Well, the last post got me thinking more and more about albums that fell into my lap at just the right time in my life. Here goes some more:
Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy: My friend Catherine commented on the last post and said she was surprised that this one wasn’t there. This one came to me during my first year in CEGEP in 1993. I had already loved Sarah during her Solace album, but this was the one that really got to my heart. Like Tori’s Little Earthquakes, Fumbling‘s songs are poems that draw from sadness and ultimately lead you into the light at the end. Nowadays, a McLachlan album sounds a little cookie-cutter-ish but this was the one that really set her mark. In 2008, I was able to meet her for a few seconds of my life, and she autographed my worn out copy of this album.
Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life: Now, for this one it lived in my house for years and years, as I remember the record sleeve growing up my whole life. My sister brought Stevie into my life, but it was only when I was about 23 years old that I actually sat down and listened to this opus. A double disc of original songs – not a greatest hits! If one wonders if Stevie Wonder is a genius (and the fact that one has to wonder is the most ridiculous thing ever), listen to this and be amazed by his storytelling capacities and bravery.
Joni Mitchell – Hits: In 1996, I was staying at my friend’s cottage in Vermont. She had just bought this greatest hits compilation and decided to play it as we were driving up. Urge for Going began to play, and my brain and heart froze. Here was yet another storyteller who was writing from a universal place. As each song played, I found myself loving every track. When I got back to Montreal, I went to HMV right away and picked it up and also her Misses compilation. And thus, I was initiated into Joni. It was a real haphazard way to explore her songs – I kind of went backwards, from recent compilation all the way back to her actual albums – but it was a journey I recommend to any music fan.
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: This album came out on my birthday in 1998. I loved the Fugees to death, and Lauryn’s voice in particular. When I had heard that she was coming out with a solo album, I knew I would be interested. I went on the first day of release and snatched it up. Here’s the funny thing though: when I first listened to it, I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t “get it”. I didn’t understand the concept (complete with the classroom interludes) or the songs. Then, I went on a family road trip and I plugged the CD into my Discman – the listening experience finally changed and I realized the depth with which she was creating. I don’t think she will ever create something so ahead of its time, so meaningful – not to mention writing songs as though her life depended on it. A modern-day classic.
Radiohead – OK Computer: All of these critics were hailing this Radiohead album as one of the best recordings EVER. What?! I was in my second year of university at the time, and I remember chatting via email with a friend wondering what the fuss was all about with this album. I got it, and I understood right away. The lyrics were sad and abstract but the music was from within. You can hear Thom Yorke’s heart on every track. This album also kept me company when I had a terrible bout of food poisoning. 🙂
Madonna-Ray of Light: I love Madonna. But I especially love her when she is pushing her songwriting courageously (a.k.a. weird) and her sound. With Like A Prayer, it revealed that there was more to this person. With Bedtime Stories, she showed it a little bit more. But, with Ray of Light she completely let it be revealed. She was creating something new, something new sounding, her lyrics were open and honest and her voice showed more range than anyone would give credit for. When this album came out, I listened to the entire thing in one sitting, while in front of the cafeteria at Concordia University. I had thought that I was going to go to the library or walk to my next errand, but the album made me stay still. I think it’s aged well.
Erykah Badu – Baduizm: This album is drenched in summer 1997 for me. I remember seeing the video for “On and On” (a retelling of Cinderella) and thinking what a simple voice this woman had. I bought the album and (like Miseducation), I didn’t get it right away. It was so quiet, there were enough blasting beats going on. But, as ears go, a change happened. It’s quite possibly one of the most sensual albums I’ve ever heard (coming a close second to Sade’s Love Deluxe) and really set the tone for a new wave of R&B talents like D’Angelo, Alicia Keys and others. This was the first.
Barenaked Ladies – Gordon: Well, it’s 1992 and I had heard about these weird, funny guys from Scarborough, Ontario who had created a mix tape of songs to secure a record deal. One of the songs was Lovers In A Dangerous Time – a song that I thought was weird by Bruce Cockburn. 🙂 Their first solo album comes out, and as a 15-year-old boy, I am completely in love. Yes they were funny, but man could they play their instruments…and wait a minute! Some of the songs are actually kind of sad and depressing too, though it wasn’t obvious at first listen. A group of us went to see them at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal that Fall. That night proved to me that they were artists. I don’t know how much they are appreciated these days (one should listen to their Stunt album, which resonates with me as well).
Me’Shell N’Degeocello – Bitter: Have you heard Me’Shell’s stuff before? She is a rapper – a real lay the shit down, no holds barred rapper. She is brave, she’s got a killer singing voice and man is she funky. In 2000, she released Bitter and essentially a complete 180. This was a neo jazz album. That ball breaking woman was here, but in her place was a vulnerable, whispery jazz siren. The album is lush and acoustic and powerful and one of the most vulnerable things I have ever heard in my life. The album following this one showed Me’Shell back to her old tricks (which are awesome!) but, it was astonishing to see how for one time, she completely threw her audience off and raised the bar.
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black: As I’ve gotten older, music does not hit as it used to. I don’t buy CDs as much anymore, and while I do pay attention to what is going on – nothing really gets me. Back in 2007, my friend Emmanuelle was visiting in Toronto and we decided to go to HMV. She mentioned Amy Winehouse to me (someone I had never heard of at that time) and forced me to go to one of those listening posts and listen. I heard the first five lines of Rehab and I was stunned. I bought the album after just hearing those first five lines. Without sounding maudlin, here was someone fearless and (yet again) we will never hear the likes of again. There was only one her.
Oh there’s more….but you get the idea.