XV. Rickie Lee Jones.

She is the shy, ultra romantic soul-sister of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits, possessor of one of the all-time great voices, at once child and adult, having seen far too much pain early on and still trying to cope with it as a grown-up. The purity and power of her singing is a catharsis like no other in popular music. She would never sacrifice this inner child persona and to this day, unlike almost everyone of her contemporaries, she has the very same voice she had at the beginning. It has never failed her, or me, for that matter.


Played by the very finest LA cats of the time, including the incomparable Steve Gadd on drums, this was a mini-bohemian-revolution when it burst on the scene and put Rickie Lee on the cover of Rolling Stone. The yearning and enthusiasm of the top ten "Chuck E.’s In Love" and the exuberant "Young Blood" is the heart and soul of this collection, as is the running scared abandoned teenage mother saga that is "Night Train." "Company" is perhaps the best unknown standard ever written.

They all piled the praise onto Patti Smith, having co-written "Because The Night" and hatched the seminal punk album HORSES, but for my money, this is the real deal. This is the part of the city I’m interested in, this is the chick I want to be seen walking around there with when I’m 17 and I don’t know what else to do or where to turn. I always pictured her actually as Wendy or Mary or Barefoot Girl…Rickie Lee IS the girl in "Born To Run" if she could have sung back to Bruce while strapping her hands ‘cross his engines. (A+)

2. PIRATES – 1981

The culmination and broken aftermath of a perilously intense romance. Probably the most achingly romantic album I know. The beat poet/womanchild in full flower. "We Belong Together" is the cry of the bohemian heart with a raspberry beret and nothing much else on. "Living It Up" is "Jungleland," but better, because she really CAN sing and it probably DID happen that way. “They carried her over the bridges like fluttering pages…They didn’t care…It’s more trouble than it’s worth…Oh Wild and the Only Ones…Why won’t you tell me where you are?” Intoxicating. "A Lucky Guy" is her second unknown standard. This is what a real woman feels when she’s finally honest with herself. This is mad stuff. Up there with "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns" as one of the most cruelly neglected art records ever made. Everyone who likes MUSIC should dive headfirst into this record. (A+)

3. THE MAGAZINE – 1984

Her breakdown, both personally and professionally. Having your heart broken too many times, doing too much heroin, nodding out in some dark skewed jazzbo fantasy in a shitty bar somewhere… Here she is in the thick of it, and so blown out, she actually regresses back to childhood and the many strange nightmares and dreams she had there. The depths she plumbs here are staggering. The pent-up emotion, the running scared loneliness and confusion, the dark secrets of her abused psyche… I know, pretty melodramatic on my part, but stirring stuff nonetheless. It was while listening to this record in the summer of ’87 that I began dreaming regularly about Rickie Lee. And always the same exact dream: She and I at the circus fair she describes in the intoxicating "Juke Box Fury," sitting on a fence together in the gathering dusk, a beautiful and forlorn evening, a sense of sweet loneliness in the air, and we’re holding hands…and I say, “Rickie…thank you for helping me through this…you’ve really helped me so much…” and she holds my hand, smiles like a little girl and starts to cry. I was lost and lonely at the time and her voice and music was the only thing that gave me solace. (A)


Produced by Walter Becker, her “comeback” album suffers from some plastic sounding late-’80’s production, but does contain some of her more sterling songs, most notably “The Horses,” “Rodeo Girl,” and the shimmering “Satellites.” She had made it through the heroin nightmare, gotten married and become a Mom, all of which reflects brightly in the material. There is a looseness to many of the performances, which is fun, but contrasts with the actual stiff sound of the record. Her singing throughout is top-notch and the recollections of childhood make for more stunning soul-baring, especially on “Away From The Sky” and the desert-sunset flower of the title track. Not as good as the first three, but good enough. (B+)

5. POP POP - 1991

A cover album of jazz standards and Hendrix’s “Up From The Skies,” POP POP was ahead of its time and instrumental in planting the seeds for the Unplugged rage of the early ‘90’s and the popular ascendance of the Harry Connick/Norah Jones set. Only problem is it’s a snore from beginning to end. (B-)


A return to original music found RLJ venturing further out into the deeper corners of her own idiosyncratic muse, producing some fine material and some other stuff that was a bit harder to digest. Most notable for “Altar Boy” and the beautiful “Stewart’s Coat.” It could be argued that this is where her truest artistic self begins to emerge. (B+)

7. NAKED SONGS - 1995

Rickie Lee, responding to the Unplugged phenomenon she quietly inspired, armed with just acoustic guitar or piano and that voice, takes a trip through her best work and produces a classic. Each version here is as good if not better than the original, especially the incredible “It Must Be Love” from THE MAGAZINE. (A)

8. GHOSTYHEAD - 1997

The weirdest album of her career, it’s nearly impenetrable, an absolute musical treatise on what it means to be a “beat poet.” But then, just as you’re about to sell it back to the store, you start grooving to it anyway. She’s that good. (B+)

9. IT’S LIKE THIS - 2000

Her second cover album, this one features a gorgeous “For No One” and a funky take on Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids.” For those few of us who care, Rickie Lee and buddy Joe Jackson (who appears on a few cuts here) both put out albums in 2000 that had one McCartney song from REVOLVER and one Steely Dan song from COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY. J.J.’s was his terrific live album SUMMER IN THE CITY which featured “Eleanor Rigby” and “King Of The World.” Pretty cool if you chose to pay attention to such things at the time. I did. All in all, a bit slight, but charming. (B+)

10. LIVE AT RED ROCKS - 2001

Pretty great, as far as live albums go, this one keeps it up until track 9, a rousing romp through the eternal “Young Blood.” She’s in incredible voice throughout and the band is super-tight and inspired. Especially magical is the opener “Rodeo Girl” and “We Belong Together,” perhaps her greatest achievement as a songwriter. (A)


Her strongest collection of original studio material since THE MAGAZINE, this is like a sampler of what Rickie Lee does best: the yearning woman child vocals, the intricate jazz harmony just this side of Steely Dan and Joni, the “beat” poetry and endless sense of groove, the purity of sound and spirit, the total artistry of the offering. The only thing holding it back is the lack of a truly breakout song. They’re all good, especially the heartbreaking title track, but none approach the transcendence of “We Belong Together,” “It Must Be Love,” or “Weasel and The White Boys Cool.” Still, I’ll take music this unique and inspired every time, and as long as she chooses to put it out there for me to buy. (A-)



It must be love that fathoms the moonlight.
It must be love that shallows the deepest part of the night.