With gratitude to both JCE (whoever that is) and CG, I am happy to share with Pencilstorm readers the top ten albums that changed my life. I could literally write a book on the subject, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can.
The reasons why I’d call these albums “life-changing” is because they helped form my soul during times of inner turmoil and confusion. Being raised Catholic—and attending Catholic schools for twelve years—was often oppressive. Catechism taught us one thing, family dynamics something else, and music became a third teacher.
Mom had a small collection of albums she bought when we were young: they included works by Carole King, Tom Jones, Jim Croce and James Taylor. But two albums she also had—and got the most attention—were The Nutcracker and Jesus Christ Superstar. They enjoyed a ton of spins from all four of us children and to this day I get emotional listening to them. At the time they represented a liberating freedom from the stifling conformity of Sunday mass and a disciplinarian father who reared his children after his role models: Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight. Dad wanted athletes and cheerleaders—I wanted a father who wasn’t a drill sergeant.
Per mother’s request, I took piano lessons in the second grade and hated it: joyless instructor, boring classical pieces and stuffy recitals. But mom purchased Elton John’s Greatest Hits and I didn’t know playing piano could be so much fun. I obviously didn’t have the talent to play like him, but to listen to his joyful glissandos gave me fodder for trying.
My older brother Jim was the braintrust to our siblings’ exposure to new music. He brought home Chicago VI around 4th or 5th grade and we played it nonstop on our record player. Between the vocals, horn section, great guitar riffs and impeccable drumming, I was hooked. I still remember listening to “Feeling Stronger Every Day” for the very first time. Life changing.
Every few months Jim would bring home a new album and expose his sibs to its magic. The next to have such an impact was the debut Boston album. I remember hearing “More Than A Feeling” on the radio and was immediately struck by the acoustic guitar, vocals, harmony guitars & undulating drums. I was hooked from the first stanza. The album was every bit of that and more. ”Foreplay/Long Time” was the first song I ever heard that I considered an anthem.
Around the same time Jim brought home Led Zeppelin IV and that had a similar impact. Who doesn’t remember the first time they heard “Stairway to Heaven”? Every song on that album was a masterpiece.
The next album Jim brought home was Yessongs. It was a live album and too “out there” for my tastes and I didn’t understand the songs at all. Too garish for my tastes. But Q-FM-96 became our favorite radio station at the time and “Roundabout” was on steady rotation. I fell in love with this song and eventually talked Jim into buying Fragile. To this day there is nothing that moves me quite like Yes music. It remains its own genre.
As much as I loved the edgy guitar riffs and powerful drums of Zeppelin and Boston, I always tried to nurture a softer side with my musical tastes. One band that thoroughly watered my soil was Electric Light Orchestra. I remember buying A New World Record at the Ohio State fair and coming home to share the album with my family. It was the first time that I introduced an album to the family, so you can say it was my first official step into autonomy.
But everything changed in 1978. Jim came home from school one day and brought me into the living room. “Listen to this,” he said. He put on Side II of The Kids Are Alright and my music crush became an obsession. “Baba O’Riley” was the song he chose and I was dumbstruck: bass, drums, angry guitar chords and the masculine rage of Roger Daltrey’s vocals. From that day on, I followed The Who like a jealous stalker. I was not right in the head.
It’s hard to say which of the following albums impacted me the most after The Who: there are so many albums that resonated with me that it’s hard to select just one. I’d have to say my tenth pick is actually a toss-up between a host of albums, chief among them: Never Mind the Bollocks (The Sex Pistols); Hemispheres (Rush); Live at Leeds (The Who); Quadrophenia (The Who); Close to the Edge (Yes); Grand Illusion (Styx); Misplaced Childhood (Marillion); Van Halen I (Van Halen); The Wall (Pink Floyd) and Out of the Blue (ELO). These albums transformed my life in ways that I never recovered from, and this is why I still stubbornly pursue a music career well into my fifth decade.
Thanks for reading. Looking forward to others’ posts!