Thursday, November 13, 2008
Music Goes Into Your Ears
Remember the word "album"? In today's age of downloadable music, the album as an entity unto itself has become somewhat under-appreciated. I feel that while a single song by itself may be a smash hit, its lasting effect is often less than that of a great album. A certain Chicago radio station uses the following phrase as their slogan, "the soundtrack of our lives". My own soundtrack is not measured so much in individual great songs, but more in terrific albums.
First and foremost is Achtung Baby by U2. I remember sitting in the open side door of the family van in the late spring of 1993, my hands clutching a boom box and my ears riveted to the amazing intro of the album's first song, "Zoo Station". The Edge was eliciting sounds from his guitar that I never imagined. When Bono's electronically distorted voice followed with the beginning of the first verse "I'm ready, ready for laughing gas / I'm ready, I'm ready for what's next", I embarked on a journey of exploration that has landed Achtung Baby at the center of my musical universe today. From the grinding buzz saw chords that shimmer from the Edge's guitar in "the Fly" to the melodious yet melancholy tones of "One", this album is a poster child for contrast, a microcosm of everyday life. It is full of hurt, discovery, betrayal, and hope, among other themes.
Another good friend of mine is Led Zeppelin's "IV (Zoso)" This album was a constant companion during the endless summer hours spent mowing grass and other maintenance tasks at the 55-acre camp I worked at during the turn of the 21st century. From the deliberate ferocity of "Black Dog", during which the weed trimmer I'd be holding became my air guitar, to ending many of my days at that camp sitting alone on the Pennsylvania mountainside as the velvety acoustic strummings of "Going to California" faded into the sunset, this record spoke to me. "When the Levee Breaks" sparked my fascination for the blues and Chicago itself, foreshadowing my later move to the Windy City area.
The third album I'll mention as having an impact on my life is indeed a blues album: The Big Come Up by the Black Keys, though they are not from Chicago but from Akron, Ohio. I purchased this album late last spring and experienced the heady combination of the thrill of discovering a new great-sounding band with the satisfaction of money well-spent. The songs on this album bring to mind a lollipop dropped in gravel: earthy guitars accompanied by gritty vocals. Despite this, however, or possibly because of this, the album is beautiful in its simplicity and honesty. Whenever I listen to this album, I think of my vacation to Key West that I undertook soon after I bought this CD, and that, my friends, is a good thing. Passionate, heartfelt blues and palm tree memories are a terrific combination, especially during a Chicagoland winter. Unfortunately, our library does not have this specific album yet, but check our catalog soon, it's on order! In the meantime, you can check on the Black Keys' latest record: Attack and Release.
So, you've learned a few of the albums that have helped write my story. Dear readers, which albums have been part of your life's soundtrack?