Not my ten favorite albums, not my “desert island discs,” but the ten albums that CHANGED MY LIFE. Don’t get me wrong, none of these records got me off of a ledge or anything. It’s just that rock and roll music, after family, means more to me than anything. So, certain records that impact how I feel and what I listen to, really do change my day-to-day life on occasion. Here we go:
1. Paul Revere and the Raiders / Greatest Hits – My first LP record. I had purchased quite a few 45 rpm’s, but this was my first full length album. I bought it for their cover of “Louie, Louie” which I could not find on a 45 but I had to have it. My Mom took me to Korvettes department store and I paid for it with nickels and dimes. When I got it home, I discovered that most every song on it was great, especially “Kicks.” And so began my full-on rock n roll addiction. This was released in 1967, but I know I must’ve been more than four years old when I got it, but I’m not sure how old. It’s very fitting that “many now see it as a bold 1960’s rock n roll record with a defiant punk edge” according to one review I just read.
2. The Beach Boys / Endless Summer – I played this double-LP in my room and day-dreamed about girls for hours and hours on end. I had a little all-in-one stereo that I absolutely loved, and I think my true love for vinyl records began with this one. It had a gatefold cover and great artwork. It was released in 1974. I loved the song “Wendy.” I would have been eleven or twelve years old when I got it. Yep, that sounds about right.
3. The Cars – My sister Molly went to Boston University (we lived in Virginia). She discovered a local band there called The Cars, right before they broke it big. When their debut came out in 1978, I got a copy on her advice and I loved every song on it from the first day. I had been listening non-stop to the first Van Halen record, which I also loved, and which had been released a few months before The Cars record. The Cars were the band that somehow sent me down the path to punk rock. R.I.P. Molly, I miss you.
4. The Clash – I probably got this record having never heard any songs on it. It was already older (1977) than the Cars record, but I didn’t learn about The Clash and the Sex Pistols and punk rock until after. I will always love everything about this record. It led me on a direct path to The Damned, The Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, 999, Stiff Little Fingers, Generation X and on and on…. HUGE impact on my life.
5. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers / Damn the Torpedoes – This record just couldn’t be any better. In high school, being a punk and a skater made me somewhat of an outcast. Damn the Torpedoes was one record I could play that I was pretty sure everyone could agree was pure genius. “Here Comes My Girl” was a song that ran a shiver up my back every time I heard it, still does. The record was released late in 1979. I would have been a junior. The record got me through some of those times when I felt a little alone, maybe a little too much like a loner. I don’t know why, it just spoke to me. It still does.
6. X / Los Angeles – After about a year listening to punk mostly from across the big pond, this record came out and re-energized me. I found it to be scary and dangerous and urgent. It is truly one of my favorite records and one I feel is very important. I consider the Dead Kennedy’s “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” almost equal to this X record, but I got the X record first, so it gets on my list. Both records came out in 1980.
7. Government Issue / Joy Ride – With my musical tastes firmly entrenched in punk rock, I found myself immersed in the punk scene which was percolating in the city in which I was born, Washington, D.C. The HarD.C.ore scene was very exciting to me, but being honest, I felt that quite a bit of the music itself was not up to par with other stuff I was listening to. Initially, I found it hard to truly enjoy the super-speed, play-as-fast-as-you-can style coming from the D.C. hardcore punk scene. Then I discovered Government Issue. John Stabb (R.I.P.) was spectacular live. This 1984 release had a song on it called “Understand” that really got a hold of me, although every song on the record is great. From this record, I embraced HarD.C.ore and I still listen to a steady diet of it today. I have many fond memories of the scene in its heyday.
8. The Neighborhoods / The High Hard One – There was a guy in the music scene in Charlottesville, VA, where I went to college, by the name of Maynard. Maynard played in some great bands and he promoted some shows. He started putting up fliers all over town one day that said “Fire Is Coming.” I didn’t know what it meant at first, until I found out it was the name of an EP by a band from Boston called The Neighborhoods. I got very close to a bunch of amazing people in Charlottesville, including, eventually, my wife. We all saw tons of great shows, went to every gig played by our friends in a band called 98 Colours (some of those opening for the ‘Hoods)—it was a great time in my life. Everyone I knew absolutely loved The Neighborhoods upon the release of “The High Hard One.” I must’ve played “WUSA” ten thousand times. This record, for me, was the soundtrack for one of the happiest times of my life. I actually like the “Reptile Men” record even better, but this was the record (1986) that I associate with discovering so many new things and new people and so much new music.
9. Enuff Z’Nuff – From the hair metal, Sunset Strip, glam and sleaze era, a few bands emerged that were so much more and so far above many bands from that genre. Every song on it is excellent and because of this record, I began listening to some different bands that I may have previously blown off as “not punk enough.” On the more metal side, I discovered The Hangmen. On the pop side, I went back and rediscovered my love of Cheap Trick. I started dating the beautiful woman that has now been my wife for 27 years in 1990. This Enuff Z’Nuff record, released in 1989, was played damn near every single day for the first few months of our relationship. We saw the band at The Bayou in Georgetown as they toured in support of this record. We have a handful of “our songs” but this is definitely “our record.”
10. Social Distortion – This self-titled release came out in 1990. The album “Mommy’s Little Monster” was released in 1983 and I have been a Social Distortion fan since that time. There are a number of reasons why this record is on my list. This record came out the year I started dating my wife, and like the Enuff Z’Nuff record, it was a record we loved together. The song “Ball and Chain” is one of my all-time favorites, and my wife adores the Johnny Cash cover, “Ring of Fire.” The record also includes “Sick Boy” and “Story of My Life,” which are both classics. My wife and I gave up alcohol for about twelve years, during the time that we conceived our daughter and during the formative years after she was born. We also saw very little live music during that period of time. Upon taking up beer and wine drinking after a long hiatus, the first show we went to see was Social Distortion at the 9:30 Club in D.C. in October 2010. It was so frigging awesome that we have been to see an average of more than a show per month from that day to the present. I recently got my first tattoo, to honor my sister who I lost, and during the process, at my request, the artist played the Social Distortion Pandora radio station. I can’t express how truly integral music is to my daily life, and this very personal experience was definitely enhanced by the soundtrack that accompanied it. This band has meant a great deal to me since 1983. This particular record is the most representative of the impact they have had
This list is in chronological order. I cannot guarantee that the list wouldn’t change if I thought about it longer, but I think I’m pretty happy with it. You might notice there is nothing on the list newer than 1990. That may be a mistake, as I love and continue to collect music now just as much or even more than ever. I love music more than ever, but there probably just aren’t that many instances where it can change my life at this point. My list is heavy on the 1977-1980 releases, but I think that’s natural because when you’re 15 years old, your life is just starting to take shape. This is a list of records that truly left their mark. - JCE
(editor’s note: JCE thinks it might be cool if some/all of the other Pencilstorm writers - Colin, Ricki C, Anne Marie, Scott Carr, etc. write up THEIR life-changing disc picks. For that matter, it might be nice if we could figure a way for READERS of Pencilstorm to chip in and send their two cents worth on the matter, participatory journalism at its best.)