Well, Kottke did it first, and then Van Buren, so here’s my list of ten albums that have influenced my musical tastes over the years, in no particular order, and far from being exhaustive.
- John Williams/Various — “Return of the Jedi Soundtrack” Proof that I was born under a geek sign might be that the very first album (okay, cassette tape) I ever owned was a Star Wars soundtrack. The next was a Billy Joel album, but I never claimed to be cool.
- REM — “Green” While Document was the first REM album I had, my big brother Stephen took me with him to a REM concert in Knoxville, TN on the “Green” tour. Watching the band perform “Turn You Inside Out” made me a life-long environmentalist. The entire stage became the screen for lots of Greenpeace-like footage. Anyway, a terrific album that still means a lot to me.
- Anthrax — “Persistence of Time” This might have been any number of thrash-metal or heavy metal albums, but none of them really started the fire in me like Anthrax did. They weren’t into theatrics and imagery, they just rocked really fast and loud. The lyrics were never Dylan or anything, but as a idealistic kid, I found them agreeable. They weren’t singing about murdering people (well, mostly not) or drugs. They were just ranting about society. Oh, and did I mentioned it was fast and loud?
- Public Enemy — “Fear of a Black Planet” Although Apocalypse 91 and Nation of Millions were also huge albums, it was Fear of Black Planet that was the most defining album for this group. They had all the attitude of gansta rap, but without all the bullshit. I got the impression that they were rapping about trying to live in the inner city as a young black person, rather than just wasting away there. There was no shortage of wiggers and redneck raps fans (I can’t explain them, so I’m sorry if you just don’t know what that is) where I grew up, but Public Enemy made me want to be neither. I didn’t want to be like these guys nor did I despise them. I just wanted to hear their message and listen the best rap that has ever been.
- Lenny Kravitz — “Are You Gonna Go My Way” For my brother, Dave, our friend Hitch, and I; this re-defined how cool rock could be. We were all listening to lots of classic rock and also looking for new bands. Mostly at the time, that was early grunge. Then Kravitz puts out this retro-rock sounding album (okay, his third, but whatever) that just blew us away. I remember listening to the album and Dave kept saying “If I made an album, it would sound just like this.” Can a musician give a higher compliment?
- Marty Stuart — “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” I should state that this one is on here because of my brother Dave, more than me. I came home from college one weekend to Dave going on and on about how cool Marty Stuart, the country(?!) guitar player was. I thought he was joking. Then he made me sit down and actually listen to what this guy was playing, and I was amazed. This started a career in country music for Dave, and new found appreciation and love for the music for me. I still despise commercial country, but that’s why Marty’s here. He’s just about everything that is good about Nashville, with none of the crap.
- Various Artists — The “Matrix: Music From The Motion Picture” Okay, so this is possibly cheating, but we find music in odd ways. I didn’t really care for techno/electronic/industrial all that much until I saw the Wachowski brothers put it to such good use. When I got the association with Prodigy and Cyber-punk, it just clicked. We all walked away from this film thinking how cool the movie was. I was also thinking, I got to get me some electronica.
- Jay Farrar — “Sebastopol ” This could have been any number of Americana albums, but honestly it was always Jay Farrar’s voice, guitar, and lyrics that I liked about Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. I still am crazy about those bands, as well as Wilco. I even like musically related bands like The Jayhawks, but it was Farrar that really clicked with me.
- Tie: Green Rode Shotgun “Bang” & The Coal Men — ” Nowhere’s Too Far” This isn’t just shameless promotion of friends. We all have friends in bands or that are songwriters to some extent. However, when you get this polished CD from them and you listen to each track, you might find yourself wondering about everything you ever said or did around them. Did you realize just how talented these people are? Don’t you feel a little foolish for ever even discussing music around them? They were always artists, you just didn’t realize until now. How could an album like that not affect how you listen to all other music?