October 20, 2020

CM’s Five for the Road


OK, my friend and colleague Jeff Dunn has upped the ante. In honor of his good friend Don Mann, I can understand why. Back in September of 2010, Jeff and I did dueling “Top Five Albums” posts here on IM (links below). Being the notorious wafflers we are, at that time we had to list honorable mentions too, because everyone knows you can’t really just have five favorite albums.

Well, this morning Mr. Dunn took a public stand for five, and five only, essential albums in his collection. He wrote:

In honor of Don’s homegoing, I want to settle my five selections once and for all. I am planting my flag here, and won’t change my tune (pun intended, if only because it would have gotten an eye-roll from Don). These are the five albums I would listen to repeatedly if I could only have five. Mind you, I’m not saying these are the five best albums of all time. But if I am driving cross-country and can only listen to five, load these up and I will be very happy.

Let’s step back into the Wayback Machine and see how Jeff and I voted a few years ago:

Jeff’s Choices in 2010:

  1. Drunkard’s Prayer, Over the Rhine
  2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
  3. Eat a Peach, The Allman Brothers
  4. The Misfit, Erick Nelson & Michele Pillar
  5. Exile on Main St., The Rolling Stones

Honorable Mentions: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young), Shotgun Angel (Daniel Amos), Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder), Sticks and Stones (77’s), The Bells of Dublin (Chieftains), Blood on the Tracks (Dylan), Live at the New Earth (Waterdeep).

Chaplain Mike’s Choices in 2010:

  1. Love Broke Thru, Phil Keaggy
  2. Blue, Joni Mitchell
  3. Still Life (Talking), Pat Metheny Group
  4. Sky Blue Sky, Wilco
  5. Graceland, Paul Simon

Honorable Mentions: Sgt. Pepper (Beatles), Blonde on Blonde (Dylan), Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), Thriller (Michael Jackson), Live at Fillmore East (Allman Bros.).

Earlier today, Jeff “settled his selections once and for all” with these five:

  1. Eat a Peach, The Allman Brothers
  2. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones
  3. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder
  4. Troubadour of the Great King, John Michael Talbot
  5. The Misfit, Erick Nelson & Michele Pillar

Well, my friend, thanks for allowing me to become part of this discussion today. I’m not sure I’m ready to take the “settled once and for all” position yet, but there is nothing more fun for baby boomers to do than to talk about the music of our generation (and since). You had some great picks, and of course I think mine are better.

And by the way, I’d love to take a road trip with you — you play your five and I’ll play mine. Can’t think of anything more fun. Of course, we’ll hit all the ballparks along the way (but that’s another discussion).

So, fire up the engine and slip on those sunglasses. Time to hit the road, buddy, and here’s my soundtrack (in alphabetical order):

Chaplain Mike’s “Five for the Road” —

Aja, Steely Dan
Are you kidding me? Nobody, I mean nobody had ever heard sound engineering like this in 1977. It still sounds state of the art today. Plus, when you choose 40 of the best studio players and singers, let Fagen and Becker arrange them in “bands” to get the best combinations for each song, and craft each piece to perfection, you end up with one of the greatest collections of jazz-rock-pop ever. “Peg” would be the perfect “up” road song for our trip, and we’ll save “Deacon Blues” for the long, lonely stretches. Exquisite.

abbey-roadAbbey Road, The Beatles
How to choose which Beatles’ album to include? The obvious choice for critics has been Sgt. Pepper or Revolver, and a few would go against the flow and nominate the White Album. I’d be happy with any of them, but for my money, the culmination of the genius that was the Beatles is ultimately revealed on Abbey Road. It was actually their last recorded album, though “Let It Be” was released later. It features some of the best harmony singing the group ever did (listen to the superb “Because,” for example). George Harrison elevated his status and showed his chops with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.” And the feuding Lennon and McCartney were somehow able to “Come Together” enough to produce that remarkable tune as well as a 16-minute medley that evokes the spirit of Sgt. Pepper. The cover was an instant classic — and we sometimes forget how important those album covers were to the whole ethos of listening to popular music then. Though critics were not universally in love with it at the time, in retrospect Abbey Road may be as close to rock music perfection as we’ll ever hear.

Still Life (Talking), Pat Metheny Group
We need some instrumental music for this road trip, and I have the perfect choice. The climactic album in a “Brazilian trilogy” by the jazz guitarist and his group, it features their trademark wordless vocalizing, along with relentless Latin rhythms and crystalline production. “Last Train Home” may be the quintessential road song for the last leg of our journey, with its lonesome railroad sound. Pat Metheny sure knows how to make complex music accessible, and this is his best.

Graceland, Paul Simon
The singer-songwriter’s masterpiece, which sparked criticism for him working in South Africa while the country was under apartheid, nevertheless brought the amazing sounds of that land’s people to the rest of the world. Mix those harmonies and rhythms with some Cajun Zydeco, fifties acapella group harmonies, Simon’s witty lyrics, and impeccable arrangements and production values, and the musical stew that emerges is my favorite album of all time. I simply can’t imagine driving ‘cross country if I can’t sing “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” or “You Can Call Me Al” at the top of my lungs along the way. Besides, “I’ve reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.”

The Lord’s Supper, John Michael Talbot
My CCM choice. I remember how the CCM’ers had no clue what to do with this one. Awakened spiritually in the Jesus People Movement, John Michael Talbot found the Holy Spirit leading him to become, of all things, a Franciscan, and he began his studies here in Indianapolis. This was his first album as a Catholic and it contained — gasp! — a contemporary setting of The Mass! JMT’s setting and the performance is as fresh and vibrant as the best of the early Jesus music, and what d’ya know, it actually has substance, historical and theological depth, and a connection to the church in all times and places. A treasure.

* * *

Hey Jeff, if I could smuggle Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky along, that wouldn’t hurt. And I probably couldn’t live without a James Taylor record (probably New Moonshine or JT), although that’s a matter of personal devotion and not a statement ranking them up with the best of all time. I’m also sad at the lack of females represented — Joni Mitchell, I still love you, please forgive me! And if you give me a little time, I will probably remember some other indispensable record, and I’ll have to come begging for more.

Pretty please? I told you I’m not ready for this “settled once and for all” thing.


  1. Well Chap, it only took me at least 25 years to settle on my list, so I can give you a few more days. And I am packed and ready to go! Oh, I have to warn you. I listen to music turn up very loud to drown out my own singing!

  2. ELO – Out of the Blue
    Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
    Ben Folds – Rockin the Suburbs
    Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway
    Squeeze – Cool for Cats

  3. My Five for the Drive

    Mozart’s Requiem
    What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye
    Alone in the World – Israel Kamakawela ‘ole
    Three Tenors — Pavarotti, Carreras, Domingo ( the real ones)
    Wonderful World – Eva Cassidy

  4. “If I should die in a car wreck
    May I have Van Morrison on my tape deck”
    – Poi Dog Pondering, 1990

    1. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison
    2. Famous Blue Raincoat, Jennifer Warren
    3. Running on Empty, Jackson Browne
    4. 8:30, Weather Report
    5. Soul Shots, Vol. 1 (great 60s soul music anthology on Rhino) – “But It’s Alright,” JJ Jackson, “Rescue Me,” Fontella Bass, “We Got More Soul,” Dyke & the Blazers, “Stay With Me,” Lorraine Ellison

    • “Famous Blue Raincoat” is a great choice. “Song of Bernadette” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

    • Slight nudge on the attribution of that great music…It was Warnes who wore–even inhabited, if you will–Cohen’s famous blue raincoat (and other songs).

  5. Richard McNeeley says

    Since you mentioned female singers and the possibility of a bonus album, I would pick From Every Stage by Joan Baez. I have always loved her rendition of Amazing Grace.

  6. Curious: why Sky Blue Sky vs their other albums. (I always found Sky Blue Sky a bit difficult to get through) For me, Wilco needs the be heard live which is why I would put Kicking Television on my list…

    • I’d be good with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot too. As I explained in my 2010 post, for me personally “Impossible Germany” is so transcendent that it lifts SBS above their other records.

      But I love everything they do.

  7. Dana Ames says


    I was hard pressed not to include any Beatles, but if I had done, it would have been that. When our kids are all at the parental home for Christmas, It is our family trad to decorate the Christmas tree to Abbey Road…


  8. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    Mozart’s Requiem (though I don’t have a favorite recording/performance)
    Counting Crows – August and Everything After
    Jesus Christ Superstar original cast recording
    Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis Again
    Led Zeppelin I (though it’s very hard to choose from their first four albums)

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      If we could do compilations, I’d put Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Legend, as it was the album that introduced me to Marley’s work. Probably I’d have it instead of Requiem.

      • Speaking of complilations, I would love to have some 60’s Motown music on my list, but until Stevie Wonder’s records in the 70’s and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On? there weren’t many who had the “album” concept as the Beatles and others developed it. But find me a strong Motown compilation and it would stand up against a lot of good albums. A lot of folks my age can relate well to the joy of the dancing in the kitchen scene in The Big Chill, to Ain’t too Proud to Beg.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          Another Compilation I’d include would be Simon and Garfunkle’s greatest hits album. It was an essential part of my childhood soundtrack.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      Aw, corn! I forgot about Townes Van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter…. This IS hard!

  9. Ok, I’m cheating here, and I don’t care. I grew up a bit sheltered, listening to only Christian music, so here is the best of that phase:

    Life in General – MxPx
    the Lazarus Heart – Randy Stonehill
    This Beautiful Mess – Sixpence None the Richer
    Journey Into the Mourn – Iona
    Emotion is Dead – the Juliana Theory

    Reacting against that, I went into a punk phase, from which I remain a terminal aesthetic contrarian

    the Process of Belief – Bad Religion
    Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables – the Dead Kennedy’s
    Milo Goes to College – the Descendants
    Self Titled – Social Distortion
    The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth – The Business

    ….but having mellowed over the years, and broadened, these days I would bring:

    Ten Summoners Tales – Sting
    No Need to Argue – the Cranberries
    Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
    Every Time You Say Goodbye – Allison Krause and Union Station
    Gravity / Love – Sandra McCracken

    …but I’m way to young to play fair and whittle that list down any further.

    …oh and even though he leads worship for Joel Osteen, Israel Houghton’s “the Power of One” is quite possibly the grooviest cruising soundtrack ever. I could care less for most of the lyrics.

  10. Johnny W. says

    1. Allman Brothers Band – Live at Fillmore East
    2. Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
    3. Johnny Winter – Nothin’ but the Blues
    4. Eric Clapton – Sessions for Robert J.
    5. Howlin’ Wolf – “The Rockin’ Chair” Album

    It’s very hard to leave off Al Green’s Tokyo Live. A fabulous album!

  11. Congrats to the RRHOF inductees tonight.

  12. While I usually listen to slower/more contemplative music at work and around the house, I need a bit faster tempo while driving

    – The Cold Stares – A Cold Wet Night and a Howling Wind – This was my favorite discovery of last year.
    – Wilco – Kicking Television – Wilco is best when they are live and this is their live album
    – Titus Andronicus – The Monitor – A loud angry punk rock album that filters/explores the civil war through a break-up. Or maybe it is the other way around. (Not for kids though – there’s a lot of language on this one.)
    – Pixies – Doolittle
    – Josh Ritter – The Animal Years – ok, maybe a softer one in here.

    (And that leaves out Tift Merritt, U2, Nickel Creek, Over the Rhine, Kathleen Edwards, Spoon, Iron & Wine, Sleater-Kinney, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gillian Welch, and many many more. Really? I only get 5?)

    If this isn’t too much of a hijack, has anyone listened to Josh White’s Achor? I pretty much soured on CCM a decade ago, but I like this album. If anyone else has listened to it, how would you compare it to today’s CCM?

  13. My tastes are a little too diverse for this. I’d like to have a list of 5 in each genre of music I like, but if I can only have 5, I have to get as much diversity as I can with:

    1. Kansas “Two for the Show” (Their 1978 live album had most of their best on it, and the 30th Anniversary version had a second disc to round it out. This was one of two Kansas albums my recently passed-on father had on vinyl when I was growing up [born 1979] that really turned me on to Progressive Rock.)

    2. Rush “Permanent Waves” (It kills me to pick just one album, but I listened to this one over and over when I first discovered the band, so this is the one.)

    3. U2 “The Joshua Tree” (I really need a greatest hits from them to avoid leaving off some great songs, but if that’s not allowed…)

    4. Tourniquet “Pathogenic Occular Dissonance” (I can’t believe I’m only picking one Christian Metal album [as that is my first love], but I needed some diversity and nostalgia. This is the greatest Christian metal album of the 90s, which was when I was first listening to the heavy stuff.)

    5. Rich Mullins “A Liturgy, A Legacy, A Ragamuffin Band” (I needed something to worship to, without falling into the “CCM Worship Music” trap. Rich always rose above all of that. I love this album’s use of the liturgy, and “The Color Green always brings tears to my eyes.)

    Apologies to the following bands/Agreement with all of you who posted: Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Yes, Genesis, The Choir, Deliverance, Mortification, Iona, Sixpence None the Richer. At the risk of seeming to CCM for this crowd, I might even have considered some Jars of Clay or DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak.” I am just the right age to find that album nostalgic!

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      I’ve still got a couple of Tourniquet albums on my iPad. It’s hard to pick between Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance, Psycho Surgery and Stop the Bleeding for me. Pathogenic definitely is definitely the best from a metal and lyrical perspective, but Stop the Bleeding just has some FUN stuff (A metal song about Leprosy being a metaphor for our sin? C’MON!!!!). Bottom line on Tourniquet is that I’d put them up against the “Big 4 or Thrash” any day. That’s one Christian band that blew their secular counterparts out of the water. No other metal band ever came close to the lyrical complexity and musical complexity of Tourniquet. And Ted Kirkpatrick’s drumming? Wowzah.

      I think I got sick of Jesus Freak years ago. It had a lot of good songs, but man, my friends and I overplayed that album. I’ve still got some Jars of Clay in my top lists, though. Their live double-album, Furthermore is excellent. And they were pretty much the only really popular CCM band of the late-90’s and early-00’s that wasn’t a rip off of a secular counterpart. I was also a huge fan of the O.C. Supertones as really fun 3rd-wave ska. But I definitely overplayed their albums.

      • “Pathogenic…” is definitely the best of the early (Guy Ritter) era of Tourniquet. The other album I considered was “Microscopic View of a Telescopic Realm.” If you only know the early stuff, that one’s definitely worth checking out. It came out in 2000 after some mediocre stuff in the late 90s.

        “Furthermore” is my favorite Jars album as well. Their later stuff (post-Furthermore) is definitely under-appreciated, though.

  14. Aja trivia for CM:
    Bernard Perdie’s half- time drum shuffle on “Home At Last” was later borrowed by Jeff Porcaro, combined with (Zeppelin) Jon Bonham’s “Fool In The Rain” and a Bo Diddley bass drum to make the classic beat on Toto’s “Rosanna”. Porcaro freely acknowledgesd his “theft” from Aja on drum tutorial videos. It’s often repeated that he got an isolated drum track from Peg, had it made into a repeating loop on a cassette, and listened to it in his car constantly.

    Aja continues to be mined for new nuggets to this day.

  15. “Of course, we’ll hit all the ballparks along the way (but that’s another discussion).”

    Yes, let’s have that discussion!

  16. Ah, the good ol’ “Desert Island Disc” exercise.

    I always start with my top 5 bands, then pick an album by each artist.

    1) Achtung Baby – U2. If you make me pick one, this would be it.
    2) Love over Gold – Dire Straits. Again, if you make me pick one, this would be it.
    3) Abbey Road – the Beatles. Side 2 (for those of you who remember vinyl records) is/was in my opinion the best and most perfect side of any vinyl album ever.
    4) New Adventures in Hi-Fi – R.E.M. The most-underrated album they made.
    5) Collective Soul – Dosage. The one with the bees on the cover. 😉

    It pains me to leave off albums by: Steely Dan, Jeff Beck, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Pink Floyd, Muse, Doves, Fleetwood Mac, Doobie Bros., Little Feat, Arcade Fire, Big Country, Midnight Oil, Bonnie Raitt, Boston, Coldplay, Counting Crows, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crowded House/Neil Finn, Delirious, Depeche Mode, ELO, Foo Fighters, Garbage, Genesis, Blur/Gorillaz, Jars of Clay, Hendrix, John Hiatt, Leonard Cohen, Leeland, Moby, New Order, Oasis, Over the Rhine, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, The Police, The Proclaimers, Rush, Sixpence None the Richer/Leigh Nash, Supertramp, Third Day, Tom Petty, The Verve. To name a few.