Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Top 35 Albums: 5-1

See: 35-3130-2625-2120-1615-11, 10-6


Here it is, the most perfect, most angelic album (so far) from Sarah. What makes this one so much more than her others, so much more than nearly any other album, is its unearthly quality: without any association with religion, this album is holy. Sarah takes the listener away from this planet to some mystical other-world of pure spirit. This is an album of pure surrender.

The instruments don't so much as play as haunt the melodies.  The vocals don't so much as sing but breathe. Lyrics and voice float through the air like ghosts; three random examples:

"'I need some distraction Oh beautiful release Memories seep from my veins Let me be empty Oh and weightless and maybe I'll find some peace tonight"

"And I have the sense to recognize That I don't know how to let you go Every moment marked with apparitions of your soul I'm ever swiftly moving, trying to escape this desire The yearning to be near you"

"Am I already that gone? I only hope that I won't disappoint you When I'm down here on my knees And sweet surrender Is all that I have to give"

5 star songs: Building a Mystery, I Love You, Sweet Surrender, Adia, Do What I Have to Do, Witness, Angel, Full of Grace


Pink Floyd was the most ambitious - and talented - rock group ever. Other groups created notable 8 or 9 minute songs; sometimes they sounded like they strained to stretch the songs out for that long. This album is dominated by a single song - in two halves and nine parts - that runs 26 minutes. And, like their previous 23 minute opus Echoes (on Meddle), it's pure bliss. Of the remaining three songs, one of them (Wish You Were Here) is also pure bliss; the others sound fantastic within the context of the whole work (and are premonitions of their albums to come).

I wish I knew how they had so much sense: it's possible to make an 8 or 9 minute song, or a thematic album of connected songs, but to make a single 20+ minute calm yet intense, relaxed yet never boring song - nearly all instrumental - takes more than just ambition and talented musicians. It takes a genius for melody and dynamics: when to crescendo and when to diminuendo, when to strum and when to roar. This is Pink Floyd at the height of their control, patience, and dedication to the perfect sound (before Waters took the band through Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut, growing more political, angry, and desperate with each album).

5 star songs: Shine On You Crazy Diamond 1-9, Wish You Were Here


Ah, Joni. I have several other Canadian female singer songwriters on this list, and each aspires to imitate or succeed Joni, the godmother of Canadian female musicians. Interestingly, this album is infused with the sunlit mornings and starry nights of California.

No one else ever conveyed so much naked honesty, longing, tumult and tranquility, song after beautiful song. The guitar is subtle and strong, the lyrics pure poetry, and her voice ... her famous voice dips, stretches, leaps, cries, and laughs, and still sounds fresh after hundreds of listens and more than 40 years. Only Joan Baez could compete (but Joan kept rigid control over her voice and generally sang other people's or traditional songs). Over the years, Joni has remained a true artist, both musically and otherwise (she famously worked with other art genres, such as providing the painted covers for many of her own albums). She's never written a song that betrayed her artistic conscience, even when the fans of her old material didn't follow her new directions.

This album is perfect ... nearly perfect. I just barely docked the last song (The Last Time I Saw Richard) a star because it's a little weaker than the rest of the songs; I'm still not sure. It probably deserves its fifth star.

Other amazing albums of hers include CloudsLadies of the Canyon and Court and Spark, and, as she moved into her jazz period, large portions of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Hejira.

5 star songs: All I Want, My Old Man, Little Green, Carey, Blue, California, This Flight Tonight, River, A Case of You


This album and the next are my only albums that contain nothing but 5 star songs from beginning to end; they are absolutely perfect.

This album, which was the best-selling album of all time for a while (before Thriller) and which spent more time on Billboard's chart (835 weeks) than any other before or since (second place is 490 weeks, so far), was a bridge between the early and middle periods of Pink Floyd. The album perfects the integrity for which the early albums were famously striving,. The songs are shorter, but they bleed in and out of each other with sound and music effects so that you can't tell where one ends and the next begins. Like most Floyd albums, it leads in and fades out with the same piece of music.

The vocals are integrated equally with the instruments (they were more washed out on earlier albums, and were overemphasized during the Waters dominated albums). The instrumentation is supplemented with the creative (and at the time groundbreaking) use of various noise-making objects, like clocks, metronomes, and (what sounds like) helicopters, spoken voice, odd primal screams, and wordless voices.

The album tackles the subjects of corporate greed, time, death, and insanity. The result is genius, captivating, monumental, timeless. It is the premier modern listening experience, and it has never been equaled.

5 star songs: Speak to Me, Breathe, On the Run, Time, Great Gig in the Sky, Money, Us and Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse


The best album I know and the only other album I know with only 5 star songs. This album doesn't have an overarching theme like a Pink Floyd album does; it's just eight perfect musical compositions.

Richard Thompson is a fantastic guitarist and lyricist, with a gift for matching the right music to the right lyrics. His lyrics are as painful and cutting as Dylan's, but his guitar is not simply there to support the message of the song; the music continues to speak after the lyrics are done, and it keeps going, one haunting refrain after another.

Though the album has gifted lyrics, melody, and music, what makes the album is the beautiful voice of Linda Thompson. She is as sensitive with her singing as Richard is with his guitar; soft, plaintive, aching, wistful. Richard isn't as powerful a vocalist as Plant or Gilmour - in fact, he sounds like he's from the Fleetwood Mac school of singing: 3 am, slightly drunk, in the depths of misery - and Linda is not as powerful as Joni or Joan, but when she sings, or when they sing together in harmony, they sing beautifully. The albums that they made together (including I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Hokey Pokey, and the critics' favorite and nearly as good Shoot Out the Lights) were an order of magnitude better than their solo efforts (which makes their rather public falling out all the more tragic).

Sweet singing, lovely music, and 8 perfectly written and performed dark songs about pain and heartache. What more could you ask for?

5 star songs: Streets of Paradise, For Shame of Doing Wrong, The Poor Boy Is Taken Away, Night Comes In, Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair, Beat the Retreat, Hard Luck Stories, Dimming of the Day/Dargai

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the list, and please leave in the comments any albums that you think I would enjoy based on this list.


Chris Brooks said...

I've been listening to some Richard Thompson lately (mainly because Wilco have been playing with him) but am not familiar with Pour Down Like Silver. Ordered the CD.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Glad I've inspired someone!

Hope you enjoyed the list.


Clay B. said...

You have a very intriguing list. You have several wide-ranging favorites of mine...Sarah McLachlan, Carole King, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin...some stuff I am vaguely familiar with and others I haven't even heard of.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

That's the best, because if you like some of the albums I like, maybe you'll like some of the other ones, too.

Thanks for reading,

Anonymous said...

Loved this post series. Sad to see it end, actually. Your criteria were perfectly suited to the task, and they yielded a brilliant top five.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thanks, fade.


Mike said...

I listened to Wish You Were here and Dark Side of the Moon over and over in my younger days. Still know them by heart. Amazing albums! Thank you for the list and commentary.

P.S. Was browsing around a small resale shop in far West Texas last week and found a new (box opened, but dice pouch sealed...i.e. unplayed) copy of Rio Grande Games' Alea Iacta Est for $2! One man's trash is another man's treasure.

Steven Kruh said...

I LOVE Richard Thompson. but, i think he is an inconsistent songwriter...and only relatively rarely does he reach the level of Dylan (The Great Valereo; Beat the Retreat; Just the Motion...). Anyway, a phenomenal record, here! But, the break-up album (Shoot Out the Lights) is still my favorite.

Steven Kruh said...

the breakup album--Shoot Out the Lights--is still my favorite...but, this one is not far behind. LOVE R.T.

Mike said...

Shame on Roger Waters, though...,7340,L-4409388,00.html