The 10 Albums That Changed My Life

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We are in a dying age. CD’s are slowly disappearing. I’ll admit that I download the vast majority of the music I buy. Eventually, the long play format, once the staple of rock and pop music, will be replaced by single MP3 downloads and, eventually, the LP will be a forgotten byproduct of a long-gone age of music. There are positives and negatives to this development and I won’t bother to take up this space here for that. Rather, I decided this was a good time to list the albums that changed my life and how they specifically impacted me.

As I started to make the list, I came up with quite a few records, many of which could make my list of all-time “favorites,” but I realized almost immediately that favorites are not necessarily life changing and life changing records may not rate as favorites. So, I edited and came up with the 10 that I can honestly say changed me as a musician, person or both.

KISS – Alive II
Gotta start right at the top with the first real album I owned and wanted. Sure, when you are a kid, you listen to what others tell you, but this was the first record I can remember really wanting. I had it and Double Platinum and I wore out Alive II. I had the posters all over my walls and played “I Want You,” “Shout It Out Loud” and “Love Gun” as loud as I could without the neighbors calling. It was the beginning of my love for hard rock music.

Van Halen I
When I first got the cassette of Van Halen’s first album, I played it while cutting the grass, something I loathed about as much as a person could loathe any activity. I listened to this record so many times that the tape on the cassette wore out and began to squeal. To this day, hearing “Atomic Punk” makes me want to crank it up as loud as possible and beat the hell out of my steering wheel.

The Beatles – Greatest Hits
I’d like to be all cool and say that it was The White Album or Revolver that was my introduction to the Beatles, but it was a trip to Austin with a former roommate that began my love affair with the greatest band of all time. He popped in a recorded version of the blue greatest hits album and I couldn’t figure out how it was that I knew virtually all of the lyrics to this band I had heard of but didn’t recall actually listening to. I guess the “oldies” station does pay off.

Sting – Bring on the Night
I vividly remember sitting in the living room of a friend’s house and watching Bring on the Night, the video. For most of the film, my jaw was on the floor trying to understand how music with so little guitar (nevermind distorted guitar) could rock so incredibly hard. The double live CD recording of Sting’s first solo effort completely altered my perspective on music both as a musician and a songwriter. It also taught me that, as fond as I am of rock bass players, the best bassists are often found not playing rock and roll.

Atlantic Rhythm and Blues Boxed Set
As a kid, my mom would play the radio on the way to school and mostly listen to the aforementioned “oldies” station. They played some 50’s music, but the focus in the mornings seemed to be on 60’s r&b and Brit pop. I got a steady dose of Motown and Muscle Shoals mixed with the Beatles, the Zombies, the Turtles and a lot of other “the” bands fresh from across the pond. Despite really loving the brilliant musical and vocal hooks of Hitsville, USA (aka Motown), I was a huge fan of the down and dirty soul of Aretha Franklin, Wison Pickett, Otis Redding and Sam and Dave. When I got my hands on a copy of this incredibly comprehensive boxed set of music, I nearly wore out the records showcasing the music between 1965 and 1967.

Jellyfish – Bellybutton
I literally had never heard a band where every hook was so incredibly memorable and the musical arrangements, despite being pop songs, were as dense, complicated and lush. It was as if every song had simply fallen together accidentially with perfect flow and symmetry only to be pieced together by the ultimate craftsmen. Later, I would hear records by XTC, Tears for Fears, the Beach Boys and, of course, the Beatles, that would give me the basis for pop music like Jellyfish. But, this was my initiation.

George Winston – December
There is no other record that I know of that can instantly relax me like this one. I bought it at random from a shelf full of holiday music because I wanted a copy of Carole of the Bells, a Christmas melody that had always resonated with me. When I first heard Winston’s version as a teenager, I was a little disappointed expecting a more traditional reading. But, the more I listened to the CD, the more I came to appreciate the spare beauty of Winston’s solo piano masterpiece. Whenever I am stressed, I can put this CD on and immediately feel calm and at peace. I still have that CD I bought at Sound Warehouse back when I was 16 or 17 and it is still an incredibly important part of my musical collection.

Mark Whitfield – The Marksman
I have far more memorable jazz records. I have far more legendary and important jazz recordings. But, none of them introduced me to jazz the way Whitfield did. When I worked at a music store back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a period of a few years when Sony got the mistaken idea that we were a record store rather than a musical instrument store. We got promos for all kinds of bands and cutout CD’s of all genres, which is how I first heard of bands like Pearl Jam (my first reaction to Ten was, “why is someone re-doing 70’s music?”) and Nirvana. The Marksman came along as a promo and my boss, not exactly a jazz conisseur, used it as a way to break the tension of constantly listening to heavy metal. I loved it and eventually brought it home with me. It was my first introduction to traditional jazz and, along with my ex and her love of the artform, the reason I own so much jazz music today.

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
I didn’t really know much about Led Zeppelin when I first got House of the Holy. I knew Stairway and had heard them on the radio, but this was my first purchase and, ultimately became my favorite Zep recording. “Song Remains the Same” is still one of my all-time favorite LZ songs and the whole record is one I can listen to without skipping a track – a rarity with me for any record. It also introduced me to one of my biggest influences – John Paul Jones – and his incredibly rhythmic rock bass playing.

Rush – Exit Stage Left
At the age of 14, I wanted to play an instrument that fit in a rock band. Up until this point, my instrument had been the clarinet. It wasn’t the coolest instrument, nor an instrument that had ladies falling at your feet – not that I had that anyway in high school. My best friend played guitar and I really wanted to play drums. I understood drum set in a small way, but my high school was small and only had stage band, so my band director, sensing my desire to leave the uncool woodwind area, pushed me towards electric bass. At first, I thought it would just be a way to get to play rock music until I could play drums. When I heard this Rush album, however, I changed my mind. Prior to this, my expansive bass repitoire included Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” Def Leppard’s “Bringing on the Heartbreak” and Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark,” along with the obvious introduction to Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” When I heard Exit Stage Left, I decided that I didn’t just want to play bass, I wanted to become a bass player.

There you go – the records that changed my life. Feel free to jot down a few of your own.

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