At the end of April, I was drawn into a Facebook meme to post covers of 10 favorite album covers that are still on your playlist after years, one a day, no need for explanation. I’m a sucker for lists and, of course, I needed to explain.
I was surprised that the first one that sprang to mind was Judee Sill, but maybe not: Of all the albums I love that I wish other people loved, I think Judee’s may be the best, with Lazarus a close second, or at least the most deserving of attention.
Biggest surprise: That I could go through 10 favorite albums and not include Sgt. Pepper, which I have long considered The Best Album Ever. But everyone knows that album; I wanted the attention to go to music I would recommend to friends that maybe they’re not quite familiar with.
And so I posted, in no particular order:
1. Judee Sill. “Lady-O” is stunningly beautiful, and “The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown” is a frequent earworm four decades on.
2. Mirror Ball, Neil Young, with a tasty little backup band called Pearl Jam.
3. Conversations, Sara Groves. Includes 13 awesome recordings including “The Word,” the only song since “Good Vibrations” that made me stop the car and say, “Whoa! What IS that?”
4. Wildflowers, Tom Petty. Fifteen of Tom Petty’s most memorable compositions flawlessly executed. Bonus: It contains the immortal “Refuse to be Afraid” lyric, “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.”
5. Lazarus. This trio played a few times as Shiloh at the long-ago Ikthus coffeehouse outside Mendham, NJ, one of my high school haunts. They put out this and one other album after being discovered by Peter Yarrow, who wrote the liner notes. I defy you not to fall in love with their songs and harmonies.
6. Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Anyone vaguely familiar with me had to know this one was coming. This is the Sgt. Pepper of Americana music, and Will The Circle Be Unbroken is its White Album.
7. Live at Carnegie Hall 1938, Benny Goodman. The first live album ever is still the best.
8. Songs From The Wood, Jethro Tull. I was a Jethro Tull fan from “Thick as a Brick,” but this album hooked me in the first 33 seconds and has not let go for 41 (!!!) years.
9. Kongos, John Kongos. Do I post Sgt. Pepper, from everyone’s list, or toss in one amazing album almost no one has ever heard but must? Yep, you know me. Kongos by John Kongos is what happens when a journeyman South African star meets Elton John’s production team and band: It has a very Elton flavor (and that’s a very good thing) except for the first and last songs, “Tokoloshe Man” and “He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” which are like nothing ever made before or since.
10. Smile, The Beach Boys. My favorite album doesn’t actually exist. Modern technology allowed me (and no doubt countless others) to assemble a version from the dozens of snippets that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys recorded in the months after the successful launch of “Good Vibrations,” but a complete album was never released until Wilson made one in 2004. I adore Brian Wilson Presents Smile, especially the DVD recording, but I like my own edit the best. Someday, when I revive Uncle Warren’s Attic, I’ll share it.
P.S. Yes, “when.”