We reference High Fidelity (both the movie and book) a lot on this blog (probably because we owe our blog’s existence to it), and this post will be no exception: Barry, interacting with a customer: “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own Blonde on Blonde. [Hands him the album] It’s gonna be ok.”
That’s how I feel about these albums. You cannot call yourself a fan of music without owning all (yes, all, not just one or two) of these albums. I’ve been accused of being elitist before, and it’s more than true. I do believe you to be less of a music fan if you do not own these albums. I don’t, unlike a lot of hipsters (I’m not saying I’m a hipster, mind you), care what form you own it, be it .mp3, cassette, vinyl, etc. But it’s impossible for me to take your musical opinion seriously if I peruse through your collection and cannot find these albums.
(***Let me make one distinction clear before we jump in. These are not albums I think everyone in the world should own, just those one who calls themselves a serious fan of music should have. Albums I think everyone in the world should own will be discussed at a later date.)
I’m Still in Love with You or Call Me by Al Green
Here’s the deal: Al Green has one of the all-time, top 5 greatest voices, period, and easily the best male falsetto ever. Curtis Mayfield’s is great, but he doesn’t make people cream their jeans like Al Green did and still does. And the music on either of these albums is exactly what anyone wants from music ever: smooth, buttery, silky, delicious soul. There’s edge, too: “Love and Happiness” is funk to the level only Al Green can take it to. It was tough to decide between the two albums, so I compromised: if you own either of these albums I can respect your taste. The more grievous sin would be to own no Al Green albums – I don’t care if you have “Let’s Stay Together.” Everyone does. Serious music fans have one of these albums.
Still Bill by Bill Withers
Each track off this album is a testament to the understated beauty that is Bill Withers. He never hits you over the head with his message or music, but always leaves you with the undeniable truth of the matter at hand. The best example of this idea is the track “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?” – he knows you’re fucking around on him, but he doesn’t shout, he doesn’t cry, he doesn’t mash his teeth, he states the problem simply, calmly, and tells you to get the fuck out. Not owning that one track is a horrible sin, let alone not owning the album, but it’s rare that most people have even heard that song or, truthfully, any Withers songs other than “Lean on Me” or “Use Me” (of course, both are on this album). What a shame. Those people are truly missing out. They should buy the fucking album.
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
It’s tough to put into words the effect this album had on the landscape of music, if it can even be put into words. It was transcendent in both creating a new look on music and depth of the music actually on it. But we’re not here to talk about the music on it – we’re here to ask why you don’t own this album. I mean, really. Are you one of those people who can’t listen to jazz? I’ve never understood those people – there is nothing more interesting than a jazz musician at his or her peak recording some of the best solos of all time, and that’s exactly what you’re getting on Kind of Blue. It’s musicianship at a level rarely seen, and more than likely, it will never been seen again. Not owning it is saying you just don’t care about music, or that what you think of as “music” is a joke, since this the plateau of what music can be.
Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder is such a good musician that he had won a Grammy for Album of the Year twice, in ’74, ’75 and justifiably took a break. Paul Simon won the award in ’76 for Still Crazy After All These Years, and thanked Wonder for not putting out an album that year so that someone else could win the award. Wonder countered by winning the award the next year for this album. It’s the most sweeping statement Wonder ever made, and it’s also gorgeous. “Sir Duke” is has one of the best horn breakdowns ever written by anyone ever, period. And what is its legacy? Getting sampled by Will Smith for a god-awful steampunk movie? It deserves so much better than that horrible fate. Please, please, go buy this album. I know you don’t have it, but your life will be so much better for having it, I promise.
Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads
So, I’ll admit this list has been rather biased, and that this inclusion could easily be called token, being the only white artist on the list (and, I just realized, the only album from after 1976). But let’s be honest – the previous four albums are so good it’s tough to argue against them. This is no exception. I like to think if you own nothing else from the 80’s but this album (and Graceland by Paul Simon, of course), you’re probably ok. In my opinion it’s the most definitive statement of the Talking Heads are you are like to get, and truly badass at that. Every song on the album just thrums. (Let me be clear for a second here – I’m not talking about the version of the album released in the ‘90’s, I’m talking about the 9-track LP released in 1984. The distinction is paramount to my argument: the re-released version is almost double the length and half as good for it.) Of particular note are…Actually, no. I’m not going to tell you the best tracks. You, who doesn’t have this album, will buy it and tell me which tracks are the best.