[From the archive. First posted March 20, 2009 on my blog at the Register.]
Bloggers give each other assignments. Alex Wellsung came up with the following, a kind of chain letter that asks blogger to:
“Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. When you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you’re it.”
Wellsung didn’t actually tag me, but I’m going to take the bait anyway. The following list is not the same as “my favorite” records. I’d say they were formative records for me; they changed the way I heard music in some way. Since I was a trombonist, and in orchestras from high school on, my list is heavy on orchestral repertoire. No apologies.
1. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The Rolling Stones.
(First record that I ever bought, at Gillette Records in Riverside, CA. I was 8.)
2. “The White Album.” The Beatles.
(My older brother bought this one. Everything about it seemed mysterious and artsy to me, important and revolutionary. It gave me the idea that records could be more than just music.)
3. Stravinsky: “The Rite of Spring.” Artists and label unknown.
(I picked this out of my mother’s collection in my early teens, put on the headphones, and was transfixed.)
4. Glinka: Overture to “Ruslan und Ludmila.” New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein.
(My Fountain Valley High School orchestra teacher Jean Clower slapped this on the gramophone one day for the entire ensemble to hear. We were playing the same, or trying to. I never imagined it could sound so cool.)
5. Bruckner: Symphony No. 4. Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan.
(First classical LP that I ever bought. Orchestral sound of thrilling richness, space and nobility beyond description.)
6. “Switched on Bach.” Walter Carlos, Moog synthesizer.
(My first real introduction to the contrapuntal wonders of Bach, which Carlos’ orchestrations made explicit. It remains some of the best Bach on record.)
7. “Fear of Music.” Talking Heads.
(Art rock that rivaled classical music in ambition, method and impact.)
8. Schumann: Symphonies No. 1 and 4. London Symphony Orchestra, Josef Krips.
(This proved oddly mesmerizing for me in a way that expanded my limited classical music horizons. Schumann seemed “difficult” to me — and yet I liked it.)
9. Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, “Eroica.” Los Angeles Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini.
(Giulini’s powerful reading, with my home band, is remarkable for its patient build-up and careful orchestral preparation — I felt that I was hearing the inner workings, the nuts and bolts, of a piece for the first time explicitly.)
10. Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35 and 39. NDR Symphony, Pierre Monteux.
(Monteux was the first musician to show me that Mozart could sing, dance and smile. Heretofore, I had only heard Germans perform him.)
11. Xenakis: “Metastasis”; “Pithoprakta.” Orchestra National de L’office de Radio-diffusion Television Francaise, Maurice Le Roux.
(Atonal, avant-garde music made decipherable by its architectural patterns and cogent drama. A sound spectacle that didn’t have to “mean” anything at all.)
12. Bernd Alois Zimmermann: “Photoptosis”; “Tratto II.” Radio-Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin, Hans Zender. (Strange, otherworldly music. “Photoptosis” is a kind of surreal orchestral collage, with musical quotes, including from Beethoven’s 9th, embedded. “Tratto II” is the first electronic piece that I returned to again and again, a meditative dreamscape, complete with scuba diver breathing.)
13. Beethoven : Piano Sonata in D, Op. 10, No 3. Sviatoslav Richter, piano.
(My introduction to the wonders of the Beethoven piano sonata. We were analyzing this piece in college and Richter helped make it vividly clear to me.)
14. Bartok: String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4. Juilliard String Quartet, Columbia Masterworks M 31197. (Wow, what a record. Who knew string quartets could be this mean and vicious. I didn’t at the time. Still my favorite string quartet record.)
15. Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9. New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein.
(Perhaps the funniest symphony ever written, a big raspberry in Stalin’s face. I used to have a couple of drinks and slap it on the record player. Bernstein and the New Yorkers have a jolly time with it.)