Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Essential Influential Albums - Part Two

(Originally posted on MySpace on Saturday, July 21, 2007)

Its been a hard couple of weeks, but for those of you who care, I've finally worked my way out of the intense depression the death of my beloved cat, Frankie, put me in. I still miss him terribly and will never forget him, but its time to stop mopping around and get back into the swing of life. Thanks for the kind words you sent me. It helped a lot...

Here's the last half of the essential albums list I promised you last week. The descriptions are a little more sparse than I would have liked, but with this jury duty and all, I don't have the time I'd like to spend writing these things. Hopefully that will be over in the next couple of weeks and I can get back to life as I knew it.

Hope you enjoy this. I look forward to comments.

Patti Smith – Horses

This is the album that truly changed my life. I had just turned 21 when this album was released and was rejecting everything around me. I hated hippies and everything they were doing, which to me at the time just seemed to be taking drugs and wandering around blissed out and stupid. I had cut all my hair off and started wearing an ill-fitting suit and tie everywhere I went as a statement against the hippie status quo. All my friends and workmates thought I was some kind of freak. Then I saw the cover for this album and I knew there was a kindred spirit out there. This album was my introduction into "punk" rock and a world that would change my life forever. And its also one of the best damned rock and roll album ever released.

Ramones – Ramones

I was never so excited as when I saw the Ramones for the first time at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood opening for the Flaming Groovies. The Groovies bored me, but the Ramones were a revelation. Amazing loud pop songs that were fast and short. No solos. A stage presence that could only be described as geeky. I loved them and I loved this album. It was this album more than any other that led to the punk rock scene that everyone now knows. Without the Ramones, there would have been no Sex Pistols and there would have been no punk rock movement.

The Clash – The Clash

This is simply the best punk rock album ever released. I'm talking about the original British version of this album, not the horribly mixed up version that eventually came out in the States. The original British version was a thing of punk-rock beauty. Fast, catchy songs. A touch of reggae influence. A strong political message. It was everything that punk rock could ever hope to be. Its unfortunate that this band never did another album that came close to this one. After this album, they became just another rock band, although a good one. But they were never as exciting as they were on this first release.

Wire – Pink Flag

Things started to change with this album and it became apparent that it was possible to be a punk and still play pop and be an artist. This band more than any other brought punk, pop and art rock together in a glorious way. This is the album that convinced me that punk rock wasn't really a sound. It was more of an attitude. It was an attitude that has led me in directions I never thought I'd go.

Throbbing Gristle – Second Annual Report

More art than music, when I heard this album for the first time, I had never quite heard anything like it before. The song "Hamburger Lady" was just chilling. I began to think in new ways about what makes music and how it could be played. This was terrorist music. One of my all-time favorite rock and roll moments is when this band played their first and only show in Los Angeles. Robert Hilburn, the head rock music critic of the Los Angeles Times, had highly recommended the show and every unsuspecting "music" fan in town showed up only to start fleeing in terror five minutes into the band's set. This band does not do anything that's easy to listen to.

The Fall – Live At The Witch Trials
Swell Maps – A Trip To Marinesville
Mekons – The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen

The three albums that clinched it all for me. I would never be the same after hearing these albums and the new sonic territories they took me through. This is about the time I started playing music of my own. I had stopped worrying about the fact that I wasn't a musician and just made the music I was hearing in my head. Swell Maps more than any of them influenced me to experiment and play anything I could get my hands on, from toys to one-string guitars. I still look back on these three albums with awe at the music that came from them. This is what punk rock was meant to be. (One of the greatest moments in my life was meeting Swell Map's Nikki Sudden in Holland and having him and his band dedicate and perform the Maps' song "Midget Submarines" to me.)

Raincoats - Raincoats

Brittle and beautiful, this was the first album I'd ever heard that convinced me that women could really play rock music and make it sound like women were playing it. Before this it seemed that women were either singers or played instruments the same way as men did. Men could not have made this album. It's truly female music.

Pop Group - Y

This band took rock and reggae and then deconstructed it. When I first heard this album, I couldn't believe that this band could ever play this stuff live. But I saw them in 1979 and they were a beautiful and frightening experience. I still can't figure it out, but this is music that expanded my thinking about what really makes music music.

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

During the same 1979 trip to London when I saw the Pop Group, I wandered into the Acklam Hall on Portobello Road one evening. There was a show going on there featuring four bands I had never heard of; Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Joy Division. I would become a fan of all four bands, but Joy Division left a particularly strong impression on me. Lead singer Ian Curtis was amazing. Watching him was mesmerizing and I found myself sucked into his performance and I wasn't able to get it out of my mind. I came back to LA raving about this band. I couldn't stop talking about them. My friend Bob, who worked at a major record importer at the time got so sick of hearing me rant and rave about the band that he managed to get me a tape of their first album "Unknown Pleasures" several months before it was released to the public. I was in heaven. This is dark, melancholy music but it makes me so happy to listen to it. It was a great disappointment, although not that much of a surprise, when Ian Curtis committed suicide shortly after recording their second album and the band morphed into New Order. It makes me wonder just what peaks of glory this band never got to give to the world.

Cure – Seventeen Seconds

More dark, melancholy music. The Cure have gone on to become one of the most popular rock bands in the world and almost single-handedly made the goth-rock movement into a commercial success. But before that all happened, they recorded this album, their second, and it was a wonderfully sparse blend of sadness and beauty. Everything they did after this was much more dense in sound and theme and although I liked them, and continue to like them, they have never achieved such a beautiful sound as this again.

Virgin Prunes – If I Die, I Die

If any one album led me into the performance art world, it was this one. Coming out of a Dublin group of artists and musicians called the Lypton Village, a group that also produced the band U2, the Prunes took a very different approach. Their music and performances were a weird blend of punk, theatre, surrealist art and rock and roll. Opening for the Clash in 1979, they even managed to shock the unshockable punk audience. This band convinced me that performance was just as important as the music. The goth-rock audience later adopted them, but I think perhaps these fans really missed the point.

Einsterzende Neubauten – Kollapse

When this album came out in 1988, I used to play it a lot at the record store I worked at in Hollywood. It garnered more complaints from people than anything else I played at the time, especially from the died-black, gothic crowd. Of course, years later, you can't find a goth anywhere who doesn't claim to love the band. And I don't really understand why as this music has little to do with any goth themes. The band used metal pipes and industrial tools to create their music and it was a gloriously beautiful noise. What this album showed me is that music can be made from anything, by anyone. Crinkled paper makes a sound. Glass breaking makes a sound. And any sound can be used to make music. It was a beautiful idea that worked beautifully on this album.

Thin White Rope - Moonhead

Okay. I know I worked with these guys. But I was a fan before I started with them and will be a fan until the day I die. These guys were probably the last band to really influence the way I thought about music. They made me realize that country and bluegrass were viable and amazing forms of music. Working with these guys was a dream come true. This album, their second, was the best album they ever did, in my opinion, and the only album that I think captured the sound they actually wanted to capture in the recording studio.

And that's it for now. Thirty albums that I think should belong in any true rock fans collection. I'd be curious to hear any albums that are your favorites. You never know, I may discover something that passed me by and will make me a happy listener in the future.

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