Katie Melua, the singer/songwriter behind 9 Million Bicycles and Closest Thing to Crazy, shares the records that changed her life.
The Band by The Band
I first got introduced to The Band when touring around the world with my own band when I was around 20. We did a tour in America and on one of the nights on the bus we watched The Last Waltz. There was a moment with Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson kind of challenging each other on the guitar solo and it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I went and got a CD of it and just loved listening to it on the road and then it would remind me of touring when I’d listen to it back at home. Most of the musicians I ever played with value The Band as one of the best ever. So it just really makes me think of being with the boys and making music on stage while travelling the world.
The Band also made me realise how good ensemble craft can be on stage. There was this perfection to them but also this looseness; a real relaxed cowboy kind of air. It was so fine-tuned technically that it just seemed to pour out of them naturally. That kind of dynamic is exactly what you want if you’re an artist playing with other musicians.
Desire by Bob Dylan
I discovered this record around the time I was in university, just in my last year at the BRIT School. My boyfriend at the time gave it to me and I just remember lying on my bed and listening to it over and over again, particularly to the lyrics. “Hurricane” really blew my mind. There was a bohemian air to it, this sort of very appealing gypsiness in the sound. And I just remember completely falling in love with this idea of Dylan. I loved what he was talking about and how he was talking about it and how his voice sounded. I even loved “One More Cup of Coffee.” He’s probably my biggest music crush.
As a musician, you really hope that you can write songs that belong inside themselves in this way. I really love story songs where you have clear characters and interesting storylines that you can follow and “Hurricane” is just a brilliant example of that.
Elis & Tom by Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim
This is a Brazilian album which is just exquisite. My bass player and bandmate introduced me to it and it was so good that I actually wanted to learn Portuguese. I never ended up doing that but it just had such a profound effect on me. I always used to think that the English language followed by French were the two best languages to sing in, in terms of how songs sound sonically and which words seem to spread around music the best but this record makes me thing that Portuguese Brazilian is up there.
There’s a great track called “Aguas de Marco”—I put it on and I instantly feel like I’m on holiday. This was a duet album that Elis Regina asked her record company for as a present for her 30th birthday because she was a huge fan of Tom Jobin. He wrote “Girl from Ipanema”, he basically invented Bossa Nova. And Elis was this phenomenal Brazilian singer, she was an icon in her country. She sadly died really young. She was quite politically active. In terms of albums, it’s a work of art.
Mourned by the Wind by Giya Kancheli
I saw this being performed by the London Philharmonic a few years ago. I thought I had heard everything in music and I thought I knew what was good and what wasn’t, and I thought I knew what music was capable of. And then I heard this live and it just blew everything out of the water. It kind of took my idea of what music can do to the next level because it was so physical.
The way Giya builds up tension and engulfs you with the instruments and there’s momentum in it, and how it shocks you and then soothes you... it’s just so deep and emotional. He’s considered one of the greatest Georgian composers and we are so lucky to have him. There are a lot of Russian and Eastern European flavours to his music and it just makes me feel like not myself, it’s incredible. It’s quite impactful but to see it live is a whole different ball game.
The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
I was 15 when this came out and I was on a family holiday with my parents to Spain. We played this over and over in the car as we were driving and it was just amazing. It was the stories that were entwined in it, such vivid images. The language was obviously pretty harsh but technically that kind of lyricism is just sensational. I remember being blown away by how brilliant and how popular it was for something that was so extreme.
It’s fascinating that he’s so fantastically honest about his passion and rage when it comes to women and I mean that in a sort of historical sense of how men write about things that they can control and that they can’t. And for him to be that raw... it’s clearly very personal. And it’s just an interesting window into someone’s psyche. He clearly does it for his art and there’s a tradition in his field to be that strong and negative but I don’t think we could argue with it.
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