Odds are, you are treating music like a throwaway product. I know I did, until one very fateful conversation with my friend Phil Conner. About a year ago, the two of us were sitting in a coffee shop, discussing why weâ€™d chosen to work in the music industry, and Phil uttered a statement that forever altered the way I look at my music purchases. â€œOne of the reasons that Iâ€™ve chosen to do this for a living is because I can still remember the pops and white noise when my parents put on a Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson record. I must have been 8 years old, but certain songs can still take me back to that moment.â€
Philâ€™s words got me thinking about the value of music. At that point in my life, Iâ€™ll admit to being a bandwagon buyer, purchasing the latest releases on the recommendation of whatever magazine I thought was cool at the moment. Most of these CDs wound up in a drawer after only a few spins.
Buy. Listen a few times. Move on.
It was a cycle that was both financially stupid and disrespectful to art. I never really dug deep enough into an album to understand why the artist made itâ€¦and therefore missed one of the best parts of enjoying music.
Lately, Iâ€™ve paired down my collection to the albums I actually love listen toâ€¦and Iâ€™ve been re-buying some of my favorites on vinyl. That being said, I thought Iâ€™d share a few old & new records with you, and explain why they are classics to me.
Kanye West-The College Dropout: Kanye will probably never make an album this good again. Very few artists in any genre ever will. It sprawls over 21 tracks, stumbling in some places (â€œThe New Workout Planâ€) and soaring in others (â€œFamily Businessâ€, â€œNever Let Me Downâ€), and still winds up being amazing. Most of all, itâ€™s a coming-of-age narrative that we must all live eventually.
Common-Be: Iâ€™ll be the first to admit a bias towards music that comes out of my beloved Chi-town. But this one play well no matter where you call home. Common has a slew of good projects that bear his nameâ€¦but this is the moment where all the pieces come together for a timeless album. Kanyeâ€™s sped up soul samples? Check. Comâ€™s signature rhymes that mix the streets with social justice and yearning for meaning? Check. Album Iâ€™ll still be listening to at 40? Check.
Stevie Wonder-Songs in the Key of Life: This is the benchmark album all other R&B/Soul albums should be measured against. Itâ€™s amazing how current this 1976 recording sounds today. This is probably because top 40 songs are still sampling from it.
Carol King-Tapestry: Driving from Nashville to Chicago, my friend Johnny introduced me to this 1970â€™s singer/songwriter. Best known for â€œ(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman,â€ Kingâ€™s album is a timeless collection of songs that focus on love, joy, hopeâ€¦and the courage it takes to face life when those things seem out of reach.
John Wort Hannam-Pocket Full of Holes: A Canadian folk singer who I happened to see performing on the street in Washington D.C. I was intrigued by his strong voice, and picked up this stunning debut. The songs mainly lament how globalization is killing his homelandâ€™s farming & fishing industries, and in turn killing small town life, and everything heâ€™s ever known. Not something youâ€™d play at a wedding reception, but beautiful art nonetheless.
Counting Crows-August and Everything After: My cousin Dean and I were in 6th grade when we first saw Adam Duritz and Co. perform â€œMr. Jonesâ€ on Saturday Night Live. At first, we laughed at the frontmanâ€™s odd style of dress-camo shorts, combat boots, and black cardigan sweater. This album pulled off what nearly every alternative band in the nineties trying so hard to do: it successfully mixes the energy of the grunge movement with Dylan-esque lyrics. Itâ€™s a collection of hook-laden songs that will hold your attention from the first chord to the final note.
Gasoline Heart-You Know Who You Are: A bit of an oddity, considering it was a grunge album that was released in 2006. But what works here is that singer Louis Defabrizio wears his broken heart on his sleeve while declaring heâ€™ll find a way to go on. Essentially itâ€™s emo for people who arenâ€™t in high school anymore.
Sleeping at Last-Keep No Score: This Christian trio was signed by Billy Corgan to Interscope Records in 2002, and dropped before their debut was given half a chance. Rather than roll over and die, they self-funded this dreamy alt-pop project, and gave 12 phenomenal songs.
U2-How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: At the risk of ticking of rock purists who believe that The Joshua Tree was the Irish quartetâ€™s best albumâ€¦I believe U2â€™s latest is their finest work to date. The Edgeâ€™s guitar solos are still as memorable as they were in 1987. But this time around, Bonoâ€™s work in social justice has made him a better lyricist, and the rhythm section of Clayton-Mullen backs him up flawlessly. The albumâ€™s closer, â€œYahweh, â€ shows that the guys can still write an anthem transcendent of generational lines.
Now, your list of classics will undoubtedly be different than mineâ€¦but the important thing is that you start to build a stack of albums that you can love for years to come. Have the guts to decide for yourself what defines a great project. Take the time to get to know an album for what it is. Enjoy the feast that is amazing art. Lifeâ€™s too short to waste your time on anything thatâ€™s just average.