Saturday, March 7, 2009

Top 10 Most Influential Albums

A Facebook (and REAL) friend asked me to list and post the 15 most influential albums of my life. I struggled to find just 10, but by the end of the exercise managed to unearth some beautiful memories of family, friends and growing up. These aren't necessarily the 10 albums I'd take to the desert island (altho, some make that list too) -- these are the albums that had a connection to something - or some time - in my life. Enjoy!

1. Ohio Players & KISS (album titles unknown):
I know few – if any – actual songs on either of these albums, but as a kid, I couldn’t help but look thru my mom and stepfather’s record collection (no one owned movies back then and these two people weren’t killing time reading books). The Ohio Players’ inside spread had this artsy nude portrait of a beautiful black woman – I couldn’t stop looking at it. That’s when I knew I was gay.* Similar but different: my stepfather’s contribution to the album collection in our house included a bunch of KISS albums, all of which I also couldn’t stop looking at. Gene Simmons scared the shit out of me, but still….I KEPT LOOKING. I had nightmares about that crazy man spitting blood and fire and trying to kill me until I was almost in double-digits. Odd influences, I know, but influences nonetheless.

2. George Michael, Faith
During my high school years, I had a job at Zayre (which was bought out by Ames at some point, if “Zayre” isn’t striking any familiar chords with you). One summer, the Zayre management team caught on that I was slightly OCD, of German decent and perfectly okay with doing just about anything for my $3.65 hourly wage. Without abusing the child-labor laws, they worked my ass hard – including scheduling me until 10 pm one night and then summoning me back to the store at 6:30 am the next day (which seemed like a lot back then). Ever independent, I neglected to tell my family that I’d be walking to work that morning – in the dark – so that I could get to work on time. I remember putting on my walkman (of the cassette variety) and singing my heart out from 8th Street all the way down to Fourth & Packer to this album, particularly “Father Figure.” I was alone, it was dark and I had to get soft lines organized…

My father, my actual father figure, was less than pleased when he woke up that morning to find that I had left the house in the dark.

3. Steely Dan, Katy Lied
I’m kind of randomly picking this album above all Steely Dan albums because as I was growing up, Steely Dan always seemed to be on the radio in the car, on our stereo at home – everywhere, all the time. I had no idea that it was The Dan that brought us “Peg” or “Ricki Don’t Lose That Number,” until I started dating Charlie the summer before my sophomore year at Penn State. Charlie is one of the 5 audiophiles** I know. This guy just LOVES music – all kinds of music. And he doesn’t just listen to it like the rest of us – he devours it; critiques it; consumes it. Charlie was also a real romantic – he’d plan picnic dates, buy all the stuff, prepare it and all I’d have to do was show up (Take a lesson, Carlo). So – I think it was on one of our first outings, he picked me up in his Nissan truck and asked if I liked Steely. “I don’t know…” was my reply. Then the tape went in the dashboard and I’ve never been the same. I didn’t just know Steely, I knew almost every word to every song.

Flash forward a few years. I became addicted to Steely – saw them once with Charlie, and once with Jef (Jef is the dork I dated after Charlie. Jef was not an audiophile; he grew up listening to John Denver albums on his parent’s farm. Jef [and I’m not misspelling that – it was just one ‘f’] had a ponytail, flat feet and owned the SECOND album of every cock-rock hair band of the early 90s. Jef and Kip Winger are the only two assholes in the world that owned Winger’s second album). Anyway…as things with Jef were getting rocky during my final semester at PSU, I started creating my wish list of qualities the next guy would have, including what music he’d like, but more specifically (and embarrassingly), “next guy” would: dance with me in some random place to Steely Dan’s “Katy Lied.” Enter Carlo.

I don’t know that Carlo and I have ever danced to “Katy Lied,” but on our second date, we ended up in his room and he asked me if I liked Steely Dan. He could have proposed then and I would have said yes (technically, he could have proposed on our first date and I would have said yes, but this Steely Dan thing was totally cool – and right off the list!).

Steely Dan seems to have been the background music to my entire life. Even when Maggie was born – I didn’t know kid songs, so for the first few weeks of her life, that little baby was lulled to sleep by me singing “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” (which is SO not a kid-friendly song!). Charlie was a great friend and great boyfriend – I’ll always be thankful he brought the Dan to the front for me. And even more thankful that Carlo liked ‘em too.

4. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual
I bought this CD at that record store on College Avenue at PSU –you had to go up one or two flights of narrow stairs to get to the store. I think I must have missed the original release because I have the white cover – the original was far more controversial, so they ended up re-releasing with nothing more than a white cover with the band and album name printed on it. Jane’s Addiction means college to me. It was one of the first CDs I owned. I had this shitty portable CD player that I plugged into my equally shitty stereo. But I cranked Jane’s Addiction so that no one in Stone Hall could avoid them. “I am skin and bones. I am pointy nose. But it mutha fuckin makes me try….” I hear you, Perry. I hear you. And now, so does everyone else…

5. Live – Throwing Copper
I don’t remember when I got this, but I also don’t remember ever NOT having it. I’ll guess it was sometime in my later college years but this album, to me, was what was right about rock and roll. Ed Kowalczyk gets anger. He gets how powerful the word mutherfucker can be. This isn’t just on my ‘influential’ list, it’s TOTALLY on my desert island list, too.

6. Barenaked Ladies - Maybe You Should Drive
I want to say that Andrew introduced me to Barenaked Ladies (he’ll play a key role in many of the following albums I mention in this list), but if he wasn’t the one who turned me on to them, he certainly supported me in my love for them. This album reminds me of a really amazingly horrifying transition in my life: from hillbilly to big city gal. It reminds me of Jen and Nik and Andrew supporting me during my “If-Carlo-doesn’t-love-me-I’ll-wither-up-and-die” time. I can’t listen to that album objectively anymore – it is perfect in every way and everyone should know that. I smell Celotex and Holsum Bakery and fresh cut grass and the Susquehanna River when I hear it.

7. Talking Heads – Little Creatures
Never was a Heads fan – they always (in my opinion) took time away from Duran Duran on MTV back in the day. I knew “Burning Down the House” just because it got some play in one of those 80s movies, but I saw no reason for fussing over the Talking Heads. So…late 90s, I find myself in Italy with Carlo and his older brother, Arturo. The three of us spent a lot of time together touring the country in one of the tiniest cars ever. Arturo was the driver and as driver, he also selected music, much to my chagrin. But hey – I was in Italy for the first time, who gives a fuck what’s on the radio? Arturo had, I think, two Talking Heads tapes with him (Little Creatures and Speaking in Tongues) and he played them over and over and over, I had no choice but to learn to like them. After 10 days of Talking Heads, one of the first purchases I made on upon my return to US soil was Little Creatures. I never hear “Stay up Late” and not think about flying thru the hills of Sutri on our way to Rome and laughing our assess off at those traffic policeman with those silly "STOP" paddles. I’ve been an enthusiastic fan, ever since (thanks for that killer box set, Andrew).

8. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication
I have no idea how the Beasties entered into my life. It might have been the influence of an architect I was working with – she was just damn cool and irreverent and anti-corporate and I admired that in her. So, somehow, Ill Communication found it’s way into my collection. I liked it. And forgot about it. And then, one year, for reasons unclear, Kristin and I were carpooling to DG and I had Ill Communication in the car. The result? Two white bitches from PA rapping our balls off – from Track 1 thru “Get It Together.” We were happy, badass account executives by the time we got to work that day.

9. Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
A year ago, I was not good. I had (of my own doing) gone from something corporate to housewife and after a few months, things were wearing me down. I had two sick kids on opposite ends of the couch, puking their brains out, and I hadn’t taken a breath of fresh air in three days. One night in mid-February, I ended up at Andrew and Franks, unshowered, crying and feeling like I was totally at the end of my rope. Kwee was there (and this was my first real Kwee experience). While I'm talking about my unhappiness, Kwee and Andrew and Frank keep making random interjections about Goldfrapp’s new album and how different it is from all previous Goldfrapp albums. And in my head: Who the fuck is Goldfrapp? Acknowledging the unhappiest point of my life to date started here, with Seventh Tree, and Kwee and Andrew and Frank. All of them also helped get me to a higher point in my life, so for that, I’ll be forever thankful.***

10. Gossip – Standing in the Way of Control
A few weeks after thrusting myself back into Andrew and Frank’s lives with a vengeance, I got a tattoo (March 10, 2008). There was a period of three or four days immediately following where I was so powered by the post-tattoo adrenaline that I was bouncing off the walls. Fortunately, Andrew and Frank sent me home with a copy of Standing in the Way of Control, so I bounced with purpose. This album makes me want to clean, run and get another tattoo (sometimes all at the same time). Thru all of the weirdness that my life was for a few months (see Goldfrapp-Seventh Tree entry above), this CD always managed to bring me back to the top.

* I’m not gay. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. But she was one hot black woman, so it’s totally possible that she is the reason some other women are gay. But not me. Straight, straight, straight.

** Other audiophiles I know: Frank, Andrew, Brendon and ….hmmm…maybe I only know 4 audiophiles. There is the dad of a friend of my daughter’s that I think is an audiophile, but we’re not BFFs, so, maybe I shouldn’t include him on this list. Does Lane Kim count? She’s a total audiophile.

***Frank, I like Black Cherry more than Seventh Tree, mostly cause it’s so damn nasty. But Seventh Tree will always be about that first night I came back into your lives. I love you all.

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