All music fans have them, the handful of records that haven’t grown old, haven’t been worn out, and sound just as good today as they did 10 or 15 years back, when they were acquired. Maybe a friend or your stoner older brother turned you onto them, or maybe you heard a cut or two on more sophisticated left-of-the-dial radio stations. Or, maybe you just heard the artist was cool and your favorite record store clerk (remember them?) turned you onto them after you ventured into the store asking for similar artists, only to have the gold placed into your hand.
They pass the 10 year test, the test that every record should be subject to. It’s when you have the album and ask yourself if you’ll listen to it in 10 years time. Will the band still be hip? Will the message still be relevant? Will the musicians still be cool, or will they go down in tabloid fame after a mishap on stage, or with some underage fan? If you think you’ll still listen to the album in 10 years with the same fervor, it’s worth taking up space on the LP or CD shelf, or on your digital music storage device.
These three records passed the 10 year test for me, and in turn, have, and will, stick with me forever.
Frank Zappa, “Hot Rats” (1969) I walked into Phantasmagoria Records in Wheaton, Maryland, in 1987, and said I wanted something by Frank Zappa. “Hot Rats” was placed into my hand, an album that is a mostly instrumental, avant-jazz experience of Zappa guitar, Jean-Luc Ponty violin, and the trademark experimentation of FZ. This record is brilliant from the opening. It walks the line between grand and cheesy perfection on “Peaches en Regalia,” and the 8-minute “Son of Mr. Green Genes,” which showcases Zappa’s guitar chops. Also, a bonus because “Willie the Pimp,” the one vocal track, featured Captain Beefheart, and opened another musical rabbit hole worthy of exploration.
The Gourds, “Ghost of Hallelujah” (1999) The Gourds’ third album may be the one that most easily draws you into the world of The Gourds, a world that exists somewhere in the neighborhood of alternative country, hillbilly blues, and jug band rock and roll. The main songwriters, Kev Russell and Jimmy Smith, could always pen a twangy ballad, with Smith’s lyrics always coming off as more ambiguous, if not much stranger and more nonsensical than Russell’s. What they’ve struck here is some genuine twang-pop, especially with Smith’s “County Orange,” a nonsensical but driving tune that references footwear, grocery stores, and orange-issued jumpsuits. Russell’s “Fine Leather Truck” is a twangy nod to whipping around in a beat-up truck. Once again, The Gourds showcase the coolness of an accordion.
Devin Davis, “Lonely People of the World Unite” (2005) Davis’ one solo album can easily be categorized as one of the great unknown albums of the last 20 years. A Chicago sound technician, Davis – a less than part-time musician – made a masterpiece. This album is part garage rock, part psychedelic, part electro hard-folk, and part stadium rock, but all wonder. It’s loaded with layers of instruments, from guitars to horns, while Davis’ vocals crack with deliberate feeling. A promising acoustic guitar riff on “Iron-Woman” kicks off the album, and it weaves its way with very little break from song to song, genre to genre. “Moon Over Shark City” flat out rips, while “Giant Spiders” has a slight touch of The Kinks. Sadly, Davis hasn’t come through on a follow-up, and reissue of this record was nothing more than Internet rumor. It’s so worth owning, though. It’s an album made with the aging idea that records are one complete piece comprised of multiple songs, complete with a beginning, middle, and an end.
Before I go, I also wanted to note that in last week’s column, I got drummer Ted Moore’s name wrong while mentioning the band Farmington Hill. Sorry Ted.