Don Mann was laid to rest this week in Ohio. Don was my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law. He fought the cancer than claimed a lung, then his voice, as fiercely and bravely as anyone I have known. While he was not a blood relative, Don was a good friend, one I was privileged to know for nearly three decades.
He and I had a running conversation for most of those three decades that centered around this question: “If you could only have five albums to listen to the rest of your life, what would they be?” Neither of us ever reached a definitive answer. There was always the “Yes but what about” album one of us had forgotten. Yes but what about Leon Live? Yes but what about Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys? Yes but what about … ?
Rule one of our quest was there could be no greatest hits albums included. We both agreed that these were not artistic endeavors, but money-grabs by record labels or lazy artists. Rule two—multi-disc sets counted as one album. Rule three—stop making rules and get to the music already.
In honor of Don’s homegoing, I want to settle my five selections once and for all. I am planting my flag here, and won’t change my tune (pun intended, if only because it would have gotten an eye-roll from Don). These are the five albums I would listen to repeatedly if I could only have five. Mind you, I’m not saying these are the five best albums of all time. But if I am driving cross-country and can only listen to five, load these up and I will be very happy.
Eat A Peach, The Allman Brothers Duane Allman is the third-greatest guitarist of all time. Don’t waste your time arguing that one. He just is, or was. He died at the age of 24 in a motorcycle accident. Following his death, the Allman Brothers scraped together some live and studio recordings featuring Duane, added three tracks without him, and released my favorite album of all time. It is bright and fun and lively. The song Blue Sky, featuring both Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on guitars, may be the most perfect song ever recorded. By the way, the title of the album does not come from the (mistaken) idea that Duane Allman died when he hit a peach truck (it was a flatbed lumber truck). It comes from something he once said in an interview: “Every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace.”
Exile On Main Street, The Rolling Stones In a period of three years, the Stones released three of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time: Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile. I mean, most rock groups would be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for recording just one of these albums, and the Stones tossed these three out one after another. I could just as easily have chosen Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers. I actually like the songs on Sticky Fingers better, but I like the raw energy on Exile. It is sloppy and loose and has an “I don’t give a rip” feel about the whole thing. Don and I both agreed that this was the last true rock and roll album ever released. Everything since seems a bit plastic.
Songs In The Key Of Life, Stevie Wonder This is one that makes me want to weep every time I hear it, just for the sheer brilliance of every song. The musicianship is exceeded only by the depth of lyrics which is exceeded only by Stevie Wonder’s vocals. When I first bought this as a vinyl set, it came with a bonus 45 RPM record with the songs Saturn and Ebony Eyes on it. These were just thrown in for good measure, yet they are two of my favorite songs by Stevie Wonder.
Troubadour Of The Great King, John Michael Talbot Once upon a time, there were real instruments called violins, cellos, clarinets, flutes—all part of what was called an orchestra. Then Satan came along and replaced the orchestra with a keyboard that can “replicate” (meaning to almost, but not quite, sound totally unlike real instruments) violins, cellos, clarinets and flutes. Then he made the drum machine which brings weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And for some reason, Christian musicians heard these and said, “It is good enough.” JMT used a real orchestra in recording Troubadour, an album released in 1981 to celebrate the 800th birthday of St. Francis of Assisi. This was my first exposure to what I call “Catholic cool.” It is as fresh today as it was thirty years ago.
The Misfit, Erick Nelson and Michelle Pillar If Exile On Main Street is the last true rock album, The Misfit may be the last true contemporary Christian album. Whereas this album flows easily from beginning to end, most other CCM albums since just seem to try too hard. Michelle Pillar sings the Nazareth song Love Hurts in a way that makes you want to hate the very notion of love. And the Martyr Song could make a marble statue cry.
Ok. There are my five albums. I don’t know if Don ever settled on his final five, and I won’t know until he and I meet again. Just think about that: He and I will have all eternity to listen to music. I have my selections picked out. What are yours?