Important Records

Lots of my friends have been comprising a list of the records that had the most influence on their lives. I thought I would join in the fun with a list of fifteen albums that really helped shape who I am, for better or for worse. I’m excluded classical music because I feel that symphonies and sonatas operate on a different plane.

This list is in no particular order.

  1. R.E.M. – Automatic for the People. This was the first rock album I own. My grandmother gave it to me, along with a live Creedence Clearwater Revival album, for Christmas when I was in the seventh grade. I was twelve. I pulled the album out the other day, and it still sounds fresh. “Nightswimming” is still as pretty as it was in 1993, and “Drive” is just as confusing.
  2. Nirvana – In Utero. It would be easy to say that Nevermind was the Nirvana album that did it for me, but In Utero was the only one I actually owned. And I didn’t even own it, I just had a copy on a Maxell tape. But this was the record that introduced to heavy music in an intelligent fashion; weird time signatures and the like. And those vocals! Kurt Cobain’s howl left a lasting impression, because I would find its likeness again years later in discordant punk bands like Hot Water Music and even Fugazi. Of course at the time I didn’t know that Fugazi had influenced Nirvana (instead of the other way around), but I would find out a few years later.
  3. Fugazi – In On the Killtaker. Not Fugazi’s greatest record and certainly not their most well-known. But it was the album that helped bridge the gap – for me, anyway – between hardcore punk and the more introspective indie rock that I had been towing around with for a few years. Fugazi remains one of my favorite bands even though I rarely pull out those records. They still sound new and exciting, in a way that few other rock bands managed to do.
  4. Radiohead – OK Computer. I picked this record up (along with that Fugazi album) on a church trip in 1998. I didn’t listen to anything else for the next three months. Radiohead took everything I knew about creepy, ethereal music and turned it on its ear. I still haven’t been able to ignore this sort of music and it’s been eleven years. They were then and probably still are the best band on the planet.
  5. U2 – The Joshua Tree. The obligatory U2 reference. The last non-cynical album they released, and it was full of life and vigor. As famous as the first three tracks are, I always had a soft spot for “Red Hill Mining Town.”
  6. The Allman Brothers Band – A Decade of Hits. The Allmans are my absolute favorite classic rock band. This collection is important in one particular way for me; it showed me how jazz and blues really did influence rock and roll. Listening to Duane Allman’s guitar riffs made Miles Davis make sense. I picked this up at McKay in Chattanooga on a lonely Saturday during my freshman year.
  7. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. I know it’s the most famous (and best) jazz album ever, but it’s the record that got me into jazz. Not gross Kenny G records or bad elevator porn music, but jazz in all its contradictions of simplicity and complexity.
  8. AVAIL – Over the James. My all-time favorite punk band, the one that I’ve stuck with for almost ten years. This album is focused; not reckless and obnoxious. Punk rock for grown ups, really, even if it did get me through my freshman year of college. I really would like to see them one last time, but I’m not holding out much hope.
  9. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker. As the title implies, I bought this record while bummed out about something or other. But like all good music, this record managed to outlive my circumstances. This was the first country album I discovered that was angry and sad and sentimental and not the least bit cheesy. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” still makes me a little bit wistful.
  10. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis.  I don’t think those oldies stations realize how good this really is.

That’s it for now. I’ll post the other ten records soon. There’s more out there, to be sure.


2 Responses

  1. Good list. Two suggestions:

    (1) The Who – Who’s Next. One of the best, if not the best, rock albums ever.

    (2) The Ramones – Rocket to Russia. They didn’t invent American punk rock, but they made it cool.

    (3) Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes. One of the best, if not the best, country albums ever.

  2. Correction: Three suggestions.

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