Fifteen Albums

So for a while now people on Facebook have been putting up lists of fifteen books they’ve read that matter to them and fifteen movies they’ll never forget and 25 things you don’t know about them.  And yesterday I read someone’s fifteen albums and it was a good list.  So I thought I’d do one real quick, but I didn’t feel like putting it up on Facebook.  I decided to post it here.

You may have already written one of these lists yourself.  If so, leave it in the comments.  Or feel free to give me a hard time about my list.

These are my fifteen albums that had a real impact on me, that I guess will always stick with me, at least to a degree, but more to the point that will always have played a significant part of my life. I’m focused here on albums that I really listened to as albums, all the way through.  I don’t listen to them all now, but I still can recall them with some level of power and intimacy and deep personal impact, like a book that’s never lost its hold on you.

Here it is:

The Beatles, Rubber Soul – The first album I can remember.  Need I explain why this is so good?  Songwriting.

Neil Diamond, Hot August Nights – He was a superstar for a few years there in the early 70s.  He put some serious songs together on this album that I still know the words to.  To the small boy I was, he rocked.

Led Zeppelin, Houses of the HolyLed Zeppelin IV was probably a better album.  But Houses of the Holy is the one that I was into.  I loved “D’yer Mak’er.”  Still do.  Slinky hard rock.

The Clash, London Calling – This, in my mind, might be the most important album of all time.  Politics, Protest, Punk, Melody, Amalgam of Genres and influences.  What music can be.

Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model – Tough to decide between this one, My Aim is True, and Armed Forces (hell, and most of the albums for the next ten years or so!)  But this one is so consistently good it’s irresistible.

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C. – Right out of Hollis, Queens.  “Hard Times,” “Rock Box,” “It’s Like That.”  Loud, strong, authentic.

Prince, Purple Rain – My first concert.  A horrible film, a helluva album.  Raunchy, kinda spiritual, consistently inquisitive, crazy, consistently fun.

REM, Reckoning – College radio exploded with REM, and this album of really weird, really compelling songs was a great example of the scene.  I listened to this over and over, often trying to figure out what Stipe was saying.

The Smiths, The Queen is Dead – A counterscene to REM at the time, but we all seemed to love The Smiths.  I was crazy for what Johnny Marr was doing on the guitar, as well as the humor of Morrissey’s lyrics.

Sinead O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra – Hers was a voice that seemed to come out of nowhere that wouldn’t and couldn’t be stopped.  “Troy” can still haunt.  She kicked all ass here.

U2, The Joshua Tree – There have been many moments when I’ve had second doubts about many of U2’s songs and albums and general musical output.  But if I’m honest with myself, I need to admit that this album was huge in my life, that these songs when I was listening to them were deeply powerful to me in their writing, that this concert was the most amazing one I’ve ever been to, and that maybe there is a reason they are as big as they are.

Nirvana, Nevermind – Umm, this was pretty good.  Maybe you’ve heard of it?  Alt-rock, grunge, serious-minded rock that was also melodic and popular.  Tough to resist.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville – God this girl could rock!  I love the guitar, the production, the sexiness, the hilarity of the lyrics.  It’s mood music par excellence.  The mood?  Anger and lust.

Steve Earle, El Corazon – In the late 1990s I learned about altcountry and Steve Earle is the reason.  There came a time in NYC when I listened to this so much it almost hurt.  In a good, good way.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – I still dig the marriage of altcountry, folk, and noise.  And the line, “I don’t believe in touchdowns.”  Ultimately, these are kind of great weird songs.

Regrets: Michael Jackson, Thriller and Radiohead, The Bends.  Both clearly worthy, for hugely different reasons!

***Two wildcards that I didn’t want to include on the list, but did want to mention.

The Rolling Stones, Hot Rocks – no explanation necessary for why it’s great, and the definitive 8-track cartridge in my life.

Squeeze, Singles (45s and under) – In the early 80s this band seemed the embodiment of smart pop lyricism with great hooks.  “Pulling Muscles from a Shell”?  That doesn’t sound like it would be a great song, but it IS.

These are compilations, which makes them less in my mind as albums per se.  But I listened to them as such, not just as songs.  Still, an album is a document that is specific to that moment in time and that particular artist or group.  The songs are arranged in that particular order.  I want to treat them as such, like a book arranged by chapter, or the composition of a painting.  I don’t like to rearrange the songs.  I think it’s a different experience to listen to a LP and have to turn the album over, than to listen to a cassette or a cd.  None of the albums on this list were introduced to me through mp3 players.

I’m not sure there are great albums anymore.  There are great songs, great singles, but few great albums.  Few artists seem interested in this.  I don’t mean this as a complaint.  Times changes, mediums change.  And I’m getting older.  I listen to new music now mainly through Pandora.  I’m intrrduced to new groups or singers through individual songs and then can search out other songs, but rarely albums.  I find that it’s harder to “locate” albums and wonder if it’s maybe not worth the effort. This is iTunes culture.  I kind of miss vinyl.

I might go put some Frank Sinatra on and get all nostalgic now.  Cheers.

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4 Responses

  1. This is always an enjoyable exercise, and one whose content would change on any given day. So for the moment, here are my Fifteen Albums:

    Devine & Statton: “The Prince of Wales”
    A hard to find album from a 1980s Welsh group…mellow, beautiful, melodic. Had to look high and low for this in the days before we could order music online…only had the cassette version, and it got the point of being so worn that i worried it was permanently ruined (so played only rarely). Found a CD many years later.

    Led Zeppelin: “Led Zeppelin”
    Even if only for Dazed and Confused and How Many More Times…it’s too bad we had to wait for 3 more albums until “When the Levee Breaks”

    Paul McCartney & Wings: “Band on the Run”
    An 8-track I knew by heart as a kid. Still enjoy it.

    John Coltrane: “Love Supreme”
    I will tap my feet all day long as i think of the love supreme riff.

    Van Morrison: “Moondance”
    Only gets better as i get older…Moondance, the song, may be popular, but i think it pales to every other song on that album.

    DeLaSoul: “Three Feet High and Rising”
    I once tripped down some stairs at a club and almost knocked them over. A catchy album i played to death.

    Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Electric Ladyland”
    The long version of Voodoo Child. ‘Nuff said.

    Funkadelic: “Maggot Brain”
    This album has the deepest grooves of this entire list.

    Soundtrack from the film “Henry and June”
    Beautiful.

    James Brown: “Sex Machine”
    When I was a DJ (1983-87) in NYC, I had to play this album’s version of “Give it up or turn it loose” every time there were break dancers present. The “Bewildered” medley is amazing.

    The Who: “The Kids are Alright”
    First record i remember buying with my own money (though I also thought it might have been Kiss’ “Love Gun”).

    Beatles: “White Album”
    Beatles: “Revolver”
    Could have put all Beatles albums here. But these two remind me so much of Lennon that I have a soft spot for them.

    Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music (1-3)
    An amazing document, gathered by an amazing and kooky genius the likes of whom we may never again reproduce.

    Honorable Mention: Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street”
    …because, y’know, it hasn’t had enough fanfare this year.

  2. In no particular order, here are ten:

    Tom Waits, RAIN DOGS
    REM, MURMUR
    X, UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN
    The Blasters, THE BLASTERS
    Van Morrison, ASTRAL WEEKS
    Bruce Springsteen, NEBRASKA
    Nanci Griffith, LAST OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS
    Johnny Cash, LIVE AT FOLSOM PRISON
    Red Hot Chili Peppers, STADIUM ARCADIUM
    Replacements, TIM

  3. Pretty Hate Machine or Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails
    Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
    MTV Unplugged in New York by Nirvana (great sampling and GREAT covers)
    Wildflowers by Tom Petty
    Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
    Lost and Gone Forever by Guster
    Californication or Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
    Hell Below/Stars Above by the Toadies

    …and that’s all I can think of right now as “albums.”

    Honorable mention: the soundtrack to Spawn; awful movie, but amazing soundtrack.

  4. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
    Boston – Boston
    Derek & the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
    Traveling Wilburys – Vol. 1
    Eminem – The Eminem Show
    Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
    Queen – Greatest Hits (first record purchase)
    Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the moon (first CD purchase)
    The Beatles – Abbey Road
    Def Leppard – Hysteria

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