A while back I wrote a blog post about “Desert Island Films,” those DVDs I would want to have if stranded on a desert island (assuming that desert island has electricity, a DVD player and a big screen TV). Today I’ve decided to list my desert island CDs – the music I could not live without.
So forgive me if this week’s blog seems a bit frivolous, but I really do believe that music “soothes the savage beast.” By the way, the actual quote is, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” which highlights the fact that the “savage beast” is within all of us. So for me at least, music contributes to peace of mind, which in turn contributes to world peace. So here are my top 10 recordings. As before, the point is not to enter into debate over which recordings are the most worthy (you won’t find the Beatles in my list, though I am not unaware of their contribution to music). The point is for me to introduce you to my personal favorites, which may include some things you haven’t heard of. Having said that, this list comes from one who is a musician and songwriter, and who has little tolerance for bad songwriting, no matter how catchy something might be (I’m talking to you, whoever wrote the umbrella… – ella… – ella song). And I would hardly ever recommend anything where the performer is not also the songwriter. I want to know that the person singing is the one who wrote the lyrics.
If you check out any of these on my recommendation, I would love to hear your thoughts. But if you buy any of these, I beg you – buy the whole album. Don’t give in to this picking and choosing thing. In my experience, the “hit” song is rarely the best song on any project, and you’re cheating yourself and the artists by buying only the one or two songs that other people have decided are the best ones. Spend a few bucks more, get the whole experience, and decide for yourself. Even though it’s no longer a “record,” a CD is still an album, meaning that it’s a complete package, often with a theme, but at least it gives a fuller experience of a period in the life of the artist in question. Would you only buy the “best” chapters of a book? So that’s why I’m not going to tell you what my favorite songs are on each album.
Some of these are Christian artists, others are not – I’ll tell you when the lyrics are specifically Christian. I’m assuming you can google them and hear samples of the music to see if it’s for you – all I’m saying is this is what I like. So here we go (these are in no particular order) …
1) Sniff ‘n the Tears – Fickle Heart (1978)
There are a million guitar, bass & drum bands, but this is one of the best pop/rock albums I’ve ever heard. Of course part of that is great songwriting, and part is great engineering and mixing, but at the end of the day, this album holds up against anything else out there. It’s really timeless. (Speaking of timeless from this same era, honorable mention has to go to Blondie, though I can’t remember the name of the original CD, but there is a Best of Blondie CD out there.
2) John Michael Talbot – Hiding Place (1990)
JMT is one of the pioneers of Christian music, and I think this is his best work. It’s deep and contemplative, it will draw you in and take you to your happy place, and it will also facilitate prayer and meditation. It’s mostly just acoustic/classical guitar and vocals, but really smooth and well-produced. Simple, honest, spiritual. JMT has done a lot of great albums, but I also have to mention the one he did with Michael Card called Brother to Brother. These are some of the best Christian albums ever, in part because they’re not falling all over themselves to sound like a poor imitation of trendy secular music.
3) Steve Miller Band – Book of Dreams (1977)
I have to include this for sentimental reasons – this was the album that made me want to be a songwriter. As I’ve written in another post, Steve went to college with my parents, and my dad played in a band with him for a while. So I’ve been his biggest fan since I was 10, and I love everything he’s done. OK, not Macho City, but everything else.
4) Christafari – Soulfire (1995)
Christafari is Christian reggae. As many of you know, I’m a huge reggae fan, but sometimes (as a Christian) it’s hard to listen to the artists sing praise to Haile Selassie as if he’s the Son of God, so it’s refreshing to get some reggae music that’s orthodox in its theology. But even more than that, this is really good reggae, not that drum machine British cover band pseudo-reggae you get from the likes of UB40. Christafari is the real deal. Other great albums by Christafari are Gravity and To the Foundation. The final “i” is long, like “Christ-a-far-eye.”
5) Clannad – Landmarks (1997)
Think Enya meets Enigma. Great stuff, and authentically Celtic. If you want something a bit more traditionally Irish, get their CD Rogha: The Best of Clannad. By the way, it’s pronounced “CLAHN-ad,” with the accent on the first syllable. Also, if you like the so-called “New Age” genre (i.e., instrumental), you might like Spheeris & Voudouris Enchantment. Chris Spheeris and Paul Voudouris used to have a kind of folk act back in the ‘70s in Milwaukee, and I used to see them play live back then. Then they had their 80’s phase (didn’t we all?), and then they kind of went their separate ways, but anything you get from either of them is good, though eclectic. Their best stuff will always be the music they created as a duo (just like Lennon & McCartney, Simon & Garfunkel, Seals & Crofts… etc., etc.).
6) St. Hildegard of Bingen – Vision (1994)
Hildegard was a nun, and eventually an abbess, back in the 12th century. She was a mystic and a writer, but she was also a composer of amazing Latin chant. Purists won’t like the Vision CD because the producers have added modern instruments (i.e., synthesizers), so if you want to hear the chant the way it would have sounded, get the CD Canticles of Ecstasy. Personally, I like the modernization. I also like the women’s chant more than the men, but that’s just me. Obviously it’s not actually Hildegard singing, but the people who do the singing on these CDs are experts in the music of the period. Really cool stuff.
7) Joe Hand – Psalms (2005)
Joe is a friend of mine, and not as well known as JMT, but if you like the contemplative Christian thing, this is as good as anything out there. This CD has more instrumentation than the JMT CD, though – so this one has full band with electric guitars and drums, etc. But if you’re going through a tough time, or just want to get rid of a headache, this CD is for you. I could list a lot of other friends and musical colleagues along with Joe, but maybe that’s a subject for another blog.
8) Prince – 1999 (1990)
I’m not going to apologize for this. Prince peaked with this album and with the Purple Rain soundtrack. Did I ever mention that I was almost in the movie Purple Rain? It’s true – I was going to college in Minneapolis when it was being filmed. The club scenes were filmed at First Avenue (I actually performed on that stage once). Anyway, I had been chosen, along with hundreds of others, to be in the crowd in the club scenes, but it turned out I had finals the day they were shooting those scenes. Another bit of Minneapolis trivia: I also used to go see my friend and U of M classmate Paul Robb with his band Information Society when they played in the basement of First Avenue (the “Seventh Street Entry.” They went on to have some huge hits with their CDs Information Society and Hack.
9) The Waiting – Blue Belly Sky (1996)
Unfortunately, I don’t think this band is together any more, but this is one of my favorite Christian albums. It’s just really great songwriting, solidly performed. I saw these guys live in Nashville back in the day, and they put on a great show. Lots of energy without too much distortion, you know what I mean?
10) Anything by Sade
In spite of what I said about getting an album as a package, I think the best way to get into Sade is by getting the album The Best Of Sade. Every song is perfect. I would never get tired of this stuff if I listened to it every day for the rest of my life. “Sade” is actually the singer’s first name, pronounced, “Shah-day.”
So that’s about it. I managed to get through it without giving in to the temptation to include any of my own CDs! I would love to hear your thoughts, and if you like any of these, let me know and I’ll give you more suggestions along the same lines.
By the way, I have to take a break from the blog for a few weeks, but I’ll be back in September. Enjoy the rest of the summer!