Ten Albums, in Ten Songs
I’ve seen the challenges, the ten albums that have influenced me. Such things frustrate me because I don’t want to commit that much of my time to posting daily to social media, yet intrigue me because music is a good chunk of who I am. So in my typical stubborn fashion, I’ll just run with the concept here. Forget the rules! Instead, I’ll honor ten of the many albums I could have chosen, but with live YouTube performances of one (or a medley) of the songs from that album. Why play by someone else’s rules anyway? So here you go, ten albums that have influenced me, in a slightly different way:
Pink Floyd, The Wall
When this album dropped I’d just moved to a new town at the fine age of 13 and was myself dropping into a new school system. The radio played Another Brick In The Wall constantly because it’s catchy and short, just the way radio likes a song. But the gold in this album lies deeper, and in extensive listens. A lot of people point to Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here as favorites, and I can’t argue either choice, but for me it’s The Wall. I’m sure I could find a Pink Floyd live performance, but since I’m breaking rules let’s go with the version that still blows me away with two other favorites, David Bowie and Eddie Vedder in the 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief performance:
A close second in my formative years was U2 exploding in my world with War. Sure, not their first album, but this was the one that MTV rallied around, especially with that foggy, rainy Live at Red Rocks EP that we’ll call War, part II. U2 picked me up from my awkward teenage years and carried me into my adult life with stepping stone albums from Joshua Tree to All That You Can’t Leave Behind to How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb to No Line On The Horizon to Songs of Experience. All worthy candidates for this list but I’m only picking one per artist. Frankly, I’m wondering why they haven’t been more active during the pandemic rallying the world with a flag. I’ve been lucky enough to see U2 perform this live many times, but there are two performances I wish I’d seen with the sweaty masses, the Super Bowl performance and their Red Rocks performance. Let’s go with flag waving Bono and the youthful band playing the edgy rebel song/not a rebel song Sunday Bloody Sunday:
Eagles, Hotel California
I can remember this album dominating the airwaves back in the 70’s. I was just a kid then, figuring out what I liked, mostly being influenced by whatever I heard playing the most. The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac seemed to be playing the most, carrying Southern California culture to the world. The album is the band at their peak, and it eventually destroyed them, but what a trip. You could make a case for a number of songs for favorite, but I’d be lying if I didn’t come right back to the title track:
Pearl Jam, Ten
If The Wall came at me in a time of massive change at age 13, this album did the same ten years later, as I was out of college and figuring out what next. Next involved finding myself in an impulsive, bad marriage and alone in New York. But there’s a reason for everything. I eventually found my way to a much better life, and this album was a bridge for me across the chasm of crazy I found myself married to. This version of Black resonated particularly well for me during that time:
Beatles, Abbey Road
Everyone who is a Beatles fan has their favorite Beatles album, and mine has always been Abbey Road. I was listening to it constantly when John Lennon was shot, and it shocked me as it shocked the world. The driving force with Abbey Road was Paul McCartney, and the medley was a good example of making something amazing out of a bunch of scraps. But let’s not forget the masterful contributions of George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, with Here Comes The Sun and Something. The album, like me, turned the 50 mark and keeps going. The irony of Come Together being the last song the Beatles recorded isn’t lost on me either, but that medley, capped with The End, is what most people think of when they think of Abbey Road:
Steely Dan, Katie Lied
If one album grabbed me in the middle of my college years, it was Katy Lied. And the song that the title was derived from, Doctor Wu, remains one of my favorite Steely Dan songs. I once dated a girl who loved Steely Dan, and I went out and bought every album they ever made so I could keep up in conversation. I’ll call that my “Steely Dan phase”. Anyway, I never did see them live, and I think it’s because I really like the studio product and don’t want to ruin that. Twisted logic, perhaps, but so it goes.
Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams
Deep into adulthood, I discovered Jack Johnson with his debut album providing a bit of joy in the dark aftermath of 9/11. Deep into marriage, I smile when I hear this song, and like much of the album it remains in constant rotation on playlists well after the album released. Sure, I could have put a Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones album on here in this spot, but they don’t dominate my playlists the way In Between Dreams has.
Billy Joel, Turnstiles
New York State of Mind, Summer, Highland Falls, and I’ve Loved These Days are the foundation of this album, with Say Goodbye to Hollywood being the “hit”. Like others on this list you can make a case for other albums by the artist – certainly The Stranger deserves consideration as the “best” Billy Joel album, but for me, Turnstiles is the one that takes my breath away, and that seems like a good indicator of where it stands on my list. You definitely know you’re listening to a 70’s album when you go deep, but isn’t there charm in that too?
Jimmy Buffett, A-1-A
Yes, I am a pirate, thank you. And a Parrothead too. This is another album that’s charmingly locked in the 70’s, but once you get past A Pirate Looks at Forty and the string of songs that follow (Migration, Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season, Nautical Wheelers and Tin Cup Chalice) remain my favorite block of songs from Buffett on any album. Life is more than angst and anger and melancholy, and there’s nothing like some beach music to get the party started:
Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
I really started listening to Bruce somewhere in my early teens, with this album and The River dominating my record player for a long time. Born to Run has a restlessness to it that resonated for me then, and does again. Like U2 Springsteen is one of those artists I’ve stayed with through every stage of my life. I particularly love this version of Thunder Road, with a young Springsteen singing a stripped down version in a darkened London venue. You really feel the power of his voice – Bruce is one of the great rock and roll voices, and this performance highlights that: