One of my birthday presents was the book The Top 100 Canadian Albums by Bob Mersereau. He got about 600 Canadian musicians, broadcasters, retailers, roadies, instrument makers, festival operators and more to vote for their top 10 albums. In the intro to his revised edition, he notes the complaints. “Where was Anne Murray? The New Pornographers? Hank Snow?” There were also complaints about regional or language bias.
Mixed in with the stories were others compiling best-of lists, by geography (Manitoba, Quebec, e.g.), genre (blues), and other breakdowns. A guy named Terry O’Reilly even developed a list of Top Ten Funniest and Coolest Album Titles, some of which will be noted.
What I realized is that, not only did I own a fair number of these albums, many of them played a significant part of my life, often in a relationship with my significant other (S.O.) at the time.
1.Harvest, Neil Young (1972) -This was an album from my college days, but it’s not my favorite Neil album. I thought Alabama was too much like Southern Man from After the Gold Rush, and the strings on A Man Needs a Maid were pretentious. Neil’s own ambivalence about his commercial success with the album and the single from it, Heart of Gold, plays into my feelings as well. But there are some great songs here, most notably The Needle and the Damage Done.
2.Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971) – Just about a perfect album. Even she admits, “there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals.” From All I Want to A Case of You (covered by, among others, fellow Canadian Diana Krall), to the melancholy seasonal classic, River (covered much later by James Taylor, a one-time beau). I had a very good friend who has since died who knew lots about music and was a big Joni fan, yet she inexplicably failed to hear the Jingle Bells variation in this song; strange.
3.After the Gold Rush, Neil Young (1970) – Probably my favorite Neil album, though I, like the author, believes that Southern Man just doesn’t fit thematically. It had the Top 40 hit Only Love Can Break Your Heart. But my favorite is the minor hit When You Dance I Can Really Love, which I recall dancing to with my college S.O. in my dorm room. Another standout is Oh Lonesome Me; you can’t really appreciate the quality of the melancholy cover until you hear the jaunty Don Gibson original.
4.Music From Big Pink, The Band (1968) – I’m sure I didn’t hear this album until after hearing the Band’s eponymous second album. So this one always felt a little more raw, less polished. Still, it had great songs such as the Dylan-penned or co-penned Tears of Rage, This Wheel’s on Fire, and I Shall Be Released. Chest Fever, which I heard first covered by Three Dog Night, is also here. The best known song may be The Weight, which appears in the movie Easy Rider, but not on the soundtrack, for contractual reasons. My college S.O. lived in Bearsville for a time and took me by Big Pink at least once. #8 on the coolest title list.
5.Fully Completely, The Tragically Hip (1992)
6.Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette (1995) – This was, in my mind, the breakup album for me and my S. O. at the time. Although Ironic bugged me, because it was mostly coincidental, not ironic, I listened to it quite a bit at the time.
7.The Band, The Band (1969) – Now this is my favorite The Band album, quite possibly top 20 island records. Turned onto this in high school by a friend I’ve known since kindergarten. Rag Mama Rag and Up on Cripple Creek were minor hits but The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was probably best known, in part because of the Joan Baez cover. My favorite song though, is the last, King Harvest (Has Surely Come).
8.Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004) – hmm. This list was compiled before Neon Bible (2007), and Best Album Grammy winner The Suburbs (2010) were released; wonder where they would fare in a newer iteration of this list? BTW, I just ordered The Suburbs with a gift certificate I got for my birthday.
9.Moving Pictures, Rush (1981) – never owned any Rush. Yeah, I know it’s a sin. The only Geddy Lee I have is him singing “take off to the great white north” on a Bob & Doug McKenzie album.
10.American Woman, The Guess Who (1970)
11.Songs of Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen (1967) – Don’t own, but I do have a number of albums covering his songs, especially Judy Collins: Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy (also covered by the duet of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris), and my favorite Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye (also covered by Roberta Flack).
12.Reckless, Bryan Adams (1984) – and no Bryan Adams in my collection
13.Five Days in July, Blue Rodeo (1993) – I do own an earlier Blue Rodeo album, but nothing from this list.
14.Twice Removed, Sloan (1994)
15.Up to Here, The Tragically Hip (1989)
16.Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969) – It has one of my favorite Neil songs ever, the handclap-driven Cinnamon Girl, which I played repeatedly in college, and those two nine-minute-plus songs, Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand.
17.2112, Rush (1976)
18.Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell (1974) – Commercially, the height of Joni’s popularity. She recorded this album with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. In August of 1974, my college S.O., my friend Uthaclena and his S.O at the time drove from New Paltz to Saratoga to see Joni and the L.A. Express; let’s say that the trip was NOT a good time. After my S.O. and I broke up, the song Help Me helped doom a rebound relationship. And still, I love this album. From the plaintive Free Man in Paris to the rocker Raised on Robbery to the goofy Lambert, Hendricks & Ross tune Twisted, featuring Cheech & Chong.
19.Whale Music, Rheostatics (1992) – don’t know.
20.Acadie, Daniel Lanois (1989)> Now this is a fine album by a guy who’s been the producer for U2, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball), and Peter Gabriel (So), among others. The songs are in both French and English, occasionally even on the same track. I’d say it was in the folk genre except that it would be far too limiting. My favorite song is The Maker. The last song, Amazing Grace, features vocals by Aaron Neville.
21.Day for Night, The Tragically Hip (1994)
22.Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (1979). For whatever reason, after the first four solo albums, I stopped buying Neil records – save for the greatest hits package, Decade. And while there are a number of good songs, notably Pocahontas, it’s the first and last related songs that sold me. #7 coolest title.
23.Gord’s Gold, Gordon Lightfoot (1975) – I’m sure I had had this Gordon album at some point, but apparently not anymore.
24.You Were Here, Sarah Harmer (2000)
25.Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Sarah McLachlan (1993) – #3 on the coolest title list.
26.Road Apples, The Tragically Hip (1991) – every July 1, Canada Day, I play this album. Why this one? Because I so associate it with Canada, and other Canadians I’d play on their birthdays.
27.Gordon, Barenaked Ladies (1992) – I have the greatest hits, but not this collection.
28.You Forgot it in People, Broken Social Scene (2002)
29.I’m Your Man, Leonard Cohen (1988)
30.Tonight’s the Night, Neil Young (1975)
31.Decade, Neil Young (1977) – Initially, I wondered about this essentially greatest hits, which covers his Buffalo Springfield and CSNY periods, as well as the solo stuff. But it does have music that at that point had not been released on any album, or at all. Among my favorite songs are the last two, the previously unreleased Campaigner — “even Richard Nixon has got soul” and a previously unreleased version of Long May You Run, which namechecks the Beach Boys’ Caroline, No.
32.Miss America, Mary Margaret O’Hara (1988)
33.Surfacing, Sarah McLachlan (1997) – This is one of those album where I heard the airplay of the singles, notably Building a Mystery, liked it, bought it.
34.One Chord to Another, Sloan (1996)
35.Songs of Love and Hate, Leonard Cohen (1971)
36.Cyborgs Revisited, Simply Saucer (1989)
37.Ingenue, k.d. lang (1992) – This album was very important in the relationship between me and my S.O at the time. I knew k.d. lang from her days as a country artist, even had/have the LP Angel with a Lariat on vinyl. So I’m telling S.O about the new k.d. album, that she’s singing that song Constant Craving that seemed to be constantly on the radio. Something clicked, and suddenly, she bought and read about all things lang. The album also features Miss Chatelaine and my personal favorite, Season of Hollow Soul. Breaking up, the division of the lang music was one of the greatest points of dispute.
38.Melville, Rheostatics (1991)
39.Love Tara, Eric’s Trip (1993)
40.On the Beach, Neil Young (1974)
This is getting long; the other 60 next week.