Albums that mean Everything to Me
Or, albums that changed my life. I've been listening to a lot of music this summer, and I'm feeling thankful. So here's my list:
Wings Greatest Hits – OK, so now, 30 years later, I don’t have much Wings or Paul McCartney around anymore, but in the mid-70s, when I was barely a teenager, this album hit me like a brick. It was the first album I purchased.
History: America’s Greatest Hits – I still listen to this album probably as much as just about any album in my collection. It’s shifted from “life –changing” to “guilty pleasure,” but it’s still there. I tried buying some of their regular albums, but none of them really hold together for me. They, like Paul McCartney, just get a little too plastic-feeling for me now.
Deacde – Neil Young – It just floored me, and made sense of the universe. I instantly became a huge Neil Young fan. I think it’s really because of the two sides of Neil Young, what I’ve since termed the Blue and the Black. After Decade, I purchased Comes a Time, and then Rust Never Sleeps, and ever since, I’ve purchased each album as soon as it’s been available, even if the 80s got a little rough here and there. And, of course, I went back and got the earlier ones as well, which made the 80s bearable.
John Lennon – Shaved Fish – I heard so much Beatles music on the radio, I never really felt like buying it, but I was interested in their more recent, individual things. This album cemented for me that John was my favorite Beatle, less so for his hits, than for his other stuff. I quickly moved to buy his solo records. Walls and Bridges was my favorite for a long time.
And then the flood gates opened, after getting a few more Greatest Hits albums (by Dylan, Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen):
Bob Dylan – Highway 51 Revisited (which has possibly become the most important single album to me). There’s very little else to say, really.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here and The Wall. Perhaps it’s a little dated now, but when I came across Pink Floyd around ’79-80, it was as if everything I was feeling suddenly had a voice.
Ian Hunter – All American Alien Boy and You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. I still don’t really know why I’m such an Ian Hunter fan. Perhaps it’s the same with many of the artists I admire. There’s a softness, a vulnerability paired with a certain immaturity and lack of completeness that brings me back to Ian Hunter. I like those same things in The Replacements, and in some ways Neil Young, as well.
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love & Hate (I was already a fan by the time I got this album, but it still seemed to change all the albums around it). What to add to that? He seems to know something the rest of us can only trace the limits of.
Jumping a little ahead, there are some albums that more recently have really shaken me back into music:
Talking Heads – Remain in Light, and then again with Stop Making Sense. Remain in light just floored me. I didn’t know what to do with it, especially when I flipped it over to side two. And then, when I found Stop Making Sense, I just felt like everything had changed.
The Replacements – Don’t Tell a Soul. This album was a perfect combination of electric and acoustic elements. It felt like a complete world.
The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues. I was already a fan of The Waterboys, but this one just completed their lyric and musical elements. It seemed there was nothing new to do after this.
Son Volt – Trace. I couldn’t believe how timeless this one felt the first time I put it on. It remains for me the definition of the genre, whatever you want to call that genre.
R.E.M – Automatic for the People. I was never a huge R.E.M. fan, but I had a few of their albums, but this one really exploded all over the radio and my consciousness. It took me awhile to be able to listen to it as an album, and when I did, it got even more important.
Cracker – Kerosene Hat. Similar to Son Volt’s Trace, this album stands as larger than life for me. For a time. A sound. And subject matter. How can one not be changed after hearing “Eurotrash Girl” for the first time?
Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This one came from country side of the same genre that Neil Young (ok, maybe others had something to do with it too) created in 1971 with After the Gold Rush. It brought me back to the ground, and instantly wiped away the pops and bleeps of 80s pop. Thankfully.
Kristin Hersh – Hips & Makers. With just an acoustic guitar and tons of attitude and twisted observations, this album has a purity that isn’t the least bit “acoustic.”
Sparklehorse – It’s a Wonderful Life. What to say? I feel I’m saying the same for each of these albums: It took me to a new place, lyrically and musically.
The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music. For me, this album was the perfect “pop” record. It’s SO singable and worth singing along with.
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. How to go into the studio and make it still sound somehow still like a junkyard. What a beautiful overproduction.
Aimee Mann – Magnolia (and Bachelor No 2). I think Aimee Mann is one of the best lyricists currently writing songs. Just amazing, spot-on, observations. She skewers relationships from inside of them, setting a benchmark for what concise lyric writing is.
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin followed by Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I’ve been a Lips fan for many years, but these two albums, back to back, just turned everything on its head. A veil was lifted shortly into The Soft Bulletin, and it keeps lifting every time I go back to either of these albums.
In the early 90s, as I was searching for instrumental music to study by, I discovered how much I really loved Bebop, but that’s a whole other list, just as long, so I’ll skip it for now.