1. Miles Davis – “Kind Of Blue” :
2. John Coltrane – “A Love Supreme” :
3. Vladmir Horowitz – “Horowitz Plays Chopin” :
4. Luciano Pavarotti – “Ti Amo” :
5. Bill Evans – “Waltz For Debby” :
6. Pink Floyd – “The Wall” :
7. The Beatles – “Let It Be” :
8. Herbie Hancock – “Maiden Voyage” :
9. Steely Dan – “Aja” :
10. The Police – “Synchronicity” :
Of all the “best of” lists to put together, this is undoubtedly the toughest. People that know me well, and maybe a few that don’t me at all will question “Where’s Dylan?” and “You left off The Rolling Stones??” As with everything critical, there are varying opinions of what constitutes a record being considered “The Best.” Of course it is very subjective–and for me the list probably should be called “The most influential,” or perhaps better: “the most often listened to records of my life so far.”
I don’t know where I would be in my life without Miles Davis. This list could have easily encompassed only his records such as “Sketches of Spain” and “Blue Haze.” But, I felt I couldn’t add more than one record of any particular artist–It wouldn’t be in keeping with what this list is about. Having to choose one Miles Davis recording would have to be his seminal work “Kind Of Blue.” This is a record I can put on in almost every setting, almost any mood. It is on the top shelf of almost every musician I know, both personally and as a fan. I remember Dave Grohl listing off his favorite records of all time, and obvious in his list were The Clash and Rolling Stones. One of his favorite? Kind Of Blue.
Right below that…and by that I mean right below, is John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” My music teacher Steve Lishman–who happened to be a tenor player himself–turned me onto a cassette tape with this record that he had made for our class as a library of music as a listening resource. I was enthralled when I first heard it–and I still feel that way when I hear it today, almost 26 years later. Coltrane’s horn is powerful, pervasive and confident. As a side man, I am greatly influenced by the chord structures of McCoy Tyner, as well. There hasn’t been a record produced like that since.
I have mixed feelings about my selection for the 3 spot. This could be almost any of the top pianists of the 20th and 21st century. I chose Horowitz, as his rendition of Chopin tends to be lighter and less heavy than other pianists of our time. Horowitz however, along with all great pianists, tends to play Chopin too fast for my taste. I’d probably get a lot of slack about that opinion, but it makes Freddie’s music even more jarring and practically unlistenable at that speed. Who to pick as the representative as Chopin? If you think of one better, I’d love to hear from you.
And then there’s Pavarotti. How to even begin to pick some of his best recordings? It would have to be a compilation of his best arias. Not sure how fair that is; You would think “best records” would entail just one opera. But, between La Boheme, Madam Butterfly and Turandot, how does one make that decision. Ti Amo is a stable compromise, and includes great recordings of some of his best operas. It’s a wonderful entry into opera, actually, but still inspiring to long-time opera fans on a sunday afternoon with a bottle of wine.
I’m not sure Bill Evans’ Waltz For Debby was in the top ten until I bought in on vinyl about 12 years ago. There are nuances in this record that cannot be heard on the simple digitized versions. Sounds of talking, the pedals being moved, the sound of the live chatter of the Village Vanguard–it makes for an interesting listening experience. This was Scott LaFaro’s final recording–he was killed in a car accident just 10 days this was recorded at the Vanguard. It makes this record very special to me the sound and the mystique surrounding it.
When I was about 10 years old and living in Sacramento, CA, I would sneak underneath my brother’s bed, where he kept his cassette deck and listen to some of the music he had bought. The cassette I listened to most was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I loved that it was a rock record with a story. I remember imagining what it looked like visually–until the movie came out. At that point I was already hooked. David Gilmour’s bluesy guitar style with Roger Waters’ vocals have always been definitive Pink Floyd to me. I’ve heard some consider Pink Floyd to actually be a blues record.
When people ask me what my favorite Beatles record is they are almost always shocked to find out it’s Let It Be. What the critics didn’t like about it at the time is what I like about it most. It’s intense. By 1969 The Beatles were fighting, had almost been broken up and were thousands of miles from their bowl-cut “I want to hold your hand” days. What was produced is a painful and stellar effort–sometimes an artist needs to be placed under duress to produce their best work.
What in the hell is a “Steely Dan”, anyway? If you have to ask, you are either not agreement in the selection of this record, or you don’t read enough Burroughs. Regardless–“Aja” is arguably Steely Dan’s best record. And if it’s the best record, I’d like to also nomination “Deacon Blues” as their best song, which was recorded for this record. It’s poppy, jazzy, singable, and very accessible for fans of jazz and fusion alike.
And speaking of poppy, what about The Police’s “Synchronicity?” Every song, except Andy Summer’s crappy attempt at avante-gardism in “Mother” is memorable and extremely well-crafted. This is a record almost killed by the 80’s glam movement–had it been born in 1981 or earlier, we might have seen a dryer, more musical approach, and spared Sting’s “Big Hair” in the video for “Synchronicity II.” As it stands, it’s one of their masterpieces, and possibly my most often listened Police record.
Yes. Yes. YES> I know. Noticeably absent: Some Girls. Joshua Tree. Bass Desires. Dark Side of the Moon. Bitches Brew. Nick of Time. Don’t Turn Me From Your Door. OK Computer. I Walk The Line. ON and On and On. There’s a lot of good music out there. Go listen.