10 Formative Albums - And What They Mean to Me


Playlist Link: http://bit.ly/2rnqHFM

1) Rush - A Farewell to Kings: I knew nothing about music that I hadn't learned off Doctor Demento. I was friends with some kids from Birmingham through boating on Guntersville, and they noted to me that Rush was serious music. I wanted to understand music as a concept, and there was a copy of A Farewell to Kings in the clubhouse where my parents kept our boat. I would listen to this album for hours, drinking in the stories and the complexity. It was honestly my first exposure to real music, and it made sure Moving Pictures and Fly By Night were the first to albums I bought when I got my first stereo.

2) Oingo Boingo - Nothing to Fear: The eighties were a really ridiculous time for music. I was completely sick of pop music, and college rock was still something I hadn't been exposed to. MTV came out, and new age crap like Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran were appealing, but felt so safe. Oingo Boingo felt dangerous. The things in it were sharp, bracing, and often musically counter-intuitive. It spoke of social confusion, alienation from the norm, and deep dark thoughts in a day-glow world. It was punk with horns, and I LOVED IT. They are still influential to me to this day... and Danny Elfman's music is still a regular part of my life.

3) Judas Priest - Screaming for Vengence: While I was off working at Boy Scout camp, my step-brother came and stayed with my parents for the summer. He bought Judas Priest and Diary of a Madman, and left them at the house for me. I was super, SUPER christian, and looked at Ozzy Ozborne like the anti-christ... so I took that album and burned it in a campfire. But for some reason, Judas Priest seemed different... and the hard guitar lines made me feel something vibrating deep in my head. I *got* it... and it stayed in my collection to this day.

4) Berlin - Love Life: At a time when I didn't understand my sexuality AT ALL, Teri Nunn's singing got to me. She made me feel like I was someplace dark and sexy, sipping drinks with people far more sophisticated than anyone I knew. Their earlier music had references to strange kinky things I didn't understand, and by the time Love Life came out her voice had an overt "naughty" connotation to me. Love Life was much more polished and pretty, with strong singable ballads and some great empowering anthems. Love Life was in my walkman almost exclusively on those long bus trips to choir competitions.

5) Madness - The Rise and Fall: Everyone heard Our House in those years, and most of my friends considered it to be catchy polka music... but when I joined the Columbia Music Club, I grabbed like 3 Madness albums from the mess of pop garbage. The Rise and Fall totally sucked me in with The Rise and Fall and Primrose Hill... It was weird and full of full of fuzzy horns in minor keys. Madness just makes me want to wiggle my torso and tighten my tie.

6) Pink Floyd - The Wall: This was about the only album I listened to as I toured Germany before my senior year. I had absolutely zero grasp on the existential issues buried within the lyrics I was listening to (remember, I was super SUPER christian, and nihilism was a completely foreign concept), but the layered sounds, themes, and instruments swept me into an amazing mixture of classic and contemporary instruments. It was intoxicating and rewarding.

7) Styx - Paradise Theater: Let's be honest, it's cheesy old crap... but I wore that 8-track out. "Tonight’s the night we'll make history...." Full of longing and singable tunes, it was one I could share with almost anyone. It was in an era when you wanted to believe it was The Best of Times. I want to sing just thinking about it.

8) Dreams So Real - Rough Night in Jericho: During our senior year, one of my best friends was getting mixed tapes sent to him from his sister while she worked at the college radio station at Auburn. We got a lot of great music via this chain of inheritance, but primarily what it did was prime me for the upcoming stream of new music I'd hear once I got to Auburn. Once I did, I started digging into music for real. I'm not sure why Rough Night in Jericho stuck with me... I think it might be that they seemed so perfect for success, but never made it past the college circuit. I saw them live a dozen times at frat parties and the Tip Top, and still smile when I think about them.

9) The Pixies - Doolittle: I was a college radio DJ when Doolittle came out, and at first I didn't get it. It just seemed off key and needlessly screamy. It was rough and loose and things seemed to spin off out of control without justification. It was primal and unrefined and then... suddenly... some sublime little riff would sneak into the middle of the noise. This absolutely perfect little marriage between the instruments would stick around for maybe 10 seconds, and then it would all go to hell again... but that tiny bit of control suddenly demonstrated the entire song was planned... all that chaos was within the margins... and it was perfect too.

10) Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine: Most people didn't hear this album till at least a year after it came out. I caught it the first week and sent it to everyone I knew who loved music. Very few of them responded positively. It was full of anger, rage, and self-loathing. It painted a dark picture of relationships, the neediness of love, the poison in desire, and foul, foul betrayal. It was not music you listened to with other people... you lowered your head and let ride up and down your spine like a dark calling. It was perfect for a 21 year old with a love life full of mistakes and confusion. I danced and danced to that dark album.

EDIT: This SHOULD be #7, but I didn’t remember it when first writing this...
11) The Alarm - Declaration: The Alarm was one of the prime examples of great college rock that made its way down to my high school friends. It had the benefit of fitting into our personal narrative of glory, standing against the enemy, and respecting the noble souls who fought before you. It was a vainglorious era, and my friends were no exception. We believed ourselves brave beyond reproach and proud to charge in with your crew by your side. The Alarm fed all our secret desires with the kind of rock we viewed as untainted by modern trappings of terrible music.

Honorable Mentions:
Boston - Boston
38 Special - Special Forces
Triumph - Thunder Seven
Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime
The Cult - Love
The Cure - Pornography
The Sisters of Mercy - Floodland
New Order - Substance 1987
Risky Business Soundtrack
Loverboy - Loverboy
Footloose Soundtrack
Psychadelic Furs - Midnight to Midnight
Peter Murphy - Deep