(The response to the Ten Albums That Changed my Life series launched by our VA. correspondent JCE last month has been brisk to say the least. So much so that the Pencilstorm Editorial Board has decided to make it our regular “Sunday New York Times” prestige feature. This is the fourth installment, following Ricki C’s picks, Anne Marie’s entry, and JCE’s kick-off to the series before that. Future entries will feature Wal Ozello, Pete Vogel, and Jon Peterson, among others Stay tuned.)
1. Meet The Beatles: During the winter of 1973, I was an eight-year-old kid in second grade. I barely gave pop music a thought. My older brother had just landed his first job out of high school. With a weekly paycheck, he decided to replace his battered monaural Beatles albums with clean stereo copies. Not having the heart to throw them away, he gave them to me. My very first was “Meet The Beatles.” I absolutely loved the twangy guitar intro to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and was captivated by the tight harmonies and sheer enthusiasm. After about a half-dozen spins, I loved all 12 songs and hungered for more by this recently defunct band.
2. Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy – The Who: After receiving those worn but beloved Beatles albums, I started to see my older brother as some kind of “King Cool.” I began paying attention to his record collection and was drawn to this strange group called The Who. My first exposure was a greatest hits collection called “Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy.” The songs were as catchy and exuberant as The Beatles, but much more aggressive. Their lyrics were quite quirky, with songs about spiders, magical buses, pinball wizards, and racy French postcards. Even though I was still a young schoolboy, The Who laid the foundation for my adolescence. More about that later.
3. The Beatles Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962: How could a badly-recorded and sloppily-played live album be life-changing? Call it an “attractive irritant,” but I could not stop listening to the raw recordings of The Beatles in Hamburg. Not only did the performance have all the exuberance of The Fabs’ early singles, but there was also a menacing and dirty quality. There was something undeniably powerful and honest about two guitars, a bass, drums, and three voices putting it on the line before a roughneck German audience. This raw and primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll band touched me much more deeply than their later and more complex compositions. John Lennon’s rhythm guitar ground like a chainsaw. Just who were these Punks? Looking at a distant past, I could see the future.
4. 12 x 5 - The Rolling Stones: By the time I was 14, I had learned “The Birds and the Bees” and was starting to take an interest in the opposite sex. Beforehand, I had tried to listen to my older brother’s Rolling Stones albums, but they struck me cold. Now, feeling stirrings of adolescent lust, Mick Jagger’s leering voice reflected my own libido. I finally felt the sensual rhythms of The Blues, and The Rolling Stones’ second American album effectively broke my “blues cherry.” Could this be another gateway to a new world? I would soon find out.
5. Historic Performances Recorded at The Monterey International Pop Festival - Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding: The most regrettable part of my childhood was being raised in a racist household. My father was a real-life Archie Bunker, constantly spewing jaundiced views of minorities. Whenever an African-American musician was on radio or television, the bigoted comments flew unabated. Subconsciously, this made me think that Soul Music was “not for me,” so I tended to ignore it. That all changed when I heard the sides of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding at The Monterey Pop Festival. Between the two, I was most profoundly affected by Otis Redding. The impassioned vocals and crack band made me feel the energy and excitement. Those complex Memphis bass lines cast magical spells upon my feet and fingertips. I finally understood where The Rolling Stones drew inspiration. I have considered myself an “old school” Soul fan ever since.
6. All Mod Cons - The Jam: By now, you have probably noticed that my life-changing albums were recorded prior to 1968. By the time I was in eighth grade, I realized that old music was not “cool” with my peers. I hungered for something new, but with the same simplicity of pre-1967. My wishes were granted when I finally heard The Jam’s “All Mod Cons” in early 1979. I could not believe how much The Jam echoed the stripped-down aggression of the early Who and Kinks yet sounded completely modern. Although I did not fully realize it at the time, The Jam were my gateway drug into Punk (enter The Clash and Sex Pistols). This was the beginning of the end of the squeaky-clean honor student and my gradual rebirth as a Post-Punk rebel. Thank God!
7. Parallel Lines - Blondie: Even though I was fairly “girl crazy” at 15, it wasn’t reflected in my male-dominated musical tastes. The sad reality was lack of exposure. Listening to Top 40 Pop, I was only aware of orchestrated middle-of-the-road divas or twee folkies. The only female singer that I genuinely liked was Linda Ronstadt, thanks mainly to her mid-seventies covers of early Rock ‘n’ Roll hits. That all changed when I saw Blondie on “Midnight Special.” Not only did I find Debbie Harry unbelievably sexy, but she rocked! Their breakthrough album, “Parallel Lines” cemented the idea of women rocking as hard as men and doing it on their own terms. Years later, I would very enthusiastically play alongside the likes of Liz Hecker, Cathy Lopienski, and Carolyn O’Leary, thanking Blondie for opening my heart to women who rock.
8. The Specials: Shortly after discovering The Jam and Blondie, I became obsessed with this whole concept of “New Wave.” It really did seem like Rock was returning to the simplicity of pre-1967. Amid more standard rockers, The Specials came from left-field and took me completely by surprise. I had never heard Ska before but became absolutely smitten after seeing the multi-racial band’s amphetamine-inspired performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Hearing their debut album, I loved the high-energy Caribbean sounds preaching racial harmony. For about a year, much to the consternation of my Hard Rock-loving classmates, I became a “Rude Boy,” decked out in sharkskin suits, skinny ties, suedehead haircut, and an attitude. The straight-A goody two-shoes was gone, and I was much happier for it.
9. Scary Monsters - David Bowie: I had been aware of David Bowie since I was about nine years old, but found him frightening. His androgynous Ziggy Stardust guise came across as creepy and alien. I thought there was no way I could relate to the music of a man who wore makeup and sequins. Turning 16 and discovering Punk and early Synth-Pop, Bowie’s persona no longer frightened but intrigued. Hearing “Scary Monsters” for the very first time, songs like “Ashes to Ashes” made me realize exactly who inspired Punk and Synth-Pop in the first place. Exploring Bowie’s earlier music, not only did I come to love it, but many of his Glam Rock peers as well. I could not imagine myself playing in Punk-inspired bands without an appreciation of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, T-Rex, New York Dolls, and of course, David Bowie.
10. Road to Ruin - Ramones: I had seen The Ramones on “Sha Na Na” in 1979 but was underwhelmed. Compared to the corny Doo-Wop of Bowzer and company, the younger group sounded like a very conventional Hard Rock band. Gradually, positive word-of-mouth got around, so I decided to gamble. I spent my hard-earned $2.98 for a cut-out cassette of “Road to Ruin,” and never looked back. There was something mesmerizing about Johnny Ramone’s grinding guitar and Joey’s catchy sloganeering. The dark humor - mocking cretins, teenaged glue-sniffers, and Nazis - tickled my funny bone without ever sounding like crass novelty tunes. The Ramones rapidly became one of my “Top Two” bands. Their music helped me cope with an incredibly unhappy college life. While at college, I met former members of The Jetboys, and we bonded over our mutual love of The Ramones. Their friendship helped me understand how to form a band and draw up my blueprint for the future.