Okay this may not give you any insights into how to do a better job for your clients. But think about this: If you were forced to only listen to 10 albums for the rest of your life, whuch 10 would they be? It took me a while, but here is my list and the reasons why.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy - Elton John
Very few people have any clue what a major accomplishment this album was and why there will never be an album made like this ever again. First though, let’s look at the basics. This is the best of the classic Elton John Band lineup. Nigel Ollson on drums, Dee Murray on Bass, Davey Johnstone on guitar, Ray Cooper on percussion and of course Elton John on piano. This album was made at the absolute height of Elton’s career. It shipped platinum and was number one on the charts the day it was released. That fete had never been accomplished by anyone before this album. With a wide variety of feels and textures throughout the album, “Captain Fantastic” had textures and styles for every true Elton fan.
But what makes this so unique? At the time, Elton John was so successful and so valuable to the record company, he used his power in a unique way on this album. First, it is a concept album. It is actually the story of Elton John and Bernie Taupin and how they became a success in the music business. So, the priority was the story being told and not any commercial appeal. That’s right, this album was made WITHOUT any “singles” being created to push album sales (“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was released as a single, but it was never meant to be a huge commercial success). The priority was only on the story. Record companies no longer will allow any artist to make an album without any hit single as a part of it. From the opening notes of the acoustic guitar on “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” to the final fade out on “Curtains”, this album is rich with textures and deep lyrical meaning. Between vinyl, 8 track, CD and mp3 I am certain I have listened to this album over 200 times. Each time, I bask in its richness and texture. Each time, I work more on duplicating the vocal nuance one these songs.
Frampton Comes Alive! - Peter Frampton
The first thought that crosses my mind with this album is getting high in Kenny Hornke’s house in IB on a Saturday spring evening with a group of my friends. In 1976, FCA was THE soundtrack to being a teenager. This album was required at every party. The funny parallel I had with this record is that Peter Frampton was actually a success with The Herd, then again with Humble Pie, but as a solo artist, his career was dying. FCA was only recorded because the record company was disappointed with his sales and thinking of throwing in the towel, but someone said “Wait, this guy is amazing live in concert – let’s put out a live album and see how the public likes that”. FCA became his biggest album ever. My parallel is that a few months before FCA was released, I was asked to fill in the gap left open by Matthew Modine after he chose to switch high schools. I got the starring role in a couple plays. Also, I had the direction and friendship of Don Davis (who really was a far better actor than Matthew Modine) and Don accepted me and encouraged me and helped me emerge from the shell of self doubt. Any time I got a compliment for my acting or singing or playing guitar, I have Don to thank for helping me hone my talents and come out of my self imposed shell. So just as live performance made Peter Frampton huge, live performance helped me to emerge and become my best self as well. Listening to this album reminds me of that time. A time where it was as if I had been in a cave but finally came out to be bathed in the warm sunlight.
FCA was a work of art in working a crowd. I guess I learned a bit about being a showman just from listening to this. But the also the way Frampton made each song his own. “Jumping Jack Flash” was nothing like the Rolling Stones. It was completely Frampton’s. And of course even though Frampton was not the first to record a talk box, he did make it the most famous tool as it was used in both “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do”
The Best of Sam Cooke - Sam Cooke
Some of you reading this have no clue that there ever was a Sam Cooke or why he was even important. I have to say this album was important to me because my parents owned it and we would listen to it. From this record, as if from osmosis, I learned about the structure of music, I learned about how music makes people happy and how important it is to convey joy through music to allow people to dance (after all, my parents met at a dance so if there was no dancing, there would be no me). But most of all, decades before I could really fully comprehend it, I would learn the nuances of what makes a master vocalist.
People think that a singer just needs to sing. For that matter, a 2 year old may be able to sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. But a real singer understands not only manipulating pitch, but also using vibrato, pitch bends, using timbre to create enunciation and even using “runs”. But there was something else about Sam Cooke. I heard it explained once by the greatest rock vocalist that was heavily influenced by Sam Cooke – Steve Perry of Journey. The moment That Steve Perry heard Sam Cooke, that is the moment that Steve wanted to become a singer. What Steve pointed out was that Sam would use volume in his singing. Just like swells or waves in the ocean, Sam would use the volume of how loud or how quiet he sang as another unique nuance. Which is why Steve Perry does the same thing. I will never be that good, but I will always have fun trying to get better.
The Cars - The Cars
This album reminds me of my first band back in high school, Roxx. If memory serves, we played 3 songs from this album as a part of our 50 minute shows we did at the high school. Although I prefer their second album, “Candy O”, this album brought a new sonic landscape to the music scene. A minimalist approach through new wave. All my bandmates loved this album and so we made it a priority to perform songs from this record. Something about Benjamin Orr’s voice intrigued me and laid out a road map for me in pitch bends and vibratos on ways to make my own voice more interesting. Ric Okasek’s simple approach to songwriting was encouraging to me as I have never been a music scholar but always loved to play and compose. If any album ever proved “Less is more”, it is this one. It packs plenty of punch and pop with very little muss and fuss to get in the way.
Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room - Dwight Yoakam
This album by Dwight Yoakam was introduced to me by my dad. He absolutely loved the song “Streets of Bakersfield” and so he bought the album and I became entranced with Dwight’s style. This album also has the ultimate electric slide song for country dance clubs (“Fast As You”), as well as everything from a fast shuffle (”I Hear You Knockin”) to blues infused country (“I Sang Dixie”). This album was part of the gateway that led from old country to what became new country. Even back when Arsenio Hall had an urban influenced talk show, he had Dwight on as a musical guest. Dwight’s style not only influenced me on enhancing a pronounced vibrato and pitch bend in my singing, but also led me down a path where for more than 20 years, I used a more nasaly tone in my own singing. While the album did influence me as a singer and a composer, that is not what I really think of when I think of this album. I think of my late father when I think of this album. This was something special to him that he shared with me. In fact one of my favorite times I sang was when I brought a guitar over to my folks house and sang a number of songs including “Streets of Bakersfield” because it was his favorite
The Brian Setzer Collection 1981-1988 - Brian Setzer
Some of you know Brian Setzer as the lead singer of The Stray Cats. Some of you know him from The Brian Setzer Orchestra. This album highlights the timeline between those two eras. Funny thing, Brian refers to this time as the worst time in his career. Granted, it may have been the least commercially successful period, but the music here is amazing. Brian Setzer is probably the least appreciated vocalist for his talent. In the Brian Setzer Orchestra and with The Stray Cats, he doesn’t use nearly the level of vocal chops he shows off in this compilation. And his catchy hooks in the songs as well as the vocals make this album highly enjoyable. With a style influenced by blues, r&b, country and doo wop, Brian’s unique style can enchant you for years to come.
The Division Bell - Pink Floyd
The strange thing about what “The Division Bell” means to me is this: when I think of this album, I remember jogging through the streets of Leucadia listening to this on my CD player. I remember the joy of the slight ocean breeze, the warm sun. . . a feeling of freedom. . . of possibilities for my future ahead. Hearing these songs reminds me of that joy. Here is the irony: “The Division Bell” is actually a blues album full of heartache, fear and angst. I loved this album for over 20 years before I realized that. It was released in the period of time between when my first wife filed for divorce and when the divorce became final. When she left, it was a period of great pain and loss for me. It also triggered more stuffed emotions of unresolved issues dating back from as far as childhood. I started the divorce period as a bitter man full of anger. But I moved to Leucadia, rented a room from an acquaintance and worked part time to pay for my small amount of expenses. I took the free time and really worked on myself. I resolved issues. I had numerous cathartic experiences where I resolved issues within myself that I wasn’t even aware of. I became a whole new person like I had emerged from a cocoon leaving behind the former bitter man and emerging a better man. Somehow The Division Bell became my soundtrack for the emergence from this metamorphosis. Despite stark cold pianos, painfully longing guitar solos that crescendo into screaming pain, lyrics that spoke of betrayal, loneliness, fear, confusion, frustration and heartache; despite all that, this record came to mean hope, joy and freedom to me.
Mercury Falling - Sting
Mercury Falling has a very unique role in my life. While this is a very sonically rich albums with different styles and meters used throughout, it isn’t just the music that makes this so special to me. It was what happened when Sting came to promote the album. Before I go into that I will say the music on this disc is phenomenal – especially the imported version with extra songs on it like “Twenty Five To Midnight”. Sting always has musicians with excellent chops. Musicians that can easily go into a freestyle jazz improv as they can a pop format single. So, yes, the music is well worth listening to. But for me, this is special for a unique reason.
August 31, 1996 San Diego Sports Arena. Sting invited me onstage to sing “I’m So Happy, I Can’t Stop Crying” with him in front of 16,000 people (I was using my Dwight Yoakam voice on this country song). He even let me solo. Then while he and the band played a long instrumental introduction of “Fields of Gold”, I proposed to my girlfriend from stage. Ironically, 5 weeks later (on Sting’s birthday) my fiancée gave the ring back and moved out (which led to my creating my website lvrocky.com which has real life love stories and real life stories of miracles).
Open Mind - Jean-Luc Ponty
June of 1985, I’m tuning through my radio and heard something I had never heard before. Art Goode was playing something called “smooth jazz” on his radio show and one of the first songs I heard that day was from Open Mind. Jean-Luc Ponty is a violinist that composes soundscapes that take me away to places far away. Honestly, the first time I heard from this album I imagined myself flying through the skies like a bird. No cares, no worries, just bliss. This album exposed me to a concept I hadn’t considered before. Modern music as a soundscape. When I have experimented from time to time on keyboards I own, I create soundscapes that take me away to other places, other states of mind. While what I wrote was never commercial, it was a personal expression an experience of my inner-self. I may have never considered that possibility had it not been for this album.
Merry Christmas - Johnny Mathis
If I live to be 110, this album will always remind me of being 6 years old at Christmas time. In my family, we played it from vinyl, 8 track, cassette, CD and now mp3. To me, this is how these songs are supposed to be sung. And when I hear this album, I remember the wonderment and awe of Christmastime as a child. I remember driving through the streets of IB, Coronado, San Diego, Chula Vista. . . seeing the lights and decorations and counting down the days until Santa arrived. This album brings me back to a simpler time. A time where EVERYONE said “Merry Christmas”, cities could have nativity scenes up in front of government buildings, you knew who you neighbors were and you spoke to them by name and trusted them and they trusted you. A time where we thought of the community before ourselves instead of thinking of ourselves before the community like we see now.
Now, come on, you didn't really read the whole thing did you? Get back to work!