An alternative musical journey spanning almost 50 years.
My first recollections of hearing pop/rock music growing up in a classical music household probably came from somewhere else, but I do remember what the songs were: Bobby Darin‘s “Multiplication” (“When a girl gets coy in front of a boy/after 3 or 4 dances…”) and Chuck Berry‘s “You Never Can Tell” which much later found its way into the movie “Pulp Fiction” during the Jackrabbit Slim’s Twist Contest (won by Uma Thurman and John Travolta, right before things went horribly awry).
Up until then, the musical fare around the house consisted of classical music and not just classical music but also church organ music (my dad is a church organist) – a lot of it French (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In particular, the works of one Olivier Messiaen. By the time I was taking piano lessons, I would look at the sheet music of some of Messiaen’s compositions and deconstruct those gnarly 5-finger chords (for both hands!) to figure out how those chords were put together…. while digging into the meager pop record collection at the house and finding only The Kingston Trio (probably my mom’s).
I never could figure out why poor Charlie was stuck “neath the streets of Boston” and couldn’t return home (“M.T.A”), then listened and learned of the fate of poor “Tom Dooley”. Valuable lesson learned: life is pain and beware of “the eternal triangle”, though I had no clue what that meant at the time.
What follows below then is a list – an exhaustive one – of a life-long love affair with rock ‘n’ roll/pop records over the years. The ones that have mattered the most or have been the most influential on one person’s long musical journey. Note that I’m not saying these are the greatest albums of all time (though at least a couple of them might be) – just the ones that affected me the most. Some of this appeared on my website a while back, now expanded, and will probably go up again when I get around to updating it. If you love music, this can be kind of a fun thing to do when you’re stuck in the house on a rainy day or, in this case, in air-conditioned comfort when it’s 105-friggin’ degrees outside, so give it a try!
A few years later, the Beatles came along and were a game-changer (as were the Stones and the Kinks); Rubber Soul is probably my fave of all their albums (yes, even more so than “Sgt. Pepper”). Back then, Capitol was still putting out a version for American audiences, but the UK version is preferable with the inclusion of “Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, and “If I Needed Someone”. The album jacket served as the repository for a heavily-perfumed love letter from my 4th-grade girlfriend (hi, Ellen!) for a while. I still have this album and though the letter has long since been tossed, the faintest traces of whatever she drenched that thing in still remain – 45+ years later.
The Doors were the first band I’d come across where the keyboards were an integral part of every song, not just a textural element used to introduce a different sound, and Ray Manzarek‘s playing on organ and keyboard bass has been a huge influence ever since. The Doors were also the first band I saw in concert at the Majestic Theater in Dallas in 1967. My uncle was going to SMU at the time and convinced the parentals that going to the concert wouldn’t warp the mind of an 11-year-old kid, and of course, seeing the Lizard King in his prime totally did. Score. When they found out who Jim Morrison was later, that kind of put the kibosh on my going to concerts… until Alice Cooper in 1972. They had no idea who he was either. I listened to the Velvet Underground a lot during this time too.
A year later there was Iron Butterfly and In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. During the year of taking pipe organ lessons (when I was 13), I practiced the title track, “Most Anything You Want”, and the Doors’ “Light My Fire” on the Möller 4-manual organ in the church when no one was within earshot. Oh the irony! And it sounded… pretty… awesome.
Favorite album of all time: The Who – Who’s Next, since I first heard it in the summer of 1971 in Evergreen, Colorado. Contains my favorite song of all time, “The Song is Over”. Still sounds as good today as it did back then…. timeless.
Lou Reed‘s 2nd album, Transformer – along with David Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust and Roxy Music’s 1st album – was about as “alternative” as you could get in 1972. Contains the ultimate ‘hipster’ anthem, “Walk on the Wild Side”. It was great listening for driving around Dallas while delivering fried chicken and pizza to affluent Park Cities’ non-hipsters.
Which brings us to 1973 and Todd Rundgren‘s A Wizard, A True Star. I’d been listening to Todd for a few years already, but this album – coming after Something/Anything? and the hit singles from that album (e.g., “Hello It’s Me”) – just blew me away. From a review I wrote of the album on Amazon back in 2000:
“Revolutionary in both the personal sense and recording industry sense, AWATS almost single-handedly created the Todd persona that his fans know and love. Listening to this album now is still the same mind-bending/altering experience it was then…and that’s good. Peter Pan (“Never Never Land”) mixes with Motown (the “Ooh Baby Baby” medley), touches of punk (“You Need Your Head”), Todd’s own perfect pop (“Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel”)…. The man could literally do just about anything and has never been afraid to follow his creative impulses, wherever they’ve taken him. A true original.”
Note: This is not a paid endorsement for the Todd campaign by Craig Thomas or Nights on Venus, although I have no doubt he could resolve the debt ceiling impasse (with a lot less angst).
[A Brief Intermission]
… Moving right along, a bit of a surprise perhaps – Gary Wright‘s The Dream Weaver. It is included here, not just because it was an album comprised entirely of keyboard music (except for Ronnie Montrose’s guitar on “Power of Love”), but because it became the name of a popular web-editing software program that I’ve used on a more or less daily basis since sometime back in 1997. I’ve said before how influential this album actually was in anticipating the trend into the keyboard 80’s, well in advance of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), even prophetic, and it’s often overlooked. Another influential keyboard group from around this time was Tangerine Dream.
Then, “Hey ho! Let’s go!” It’s The Ramones 1st album. It is not an exaggeration to say that they changed everything in the musical landscape at the time; their first 4 albums are indispensable. On a trip to New York in 1976, I was fortunate enough to see them (with Blondie) at CBGB’s. Fast, loud, and fun and still my favorite American band. “1-2-3-4…!“
During the summer of 1977 while in college, I joined a band playing keyboards and began writing pop songs. This was probably the first band I took sort of seriously and it was mostly an on-again, off-again affair, but when we did play, we sounded similar to this next band before most people outside of Boston knew who they were. That all changed in May, 1978 when The Cars‘ first album was released. We sounded enough like them that as we were listening to their 1st album, we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘OK, now what?’ We disbanded about a year later when members started graduating, but the Cars and keyboardist Greg Hawkes have been a huge influence ever since.
So many good bands during this very creative period of early New Wave – Talking Heads, The Buzzcocks, The Psychedelic Furs, The Pretenders, The English Beat to name a few – impossible to list them all… and DEVO. More art students turned loose on an unsuspecting world! As I’ve now thrown my ‘energy domes’ (one red, one blue) into the audience following “Whip It” at the last two gigs I’ve played, it’s time to get another.
Any one of Brian Eno‘s ambient albums were essential in establishing the ambient genre (e.g., “Music For Airports“), but Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is the one I resonated with the most. “Always Returning” is still one of the most beautiful, haunting songs ever recorded during any era of music.
A year later, Prince was king and Purple Rain served as the constant backdrop and soundtrack to 1984. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “When Doves Cry” or “Take Me With U”, even the back roads and small towns of eastern New Mexico.
Here, a special shout-out to Love Tractor from Athens, G-A. They were part of the same music scene with the B-52’s, R.E.M., and Pylon in the early 1980’s. Their album Wheel of Pleasure was a compilation of a couple of their previous EPs. Mostly they played instrumentals (lyrics and vocals came later) and they really didn’t sound like anybody else. Check out “March”, “J.E.B. Pharoahs”, and “Seventeen Days” for starters. The title track was the opening intro to my radio show – “What You Might Have Missed (the High Church of Power Pop)” a few years back on KYGT-FM, Idaho Springs, CO.
Most people know the band Talk Talk from their early 80’s New Wave hits “Talk Talk” and “It’s My Life”, but by the end of the decade they had completely transformed their sound to something significantly more ambient and textural, and their songs had become slower and longer. Their last two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, are… kind of amazing and transcendent.
And finally, the last album on this list, The Church‘s Priest = Aura. Even though the Australian band had already been around for more than a decade and had their major hit with “Under the Milky Way”, with this album they began the more ambient, experimental (and most interesting, I think) phase of their career which has continued to the present day. Also highly recommended are their albums After Everything Now This and Parallel Universe.
Bands post-1992 that I listened to the most and had some influence: Guided by Voices, Stereolab, Suede (a.k.a. The London Suede), Iceland’s Sigur Ros, and The Shins.
If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you and thanks for hanging in there and reading this week’s “novella”. Record albums have always been kind of a passion and hopefully with some of the more obscure of these I’ve given you something with which to go exploring. Happy listening!
New music is, as always, coming soon. Currently working on a new song, “All Phenomena Are Dreams“.