A little while ago, I saw a couple of people on the world wide webz posting lists of super influential music albums. I read the lists and silently judged my friends for liking dumb music, because that's what music-lovers do to one another.
I'm nothing if not a follower, and I also can't keep my word count down when I write, so I thought I'd do my list over here on my blog where I can be as verbose as I want. I actually put kind of a pathetic amount of thought into this, because music is one of the few things in life about which I mean business -- so you're not getting a list of albums I like, but rather albums that I feel like really influenced me during my teenage years. And I even put the list in order, because I'm all about order, by which I mean other people doing what I say. And I also added commentary, because I'm all about commentary, by which I mean me talking and other people passively listening and admiring me.
10. Forever Blue, Chris Isaak. I realize I'm kind of setting things up like this is a joke by putting a Chris Isaak album on my list, but I'm being serious here. Forever Blue had a really cool, throwback, retro aesthetic to it, and I had a thing for Chris Isaak's hair. I also liked how it felt like Isaak had a time machine that sucked melodies and lyrics (and his hair, for that matter) out of the 1960s and then spit them out in the 90s. Also, his guitar had his name spelled in masking tape on it. That's influential, man.
9. Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy, the Refreshments. The Refreshments were philosophers ("Cars break down and people break down and other things break down too.") They spun poignant tales of barroom friendships ("Barkeep, another Mekong, please... one for me and what's-his-name, my new best friend.") And they were okay admitting that they were lame ("Baby I was never cool enough to get a job at a record store."). The tone of Paul Naffah's guitar never changed, from track one to track twelve -- it didn't need to, because there was this otherworldly mix of dust and lightning and sun flare in every note. I can still hum all the riffs.
8. Zooropa, U2. Everybody loved Achtung Baby, except Saddam Hussein. I did too, but I think Zooropa had a bigger impact on me. "Zooropa" was soaring and mournful, and allowed me to stump Herr Slawson, my German teacher, who couldn't translate "vorsprung durch technik" for me. The bells on "Babyface" were all weird and dissonant. The percussion on "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" sounded like somebody was smacking you in the head with a vorsprung. It was all so disjointed and unsettled, with fleeting sunbreaks of crystalline U2-isms (like the sunny meadow of a refrain in the middle of "Lemon," in which Bono reminds us "Midnight is where the day begins"). Some of it worked, some of it didn't (like Johnny Cash on "The Wanderer"), but it felt fearless and uncertain at the same time, like you were boldly arcing into a future that freaked you out.
7. Pieces of You, Jewel. I thought it was super cool that Jewel lived in her VW Bus. And I thought it was super cool that she mixed poetry and guitar -- look, I know Dylan did it 30 years earlier blah blah blah. The difference is that Dylan sounded like a dying seagull when he sang and Jewel sounded like angels with wings. Super hot angels with wings. I would've followed her on Twitter if there was Twitter then. And printed out her tweets and stuck them to my bedroom wall. I learned how to play all the songs on this album, and then I sang them and made people who heard me wish they could stab their ears with the rusty coils of a broken kitchen whisk.
6. Wildflowers, Tom Petty. Fact: Tom Petty wrote the simplest songs ever. Fact: Tom Petty made them sound like auditory masterpieces. When I heard "Wildflowers" -- "you belong somewhere you feel free," -- I was like, "That's it, I'm going to live in the woods and eat pine sap." "Time to Move On" is like two chords, but there is meaning there that I still can't grasp: "Broken skyline, moving through the airport..." What does that MEAN? If I could just grasp it I would be able to control all quantum things. Wildflowers sounded like a warm fire in a wood stove, immediate and comforting, crackling with deceptively simple genius.
5. Fountains of Wayne, Fountains of Wayne. I learned two things from this album. First, there is such thing as irresistible pop. Second, if you write irresistible pop songs, even the stupidest phrases become absolutely unforgettable. FOW turned throwaway lines like, "If the DJ isn't humming, a part of me suffers too," and "Don't you wanna ride in my survival car?" and "Each time you curse at girls you curse a little at yourself" and "For a small girl, Barbara sure has got a big crush," into sonic moments you can't ever forget. It was a fun and fast album, and when I learned to play "Leave the Biker" chicks always dug the line "I wonder if he ever has cried 'cause his kitten got run over and died." So there was that.
4. The Very Best of Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Elvis Costello & the Attractions. Costello is my favorite little be-spectacled man. I can't remember how I ended up with this album, but it blew my mind. When Elvis said, "When you're drinking down the eau de cologne, and you're spitting out the Kodachrome," I swear I learned more in two lines than I did in the whole eighth grade. And then there was "Beyond Belief," with a birdshot melody that's so weird and yet so unforgettable, with lines like, "I hang around dying to be tortured, you'll never be alone in the bone orchard." I felt like there was awesome sauce leaking out of every phrase, every consonant jab, every ridiculously clever rhyme. I confirmed that I was one of only two adolescents in the greater Portland area listening to my man Costello when me and Thomas went one of his concerts, and everyone there was at least 45 years old and wearing polo shirts and old-lady colored makeup.
3. Empire, Queensrÿche. This was a big one. When I was 11, I was standing in the music section of Fred Meyer's with the Empire cassette in one hand and Metallica's black album cassette in the other. I could only choose one, because my mom was cheap. I bought Empire because it had a picture on the cover, and the Metallica album was just boring black, except I was near-sided and couldn't see that killer snake in the corner. Queensrÿche ended up changing everything for me, in a way that Metallica probably wouldn't have. Empire was tuneful and intelligent, but still muscular. I'm not saying Metallica are dummies, just that they're kind of dummies. After that afternoon at Fred Meyer's, I left Elton John and Bryan Adams behind, which I later repented of because Elton John writes melodies in his sleep second only to Neil Diamond's, and Bryan Adams songs can help you get chicks, according to popular lore.
2. IV, Led Zeppelin. When Robert Plant said, "Hey hey mama," I was like, "I am not moving from this spot until this album is over." I did get kind of bored by about "Four Sticks," though. Five songs sitting in one place is still a solid effort for a 12 year old. Zeppelin opened my door to classic rock, and I think I went a whole year without listening to anything that wasn't recorded pre-1980. I can't figure out why my kids aren't as awesome as I was. They only want to listen to dubstep, and that's why they will fail at life.
1. Recovering the Satellites, Counting Crows. I realize this is a pretty big let down for probably just about anyone who bothered to scroll all the way down here. Doesn't matter. I (heart) Counting Crows, and this album came out at just the right time to resonate absolutely and completely and entirely with my 17 year-old self. Adam Duritz was a pretty melodramatic, whiny dude, but his lyrical style completely smote me and changed the way I think about how words make images: "Moonlight creeping 'round the corner of our lawns/when we see the early signs of daylight fading, we leave just before it's gone." Swoon. "I say my prayers, then I just light myself on fire." Swoon. "Mother watches as her baby drifts violently away." Swoon. I still can't hear anything from this album without getting all the feels. Recovering the Satellites is still my adolescence in musical form.
And that's it! Done! As a bonus, here's a list of my kids' favorite albums:
10. What's an album?
9. This song has been on for 20 seconds. I'm bored of it. Next song.
8. Song that sounds like it's from a 1985 Nintendo game.
7. A lot of songs in a row that are stupid.
6. Song with a lot of computer noises.
5. Song by tone-deaf people, so, auto-tune.
4. A lot of songs in a row that suck so bad they're causing a disturbance in the space-time continuum.
3. Songs by people who can't play any instruments or sing, so a bot is singing the songs.
2. Minecraft theme song on repeat.
1. Anything by Coldplay.