Welcome Back Week: 10 Albums Colgate Students Should Have

Adam Kosan

I know. There are a million of these infuriating lists and they always seem so arbitrary. It’s not like I haven’t already pondered the hazards of compiling such a list or considered foregoing the venture entirely. It’s just that every time I contemplate humility and the “safe route,” I can’t help but be swayed by the gleaming allure of having my own space in the paper to tell all of you what I think you should be listening to. How do you resist that? I obviously couldn’t so here is a list of ten albums (in no specific order) that I feel Colgate students should have in their collection for fall. Feel free to disagree, agree, or just plain freak out, if this article has generated discussion and debate then I will have done my job. Enjoy.

1) Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline In 1969, Bob Dylan felt inclined towards his appreciation for country music and then headed for Nashville where, couped up in a studio with the day’s great country sidemen, he recorded a no-holds, poignant declaration of his chameleon-like sensibility and heartbreaking honesty. On Nashville Skyline, Dylan altered the tonality of his voice to a point rendered unrecognizable by traditionalists, and pedal steel and two beat shuffles found free reign among ten unfaltering tracks laden with various textures of lyrical sparseness and haunting complexity. One listen to “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” and you’ll be hooked. This record’s refreshing honesty and vivid country soundscapes were made to be the soundtrack for Chenango valley in the fall.

2) Pearl Jam, Versus When people talk Pearl Jam, they almost inevitably reference Ten – a work universally touted as an undying classic. What people usually neglect to realize is that while Ten was an invigorating work of greatness, Pearl Jam really solidified its stature with the brilliant follow-up, Versus. Imagine being Pearl Jam and facing the daunting task of recording new material after the behemoth that was Ten. Not only did Pearl Jam rise to the challenge on Versus, but it exceeded all expectation, delivering a non-stop barrage of excellent rock songs with more consistency than its predecessor. We live in turbulent times and this is a turbulent record. It’s all here in Eddie Vedder and company’s fiery passion and brutal honesty: political protest, betrayal, anger, cruelty, sadness, nostalgia and love. Over ten years after its release, this record still feels fresh and relevant considering the current political climate.

3) Afro-Cuban All-Stars, A Toda Cuba le Gusta

This album contains magnificent tunes that brim with excitement and offer refreshing variety. Songs run the gamut from big-band jazz and swing numbers to harrowing ballads filled with lyrics that depict surrealist Cuban folklore. Each song can both stimulate and pacify – a duality that has always lent great credibility to Afro-Cuban music. Throw it on when you feel like dancing, or when you’re on the back porch with a gin and tonic. You’ll find it surprisingly suitable in either scenario. The record also makes great educational listening for aspiring musicians of almost any genre.

4) The Beastie Boys, Ill Communication

Forget To the Five Boroughs. Want to remember why the Beastie Boys are so revered? Then, pay a little visit down memory lane to 1994, when this album saw them hit their peak after a steady slew of markedly good antecedents, including the classic Paul’s Boutique. On Ill Communication, the Boys appear more mature but not too mature, as they perfect their onslaught of tag-team, three-way rhyming with needle-like precision. The album grooves uncompromisingly and is littered with engrossing instrumental textures including flute, organ, and guitar. The use of live instruments pays off, giving the album a spark of natural energy that reverberates from the funk of “Root Down” to the hip-hop “Get it Together” to the rocking “Sabotage.” A great party record, a great pre-game record, a great driving record – diversity never tires.

5) Joni Mitchell, Blue

Joni Mitchell is unparalleled. One of the greatest singers of all time, her voice transcends gender to a place where it becomes a lead instrument devoid of conventional vocal familiarity. It is fruitless to try and describe the depth, grace, and spine-tingling beauty which characterizes her music. The immediacy of heartbreak and wanting on this record can be a bit disorienting at first, but eventually will be embraced by undeniable obsession. Perfect for a lazy weekend morning or a mid-afternoon lull, Mitchell will have you transfixed from the opening “All I Want” to the concluding “The Last Time I Saw Richard.”

6) The Royals, Pick Up the Pieces

Most of you have never heard of The Royals. I had never heard of them either until I heard them being played in an obscure record store in Dunedin, New Zealand. Possibly reggae’s greatest unsung heroes, The Royals rose out of Kingston in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s at the forefront of the emerging genre. Unfortunately, they never received the acclaim they deserved and for most of the world, The Royals remain an unknown and unappreciated entity. The group stands out from all other reggae groups for the way in which they mix three-part Motown-esque harmonies over thick reggae grooves. Mesmerizing and tender, this record is perfect for almost anything, although its radiance is especially nice for sunny day barbecues.

7) Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison

If anyone has ever wondered why Johnny Cash is such a badass, this record should answer why. During the opening “Folsom Prison Blues,” his baritone booms ominously with the line, “Well I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”, and garners a cheering response from the crowd of inmates – a moment that is positively bone-chilling. From here, Cash chugs along for over twenty songs characterized by the infamous country two-step shuffle and dirty waltzes perfected by his backing band, The Tennessee Three. This record demonstrates that Johnny Cash is the only man who could make you feel sympathy for the plight of some of the most vicious prisoners in America – that’s pretty badass and worthy of your attention.

8) Herbie Hancock, Headhunters

Funk as we know it today – acid jazz-fusion comprised of leaning on a repetitive bass groove while scattered solos fly overhead – began with this album. Sure Sly and the Family Stone were doing their thing before this record, but there was always an element of pop and accessibility to that music. On Headhunters, Hancock gathered a bunch of the day’s finest jazz musicians into a studio and declared it a lawless forum for creation: no lyrics, no structure, no chord charts. What emerged was a mind-bending, genre-twisting, expectation-defying burst of sonic innovation that has influenced everyone from P-Funk to Soulive in its wake. An excellent party record, the opening track, “Chameleon,” will shake you to your core.

9) Allman Brothers Band, Eat a Peach

I know you’re thinking what a generic choice. But look closely. The greatness of this album holds up because despite the overbearing hype, it still manages to deliver 30 plus years after its creation. It makes for ideal driving music during blissful fall foliage, and it will breathe sunshine into the darkest depths of our never-ending winter days once they begin in November – such is the inspiring power of this album. The Allmans were unique in their ability to hone the major and minor pentatonic scales into a swelteringly cathartic and personal exclamation. There is no better album to showcase such unique speaking power. When finding yourself feeling bogged down with work, all it takes is one play to feel revitalized.

10) Nas, Illmatic

Tight production and tighter rhymes make this debut album a hip-hop classic and a must for any music fan. For those who doubt hip-hop as a legitimate musical form due of the mindless music played on mainstream radio, one listen to this record will challenge such sentiments. Nas is the ghetto bard, spinning unabridged tales of depravity, destitution, and angst in the form of crisp couplets that sting with awe-inducing grit. The fabulous DJ Premier rises to the challenge, providing hard-hitting beats that lend vivid credibility to Nas’ words – you can see, feel, and hear the boroughs of New York in every utterance and rhythm. This is tough music made about tough topics, and is deserving of a listen, if not for anything else, than to offer us a glimpse into another world outside of our Colgate bubble.