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 3: U2, Joshua Tree
Second to R.E.M. in its influence on me is U2. Unlike R.E.M., I didn’t love every U2 album and was a moderate fan upon the release of Joshua Tree in 1987. Like many, I didn’t know much of U2 until the Unforgettable Fire album (’83), but outside of the long-haired rock popular at the time and blasting out of car windows in the Burger King parking lot in Tucker, GA, R.E.M. still captivated my burgeoning alternative music interests. But I bought a CD, probably from the Music, Music, Music store at Northlake Festival after a Friday night movie at the popular multiplex.
This album, like the structure of the songs themselves, grows on you. As I mentioned, my first car was Wilma, a rust-colored Nissan 200SX. The stock stereo had been replaced with a CD player, and over time I had mounted over 20 speakers, even behind the head rests facing the backseat (passengers beware). The back deck of the car had been retrofitted with four 8″ woofers (for the unfamiliar, those are the speakers that make bass). My memory is hazy, but I remember bits of an evening on my way out where I stopped at an ATM with my newly purchased Joshua Tree CD playing. I stepped out and left the door open so I could continue listening while I got some cash. At the time, only a single song had been released, and it was the only one with which I was familiar, and that was track 3. I returned to my car just as the song started, so I cranked it up. My woofers couldn’t catch their breath as the opening bass line of “With or Without You” calmly got the song started. My car rattled to this quiet, assuming song. And from there it slowly rises until it reaches an exultant crescendo and then comes back to earth. U2 and their producers, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, perfected this approach.
I can think of many memories with this music providing the soundtrack. Aside from the highschool ATM moment, another that sticks out is the end of a fishing trip in 2001. Five men, including my brother, Chip, and two dear friends, Billy and Greg, had spent a week fly-fishing the Big Horn river in Montana. After our last day on the river, we drove back to our campsite, windows down, and “Where the Streets Have No Name” blaring as we reflected on the week with our eyes scanning the vast landscape of Big Sky country. We pulled into the campground just as the song ended. I have the whole thing on film. It’s awesome.
Even now the songs have great power. Fighting, as I am, a long-term disease, it is critical to stay in shape. In the basement I keep my road bicycle on a trainer, so it doubles as a stationary bike (admittedly, it’s been a while). When exercising, I typically listen to a Pandora station based on the band Midnight Oil and further trained to my personal tastes with appropriate up- and down-thumbing. When “Red Hill Mining Town” comes on, I about break my bike in two with a release of anger and joy, sweat and tears. I don’t know what Bono is singing about, really; but when he screams “I’m hanging on!”, my voice cracks trying to keep up, and I really don’t care.
This album was an automatic to this list, and I wish I could include it without its counting against my 10, like contestants get vowels for free in Wheel of Fortune. But alas, rules are rules, so here it is at album 3. If I’m honest, this is probably my favorite album of all time. It is epic.
Joshua Tree is lyrically rich, and there are many verses I could include, but I chose this, from “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”:
I believe in the Kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes, I’m still running
You broke the bonds
and you loosened chains
carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
I get it.