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14 Favourite Songs from 2014

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This is my favourite time of year.  Lists are being published every day, ranking and judging media and people and events of our past year, giving us a chance to reflect.  I do not pretend I have heard every song, or even every great song released this year.  And if I were to provide you a list of music that became the soundtrack to my year, I would simply post Beyoncé’s Beyoncé.  Since I gave her my top album spot in 2013, and spent nearly all of my 2014 blogging time in my Beyoncé themed March Madness, I’ve decided to give time to some other artists.  That’s right, other people made music in 2014!  So, here are my 14 other favourite songs from this past year.  (All of the titles have links if you want to listen).

14.  PROBLEM – ARIANA GRANDE featuring IGGY AZAELIA

I feel no guilt about the pleasure this song brings me.  When I first heard Ariana sing (“The Way”), I thought that somehow I had missed a classic 90’s pop song.  This was obviously impossible.  Yet, Grande again with Problem brings us back to the 90’s with her Mariah-like vocal control, a classic R&B attitude, and a sax riff that could be straight off of a J.Lo B Side.  Add a verse from our favourite controversial white female rapper, and we’ve got a 3 minute long party.

13.  RATHER BE – CLEAN BANDIT featuring JESS GLYNNE

Clean Bandit attempts to bring classic(al) symphonic together with electronic dance beats, and though they may be strange bedfellows, “Rather Be” is the ideal love-child.  The strings give it a regality, while the synth/xylo give it a video game feel, somehow making perfect sense as the foundation for a straightforward love song.  It has easily become one of my feel-good songs of 2014.

12.  BE FREE – J. COLE

J. Cole jumped into my peripheral with this deeply felt response to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson.  For many of us, this year will be marked by the stories of grand juries failing to indict, in the cases of both Brown and Eric Garner.  This song will be a reminder of the ways societal and structural racism found their way back into the spotlight, and a continuation of the important protest for black lives to matter.  Here’s his performance on Letterman that includes a stellar extra verse.

11.  BIRTH IN REVERSE – ST. VINCENT

I heard this song while I was working in retail.  An email popped up with the soundcloud link, and I happened to be at my computer at the back of the store.  I played it once quietly, and then once more a little louder, hoping no one would notice.  When she played on SNL, I was completely mesmerized by the guitar solos.  St. Vincent has grown into a monster of musical, dramatic and lyrical genius, and I think this song is the best example.

10. DOWN ON MY LUCK – VIC MENSA

I still have yet to listen to anything else by this guy.  At first I thought I was only impressed by the clever music video until I realized that I kept returning to youtube, but not always to watch the screen.  My addiction extended to the song itself, and especially for that one moment I look forward to the most: “F*** that, get down!”

9.  TWO WEEKS – FKA TWIGS

Another song and artist that got my attention via a great video.  This is probably simultaneously one of the sweetest, creepiest and sexiest songs I’ve ever heard.  FKA Twigs can say the dirtiest things with the softest tone and get away with absolutely anything.

8.  7/11 – BEYONCÉ

So, I can include one Beyoncé track because this was released this past fall with the platinum edition of Beyoncé, and although I’ve only had a month to listen to it (by no coincidence, she released it on my birthday, btw) I’ve played it more than any of the songs I’ve mentioned so far on this list.  So it would lack integrity for me not to include it, right?

7.  BRAND NEW – PHARRELL WILLIAMS featuring JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

Another fantastic feel-good track from an absolute classic collaboration that was my song of the spring and summer of 2014.  At my wedding in May, I will never forget my older brother running up to me on the dance floor yelling, “I don’t even know who this is but I’ve got to move to it!”  Yep.

6.  TAKE ME TO CHURCH – SINEAD O’CONNER

This was an apparently popular song title this year.  I like the Hozier song too, but this song is far more personal.  Since moving to Toronto, I’ve started playing music for a monthly gathering called “Church on Tap”, where we do a church service and drink beer.  Last month we covered this song, and I feel like my experience in listening and playing this song while also returning to church for the first time in over a year could be the content of a whole blog post on its own.

5.  FALL IN LOVE – PHANTOGRAM

Thanks to the boss young punk I worked with in retail, “Fall In Love” was one of the few songs earlier in 2014 that regularly broke up my Beyoncé-heavy playlists.  Phantogram is able to bring together the vitality of live band with the creativity and polished sound of electronic music like few seem to do well.

4.  FANCY – IGGY AZAELIA featuring CHARLIE XCX

Some of you will curse me, and others will love me forever for including this at the #4 spot, but regardless of whether or not you’re a fan, you simply cannot deny that Fancy was everywhere in 2014.  I’ll admit some nostalgic bias, since the video takes me back to my not-quite-13-year-old self, trying to convince my friend’s mom that we should be able to see PG13-rated Clueless in theatres.  Memories aside, most of us are hooked by the time we hear that four-note bassline.

3.  NEVER CATCH ME – FLYING LOTUS featuring KENDRICK LAMAR

I spent a lot of my year in anticipation of a possible new Kendrick Lamar album.  He did release “I”, which would probably be my first runner up if I allowed that kind of thing, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait for 2015 to hear a complete LP.  Anyway, Lamar’s guest appearances kept me going… but don’t mistake “Never Catch Me” as simply a Kendrick fix.  It is a great example of the relationship that exists between rap and jazz, and it comes with hands down my favourite music video of the year.

2.  TOUCH – SHURA

It’s so simple, and that little 5 note synth line grabs me by the aorta in a good way.  I love everything about this song, but I think what makes it my second favourite song of the year is the honest sentiment.  “I want to touch you but there’s history”.  A break up song that is neither full of hopeless depression nor angered vendettas – who would’ve thought?

1.  CHANDELIER – SIA

There are so many reasons that this is my song of 2014.  It is yet another song that gained traction with a stunning music video, not to mention a host of unique talk show performances like the one below.  (I mean, is Sia just shyly showing off her vocal abilities while lying down, or is she making a comment about her experience as an often invisible writer behind songs performed by other pop stars?)  The song itself is easily one of the most memorable radio-played pop songs of the year, and ironically it’s a party song that admits the party is a shallow cover-up.   The soundscape consistently grows and builds, and although the track returns to a similar, more relaxed volume as it began with, the sense of desperation, urgency, and melodrama is never lost.   It is rare to find a song that so well exemplifies two opposing worlds, and one that can equally motivate me to melancholically feel my feelings and to get up and dance all over my kitchen.

Check back next week for my favourite albums of the year, and feel free to add your favourite songs that I missed in the comments!

Danice’s Favourite Albums from 2013

Albums are my favourite, so I had the most fun compiling this list.  As much as possible, I’ve linked the album art to places where you can stream the album so that you can give the albums a listen yourselves. Hopefully you’ve had time to scroll through and listen to my top 13 songs of 2013, and if you have, you can probably make a few educated guesses about what my favourite albums of the year might have been.  Let’s see how close you were.

lauramarling13.  Once I Was an Eagle  –  Laura Marling

Although the (almost) title track is a stand-out for me, this whole album hangs together so brilliantly.  I have no trouble admitting that one of my favourite things about Laura Marling is the way she reminds me of Joni Mitchell.  And I love Joni.  Once I Was An Eagle is instrumentally minimalist, with mostly just vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar and some dark cello and soft drums, adding to the sense of its vulnerability.  Sometimes it feels like the instruments are playing in the distance, but Marling is half-whispering in my ear, singing me these short narratives about moving on in life in the midst of our fears and uncertainties.  It’s beautiful, and I have a feeling I’ll be returning to this little song cycle frequently in the future.

vampireweekend12.  Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

I realized that I had to include this album when I was considering about 4 songs as favourite tracks of the year – Dianne Young, Yeah Hey, Unbelievers, and Hannah Hunt.  But actually, by themselves these songs are not half as fun as just putting on all of Modern Vampires… which maintains the tight, upbeat pop music that we’ve come to appreciate from Vampire Weekend.

matangi11.  Matangi – M.I.A.

Named after the Hindu Goddess of the same name, this album is most certainly M.I.A.’s most spiritual album to date. It’s true that my favourite tracks from Matangi are the two that were released long before the album came out, and also the two that sound most like they could have been on an earlier album (Bad Girls & Bring tha Noize).   Still, the other tracks bring both a more gentle approach (Come Walk With Me & Sexodus), while still responding to ludicrous pop culture phenomenons, specifically when turning Y.O.L.O. into a reincarnation anthem, Y.A.L.A. (“You Always Live Again”).  The truth is, M.I.A. can do almost no wrong in my eyes, and even if Matangi was not everything I was hoping for, it still was one of my favourite records of the year.

magnacarta10. Magna Carta… Holy Grail – Jay Z

Although even Jay Z himself will admit that this is not his best work ever, it was still one of my favourite things to listen to this year.  The first three tracks alone are enough to make the album unforgettable, and On the Run (Part II) is my favourite collaboration with Beyonce to date – even more than Crazy in Love, even more than Drunk in Love.  One of only two albums I bought without a pre-listen, and it was definitely worth it.  (The second was his wife’s).  If you have no prior experience with Magna Carta, I recommend starting with this video:

loveinthefuture9. Love in the Future – John Legend

If nothing else, John Legend is consistent in his smooth sexy music making, and Kanye producing only amplifies these strengths.  I have listened to Love in the Future in its fullness more easily than any other John Legend solo album. (I qualified that with “solo” because I am a huge fan of his collaboration album with The Roots, evidenced here).  This album is classic, romantic R&B with no interruptions.  My favourite moments are his cover of Bobby Caldwell’s Open Your Eyes, and the beautiful, piano-heavy All of Me, but in its entirety, Love in the Future has everything to make someone fall head over feet in love.  At very least, with Legend himself.

blood orange8. Cupid Deluxe – Blood Orange

So far, here’s my least mainstream album on the list.  A solo album from Dev Hynes, the writer/producer who gave Solange the sounds I liked best on her True EP last year.  Today I read that Dev Hynes’ apartment had a fire and he lost all of his stuff, including his cat named Cupid, who I can only assume the album is named after.  So, all of this to say, we should probably all help him out and buy the album.  It’s really chill and good, I promise.  Also, this outfit in this video.

RAM-daft punk7. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

This was the sound of the summer of 2013, and that sound was a perfectly blended mix of old and new school dance music.  Disco is alive and well, and it is brought to you by futuristic robots/a couple French guys.  “Get Lucky” was one of the biggest tracks of the year, but it’s not the only solid thing on the album.  There are certainly some strange hiccups, such as Touch, which feels like a musical solo that didn’t make the cut.  But as a complete LP, RAM makes for a great soundtrack for just about anything.  I recommend meal preparation, exercise or a road-trip.

20:20 experience6. The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

There is a reason this album sold more than any other in 2013.  It’s massively appealing to both fans of new pop and golden-era soul purists.  The best parts are all of the horns and strings in every song, and the seamless transitions from one part of a song to the next.  Nearly every track on the album is more than 7 minutes long, which sometimes seems a bit excessive, but mostly I think JT just has so many great ideas for each song that the normal 3-4 minute format is far too restrictive.  Maybe his next album (and yes, I would like to just pretend that Part II never happened) will be one continuous track, simply transitioning from one musical theme to the next.  I’d be down.

laura mvula5. Sing to the Moon – Laura Mvula

This lovely human being is my favourite new artist of 2013.  If I were to make this list based 100% on my iTunes plays count, this would be my second most listened-to album of 2013 (after only the second album on this list).  I still cannot get enough of her clean vocals with moments of full choral backup, jazzy instrumentals, and syncopated rhythms.  It certainly helps that she makes beautiful music videos as well.  Oh look, here’s one now!

electric lady4. The Electric Lady – Janelle Monae

I was waiting, anticipating this one like no other in 2013, and it thankfully did not disappoint.  I have been following Monae for a while now – the Archandroid was my favourite album of 2010 – and to be honest, I was really hoping The Electric Lady would be a sort of coming-out record for her.  It was the next best thing.  Chock full of queer anthems, this album is devoted to proudly being yourself.  On top of it, the record holds together far more cohesively than her last. Janelle Monae seems to have settled into a new kind of soul, instead of trying to prove herself in every imaginable genre.  I love every collaboration here – I mean, she has definitely worked with the right people: Prince, Erykah Badu, Miguel, Solange, Esperanza Spalding all make unforgettable appearances.  As I’m writing this, I’m considering moving it up to a higher spot.  Here’s a video of her reaction after 106&Park premiered her brilliant video for Q.U.E.E.N.

reflektor3.  Reflektor – Arcade Fire

I actually was not a fan the first time I heard the title track, Reflektor.  Luckily, when SNL extended their programming one night to include nearly the whole album, my PVR kept recording, and I was drawn in.  For me, Arcade Fire has never made a better album than their first, Funeral.  But in their move away from their original anthemic feel and sound, I am amazed that this is the same band, exploring new soundscapes.  I have always really appreciated Arcade Fire’s ability to explore serious, sad and dark themes while maintaining a genuinely fun aesthetic – whether it makes you want to sing along, or simply nod your head.

flyingcolours2.  Flying Colours – Shad

This is actually what I listened to more than any other full album in 2013.  Like a majority of the artists in this list, on top of pairing thoughtful, honest lyrics with really fly, catchy hooks, he’s a fantastic performer.  He just may be Jay Z in his lifetime because, like Hov, he looks like he’s having the time of his frickin’ life on stage.  Meanwhile, he is quite possibly the best lyricist in the game right now.  I am somewhat regretting not putting my favourite song of the album on my top 13 of the year list, so here it is now:

beyonce1. Beyonce – Beyonce

Ok, so I know it’s only been a week, but there is no way that this album could place anywhere but number 1.  It’s such a game changer – and that’s without even watching/listening to it.  Honestly, a part of me thought that the fact that 4 was an incredible album was a bit of a fluke.  I wasn’t expecting this.  I mean, yeah, no one was, but I really wasn’t expecting a whole album from Beyonce that I would love.  And I got it.  For every minor album disappointment of the year, Beyonce made up for it.  With this album, Queen Bey has stepped into her place as pop royalty, and made her toughest, most in-your-face, honest, and vulnerable album to date.  She practically made me forget about every other album that I just wrote about, and affirmed my decision to not compile this blog early.  She also may have ruined all new music for me.  Here’s one of the few videos that has been released on youtube so far.  It also happens to be one of my favourites… but then again, every song on that album is my favourite.

Danice’s favourite songs from 2013

It has been a while.  Anyone who read this before probably has assumed I’ve given up completely.  I certainly thought so.  But then another December rolled around and I simply cannot resist a best-of-the-year list, so I might as well put my inevitably strong opinions on the internet, right?  Here are my top 13 songs of 2013.  I’d love to hear what your favourite songs of this year were as well, so feel free to comment.

13.  Royals – Lorde

I feel as though i can’t have a list of 2013 that doesn’t include Lorde’s massive hit, Royals.  This 17-year-old Kiwi superstar is a breath of fresh air in radio world of Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, by being both incredibly unique yet still familiar and relatable.  Not to mention a little quirky.  It’s a catchy song of the people – folk pop at its absolute best.

12. The Mother We Share – Chvrches

In my mind, electronic music is at its best when it sounds like it’s from 1986.  At first, I found myself complaining about Lauren Mayberry’s thin voice until I realized that it’s not unlike other 80’s pop women.  Anyone ever heard of Madonna?  Janet?  Yeah ok, she’s alright.  Also they perform pretty well.  Here they are on Jimmy Kimmel:

11. Without Me – Fantasia featuring Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliot

I was so happy to see this track get a R&B Grammy nod this year.  One of my favourite recent break-up tracks because it strikes that difficult balance of being both pissed off and super cool.

10.  Q.U.E.E.N. – Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu

The last verse is the best.  “Electric ladies will you sleep, or will you preach?”  Q.U.E.E.N. is easily my favourite music video of the year, and after watching this maybe 100 times, I’m convinced the only possible improvement that could be made is more Badoula Oblongata.  Janelle Monae proved this year that she’s not going anywhere but up.

9. Closer – Tegan & Sara

These sisters from Calgary are doing pop music better than anyone in the game right now.  The rest of the album disappointed me slightly, but this song is still a regular dance-party favourite.

8.  I Was An Eagle – Laura Marling

I feel as though Laura Marling is the product of Joni Mitchell teaching someone’s cold english wife to feel.  I hadn’t completely dove into the album until I saw this particular video of this song.  Then I was glued to the story she tells with her deep, mature voice that is surprising when it comes from such young and small person.

7. Open – Rhye

I remember considering this song for last year’s list though it was just too new at the time.  At the time, no one knew who it was, and many of us were convinced that Sade had started a new project.  But nope, Rhye consists of two men, one Canadian (woot!) and the other Danish, and no British female R&B Goddess at all.  I still have to remind myself of this when Open plays.

6. Falling – Haim

I am still not 100% convinced of this band of sisters, but the one that seems to have the most talent – Danielle I think? – she has a really compelling presence, mostly due to her cool, androgynous indifference.  Plus, this song is so freaking catchy with its spat out short phrases and echoey chorus.

5. Hold On We’re Coming Home – Drake featuring Majid Jordan

It’s possible that I’ve listened to this one song more than any other this year.  Luckily, the song was released before the video, which was so bad and unrelated that it almost ruined the track for me completely.  I do wish that this song was symbolic of a move into pure R&B for Drake, but unfortunately it’s a diamond in a rough album

4. ***Flawless – Beyonce

This was the hardest decision to make on this entire list.  I didn’t know if it was too soon to pick a song that has really only been out in its fullness for a week.  I also thought that if I picked one song from Beyonce’s sure to be legendary album, I’d have to pick like, four.  Then I remembered that I am making up the rules as I go here, and this is the song that I love the most right now.  Unfortunately no one has put the entire thing on youtube, so you should just watch this great TedX video that she samples instead.  And buy the visual album for yourself.

3. Get Lucky – Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams

You know it.  This song never fails to fill up the dance floor because it’s groove is clinically infectious.  You’ve all heard it, so here is my favourite cover:

2. Afterlife – Arcade Fire

It’s the most positive and hope-filled song I have ever heard about the ending of a relationship.  It invites us to both “scream and shout till we work it out”, and asks the beautiful and honest question of “when love is gone, where does it go, and where do we go?”  Also, this is a fun video/performance:

1. Suit & Tie – Justin Timberlake & Jay-Z

This song has everything I could ask for.  Smooth falsetto, danceable beat, a horn section, and most of all, Jay-Z.  This song ensure that love will indeed be swinging in the air tonight.  The video is in black and white and it is so good, but even better is their live performance at the Grammy’s:

Music Madness

March is probably my favourite month.  This year it certainly is because I get to go on a vacation road-trip, but every year it’s a contender because of a little something known as March Madness.  I love college basketball, but almost just as much as I enjoy the actual game, I adore a good bracket tournament.  Seriously.  Look on its beauty.

bracket

This is why I’ve decided to create my own March Madness for Albums.  I plan to pair all kinds of music (64 albums in total) deemed to be “classic” by several different standards, and from many decades.  The top 8 from each region/era will be automatically seeded, (based on average reviews and album sales), while the following 8 will be selected by draw from a larger pot of contenders.  That’s where YOU come in – your personal favourites can make it into the tournament – just name them in the comments, and I’ll make sure they enter the draw.  Who will make the final four?  A long ranked #1 critic favourite?  Or a nostalgic album that tugs on everyone’s heartstrings?  I will take suggestions for at least a couple days, and then the brackets will be up in live in about a week.  Good luck to your favourite album!

Records for Road Tripping

ImageOn Saturday (3 More Sleeps!) I will be departing Vancouver on an epic road trip to visit my friend in Los Angeles.  There is much to be excited about: Seeing Kat, More sunshine and less rain, record shopping, Mexican food, and just as certainly, preparing music for the long drive.  Here are a few albums I’m excited to listen to while driving south – but I have to drive back to, so feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below.  Oh, and if you want to check out any of the albums, their picture to the right will link to a Grooveshark stream.  In the order of backwards chronology, enjoy!

The Only Place – Best Coast, 2012

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Reviewers everywhere raved about this record, and the truth is, I still haven’t listened to more than one or two Best Coast singles, so it seems that now is the time.  Plus, we have so much in common: I’m going to L.A., via the coast – the band is from L.A. and called Best Coast; I’ll be on the road – this album was written while on tour; the bear on the cover is hugging a map – I’ll likely be doing some map hugging myself.  It’s pretty much destiny.

Vows – Kimbra, 2010

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Kimbra sounds like she’s having a really good time on her funky debut album, Vows, and it’s hard to imagine not having fun while it’s playing.  I am planning to save this record for a much needed dance break, or perhaps as a celebration for crossing over a state line.  The song I’m most looking forward to is absolutely the bonus track, called “The Warrior,” for which I just found this Luchadore-themed music video:

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes, 2008

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Back when I was writing a list of what I thought were the best albums of the “ohsies” decade (2000-2009), Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was my number 5, but I put off writing about the album because I was convinced they were best heard while on the road.  This road trip seems like the perfect chance to put my own theory to the test, and maybe come home with a blog ready to publish.

Funeral – Arcade Fire, 2004

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Another one of my favourite albums from that decade, I have plenty to say about it here.  This was unquestionably the album I spent the most time listening to in 2005 – particularly in the first few months of moving into a basement in Vancouver and beginning a grad program.  This is one of those albums that I know all the words to, but can’t remember ever trying to learn them. So, for the sake of loud singing in the car, Funeral will be my go-to.  Not to mention, it will be good to have some Can-Con to remember the music of home.

Hello Nasty – Beastie Boys, 1998Image

At the music store that I work at, we found a copy of this in print form in the clearance bin, and ever since, we’ve had it on display right across from the tills where we take yo money.  The cover art alone is enough to transport me back to high school… all of those classes so full like sardines’ tins… no just kidding.  The music is nostalgic, and although I went on an early Beastie Boys kick earlier this year when Adam Yauch died, I still haven’t really returned to Hello Nasty, even thought it was one of my favourites.

Janet – Janet Jackson, 1993

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Why Janet?  Well, I love Janet Jackson for nearly any occasion – especially when she’s produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis – and the truth is, I came across the CD in my room and realized that it had been a while since I put it on. I rarely listen to it as a full album in iTunes because of all the interludes and whatnot that are often unchecked, so having to put it on in its compact disc format might actually have a advantage.

Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill, 1991

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This road trip would be incomplete without some L.A. bred rap music.  I’m considering making an L.A. Rap playlist, that will be chalk-full of Dre and Snoop and Eazy E, but this self-titled, early 90’s classic seems like the right choice for a Vancouver (which has an actual Cypress Hill) to Los Angeles drive.  At the very least, I’ll be nodding my head to this one:

Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman, 1988

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“Fast Car,” is on this album, and it’s a classic road trip song for obvious reasons: “Is it fast enough for us to fly away?”  But instead of just moving the one track to a playlist, I thought this album might be a chill break from the tunes that are meant to keep me awake and moving.  Tracy Chapman might be just what I need to reflect and rest as we watch the scenery pass by.

(IV) – Led Zeppelin, 1971

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Led Zeppelin is perfect for driving to, and this technically untitled record is not only one of their best, but also has “Going to California.”  As an added bonus, “Stairway to Heaven,” will take up a whole 8 minutes.  I’ve had Led Zeppelin in my mind all week because of this amazing website, The Bonhamizer, where you can add John Bonham drum tracks to any song you want to upload.  It’s a lot of fun, but I’d rather drive to L.A. listening to Bonham how he was intended to be heard.

Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins, 1956

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Bet you weren’t expecting this one?  I will likely need some jazz at some point, so why not one of the best saxophone soloists who ever lived, playing some of his all-time best solos ever recorded?  No biggie!  I have loved this record ever since my high school band teacher gave us homework to go buy some jazz, and as a result, Saxophone Colossus was the second jazz album I ever spent my own money on (right after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue).  Anyway, it’s catchy and awesome and I like it.

So, there are 10 albums that represent some of the diverse music that will be providing soundtrack to my epic adventure.  The problem is, if I count it up, this music will only last me about 8 hours, and the way there alone is roughly 25!  So, feel free to let me know what albums you’d be listening to on trip along the west coast in the comments below – I’m welcoming suggestions!