Tuesday 24 March 2009

16 Albums That Changed My Life

I was tagged for this over on Facebook, by my friend Mike. It's actually proved harder for me than I expected. Here are the rules:

Think of 16 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 35) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dig into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it and you sat and listened to the whole album. When you finish, tag 16 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it!

I take issue with the over 35 bit on LPs-- I'm not that old yet, and yet LPs have a very special place in my heart as well as on this list. But that's neither here nor there. I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you'd like to do this, please feel free! I love music, and I would love to hear what you love. I had to be quite choosy, because there have been loads of albums that I have listened to over and over and over in a seemingly endless loop-- I just couldn't get enough. But that is not enough here (because that list would be waaaay more than 16, which seems very arbitrary as a number, anyway). These really are albums that somehow changed my life. So, in no particular order (as they say on all the reality talent shows, ha), here are my finalists.

1. It's a Small World (Disney animatronics, and a narrator)
2. Rubber Soul (The Beatles-- the American release, not the UK one)
3. All That You Can't Leave Behind (U2)
4. Hopes and Fears (Keane)
5. RENT (the original Broadway cast, which is also mostly the film cast)
6. Anthology (The Beatles)
7. Jen's Space Ghost Mix (Brak, Zorak, and Space Ghost, of course)
8. Blue Light, Red Light (Harry Connick, Jr)
9. The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 1 (Rich Mullins)
10. Nu Thang (dcTalk)
11. Live the Life (Michael W. Smith)
12. No Fences (Garth Brooks)
13. Deep Enough to Dream (Chris Rice)
14. Thriller (Michael Jackson)
15. VeggieTunes (um... Bob, Larry and friends)
16. A Christmas Together (John Denver and the Muppets)

Now, if you are at all curious about how these changed my life, then read on. Otherwise, you are free to go-- no hard feelings. =)

1. It's a Small World-- I loved this record. The cover was a book, so it was kind of a read-along journey through the ride. I love the ride, and always have... and I very fondly remember listening to this record and flipping through the pages over and over. I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if it came from my grands who lived in Orlando. Either way, I think the sentiment expressed in this (albeit very annoying to most) song has shaped me in many ways, from the way I see people, to my love of travel, to the path my life is taking: There is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship for everyone... though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it's a small world, after all. I have no idea where this record is now, but I wish I still had it.

2. Rubber Soul-- Okay, so this one is fudging a little bit. I cannot possibly pick just one Beatles album that shaped me, because they all did. My dad has them (the originals, of course, because he's cool like that), and he actually let me listen to them. I was very careful with them, because I LOVE them. I can remember (in junior high, possibly?) putting them in chronological order, and then just playing them through, over and over and over. I know every word of every song, I know which Beatle sang which lead and which harmony, I am a total dork. Go ahead, say it. I know you're thinking it. =D I picked Rubber Soul as my one album for the list, though, because it is great. And it has (on the American version, anyway) one of the first songs I can remember singing. My dad plays guitar, and I can remember spending lots of time as a kid listening to him and, later, singing along. Not just Beatles stuff, of course, but I remember a LOT of Beatles stuff. And one of the first songs I remember learning and singing was 'I've Just Seen a Face'. Lie-die-die-da-die-die. But seriously. The Beatles are the standard by which I judge music. They speak to me, even now. I couldn't live without them.

3. All That You Can't Leave Behind-- Oh, this album. What can I say about this amazing album? I think it is my favourite U2 album of all time (so far), and that's saying something. I listen to it now, and it still affects me-- and takes me back, to the stone house in Wilmore, and always always ALWAYS reminds me of Bren. Hi, Bren! =) This album got me through a very hard time, after a very bad break-up. It just spoke to me, on different levels at different times through the different songs. I can't explain it, but it helped me heal. Well, that and having great friends around... but this post is all about the music. And this music helped lead me out of a very dark place, and still shines for me, every time I listen to it. And Elevation always makes me want to jump up and down. =D

4. Hopes and Fears-- If you don't know this album, go out and buy it. Right now. I LOVE it. It is one that I can listen to over and over again, and often do. I love the lyrics, I love the vocals, I love the instrumentation. I. Love. It. But it's not just because it's great music that it makes this list... oh no. It's because it is tied, for me, to a life-changing week. I hear the opening piano, and instantly I'm sitting in JP's cool, airy, bright flat in Ramallah. It lived in his cd player the week I visited (Easter, 2005), and every time he was in the flat (he stayed at his aunt's, while I stayed at his) it was playing. I fell in love with the music, but I also fell in love with the place, and the people. It was an amazing week, and I can't say all the things about it here that I could. It opened my eyes and my heart, it turned me into a wee activist (sometimes, on some issues), and I came back from my week in the Holy Land a different person. I went expecting to get some sun (which I did), to visit with a friend (which I did), to take some great photos (which I did)... and I came back changed. This cd had nothing to do with that change, but it is so closely tied to it that I can hardly separate the two.

5. RENT-- Wow. What a turn-around this one is. My sister had the cds, and I was forced to listen to them on every road trip we took in college. Our parents got tickets for Jen, her friend Tammy and I to see the touring show when it was in Nashville. I was shocked, to say the least. I was quite a goody-goody, and very naieve. I was not prepared for what I was seeing, and my initial reaction was dislike. But over the years, as Jen made me suffer through listening to it over and over, and as I grew and changed and became not as narrow-minded as I had been, I came to really appreciate much of the message of the show, even if I didn't agree with all its morals. Over time, I fell in love with the characters (I could listen to Jesse L. Martin sing all day long, ha), and really felt for their situations. It's now a firm favourite, and I can relate to it in ways I never thought I initially would (no, I'm not a lesbian, dad). If you get a chance to watch the show (or the film version, which is actually quite good as well), please do. Give it a chance-- it might surprise you.

6. Anthology-- Just when I thought I couldn't possibly love the Beatles any more, my mom and dad bought me all three of these double-disc sets for Christmas and birthday one year. I fell in love all over again! I know some people find them annoying, with all the random takes and talking and goofing about, but it was those behind-the-scenes glimpses-- into their humanity as well as their genius-- that got a hold of my heart. I have always felt that I was born too late, and wished I had been around to experience Beatlemania first hand (not to mention actually know them, dream on, I know, ha!)-- and this was almost the next best thing to being there.

7. Jen's Space Ghost Mix-- This is not a real album, but most of the songs came from real albums. My sister put it together, and burned it for me. They are hilarious, part song part stand up comedy, and it couldn't have been a timelier cd for me. It was Easter 2001, and much like the U2 cd, it got me through a horrible time. It gave me a reason to laugh when all I wanted to do was cry, and it is oh-so-quotable. I shared the love with several friends over my years in Wilmore, and now it reminds me of good times there with good people. I never fails to bring a smile to my face, no matter how bleak the situation. Ah, Brak. Ha!

8. Blue Light, Red Light-- Ah, Harry. Harry, Harry, Harry. *sigh* This was my first introduction to Harry, and it was love at first hearing. The big band style had been a love of mine for a while, anyway... and to hear it made new, and with that voice... whew. It was clever and fresh and... wonderful. I have always had a very eclectic taste in music, and for once, thanks to Harry, my old-fashioned tastes were also hip and cool. I could listen to him again and again. He just makes me happy. And he has a smile that just lights up a venue. Honestly.

9. The World As Best As I Remember It-- This is another case of picking one to represent the whole. My first introduction to Rich Mullins was, as for probably many people, Awesome God. The first tape of his I had was that one, Winds of Heaven Stuff of Earth. His lyrics are poignant and beautiful beyond words, and each phrase speaks volumes. But my life was changed when I saw him in person, in a wee venue in Nashville, for the annual RejoiSing event. I don't remember all the things he sang, but I do vividly remember hearing-- and singing-- Step By Step and I See You, with Rich (barefoot, playing the dulcimer on the floor of the stage) and an auditorium full of UM youth. It was one of the most moving and worshipful experiences of my life, in the years before 'praise and worship' music was truly in vogue... and those songs still take my breath away. It still breaks my heart sometimes, to think that those of us here on earth will have to wait til we get to Heaven, too, to get to hear him again.

10. Nu Thang-- Once again, another case of having to chose one when they could all have their own spot. This album, though, was my introduction to them. Actually, it was seeing them in concert that was my introduction-- they opened for Michael W. Smith (more than once). I don't remember who else was there (probably Josh and Mark...) but I remember standing next to Jenny and we both looked at each other and just said Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I am not the biggest fan of hip-hop, but these guys were incredible. I was sold. And they just got better and better... I still remember waiting for WEEKS for their new single, Jesus Freak. WayFM had been promoting it for ages, and they were going to play it for the first time at 8pm on a Friday night. I was at IHOP with my friends, and made sure I was out and in the car by 8pm to hear it. It was... unbelievable. They had reinvented themselves, and in that moment, so was I. Whether it's hip-hop or rock, they speak to my soul.

11. Live the Life-- I have been a fan of Michael W. Smith for ages. I remember listening to the christian music on Sunday mornings on 106fm as a kid, before it was cool enough to have its own station. Back when there were really only a couple of artists. So many of his albums have been ones I've listened to over and over and over again, but this one topped them all. Not necessarily in the sense of being far and away the best musically or lyrically, but because for me it was what I needed at the time. It seems so many of the albums I've chosen have been ones that have gotten me through tough times, but this is another one. At a time when I needed a friend, someone to just sit with me and let me cry, someone to support me and just be there for me... I felt like I didn't have that. And then I listened to this cd... and it felt like it was written for me. Not every song, sure-- but when I listened to it, I felt like I had a friend. So how amazing was it when I skipped my college choir rehearsal one sunny fall day and headed up to Lifeway in Cool Springs to meet Smitty (and Chris Rice), toting a poster (from my friend Kathryn) for the album to get signed... and he signed it, 'Your Friend'. Now, I know that he probably signed everything that way, and that he wouldn't know me from Eve to see me again... but wow. It was just what I needed.

12. No Fences-- I hated country music growing up. Hated it. And then I heard 'Friends in Low Places'. It cracked me up, and I would go home every day after school to flip through the radio stations in the hopes of catching it. I finally bought the tape, and I was hooked. Garth Brooks converted me to country. And I have never looked back. Add that genre now to my eclectic taste. =)

13. Deep Enough to Dream-- Chris Rice, what can I say. If anyone comes close to Rich Mullins' depth and incisively poetic view of God and life, it's Chris Rice. This was his first cd, and is still my favourite-- although it is nearly impossible for me to pick just one. I can hardly listen to him without worshipping. Sometimes, I even have to just stop what I'm doing, wherever I am, and just... worship. The way he says things, the gentleness of his songs, his way of putting things just so-- he has a gift, and he gives it to me every time I listen. Thank God for him!

14. Is there anyone of my generation who hasn't been somehow shaped by Thriller? I mean, it is one of the most iconic albums of the 80s, at least. We got the record for Christmas, and Jen and I had to share it. I can remember putting it on, and sitting the cover up next to the record player, just staring at it. It was my first real introduction to pop music, to modern music, to owning 'real' music. It shaped everything-- fashion, videos, music, the whole shebang. I still can't hear any of the songs from that album without being eight years old again....

15. VeggieTunes and VeggieTunes 2-- classic. I mean, truly classic. On the way back to Tennessee from my grandfather's funeral in Ohio, those two tapes were on loop in my car tape player. By the time I got back, I knew every word to every song. I guess humour is one way I cope, because this sounds a lot like my Space Ghost post. But it was just what I needed-- light-hearted humour, paired with good theology. Those guys at Big Idea continue to amaze me, and probably could be in part blamed for getting me into my thesis (indirectly, of course-- because they MEAN to be doing theology). Either way, these songs helped me, changed me, shaped me... by reminding me that we don't have to be serious to be faithful, and by cheering me up when I needed it. Classic, I tell ya.

16. Finally, the Christmas album I judge all Christmas albums by... John Denver and the Muppets. I know, that seems a little strange, but the versions of the Christmas songs on this album are the standards for me. Nothing else quite compares. I remember watching the tv special as a kid, and loving it. And then, we got this record (and when I finally, years later, saw it on cd, I bought it immediately). I grew up on John Denver, and I grew up on the Muppets. The combination is almost more than I can bear. It's the best Christmas album ever, in my opinion. It's just not Christmas without it.

Well, that's it. My sweet sixteen. I'm sorry it's so long... I guess it's famine or feast with my posts. =) Now I'd love to hear yours!

Thursday 19 March 2009

Real Life Can Be Hilarious...

when it isn't happening to you, that is. These last two clips, from me to you, both come from comedy series that are not sketch shows but sit-coms.

Outnumbered is about life in a family where the kids (3) outnumber the parents. The kids are hilarious, and the show is partly improvised. Any of you with kids out there can probably relate all too well...

And our final clip comes courtesy of the now-finished show Gavin & Stacy, and although it really only borrows a character (Smithy, played by James Corden), it gives a sense of the show. Although I support Scotland, I couldn't help but laugh at this sketch...

Right. That's me done with the videos for a bit. But dang, they make me laugh! And I can always use a good laugh. I hope you can, too.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Lent In Focus

Mrs4444 over at Half-Past Kissing Time issued an inviation (or laid down a challenge, depending on your point of view) to pay attention this Lent and take a photo of something that represents the themes of the season-- sacrifice, repentence, rebirth. Being in Scotland and working on a PhD feels, a lot of times, like a life of sacrifice (even though I am very glad to be living it!)... and I get discouraged and down easily and often. Stress does that to me. Lent, then, is a good time for me to really pay attention to rebirth, and to the notice all the reminders of new life all around me. It's the end of the long, dark, cold winter days and the beginning of sun and warmth. This time really is full of reminders of the resurrection, and the promise of our resurrection. I don't mind saying that right now, I need all the encouragement and reminders I can get. I haven't been able to take many photos yet of these kinds of things here in Aberdeen, but I do have some favourites from years past, which are always good for my soul. Here are a few (I thought about putting a few words about why I chose these photos, but I decided to just leave them. If you can't figure out why, or you want to know more, please do ask.)...

Two's Company...

Comedy duos are nothing new. They have been around making people laugh for decades, at least. It isn't too surprising, then, that several of the best known and loved British comedy acts are, in fact, duos. Yesterday you saw the end of an era with the last of French and Saunders in Mama Mia! Today, I'd like to introduce you, if you don't already know them, to a couple more couples.

Mitchell and Webb, whom you have already met half of in the Flashdance post. I first saw them in the UK version of the Mac v. PC commercials, and then in a film, and then discovered their two shows. They are, to me, consistently funny. Some of the others are hit or miss, but these guys for the most part make me laugh every time.

Armstrong and Miller were a pair I was unfamiliar with until the Children in Need charity show last fall, where they did a WWII sketch that cracked me up. They used to have a sketch show on tv, but I haven't seen them. However, I have loved everything I've seen them do on the charity do's.

Little Britain
is a sketch comedy show featuring Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who play all the roles. They have done an American version, and I think the British version shows on some American stations... so you may know them. Their comedy is often too crude or too harsh for me, although it is growing on me.

Catherine Tate you've already met opposite David Tennant, and although she is not a duo, she is important to this post. In her sketch show, she plays multiple roles (similar to Little Britain), and I feel the same about her comdey as I do about theirs... but some of her characters are growing on me, as well.

What's better than a comedy duo? TWO comedy duos, together! Or, a comedy duo plus another comedienne! Three is not a crowd, and four is hilarious! So here you go, two more bits from comedy pairings... all for charity. =D First up is Mitchell and Webb, the decorated ones, with Armstrong and Mitchell, the neds (or chavs... which you might recognise is the same social status as Catherine Tate in her earlier appearance). And second is Little Britain with Catherine Tate-- the characters speak for themselves, even if you don't know them already.

Only a couple more to share... tomorrow's the last day of comedy from me. I know, you're so sad you can hardly stand it. ;)

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Comic Relief-- The Single, 2009

Each year, Comic Relief does a charity song which people can buy as a way to raise money, as well as hoping it'll go to number one, of course. Here is this year's song: (Barry) Islands in the Stream! And yes, I did buy it, courtesy of iTunes (although the video here is from YouTube because it was easier than uploading mine). I couldn't resist!

The 'story' of this song will be explained in the video, but the characters come from the now-finished sitcom Gavin & Stacy, which is set partly in Wales. This is important because it explains both the title of the video (Barry Island is a peninsula and seaside resort in Wales), because the Welsh are known for their singing, and because... well, there are some famous Welsh singers. =D

I dare ya not to sing along...

Monday 16 March 2009

Spoofs Don't Get Any Better Than This...

If you don't know the comic powerhouse duo of French and Saunders, you've been missing out. And now, after this last Comic Relief spoof this year, they are no more. Well, they still exist, but they aren't perfoming together anymore. But look them up, seriously.

I loved this movie... but I think I loved this spoof more. I wish I had the full version they showed on Red Nose Day. This one has been edited, and while still good... well, if I find the full version, I'll post it. In the meantime, sing along... if you can do that and laugh at the same time. I couldn't. =D

**edit** I found it! People were nice enough to put it up, the full version. Nice.**

I'm sorry about not being able to embed them... they won't let me. But it's worth going over to YouTube to watch, and here are the links:

Mamma Mia! part one

and part two!

Sunday 15 March 2009

Let's Dance... Comic Relief Style

I don't know about you, but I don't really like reality shows. Some are better than others (like the Amazing Race... that one's okay), but the only ones I really enjoy are the talent-based ones. Especially those involving celebrities and professional partners. In the fall, I watch Strictly Come Dancing, and after Christmas I watch Dancing On Ice. I LOVE these shows, and now that I've watched them for a few seasons, I watch and cheer for the professional partners perhaps even more than for the celebrities (who I still don't always know).

Over the past few weeks, in the lead up to Red Nose Day, the BBC has done a celebrity version with a twist-- Let's Dance for Comic Relief. Each week, there are six performances of classic dance routines, done by individuals, partners or groups. Some of the performers are comedians, some are actors, some are other entertainment personalities. Most cannot dance, which makes it all the more hilarious. Each week, only two go through to the final-- which was last night. Two of them have made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. Honestly. So I'm going to share those with you. They are a little on the long side, because I found videos that included them talking about their training and their reasons for doing the dance, which were as funny as the dance themselves. I just crack up thinking about them.

So without further ado, here they are!

And in case you were wondering, Robert Webb won. Rightly so... although Paddy and Keith were also hilarious. =)

Saturday 14 March 2009

Funny For Money

Have I mentioned lately that I love living in Scotland? Just in case I haven't, I do. And last night was one of the reasons why.

Yesterday was Red Nose Day 2009, which is the big pay-off for the Comic Relief charity drive. This year's theme was 'Do Something Funny for Money', and for weeks people around the UK have been doing just that-- paying to be silly, or to watch someone else be silly. The money goes to charities in the UK and Africa every year. Last night was the big broadcast-- almost nine hours, if you watched the whole thing-- filled with musical guests, star hosts, comedy sketches, and vignettes about the good Comic Relief has been doing and will continue to do. The grand total at the end of the night was over 50,000,000 pounds. And that's not counting the fundraising totals and donations still to come in over the next few days.

Seriously, how amazing is that? Credit crunch or no, people give generously. And not just to Comic Relief-- there is Children in Need in the fall (another fun charity night in), and people support other causes throughout the year. Now, I'm not saying that all Americans are greedy moneygrubbers, but we don't seem to be as consistent and organised with our giving. It takes some kind of disaster for us to really pull together and dig deep on a wide scale. Individuals may be doing that on their own, but it takes a 9/11 or a Hurricane Katrina for the public at large to donate like the Brits seem to do consistently. As if the generous spirit of the public isn't enough to love, the fact that so many celebs are willing and eager to make fools of themselves for a good cause is awesome. I LOVE that. We just don't know how to do that in the States. Most of our celebs just take themselves waaaay too seriously (although there are, of course, exceptions). The longer I'm here, and the more I get to know who's who in the entertainment world, the more I appreciate nights like last night.

Liz and Paige came over, and we ordered Pizza Hut Garlic Cheesy Bites pizza and ate junk food. It was great! We laughed a good bit, and Liz and I found the one thing that could ruin our friendship (if either of us ever happens to meet him, that is... it could come to blows, we discovered):
(image courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/rednoseday/ image gallery)

Yup. David Tennant was one of the hosts. In an all white suit, with a red tie and red shoes. And crazy hair, of course. It was great. =D

Over the next couple of days, I'll be posting some of my favourite bits from the broadcast last night, to give you a taste of the event (and a little shot of British humour). I'll just post one here, to start out with. And actually, this one is from two years ago, but it's still one of my favourites. Ever. And as I've already mentioned David Tennant, it's fitting. So, sit back and enjoy David Tennant and Catherine Tate...

(On a related yet random note, I CANNOT WAIT for Easter... new Who!)

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Just Like a Film Star

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Liz had some company up-- her godddaughter and her goddaughter's mum. On the Saturday, she invited me to meet them at the beach for lunch at TGI's (Fridays, to the Americans in the room) and a stroll down to Footdee along the beach. I took Flat Stanley along, of course, and it was a gorgeous day-- I'll post some of the photos at the end. I really enjoyed getting out, having a meal, seeing the sun, and spending time with the three gals.

Last week, I met my friend Liz to go to the cinema. As we were waiting on me to finish my free tall Cafe Estima fair trade coffee (thank you, Starbucks!), Liz told me this funny story about her goddaughter's impression of me-- from memory, not verbatim:

G: I liked Amie.
L: You did? Good.
G: Yes, she's like a film star.
L: She is? Really?
G: Yes, she's just like a film star.
L: Why is she like a film star? Is it her curly hair?
G: No...
L: What is it that makes her like a film star?
G: She SOUNDS like a film star! Just like one!

I love it! To this sweet little English girl, a plain American student is just like a film star. Seriously, that made my day. Cracked me up, of course, but made my day. =)

I was sure it was my glamour, my style and grace, my talent.... ;)

The entrance to the harbour. A little blurry, but it still shows what a gorgeous day it was-- for a change.
Everything in this old fishing village (now peopled by the rich and famous) is just Flat Stanley's size! Seriously, I would really have to duck my head to enter pretty much any of the cottages.
The fisherman's church, which stands in the square in the midst of Footdee (pronounced Fittee for some reason...).
Liz's goddaugter, sharing her balloon from TGIFriday's with Flat Stanley.