You've probably seen this thing in your internet travels:
"10 all-time favorite albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person to do the same."
This is the sort of thing I rarely participate in when it's tag-a-friend activity, but I like to chew over on my own time. As I did so, I learned two things: (1) there are albums that have endured with me over the years - and most of them are on the list below, but (2) what was more interesting to me are the albums that - in hindsight - were the key ones in my musical/ personal development. Or the ones that helped get me through/over tough times. Problem with those last kind of albums is how often do you revisit them once you're over whatever tough time or period of growth they helped you with? It can vary and bears discussion. This made the second part of the instructions ("no need to explain") irritating; the only thing that's interesting to me about doing it is explaining it.
Oh, and (3) ten was way too few. So:
But after assembling twenty-five albums and sorting them all out, I decided that was too many. So (with apologies to Ace Frehley, Hapa, Sergei Prokofiev, Miles Davis, and more) without any further ado:
aka Okay A Little More Ado:
|Jimmy Buffet, Don't Stop the Carnival, 1998|
I'm not much of a Jimmy Buffett fan. Outside of this album, I only ever had a couple of others, and none of them stayed with me. This one, though, is great - a commercial failure and virtually forgotten today, but a worthy attempt at a musical based on Herman Wouk's novel of the same name. (The book's pretty good, too.) More than worthy - I'd say it's inspired. Not just a collection of very agreeable tunes, but the story is rendered about as well as it would have been by Broadway professionals. Buffett's whole approach / persona was a good fit for it; too bad it didn't catch fire. (Except with me.)
First heard: Don't quite remember. I listened to it an awful lot driving back and forth to Poughkeepsie in 1998. I do remember getting the CD bounced from the stereo at the Oregon Emporium in Dayton the following year in favor of some (vastly inferior) G Love and Special Sauce. Nobody had time for my Jimmy Buffett bullshit. Same story today!
Favorite tunes: "Public Relations," "Island Fever."
|Beatles Anthology, 1995 - 1996|
Technically, I don't really listen to the Beatles Anthology all that much anymore, something not true of the next fourteen selections. But for this to come out at arguably the peak of my Beatles hysteria in the early-to-mid 90s (thank you, Kevin Silvia) was incredibly exciting. Actually, the Beatlemania lasted with me from around 1992 through around 2000. But it never really went away - the Beatles still rule. I just ran out of their stuff to listen to. (Technically, there are always new Paul and Ringo albums, but I stopped with Working Classical and I Want to Be Santa Claus, respectively.)
Favorite tracks: Too many to mention. The alternates for "And Your Bird Can Sing", "Ob-La-Di", and "Norwegian Wood" are pretty awesome. The deep tracks I'd been reading about for years (well, all two of them, but I read everything I could get my hands on about the Beatles in those years) were "Leave My Kitten Alone" and "What's the New Mary Jane". YouTube's kind of tough when it comes to the Fab Four, but here's the "Moonlight Bay" that's on part 1. I love that whole bit from start to finish.
Shame on them leaving off "Some Other Guy," though. Had to get The BBC Sessions for that one, though not that one, aforelinked.
|Operation Ivy, Energy, 1989|
Around this time (89) I started getting a ride to school in the morning with my buddy Ryan, and he's the one of the handful of people responsible for getting me out of my all-metal bubble. One of his big tapes was this Op Ivy one, which kicks so much ass, still, that it's difficult to believe it all came out of one band, let alone one album. When I want to remember what the late 80s felt like for me and my buddies in that some-of-us-had-our-license/some-of-us-didn't/we-all-liked-skateboards-and-southern-comfort-and-Metroid era, here it all is.
Favorite tracks: "Sound System," "Gonna Find You," "Smiling," "Vulnerability," "Bankshot," "Bombshell." They're all great.
Could've also chosen: Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Devil's Night Out, Black Flag - The First Four Years, The Circle Jerks - Wonderful. Or the Ramones greatest hits tape Ryan had. Same impact, same love/ nostalgia for them now. But, of them, the only one I still listen to semi-regularly is Energy.
|The Doors soundtrack, 1991|
I decided to use this as my Doors stand-in because when I did that one post on the Doors, I realized this does quite a good job of capturing the essential sides of the Doors. Less a soundtrack, more a primer. Of the many soundtracks that came into my life at key junctures (moving from one place to another, graduating from one thing to another, break-ups, new loves, memorable vacations, etc.) this one still casts a pretty long shadow. It was the siren call from the paths I'd been walking into the more beatnik-y realms.
First Heard It / Favorite Tracks / Reverie: (from that post) "If you ever rode in my car 1990-1992, you'd have found one cassette that never left rotation: The Doors soundtrack, which had among other things, "O Fortuna!" Ten years later, it was in everything from Doritos commercials to movie trailers (especially movie trailers), but back then, I was the only guy in town who had it, and cranking it as I pulled into any parking lot announced me as a singular and fascinating fellow. At least in the adolescent fever of my imagining."
I'm not here to tell you this is the best metal album of the 80s, but it's my vote for the most underrated, maybe not just the 80s but of all time. I say this not really knowing what may or may not be an underrated metal album post 1992 or so, but FFS this one rules. I knew it when I first heard it, I knew it eight years later when I knew "hipper" music, I knew it in 1997 and in 2000 when I went through two of my periodic metal renaissances, and I've known it every year since, right down to a couple of months ago where listening to it put me in a good (and ridiculous) mood for days. Magical alchemy here - still works.
Favorite tracks: Every last one. But possible favorites: "Call Out the Warning," "Cry Out the Fools," or "Shout It Out." ("Let me touch your soul I'll take you awaaaaaay....!") Holy frakking hell, friends - if that doesn't make you feel like a shirtless and deranged demigod lurking over a pit of lava at the end of all epochs, we're just reading from different playbooks.
|First performed 1853. Maria Callas recording 1958.|
I've really been into opera lately, so the importance of this one in my life has only recently revealed itself to me. Back in the late 90s, on the advice of my then-girlfriend's housemate I ended up buying this and making a sincere effort to learn the story. It was easy to listen to - there's a reason La Traviata has been continually performed around the world for over 160 years - but I wasn't ready. I liked it, but I just didn't understand opera. It laid, however, a foundation for the opera house I only began to build in 2017 and am still building now.
One of these days I'll blog something up about all the opera I've been taking to the brain over the past six months. It's been wonderful. It's like I trained my entire life for it without even realizing. Of that training, the most essential was performed in the 1999-2001 era, and it was listening to this CD and getting an idea of what the genre was and getting the melodies in my head.
Favorite tunes: Here's the Violetta-Germont duet (and more) from the same run of performances captured on the EMI release - not sure if this is the exact same as the one on the CD but worth it just the same.
In 2000 and 2001, I was putting myself back together or perhaps fully-together for the first time in my burgeoning adult life after the relationship I had throughout the 90s ended. In retrospect, it was amazing it lasted as long as it did. More on this in a few entries. Music, as it often does, played a role in putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. Not just this album, but this one got an awful lot of airplay while driving around Rhode Island during this time.
Since I first started hearing such things - let's say 1994 or 1995 - I was a fan of the "techno remix" genre. It kind of all reached a head in the late 90s and finally started petering out in the early years of the 21st century, but this techno remix of Blondie tunes scored twice with me: once as just a fun collection of remixed tunes ("Atomic," "Union City Blue," "Sunday Girl," * "Heart of Glass," "Dreaming" - are you kidding me? Blondie's tunes were made for this treatment) and twice as an evocation of all the Blondie I heard growing up, particularly when my Mom would enlist my help in cleaning the house on weekends and she'd play their Greatest Hits cassette.
* It's criminal there is no link to this, and even worse that there is a YouTube version listed as this remix but which is actually the remix from the same album as "Atomic."
It's this latter memory that lingers with me now: this - as was discovering reruns of TNG on Saturday afternoons in the same period - was one of the first things to trigger nostalgia-time-travel in me as an adult, mainly because I was approaching thirty and had finally accumulated enough years to actually feel nostalgia for bygone ages and the lingering musical/TV ghosts they left in my psyche.
On a short list of most influential/ life-changing folks in my life is Jello Biafra, former frontman (and main maestro) for the Dead Kennedys. A huge influence on my politics in the late 80s/ early 90s. Throughout the 90s, actually. And although we've drifted in political alignment somewhat over the years his musical legacy in my life - as well as his music's widening of my little suburban cable-TV world - is still celebrated. No moreso than this masterpiece he did with Al Jourgensen from Ministry infamy, which I still listen to fairly regularly. Just fantastic. How tracks like "Mate Spawn and Die" and "Drug Raid at 4 am" never became staples of any kind amazes me. "Drug Raid" especially is the best opening to a Cops spin-off that never happened.
"You can't throw me to the lions - I'm Charlton Heston!
You can't throw me to the lions - I'M CHARLTON HESTON!"
Could've been: Jello and DOA - Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors. Similar impact, similar awesomeness, similar longevity in my life (right down to last week when I was singing "Full Metal Jackoff"'s ending refrain in response to the news that Ollie North was now the NRA President.) But Last Temptation of Reid gets the nod by a hair.
Ahh, Ordinary Class. Absolute classic. And it doesn't even even have my favorite Pulp song on it ("The Trees"). During the 90s I learned hard truths about America's homegrown caste system via the relationship I was in for almost that whole decade. "Common People" isn't quite an on-the-nose-from-afar description of said relationship/ learning curve, but it's one of those songs that is specific/universal enough to touch a lot of people. It gave me some perspective I needed at the time and makes even more sense in the rearview. That Shatner recorded his own version the year I moved to Chicago seemed at the time like vindication, perhaps even destiny. But beyond McBiography, it's just a kick-ass anthem and an all-time classic.
The other classic from this one (although every track in the album is great) is "Disco 2000," which was kinda cool to be into when the year 2000 still loomed in the future as some Galactic Barrier of some kind. What a tune, though, regardless.
Could've been: Britpop hit me pretty hard in the mid-to-late-90s. As far as impactful albums go, I could've listed Oasis' "Wonderwall" import UK single (with those killer B-sides), the Stone Roses first album (which was new to me at the time), or Creation Records seminal (and harder to find these days - wish I hadn't have traded it in to Gem City Records for beer money back in the day!) collection International Guardians of Rock and Roll.
I considered putting in some kind of New Order/ 24 Hour Party People entry, as Madchester-music really took over my life for a year or two, but in retrospect, it was more an outgrowth of this earlier Britpop experience. So in terms of impact, it'd be Ordinary Class over those, even if I arguably loved those more intensely.
First heard it: When it was in constant rotation in the early days of the coffee shop (aka Java-storm at the Oregon Emporium, Dayton, OH) 1997. I couldn't believe my age were listening to country. There was a country station in RI when I was growing up, and my Dad and the other guys at the VFW were the only ones who listened to it. This changed over the course of the 90s - many theories abound and many more learned than myself have mapped the migratory patterns of listeners and demographics. All I know is: until I finally stopped resisting this album - and it was easy to stop, with its improbable cover versions of Soundgarden, Beck, and Tom Petty - the last country song I liked was "Queen of Hearts" by Juice Newton. (And I'm old enough where having to add "by Juice Newton" pisses me off; who the hell else sings "Queen of Hearts?" Juice Newton owns that.)
This opened up the whole genre to me, although truthfully is was a brief affair. I discovered I only really enjoyed old country, and in small doses. But (a) the exception is Johnny Cash, whose entire career I love, and (b) it led me to Elvis. So, this one album is responsible for a good 20% of what I listen to, still, every year.
Favorites tracks: "I've Been Everywhere," which everyone knows thanks to the car commercial or whatever it was, but for awhile was kind of off the beaten track, "Mean Eyed Cat," and "Sea of Heartbreak."
I often wonder if I'd be as into symphonic music and classical composers had I not spent those 5 childhood years in Germany. Who can tell, but field trips to Salzburg and Vienna certainly left a deep impression. I'd say equal to them was the timely release of Amadeus when I was 10 years old. I loved this movie - still do, but for some reason it captured my imagination completely when I was in 6th grade. (It came out in '84, but I didn't obsess over it until the fall of the following year.)
Was this the 2nd soundtrack I ever bought? (The 1st was Back to the Future, I know that.) It was not the first classical music I ever bought; that was a Deutsche Grammophone cassette of Beethoven's 5th and 6th symphonies, which still sounded flawless for at least 20 years after. (Easily the best constructed cassette I ever owned). But it was Amadeus that opened up pretty much all symphonic music for me, and it's an affection that has grown deeper within each year since.
Favorite tracks: Look, friends, you can't get go wrong with Mozart. His music is the epitome of the enlightenment ideal, and it still looks and sounds pristine and heavenly and like nothing else ever created centuries later. I won't get into whether the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (conducted by Sir Neville Marriner) is the best representation of the material, only that since this is what I first learned Mozart from, it is under Sir Neville's baton and as interpreted by that Academy that the material sounds right to me. There is considerable disagreement about who "gets" Mozart the best, conducting-wise, so I mention it only to note my own bias.
Anyway, they're all favorites. If you like metal, then the "1st Movement of Symphony #25" is probably your jam. Also very metal: "Act 2, Scene 24" from Don Giovanni. But this is an excellent selection of Mozart, here, spread out over 2 discs. Whenever I see anyone with a "Best of" Cd, I wonder why they didn't just get this one.
Or, you know, everything. It's Mozart! FFS.
I don't listen to this CD very much anymore. It was the compilation disc of a Sinatra Reprise box from around the same time. Both were completely off my radar until I got to college and my buddy Andy down the hall introduced my to Sinatra. As with Amadeus and so many more of these selections, it opened up an entire genre to me (old time crooney and big band stuff) that seems to become more and more of a favorite with each passing year.
Andy, by the way, used to drive this convertible Saturn that was a pretty sweet ride. He was one of those guys who played his car music at ear-splitting, punishing volume. I went to visit him in New Jersey once and he took me into New York City for the first time. As we crossed over the George Washington Bridge and descended into the skyscrapers, he cued up "Theme from New York, New York." Top ten moments of my youth, right there.
Years Later: I've never listened to every Frank Sinatra record, but I once made an attempt. It gets a little squirrelly as you get into the late 60s and 70s (altho this disco remix of "All or Nothing at All" is pretty great) but I'm still a huge fan. I listen to his entire Capital Records era in order at least once every few years, and I've got my own mixes of his Reprise and Columbia years in even more frequent rotation than that.
The message and ideology of Mindcrime has only grown more prescient in the 30 years since its release. But beyond its dystopian fatalism and the (considerable) artfulness of the story, it's just such a killer collection of music. Heavy metal opera at its finest. Side 1 is pound for pound (performance, Viking axe assault, intensity of message, theatricality, etc.) probably the greatest side of heavy metal ever created. (Wikipedia lists side 2 beginning with "Suite Sister Mary," but that's crazy: my copy and everyone else's I knew had side 2 starting with "The Needle Lies.")
"I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I've seen the payoffs
Everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?"
Favorite tracks: "Speak," "The Mission," and "Spreading the Disease."
From the moment a young me (7 or 8 ish) heard the opening crunch to the title track, it was over: metal for life. Well, life-ish: for me, metal more or less ends in the early 90s. But the metal-lest of them all is Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
My brother had this on one side of a cassette, and Saxon's Crusader was on the other. Crusader also could be listed (along with Judas Priest's Sin After Sin) in this spot, for all the same reasons. But Sabbath has been one of those all-purpose albums for me that we all have that gets picked when you can't really figure out what else you want to hear; it fits pretty much any mood or situation I need it for. (Well, most.) It's great for road trips as well as quiet nights at home. It defines metal for me so precisely that I feel silly saying anything more; just crank it.
Favorite tracks: "Sabbra Cadabra" all the way; Ozzy's voice coming in when and how it does around the fifty-two second mark is a contender for coolest moment of the 20th century.
Around the same time as I was listening to my brother's walkman copies of the above, I was listening to one he made for me of his double vinyl of this progressive rock masterpiece. This was my entrypoint into HG Wells and all the countless worlds beyond and for that alone it would be high up on this list, but not this high. Here it is at the penultimate spot for two reasons:
(1) I spent a lot of time in the Germany years looking out the window of buses or cars at a landscape so utterly unlike the Pawtucket, Rhode Island one I'd known in the late 70s. I listened to this musical so much during those years that burned over my montage of Euro-memories is this riff, this sound, and this sound. I remain profoundly grateful for (and rather bewildered by) this.
And (2) it became, through no planning for this on my part, my Thanksgiving album. When I cook or clean up or any part of it. Usually fits the time spent having to do any of that quite well, and I've come to look forward to it year to year.
|The art that came with it was the equal of the production.|
It's impossible for me to describe the impact of this album on my life during the spring and summer of 2005. I will, of course, try.
The year before had seen me at a very low point. I'd arrived in Chicago the way shipwrecks wash up on the reef and was crashing on a couch, then finally got a job and could afford an air mattress and room of my own, and so forth up the long ladder back to normalcy. I turned 30 during this time and was working at the since-closed Virgin Megastore at Ohio and Michigan. It was there I first heard SMiLE, at a promotional release event of some kind, although mainly I just remember hearing something weird over the speakers and trying to figure out what it was. When it really clicked with me was months later on a hungover train ride home one Sunday morning - on a discman, no less - when a lack of sleep, hydration, rest, and somewhat random choice of musical accompaniment made it the backdrop of a deep epiphany: I was only getting more and more depressed and something had to change. It was a Larry Underwood Pays the Bills kind of moment.
Which he/ I did - but that's a story for another time. Brian Wilson's SMiLE * proved uniquely healing for me; it seems almost designed to piece back together a shattered ego in a more productive and sensitive direction. Whether or not this is all just my projection on it, who knows, but the music itself is undeniable. It's abstract, multi-layered, a masterclass of sequencing, innocent yet tortured, a sonata gone mad, and just a fun, fun record.
And it fucking ends with "Good Vibrations!" My friends, if you're going to go crazy and then come back to reality - and here I refer to the work's author and not myself; nothing I've done equals the drama of Mr. Wilson's life - this is the wormhole you want to do it with.
|* And it really could be called Darian Sahanaja's and Brian Wilson's SMiLE, so instrumental is Darian's contribution to the project.|
A beautiful record that blows away any description of it I could give. The way it weaves in and out of sadness from "Our Prayer" on its hard-earned way to "Good Vibrations" can only be experienced. Favorite tracks: "Good Vibrations," obviously, but also "Wonderful," "Surf's Up," "Vege-tables," and "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow."
Quick p.s. Original post had a lot more about acid and my enduring love of the original Beach Boys famously unfinished Smiley Smile Sessions, particularly "Whistle In" and "Can't Wait Too Long." (Especially that last one.) But I wanted to keep the focus on Brian Wilson's specific 2004 version, bless it to fractals.