I’m in one of those rough periods where work takes too much of my mind to come up with a blogable experience for y’all – so I stepped back for something I started working on months ago, and just needed to finish up when I needed a good excuse to blog something. On Facebook back then, one of those “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” posts came up in my radar and made me pretty reminiscent. The concept was supposed to be:
List 14 albums that made a lasting impression on you, but only 1 per band/artist. Don’t take too long and don’t think too hard. No compilations.
First of all, I couldn’t go without taking too long or thinking too hard. That’s just not me. It made me really think about what music made an impression on me, and got to the point where I could put this together. Knowing me, I wanted to blow this up — I wanted to expand on those albums and touch on those things. BUT — I bound myself to certain rules:
- This is about personal impact to me; what influenced me in some way. That means, it may not be my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, these are practically every group that I love over no other, but these may not be my favorite albums of theirs … just the ones that were most influential.
- One Album Per Band/Artist Applies just like the rules state.
- One Band/Artist per Album. Honestly, I could have had soundtracks and compilations on this list. That, however, didn’t match the spirit of this exercise. For you readers out there, it will just be easier to identify with this list if I did what you can kinda embrace.
- No classical or drum corp albums. Really, this is eliminating some pretty important recordings to me.Again this is a ‘spirit of this exercise’ thing. Plus, with those, it sometimes is not as much about the specific album.
- ‘Greatest Hits’ or ‘Best of’ can be used. That’s because there are just groups that I was introduced to only in Greatest Hits form. One can argue that they aren’t composed like the original album, but when an album speaks to me, it speaks to me.
- This is not a list in order of ‘the greatest’ or ‘the most impact’; because that simply is hard to judge. Instead, this is actually in order of appearance. Not as in, the order that the albums were released, but the order they entered into my life.
So enough talk … let’s get to the list … and Buckle In, this is a long one!!!
#1 — Dire Straights – Brothers in Arms
There may have been albums that I purchased before I picked up Brothers in Arms, but this was the first one I actually owned – and the first that owned me. Sucked in by the hit “Money for Nothing” and it’s Anti-MTV statement this album introduced me to elements of blues and jazz in very approachable means through songs like “Your Latest Trick”, “Why Worry” and the title track “Brothers in Arms”. Mark Knopfler’s trademark guitar sound and voice was such a different experience from what you hear on the radio, it was like a secret treasure that made me feel like I found something no one in the world heard of. Other songs like “Tunnel of Love” and “Romeo and Juliet” found on other albums rank higher in the great song list for me, but as far as an introduction into what music could be this album started me out a path that is dripping with all the other albums on this list.
#2 — Paul Simon – Graceland
This is probably the most critically acclaimed album on my list, and what made it so was part of the impact it had on me. Graceland was Paul Simon’s successful attempt to introduce the Western World to traditionally African music. Known for the still popular “Call Me Al”, this is an album rich with great themes and rhythms. It came out and I found it during a very busy and stressful time in high school; and even today I still use it’s music to help me relax, meditate, and center my thoughts. Sure, it was a great introduction into world music and challenged my impressions on music for years to come, but the personal impact on the way it helped me through trying times stays with me today. I listened to all those songs so many times, that I still can receipt most of the lyrics without even a thought. Like when someone calls someone crazy, I think “she must have diamonds on her shoes … man that’s no way to lose these walking blues”. When I am going to Memphis, “I’m going to Graceland (Graceland) Memphis Tennessee” with all those poor boys and pilgrims and families. In FACT … if I ever do have kids, and especially if I ever have a boy and a girl, they will be named “Betty & Al”.
#3 — Blood Sweat & Tears – Greatest Hits
During that period when I was 14 through 24 years old, music performance (marching band, drum corps, pep band, etc) dominated my life. Yet in mainstream music, there wasn’t many instances you can hear influences of what I was doing in what they were playing. Blood Sweat & Tears bucked that trend. If you are a fan of Chicago or Tower of Power, or you love the music from the movie Blues Brothers, you know what I am talking about. Good hard rock music with lots of brass players playing their brains out. They were playing it on the bus and the gyms in my early Drum Corps career, and I couldn’t stop asking “What is This” to people who kept trying to be a music snob to me. But this album was the first that made me ask “Why haven’t I heard this before” & “What else is out there?” Think of the orchestration — saxs, brass, guitars, drums, soulful vocals. Add to it lyrics like “God Bless The Child” that’s got it’s own, or “You Make Me So Very Happy”, or “One Child Born”, or “Spinning Wheel”. Man I love that sound. Thank goodness this got played into my brain until I loved it.
#4 — Pat Metheny – First Circle
This album is as much symbolic about a period of time in my musical influence as anything. During my first two years of college, I got to spend a few hours every week as a DJ on the school’s radio station. To be different, I did a Jazz(ish) show – the only one that was on the station (and they loved me for it, just to get a mix). I had a whole jazz library just for me to play with, and boy did I ever. I took a half hour every week to pull a random album off the shelves, sample all the tracks, and still pick one to play. So many great music came to me that way with names and projects that are legends even though I didn’t know it. First Circle I knew of, but exploring it during that time was so eye opening. I still tag the title track as the perfect ‘right brain meets left brain’ song, and is one of my favorite single songs ever. Pat Metheny is a master at mixing melodies, rhythms, and orchestrations as it passes along from section to section and time through time. Add to that, this song had a difficult meter and I could decontruct this peice for hours. I also love “Yolanda, You Learn” but just as much as it transitions off of the most unique song on any of the albums on this list. “Forward March”, the first song on the album, is practically a parody of a marching band song … as if it was played by a junior high. The instruments are out of tune, noone is in time with each other, performers fall to reach notes, and all of this with a very very simple song to play. It’s so bad, it’s great! Overall the album just makes me remember good times and good springs in Houghton, Michigan everytime I play it – and still remains my springtime go to album to this day.
#5 — Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell
Ever form an opinion of something, stick to it for years, and then go back on that opinion because you saw the light? When I was a kid, something convinced me that Meatloaf was no different than the crap that was rabid in ’70s rock; which is odd because my only memory of Meatloaf from that time was a anti-smoking ad where he wore his trademark velvet jacket and dress shirt with the frilly cuffs. But remember when I mentioned how I said the Blood Sweat & Tears hit me with a “Who is this, and why haven’t I heard of it?” moment? Well … One day at college while helping setting something up, and someone had music playing. It made my blood boil with excitement, it made me want to do back flips with energy, it made me laugh, it made me listen close, it made me wonder what story was behind other great songs. When I asked who this was, I actually scoffed – thought no way that guy who had the frilly napkins hanging out of his velvet jacket with the sweaty hair made that kind of brilliant music. Yet there he was … and there he still lies as a go to album in my collection.
#6 — Indigo Girls – Swamp Ophelia
I can’t really remember when I started listening to Indigo Girls, but it had to be somewhere in college. By the time Swamp Ophelia came along, nearly most of what I listened to on a day-to-day basis was some of their earlier works. Unlike most of the music that made this list up until this point in my life, this is the first album that I anticipated in advance and bought right after it’s released. In my opinion, it is their best work. Indigo Girls hadn’t become significantly political by this point, and spent so much of their time writing songs that challenged perceptions on relationships and how we see ourselves. I so easily identified with songs like “Language or the Kiss” (an oddly predictor for my traveling life) and “Mystery” that they seemed to define key relationships in my life. Yet I still remember the first taste of the starting track “Fugitive”, it’s aggressive energy and tempo, and hearing the out-of-breath singers recovering at the end wanting to be so into something to give it their all like that. Say what you want about this duo, but this was a seminal album of individual songwriting, something that started me to draw to independent singers more than anything.
#7 — Barenaked Ladies – Gordon
You knew someone was going to show up to touch on my inner-Canadian. During the late ’90s, I seemed to have a better relationship with the Barenaked Ladies than real people. It stared with bringing home Gordon for the first time hooked by their most famous song “If I Had $1,000,000”, and falling in love with their quirky Canadian mix of humor, storytelling, and music. During this time, I was commuting an hour to work (one way) and grew pretty tired of the crap that was on the radio; so the tapeplayer with these guys in it dominated my audio for a good three years. What I was noticing was that I had become a real fan of singer-songwriters. The people who not only just make music, but write words that are influenced by the audio .. and vice versa. When those songs come alone with depth of meaning even when disguised as whimsy (see “You can Be My Yoko Ono”, see also “Blame it On Me”) it can pull me closer, and leave me wanting like in “Good Boy” or “Crazy”. Again, this ended up not being my favorite BNL album, but they had such a great influence in my outlook on life and the world I was living in, I couldn’t ignore how Gordon started me down that path.
#8 — Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen
I’ll be honest with y’all. There are somethings that I will just not share on a blog, as they aren’t things I will share to people generally … almost never at least. This album showed up in my life at a point that was a big crossroads. It was just as influential in nearly sending me down the wrong road as it is the symbol of following the right road. If I felt I could open up about this album, this segment would be half the blog’s length. Without much more of the details to add, I’ll just say I can’t make the drive to Gettysburg without this on the radio.
#9 — Nora Jones – Come Away With Me
What’s funny to me is that when I looked at this list, I realized there was a gap when in the late ’90s Ben Folds was kicking around, and then the rest of them showed up in the mid ’00s. So when I questioned that, I realized I missed someone important. Nora! Okay, this period was marked with more of my compilation findings (Bluegrass mostly, but some choral groups too); but Nora came along in that period with an album that just tantalizes my right brain enough that I forget I have a left brain. Soulful, seductive, and sexy, Nora Jones is really the Barry White of the new Millinium. Her break-out album found me when I was searching for quality amongst the crap, and this is quality. I used to joke about the title track: “Only Nora Jones could convince you that when it’s overcast you should take public transportation to an overgrown weedpatch; then convince you it’s a long song.” Her soft touch and steady flowing sounds filtered through my ears in the early days of traveling too heavy. I still will come away with her whenever she wants.
#10 — Panic! At the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out
This just barely made the list; yet it points to a very strange week and some great memories. Panic! is one of those bands that either you have heard of them or you haven’t. They had one kinda hit from this album, but is generally obscure and only have a limited following. For mainstream-ish albums it is in my opinion one of the best full composition albums I have heard, as each song seems to build and align with a continuing story. The concept of the album has to do with dirty little secrets, their ugly rumors, and how all of it comes together at one classy party. It’s unique titles (like: “There’s a Reason the Tables are Numbered, Honey, You Just haven’t Thought of it Yet”) just adds to the theme. Each song molds together so nicely that they struggle to stand alone or out of order. Part of the reason I grew such a good connection to this album was that it ties itself to other things I love, specifically musical influences to The Decemberists (see #12) and my favorite writer Chuck Palahniuk (including using a quote from his in the title of the song “The Only Difference between Martyrdom and Suicide is the Press Coverage”). I first heard the main track (“I Write Sins not Tragidies” … if you heard it, you would remember the chorus: “haven’t you heard that I’m the new cancer, never looked better, you can’t stand it”) when I was in Los Angeles for a week of work somewhere during 2005. During that week, I came across a radio station that sucked me in and kept me coming back. It was one of those stations that was not the “Top 40” music, but what was expected to be the “Next Top 40”. During that week, I opened my ears up to a ton of new music, and split through a number of different groups. As it turns out, this was the only one left behind, but its a reminder of a great week of new music exploration.
#11 — Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
Of all the albums on the list, this one is the hardest to summarize, because there is so much that is so unique about it. As a whole, it is wonderful album, but it’s pieces are where the brilliance lies – so bare with me as I give you some of those tastes. I still remember like yesterday the first time I heard the first sound – a creak of a piano pedal, warm first note interrupted by a second, interrupted further by a haunting rhythm, mysterious, strange, haunting, and you are only 10 seconds into a full album (that on a song so aptly & descriptively named: “Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois”). This is a concept album, nearly all the songs based on locations and stories from the flatlander state. From direct references to Chicago, Decatur, and Bloomington-Normal in song titles & lyrics; to thematic connections like mythical Metropolis & Superman’s similarity to steel workers. This album drew attention for it’s guttingly dark “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” which after condemning the serial killer for the way he drew in his victims, the singer compares himself to the killer too closely. Some songs on this album are short, shorter than it takes you to read their mostly long names. Some are instrumental, but are rich with depth — like I use “Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run” as a very accessible five minute example of the minimalist classical style of music. Yet the fugue-like “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” dances and sings with a lightness that the old composers never achieved. Yet I would be missed to not mention one song – the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful song I know: “Casimir Pulaski Day”. This song is about a boy who is coming to grips that a girl his age that he likes is dying of ‘cancer of the bone’. It’s that kind of selective phrases that hint to you how deep these characters are in the story, from the way they try prayer to heal, the way her father runs away so noone can see him cry, or how the girl & the boy share a ‘kiss on the mouth’ at an age when a mouth kiss meant something big. The ending, in it’s sadness, is more gutting when you empathize with what the boy’s life could be because of this chapter. All within 3 minutes. That’s the power music can have on you. That’s the impact an album can have on you.
#12 — Decemberists – Crane Wife
I have said it at least three times in this blog. To know me is to know that I love The Decemberists. The Portland based band that no better describes Portland, they perform pieces that are a mix of folk, rock, country, and awesome. The first time I heard of them was on an NPR show where this was named Album of the Year in an incredibly good year for albums; and on the show they played the opening track “Crane Wife #3” – who’s guitars, drums, bass, and eventually even glockenspiel suckered me in. I currently own every album they put out, can sing nearly every word, and they stand as the only group I have seen in concert in an actual concert venue (not just at a bar or … Salmonstock stage) in years. This album, and particularly the three part title (as in … Crane Wife Part 1 & 2 and Crane Wife Part 3, oddly separated in the wrong order on the album) inspired some of my own creative story telling to significant time wasting levels. Not only that, when this album came out in 2006, it sparked a period for me where I explored and loved independent groups and song writers; something I still chase to this day. I almost went with another great album, “The King is Dead”, that influenced the great summer of ’11, but “Crane Wife” has influenced me for a longer period to a greater degree. And Summer of ’11 was greater influenced by another album … #13.
#13 — Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Ever feel like something becomes the soundtrack for your life? Maybe not that the words define everything you do, but the right words filter at the right times. The summer of ’11 for me was a stormy one. It was when I was at the low point in my major weight loss of the period, and I was wrecked by ever changing emotions & imbalances in my own chemistry. Some other key factors were chasing my personal life, and I was hitting a point where I was ready for the seas to calm. Bon Iver’s style is just that calm sea. Written in a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin, you can feel that slow satisfying nature to the pieces. Sometimes hypnotic, sometimes stoic, sometime rhythmic; this album feels like a comfortable place where I can hide when trouble finds me. It is the big track from the album, “Holcene” that no better helped me through this time. While it’s hard to explain, the song writer suggested that we all believe our lives are the epics written by master hands; but then moments come when we know “we are not magnificent”. He made the statement: “…it’s also a song about redemption and realizing that you’re worth something; that you’re special and not special at the same time.” This album took my hand through a very difficult to understand period in my life, and let me know that greater things were to come. Sometimes, only music can do that for you.
#14 — LP – Into the Wild
You probably never heard of LP. As it turns out, my introduction was because there was this credit card commercial that annoyed me – and the song in the background seemed to make no sense (something about someone dumb enough to leave a gate open, and the commercial showed a woman climbing a rock). Finally, I decided to Google the dang thing. The album is actually just an LP (yes, that means LP by LP) consisting of only four songs. Yet each track is an absolute winner. The title track is absolutely incredible. It is about taking the fear of the unknown and using it to jump out and experience the world. It is aggressive, energetic, and life changing. This all came along just as I was heading up to my great unknown, my years in Alaska. No music better entered my life to define my life at the right moment in my life than this album did. It defined six months of my life, and validated all the decisions that led me to reaching the 49th state.
Weird Al Yankovic — Dare to Be Stupid
When I decided to be a “Close Personal Friend of Al’s”
Grateful Dead — Greatest Hits
No drugs were used in the selection of this album, though video games were.
Counting Crows – Films About Ghosts
Best of Album, and its hard not to love the symbolic poetry in the lyrics of what they did.
Flogging Molly – Within a Mile of Home
You want a mind blowing intro? Listen to “To Youth” without listening to anything else of their’s first. Just keep your hat on for this crazy ride.
Colin Hay – Man @ Work
Call it my “As Heard on Scrubs” period in my life, this album by the former Men at Work Front Man was a pretty cool thing.
Five for Fighting – Battle for Everything
“As Heard on Scrubs” again. What a good album, but just got lost in the disconnects there.
Kishi Bashi – 151A
Never heard of him? Check out “Manchester” and I dare you not to like it.
The Postal Service – The Postal Service
A short lived group who made only one album, but was a pretty brilliant work. I absolutely love this album, but honestly, wasn’t really life changing.
Less Than Jake – Boarders and Boundaries
Something about a Ska Band that includes sax and trombones is too good to overlook.
Passenger – All the Little Lights
Honestly, if I wrote this blog in another year, it would be on that list. It’s getting there, but it sometimes takes years for these things to reach this level.