Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Storm After The Storm

Phrases like “lack of leadership,” “no evidence of organisation,” and “no government presence” are so easy to toss around, like galvanised steel flung by gale winds. But for every story of looting, desperation, and no sense of control, there are also other stories: of soldiers going hungry because they opened their military commissary to feed civilians, of local authorities who attempt to put order despite suffering losses themselves, of survivors helping one another.

It’s easy to overlook that the first line of response from the local government were also victims themselves. It’s easy to point fingers instead of lifting a hand to help. It’s easy to forget that just before Yolanda there was the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol, and the stand-off in Zamboanga. It’s easy to disregard the fact that despite pre-storm warnings, no one, not even storm experts, had any idea of the magnitude and severity of Yolanda’s fury.

There are more sides to a story, with each side unfolding and evolving. It’s tempting to report only what can be seen up front. Stating a fact is one thing, but understanding needs the bigger picture.

There are those who seek to storm Malacañang at this time, blaming the ineptitude of the president for the slow response. I just wish that our collective energies in the coming days have a more constructive agenda. Because that’s what we do after a storm—we rise up and rebuild.  But I guess solidarity and sobriety may be too much to ask from others.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

That Which We Call A Rose By Any Other Name Would Wither And Die

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose—” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . ..”

“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

* * * * *

Pardon me dear fox, little prince, and the rose, but that’s not always true. Men eventually figure out that responsibilities have limits, often imposed by others.

What is essential is invisible to the eye; sometimes, we are blind to it. And the time that we waste may ultimately be just a waste of time, and the rose was never tamed.

When kids become adults and princes become kings, this is what they do. They get real. They grow up. They move on. They live in the present, instead of wallowing in the past or wishing for an uncertain future. They learn to decide and to choose.

Growing up isn’t sad. Growing up can lead to finding peace, something which children achieve only when they’re asleep.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I feel numb.

Specifically, my lower left quadrant of my mouth is numb. That includes the left side of my lower lip and the left side of my tongue. It feels like that part of my mouth is swollen, but when I look in the mirror, everything is as they are.

I had a root canal back in the early 2000s. Early this year the cap came off, but I had it placed back on. Two weeks ago, it fell again, this time with a portion of the remaining tooth. During the two weeks that the space between teeth was cap-less, the gums moved into the place where the chipped part used to be. To replace the cap this time, the dentist had to cauterize part of the gum; thus, the need to inject local anesthesia.

The dentist was a fairly young woman; she looked like she was still in her 20s. I didn’t like it, but she was the one assigned to me. I asked her a lot of questions, and gauged her manner of answering them. She was fairly confident with her answers, and was able to explain thoroughly my “Why?” questions.

And she liked to err on the cautious side. “This will hurt,” she said. “Like how much?” I asked. “Like a small insect bite,” she replied, before putting the x-ray sheet inside my mouth. Afterwards I told her, “It’s not painful, just uncomfortable.”

I guess that’s why she didn’t bother to whisper or use a code when she told her assistant, “Get me the LONG needle.” And she held the injection where I can see it. Omigod, it is a long needle!

She injected me four times. Thankfully over the years I’ve learned how to take injections in stride. They weren’t painful at all.

But now I’m numb.

When I got back to the office, I told my boss how silly I felt, speaking with a quarter of my mouth sedated. She pointed to my mouth and said, “That’s painful.”

I though she was referring to the procedure. “Not when there’s anesthesia,” I said.

“Oh wait ‘til it wears off,” she warned, laughing.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What’s In A Name?

Graham Norton is a favorite British host/comedian of mine. His talk show, like most, depends on the quality of his guests. This particular episode, he had with him three of my favorite actors—two from Star Trek: Into Darkness, and one from Sex And The City. I particularly loved this exchange from the English host, the American, the British-Canadian, and the Englishman.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Monday, September 09, 2013

Dearest AJ

Happy birthday, AJ! Yesterday we the Fabcasters converged to remember you on the date that you sashayed away from mortal pain. Today we celebrate your fierce attitude and your joie de vivre. We your friends cherish life, love, and laughter because of your inimitable example.

Friday, September 06, 2013


I love Neil Gaiman’s writing. I wish more of his works would be made into movies, except that his imagination is so vast, producers and directors will have a hard time containing the budget, hahaha. (It is a realistic concern, really.)

But I love how he writes dialogue. They’re usually sparse, but occasionally one of his characters goes off into a kilometric monologue. And when he does, sometimes I am reminded of the kind of lines that Aaron Sorkin does, but with less pop culture references—and delivered much more slowly.

Here is one of my favorite monologues from Neil. I hope I can actually perform this one day, except that I’d be too terrified to do it. Which probably means I should.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

In Memoriam: Mila Mercado

If I remember correctly, Mila was one of my first account executives (AE) in Basic Advertising. She was pretty, with small facial features and a striking posture, thanks to years of ballet training and dancing. She gave that up and went into the mad world of advertising.

There she caught Wawel Mercado’s eye. He was one of the COOs of Basic. As Child Of Owner, he could have been brazen with courting her. But instead they kept it low-key.

They got married, Mila got pregnant. A few minutes after giving birth to a health baby girl, Mila fell into a coma. She eventually came out of it, but the damage was severe—it’s as if her mind was disengaged from her body. She couldn’t walk, she couldn’t speak. She would sometimes grunt and make noises. I even saw her shed tears. We had no idea if she could comprehend the sensory inputs we were throwing at her. She had no way of giving us feedback.

Meanwhile Wawel became the poster boy of The Husband Whose Love And Commitment Went Beyond Expectations. Their story was featured in a magazine and also on TV. Their daughter Therese grew up knowing a mother who could not play with her, could not feed her, could not embrace her; it was she who did those to her mother.

Last year we got the shock of our lives when we heard that Wawel passed away suddenly. At his wake, we saw Mila in her wheelchair. I’ve seen her several times in different events before, but this was the first time I thought she looked stricken. Or maybe I just wanted or needed to think that. Her doctors had said she wouldn’t last a few years after waking up from the coma. Now she outlived her husband.

Come Saturday morning, we heard that Mila quietly passed away in her sleep.

Her family requested those who knew her to speak at her wake, to let Therese know the kind of person her mother was. This is what I plan to say to her.

* * * * *

Yesterday I heard the saddest news. Mila quietly slipped away sometime Friday evening.

I first knew her as Mila Ferrer. She was not yet a Mercado, but even then everyone could see she was quite marketable. Beauty, brains, and balletic grace, rolled into one. She had softness and steel underneath her svelte figure. I was never attracted to girls, but she was that rare female that can wow me with her inner strength and outer grace. Yes, that’s it. Grace. She may have stopped dancing, but she always had that in spades. Even until the very end.

Therese, you may not have experienced Mila the Mom, but we, her agency children in Basic, were the ones blessed to have been taken under her wing. And so Therese, the next few nights you will hear what it was like to be a son or daughter of Mila.

Mila never raised her voice. Even her shouts sounded gentle. But she could throw a shoe. Yes, she had tossed one at her creative director, no less! And she knew when to put her foot down. When a dancer puts down her foot, you know it’s deliberate, you know she’s prepared for it, you know she’s given it much thought.

I remember most our quick conversations about ballet. She said she misses it, yet I never saw in her any anger or regret with her life decisions.

Grace. She bore it well as an AE, as a wife, and yes,s I believe so, even as a mother. Even the way she said goodbye to us was graceful. This wasn’t just any exit; it was a grand jeté off the stage of life.

Bravo, Mila! Truly, you are a class act.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Assurance

My Husband’s Fabcast, Part 2

And now here’s the second and last part of the discussion regarding “My Husband’s Lover” and its ramifications, including the following:

Martir versus torpe
Lahat ba ng bottom, martyr?!
Being bottom
“My Husband’s Lubrication”
The hierarchy of being a kabit

And with the arrival of LobsterTony, the recording was abruptly cut short. Thus, this is one of the rare Fabcasts wherein you don’t hear Migs and the Fabcasters say our usual goodbye.

So on behalf of the Fabcasters, let me say here: “World peace!”

Listen and enjoy.

Music credits:
Kelangan pa bang i-memorize yan?!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Husband's Fabcast, Part 1

Here’s where the Fabcasters and the peanut gallery attempt to discuss the hottest, the first, and the only bekiserye in Philippine television so far, My Husband’s Lover.

Sadly I wasn’t able to join the recording; I had a previous engagement that I couldn’t skip. LobsterTony was also not present during the recording; in fact, his late arrival signaled the abrupt end of the recording.


However, many points were discussed, amidst all the usual Fabcaster quips, witticisms, and friendly put-downs. So listen and enjoy.

Podcast Powered By Podbean

Music credits:
Halleeeeeeeeer?! Obvious bah?!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back2Basic Too

It was a night all of us wanted to happen, but none of us thought it could.

And yet there we all were, filling up the function room at Manila Polo Club with familiar faces as well as some fairly new ones. We were all smiles and hugs and semi-shrieks, as people who’ve not seen one another for several years are wont to do. And since we were in advertising, we were more shriek-y and shrill than usual.

There were the obligatory speeches and tributes. There were the usual AVPs showing old pre-digital photos, most of them scanned. The focus was on the mavericks who founded and steered this singular ad agency from Basic Motivators to Basic Advertising to Basic/FCB and then back to Basic. Today, it is known as Jimenez/Basic after the former bought the latter. But for that Friday night, it was purely back to the Basics.

Even outside the entrance to the function room I found myself excitedly greeting friends and former co-workers. They were just too many of them; it was difficult to catch up with all of them. After a while I stopped asking, “Where do you work now?” because frankly it didn’t matter at that point. I was just so happy to reconnect with my past. And what a past it was.

But as the night wore on, I realized that occasions such as this also serve as an opportunity to pause, reflect on where I am now, and ponder where I want to go. When you see a roomful of successful people who have made a mark in their respective fields, you will most likely do more than a bit of your usual self-assessment.

What were my main takeaways that night?

From ARM: fearlessness and genuine concern for people

The late former CEO of Basic was known for his fearlessness. He wasn’t afraid to take on multinational agencies and brands. He also was fearless in experimenting with the company—at one point he revolutionized Basic by restructuring it into “foxholes,” or mini-agencies within the agency. We were so used to changes, it made us unflappable in the face of it. Bring it on.

He was also known for his genuine concern for his employees. He had a special place in his heart for employees who were taking care of their mothers. He made sure that the people working hard in the agency got what they deserved. Thanks to Basic’s profit-sharing scheme, in one year we experienced 19 months pay; two years before I joined the agency, they were lucky to experience 21 months pay. And ARM was happiest when his people were happily flushed with hard-earned cash.

From HGO: humility and simplicity. Keep it simple, stupid. Stay humble. Stay hungry.

He was the simple boy from Majayjay, Quezon who became one of the most respected pillars of Philippine advertising. He bucked the trend of writing in English by insisting on using Tagalog. And his insights were true to the consumers because he kept in touch with the simple folks all throughout his life, even when he was already earning in the millions and can afford to buy and restore an old Ford Mustang convertible.

He and ARM believed in the saying: Never coagulate. They believed that one should always be learning, that even the lowliest of employees have a chance to climb up the ladder.

Being surrounded by young men and women, HGO always taught us to love our job; only then will the job love us back. One can seek the job they like. But when you’re young, you may not even know what it is you like. It won’t hurt if one has the humility to learn to love their job. At least one gains experience and knowledge.

From my close friends who I think are way more successful than I am: the measurement of success is as varied as the individuals in that room.

I always feel like I missed the target whenever I get together with my Basic family, because my closest friends there are all successful and earning more than me. I know that comparing salaries is not just unhealthy, it’s also an inaccurate measure of success. But sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes. But then I remember that our goals are as unique as we are individuals, and the success that ultimately matters is that which you determined.

That night, we were all successful, and happy for each other’s successes.

“We once had Camelot,” HGO declared. “ARM and I asked ourselves, ‘Can we ever replicate the golden age of Basic?’ No, we can’t.” We all knew the time had come and gone. And it was a most beautiful time. It wasn’t just work; it was play. We weren’t just an agency; we were family.

* * * * *

The barkada. We were there for one another through thick and thin, clients and pitches, homophobic boyfriends and failed romantic pursuits, and single motherhood. 

One is a VP, two are President/CEOs, and one is a movie writer/director/producer.

Sadly, those were our USPs (unique selling proposition) when it came to guys back then.

Mr. Agot Isidro himself. Advertising bekis called him Philippine Advertisings Brad Pitt when he was younger. Ah, youth.

During the usual picture-picture-an, suddenly someone shouted, “O, lahat ng mga bading!Siyempre di kami nagpaawat. (Hindi bading yung nasa front rightmost; pahada lang siya, hahaha.)

But this is my favorite headline of our picture, c/o RikkiMae. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back To Basic

There is a time in one’s life when one ends up with a group of people who become more than just friends or org mates or officemates. Usually this is the time when one is still trying to find oneself post-college, when one engages the world and finds out that the theories in school do not look at all like the realities one encounters every day.

But then these people come along. You end up touching each other’s live so much you actually become family. You may not even realize it at that time. But you do sense that there is something more going on, that one day, when your lives diverge, you will look back at those days, with those people, and remember only the hilarious, the crazy, the bizarre—and marvel at how much you’ve grown so much because of them.

I was lucky to have had two: my Tanghalang Ateneo org mates, and East Division of Basic Advertising.

I was lucky to get into advertising, luckier still that I got into Basic. Advertising didn’t feel like work; it felt more like a sitcom. You had a crazy, noisy, gossipy group of talented individuals who weren’t pushovers except in their love lives, which were usually tumultuous and contained more revisions than a print ad with vague directions. We had impossible deadlines. We had brownouts. We had drama. We had an unfortunate photocopy machine that bore the brunt of an account supervisor’s rage. We had profit sharing. We had 19 months pay (shet, I wasn’t in Basic yet when they had 21 months pay). We had wins. We had losses. We had births, and we had deaths.

And we all eventually moved on.

Some have become award-winning directors. Some have become heads of agencies themselves. Others went into other fields, related or far removed from advertising.

Tonight for the first time ever, we are having a major reunion. It feels more like coming home.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Spell “Impulse Buy”

I had dropped my Nokia 2730 Classic thrice already. One day it started acting up. It refused to charge its battery despite being hooked up to the charger. Then it started charging after I disconnected it from the charger. It didn’t ring the alarm despite it being set the night before.

It was time to declare it dead.

At first I just wanted to change my phone, but then D asked me, “What is your postpaid plan? How much on the average do you spend monthly on your phone?”

Without much thinking, I guessed, “On the average I think I pay about Php1,700 a month.”

“Then up grade your plan,” D said. “There are plans that come with free phones.”

So I checked the Globe site, saw their Best Ever MySuperPlan, and checked out their 1799 Plan. According to the site, the only phone available for free that appealed to me was the iPhone 4S. While disappointed it wasn’t the latest iPhone, I nevertheless was okay with the 4S. As you can glean from my Nokia 2730 Classic, I was never really much of a phone techie junkie. Give me basic SMS and calls and I’m a happy camper.

Instead of applying online, I decided to call their hotline.

The service representative was gracious, capable, and talked fast the way someone who’s said the same spiel so many times it’s etched at the tip of their tongue. Everything was going well until we got to the subject of the free phone.

“Sir, for plan 1799 we have an iPhone 5 available,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “In your site, only an iPhone 4S is available for free.”

“Wait, let me check sir,” he said, and put me on hold.

In my mind I was going, Weh, na-check ko na yung site ninyo twice, walang iPhone 5 na libre. May cash-out. Kung may 5 eh di yun dapat ang pinili ko. Naku ha, mas marunong ka pa sa websi—

“Sir,” the representative interrupted my mental rant, “we have iPhone 5 available. Do you want it in white or in black?”


And all of a sudden, I became pa-hip.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


“Naka-three years na rin kayo ng jowa mo?”

His question was matter-of-fact, almost like a lazy statement of truth. Silence lingered for a split-second in the air. Then he spoke again, his tone one of incredulous amusement.

“Aba, akalain mo noh. Ikaw pa! Ahahaha!”

And I laughed along with my officemate, a ka-beki who doesn’t hesitate to call me Ate when we bump into each other on the corridor. He’s known me since 2000, back when we were officemates in another network. In the 6 years we were there, he knew me as the single one who’d party hard every weekend in Malate.

Back then he had asked me if I planned on having a boyfriend. I had retorted: “Plan?! You can never plan those things, because you can’t control the other person’s intentions, motivations, and plans. You can only prepare yourself, that’s all.”

But behind my platitude of an answer was the dwindling hope that I’d be with someone. Sure, I went to bars, bathhouses, and (with the Internet boom) gay sites, but none of the guys I met panned out. I was way past forty years old. I had began to convince myself that I’d be single for life, and was actually on my way to make peace with that thought.

Also, with a string of unrequited loves, missed opportunities, and he’s-just-not-that-into-you’s, I’ve revised my opinion on Cupid as much times as Madonna reinvented herself. I’ve been a hopeless romantic, a cynic, a cautious optimist, and a stubborn pessimist. I’ve gone around the block and back again. I’m used to having the other shoe drop. I know my place in the hierarchy of desirability—not high, not low, just somewhere hovering around “just ordinary” and “has a sense of humor.”

My chance encounter with D took both of us by surprise. It was unplanned, and I was unprepared. All I knew at the start was that he was interesting. But after our initial chat, first on Facebook then continued in Starbucks, I knew there was a connection between us.

Cut to today, still together three years later. Who knew, right?

If you ask me why we’re still together, I can only hazard a guess as to the reasons. What works for D and I may not work for others. It all depends on the individuals and their dynamics when they’re together.

We joke to ourselves that our relationship is really work. In a way it’s true—we work on it every day. Some days we need to exert more effort. Other days, the work seems effortless. If it doesn’t sound romantic, it’s only because I described it from my viewpoint. Someone else in my shoes may actually portray our relationship in more glowing, romantic terms. Whatever. Poe-tay-toe, poh-tah-tow. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would wither and die.

Meanwhile, what fuels our relationship is a combination of the following:
1. Laughter – We make each other laugh, and we like to surround ourselves with people who are fun to be around.
2. Communication – Whether a simple chit-chat or a serious heart-to-heart, open communication is important. Non-verbal communication also helps, but just to make sure there’s no miscommunication, a clear back-and-forth is essential.
3. Respect – We will never be equal in all aspects. But we try our best to accept and respect each other’s similarities and differences. Or at the very least, we do our best to understand the other.
4. Honesty – It doesn’t mean that one can’t have secrets. But in matters that affect the relationship, there should be disclosure. I don’t really need to know if D has cute officemates or none. (Though he tells me anyway.) But I’d really appreciate it if D tells me that he’ll be hooking up with his hot and hunky officemate. (I’ll remind him to play safe, hahaha!) However, every couple needs to determine their own comfort levels when it comes to secrecy.
5. Compromise – Give-and-take is essential. And if you give in, it’s best that you leave it at that. Avoid raising it in a future argument, saying, “Remember the time when…?” Giving in is, in a way, your gift to your partner. And a gift, once given, is never yours to re-use anymore.

Three years and one month into our relationship, I still feel that we are in for more surprises, changes, and discoveries. They say the ones who survive are those who keep moving forward. And so we gaily move onwards.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Soundtrack Of McVie’s Life: The Top 25 Albums (So Far)

Entertainment Weekly threw down the gauntlet when it came up with their greatest lists. But I am not a music critic, just someone who critiques a lot. I don’t review by profession, and I don’t go out of my way to listen to music genres that don’t interest me (hello, jazz). So in keeping with the personal nature of my blog, I decided to come up with my own personal list of favorite albums.

What for me constitutes a favorite album? It should fulfill what, for me, a good album is; plus, it should be something that, overall, I personally like. In detail: [1] There is cohesiveness to the whole structure of the album, whether thematically, sonically, or (better) both. [2] I like to listen to at least 80% of the tracks. If I can listen to the whole album without skipping tracks, even better. [3] Impact and relevance—there are songs in the album that have affected me one way or another. Oftentimes they contain lyrics that killed me when I first heard them.

I’ve decided not to include “greatest hits” compilations for a simple reason—they are a cheat. They are a compilation of disparate hits culled from other albums. (There have been hit songs that were released only as singles, and they find their way into a greatest hits album. But they’re the exceptions, not the rule.) So I decided to limit myself to original studio albums.

Aside from compilation albums I also excluded live concert albums, original motion picture soundtracks (goodbye, Saturday Night Fever and Purple Rain), and thematic compilation albums (for example, the 1992 AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Dance), for simplicity’s sake more than anything.

Surprisingly, I was able to spread the love evenly between some of my favorite acts of all-time.

25. Synchronicity – The Police (1983)
The band goes beyond the rock-and-reggae simplicity of their earlier albums, and the result is the apex of their career, a gorgeous display of their individual and group strengths. Anger, sadness, fear, and sinister longings express themselves eloquently in rock and soul.
My must-listen tracks: “Every Breath You Take,” “King Of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger”

24. Mystery Girl – Roy Orbison (1989)
I love how Roy Orbison’s gloriously melancholic rock opera voice finds its contemporary match in tailor-fitted songs by Bono and The Edge (“She’s A Mystery To Me”) and Elvis Costello (“The Comediennes”).
My must-listen tracks: “You Got It,” “She’s A Mystery To Me,” “The Comediennes”

23. Body Talk – Robyn (2010)
No wonder Robyn revels in a love that’s complicated. The insistent electronic beats and bleeps in each track make every anguish and ambiguity an exquisite joy to dance to.
My must-listen tracks: “Dancing On My Own,” “Indestructible,” “Call Your Girlfriend”

22. Discovery – Electric Light Orchestra (1979)
Jeff Lynne’s Beatles-lifted orchestral rock and roll meets 70s disco, resulting in an album that’s slightly glitter-heavy but wholly joyful, from their biggest single (“Don’t Bring Me Down”) to one of those “Our maids used to sing that back in the early 80s!” ditties, the LSS-ready “Midnight Blue.”
My must-listen tracks: “Shine A Little Love,” “Confusion,” “Don’t Bring Me Down”

21. Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
I’m not a big fan of heavy-handed Americana, but The Boss and his E Street Band got me with this juggernaut of an album that raises the red, white, and blue flag in both pride and protest.
My must-listen tracks: “Working On The Highway,” “I’m On Fire,” “I’m Going Down”

20. Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982)
This is the inescapable album by the Gloved One that changed everything, including eventually his face.
My must-listen tracks: All except “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady In My Life”

19. Ray Of Light – Madonna (1998)
Madonna’s foray into electronica results in a gorgeous, moody triumph that also showcases a more mature lyricist who’s still figuring out how far she can go. And “The Power Of Goodbye” is a great kiss-off song which I appropriated for my own.
My must-listen tracks: “Ray Of Light,” “Frozen,” “The Power Of Goodbye”

18. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)
If Revolver is the first shot of the revolution, the Fab Four’s follow-up album flings the doors wide open. It cements the studio recording process as art, and elevates the people behind the recording console as artists.
My must-listen tracks: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “She’s Leaving Home,” A Day In The Life”

17. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne & Brian Eno (2008)
Brian Eno’s production boosts David Byrne’s music and lyrics into a moody mixture of old and new, elevating this album into a triumph of sound and sense.
My must-listen tracks: “Home,” “The River,” “Strange Overtones”

16. December – George Winston (1982)
The magic of winter is encapsulated in a spare solo piano album. For me, it speaks of Baguio evenings and cuddling in the cold with your college crush... who sadly is really a few feet away from you. Some of my saddest memories are found in between the notes of the calmest, simplest album in the list.
My must-listen tracks: “Carol Of The Bells,” “Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel,” “The Holly And The Ivy”

15. Surprise – Paul Simon (2006)
I’m a sucker for smart lyrics wrapped in gorgeous melodies, and for me Paul Simon excels in both. This is one of his strongest albums. I find all of his songs here dynamic and engaging, and while sometimes his poetry can a bit too obscure, in almost every song he spins a line or phrase that leaps out of the music bed and slaps me silly. Surprise indeed.
My must-listen tracks: “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love,” “Wartime Prayers,” “Beautiful”

14. Like A Prayer – Madonna (1989)
Madge reinvents and reveals herself as a serious artist of album proportions. Whereas before she seems to be just having fun pushing people’s buttons, here she shows us the childhood and adult hurts that pushes her own buttons.
My must-listen tracks: “Promise To Try,” “Dear Jessie,” “Oh Father,” “Spanish Eyes”

13. Release – Pet Shop Boys (2002)
The pioneers of electronic music dial down their synths and add guitars and actual drums to their post-electonica album. The result is a gorgeous exploration in how far the Boys can go musically and lyrically, what with “The Night I Fell In Love,” a song that details a most intriguing what-if gay encounter with Eminem. It also includes my personal musical mantra, “You Choose,” that helped me get over romantic lost causes.
My must-listen tracks: “Home And Dry,” “The Night I Fell In Love,” “You Choose”

12. Revolver – The Beatles (1966)
Entertainment Weekly named this their greatest album ever, and I agree with all of their points. But more than revolutionizing the album as art, Revolver also contains pop triumphs that pack more punch within 3 minutes or less.
My must-listen tracks: “Eleanor Rigby,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “For No One”

11. Like A Virgin – Madonna (1984)
Dear Madonna, I love you as an artist. But I love you even more back when you were more fun, and from the opening drum beat of “Material Girl” all the way to the scoop, scoop, scoop, scoo-dili-bee-bop fade out of “Stay,” every track of Like A Virgin makes me feel like I’m touched for the very first time.
My must-listen tracks: all except “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”

10. Time – Electric Light Orchestra (1981)
With synths added over orchestral strings, this ELO album finds Jeff Lynne at his most ambitious, and by golly, he barely succeeds. But while I can hear his stretch marks all over the album, his musical compositions and production values are at an all-time high. (His lyrics still remain his weakest point.) The sheer ambition and joy of some of his tracks here manage to lift this album into the top ten. Mr. Lynne, you made it this Time.
My must-listen tracks: “Twilight,” “Rain Is Falling,” “The Lights Go Down”

9.     Balance Of Power – Electric Light Orchestra (1986)
With ELO down to only three members, Jeff Lynne also scales back the orchestration and lyrics on their penultimate ELO album. What results is the finest output of the group, and some of Lynne’s most personal-sounding lyrics.
My must-listen tracks: “So Serious,” “Is It Alright,” “Endless Lies”

8.     Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (1988) & Vol. 3 (1990)
The super grouping of Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison results in two albums that, despite two years and the death of Roy Orbison between them, sound like one big mega-album. The second album (purposely mis-titled Vol. 3) rocks just a little harder, as if Orbison took with him some of his rock elegance. No matter, the trip is just as great.
My must-listen tracks: Vol. 1 – “Handle With Care,” “Last Night,” “End Of The Line”
Vol. 3 – “She’s My Baby,” “Inside Out,” “Wilbury Twist”

7.     The Raw & The Cooked – Fine Young Cannibals (1989)
The second and final album by this British band is a blistering collection of retro-sounding (and retro-length) pop-rock gems. Each under-4 minute track (the only exception, “I’m Not The Man I Used To Be” clocks in at 4:19) manages to sound both raw and produced, making this album a seamless triumph.
My must-listen tracks: “She Drives Me Crazy,” “It’s OK,” “As Hard As It Gets”

6.     The Innocents – Erasure (1988)
Another band in the one singer + one musician mode like the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure beguiles with their 1988 album, where no track is a wasted throwaway. Their sound is a harmonious contrast of soulful vocals over synthesized precision, producing an infectious sound that uplifts even in their more serious tracks. The 7-minute finale is their take on the classic “River Deep, Mountain High” by Tina & Ike Turner, and it builds up to a joyful ode to man (Andy Bell’s vocals) and machine (Vince Clark’s programming).
My must-listen tracks: “Phantom Bride,” “Heart Of Stone,” “When I Needed You,” “River Deep, Mountain High”

5.     Ingenue – k.d. lang (1992)
Before Adele was k.d. lang. Her 10-song album is a complete love cycle, from the tremulous beginnings, to the giddy delights, the stubborn persistence, the emptiness of the crash, and the eventual resignation of the heart’s needs. k.d. lang keeps things simple, choosing hope over cynicism (how very pre-millennial, how very un-hipster) despite Cupid’s fickle arrows.
My must-listen tracks: “Still Thrives This Love,” “Season Of Hollow Soul,” “Constant Craving”

4.     Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Knowing the tumultuous personal stories (read: break-ups) between band members as they were recording this album only deepens my respect and love for this album and all the tracks in it. It is a shining example of universal and timeless art rising out of specific, personal pain.
My must-listen tracks: “Never Going Back Again,” “Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “I Don’t Want To Know”

3.     Achtung Baby – U2 (1991)
U2 fans are divided into two—those who love everything before and including The Joshua Tree, and those who are like me. I love how the band smashes their past and creates a future that’s exciting, dynamic, and unafraid of their own long shadow as “one of the biggest bands in the world.” Innovative and brash, it grabs you from the opening slash of The Edge’s guitar in “Zoo Station” and doesn’t let go until the moody fade out of “Love Is Blindness.”
My must-listen tracks: All except “Acrobat”

2.     Very – Pet Shop Boys (1993)
The Pet Shop Boys burst into the scene with songs that drip of dry, wry, and witty observations. Very is their departure from their previous outings, with positively upbeat, even hopeful, lyrics about love, marital discord, and the peaceful life. Still, they inject a sharp commentary or two about the Queen, West End, and anonymous hook-ups. And how gayer can you get with a remake of The Village People’s “Go West”?
My must-listen tracks: All

1.     Graceland – Paul Simon (1986)
This 1986 album continues to be an eye- and ear-opener of how music can transcend genres, eras, and borders. From the opening track to the last, Paul Simon ingeniously grafts together American folk-rock and South African rhythms and beats, and layering over them his middle-to-upper crust sensibilities and concerns. The result is an album that engages, challenges, inspires, and ultimately satisfies. For me, it’s an unforgettable musical journey of epic proportions.
My must-listen tracks: All