Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ten Albums

Jill Bari's blog is on fire with "Ten Favorite Movies List" hysteria. I thought I'd stir the pot a bit by turning the subject sideways, listing my ten favorite albums, and asking readers to do the same. No rules except your rules.

I've updated this list to include some descriptions because everybody else has and I should have in the first place.

In alphabetical order:

Bruce Cockburn - Dart to the Heart. Some of Cockburn's most beautiful songwriting and acoustic guitar playing highlights this collection of love songs. This album consistently makes me cry and smile, often simultaneously. It also has the gorgeous "Closer to the Light," a tribute to Mark Heard written after his passing.

Dream Theater - Octavarium. I could have also listed Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, but this album is a bit better concentrated. Chunk, groove, brains, and soaring majesty in equal doses. One of the greatest prog-rock albums of all time. Worth it just for the orchestra coming back in for the climax.

Peter Gabriel - Security. Seriously, Gabriel's Sgt. Pepper. This is the album that made me start taking music seriously. A sonic masterpiece indeed, one of the first all-digital recordings. "San Jacinto" demolishes me.

Genesis - Selling England by the Pound. The purest example of early Genesis, from Gabriel's a capella intro through the mournful, unsettling reprise at the end. Foxtrot is also great, but there's storytelling in the instrumental passages of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight," "Firth of Fifth," and "Cinema Show" that I've never heard before or since.

Mark Heard - Dry Bones Dance. This is an album that I love more every time I hear it. Zydeco, dixieland, folk, country, and rock influence create a sonic songwriting gumbo matched only in its brilliance by Heard's lyrics. "Mercy of the Flame" is probably my favorite song in the world right now.

Joe Jackson - Heaven and Hell. How to choose one Jackson album? You pick the one that's most unique and least likely to ever be duplicated. This one is a neoclassical techno-orchestral song cycle based on the Seven Deadly Sins, featuring Suzanne Vega (lust), Brad Roberts (sloth), Jane Siberry (envy), Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (the devil as violin), and the usual cast of Jackson's genius collaborators. It was even performed as a musical by the Boston Conservatory last year. I'd like to point out that they stole my Night and Day idea, highlighting the importance of some theatre in Richmond helping me produce it professionally as soon as possible.

Rich Mullins - A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. Again, how to choose one Mullins album? Mainly for the opening-side trilogy of "52:10," "The Color Green," and "Creed," all three of which astonish me every time. Mullins may be the most passionate songwriter I have ever heard, and this is his most passionate and best-produced work.

Sam Phillips - A Boot and a Shoe. So sad, so smart, so obtuse, and so sexy. Sam has a new album coming out this summer, and it's worth counting the days until.

The Who - Quadrophenia. A double-album of teenage angst written with such passion and poetry that it should be issued at the door of every high school. "Love, Reign O'er Me" is simply an irreplaceable song; there is nothing like it.

Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans. Massive, pretentious, bloated, obscure. Gorgeous. Don't change a note.

My apologies to brilliant albums by Kansas, T-Bone Burnett, Jane Siberry, Pete Townshend, King Crimson, the Beatles, Dan Fogelberg, Cindy Morgan, Charlie Peacock, Tom Waits, Steve Hackett, and so many others who didn't make the list. It was quite exclusive and hard to get into.

What's next, ten favorite plays?



  • At 3/17/2008 10:21 AM , Blogger JB said...

    Pink Floyd - The Final Cut - this was my salvation during my teen angst years and now that I am older and look back at some of the music I listened too in my youth I am glad at least I had some good taste.

    Fleetwood Mac - Rumors- this is the only album I am aware of where every song was a hit. Still blows my mind.

    ABBA Gold - Sometimes we can't describe what it is about the music that we love. I just know this album makes me feel good.

    Tom Waits - Closing time. My adult angst album.

    Nina Simone - I can't even pic an album - they are all amazing. When I first heard her cover of Just Like a Woman - I actually wept - she took a song and just because she sang it - she gave it a whole new story. She was amazing.

    Free to be you and me - Marlo Thomas and friends - laugh if you must but I got this album in 4th grade and listened to it over and over. Shel Silverstein, Mean Joe Green, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, are just some of the talents who lent themselves to this album.

    Other Voices Other Rooms - Nanci Griffith - this is a nostalgic music trip. Imagine if chicken pot pie and mashed potatoes were an album.

    Simon and Garfunkel - greatest hits. maybe I spoke too soon when I said Rumors was the only album I knew of where every song was a hit - it goes for this one too. but this is a greatest hits album so maybe that doesn't count. Still - every track is poetry.

    Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks - during the first time Dylan was Jewish before he went Christian and then came back - this album was created and g-d said it was good. Amen.

    Avenue Q - did you think this list would be free of Musicals? Avenue Q defeated the odds by winning the Tony award for best musical against Wicked. It is hilariously clever and surprisingly touching. Download this: "Everyone's a little bit racist" and "I wish you could meet my girlfriend".

  • At 3/17/2008 1:54 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    1- Beastie Boys: PAULS BOUTIQUE also 'Check Your Head' is one of my other favorites, probably 1A.

    2-Dead Milkmen: BEELZEBUBBA. I wore the tape out. I love this friggin album.

    3-Traveling Wilburys: Debut Album. never before have so many rock legends gotten together and meshed so well. This album was like the 1992 US Olympic Basketball Team.

    4-Red Hot Chili Peppers MOTHERS MILK. Just before they got super-hot, this album, featuring a cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Higher Ground,' got me through high school.

    5-Mel Torme MEL TORME'S FINEST HOUR. I have this CD somewhere and it has been missing. I grow weary from lack of the Velvet Fog. Mel is seriously underrated as a musician. A true genius...

    6-Cornershop WHEN I WAS BORN FOR THE SEVENTH TIME. Pete Schmidt gave this to me when we did 'Fifth of July' in 1994. Love it. LOOOVE IT.

    7-Ween PURE GUAVA. These guys are weird. I mean really, really weird.

    ...They speak to me.

    8-1776 ORIGINAL CAST RECORDING. My favorite show. Honorable mention: MAN OF LA MANCHA.

    9-The Beatles RUBBER SOUL.A tie with ABBEY ROAD. I still play it on vinyl. Just great.

    10-Talib Kweli QUALITY. Smart hip-hop that never loses it's sense of arrogance or fun.

  • At 3/17/2008 2:13 PM , Blogger Wayne Conners said...

    These are not my ten favorite albums, as they change depending on my mood and/or the day.

    Instead, I would label this “Ten Rock Albums I Dearly Love”:

    The Beatles, Abbey Road - ‘nuff said.

    Derek & the Dominoes, Layla and other Assorted Love Songs. A massive monument to unrequited can *hear* the pain and desire all mixed together.

    Steely Dan, Can’t Buy A Thrill – Tough to pick one Dan. This barely edges out Aja (stylistically the other end of the spectrum) for me.

    The Clash, London Calling – The Only Band That Matters.

    John Hiatt, Slow Turning – This one got me through grad school. Is there a better songwriter than John Hiatt?

    Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus. Arguably the best live album ever. I just picked up the remastered CD and I’m loving it all over again.

    The Who, Who’s Next – Not a weak tune on it.

    Peter Gabriel, Security – Andrew and I agree on this one. A sonic masterpiece.

    XTC, Oranges and Lemons – Great, GREAT quirky pop songs. I really like Upsy Daisy Assortment better, but decided to leave out collections.

    R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant – It’s all downhill after this one. OK, Out Of Time is really good, but this is big and raw and just killer.

  • At 3/17/2008 2:34 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...


    Quadrophenia is my Final Cut. I'm totally tracking with you, sister.


    I'm not sure there is a better songwriter than John Hiatt. If you like Hiatt, you will LOVE Buddy Miller and Mark Heard.



    I too have a well-worn cassette copy of Beelzebubba from college.

  • At 3/17/2008 10:02 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Pretty daunting task, but I'll take a crack at it. This will prove I've bought very little new music in the past 15 to 20 years, but these, my friends, are timeless. No particular reason or much commentary needed for each one, they're just great albums.

    Supertramp, Breakfast in America (listen to the tracks that WEREN'T hits for why)

    Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life

    Beatles, Abbey Road

    Joe Jackson, Night and Day

    Steely Dan, Aja

    Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy

    Boston, Boston (quite possibly the most astonishing debut album of all time)

    The Eagles, On the Border (the birth of modern country music can be found here)

    Eddie Money, Eddie Money (quite possibly the second most astonishing debut album of all time)

    Alan Parson Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination (never heard it? You've missed out!)

  • At 3/19/2008 10:44 PM , Anonymous Philip Hamm said...

    This list changes every time I think of it. Since my office gives me a great view of my CD and LP collections I can rattle off ten. I have to pick albums that I keep going back to year after year, that I've heard a hundred times and still love. There are some, like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" that are just too played for me.

    So in no order.....

    Miles Davis Kind of Blue - I know it's kind of a chiche, but the reason is that it's just the most perfect album ever recorded.

    W.A. Mozart Piano Concerto 20/21 - from Malcom Bilson / John Elliot Gardiner's "The Piano Concertos".

    Pink Floyd Animals - it would be a biting look at human nature and the world of business if it weren't so ridiculous and naive. But I love it.

    Third World The Story's Been Told - I'm not a big Reggae fan, but I'm a big Third World fan. Their music is very spiritual and uplifting, full of great musicianship, great songwriting, great rhythms. After being a fan for decades I finally go to see them live last year and they exceeded my very high expectations.

    Andy Summers Charming Snakes - Inspired guitar jazz. I love Scofield also, but prefer Summers' approach. Chad Wackerman on drums. It's a shame Summers never found a larger audience for his electric jazz, it's all fantastic.

    Marshall Crenshaw Miracle Of Science - This is one where it's tough for me to figure out which is the best because he has so many strong offerings. Miracle is what I keep coming back to, maybe because it's the first new record that he released after I started really getting into his music.

    Bruce Cockburn The Charity Of Night - My favorite album by probably my favorite singer/songwriter. Rob Wasserman on upright bass.

    Joe Jackson Body And Soul - Love the recording, love the orchestration, love the songs.

    Paul McCartney Band On The Run - Despite some very poor lyrics, this is my favorite recording by any of the Beatles, apart or together. Venus and Mars is almost as brilliant.

    T-Bone Burnett Trap Door - The perfect EP. Brevity is the only weakness it has.

    There are many favorites which did not get a nod. I've been listening to Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Collosus" a lot lately, and Cannonball Adderly's "Somethin' Else" is always high on my list. Nothing from Pete Townshend, one of my favorite rockers. My favorite thing he did is "All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes".
    No Beatles, probably because they're just played out. Despite how great they are at my age I've heard them all hundreds of times. I can't believe I left out Donald Fagan's "The Nightfly". On second thought it's probably up there above one of those. Maybe I couldn't decide between that or Aja. No progressive Rock. Where's "Discipline"? No DEVO! "Q:Are We Not Men? A:We changed music forever!" No Barenaked Ladies! No Gary Numan - I have to admit I have been greatly enjoying his new dark techno music despite the Evangelical Athiest lyrical content. No Psychedelic Furs! I'll have to do another one that's 50 records.....

  • At 3/20/2008 9:08 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Then you'll just agonize over albums 51 through 100.

  • At 3/23/2008 10:17 PM , Blogger Dave T said...

    My problem with naming my 10 top albums is that for me (and I expect for scads of people) music is very tied up with when I heard it, who I heard it with, what was going on in my life at the time. I can be all analytical about theater; with music, not so much. So while these might not be the best albums I've ever heard, they're among my favorites and the ones I come back to time and again.

    Todd Rundgren : Back to the Bars. After hearing this live album I went back and listened to the studio versions of a lot of his stuff. "Something / Anything" is probably my fave of those but the live album is still my favorite.

    Lynyrd Skynyrd : Live from the Road. The beginning of my love of southern rock. This was my gateway drug to the Allmans, ZZ Top, CCR, etc. etc.

    Bad Co. / Bad Co. It's embarrassing, I know. But this was the first real rock album I ever heard. I still can't quite turn off one of the songs from this album if it's on the radio.

    Cake : Comfort Eagle. Heard "Short Skirt / Long Jacket" on the radio and was transfixed.

    Barenaked Ladies : Gordon. Heard this album while hanging out in a dank Baltimore record store during a lonely time in my life and it was like a ray of sonic sunshine.

    Indigo Girls : Shaming of the Sun. One of their less known ones. One of those albums I bought as soon as I heard it so I could study all of the lyrics. "Get out the map" and "It's Alright" still have the ability to make me cry.

    Prince : Purple Rain. Imagine a clique of over-educated white boys trying to figure out how the hell little Prince got all the chicks and ripped out such insane licks.

    Steely Dan : Can't Buy a Thrill. Played this album several times a day for probably a year. I was a fool to do her dirty work. But I did it anyway.

    Lyle Lovett & His Large Band. Pontiac has more fun songs and "Lyle Lovett" has "God Will" which is one of my faves of all time. But this one was my intro to Lyle and the one I'm more likely to put on than the others. "I Married Her Because She Looks Like You" is just pure gold.

    Neil Young : Decade. It feels like cheating to put a compilation like this on, but Neil has been such a long-running constant in my life, I couldn't narrow it down to anything else.

    Wow, that's 10 and I feel like I'm just starting... Oh well. I guess that'll do!

  • At 3/24/2008 8:46 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Great list, Dave. Funny, I wouldn't have taken you for a Southern rocker, but I'm in the middle of loading a bunch of John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Mark Heard, and Buddy Miller onto my MP3 player, so I'm not one to talk...

  • At 3/24/2008 8:11 PM , Blogger Dave T said...

    I actually owned several pair of cheap sunglasses. I played in a somewhat schizo band -- we played both "Gimme Three Steps" from Skynyrd and "Southern Man" from Neil Young. And without irony. I have a long-running, unresolvable discussion with a friend about whether the Allman Bros or Skynyrd is the best southern rock band ever (hint about which side I'm on: "I Know A Little" is full of the licks God would play if he played southern rock).

    I tried to deny my inner southern rock lover for probably almost two decades. I'm old now and don't give a rip so yes, I'm a liberal boy from Ohio who loves southern rock. Go figure.

  • At 3/25/2008 8:20 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    The true mark of open-mindedness is loving something people would all assume you hate.

  • At 3/25/2008 12:03 PM , Anonymous Phil Hamm said...

    As posted on a response to this blog earlier.... I recently bought a 3 CD set at Costco of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Fantastic music!


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