When I was a kid, we saved our money to buy ALBUMS, or TAPES, or CD’s and listened to all the songs a hundred times over. We knew the words, we read the liner notes and thought about the lyrics. We wondered about the musicians. We put the needle on the record and tried not to scratch it. We hit re-wind and pressed play just to listen to parts of a song over and over again – just so we could really hear it. I’m not saying it was “better back then,” I’m just saying it was different. And it was better.
These are some of my favorite albums…in order of release (but not necessarily in order of sweet discovery).
Tapestry, Carole King, 1971
This album ruled my childhood. I was fascinated by the album cover, let alone all the magic it held inside. Carole, barefoot, with her cat and her super frizzy, long hair. Carole, in the window…her expression, her youth, her bra-less hippie mystique – all of it simply captivated me. Her voice and that funky piano made me want to be her. I begged for piano lessons. I wanted to wear long skirts and peasant blouses. I wanted a big nose. I can still sing the entire album without missing a beat (or a word) from start to finish. Every song is gold, and every note is genius. That’s how much I love it. Notable songs: It’s Too Late, I Feel The Earth Move, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Oh my God I have to go listen to it right now.
Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones, 1971
Oh Micky, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind. Seriously. How can this skinny, giant mouthed kid with a shaggy mop-top keep me riveted, gyrating, and singing along for all these years? Mick Jagger chews you up and spits you out and all you can do is thank him. Party rock at its’ finest. They are now in their 70’s and they still fill arenas. This album had an especially brazen cover – the tight jeans with a “roll of quarters in his pocket” kept me dazed and confused. I couldn’t look away! How dare they do that to me? Notable songs: Dead Flowers and Wild Horses
I loved Janis Joplin because my dad loved her, plain and simple. I also recognized early on, that while she was a bit of a screamer, she had a unique, crackling, bluesy voice, so very different from anything I had ever heard. I felt what she was feeling when she stamped her feet and sang. Plus, she could completely rock out in a way that men were able to, and that was cool to watch. She was funny and full of life. And of course she died way too soon. Notable songs: Mercedes Benz and Me and Bobby McGee.
Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits (and More!) 1975
Here’s another album I could sing from start to finish, because I sang my little 10 year old heart out to this album about a million times in 1978. I don’t know why my parents had this in their collection, but they played it over and over on our stereo with the gigantic speakers. I think this was around the time my mom, a liberated woman, started hosting Tupperware parties. My little sister and I would belt out Angie Baby like nobody’s business. Angie was a “little touched you know” and my sister and I loved that about her. Notable songs: Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) and Keep on Singing.
The siren voice of Stevie Nicks. The expert guitar and drum solos. The wind chimes and the haunting harmonies! This album had it all. The cover, an instant classic, made me wonder about the band…why wasn’t everyone on the cover? Who was dating who? Why were they breaking up and having affairs and yet still together? How did they do it? I’ll tell you how – they were just a freaky band of rock & roll gypsy lovers, doing drugs, getting mystical, and making music. It was the 70’s after all. Hey Mick, that’s kind of a weird place to put your knee. Notable songs: Dreams (of course!), and Gold Dust Woman
Off The Wall, Michael Jackson, 1979
My little sister and I made up an entire choreographed routine to Don’t Stop til You Get Enough. It was a very long song. It took us forever to nail all the moves, but we did it, and it was contest-worthy. We thought it could be a great opening number at a circus…you know, before the elephants came out and did their thing. Our dance included somersaults and cartwheels and a lot of repeated segments. Yes, we were that sophisticated. This was a fantastic album and we listened to it incessantly Michael Jackson was so cute on the cover…it’s really too bad he got so weird for so long and then died so early. Can’t argue about his talent though. Notable songs: Workin’ Day and Night, and Rock With You.
The River, Bruce Springsteen, 1980
Ah, Bruce. He always sang about Mary, or Candy, or Terry and I just knew she had feathered back hair and wore way too much eyeliner. I knew she had problems at home, and sometimes she cut school. When she left the house, she let the screen door slam. I knew she got pregnant and man that was all she wrote. I felt bad for Bruce, but he had to do the right thing…he had to marry her and get a job in a factory. This album captured my teenage imagination – I wasn’t quite a teenager yet but boy did I want to be one if it meant hanging out in abandoned beach houses and riding on the back streets. If it meant throwing roses in the rain, I was in. Notable songs: You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Two Hearts
Madonna, Madonna, 1983
This album crashed the 80’s pop music scene and left a mark. I remember hearing Borderline for the first time in the car with my friend Tara, and thinking, OH MY GAH – WHO THE *$#! IS THIS?? And Tara was like, “It’s Madonna!!!” and I was like, “She’s so AWESOME!!” That’s back when awesome was a new word. This was the soundtrack to my coming of age…when everything was fun and fun was just being a teenager driving home from tennis practice with your cool friend who just got her drivers license. Madonna was just like me before she married Sean Penn and got all famous and full of herself. Before she started speaking with a British accent and before she wore the pointy bra and the super-high, blonde, horse pony. She was me before she waxed her eyebrows and tried to become an actress. Notable Songs: Lucky Star and Burning Up
Purple Rain, Prince, 1984
The movie made no sense. Neither did the lyrics to any of the songs on the album. But there was just something crazy and wonderful about this tiny, high-heeled, funky, purple, wonder boy. Bruno Mars tries to be Prince, but he just isn’t. No one can be Prince. No one can wear ass-less yellow pants at an awards show and somehow pull it off. And Apollonia Kotero was exotic and interesting if only because she was into Prince. It was all so confusing and yet I listened to every song on the album and sang along. I sang along at the top of my lungs. Notable songs: Let’s Go Crazy and I Would Die 4 U.
After deciding that Madonna and Prince were ridiculous, I wanted to go all edgy and start listening to some REAL music by some REAL bands…and that’s when I came across my brother’s stash of REM tapes in the back of his Ford Fairmont when he was home from college. I instantly fell in love with Micheal Stipe (what is it about the sexy mop-top that captivates?). His weird intensity and the lyrics were just so cool. I felt cool when I listened to them because NOT EVERYONE listened to REM…and if you did it meant you knew something about music and yes, you were a little cooler than everyone else. That’s what it meant. Notable songs: (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville and So. Central Rain
Licensed to Ill, Beastie Boys, 1986
A lot is said and written about rap, the origins, the pioneers, and like it or not, The Beastie Boys need to be a part of the conversation. They were total BRATS and I loved them. Nerdy but cool boys before boys were allowed to be nerdy and cool at the same time. And they weren’t afraid to be street. Jewish hip-hop at its’ finest. People eventually took them seriously because they were aggressive and direct. They kept the hits coming and they kept the beats fresh. Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA experimented with sampling and sounds before it became popular to do so. When a Beastie classic comes on the radio I don’t turn the channel. Notable songs: She’s Crafty and No Sleep Till Brooklyn
Of course there are many more great albums and I’ll be sure to mention them if I ever get around to writing Part 2, or 3, or 4. But right now, I’m going to go listen to the groovy piano intro to I Feel the Earth Move and get lost in the moment with Carole King.