I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink. Life is nasty, brutish and short…why make it harder on yourself than it already is? If you’re stressed out, tired, joyful, depressed, or in a manic state of pique – take a drink. Just don’t operate any heavy machinery. My personal libation of choice is scotch, specifically Johnnie Red. I’ll take a Dewar’s in a pinch, but Red Johnnie’s my man. My day job is an existential drain. When I return home from a long day at the office, I usually have a scotch or two, accompanied by some music on my Hi-Fi. To me, nothing sounds better than vinyl…I don’t care what anybody says. Those who feel otherwise are troglodytes – and probably don’t drink.
The following is a list of what I believe to be the top ten best albums to listen to while enjoying a scotch. When you’re imbibing the brown gold, you want to hear something that will enhance your mellow and bring you down for a nice easy landing. These albums fit that bill and then some. For you artisanal craft beer bimbos and wannabe mixologists, this list is probably not for you – so go stick your headphone buds in your earholes and zone out to Adele or whatever the hell it is you listen to. This is for scotch people – the best people I know.
Dexter Gordon — Dexter Calling
For my money no one tops Dexter Gordon on the sax, except maybe John Coltrane…maybe. His laidback foggy tone is the aural equivalent of a warm summer breeze ‘round midnight and his bottom of the beat bounce jives with an elemental fluidity. Do your body a favor – pour yourself a double, flop down on the couch and flip on Dexter Calling. The playing is dead in the pocket and the tunes are classic. It’s the scotchermost of the poppermost baby.
Donald Fagen – The Nightfly
After an incredibly successful run with his band Steely Dan, Donnie laid this slice of suburban romanticism on his fans. It’s a teenage fantasy of escape and aspiration and it’s a stone cold groove from start to finish. Sonically sublime, it’s well known for having been used to test HiFi systems around the world. Fagen’s best post-Dan album by far…evocative, melodic and cinematic – perfect for a stiff one and maybe a cigarette or two if you live life on the razor’s edge.
Duke Ellington — Anatomy of a Murder Soundtrack
Duke Ellington was one of the greatest and most innovative writers of jazz music there ever was…maybe the greatest. I’ve always had a special affinity for this album. It’s a perfect soundtrack to an incredible, noir-ish, courtroom drama starring a superb – as always – Jimmy Stewart in the lead role. The film, by the way, is great to have a scotch to as well…but that’s another list. This is about albums, and Duke’s music on this side just swings the most daddy-o. It’s very ‘50s… jagged, immediate and punctuated. It’s pretty much the blueprint to a lot of scores of the era. Throw a Johnnie down your throat and enjoy.
Big Bill Broonzy — The Blues
Nothing goes better with booze than the blues…and Big Bill Broonzy’s rich and weary voice embodies the genre like no other. When he lays down that wistful croon, you feel exalted. After a couple of shots, you’re transported…surrounded by the verdant backwoods of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The ghosts in the trees, the fragility of man…the danger in the air. His music is all at once, immediate, urgent and gentle. Drink up and dream.
Leonard Cohen — New Skin for the Old Ceremony
Cohen was a master songwriter, able to convey the vagaries of the human condition with a poetic insight that was unparalleled. He had many brilliant albums, but for me this one rises above the rest. Filled to the brim with essential Cohen, it’s a melancholic masterpiece filled with yearning, passion and occasional despair. And that oaken warble of his sounds like god’s made man slipping you the answer. Take a sip…take two. Take it straight, this is a no ice kind of record.
Paul Simon – Hearts and Bones
As far as I’m concerned, Paul Simon is the greatest lyricist of all time…even better than Dylan. No one has been more insightful, or better able to express the diamond truths that lie below the surface…past the static…in our hearts and bones. This is an album written largely about his relationship with Carrie Fisher, but it really is about the pain, yearning and ambivalence we all experience on the battlefield of love. It’s one of Paul’s greatest and woefully underrated. His voice has a weary assurance and the songs are delicate, melodic and thought-provoking. Just the line…”Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance” is worth the price of admission. As he states so profoundly on the album, “The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.” That just about says it all. Cheers…like love gone bad, pour one on the rocks.
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane — Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
Two masters playing off each other in polyphonic perfection. Their silky touch sets off a listening experience that will leave your body boneless and humming gentle harmonic. I don’t know what that means, but it sounded good. I would also recommend this record for a second date…take your potential paramour back to your pad and flip this baby on. After a couple of belts, prepare for the garments to fall to the floor.
Tom Waits — Small Change
Ok, this one’s a no brainer…it was goddamned made to drink to. I mean with titles like ‘Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” “The Piano has been Drinking,” and “Invitation to the Blues” how can any scotch enthusiast go wrong? Tom’s made a lot of brilliant albums…most of which could accompany a Johnnie perfectly well. This album, however, takes it to another level. Its back alley, barroom, burlesque debauchery is about as soaked in bargain rotgut as you can get. His voice never sounded as ragged, care-worn or beautiful and the songs are astounding. They’ll make you cry, laugh, and get lost in the night. Set ‘em up and throw ‘em down.
Nat King Cole — After Midnight
Nat King Cole was a national treasure. His velvet voice, virtuosic playing and brilliant writing rank him as one of the top recording artists in musical history. After Midnight is jam-packed with classic after classic. It plays like a goddamned greatest hits album. An essential album for any jazz lover, in fact after a few years of easy crooning, this record was a return to his jazz roots – and boy what a return it was. After a hard day’s work, its mellow tone will surefire soothe your soul. Fetch a couple of cubes from the ice bucket, drop them in the glass…oooh, that beautiful clink. Tip the bottle…couple of glugs and the world ain’t such a bad place for a while.
Frank Sinatra — Sings Only for the Lonely
If you’re in pain over a dame or just feeling the isolating crush of squandered potential and shattered dreams, this is definitely the album for you. It is also, in my opinion, the ultimate album to listen to while having a scotch. From the first track to the last, it takes you on the lonely man’s journey to the center of the night. It’s a commiserative experience – as the title states clearly, Frank is singing for you not to you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried to this album, soul crunching, ungovernable gulping weeps. Frank was simply the master interpreter of song. It’s his best album – and his personal favorite as well. His voice is pain, hope and comfort…and Nelson Riddle’s arrangements will tear your heart out. You’re going to need to make them all doubles with this one.