Blue Plate Special: Harold Budd
For this week’s music sharing post, I’m changing directions away from my typical 80’s new wave post to focus on one of my favorite ambient composers and musicians, Harold Budd. I was introduced to Budd in fall of 1986 by a friend from the dorms. I was looking for something soft and soothing to listen to while studying, and was offered the album The Pearl, which was a project with both Budd and Brian Eno. Unlike most of the “new age” music at the time that sounded like someone exploring the various sound offerings of a cheap Casio keyboard, Budd’s music is much more organic and spiritual. His music was experimental, minimalistic, and impressionistic. His extensive discography includes multiple collaborations with Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Robin Guthrie (formerly of the Cocteau Twins, John Foxx (formerly of Ultravox), Hector Zazou (composer and producer), and Jah Wobble (formerly of Public Image Ltd). Budd passed away in 2020 at age 84 due to complications with Covid.
One of the first CD’s I ever purchased was The White Arcades just after my 2nd year at college, which continues to be my go-to Budd album when I’m trying to relax. In fact, if you like this selection of songs, check out my “Budd-esque” playlist on Spotify. Here are some of my favorites from the past 40 years:
The White Arcades – from the album The White Arcades (1988)
Kicking things off with the title song from my absolute favorite Harold Budd album. It’s a great song to listen to in the dark while watching the rain.
Memories of Gongs – from the album The Moon and the Melodies (1986)
Already a fan of Scottish band Cocteau Twins, I was thrilled to find an album that largely sounds like a Cocteau Twins album, but with a luscious, dreamy layer of earthy sounds thanks to Budd. Another version of this song can be found on the album Lovely Thunder, renamed Flowered Knife Shadows. This early project led to others with Cocteau Twins co-founder and guitarist Robin Guthrie.
Rub With Ashes – from the album The Serpent (In Quicksilver) (1981)
This song is an excellent representation of Budd’s piano style, which is atmospheric, ethereal, reflective, and also very subtle.
Against the Sky – from the album The Pearl (1984)
The best description of this album is “subtly treated piano textures, but with more pronounced electronic treatments and nature recordings.” A collaboration with famed musician, composer, and record producer Brian Eno, who was also the keyboardist for Roxy Music, appearing on their first two albums before going solo in the early 1970’s. The second collaboration with Eno, The Pearl remains one of the most successful ambient albums of all time, and is a must-listen.
A Formless Path – from the album Before The Day Breaks (2007)
A collaboration with former Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, this is another great example of Budd’s piano and earthy sounds combined with Guthrie’s strong. Just beautiful.
Adult – from the album Translucence + Drift Music (2003)
This song comes from the collaboration with former Ultravox front-man, John Foxx. Apparently, the two were big fans of each other’s work, and finally got together and recorded enough music for this double album. This is one of my favorite tracks.