As I’m hunkered down in my 200 sqft house-on-wheels somewhere in the windy, hot desert of Southern California, one of my twice daily ‘exercise’ is scrolling through my Facebook feed to see what’s going on, what my Facebook friends are up to. I’ve been intrigued and amused by friends responding to the challenge of sharing their favourite music albums. Before long, I began to draw my own list, though just in my head at first. Then I started to notice how closely each of my favourites are linked to my life events. So I decided to drill into this a bit more and share my selections & associated ‘memories’ in this post.
Though I can’t read music, I’ve been lucky to be born with a good ear and had access to great musical influencers around me—way before “influencers” were a thing on Instagram—my Dad and the whole Cardinal clan had an early impact, so did my brother and sister, as well as both husbands of mine, though not necessarily at the same time! 🙂 When I sold all of my household possessions in order to prepare for our new small-space full time RV life, I had to choose which of the hundreds CDs/LPs to keep and which to store, sell or toss. Like books, my record collection was a precious thing — so reducing it to a few dozen “keepers” was hard. Not surprisingly, some of these “keepers” made the cut below. Listening to these records on a regular basis was one of the ‘conditions’ I imposed on my final picks.
My compilation netted 14 albums. It’s been a healthy mental and emotional exercise. I strongly recommend it… go ahead, grab on to a light-hearted project like this one—the kind that you’d never have time to take on back in the day when ‘normal’ = ‘too busy’. It’ll make you feel good, I promise!
The following list is in no particular order, though I did try to keep it somewhat chronological:
« Kind of Blue » 1958, Miles Davis
Listening to Kind of Blue is like drinking a tall glass of zinfandel on a cool autumn night! I was married to a professional trumpet player for a few years (I married very young). The marriage didn’t last but my love of jazz that blossomed during our short time together never left me. Between ages 17-24, I was initiated to the music of great jazz masters like Miles, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Canadians Gil Evans and Oscar Peterson, Etta James and Ella of course. I’ve been fortunate to have seen most of these jazz giants live as they toured Montreal, my native town. Heck, I was so involved in this music throughout the 1970s that I missed a good chunk of the rock music scene of the same decade (made up for it years later!)
The Kind of Blue session reunited seven legendary musicians in the prime of their careers: tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and of course Miles’ unique trumpet sound. It’s probably the best known jazz record of its time. If you stream the Freddie Freeloader track from that album… you’ll probably realize that ‘you’ve heard this before’… If you haven’t, listen on… you’re in for a treat!
« Long Tall Sally » 1964, The Beatles
Because it’s the very first record I bought with my own money when I was 11 or 12. I did not speak English fluently at the time. I had no idea what the words meant; but I learned the lyrics phonetically and knew them all by heart! For the longest time, I thought that “Madly” in the phrase “I love you madly” from “You really got a hold on me” was the name of a girl…! 🙂
« Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Club Band » 1967 The Beatles
As a Boomer, the music of The Beatles occupies a very large place in my heart. Both Mark and I made sure to pass the love to our kids. Sgt Pepper was such a departure from pop to something entirely new, unheard of! I remember listening to the very end, only to pick up the needle off the turntable and put it right back at the start! By breaking traditional rules about what a “rock album” should sound like, Sgt Pepper gave other musicians new ideas and new attitudes toward their approach to music. Suddenly, everything was permissible. It ushered years of amazing sounds, even to this day!
« JAUNE », 1970, Jean-Pierre Ferland
A favourite singer songwriter of mine from my native Quebec — there was a rich field of singer songwriters during the late sixties and throughout the seventies whom I went to see perform in the many «boîte à chansons», intimate café-style rooms that often served no alcohol as their audience was mostly teenagers (me included!). Mr. Ferland is among the Great Ones, like Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillé, Raymond Lévesque, and recently deceased Renée Claude. It’s hard to describe the effect that JAUNE had on me and everyone at the time. I heard it said that JAUNE was Quebec’s Sgt Pepper. Et la critique d’aujourd’hui de dire, « Presque 50 ans ont passé et Jaune n’est toujours pas obsolète. Au contraire, toutes ces années ont consolidé la place dans l’histoire de cet album. » La Presse, 2011.
« The Kenny Rankin Album », 1977, Kenny Rankin
This record is a beautiful, understated yet sophisticated masterpiece. A musicians’ musician, who penned songs for Peggy Lee and Mel Tormé before setting off on his own, Rankin was one of those names whispered in awe by artists and fans alike. I loved his mellow tone and artful phrasing. Mark & I were privileged to see Kenny in concert at the Jazz Alley Club in Seattle, a few years before his untimely death of lung cancer in 2009. That night, he performed on his own, singing and playing alternatively on the piano or guitar. I’ve seen many other artists performing solo before and since; only one other artist, Oscar Peterson, made the cut in my book for the quality and sheer virtuosity of their performance.
« Friends & Love-A Chuck Mangione Concert », 1970, Chuck Mangione
A double album concert recorded live at the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, NY by flugelhorn musician Chuck Mangione. The first song, “Hill where the Lord Hides” is an amazing live example of ‘perfection’! My ex-husband Denis, a flugelhorn player in his own right, introduced me to jazz and more specifically to the gorgeous mellow sound of the flugelhorn. Other flugel players of note are Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Guido Basso, Roy Hargrove. Not too common a sound in these days of over-produced recordings although, a nod here to trumpeter Chris Botti who found a way to modernize the instrument with new electronic sounds.
« Primal Roots » 1972, Sergio Mendez & Brazil 77
I love the sounds of world music… I’m always on the lookout for folklore music turned on its head by native musicians. Primal Roots is one of these albums that I listen to when I need a ‘perk up’ – it’s so infectious and as a whole sounds like nothing else. Just a warm mix of Brazilian folk and jazz…
Other honourable mentions in this category goes to Tinariwen, a group of Tuareg musicians from Mali who found a way to integrate their unique music to electric guitar sounds. Another nod to Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) brought to the world township jive street music of Soweto, South Africa.
« Stayin Alive », 1977, The Bee Gees
I can hear you laugh already! A compilation of songs from the movie of the same name that launched John Travolta’s career. But before disco sound became this predictable dance beat, we got Stayin Alive! I love it because it features the music of the Bee Gees – their pre Staying Alive material shows accomplished songwriters and amazing harmonic singers. (Thanks to my darling husband who insisted I listened to an early LP of the Bee Gees one cold winter night!)
« No Jacket Required » 1985, Phil Collins
I love every track on this album! I took Samantha, my stepdaughter, to see the “No Jacket Required” tour in Toronto performing (on my birthday!) in 1985. We quickly left our seats in the nosebleed section of the open-air Exhibition Stadium, slipped security and made our way to the main section right in front of the stage! (I thought it was such a daring move!) I still get goosebumps remembering Phil singing “In the Air Tonight” that evening, a very special song that I will always cherish as it reminds me of wondrous early years raising our son Olivier. Maybe that explains why Genesis and Phil Collins himself became Olivier’s favourite artists which he’s now passing on to 5-month old daughter Antoinette!
« Famous Blue Raincoat », 1986 Jennifer Warnes
I’ve been a big fan of Leonard Cohen for many years, but it’s through this album that I discovered his beautiful poetry in songs. This is one of the best album covers ever made of Cohen’s songs. Jennifer Warnes, who was one of Cohen’s back-up singers before setting off on her own, knows these songs intimately and sings them beautifully. Leonard also joins Jennifer on a couple of tracks to maximum effect. If you always had a problem with Cohen’s low-low baritone voice, this record will open up some of his music to you.
« Samedi soir sur la terre » 1994, Francis Cabrel
By the time the 1990s rolled, I was living in Toronto, got myself back at college (U of Toronto) to get my degree while still working full time and co-raising a teenager. I was as far away from the French and Quebec music scenes as can be. So I have my brother Pierre to thank for re-introducing me to that music by way of singer songwriter Francis Cabrel and this beautiful original album… a mix of acoustic guitar and gentle reflections on life. Cabrel’s clear voice and clean guitar work are ever the focus of his songs. Around this core he weaves contemporary folk, blues rock, French pop, smooth jazz, and even classical sounds.
« In My Life », 1998, a Sir George Martin production
This record is the last produced by Sir George, and for this last encore he selected favourite Beatles songs to be interpreted by artists he hand-picked, as disparate as Goldie Hawn, Beck, Jim Carrey, and many others. There’s even a cover of “Here, There, Everywhere” sung by diva Celine Dion that I actually like because she’s not wailing it to the top of her lungs (I’m otherwise not a big fan of la belle Celine as you can tell…)
« This Is How Men Cry » 1999, Marc Jordan
Marc Jordan is an American-born Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer, session musician, and actor. His career covers a wide variety of genres, he’s written songs for a number of artists, including Diana Ross, Rod Stewart, Cher, Bette Midler, Chicago, and Josh Groban. He recorded This Is How Men Cry after he left LA to raise his family in (more) quiet Toronto. This album feels like a gift to himself. I still listen and marvel at the sheer modern poetry of This Is How Men Cry and the brilliant contagiously catchy pop song that never was, “Charlie Parker Loves Me”, to name only these two. He does a mean “Crazy” cover too! 🙂
« West Eats Meet » 2004, Harry Manx
Harry Manx likes to fly under the pop radar but man! is he good at what he does! A Canadian musician whose very innovative style blends blues, folk music and Hindustani classical music. He’s one of those musicians you’re never sure what he’s got cooking next. I never had a chance to see him perform but I sure would love to.
Like many of you, music is where I go to regenerate, laugh and cry, dance or make love to. Researching my brain to remember and find relevant information on the internet on each of these records was a lot of fun — really a gift to myself.
Streaming songs is quick and easy to do today. This may explain why I’ve not listened to a whole album in a long while. Streaming music online through Spotify or Apple Music has changed the way we consume music, has it not? While I love the immediate gratification of being able to order Siri or Alexa to play songs or playlists, I miss the continuity of message that concept albums added to my listening experience. Are concept albums still being released? Some probably still do… Or is it mostly mass produced music excerpted from this movie or that Broadway show?
What do you think?