iPod video 30gbLast week I took a deep breath and made a major commitment to life abroad: I bought an iPod. I got it used, on eBay, after deciding that I should break it in this summer before introducing it to other countries (turns out my iPod was born in China anyway). It’s black and sturdy and has a beautiful color screen and a shiny round touch pad, and it’s advertised to hold 7500 songs. I used to scoff at iPods, ostensibly because they had become so cliché (but really because I couldn’t afford one), but now I can’t deny it: I am in love.

The first best thing about my iPod is that it has put me back in touch with my entire music collection. Those CDs that I long ago started to ignore are suddenly interesting again, from the single tracks I always loved to others I never gave a fair shot. And my favorite albums are all the more precious, earning new recognition as the first to be copied over. So in the spirit of getting back in touch with your music, this post has two key sections.


First is a baker’s dozen list of the inaugural albums I put on my iPod. These are not homemade mixes or greatest hits compilations, and not necessarily my top thirteen albums of all time, but right now they are the original, full-length albums that I wanted on my iPod first, in their entirety. Because I love sharing music, I’ll provide brief descriptions of each for those who are interested. But also because I love sharing music, make sure you don’t miss the second, and equally important, part of this post below. But first, the albums:

13. New Ancient Strings by Ballaké Sissoko and Toumani Diabaté ~ This was the dark horse of the bunch, an album from Mali that my parents introduced me to less than a month ago. The music of the kora, an ancient African harp, is so simultaneously relaxing, uplifting, and energizing that I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it.

12. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel ~ Also relatively new to me, there’s something haunting about this Indie album that makes me think I could probably fly if I concentrate hard enough. My good friend Meredith, who gave me this album for my birthday last year, will be glad to see what a excellent present it’s made.

Reachin'11. Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) by Digable Planets ~ This is a bit of a seasonal selection since I have come to associate this incredibly mellow hip-hop album with the beginning of summer, but it’s also a classic and completely appropriate any time you want to kick back.

10. Live at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash ~ Kind of obvious, especially since the movie, but it took me awhile to get turned on to the Man in Black so maybe this will help someone else out there, too.

9. Mushroom Jazz 3 by Mark Farina ~ Technically this is a mix CD, but in the house/chillout/trip-hop genre almost everything is, and Mark Farina’s mixing is original enough to keep things interesting even for those who might otherwise find electronic music tedious. The oh-so-smooth Mushroom Jazz 3 helped change my mind — thanks Aaron!

8. Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan ~ It’s hard to imagine anyone hasn’t heard of this fella, but if you appreciate him at all and you haven’t spent some serious time with Blood on the Tracks, you’re missing out.

7. Catch a Fire by Bob Marley ~ At some point I realized that most of my mixes had songs by multiple guys named Bob, but you just can’t get around it. This narrowly edges out Natty Dread as my favorite Bob Marley album.

6. Homework by Daft Punk ~ Again, some folks may think electronic music is boring or bad for dancing, but with catchy melodies, frequent changes and no bad tracks, up-tempo Homework should challenge both assumptions. Thanks Jer.

5. Led Zeppelin IV ~ The more you listen to Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, officially untitled, the more you will love Led Zeppelin, and the more you love Led Zeppelin, the more you will love rock and roll. Thank you — classic rock radio stations around the country?

4. Do You Want More? by The Roots ~ The famous Philadelphia-based all-original hip-hop group got everything so, so right on their second full-length album.

3. The Joshua Tree by U2 ~ I think this album is nearly flawless, and even if U2 and Bono have become pretty clichéd, The Joshua Tree never will.

Sketches of Spain2. Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis ~ This music is so intelligent and intimate that I’m sure thousands of actual jazz critics have already said it much better than me.

1. The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 by David Bowie ~ Yes, I just became a flat-out hypocrite by picking a “best of” album. But that’s how good Bowie is — how could you possibly limit yourself to one album? If you have to, get your hands on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Thank you, Amherst College.

Having written down this list, it mostly just makes me want to apologize to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, John Coltrane, Bach, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, St. Germain, Simon and Garfunkel, Radiohead, Jimmy Cliff, The Cure, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, The Beastie Boys, The Allman Brothers, Weezer, Ian Pooley, Carl Cox, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and many, many, more. My tastes shift with the seasons and any other time it could have been them. But it had to be done. Now, on to part two . . .


This is especially for all of you who have been longing to drop your first comment here, but were just a little too shy or a little too distracted by pretending to work to do so: please give me your recommendations! None of the albums above were my own discoveries; all were introduced to me by others, and with any luck this post will pass some of those introductions on to a few more folks. So help me take the “I” out of iPod: what music did you, or would you, load first onto your pod? What music do you love that I should love too? What albums or tracks would you want with you if you were living abroad for a year?

Feel free to provide just one word or to wax poetic; either way I promise to check it out. Note, however, that I will only check out your recommendations if they are in comments!! I welcome and love getting personal e-mails, but this time around I’m also hoping to see some fresh commenters (maybe we can even break the previous comment record of 14, still standing from my first post). Commenting is fun and easy; for those who haven’t registered yet and are afraid of it, the “How To . . .” link above should provide practical reassurance.

So hit me! For final encouragement I’m ending with a colon, providing an ideal segue to your ideal music recommendations:

17 thoughts on “Taking the “I” out of iPod

  • April 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    alphabetically, and in a hand-waving sense:
    Andrew Bird—The Mysterious Production of Eggs
    Beck—Sea Change
    Dylan—Blood on the Tracks
    Dylan—Bootleg Volume 6
    Cash—American IV
    Gillian Welch—Time (The Revelator)
    Notorious BIG—Ready to Die
    Old Crow Medicine Show—Big Iron World
    Radiohead—Hail to the Thief
    Ryan Adams—Heartbreaker
    Townes Van Zandt—Rear View Mirror
    Uncle Tupelo—March 16-20, 1992
    Wilco—Yankee Foxtrot Hotel

  • April 24, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    I’ve got some wicked Stickmen mp3s if you’re in need. and how did low end theory not make top13??

  • April 25, 2007 at 8:20 am

    First, I’m amazed that your list includes one album I have owned–on vinyl–for decades–Johnny Cash at Folsum Prison!

    Here are a few recommendations from my vinyl & CD collection. I’m not into iPods yet, but your experience reinforces the idea that I really ought to try it.

    “Will the Circle be Unbroken” (the 1972 volume, first of three with this title) by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and many others. Karol Lynn and I made an award-winning quilt that celebrates this collection of classic country & bluegrass music.

    “Highwayman” by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson; a good way to introduce you to four of my favorites in one album.

    “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” by John McCutcheon; hammer dulcimer music is ethereal, and McCutcheon is the best!

    “The Three Pickers” by Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson & Ricky Scaggs; instrumental bluegrass at its best.

    “The Great Dobro Sessions” produced by Jerry Douglas and featuring 10 of the best dobro players on the planet; mostly instrumental.

    “Land of the Sky” by Al Petteway & Amy White; this husband/wife team now live in Asheville, North Carolina, and we’ve enjoyed several of their live performances. They get sounds from guitar and mandolin that are very unusual and delightful listening.

  • April 25, 2007 at 5:09 pm


    It’s Justin. Christabel’s other half.

    Please to try

    Dousk – Diy
    Leama and Moor – Common Ground
    Unkle Ho – Road to Roma
    Crazy penis – any album is fun

    Drop into Swinging London Ingerland anytime mate.

    ps Enjot that wine

  • April 26, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Good list Andrew, a couple of those almost made the cut already! Jriftwood, “Low End Theory” was #14 that day. Dan, those are great suggestions, and I’ve been wanting to check out “Highwayman” especially, so that’s a perfect reminder. Justin, have always trusted your musical tastes so I look forward to listening (but is “Crazy Penis” a real band??).

    Everyone else — I’m still hoping for more recommendations!!!

  • April 26, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Your list is solid, but I can’t help but notice the glaring under-representation of music makers with boobs. No, not John Popper or Big Pun….. where the hell are all the ladies?!

    My musical tastes have never been hip enough to include much of the obscure, underground, or undiscovered, so none of these are introductions as much as they are reminders….Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Mary J, Blige, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Heart, Nina Simone, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Donna Summer, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, The Go-Gos, Aretha Franklin, Blondie, Gwen Stefani, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, PJ Harvey, Lily Allen, Missy Elliot, Whitney Houston, Norah Jones, L7, Tracy Chapman, Janet Jackson, Liz Phair, Eve, Loretta Lynn, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Fiona Apple, The Dixie Chicks, Sister Nancy, The Supremes, Nico, Sinead O’Connor, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Sade….. you get the idea.

    Go on, add some women- your mom will be proud:)

  • April 26, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    Yes, Lacey brought this to my attention, too. My initial response was “what’s up with that?” I’m not sure where my apparent preference for male musicians comes from, but I will say that many of those you mentioned were also high on my list.

  • April 26, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    I forgot Bjork. Silly me.

  • April 26, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    in heavy rotation lately on the pod:
    the avett brothers
    the wood brothers
    the hacksensaw boys
    (for some reason I’ve been on a real banjo kick – perhaps im secretly from the south)
    kaiser chiefs
    talib kweli
    mika (though its prolly just a phase)
    ray lamontagne
    martin sexton (live)

    and I want to second your friend Dan’s recommendation of the Three Pickers & NGDB – both good ones.


  • April 27, 2007 at 5:29 am


    Crazy Penis aer real, I think they’ve changed their name to Crazy P.

    Easy now.


  • April 27, 2007 at 7:58 am


    For all time best music, may I suggest what we have come to know here in the Green ” (sp?) by the way, the trailer, on spring inspection, looks great.


  • April 27, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I agree with Michi, more boobs please!

    To that effect…

    Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Lady Tron (for Susan), Jonatha Brooke, Beth Orton, Aimmee Mann, Dar Williams, Le Tigre, Tracy Chapman, Natalie Merchant, Suzanne Vega, Shakira…

    It’s funny my CD collection has always been chock full of ladies – I’ve had to be reminded that I like old standby’s like Led Zeppelin. On a different note, I’d also add Morrisey/The Smiths – I don’t listen to him much anymore, but I recently found out that my supervisor at the English School is a huge fan and named his first born son after him – how cool is that?

  • April 27, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Yo Eth,
    What a trip, to see what music from your 29 1/2 rich years still really grabs you. I’ll give a few suggestions, virtually all of which you grew up with, but first, here’s my chance to tell the world something that I’m not sure anyone knows about one of the great albums you’ve listed.
    I first heard Miles Davis “Sketches of Spain” in the late 1960’s; he recorded it (with Gil Evans doing the arrangement) in late 1959 and early 1960. And immediately I knew–I had heard most of these pieces before! Through my Ethnomusicology class at Wesleyan U (yes, your father dabbled in Ethnomusicology), I listened to a Folkways record (they were a fairly obscure label that produced recordings of music from other cultures, or from little know American cultures, that virtually no one knew anything about before “world music” became a big deal) of the music of Spain. And several of the pieces that Gil Evans arranged and Miles Davis played appear to have been taken straight from that obscure recording. In particular, I recognized the piece called “Saeta,” with Miles playing this soaring, very beautiful high octave trumpet solo in a very free rhythm after an introduction by horns and drums that sounds like a marching band. The actual recording of the Saeta released on the Folkways record was done during a festival in some Spanish city, in which a band with drums and horns is heard approaching from a distance, and then a woman (Catch that Michi and Lacey–a woman was the original Saeta-singer!) sings this incredible piece–and all Miles did was throw in a few improvisatory elaborations. Other pieces, e.g. Concerto de Aranjuez–are also on that recording–perhaps all of the pieces on Sketches of Spain are. I have never found any acknowledgement of this, yet I do believe that Evans and Davis must have had this recording.

    So, a quick list of the ten albums I’d want with me on a deserted island:

    John Coltrane, Live at Birdland. So incredibly beautiful, especially Afro Blue.

    And I love Coltrane so much (I heard him several times at the Half Note in NYC in the mid-60’s, before he died) that I’ve got to list what most jazz afficionados consider his greatest album, and a deeply spiritual one: A Love Supreme.

    Karl Orff, Carmina Burana. Such an incredibly exciting classical piece, based on songs about loving, gambling and fate from the Middle Ages.

    And while we’re on classical music, Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste is some of the most far out, incredibly music you can hear from a classical orchestra.

    Cheap Thrills. by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. I guess it’s my favorite piece of rock and roll from the era when rock achieved greatness: the 60’s. I was there, and I don’t remember. I do wish I could have heard Janis in person. But you can see her sing Ball and Chain on the movie, Monterey Pop.

    Another woman favorite for me is Aretha Franklin. I’ve been listening to a cd titled “Respect.” But I love her album Amazing Grace with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. It’s Aretha doing gospel, and that’s where she began.

    Back to jazz, some of the most beautiful, peaceful piano music (or any music!) in the world for me is Don Friedman and trio playing Circle Waltz. It’s from the 60’s, I think, and it’s on cd.

    My sons know I love the gamelan of Indonesia–some of the most haunting, and also peace-inducing–music in the world, an entire orchestra of gongs, xylophones, metallophones, drums, plus rebab (think of it as an Indonesian violin), flute and singing. Try Yogyakarta: Gamelan of the Kraton, from Celestial Harmonies (1997).

    Well, I’m a child of the 60’s, so there’s got to be a Beattles album. I’ll pick Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. What an incredibly creative bunch of musicians! And yes, I actually met and talked with Yoko Ono on two occasions, both before she met John Lennon.

    My final pick is the cd you gave me for my 61st birthday last summer–Bruce Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions, in which he and a raucus band play the songs of Pete Seeger. Many of them were songs my father, your grandfather, who we all called June, used to play around the campfire while strumming on his banjo uke. I believe my love of music came from June, and I’m so happy that it passed through me to both my sons.

    So Josh, whaddayou like?

    Much love,

  • May 9, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Ethan, very good list and thanks for the props on the mark farina joint. I like your dads idea of the list of albums he would need on a deserted island, so i thought i would throw in my 2 cents worth on the topic as well as give a few albums for you to try if you haven’t already.

    These are in no particular order as that would be a very daunting task.

    1. Beastie Boys- Paul’s Boutique
    -this album is everything i love about hip-hop, great beats and
    productioin, tight rhymes and just a little funky. This album will
    always hold a special place in my heart.

    2. Talib Kweli and DJ High Tech- Reflection Eternal
    -If you love hip-hop you must have this album. Manditory

    3. Red hot Chili Peppers- Blood sugar Sex Majik
    -Again this album is dear to my heart. Listening to it makes me
    time travel (ethan knows what i’m talking about). Reminds me
    of so much.

    4. Wes Montgomery- Impressions The Verve Jazz Sides
    – I could listen to tis every day for the rest of my life. Wes set
    the standard for jazz guitar, nuff said.

    5. St Germain-Tourist
    – Thanks ethan for turning me on to one of the best chill out,
    drinking on the porch albums ever!

    6. Curtis Mayfield- Curtis
    -Funky rythms and oh so groovy. It’s hard not to put Superfly
    on the list, but his solo debut is just that good.

    7. Kryptic Minds and Leon Switch- Blackout Vol1.
    -This is an unmixed album from two of the most prolific drum
    and Bass producers of the early 2000’s. If you love hardcore techy
    dirty drum and bass like i do, then this is must have for those
    days you wish you never got stranded on that damn island!

    8. Dead Presidents Soundtrack
    – Yes it is a soundtrack but it has so many good songs that
    if you took all those cd’s you wouldn’t have room for your
    socks and underwear in your suitcase.

    9. Sublime- 40.oz to freedom
    -If you don’t like this album then there is something wrong with
    you. No offense though.

    10. Mos Def- Black on Both sides
    -Lots of hip hop on this list, but this on i can’t live without.

    Here’s A couple you need to look at or maybe revisit.

    the Misfits-Statis age
    bad brains- I aginst I
    Guru- Jazzmatazz Vol1.
    jimmy Smith- Back at the chicken shack
    Bud Powell-the amazing bud powell Vol.1
    Bob Marley- Kaya
    Cake Prolonging the magic

    Ethan, thanks for the forum to write and respond about a topic i could wax poetic about all day.


  • May 12, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    1. Peter Grimes, by Benjamin Britten. An opera based on the poem “The Borough” by George Crabbe, 1810. Grimes is a fisherman, an outsider in a small town who dreams of success, love and acceptance. I stumbled across this opera in high school. I was enraptured by it; I suppose I identified with the protagonist. The music, written in 1945, is modern but it has lush melodies. Britten’s life-partner, Peter Pears, created the title role. When Pears died, the Queen sent her condolences to Britten.

    2. Elektra, by Richard Strauss. This opera is taken from the Greek story by Sophocles of the original dysfunctional family. Strauss (not the waltz king) takes a little getting used to. His music here is the perfect soundtrack for an anxious, insane time; there is no lag in intensity from the opening chord when Elektra runs wildly onto the stage to her mad dance and death 108 minutes later. It’s perfect work-out music.

    3. Suite from Elizabeth, by Margaret Buechner. The music of pure, unrequited love. But it’s in German, so you can make up your own story.

    4. Der Ring des Nibelungen, by Richard Wagner. One hesitates to write a description. Comparable in music to the novel(s) of Marcel Proust. As Proust introduces leit-motifs which are extensively developed and periodically drawn together into amazing climaxes, so does Wagner across 4 operas and 15 and 1/2 hours of music. Mere mortals wonder at how he held so much music together in his head.

    5. Boris Godunov, the Prologue/Coronation scene, by Modest Mussorgsky. Boris ascends to the tsarship, lauded by the church and the huddled masses, who don’t know that he had murdered the rightful child-heir to the throne; but HE knows.

    6. Rusalka, by Antonin Dvorak. Prince and mermaid fall in love, which unfortunately is forbidden. They die. Not to be confused with the modern cinematic treatment of the same.

    7. Purple Rain. Speaking of Princes. His athletic performance far surpassed any other players in the Superbowl. And he looks no older than he did 25 years ago; how does he do that?

    8. Miserere, by Gregorio Allegri. Only listen to the 1963 performance by King’s College Choir, Cambridge, with Roy Goodman, treble solo. Mixed choirs — that is, choirs of men and women — cannot capture the ethereal purity of the boy’s choir. The story, possibly apocryphal, is that this piece was to be sung only in St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, by the Papal Choir; and so it was, until a fourteen year-old Mozart heard a performance of it in this setting, went home and wrote it out from memory. Thank you, Wolfgang.

    9. Mass for Christmas Morning, by Michael Praetorius, circa 1600. Gabrieli Consort. The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord never sounded so good.

    10. Florenzia en el Amazonas, by Daniel Catan, 1991. An opera about love and a trip down the Amazon River. You can hear the rampant vegetation and the water. So popular with our audiences, Seattle Opera has already staged it twice.

  • May 23, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    You guys are awesome! Thanks for all the great suggestions; I’ll spend the summer getting caught up on them, and look forward to taking lots of great new music with me to distant shores. Look for more updates here as my iPod content continues to grow and change . . . and please, feel free to post more comments here when you find more new and good music, or if you haven’t already!

  • June 4, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    to help fill the boobs quota…

    Nina Simone I think I have a “best of” cd but I just love her.

    Also, some old Joan Armatrading. Oh and I just thought of Kate Bush – The Kick Inside. You either love it or hate it.

    on another note…After being a real Smiths fan for so long some British friends got me listening to REM more (as they thought the message was not so depressing). I have to say they have something there.


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