Skip to main content

Christopher Marks

2021 Classic Album Listening

15 min read

I'm gonna try and listen to the 2020 rolling stone 500 greatest albums list by listening to one a day in 2021, and if I hit an album I've heard before I'll try to listen to two albums that day. I'm hoping it'll help anchor what will likely be another year of staying indoors and also give me another reason to wake up before 8:55am (and if we're honest, sometimes 9:35 am) for work.

I'm conscious that my plans like this usually fizzle out after like a few days or a week or whatever so I'm going to make an effort to write down the day, album, and maybe a few thoughts in this blogpost. Given I'm writing this on Dec 29th it's super likely that I will forget by Jan 1st - but we will TRY.

My goal with the reflections is just to say what it reminds me of or makes me think or what I was doing when I was listening to it, but not to comment on any lyrics or sonic qualities because I truly don’t know enough about shit to say anything other than ‘I like that!’ or ‘Isn’t that good??’

 

Jan 1st, 2021

What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye

My comments feel particularly stupid given how impactful this album was, in its own right as a work of moving social commentary with groundbreaking production, and to the degree it inspired future generations of musicians. I had listened to this album before, but never all the way through (especially not the full 40th anniversary / super deluxe edition). I was listening to the album on the train home from Middlesbrough after visiting my parents for Christmas; staring out the window, a little hungover, only one other person in the carriage for the whole journey down. Save the Children and Mercy Mercy Me really stood out to me for their lyrics, and Inner City Blues is still my favourite track (the 40s intro to the song is something else). I also really enjoyed the second disc - I hadn’t heard any of these instrumental tracks before and thought they were great! I also really enjoyed the three different versions of You’re The Man. 

 

Jan 2nd, 2021

Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys

I think my earliest memory of the beach boys is dressing up in trunks and a sun-shirt to perform a rendition of Surfin’ USA as part of a music camp in what must have been the summer of 2001? (We look thrilled)

beach boys photo

We also performed the song Lollipop by The Chordettes with the paper lollipops you can see above. I had to google who wrote that song; up until just now I thought it by Britney Spears.

My second memory of the beach boys was playing Sloop John B on the piano in one of the Alfred’s piano books when I must have been 7 or 8. My parents had some friends over for a Survivor watch party and after a couple drinks they asked me and my brother to play some songs on the piano. I remember that I hadn’t actually learned the song yet on the piano so I was kind of fumbling through it and remember them being very supportive in a drunken ‘I grew up in California in the 70s and used to drop acid with my high school friends’ kind of way. 

I also have a vague memory of listening to the Beach Boys albums when driving down the coast to go camping at Manresa State Beach - something our family did a lot when I was between the ages of I think 5-10. I associate a lot of albums with these trips because the car journey was just over an hour long (so album length) and my parents would blast music and my mom would sing along. I think my mom’s picks were Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, but I can also remember us listening to OMD, New Order, U2, and probably Pink Floyd. I also remember going camping with some friends from our soccer team once and drove back listening to American Idiot by Green Day, so that must’ve been 2004. 

I rediscovered the Beach Boys back in 2018 in my final year of uni when I was very much in a post-first-LSD-trip, California hippie phase, except in the West Midlands of England (not the grooviest place in the world). When you listen to a really famous album from the 60s/70s and go ‘holy shit have you heard this?’ to all your friends and interrogate your older relatives about their favourite music like you’re digging for the secrets to life and the universe. I remember really liking Pet Sounds, and listening to it that summer with one of my friends while tripping. I then remember watching a Portlandia sketch of Fred Armisen impersonating a guy who had bought a bunch of music equipment and set it up in a basement studio (“equipment just like they used in Pet Sounds”) and how “he had all the top quality stuff he just needed the top quality people.” It’s a super funny sketch but also made me itch because I saw too much of my potential future self in that character, so I never spoke about the album again! :D

That’s enough reminiscing! Predictably my fave tracks are Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows, but the rest of the songs obviously work really well in tandem with each other. There’s a great Strong Songs episode about the production behind God Only Knows (what I remember is the wide array of instruments used and layering stuff by playing it multiple times over itself to create a wall of sound effect) - Kirk Hamilton is super knowledgable and enthusiastic, you can literally feel him smiling while talking about music.

Blue - Joni Mitchell

I had heard of Joni Mitchell before but had only listened to a couple tracks for the first time last month. I really really like this album; it feels like one I’m going to go back and listen to a bunch and get more out of it each time. California was a song I liked a lot in particular (no bias).

 

Jan 3rd, 2021

Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder

In the past year this has become one of my absolute favourite albums (I bleated on about it enough that my friend Zeeshan bought me a vinyl copy for my birthday). Stevie Wonder is a genius, everything about the album is an amazing work of art. Funnily enough I think my earliest association with Stevie Wonder is from School of Rock when Joan Cusack’s character says she loves Stevie Wonder’s music and Jack Black’s character puts it on the jukebox and they start dancing. 

I also remember my friend Luca playing Songs in the Key of Life for me when we went on a road-trip down to LA and Sir Duke genuinely changed how I viewed music. I don’t think up until that point I had really mindfully listened to music despite having played for years - the chorus ‘You can feel it all over’ was the first time I realised that I could feel music in my body when I gave it my full attention. 

It’s another one of those albums that was source material for so many other artists - Jay-Z samples Love’s In Need Of Love Today on Smile; Sir Duke is sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on Footprints; Tom Misch has a cover of Isn’t She Lovely on Geography; Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio is basically Pastime Paradise, and there’s some parallels of the verses that use a single rhyming word to Drama by Erykah Badu. Also probably not direct inspiration since they were contemporaries but the guitar in Contusion also reminds me of Steely Dan. I’m positive there’s many more examples like this that I haven’t picked up on. In no particular order, I really love: Love’s In Need Of Love Today, As, Summer Soft, I Wish, Knocks Me Off My Feet, and Sir Duke. I've got sheet music for a lot of them next to me but as usual haven't found the time to sit down and play it. 

My brother Andrew bought Rockband as a lockdown activity while I was in the middle of a Stevie Wonder phase so I bought all of his available tracks and now whenever I listen to ‘I Wish’ my first thought is how we’re about to crash out and fail the track because of how difficult the drums are. There’s a Strong Songs episode about I Wish where I remember Kirk talking about how Stevie Wonder recorded the drums himself on that album and played them straight while the rest of the instruments are in swing. Which sounds hard - Andrew also complained about the repeated double kicks. 

I think that’s my little rant on this album - I love it; Stevie is amazing. 

 

Jan 4th, 2021

Abbey Road - The Beatles

I hadn’t heard of this band before but I gotta say I think they’re pretty good! Is their name a pun about like a beat as in music but also like beetles the insects?

I have quite a strong memory of playing on the swings in the park by my house when I was 5 and talking about the Beatles with my dad and brother. The main songs I associate with that age were Love Me Do, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and Help!. I also remember back in high school my dad bought us Beatles Rockband as a Christmas present and feeling super guilty for only playing it a handful of times. 

I remember listening to this album on bus in my final year of uni and obviously really enjoying it. I’m particularly fond of Octopus’s Garden and Sun King and found Maxwell’s Silver Hammer genuinely funny but Come Together, Something, and Here Comes The Sun are great if you haven’t heard them! (Kidding, same joke twice, stupider the second time?) 

I associate Here Comes The Sun with two memories; one is when I must have been 5 or 6 and it was a song we performed in a play at our local youth theatre. I think I was a mouse in Cinderella but it could have been a different play. The second was after staying up all night on my last day at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 and hiking Arthur’s Seat with my friend Drew at 5am. We played the song when we watched the sunrise at the top of the hill. Very on the nose, but uhm.. actually, you know what, fuck you!

I also currently live in west London and Abbey Road is between my and my brother’s flat, so I pass it at least twice a week. So uh, yeah. 

 

Nevermind - Nirvana

These two albums are the perfect double bill in that they are completely not. Nevermind is an album I associate with driving around with my dad in our ’03 volkswagen passat when I was probably like 10 or 11. I can picture pulling the CD out of the glove box at the intersection of Hamilton and Bascom (San Jose heads know what I’m talking about). I also remember listening to Nevermind a lot in my final year of uni; I’d put it on when I was doing this monthly property data blogpost for a company I owed a lot of money, so the angst of the album fit the mood. Not gonna explain that here! :D

I hadn’t listened to the Deluxe Edition before, something I’ve been enjoying a lot in this process so far with albums I was already familiar with. I’m a particularly big fan of Come As You Are for its intro, and Lithium and Lounge Act for their general feel. Smells Like Teen Spirit and In Bloom I feel like I’ve heard so much they don’t feel like songs anymore. Also the lyrics ‘It’s okay to eat fish because they don’t have feelings’ from Something In The Way pops into my head every now and then. There is something funny to me about very matter of factly saying “Oh yeah well that’s okay because fish don’t have feelings” when someone says they’re pescatarian.

I’m happy I managed to keep this up despite starting work again today - even if I'm finishing it at 10:45pm. The plan is still going strong!!

 

Jan 5th, 2021

Rumours - Fleetwood Mac

I’m pretty sure I’m always gonna associate Dreams with the guy skating and drinking ocean breeze cranberry juice because of that viral video. There’s also a Song Exploder episode of Go Your Own Way where they talk a bit about the vocal layering that’s kinda neat. I also didn't realise Don't Stop was a Fleetwood Mac song or on this album so that was a surprise. Yeah. I'm gonna level with you, I'm extremely hungry right now and don’t have a ton to say about this album apart from maybe having loose associations with their music from certain periods of time / people, but the memories aren’t as strong. So I’m gonna leave it at: it’s a great album, the classics are classics for a reason!

Edit: I had something to eat and am re-listening while I eat. Songbird is fucking beautiful, god damn. Also the bass guitar about 3 minutes into The Chain is so clean. The clav in You Make Loving Fun is not something I expected from this album. Never Going Back Again also has such a nice sound. Gold Dust Woman also has an excellent intro, what a song.

 

Jan 6th, 2021

Purple Rain - Prince

It didn’t take long but I’m bored of trying to find something to say about these albums now (I just wrote and deleted a bunch of bullshit). This album is a slice of history but not really my thing, but it did grow on me after a couple listens. This feels disrespectful to Prince (rest in peace).

 

Jan 7th, 2021

Blood On The Tracks - Bob Dylan

I liked Meet Me in the Morning (very bluesy) and You’re a Big Girl Now (for the intro). Also the lyrics “You’re an idiot, babe / It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe” on Idiot Wind caught me off guard and made me laugh. I feel like Bob Dylan’s voice sounds the same as the way Lou Reed says “Rock and Roll.”

 

Jan 8th, 2021

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Ms. Lauryn Hill

I love this album - I remember my friend Jess recommended it to me when we lived together in 2nd year of uni. I also associate it with my friend Zeeshan since he’s a huge fan of it too. I basically added every single song from this album into my Jan ’21 playlist - I feel like the Wikipedia section under Impact > Influence on music basically sums up how amazing Lauryn Hill and this album are.

 

Jan 11th, 2021

Revolver - The Beatles

Surprised to see another Beatles album again so soon! I had a quick look and it looks like 5 of the top 50 albums on this list are the Beatles, so 10% of the top 50 are Beatles. Seems like a bit much!!

Some wacky LSD shit on this album for sure. I’m Only Sleeping, Tomorrow Never Knows, Love You To, with their backward played sounds and sitar. I think if I had to pick two songs off the album it’d be Taxman and She Said She Said (Got To Get You Into My Life is fun too). I know my brother is a big fan of Eleanor Rigby - I associate it with being like 10 years old and it being one of the Beatles songs we were trying to learn on the piano (Blackbird was the other one if I remember, which was better suited for it). Definitely a cinematic type of song that paints a very particular image in my head - the same image from when I was 10 as when I just re-listened to it.