1959 was a very different time. Singles were bigger business than albums. Sex had yet to be invented. Most people lived their lives in black and white and LSD was still legal. Yet, few used it. Since you didn't need it when Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife" was the number one single in the land.
Coming up with 25 great albums that everyone should own isn't easy. After all, what if you listen to the album and decide it isn't for you? Always base your musical taste on the idea that someone someday will call you on it. Because they will. A cocked eyebrow raise upon seeing you own so many copies of Oklahoma! has no proper defense. No matter how legitimate your love. No matter how rationalize it, the person judging you has done so and there's nothing you can do to save yourself.
These 25 albums came out in 1959, assuming that people who document the past don't completely fabricate things the way they do now. Many major acts were not doing their best work in 1959. They weren't allowed to.
25) Pete Seeger--Folk Songs For Young People: Before he became the opening act for Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger had a struggling little folksinging business where he called for removing people's cars from their garages and forcing them to eat seven-grain breads and forego electric guitars for the good of the nation. Something like that.
24) Dean Martin--That's Amore: For anyone who has never read Dino by Nick Tosches, you really owe to yourself as an American, as someone with eyesight and as someone who likes lugging 700-page biographies around town to read this one. Tosches makes Dean Martin more punk rock than Darby Crash, I guarantee you that.
23) Lenny Bruce--I'm Not A Nut, Elect Me! "Togetherness": If anyone got tortured over nothing, it was Lenny Bruce. All Lenny did was speak plainly and honestly and admit to doing things that everyone else was doing but pretending not to be. Kinda like Bill Clinton but with better jokes and NO political power.
22) The Platters--Remember When?: These days you can go to your local high school auditorium and see a group of guys who bill themselves as "The Original Platters" and have absolutely no idea who they are. But you can be pretty sure it's not the original guys. And if it is, what are they doing up singing?
21) The Ray Conniff Singers--It's The Talk Of The Town: George Constanza cranks them on a date and it creates an aura of mystery since it's his parents' album collection. Parents these days hope they're doing their kids a service when they break out the beloved albums of their era. But are they? Or will the Pure Prairie League, Cyndi Lauper and Husker Du just be the Ray Conniff Singers for a new generation? We'll have to live to find out.
20) Fats Domino--Let's Play Fats Domino: He'll always be New Orleans to many and not just because he sang about walking towards it. His sound is permanently entrenched in the great legacy that comes from musicians of all walks of life. And he did it on a piano, which is among the most annoying instruments to move.
19) Jackie Wilson--Lonely Teardrops: Jackie Wilson is often overlooked, even though he was hugely popular and a singular talent. He didn't have the same people selling his legacy as others? Or is it that while he was a 1950s artist, the tune most people associate with him--"Your Love Keeps On Lifting Me Higher And Higher"--came out in 1967, a year more psychedelic than R&B friendly?
18) Rod McKuen--Beatsville: Rod McKuen always managed to get it so wrong that as the years pass he almost gets it right. There's a very bad lesson in here somewhere.
17) Wanda Jackson--There's A Party Goin' On: Wanda Jackson was one of the first tough female rock musicians. Talk about breaking down barriers to entry. She had to do it in a world where everyone in charge was a guy. There was no feminist movement. There was no Riotgrrrl squad to call on. She had to beat each guy at his own game and not bloody her knuckles in the process. Or else!
16) Dinah Shore--Dinah, Yes Indeed!: I have a friend who still threatens to name his band Dinah Shore, Jr. Any complaints?
15) The Sound Of Music Soundtrack: This is the Broadway Cast album version. Beats me. The play started in 1956 and has been torturing innocent people ever since. It's not my fault. I swear. I know dear friends who love musicals and they have shown mercy and not asked me to attend any viewings. We understand one another. Understanding is key.
14) Esquerita!--Esquerita!: Eskew Reeder Jr. was never a household name but as the years pile on, more people remember Esquerita in the same esteemed company as other primal rockers from Little Richard to Chuck Berry to Gene Vincent. Think of him as the Sonic Youth of his day. Now immensely popular but once looked upon as "What the hell is that?"
13) John Cage--The 25 Year Retrospective Concert Of The Music Of John Cage: Any guy who writes a song called "4:33" and includes nothing but silence and "whatever happens" during that silence and owns the copyright and whose name is not Gene Simmons, is a man after my own heart. Can I copyright air?
12) Jack Kerouac--Blues And Haikus / Poetry For The Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac may be one of the only poets to ever encourage kids to get into music. How many John Keats fans can say the same? Or even Robert Lowell? Philip Larkin? Big names on this blog circuit, but only because I'm writing for people who know.
11) The Chipmunks--Let's All Sing With The Chipmunks: Another genius marketing gimmick. Speed up voices and release the same stupid songs with the new sounds. I used to play Beatle albums at 45 for the same effect. Not sure why. I liked them. It wasn't like I was trying to get them over with.
10) Billie Holiday--Billie Holiday: Billie died in 1959. Further proof that many of our best musicians don't last very long while others--provably lousier ones--live on forever.
9) Miles Davis--Kind Of Blue: The one jazz album that even people who hate jazz own. I know people who love jazz who now say this is the one jazz album they can't listen to anymore. I understand. It's like Happy Birthday or For He's A Jolly Good Fellow or God Bless America. How many times can you hear something before it reminds you of standing in the airport toilet wishing you'd listened to your mother?
8) Ornette Coleman--The Shape Of Jazz To Come / Tomorrow Is The Question: The New Music Of Ornette Coleman: Smart people like to point out how "groundbreaking" Ornette Coleman's music proved to be. Except I'd like to say that his album titles were WAY off. Sadly, this is not "The Shape Of Jazz To Come." This might be what true jazzheads wanted it to be, but the shape of jazz turned out to be much more awful by the late-'70s and by the '80s was virtually unrecognizable to anyone who actually still cared. You wonder why kids eventually move on to video games? How many times can you have your heart broken?
7) Howlin' Wolf--Moanin' In The Moonlight: With a voice sounding an awful lot like Captain Beefheart--sorry, I've been wanting to write that stupid opening sentence for years--Howlin' Wolf was one of the blues' most important performers if only because if you disagreed with him he could tear you into pieces. This man had a ferocious sound and one that should never be confused with the smooth stylings of anyone today. If Howlin' Wolf were a bluesman today, he might play in Assjack with Hank Williams III. He wouldn't be fronting for Robert Cray. I would hope not.
6) Chuck Berry--Is On Top: Chuck Berry knew how to write where the audience was. He didn't lean on the blues. He didn't care about jazz. Who's to say he even cared about rock n' roll except when it provided him with a steady paycheck? He was all about the cars and the money and his songs reflected an America he surely never partook in--at least not legally.
5) Allen Ginsberg--Reads Howl And Other Poems: If Jack Kerouac was the one poet who made poets want to become musicians, then A.G. was a poet who inspired others to become poets and self-promoters. No one understood the value of good and bad press better than Allen Ginsberg who served not only as a frontline beat poet but as their number one publicist, overhyping just about every friend he ever made who could string three words together. Or in Bill Burroughs' case, who could cut-up and collage three words together.
4) The Louvin Brothers--Satan Is Real: The album cover alone is reason to own this one. The country-damnation tunes inside just serve to freak you out even further.
3) Ray Charles--The Genius Of...: Paul Anka had more hits with stuff like "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" which inspired what? Shampoo sales? Life is filled with bitter disappointments and facts that should be provably wrong. Sometimes we can correct these things by letting Ray Charles be the genius he is and continuing to celebrate his music while laughing at the efforts of others.
2) Bo Diddley--Go Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley did more with a simple beat than most people can do with an entire multi-millionaire retirement portfolio. In fact, while most people have no idea how to manage their money, Bo Diddley always knew how to manage his music and he died a legend. I'll be lucky to die a footnote. Can we start the campaign now?
1) Little Richard--The Fabulous LR: To the frustration of his record label, Little Richard went back to the church and stopped recording rock n' roll. So the label did what any smart label would do, it compiled an album from old tracks and stuck it out there in hopes that no one notice or care and just be happy with any new product with their favorite act on it. This level of "exploitation" would be taken to greater effect at convenience stores where one day eight-song cassettes that may or may not have been the hits by the original artists were sold as the real thing. The music business has always been a refuge for saints.