I was tagged by an old friend of mine, Charles Rosenberg, with whom I share a love of music, to share my top 10 albums. Yes, album music, not the streaming of random music from a particular genre as is common today. He has known for a long time that I’m hesitant to make a top 10 list of favorite albums because I’m torn between what I want to listen to now versus what music tells the story of me and therefore should go with me should I be stranded on a deserted island (with electricity and a stereo, of course). I have chosen to go with the deserted island approach, though. For me, the music in my list has stood the test of time and also evokes memories of my life that will probably be pretty important should I find myself alone on an island.
I gave myself the following rules when selecting albums. First, it should be music that I can’t see myself living without. Second, I have to own it, preferably physically. Third, greatest hit compilations should be avoided, because the greatness of an album is often about capturing a moment.
Album 1: Elton John, To Be Continued…
I turned 16 in 1986, not long after the introduction of compact discs (CDs) to the world. I was fortunate to have a CD player in Wilma, my Nissan 200SX with a Schlitz beer tap for a gear shift (yes, I was a punk). One of the first CDs I purchased was Elton John’s Greatest Hits (shown bottom-left in the featured image). I got a bit of grief from friends for being into Elton John, who had (and has), let’s say it, a flamboyant personality. There was a disconnect between how I felt about his music and what I saw of his performances (e.g. I can’t imagine watching him sing “Empty Garden”, a song in memory of John Lennon, while wearing a headdress that makes him look like a cockatoo). Regardless, I love so many of his songs.
Though I wore out his Greatest Hits album, that’s not my album for day 1, though. Not only does it violate my rule #2, it doesn’t encompass enough of his music that I enjoy. So, I’m bringing the box set that he released in 1990, To Be Continued…, consisting of 4 CDs of music from 1969 to 1990. It’s a comprehensive compilation, not necessarily just the hits. Some may say that this is stretching the definition of “album”, but the 4 CDs rest in a box, and I’m taking the box as a single unit with me to my island. Like comfort food, I return to Elton John time and again for tunes to sing to and strangely relate to. Elton John just can’t be left out.
Now, it is well known that Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics for Elton John’s music, and it is hard to say what draws me more to these songs, the words or the melodies. Often, there are powerful words in songs that are startlingly poignant, words you could have said yourself or that articulate how you feel. For Elton John, it’s not so simple, and I can’t think of particular lyrics to include that are strongly representative of my love for his music. His piano playing draws me in as much as the lyrics. The two are brilliantly intertwined. Having said this, in light of how I described the power of the poetry within music, here are a couple of verses from “Sad Songs Say So Much”:
If someone else is suffering enough oh to write it down
When every single word makes sense
Then it’s easier to have those songs around
The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you
And it feels so good to hurt so bad
And suffer just enough to sing the blues
So turn ’em on, turn ’em on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don’t you tune in and turn them on
Like I said, you kinda need the music, too.
Lastly, I remember having a friend over to my childhood home back in 1987-88, and I was playing that Greatest Hits CD. He was giving me a hard time for my uncool music. Then “Crocodile Rock” came on. He laughed at the song at first, but then he tried to play it on my family’s piano. He barely made it through the first few piano riffs before he stopped and said, “that’s hard.” Exactly. It’s good, too.