Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Formative albums list; the top 29, with a gesture at 30.

I've been neglecting this blog a bit! I've got a new computer and a semi-defective mouse that doesn't allow me to italicize properly, at least without a lot of strain; I'm still recovering from surgery and preoccupied with work and housework; and I just haven't felt like blogging (or writing much, truth be known). But there's this thing over on Facebook where people are naming ten albums and it got me thinking of formative influences and albums that have had a larger than average impact on my life. I can't keep it to only ten. But for the record, the albums that had the biggest, most lasting impact on my life - roughly in order of their coming into my life - would be:

1. Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (I still have my father's copy. First album where I ever learned the lyrics to the songs - I could sing "Strawberry Roan" from memory at age eight. Great songwriting on this, in a country-western mode) 

2. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits (first album I ever owned on my own steam, in my pre-teens, and while I don't listen to it now much, it has to be acknowledged. Another album where I learned all the lyrics to a few of the songs - and who can forget the whores of 7th avenue?)

3 and 4. The Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies and Give the People What they Want (both in my life from my pre-teens and still in my collection, though not the same copies; my original of Muswell Hillbillies - which my parents liked as much as I did, for "Have a Cuppa Tea," was on a Pickwick cassette I found in a discount bin!). Both albums get included a) to acknowledge the immensity of the Kinks and b) because they're very different - one from the classic period and one from the arena rock years. Truth is, since I SAW the Kinks during their arena rock years, touring I think this album (or maybe State of Confusion) at the Pacific Coliseum, that would be the one that I would pick, if I were only going to choose one. Except Muswell Hillbillies is so much better, objectively, and WAS a formative influence, so...

5. Doug and the Slugs' Cognac and Bologna (bought at the Maple Ridge Pay'n'Save, as I recall, and still with me today. A deep sentimental attachment here, as with Wrap It!, but I am only putting the one album on the list). The first album I ever owned (I think) by a local band. 

6. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast. I went through a metal phase in my early teens, listening to AC/DC and Priest as well. I was embarrassed by this album for years and by Maiden and Priest, and I still can't listen to AC/DC much because of the "sexist thug" aspect of their music - great a spin on the blues - as it may be - but hell, I saw them as a teen and loved this stuff to death back then. And I have come to enjoying them. "Hallowed be Thy Name" is amazing.  

7. Angel City (the Angels): Darkroom. Another album that has been close with me for years, that I still love, and maybe my first "contrarian" gesture, an album my love of which had at least SOMETHING to do with the fact that no one here cared about it.  This had Doc Neeson at his most Dylanesque, if Dylan were fronting an Australian pub rock band. Even back then, I liked this better than AC/DC. 

8. Motorhead - Iron Fist. The album from my "metal teens" that survived my conversion to punk and that has never really left my side (in some version or other) since I first owned it, when it came out.

9. The Blue Oyster Cult - On Your Feet or On Your Knees. This is obviously inferior to Secret Treaties but what can I say, I had it for YEARS before I got Secret Treaties and the version of "ME 262" on it - while kind of corny-sounding now - was my main exposure to the song through my teens. Fire of Unknown Origin was also in my collection before Secret Treaties, and was the album where I saw them on tour (maybe one of two times?). But man, did I love this double live album when I was a kid - and that gatefold interior, whoa. 

10. The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, because it made me shift directions for years. It's kinda like the Simon and Garfunkel album though - I never listen to it these days (tho' I still have it). "Bodies" was an eye-opener.

11. DOA: Something Better Change - hugely important to me at age 14-15. (War on 45 too, but I am only giving DOA one spot, in part because I had to re-adjust this list to add Angel City to it).  

12. Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables - huge as a teen and maybe the most important album in defining my sense of what punk should and could be. 

13. Subhumans Canada: Incorrect Thoughts (which would supplant the DOA entries, maybe, except I didn't own it for years! All the classic DOA and Subhumans stuff was out of print by the time I was actively looking for it. Eventually pulled a copy of this out of a "sale" bin at Collectors' RPM for a mere ten bucks, when it was worth four times that. 

14. Nomeansno: Mama - which I owned when it was still Nomeansno's only LP! One of the most musically and lyrically ambitious punk albums ever, though it isn't "really" punk, is it? It's a singularity, really. I still love it.

15: The Clash: London Calling. Such a great album, I have to acknowledge it even though it is obvious. I am foggy on my sequencing here and might have had a few of the above BEFORE I acquired London Calling, which my parents bought for me on a trip to Montreal when I was 14. 

16. the Spores: Schizofungi! - man I loved this. Another contrarian gesture, because the relative under-appreciation of the Spores at the time, save by a devoted cognoscenti, helped fuel my passion for this record. Still some very funny, smart "horror punk" (kinda) - beats the shit out of the Misfits for me. 

17. No Fun: 1894 (Snivel was also important but I like this one better. I only ever liked SOME of the songs on Snivel, though David's best song in my view ("Ambivalence") is on it. Really not as big for me at the time as some of these others, but I did have it on cassette when it came out, David is a good friend now, he played at my wedding, and I enjoy chatting with the cover artist, ARGH!, when I see him at shows. So it gets a place! 

18: the Flesh Eaters: Hard Road to Follow - again, a subjective favourite, not their best but it still has my favourite Flesh Eaters songs, and the day I found it and took a chance on it at Odyssey Imports was a pretty serious day for me!  

19. Husker Du: Zen Arcade

20: minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime: both of which (the Du and the Minutemen) I had when they came out and enthusiastically participated in fandom for, thanks to my father, who brought them both back from a Vegas road trip he took with a friend, along with a few other punk rock classics I asked him to look for. 

21: the Replacements: Pleased to Meet Me. I acknowledge, again, Let It Be (and maybe even Tim) as better albums but this is the album I saw them tour. 

22. New Model Army: No Rest for the Wicked. Saw a live clip of these guys on Soundproof, fell in love, still own it, still love them. In my perfect world U2 would be waxing Justin Sullivan's car.  

23: the Meat Puppets: Up on the Sun

24. Sonic Youth: Sister

25: Tad: 8-Way Santa - because if I'm only going to pick one grunge album...

26. Mission of Burma: vs. 

27. The Holy Modal Rounders: I and II (on a twofer gatefold LP lent to me by Matt Rogalsky. It took a long time for these albums to really bear fruit but I wouldn't have plunged into old-timey without them. 

28. Pere Ubu: Terminal Tower

29. Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz. Hugely important in my 20's, and though the alley it led me down turned out to be a blind one - the friend I shared it most enthusiastically with killed himself awhile back; the drugs we took to help understand it proved ultimately counterproductive and/or damaging; and the visual arts we did while listening to it, as "aural Pollock," were not something I pursued outside my 20's. I never spin it now - would be more likely to listen to Don Cherry's Brown Rice, or maybe some of the pan-African stuff of the time, Archie Shepp or the Art Ensemble of Chicago or something BYG-ish - but the one that made the deepest mark was Free Jazz.

29. Shockabilly: Vietnam/ Heaven: speaking of drugs, this twofer CD was the one my friends most frequently made me turn off, while I giggled at their frailty. I don't really enjoy Eugene Chadbourne as much as I did, which has SOMETHING to do with interviewing/ hanging out with him a bit - he's a bit prickly! - but boy did I love this at the time.  

30... here I get undecided. Captain Beefheart feels like he deserves a space (and for Trout Mask, but it's not one I listen to at all now; I prefer, believe it or not, The Spotlight Kid). Sun Ra's Space is the Place was pretty important to me too, and I still do own it and spin it, though infrequently. The Cramps' Psychedelic Jungle obviously calls out, as does Slow's Against the Glass. The Stooges' Fun House and the Velvets' White Light/ White Heat - both of which I learned about as a teen through a singularly helpful Henry Rollins' article in Spin, when it was actually a cool magazine - are epochal albums but I came late to them and can't really say they shaped me (Iggy did, but I would have to include Zombie Birdhouse, if I were honest, since it was my first Iggy, I believe, and appeals to the contrarian in me). Camper Van Beethoven probably have had a bigger influence on me than I'd ever acknowledge, in terms of setting up my fondness for bands like the Creaking Planks, say, but they also seem kinda trivial in ways. I listen to Nick Cave and Townes van Zandt and Robyn Hitchcock sometimes and love them lots when I do, but did they shape me? Do they really merit a space here? Bison's Quiet Earth really made a big mark on me awhile back, and along with Motorhead, got me back into metal; without them I'd never have reclaimed some of the metal of my teen years, and never have explored any death/ black/ stoner metal (though that was also a bit of blind alley, thankfully. Real interesting while it lasted, though). And Bison's Lovelessness is one of the most expressive, emotive rock albums I've ever heard - fuck, Farwell wears his heart on his sleeve on that album, and what a soulful, beautiful sleeve it is. Also, nowadays, I kinda love Guided by Voices, at least some days, but my tastes and habits were formed long before I got to them. Alabama Shakes first two albums are things my wife and I can share our enthusiasm for and are great, but I never spin them of my own volition. The New Creation's Troubled was huge for a few years, too, influenced a fair bit of writing, has a personal connection to me in that I was a regular customer of Ty's, and to top all that off I count Chris Towers as a friend now, so it feels like it deserves a space - except I almost never listen to it lately. I'd be way more likely to spin a Dr. John record (and hey, why not include one of his records on the list, or, say, the Rolling Stones' Satanic Majesties or Exile or...?). 

I mean, I dunno.  What should I put for number 30? 

I  would like to include my wife in this list somehow, even though before I met her my tastes were quite formed and I wasn't taking in a lot of "newer" music. Like I say, Alabama Shakes is dishonest, because I only ever listen to them when Erika does. I could acknowledge her in a different way, and include John Renbourn's Faro Annie, since a) we played music off of it at our wedding, as she walked down the aisle, b) I have had it in my collection a long time; c) without Renbourn, I wouldn't be listening to Fairport Convention, or Anne Briggs, or any of the British folkie stuff I listen to sometimes, and since d) unlike a lot of the rootsy Americana I like, it is NOT in any way prefigured by my love of the Holy Modal Rounders... 

Wait, wait... there. 

30. Leonard Cohen: Songs from a Room. I think. 

There, the list is done. 


David M. said...

I think that "1894" is our definitive album. It was only supposed to be a stopgap "small" album (intended to feature "Be Like Us") before starting on another "Snivel"-sized recording project (which got split into "The New Switcheroo" and "The Night Smells Like A Dog"), but we had just started playing live as just Paul and I to see where that went, and the little "live in the basement" idea really blossomed. As a concept album, which it is, it's unlike any other album I know of (it's practically science fiction), and as an expression of who Paul and I were as musicians and as friends, it's the most revealing and accurate. It's also our best-selling cassette album, probably because "Be Like Us" and "Work, Drink, Fuck, Die" are on it. I'll leave the question of what the best thing we ever did was to everybody else, and of course they are all my beautiful children, but what NO FUN came to mean to me was one thing only, and if I needed to choose one NO FUN thing to represent my friendship with Paul, it would be "1894".

Unknown said...

Is No FUN on Spotify? London Calling should have been a single disc. Darkroom did well here. Face the Day was a big hit.

David M. said...

No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones. Wasn't it Joe Strummer that said "Give me the child and I'll give you the man"?