Monday, December 17, 2007

Twelve Albums That Changed My Life

Some dude named Robert the Radish who has a music blog on Yahoo recently had a post entitled "10 Albums That Changed My Life." I don't know who Robert is, or what nationality the last name "the Radish" might be, but I vomited all over my keyboard when I saw his first pick: Rush - Moving Pictures. I fucking hate Rush. Hatred of Canadian pop-metal with banshee-like lead singing to the point of annoyance aside, the Radish's idea is an interesting one. It's rare that you (or I) come across an album that changes your (or my) life, and the whole exercise of separating favorite albums from life-changing albums is an exhausting one that I hope never again to experience. Regardless, here are twelve (yes, twelve -- take that, the Radish) albums that probably changed my life, in reverse alphabetical order by the last letter of the second song.

1. Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction. To this day, I have no idea why my mom let me buy this tape that fateful day in 1988 at Phar-Mor. She saw the "Parental Advisory" sticker. She saw the skulls. She saw her son as a naïve child for the last time. As soon as I got home, I popped the tape in. By the middle of the second song ("It's So Easy"), my innocence was lost faster than Axl could say, "why don't you just . . . FUCK OFF?!" What did he just say? You gotta remember that at this time there really wasn't all that much swearing in albums. A "shit" here and an "ass" there, maybe, but the number of f-bombs throughout this album was eye-opening for a 10-year-old in 1988. And then there was the inside cover art. Chicks were being sexually assaulted by flying robot pods with knives for teeth and alligator skeletons walking on two feet with either guns or binoculars for eyes. You're just not the same after you look at that.

2. The Beatles - Let It Be. This wasn't the first Beatles album I bought, nor is it my favorite Beatles album. What it is, though, is the Beatles album that fostered my desire to crank music as loud as possible when I'm hammered and sing along. There was a lot of that (particularly to "Dig a Pony," "Let It Be," "I Me Mine," and especially "I've Got a Feeling") second semester my sophomore year, along with Morgan and Jamie, after yet another night of striking out with the ladies.

3. Beach Boys - Spirit of America. My dad had this Beach Boys compilation on record, and he made a tape at some point, which I pilfered and listened to countless times between 1985 and 1988. It helped shape my view on what qualifies as well-written pop song, and also kind of made me want to be a rock singer, despite my lack of ability or dedication.

4. Def Leppard - Hysteria. I heard a snippet of a song while riding in the car on the way to Phar-mor with my mom. I heard what I thought was "burnin' like a flame," and I knew immediately that I had to own that song. After rifling through the entire tape collection at Phar-mor to find the song, I almost bought a Dokken tape. It turns out what I heard was "love is like a bomb," and luckily I soon figured out that it was "Pour Some Sugar On Me," and it quickly became my favorite song (and has stayed my favorite song to this day). It was that song and this album that transformed my taste in music from Beach Boys-centric to hair band-centric.

5. Derek and The Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. This also happens to be my favorite album of all-time. Thanks in large part to Professor Glenn Gass during Z202, I discovered this album in the spring of 1997. Before that, I had heard "Layla" and "Bell Bottom Blues," but nothing else. Holy shit, what an album. The emotion, the love, the pain, the drugs, the booze. I now had an album to listen to when I was depressed because no matter how bad I might have felt, Eric Clapton felt worse when he made this album.

6. Def Leppard - Yeah!. Most of you have probably never heard or (or listened to) this 2006 release by the boys from Sheffield. It's a cover album of songs by all of their favorite '70s British glam groups (and one Blondie song). I listened to it a lot during the summer of 2006 when I was studying for the bar. It broadened my scope of music (and got me into Thin Lizzy -- thanks guys) and inspired a lot of what I wrote in that book that I haven't finished (which is now over 330 pages and still growing).

7. Kenny Rogers - The Gambler. I'm assuming everyone has that one album that they listened to as a kid that made them love music. For me, it's The Gambler. Hey, I lived in Houston in the late '70s and early '80s. What did you expect? If memory serves me right (and it always does), my dad had made a tape of his Kenny Rogers album, which made it easier for me to listen to. From about age 2 to 7, "The Gambler" was my favorite song, and it made me want to listen to other tapes of records my dad had made, such as Hall & Oates, Air Supply, and Billy Joel. Before I knew it, I was out of touch, making love out of nothing at all, and fucking Christie Brinkley.

8. Marvin Gaye - Every Great Motown Hit. I lost my virginity to this album, or at least a 23-second segment of the 13th song on this album. That was definitely life changing. At least for one of us.

9. Michael Jackson - Thriller. Anyone under the age of 30 in 1982 who says this album didn't change their life is a goddamn liar. Anyone who has ever owned parachute pants who says this album didn't change their life is a goddamn liar. I was 5 when Thriller was released and I have owned at least one pair of parachute pants ever since. Case closed.

10. Culture Club - Colour By Numbers. This is the first tape I ever bought with my own money, and second tape I ever owned behind -- cough -- the Annie soundtrack. Buying it made me realize that, even though I was only 6, I had the power to shape my own musical collection without relying on my parents to buy something for me. Granted, I didn't have a lot of scratch lying around, so I had to save up my allowance to purchase any new music, starting a trend that would last for years to come and cause me to spend nearly all of my disposable income on music. Thank you Boy George.

11. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton. Fuck the police? Are you serious? Yes, they were. For all of the shit N.W.A. gets for swearing and misogyny, this album was the most "real" album I had ever heard in my life when I purchased it in 1990. If Appetite for Destruction took my innocence, Straight Outta Compton beat it up, threw it on the ground, put a sawed off to the back of its head, and pulled the trigger without a second thought, broadening my thinking about street life, gangs, drugs, the man, and race relations in the process. I had listened to rap and hip hop before this, but being prompted to "bust a move" or even "put the needle on the record so the drum beat goes like this" is not quite as thought-provoking as "fuck tha police" or "to the kids looking up to me, life ain't nothin' but bitches and money." It's no coincidence that I don't really trust cops anymore, that I have a wife, and that I became a lawyer. Essentially, I'm living the dream that N.W.A. implanted in my head.

12. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells. Before I got this album in 2002, I was in a new music lull. Nothing new (aside from rap and hip hop) really grabbed my attention. But this album inspired me to look at other new artists and to get Rolling Stone, which snowballed into me getting much more music. All of the new rock music I've grown to love in the past 5 years (The Black Keys, The Hold Steady, Kings of Leon, Louis XIV, The Greenhornes, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers, etc., etc.) can be traced to how blown away I was by White Blood Cells and the fact that it made me want to see what else was out there.

Honorable Mention: Beastie Boys - License to Ill; The Beatles - Abbey Road; The Doors - The Doors; The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Radio One; Led Zeppelin IV; Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below; Otis Redding - The Very Best of; Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run; Velvet Underground - The Best of the Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed; Muddy Waters - Greatest Hits.

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