This post started it’s life from the viral thing circulating around Facebook that prompted whoever was tagged in the previous participant’s post to list their musical influences from their teenage years. Since I love music and making lists, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Something happened though. I got about halfway through my list and realized I was at least partially full of shit.
These lists create a great opportunity for someone to be a revisionist of their own history in an effort to make one look a bit more cultured and cooler than you actually were. And many of them I’ve seen are exactly that, in my opinion. Was I ever into the Pixies or Sonic Youth prior to hearing about them via Kurt Cobain MTV interviews? No, I wasn’t. Was I into Gangsta rap before Dr Dre’s “The Chronic” sold millions of copies? Nope. I was 9 when Straight Outta Compton came out, not exactly in my wheelhouse at the time.
So while I think I’ve listed some decent albums below, I did try and pare it back to albums that actually altered my buying habits and my music exploration path. The list probably got more obvious, and maybe more boring, but it’s honest. And for every “Nevermind” and “OK Computer” in my teenage album collection, there were probably just as many “Vanilla Ice – To The Extreme”
Bob Marley – Catch a Fire
I could have picked a number of other “Bob” albums here but this is one of my favs. I can recall many fond memories of Sunday mornings soundtracked by Bob’s uplifting vibe. It led me a lot of other Reggae but I can’t think of another musical genre where one act stands so far and above the rest.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
There was a lot of soul music in rotation on my dad’s HiFi. There still is. Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, and many more. But I don’t know that there will ever be another voice like this. Some albums take time to grow on you, not this one. It was gold from the get-go and I never get tired of hearing it. Perhaps the most sampled artist I’ve used in my own tunes.
The Police – Reggatta de Blanc
This is the first piece of vinyl I remember buying. Well, I probably didn’t buy it but my parents would occasionally let me get something from the used bin at the record shop for myself.
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
Not a proper studio album but a live album that went along with the film of the same name. We watched the VHS of this movie and listened to the soundtrack in my household quite often. I remember literally jumping off the walls and going mental to “Burning Down the House”. As a kid, I’m pretty sure I thought David Byrne was a weirdo but later of course realized he is a musical genius.
Paul Simon – Graceland
This is one of the few albums I remember my mom having more influence than my dad. She played this a lot. But who can blame her? Arguably one of the greatest albums of all time, I don’t think there’s a skip-worthy song on it. I almost removed this album because I’m not sure it really consciously changed my music tastes and I didn’t seek out Simon’s other music because of it. But I just listened to it again and it’s still really good so it stays!
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
I used to put on puppet shows/music videos to “Hey Ladies”. Yeah, I was an only child and a dork. Ok, I’m still an only child and a dork. Something I started becoming aware of with this album was the concept of sampling. I’m sure I had heard sampling before but I’d finally absorbed enough music by this time for it to consciously occur to me that they were using pieces of old songs to construct new ones. “Sounds of Science” was probably the most lightbulb inducing because of the Beatles samples. Sample based music would be increasingly important to me as time pushed on.
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
I bought this album because the video for “Head Like a Hole” freaked me out but I couldn’t look away. Turns out the rest of it was awesome too. “Something I Can Never Have” still gives me chills. Maybe I was a little bit cool on this one because Trent Reznor went on to be pretty decent in the world of synth-boy fandom I’d say. Thanks, MTV.
Bad Religion – Against the Grain
I got 4-5 of their albums in a short time span so I could have put any of their other late 80s, early 90s albums here but I recall this one specifically for some reason. I listened to a fair amount of punk for a time but Bad Religion stood out to me. Perhaps it was the themes and the lyrics, which I tend to ignore in a lot of music but not here. I mean punk tends to be pretty simple musically, so it needs to say something I suppose. Maybe their social commentary made me feel a little more highbrow than listening to other punk rock, who knows? It was a significant portion of my music collection for a time but unlike most others on this list, I can’t say I go back to this stuff much now.
Alice In Chains – Dirt
Maybe not my favorite album of theirs but the most important. My dad had picked up their first album, “Facelift”, and while it was good, they definitely hit their stride with “Dirt”. While Nirvana seemed to be America’s favorite ‘grunge’ band, AIC was mine. I think it was the darker, dirtier edge to it that appealed to me. Which is still something I like in my music today. If I’m picking a favorite, I probably have listened to their MTV:Unplugged album the most.
Pearl Jam – Ten
Another “grunge” band! Hey, it was the early 90s, Grunge and Hip Hop were well represented. For starters, they were one of my first real concert experiences so that carried some weight. Pearl Jam also held a little extra cachet with me because Eddie Vedder went to Highschool right up the street from where I lived and surfed at the same beach I did (not at the same time). So it likely lent some fuel to my daydreams of rock stardom. Great album either way.
A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
I think I prefer Low End Theory now but I got this first and listened to “Can I Kick It” on repeat. I really dug the softer, jazzier, thoughtful sound they brought. Still do.
Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
I can look back fondly and appreciate my dad’s diverse musical tastes now but at the time, when he’d bring something like this home, I had some serious WTF moments. I mean a long haired, middle class, Grateful Dead concert going, white guy, wasn’t exactly PE’s core audience. Nonetheless, I listened pretty intently as Chuck D shouted his social commentary over tough beats. I’d never heard anything else like it.
Dr Dre – The Chronic
Not sure what else needs to be said about this album. It obviously ushered in a new era of Hip Hop to the masses. I was a little too young to get on the gangsta rap train with NWA. I would pick up Straight Outta Compton and Easy-E’s album shortly after The Chronic, as I’m sure many other suburban kids did. For me, it opened the doors to a lot of other great Hip Hop. Snoop, Tupac, Biggie, Nas, and many more. Hip Hop flamed out as the 90s wore on, in my eyes, which ushered in my love for “Electronica”…
Not only a great film but a great supporting soundtrack. My intro to the group Underworld who would in turn lead me to Sasha & Digweed and Global Underground, whom essentially opened Pandora’s box on my journey into electronic music. Undoubtedly my most explored area of music to this day.
Paul Oakenfold – Global Underground: New York
Ok, not an album but worth mentioning on my musical arc. Global Underground was huge in my indoctrination into the world of DJing. Not just the mix CDs but their message board was a place I connected with other fans from all over the world, some of whom I still know to this day. I bought every mix in the series for a couple of years until my focus on Progressive House waned in 2001. My favorites are the mixes from Sasha and Danny Tenaglia but Oakenfold’s New York discs were my first. It actually still holds up reasonably well considering everything else he’s done since is mostly garbage.