All-Time Top 5 Left Brain Music Records
In the first Right Brain Music Podcast episode I talk up the virtues of right brain music relative to its culturally dominant cousin, left brain music. Lest I be accused of bias, I’ll devote a few column-inches here to praise of the left. These choices are based on the following criteria: whatever I feel like. (What is every top 5 list based on?)
Here goes, in chronological order of their original release date:
The Record Known as The White Album
This record is actually titled The Beatles. Released in 1968, it’s four sides of nonstop prolifitude, with too many unforgettable tunes to mention, and George Martin at his best. My favs? “Savoy Truffle” and “Glass Onion,” if I had to pick. It’s all the more cool by the inclusion of completely dumb ditties like Birthday, which, admit it, you’ve sung at least 10,000 times. At the time, no one had every produced anything like this, so extra credit for context. It actually has one famous right brain tune, “Revolution 9”, but it resides firmly in the left brain space of structured songs.
Hot Rats by Frank Zappa
Well-deserved status as a classic, released in 1969. Hard to pick among Zappa albums, but this is the one that put him on a path to legend status. Each tune within is a classic in its own right. You may ask, Zappa seems like a right-brain guy, so why is this on the present list? Zappa considered himself first and foremost a composer, and while his performances had lots of theatrical and musical improv, his music was nonetheless heavily scripted and tightly arranged. I would have loved to see what he might have done in a free setting, but his realm was mainly the left, and he owned it.
Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull
The lessons of the Sixties were big and numerous. A lot of artists, many of them British, learned well. Around the turn of the decade, concept albums started pouring out of the taps. Thick, from 1972, is a spectacular example of the subgenre. It’s one interlocking medley that merges folk, progressive rock, great songwriting and instrumental prowess. Like Hot Rats, it’s composed and heavily arranged, so also on the left side. Ian Anderson produced a lot of good music, and this was his best.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
The concept album concept can only have one king of the hill, and it’s The Lamb. The four-sided beast from 1974 is quirky, strange and self-indulgent, all to excellent effect. It’s a story penned by Peter Gabriel that, far as I can tell, makes no sense whatsoever. Many great songs and performances by a band that was still a niche artist at the time. They drifted into pure right brain territory for an interlude in side 4; it’s terrific, why did they stop? Don’t know, but the full experience is still plenty weird. Ironically, their music slid steadily downhill afterward (Gabriel left the band soon after this release), and their popularity steadily rose in inverse proportion. A perfect metaphor for pop music.
The Words That Remain by Solas
If NASA was going to put one CD in an interplanetary probe to impress civilizations in other star systems, this is the one. Not sure what to call it (Irish progressive?) and I really can’t describe how great the playing and singing is. The compositions and arrangements are the framework, and while these folks are capable of anything, they don’t improvise. No complaints though. This 1998 release is also an example of an album that could have been perfect by cutting a couple of filler tunes toward the end of the set. The aliens will forgive this small flaw and even if they don’t, we’ll be extinct by the time they arrive here to stock up on more.
The Rodeo Eroded by Tin Hat Trio
Slightly jazz, slightly avant-garde and a little bit country, the sound this introverted New York trio creates on this 2002 record is seductive and literally unique (a word that is almost never used literally). The arrangements are beautiful and the airy, almost fragile instrumentation holds together like a house of glass anchored by steel and concrete. If Solas fell a tad short of perfection, THT achieves it here, as every minute of these 14 tracks, including a cameo by Willie Nelson, contributes to an experience you just don’t want to end.
Ok, my Top 5 is six, but I didn’t want to drop any of them. My only regret is that these artists all could have made great right brain music but, for the most part, did not. Stay tuned for a future post in praise of artists who did make that journey…