I’m taking a different route this Monday after being inspired by a music post of on Murf Versus. It’s proprietor and friend, @ctmurfy, posted of list of 15 albums that have influenced his life. As Mr. Murf pointed out in his post, others have done the same in their own way, including the good folks running Herding Cats, Me vs. Myself, and I, and Welshtroll. If you find yourself inspired as well, then the idea of yours for the taking!
What’s interesting about a list like this is that word “influential.” It’s almost harder to chose full albums that have had truly moved my life in different directions than it is to simply pick favorite albums. So in making the list, I had to think chronologically, going from childhood to present day, conjuring up the first album that popped into my head upon recalling a particular year or span of years. Also, there’s nothing noted that prevents the choosing albums that weren’t personally owned. That’s important early on because I didn’t start buying my own music until I was in high school.
Anyway, enough gabbing…on with the list!
Growing up, I listened to tons of classical music. It wasn’t by choice, mind you, because it was nearly the only music that my parents allowed in the house for many years. To that end, they had a million and one classical records, which included a number of compilation sets. One of these sets (probably released by Time Life or Reader’s Digest) contained an album of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt. While the entire suite is worth a listen, my favorite song was, and remains, Op. 46, “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” It was loud, brash, and I loved it when my Dad put the album on and turned the speakers up to eleven. The bass practically rattled the whole house! Peer Gynt was as lovely as it was sinister, and it absolutely set the stage for my turn towards loud, brash music later in life. (P. S. for the sake of your ears, the song starts out very quietly. It builds soon enough.)
It’s weird to follow up Greig with disco, but here we are. I said that classical music was nearly the only kind of music my parents allowed back in the day. If classical music filled my ears 90% of the time, the other 9% was taken up by Abba (and 1% was Chuck Mangione). I can listen to Abba now with ease, but back then, well… Both my folks really liked Abba and they had several of their albums on swanky cassette tapes. I really liked Abba because it made me…dance! And I can unequivocally say that there is absolutely no visual proof of this, but I know it to be true because I was there, begging my Mom to play Voulez-Vous just one more time. (Pleeeese!) My relationship with disco has been a tumultuous one full of mountaintop love and hellish hate. You’ll see where things stand now later on in the list.
The first three albums I ever bought with my own money were Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, Deee-Lite’s World Clique, and Billy Joel’s Storm Front. Of the three, Storm Front won the “most listened in its entirety” award. I was severely into Top 40 radio at the time, and Joel’s loved/hated single “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was literally burning up the charts. While I wouldn’t now count Storm Front as a favorite album, Billy Joel (new to me then) appealed to me in a way that made me want to discover his back catalog. This was the first time I recall wanting to seek out a musician’s past body of work rather than waiting for whatever was to come. This also eventually led me down the classic rock rabbit hole.
That journey into the past led me to some middling places. Take, for instance, Huey Lewis and the News, the first album from the band of the same name. I immediately latched into Lewis and his music upon first hearing “Power of Love” in Back to the Future. As such, once I started buying my own music, I picked up a number of the bands albums, including their best ones Sports and Fore!. But because I was into the “must have ALL music from favorite musician” thing, I blindly picked up their early stuff as well. The album Picture This was great; their first album…eh, not so much. Despite my Huey Lewis fandom, purchasing that album was my first musical regret, though I did kinda like the song “Who Cares?” I learned my lesson after that.
I’m sure most of the people I went to high school with thought I was an ascetic. Outside of a small group of friends, I rarely talked about my life, things I liked and things I didn’t. Most days I just wanted to get in and out of school without drawing any attention. All that changed when, on one rather emboldened day, I asked a classmate I didn’t know all that well if I could borrow her Dr. Feelgood cassette to make a copy of my own. She obliged, but not without giving me the really? face. Yes! I thought. Motley Crüe fuckin’ rocks and I do listen to the radio, y’know! (If ONLY that had actually come out of my mouth on that day…) Hair metal/glam rock entry point achieved.
When 60s and 70s retro came back in a big way in the early 90s, I was 100% on top of the fad. Bell bottoms, platform shoes, tie-dyes shirts, crochet vests…you name it, I had it. During that time, my interest in classic rock soared to an extreme high, and I came to idolize the beauty and wonder of psychedelia, flower power, and the hippie/anti-war movement of the late 1960s. I fell head over heels in love with learning about music festivals of the era and the musicians that performed at them. And for a time, my heart belonged to Janis Joplin, and particularly to the song “Piece of My Heart,” which I heard on her Greatest Hits album. It was the first cassette I wore to the point of breaking (the tape actually tore). For a time, her music influenced everything that I was, from my outward appearance to my inward attitude towards life.
My descent into revisiting the counterculture eventually gave way (though it wasn’t totally pushed aside) to something more soulful. In my senior year of high school, my choir teacher passed out choices of songs that we might sing that year — one of those songs was “Age of Aquarius” from the musical Hair. We actually learned most of the song before it was cut from our routine, but it had hooked me for good. When I went looking for the song to purchase, I found it, not on the Hair Broadway album, but rather on Greatest Hits on Earth from the 5th Dimension. I didn’t know anything about the group, but let me tell you, after that first listen, I wanted to be Marilyn McCoo. She had a voice that transcended time. The album also transcended 60s soul and turned it into melodies from a higher power. And as much as I adored their rendition of “Age of Aquarius,” “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes” was the song that really gave me chills…and still does.
When I entered college, my musical preferences remained firmly routed in the 1970s. With that, I forged a path into glam rock with none other than David Bowie and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Thanks to the radio and Labyrinth, I knew David Bowie well enough, or so I thought. But the slick, slithery songs that I knew were no match for the magnificent aural orgy that was Ziggy Stardust. If I had had the guts back then, I would have cropped my hair and painted my face and told the world to rightly fuck off if it had any problems. Instead, I channeled that strength into other pursuits and happily kept my secret love to myself.
My “edge” softened only a little as college progressed, and I couldn’t help but latch onto grunge and alternative music at least a little. Though I probably favored grunge, at least in appearance, my trend towards “alternative” (the most terrible music label if ever there was one) was routed by a little song called “Peaches” by the Presidents of the United States of America. Their first self-titled album was so much goofy fun. Against the backdrop of the honest grit of grunge, “Peaches” stuck out like a sore yet really happy thumb. If you saw me any time around 1995/1996, I might have been wearing my boots and flannel, but the PoUSA were probably in my ears.
Whatever mini-love affair I might have had with “alternative” music was cut short the minute one of my roommates started listening to “college radio”… because UGH. Sorry, but the whiny whining that wafted through our apartment for a time was just about the worst thing going. As such, I put just about anything into my head that wasn’t “alternative,” save for The Burdens of Being Upright by Tracy Bonham. Thanks to its great intro track “Mother Mother,” I found a muse in Bonham’s cheeky lyrics and phenomenal voice. She also helped revive my belief in women musicians, which wavered somewhat during that time.
At the end of college, I was freer than I had ever been before in my life. I didn’t give two shits what anyone thought of me or my choices, because I was ready to take on the world! And for whatever serendipitous reason, I made good friends with a fellow who was heavily into disco. (I said that’d come back around, remember?) He introduced me to Jamiroquai and his album Traveling Without Moving. My god, what a sensation and a sexy little beast besides! Once I heard that album, I really couldn’t stop listening, and I just had to have more and more. I accepted disco back into my life, and with it came further reverence for the softer side of the 1970s.
Everything changed when I left college. I moved far away from home and started a new life in a city I didn’t know anything about. I came in contact with dozens of new people all at once and was overwhelmed by the warmth of acceptance. I met the man who would become my husband and became part of a grand community of outsiders. I also tripped and fell head first into punk…and what a beautiful trip it was. After the infiltration took hold and I was confident enough to forge my own path through the turbulent weeds, I started with Bad Religion’s Stranger Than Fiction. Everything after that, including much, much more Bad Religion, came fast and it came hard.
With punk firmly situated in my back pocket, I ventured further into unknown and passed over musical landscapes during the late 1990s and early 2000s. One of these adventures led to me reexamine my feelings towards the Beastie Boys. They hadn’t been much on my radar since Licensed to Ill, which I didn’t much care for way back when. Sure, I knew “Sabotage,” everybody did, but it wasn’t until Hello Nasty dropped and the song “Intergalactic” was e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e that I finally took notice. Prior to this, I carried a “rap music is not for me” mindset; Hello Nasty broke through that barrier in a major way. On its waves I found welcome respite in rap and hip hop. This refuge I continue to seek today.
But it’s not like to gave up my rock roots totally then. When I diverged into hair metal into high school, I developed a deeply affection (affliction?) for much harder stuff, mostly in the forms of thrash and speed metal. Leave it to a rousing and wild group of teenage girls to bring me back around to everything I loved about fast heavy metal. Now, I must admit then when I first played Kittie’s Spit, I laughed, like kinda out loud and stuff. I simply couldn’t believe that the sounds emanating from my stereo had been made by such young people. When the song “Brackish” came on, I stopped laughing and was completely taken in by its maniacal and brutish energy. Kittie helped me come back around to metal in a bad way.
Holy christ y’all, we’ve reached number fifteen. (Seriously, if you made it all the way down here, you deserve a damn award or something.) Here we have Seven’s Travels by Atmosphere. Seven’s Travels has influenced me and my musical tastes more than any album I’ve bought in the past decade. All at once it introduced me to the incredibly talented group Atmosphere, underground hip hop, and a record label that followed its own path. From here I jumped feet first into the world of the Rhymesayers. I’m still falling, and I hope I never stop.