English-American guitarist, bandleader, composer, and songwriter Vernon Reid is a serious music buff. And why wouldn’t he be? He is perhaps best known as the founder and primary songwriter of the rock band Living Colour, but he was also named №66 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. That means Reid is a list man, and at Experience Vinyl, we are list people!
Critic Steve Huey has written of Reid that his “rampant eclecticism encompasses everything from heavy metal and punk to funk, R&B and avant-garde jazz, and his anarchic, lightning-fast solos have become something of a hallmark as well,” so we were delighted (but not surprised) to receive Reid’s top ten favorite records of all time, which are as diverse as his style of composing and playing.
Check out Reid’s video for “Mistaken Identity,” as well as his Top 10 picks (and accompanying playlist!) below.
VERNON REID’S TOP TEN RECORDS.
10) RONALD SHANNON JACKSON & THE DECODING SOCIETY-STREET PRIEST
A paragon of the free jazz drumming world, it’s no wonder that Vernon Reid is a fan of Ronald Shannon Jackson, who not only drummed with greats like Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, but also stepped out from behind the drum kit to compose free and funky arrangements with his band The Decoding Society. Reid said of RSJ in an interview that he “wasn’t an ideological avant-gardist. He made the music he made from an outsider’s view, but not to the exclusion of rock and pop – he wasn’t mad at pop music for being popular the way some of his generation are. He synthesized blues shuffles with African syncopations through the lens of someone who gave vent to all manner of emotions…the collision of values in his music really represents American culture.”
9) MILES DAVIS-BITCHES BREW
The definitive Miles Davis record for many, Bitches Brew redefined jazz, popular music, and what could cut it as a gold record (it was Davis’ first). This album melds electronic instruments not fully accepted in the jazz world up to this point, and combines them with experimental time signatures and loose instructional compositions. A classic for certain.
8) JOHN COLTRANE-MY FAVORITE THINGS
Speaking of Miles Davis, it was he who purchased John Coltrane his first soprano saxophone in 1960. Soprano sax was little-used in the jazz world at the time, but Coltrane instantly fell in love with the instrument and began playing it heavily that summer. Unlike the numerous original compositions that mark Coltrane’s earlier work, My Favorite Things is made up of jazz iterations of pop standards – a tribute of sort, which makes sense given the record’s title. The tunes are recognizable, but so delightfully twisted with the croon of Coltrane’s soprano sax.
7) ERIC DOLPHY-OUT TO LUNCH!
As grounded as it is dizzying, Eric Dolphy’s monumental Out to Lunch! is not for the faint of heart. It is a delicately chaotic beauty of a record, Dolphy’s clarinet covering swerving territory that becomes the album’s trademark. Nods to Thelonius Monk (“Hat and Beard,”) flautist Severino Gazzelloni (“Gazzelloni,”) and the ol’ drink (“Straight Up and Down,”) abound on Out to Lunch!, making it as reverent as it is aspirational.
6) BESSIE SMITH-WASTED LIFE BLUES
Bessie Smith’s success was remarkable for the 1920s, not only because she was the best-selling female blues artist of her time, but the best-selling blues artist of her era period. In fact, Smith is considered by many to be the greatest blues singer of all time, era be damned, and it’s easy to understand why given the chills her recordings evoke. It seems that Vernon Reid was not the first to have Smith in his top ten list, as rock n’ roll legend Janis Joplin was also a massive fan. When Smith died tragically in a car crash in her early 40s, she was buried in an unmarked grave. Decades later, Joplin took the initiative to buy her a proper headstone.
5) PULP-DIFFERENT CLASS
This was the album that put Pulp on the map despite their 17 year existence prior to its release. It of course is home to Pulp’s biggest hit “Common People” which shot up to the number two spot on the U.K. singles chart. The entirety of Different Class is perfection; a brilliant pop record awash in bright synths, Britpop sensibilities, and glittering disco numbers. Jarvis Cocker is to this day one of the most oddball and endearing frontmen, with a weighty voice that doesn’t try to hide its Sheffield affectations. Don’t miss cuts like “Disco 2000,” “Underwear,” and “Sorted for E’s & Wizz.” But really – don’t miss anything.
4) The Beatles-Rubber Soul
Rubber Soul catches the Fab Four in a transitional period – not just moddish, doo-wop mop tops anymore, but not quite fully entrenched in Hinduism and psychedelia yet. The result is an album that nods towards experimentation but maintains the band’s chops at pop-songwriting perfection, and all of the three-part harmonies a body could want. There isn’t a bad cut on Rubber Soul, but be sure to catch “Wait,” “Girl,” “I’m Looking Through You,” the list goes on.
3) SLY & THE FAMILY STONE-THERE’S A RIOT GOING ON
Not the first album to spring from troubled times. The brothers Stone (Sly and Freddie) were quarreling at the time of this recording, and drug use was rife. It’s a classic rock n’ roll tale, but it certainly didn’t hinder the quality of the music that arose after the fact. This record is on a lot of top ten lists, and there really isn’t a question as to why. Killer cuts include “Brave & Strong,” “(You Caught Me) Smilin,'” and “Family Affair,” the latter in part because of the irony of the band conflict going on at the time.
2) JAMES BROWN-REVOLUTION OF THE MIND: LIVE AT THE APOLLO, VOLUME III
“I’d like to know, are you really ready for some super dynamite soul?!” the announcer queries The Apollo crowd before James Brown comes out on stage. They are more than ready, and cheer vivaciously as the King of Souls steps out. Live recordings don’t always capture what you’d like them to, but in the case of Revolution of the Mind, one feels transported to early ’70s New York, when soul and funk ruled the sonic streets. There really hasn’t been a voice, let alone a performer who has captured the level of funky theatrics that James Brown did, and though he passed a few years ago, his spirit is VERY much alive in this record. Get down.
Ostensibly as important an album for Soundgarden as it was for Vernon Reid – if not more so. This was the record that landed Chris Cornell and co. awards at The Grammys and directly contributed to their mainstream success. The album had a whopping five singles including “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” “Fell on Black Days,” “My Wave,” and “The Day I tried to Live,” the first two receiving Grammy awards themselves. Superunknown is a powerhouse recording, even maximalist in its nature as all aspects – the guitar, Cornell’s vocals, the production – seem to be turned to 11.
All record commentary by Madison Bloom.