The Mystic Chords of Memory: The 14 Winning Entries

Well, that (also) certainly was something!

To refresh memories: In my August 2010 column I asked readers to submit lists of those albums or tracks that contained their personal "mystic chords of memory." My own list was:

1) Linda Ronstadt: "Long, Long Time" (by Gary B. White); from Silk Purse (1970) and The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt (CD, Rhino 76109).

2) Roberta Flack: "Jesse" (by Janis Ian); from Killing Me Softly (1973; CD, Atlantic SD 19154).

3) Gordon Lightfoot: "If You Could Read My Mind," from If You Could Read My Mind (1970; CD, Reprise 6392-2) and Songbook (CD, Rhino R2 75802).

4) Clifford Brown: With Strings (1955; CD, Universal Distribution 9525).

5) Frederick Delius: The Walk to the Paradise Garden, from A Village Romeo and Juliet; Sir John Barbirolli, Boston Symphony Orchestra (1959; DVD, VAI 4304).

This write-in contest generated an even greater number of entries (more than 150) than the previous one, which had solicited lists of the 5 Great Art Songs of the Rock Era. Thanks to all who took the thought and time to enter! (And thanks to JA for letting me do this again.)

The lists—again—arranged themselves along the usual bell curve: many lists were thought provoking and emotionally resonant; most lists had something to say for themselves; but some lists were a bit pallid or jejune. ("Jejune" is Porky Pig's favorite month, by the way.)

So, here are the winners, in reverse order of how they struck my subjective sensibility. Judging was not as challenging as it has been in the past. Perhaps I am getting better at it, but I think the real reason is that this contest was rather open-ended. Let's face it—you are most likely the world's foremost authority on your own memories and emotions. All I can do is respond in kind, choosing the lists that I think all the other readers will derive pleasure and benefit from reading.

As the entries came in I printed out each one and marked them up. Lists that were not catchy got no stars. Lists that were OK got two stars. Lists that were definitely a cut above got three stars. And the handful of lists that were electrifying got four stars. I found it interesting that when I found a list that I thought was really extraordinary it tended to stay in the top tier as more entries came in.

At the end, it was a matter of reconsidering the 4-star lists (I made no changes) and then choosing the best three-star lists to make up the dozen official winners. (I edited some entries for clarity, to remove typographic errors, or to impose something of a uniform format. In view of the very wide chronological range of recordings represented, I did not check current availability, and I did not fact-check the discographic information in the winning entries.)

You may have noted that the headline refers to 14 winners. There are, of course, the 12 official winners who received their choice of a single CD from Stereophile's on-line store. There are two additional winners who received my choice of a JMR CD from me.

In the first case, the entrant knowingly disregarded the rule about the length of the optional explanatory comments. However, that entry was so profound that I believe that we'd all be the poorer if you couldn't read it. So, the compromise I arrived at is that the overlong entry does not get an official prize, but rather a personal one from me.

The final winner, again an unofficial but personal winner, did not even enter. But by chance I stumbled upon a comment on a YouTube video, and it moved me so much that I also had to share that particular remembered mystic chord with you.

Which brings us to my last point, which is that YouTube is a treasure-trove of obscure and arcane music. If any of these pieces are new to you, YouTube is the first place to look (the #1 entry even provided YT URLs); with sound clips from arkivmusic.com, amazon.com, and other online retailers next.

So, that's it for now. The next write-in contest will be: not at all soon.

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