As I look back at many of the posts I have made here, it suddenly occurred to me that music has really made a profound effect on my life. Except for a brief time in Junior High and High School when I played the bass, I am not really musically inclined as far as an instrument. To be painfully honest, I stunk. But music overall has such an effect on people, and I find as I write, many of my memories somehow hook back to what music I was listening to at the time. This is something the advertising world has known forever, and why jingles were created in the first place. Music creates memories, and these types of memories stay with us much longer because of the association to the music. But where does our musical taste come from?
As we grow older our music preference is defined by many factors. I have always considered my musical taste to be quite eclectic. But to figure out where it developed, I have to look to my youth and what influences created in my mind what I consider good music. Of course there are the obvious choices of the media, both television and radio. Certainly Molly’s preference for Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift were driven by what she sees and hears on the boob tube, but she also has a fondness for the song Surrender by Cheap Trick because I have played it so many times it has become a favorite of hers too.
So to answer this question for myself, I have come up with another Top Ten list, but this one is a little different. It was also quite difficult, because these are not necessarily my favorite, but what I feel had the most effect on developing my musical taste as it is today. I have come up with the Top Ten Albums from my youth, that had the biggest effect on creating my current musical appreciation. Since I was most interested in what music influenced me before I started on my own musical journey, I reduced the choices to only music that was produced before I entered high school, so nothing before 1979 has been included. Also, the music had to be contained in an Album format. Not just a single song or a 45. (Note to readers: If you don’t know what a 45 is, please keep it to yourself. I feel old enough just mentioning that I entered high school over 30 years ago.)
Top Ten Albums Responsible for My Musical Taste
10 – Grease – Movie Soundtrack – 1978
In the early summer of 1978, I went on my very first “date”. She was an older woman, I was only an eighth grader and she would be entering high school in the fall. Her name was Cindy, and we would meet up at the Wheaton pool or downtown, and this “date” if you could call it one was to The Wheaton Theater to see Grease. The reason I reluctantly call it a “date” is because we were accompanied by her church youth group and a couple of chaperons, but I guess in those days it was about as close to a “date” as a couple of kids from Wheaton were going to get. It was also an interesting choice for a youth group, and the discussion afterwords was quite interesting also. But the movie and the soundtrack became a big hit, and the double record set was played over and over again in our house, even after it became scratchy and skipped. Although my younger sisters Marney and Amy probably never saw the film in its original release, the creation of the VHS recorder brought in right into our home for years to come. The movie and soundtrack album had quite the cultural effect on an entire generation, and for good or bad, it probably has a place on many peoples list.
9 – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel – 1970
This was one of the albums my mom and dad had in that old stereo cabinet in the basement. Besides the title song, the album also contained Keep the Customer Satisfied, The Boxer, and one of my favorites, Cecilia. Although it was widely reported that the duo fought constantly while producing the album, the production is almost flawless. But there was one added item that puts this recording on my list, and that was a live recording of the Everly Brothers hit Bye Bye, Love. For me, it was this live track that set the stage for my appreciation of live concert recordings. Over the years, I have owned several Live Albums and have a great admiration for the art of playing in front of a live audience, something I was never able to accomplish on my own. But thanks to the wonderful world of karaoke, I can be seen belting out a few tunes every now and then.
8 – The Partridge Family Album – The Partridge Family – 1970
Ok, so we all know, The Partridge Family didn’t really perform on this album. Yes, David Cassidy and Shirley Jones provided vocals, but all of the music and most of the harmony singing was done by studio musicians who got little if any credit. But in this case it was not so much the music as the whole package that was being provided. Basically, The Partridge Family was today’s Hannah Montana. We actually had two different Partridge Family records in our house, but this album with I Think I Love You and I Can Feel Your Heartbeat was the one I listened to more. We also had several other teen heart-throb albums like Donny Osmond, Andy Gibb, and Bobby Sherman, but they didn’t have the same overall effect, although if I were choosing single songs, I Just Want to be Your Everything might have made the cut.
7 – Never Mind the Bollocks – Sex Pistols – 1977
I have to admit that this one is a bit of a cheat. I never owned this album, but what I did have was an orange cassette tape that Jimmy Schmitz recorded for me from his older brothers record collection. It did include all the great recordings off this album like God Save the Queen, Anarchy in the U.K., and E.M.I., but it also had several tracks from other Sex Pistols recordings like the cover version of the Eddie Cochran classic C’mon Everybody from the soundtrack to The Great Rock N Roll Swindle and the Sid Vicious covers of My Way and Something Else. That little cassette with its poor quality recording got a lot of playtime though, and was often heard in my old college apartment. I have a feeling if I looked around in some of those boxes in the basement that haven’t been opened in years, that little orange cassette might still be around.
6 – You Get What You Play For – REO Speedwagon – 1977
In the years before REO Speedwagon became pop rock superstars with such hits as Keep On Loving You and Can’t Fight This Feeling they were actually a kick ass rock band. This was a live double record set, and it included some of the biggest hits you would never hear on the radio, although they did get some airplay on WLUP. The album included Keep Pushin’, 157 Riverside Avenue, Golden Country, and their biggest hit at that time, Ridin’ the Storm Out. It wasn’t until 1978 that the band had its first real taste of mainstream success with the album You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish which spawned two moderate hits with Time for Me to Fly and Roll with the Changes. But it was the 1980 mega hit album Hi Infidelity that skyrocketed REO Speedwagon to the top of the charts. Unfortunately, by that time I had stopped listening to them, but I would still break out this album every now and then.
5 – Lights Out – UFO – 1977
I really don’t recall where this album came from, I believe I borrowed it from a friend and never returned it. It had to have been from Rob or Darren. They were two of the condo-kids I hung around with and got in trouble with every now and then. It was my introduction to heavy metal, but as history tells us, I backed the wrong horse in this race. Michael Schenker was only 18 when he joined UFO after a brief stint with his brother’s band The Scorpions. He spoke no English, but musically they hit it off right from the start. The album Lights Out was the hight of the bands American success, managing to peak at number 23 on the album chart, but it failed to produce any hit singles. I also owned the bands 1979 live album Strangers in the Night, but since I bought that album while in high school I excluded it from the list. For me, the highlight of this album was the last track, Love to Love. The song ran almost eight minutes, but it was worth every second of it.
4 – Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon – 1978
In a past post, I have already spoke of my fondness for Warren Zevon. This is the album that started that fascination, and I still own a CD copy today. There is not a song on this album I don’t like. Roland the Headless Thomson Gunner, Lawyers, Guns and Money, Accidentally Like a Martyr, and of course Werewolves of London just to name a few. This was my older sister Carrie’s record, but it somehow just kept finding it’s was to my room. I remember telling one of the older high school girls that worked with me at The Popcorn Store that I liked Warren Zevon, and she was very impressed with my adult taste in music. I don’t rember her name, but she was even older than Cindy. I guess I had quite a way with the older women. A bit of an excitable boy myself.
3 – Jesus Christ Superstar – Original Cast Recording – 1970
In the case of Jesus Christ Superstar, the recording came before the broadway production, and it was a hit. Much darker than the other gospel inspired musical of the same time Godspell, it followed the struggles between Judas and Jesus leading right up to the crucifixion. Even at a young age, I was not all that religious, but the music and lyrics of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were breathtaking. Murray Head’s rendition of Heaven on Their Minds still gives me goosebumps when I hear it, and Yvonne Elliman’s vocals on I Don’t Know How to Love Him can only be described as classic. This album alone is probably most responsible for the path I took through college and my pursuit of the theatre. Things did not turn out like I had hoped so long ago, but if anything could bring me out of theatre retirement it would be the chance to perform King Herod’s Song in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
2 – Pearl – Janis Joplin – 1971
Another album that I managed to snag from my mom and dads stereo cabinet, I remember thinking my parents were not this cool. They must have picked this up by mistake. At a very young age, it quickly became one of my favorites. At the time I was unaware of the circumstances behind Janis Joplin, or that she had died of a heroin overdose before this album was even released. I only knew she was a cool looking chick and she sang like nothing I had ever heard before. Mercedes-Benz, Cry Baby, and Get it While You Can are some of the greatest bluesy recordings I have ever heard, and do I even need to mention Me and Bobby McGee. I have passed my amazement of Janis’ talent onto my kids. Stephanie had heard so much of her music, that one year she decided she wanted to be Janis Joplin for Halloween. She was by far, the coolest kid on the block that year.
1 – Infinity – Journey – 1978
This album makes the number one spot for one reason. It is the first album I ever bought on my own. A trip downtown to The Flip Side with a little of that paper route money, and my life with music had just begun. Similar to REO Speedwagon, Journey was an unknown rock band before Steve Perry turned the band into a more pop friendly force in the early eighties. But this record was pure rock-n-roll and had production values ahead of its time. A hit on the FM band and most notably WLUP in Chicago, the complex layers in the tracks made the songs too complex to be enjoyed on the pop dominated AM radio. This album was my coming of age. It opened the door to other great albums of the time like Heaven Tonight by Cheap Trick and London Calling by The Clash.
Bonus Track – The Age of Aquarius – The 5th Dimension – 1969
As I was putting this list together, I so wanted to include this album, but it really was just a one hit wonder for me. Or should I say two hits in one song. Of course I am talking about the undeniable hit Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. What I didn’t know back then was that the songs that I was so drawn to were lifted right from another musical, this time the hippy inspired rock musical Hair. But it was Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. that made this version so great to listen to. Another of my parents lost stereo cabinet classics, this album did get listened to quite a bit down in the basement.