But I finally came to appreciate the down-tempo album and majestic voice of Arethra Franklin.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #83/100 My Rating:
I remember when I found out Prince died: I was at my house and saw it on facebook. I hadn’t listened to my regular music in years, preferring chill/new age stuff while writing, reading, or studying. The last year was nothing but school, so my Amazon Music Library was the equivalent of cobwebs. I pulled up his discography and immediately started crying. Each song reminded me of something.
I didn’t necessarily have the same relationship with Aretha, but her recent passing still had impact: songs that instantly transported me to another time. Memories. Experiences. I had just turned 21. Returning after drinking at a bar for the first time (legally, I should add), I listened to all of her greatest hits, soaking it up.
I’ve been listening to this album for weeks, way before news of her illness was made known. Her passing made it even more poignant. While I made my mind up about the rating and what songs to highlight a while ago, I was reminded that these greats won’t be around forever.
One of those rare albums where almost every track is a triumph of song writing perfection.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #67/100 Grammy: Song and Record of the Year for “Just the Way You Are.” My Rating:
Billy Joel intertwines with my coming of age. I found a 2-disc greatest hit collection in the streets of Richmond, VA when I just got my permit to drive — it didn’t leave my driving music rotation for years, and Goodnight Saigon become an anthem between my friends.
When I saw this track listing, I new most of the material with 6 out of the 9 songs being “Greatest Hits” material. Seeing the songs in their natural habitat on “The Stranger” along with the other solid material is almost unthinkable: how did someone come out with this much good material at once?
But this collection of his early songs shows the moment where “The Genius” decided to crossover multiple worlds: gospel, jazz, and blues to make the new sound of soul.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #53/100 My Rating:
I’ve been listening to Ray Charles forever. I won music trivia buzz-in at a bar for his version of America the Beautiful with it only playing for one second. I know this man, or so I thought. The CDs of Ray Charles I owned were geared to his career post 1960, where he did covers of Hank Williams or had people writing him material that he performed in his style.
This Atlantic Rhythm and Blues collection shows where he ironed out what that style — he was the main writer and producer of this material. These songs are gritty, southern and full of beautiful textures combining different styles of music into a whole new genre; when you listen to this album, you get to listen to the birth of soul.
A college apartment personified, Forever Changes is a collection of scattered furniture and decorative knickknacks that coalesce into an uneven presentation punctuated by occasional gem.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100 My Rating:
If you never knew what being a hippie was like, I’m assuming this is it: disjointed, psychedelic, sometimes smart, drug inspired, bizarre. If I have to give Love some credit, it would have to be in the style. It’s a unique mix of guitar riffs, mariachi horns and lyrical content that suites the hippie era.
While sometimes this all comes together to be brilliant (Such as in ‘Alone Again, Or’ and ‘A House is Not a Hotel’), more often than not I feel like I’m listening to the generic, hippie scrawl that regulates itself to weird background noise.
Tapestry, a sprawling epic including hit after hit, was a chance for Carol King to show off her own material.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #36 My Rating:
If you are over 50 or like any type of old music, you’ve heard Carol King’s work.
Between her writing career and people doing covers of her songs, King has given hit singles to several other well-known artists, including James Taylor, Quincy Jones, The Animals, The Drifters, Roberta Flack, and more. Known as a prolific song writer in the 60s with her then husband Gerry Goffin, King didn’t have any platform of her own as her pervious band “The City” was disbanded between label switches and her debut album “Writer” did not make much movement on the Billboard charts.
Then Tapestry released. Carol King was launched into another stratosphere as one of the most successful, solo-female acts.
Completely exposed, Joni Mitchell touches a nerve featuring all textures of a relationship. Her infatuation, longing, loneliness, and heartbreak is cracked open for all of us to see.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100 My Rating:
The first two CDs I ever owned were Lou Bega’s Mumbo Number 5 and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. What do you want — I was a weird kid. Riding around on bus #22, I jammed out to the folk goodness of Joni Mitchell as we caravanned down cow-covered patches in western Hanover in Virginia.
I shouldn’t say I owned it; I overheard it being played by my sister and my mother, and after one of them left it in the CD drive, I got in the habit of listening to it while playing some of my favorite browser-based games (Archmage or Sissyfight anyone?). As a 13 year old, I did not exactly catch what all the lyrics were about. I much more appreciated the solid tunes and the earthy tones of the singer-song writer genre that was pretty absent from my 90s music diet.
Listening to this as a thirty year old is quite a different experience — past people and places bubbling to the surface with each track.
Rollingstone Magazine’s ranking: #91/100 My Rating:
I came of age in a post-album era. iTunes purchases were only .99 per song, and we picked apart an artist’s catalog like making our plates at a buffet.
I wonder what this has done to our musical palate: we don’t give ourselves time to give any songs a chance, never mind giving a whole album with a variety of lyrics and tunes an opportunity to impress us.
I only knew about Elton John via his greatest hits. But, that kind of leaves me with no idea of who Elton really was as an artist. I feel like it has been said that we get to know an artist through their “B-Side” (which is a reference to the other song that was sold with a single when it was a physical 45RPM vinyl disc), so I was blissfully unaware of anything beyond “Crocodile Rock” and such.
Elton John was born in 1947 and has had an illustrious career starting with his first album in 1969 (Empty Sky) culminating throughout the years to make him the 5th best selling artist of all-time, having 50 (FIFTY) top 40 hits and releasing 30 studio albums. So we know Elton can write a hit, and many of them, but how does his album work hold up?
During college, I worked at a local YMCA that played awful radio music and during the holidays the station changed to Christmas music only. We literally listened to nonstop, Christmas music for 30 days — you try and deadlift to “Do You Hear What I Hear.” (Gentle reminder that this was before mp3 players).
I took over as part-time DJ during my shift to avoid from losing it, and I would occasionally sneak in upbeat Sinatra songs to cater to the “Open to All” mission statement but quickly learned how sensitive people were to music selection.