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Building a library of classics

Building a library of classics

Odds are, you are treating music like a throwaway product. I know I did, until one very fateful conversation with my friend Phil Conner. About a year ago, the two of us were sitting in a coffee shop, discussing why we’d chosen to work in the music industry, and Phil uttered a statement that forever altered the way I look at my music purchases. “One of the reasons that I’ve chosen to do this for a living is because I can still remember the pops and white noise when my parents put on a Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson record. I must have been 8 years old, but certain songs can still take me back to that moment.”

Phil’s words got me thinking about the value of music. At that point in my life, I’ll admit to being a bandwagon buyer, purchasing the latest releases on the recommendation of whatever magazine I thought was cool at the moment. Most of these CDs wound up in a drawer after only a few spins.

Buy. Listen a few times. Move on.

It was a cycle that was both financially stupid and disrespectful to art. I never really dug deep enough into an album to understand why the artist made it…and therefore missed one of the best parts of enjoying music.

Lately, I’ve paired down my collection to the albums I actually love listen to…and I’ve been re-buying some of my favorites on vinyl. That being said, I thought I’d share a few old & new records with you, and explain why they are classics to me.

Hip Hop/R&B/Soul

Kanye West-The College Dropout: Kanye will probably never make an album this good again. Very few artists in any genre ever will. It sprawls over 21 tracks, stumbling in some places (“The New Workout Plan”) and soaring in others (“Family Business”, “Never Let Me Down”), and still winds up being amazing. Most of all, it’s a coming-of-age narrative that we must all live eventually.

Common-Be: I’ll be the first to admit a bias towards music that comes out of my beloved Chi-town. But this one play well no matter where you call home. Common has a slew of good projects that bear his name…but this is the moment where all the pieces come together for a timeless album. Kanye’s sped up soul samples? Check. Com’s signature rhymes that mix the streets with social justice and yearning for meaning? Check. Album I’ll still be listening to at 40? Check.

Stevie Wonder-Songs in the Key of Life: This is the benchmark album all other R&B/Soul albums should be measured against. It’s amazing how current this 1976 recording sounds today. This is probably because top 40 songs are still sampling from it.


Carol King-Tapestry: Driving from Nashville to Chicago, my friend Johnny introduced me to this 1970’s singer/songwriter. Best known for “(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman,” King’s album is a timeless collection of songs that focus on love, joy, hope…and the courage it takes to face life when those things seem out of reach.

John Wort Hannam-Pocket Full of Holes: A Canadian folk singer who I happened to see performing on the street in Washington D.C. I was intrigued by his strong voice, and picked up this stunning debut. The songs mainly lament how globalization is killing his homeland’s farming & fishing industries, and in turn killing small town life, and everything he’s ever known. Not something you’d play at a wedding reception, but beautiful art nonetheless.


Counting Crows-August and Everything After: My cousin Dean and I were in 6th grade when we first saw Adam Duritz and Co. perform “Mr. Jones” on Saturday Night Live. At first, we laughed at the frontman’s odd style of dress-camo shorts, combat boots, and black cardigan sweater. This album pulled off what nearly every alternative band in the nineties trying so hard to do: it successfully mixes the energy of the grunge movement with Dylan-esque lyrics. It’s a collection of hook-laden songs that will hold your attention from the first chord to the final note.

Gasoline Heart-You Know Who You Are: A bit of an oddity, considering it was a grunge album that was released in 2006. But what works here is that singer Louis Defabrizio wears his broken heart on his sleeve while declaring he’ll find a way to go on. Essentially it’s emo for people who aren’t in high school anymore.

Sleeping at Last-Keep No Score: This Christian trio was signed by Billy Corgan to Interscope Records in 2002, and dropped before their debut was given half a chance. Rather than roll over and die, they self-funded this dreamy alt-pop project, and gave 12 phenomenal songs.

U2-How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: At the risk of ticking of rock purists who believe that The Joshua Tree was the Irish quartet’s best album…I believe U2’s latest is their finest work to date. The Edge’s guitar solos are still as memorable as they were in 1987. But this time around, Bono’s work in social justice has made him a better lyricist, and the rhythm section of Clayton-Mullen backs him up flawlessly. The album’s closer, “Yahweh, ” shows that the guys can still write an anthem transcendent of generational lines.

Now, your list of classics will undoubtedly be different than mine…but the important thing is that you start to build a stack of albums that you can love for years to come. Have the guts to decide for yourself what defines a great project. Take the time to get to know an album for what it is. Enjoy the feast that is amazing art. Life’s too short to waste your time on anything that’s just average.

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