Inspirations: 15 albums that changed things for me

I got tagged in Facebook with this, so never being one to waste some effort I’ll post it here too.

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.

Rather than being things I’d listen to now, these are the things that changed my perceptions at the time, so they’re heavily weighted to my childhood and adolescence, before anyone reading this was even conceived.

1. Various Artists – The Immortal Memory
A compilation of Robert Burns songs by ‘popular’ Scottish singers of the time like Kenneth McKellar. The songs were connected by a spoken poetic biography of Burns. I was a Burns fan by primary 3.

2. Rogers and Hammerstein – The King and I
It’s a tossup between this and ‘South Pacific’ both of which were on heavy rotation in our house throughout my childhood, when my parents loved them, and later, when I rediscovered them as a teenager. I didn’t even see the films till much later, but I had discovered how words and musical textures could tell stories or, in the case of ‘The King’ evoke an exotic atmosphere. I’ve a long standing fantasy of playing Yul Brynner’s part or doing ‘There Is Nothing Like a Dame’ in a stage version.

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Leonard Cohen at Edinburgh Castle

I’d been steeling myself for a disappointment; the setlists I’d seen posted on his site forum didn’t reflect my favourite stuff, I thought it understandable if a man of his age, on a very long tour of long sets, might want to preserve his voice and coast a little, maybe even go through the motions. After all, there couldn’t be more of an adoring, accepting audience anywhere in the world (one woman in the car park afterwards was overheard saying she just needed to hear him say Thank you so much for coming, friends and she could go home satisfied!). But none of that – Cohen was in fine growl, reaching down to impossible depths, and singing every song as though he’d only just written it and was discovering its meaning for himself. It was a performance of passion and integrity, sustained throughout the night except perhaps during the final Closing Time, which was a race between Cohen, the backing singers and the band to get to the end as the rain began to fall on the audience.

Taking to the stage unannounced just after 8, still in broad daylight, he started Dance Me To the End of Love kneeling, a position he adopted frequently during the show. The set was drawn mostly from his post-80s ‘synth’ albums, but I was reminded of how great some of these songs are: the vicious vision of The Future, the overlooked (by me) Anthem which in this case delivered the emotional punch that familiarity has drained from Hallelujah. Who By Fire began, as is traditional in a Cohen concert, with an extended solo on an oud-like fretted instrument, just one of many exquisite solos from a top class band. This player and another on harmonica and some sort of breath-driven synth which Cohen called ‘the instrument of wind’ stood out, but the playing was inspired throughout. Cohen seemed to feel obliged to name the band members very frequently, sometimes before they’d finished soloing. During each solo he’d remove his homburg and hold it over his heart, bowing slightly to the player.

I’m a veteran of Cohen shows, going back to the seventies, and it was only in the encore Sisters of Mercy that the delicious golden melancholy of the pre-I’m You Man shows was evoked, but that’s OK – that was then and this is now, and seeing him at all was an unexpected delight at this stage in his life. As he skipped (yes, skipped) off stage after the final encore it looked like he has juice for many years to come.

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27/3/07 Seeing Leonard Cohen

A few weeks ago I dipped into a Leonard Cohen discussion forum, having forgotten about it for a couple of months. There I learned that he was to appear at a private launch event for singer Anjani’s album Blue Alert in London. Although it was private, there was a draw for tickets on Anjani’s website. … Read more