I'm coming to you from Oak Ridge, North Carolina, where my parents have shown Jill and I a most extravagant take on southern hospitality. Let's call this year's epic Christmas journey, which has so far taken us to Dudley and Framingham, MA, and will continue in Somerville, MA, Wethersfield, CT, and Brooklyn before we return to Portland, the 26th most memorable moment of my year.

For the top 25 moments, click here.


30 Albums

Around this time every year, I release the QHS 200, a composite list of my friends' top albums of all time. This year, we decided that the list had gotten stale and needed an extra year to grow, so we chose instead to focus on next year's revolutionary movie list.

Not one to deprive my readers of an albums list, I decided to take a new look at my favorite albums- not the best of all time per se, but the ones I'm most likely to rock on the iPod at any given moment. A few old standbys, a few new favorites, and nothing by The Beatles. Here goes:

30. Scattered Longings, Matt Spence, 2003
29. Aenima, Tool, 1996
28. Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z, 1996
27. Doolittle, The Pixies, 1989
26. When the Pawn..., Fiona Apple, 1999
25. Otis Blue, Otis Redding, 1966
24. Horses, Patti Smith, 1976
23. On Avery Island, Neutral Milk Hotel, 1996
22. The Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967
21. Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg & Wilco, 1998
20. Demon Days, Gorillaz, 2005
19. Agaetis Byrjun, Sigur Ros, 1999
18. Buena Vista Social Club, 1997
17. Quality, Talib Kweli, 2002
16. Red-Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson, 1975
15. Things Fall Apart, The Roots, 1999
14. Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins, 2003
13. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, Sinead O'Connor, 1990
12. Blue, Joni Mitchell, 1971
11. Be, Common, 2005
10. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1998
9. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis, 1959
8. Sun Sessions, Elvis Presley, 1954-'55
7. The Queen is Dead, The Smiths, 1986
6. Something Else, Cannonball Adderly, 1958
5. Late Registration, Kanye West, 2005
4. Let it Be, The Replacements, 1984
3. Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens, 2005
2. Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian, 1996
1. Enter the Wu-Tang/36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Clan, 1993


Five Songs... or Twenty

Nick suggests that "'In Random Rules, The A.V. Club asks some of its favorite people to set their MP3 players to shuffle and comment on the first few tracks that come up—no cheating or skipping embarrassing tracks allowed.' Based on the honor system, this could prove a nice little jolt to our languishing blog community."

I couldn't agree more, and I haven't seen a post like this around the web ring yet, so I thought I'd get us started. BrainPod is set to shuffle, and...

1. "God Save the Queen," The Sex Pistols, from "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here Come the Sex Pistols"
I suppose every teen goes through a punk phase, but there's more to that than the Sex Pistols. What better snapshot of the late 70s is there than the group that brought punk to the right side of the Atlantic and fizzled out as the 80s interrupted? Pissed off and void of any sentiment other than a raw disdain for authority, The Sex Pistols were nonetheless musicians. A good start.

2. "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," Bob Dylan, from "Biograph"
Certainly fitting that a Dylan tune sneaks in, with about twenty Dylan albums in the pod. "Biograph" was a birthday gift from my roommates my sophomore year of college. I don't remember a precedent for this... seems like a birthday gift in college was always a handle of Captain Morgan or a Bentley-registered keg, but Brad, Fraenza, and Gallagher- not a Dylan fan among them- chose instead, in a flash of brilliance, to honor my twentieth by introducing me to a bunch of Dylan singles and album tracks from eras I wouldn't have otherwise explored. Another great song.

3. "I Wonder," The Ronnettes, from "The Best of the Ronnettes"
Can't say I expected back-to-back songs from hits collections. I remember listening to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (on cassette, and certainly against my will) in the wayback of my parents' Taurus wagon on trips to my grandparents' farm and somehow knowing, without caring who recorded it, that "Be My Baby" was a revolutionary song. When I started buying music of my own, sixties girl pop was the last thing on my list, but Eric burned me a copy of "The Best of the Ronnettes" four years ago when we lived in Brighton. Much more than one killer single, this collection is Phil Spector brilliance through and through. When do we get to the embarrassing stuff?

4. "Swamp Song," Blur, from "13"
A forgettable, but solid track from a forgettable, but solid album. Growing up in Queensbury with my friends, I had no choice but to get into Blur in the mid-to-late '90s. Starting with their self-titled fourth album, I wasn't an easy convert. I initially wanted something harder than the bubbly pop of "For Tomorrow", and something with a little more substance than "Chinese Bombs". Fortunately, my friends didn't let me get away from Blur, and I came to embrace them, particularly their unique brand of power ballad that peppered "Parklife," one of the great British album of all time. I don't listen to much Blur today, and "13" would be a third choice, but we're still on something of a roll.

5. "Angeline," PJ Harvey, from "Is This Desire?"
I burned this album from Jill's collection after Shayna included the spot-on Patti Smith impression "Good Fortune" among her nominations for the '05 songs list. I prefer the album "Rid of Me," which I picked up the same day, but the opener to "Is This Desire?" is a worthy closer to my five-song shuffle. No shame whatsoever.

I've been sick for a few days, and I'm home on my couch with nothing else to do, so I'm going to extend this experiment until I find myself in desperate need for lunch. To anyone with an iPod, a blog, and a few minutes to spare, I highly recommend this exercise. Besides, I still haven't gotten to the embarrassing part...

6. "Been Caught Stealing," Jane's Addiction, from "Ritual de lo Habitual"
Two things come to mind... one is playing this album at a "boat burning" party at my parents' house in Queensbury, just before they sold the house. Their dog, Riley went insane when the dogs barked at the opening of the song and I think I had to throw him in the basement for a while to save the women and children from the angry beast. The other is my surprise during my first attempts at making my own top 100 albums list that I had never heard an album from 1990, considering how much music I listened to from the early '90s. I devoted much of 1998 and 1999 to finding a good album from 1990, and was ready to give up before Eric came through again, burning me a copy of "Ritual." I still haven't heard many albums as ambitious, diverse, and rich as this one, although Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" has since passed it on my list.

7. "Car Song," Elastica, from "Elastica"
I still throw this album in now and then, with a new perspective since Pat got me into their prototype, Wire. A fun breeding of post-punk and Britpop, with a few memorable songs, although I could take or leave this one. Moving on...

8. "Only a Northern Song," The Beatles, from "Anthology 2"
I bought the last two Beatles anthologies at Red's Underground in Glens Falls years ago, before Red achieved notoriety for his four-for-twenty deal. As a piece of musical history, I suppose they're essential to any music fan. As a bunch of songs that may end up in an iPod shuffle, they're mostly throw-aways.

9. "Central Reservation (The Then Again Version)", Beth Orton, from "Central Reservation"
An underrated version of an underrated song from an underrated album by an underrated artist. I prefer this trip-hoppier remix to the original, as it better showcases the musician Beth Orton was billed as when "Trailer Park" dropped a few years earlier- a tech-folkie with respect for the past and a vision to the future. Even when she abandons that persona, as she often has this decade, her music has always been listenable, sometimes fantastic, but this was the album that made her, one which better not fade into obscurity as time passes.

10. "Good Morning, Heartache," Billie Holiday, from "Billie Holiday's Greatest Hits"
A collection I should listen to so much more. If only I had a lounge and a box of cigars... Subtle jazz and a soulful, often-tortured crooner begging for you to catch a fleeting glimpse into her world.

11. "Caught, Can We Get a Witness, Public Enemy, from "It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back"
This is why the iPod may be the defining invention of my lifetime. You don't hear Billie Holiday and Public Enemy in succession on any radio station I've ever heard. Maybe you shouldn't. What 'a sucker know? Chuck D and Flavor Flav were soulful, tortured, and brilliant in their own way.

12. "Crime for Crime," Ani DiFranco, from "Not a Pretty Girl"
When my music collection was married to Jill's, the most notable change was the deluge of Ani's innovative brand of folk-punk, so it's appropriate that a song from one of Jill's favorite albums would show up eventually. I still couldn't match songs to albums within "our" deep Ani DiFranco collection, but there are several great songs mixed in. This one falls closer to the "angry feminist" end of the spectrum, the end which initally kept me from embracing Ani's music, but I could do a whole lot worse within my collection. I never wanted to be a fan, but I guess I'm sold.

13. "Doin' the New Low Down," Duke Ellington, from "The Okeh Ellington"
At the height of my obsession with Charles Mingus, I asked Mark to burn me a few jazz albums, to give me an idea of Mingus's influences and contemporaries. He came through with a vengeance, sending along 23 jazz albums, including this one from the guy who influenced them all. "Low Down" is one of the best.

14. "Appels + Oranges," Smashing Pumpkins, from "Adore"
I don't know if I was more furious, ashamed, or confused when Billy Corgan, probably my favorite musician at the time, explained in a "Spin" interview in 1997 that guitars would not be at the center of the music of the future. I steadfastly refused to buy "Adore" when it came out, and turned over the "favorite rock group" title to Radiohead. It was years later, when another college roommate, Jad, burned me copies of this and "Machina- the Machines of God", before I heard the "Pumpkins of the Future" sound. My musical tastes have changed a lot since I was 17, but I still can't dig anything the Pumpkins put out post-Mellon Collie. Moving on...

15. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses", U2, from "Achtung Baby"
Talk about a falling-out with a band! I'd never been a huge fan of U2, but I owned the classic albums, and when "All That You Can't Leave Behind" exploded onto the scene with its ingenius blend of melodromatic grandeur and comfortable familiarity, I couldn't get away from tripe like "It's a Beautiful Day" and the title track. I don't know if I've willingly put on a U2 album since then. Looking back, I suppose "Achtung Baby" holds up as the best U2 album, and this is a decent song, but it's not going to sell me a U2 iPod. Time to fade away, guys.

16. "Simply Beautiful," Al Green, from "I'm Still in Love with You"
Before I met Jill, I had gone on an Al Green binge, picking up all three of his 1972-'73 albums and spinning them constantlly. Aside from "Love and Happiness," and maybe "Let's Stay Together," no song stood out from the flood of great soul tunes. Jill was excited to see "I'm Still in Love with You" in my collection and introduced me to "Simply Beautiful" in a whole new light. Let's stop there. Great song.

17. "Crazy in Love," Eminem, from "Encore"
Yeah, that's a Heart sample. And that's two years after Eminem's 15 minutes of fame expired. My brother-in-law, Joe, had downloaded this album on a computer we shared at the time, so it only made sense to throw it in the iTunes, especially after the guilty pleasure that was "The Eminem Show". No such success. I don't even know if I can get trough this one without hitting the fast forward button.

18. "We All Fall in Love Sometimes," Elton John, from "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy"
I got through my original five, so I can skip the embarrrassing stuff now, right? No? Alright, I'll use this to illustrate the difference between my 20GB iPod and the 60GB I bought after I filled up the 20. In the 20GB days, I'd import only the songs I knew I'd listen to from a marginal album like "Captain Fantastic." Then I came upon practically unlimited space and decided to throw the rest of these albums on, to see if I had been depriving myself of great songs I hadn't deemed worthy when I first imported my collection. I hadn't.

19. "My Way Home," Kanye West, from "Late Registration"
Now we're talking. I had so many problems with this album when Mark convinced me to buy it that it was almost a week before I declared it my favorite album of the year... and maybe the decade. Kanye and Common rapping over Gil Scott-Heron samples in a two-minute blur? Why not? The man can do anything... well, except sing... and he's not much of a rapper... but I can't... stop... listening.

20. "Miracle Man," Elvis Costello, from "My Aim is True"
A fitting closer, since I just picked up this album a few weeks ago. I'm just starting to get into this album, but this is certainly one of its better tracks. And on that note, I'll call it a day.