Friday, January 23, 2009

A pretty good chunk of bands and albums

Over at Jason’s blog, he’s made a list of albums he found to be especially influential to him in his younger years. It's instructive to look at his post first to see how this started. It's interesting that The Pope has popped up in the post as Pope and Jason were sort of music-buddies in high school, and I was sort of on the periphery of all that.

Jason’s cited a few albums, such as Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” and Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer” as pivotal records in his development, cutting off somewhere near his freshman year of high school. And I can't deny that I also would list those albums. As well as the various Chipmunks albums we owned which were absolutely a gateway drug into the hard stuff (Blondie, The Knack, what have you...).

What’s interesting to me is that I was in the same house, and actually have oddly different memories of some of these albums. Jason was the older sibling, and so a lot of what came down to me until 1990 came directly from whatever Jason was bringing into the house, so I have somewhat fuzzy memories of who bought what first, and who copied whose tape.

“Cure: Disintegration”. By the time I bought this album, its entirely possible Jason had a copy and I had no idea. I recall the events thusly:
1) I saw the video for “Pictures of You” on 120 Minutes, which was on Sunday nights.
2) I was taken to Northcross Mall, pre-driver’s license, to buy some other item that week. I bought “Disintegration” at chain record store. I recall this specifically, because I ran into Peabo’s brother in the store while making my selection.

I was one of those guys who really liked the Cure in high school. It is true. But I also recall it was kind of a line in the sand between what some of my pals were listening to (R&B and hip-hop), and what I was going to listen to, and deciding I was utterly unapologetic for not agreeing that MC Hammer was the bee’s knees. Or George Strait. And on the basketball team, disagreeing about something like whether or not people will always love Bobby Brown is a pretty good way to stick out like a sore thumb.

What I totally did not get in the 1980’s was Metal. I’m not talking “Poison”, LA Metal Lite. I mean stuff in that wide range between Dokken and Celtic Frost. Although I have fond memories of watching a Vinnie Vincent Invasion video with my dad in which a guy in a flame suit is set alight and runs around, which I guess was supposed to look tough, but set me and The Admiral laughing until we cried.

“Ramones”. I believe Jason had “Rocket to Russia” first, but I don’t recall. I just recall buying “Ramones: Mania” at the PharMor mega drug store thing that briefly existed near Westwood High School. I also bought a few other Ramones albums, but in the face of Ramones: Mania, always felt there was little point.

I recall listening to “Pink Floyd: A Momentary Lapse of Reason” prior to “The Wall” by a few weeks, at least, but I certainly knew the entire album of “The Wall” by the beginning of 8th grade. But certainly I agree that "The Wall" was of far, far greater interest.

We bought “They Might be Giants: Flood” and “Pixies: Dolittle” at the same time, and I preferred TMBG for a while. I wasn’t sold on the Pixies until Bossanova, but I also didn’t listen to any more after Dolittle. I was a TMBG fan for a number of years, but sort of wore out on them in college, even skipping a show I had tickets to and had, in fact, driven to, but left so I could prepare for a history exam I was stressing over.

It’s difficult to recall how into “Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking” I was, as well as “Ritual de lo Habitual”. These days I barely listen to the band.

Jason, Reed, (possibly even Peabo) and I went through a “Who” phase, circa 1989. Its why I still know all the words to “Magic Bus”.

We also went through a Jimi Hendrix thing, but that was much more short-lived.

Album I can't blieve wasn't on Jason's list: Violent Femmes (self-titled)

This album is probably still some sort of right of passage for 13 year olds everywhere. I saw the band play live at least three times, and had several of their other efforts, but none were as raw or sounded as much like a teen-ager's inner-monologue as that first record.

Plenty of people don't like the album or the band, but I think practically every high schooler post 1980 has at least heard the record (or at least "Add it Up"). It's difficult to imagine me having a go-to album at this point in my life the way this album always was at the ready in my room, then my car, from 13 until today. 20 years of not being sick of a record isn't bad.

In 8th grade I played a “Buddy Holly: 23 Hits” album until it wore out. I probably had originally fished it out of a bargain bin at Walgreens, but can'r recall. I was surprised to later learn that other people actually liked Buddy Holly, too, and “Rave On” continues to be a favorite tune. I also learned about the limitations of the 45rpm record, and why they could fit 23 Buddy Holly songs onto a long play cassette.

In 8th Grade I was also listening to a “Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits” album quite a bit, so I was probably one of the only kids in my class who became giddy at the prospect of The Travelling Wilbury’s (JAL may, actually, be the only other kid who appreciated Orbison, but I didn’t know he appreciated the man until we re-connected in college and he was singing "The Candy Colored Clown" in his dorm room a la "Blue Velvet".). I have fond memories of ceasing my task of mowing the lawn to listen to “Blue Bayou” on my Walkman.

"Talking Heads: Naked"
You'd think I bought the album because the covered featured a chimp, but that's not the case. When the album debuted, I was familiar with the Talking Heads from their early 80's pop hits such as "Burning Down the House". And I had watched "Stop Making Sense" on VHS in my 5th grade art teacher's classroom as he tried to explain art-rock to a room full of kids who thought GI Joe was the apex of our culture.

I saw the video for "(Nothing But) Flowers" in the winter of 8th grade, I guess. I was quite taken by the Latin American stylings overlayed with Byrne's distinctive voice and even more distinctive lyrics about missing modern conveniences when mankind has returned to a natural state, which seemed hilarious and horrible and terribly, terribly true to my mind. I read a lot of Bloom County at the time, which would inform my world view more than I'd want to admit in later life.

I remember getting my money together on the morning of one of our basketball games. After the games, we would all go to Lone Star Cafe, and down the strip mall was a movie/ record store which carried a wide selection of music.

The tapes were behind the counter so punk kids like myself couldn't steal them, so I had to ask for the cassette. The guy behind the counter eyed me for a minute, said nothing, then put the tape in my hands. The cassette was made of an odd, amber plastic and I had only seen the greyish-hue of tapes before.

"That's a really good album" the guy said. I had never, ever spoken to anyone before during the transaction at the counter. I froze. "Really?"

"Yeah. Good stuff." He was pleased that I obviously overvalued his opinion. I was pleased that an adult I didn't know was telling me I had excellent musical taste.

And it was a great album. I listened to it repeatedly, filling in my world view with "Democratic Circus", "Mommy Daddy You and I", "Mr. Jones"... It's still in rotation in my collection, too. As are all of the Talking Heads' other albums, and probably 85% of Byrne's solo work.

In middle school I read a now-forgotten sci-fi novel called The Architect of Sleep, whose protagonist repeatedly referenced "Tangerine Dream", so I bought one of their albums, and then a few more. All of which have disappeared over the years, including the two I had on vinyl. They also appeared as the instrumentation in a few 80's era movies, such as "The Keep", and I want to say a Michael Mann movie somewhere along the line.

Its been years and years since I listened to any Tangerine Dream. What they did do was open my mind up about atmospheric music for the state of atmospheric music, which dovetailed nicely when I got to college and was force fed a diet of The Orb, Woob, Black Dog, et al. courtesy Mssrs. Shoemaker and Sanchez. Which, of course, led down other musical corridors we won't detail here.

I don't know exactly when "Siousxie and the Banshees: Peepshow" entered the rotation, but that album became a favorite. Siouxsie's unique vocal stylings, and the band's arrangements were different from almost everything else in rock at the time that I knew of (they used an accordian in a completely non-ironic way, and it worked, for chrissake).

There were hundreds of songs
, and dozens of albums, I'm sure. And I know I missed several.


J.S. said...

You're right. Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes was a total oversight. Eric Thompson (who was a few years older than me, but who went to our chruch) played this CD for us a few times on a church trip to the beach, and I was totally hooked. My first reaction was, "Oh God, that guy's voice is awful!" but after a few listens I recognized Gano's anguished howls as the tortured voice of the nerdy kid in class who gets picked on all of the time. The Femmes write captivating melodies with unbelievably powerful hooks, and I was a total fan of the band by the time we returned from that magical trip to the beach. The Femmes were one of those bands that taught me that you could find cool music in strange places if you were just willing to listen with ears wide open. The Femmes are also a bit deceptive. They seem like just a few guys screwing around and making goofy music, but Brian Ritchie still has some bass lines that are too complicated for me to learn. Great band.

Michael Corley said...

They Might be Giants pretty much did it for me. I have a clear memory of being in JAL'S Volvo and him running in to get the next album (Apollo 18). I also remember singing the enclosed songs far too loudly while riding in the Drama Bus.