The Fifth Element #41 3-Star Lists of Recordings


List No.3:
Peter Aizupitis
Dear Mr. Marks, As to compositions/recordings that would give, in your words, " an idea of what American musical life was about," I just have not been able to rank them according to importance, and after the first three entries, which are in response to your choices, they are given more or less in chronological order. I also mention alternate versions. In any case, like yours, my list would also include:

1. Roy Harris: Symphony No.3
(I continue to enjoy the old Leonard Bernstein Columbia LP; maybe it is time to investigate the new Marin Alsop recording) and

2. George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
However, I prefer a performance (on Pablo LP 2310-779) by Oscar Peterson on clavichord and Joe Pass on guitar.

3. Bela Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
(by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on an RCA SACD) would be on my list as well — as a reminder of the extent to which American musical life was enriched by Bartok and many others—Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Artur Rubinstein, Igor Stravinsky, Wanda Landowska et al—who came to the United States in the 1930s and '40s as they were fleeing Fascism in Europe.

And here is the rest of my list:

4. An American Christmas 1770–1870 (Erato CD 104964)
is my favorite from among several wonderful recordings by the Boston Camarata under Joel Cohen which bring to life music from the early years of the American republic. Another possibility in this category might be Early American Vocal Music by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble (Nonesuch LP H 71276), which includes several major works by William Billings.

5. Songs by Stephen Foster, sung by Jan DeGaetani and Leslie Guinn (2 LPs, Nonesuch H 71268 and H 71333.
A musical glimpse into mid-nineteenth century America.

6. Cousins, (Nonesuch LP H 71341)
featuring a young Gerard Schwarz on cornet in a program of music played in outdoor bandstand concerts, perhaps the dominant musical activity in post-Civil War America, Unfortunately, this disc does not include music by John Philip Sousa. For that there are a number of choices, including a recording by Morton Gould and his Symphonic Band, entitled Brass and Percussion. (RCA Victor CD 09026-61255-2).

7. Antonin Dvorak: Symphony No.9
(The "New World Symphony," written, along with the Cello Concerto, the "American" String Quartet and others, during his visit to the United States in the early 1890s, and least partially inspired by it. Numerous recordings.

8. To my mind, Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring has become such a mainstay of the standard repertoire that it cannot be ignored, and I would guess that many Europeans consider this work a prime example of what "classical American music" sounds like. As with Dvorak's symphony, there are too many recordings to recommend just one.

9. In a survey such as this the American musical theater has to be included. From among the many excellent possibilities, my favorite choices would be Leonard Bernstein's Candide (on a PBS Great Performances DVD) and Meredith Wilson's The Music Man, on a DVD with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones in the main roles.

10. The New York Pro Musica Antiqua, founded in 1952 and led by Noah Greenberg, was one of the first, if not the first, widely successful "early music" groups in the United States, paving the way and providing inspiration for many others. For me, the crowning glory of the ensemble's numerous recordings is The Play of Daniel, featuring the incomparable countertenor Russell Oberlin.

11. John Williams: Music for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, either by the National Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Gerhardt (RCA Victor LP ARL 1-2698) or by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta (London LP ZM1001). These recordings acknowledge not only the talents of John Williams, but also the ever-growing significance of movie music as part of American musical life.

12. I have also enjoyed the so-called "folk-music," ethnomusicologically inauthentic as many of the performances might be. The recordings in this genre that I consider special are The Weavers Songbag (Vanguard Everyman LP SRV 73001) and Joan Baez, Vol.2 (Vanguard LP VRS-9094).

List No.4:
Robert Bray

Dear Mr. Marks, Here are my dozen:

1. Charles Ives: The Unanswered Question (1907)
2. Alan Hovhanness: Mysterious Mountain (1955)
3. Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings (1938)
4. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Dream (1975)
5. Santana: Abraxas (1969)
6. Charles Mingus: Mexican Moods (1957)
7. Patricia Barber: Café Blue (1994)
8. Steely Dan: Katy Lied (1975)
9. Shawn Phillips: Furthermore (1974)
10. The Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa): We're Only in It for the Money (1967)
11. Bill Monroe: Greatest Hits (1950–88)
12. William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony (1931)

Thanks for doing this: it has been good to think about.

Robert Bray

List No.5:
BJ Johnston

Fascinating assignment Prof. Marks. Respectfully submitted:

1. James Brown: Live at the Apollo
For all practical purposes James Brown invented Soul, a musical form more indigenous than any other. A paean to perfectionism, hard work and bad judgment, JB blew Jim Crow off the stage by sheer force of will. Many forces converged to prevent him from making the perfect studio record but he owned that stage. I've seen middle-aged white librarians shaking their asses to this music (dancing!). At a time when much music that is popular is divisive, debasing and hateful it is good to remember that when James Brown was on the juke box we were all related.

2. The Doors: Morrison Hotel
More of an oracle than the self described poet and philosopher (whom I also remember slurring that it was better to be a sex symbol than a "chime lesser"), Morrison created a prism through which we could vividly see the seductive and inevitable destruction resulting from the collision of empire and history. This record, and the tour they mounted to support it, was like a train hurtling by on the way to the tunnel.

3. Jefferson Airplane: After Bathing at Baxter's
What better subject for American psychedelia than the psychedelic experience. Creative expression, haunting harmonies and something akin to artistic discipline came together in perfect consonance, a first (and a last) for this crew although their follow-up, a return to actual songs (!) is by no means shabby. I also love Blows Against the Empire for many of the same reasons but by then it was pretty clear that the whole thing was coming in for a rough landing.

4.Copland: Lincoln Portrait
Aaron Copland will never be mistaken for anything but an American. I love all of his music; I have been enamored of Billy the Kid since before I spoke in sentences. But this, I think, is most meaningful. I've heard noted symphonies do this with James Earl Jones and Charlton ("when you pry it from my cold dead hands") Heston and they were great. The most memorable performance I've heard, though, was by a small symphony which struggled at times but worked hard, you could tell they thought it was important. The narration was done by the now disgraced and soon to be imprisoned ex-governor of Illinois long before he ascended to those dangerous places of power. Not an actor, it was clear that he understood what he was reading. This "guilty on all counts" Republican governor went on to end the death penalty, conduct a trade mission to Cuba and build the Lincoln Library, a monument to all things good in the American identity. In the broad scope of the American experience, the dignity of this music and the majesty of these words elevate us all.

5. Little Feat: Waiting For Columbus
Near the end of his life and at a time when most thought he had left the band, Lowell George convened one last time to create this intoxicating stew of assorted American musical art forms. It is uncanny how the immediacy of the expanded CD's takes us back to those nights so long ago. The band singing together on the way to the stage is one of the most touching things ever caught on tape. For those young enough in body or spirit the band can still be caught in their joyful romps through the American musical landscape in many venues but do join them at the fairgrounds at Jazzfest, the great gathering of the American family.

6. Tim Buckley: Greetings From LA
Tim Buckley was a four octave everyman in a uniquely American late 20th century morality play touching all stations of the cross between folky, war protesting waif and dissolute California heroin statistic all in under ten years. Late in what some refer to as his failed career, he summoned his considerable powers to create this deliciously lewd and lascivious commentary. It really is a postcard, but one that arrives late from someone who you know will not be returning.

7. The American Pop Song in Tough Times
Americans did suffer in the 1930s, albeit not with the immediacy or permanence of their European brothers and sisters. It is little wonder that such enchanting fluff as "Embraceable You," "Body and Soul" and "Night and Day" made them feel better. They make me feel better today. What followed was far more gruesome. Past all of the "Greatest Generation" clichés we can see real people leading real lives in desperate times in the songs. Widowed in the war, I vividly remember my mother playing "We"ll Meet Again" and "I'll Be Seeing You." God knows what was going through her mind. It is impossible to understand the age without understanding the art.

8. The Meters: Funkify Your Life
The Meters personify New Orleans, a city well outside the constrictive borders of the US in every way except geography. Luxuriantly decadent, steamy, lithe and hard at the same time, the music is a faithful reflection of this seductive place. One of those inimitable New Orleans cab drivers told me some time ago "life is short, you have a good time while you're here." I am ashamed that we have done so little.

9. Jimmy Buffett: Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads
My wife and I have long loved the gulf coast and whether we drive or rent a car this goes in the changer and doesn't come out. The spirit of the Florabama Lounge floats through all of this music. The Florabama will never be the same whether it's blown over, filled with sand or surrounded by high-rises but you're never far from a roadhouse with oysters, po'boys, red beans and rice and great American music. These wonderful people have endured much. Jimmy Buffett helps all of us "hang on."

10. Buddy Guy: The Real Deal
No one commands the visceral impact of the Blues more effectively than Buddy Guy, reason enough to live in the Chicago area. While you can hear all the way back to the Delta and beyond there is nothing archival about this music. You could not begin to capture the fire in this music on any recording medium—ask anyone who has caught one of his January "home stand" performances at his club on Wabash.

11. The Byrds: The Byrd Box
An elegant survey of American music, the Byrds introduced many of us to Dylan, folk in general, psychedelia, country and more. The definitive 12-string guitar, the ethereal harmonies, Gene Clark's song writing, McGuinn's magical arrangements, Gram Parsons, Clarence White, the list goes on. This is the bedrock.

12. Delbert McClinton: Live From Austin
Delbert McClinton and many another hardworking, underappreciated touring musician (Anson Funderburgh, Anders Osborne, Michael Burkes all come readily to mind) are the blood of the live music experience. These people mine deeply into the American psyche rendering the miasma of everyday life poignant and beautiful. One of my most treasured photographs was taken by my wife of Delbert and myself after a fervent, foot stomping, whiskey drinking, barn burning tour through the American song book. God bless Delbert, God bless them all.

I expectantly await the lists and opinions of all of our friends.
BJ Johnston

List No.6:
Ed Morris

All albums. All available on CD. In no particular order.

1. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run
Urgent. Thrilling. The emotional core of urban America.

2. Annie Get Your Gun, Original Broadway Cast
Ethel Merman warbling Irving Berlin's American credo, "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better."

3. Billy Holiday: Lady Day
We need some blues. Why not the best?

4. Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me
We gotta swing, too. C'mon boys, let's tear it up.

5. Elvis Presley: How Great Thou Art
An American phenomenon. Songs of God, sung by the devil.

6. Michael Tilson Thomas Performs and Conducts Gershwin
Yeah, Rhapsody in Blue. But even better, we get "Walking the Dog," too.

7. Marvin Gaye: What's Goin' On?
Smooth but intense. It puts you in another America.

8. Flaco Jimenez: Squeeze Box King
The Southwest deserves to be heard.

9. The Ramones: Rocket to Russia
One of the purest expressions of rock ever recorded.

10. Anonymous 4: American Angels
Early American vocal music. Back to America's dreamtime. The Happy Journey, Volume II, by the vocal group The Western Wind has more veracity, but it's unfortunately out of print.

11. Old-Time Music of West Virginia Vol.2, Ballads, Blues and Breakdowns
More rollicking, and a lot more likkered up, than Oh Brother Where Art Thou?.

12. Eric Whitacre: Cloudburst
A New World.

List No.7:
Richard Wendt, Woodbridge, VA

1. Glenn Miller Orchestra: Moonlight Serenade
2. Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues
3. Elvis Presley: 30 #1 Hits
4. B.B. King: Live in Cook County Jail
5. John Prine: John Prine
6. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Deja Vu
7. Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers
8. Allman Brothers Band: Live at the Fillmore
9. Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul
10. Howard Hanson: Hanson Conducts Hanson
11. Bette Midler: Experience the Divine
12. Leo Kottke: 6 & 12 String Guitar

List No.8:
Claybourne White

1. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, Columbia Jazz Band/Tilson Thomas
2. Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong plays W. C. Handy
3. Billie Holiday: Body and Soul
4. Duke Ellington Orchestra: And His Mother Called Him Bill
5. Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie: The Sunny Side of the Street
6. Bernstein: West Side Story, Israel Philharmonic/Bernstein
7. Janis Joplin: Janis
8. Scott Kirby: Complete Scott Joplin Vol.1
9. Yo Yo Ma: Made in America
10. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells: Going Back to Acoustic
11. Mamas and Papas: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
12. Willie Nelson: Willie Nelson sings Kristofferson