Treat this grossly-overdue blog post from me as exactly what it is: The love child of a trip down memory lane plus seeing a similar “top ten” post elsewhere. Also, my son recently Shanghai’d his sister’s Epiphone guitar and has asked for “stuff to listen to.” So I feel obligated to lead him to proverbial water and maybe (maybe!) allow him to discover some cool stuff for himself.
So, here are the first five of ten touchstones in my life that have brought me to being the disheveled, discombobulated, shiny-headed 41-year-old I am today.
1. The Who, “Live At Leeds” (1970)
I’ve been good friends with Jon Dawson since around 1987. As teenagers who weren’t old enough to drive to concerts in Raleigh, we would routinely spot each other along U.S. 70 headed to shows, chauffered by our parents. We subsequently struck up conversations at school about the shows we had just seen, and became fast friends.
John is my “music friend,” in that we can spend several hours over leftover barbecue, hush puppies and sweet tea, tearing through each other’s music collection. Despite the both of us having extremely eclectic tastes in music, we still manage to find “dirt gems” in each other’s listening that we each find…well…puzzling. Jon has never approved of my love for early Van Halen. I’ll never understand why Jon adores the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Never. Ever. Fucking weirdo.
However, Jon should be credited for introducing me to The Who. Particularly, “Live At Leeds.” This is the greatest rock album ever made, period. Nothing will ever convince me otherwise.
The original release was perfect: Young Man Blues. Substitute. Summertime Blues. Shakin’ All Over. My Generation. Magic Bus. Every expanded release in recent years is okay, but superfluous and unnecessary.
If you consider yourself a true rock fan, you must own this album. Preferably the original release. If not, then get the expanded release. Or the deluxe edition. Or the super-deluxe edition. Or the mega-super-secret-whatever-the-hell-they-call-the-40th-anniversary edition. But if you call yourself a true rock fan, and you do not own this album, hang yourself.
2. Rush, “Permanent Waves” (1980)
Let me be clear about my love for this band: I’m fairly certain that my 30-year-plus Rush-Fanboy status has prevented me from getting laid in the past. Whoever she was, she wasn’t worth it.
Why “Permanent Waves?” Why not “Moving Pictures” or “2112?” Granted, MP is a progressive rock masterpiece, and Rush’s 1970’s output was pretty impressive. In the grand scheme of things, you can listen to albums like “2112,” “A Farewell To Kings” or “Hemispheres” and hear the band poking at the edges of the envelope to see where they can go musically and where they can’t; They were finding themselves. “Permanent Waves” was the first album where Rush really put it all together. They abandoned the old notion of “rock opera as concept album,” and forged the idea of the “thematic” concept album. A mood, a feel, a vibe, a general topic of conversation that connected all of the songs on the album together.
“Permanent Waves” shows the maturity of three musicians growing into better songwriters, while maintaining that edginess of 20-something rockers who, coincidentally, could still play their asses off. Nearly 34 years after its release, it’s still a very listenable album. If you are a guitarist, buy this album. Because it’s good. And it’s a royal bitch to learn how to play. You’ll be better for it.
3. Eric Clapton, “461 Ocean Boulevard” (1974)
I played a black Fender Stratocaster for fifteen years because of this man. Eric Clapton has always, consistantly, hit me somewhere not many artists have.
For this list, I was torn between choosing EC “461” and D+TD “Layla.” Both were huge for me. But if I went with “Layla,” then I couldn’t avoid mimicking Ray Liotta & the line about when they found Carbone in the meat truck, it took ’em two days just to thaw him out for the autopsy.
Which, apparently, I failed anyway.
4. Metallica, “Ride The Lightning” (1984)
Let me set the stage for you:
It’s the summer of ’84. The last eight months of my life were pretty tumultuous for a 12-year-old kid. I had moved from New Jersey to North Carolina in January. Sixth grade in West Milford, NJ, I was in elementary school. But sixth grade in Kinston, NC, I was in middle school. Everything I had known was, as my Lenoir County Public Schools education has taught me, “blowed-up purdy good.” And now I had a bunch of lifelong Tar Heels telling my Jersey punk-ass that “I talked funny.” (It took me a long time to understand that I did, in fact, have a “Jersey accent.” I thought everybody talked the way I did, for Christ’s sake.) So I wasn’t widely accepted in social circles. Then, literally, right after we moved to N.C., I got to see my first tornado, which may or may not have made me poop a little.
On top of eight months of pent-up angst, in sixth grade I basically discovered what my dick was for, too. So now I was a social misfit who talked funny, adjusting to a completely new way of life, which may or may not, at any given moment, kill me with a fucking tornado and/or hurricane. All of this with a constant sixth-grader boner and no anger management skills.
Needless to say, when I discovered Metallica, this album spoke to me.
I remember telling a friend, “Hey, have you heard Metallica? This album is fucking awesome!” He looked at me as if my sixth-grader boner was sticking out of my forehead.
5. John Coltrane, “Blue Train” (1957)
My freshman year of college was pretty awesome. By the time I’d graduated high school, I had a pretty strong circle of close friends. I had a lot of confidence in myself, probably too much for an 18-year-old to have. I was a pretty decent guitar player by now, jamming with friends almost daily, playing actual gigs, some paying actual money, if I was able to keep an actual band together despite my actually shitty temper.
Rock music, particularly loud, obnoxious, heavy-as-hell rock music, was a constant audio diet. If it rocked, good. If it rocked hard, even better. There was no reason for me to listen to, and actively enjoy, anything else.
Right after Christmas 1990, I was at the apartment of my friend, Russ Coombs. We jammed our guitars for a little while, then he asked me if I’d please made some homemade noodles from scratch for a huge batch of chicken soup he’d wanted to make. Obliging, I’m folding eggs into flour by hand, when I heard Russ’ girlfriend drop the needle on vinyl. That’s when I heard “Blue Train” for the first time.
Christmas 1990. That’s when I discovered Trane. Everything changed for me after that. Music, especially, but not just music. It opened my silly dipshit brain to the idea that there was just…more out there in life. That there were different ways of looking at anything in life.
More than twenty years later, I still listen to “Blue Train” at least once a week. If my play count on Winamp is accurate at all, it’s probably the album I’ve listened to more than any other for twenty years. With the only possible exception being Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue,” there can’t be a better introduction to jazz than “Blue Train.”
Part Two coming soon…