I was tagged in this…meme…thing…on Facebook. My 10 most Influential Albums. The thing is, just listing the albums isn’t enough for me. So I’m going to expand on it here.
First off, this list is not in any particular order. Next up, it says ‘influential’ so these aren’t necessarily the artist’s best work, or even my favourite albums.
1. Ramones - Hey! Ho! Let’s Go
The Ramones opened up a new world of punk to me. I liked the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Undertones. I had a few punk compilations. But what these compilations didn’t include was anything significant from the other side of the Atlantic, and so I was completely missing the Ramones surf-punk vibe.
Until this time I’d been talking about wanting to start a surf-punk band, playing something that sounded like the Sex Pistols covering the Beach Boys. If I mentioned surf punk to anyone they’d ask “So, like Weezer?” but that wasn’t it at all. Then, I heard the Ramones.
I heard “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” and “California Sun” and “Rockaway Beach” and I knew this was the sound I’d been looking for. And that I would never be able to rival it. It’s funny, once I knew the Ramones I then understood all of the references to them in other songs I liked.
2. Pixies - Death to the Pixies
I like to say that the Pixies invented music. It’s not unfair to say they were a hugely influential factor on alternative rock as we know it, the Seattle sound and alt rock bands of the 90s and beyond all owed huge debts to the sound largely pioneered by the Pixies. Nirvana’s biggest hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit, was dismissed by Dave Grohl at the time for being a Pixies rip off.
This post is about “influential” albums, so we can all agree that albums like Come On Pilgrim and Doolittle are easily the band’s best work, but it was this album that serves as a ‘best of’ that influenced me the most — and apparently influenced so many contemporary bands.
3. Terrorvision - How To Make Friends and Influence People
Way back when, before “the internet” or “the world wide web” were terms that most people were familiar with, there was a thing called “Teletext”. A kind of on-screen information service on the TV — you pressed a button and brought up a world of text-based pages, where you could check the weather, see TV listings, and in places find things a little like discussion forums.
It was on one of these that I used to read people talking about bands and albums they liked, and Terrorvision — having released their first major-label album — were frequently mentioned. I caught one of their music videos (Alice, What’s The Matter for anyone following at home) on a late night TV show dedicated to rock music videos, and found the album in my local library. Here was an album, by an English band no less, that made catchy songs and loud songs and interesting songs and all of them with a certain sense of humour.
They were my favourite band for years, and I even interviewed their lead singer Tony Wright last year for this blog — and remain embodying a certain uniquely British approach to music for me.
4. Green Day - Kerplunk!
Unlike some of the other albums on this list, this wasn’t the first album I heard by Green Day. I knew and liked their albums Dookie and Insomniac, and wanted to hear more — so I went earlier in their career.
And this album was what I found. Released before the band went stratospheric, at the time of Kerplunk! they were younger and less talented song writers, but it was exactly the time and place and tone for me at that time. They’ve made better albums, and I don’t think I’d even call this my favourite any more, but right then — this influenced me the most.
5. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
There are very few albums that I would begin to use worlds like “musical genius” but Siamese Dream deserves it. There are so many amazing and iconic songs on the album, like Cherub Rock, Today, Quiet, Disarm, that it is something you have to press play on track one and let it play all the way through.
This album is a rare case of the influential album being also one of my favourites and their best: there is so much to love in it, the contrasts, the melodies, the crashing guitars and Billy Corgan’s voice and vision. Few albums can hold a torch to it for me.
6. Offspring - Smash
When I was around 17, a guy who lived in my town as giving me lessons in playing the bass guitar. He made me a mix tape of songs he liked and that had good baselines that he would be teaching me. One of those songs was Offspring’s Self Esteem.
Like the Ramones, this album opened me up to a different style of punk from what I was used to: it wasn’t as sunny or bouncy or humorous as Green Day’s, and it was a long was from the Ramone’s surf punk sound. There was a darker humour and an anger behind it. It was a shame for me that nothing since this album quite lived up to it, the band seemed to favour the catchier, more frivolous songs, over the darker sound that made this album what it was.
7. Hole - Live Through This
SO many years ago that I don’t want to count them, I had a paper round delivering a local newspaper to subscribers in the local area. I wasn’t as dedicated to this role of a regional media distributor as I could have been, and remember distinctly dawdling from one house to the next — especially on warm summer nights.
On one particular night I was delivering papers when I heard a song playing from an open bedroom window. I couldn’t tell if it was a CD or if it was someone rehearsing with their band — but it turned out the band was Hole, and the song I heard was Rock Star, the final track on this album. I knew of Courtney Love by reputation at the time, and likewise Hole, but hadn’t been exposed to their music until that evening, and when I one day borrowed Live Through This from my local library I made the connection between the song I heard and this new band I was discovering.
Hole opened new doors for me to bands like Babes in Toyland, L7, the Distillers and Veruca Salt, and regardless of how this ‘grunge’ sound seems now, I still rate Hole above Nirvana, and owe more to this album.
8. Pearl Jam - Yield
I was a late bloomer with Pearl Jam — perhaps because I had missed the earlier part of their career, so when Silverchair burst onto the mid 90s music scene and were compared to a raw Pearl Jam, I was compelled to check them out. Except that the only Pearl Jam album I was able to get my hands on at the time was Vitalogy, and it sounded nothing like I had been hoping. A good friend lent me all of their albums, and while I liked albums like Ten and Vs (especially Vs) it wasn’t until the release of Yield that their influence on me was cemented.
I loved the album’s sound, of songs like Given To Fly (especially Given To Fly), Wishlist, Do The Evolution, Brain of J, Push Me Pull Me and after that I couldn’t quite listen to Silverchair any more. The richness of the music and the lyrics had almost blinded me to bands that felt in a way like inferior copies,
9. White Stripes - White Blood Cells
What I loved about the White Stripes sound with this album was how simple, and stripped down it was. Short songs, with often just Jack and Meg playing on them. It was simple, but it worked so well.
The band have gone on to release several other great albums, all quite different from the ones that have gone before them and with similar levels of brilliance — but this one stands out, with a more modest intensity.
10. Afghan Whigs - Black Love
Afghan Whigs were a band that came out of nowhere for me. I knew nothing of them, until a friend one day played this for me — and they remain a band like few others. Though Greg Dulli has gone on to greatness musically with other projects like Twilight Singers and Gutter Twins, this album marks a watershed for me.
The searing heat of the album’s sound is like a hot summer night, and it stood out from everything I knew. It wasn’t influenced by the Pixies, or by the Ramones, it was a soundtrack to a film noir project that was never written let alone made, and had more in common with rainy nights than it did with California sun.
There were so many albums and bands I could have included on this list, bands including Nirvana, Ash, Nine Inch Nails, Aerosmith and Our Lady Peace, artists like Julianna Hatfield and Ani di Franco, Iggy Pop and Miles Davis. They’ve all had their albums and their influences on me, but I think these are the 10 biggest influences.
"Always". That’s a sweeping generalisation, isn’t it? A song you can always relate to. I think a lot of the time our favourite songs are the songs that we relate to. But is there anything that we always relate to?
Sometimes in a song it’s just one line you relate to. Like with the White Stripes The Air Near My Fingers: “Don’t you remember, you told me in December that a boy is not a man until he makes a stand/I’m not a genius but maybe you’ll remember this I never said I ever wanted to be a man”.
There was a time when a song I could always relate to would have been Screeching Weasel’s Pretty Girls Don’t Talk To Me, and I guess we all have that awkward teenager phase.
Two songs that I relate to are the Dresden Dolls’ Girl Anachronism and Blind Melon’s No Rain, both songs contain mental health themes. Though I wouldn’t dare to equate my measly experiences with anything these wondrous songwriters, I can relate.
This is the biggest challenge yet: it’s been two days since my last post, and I still can’t think of a song that meets this criteria. I can’t think of any songs that almost meet this criteria.
I feel like I should be able to recite a whole list of songs, and then choose my favourite, but I really can’t think of any songs whose meanings for me change on repeated listens: or on every listen.
I’m going to have to cheat slightly, in that case: but it’s my blog, and I’ll cheat if I want to. Instead, I give you songs I like whose meanings have been misunderstood widely, or by me specifically, and songs whose meaning still eludes me.
Another Girl, Another Planet by the Only Ones is a fantastic and catchy song — about how great drugs are. It’s so upbeat and seemingly romantic, with the repeated line I think I’m on another world with you, but it’s about heroin. Listen to it again and lines like “you always play to win/but I won’t need rehabilitating” become clear.
On a similar note is the Undertones Teenage Kicks — similar time, similar catchy punk tune, and similarly misunderstood. It sounds like love, but it’s about masturbating — largely thanks to the change of line from “wanna hold it tight” to “hold her tight”. It’s easy to be confused.
On the subject of opaque songs is Radiohead’s Black Star. While there are probably numerous interpretations/explanations on the internet of the song, I’ve never sought them out — so while it remains a beautiful, soaring song, I remain unsure of its meaning. I’ve discussed with friends over the years the meaning of lines like “I get home from work and you’re still standing in your dressing gown”, and the most obvious conclusion one can draw is that it’s about being a long way from home and the person the protagonist loves. This would make sense with the references to the “satellite that beams me home” and the “58 hours since that I last slept with you” in the lyrics: but I’m not wholly convinced. If anyone knows for sure, I’d be glad to hear it.
But I promised a song whose meaning I misunderstood. While the main…thrust of Meat Loaf’s Paradise By Dashboard Light is quite clear, there is one part that aged around 11 went completely over my head: the mid-song interlude with the baseball game. On the surface, that the couple in the car had the radio playing, it was obvious enough but the events of the game, the commentary of the game were completely lost on me. So: not a song that has new meaning every time I listen to it, but rather a song whose full meaning wasn’t completely clear to me for many years after first listen.
The wording of today’s challenge is important. It’s not “a sad song” or “a song that makes me sad”, but instead “a song that reminds you of something sad”.
There are many songs that I like and are also heartbreakingly sad.
A wrenchingly sad, but often misunderstood, song that I’m a big fan of is the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black. I uphold (probably because I read it, somewhere, once) that the song is about bereavement, rather than anything Satanic. The “black” of the song is for mourning, the line of funeral cars painted black. What sounds murderous in “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness goes” is about grief.
While we’re on the subject of grief and sad songs, Stereophonics have a great example on their first album. Local Boy in the Photograph: about a young man hit by a train, and how when the pier is repainted each year, it reminds them of their friend’s death. It’s a powerful song.
Moving away from songs about death is Bob Dylan’s epic masterpiece of storytelling Tangled Up In Blue, where the very title suggests sadness. While the song is “multi-dimensional”, in that it doesn’t stay in one time or place, it’s about the protagonist’s love and loss of a woman — starting with her married to someone else, and he tries to help her “out of a jam” but uses “a little too much force”.
To come back in where I started: I’m not choosing “a sad song” but a song that reminds me of something sad.
Love Boat Captain, by Pearl Jam, is a beautiful song and it feels sad musically, and openly through the lyrics. In the song, Eddie Vedder includes the line “Lost 9 friends we’ll never know… 2 years ago today.”, a direct reference to the tragedy at the Roskilde music festival when nine people were killed during Pearl Jam’s set. The band stopped playing Peal Jam perform the song live, Vedder changes the lyrics to reflect how many years have passed since the festival.
Aside from Roskilde, the song addresses pain and sadness — with lyrics like “the young, they can lose hope cause they can’t see beyond today”, but it’s also about love, referencing the Beatles “I know it’s already been sung, can’t be said enough/Love is all you need, all you need is love”.
A song that makes me laugh should be easy to find. After all, I’m a big fan of Flight of the Conchords and I could choose from so many of their great songs, such as the Pet Shop Boys parody Inner City Pressure, or the wonderful Bret, You’ve Got It Going On.
But the trouble is, choosing a musical comedy act for today’s prompt feels a little bit like a cop-out.
I mentioned in a previous post my love of Terrorvision and the sense of humour in their music: but it’s rarely a laugh out loud kind of humour. Like the song Josephine, about a guy who finds his old friend Joe is now Josephine (ending with the line “although I lost old Joe, yo, I got a new girlfriend…”), Friends and Family — that for an entire tour they announced was the new theme tune to the sitcom “Friends”, which is especially funny since the chorus goes simply “Party over here, fuck you over there”.
Then there’s politically charged songs that are wryly amusing: like Sonic Boom Six’s song about racism and Xenophobia Monkey See, Monkey Do with biting lyrics like “You think that immigrants all hang around in mobs outside your workplaces and wait to steal your jobs”, or The King Blues’ Save The World, Get The Girl and the immortal line “Going to war to prevent war was the most stupid thing I ever heard”.
However, the song that I am choosing is by Arctic Monkeys. While I loved their first album, I distinctly cooled towards the band for a while, before coming back around to really enjoying their recent material — it’s a different sound from their early work, a little more mature, but also still sometimes amusing. Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High has got to make you smile, if only a little.
But if you want proper humour, you go back to the first album. Songs like Mardy Bum (“I’ve seen your frown and it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun”), and When The Sun Goes Down (“Bet she’s delighted when she sees him/Pulling in and giving her the eye/Because she must be fucking freezing”) are great both musically and lyrically, with catchy hooks and a cheeky English sense of humour.
My favourite song from the album, and a song that always makes me laugh, is Fake Tales of San Francisco. The band’s dig at the indie scene, with local musicians trying to look the part and act the part with their Trilby hats and glasses of white wine…
Being immature, as you probably guessed from Terrorvision’s Friends and Family earlier, I can’t help but like some irreverent swearing dropped in to a song, so the song’s line “‘You saved me’ she screams down the line/’the band were fucking wank and I’m not having a nice time’” always gets a laugh.
The best part of the song is how this terrible Yorkshire band are pretending to be from the USA. As the song goes: “He talks of San Francisco he’s from Hunter’s Bar” and “Yeah, I’d love to tell you all my problem/You’re not from New York City you’re from Rotherham”.
Oh, and as they on the radio here in Australia: language warning. But you probably think that’s a little bit “too little, too late” for this blog post.
There’s not many songs that you can say clear your head.
To be honest, I don’t often want my head cleared when I listen to music. I want my head filled with ideas and inspiration. I want dreams and stories and conflicts. I want sweeping symphonies and majestic melodies.
But I get it. Sometimes there is already too much going on in your head, you can be wound up or stressed out and just need…space.
There was a time when I was more limited in the scope of my musical appreciation than I am today. That isn’t to say that today I appreciate music of all genres and artists across the board, just that it was once even more limited than it is now.
While still not entirely converted, there was a time when I would have said that jazz was nothing but when you push a Blues quartet down a long flight of stairs.
Had you asked me, I would have told you that no one listens to jazz, and the only people jazz was for was science teachers and the mentally ill.
But I came around, with the help of one album. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is an all-time classic album, from one of the greatest jazz musicians ever. For me, when I need some clear sky in my head, this is the album I turn to and “So What” is the song I choose.
When you love music passionately, wholly, and unreservedly it can be difficult to choose simply a song that makes you “happy”.
And then you start thinking about it, and it seems like merely “happy” is quite a simplistic emotion.
There’s songs that break your heart, songs that make you nostalgic, songs that remind you of that one particular summer of your teenage years, but just “happy”?
For several years, Terrorvision were my favourite band — with catchy hooks and rock riffs and a great sense of humour. There are so many songs (or entire albums) by them that I could probably bring up.
Then there’s any number of great punk bands whose songs make me happy The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, The Filaments, the Sex Pistols…and the alternative rock legends like Our Lady Peace, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins…
This is even without mentioning The Pixies.
But out of left field, wholly unexpectedly, comes the Californian surf pop band Best Coast.
I first heard of Best Coast when dour Scottish band Frightened Rabbit covered their song Only Place for Australian radio station Triple J’s “Like a Version” slot.
This is my choice for a song that makes me happy, because it reminds me of my new home on Australia’s west coast. In the words of Best Coast “We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we’ve got the waves…why would you live anywhere else?”