2. Joni Mitchell, Blue (Reprise, 1971)

It took many spins to fully embrace this album. Despite my repeated efforts, Blue didn't scan well as background music when I worked as a desk receptionist for student housing at Marquette. The songs all ran together and I couldn't discern any immediate hooks. When I moved to Boston a year later, I arrived with a minimal assortment of cassette tapes to tide me over until the rest of my belongings arrived. One of these was my dubbed copy of Blue. Much like another album, I listened to it constantly on headphones, in and out of my apartment, and eventually, I understood what made it so exemplary and rare. The key to Blue is its intimacy, openness and fragility--more than half of its tracks are skeletal, nothing but a voice and a lone guitar or piano. Although Mitchell may have not necessarily written these ten songs about herself, her confessional delivery and keen lyricism is so raw, naked and felt that you wonder how they could possibly be about anyone else. Each one is like a personal, poetic travelogue--listen to the way she makes the most of a fleeting moment in "Carey" or how she sums up the side effects of fame on her generation in the title track. Still, it's the melancholy final three songs ("River", "A Case of You", and “The Last Time I Saw Richard") that leave the most lasting, unsettling impression. Like the final shot of Annie Hall, they summarize the narrator’s pain and desires (without any self-pity) while leaving a few things open and unresolved.