My top five formative albums

The internet’s full of top-whatever-number greatest albums lists, most of which I disagree with.  I mean, Sgt. Pepper‘s is a great album and all, but it’s not one that would crack my top 10. “Well, yeah,” you might say, “but you listen to mostly heavy metal” (I’m assuming you know me a bit). Sure, but then there are also lists devoted to strictly metal albums, and I have to tell you, I don’t care too much about Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.  Again, some awesome songs on both (“Aces High” is on my workout music playlist) and influential to the genre, but they’re not albums that have any distinct resonance with me.

And I suppose that’s why those top-whatever ratings get argued over so often – musical taste is subjective and what blows your skirt up might not even…well, whatever the male equivalent of that previous expression is for me. Those putting together these kinds of lists try to avoid that by looking at the albums’ perceived quality, originality, and influence, and that’s why Sgt. Pepper‘s and Revolver end up being in every top 10 list out there. Meh.

Now, I’m not “meh”-ing The Beatles, so much as I am the nature of these lists. Look, no shit, the Beatles are one of the most, if not the most, influential rock bands ever, and to suggest otherwise illustrates some sort of petty bias against those boys from Liverpool.  It’s ignorant.  If you want to hate on a band, direct it toward the Black-Eyed Peas – they’re the ones ruining music. Usually, though, those lists tend to get those objective qualities meted out in the right order, unless they’re purposely trying to annoy people (Kanye West at number 9, Adele at 17, while Led Zeppelin IV is at 79 – are your editors collectively stupid, Entertainment Weekly?).

But more to the point, while those lists are good for message-board fights and blog posts, the magazine’s/website’s selections shouldn’t mean much to readers. I know I’m not terribly interested in listening to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul or The Clash’s London Calling just because Rolling Stone deemed them top 10 albums, but I can appreciate reading the justification RS writes up. The list sells the magazine, and will be modestly adjusted the next time the next-big-thing hits (though, if you look at RS‘s list, you’d have to go all the way to #17 to find a post-1970’s album : Nirvana’s Nevermind, which, while definitely an “important” album for what it meant for American rock, can it honestly be said that it should be ranked higher than EVERY Led Zeppelin album?).

Rock attained perfection...

“Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”

So I’m not interested in message board debates about these kinds of lists. What I’d be more interested in, though, is an individual’s list of his/her top 5 albums that had a lasting impact on his/her musical tastes.  In other words, albums that are responsible for what you listen to today.  I don’t necessarily believe that these are albums made by your favorite artists, otherwise I’d list off 4 Anthrax albums and something by Ian Moore for variety’s sake. Nor do I think it’s as easy as saying, “When I first heard Led Zeppelin/The Beatles/Nirvana/[insert ‘important’ band here] it showed me everything I listened to previously was crap.” Bullshit. If you LIKE a band’s music, then what other bands have done either before or after shouldn’t matter. We’re talking about art and emotional response, not compare/contrast.  Certainly albums by those ‘important’ bands could be on someone’s list, but there’s nothing wrong with declaring “Gypsy Road” has more importance to you than “Penny Lane.”   Illustrating this a bit,  Chuck Klosterman,  in one section of his “holy-crap-why-didn’t-I-write-this-book?” Fargo Rock City, lists out his top-whatever albums and the amount of money it would take for him to never listen to the albums again (apparently there’s not enough money for him to never again  listen to Appetite for Destruction).  His reasoning is both hilarious and intensely personal,  the latter of which makes it such a great read for anyone who grew up listening to hair metal in the 80’s, and anyone else who didn’t but loves reading about music (seriously, he’s exactly one day younger than me; that book might as well be entitled DeSoto Rock City).

So these kinds of thoughts have led me to think about my top 5 formative albums – these albums are my best guess as to why I have the taste in music I do. These are not my top 5 of all time – that’s a different thing and I’m pretty sure none of the following would be on that list. But these albums can probably be blamed for the presets on my car stereo…

Pyromania

Pyromania is the first rock album that I remember owning. Think about all the singles off this album – songs that are now staples/classics of 80’s rock: “Foolin'”; “Photograph” (can you hear that one guitar note that begins the song and NOT listen to the rest?); “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”; “Too Late for Love”; and, of course, “Rock of Ages”.  In 6th grade some friends and I auditioned for a talent show doing an air guitar rendition of “Rock of Ages” (the school had a loose definition of “talent”, I guess). Every other group of kids auditioning “performed” Van Halen’s “Jump” – we were the only ones to get in (we had practiced our moves/lip-synching quite a bit, admittedly). This album was a gateway album to A LOT of late 80’s hair bands for me. Motley Crue, Warrant, Skid Row, Cinderella, Tesla, Extreme, hell, even the Sleeze Beez (/shudder) – I bought all those albums and memorized their lyrics because Def Leppard’s album showed me how awesome rock was.

Hooked on Classics

I’m not all about the metal these days (Sirius Pops is one of my presets), and I probably owe my taste in classical music at least in part to this damn album (Looney Tunes cartoons deserve some credit as well). I don’t know how well it holds up today, as the disco rhythm that’s tacked on to the classical music makes it sound a bit cheesy, but I know I couldn’t wait for it to get to the William Tell Overture (i.e., the “Lone Ranger” theme). You know what? Screw that – this album’s still great.

I'm the Man

I would love to be able to say that Among the Living is what turned me onto my favorite band. I can’t. Instead, I first heard Anthrax in my friend Mike’s garage when someone put on the I’m the Man EP.  I was laughing all damn night. One, the title song’s hilarious, and illustrates a sense of humor that really no other metal band cared to exhibit at the time (Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth: SERIOUS AND ANGRY – they wore all black.  Anthrax band members wore Jams on stage). Two, holy crap, “Caught in a Mosh” is fast and live (and recorded in Dallas!). Three, they wrote a song about a comic book character (Judge Dredd) and Danny Spitz’s guitar had the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it.  Then, come to find out, the band members were reading the same books I was (Stephen King’s The Stand, “Apt Pupil”, and Misery all inspired songs).  I have to say that the “I’m the Man” lyrics “They cut their crack, they offer joints, We don’t do drugs, do you get our meaning? [POINT]” also drew my attention/appreciation [side note: years later Scott Ian would say that he had tried marijuana and had an allergic reaction to it.  I don’t know…then there was Charlie Benante’s point about buying toys rather than drugs]. It was the perfect storm of music and personality, and if it was Pyromania that led me to more hair metal, it was I’m the Man that opened up Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, etc. to me, which would later lead to Pantera and Machine Head and so on.

Graceland

I remember when my parents forced this album on me and my brothers – they were playing the cassette constantly: when they picked us up from school; when we went to the store; when we were being driven to a  friend’s house; when we took vacations.  All the time – at least that’s how I remember it.  But the album grew on me, more so than on my brothers, I think, for whatever reason. Paul Simon is a hell of a musician (my Dad holds the not-so-uncommon opinion that Art Garfunkel was lucky to have known Simon), and the songs on this record are surprisingly catchy, especially for a 15 year old kid who was into rock and metal exclusively. Then there was the song/video for “You Can Call Me Al” – Chevy Chase was still a bankable star at that time and the interaction between Simon and Chase was fun to watch. My favorite song ended up being “I Know What I Know“, though. The use of South African musicians/music also demonstrated a social conscience as apartheid was still in effect (many felt, though, that Simon had broken a boycott toward S. Africa by doing so). So maybe I attribute to this album the reminder that good music is good music, no matter the genre. I ended up buying the CD, and was still listening to it right up until 2000 when it disappeared along with my stereo when my car was broken into out in Phoenix. Maybe the album had the same effect on the thief.  : /

Licensed to Ill

Any rap I’ve ever listened to can be attributed to this album.  Yes, I agree, it’s an extraordinary shame that I trace my appreciation for a musical genre that was created by urban blacks back to three Jews from New York, but, damn, this album is extraordinarily fun and stands the test of time.  Just try NOT listening to “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” or “Paul Revere“. Of course, it’s got “You’ve Got to Fight, etc..”, which I’ve always considered more rock than anything else, but above all this album was accessible (it didn’t hurt that Slayer’s Kerry King made an appearance). This album led me to, among others, Run-DMC and, later, Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster (no kidding!), along with Del the Funky Homosapien, Jurassic-5, and, of course, Eminem. Rap/Hip-hop’s never been a genre I’ve listened to consistently, but it was Licensed to Ill that opened that door.

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4 Responses to “My top five formative albums”

  1. I really enjoyed your web logging. I shall respond to your prompt.

    Boston – Third Stage
    Van Halen – 5150
    Rush – Hemispheres
    The Black Crowes – Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
    Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

    I remember vividly listening to each of these albums over and over again. This is the order in which I discovered these recordings, and I feel they have formed me into what I love about music today. There is so much that I had to leave off…so much, but this list is what best comprises what I love and appreciate about music. Only one of these albums do I consider the band’s best work (I will leave that up to your imagination), but nonetheless, these 5 have formed me the most.

  2. I was hoping people would respond with their own top 5. Thanks, J-Roy!

  3. Let’s see, my Top 5:

    Anthrax – I’m the Man: pretty much the exact same reasons you list. My all time favorite album: I have an autographed LP on display in my room.

    Guns n Roses – Appetite for Destruction: I remember a friend of mine bringing this cassette to Algebra 2, telling me that I should check it out. This was before “Sweet Child of Mine” blew up … hell, I hadn’t even heard “Welcome to the Jungle” at the time. I opened up the liner notes and saw the Robert Williams painting that provided the album title and kind of panicked: that didn’t look like something I should be listening to. So at that time I let it go. Yeah, I know: pretty wuss on my part. Flash forward a couple months and another friend pops it in his car and it is, of course, all kinds of awesome. Have never really stopped listening to this one since.

    J. Geils Band, “Abracadabra” – Not an album, but it was pretty much the first “rock” song that I absolutely fell in love with. Made my parents go buy me one of those compilation albums that featured this song (kind of like one of those “Now That’s What I Call Music” albums that were popular a few years ago).

    Huey Lewis & The News – Sports: Loved this album. Great front to back. There was a time whenever I found myself in a comfortable spot, “Finally Found a Home” would constantly play in my head. Still happens on occasion.

    Def Leppard – Pyromania: Same as your explanation (wow, are we twins or something?) This was the album that kicked me off on my hoarding of music. From cassettes to CDs to mp3s, this is the one that started it all.

    • Steve Miller Band, that is. Damn confusingly similar-named bands from the same basic era always getting me mixed up between the two.

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