Essential albums for Laura

Jul 22, 2009 at 5:00 am

Dear friends, I need your help. In just a few short weeks, my daughter Laura Rose will go off to college. I will spare you the syrupy mumblings of a father who is proud of his beautiful, funny, brilliant, wise and kind daughter, and who will desperately miss her presence in our house for the first time in 18 years, except to say: I am and I will.

This has to do with music.

Laura loves music. She regularly introduces me to new sounds. In the early years, we enjoyed the delightful nonsense of vapid, fluffy TV puppets like Elmo, Barney and Shania Twain. In her tween years, we danced along to such musical giants as Nelly, Britney, Backstreet Boys and Destiny’s Child. Yet, despite the influence of those early atrocities, Laura has developed a nuanced musical ear and an insatiable hunger for live music.

Nowadays she jams to artists like My Morning Jacket, Ray LaMontagne, Conor Oberst, Vandaveer, Jenny Lewis, Beyonce, Ben Harper, KT Tunstall and Kings of Leon. She also keeps a healthy helping of music history on her iPod, including Bob Dylan, Carole King, Bob Marley, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John and Johnny Cash. To encourage this historical dabbling, I want to send her off to college with the five best albums made before 1990, the year she was born.

That’s where you come in.

When my son Ben was about to go off to college, I surveyed my readers to get their suggestions and got back a great list of ideas ranging from Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Dylan, The Stones and Pavarotti to The Clash, Tom Waits, Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Al Green, The Sex Pistols and scores of others. After mulling them over, Ben ended up with Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, The Clash’s London Calling, Van Morrison’s Moondance and Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. But he also ended up with a great list of other albums, many of which he bought on his own. Now it’s time to do the same for Laura.

Of course, the very notion of “album” is anachronistic these days, as both the album format and young people’s attention spans are disappearing faster than privacy and American cars. Still, it’s important to listen to the songs together on any great album, and it’s critical to listen to them in order. You wouldn’t fire up Waiting for Columbus, listen to “Fat Man in the Bathtub” and then skip all the way to “Dixie Chicken,” would you? Of course you wouldn’t. You must listen to the album all the way through. (And if you can’t start humming the next song as the current one’s winding down, that album doesn’t belong on a best-ever list.)

OK, here are your ground rules: First, I’m not willing to set aside my lifetime Beatles ban. Laura will simply have to acquire those songs from elevators and TV commercials or buy them herself. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the Beatles. But over the past three decades, I’ve heard every Beatles song enough to last several lifetimes, and I don’t ever need to hear another one. I don’t care how brilliant it is, once I heard “I Saw Her Standing There” for the 987,377,843rd time, it was … well, it was time to dance with another.

The second rule is that the music must predate Laura’s birth, which happened in 1990. The only other rule is to limit your suggestions to five albums. Please don’t send 10 because you can’t narrow it down. You can be forgiven if you aren’t good at physics or calculus, but if you can’t count, I don’t want my daughter taking advice from you.

Finally, I beg you not to include what usually passes for “classic rock” on the radio. For the love of god, no Phil Collins, Styx, Boston, Bob Seger, Blue Oyster Cult, Foreigner, Bad Company or KISS. She’s got enough of her own generation’s shitty high school music to listen to without listening to yours.

Let me hear from you. Please e-mail me at [email protected] with your list of Five Essential Pre-1990 Non-Beatles Albums Laura Should Own. If you’d like to share your list with the world, log onto and post to the comments for this story. In a future column, I’ll let you know what albums she’s taking to college.