So music ace and fine pal Don “Mr Hollywood” Adams, tagged me in this thing on the ol’ Crackbook – Ten Albums That Stayed With Me… I’m going to use it as an excuse to throw one of those Gawker/Upworthy/Whateverthefuckwebsite bumper tags that seem so popular and call it The Ten Albums That Changed My Life Forever and add a picture of an attractive, scantily clad young lady on here and see what happens…
Any of you who may have read my novel Hot Sinatra – or any of my short stories – or any of you who have been around long enough to have followed my “career” as a music critic – or any of you who know me as the musically addicted fool that I am, will not be terribly surprised by this list, and have probably heard one or two of these stories already.
ABBEY ROAD by The Beatles: I’m pretty sure I was born to this album and I am absolutely positive I will die with it in my ears. This album has never left my side in almost 40 years. I remember it playing constantly when I was probably too young to remember, and it was the first one of my Dad’s records that I snuck out of the cabinet to play on my own little one-piece portable kid-player. I had mountains of Disney 45’s and K-Tel 50’s hits compilations, but even at the age of six, I hungered for the melodies and meanderings of the single greatest album ever made. I still have vivid memories of reading Madeleine L’Engle and Alan Dean Foster with the side 2 medley playing over and over. And now, through the magic of the YouTubes, I can share the whole beautiful thing with you…
TIME by Electric Light Orchestra: Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I find I have a lot of Brit-centric tastes. I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was a kid, I’ll watch anything with Dame Judi Dench or Bill Nighy, and I have a deep, abiding love of E.L.O.. Most of the E.L.O. platters were in my Dad’s collection when I was a kid. Everything from Discovery to Secret Messages. TIME was undoubtedly my favorite. A weird relic of that early 80’s sci-fi renaissance that gave us Blade Runner and The Terminator and Time After Time (don’t even get me started on the magnificence of Time After Time). It was also the first Rock Opera I became fascinated with. I was already steeped in Pink Floyd and was vaguely aware that there was a cohesive story behind The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, but TIME was all right there. A whole timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly time travel epic to blow a tiny Canadian kids mind. I`m still trying to figure out how to get that story down on paper without getting sued by Jeff Lynne`s beard.
COMBAT ROCK by The Clash: More Brits! When I was about twelve, I spent a summer at my grandparents house in Edmonton. They lived about two blocks off of what had become a main thoroughfare, and I would sneak off weekday mornings and skulk around the pawn shops and used bookstores. By the end of the summer, my haul included a beaded indian belt, an array of knick-knacks and biker rings, a mountain of Stephen King novels, and three records – Stray Cats, Billy Idol and Combat Rock, by The Clash. The other two have long disappeared from my archives, but Combat Rock remains. There began a lifelong love affair with Punk Rock and, especially, The Only Band That Matters. While in my decrepit wisdom I would put most of the other Clash albums above this one in quality and importance, Combat Rock was my introduction to the attitude, energy and importance of Punk.
OTIS REDDING`S GREATEST HITS by Otis Redding: Finally, some good ol`North American badassery. This was another thrift store find, maybe around the age of 13 or 14. It was post-Pretty In Pink, in any case. Album one of a double-album set, this platter was just laying there in a pile of Herb Alpert and Sammy Davis Jr records. It had no cover, and was totally non-descript in its plain paper sleeve. I read the names of the songs, looking for Try A Little Tenderness. The only other Otis tune you ever heard was Sittin`on the Dock of the Bay, which I had on all of those old K-Tel specials. I figured I`d take a chance for $1.50 and picked it up. When I got home, took it down to my teenage lair in the cool dark of the basement, dropped that needle and laid back in my favorite bean bag chair… holy shit, man. My life was never the same after having Otis dig down in my moody teenage soul and pull the pain, confusion and romantic despair of a sensitive man-child on the verge out into the world. Wow. Otis still rips the heart right out of my chest.
ELECTRIC WARRIOR by T.Rex: Not just one of my own favorite, but one of the greatest rock records of all-time. I picked this one up somewhere in my mid-teens, just in time to really appreciate the groove and the funk laced with powerhouse guitar. Another fine lyricist in Marc Bolan (and another Brit!) I remember skateboarding to this, late at night, on my way home from work, surfing the hills of Calgary to Mambo Sun and feeling as cool as goddamn ice. Every single song is a masterpiece. I still listen to this album at least once a week and it never gets old.
RAIN DOGS by Tom Waits: I had heard of Tom Waits early on, and had heard the One From The Heart soundtrack and some of the early Closing Time stuff, but my real introduction to Ol`Scratch came in my high school broadcasting class, when I found a beat-up copy of Rain Dogs in the radio station stacks. I don`t recall hearing anything so worldly weird and strangely cohesive as Waits`mix of beat-style storytelling, gritty hobo esthetic and odd vintage flair. It was like a seedy detective novel with one of those 70`s covers with a half-naked chick on a bear-skin rug, but you crack the spine and find yourself transported to some opium den in Bangkok eyeballing a cockney gunslinger named Black Slim or some similarly crazybones shit. It was around this time I also got into Zappa and Beefheart and all other manner of weirdo experimental stuff, but Tom captured my heart, and my ears and never let go. There are only two artists I have complete collections of, one is Tom Waits, and it started with Rain Dogs.
HUNKY DORY by David Bowie: The other complete discography in my collection is Bowie. Always Bowie. Forever Bowie. Besides fitting neatly in my Brit-centric listening pattern, Bowie is somebody who has morphed, twisted, transmogrified and warped himself every-which-way and yet always fits my own tastes impeccably. Beginning in my 80s childhood with Lets Dance, there’s always been a Bowie song to match my life. Round about the late 90s, with the advent of Napster and the like, I was finally able to explore the deep dark oceans of Bowie’s backlog. What I found was Hunky Dory. I know most people put Ziggy Stardust on top of the pile when measuring his accomplishments, but there’s just something about Hunky Dory. It has that same cohesion I came to love from the Rock Opera era, as well as that melodic Beatles style and, to me anyways, isn’t tainted by the overwrought theatricality of his extra personas like Ziggy Stardust, or the Thin White Duke. The bottom line is simply that, while I love any and all Bowie, and I will listen to every album from David Bowie to The Next Day, Hunky Dory just happens to be my very favorite Bowie album, probably my favorite album, period. From the funky juke riff that begins Changes to the glorious rise of Life on Mars and the jangly guitar warble of Quicksand.
THE ANGRY YOUNG THEM by Them!: During my years in College Radio I had the time and the means to really explore the history of popular music, and really get into some not-quite-mainstream stuff, from Louis Prima to Laurie Anderson, but most of my time was spent digging into the real garage rock basics, stuff like The Monks, The Boxtops, The Easybeats, early Stones, The Graham Bond Organisation. The conclusion I ultimately came to is that the band Them!, led by a young and growly Van Morrison (and I have a life-long love of Van Morrison. Of course I do.) is the pinnacle of garage rock on this crazy spinning hunk of ore we call Earth. Don’t take my word for it, check that shit out. They consequently influenced everyone from the above-mentioned Stones through MC5, Springsteen, and every band under the sun. They also recorded the single-greatest cover of any Bob Dylan song with It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue) .
ICE STATION DEBRA by Wagbeard: We all cling to that one favorite band from our formative years. My first true love of local indie rock was the megawatt mayhem of 90’s stalwarts Wagbeard, a Calgary institution that I still maintain should have taken over the world and fucking leveled the “grunge” scene. Lyrically excellent, timelessly rocking and full of drunken passion, Wagbeard was my youth. I still have my old Wagbeard “77” T-shirt that I got from bassist Stevie E. I have fought against every new music format to ensure that I can still listen to this stuff. Fuck Pearl Jam, forget Nirvana, and to hell with Rage Against the Machine. Wagbeard was the band of the 90’s. You will never get me to say any different. You can preview or pick up the entire ICE STATION DEBRA album on iTunes
SKETCHES OF SPAIN by Miles Davis: Another case of me being familiar with an artist, being a fan, and not really discovering that one perfect album until much later. I remember buying Bitches Brew, Kind of Blue, Birth of the Cool and Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet in my teens, all albums I treasured and listened to repeatedly in my moody artsy teen angst. It wasn’t until a few years ago, again aided by the technological revolution and my obsessive need for completism, that I came across Sketches of Spain. I have heard it said that is the “simplest” or “most accessible” of Miles Davis albums, usually in a pretentious and negative way. Me, I find it to be the most coherent, musically sound and exceptionally beautiful of his works. I wrote most of Hot Sinatra to a heavy rotation of Art Blakey, Frank Sinatra and Sketches of Spain. It has become one of my very favorite chill-out albums and a constant part of my iTunes playlist.
So there you have it, the measure of me in deep-grooved vinyl. I hope it leads you to enjoy some of my above-mentioned favorites, or even take stock of your own best musical friends.