Jun 8, 2012 Musical Appreciation
So approximately 2 and a half years ago, my office mate – the estimable Matt Milsark – embarked on a fairly crazy journey. We both are very much in love with music and we both share similar tastes in that music.
I received the fabulous book called “1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die” by Robert Dimery and Michael Lydon. This book is compilation of 50 music industry people who have brought to the table their top 100 choices to play for someone before they die. This was whittled down to simply the 1001 albums that one should hear. Matt and I decided to listen to them all, in their entirety.
This is no simple task. We set some pretty specific rules:
- We would only listen to them in the office we shared.
- We would only listen to them together.
- We tried our best to own the recordings or at the very least borrow them from people that had them.
What we found was the list in the book that I had was already changing. So, we compiled the list from the website, 1001 Albums Before You Die, and worked from the latest errata.
I just completed this list today. Yes I said “I”. My very good friend, Matt, moved on to another company and I was left to my own listening and finishing the list. Since Matt and I spent so much time and effort into listening to these albums, I thought I would share my thoughts on the albums we listened to. I don’t think it would be a good idea to break these posts into sections and I will add them as I can. I am hoping to Matt’s thoughts at some point in time as well. So here is 1955-1959 and they can be heard on Spotify with the playlist that I have created for everyone to follow along. The book begins with 1955 and works all the way up to 2010. Here goes:
1955 – In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning – Frank Sinatra – GREAT ALBUM! This was one of the first albums that I went out and bought to meet the needs of listening to these albums. I have always loved Frank and was surprised to realize I had never listened to this album. If it came out today it would be considered a total “stalkerazi” album but the timbre of Frank’s voice just kills.
1956 – Ellington at Newport ’56 – Duke Ellington – There was nothing really that stood out with this album with the exception of some introductions done by a priest. The album was good but nothing was overly spectacular. I’m not sure I would have included this in the “Must Hear” category but it was a good listen. The version that I listened to was an expanded edition on CD that had a lot of material.
1956 – Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley – This album kills, another CD I bought and then purchased on vinyl. Great example of why everyone was so hot on “The King”.
1956 – Songs for Swinging Lovers – Frank Sinatra – I loved this album as well, great swing feel. It felt like the beginning of the Rat Pack time frame. Favorites include “It Happened in Monterey” and “Anything Goes”.
1956 – Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis – True bebop at it’s best. Miles kills on “Budo” and “Deception”. “Boplicity” is extremely cool but this also includes “Darn That Dream”. Anytime I listen to Miles Davis I feel as though I have viewed a miraculously beautiful painting and don’t know what to say afterwards.
1956 – Tragic Songs of Life – The Louvin Brothers – OMG!! I can’t tell you enough about this album in a simple blog. Go out and get this album! It is a great example of 50’s country music that was transitioning from the bluegrass of old to the more storytelling form. Great, great stuff.
1957 – The Atomic Mr. Basie – Count Basie – Another very cool period piece that probably wouldn’t have made my list. Don’t get me wrong this is a really good album but would I play it for a friend before they kick the bucket to make sure they have heard it, probably not. It starts off kicking with “The Kid from Red Bank” which always make me think of Kevin Smith (still not sure why). Just a great example of swing/big band jazz, not the crooner stuff like Benny Goodman.
1957 – This is Fats Domino – Fats Domino – NOT AN EASY ALBUM TO FIND! I had to reconstruct this album from various albums and that’s always a challenge since you aren’t sure if the recording or take is the exact one from the album. This is Fats Domino is basically what you would expect from Fats – “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “Reeling and Rocking”, etc. Good, possibly great album but not really surprising.
1957 – Here’s Little Richard – Little Richard – This album KILLS!! Great example of being polar opposite from the Fats Domino album. “Tutti Fruitti”, “Jenny, Jenny”, “Ready Teddy”, “Long Tall Sally” are of course the hits but the album as a whole is amazing, so much so I bought it on vinyl for keeps. This is one that would make my list now that I have heard it.
1957 – The Wildest! – Louis Prima – Hilarious!! Matt and I listened to this album and Matt’s comment said it all for me “These guys sound like they had a freaking great time making this album!!” That is exactly what I thought as well, it’s got hits like “Just a Gigolo”, “The Lip” and “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail”. While those 3 are enough to put this album on my list but the rest of the tracks are just as fun and good. Highly recommended.
1957 – Kenya – Machito – this is an example of good Afro-Cuban Jazz but seemed very “lounge-y” to me. Not really my cup of tea, lots of orchestration and vary simple rhythms. Sounds a lot like a movie soundtrack from the early 60’s so it is possible this set off a genre.
1957 – Palo Congo – Sabu – another example of Afro-Cuban music but this one was more intriguing for me because it is primarily focused on poly rhythmic percussion. As the title implies, lots and lots of conga but there are a number of featured instruments. This is one that I would recommend but I’m not sure I would put it on a list this esteemed.
1957 – The “Chirping” Crickets – The Crickets – Buddy Holly‘s group before he became the focal point for all things 50’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s the only Crickets album that features Buddy, which is really strange to discover. This album is definitively a must hear and belongs squarely in the 1001. “That’ll be the Day”, “Oh, Boy” and “Not Fade Away” are all on this album.
1957 – Brilliant Corners – Thelonious Monk – Very, very cool jazz piano with Max Roach on drums and Sonny Rollins on sax. Seems like everything I hear on Riverside records is cool. This is a straight out jazz from the Miles Davis, Charlie Parker feel. Very cool but not in my top 100. Probably would make the 1001 though.
1957 – Lady in Satin – Billie Holiday – Listening to Billie Holiday is like watching a beautiful slow motion tragedy (train wreck, car crash). Her voice is so beautifully sad it breaks your heart. She is an amazing vocalist and will make you sob uncontrollably like a 14 year old girl who just found out the boy she likes is enamored with her best friend. Great album but not in my top 100.
1958 – Jack Take the Floor – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – SUPERB! Fantastic example of the roots folk music. Jack Elliott was a traveling companion of Woody Guthrie and this album hearkens to that sort of American Folk music that defined our nation. This is extremely hard to find and was one of the last 10 I was able to obtain. It would be in my top 100.
1958 – Live at Mister Kelly’s – Sarah Vaughn – Bought this on vinyl at a garage sale and restored it as best I could. This is a very cool live album that was recorded by simply starting the recording and doing pretty much zero editing. Ms. Vaughn is singing with a simple trio of players – Jimmy Jones, piano; Roy Haynes, drums; Rich Davis, bass. She is so laid back on this recording it is disarming. This is a great example of an early live recording. In the 1001 but probably not in the top 100.
1958 – Dance Mania – Tito Puente – How can you not love Tito Puente. Very cool rhythms and everything that makes Latin dance music cool! I loved listening to this album and it is a great early example of the Latin pulse running through the US before Cuba got excommunicated. I would recommend this to be in the 1001.
1959 – Time Out – The Dave Brubeck Quartet – “Take Five”, “Blue Rondo a la Turk” are worth buying the album alone but this what I consider the very first album I ever heard that sounded truly sophisticated. It’s a California jazz at its finest and is timeless. This is in my top 100 and maybe even in my top 25.
1959 – Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book – Ella Fitzgerald – This is a 4 disc set that is extremely comprehensive but if you are going to have to choose one Ella Fitzgerald album, I guess this would be it. Lots and lots of great songs. Probably wouldn’t be in my top 100 but would crack the 1001.
1959 – Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs – Marty Robbins – This album clearly falls outside what I would consider to be my tastes but I gotta say that this was a wistful listen that rang clear and bright for me. I dug it. “Big Iron” and “El Paso” are the tunes everyone knows but the rest of the album is really cool. It tells great stories. It will make my 1001 even though I had never listened to it before.
1959 – Kind of Blue – Miles Davis – BEST JAZZ ALBUM EVER! End of story. This album is in my top 5. Listen to it.
1959 – The Genius of Ray Charles – Ray Charles – This is an early example of Ray but not my favorite. It does have “Let The Good Times Roll” and “Deed I Do” but it isn’t the one I would have put in the list. I would have probably gone with Ray Charles at Newport but this isn’t a bad album by any means.
Well, that was the 50’s and for the most part this list got it right. All really good selections but only a few fell short of great. Coming soon, the early 60’s!