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. I’m revealing the albums chronologically according to when they first impacted me, not by ranking.
Album 2: R.E.M, Reckoning
No band has had a greater imprint on my life than R.E.M. There were days when I would listen to nothing but their music. I made many mixed tapes and mixed CDs, bought and read books, and my friends and I would talk about them more than any other band. What made R.E.M. special wasn’t necessarily their musicianship but rather their sound, their uniqueness, and their timing in the music world. They are generally considered the band that started the whole “alt” movement. Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker guitar playing made “jangle pop” cool.
I honestly could bring any one of their albums with me to the island, up to Automatic for the People, but I chose Reckoning because 1) it’s awesome, and 2) it was the album which first exposed me to R.E.M. I remember my cousin, Chuck, who attended UGA in the early ’80s, playing a tape of Reckoning to our family while driving with us somewhere, and hearing “I’m soooooorrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy……” and thinking, “what the heck is this?” Back then, to our suburban sensibilities, anything out of the mainstream couldn’t be any good. But it was definitely different. Note that Chuck also introduced us to INXS with The Swing. Thanks Chuck.
A few years later, I was invited by my friend, John, to see R.E.M. play at the Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta after their release of Lifes Rich Pageant in 1986. I was still unfamiliar with their music, so I didn’t appreciate the backstage passes and the autographs from the band members that each signed on a T-shirt that I bought that night (I washed it, ugh!). I remember standing in the audience, clueless as folks around me raised both their hands in the air with the chorus of “I am Superman, and I can do anything.” I originally had Lifes Rich Pageant in this list but chose Reckoning as the representative of their amazing body of work (again, for me, that’s up until 1992, though I enjoy some of the later music too).
What can I say about the lyrics of a particular song? That’s even more difficult than with Sir Elton. Michael Stipe made singing seem like an abstract artform where words weren’t always critical. Plus, the level of his voice was subdued so as not to be more prominent than the instrumentation. The listener is often forced to imagine what he’s saying, even as you sing along phonetically or just make up your own words. Nothing is sweeter than an R.E.M. chorus harmonized among friends, though.
From “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (yes, I looked them up):
Eastern to Mountain, third party call, the lines are down
The wise man built his words upon the rocks
But I’m not bound to follow suit
The trees will bend, the conversation’s dimmed
Go build yourself another home, this choice isn’t mine
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.