Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Sh-Boom to Super Rock:
10 LP's that made an impact on me

On Facebook I recently complied a list of the ten albums that have impacted me the most. I've gathered them here, and added some links. Unsurprisingly, most date to my adolescence and teen years, that period when music gets in and stays, soundtracking a day or a summer and telling you stories you haven't caught up with yet. Next week this list would likely change, but it's all variations on a theme, isn't it?

1.) 20 Years Of Rock 'N' Roll (1973)
I'm going way back for number one, a no-brainer and among the earliest albums I remember falling in love with. I'm not quite sure how this compilation ended up in the Bonomo rec room, but I spun it to death for many years. I was a kid when it came out, and I can't understate the effect that the album's epic blend of doo wop, girl group, rock and roll, R&B, AM pop, garage, soul, and gospel had on me. I also recognize now that this album hugely influenced my lifelong definition of rock and roll: that is, something that transcends the tyranny of taxonomy, labels be damned! I can't claim that as a kid I understood the darker currents and complex emotions underneath the irresistible, radio-friendly surfaces of some these songs, especially on sides three and four, yet everything got in me and has permanently stayed there, soundtracking my adolescence, and articulating much of what I didn't yet understand, a veritable life's education in 30 songs. To go from "Sh-Boom" to "Super Fly" in one afternoon was quite a trip!

2.) 20 Rockin' Originals! (1973)

I'm sticking with cut-rate comps for my second of the 10 albums that have most impacted me. The "two platters" of this Pickwick bargain bin album were in high rotation in the family rec room when I was a kid, and like the Dick Clark comp, the songs spanned styles, eras, and grooves, Fats Domino and The Big Bopper to Dusty Springfield and Ray Stevens (!). I was semi-convinced that the woman on the cover was actually Loretta Switt from M*A*S*H*, gone undercover. The irresistible blend of street doo wop, pre-Beatles radio pop, rockabilly, and the hangover-vibe of the Champs' "Too Much Tequila" was as much of an education and a head trip for me as any album I fell I love with as a kid. Formative, too. Points docked for including the tracks Jerry Lee Lewis re-recorded for Smash, but when bottom-line Pickwick was in charge, you couldn't have it all!

At one point, one of my older brothers dropped the record and chipped off a piece—photographic evidence below—rendering two Bill Haley cuts forever unplayable, but, hell, they were easy enough to find!
3. Beatles For Sale (1964)

I'm cheating a bit here, as I, like most Americans in the 70s, didn't own Beatles For Sale but rather Beatles '65 and Beatles VI, between which the tracks from Beatles For Sale were divided. But no matter the source, the opening triumvirate of "No Reply," "I'm A Loser," and "Baby's In Black" is not only my favorite sequence on any Beatles record, but are three of my favorite Beatles songs, period. As a kid down in the basement, listening to this album for the first time, I felt the ceiling lift, and possibilities expand exponentially. Knowing that the harmonies on the chorus of "Baby's In Black" were going to come back later in the song was my first experience of Joyful Return in pop music. Like most Beatles albums, the pleasures of this album—which was written on the fly, knocked out during a grueling touring schedule, and covers-heavy—never wane, and renew themselves year after year.

This is also my favorite Beatle album cover, though Rubber Soul is a close second.

4.) Soul Men (1967)

One day when I was 12 or 13 I was bumming around at a garage sale in suburban Maryland, eyeing the Mack Bolan paperbacks and (surreptitiously) vintage Playboy's when this album, sitting in a crate below the table, caught my attention. I was instantly taken with these two cool-looking dudes in their sharp tailored suits striking righteous poses; the mod avocado-green graphics sealed the deal. I bought the album for a quarter, brought it home, and it's safe to say this scratchy introduction to the brilliance of Sam Moore and David Prater, the Stax Sound, and the ensemble playing of the MGs utterly changed my life. I can't say that I understood all of the moods and emotions and ideas that these two men sang so searingly and beautifully about, but I somehow understood anyway, so transcendent was their singing and performances. It remains one of my all time favorite albums, eleven songs of desperation and redemption sung and played with poise and grace, somehow both rough and tender. And it rocks and grooves like little else.

These days, I'm taking to heart "A Rich Kind of Poverty" and, especially, "The Good Runs The Bad Away," hoping, believing, that in this crisis that's as true a notion as Sam & Dave and their band make it feel.

5.) "Live" Full House (1972)
This is one of the first albums I bought with my own money, at long-gone Backstreet Records in Wheaton, Maryland. Today it sounds as righteously smoking and as dangerously fun as it did to teenage me. Recorded terrifically, this is a master class in live album sequencing, the breather that is the incendiary cover of "Serves You Right to Suffer" the only pause in the party. I could've included on this list several live albums that I dug in my teen tears, but this one has held up the best, and it's an album that I return to often, and that, top to bottom, delivers every listen. During this current crisis we're in, listening to the roar of an elated, packed house and a band at their peak primed to send them all night is, well, bittersweet beyond measure.

6.) L.A.M.F. (1977)

Sometimes you hear a record for the first time at just the right time: I have vivid memories of tooling around suburban Washington D.C. in the mid-80s with my buddies Steve and Bill in Steve's enormous '75 Pontiac Gran Ville Brougham as this album cranked from the boom box in the back seat. L.A.M.F. remains a sublime rock and roll album to my ears, still fresh and reckless-sounding decades on. Despite, or because of, the dysfunctions plaguing the band members before, during, and after the recording of the album, the songs are propelled with purpose and a desperate urgency, all grins and hooks and decadence. Only later would I learn about the strife and the darkness of addiction that the album evokes, and scored. This '84 remix was the first version of the album I heard, and remains my favorite; subsequent mixes watered things down to my ears. Here's to great riding-albums! I know you've got yours.

7.) The Records (1979)
In compiling a list like this, I necessarily discard three contenders for every album I select, yet I keep coming back to those records that got in me and stayed there. To wit: the Records' remarkable debut (pictured here is my original, a U.S. pressing in all of its promo glory), which I listened to endlessly after discovering it via "Starry Eyes" on WHFS 102.3 FM in Bethesda, MD when I was a teenager. A near-perfect blend of pop hooks, memorable melodies, dry humor, heart-sending harmonies, and slashing guitars, the album ruined me for most power pop that followed it (and much that came before it!). Along with REM's first two albums and The Best of Booker T. & The MGs, I have vivid memories of this album on permanent rotation in the mid-80s as I drove around campus of University of Maryland, in and about Maryland and Washington D.C., visiting my girlfriend, riding with buddies, or, more often, just aimlessly on my own, Will Burch and John Wicks' amazing songs leading the way.

8.) The Beat (1979)
This gem is one of the few rock and roll albums I own that I consider virtually perfect: songs, sound, and attitude. The stirring riffs, anthemic choruses, chiming, slashing guitars, and rocking power pop blend of amped joy and minor-note melancholy never fails to send me. Paul Collins recently remarked, "Kids still want to bust loose, they still want to have fun and jump up and down and let themselves go wild. They also love to sing and dance and we all want to fall in love and be in love and have love in our lives… Rock n’ roll can still save you. You just have to look harder for it now." If you've been fortunate to see Collins and his band(s) of late, then you know that he still can plug into the spirited songs and sound of this legendary album forty years after its release.

9.) Sound Affects (1980)
This is my favorite Jam album, and I feel it's their best, though I know many like-minded friends who argue passionately for Setting Sons or All Mod Cons, both great records that I also dig. What I love about this album is its elemental, stripped-down approach: relative to the mouthfuls on the previous two albums, the lyrics are practically epigrammatic, sketched in ("That's Entertainment" excepted!) and the music is, for the most part, similarly bare and unadorned, yet all of it's typically thoughtful and righteously rocking. Like sonic flares, songs come in bursts on this record, which also feels the most "live" of any Jam recording. I return to it often, and have for decades, and it never fails to move me, literally and figuratively.

10.) Hexbreaker! (1983)
I've written about this band at length, so to paraphrase Peter Zaremba, saying more would be not only superfluous, but unnecessary. Viva Super Rock!

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