I was really quite enthusiastic about the whole idea when Barry first tagged me on Facebook and proposed it. At first, it sounded all too simple, too easy.
The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you’ve heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
Hmmmm. Fifteen albums that had a big impact on me in fifteen minutes.
A tall order considering how expansive my overall music collection. In order to fulfill Barry’s criteria, though, the albums I chose would have to have as much of an impact today as the first day I encountered them. The obvious popular choices did not make my list, nor did a long list of Zappa/Mothers titles, either. One could say that the one Mothers of Invention title on my list no doubt encompasses all of Zappa’s work. This was a list about the personal impact of fifteen particular albums, right off the top of my head [therefore, probably the most honest].
So, here’s my own personal annotated list, followed by an audio sample from each album (in no particular order of importance):
- Uncle Meat – The Mothers of Invention
Discovered this album this same year I bought my first Sony Walkman (1979) and spent the latter part of Grade 11 in High School rabidly consuming this album’s mixture of avant garde, classical, jazz, doo wop, blues and rock and roll while cutting class. Possesses early elements and techniques which every other Zappa album either benefits from, or owes a debt. The vinyl album sounds as fresh today as the date it was recorded.
- Abbey Road – The Beatles
I’ve never been an overwhelming fan of the Beatles, even when they released the ever-popular Sgt. Pepper’s and the White Album. Abbey Road, though, is their tightest effort by far – ironic since they were barely functioning as a band in 1969 and Abbey Road really should have been this band’s swan song. Let It Be, like most other Beatles albums, had great songs, but lacked the central unity of an Abbey Road which is why it’s just as cohesive as a whole album when I hear it now.
- What Do You Want From Live – The Tubes
One of the best live albums ever recorded. The early studio albums do not do justice to this band. Not until you have heard them live, or better yet, seen them live, can you appreciate this band’s insane musical brilliance. This album captures them at their height of musical mayhem at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on March 9th, 1975. I was immediately addicted.
- Black Oak Arkansas – Black Oak Arkansas
This self-titled debut album by Southern Rock band Black Oak Arkansas, released in 1971, combines multiple guitar players with the raspy “Beefheartesque” voice of vocalist Jim “Dandy” Mangrum. Growing up on the Canadian prairie, I was immediately drawn to Black Oak’s mixture of rural sound, instrumentation, and ethos.
- Stand In The Fire – Warren Zevon
There’s something about L.A.’s Roxy theatre that brings the best out of who performs there. Zevon is no exception. I bought this live album in 1980, and from the first track to the supposed parts the dog ate (which by 2007 were miraculously rediscovered), I recognized all the unbridled energy that was captured in my flimsy vinyl copy of Zevon’s alcohol-fueled rock madness. I played it over and over again until the record was unlistenable, by which time, it had been allowed to go out of print. I would have to wait 25 years for a Japanese limited edition, LP replica sleeve on CD in 2006, and a remastered and expanded edition from Rhino the following year. I paid through the teeth for both. It was well worth the cost.
- Fire Of Unknown Origin – Blue Oyster Cult
Last album with original line-up. Has a tight and cohesive feel since many tracks were written for the soundtrack of the movie, Heavy Metal (although only “Veteran Of The Psychic Wars” was used). Along with 1977′s Spectres and 1980′s Cultösaurus Erectus – a thinking man’s heavy metal band.
- Inner City Front – Bruce Cockburn
In 1981, I was seventeen years old living in a one bedroom basement suite and going to a vocational college during the day to get my matriculation so I could enter university. Those nights while I studied, I had but one tape: Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Inner City Front’. Perhaps it was those long hot muggy evenings of listening to one side, flip, another side, flip, and yet another side of this album – along with Cockburn’s 1980 album, ‘Humans’ – that made this album become virtually second nature to me. Some albums are funny that way.
- Catholic Boy – The Jim Carroll Band
Author of the Basketball Diaries and Living at the Movies (poems), Carroll brought his considerable wit and voice and presence to The Jim Carroll Band’s 1980 debut, Catholic Boy. At once, his songs have a minimalist power about them without overpowering the listener, while combining an obvious literary ethos few popular songs possessed in 1980, or now.
- The Turning Point – John Mayall
A live album by John Mayall, featuring British blues music recorded at a concert at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East on July 12, 1969. The lack of a drummer gave this album a very distinctive style from all other Mayall albums. From my very first listen, I was completely enamoured. In 2001, a remastered CD including three additional tracks from the same performance was reissued.
- New Skin For The Old Ceremony – Leonard Cohen
As a Canadian, being a fan of Leonard Cohen is pretty much a given. He’s a national treasure that I was fortunate enough to meet and speak with at length once in the mid 1980s. If I had to choose a period of his career I like best, though, it would be his early career. One man, one guitar. No album better illustrates this period of his career, though, than ‘New Skin For The Old Ceremony’. Each track on it appears on every known ‘best of’ compilation. That says something about an album (besides his debut album, of course).
- Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Whether it’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Animals’ or ‘The Wall’ – the presence of Syd Barrett in one fashion or other is unavoidable. It all starts with ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, and in particular, “Brain Damage”.
- Crisis? What Crisis? – Supertramp
One of Supertramp’s most underrated albums. Constantly found in record store half price bins. Why? That’s beyond me. To me, ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ is just as good, just as progressive as ‘Crime Of The Century’, ‘Even In The Quietest Moments’, and ‘Breakfast In America’. Although the following track was only available as a bootleg at the time I first heard ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’, it’s presently been available since it’s release in 2001 from ‘Is Everybody Listening?’ – a live album taken from the 9 March 1975 recording during the Crime of the Century tour at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. Pick up both.
- Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones
Part of that unique community of West Coast musicians and singer songwriters in and around southern California and Los Angeles in the late seventies moving with the likes of Lowell George, Tom Waits, and Chuck E. Weiss. Her eponymously titled debut album yielded 11 tight, jazz infused hipster songs that garnered her a well deserved Grammy. Every time I listen to this album I am reminded that sometimes good guys (and gals) do win sometimes, and deservedly so.
- At the Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band
Double live album released in July 1971. Showcases the band’s mix of blues, Southern rock and jazz. Showcases the late Duane Allman’s slide guitar. What more needs to be said, except “Whipping Post”.
- Greatest Stories Live – Harry Chapin
I never cared much for Harry Chapin’s studio albums. Although he really could tell a story in song, his studio albums often came across as too trite to me, at least in a musical sense, as though something essential was missing from the Chapin recipe. Upon hearing ‘Greatest Stories Live’ I knew instantly what ingredient was missing – an audience. In every track, Chapin and his band come alive in the presence of an audience. I have heard enough Harry Chapin field recordings since to confirm this assumption. I have also seen him perform live (six months prior to his fatal accident) myself, so I can confirm at least that much personally. His greatest stories are, indeed, best heard live.
Project X – Uncle Meat (1969)
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Abbey Road (1969)
I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk – What Do You Want From Live (1978)
Uncle Elijah – Black Oak Arkansas (1971)
Poor Poor Pitiful Me – Stand in the Fire (1980/2007)
Joan Crawford – Fire Of Unknown Origin (1981)
All’s Quiet On The Inner City Front – Inner City Front (1981)
City Drops into the Night – Catholic Boy (1980)
The Laws Must Change – The Turning Point (1969/2001)
A Singer Must Die – New Skin For The Old Ceremony (1974)
Brain Damage – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Another Man’s Woman – ‘Is Everybody Listening? (1975/2001)
The Last Chance Texaco – Rickie Lee Jones (1979)
Whipping Post – At the Fillmore East (1971)
30,000 Pounds of Bananas – Greatest Stories Live (1976)
Read. Listen. Discuss.