More than five years ago I did a quick little “Top 5” post in homage to the film High Fidelity. The post was a simple 45-word paragraph (including the subheader) that listed my top 5 albums of all time. Well, I’ve decided to update the list and while much of it is the same, there are a couple of changes. You might be wondering what’s happened in the last five years that has led me to change my mind. If you think about it, that list should remain fairly static (I mean, seriously, could an album released in the last five years actually qualify as one of the “best ever”?)
Music is a big part of my family, not that any of us are particularly musically inclined (the kids tried to learn guitar at one point and I have taken voice lessons, but that’s about it). We do listen to it frequently though and everyone has a strong appreciation for it. After my last concussion, I found myself feeling quite thankful for any memory that I was able to recall, and as it turns out, music happens to provide a great “jog” for the ole memory keeper (my long term memory is actually pretty good, but my working memory is complete shite). For me, so many factors go into what makes an album The Best of All Time, and one of those factors is the memories that are invoked when a song from the album comes on the radio or through my iPod when I’m in the car.
Other factors include:
- Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
- Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
- Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
- “Where the Streets Have No Name” (8/10)
- “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (8/10)
- “With or Without You” (7/10)
- “Bullet the Blue Sky” (6/10)
- “Running to Stand Still” (8/10)
- “Red Hill Mining Town” (7/10)
- “In God’s Country” (7/10)
- “Trip Through Your Wires” (6/10)
- “One Tree Hill” (8/10)
- “Exit” (6/10)
- “Mothers of the Disappeared” (8/10)
I’ve ranked the songs (in parenthesis) so you can see how it stacks up in terms of the “number of songs I like on the album” criteria. Only two of the eleven tracks would rank low on my list and even then I don’t not like them, I just don’t find them as good as the rest of the tracks on the album.
As for the composition of the album, I think producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois struck a good balance with the tracks. It has a great flow, with some ups and downs, while still keeping the overall tone of the album constant. The opening track “Where the Streets Have No Name” is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of the band’s movie Rattle and Hum movie based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.
How does the album make me feel? Nostalgic and wistful. Contemplative and concerned. Listening to this album, and most of the individual songs on it makes me feel like I’ve lived a great life but still have great things ahead of me.
As for the memories invoked by listening to this album, well, there are many. I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).
I remember in the summer of 1987 I was at summer camp and there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.
Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It’s the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn’t happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.
One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn’t feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn’t exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn’t say a word.
The final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.
For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.