When Lance dropped the idea on me for a blog posting about pairing a different wine with each of my 5 favorite records of all-time, I was thrilled and could not wait to get started. The wines are no-brainers, but I didn’t predict how difficult it would be to narrow my list down to only 5 albums. Well, here they are, from a list of over 25 contenders, with wines to match…..
The Who: Live at Leeds
Leeds was the one record that had no chance of being eliminated from my list. It’s by far my favorite, and has been since college. An absolutely pivotal album not just for The Who, but in the lineage of all 20th century rock, Live at Leeds captures a loud and raucous, yet sober and rehearsed performance at Leeds University from Valentine’s Day of ’70 that I must have listened to more than 100 times. Before this show, The Who was merely a clever Brit/mod pop outfit with a string of radio hits, catering to screaming teenage girls. But after this show, the gloves had come off….they were now a musician’s band focused on the raw power of sound and the Zen of improvised guitar solos. If you dare indulge, be sure to acquire a newer-generation issue that offers the complete two-and-a-half-hour performance. Then, do like I do: turn the volume way up, sit back, and enjoy a glass or three of ’07 Turley Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard. You’ll feel like the Maxell Man!
Joni Mitchell: Blue
I could drink a case of Blue. And by the time it was recorded in 1971, Joni had already penned and performed many of her most significant works. But Blue truly switched gears, and to my ear, is responsible for jump-starting the 70’s musically. Although Blue’s instrumentation remains acoustic throughout, its lyrics contradict any folksy feel; my favorite ones sport a liberated, street-smart tone, conjuring images of well-known places, icons and personalities from a fresh, feminine perspective. Additionally, this is the album wherein Joni’s signature unpredictable chord progressions really take hold. It’s a thinking-person’s record, and deserves to be paired with a thinking-person’s wine. I’ll play it next with a glass of ’01 Chateau d’Issan Margaux in hand.
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks
In 1968, a burgeoning 23-year-old Van Morrison found himself at a creative crossroads. His vision had transcended AOR and garage rock, and it was time for him to paint his masterpiece. The resulting album stretched the limits of popular music through 45 minutes of Irish folk arrangements with jazz elements, sewn together by abstract lyrical imagery delivered via Morrison’s unmistakable voice. Van didn’t just create Astral Weeks, he birthed it, and that can be felt in its every riveting moment. This is clearly a mood album….not one that I like to over-expose myself to. I try to listen to it less than once a year, and when I do, it’s bubbly or nothing. For the next spin, it’ll be ’02 Champagne H. Billiot Brut Vintage.
Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom
Let me do you a service by introducing you to the greatest album you never heard. When vocalist/drummer Robert Wyatt departed from The Soft Machine in 1971 (They were, by the way, were the hottest group to emerge from the Canterbury scene, which was the British Haight Ashbury), he found himself launching several tiny and unsuccessful projects in the prog rock genre. By 1973, when he finally compiled his most promising lineup of Canterbury musicians and prepared to lay down some compelling new material, he promptly got drunk, fell from a window, and woke up a paraplegic. Confinement to a wheelchair seemed to set some creative juices a flow, because by spring of ’74, with the recruitment of Laurie Allan on drums, Rock Bottom was in the can. Produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, the work is musically impressionistic, with a jazz/art-rock framework decorated by witty, ironic lyrics. Robert’s wife Alfie also turned hardship into art by creating the album cover. This record is very special to me; I dare not listen to it more than once in 3 years. The time has come again, so I think I’ll pull the cork on a ’94 Cockburn’s Vintage Port, hit play, and get very English.
David Bowie: The Man Who Sold the World
Bowie can certainly be thought of as a mad genius. Eccentric ahead of his time, everything he touched turned to art (at least up until the turn of the 80’s, but that’s just one man’s opinion). In reviewing his catalogue, it’s tough to decide on a favorite, since each brilliant record is so completely different from the next. But there is one that I pull from its sleeve more often than almost any other record, Bowie or otherwise….1970’s The Man Who Sold The World. Maybe it’s just that the vinyl issue I possess offers such a rich sound, or perhaps it’s because the work is just so dynamic and category-defying; in either case, this earlier, transitional Bowie album is addictive, and always leaves me wishing it were lengthier. Fat, textured bass; heavy, distorted guitar; provocative lyrics; a sassy, suggestive vocal style…. it all makes me thirsty for some hedonistic, new-world juice. If there’s still a bottle of ’01 Almaviva rolling around my cellar, I’m sinkin’ it with Bowie on the turntable this Saturday night.