Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Twenty-Six is the New Ten

So there's this thing going around on Facebook where, if you are tagged, you're to come up with the ten albums that influenced you the most throughout your life. Finding that too difficult (or easy, I'm not sure which), and having a lot of free time today at work, I decided to expand on it. I have organized them in order of when they made an appearance into my stupid life, as opposed to when they were actually released. Why not, you know?

  1. Def Leppard—Pyromania (1983). I would watch MTV’s Friday night video fights over at my friend Kurt’s house, and “Photograph” was unbeatable. I thought that they all looked so cool. It’s funny now to look at how ridiculously they’re dressed, and notice the cheapness of the set. Then, it looked like the future or something. So did the video for “Foolin'." I still love this record and think it sounds like it's from the future.
  2. “Weird Al” Yankovic—In 3-D (1984). My first case of hero worship. I was obsessed, for years, with this man. I loved his originals—“Midnight Star” and “Nature Trail to Hell” were my two favorite songs on this record, and I sampled the latter a few years ago on an Air Mack record.
  3. White Lion—Pride (1987). As an aspiring guitar player, Vito Bratta was my Eddie Van Halen. I pretty much learned how to ply guitar listening to this album. His guitar playing on “Wait” and “Little Fighter” still freaks me out. Every time I’ve ever seen my friend Kurt play acoustic guitar, he’ll invariably play a handful of Hank Willams songs before finger picking the intro from “Little Fighter.”
  4. Metallica—Master of Puppets (1986). Made me realize that there was heavy music that wasn’t about lusting after women. I rode my Huffy to the K-Mart on North Main Street (where Kurt, Chris, John Lindmark and I, for the most part, would buy our metal tapes) and bought it there. We all instantly loved it. Jeff Massey would later work there.
  5. Rock City Angels—Young Man's Blues (1988). I remember seeing the video for “Deep Inside My Heart” and buying the tape immediately thereafter. I thought they were going to be huge. To me, it was the best thing I had ever heard. They were peers of Guns 'n' Roses, kind of bluesy and punk rock (as far as mainstream hard rock goes), but they never caught on. They had a six-million dollar record deal with Geffen, put out one single and three-sided double record, then disappeared. In the locker room, Chad Sneath laughed at me, lodging, “I can’t believe you like that country metal band." And at the first dance that I was at with my first girlfriend, she asked me what music I listened to. “Rock City Angels,” I answered. "Have you heard of them?" “I’ve heard of them,” she said, “but I’ve never heard them.” I was pretty sure that she had never heard of them, but it was sweet of her to say. I wasn’t sure why we were the only couple slow dancing to “No New Tale to Tell” by Love and Rockets (I had never heard it before) until the chorus struck, when it became all too apparent. I had never felt so uncomfortable before.
  6. Public Enemy—It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988). My friend Jeff Thompson, who loved Anthrax and Megadeth, also loved PE. And since I loved Anthrax, I thought I’d give it a shot. I actually used to watch Yo! MTV Raps with some frequency (and owned cassettes by The Digital Underground, D.O.C. and Snap!) but had never really connected with a hip-hop group before (besides Run DMC). One day in psychology class (this was later, after the release of Fear of a Black Planet), an African-American classmate noticed my PE shirt and was like, “I bet you can’t even name all the members of the band.” I did, even including that Professor Griff was on suspension for Anti-Semitic remarks he made in the press. I instantly felt stupid, like I was taking something away from its true owner.
  7. The Cure—Disintegration (1989). I made a conscious decision, my Freshman year of high school, to try and clean up my image. I was a mulleted metal dude, and I thought that maybe I could try to be more social and outgoing so I could meet my one true love (I was never interested in “meeting girls,” just with finding a girl that I could be obsessed with and melodramatic about). So I replaced my mullet with a much shorter hairdo that wasn’t unlike what is found protruding from the head of Woody Woodpecker. I also started going to “steering committee” meetings (I still don’t know that the fuck that’s supposed to mean) and pretended to enjoy myself while building floats and washing cars. Mostly I just stood around nervously trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing (a ritual I engage in with some frequency to this day). At any rate, I started listening to The Cure, because my girlfriend listened to them, and she didn’t really like Rock City Angels. I got Standing on a Beach, and I thought it was okay, but when Disintegration came out, I listened to it and nothing else for weeks, maybe months. My life is very tangled up in this record and, each time I listen to it, it is with complete surrender—a very strange mix of longing, joy and sadness for experiences that range in spectrum from ethereal and passionate to drunken, joyful and communal. By the way, if anybody wants to hear a lo-fi, bashed-out, albeit very faithful rendition of “Plainsong” recorded by me and Kurt under the Scary Monsters moniker, I would be happy to send it to you.
  8. Various Artists—Say Anything Soundtrack. (1989) Pretty bad soundtrack, actually, but it did introduce me to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who would, for a few years, be among my favorite bands) and Fishbone (another short-lived favorite). I absolutely loved the movie, seeing it six times in the theater. I wanted to be Lloyd Dobler. There’s a line, where Corey says to Lloyd: “me, I’m a great person, but you, you’re a great person.” I remember talking on the phone to a really good girl friend of mine, baiting her, trying to get her to tell me that I was a great person. “You’re a good person,” I would say. “Thank you,” she would say. “No, I mean . . . you’re really a good person.” “Thank you.” My first kiss was to “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. It occurred in the back seat of my mom’s station wagon on the way back from a trip to St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Evanston for its “Advent Lessons and Carols” program. When we would eventually break up, I made a tape of just “In Your Eyes” over and over again on both sides and slid it into her mailbox along with a bunch of really shitty poetry.
  9. Jane’s Addiction—Ritual de lo Habitual (1990). My brother had Nothing’s Shocking and, after the nausea I felt the first time I listened to it had subsided, I listened to it again. And again and again. By the time Ritual came out, I was completely in love with them. They were still mysterious then. They didn’t grant a lot of interviews, Stephen Perkins was not yet in the boneheaded Infectious Grooves and this was years before Dave Navarro and his Something Wicked This Way Comes-fashioned beard/eyes and shaved hulking chest were revealed on network television and in the tabloids to belong to just some other fucking “dude” who played guitar and was totally into boobs. I liked the “we are serious artists” of it all. I liked the homoeroticism of it all. And the Christ imagery. And the deviant sex and drugs and rock and roll of it all. I still think it’s easily their best album, and “Then She Did” their most harrowing and beautiful song. The end still gives me chills: “would you say hello to my mom?/would you pay a visit to her?/she was an artist just as you were/I’d have introduced you to her/she would take us out on Sundays/we’d go laughing through the garbage/she’d repair legs like a doctor/on the kitchen chairs we sat on/she was unhappy just as you were.”
  10. Dinosaur jr—Just Like Heaven Single (1989). The first thing I heard by Dinosaur. The next would be Green Mind, which I got from the Columbia House Record Club, and it completely sealed the deal. What can I say? I had never heard anything like it before, and haven’t since.
  11. Bob Mould—Black Sheets of Rain (1990). I saw the video for “It’s Too Late” on 120 Minutes and, though, I don’t necessarily think it’s a great representative of his work as a whole, it’s still a pretty awesome song (even if it’s a total rip-off of “Do Ya” by ELO). And it led to a lifelong love affair with Hüsker Dü (and a two-album love affair with Sugar). I got through my first breakup by crying and playing guitar to this album in its entirety. Perhaps more than any record, this album has defined how I play guitar.
  12. The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Electric Ladyland (1968). Also a selection from Columbia House. I instantly loved this record, and used to listen to all 15 minutes and one second of “Voodoo Chile” over and over again. When it was discovered that my friend Kurt and I would be attending different colleges, he came over to drink some bourbon pilfered from a ramshackle liquor supply in the basement. We sat in the stairway of my house on Camp Avenue and got real drunk, all the time listening to Electric Ladyland on repeat. I puked in a wicker trashcan.
  13. Descendents—Somery (1991). My friend Khanh introduced me to Descendents offshoot ALL (we covered the immortal “She’s My Ex”) during our brief stint playing in a band together. I wouldn’t know anything about Fugazi, All, Descendents or Dag Nasty if it wasn’t for Khanh. The album featuring “She’s My Ex,” Allroy’s Revenge, is nothing special, but in the Decendents compilation Somery, I found punk rock that, for the first time, I could relate to. It was funny and corny and loud and well played and produced. Descendents, to me, are the natural predecessor to Weezer, Andrew W.K. and Damone; all bands that I love immeasurably.
  14. The Clash—The Story of the Clash Vol. 1 (1988). My freshman year of college, I was in some shitty art room making some ridiculous sculpture for some stupid sculpture class that was, like, the hardest class ever somehow (I got a D). There was some other dude there and we were talking about music. He told me: “do yourself a favor and get The Story of The Clash Vol. 1.” So I did. It was the first timeI hadn’t really gotten into Fugazi yetthat I liked, not only the songs of both singers, but the fact that there were two people that sang in the band. (I always hated the Mike Mills R.E.M. songs; now I pretty much hate all of the Stipe ones, too.) “Safe European Home” blew my mind apart and introduced me to early punk. The Clash also introduced me to the notion that you could incorporate different styles of music into punk (reggae, old-school rap, etc.) and that political music need not be stiff, angular and humorless.
  15. Ramones—All the Stuff and More Vol. 1 (1990). My brother introduced me to this, the best compilation of their material, probably because it’s mainly just their first two albums in their entirety (and some other shit). I heard this around the same time as The Clash, and I got it and got hooked right away. It was around this time that I started to feel stupid about all the shit that had I spent much of my life listening to and started to realize that my band, while trying to sound like Dinosaur, actually sounded like the Gin Blossoms. Now my son loves The Ramones, and even has a plate/silverware set emblazoned with their crest, thanks to the person who prompted me to write this ridiculous assemblage. (Thanks, Saher.)
  16. The Mr. T Experience—Milk, Milk Lemonade (1992). My friend Kurt worked the late shift at the college radio station at SIU (where we were both film students our freshman year of college) and I tagged along with him a couple of times. We heard a lot of great music for the first time there (and a lot of shit), the Mr. T Experience being a true discovery. Milk, Milk Lemonade was the first record I got of theirs and, while MTX is strangely soft and non-threatening for a punk rock band, I am a total sucker for Dr. Frank’s wry lyrics. They’re really funny. Also, MTX is endlessly tuneful. I love them. My brother took a picture of them when they played On the Waterfront in Rockford, got their autographs and had it framed. Pretty awesome.
  17. Eric's Trip—Love Tara (1993). Through listening to Dinosaur, I had started listening to Sebadoh and some other lo-fi stuff, but this was, for me, the first “lo-fi” album that actually sounded like a cohesive record, rather than a bunch of songs recorded in some guy’s bedroom or basement. I especially liked the combination of acoustic guitar and bombastic drums found on “Spring.” It really opened up the possibilities of what you could do with shitty equipment and microphones. You could record an album. (This is what I thought; in reality, engineering genius Bob Weston mixed the record.) When I would play drums, I tried to play like I was in this band.
  18. Pavement—Crooked Rain Crooked Rain (1994). I used to lie in bed listening to this album over and over, dissecting it as if it was a concept album. “Silence Kit,” with its verse blatantly lifted from Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” represented the birth of rock and roll, and its closer, “Fillmore Jive” marked the end of the "rock and roll era.” That’s it, I would think. I thought its legacy would be as the last great rock and roll record, which, fittingly, told of the story of rock and roll from beginning to end. It’s sort of like that, I guess.
  19. Archers of Loaf—Vs. The Greatest Of All Time (1995). I really liked Icky Mettle quite a bit, but this connected with me in a way that no other indie band had. It was fucked up, it was tuneful, angry and sad, and Bob Weston’s production on it is a gold standard for indie recordings. Vee Vee expanded on this musical formation and, though great, Greatest bests it, or anything else they had done or would go on to do. For me, their seminal record.
  20. Superchunk—Here’s Where the Strings Come In (1995). It was around this time that my future wife, Melissa, and I were spending a lot of time together. She absolutely loved Superchunk, and it was great to have that common musical interest. I would visit her in Champaign, IL, where she was studying Anthropology at the University of Illinois, and we’d hang out in her room (a converted sun porch, which was blistering hot in the winter from the disproportionate heat piped in) and she would just lose her shit on the chorus to “Green Flowers, Blue Fish.” And that’s when I fell in love with her.
  21. Blue Cheer—Vincebus Erruptum (1968). My friend Chuck introduced me to this record (I had seen the video for their version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” on MTV’s Closet Classics), and it knocked me out with its bludgeoning, particularly unpleasant brand of longhaired blues. The dual guitar freakouts were unlike anything I’d ever heard before (now you hear it all the time). Blue Cheer was, purportedly, Jimi Hendrix’s least favorite band of all time. I think that’s funny.
  22. Black Sabbath—Black Sabbath (1970). I had no idea, until my friend CB played “The Wizard” for me, that Black Sabbath was actually good. Having come of age when Ozzy was in full-on soccer mom regalia (which I was totally into) early Sabbath seemed too old and comical for my tastes. I remember hanging out with my buddies Tony and CB at their crappy little coach house in Lincoln Park (the one bum building on the block), getting totally blown and listening to the first Sabbath album on vinyl, and just thinking it was the most awesome thing ever, from the instrumentation (particularly Bill Ward’s drumming) to the production. And of course those lyrics of Ossie’s: “Oh, no please god help me!”
  23. Chavez—Ride the Fader (1996). The first time I heard “The Guard Attacks,” I cried. Because of the sheer majesty to be found in the interplay of the guitar, bass drums and vocal melody.
  24. Rancid—Rancid (2000). I remember when my good friend and roommate Erik got the first Rancid record (their first self-titled endeavor) when we were in college and I fucking hated it, mostly because the bass is all over the goddamned place—it sounds like a can of extra-chunky peanut butter sprouted wings and is buzzing around your head incessantly. My brother-in-law loved them for a bit, too. After Life Won’t Wait got good notices, I decided to give them another shot. It would wind up being the perfect soundtrack to a road trip Melissa and I took to Toronto. But when Rancid (the band’s second self-titled endeavor) came out, they became my heroes. Unfortunately, neither my brother-in-law nor Erik likes them any more, so I find myself alone in my enthusiasm and adoration for Rancid (except for that first record, which I still think is pretty awful). Oh, well.
  25. Gillian Welch—Soul Journey (2003). I heard Gillian Welch playing at a Barnes and Noble in Manhattan while I was visiting Melissa, who was now my wife and in grad school at the Teacher's College at Columbia University. (I was still in Chicago trying to get my shithead rock and roll outfit off the ground.) I don’t think it was this record that they were playingI think it was Time (The Revelator)but I went out and bought Soul Journey, thinking it was the one I had heard. And, now, having heard all of her records, I have no problem saying that it is easily her best album. I have come to love it to an unreasonable degree, and it has provided me with a entry point into the music of The Carter Family and Alan Lomax’s field recordings (the “Southern Journey” series), both of which I find amazing.
  26. Wolf Parade—Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005). Though I have recently gotten pretty excited over The Blood Brothers, Black Mountain and The Brother Kite, among others, Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary was the last album I was completely enamored with. It was practically the soundtrack to my friends Kurt and Meredith’s wedding, and I remember spending a lot of time painting the room off of the dining room, which was to be my son’s room, anxiously awaiting his arrival. I finished it up and he was born two days later. At two and a half, he prefers At Mount Zoomer to Apologies, and went through a good three-month period of time where he would listen to nothing else in the car except for the first song on the record.
Lately, I've just been listening to a lot of Clipse and Black Flag. Except in the car—my son's new favorite: Samiam

Honorable Mentions: TeslaMechanical Resonance; The ActionRolled Gold; Alex ChiltonBach's Bottom; Faith No MoreThe Real Thing; Bruce SpringsteenNebraska; Polvo—This Eclipse; The CarsHeartbeat City; Daryl Hall and John OatesBig Bam Boom; T. RexThe Slider; Eddie CochranSomethin' Else: The Fine Looking Hits of Eddie Cochran; Black FlagWasted . . . Again; FantomasThe Director's Cut; The Who—The Who Sell Out; FugaziIn on the Kill Taker; Walt MinkBareback Ride; Guided by VoicesAlien Lanes; Soul Asylum—And the Horse They Rode In On; Hüsker Dü—Everything Falls Apart and More; Iron Maiden—Number of the Beast; Jawbreaker—Dear You; Samiam—You Are Freaking Me Out; Kingdom Come—Kingdom Come; Velvet Underground—White Light, White Heat; Morrissey—Kill Uncle; Pearl Jam—Ten; Iggy Pop—Lust for Life; Tommy James & the Shondells—Anthology; Weezer—Pinkerton.


Edward said...

That Master of Puppets will also make my eventual list is not surprising, but I love that "In 3D" is here and it was the very 1st album I thought to put on mine.

Kyle said...

I don't like that Rancid record. I can't tell when one song ends and another begins. I can't even tell when the chorus hits on most of the songs. My favorite record is Life Won't Wait. I think I bought it at Best Buy the week it was released. It really shows that some of the guys in Rancid are actual musicians.

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