Monday, July 4, 2016

MUSIC AND WINE TIME: THE FINALE

As the blogmasters were DJs in a previous life, we met many winery owners in Virginia over the last ten years as we marketed our side business. So we thought now would be an appropriate time to mix tunes with grapes. We haven't visited this topic since January 2 of this year, and since then, we've sadly lost several legends in the rock, R&B, and pop world. July 4th seems like a wholly appropriate time to finish our 100 list.

Only the top 25 remain…not only are these our favorite albums, they are paired with our 25 most favorite wineries in Virginia. Whether you download these albums on iTunes, Spotify or Pandora when you visit the wineries, tell them The Notebook sent you! (And links to our lists of #26 through #100 appear under this entry).

25. Blood on the Tracks/Bob Dylan (1975)
Highway 61 Revisited usually gets ranked as Dylan’s finest achievement, but for our money, his greatest work is one of his several “come back” albums, recorded in 1973-74 but not released until early 1975. The album came out after a series of commercially unsuccessful (and in the case of Planet Waves, highly acclaimed, but in the case of Self Portrait, critically-blasted) albums, and Dylan used the time to reflect on his career and his relationships, and penned some of the most personal songs of his legendary career: “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Shelter from the Storm.” Listen to the stunning 2012 MoFi remaster of this album and you’ll swear Dylan is strumming his guitar in your living room.
Suggested wine pairing: Keswick Vineyards Les Vents d'Anges Viognier.

24. Tusk/Fleetwood Mac (1979)
Rumours gets more attention, but their double album follow-up, a commercial flop in the face of Rumours’ record-breaking sales, is a better album. Ahead of its time in many ways, and the product of Lindsey Buckingham’s (and possibly drug addled) twisted mind, the album sums up the late ‘70s Topanga Canyon lifestyle, complete with appearances from several of the Beach Boys (Christine McVie was involved with Dennis Wilson at the time, and is the subject of one of her loveliest ballads, ”Never Make Me Cry”). Most of Buckingham’s offerings (which take up most of the album) are bizarre but great ear candy (the title track, the first single from the album, is an example of this wackiness). As for Stevie Nicks, her tunes are more of a warm-up to her hugely successful solo career which would come two years after the release of Tusk, although her “Sara” is probably the most famous track on this album. The sequencing of the tracks is a bit odd, but otherwise Mac’s best album.
Suggested wine pairing: Pollak Vineyards Ros├ę.

23. Achtung Baby/U2 (1991)
U2 debuted in the U.S. in 1980 and over time developed a fervent following, particularly among high school and college students. The pinnacle of their ‘80s success was 1987’s The Joshua Tree, an album that most music fans and critics would place in their top 100 list. But we aren’t most music fans and critics; for us, Achtung Baby is their peak, an album that totally reinvented them, and incorporated EuroTech sounds into the grooves. “One” has been covered by countless artists since becoming the second Top Ten single from this record, and every track remains timeless and intoxicating. The 1993 sequel, Zooropa, is wildly underrated.
Suggested wine pairing: Veramar Vineyard Rooster Red.

22. Untitled (Led Zeppelin IV)/Led Zeppelin (1971)
The album that has no title is not Zepp’s best album, but certainly their best known and arguably most beloved, in part due to “Stairway to Heaven,” a legendary track that was never released as a single. Like Dark Side of the Moon, Saturday Night Fever, Rumours and other classics of the ‘70s, overexposure has diminished this album’s power a bit, yet its songs continue to show up in TV shows and movies today, proving the timelessness of the album. A rock outfit at the commercial peak of its first career phase.
Suggested wine pairing: Green Hill Vineyards Eternity.

21. Revolver/The Beatles (1966)
Revolver was the transition album for the Fabs. They were done with live concerts after their world tour to support Rubber Soul, and focused completely on crafting magnificent songs and albums that will continue to appear on our (and any serious music lover’s) list. While the reputation of this album has surpassed the others in stature in recent years, we still believe that five other albums remain superior. Nevertheless, the staying power of tracks like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Taxman,” “She Said She Said,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” ”Good Day Sunshine,” and that damn sing-along child’s song about the submarine, cannot be overstated.
Suggested wine pairing: Moss Vineyards Vino Rosso.

20. Born to Run/Bruce Springsteen (1975)
The Boss had a lot riding with Born to Run; his first two 1973 albums were solid bar band rock albums and his tours to support the albums were well publicized. But the albums didn’t sell particularly well and produced no hit singles, and there were rumors of him being dropped by Columbia records. All of that changed when Bruce put everything he had into this album (slick production and the full band sound of his previous album), and got the cover of Time magazine, massive sales, and a hit single in the title track as a result. The album is a working class New Jersey native’s attempt at a rock opera from the very first harmonica blow in “Thunder Road” to the closing chords in “Jungleland.”
Suggested wine pairing: North Gate Vineyards Meritage.

19. Breakfast in America/Supertramp (1979)
Many critics dub Crime of the Century as this art rock band’s best album, but Breakfast in America was a commercial watershed, taking Supertramp down the conceptual-meets-commercial path they started with their previous album, 1977’s Even in the Quietest Moments… Three singles from this album reached the American Top 10, as the album dominated the charts for well over a year. The British band (with one Yankee) takes on late ‘70s American (particular southern California) culture magnificently. And that album cover is a classic.
Suggested wine pairing: Cooper Vineyards Traminette.

18. Pretzel Logic/Steely Dan (1974)
The Dan’s 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, was followed by the fascinating (and commercially unsuccessful) Countdown to Ecstasy in 1973 (in fact, in ’73, Can’t Buy a Thrill outsold …Ecstasy mainly due to the late decision to release “Reeling in the Years” as a single in the summer of ’73). Pretzel Logic took the best elements from both albums, and then upped the cynicism (listen closely to the lyrics of “Barrytown” and the title track). The result: Their greatest record, with radio friendly tracks (“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” was their biggest chart success) and songs that paved the way for the RAZZ (rock + jazz) era of the mid to late ‘70s.
Suggested wine pairing: 50West Vineyards Aldie Heights Cuvee.

17. Bridge Over Troubled Water/Simon & Garfunkel (1970)
S & G’s swan song album is also their greatest work, incorporating the polished production of their previous album Bookends with the folk hooks of their earlier records. This is also the album where Paul Simon began to embark on his journey to find new sounds for his songs. “Cecilia,” with its southern hemisphere percussion, paved the way for “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” from his solo debut album released a mere year later. And few can argue about the power of the title track and the New York City tribute track “The Boxer.”
Suggested wine pairing: White Hall Vineyards Gew├╝rztraminer.

16. Let it Bleed/Rolling Stones (1969)
The Stones’ first album without co-founder Brian Jones, who drowned while this album was being blueprinted, this is also arguably their darkest record. Kicking off with the immortal “Gimme Shelter” (also the name of their documentary about the disastrous Altamont concert, which put the final nail in the decade that was the 1960s), the album finishes with soothing (despite cynical lyrics) “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with its classic gospel choir. In between are meaty (and Martin Scorsese favorites) tracks like “Monkey Man” and “Midnight Rambler,” the latter a concert favorite to this day.
Suggested wine pairing: Stone Tower Winery Estate Hogback Mountain.

15. Animals/Pink Floyd (1977)
The Floyd gets political. “Pigs, “Dogs,” and “Sheep:” Fascism, irresponsible media, and those who listen and follow, to the detriment of democracy. The lyrics are timelier now than they were in 1977. Not an easy first listen to be sure, but a record that lends itself to repeat listens, and you will hear something new in it every time. And the cover has seeped its way into contemporary pop culture.
Suggested wine pairing: Wisteria Vineyard Carmine red.

14. What’s Going On/Marvin Gaye (1971)
The album Berry Gordy initially refused to make, fearing political backlash against his label. But he was up against the anger of Marvin Gaye, a major hitmaker for Motown. Gordy created a subsidiary label, Tamla, as a compromise, and he was rewarded with the most popular album in Motown history (the label was more commercially successful with its 45s before What’s Going On). Vietnam, racial injustice, urban decay, crime, the environment: The groundbreaking record had it all, backed by a fusion of jazz and funk that influences scores of R&B and hip hop artists to this day. The album’s success also led to Stevie Wonder (another Motown artist moved to the Tamla label) and his string of historical albums (1972’s Talking Book to 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life).
Suggested wine pairing: Afton Mountain Vineyards Merlot.

13. Tumbleweed Connection/Elton John (1970)
Elton John’s third album expanded on the mellow, contemplative atmosphere of his first albums, but also laid the foundation for EJ’s concept albums that would follow (mainly 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy). Alternately a homage to the American west, and a love letter to lyricist Bernie Taupin’s father, the album contains early classics such as “Come Down in Time” and “Burn Down the Mission,” as well as a faithful cover of late British songstress Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song.” Its follow up, Madman Across the Water, isn’t too shabby either –the two albums together encapsulate Elton and Bernie’s “Nick Drake tribute” years.
Suggested wine pairing: Reynard Florence Vineyard Petit Manseng Monticello.

12. Prince/Sign “O” the Times (1987)
1999 and Purple Rain were warm-ups, really, to Sign “O” the Times, like 1999, a double album, but instead of the nonstop dance funk of 1999, The Artist we sadly lost earlier this year tackles the ‘80s drug epidemic (with the title track), religion (“The Cross”) and sexual ambiguity that would feel right at home with the artist who has the #11 album on our list (keep reading). But like 1999, Prince never forgets his house funk origins, and brings down the house literally with “Housequake.” Like the White Album, the songs are all over the map but equally infectious. The Artist’s best album by far.
Suggested wine pairing: The Winery at Bull Run Fort.

11. David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
2016 has been an awful one so far for music fans. Actually the depressing year started on New Year’s Eve 2015, when we lost Natalie Cole. The passings of David Bowie and Prince actually made us revamp the final (25 through 1) section of our Top 100 list. Knowing there will never be an album of new material from these artists is tragic. Although David Jones did bring us Blackstar two days before his death, an album he made while dying that speaks to the soul. Maybe in 10 years, when we revisit this list, Blackstar will find a place in our new Top 100 (we need to spend another decade listening to it and analyzing it). The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is far and away Bowie’s best album. Taking bits from the heavier, borderline Black Sabbath sound of 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World, and merging them with the whimsical, sexually ambiguous style of 1971’s Hunky Dory, the album is a masterwork of the glam rock era. The lyrics can be down and dirty at times, but “Starman” is such an innocent sounding pop piece it’s easy to understand why so many listeners initially thought of it as a children’s song in 1972.
Suggested wine pairing: Byrd Cellars Dalhgren's Raid Red.

10. Magical Mystery Tour/Beatles (1967)
Released in December 1967, when Sgt. Pepper was a mere six months old and still the rage of the world, Magical Mystery Tour is the soundtrack to the Beatle’s much-maligned made-for-British-TV movie. The movie was a complete vanity project and critics (and audiences at the time) despised it. The soundtrack usually gets overlooked when talking about the great Beatles albums that came before, and after, it. And since side 2 is really a collection of singles that were never released on an album, it’s understandable that some critics called it a “quasi Greatest Hits album,” and not an official Beatles album. But side 2 alone is simply one of the greatest album sides in rock history: “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man” and “All You Need is Love.” How could you lose?
Suggested wine pairing: Philip Carter Winery Rosewell.

9. Exile on Main Street/Rolling Stones (1972)
All of the albums recorded by the Glimmer Twins and company prior to 1972 led to Exile on Main Street, recorded in the basement of Keith Richards’ French estate, which he relocated to in order to avoid paying British taxes. The sessions were raw and “anything goes,” and that comes out in the grooves of this double album. The album starts out rowdy, slowly gets mellow, and then kicks it up again for side 4. And “Sweet Virginia” could be the name of a wonderful Virginia table wine – it must exist somewhere in the Commonwealth!
Suggested wine pairing: 612 Vineyard Chambourcin.

8. Wish You Were Here/Pink Floyd (1975)
Former Floyd leader Syd Barrett was far gone by the time the band he founded went in to the studio to record this album. Legend has it Barrett actually showed up, barely recognizable by the band, while they were cutting the title track, which the band wrote as a tribute to Barrett, who was suffering from a decade-long mental breakdown. Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall usually get the most attention from casual listeners, but this is the Floyd’s best album, concise and experimental without getting too pretentious and heavy-going. The epic 20 minute plus “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is another tribute to Barrett, beautiful and complex and almost like classical music. It was initially was slated to take up the entire first side, before Waters & company decided to break it up into two sections.
Suggested wine pairing: General’s Ridge Vineyard General's Last Call.

7. Led Zeppelin III/Led Zeppelin (1970)
After their groundbreaking first two albums, Zepp took their style on a slightly different route, incorporating traditional folk music and deeper blues into their third album. That resulted in less sales compared to the first two albums, but there is a reason Jimmy Page names it as his favorite Zepp album. The first two tracks are so jangly and kicking they were recorded with intentional hiss at the beginning of each song. Tracks that were more or less ignored at the time like “Tangerine," “That’s the Way” and “Gallows Pole,” are now considered to be Zepp staples; listening to them, you can hear the origins of the songs from their most famous untitled fourth record that was to follow.
Suggested wine pairing: Cedar Creek Winery Cabernet Franc.

6. Abbey Road/Beatles (1969)
After the troubled “White Album” and Let it Be sessions, producer George Martin never thought the Fabs would work together again. Until Paul McCartney simply asked Martin, “would you produce a new record for us?” JPG and R put aside their personal differences and concentrated on the music; but not without a caveat: John would control one side, and Paul the other. Side 1 (John’s side) contains stripped down rock and pop songs, marred only by Ringo’s silly Sesame Street-bound “Octopuses Garden.” Side 2 (Paul’s side) is arguably the better side, highlighted by a suite that takes up ¾ of the side. Any way you slice it, this is one of their best albums.
Suggested wine pairing: Rogers Ford Winery Jacob Christopher Chardonnay.

5. Rubber Soul/Beatles (1966)
Of course The Beatles would dominate our Top Ten...what would you expect, Green Day? Rubber Soul is their best pre-Sgt. Pepper album (although a case could be made for Please Please Me). The Fabs were more somber on this album, although they still took the album on the road. The tour that backed Rubber Soul proved to be their last time on the road. Dylan obsessions in full bloom, the album had a tremendous effect on the leader of the band at #4 (read on).
Suggested wine pairing: Delaplane Cellars Left Bank.

4. Pet Sounds/Beach Boys (1966)
Later in the same year that saw the release of Rubber Soul, the leader of an American group, which had scores of hits nearly equal in influence as the Beatles’ hits, was so mesmerized by what he heard, he went into the studio to craft the American response. A flop on initial release, this album has inspired countless artists and bands, authors, and even a movie (2015’s Love and Mercy). Wouldn’t it be Nice if society could actually live the lyrics of the album’s kick off track in the turbulent year of 2016? As Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore once said about Brian Wilson, “how can someone who creates something so beautiful be considered ‘not right’ in the head? I’m learning something about living from this person, who is supposed to be ‘not right.’” McCartney and the other Beatles certainly agreed, and plowed on to make their response to Pet Sounds...
Suggested wine pairing: Barrel Oak Winery BOWhaus Red.

3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/Beatles (1967)
The Beatles took up the challenge of topping Pet Sounds, which McCartney had dubbed “the greatest album [he] ever heard.” Brian Wilson and company, and most of the western world, was stunned with the result. This is the album that kicked off the “summer of love,” and within months, the Beatles’ contemporaries, Harry Nilsson and Joe Cocker to Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, were covering songs from the album. The songs themselves have weaved into our everyday vernacular…..”With a Little Help from My Friends,” “When I’m 64,” “A Day in the Life.” No singles were released from the album, which is rather miraculous seeing how nearly every song on the album is familiar to anyone over a certain age.
Suggested wine pairing: Veritas Vineyard Claret.

2. Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin (1969)
The Doors and Led Zeppelin dropped the bomb on the psychedelic love-in sounds of the late ‘60s. Led Zepp’s debut album is a masterpiece of sonic sound and composition, a profoundly mature work created by English lads barely out of their teens. From the opening note of “Good Times Bad Times” to the epic finale “How Many More Times,” this album laid the cornerstone for hard rock (just don’t call it “heavy metal!”)
Suggested wine pairing: Willowcroft Winery Assemblage red blend.

1. The Beatles (White Album)/Beatles (1968)
The album many critics called “unfocused” and “a jumbled mess,” ironically titled The Beatles, despite the fact that it was mainly a collection of tracks the various members recorded in the studio alone, or with only one other member….simply put, the album is “music.” Pop, hard rock, folk rock, reggae, early “heavy metal,” lullaby, country, avant garde, ragtime, blues; you hear it all. Even the much-maligned little ditties like “Wild Honey Pie” and “Why Don’t We Do it In the Road” serve a purpose in the context of this “mess.” Rock and roll was never meant to be slick and follow a pattern, and The White Album is a testament to that to this very day.
Suggested wine pairing: Fox Meadow Vineyards Pinot Grigio.

Apologies to those fine albums we may have missed...and the Virginia wineries we may have overlooked. Post your favorite album and Virginia wine pairing on the Notebook!

We hope you uncork a great Virginia wine and dust off one of these classic albums today.

Previous lists:

50 to 26
75 to 51
100 to 76