. “Better Off Without a Wife” (Tom Waits)
I remember the first time I ever heard–I mean really heard–Tom Waits. It was the night before my 21st birthday, and I was coming down after a fun night/morning in my friend’s dorm room and he put on Nighthawks at the Diner, Waits’ 1975 live album. I knew the later Tom Waits, especially his 1992 album Bone Machine, which is still my favorite. But I don’t think I had ever heard his early stuff. I was immediately sucked in. His humor and his performance of this wasted beatnik kind of character that he kind of played then, it was surprising, and fascinating, and so entertaining. I’ve always been a sucker for live stuff, recordings that capture a moment or event are even better. The crowd here is very much a part of what I love the most. This song remains one of my favorites just because of the way Waits talks story leading into it. It’s still a funny performance, especially if one buys into the character he’s playing. It seems kind of grown-up, too, in a 20-30 year-old kind of post 1960s way. I’m not sure I have the words to say what it does for me, even though the song itself is, admittedly, kind of stupid. You can see the master in the making, though…

I am Vito Corleone

At the end of The Godfather, an aged and somewhat frail Vito Corleone is counseling his son, Michael–the “good son” who has now become his heir in the “family business.”

VITO
I like to drink wine more than I used to…anyway, I’m drinking more…

MICHAEL
It’s good for you, Pop.

VITO CORLEONE
I don’t know…your wife and children–Are you happy with them?

The older I get, this is exactly how I feel, though instead of wine you can substitute John Prine, Chavela Vargas, and Tom Waits.