Think of 10 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. When you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it.
1. Jimi Hendrix – Soundtrack to the Movie Jimi Hendrix.
I first saw Jimi Hendrix on the cover of a magazine at a 7-11 in Van Nuys, Ca. I was fifteen. He was wearing a soldiers jacket, a fluffy cravat, and an orange afro. He was on his knees tearing the strings off of a guitar. He was the only black man I had ever seen who looked as weird as I felt. . I immediately took a bus down Sherman Way to a record store and purchased the longest-looking Jimi Hendrix tape I could afford from the discount bin. It was a rare and random soundtrack to an early 70’s documentary about his life. The first song I listened to was “The Star-Spangled Banner” live at Woodstock cause it was the only one whose title I recognized. It was loud, noisy, and weird. I listened to it until the tape broke in my walkman three years later.
2. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation.
The now deceased Roland Harrah, III was my intro to Sonic Youth. Along with Paul Mulbrecht, Dan Hadley and myself, he ran with a clique of indie noise-pop, listening, Marlboro smoking teens known briefly as G-Money 5000. (this, of course, predated the 80’s comeback of 2005-2009. Yeah, that was us. ). Roland frequently had a zero painted on his hand. I asked him why. His answer. “Teenage Riot, Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth” I had no idea what this collection of words meant, but they certainly sounded cool, so I copped the album. Two noisy guitars, some white kids who couldn’t sing and a chic playing bass. But yet tight, and free, direct, and nonstop. I didn’t know you could do that. It made me feel stunned, amazed, and horny.
3. Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew- Oh, My God!
In those early, pre-”Beastie Boys” and “Walk This Way” days, rap was truly the most bizarre, fresh, and creative music America had. It’s just that black kids under the age of 15 and living in ghettos were the only ones who knew about it. I’m proud that I was part of this exclusive group, and this album was the denouement of my membership. This little known, and never re-released recording is probably one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. It had the remix of “The Show” which was the first song to rock that shaker beat that went on to be the foundation of the brilliant “Bedtime Story”, (and that Montell Jordan went on to defile in the South Central fingerwave anthem “This is How We Do It) It also featured a super young MC RIcky D, who we would all come to know later as Slick Rick. My brother had this joint on vinyl and every time I heard it, I felt like I was literally traveling to another world, one where the Inspector Gadget theme was fresh, kids made drums with their mouths. and the bloodlines of rap, from Jamaica, to Brixton, to The Bronx was very clear.
4. NWA-Straight Outta Compton
There is probably no black resident of Los Angeles resident currently between the ages of 33 and 40, who would not list this album. All that gun-toting, gat busting, benz-riding nonsense that pollutes radio today truly began with this album. But these guys weren’t trying to look good. They were just a couple of broke-as-hell extremely angry kids from a destroyed city, basically asking…”what are these clowns on the radio talking about? That’s not how life is!” So they responded with “Fuck The Police”, the inimitable “Dopeman” (it’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality) and “Express Yourself” (“I’m expressin’ with my full capabilities, and now I’m livin’ in correctional facilities”) It was the first album to talk about gangbanging, guns, and police brutality, and the first to use the word “Fuck” in the hook of a song. Damn! And who can forget the Yo’ MTV Raps episode when they tried to roll on location with NWA in Compton, and the hosts and crew were visibly shook? Eazy E was wearing a bullet-proof vest and toting a Glock, for Crissakes! On television!!! No one had ever seen any shit like that before. Most of America didn’t know how bad crack and all it’s effects were until NWA painted an inspired and frighteningly clear picture. Embedded journalists in America’s war on itself. Three years before the L.A. riots, they literally predicted it. Five years later, Eazy E died of AIDS. How hood is that? When brilliant artists come from dire circumstances, they make real shit real. Like it or not, NWA is one of the most important acts in American music.
5. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things.
I first heard this tape on the RTD 187 down Ventura Blvd. By one minute into Coltrane’s second solo, I was literally crying. On the bus. A teenage boy. I had never heard someone put so much meaning into notes. This fool was actually trying to explain all the fear, joy, suffering, hope, and violence of the world with his horn. For years, every single piece of music I wrote, I tried to jam into the swelling 3/4 that Trane, Tyner, Garrison, and Jones fucking OWNED on those early Coltrane quartet records. It was just like hearing Jimi Hendrix solo on Machine Gun…a genius of pain at one with his insturment.
6. The Wailers – Catch A Fire.
I believe that The Wailers are the single greatest popular music band that has ever lived. There is no bad Bob Marley, just as there is no bad sunrise. But “Catch A Fire” was, for me, that sunrise you remember on your deathbed. I spent the Christmas season of 1996 in a freezing loft in Bushwick. My only companions were a Vinod Lande, a freezer full of homegrown and this album. I think you know where this is going. I just remember being in my room, listening to the funk backbeat, haunting harmonies and creeping clavichord of “We Don’t Need No More Trouble” and realizing that Bob Marley was as close to Jesus as my life would ever come. This was their major label debut. Bob Marley didn’t even have dreads yet. Think about that.
7. The Jackson’s – Greatest Hits by K-Tel Records.
The reservoir in McKeesport, PA, the rusty steel town where I was born, was prone to bacteria infestations called giardiasis. About twice a year, we’d have to boil water before it was safe to consume. During one such outbreak, I asked my cynical aunt to explain what a bacteria was. She said “It’s a dirty creature that lives off of a another hardworking creature. Like K-Tel Records does to Michael Jackson.” Her bitterness was always refreshing.
I used my collection of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars not only to stage high-stakes death races, but also to act out musicals to the libretto provided by this tape. I found it challenging to sculpt a plot for a musical in which every song was a love song.
I used to clean my room to this record every saturday. It took me the whole day because I was such a space cadet. The journey from day to dusk, from messy to clean was the journey from the beginning of the tape to the end- the journey of Michael from young and sweet (ABC, Candy Girl) to deep and sexy, (Dancing Machine, Body Language). By the time the sky outside had turned dark and orange, and Michael’s voice had become deep and hairy, I always felt lonely, tired, and a little sad. In this way, you could say I grew up with Michael Jackson.
8. Miles Davis- Bitches Brew
There are about seven Miles Davis albums I could mention here, with Live Evil and Kind of Blue jockeying for the number two spot, but Bitches Brew wins out simply because it used to scare me shitless. When roomie and fellow music worshipper Ed Feldman used to play it soft on vinyl while we went to sleep after a night of jazz and weed, I used to actually have visions of Satan sliding into my bed. I can’t say I liked that feeling, but I certainly admired Miles for making it possible.
9. Parliament – Mothership Connection.
Once again, an album who’s impact on me is wrapped up in an L.A. bus memory. I bought this on the record store at Hollywood and Highland in about 1991, on the encouragement of Martin Deeb, the most inspirational freak I knew at the time. I caught the bus from Van Nuys because buying a Parliament record seemed like a Hollywood thing to do. ( this was the old, pre disney, pre performing arts center hollywood. The funky, deadly Hollywood). After listening to this tape for three days (!) I cut my own hair into a bizzare semi-dreaded hightop, and took to wearing checkered pants and a trenchcoat sliced at the waist, with sharpie graffiti on the arms. And, of course, Black Chucks. In short, I was INSTANTLY funked out. And for the first time in my life, I felt fully equipped to deal with the world.
10. The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
“It’s 4 am, I got the Hossenfeffer Ale.
I got nothin’ to lose, so I’m pissin’ on the 3rd rail”
Anyone who knows me knows that I truly feel like I either lived, or should have lived, in New York in the 1970’s. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s watching The Warriors when I was but seven years old, or sitting alone on a Sunday with “Dog Day Afternoon” while my uncle dozed on the couch, but for some reason I’ve always felt like my true soul is that of a skinny Puerto Rican kid with a huge afro sitting on a stoop drinking Coke from a bottle and whistling at the foxy ladies.
Paul’s Boutique is a poetic homage to Koch-era New York. It was released in 1989, right before that New York died at the hands of Guiliani. The Beasties essentially predicted that the 90's would be clean and corporate in the city, and made a brilliant swan song to the, murder-a-day, junkie-packed, prostitute-filled, graffiti-stained, piss-soaked city of liberty.
We knew from their debut that the Beastie Boys were poetic genius, capable of creating character, setting, and mood with the fewest of random images:
“My pistol is loaded, I shot Betty Crocker
Delivered Colonel Sanders down to Davy Jones locker”
But as with many second albums by legitimate talents, Paul’s Boutique unified it all in service of one vision, and was more complete, by far, than License to Ill. From the albums very first lyric:
“Now I’ll rock a house party at the drop of a hat
and I’ll beat a biter down with an aluminum bat”
to the very last:
“I live in The Village, wherever I go I walk to,
and I keep my friends around so I have someone to talk to”
…the album is about growing up in and growing out of New York City. It’s filled with hundreds of samples and pop references to Steve McQueen, Dolemite, Putney Swope, Bernard Goetz, Ironsides, Kool and the Gang, Red Lobster, Saturday Night Fever, Orange Julius, Tower of Power, Mad Magazine, Rolos, Ballin’ Jack…I can’t even contain myself. And the style is sample after sample after sample, with the beat almost as an afterthought, culminating in the final track: the seven-minute B-Boy Bouillabaisse- nine different mini-songs about life and death, alcohol, drugs and sex in Manhattan, that fly nonstop and incomplete from your speakers like trash from a passing cab.
It was the soundtrack to my freshman year in New York City. Definitely, in my opinion, the Beastie Boys best album, and if you chose to call it hip-hop (which can somewhat be debated) it’s one of the best albums in the genre of all time.
The Doors-Greatest Hits. ( I know, I know. I’m just being honest)
Because Los Angeles is a dark, mysterious and beautiful place.
The unrefined work of a seventeen year old genius
The Roots – Things Fall Apart
The problem with The Roots is that they make you realize how much the hip hop you thought was good, actually was not.
Fishbone – Truth and Soul
The exact combination of hope, nihilism, immediacy and distance I felt as a car-less black teenager in The Valley
Joni Mitchell – Blue
When my father-in-law died alone in an apartment in Burbank, this CD was left.
Bad Brains – Live
Black Rasta Punks from D.C, is that clear enough?
Thelonious Monk – Solo Monk
Stride Piano on acid against an irridescent blue sky, the wind blowing his silk scarf towards the rear of the bi-plane, this is Monk on a solo mission.
Nina Simone – Pastel Blues
This is what record you would listen to if the rivers actually turned to fire.
Muddy Waters – The Gold Collection
This is the only music I've ever heard that required absolutely no explanation.
Ray Charles – Anthology
When I was a kid, I always thought Ray Charles looked like a sausage. He sings like three-day brined, marinated pulled pork.