I don’t know what album I need to break out right now, but I sorely need one. I’ve got a lethargy to end all lethargies. Usually, I can find music of some kind to help lift me out of it, but today? No dice.
Isn’t it interesting how the right music can elevate you out of a mood, or put you further into one? I’m not talking just one song, either — although that in itself is a cool enough notion — I’m talking about full-on albums. Anybody can listen to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and get pumped about working out, running, playing a game or just simply getting off the couch, but the extended feeling of a well-crafted flow of songs into a single experience can transport your state of mind into something else entirely.
It’s about the feeling you get. You can wallow, celebrate, whatever you want, if you’ve got the right tuneage. So herewith, my favorite mood-changers, enhancers and comfort foods.
It’s raining outside, I’m somewhat melancholy and want to stay that way. My first instinct? Break out Sting’s “Mercury Falling.” The opening crescendo of the drum roll relaxes into an easy, smooth groove perfect for the don’t-want-tos. People call Sting easy listening, and he is that, but for a different reason. Especially on this album. Sometimes all you want is easy. Not easy in the inoffensive sense of Doris Day, but the kind of easy this album has in spades: the ability to carry you on its shoulders when you don’t have the drive to do it for yourself. Some people – and most critics – dismiss this album as one of Sting’s lesser efforts, but if you do that, I hate to tell you, but you’re missing out. The sequencing is genius, with the lush soundscape of “The Hounds of Winter” followed by the even more resigned, sorrowful “I Hung My Head.” Any chance of redemption? Sure, track three, “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot.” See what Mr. Sumner did there? Just enough gloom to get you ready for the light at the end of the tunnel. But not for long. From the funereal opening of the next song (“I Was Brought To My Senses”) to the sad country stylings of “I’m So Happy That I Can’t Stop Crying” to the logical conclusion of the aptly titled last song on the album, “Lithium Sunset,” this collection of songs — even the ones that are upbeat — is imbued with a cloudy, slightly depressed sense of ennui that fits me to a capital T when I’m not feeling up to snuff. For that alone, Sting gains entrance into my own personal album hall of fame.
I’m feeling pitiful. Life sucks. It’s times like these that instead of worrying about being depressed, I embrace the poor me syndrome with gusto and slide Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut” into the CD player. If there’s anything bleaker out there, I’ve never heard it. Roger Waters’ opus is full of everything that matters when it comes to depression (even if it’s a temporary feeling). Let’s run down the list. Insane mood swings? Check. Gunshots out of nowhere? Check. Primal screams? Double and triple check. We all ought to fall down on our knees and thank Pink Floyd for this one — they took all the dour and dismal you could ever ask for and recorded it for posterity. By the time you reach the end — and believe me, it’s a compelling little monster that won’t let you stop listening once you start — you will truly be grateful that your little problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things.
I need a reminder of life being full of promise. Everyone goes through this emotion at one time or another. “I feel old, used up; what does life have for me anymore?” Yeah. That kind of thing. Well, there’s only one thing to do if you’re me: You pop in the first Van Halen album. Sure, I know every nook and cranny of these songs; I could win everyone’s freedom if our kidnapper said he’d release us all if I could air-guitar any song off Van Halen’s debut. And then I’d do another just to piss him off. There are classic albums, and then there is this. The first time I ever heard their version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” was in the background of a movie called “Over The Edge,” starring a really young Matt Dillon. It was about disenfranchised kids in Southern California, but I didn’t care about that half as much as finding out in the credits who did that song full of awesome. Then, one membership to the Columbia House Record Club later, that puppy was mine, and I just. Plain. Wore. It. Out. “Jamie’s Cryin’” is so cool it makes Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” cool by association. David Lee Roth might have set the standard for vocalists being consummate showmen, but here, Eddie Van Halen produced the most glorious rock guitar sound ever heard, before or since. Think about it. If you’re in a crowded bar with everyone talking and one of these songs comes on, the man’s distinctive sound still has the sonic power to make you perk up, sit up a little straighter and tune in a little more … even though you’ve heard these songs a million times. And that’s the point: even though these songs are seared into my memory like a comfortable old shoe, every time I hear them I am instantly transported back to being a teenager. At a time in my past when the most important thing you could do in life was rock, being fluent in Van Halen was a passport to the world.
I need comfort food. Sounds easy, right? Well yeah. Just whip out your Journey “Escape” eight track tape and crank it up! Whoa, hold on there, old-timer; nowadays it’s either a CD or iPod. Nice substitutes, but it really doesn’t do the album justice. Until I can get a digital version of “Dead or Alive” that fades out in the middle and then resumes after an audible click of the player changing tracks, though, they’ll have to do. And what an experience. From “just a small town girl” to “hoping you’ll see what your love means to me,” this is one of those American institutions that is so essential to our national fabric that, quite frankly, I’m scared to death of a world that hasn’t been exposed to it. “Who’s Cryin’ Now.” “Stone In Love.” “Lay It Down.” “Still They Ride.” A who’s who of classic tunes, all in one cool, early-eighties package. In total sum: if you haven’t, at one point in your life, ever lip-synched Steve Perry or air-guitared Neil Schon, I’m not sure I want to know you.
Aaaaannnnddd that’s it for volume one. Somewhere in time, I’ll get back to this list; there are way more than this. I mean, I haven’t even gotten to Sinatra’s “Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” yet, and that might very well be the ultimate mood setter ever.