Friday, May 15, 2020

Top 20 Most Influential Music Albums in my Life

On Facebook, I was nominated to post every day about an album that was influential in my life. Since I made it a Top 20, I had to do the Casey Kasem thing and do a countdown. But before we get to number 1, let's make it suspenseful with the previous 11 through 20, and then count them down 10 to 1. It's so ESPN too. LOL!








10. Quadrophenia - The Who

I recall hearing that synthesizer sound from "Love Reign O'er Me" in the overture from a commercial about the Quadrophenia movie in 1979. I was transfixed. This sounded like it meant something! Later hearing Roger Daltry scream "LOOOOOVE" towards the end of that song, I was like "Yup, it does." I'm not a mod or a rocker, and I can't relate to any of the details of the story here, but who cares! These guys were playing their hearts out and the undertones are universal. Peter Townsend was listed in the credits as using instruments: "The Remainder." Must have been proud. What a peak experience and a peak album.

9. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - Genesis

I was 15, just opening up to other bands besides my first love Beatles. And all this different type of music was made available (well not as available as it is now with YouTube). I had such a blast exploring the broad landscapes and experimental sounds of various bands, mostly this one Genesis. While he was in the band, Peter Gabriel was writing lyrics that made very little sense - how freeing was that? 

Already armed with some "I am the Walrus" words from Beatle John, I recall thinking the poetry I was writing at this time had to be far-out and hard to understand - lol. Trying to decipher what the heck Peter intended was part of the fun. Add in some Tony Banks' mellotron filling up all leftover space with an angelic choir, some lush drums, vibrating bass pedal and howling guitars, and I could be busy for weeks. I added this album to the list because, besides opening my mind to all creative possibilities, it is still one in which I can hear a different interpretation each time I listen to it.

8. Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme - Simon and Garfunkel


So there I am this little tyke who actually had a pull towards the creative and the poetic. The first poem I wrote was at age 9 or 10. By the time I was in high school, I was ready. What a great blessing to have a hip teacher of English who chose to not focus on such popular yet insufferable poems as "The Red Wheelbarrow" but rather on the lyrics found in the likes of retro songs by the Beatles, Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel. Learning the parts of speech:
  • A simile? Why sure: ".... like a rat in a maze, the path before me lies..."
  • A metaphor? Why sure: "...we are verses out of rhythm...."
  • An alliteration? Why sure: "...On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow."
There you go! The Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album was one that my folks owned before I started my music consumption, so I have it squarely in my deep subconscious. And I'm glad I still do. Such beauty, such poetry, such meaning. It helped me along on my path as a writer. Thanks to a great teacher and this music.
PS: Is there a more eloquent tune than "Scarborough Fair/Canticle"?

7. Poetic Champions Compose - Van Morrison


I like me some mysticism with my music. This album came along as I was graduating college and just finding a way with this heart of mine ... secretly broken a majority of my life, but longing for the freedom to express itself. Van Morrison came along just in time. Quite prolific, Van's albums from this 1987 one through 1994 were a constant flow of spiritual searching and celebration. This album holds a sweet spot in my heart since it was the first one of his I got. Must be that Irish soul, it still brings back fond memories of "letting go into the mystery."


6. Hounds of Love - Kate Bush

The first CD I bought and played on my new system. Woah. Who knew ANYTHING could sound like this. This artist didn't just move outside the box, she broke it up and threw it away. More and more over the years. However this 1985 album just blew me away. 

The second side - "The Ninth Wave" - was an entire out of body experience, transporting the singer and the audience in an arch from heaven to hell to heaven. Again: woah. I recall in those days, me and some pals used to gather together and play some of her stuff. Don't need no drugs or drinking, just a mind ready to be blown open.

PS: I didn't notice those dogs on the cover until years later. LOL.

5. Turn Your Radio On - Ray Stevens

This album is still alive within me today. Released in 1972, it came out before I became a huge music fan a year later after hearing, of course, Charlie Rich's smash hit "The Most Beautiful Girl." That opened the flood gates. 

However it was this album, we used to play in the living room on my parent's TV/record player console, that really uplifted me up during the kid years. Religious in nature, the songs were a source of good feelings and brotherly and sisterly love. The song that really hit me was "Mama and a Papa."

Sample lyrics: "Not long ago, I wanted to see, why other people couldn't be as happy as me. Didn't take long for me to find out, people in the world living without."

Two interesting notes about the album. 1. We only listened to the first side, over and over again, and rarely turned it over to listen to the second side. 2. When we finally played the album on something other than the relic machine in the living room, we were shocked to hear other sounds like a choir not heard in a mono mix. Ha.

I bet no one else would have this in their top 10, except for maybe my sisters and folks.

4. Breakfast in America - Supertramp


So there it was the summer of 1979, and 99 percent of my music was all about the Beatles. I was all about compiling their music, as a band and as individual performers. Somehow I didn't have the space for other music and musicians. And then came this sorta goofy song on the radio, which I at first mocked. It was "The Logical Song." Later a song would arrive "Goodbye Stranger" then "Take the Long Way Home" and "Breakfast in America." Hey wait a minute - this was all from the same band and album? I gotta check that out. I did and so glad I did, since hearing these awesome melodies and introspective lyrics opened my mind to all other musicians on the scene. All of the sudden, there was The Who, the Rolling Stones, Genesis, Led Zepplin, and on and on and on. 

The other Supertramp albums showed songs that carried a truly spiritual journey, one in which I was just embarking. "Lord Is It Mine" from this album, as well as other songs: "Babaji," "Even in the Quietest Moments," "The Meaning" ... 

And on and on...

3. Stones in the Road - Mary Chapin Carpenter

In 1994, I went through a brutal breakup, having moved in with a girlfriend in August and then separating in December. Devastated, I felt completely lost. No music, no messages, no communication could match the level of heartbreak I was feeling. I felt so alone in my loss. That was before a new roommate Teri gave me a Christmas gift. "Stones in the Road" by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Finally, a voice that carried the sort of depth of heart that I needed. Finally lyrics that hit the mark, right where I was standing.

FROM "Jubilee"
"I can tell by the way you're walking
You don't want company
I'll let you alone and I'll let you walk on
And in your own good time you'll be ....."

Oh my God, she's talking directly to me.

Not sure how Mary does it - that voice carries so much compassion and care. I believe she must be writing and singing from experience. Her own raw experience.

FROM "Where Time Stands Still"
"And memory plays tricks on us
The more we cling, the less we trust
And the less we trust, the more we hurt
And as time goes on, it just gets worse"

Who else is willing to go to this place, with such vulnerable expression? I needed someone to share from this place. And though I belonged to some circles of healing at the time, somehow it took this East Coast gal with a guitar to reach me with her message of loss, longing and then transformation ...

FROM "This is Love"
"But I'm standing here now
With my heart held out to you
You would've thought a miracle
Was all that got us through
Well, baby, all I know
All I know is I'm still standing
And this is love, all it ever was and will be
This is love."

Yes, in the end, no matter what we've been through or what we have lost, love will save us, and be enough. Thank you Mary.

2. Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen

The first time I recall seeing this album anywhere was at Isabel Almeida's 18th birthday party in February 1981 when someone opened up the album cover and said, "This is a good album." Hmm. It is?

Oh, yeah, I'd come to find out. It is!

By the end of that summer, my foreign exchange student friend was gone, back to Brazil, and I was left here in Orange County, opening up Born to Run myself, ironically soothed about her loss by the words, angst, passion and realness found within this album.

I mean just Bruce's wail at the end of "Jungleland" said it all. No words needed. No concepts, no story, no theme required. Just a gut-wrenching howl at the broken-hearted night. How does he convey so much in a guttural groan? It helped me ... since I was far from expressing that much emotion with that much force.

And I needed to.

The first heartbreak may be the hardest. And I took it hard in 1981. Having this album around, I felt like I wasn't alone in this painful human experience. And it wasn't about the streets of Jersey, or the boardwalk, or a meeting across the river. I wouldn't relate to any of that. Hell, I could barely drive. It was all about the pain of growing up and facing heartbreaks - even with a close friend.

Since I felt I lost a dear one, the lyrics of "Backstreets" would be seared into my soul. When Bruce sang it from his soul, I would feel my soul, and the soul-connection with my dear friend that I thought I had lost forever. And yet ...

"Well after all this time
To find we're just like all the rest
Stranded in the park
And forced to confess
To hiding on the backstreets
Where we swore forever friends ...
On the backstreets until the end."

There would be a number of other Bruce albums, songs and concerts that would mean so much. But for a 17-year-old kid just needing to truly howl at the night, this came into my life at just the right time.


1. The Beatles / 1967-1970

 My first true love. The first album I ever got was a life-changer of course. Before this came along, there were a few other tunes around - on the radio, like "Spirit in the Sky" "Down on the Corner" "I Think I Love You" "American Pie" "The Most Beautiful Girl" and some songs from my folks' musical albums: "Oklahoma" "South Pacific" and "West Side Story." (Can still hear "Gee Officer Krupke!")

But then this. Wow.

I recall they used to sell records - singles and albums - at the local Save-ons near our bank. I'd go in there and leaf through the bins. I'm not even sure why I wanted this one. (My pop owned Hard Days Night already I think). But once I got this one, and heard it, I wanted them all. Though the second album - The Beatles 1962 - 1966 didn't have the same excitement as the blue one.

At the age of 9, I'd never heard such amazing music before. The melodies, the far-out lyrics. This was beyond a few popular songs. This was magic. I can't explain it really.

The words were so creative. I recall pouring over them on the inner blue sleeve. I am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life, Come Together. At 9, I guess I was ready for some experimental creative writing. LOL.

The only song that didn't seem to fit, and my siblings and I would pretty much laugh at it, was "Old Brown Shoe." It was hard to hear the vocal on our record players. In fact, that title became a label for anything that didn't make sense. That one weird TV show, or teacher? How "old brown shoe."
In retrospect, I do find it interesting how certain music can carry such excitement and wonder.

Whereas other music may have great melodies and lyrics, it's just not the same. Somehow the Beatles were different for me, and apparently different for a lot of people.

Thanks boys. Only 8 years of recording produced all of your catalogue. It takes some artists that long in-between albums! Appreciate all the songs and all those years. Especially 67-70!

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