15 Albums
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By etrigan - Last updated: Monday, March 2, 2009 - Save & Share - One Comment

I like this meme — that I perpetuated on Facebook — so I’m copying it here. What I like are the instructions that no one seems to follow. So I will paraphrase the part that I think is important, and then call out Photi and Jank, insisting that they follow the heart of the meme and give us some meaningful essays.

This is not a list of your favorite 15 albums, now or ever. It is about albums that changed who you are and how you live.

Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. They might not be what you listen to now, but these are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world.

When you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you’re it!

Preface: Sometimes in my musical life I was ahead of my time, sometimes I was behind…sometimes way behind. I’ll order this list chronologically from my perspective. There are items on this list might cause heartburn for people, especially my college radio buddies. I apologize in advance.

01. Cast “Jesus Christ Superstar” – I’m not sure if my mother checked this out of the library, or if she bought it, but I remember the double-album in the brown cover. I remember sitting on the floor hearing the needle in the grooves injecting the room with this musical interpretation of the bible stories that I knew since I knew any stories. This was the my first lesson in the dramatic and it planted the seeds of being open to alternate interpretations — questioning what is accepted. It took hold of me and never let me go. (The mid-90s Athens-based revisit was awesome, too.) http://is.gd/kjHK

02. Petra “More Power to You” – I was raised in a charismatic Christian household and was told that rock music was the work of Satan. The church took the youth group to Petra’s “More Power To You” concert and I was caught in the undertow of rock-n-roll. After the concert — full-on with smoke, fancy lights, screaming guitars…just like real rock-n-roll — the parents held a meeting and prayed over the possibility that exposing us to Petra was a bad idea. http://is.gd/kjjS

03. Sweet Comfort Band “Hold on Tight” – (See #02.) These two albums together made me directly question what the church had taught me, that the guitars and drums themselves were the tools of a power trying to corrupt me and keep me from heaven. Not long after discovering these albums you would find me, late at night, under the covers, with my ear pressed against the top of my clock radio, the volume as low as I could stand it, but the music came through powerfully. The Police, Michael Jackson, Prince, Duran Duran…much of the 80s happened for me in secret.

04. Doug E Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew with Slick Rick “The Show” b/w “La Di Da Di” (12″) – (This was the first piece of vinyl that I purchased with my own money.) I knew about rap before but it was this album that convinced me rap wasn’t a fad, and I would be part of the swelling fans that would bring it out of novelty. Hip hop culture was here to stay, and had a fresh start with the mouth as a percussion instrument. It was also the beginning of a lyrical style thick with specific references to, and samples of, other music which fueled curiosity to find many other types of music (Funk, Soul, …cartoon theme songs.) http://is.gd/kjJt http://is.gd/kjJM

05. SST Compilation…I think – Actually I can’t exactly place what album I’m thinking about. It may have been “The Blasting Concept” since I’m pretty sure Black Flag and Husker Du were on it. I remember it was on vinyl with a mostly black cover, and it was the first music that convinced me melodies and harmonies didn’t have to be prominent, that important music could be dirty, dark, noisy and loud. Overnight my choices in music almost doubled.

06. The Smiths “Louder Than Bombs” – Please, Strahan, don’t tell any embarrassing stories about when I’ve displayed ignorance. Let’s summarize and say that I assumed what The Smiths were about before I ever heard a note. When I eventually gave The Smiths a chance (because I wanted to get a girl’s attention) Morrissey put me in touch with my own personal oddity. Somewhere through the mopey balladeer selling stories about poetry, love, misery, crime and violence I realized all of those extremes could exist together. Life was full of contradictions, so was I, and so were the songs of The Smiths. My high school senior year I used songs from this band as my pieces for prose and poetry in Forensic Competitions. http://is.gd/kk9h

07. Various Albums from K Records – This is where I’m first going to piss off a lot of KLPIers. Working college radio at the turn of the decade (1990) meant tons of free albums from independent labels. Being around so many hard core music lovers, I started to realize that my tastes in music were not fringe at all. I don’t think during my time at KLPI that I heard one song from K Records that I liked. I would invent an analogy to describe how unproduced and raw their recordings were to my ears, but those singles existed as their own analogy. Somewhere I have an album (Baby Flamehead?) I stole from the station with this inscription from Will Cullen Hart: “…I know that you’d rather wipe your ass with some of the records I’ve recommended…” Yes, Will, but you’re not the only apple in that pie. I have deep love for all of you. What I learned at KLPI was to stop judging people by what they listened to because I met some great people who played some really bad records.

08. Public Enemy “Fear of a Black Planet” – Political music can be aggressive, and rap lyrics don’t have to be vapid. For awhile after this I couldn’t listen to rap that wasn’t meaningful, and I generally still hold that feeling now.

09. The Communards “The Communards” – Since my senior year of high school I had been spending most of my public drinking time in gay bars around Shreveport. I wasn’t questioning my sexuality, just my role in society’s oppression of “sexual deviance”. Between Jimmy Sommerville and a Stonewall commemorative t-shirt I felt I was part of a turning point that was important. I wore that t-shirt as I listened to love songs written by an openly gay man for the gay community. I decided to be an active part of acceptance.

10. Those Who Dig “Those Who Dig” (or Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom “Me So Twangy”) – I always knew I would end up in Austin and in 1992 I moved here. Around 1994-1995 my commitment was cemented when I found myself smack dab in the middle of an actual emerging music scene. A few groups of U.T. students were finding a happy, almost childlike, love of songwriting and I got to sit in the middle and soak it all in. It reinvigorated my desire to seek wonder, which I had lost somewhere in high school. This thirst for wonder opened my spirit, and was the catylyst to seek an induced alternate view of the world, though I wouldn’t recognize the connection until much later. http://is.gd/kjFj

11. The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – My familiarity with the Beatles first incarnation was deeply ingrained by repeated exposure from a young age, but I had never looked carefully at their second incarnation. A friend came to visit me in Austin for a long weekend and we decided to take a trip together that lasted early into the morning and left us exhausted. Somewhere in the middle of that trip he put on this album and it was the fourth track when I heard (sweet, loving) Paul McCartney say “…I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved…” and something clicked. The album was deeper than I had ever heard before. The lyrics were strikingly less like the children’s songs I had imagined them to be, and the tracks were layered so impossibly thick. After this album I spent a lot more time listening for depth in music that I had previously taken for granted. http://is.gd/kjOr

12. XTC – “English Settlement” – This falls on a line that may break the rules put forth initially, but I’ll chance it. I enjoyed “Skylarking” but wasn’t an ardent XTC fan. When I bought this CD, looking for tracks I remembered from my KLPI days, in a second hand store in Austin — a sadly missed Technophilia, one of the first and best http://is.gd/kjOU — I wasn’t aware of the protracted journey I was starting. I have since bought every album by XTC and have had the same “favorite band” for longer then any other by a factor of 5x. Andy Partridge is a genius and my fears that his creativity would suffer under the weight of Virgin’s mismanagement were relieved upon the release of “Apple Venus Volume 1”. Sadly, XTC appear to be done for good now…but they’re still my favorite band. http://is.gd/kjPH

13. Neutral Milk Hotel “In The Aeroplane over The Sea” – This will be another hotspot. During my brief time at KLPI I associated with several musicians who have since come into their own right. Many nights were spent at Fun-o-Mat with various members of Elephant 6 doing all kinds of strange experimental things. At the time I didn’t get it — I was just glad that it scared away the straights — but I really liked the people so I was supportive and kept my opinions to myself. Long after that I connected with the pop of AiS, but it was seeing Jeff performing at the Electric Lounge during SXSW when I realized I missed something big. I bought this album the next day and have treasured it. That’s not the life changing part, though. Through An eFOAF (electronic Friend of a Friend) I read an article about Jeff’s seclusion. The writer had probed into Jeff’s private life, hassling friends and family to try and talk to Jeff about the power of his music and all that this album meant to his cult following. His published article, suggesting that Jeff was selfish in his hermitage, was offensive and angered me. I wrote a letter to the writer, explaining my belief that critical analysis of any work says more about the consumer than it does about the creator. I don’t think Jeff made Aeroplane to give form to other people’s angst, but it was an easy fit for the kind of heavy baggage that uneasy people carry around. A recurring theme in my life is the separation of art from artist. While giving due credit for the act of creating, it is important to know that the work is not the artist, and to clearly identify what we own in our interpretation versus what the artist is trying/willing to give us. The fervor over Aeroplane brought these beliefs closer to my person, giving me an opportunity to refine and approve them further. Leave the musicians the f alone and just enjoy the music. (This is another reason I love my town of residence. For the most part, fame is not an attractor in Austin so people who possess it can find solitude here.) http://is.gd/kjXi

14. Easy Star All-Stars “Dub Side of the Moon” – My upbringing in Shreveport (with 98 Rocks!), and my friendship with a throng of Pink Floyd fans, couldn’t convince me to like one of the most worshiped albums of all times. I did love the synchronicity of Dark Side of the Rainbow (http://is.gd/kjRq) and I’ve always preferred covers to original tracks, for some undiscovered reason. I listened deeply to Dub Side several times and it eventually lead me back to the original which I have come to love, also. It was a long journey back to my white trash roots through a reggae beat but the trip was worthwhile. http://is.gd/kjSG

15. Kelly Clarkson “Thankful” – Of the many struggles to find my identity my most recent realization is, deep down inside me, lives a fourteen year old girl. I initially listened to this album because Clarkson won my heart on American Idol — a show I haven’t been able to watch since — and I came to <3 it because it so powerfully plumbs what I imagine are the true depths of teen girl angst. After this it was Avril Lavigne, then (thanks to the confession of Alamo Drafthouse Sing-Along host Henri Mazza) I came out as a Justin Timberlake fan. I fully recognize that most of what I like in these is slick production. Maybe the artists should share equal credit with Clive Davis, The Matrix and Timbaland. Dr. Dre gets his due, after all. Addendum 1. Danielson: A Family Movie - I found Sufjan Stevens through this movie. It isn't an album but it was a life-changing musical experience. As Petra and Sweet Comfort Band led me away from religious music, this film and Sufjan led me back to a middle ground that recognizes the influence of Christianity over my life and a stance to not be ashamed of. "Seven Swans" is regularly on my iPod or playing in the house. Addendum 2. Five-Eight "Live" - Like anyone who is going to write one of these I have had a deep personal relationship with music all of my life. I moved to Austin partly so I could attend SXSW searching for new music, but I had not really connected with the "live music" aspect of it all. I was only looking for direction on what albums to purchase. While attending my first SXSW as a resident Austinite I was led by friends to a bar with the stage set into the curve of a small cliff wall. There, Mike Mantione stepped around the microphone on the stage edge to face the audience with his voice propelled naturally from the surrounding stone as he belted the first words to "Weirdo". I was awash in goosebumps and I was musically born again in the waters of live performance. It changed my outlook on music to cherish "the show" as much as I do a recording.

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One Response to “15 Albums”

Comment from k-pho
Time March 13, 2009 at 9:33 am

You got me, hook, line and sinker.

As I was compiling this list, I realized all but one of my musical epiphanies occurred by the time I was 20. I don’t seem to have the kinds of moments that rise to the level of “life-changing” with albums or bands anymore. Too tired to figure out the relevance of that.

1. Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s. My dad bought the album when it came out in 1967 with the intention that it would be a present to the person whose birthday party he was attending, but saved it for himself instead. Very glad he was selfish. This album made an appearance most Sundays around my house from as early as I can remember. It was a bizarre record, unlike any other music I’d heard before. The songs had a profound effect on me, from the blissful rock of “Sgt. Pepper’s” and “Lovely Rita” to the crushing melancholy of “She’s Leaving Home” to the final, long piano chord of “Day In The Life.” I learned, in the most basic way, how songs didn’t always have to be uniform, neat melodic arrangements.

2. Elton John’s Greatest Hits Vols. I and II. The only artist and albums on this list I never actually got around to owning. My family checked these out from the public library 7 or 8 times over the course of a couple of years. Learned every word to every song. I got such a thrill singing along loudly and whenever possible to “The Bitch Is Back.” These discs definitely peg a certain moment in time and certain emotions in the back of my brain.

3. Grease – Movie Soundtrack. I can’t believe I’m putting this in print, but rules are rules. Another album learned word for word over the course of a summer of suburban Dallas ennui. Not sure what drew us so strongly to this schmaltzy piece of nonsense, but nonetheless, it remains an essential part of my childhood memories. Must have been the drama. I’ll go with that.

4. Def Leppard – Pyromania. In 8th grade, I got a Walkman for my birthday, promptly bought this as my first cassette and welded it right in. It was a masterpiece of rock and roll to my junior high ears, something that was metal with new wave sensibilities. Probably the first time I realized music, as escapism, would get me through trying times, such as the aforementioned junior high.

5. Van Halen – I. Truly mind blowing for me as a 13 year old. There are other vocalists and guitarists and then there’s David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen. I cherished this album because it was such a smack in the face to everything else on the radio at the time. It seemed insane to listen to the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac or Steely Dan when Van Halen was around. In 1984, they came to Dallas and my sister and I begged our parents like our lives depended on it. And my dad took us. And that show is still in my top 5 concert experiences.

6. Prince – Purple Rain Soundtrack. During a summer vacation in California, my hellion cousin Jessica took my sister and I to see Purple Rain (of course, after telling our parents we were going to see something not R-rated). Oh my goodness. Purple Rain instantly turned Michael Jackson’s Thriller into children’s music. Guitar, funk, songs about women pleasuring themselves … it was like a bomb went off. Got me interested from that point on in all kinds of soul and R&B.

7. Jimi Hendrix – Smash Hits. As a budding guitarist, I, of course, was enamored with Jimi Hendrix. I completely identified with his relatively sloppy blues approach as opposed to the hair metal louts of the 80’s trying to create precise, lighting fast arpeggios that I had no hope of reproducing. This album began a fascination with the blues and led me, much later, to Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.

8. The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs. Around the time I was still steeped in metal bands, my mom came back from her yearly trip abroad with her high school students and I asked her “what is everyone listening to over there?” to which she replied “some band called ‘The Smiths.’” I said “Never heard of them. Must be crappy.” It would be another three years before I came to know the Smiths, as many young folks have before and since, as one of my personal musical saviors. They were mopey and yet somewhat ebullient at the same time and, like John, I felt a kinship and identified with their music.

9. Minor Threat – s/t – A friend played me this album he got from a fellow band camp attendee. Upon hearing it, I was ready to throw away every album I owned and listen to this the rest of my life. This is what I believed a punk band should sound like: an angrier, faster Sex Pistols. For a teenager who liked to yell and argue, this was like gasoline on that fire.

10. U2 – Joshua Tree / R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant / B-52’s – Wild Planet. Hand in hand, these albums permanently defined the time and place of my senior year of high school. One or all of these were in someone’s car cassette deck going to and from parties. The band I was in covered songs from each album. They were omnipresent. And we sure liked singing along to “Superman” drunk at the top of our lungs.

11. Ministry – Land of Rape and Honey. When I first donned a pair of billowy Cavariccis and started going to clubs, Ministry’s “Every Day is Halloween” was the tune of the moment. If it wasn’t playing somewhere, we’d make it a point to harangue the DJ until he played it. And then came “Stigmata” with Al Jourgensen screaming “I’m chewing on glass … I’m eating my fingers” behind a punishing electronic drum and guitar loop. It was a completely whacked out metal-techno hybrid that resonated with me, something I’d been waiting to hear and embrace. Mr. Jourgensen could do no wrong, as far as I was concerned, with subsequent albums and numerous side projects over the next 6 years.

12. Jane’s Addiction – s/t. Jane’s Addiction was the unknown opening act for Love & Rockets at the Arcadia Theater in Dallas in the winter of 1988 and tore the place apart, leaving a comparably lame L&R with an audience in shellshock that filtered out before their last song. Jane’s Addiction played a glorious form of rock and roll that drew on punk and metal, but never strayed far into either category. I left ready to buy their entire catalogue, which, it turned out, was only one self-titled live album. Over the following 4 years, I saw them twice more, in Austin at Palmer Auditorium and then in Dallas at the first Lollapalooza. So I guess while their albums were great, seeing them live was more the life-changing event.

13. Nirvana – Nevermind. I was in Waterloo Records returning a Soul Asylum cassette and my friend said, hey, we just got this in. Trade it for this. It will blow your mind. Lord, did it ever. Once again, a band came along that fused together a sound I had been waiting for. I practically grabbed my roommate by the lapels and said “You need to listen to this. This is the future of rock and roll.” I repeated that process with everyone I came across and got swept up in the tidal wave of devotion to this band and this album.

14. Pixies – Trompe Le Monde. Snuck up on me as I was still in the throes of Nirvana. While friends had tried before to push the Pixies on me, I couldn’t get into previous efforts. Not melodic enough, too arty, whatever. I don’t remember exactly what made me buy TLM, but after a few spins I actually started listening to what was going on and was hooked. The music was complex and innovative, with song structures that incorporated noise and feedback, making it a form of art. In a way, it brought me back to Sgt. Pepper’s and the idea that songs aren’t always neat little packages spoon-fed to you.

15. Junior Brown – Semi Crazy. It was about the time that the dobro was making a serious comeback, especially with alt-country bands, that Mr. Brown brought back honky-tonk in 1996. I had a revelation where I thought “wow, it’s OK to like country again.” This kind of country, anyway. A little piece of Texas I carry around and that stays close to my heart. And my son, at 3 years old, learned all the words to “Gotta Get Up Every Morning.”

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