High Fidelity is an excellent and record-centric movie starring John Cusack based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby about a record store owner and former DJ who sees life through the lens of popular music.
When he gets upset, he rearranges his vast record collection to console himself. Due to his obsession with records and order, Cusack’s character – along with the two obsessives who work for him in the record store – organizes his life with Top 5 Lists: Top 5 Most Memorable Splitups, Top 5 Songs About Death, Top 5 Songs to Lead Off An Album, Top 5 Songs About People With Swollen Heads (I didn’t know there was one, let alone five of these), etc. There are dozens of albums mentioned in the movie (which is a very faithful to the book other than moving the setting from London to Chicago).
In the spirit of the many (but not nearly enough, yet) lists being formulated on Blogcritics, I will pick my Top 5 Albums Mentioned in High Fidelity, which also has a cool soundtrack, but we won’t talk about that now.
Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers
Robert Johnson was born in rural Mississippi in 1911. Nothing in Johnson’s childhood foretold his eventual status as the greatest bluesman of all time. Johnson’s first wife died in childbirth when he was 19 and she was16, and for the next year Johnson wandered about the Delta.
He returned home on a melting summer Saturday night with a strange air about him, dragged his guitar into the local roadhouse, and while bluesmen Son House and Willie Brown took a break with most of the crowd outside, Johnson began to play. His anguished yet supple singing and startling guitar accompaniment drew a gasp from the crowd outside.
Word quickly spread that Johnson had “sold his soul to the devil to get to play like that.” Word of Johnson”s prowess spread as he traveled to St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and New York. Eventually Johnson made his way to San Antonio to record with the great blues and country producer Don Law.
Law recorded Johnson’s entire 29-song body of work direct-to-disc in a San Antonio hotel room in November, 1936, and in a Dallas warehouse in June of 1937.
Johnson was so shy that he turned to face the wall when he recorded. He wasn’t shy around women, though: Johnson was poisoned to death by a jealous husband at a roadhouse in 1938.
Johnson’s greatness lies in his songwriting (“Cross Road Blues,” “Come On In My Kitchen,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Love In Vain”); his eerie, straining voice; and his complex walking bass and slide guitar
style that served as counterpoint to his harrowing fables of hellhounds, meetings
with the devil, and untrue women. Johnson didn’t just play his guitar, he had a relationship with it that took the form of a dialogue that reflected both the anguish and the exhilaration inherent in pursuing a satisfaction that was never to be his.
Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde
Bob Dylan is the most important American songwriter of the last 40 years and, arguably, the greatest white blues singer of all time. Blonde On Blonde is his best album, recorded in Nashville with a great electric band that included Jerry Kennedy, Joe South, Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson (as well as the rhythm section that would become Area Code 615) in 1966. It’s a deeply bluesy album and focuses on relationships more than the politics and social commentary of his previous work.
Blonde was a double album (now a single CD) with some of Dylan’s greatest songs: the rowdy “Rainy Day Women” with it’s famous observation “I would not feel so all alone, everybody must get stoned.”
“I Want You” is a beautiful, gentle country-rock ballad. “Just Like a Woman” is
equally lovely, with Dylan’s amazing insight into the sexual maturity and emotional fragility of most adults. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” are also classics.
The Beatles – Abbey Road
Abbey Road, from 1969, was the last album the Beatles recorded together (Let It Be, recorded earlier, was released in ’70) and wrapped up the ’60s on a triumphant note. All of the squabbling and contrary agendas that had permanently poisoned the band and that also seemed to represent the death of the idealism of the ’60s were somehow put aside as the individual members became a magical unit one last time.
Though not necessarily containing the band’s best songs, Abbey Road is their best album as one song flows into the other, with melodic and lyrical themes recurring and interweaving like a true rock symphony especially on side two where “You Never Give Me your Money” flows into “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” – each song different yet cut from the same cloth.
“Lennon and McCartney” would become “Lennon” and”McCartney” and never again emphasize each other’s strengths and cancel out each other’s weakness. George Harrison contributed two of his best songs, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” and even Ringo contributed with the charming “Octopus’s Garden.”
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Marvin Gaye was the greatest male singer for Motown, an incredibly smooth yet soulful vocalist who seemed to feel every lyric to the depths of his being. After dozens of hits with the Motown machine in the ’60s, Gaye wanted to find his own sound as the ’70s arrived, as did another Motown great Stevie Wonder. The result was What’s Going On, co-written and produced by Gaye creating a spacious, rhythmic (with the conga and not drums as the central percussion instrument), insistent soul/gospel sound that had never been heard before and has never been heard since.
A concept album about the state of his heart, his community, his country, and, finally, the state of the natural world, What’s Going On is one of the greatest albums of the ’70s, with the classic title track in addition to “Mercy, Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues.”
Al Green – Greatest Hits
Born the youngest of 10 children to deeply religious Arkansas sharecroppers, Al Green was the last of the great southern soul singers, closest perhaps to Sam Cooke, creating a spare, sexy, spiritual sound out of simple yet elegant production (by Willie Mitchell) and a classic Memphis soul band in the Stax/Volt tradition almost 10 years after the sound had peaked.
They say “Al Green is love,” and his Greatest Hits makes gloriously clear the relationship for Green between romantic love and love of God, that others, including Prince, have pursued with much less success. Recorded between ’71 and ’75, Green had an amazing run of hits written alone or with Mitchell including “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired of Being Alone,” “I’m Still In Love With You,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” “Call Me,” and a stunning version of the Bee Gees” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Green returned to his first love, gospel, in the late ’70s. He returned to the pop world with in ’88 with “Put a Little Love In Your Heart,” a duet with Annie Lennox, and teamed with Lyle Lovett on a remake of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” for the Rhythm, Country, and Blues collection in ’94.