Assignment: Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 40) that had a profound effect. Dig into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wasu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean.
In chronological order:
"The Little Drummer Boy"
A fixture of my youth. I thought "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Jimmy Boyd appeared on this recording... very confused about the adulterous nature of this song, I was appalled that Santa would be making passes at this little boy's mom! But my brother in his most persistent, journalistic, and annoying manner has informed me that the Boyd song was on "First Christmas Record for Children," another record we listened to as kids.
Ubiquitous tunes of my early youth. I learned to play the piano with songs from "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music." My favorite? "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" which the movie reminds us is what we say when we don't know what to say. I adored Julie Andrews - after all, my name was Julie Matthews and we both had boy surnames and the same first name so we must be soulmates.
"The Association Greatest Hits!"
My parents bought this album but I know I listened to it 1000 more times than they did. I loved the harmonies in "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary."
The Four Tops grooved their way through this stupendous album singing "Reach Out - I'll Be There," "Bernadette," and my favorite, "If I Were a Carpenter." At a very early age, this last song taught me a lot about loving what's important in a person rather than the surface horseshit that everyone else seems to care about.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
This Beatles record featured the best and scariest album cover ever produced. Released just prior to the "Paul is dead" rumor, the cover sported more mysteries and clues than seven combined seasons of LOST. For a couple of months in 1967, I was terrified to walk through our rec room because I was sure that that demonic album cover was going to reach out and get me.
"Leaving on a Jet Plane"
This song came off of Peter, Paul and Mary's "Album 1700," which I never owned. But I listened to that song so many times in sixth grade, it takes a place on my list. It was the first 45 I ever owned.
By Carole King, of course. Tell me one woman over 45 who says she never owned this album and I'll call her a liar to her face. Everyone had this album. EVERYONE. I've bought at least six copies over the years. I still know the lyrics to every single song on the album, including "Smackwater Jack"! (Smackwater Jack had a shotgun...)
"Sweet Baby James"
By James Taylor...
"Mud Slide Slim"
Also by Taylor. I demolished at least a dozen diamond needles wearing these albums out. I especially liked "Mud Slide Slim" because it featured Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," probably the best song ever recorded. I've grown old with James Taylor and I love him today even more than yesterday. He has truly been a fixture in my life.
I picked this album, especially "Saturday in the Park," to honor Mary Jane Inglesby who remembers listening to this record in my bedroom in eighth grade. I remember the wood-cut album cover. Chicago always had the best jackets - and logo. I've studied that logo since I was 14 years old; it's one of the reasons I grew up to be a branding expert and logo designer.
"Tea for the Tillerman"
By Cat Stevens. One of my most favorite albums ever, I especially love "Father and Son," "Wild World," and "Into White."
"Teaser and the Firecat"
Another Cat Stevens album, this one with the classics "Morning Has Broken" and "Moonshadow." Both albums had spectacular jacket artwork that broke every unwritten rule about album covers of that era, instead providing simple, whimsical, hand-drawn images that look like they came from a children's book. Perfection.
By Steely Dan. Along with James Taylor's "Mud Slide Slim," I always take "Aja" on vacation with me because it always makes me feel at home. In 1977, this album played constantly - and I mean constantly - at Sutter's Mill, a great college bar off Syracuse University's famous Marshall Street. I can never hear "Deacon Blues" without remembering the good ole days at SU.
By Billy Joel. Another persistent Syracuse memory. All the Long Island kids raved about this piano player from where they grew up - but I'd never heard of Billy Joel in my life. However, it wasn't long before I, too, knew every word of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." (Bottle of red, bottle of white, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead...)
"Christmases Long Ago - Julie, Jill, and John's Christmas Music"
Compiled by my brother, John Edward Matthews II in the 1980s when he worked for WMAL. John created his masterpiece long before regular people could make their own cassette tapes or burn their own CDs. John's efforts simply boggled the mind because he found every cherished Christmas song of our youth and put it all on one tape. Brilliant! In the 1990s, I re-created the tape as a CD; it still provides the soundtrack for every holiday season.
I will now end where I began by telling you that "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" appears on John's compilation tape, too. But I now understand the irony inherent in this song - and love it just the same.