English Department Music Recommendations
by Lina Ghosh and Regan Brady
Everyone knows that the HB English department faculty members are definitely not mainstream. We confirmed this fact by asking our beloved English teachers what their favorite songs and albums are. Embrace your inner Liz Phair and boogie to the Hamilton soundtrack while jamming to the classic Bob Dylan and contemplating the profound and simultaneously pimp words of the Kendrick Lamar. Who knows, you might become a diehard Talking Heads aficionado afterwards!
We asked the English teachers a simple question: “What are your three favorite songs or albums of all time?” which elicited paragraphs of explanation of and elaboration on their choices.
- My favorite all time album is Parallel Lines by Blondie, or maybe Eat to the Beat by Blondie and because Blondie is my favorite all time bands. They are Punk/New Wave, terrific musicians, fronted by an incredible woman named Deborah Harry.
- The album I am currently obsessed with is the Hamilton soundtrack because it is totally brilliant.
- And for #3 we could go either with Love Supreme by John Coltrane because it is an amazing transcendental jazz album, and also I listened to it while in labor with my son, Orson… But maybe for #3, my album obsession from 2015 – No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney… Hmmm
PS: The Sleater-Kinney album because they are an all-female that makes amazing punk-tinged rock music, and this was their first album together in more than 10 years, and now they are 40ish, and amazingly it may be their best album ever. (And I saw them in concert in December, and it was a truly great live show.)
1.”Quadrophrenia” by The Who
It is an awesome concept album, great storytelling, ferocious, feral rock
2. “Liquid Swords” by The Genius
I know it’s mid ’90’s rap, but I probably don’t think 6 months have ever gone by since its release that I haven’t listened to it. Gangstas and Kung Fu ninjas are quite similar.
3.’Up on the Sun” by The Meat Puppets
Way ahead of its time, very low-fi for the mid 1980s, and my kids love listening to it in the car.
4.”More Songs about Buildings and Food” by Talking Heads
- “Exile in Guyville” by Liz Phair
I listened to this album every day going to and from school my junior and senior year of high school. Phair’s irreverent, rebellious, and low-I take on relationships made me feel like a cool grown-up, even though I was 17 and driving a beat-up Honda Civic hatchback from 1992. Plus, Liz Phair went to Oberlin, and I wanted to go to that college so badly all throughout high school, so I felt a kindred connection with her. I saw her perform the entire album live in 2009, and it was my favorite concert experience ever. And I went to Oberlin after all!
- “Living with Ghosts” by Patty Griffin
Griffin taps into folk, bluegrass, gospel, and soul in this powerful compilation of songs about loss, memory, and love. I am always stirred by Griffin’s husky yet delicate voice and her messages of forgiveness and faith.
- “The Greatest” by Cat Power
Power blends Southern guitars and Nashville production with hipster credibility on this mostly uptempo mashup of rock, folk, and blues. Her raspy, seductive voice carries the album gorgeously, and I’m always haunted by the first lines of the album: “Once, I wanted to be the greatest.” It’s a stunning take on regret and memory.
- “Blue” by Joni Mitchell
I just thought of this one! Are you ready to cry? Are you ready to turn into a messy pile of tears and hopefully return to human form within 24 hours of listening? Then you are ready for “Blue,” Joni Mitchell’s take on longing.
In conclusion, I guess I like brilliant, strong, powerful women singing about relatively sad things.
Top three are impossible to determine. But here are two of my all-time favorites, along with a current favorite performance of a song:
- The album Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman. This came out when I was 24. After quitting grad school, I was in Boston trying to figure out what to do with my life, enjoying the freedom of having that choice–and also terrified. This album was my soundtrack. I think I still know all of the songs by heart. When I listen to them, that time in my life comes back full-strength.
- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. This was my gateway Bob Dylan album. He needs no explanation. Also, the cover.
- So this is where it gets hard. How to decide that third choice. I think I’ll just go with a current favorite song cover. This is also Dylan, but sung by Norah Jones–also a fave of mine.
Since I won’t get to them, I’d like to point out that Kurt Vile is really really good and is coming soon to the Grog Shop. Also, Ryan Adams released the album 1989, which is a cover of the Taylor Swift album 1989. Last year I listened to this Taylor Swift album a lot. As in, about 40 times. Some of that was because my children or my nephew was playing it. But often it was just me, headphones and T. Swift (as her friends call her). I was trying to figure out if this album was good. All those hours later, my verdict is: I really don’t know.
But here’s three albums I am sure of:
- To Pimp a Butterfly. Why? Because this is probably one of the best and most important albums of the last decade. It’s an album in the truest old school sense of the word. Like, you can listen to isolated tracks on it, but then you’d miss the way they all connect and form a kind of spiritual quest as he struggles against the temptations of success and the places he comes from. The album is a fierce social critique that, for instance, comes at Trayvon Martin from three different complicated perspectives almost at once. And it’s a profound statement of hope. “Alright” has been widely celebrated for its optimism and communal hope, and “i” is right there as a celebration of self and life.
1a. untitled, unmastered. Who makes a masterpiece like To Pimp a Butterfly and then can take a bunch of songs that didn’t make the album and put together as their own album? Kendrick, of course. “untitled one” is scary
“Life is long as infinity this was the final calling
No birds chirping or flying, no dogs barking
We all nervous and crying, moving in caution
In disbeliefs our beliefs the reason for all this
The tallest building plummet, cracking and crumbling …
planes falling out the sky
Trains jumping off the track
and scary good — within the first ninety seconds, he tries out three different kinds of vocal phrasing (then busts out two more in the first thirty seconds of “untitled two”…) and loops his words around that siren call weaving around the dark bass line. What would this have sounded like had he fully produced it instead of leaving it unmastered? — because this is stunning enough already.
- Kamasi Washington. Why? Well, if you love Kendrick Lamar (which you do), you must love the jazz arrangements on the album. Well, that’s Kamasi. All the sax on the album: Kamasi. The string arrangements: again Kamasi. The Epic is a sprawling three-album set that alternates between traditional jazz and total freestyle jazz, like he’s alternating between early and late John Coltrane. Two side notes: One, he practices for thirteen hours a day. Two, anyone who has played “Clair de Lune” on any instrument needs to hear Kamasi and his huge jazz band do this thing. The track is on Spotify; check it out.
- Black Messiah by D’Angelo. Why? Because you’d been waiting fifteen years for this album, of course! In 2000, he released Voodoo — one of the best albums of the decade. (If you don’t have this album, you should.) Then he disappeared for fifteen years. Every once in a while you’d hear he was working on new material — but nothing. Then out of nowhere with no buildup at all, he drops Black Messiah. When I got it last winter I just played it over and over. And over and over — probably thirty times before I mixed things up and played something different. It’s less compressed and less traditional soul music than Voodoo — it’s looser, there’s more guitar circling around the rhythms (By the way, he learned to play guitar during his fifteen year hiatus, and he’s ridiculously good at it.), he’s added strings and more elements of hip-hop. Here’s the thing: listening to this album makes you glad to be alive.
Also, Wilco released a new album called Star Wars, The album art has a white cat on it. Whether you like cats or heartbreakingly beautiful melodies, this album is terrific. And oh my gosh: David Bowie’s last album before he died. It’s awesome. How much do you love it when major artists enter an entirely new and terrific artistic phase when they are almost sixty? I love it a lot. (I’m getting old and need role models.)