A few days ago The Oregonian ran a story about what songs different noteworthy Portlanders listened to on their i-Pods. Two of them were friends, John Jay of Wieden + Kennedy and developer Randy Rapaport. And a third, writer Diana Abbu-Jabber, is a longtime colleague who I remember chatting with at many a movie screening when we were reviewing, her for The Oregonian and me for Willamette Week.
There was also a list from governor Ted Kulongoski, who favors Rolling Stones songs, and new Blazer Channing Frye, whose choices included Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me". (Hopefully his jump shot is a lot better than that song.)
I knew my friend Randy would choose at least one Flaming Lips song - the man is devoted to that band like jihadists are to the Koran. He actually went with two, "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton" and "Chewin' the Apple of Yer Eye" - the only person besides the governor to pick two songs by one artist.
It was also especially a treat reading about one of John's Choices, "The Breaks" by Kurtis Blow:
"I am just starting my career in fashion marketing at Bloomingdale's. New York is completely alive from the party music of hip-hop in the Bronx to the emerging art scene and new wave music. I am sitting in the studio of Antonio Lopez, the greatest fashion illustrator of our time, while 'The Breaks' fills the studio. Antonio introduces me to break dancers he has discovered and sent to Paris to perform."
The i-Pod is as relevant in my life as it seems to be in so many other people's. I'm listening to it as I write this (Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom is playing currently), and the ear buds are in for much of my day while I work, when I go for a walk, and when I drive.
There are of course lots of individual songs that I love, by artists ranging from Chuck Berry to Wham! to Sonny Rollins to Bananarama. But if you look at my top 25 list on i-Tunes, most all of them come from those albums that I listen to more or less start to finish.
Yesterday, imagining a kind of alternative list to those in the Oregonian feature, I sat down with my laptop in front of my CD collection, which numbers about 500. There are also Valarie's discs I pick and choose from, which are about the same in number. Out of those 1000 or so CDs, I made a list of the albums that I either listen to regularly and/or am reasonably likely to want to listen to in their entirety at some point in the not to distant future. Although any time I look at the list I wind up removing a record or two and/or adding some as well, my current list consists of 85 albums.
The first noticeable thing about the list is that there are more than twice as many Beatles albums as those by anyone else. I chose seven: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's, the 'White Album', Abbey Road, and Let It Be. I really should have also added Help! and A Hard Day's Night, both of which I've listened to in their entirety scores of times. The #1 song on my i-Tunes list, "It's All Too Much", is from Yellow Submarine, which I don't really ever listen to all the way because there's a lot of scoring from the movie in the second half.
The next closest multi-album artist, of which there are three, has three albums: The Clash (Combat Rock, London Calling, Sandinista!), Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom, Get Happy!), and jazz virtuoso Roland Kirk (The Inflated Tear, Volunteered Slavery, Domino). I could easily have added at least one to the Costello list (This Year's Model) if not three or four more. Same goes for Roland Kirk (Rip, Rig & Panic).
There are 15 artists with two albums on my list, and once again, many could have had more. For XTC, the English new wave band I fell in love with in college, I chose two seminal early albums, Black Sea and English Settlement. But I also often listen to Drums and Wires and several others.
The Police were also tough. I added Synchronicity and Outlandos D'Amour as start-to-finish listens, but on another day I might add Regatta de Blanc instead. With Nirvana I chose Nevermind and Unplugged In New York, only reluctantly leaving In Utero off the list. Fugazi also placed two, the later-career Red Medicine and In On the Kill Taker. All their albums are excellent, though. I could say the same about Thelonious Monk, whose albums Straight, No Chaser and Brilliant Corners I still listen to frequently.
Other artists seemed to more clearly have enough with two: A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory is a bona fide masterpiece, and Beats, Rhymes & Life is superb. But I'd argue their other records don't hit that same mark. I also liked American Music Club best after they moved into a richer, more complex sound with Mercury and San Francisco (made with the terrific producers Mitchell Froom and Joe Chicarelli) from the sort of industrial folk they'd been doing earlier - although there are some gems in that period, too, like California and Everclear.
There's probably no album I've listened to more in the last few months than The Shins' Wincing The Night Away, and their previous effort, Chutes Too Narrow, is great too. I imagine someday I'll get more into their first record, but it's not a start-to-finish, regular-rotation album for me right now.
But there are also plenty of cases where I chose one album by an artist, but I love that album a lot. Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus absolutely blows me away every time I hear it. If I had to pick the single greatest jazz record I've ever heard, this might be it. Yet Mingus tends to re-record many versions of the same songs, though, so I never feel quite as compelled to listen to, say, Blues and Roots or the excellent Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus all the way through.
Although I have absolutely zero-point-zero-zero (0.00) interest in Elton John's contemporary work, or even stuff he made in the last twenty-five or thirty years, when I was growing up my mom often played his first volume of greatest hits. Part of me wants to call it a guilty pleasure, but I never tire of songs like "Bennie and the Jets" and "Daniel". I also confess to loving Sir Elton's personal style in those days, before he was a fat old guy belting out songs for Disney soundtracks.
As I've been writing this post, after the Costello album somehow I started playing the Top 25 playlist upon looking for the spelling of one of the songs. In a couple of cases, the songs have stopped me from what I'm writing to either bob my head or just space out. Just a few seconds ago "Last Living Souls" from Gorillaz' Demon Days did that.
Years ago I remember watching a documentary on Damon Albarn. He was recording a string section and kept getting frustrated and surly with the classical players, because he was having a hard time getting to play in a different way, with more bounce like dance music called for and less of the strict sharpness that classical playing requires. In the show, Albarn looked like a pompous jerk in his Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and holier than thou rock star attitude. But I must admit: the strings on "Last Living Souls" have an exquisite circular sense of the looping beat that I've never heard from classical musicians before.
As much as I like lists and stats like the ones i-Tunes provides, or that I make myself with the laptop in front of my increasingly dusty CD shelves, I know they're never completely accurate. For example, there are only two classical albums on my start-to-finish list, a recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and one of Shostakovitch's Piano Quartet & Trio by The Borodin Trio. But I know I listen to a lot more classical than I used to. I guess it's still hard to make it through entire albums, though. And classical is much better to me live. On CD I feel like I'm always turning the volume up and down - it never sounds quite right.
The beauty of these stats, though, is that they're always fluid and subject only to my own whims and tastes.