The Final 10 Albums that Stayed with Me

Taking the count up to thirty, the last ten also-rans, again in an alphabetical order:

C.V. Jørgensen – Lediggang agogo
Following the massive success of 1980’s Tidens Tern, Lediggang agogo was considered a commercial failure. It lacked the obvious hit potential of a song like Tidens Tern’s “Costa del Sol” (a caustic attack on Danish ex-pats in Spain complaining about high taxes), the lyrics were rather opaque but mostly about lost souls waiting for something, it had complex guitar-driven textures – and it had “Elisabeth”, arguably the most beautiful Danish song of the 1980s. Intriguingly, C.V. Jørgensen’s mother was called Elisabeth. And the album was released in the late spring of 1983, the year I passed my student exam. That short period in your life when school’s out forever and you don’t really know what is waiting for you in your adult life. If I had edited my original ten, Lediggang agogo would have taken one of the slots.

W.A. Mozart – Symphonies nos. 38 & 39 (Karl Böhm – Berliner Philharmoniker)
I remember buying this and the Tchaikovsky mentioned below at a mid-winter sale in Bånd & Plade Centeret’s original shop in Grønnegade. Actually, I didn’t know at the time that Böhm was considered a specialist in Mozart and Richard Strauss. The recordings were fairly early stereo and not quite up to speed in terms of sound quality. Later editions have been remastered with better sound. Bånd & Plade Centeret was a curious shop meandering through something like two or three 18th century buildings, the premises filled with all sorts of classical LPs. It lost some of its oddball charm when it moved to Vognmagerstræde. Mozart has kept his charm.

Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
To me, Morning Glory is forever linked with the autumn of 1998 (yes, I was a couple of years behind the curve when it came to Brit pop). A semester where I taught political science at the University of Linköping and where, strangely, I couldn’t set a foot wrong. It was a change of air which really did me good. Fond memories which may not have anything to do with the actual songs.

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I can’t say why Phoenix’s 2009 album has made such an impression on me. It just has.

Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
Another album which I borrowed at Gladsaxe Music Library way back in the early 1980s and copied to a crappy cassette tape. Maybe this is one of those album which should be played on lousy equipment to bring out the true rugged nature of the music. It sounds much too good in digital.

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water
Another one from my parents’ collection. I have always preferred “So Long, Frank Llyod Wright” and “The Only Living Boy in New York” to the block-buster hits “Bridge over Troubled Water” and “The Boxer”. My favourite Simon and Garfunkel song, though, always was and still is “America”.

Steely Dan – Two Against Nature
Not the Dan’s greatest record, but a more than respectable comeback. Fagen and Becker are older but just as caustic and disillusioned as they were in the 1970s. Just like the Costello-Bacharach album forever linked with my time in Östersund. Åhlen’s wasn’t a bad place to look for CDs.

Peter Tchaikovski – Symphony no. 5 (Karl Böhm – LSO)
Böhm probably wasn’t the ideal Tchaikovsky conductor but it was a cheap deal. I suspect that I have a special affinity for Tchaikovsky’s 5th because we analyzed it in music classes in the Gymnasium and it was my first classical concert. Mstislav Rostopovich’s recording with the London Philharmonic is the one in my current iTunes library. Somebody once noted that the recurrent theme has a curious similarity to the March of the Red Guards (in Danish known as Brødre, Lad Våbnene Lyne). In any event, Tchaikovsky is the closest you get to accepted bad taste in classical music. The music snobs’ frowning is their loss.

TV-2 – De unge år
As C.V. Jørgensen gave up commenting the state of Danish society, TV-2 entered the stage. It is very strange to realise that these classics are 25-30 years old by now. Steffen Brandt didn’t even have grey hair back then. As a compilation album it collects songs that I already knew, but it is still in regular rotation – or whatever mp3-files are.

Weather Report – Tale Spinnin’
Weather Report was one of my gateways to contemporary jazz. (The first album is free, but THEN you will have to pay…). For whatever reason I began with Mr. Gone and worked my way backwards and forwards. Following that, Messrs Zawinul and Shorter led to Miles Davis and the rest is history. Tale Spinnin’ was the last album Zawinul and Shorter made before Jaco Pastorius entered the stage, and it has some wonderful tunes and a sound which is still fresh forty (aaaarrrghhh) years on.

Even breaking the rules and including thirty albums in no way exhausts my list of albums which have stayed with me but I’ll leave it here. Making this list did bring back memories and I now have a list of record shops of times past in my Google Drive. It may form the basis of a blog post.

Another 10 Albums that Stayed with Me

I took a second look at the 25 album list in the previous post and decided that there were still a number of albums missing. So I added five to bring the total up to thirty. Here are the first ten also-rans, presented in a purely alphabetical order:

J.S. Bach – Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould, 1981)
I’m sure connoisseurs still discuss whether Gould’s original 1955 recording or the 1981 recording is the best. They are as different as day and night. The 1981 version was the one I encountered first and my gateway to the heavier parts of J.S. Bach’s work. Gould’s Bach also works magic when I have a writing assignment.

The Beatles – A Selection of Beatles Oldies
An odd 1966 greatest hits album which covered 1963-1966, the peak years of Beatlemania, and which has been out of print for ages. Still, that was the Beatles album my parents owned when I was a boy. I could perhaps have chosen Beatles 1967-1970 which we bought in London in 1977, instead. (Think about it: How cool was having an album bought in London back in the late 1970s?). In case anybody is interested, I’d rate Rubber Soul, Revolver and Abbey Road (I remember the silly Maxwell’s Silver Hammer being played on Danish radio) as the best Beatles albums – but then again: Do you really want to choose?

David Bowie – The Buddha of Suburbia
I’ll readily admit that this is an odd choice. The Buddha of Suburbia is not really a sound-track to the BBC series based on Hanif Kureshi’s novel but grew out of Bowie’s title song for the series. It is somehow related to Low and possibly “Heroes” with its mix of sketch-like songs and instrumental pieces. I guess the album’s attraction lies in Bowie’s revisiting of suburban London and recollections of the urge to get out and into the city and out in world. The 1960s and early 1970s seen from the 1990s. Also, Bowie doesn’t overdo things here and you don’t have to meet the album with the expectation that this is Very Important Art. Otherwise my Bowie album pick would be the paranoid, cocaine-fuelled masterpiece Station to Station.

Chopin – 14 Waltzes (Krystian Zimerman)
An early recording by Krystian Zimerman and long out of print as Zimerman felt it didn’t live up to his artistic standards. Still, it had its place in my parents’ collection. I have a recording by Vladimir Ashkenazy in my current library.

The Clash – London Calling
How could I forget London Calling? I mean, I first heard the album back in 1980 and it has been a part of my record collection ever since. Maybe it was so obvious a choice that it failed to enter the original list. In a curious way, London Calling is to punk rock what Clube da Esquina 2 is to MPB. Obviously Milton Nascimento was a much better vocalist than Joe Strummer but we cannot imagine punk rock without Joe Strummer – everything and the kitchen (not to mention the entire plumbing) sink comes together here and it works brilliantly.

Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory
I’m not a huge fan of Elvis Costello but he does have his very bright moments. Like King of America and Painted from Memory. On a theoretical level, Costello and Bacharach shouldn’t work at all, in practice, it’s a wonderful record. Also, memories of the time I lived in Östersund – I bought my copy in Åhlen’s music department.

Brian Eno – Before and after Science
Just as Buddha of Suburbia, so is Before and after Science related to David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”. Brian Eno recorded this album at about the same time as Low was recorded. Eno really, really, really can’t sing, the lyrics are complete and utter nonsense and even after thirty years I continue to find new sounds every time I listen to the album. I think I discovered Brian Eno in the early 1980s through Roxy Music. At the risk of repeating myself: Hooray for the music department of Gladsaxe Public Library.

Bill Evans Trio – At The Village Vanguard
Bought this one in Paris of all places. A sampler of Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard.

Lars Hug – City Slang
This must be one of the weirdest and most ambitious Danish rock records ever. Copenhagen set to music. Period. Heard it for the first time in 1985. Has stuck with me ever since. The strange thing is that Hug’s intense techno-soul is miles away from Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s classicism. Just like, say, Costello and Bacharach it shouldn’t have worked, but it did and on a massive scale.

Jan Johansson – Jazz på svenska
I’ve forgotten the exact year but my cousin bought the LP for me as I birthday present. Cool jazz meets Swedish folk. Every note counts, plus Johansson had a wicked sense of humour. If you want to hear Johansson in a more conventional jazz setting, try Jan Johansson in Hamburg.

10 Albums Which Stayed with Me – and then 15 more

So my friend Anne-Sofie dragged me into one of those Facebook challenges – in this case “10 Albums which stayed with me” (actually, the original version has 12). That turned out to be both simple – coming up with ten albums wasn’t that hard – and complicated – once I had a list, I discovered that a lot of music which means a lot to me was still missing. So I came up with ten more. And then five more.

What to do? I have decided to let my original list stay – not because I think any of the remaining fifteen are less worthy but because we shouldn’t take this kind of lists more seriously than necessary. I think any selection from this list would give you hours of aural pleasure.

The original ten

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
Pretentious? Okay. Ersatz Philip Glass? Granted. Once you start digging into contemporary music, Mike Oldfield isn’t original: It is fairly easy to interpret Tubular Bells and Oldfield’s other works as rock adaptations of the minimalist school. Still, to me his 1970s works are closely associated with some people I held and still hold very dear. And in Tubular Bells, Oldfield is wicked enough to throw in the odd musical prank here and there to keep things from getting too serious. I rest my case, you honour.

Jethro Tull – Benefit
Anybody remember Jethro Tull? Back in the early and mid-1970s they were the odd cousins of acts like Yes and Genesis. Prog rock with a mad hatter twist, so to speak. Aqualung and Thick as a Brick are still considered their best albums, but even after 35 years I find the weird mix of blues, folk rock, progressive rock and what not on Benefit intriguing. And again, there are some personal relations which keep Tull in the picture. (For an alternative: Songs from the Wood)

Focus – Focus 3
Still more early 1970s stuff. Focus is best known for the bizarre novelty single Hocus Pocus but IMHO the double album (remember those?) Focus 3 was the zenith of the Netherlands’ largest rock act. Here we have just about everything from hard rock (Sylvia) over jazz-rock (Questions? Answers! Answers? Questions!) to faux-renaissance ballads (Elspeth of Nottingham). Later, master guitarist Jan Akkerman lost interest in being a rock star and Thijs van Leer turned his interest to new-age music. But Focus 3 lived in my library from the late 1970s onward, first as a low quality cassette copy (hooray for public music libraries), then as one of the first albums I bought when iTunes was made available in Sweden.

Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding
I discovered Bob Dylan through the triple-album set Biograph. Back in the mid-1980s, his output was too sprawling for me to find a door where to enter. Biograph, obviously, is a bit of a mess which is neither chronologically nor thematically ordered. This is probably a good thing. Also, when I encountered Dylan, I was old enough not to care about the hidden meanings and interpretations which had kept dylanouges busy since 1962, and instead followed the music. If I could choose two Dylan albums, they would be Blood on the Tracks and John Wesley Harding. Now that I have to choose between them, I’ll take John Wesley Harding which is a completely stripped-down affair (singer, guitar, bass, drums) with songs about characters from the New Testament stranded in the Wild West. Or whatever. My advice is: Don’t waste time analysing the lyrics, just let the words create images in your inner cinema.

Pet Shop Boys – Very
My favourite Pet Shop Boys song was and is Being Boring – a wistful electronic ballad about growing up and remembering lost friends. Was I 25 when that one came out? Ouch! The album I keep coming back to, though, is Very which has an almost perfect mix of aggression, remorse, a sense of wonder and playfulness. And silly hats in the videos. I’m sure the young offender of 1994 is annoyed by his/her offspring spending too much time playing games on iPads in 2016.

Milton Nascimento – Clube da Esquina 2
Back ten years to the early 1980s. I never heard Milton Nascimento’s legendary concerts in Montmartre but the stories about the Brazilian singer and guitarist made me seek out his records. Again: Hooray for public music libraries. Clube de Esquina 2 from 1978 (There is a Clube da Esquina from 1972) sees Nascimento in his prime – again it’s a double album and it has everything and the kitchen sink. You will find just about every style of Brazilian music on it, held together by Nascimento’s magic voice. I did get to hear him at later concertos in Copenhagen in the late 1980s.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Now for the heavier stuff. To non-jazz types, Miles Davis can be described as a sort of David Bowie of jazz. Except Davis was there before Bowie and where Bowie’s golden years lasted from 1972 to 1980, Davis was at the forefront of jazz from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s. When you read about Kind of Blue, stuff like “here Davis introduces modal improvisation” comes up. That is completely beside the point: Davis was a master of musical drama. On Kind of Blue, Davis is the cool guy. Cool guys are enigmatic and never reveal their true feelings. The rest of the band is anything but cool. That is, they were the coolest jazzmen around, but they weren’t cool in the stricter sense: Bill Evans is introspective and introverted, Cannonball Adderley is the extrovert blues player, John Coltrane is all fire and Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb provide the hard-swinging base. Kind of Blue wasn’t the first jazz album I bought (that honour goes to Weather Report’s Mr. Gone) but it contains everything I would look – or listen – for in improvisation music. And even if he wasn’t in his prime by then, I did get to hear Miles Davis in Copenhagen in 1985.

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony no. 6
If I had to choose between the Beethoven symphonies, I would go for either the 3rd of the 6th. The 9th has always left me cold and the 5th has been played to death. The 3rd is human energy on a massive scale, the 6th pastoral charm. Beethoven’s 6th wasn’t the first classical album I heard, but Herbert von Karajan’s 1984 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic was the first classical album I bought and thus it gets the place in the collection – even if there may be better recordings around. After all, it opened the gates to the world of classical music. (For the 5th, go for Carlos Kleiber).

Gustav Mahler – Symphony no. 9
The Adagietto from the 5th Symphony has been played to death – and is in no way representative of that symphony and Mahler. Again, Mahler is a composer which has been over-analysed as a representative of modern angst with the 9th seen as a vision of his impending death. Yes, it begins with a staggering march and ends with what must be the longest diminuendo in classical music – in something like 30 minutes a full symphony orchestra is reduced to a string quartet – but it also includes a couple of devilish scherzos and grotesques, all with Mahler using the sonoric palette of the modern orchestra in a masterly way. My LP version was with Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The version in my iTunes is with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic

Dmitri Shostakovich – Piano Quintet
When I attended the Online Educa Conference last December, one of the workshop leaders asked the participants to consider a situation where the “analogue” meeting with an artist had made a lasting impression on them. My choice was hearing Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the speaker in Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warshaw, but here I want to present another composer: Dmitri Shostakovich. The odd thing is that I have forgotten who the musicians were but I do remember a strange and fascinating concert at the (sadly discontinued) Umeå Chamber Music Festival a lovely June evening after the end of the academic year. The year must have been 2004 (I mean, seriously: I remember the month and the music but not the artists or the year) and the concert began with an experimental piece of electronic music, continued with the Shostakovich Quintet and ended with the audience changing locations for a performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto by the Norrland Symphony Orchestra. Anyway: Shostakovich is less extreme but just as masterly in the smaller formats compared to the fifteen symphonies. I could have picked the 4th or the 13th symphony but the Piano Quintet has a story connected to it. My copy is a budget Naxos recording with the Vermeer Quartet and Boris Berman.

The Next Fifteen

There are a number of strong contenders in the list of albums left out from the top ten. In fact, I might be able to make the case for substituting any one of the above albums with one of the following fifteen. Instead, I’ll let my original ten stand and maybe write a second (or even a third) post about these masterpieces of music.

The Beatles – A Selection of Beatles Oldies

David Bowie – The Buddha of Suburbia

Frédéric Chopin – 14 Waltzes (Krystian Zimerman)

The Clash – London Calling

Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory

Brian Eno – Before and after Science

Bill Evans Trio – At The Village Vanguard

Lars Hug – City Slang

Jan Johansson – Jazz på svenska

C.V. Jørgensen – Lediggang agogo

W.A. Mozart – Symphonies nos. 38 (Prague) and 39 (Karl Böhm – Berliner Philharmoniker)

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Steely Dan – Two Against Nature

Tchaikovsky – Symphony no. 5 (Karl Böhm – London Symphony Orchestra)

Weather Report – Tale Spinnin’