7 Iconic Albums that Rocked my Life
Sartre said “All that I know about my life, it seems, I have learned from books.”
Books are dear to me too and they’ve been there to help me learn, cope, hide, escape and transcend various things at various times in my life. But, for me, it must be said that all I care to remember about my life, it seems, I have connected with music.
Different people remember moments in time for different reasons. For some it’s smells, for others textures or sensations. For me, almost without fail, it’s music and sounds. Music is so incredibly powerful and moving that it has the ability, almost uniquely, to transform perceptions and shape events in a way that might not have occurred to us. A particular song can define an entire era or even a generation. Music can be powerful and majestic, it can also be crap. A lot like people. Go Figure.
While sitting on my balcony this evening smoking a cigar and looking at the relentlessly bright moon over Tokyo tonight, I decide to “put pen to paper” and work out the 7 most iconic, defining albums in my life so far and the one song on each that have the most drastic impact.
Read on, remember, learn the new or add your own thoughts in the comments. But this is my list.
7. She’s so Unusual
In 1984 Cyndi Lauper released She’s So Unusual because it was the early 80’s and Girls just wanted to have fun. And they did.
For all the horror that might have been spawned in that decade, the early 80’s still held onto some of the “innocence” from the 70’s that had all kicked off in the 60’s and everywhere I turned Cyndi was dancing, singing and generally telling everyone to have a good time.
This album had what, FOUR major hits? It was the teenage fan base and the critics that drove this into every home, everywhere. Did my parents listen to this? Hell no; Billy Joel and Tina Turner reigned supreme at home (hey, nothing wrong with that, generational thing). But whoever came over to baby-sit did. Friends older sisters did. She’s so Unusual was all over the T.V. , the Radio (epic-technology throw back!) and in everyone’s Walkman.
It was also around this time my family and I moved to Germany to help fight the Soviets and guess what? David Hasselhoff wasn’t the only ones the Germans loved.
She was everywhere and so was her music. Her neo-Punk visage jived so well with what so many young people wanted to express at that time it was almost inevitable. The only competition She’s so Unusual might have had then for a kid like me would have been Michael Jackson or Madonna but to this day, as far as I’m concerned, Cyndi Lauper and this album ARE the early 1980’s. Just watch the Goonies, they’ll prove it.
6. Appetite for Destruction
GNR released Appetite for Destruction in 1987 and although I physically ceased being a virgin in 1995, meta-physically speaking, I popped my cherry in the fall of ’87.
I was about 9 years old and although I couldn’t figure out why or how, I knew that this album, this band with these guys and this music had something to do with girls, talking to them, and doing something that would feel really, really good with them. This appealed to me heavily someplace deep in my Man core it seems.
Poison made a valiant attempt at stealing this mantle from Axl and his boys with their awesome, yet desperate, album Open Up & Say Ahhh but in the end, GNR was simply too cool and their music too heavy.
Sweet Child o’mine was/is EPIC. Welcome to the Jungle and Paradise city are by no means slouches either, but it’s hard to do battle with one of the most well-known Rock n’ Roll ballads of all time.
I think I would have totally missed the entire “grunge” rock thing if it had not been for Pearl Jam and their album Ten. In 1991-92ish there was a lot of different music floating around. Nirvana was everywhere. It was obnoxious. Suddenly people stopped wearing nice clothes and started dressing like me. Granted, this made my life a little bit easier, but it also really turned me off, once I took notice. The group I was skateboarding with went from 3 guys to 10 in a week or two, and suddenly, everyone was “full of angst.” I’d been angry for no logical reason for years and I felt like these posers were horning in on well established territory.
Smells like Teen Spirit sounded like a shitty teen garage band to me and I probably would have just held fast to GNR and their Use Your Illusions efforts or paid more attention to this new thing called “gangsta-rap” a little more if not for this kid Kevin turning me on to Eddie Vedder and Ten. Once I saw them live the deal was DONE. Intensity personified with music.
For the longest time Jeremy dominated this album with an iron fist for me and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that my opinion changed and a track I largely ignored, Black, took position has head boy for me on Ten.
Maybe that has something to do with getting gulp…older.
4. Let’s Go
So, we defeated communism, tore down the Berlin wall as David Hasselhoff sang on it wearing a jacket covered in Christmas lights; God bless you Knight Rider. The Soviet threat was long gone and I came back from Europe. I was not happy about this.
1994-95 was a bumpy ride for me. The culture shock of living in Stuttgart Germany and then moving to small town USA was relatively epic and the kerosene my teenage angst doused itself in sent me careening into the open, loving arms of Punk Rock. Here, I found Rancid’s album Let’s Go waiting to give me a big sloppy smooch.
I had listened to Punk before. That, in and of itself, wasn’t really anything new. Friends and I had hung out in Germany listening to Ramones records on my Dad’s stereo many an afternoon, and The Misfits were standard parking lot music while we all tried not to die learning how to do 180 heel-flips and suicidal nose slides.
But Let’s Go was different. The tone of the music, the message, it made sense to me. Not just a dislike of authority but the realization that your decisions are yours to make, and it was very different from some other hardcore stuff I had listened too that seemed to make things about class or race. It was angry but it was purposeful in a way that worked for me. It also opened the door for me to look into other more underground types of music, expand my sensibilities and keep an open mind despite what appearances might be. This was the first time music did this for me. This was cool.
3. Live at the Roxy by Social Distortion
If you’re a young punk Marine hanging around southern California and need a life soundtrack, you could do a lot worse than Social D’s Live at the Roxy.
I had got a hold of their album Prison Bound years before and although I thought it was “OK” I largely, mistakenly, put the band on my “pay-them-no-mind” list. Big mistake. By the time I caught up to Live at the Roxy I was in need of something, someone who had the voice for what I was doing in my life, which was essentially wandering around the west coast and learning to shoot at and blow things up. The name of the game was be cool even when shit is completely FUBAR, and some how Social Distortion worked for this.
Too many great songs on one perfect live album. Listening to Story of my life, Prison Bound, I was Wrong and Don’t Drag me Down made me feel like I had found someone who was singing about what I was doing and even stranger; things I knew I would have to deal with in the future. It was surreal and intense. I spent hours hanging around the barracks just listening to this over and over watching the massive sun set over the mountains. Whole evenings slipped away driving aimlessly, no destination in mind, through the high desert with the windows down hearing Mike Ness rock on and I’d lose all concept of time as nothingness flew by and I would be completely immersed in my thoughts and the hypnotic act of driving totally alone with nobody but the desert highway and the music.
The one song that stands above the rest, for me, and inspired me to see Social D live twice, after both shows I walked away simply shaking my head in disbelief at how good they were, would be Cold Feelings.
2. The Empyrean
Years ago, when I was a punk teenager, a mentor of sorts told me that “There are these few albums that, like, you listen to them the first time and when the record finishes, you call your friends and cancel your plans because you HAVE TO listen to it again, immediately. It’s that good.”
The Empyrean was the first album I ever found that made me do exactly that. In 2009 I stayed in my apartment for two days doing nothing really but drinking wine or whiskey, staring at the wall and listening to this album. A few people mailed and I ignored them. Someone called and I just screeched into the receiver then hung up. The sun rose and set. The Empyrean was on constant repeat.
We’ve mentioned this album before here and here and there’s a good damn reason for that. That reason is called JOHN FRUSCIANTE. The man is a musical genius. He’s the criminal master mind of Rock and frankly, he makes just about all other guitarists today seem like chumps, hacks and frauds.
Besides what he does with his guitar, his overall musical sensibilities reek so heavily of genuine COOL it’s hard not to drool a little while being sucked into one of the most complex albums ever recorded.
Unreachable is THE song on this album. Sit down, relax and listen to it all the way through and soak up the electric piano and Flea’s unmistakable bass.
1. Automatic Writing
The Empyrean had so totally monopolized my attention since 2009 it was ridiculous. I had hunted around and moved genres and tried all sorts of dirty tricks but John’s cast iron grip held me fast.
Then about five months ago I broke free, sort of.
I just stumbled upon Ataxia, this experimental rock band project Frusciante had with one other guy from RHCP and Fugazi. Predictably I guess, it blew my mind. Automatic Writing is less polished than Johns other stuff but that’s the point. It was never supposed to be about making a big album but about playing the music and just performing emotionally, sort of simultaneously.
It’s slower, heavier and melancholy as hell. It’s also awesome. Particularly Montreal. So, technically I’m still Frusciante’s bitch but, OK…I still am, he just brought his friends home with him. Damn you JOHN! Anyway listen on and dig it.
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