There are some record albums that stand out as landmarks, and often these great albums involve inspired collaborations. Notwithstanding the controversy around it, one such album is Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland. Paul Simon's smart, sharp songwriting was imbued with the sounds of Africa, to make a set of songs that has stood and will continue to stand the test of time. One of the contributors to that sound was the great guitarist, Ray Phiri, as heard on this live performance of Call Me Al. Three years later in 1989 Ray also appeared on another landmark album, Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels: listen for that characteristic African guitar on The Monkey's Paw.
I delight in discovering these little connections, I smile that Ray Phiri worked with these two artists so strongly associated with New York. And we can start playing a kind of "Six Degrees of Separation" game, chaining from one artist to another. So let's see where this leads us, and pick out some favourite pieces of music along the way.
So ... Laurie Anderson is married to Lou Reed (and they worked together from time to time e.g. on this), Apart from Lou Reed's solo masterpieces (I can't omit this astonishing track from Magic and Loss), he connects us to the Velvet Underground (Sweet Jane could lead us to Cowboy Junkies if we wanted to go that route), and connects to Andy Warhol ... but we can't follow all the leads.
Right: so Laurie Anderson worked with Brian Eno on the album Bright Red: listen to her lyricism matched to Eno's precision in Poison. And Eno? well Eno seems to have worked with everyone. From Roxy Music to U2, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Robert Fripp of King Crimson, and including, by the by, an album with John Cale, ex-Velvet Underground.
Taking just a couple of these threads, Eno's collaboration with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne gave us the astonishing and influential album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, while his work with David Bowie on the album Low was picked up by Philip Glass and turned into the Low Symphony. Philip Glass wrote a soundtrack to the silent movie Dracula, which was recorded by the Kronos Quartet, who have also done an Africa-inspired album, Pieces of Africa. (The Kronos Quartet would be another very fruitful branching point for launching new explorations.)
Now let's pick up one thread again from our starting point: one of the vocalists on Graceland was Linda Ronstadt, in Under African Skies.
We have the pieces in place ... and now, like a magician, I reveal from under my cloak, the one that ties all together: Songs from Liquid Days, an album with Philip Glass's name on the sleeve, but ...
- Paul Simon wrote the lyrics for Changing Opinion,
- David Byrne for Open the Kingdom,
- Laurie Anderson for the sublime Forgetting,
- which was sung by Linda Ronstadt,
- and performed by the Kronos Quartet.
- ... oh and Suzanne Vega is in there too. She did lyrics for Freezing...
Everything connects. I love it.