Why These 10 Albums are Vital (To Me) #1

I don’t usually accept Facebook challenges but, nominated by a very good friend, I decided to take on this one, which opens with this explanation.

Nominated by [that good friend of mine]…

I have been given the task of choosing ten albums that have greatly influenced my taste in music. One album per day for ten consecutive days. No explanations, no reviews, just album covers. At the completion of 10 days, I will nominate someone new.

Each day, I am reposting that explanation and then adding a picture of an album cover, until all 10 albums are shared.

I suppose boomers, some older millennials, and other vinylphiles are the last people to think in terms of albums, and especially the last to have stretched out on the floor, examining an album’s covers while listening to its music for the first time–and maybe for the second, fourth, or even tenth time. In any case, based on my Facebook feed, it seems many are nostalgic for those covers.

I suppose an album that “greatly influenced my taste in music” might not remain among my favorites, but in my case, the chosen ten still matter to me. I return to them all, some on a pretty regular basis. They are dear friends, always welcome in my home.

More significantly, each one first hit me at a time when I was ripe for the hitting. Each one moved me. Each one introduced me to a musician, composer, or songwriter who demanded my further attention, and  each one sent me on a journey to find other music that influenced or was influenced by what that vital album contains. Thinking about that impact is what makes this whole 10-Album exercise interesting.

If you’re also interested, follow along as I reflect upon how each of the ten made my list. It will be like reading a memoir in ten short chapters.

#1

When I was in 7th grade, I had saved up some money by hoarding my allowance and by subbing for a friend who had a paper route so massive that he often asked me to help out.  And so at last I  had enough to buy what I most wanted in the world: a basic KLH turntable, tuner, and set of speakers. It was a beautiful little kit, and I held on to it for years, even after I’d moved on to bigger systems, until it was stolen from my classroom by, I later learned, a minor high-school gangster. (It’s a long a story.) This was the stereo that got me through college and slightly beyond, and its turntable carried several of these ten albums into my life. 

At first I bought albums sparingly and tended first towards whitebread folk music that I had discovered by watching Hootenanny on TV, but also towards profound Beethoven works I had discovered by taking piano lessons and by paying some attention to my parents. But that same year, The Girl From Ipanema was a huge hit on AM Radio (the only radio we had in 1964). It was the first song on this first album on my list, the still celebrated collaboration between American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist Jaoa Gilberto, whose wife Astrud Gilberto sang on Ipanema and deserves a lot of the credit for the success of that great song. The album itself was a huge success. As Wikipedia tells us, “Getz/Gilberto is considered the record that popularized bossa nova worldwide and was one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.” Still, I suspect I was one of the rare 7th graders who bought the album. 

It was a revelation. In my suburban room, at thirteen years old, I lay on my twin bed, my beagle Snoopy sleeping beside me, and through headphones took in the lilting Portugese of bossa nova, which pierced me with something mysteriously moving. Something that made me feel I was inventing romantic love. Both Gilbertos’ voices were breathy and soothing and, I now know, wonderfully sexy. Listening today, as I write this, I can still see that girl walking the shore at Ipanema. She is, of course, “tall and tan and young and lovely.” But what’s more, and more important, “As she passes, each one she passes, says Aaaaaah.” Oh, that sigh of delight, that exhalation of admiration and longing. And that gentle swaying, that sensual freedom, that saxophone lifting the melody towards the sky while somehow keeping us here on earth. Oh my, Astrud. Oh yes, Stan Getz. And thank you so much, Jaoa, for the chords and the rhythm. For the dance.

Whatever it was I felt in 1964, I felt it in a way more profound than I can muster now. But the album does take me back to the almost tidal movement of that music within my body when my body was increasingly confused and full of yearning. 

Given all that, who wouldn’t want to tune in to more of what jazz and Brazil have to offer–sometimes separately, sometimes together. Along with my older brother, whose influence on my musical taste cannot be overestimated, Getz/Gilberto launched me into my lifetime love of jazz and my less committed but real delight in the music of Brazil. Without Getz/Gilberto, would I have discovered other great sax players: Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter? Without this #1 album, would I have moved on to Carlos Jobim and more Astrud Gilberto? To Luiz Bonfa? To the remarkable film Black Orpheus or the music of Caetano Veloso or Seu Jorge? Almost certainly not.

I’ll be posting #2 tomorrow.

One thought on “Why These 10 Albums are Vital (To Me) #1

  1. Thanks for this – looking forward to the other 9. It certainly was frustrating posting my albums without any comments on the great album challenge.

    Like

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