November/December 2014 winner Dan Conway talks about his winning choices for last issue’s Deathbed Contest. Be sure to enter the January/February 2015 contest for your chance to win a Martin D-35 50th Anniversary Guitar and SP Lifespan Acoustic Guitar Strings.
Videos by American Songwriter
Pet Sounds, Beach Boys
I was in my 20s and had still never heard Pet Sounds, so I decided to buy it to see what all the fuss was about. I can still remember the first time I listened to it, in my car on the way to my college campus on a sunny April morning. It blew me away. I can only dream of writing vocal harmonies like Brian Wilson. The iconic round at the end of “God Only Knows” and the vocal crescendo in “Sloop John B” are two musical moments that I will certainly want to experience one last time before I go.
Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg & Wilco
Mermaid Avenue is an album of buried treasure; lost songs of Woody Guthrie masterfully brought to life by Billy Bragg and the gentlemen of Wilco. This album opened my ears to the unburdened, majestic, cathartic sounds of Americana, both old and new, and permanently changed the way I listen to and write music.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out when I was in the thick of writing my first album with my band. It was simultaneously beautiful and unsettling, and it pushed me to unshackle myself and become a better songwriter. And it just might be my favorite album ever.
Boys for Pele, Tori Amos
I love Tori Amos, and this is Amos at her absolute best. Whereas some of her later albums would feel lost in a haze of meandering melodies and off-base lyrics, Boys for Pele is wickedly trenchant while losing none of the eccentric charm that makes her such a dynamic artist. My favorite moment on the album is the dizzying, whirling vocals in the bridge of “Father Lucifer”, of which I still hope to mimic in a song of my own someday.
Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, Bright Eyes
I had never heard of Bright Eyes prior to reading a review of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning / Digital Ash in a Digital Urn in the Picks & Pans section of a People magazine in 2005. It sounded like something I’d like, so I bought both albums and fell in love with them both. But it’s Digital Ash’s luscious layers of strings, keys, and punchy percussion that makes it my favorite. It also contains what I believe is the best three-song run in any album with “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”, “Hit the Switch”, and “I Believe In Symmetry.”
Grace, Jeff Buckley
As a singer, when I listen to Jeff Buckley it will sometimes inspire me and sometimes make me want to quit singing altogether. There’s just no way anyone can come close to what he does with his voice. In the opening “Mojo Pin” it goes from a fluttering ribbon to a flesh-tearing roar and back again. “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and Buckley’s epochal cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” display why Buckley is widely considered one of the greatest singers of all time, and why Grace is the definition of a masterpiece.
Where You Been, Dinosaur Jr
Because there’s nothing quite like losing yourself in the guitar solo at the end of “Get Me.”
Vs., Pearl Jam
I will never forget being a 12-year-old staying up late watching Headbanger’s Ball on MTV when the video for “Alive” came on. I saw Eddie Vedder on stage singing with that fervor and intensity in his eyes and I thought, “I want to do that.” Pearl Jam Ten is without a doubt the album that inspired me above all others, but their second album Vs. is my favorite. It kicks so much ass. Go listen to this album. Good God.
OK Computer, Radiohead
I love listening to the first two tracks with the volume cranked. There are so many tiny little details that hit your ear and then disappear that you can’t fully appreciate at normal volume. “Paranoid Android” is an all-time classic in an utterly unique way, destroying orthodox song structure to bring the listener through an epic sonic adventure. OK Computer is full of unexpected 90-degree turns that appeals to my self-diagnosed musical A.D.D.
Shallow Bed, Dry the River
The most recent album of all my picks, Shallow Bed is Dry the River’s debut record, released in 2012, and it is achingly beautiful. Dry the River combine rock-opera verve with the delicacy of pastoral psalms, balancing between genres that draws comparisons from Mumford & Sons to Radiohead. Gorgeous melodies layered with vocal harmonies and Peter Liddle’s angelic tenor are the perfect pulpit for Liddle’s poetic and evocative lyrics. I have been listening to this album repeatedly for the last two years, and I’ll want to listen one last time while I lie on my deathbed.