Soundcheck: My Mom’s Archive

This week Oprah is asking different families from around the country to undergo a horrifying social experiment in which they attempt to live an entire week—seven entire days—with no technology. That means no cell phone, no TV, no computer. I unwittingly undertook such an experience last week when my computer cruelly and unexpectedly died, just as I was about to head for the airport to fly home and visit my family in Oklahoma. Not only did my computer kick the bucket; it somehow managed to simultaneously wipe the music off my iPhone, which meant I traveled with no tunes, no email access, and nothing but the Skymall catalogue to keep my wits about me. It also meant that I got to spend a week on my mom’s farm with almost no access to email and no way to watch funny cat videos on YouTube. What, you may ask, does this have to do with music? Nothing, really, except that without my electronic music library at my fingertips, I opted to dust off some of my mom’s old LPs and practice the fine art of actually listening to an entire album—all the way through! Here are my five favorite albums from my mom’s collection that I suggest everyone should purchase and listen to in their entirety…

Linda Ronstadt, Simple Dreams (Asylum 1977)
There was a time back in the 70s when Linda Ronstadt was the most famous and biggest-selling female artist in the world. Listening to Simple Dreams, the soundtrack to much of my childhood, it’s easy to see why. Linda was often at her best when covering other people’s songs, and on this record she takes on songs by the likes of Dolly Parton (“I Never Will Marry”), the Rolling Stones (“Tumbling Dice”), and Roy Orbison (“Blue Bayou”). If there was ever any doubt regarding Ronstadt’s cultural legacy, one need look no further than this clip of her performing on what was the true arbiter of cultural relevance in the 70’s, The Muppet show:


Neil Young, Decade (Reprise 1977)
For the casual fan, it’s hard to know where to begin with Neil Young. He has such an enormous back catalog of material to pick from and like Bob Dylan, the quality and mood of his older, lesser-known records varies wildly. The career-recapping Decade was released in 1977, at which point Young had already produced a huge amount of music. It’s a nice primer on Young since it has all of the major hits one might expect (“Cinnamon Girl,” “Southern Man,” “Old Man”) and a bunch of equally beautiful songs that you might not know (“Star of Bethlehem,” “Cortez the Killer”). There is a massive, highly-anticipated Neil Young “Archive” box set due for release later this year, but if you aren’t a super fan and don’t want to  shell out the big bucks, Decade is a great place to start. Also, my copy of the LP has my mom’s name written across the top of it, presumably so none of my dad’s stoner friends would steal it. I took it home with me anyway.

Pure Prairie League, Bustin’ Out (RCA, 1972)
I love this album primarily for two reasons. First, the cover art is a Normal Rockwell-esque painting of a cowboy flying out through some saloon-style doors. Secondly, the album contains “Amie”, which is arguably the best 70’s country-rock song ever recorded (that was not written by The Eagles). This album is proudly displayed in my home office right next to my turntable.

Boston, Boston (Epic, 1976)
It’s sort of easy to make fun of Boston, mostly since hearing basically any Boston song conjures images of Dazed and Confused and/or the ghosts of classic rock radio (not that that either of those is a bad thing, but still). I remember being fascinated by the cover art for this album when I was a kid after I finally figured out that the spaceships depicted on the cover were actually flying guitars zooming out of what appears to be an exploding planet. While this album is undoubtedly a classic in the pantheon of stoner rock, it’s also happens to be a really great record full of almost perfectly rendered pop songs. (“More Than a Feeling,” “Smokin” Peace of Mind”) All eight tracks here are perfect singalong summertime jams. Hearing it now makes me wish I were cruising down the highway in a camaro with the volume turned up all the way and bunch of feathered roach clips dangling from the rearview mirror. It is about to be summer, after all.