In my last post, I wrote about the music you’re supposed to like: those basic rock artists you should have in your collection, should know inside out and love–but maybe you don’t. I identified two biggies–Dylan and the Grateful Dead as two bands I just don’t love–though I never stop trying.
But let’s just flip that for a moment and move to records that are maybe just a little too mainstream, a little too pop, a little too AM radio. What’s on your list? These are a few of mine.
I’m not a big dance-pop person. It usually isn’t something i’d hang out and listen to, but I have a certain fondness for Madonna. The Immaculate Collection is an anthology-something I usually avoid-of her 80’s era singles. All the usual suspects are there-“Like a Virgin,” “Lucky Star,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “Vogue.” But my absolute favorite songs are when her voice sinks into a slightly lower register to sing “Live to Tell,” and “La Isla Bonita” Both songs, lyrically, are also great storytelling as many Madonna songs are. I can’t say I’ve followed her career intently, but I can’t get around the fact that some nights just seem suited for this album.
I really liked Dire Straits, and a certain part of me died when they broke up for good after On Every Street in 1991. But I did comfort myself with guitarist Mark Knopfler’s solo records. Knopfler was one of the few great guitar stylists to emerge through the New Wave and heavy metal era with a certain degree of technical brilliance. Though he worked solo on a number of movie scores, including The Local Hero and The Princess Bride, his first solo album didn’t appear until 1995. Golden Heart set the pattern for most of his solo work with less emphasis on his guitar chops and far more on his intelligent songwriting. I love this record (CD actually, never released on vinyl unfortunately) I really love “Rudiger,” “Done With Bonaparte,” and the title track. If you love his stuff, but miss his awesome guitar licks, don’t miss the live version of “Speedway at Nazareth” off Live Roadrunning. Yowzah.
Throughout the 70’s I never missed a record by Linda Ronstadt. After a broken relationship, my girlfriend took all the Linda and I reacquired every album, first on CD and again on vinyl. I saw her at the Kingdome in 1976 with the Eagles and watched guys throw their BVD’s at her. Every record from Silk Purse to Living In the USA and beyond has something to recommend it. Though Heart Like A Wheel is usually recognized as Ronstadt at her best, I’m particularly fond of 1976’s Hasten Down the Wind. She didn’t write her own songs and was known as an interpreter of others’ work. Hasten has some great covers. Ronstadt’s powerful voice covers two Karla Bonoff songs “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” and “Lose Again.” She chipped in the title song, from Warren Zevon’s first record. It’s a great album and worth a listen.
In speaking of Warren Zevon, let’s talk Excitable Boy. I’ve had this album in so many different formats I’ve lost track. But at the present time I don’t have it on vinyl. It was Zevon’s most accessible, commercially successful record. From the highly recognizable “Werewolves of London” to the haunting refrains of “Veracruz,” this is a wonderful record. “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and “Roland The Headless Thompson” provide a little bit of political commentary. Like most Warren Zevon albums there is at least one achingly beautiful love song, and in this case “Accidentally Like a Martyr” fills the space. Unquestionably the most fun Warren Zevon album.
We mostly remember him for his MTV videos surrounded by leggy, scantily clad women, but Riptide, by Robert Palmer is a great record. Palmer started out performing blue-eyed soul, and did quite well with it actually. He later joined three Duran, Duran refugees to form Power Station in 1984 which was hugely successful in the U.K. Palmer left the band after a single album and turned out Riptide. Though we remember the videos from “Addicted to Love,” and “Didn’t Mean to Turn You On,” the record is full of great songs. My favorite is the dance themed “Hyperactive.” A great record and much fun.
Finally, I spent an entire year obsessed by French Record by Kate and Anna McGarrigle. The Canadian sisters offered some wonderfully smart albums crammed with intelligent, interesting, witty and silly songs. “Heart Like a Wheel” made a great deal of money for Linda Ronstadt. But in 1980 the Anglo, bilingual sisters released French Record, with every song recorded in French. My French is so terrible that when I visited Quebec in 2002 the shopkeepers begged me to stop trying, so I have little idea what they’re singing about. But the arrangements are so charming, the melodies so engaging, that I just love it. Some songs are contemporary, others are French Canadian folk songs. I particularly like “Entre la Jeunesse et la Sagesse” and “Excursion A Venise.” Mostly traditional instrumentation on this one: guitar, piano, and accordion.
These are some of my guilty pleasures, I’d love to hear about some of yours.