Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?
Dick: Not alphabetical…
Dick: No fuckin’ way.
– High Fidelity
This week I’m blatantly stealing a format from a Pitchfork column I am fond of reading: 5-10-15-20. The concept is simple- “In 5-10-15-20, we talk to artists about the music they loved at five-year interval points in their lives.”
I’ve loved music as long as I can remember, and having just turned 35, I’m in a position to add a rounded-out answer to this question. I had planned on writing this a few years ago and never got around to actually doing it- plus I was between years. So here it is. I’m going to break from format and add a few thoughts on influential records in “off” years. And for the record, this is an honest account. No judgments. Let the music-nerdery commence.
Age 0: Neil Young and The Band The Last Waltz
Of course I don’t remember this one, but this is a story my parents are fond of telling. In November or December of ’78, when my Mother was still pregnant with me she, my father, and a friend went to the movies and saw The Band’s The Last Waltz. My parents’ friend was providing some MST3K-esque commentary in the theater and, according to my Father, “Neil came shambling onto the stage and you started kicking like crazy. Your Mom could barely sit still.” My mother remembers it this way: “I remember it well. You were moving so much to the music, (Neil Young) that it was visibly noticeable. Back and forth you went. It seemed like forever, but was maybe 30-45 min of gyrations. That was a long time for a fetus to be moving like that.” To which my parent’s friend replied: “Kid’s gonna have good taste.” I’ve loved Neil Young and The Band to this day.
Age 5: Tie- The Knack, Cheap Trick…and Davy Crockett
Music was always on in our house while I was growing up. I have distinct memories of listening to these records ad infinitum on a Fischer Price turntable in my bedroom. When I asked my Father about this he said “Camelot Music out at Northgate Mall had a customer club. Members got LPs free if they bought so many, and we got samples in the mail. The Cheap Trick sampler — if I recall, 3 songs on a 45-sized platter that was really 33 rpm — included “I Want You To Want Me” and I’m not sure what else. I do not recall if it was the studio version or the Budokan version. I’m pretty sure there was “My Sharona” by The Knack as well — don’t recall if they shared a disk with Cheap Trick or were on a separate disc.” I am inclined to think they were on the same disc, because I remember listening to them quite a bit back-to-back. Clearly the former were snagged from my father’s collection. The Davy Crockett disc accompanied a read-along book, if I recall. Maybe this was my first flirtation with country(ish) music. I would just play the theme song over and over. This is the first time I remember having a visceral reaction to music. As far as the bands, I don’t listen to them anymore really. Although that Steve Albini re-recording of Cheap Trick’s In Color was pretty cool. I’m not even going to comment on the Disney Davy Crockett song. Moving on.
Age 9: Def Leppard Hysteria
When I was almost 9 my Grandmother died. It sent ripples through our family. This was likely the catalyst that caused my Uncle, who was away at Seminary School, to have a crisis of faith. He came to live with us for a couple months to figure out what he was going to do, which plays into my 10 year old selection. My Uncle is 14 years older than me, and 14 years younger than my Father, so he was listening to a different demographic of things than I was used to at home. I remember listening to a lot of terrible music at this point in my life through no fault of my parents- if anything, letting me go through this phase and letting me find myself. Lots of Casey Kasem‘s American Top 40, New Kids On The Block, and Tiffany. Yes. Tiffany. While my Uncle listened to a lot of things, and I usually associate him with Van Halen and early U2 (which I didn’t get into until much later)- he turned me onto more aggressive things like Guns N’ Roses. I remember going down to the basement and bothering him and just flipping through his records and having him put some on for me. And while I remember listening to Appetite For Destruction and G N’ R Lies quite a bit- I did actually dub Hysteria onto cassette and play the everliving shit out of that record. What can I say? I was a product of the times. Whatever, man…..Good times, Alan.
Age 10: R.E.M. Green
One night I remember my Uncle, who was living with us at the time, coming home from a concert and raving about the band he just saw- R.E.M. Then, around the same time, “Stand” started getting heavy rotation on MTV. This was my first introduction to the jangle-rock that I love to this day, as well as “college-rock” or “alternative” (shudder- I hate that term). Up until then, I had been listening to generally Top 40 music and the stuff my Dad and Uncle would give me. But Green was different. Mainly because I wasn’t quite sure I really liked the music. I remember Green being quite incongruous to the heavier stuff I was used to hearing from my Uncle but there being something about it- Stipe’s deep wavering baritone, Mills’ crucial harmonies, or the “weird” songs like “Hairshirt” or “The Wrong Child”. Often I find that a lot of the bands or albums I love I have to hate first before I get into it. I must have listened to this quite a bit because my Uncle gave me a cassette single of “Stand” and “Memphis Train Blues”. I remember thinking I liked “Stand”- maybe because my Uncle did, but hating “Memphis Train Blues”. To this day I am a huge R.E.M. fan (up to and including Up) and though I like records other than Green better, this is the one that planted the seed. Standouts from that time are “Pop Song 89“, “Get Up“, and “Orange Crush“.
Age 14: My first CDs
This is the first time I remember buying my own albums – not getting them as gifts – but buying them on my own with my own money. I’m pretty sure it was Camelot Music, but I remember being excited at choosing these three particular records. Looking back on them now, they look like they covered the gamut of my influences at the time- my Father (Led Zeppelin), MTV (Belly), and WOXY (Dead Milkmen). As with most teenagers this was a growth spurt in music for me. I was getting into the classic works perusing Father’s collection- lots of Jefferson Airplaine, Grateful Dead, Fairport Convention, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, etc. I was, like many teens of my generation, watching MTV (this was the era where they still played videos, kids). There was some good stuff on MTV then- Alternative Nation, Yo! MTV Raps, etc. And then there was WOXY. We had moved to a new house by this point, and I’d stay up all night in the den getting online via dial-up modems coding and IRC chatting listening to WOXY until I absolutely had to sleep. The number of bands I heard on that channel was astounding- Guided By Voices, King Missle, The Mighty Might Bosstones (WAY before “Someday I Suppose”), The Breeders, The Pixies(!!!), Over The Rhine; I could go on. I remember being insatiable at this time in my life. I was lucky enough to have so many resources before I was able to regularly and actively seek out music.
Age 15: Phish Rift
I remember at this time a lot of my friends that sat at my table in art class were trading music. We had been in the same art classes for the last three years or so- but this group of guys at this table was a huge influence on me- Yoni, Aaron, and Jamey. Through these guys I got turned onto the likes of Cypress Hill, Pavement, and Nirvana, and this band they kept talking about- Phish. We even started swapping tapes, something that was new to me. Before this I was an active pursuer of music, but it was still a passive process. I was only able to get into what I was exposed to on the radio or MTV or through friends. By trading tapes, even though for me it was this one band, you had incentive to try and find dates with songs you like or shows you saw. And it was pretty much free. So I was starting to get into Phish. Around that same time my Father signed me up for a BMG Music subscription, and strangely enough, this record was available. Up until this point most of the Phish I had heard were live shows which is, of course, what they’re know for (to date, I’ve still never seen them live). But this record opened them up to being great studio musicians- something I believe they’ve never quite gotten credit for. Again, I think there are better examples of Phish and better studio records. For them, this was their first great studio record, in my opinion. I played this record to death. In retrospect I can see myself getting into jazz, bluegrass, and avante-garde from this record; as well as getting deeper into prog-rock and psychedelic.
Age 20: Uncle Tupelo No Depression
And, finally, country music. A form of it anyway. I had long (naively) said that the one music, next to opera, that I wasn’t ever going to like was country music. That thought was blown out of the water by the time I got this album for my 20th birthday. I was dating a woman at the time who had exposed me to a lot of bands (Morphine, for example), and happened to listen to a fair amount of jam-bands. And with jam-bands, you’re eventually going to get some country music thrown in. And while I may have listened to some records nearly as much (again, Morphine, for example), this time in my life signaled a distinct change and broadening of my musical tastes. And it all had to do with Uncle Tupelo. Of course I had been exposed to some of the more country music of The Dead, Dylan, or Neil Young. But I had usually dismissed those songs for the more far-out or rocking stuff. Then somehow, some day, a switch had been flipped and I found myself just loving country harmonies. I found myself at Shake It asking for Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and The Jayhawks. I found myself buying issues of No Depression, and I kept seeing references to Uncle Tupelo- I mean, hell, their magazine shares the name of a song that was very influential to Uncle Tupelo. And let’s face it, this band is a great gateway into country music for those initially skeptical towards that style of music. On the surface, without any introduction, some songs on this record could be played in between Meat Puppets (who I got into because of these guys), or the Minutemen (who I rediscovered because of these guys), or even The Pixies. By the time I turned 20, I had a country section in my collection and all of the Uncle Tupelo records. I started flirting with country guitar changes. And from this record, I can draw a straight line to me getting into The Byrds‘ Sweetheart of The Rodeo (which, in turn, gets me to Gram Parsons), Woody Guthrie, and back into the country records of Neil Young.
Age 25: OutKast Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below edges out anything else I may have listened to because of shear ubiquity. By the time I turned 25, I was about to move to Chicago and this album was on heavy rotation in my life and on the verge of retirement- I had heard it so much. Let’s face it, it was hard to avoid in early 2004. There were a lot of records on heavy-rotation at this time- it was a good time for music. But Speakerboxxx/The Love Below stands out as a record I listened to quite a bit and remember listening to when I was driving to New York City and Chicago looking for work. It helped crack open hip-hop and rap for me. Hip-hop and rap had always been on the periphery of my musical tastes. As with anything, I went in fits and spurts, listening to a lot of what my friends were into. But hip-hop didn’t really get into heavy rotation for me until around this time. Rather than passively listening to what what was on- I actively sought it out. My favorite hip-hop albums were the more jazz influenced stuff like Digable Planets, Tribe, and De La…Even Soul Coughing. I had always appreciated what my friends were listening to- lots of Common, Wu-Tang, and Dr. Dre, but around this time things really started to get interesting with these styles of music and I think Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was a flagship of this movement. It was such a popular record, you’d hear it a lot in the studios where I worked, where music had to be a certain level of inoffensive- because you never wanted to upset clients. Not that everything on this record is best for public (client) consumption (“Where Are My Panties?”), in early ’04 you just couldn’t get away from this record….Not that that is a bad thing. And, in full disclosure, I’m going to have to admit that The Love Below is the side that got the most play from me (excluding “Hey Ya!”). I just think it is musically the most interesting and boundary-pushing. As I said, hip-hop started to really get interesting for me at this time. It got away from the East Coast/West Coast thing and started to really explore other realms of music. In the underground I was listening to a lot of the Mush Records (Reaching Quiet, cLOUDDEAD, Doseone) and Anticon stuff (Why?, Odd Nosdam, etc.), and in the mainstream I had OutKast. It was around this time I really went back and started filling in the gaps of hip-hop I hadn’t really paid close attention.
Age 30: Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
This one is simple. The Christmas right before my 30th birthday I had gone home to Cincinnati and bumped into a friend of mine. He was really hurting because he found out his ex-girlfriend had started dating another guy while my friend still had feelings for her and needed someone to talk to about it. We chatted over a few beers while he vented. My friend was distraught and in a lot of pain; it was really hard for him to see her with another guy. After he said his peace and he had gotten a load off his chest he asked if I wanted to go back to his place and hear the new record his band had just recorded. I did and agreed. He said he wanted me to hear this other record before he played his band’s new album- it was Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight (I’ll take best euphemism for sex for $500, Alex). We hopped in his car at something like 2 in the morning and drove around Cincinnati blaring the two albums. Trust me, this album plays well loud. My friend couldn’t stop talking about the writing on this record. It was raw and clever and wryly funny. Even sexy. This album is full of clever turns of a phrase, and goddammit if I’m not a sucker for a good anthemic song. I was recently dumped from a long-term relationship and was just getting over it myself. This record brought it all back. It brought back feelings of anger and regret and all of the bittersweet feelings that go along with remembering the good times. I went to Shake It Records the next day to buy this album and they were sold out. I bought Liver! Lung! FR! which is a mostly-acoustic live performance of that record just to tide me over. Over the course of at least the next year I played The Midnight Organ Fight. Regrettably, Frightened Rabbit’s other albums aren’t nearly as good as this one.
Age 35: All over the map
I don’t know how to quite answer for this year as we’re only two months in. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the test-pressing of my band‘s (ever)forthcoming LP Blue Funk– and the rough mixes before that. In the past week I’ve been listening to the NPR-stream of Beck‘s record (out today or tomorrow). I really love Sea Change, and was excited to hear about his plan to release a ‘follow-up’ to that record. So far I really like it, but we’ll see if it makes my Best-Of for 2014. There are a lot of great things being released this year, or at least things I’m really looking forward to hearing, like new albums from Wussy,Wye Oak, and Sharon Van Etten….And I’m still listening to a lot of the albums on my 2013 Best-Of List. I’ve been on a Paul Chambers kick lately, and have been trying to find some of his albums…..And going down memory-lane to write this post has been cool. I relistened to everything (minus the Def Leppard, which I don’t own anymore,I just listened to what was on YouTube) and remembered why I like(d) all of this great music.
“Remember that time I rediscovered Son House?” – Demetrius
Thanks to my parents for the anecdotes and my family and friends for the great recommendations, keep ’em coming.