Fifteen Albums


Here's a Facebook meme I was tagged to participate in, but because I prefer my blog to Facebook I'm doing it here.

Instructions: This is harder than you may think! Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what their critical or commercial significance, shaped your world. When you finish, tag 15 others. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it!

So. Here's my list, in chronological order of when they entered my life or made their impression.

(Note: This list took a LONG time to compile, so take your time reading it. I'll probably be too tired to post anything else for a while.)

1. Kansas, Leftoverture. This was the second album I ever acquired, the first I ever got because I wanted it. (The first album I ever got was Steve Miller Band's Fly Like An Eagle, which I got because my family joined one of those record clubs and someone forgot to send in the little card rejecting the selection of the month.) I LOVED the song "Carry on Wayward Son," with its a capella harmonies at the beginning and the heavy guitar riffs elsewhere. In 1977, when I was a freshman in high school, I convinced my mom to order this album for me from the record club--on eight-track, 'cause that's the format we were signed up for. This was one of the albums that shaped my taste from thenceforth--it's one of the reasons I still prefer prog rock to punk. But at some point my taste expanded beyond prog rock, and when, a year or two later, I started acquiring vinyl, I didn't bother to replace this album. By the way, I still love "Wayward Son"--in fact, I recently got Kansas's greatest hits from the library so I could listen to COWS (wow, what an unfortunate acronym) again from start to finish. Also: my sister was telling me that it's part of some wii game, and says that my nieces and nephews commented that it was much more interesting, lyrically and musically, than a lot of the other stuff on the game. She told them it was my favorite song in 1977, and they were impressed at my good taste.

2. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. One of only two albums I've owned in three formats (vinyl, casette, cd). Of course I'd heard every single song on this album before I actually bought the album as a sophomore in high school, but listening to it, start to finish, in the dark, through headphones, was a revelation. I realized, this is music that fucking matters. The music matters, the lyrics matter, the journey of this album matters. I love the poetry on this album--I quoted it in my speech at high school graduation. I'm still moved by this entire album.

3. Alan Parsons Project, The Turn of a Friendly Card. This was the first album I bought as soon as it came out, in 1980. Before TTOAFC, I waited until I heard most of the songs on an album before I bought it. But I loved APP and loved the cover of this one, so I bought it--and for many years, it was one of my favorites, though I didn't bother acquiring a cd when I unloaded all my vinyl. A few years ago, just for the hell of it, I added the cd to my wishlist, and one of my sisters bought it for me for Christmas. I still really like listening to it, even if it is a concept album and those are pretentious or whatever. But see, I like concept albums. A collection of ten great songs isn't something I have a problem with, but a coherent musical journey is also really cool.

4. Beatles, Abbey Road. This is my favorite Beatles' album, though it's not really the whole album--it's the last 17 minutes of side 2, starting with "You Never Give Me Your Money" (though I sorta hated "Sun King.") I especially loved the transition from "Polythene Pam" to "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," my favorite song on the entire album. What can I say. It's another concept album, one that took me on a journey, and I loved that. Plus it was Alan Parsons' first engineering credit.

5. David Bowie, Low. There's more Bowie than any other artist in my collection. I liked him in high school, but I thought of him as a guy who wrote great songs rather than a guy who produced great albums. Acquiring Low as a freshman or sophomore in college was what changed that for me. (Don't ask me how I missed the fact that Ziggy Stardust is a totally great concept album. I can't explain.) Plus it was another album that was really good to listen to on headphones and be sad to.

6. Roxy Music, Avalon. The other album I've owned in three formats. I thought Roxy Music was OK until I went to London in 1984. My roommate had this tape in her Walkman once when she let me borrow it. The music was so evocative and emotional and romantic and cool. It was one of those "omigod, where has this been all my life?" moments. I wrote home and told my sister to buy it IMMEDIATELY, no questions asked. I still think this is one of the world's most perfect albums. And although I've listened to it all over the world, it can take me right back to a very happy evening in Hyde Park on a misty February Sunday evening in 1984.

7. Japan, Gentlemen Take Polaroids. Something happened in 1985 that changed my musical taste and my life forever: I got sent on a mission to Taiwan. Now, missionaries are often forbidden to listen to music, but my mission president let us listen to music on our preparation day. And Taiwan approached copyright issues very differently--it didn't respect them, basically. You could get pirated tapes for less than a buck, or licensed tapes (which were all I bought, because the sound was so much better) for two bucks. Because music was so cheap, I'd just buy stuff because the album art was interesting--like this. I was so struck by the photo of David Sylvian in all that 1980s new romantic makeup--he looked like the long-lost brother of both David Bowie and Peter O'Toole. So I bought this album without knowing anything about it. And it was another "omigod" moment. I sent the album to my little brother, who became a HUGE fan, not only of Japan, but of all the musicians in it--he owns pretty much all the albums by anyone who was ever in Japan. And he might never heard of the band if I hadn't gone on a mission.

8. Tears for Fears, The Hurting. I've written about the fact that my mission was the worst thing ever to happen to me... I've written about my diagnosis for depression, which happened on my mission.... This album was one of the few that adequately expressed the despair I felt on my mission. I had horrible insomnia, but I hated going to sleep for two reasons: I hated waking up, as I inevitably did, and I had HORRIBLE violent nightmares. Mostly I died--I was blown up, run over, shot--but sometimes I killed people and sometimes I had to travel long distances to go to the funeral of a loved one. And I've heard that people never actually DIE in their dreams; supposedly they wake up just before death. But I died, over and over, and had to deal with the fact that nothing was better after I died. A therapist pointed out to me years later that this was an obvious expression of the fact that my mind knew that being a missionary was killing me, body and soul. I didn't know that at the time; I just knew that I found something oddly comforting in the haunting, horrible lines from "Mad World":

And I find it kind of funny
and I find it kind of sad
That the dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had

Those lines still grab me where I live.

9. Madonna, Like a Virgin. One of my very first posts on this blog was about why I love Madonna and how she helped save my life, so I see no reason to repeat it all here.

10. Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses. I first started paying attention to DP in 1984, when I was in England--I remember this whole bouhaha about "Blasphemous Rumours." Clergy were actually debating whether or not God had a sick sense of humor, the way the song asserted. I certainly agreed that the evidence supported the claim that he did, but I couldn't believe that the establishment church was treating this pop song like a serious threat to its theology. I certainly listened to Some Great Reward a lot on my mission. But it was this album, released in the fall of 1987, that really cemented my love for the band, and made me start collecting all their other albums. It was so explicitly religious, and it helped me make sense of my mission in a way no other music ever had. I mean, consider the opening stanza of "Sacred":

To put it in words
To write it down
That is walking on hallowed ground
But it's my duty
I'm a missionary


11. Depeche Mode, Speak & Spell. I was driving along the Black Canyon Freeway into Phoenix singing along to this album with my two youngest siblings, when we had a blowout--about an hour after my car overheated. It was horrible, it was June, it was hot as all hell, but somehow we stayed sorta upbeat about it all, mainly because we were harmonizing to the thoroughly homoerotic and silly lines

Hey you're such a pretty boy
You're so pretty
P R E double-T Y

We'd just seen the band in concert the night before, and were completely in love with everything they did, even the gay stuff--we thought it was cute. I find it rather strange: my siblings loved music by gay musicians, loved music about gay experience, but are threatened by the idea of granting rights to homosexuals. Oh well. I'm not going to solve that problem now.

12. The Smiths, Meat is Murder. This is not my favorite Smiths album--that would probably be The Queen Is Dead, which is everyone's favorite Smiths album--but in 1989, when I was getting ready to leave the church, there were two songs on MIM that were really important to me. And no, neither of them were "How Soon Is Now?" which is the best known song on the album. No, the songs I loved were "Rusholme Ruffians," for the ever-so-cheerfully sung lines

Scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen
This means you really love me

which seemed to me a good representation of the spiritual lives of most Mormons: saying to god, in cheerful obliviousness, "Hey! Do something really nasty to me! I'll take it as proof that you love me!" After all, that's the lesson to be drawn from Job. The other was "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore," which contains the lines

time's tide will smother you
and I will too
when you laugh about people
who feel so very lonely
their only desire is to die
but I'm afraid
it doesn't make me smile

The contempt at church for anyone who felt despair over the cruelty of Mormonism--it made me want to die.

13. Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes. You might have noticed that this list is light on works by women. Part of this has to do with what my ears find pleasant: I prefer deeper sounds to higher ones, bass clef to treble. It also has to do with the fact that up until college, I listened mostly to album or classic rock stations, which generally played only three acts with women in them: Heart, Fleetwood Mac, and Janis Joplin. And the mainstream female artists popular when I was in high school--I can scarcely remember them. Debbie Boone? Captain and Tenille? The Carpenters? OK, I can respect Karen Carpenter's voice. But I don't know, it comes down, I guess, to something from another Smiths' song, "Panic":

burn down the disco
hang the blessed dj
because they music that they constantly play
it says nothing to me about my life

Oh shit! Of course! Abba! Donna Summer! Disco! I HATED disco--I still hate disco. Most of the top female acts of the 1970s were disco acts, and both the subject matter and the sound of most disco songs irritated the beejezus out of me. So for a long time, most of the music by female musicians said nothing to me about my life. It got better when New Wave happened--at that point I could buy an album or two by bands like the Eurythmics or Til Tuesday, but they didn't obsess me the way other bands did. I was engrossed by female prose writers, but my favorite musicians were men--aside from Madonna and the Cocteau Twins.

And then Tori Amos came along, and did she ever say something to me about my life. She was a girly girl, first of all--not nearly as tough as Janis Joplin or Heart--and she played the piano, not the guitar. And boy oh boy was she fucking PISSED OFF. She was really, really angry about aspects of a female life, and she expressed that anger in very female ways. It also helped that she was pissed off at God, the asshole who jerked women around more than any other.

14. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville. See #13 above. Also important in my feminist musical awakening. LP was smarter, saner, less pissed off, less musically talented and therefore more radio-friendly than Tori. I don't much care for her other albums--I've acquired them all at one point or another--but I think Guyville is a masterpiece (mistresspiece?) and it helped me think about how to navigate relationships and sex at a time when I needed to do that.

15. Poe, Hello. See also #13 above. A really smart pissed-off Jewish chick who grew up in Provo, Utah--what's not to love? Especially since her subject matter deals with the reality of women's lives--not just getting one's heartbroken, but shaving one's legs and drinking a diet coke--in wry, intelligent, interesting ways. Plus her second album is a concept album, and we should all know by now that I love concept albums. I hear she's working on a third.... I would love to see more from this amazing artist.

So there it is. I tag anyone who ever owned one of the albums in my list, or feels like explaining why they owned other albums.


A bunch of great albums. These are mine that I posted on FB, with no embellishment for space sake:

1. The Who - Quadrophenia (boy, did that speak to me as a 15 year-old)
2. Steely Dan - Aja (This, and the next album on this list were my gateway drugs into jazz)
3. Weather Report - Heavy Weather
4. Talking Heads - Remain In Light
5. REM - Life's Rich Pageant
6. Stevie Ray Vaughn - Texas Flood
7. Mark Knopfler - Soundtrack to "Local Hero."
8. Pink Floyd - (Tie) - Meddle & The Division Bell
9. Pat Metheny - (Tie) Travels & Still Life (talking)
10. The Band - Music From Big Pink
11. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks
12. Peter Gabriel - Us
!3. Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow
14. Ramsey Lewis - Sun Goddess
15. U2 - Achtung Baby
16. Pete Townshend 3-way tie - Empty Glass, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, White City
17. Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King - Live- In Session

I love(d) #13 and 14. I have also appreciated Sinead O'Connor over the years. Thanks for this list...I will check out Poe. And did you hear that the Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon can be played together (Wizard of Oz with the sound off)?

Some fantastic choices and you're right, it's a difficult task to really plunder through and think of albums that really changed things. I'm only going to list a few because my thinking cap is tattered right now.

1. The B-52s (that beautiful shock of yellow)
2. Elvis Costello - My Aim is True
3. Poe - Haunted
4. Mary Margaret O'Hara - Miss America
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus (and that was your doing if you may recall).

Hi Mr. Nighttime--I'm a big Steely Dan fan myself. What's not to love?

Hi Aerin--you're right; Sinead O'Connor belongs with the other women I list. I did love her first two albums. I hope you like Poe--I am pretty sure you will, and would like to know what you think of her.

Hi Dale--I don't know Mary Margaret O'Hara (have to check her out), but the other albums you list are staples in my collection. I am glad that my mention of Nick Cave persuaded someone else to see awesome he is.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on February 26, 2009 10:26 AM.

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