We’ve done Christmas music. We’ve done travel. We’ve done our “wild younger days,” and now I’ve joined up with my pal Renata from Buffalo Sauce Everywhere to write about our favorite albums. Be sure to read her post here.
I’m not “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?” young, but the band people my parents’ age knew as Jefferson Airplane or Jefferson Starship was just called Starship by the time I first heard of them.
And that’s due to one album … “Knee Deep in the Hoopla.”
Specifically, the song “We Built This City.”
There are other songs on the album, some I vaguely remember, but that was the big hit.
Starship was the first concert I went to as a teenager in the mid-1980s — Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with Cutting Crew as the opening act — but I’m fairly sure “Knee Deep in the Hoopla” was also the first album I ever owned.
My parents’ house had a record player and a bunch of records, but when I first got my own stereo, the format of choice was cassette tapes. I’d open the tape player, pop one inside and then flip it over once the first side was done.
Those cassettes are probably still in my parents’ house somewhere.
Sometimes, I just want to settle in, pick an album and let the artist take me from beginning to end.
With almost all my music on my phone now, it’s easy to search for particular songs, skip ones I don’t feel like listening to in the moment or scroll down the list until I find what I want.
But sometimes, I just want to settle in, pick an album and let the artist take me from beginning to end.
And when that happens, these are the ones I’m mostly likely to choose, plus some I’ve chosen for nostalgia’s sake.
“Twice the Speed of Life,” Sugarland — Let’s start with my favorite band and favorite singer, shall we?
Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are just magic. Technical term, I know, but that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. The album you like the least (“The Incredible Machine”) is still better than most everything else I’ve heard, so how do I pick just one for the list?
Easy … I chose the one with my favorite song, which came when they were a trio with Kristen Hall. (It didn’t end well.) To me, “Just Might (Make Me Believe)” is perfection in musical form.
“Playing with Fire,” Jennifer Netttles — Sugarland is better together, but that doesn’t mean Jennifer Nettles isn’t awesome on her own. There is nothing she can’t sing without sounding brilliant.
“Hero,” Maren Morris — When Suzi found out that I was looking for new music, she said I really needed to listen to “I Could Use a Love Song” off this album.
And … I was hooked.
Some people may prefer “Girl,” and that’s OK. I won’t argue; it’s a great album. In particular, “Common,” her duet with Brandi Carlile, is an absolute banner.
But out of the 14 songs on the “Hero” deluxe edition, there are probably 10 that could be my favorite, including the one that is, “Once,” which can just smash you to pieces.
“Bridges,” Josh Groban — I once read a review of a Josh Groban album — I wish I could remember which one it was and where I read it — that dismissed him as having a “generically pleasant voice.”
Which is like saying George Clooney “is relatively charismatic and looks OK in a suit.”
We’ve been following him since his debut “Josh Groban” album in 2001 (gulp!), and he has always been a superb talent, but “Bridges” is an artist at the peak of his powers, that everything else he has done was meant to lead to this.
It is an absolute masterpiece.
“Harmony” comes out Nov. 20. I will be very interested to see what comes next.
“Amidst the Chaos,” Sara Bareilles/“Golden Hour,” Kacey Musgraves — I put these two albums together because I became fully aware of both artists at relatively the same time and after they had been established — I reiterate my previous question: “What took me so long?”
Therefore, unlike the steady build I experienced with Josh Groban, I devoured their music in gulps, as if drinking out of a firehose.
The talent was obvious — I, like Renata, think Bareilles’ “Cassiopeia” deserves a lot more love — and then, like “Bridges,” “Amidst the Chaos” and “Golden Hour” seemed to say “This … this is what we’re supposed to be doing.”
And if “Rainbow” was the only good song “Golden Hour,” it would still be one of my favorites.
It is not the only good song on the album.
“Timeless,” Martina McBride — Before the visit to Ryman Auditorium, before Ken Burns presented “Country Music” on PBS, Martina McBride provided a roughly 55-minute history lesson of her own about the genre.
I don’t know the ins and outs of how albums get made, but I certainly hope that no idea went from “Here’s something that could be interesting” to “Hell yes, let’s do it” than the thought of Martina McBride singing an album of country standards.
I wouldn’t mind another one, to be honest. There are a lot of classics out there she could cover.
“Greatest Hits — Volume I & Volume II,” Billy Joel — In case you didn’t know, Billy Joel had done a lot of really good songs by the late 1980s, two volumes’ worth if you want to get technical.
That alone makes a worthy entrance to any list of favorite albums, but it has a warm spot in my memories because it was the soundtrack of a high school band trip to Lake Placid.
“Unison,” Celine Dion — Celine Dion will always be a great singer, but has spent a lot of years straddling the line of becoming caricature, and hasn’t always stayed on the right side of the line.
But her early stuff like “Unison,” when she was just a young singer from Quebec with a blast furnace for a voice? That’s always going to hold a special place in my musical heart.
“Hamilton” soundtrack — The album, of course, is literally a journey through the musical, and since I had heard it long before I saw the show live or on Disney+, I had to remind myself it was a show, not a concert, and to remember to actually watch the show.
Sure, people love “Wait for It” and “The Room Where It Happens,” and they’re great songs, but give me Christopher Jackson finding another gear in “One Last Time.”
“The Globe Sessions,” Sheryl Crow — There’s a period of time I like to call “peak Hugh,” where, even though he’s still good now (watch him in “The Undoing” on HBO if you don’t believe me), he was at his very best.
That’s how I feel about Sheryl Crow. Her music will be worth your time until the day comes where she decides to stop making it, but there was a period of about nine years, from “Tuesday Night Music Club” to “C’mon, C’mon,” where I’m not sure anyone did it any better than she did.
“Taking the Long Way,” The Dixie Chicks — Do not make Natalie Maines angry.
“1989,” Taylor Swift — Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking Taylor Swift wasn’t pretty much a pop singer before this album came out, but “1989” is the album that made it “official.”
And it’s my favorite of the bunch. “Reputation,” “Lover” and “Folklore” are good, but to varying degrees, she’s playing a character in all of them, whereas in “1989,” she’s just making really good music.
Plus, “Style” might be the most quintessentially 1980s song, and it’s by someone born in the last three weeks of the ’80s.
“Tomorrow Is My Turn,” Rhiannon Giddens —Every year, we watch the Boston Pops July 4 show.
In 2018, the special guests included Rachel Platten, Rita Moreno and the Indigo Girls. “Fight Song” is a good tune, but other than that, I wasn’t expecting it to be all that exciting, but at least we’d still have the “1812 Overture” if nothing else.
And then this woman we had never heard of got on stage to open the show. Who WAS this?
A sick talent named Rhiannon Giddens, that’s who. We couldn’t get our hands on “Tomorrow Is My Turn” fast enough.
“Heard It In A Past Life,” Maggie Rogers — Speaking of people who came out of nowhere into my musical consciousness, she was the opening act for Mumford & Sons and had us hanging on every word before she was done.
So there you have it — hours of musical entertainment for your immersion and entertainment.