Gimme Five: My 'Important Records,' from Tanya Tucker to Weather Report to ELP

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Every collector has a few records that are ‘important’: bought during life-altering circumstances or maybe during a difficult time in life. Or heck, maybe some nutty karma-tidbit tossed the record into your hands.

I’ve got several such records, and every time I listen to them I’m launched back to ‘the day’:

EMMYLOU HARRIS – SPYBOY (1988): The high point of the Lilith Fair show I went to was supposed to be Natalie Merchant. At least that’s what I told myself. I liked the headliner Sarah McLachlan, had heard Lucious Jackson (“Naked Eye” maybe?) on the radio, and knew of Emmylou Harris. But the only tune I managed to attach to her was “Evangeline,” and that was from the movie “The Last Waltz.”

So maybe, after seeing (and hearing) both Emmylou and Buddy Miller play backup band for Syd Straw on that tiny ‘first stage,’ I should have known something special was up for that day.

Emmylou Harris and her band Spyboy hit the main stage later that day and proceeded to blow the roof off the place. The combination of the muscular rhythm section, Miller’s chiming guitar and Emmylou’s angelic voice was just perfect. The high point of the set was the elegaic “Maker.”

WEATHER REPORT – 8:30 (1979): Freshman year of college … long before I ever thought of listening to any kind of jazz. Nearly every afternoon, a guy a few doors down from my room would crank the same tune. A very melodic thing with lots of interesting starts and stops. I never actually went and asked him what it was (it was the ‘scary’ room in my section…lots of noise, yelling, and slamming of doors — at any time of the day or night)…but I did walk by once during the ‘daily play’ and see the album cover lying on the floor. It was a very colorful thing depicting some people lined up to get into a show.

Well, just about 10 years later I saw this album (now, of course, on CD) at a store and decided to bring home a copy. The song turned out to be “Birdland.” I can never hear that song without thinking about those afternoons in Aroostook Hall.

KNOTS AND CROSSES – CREATURES OF HABIT (1992): A warmup band experience, this time at the Club Casino in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. This is the kind of place where if the warmup band is less than stellar, they are ignored in a blizzard of loud chatter, beer drinking and trips to the bathroom.

This did not happen to Knots and Crosses.

What instead came to pass was a crowd (there for headliners Cheap Trick!) that was stunned into silence by the powerful voice of Carol Noonan. Think of maybe Janis Joplin without the rasp. Spicing this up were the backing vocals which twisted around Noonan’s not unlike John Doe to his Exene … but all slowed down in an almost country kind of way. The set closed with an acapella cover of “Gimme Shelter.” The place went nuts.

(If you can’t find Creatures of Habit, which has been out of print, check out the compilation There Was A Time or one of Noonan’s excellent solo records.)

TANYA TUCKER – T.N.T. (1978): In high school, I had a job at a small general merchandise/drugstore called LaVerdiere’s. It was a Maine/New Hampshire chain that was bought out at some point by (I think) Rite Aid. One of my favorite jobs at the store (waaaay better than swabbing down the entryway) was dealing with the record inventory in the tiny music section. Let me tell ya, I had to restrain myself. It was so easy to ‘charge’ records at the end of the night … but very depressing to get a two-week paycheck for $11.32.

So for several weeks this Tanya Tucker record was in the country bin. Now there’s no way I would have been caught buying a country album. I mean, I had a reputation to keep up! Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd were the closest I was getting to country. But, gees … that Tanya Tucker was hot! Well, I never did buy that record back then — but I did pick it up a couple of years ago. Too bad I passed it up back then, because it’s a load of fun. Kinda reminds me of Shania Twain before she went totally pop.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER – TARKUS (1971): OK, back to that high school girlfriend who tortured me with extended listening sessions of Shaun Cassidy, Lief Garrett, and the Grease soundtrack. There was this big credenza down in the basement that served as stereo rack and album storage unit. Behind some sliding doors were all of Laurie and her older brother Rob’s records. The great thing about her brother (aside from keeping his mouth shut about what went on in the basement) was that he had better taste in music.

One day I took a tour of the entire collection and pulled out the most bizarre-looking record. The cover illustration had this … thing on it that looked like a cross between a tank and an armadillo. Hmmm … now I’m interested. So I put the thing on the record player, totally bumming out my girlfriend … but what the heck, I liked it.

Still do. Sure, it’s overblown. So what? A few years later punk came along to blow away the puffery of art-rock … but at that moment I was more than content to revel in it.

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