15 Albums (Part 1)

So the other day, I was sent one of those notes on Facebook that spring up from time to time; the old “reply and tag” standard.  Most of them get ignored and the person who sent it to me blocked or chopped because I don’t have the time to respond, and some abuse the privilege (seriously; Farmland?).  But in the case of this one, I had to respond because in this case because artist Richard Clark sent it along, and because Richard and I are working on a project about music.

Essentially it asked me to pick 15 albums that I’ve heard that will always stick with me.  I was to list the first fifteen I could recall off the top of my head, and take no longer than 15 minutes to do so.  I was to post the list, tag fifteen friends etc …

I ended up doing it, and if you’re connected to me on Facebook, you read the note.  But, I wanted to go a little more in depth as to why I chose the albums I did, here.  All of the below are important to me; I can look at each and summon a very specific memory about the period in my life when I first heard it.  Listening to these albums today, those memories come flowing back.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop listening to them.

And off we go …in reverse, from fifteen down to one.

The “Middle Period” of The Beatles remains my favorite; the span from Help to Revolver, where they became more experimental, but prior to them jumping full tilt into Pepperland and the Maharishi.  They could still write a catchy tune (not that they ever lost that tough, but there are miles of difference between “Paperback Writer” and “I Am The Walrus”). Of that period, Rubber Soul is my favorite album, with the bittersweet “In My Life” a personal anthem. I first heard it in 1987, the 20th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, and in the midst of the big Beatles revival of the late 80s.  Even then, hearing “In My Life”, I could imagine myself twenty years down the road, remembering friends and lovers, of moments and meaning … and I often think about them, even now.  But the whole album is packed with great songs –Drive My Car, Nowhere Man, Michelle – and is as fresh sounding as an album released in 1966 can sound.

The Doors are perfect band for when you’re 15 or so – kind of like Green Day is now — all about rebellion and stuff (albeit a non-complex rebellion).  If I was born 20 years earlier, I’m sure I would have gravitated to the darker music of Mr. Mojo Rising over the Come on people, sunshine and flowers and peace, man. They were a gateway band for me – it was a surprisingly straight line from The Doors to The Velvet Underground, to Sonic Youth – one led to another.

The other “breakout L.A. band” of 1966-67?  The Monkees.  Yeah.

My favorite album from one of my favorite bands; it’s the one everyone buys first, and I recall many days at a friend’s cottage blasting thus one on the stereo.  I saw them in concert in 2006, when the original lineup reunited.  The show had been postponed because singer Shane MacGowan had suffered “an injury” (anybody familiar with his legendary drinking could imagine that “injury” having something to do with a bar stool).  But the next night the Pogues took to the stage minus Shane, who was finally brought out in a wheelchair by a roadie.  We all laughed, thinking it was a joke.  Then he proceeded to sing for the rest of the show from said wheelchair.  It was awesome and given the strong connection the Irish have to New York (with “Fairytale of New York” and “Thousands are Sailing” the standout tracks on this album), I can’t picture one without the other.

Document immediately makes me think of the summer of 1991; I know this because I have videotape from 1991 of me and a friend driving aimlessly around my town, with “The One I Love” on the stereo.  I got into REM in a big way around 1989’s Green, when they were just on the cusp of being huge, and I bought up their back catalogue in short order.  Their breakthrough Out of Time album dropped in spring of 1991 – the first in a series of records that would help change the musical landscape for a short but memorable period.  Document remains my favourite REM album from my favorite REM period.

Polly Jean Harvey is like one of those girls you want to talk to in the bar or club and don’t because she’s just too cool and you figure “hell, I’m just wasting my time.”  Only then, years later, you found out she always wondered why you never came over and talked to her.  This 2000 album has a heavy New York vibe – and I felt that way well before I moved down here.  Anytime I’m in Brooklyn, I can’t help but hear “You Said Something” playing somewhere in my brain.

The first album I bought deliberately to piss my parents off.  It worked. For a brief time I considered forming a band because of it (and as I know many great bands did likewise in its wake); I mean, the Sex Pistols were a terrible band, but that was their appeal and I knew any band I was in would be terrible too. I also managed to slip a copy into the tape deck at the school gymnasium one day.  It got midway through “Bodies” (i.e. Track 2) before the teacher yanked the tape out of the deck and asked; “who put this garbage in the stereo?”  Of course, I manned up and admitted, proudly, that it was I. I was so Punk Rock.

Summer 1992 was the second installment of the Lollapalooza festival – the one that hit as the whole Alt Rock explosion, well, EXPLODED.  Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, RHCP … all great. But as dusk fell in advance of Ministry taking the stage, I noticed all these black clad vampire people emerge from the crowd and surround us.  They were everywhere.  And when Ministry began to play, the place went NUTS.  After the dust settled and we returned to our normal lives, I knew I was going to grab a Ministry album, which I did – this one – as I was in the midst of packing for college.  It was the album that blasted out my dorm room door from September to December of 1992.  My roommate who’d never even heard of them became hooked on it and we went to see them play that December at a venue just up the road from my dorm. This album makes me think of that period when after years of being stuck in small-town nowhere, I was off the leash at last.

More to come …