Andrew Cotto has his ten albums. What are yours?
I recently wrote about the Bruce Springsteen album Born to Run. It was the death of Clarence Clemons that inspired me to reflect on all the specific memories brought about by that iconic cover. Thinking about the photo of Clarence and Bruce on Born to Run, and all that the album’s artwork meant to me as a kid, got me thinking about all those things the album itself meant. I thought about the songs. I loved how each sounded individually, but also how they blended into one another, even informed each other in a mysterious way—the slow ones and the fast ones and those that lasted a long time that were both slow and fast; and how, as a collection, they fit like pieces of a bigger puzzle I was trying to put together, trying to figure out, fully immersed in the process.
I remember sitting in my room with headphones on, lost in the lyrics and arrangements, picturing the album’s characters. Born to Run was a drive-in movie in my head with a full-blown soundtrack. My friends and the girls I liked were the stand-ins. And after enough time, I felt all of the characters’ emotions: their pleasure, their heartbreak, their longing, their escape. I absorbed them through my headphones and made them my own. It helped define me, at least to myself, for a little while.
Isn’t that kind of what we are: songs trying to create an album? Pieces we put together, informing a narrative? We’re stories about family and friendship and love and sadness and loss and independence and escape and desire and regret and joy and a million other things. We are albums. Collections. That’s why we love records so. All of their melodies and characters and themes help define our experiences, not only shining on mercy and truth but also giving us a chance to rock out in our rooms.
I miss albums. I miss talking about them with my friends (naming the “Top Ten” I’d take to a deserted island). But albums are no longer a primary part of the music listening experience, no longer part of our narrative. Technology has nearly made the album obsolete. Why buy a whole album of 12 songs when the single song you want is 99 cents? I can see the logic in that, having bought a ton of records inspired by a song, only to be disappointed by the collection. But I also remember the magic of stumbling upon a single song, leading to a complete collection that transported me to places I’d have never imagined. It’s like a smile that leads to a kiss that leads to love. But how do we in the modern age find those artists and their records that can create that experience? Those moments in the iTunes age inspiring growth and reflection and an appreciation of what it’s like to be alive? Sadly, I find myself playing the same old albums again and again and again and again.
Through word-of-mouth, I recently found a record that I love. A Brooklyn band named Chris Cubeta and the Liars Club just put out their second full length LP. It’s a punchy collection of timeless rock tunes, an assortment of hooks and grit and harmonies that remind me, at times, of bands I’d loved over the past 30 years, from Cheap Trick to Pearl Jam. I can imagine at least five of the songs being played on FM radio if FM radio still existed as a showcase for new music. The album has songs I want to read the lyrics to and sing out loud, solving the puzzle along the way. I can see imaginary kids in their rooms or at parties or driving in cars singing along too, with the volume cranked up and the windows down. I hope they have the chance.
For old times’ sake, here’s a list of ten albums I’d bring to a deserted island (in no particular order):
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Love and Theft, Bob Dylan
Tomorrow the Green Grass, The Jayhawks
Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet
August and Everything After, Counting Crows
They Call Me Muddy Waters, Muddy Waters
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams
14 Songs, Paul Westerberg
Tell Mama, Etta James
And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid
What are your favorite albums?