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Oct
17
2010

My “15 albums in 15 Minutes”

So, this “15 Albums in 15 Minutes” thing is apparently something that’s going around Facebook.  I’m the last person on the planet without a Facebook page, but I did recently give in to Twitter and that’s where I got wind of this exercise.  I went at the thing without knowing exactly what the “rules’ were so I wound up listing way more albums than you’re supposed to. The idea is (best as I can gather) to quickly and without a lot of second-guessing list off the first 15 albums that come to mind that were influential or important to you–then list them with no substitutions, editing, rethinking, etc. Obviously, given the nature of this exercise, there’s going to be music that’s quite important to you that gets missed and conversely music that’s not really your favorite thing that just happened to come to mind. With that disclaimer in place, here are the first 15 on my list.  (And, for what it’s worth, I’ll list the extras at the end. I thought you were supposed to keep going on for the full 15 minutes.)

1) Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight

I can’t remember when exactly I bought this Chess compilation double LP set of Chuck Berry singles–I’m guessing maybe late Jr. high/early high school–but it’s been a record I’ve never stopped enjoying. Greater musical minds than I can explain to you why Chuck Berry is important to the history of Rock music, but in a nutshell, if it weren’t for Chuck Berry, we’d all be playing saxophone solos. I was an extremely unhip teen music-wise and although attempted to take a page  from my schoolmates with older brothers who were getting them into R.E.M., U2, Violent Femmes, etc., I was mired in the 50s for some reason. (And honestly, I’d still rather hear the Fleetwoods or Jerry Lee Lewis than most U2 songs.) My path to this Chuck Berry record, though, was paved by…

2) The Beatles – The Beatles ’65

A Beatles entry on this list is likely a surprise for anyone who knows my musical taste, as I don’t really like the Beatles that much–or, at least I don’t really like much of their post-poppy “taking barbershop in strange new directions” stuff.  This record, though, was actually one of my mom’s and I remember as a very young child playing this record on my plastic Fisher Price turntable. (My mom was a rabid Beatles fan and has seen them live, touched each of them as they walked toward the stage, pelted them with jelly beans and was invited back stage to meet them–via my grandfather’s string-pulling–but declined because she’d have had to gone alone.) The record itself is a US-only release that’s a compilation of bits and pieces from singles, UK releases, etc. Although I didn’t turn out to be much of a Beatles fan later in life, the reason I consider this record a big influence on me is because of three of its tracks: “Rock and Roll Music,” “Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying to be my Baby.” They were my absolute favorites as a very young child, but later in life–when I really started getting into music—-I realized that these songs were not by the Beatles, but by Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. From there directly came my life-long interest in Rockabilly and 50s Rock–and later, as I explored further, old blues and classic country music.

3) The Beach Boys – Endless Summer

Yet another compilation. My love of The Beach Boys goes way back. I remember listening to a Beach Boys compilation on the same plastic children’s turntable mentioned above. That compilation was called (if I’m remembering correctly) “The Beach Boys U.S.A.,” but “Endless Summer” is one I got into significantly later–I’m guessing when I was maybe 9 or 10 at least. This was a double LP compilation that rode/instigated a minor 70s Beach Boys revival that was probably an offshoot of a larger “Happy Days”-esque 50s revival. Regardless, the track listing here is pretty strong and includes most of The Beach Boys pre-“Pet Sounds” obvious heavy hitter singles, including “The Warmth of the Sun” which has been my favorite Beach Boys tune almost from the moment I first heard it on this record. I re-listened to this compilation relatively recently and noticed that it contains a few odd versions of songs, most notably the album (rather than single) version of “Help me Rhonda” that has that bizarre fade in/fade out business at the end. Most of the records on this list are things that were important to me at one time and then gradually faded with time; The Beach Boys are a band that I’ve listened to and appreciated consistently from single-digit age up through now as a middle-aged adult.

4) The Cult – Love

The transition between these first three records and this one would seem a lot less bizarre if I were allowed to put them in chronological order, but that seems to violate the spirit of of the whole “15 in 15” thing. First and foremost, this is just a fantastic record–I’d argue one of the absolute best of the 80s. It’s a weird fusion of lots of things going on at the time: metal, psychedelia, goth, “alternative” rock, even 80s glam. I think I was introduced to this record by a high school friend, C.J., who is now (I believe) running a big yearly tattoo convention in Salt Lake City. This record, along with one or two others on this list, helped spur me out of my weird mired-in-the-50s music rut that I’d been in pretty much ever since junior high. By the time I got to college I was such a Cult nut that I’d buy pretty much anything they put out and, although I never liked any of their later records as much as “Love,” one of my fondest memories from college was staying up late at the student union, camped out at the only cable TV on campus with my girlfriend (now my wife!) to catch the world premier of the new Cult single, “Fire Woman,” on MTV’s “120 Minutes.”*

*MTV used to play music videos.

5) The Black Crowes – Amorica

(Using the SFW version of the album cover) Again, this would make a lot more sense if these were arranged chronologically, but so it goes… The Black Crowes seem to be a much maligned band these days and even at the time they hit the scene a lot of  “alternative” folks derided them. I found their bluesy/Stones-esqe straight-ahead rock to be a refreshing change from the usual stuff haunting the airwaves at the time, though–particularly post-Nirvana when ridiculous bands like Creed et al were singing 24/7 about their rage, angst, ennui, etc. At the time of its release, “Amorica” was a bit of a flop commercially, but for me it was the record that really made me a fan. I think a lot of that had to do with a real affinity I felt for the band because of obvious shared musical influences. I was in a touring rock band at the time and although there was plenty of new music we were into, we were definitely most fanatical about stuff like The Stones, The Faces, old Stax records, Motown stuff, and other “rootsy” rock. I don’t listen much to the Black Crowes, but when I do, it’s this record–in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s in the stack next to my turntable as I type this. The album’s ninth track, “Wiser Time,” is a masterpiece, and certainly one of the best Rock “road songs” ever.

6) Athens, GA Inside/Out – (soundtrack) Various

Honestly, this is one I’d probably ditch if I could do some editing, but alas that’s against the rules of the game. “Athens, GA Inside/Out” is the soundtrack to the documentary of the same name that came out in ’87 when I was sixteen or so.  Like the Cult record above, it was instrumental in wrenching me out of my 50s phase. I remember seeing the film at a really great theater in Norfolk, Va (where I grew up) called The Naro.  The bands featured in the film that I was most interested in at the time are precisely the ones that I have zero interest in now. On the other hand, I’ve since become a great appreciator of some of the other bands from the film like the Flat Duo Jets (who are not from Athens, but from right here in NC) and Pylon, whose last show I saw here in Winston before the untimely death of their guitarist. The only exception to this “flip-flop” of my liking/not liking bands in the film is the B-52s, who I loved before I saw this documentary, while I saw this documentary, and whom I love to this day. In fact, I was recently commenting to a friend that if I were the King of the (Music) World, I’d have brought about an alternate reality in which the B-52’s–rather than R.E.M.–was the Athens band that reshaped music to its own music in the late 80s. There’d be a lot less mumbling for sure.

7) The Jayhawks – Tomorrow the Green Grass

It’s easy to look back cynically on the big alt country/Americana movement from the nineties. For sure there were a lot of bands that suddenly switched from playing Rage Against the Machine covers to being “Old Man Flapjack and his Ramblin’ Country Possum Catchers” or whatever, but on the other hand it moved some of the greatest American music ever produced–50s and 60s country music–into the foreground of the contemporary(at the time) music scene. Classic country forebearers aside though, with a few years of retrospection, among the new bands that fell out of this movement there aren’t a ton that really stand the test of time.  Off the top of my head, the ones that immediately come to mind are Wilco’s “A.M.” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass” by the Jayhawks. These are for sure the two records from this genre and era that I reach for more than any others, and the Jayhawks record is my favorite by far. Interestingly, of the big alt-country records of the time, this one seems to me to be the least steeped in country-ish instrumentation and lyrics.  There’s not a ton of pedal steel on the record and there’s thankfully no Hank III-esque “I’m drinkin’ whisky in my big rig cause my hound dog done left me” cliche “badass” country lyrics. Just good, solid songs and great singing with just a bit of nice Everly Brothers-ish harmonies throughout. With the possible exception of a fairly average Grand Funk Railroad cover, there’s not a bad song on this record.

8) John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

Enough’s been written about this record that there’s no reason for me to sing its praises here. It is for me the one jazz record that I have returned to over and over again even during periods when I’m not really in a “jazz phase.” I never had much interest in jazz until maybe late college. I had a bit of exposure then via a friend who–virtually unique among anyone I knew on campus–listened to almost nothing but jazz. This was also about the time that Miles Davis’s autobiography came out, so things were “lined up” jazz-wise. I picked up some of the early Miles Davis stuff, but what really caught my ear was John Coltrane. At the time, my favorite record was “Giant Steps” which is an amazing example of a record that takes some musical idiom (bebop) and pretty much retires it by pushing it about as far as it can possibly be pushed without everything flying off the hinges (think funk and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Fresh”). The Coltrane record that’s really become my favorite over the years, though, is the sublime “Love Supreme.”

9) Thee Hypnotics – The Very Crystal Speed Machine

I’m not exactly sure how I was introduced to this band, but “The Very Crystal Speed Machine” was a record that I was really into when I was playing music in a band, much for the same reasons that I was into the Black Crowes record mentioned above: these guys were playing straight-ahead bluesy guitar rock at a time that that just wasn’t too popular and I felt a certain kinship to them in that regard. Some of the more mellow songs here are actually my favorites these days, in particular “Goodbye” and “Fragile” (which the band I was in used to cover). While this is definitely a great record, there’s definitely a thrown-together vibe to it and it includes a few obvious filler tracks. “The Very Crystal Speed Machine” was produced by Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes and at one point J.J. Puig (who produced the Crowes’s “Amorica” as well as several records by Jellyfish) came to see my band perform and confirmed that the Hypnotics were notorious Hell-raisers and that Robinson had a difficult time getting an album’s worth of songs out of them. The earlier Hypnotics releases (all on Beggars Banquet) are worth tracking down, especially the very different sounding, reverby, noir-ish, “Soul, Glitter and Sin.”

10) The Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Uplift Mofo Party Plan

I was a huge RHCP nut in high school and although these days I’m more likely to throw “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” in the player, “Uplift Mofo Party Plan” was the record that made me a devotee back in the 80s. To some extent the band is still finding its feet a bit on this record, but the pieces are all in place. “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” was the record where the band finally put it all together into a successful amalgam of funk, punk, hard rock and pop, but there’s a playfulness to “Uplift Mofo Party Plan” which that more successful record lacks. Like the previous RHCP records, “Uplift Mofo Party Plan” definitely sounds a bit dated these days; it was certainly a record “of its time.” This isn’t a record that I listen to much any more, but looking back at the influences and covers from these early records, the band lead me down some very positive roads: Sly and the Family Stone, Hank Williams Sr., Parliament/Funkadeleic, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Ohio Players, etc.  Extra points for the Gary Panter cover art!

11) Fishbone – Truth and Soul

I probably should have done a single entry for this record and the RHCP one above since they’re both from the same era and very similar in not just tone but also in that it’s a record I used to listen to a ton but really don’t any more–but whose impact on my musical tastes was quite profound. Unlike RHCP, Fishbone never seemed to really pull it all together; they never had a “Blood Sugar Sex Magic.” Their first few releases were fun punk/ska/funk mashups but on “Truth and Soul” things really began to coalesce with the new prominence of the hard rock guitar work of Kendall Jones. With alternative/college rock in the rise in the late 80s, it seemed like the stars were aligned for Fishbone to hit the big time. Despite the great Sly & the Family Stone-esqe single “Everyday Sunshine,” Fishbone’s next record, “The Reality of my Surroundings” veered off on a dour, mirthless metal-influenced tangent and shortly afterwords the band began to fragment in a flurry of legal trouble, mental breakdowns, and general chaos. The band, albeit with a drastically different lineup, is still around and there’s even a documentary about them making the film festival rounds: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone.

12) Credence Clearwater Revival – Pendulum

CCR’s not a band that shows up on many “best records” lists and if the do, it’s sure not going to be for this record. It is, though, my personal favorite CCR record and a record that I think stands up to just about anything their more-lauded contemporaries like the Stones or the Beatles have done. The record starts with “Pagan Baby” which is the one track here that’s fairly similar to the previous CCR sound, but from there on out the usual CCR “chugga-chugga” guitar is downplayed in favor of the Hammond B-3 organ–and some really amazing organ playing at that. I don’t think hearing the organ arrangements on this record really had much influence over the sound of the band I was in at the time; more the reverse really: we had just switched from all-guitar to having one guitarist move to primarily Hammond organ, and I think because of this I was probably really tuned-in to how organ can work in rock arrangements.  This record also features some truly beautiful bass playing by the criminally-underappreciated Stu Cook. The final track on the first side,  “(Wish I Could) Hideaway,” may be the best slow song this band’s done and I’d rate “Born to Move” as one of their best up-tempo numbers. Really, though, aside from the “Revolution #9”-ish “Rude Awakening #2” that concludes the record, every track on here is great. “Pendulum” seems to me like it was intended as a sort of blueprint for the band’s future direction. Unfortunately, though, that was not to be. Shortly after this record was recorded, Tom Fogerty left the band and after the band’s next record, the mediocre “Mardi Gras,” the band was no more.

13) Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

This is one that I’d probably nix from the list were any editing allowed. It’s certainly one of best records of all time–and, unlike some of the other items that made the list, I listen to it pretty frequently–but, I can’t really say that it influenced me significantly. I was a latecomer to this one and by the time I’d gotten into it, I was already familiar with a lot of 70s soul and funk music. If I could do an after-the-fact swap for another soul record that had more of an impact on me, I think it’d be Sam Cooke’s “Night Beat.” Sam Cooke’s a sort of progenitor to the whole genre of soul music and that record’s arguably Cooke’s best.  That said, “What’s Going On” is an amazing record and it’s notable beyond that for being one of the few overtly political records I can think of that’s not completely silly. Even Bob Dylan’s political/protest songs strike me as kind of dopey.  For a great compare and contrast, listen to Gaye’s “What’s Happening, Brother?” (the song’s about the Vietnam war) back to back with something like, say, the idiotic Beastie Boys track, “Right Right Now Now.”  The takeaway: If  you’re not Marvin Gaye, don’t sing about things political.

14) Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Sh0cking

I think I got wind of this record via the same high school friend mentioned in the Cult entry above.  This isn’t one that winds up in the CD player much these days, but there was certainly a time (late high school/early college) where it was in heavy, heavy rotation. I never had a real metal phase, but I had a passing interest in some of the glammier metal/hard rock bands from the late 80s–early G&R, the L.A. Guns, Zodiac Mindwarp, etc. Jane’s Addiction, though, was a different sort of L.A. band and they really grabbed me at the time.  They sounded unlike anything I’d really heard up to that point and, even today, they hit me a band whose influences are hard to suss out. Sure, they’re combining elements of hard rock, psychedelia, glam and early proto-alternative bands like V.U. and Joy Division, but it’s really hard to complete this sentence: Janes addiction sounds a lot like _______.  A personal anecdote: Before I understood what a huge draw Iggy Pop would be at a small-ish venue like the Pterodactyl Club in Charlotte, NC,  I showed up there the night of the show to catch opening act Jane’s Addiction and was totally surprised to find out that the show was sold out. Barreling home like a bat out of Hell with my college girlfriend (now wife) in my old ex-state police car, I was pulled over for speeding and lost my license for six months. I thankfully got to see Jane’s Addiction a year or so later as a headlining act.

15) King Crimson – Discipline

I never really had a prog-rock phase, and truth be told, I still find bands like RUSH and Yes to be pretty silly (although you gotta dig that early Yes album cover art). Towards the end of my college years, though, my roommate introduced me to this record, the first of three records from the newly-incarnated 80s lineup of King Crimson. I was learning bass guitar at the time, so part of the appeal here was doubtless the relentless technical precision on display on this record, not the least of which is bassist/Chapman stick player Tony Levin’s unbelievable and innovative playing. This record is almost as much new wave as art rock, with ex-Talking Head Adrian Belew filling in as King Crimson’s first ever second guitarist and dashes of period synthesizers here and there. This record still finds its way to the CD player occasionally, although I sometimes find myself skipping through the moodier pieces in favor of the more up-tempo numbers like “Thela Hun Ginjeet.” More important, though, without getting into this record years ago, I’d probably not be as receptive to many of the more prog-ish bands I came to like later–bands like Japan, Mastodon, Battles, etc.

Addendum:

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I hadn’t really understood the “rules” of this exercise when I first began. I’d thought the idea was to come up with albums as quickly as possible using a maximum of 15 minutes.  When I’d gotten to something like 25 albums and was only six minutes in, I realized I was doing it wrong. The 15 listed above are the un-edited first 15 I came up with. Here, though, are (without commentary) the other records I jotted down before stopping:

16) The Stooges – Fun House

17) The Faces – Long Player

18) The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed

19) Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

20) The Smiths – Louder than Bombs

21) The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

22) Stevie Wonder – Musiquarium

23) Dwight Yoakam – A Long Way Home

24) The Specials – The Specials

25) Metallica – And Justice for All

1 comment

  1. Robin says:

    Ah, Wiser Time … I haven’t listened to that track in probably 12 years, but I know when get home and play it (which I will, as soon as I am home) it will take me right back to Corntown circa 1995 …

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