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Cold Dead Fingers

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Sometimes you can start writing or thinking by asking yourself a rhetorical question. We did it as kids, learning to converse with one another: “What would be the worst way you could die?” Answering that question would occupy an entire afternoon, with much acting out and falling down dead.

Anyway, here is today’s rhetorical question:

“What music do you listen to that is so special that, if the Communists barged into your rec room and confiscated it right now, you would bolt out the door the moment they were gone to get a replacement?”

It occurs to me that if you were looking for something as a gift, or for yourself, a do-or-die list like this by a discerning individual like myself (former Rolling Stone contributor and intimate of Charles Manson) would make a dandy gift list.

Herewith, then, a list of pop records most special to me, that I could not bear to be without. There’s a couple jazz items in here, too, to assuage the more sophistimicated breast.

Velvet Underground (3rd LP)
by the Velvet Underground

Review: Sweet Jane, what a record this is, the Velvets’ best by my reckoning, which makes it perhaps the best rock and roll record ever. Slow lovely doowop numbers, the chunky rhythms of “What Goes On,” the delicate lyrics of “Some Kind of Love,” and others. Tunes that get inside you, like “Jesus,” and “Candy Says,” and “Pale Blue Eyes.” You feel like you’re disappearing into Lou Reed’s appalling yet nevertheless still-redeemable soul.

Blue Sun
by Mark Isham

Review: OK, it’s a jazz record, but I listen to it the way I would candy, or late Wes Montgomery. This is silky, sumptuous trumpet an flugelhorn jazz. Not as rigorous or perhaps as coldly intelligent as Miles, but much richer emotionally. Isham brings a remarkable gift of exploration and dreaminess to his compositions. I discovered him early on, with his first Windham Hill records. His “Film Music” album ont hat label featuring “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” is likewise a dream of a record, but relying more on layered synth than trumpet and trio.

After Bathing At Baxter’s
by Jefferson Airplane

Review: Someone asked me in 1969 what my favorite all-time record was, and I thought it was this set, at the height of Jefferson Airplane’s wiggy trip. “It’s a wild time.” I can still hear that furious cry. The album, as much a theme record as Sgt. Pepper, and thrice as psychedelic, sounds a bit mannered now, but neverless interesting and relentlessly original. Kaukonen’s guitar filigrees are like nothing I’ve heard since, sawing and unpredictable. Grave Slick’s drama and poor juddgment does not yet upset the proceedings. It is their last ensemble recording, the band at their height, in several senses of the word.

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
by Brian Eno

Review: Most folks cite “Eno’s Another Green World” as his masterpiece, but this is the one that wraps me up. His songs steal over you, beginning not that unusually, but quickly morphing you into strange sonic jungle of hisses, whizzes, and meeps. Oblique strategies, tape loops, that odd, insistent, “sissy-scary” voice, and the titanic aesthetic chops of Brian Eno, the Oscar Wilde of rock and roll. My favorite tune: “The Fat Lady of Limburgh,” with its funny three-note sax solo. Looks like a record, plays like a movie.

In My Life
by Judy Collins

Review: The best record of torch songs ever made. Theatrical pieces like “Marat-Sade” and “Pirate Jenny,” plus tyhe scariest Leonard Cohen tune of all time, “Dress Rehearsal Rag.” But it is the slow charmers, “Sunny Goodge Street” (Donovan), “Think It’s Going to Rain Today” (Randy Newman), and “In My Life” (Lennon) that cement Collins as a formidable selector of tunes. She isn’t a classically great singer, but her song choices and interpretations here are terrific. She was more than a singer, she was a culture-maker. This is lovely, mostly sad (my favorite) music.

Way To Blue: An Introduction To Nick Drake
Nick Drake

Review: This disk is a sampler of the strange and interesting music Nick Drake made in the late 1960s. Afflicted by terrible depression, Drake went his own way as a songwriter. His songs seem more wistful than sad. If you like this collection — and how could you not, if you have read this far — you will want to have the other four LPs he made before committing suicide at 24.

The Belle Album
Al Green

Review: Soul perfection. Is there any doubt who Belle is? It’s gotta be God. You should hear him hint at the high notes as he draws close to his vision — my dog looks up when I play it. My friend Brit and I agree that this is Green’s best record, and that Green is the best singer of soul music, and the most reliably great pop singer, album to album, who ever lived. Runners-up: Van Morrison and Otis Redding.

Later That Evening
Eberhard Weber

Review: Languorous chamber jazz led by Sweden’s greatest bassist and composer. Weber, like Mingus a generation before, is a composer and a bassist. Working with the very original, very un-bebop, un-blues-based saxophonist Jan Garbarek, he crafts s distinctivley Norwegian brand of orchestral jazz, loaded with rich intimations and unusual modes. I love to work to this. Introducing a promising young guitarist named Bill Frisell.


by Jeff Buckley

(5 year old) Review: I know this is a great record, but everyone I lend it to flips it back to me. What am I feeling that they don’t feel? This guy is the best rock poet since Patti Smith, and his band is astonishing. Think of it as Verlaine meets Led Zeppelin, a music of enormous yearning. He died in a swimming accident before completing his second LP, and it threw me into a tizzy as severe as when I heard Howard Cosell announce on Monday Night Football that Lennon had been gunned down. I so wanted to hear more music from this man.

My Goals Beyond
by John McLaughlin

Review: John McLaughlin has made many records, some of them wonderful, like the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra LPs, and many of them awful. But here is his treasure, 50 minutes of acoustic meditative splendor, including a luscious version of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.” Never mind the apostrophe problem in the title: this record must be heard to be believed.

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About Mike

  • Let’s see what do I grab when the fascist right wing kicks in the door, well aside from a 120 gb external firewire drive and my iBook, I’d say “Horses” by Patti Smith, the single CD of Big Star, “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane, “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop, “Heroes” by David Bowie, The Velvet Underground and Nico, “Rocket To Russia” by The Ramones, and “Henry’s Dream” by Nick Cave, and “Rock and Roll” by The Mekons, plus a whole bunch of albums to be named later.