Rickie Lee Jones on the music that shaped her: “I was enchanted!”

The singer-songwriter picks records by Neil Young, Laura Nyro, Rod Stewart and more

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Originally published in Uncut’s August 2019 issue

______________________

CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
ATLANTIC, 1969

When I first entered high school, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Young were what mattered to me – that three-part harmony thing just blasted through California. I was a runaway when I heard this, and every house that I went to, they had Crosby, Stills & Nash playing. These acoustic, quiet songs of strange origin, like “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, wandering all over the place and never getting to the point, with these really beautiful harmonies! So enchanting. They had three good writers writing their very best at that time, and whenever you have three writers you have a chance of really hitting the mark, like with The Beatles.

______________________

CAT STEVENS
TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN
ISLAND/A&M, 1970

I was about 16, living on a lake with my parents in the middle of the woods, when I heard this. It really spoke to me. There was something about his music – I hadn’t read The Hobbit [then], but I’d say there was something about it that was Hobbit-ish, with his funny little voice and beautiful, strange poetry: “I built my house from barley rice/Green pepper walls and water ice…” I was really enchanted. There was only one little picture of him on the back of the record and I wondered what he was.

______________________

NEIL YOUNG
YOUNG MAN’S FANCY
CONTRA BAND [BOOTLEG], 1971

This might be the most influential record on me. I just played this over and over again. For a couple of years in high school I was even imitating Neil Young’s voice! This had a few songs that ended up on later records – it had “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and “See The Sky About To Rain”. He wrote perfect songs for teenage loneliness and angst – for lonely little outsider girls, he was the great siren, I think. But when I hear Joni Mitchell playing piano, I have to think that all these guys like Neil were listening and were greatly inspired by her.

______________________

LAURA NYRO
NEW YORK TENDABERRY
COLUMBIA, 1969

I heard this in the summer of 1971. I had come down to California just to hang out for a month, staying in people’s houses, and I ended up in the house of some sailors. One of them had this waterbed and aquarium and a huge record collection. When he had to go off on his submarine, he’d let me sleep in his waterbed. Thus I explored very carefully, under threat of death if I scratched any of them, his record collection, and discovered this thing called Laura Nyro. I’d never heard anything like it – the inversions and chords were so sophisticated compared to blues stuff that was permeating the waves.

______________________

LEONARD BERNSTEIN
WEST SIDE STORY: THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING
COLUMBIA, 1961

This was the record I played constantly from third grade on, and I memorised every single nuance of everything. I can still pretty much sing the whole soundtrack! I saw it and it made such big impact on me, so my parents got me the record the following Christmas, which I still own, with my name written on it – I was ‘Rick Jones’ then! The “Tonight” medley is so thrilling to me, I get goosebumps just thinking about. That’s my favourite one.

______________________

ROD STEWART
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
MERCURY, 1971

This was an impactful record. What was that voice that could barely sing, so hoarse? The music was an extension of what had been happening in England – it was mandolin, acoustic sounds – but it was more raucous, they’d brought a little bit of American blues into it. I know now it was always there in England, but from our point of view it was just being introduced into that folky fairy thing that even Led Zeppelin were doing for a while. I think this was a real cultural touchstone, as far as things becoming glam.

______________________

THE BEATLES/THE FOUR SEASONS
THE BEATLES VS THE FOUR SEASONS
VEE JAY, 1964

This features songs from the first album, like “Boys” and “Twist And Shout”, but the other disc was the fucking Four Seasons, which I never listened to. But I loved this Beatles album so much. For me, that time in Beatle life is the heart and soul of it. There’s something about the sound of this record that still gives me goosebumps. If I listen to “There’s A Place”, I can feel the sadness and poverty of their youth, I can smell it. Everybody in music knows that recordings capture a piece of our heart, and people who hear them hear the inexplicable – they can have a connection to musicians that’s so deep.

______________________

COLEMAN HAWKINS
THE HIGH AND MIGHTY HAWK
FELSTED, 1958

I found this in a Salvation Army pile of records. Who knows how long it had been there? I was 16, and I wanted to learn about this thing called jazz. I looked at the cover and thought, ‘That looks like jazz.’ So I took it home and it spoke to me like no other instrumental record [had done]. This guy on this saxophone… it almost sounded like my father when he sang, he has this slow vibrato that he puts at the ends of his phrases. I think the instrumentalists that play like singers are the greatest of all.

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