Entertainment Friday, 05/15/20
I recently received one of those challenges you get on Facebook: Name 10 Influential Music Albums. I accepted the challenge, but it took me a while to post because I had such a hard time narrowing my list to ten. I decided to limit myself from birth through my senior year in high school, 1959–1977. In the end, I only went as late as 1973.
What better way to end the week than with a review of some of the great music produced during this time period. Here’s my list, reordered from my original posts to go in chronological order of release (with one exception). Note the emphasis is on influential, not favorite.
#1. Peter, Paul and Mary — Peter, Paul and Mary — 1961.
The beginning. For me, the songs on this album are pre-memory. My mom played and sang to this record constantly. My affinity for every folk artist who I heard after leads back to them. I did not know until now that the group was formed by audition. Lucky us it was such good casting!
#2. Sounds of Silence — Simon and Garfunkel — 1969
“Hello Darkness, My Old Friend…” What the heck does a kid 10 years old know about befriending darkness and being a rock? And yet…
I knew every word to every song. Peter Paul and Mary with an edge.
By the way, if you haven’t heard Disturbed’s version of the title track, it’s definitely worth a listen.
#3. Jesus Christ, Superstar — 1970.
Musically and culturally this was a huge deal since my father was a minister. My grandmother got this for him for Christmas 1970 when it first came out in stores because she worked at the Penn bookstore.
And yes, I knew every word, plus the harmonies.
#4. Let It Be — The Beatles — 1970
I was 11 years old when this record came out. And they broke up! It was a HUUUUUGE deal. I hated Yoko Ono for years. But I was now of an age where I started to explore the rest of the Beatles catalogue. Abby Road. Magical Mystery Tour. I buried Paul…
#5. Harvest — Neil Young — 1971
The first album I owned personally. It was the top-selling album of that year. Guest artists include the London Symphony Orchestra on two tracks and vocals by David Crosby, Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Stephen Stills, and James Taylor.
Old Man and Heart of Gold are the hits from this one. The Needle and the Damage Done is the dark one. Another one where I still know the entire album by heart. 90% of my entire guitar playing repertoire can be found in albums 1, 2, and 4… Lol.
#6. Tommy — The Who — 1972
My musical tastes expanded with this album. I heard excepts on the radio, but mostly at Eastern Hills Mall in suburban Buffalo, NY from the record store where they were playing it non-stop. I was drawn like a magnet every time I heard a selection. It was a huge purchase.
But Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie freaked me out and it was a while before I could return to it. Then I played it to death. As an aside, my middle school music teacher Dr. Clair had us listen to and study the album, with the word “rape” crossed out. The things we remember.
I keep mentioning the dark parts of these albums because I was a pretty naive child and hadn’t yet wrestled with darkness. I just knew I was both drawn to and repelled by it.
I made a no-repeat on bands policy, which means Who’s Next and Quadrophenia got left out, which is a little painful. But always going with the first I was exposed to.
#7. Layla and other love songs — Derek and the Dominos — 1970 (heard in ’73)
This is the one I listed in order of when I heard it (1973), not when it was released three years earlier. I was introduced to this album by a hippie cook on an organic farm where we lived that summer (an entire story there), who referred to Eric Clapton as G0d. And then there was this guy named Duane Allman. I leaned much later about the musical “competition” between Clapton and Allman while making this record. It crackles.
Perhaps my greatest musical influence given where it led. From here I discovered Cream and the group of British guitarists playing blues/rock. That led me to the original blues musicians, some of who I got to see when I went to college outside of Chicago. And then back out again.
As an aside, one of my peak concert experiences was seeing Muddy Waters open for Eric Clapton in the Buffalo Aud in 1979. Muddy was dancing across the stage by the end of his set and Clapton shredded the roof off the place. Later that same week I saw the Pat Metheny Group at Buffalo’s Tralfamadore Cafe and wrapped it up with the Allman Brothers Band in Niagara Falls. Talk about a memorable week!
#8. Houses of the Holy — Led Zeppelin — 1973
Of course, this wasn’t my introduction to Led Zeppelin. It was just the first of their albums I owned. I remember getting it around the same as Billy Joel’s Piano Man. Even at the time, I was struck by my increasingly eclectic tastes. Piano Man was a nice album and I liked to sing along. But THIS continued opening up my perspective to new directions in music and made me a lifelong fan, especially the more I explored their roots.
Two Led Zeppelin asides.
- Stairway to Heaven was one of the few so-called slow dances consistently played at every school dance. My question then, as now: “Who decided this was a good song for a slow dance?!?” It has what must be the most awkward mid-song change in slow dance history. Add awkward pre-teens and teens just learning to dance in contact with the other gender, and you have a recipe for an awkwardness disaster. Ok, finally got THAT off my chest. Who’s with me?
- On a completely different note, under the category Great Memories from Parenthood, comes this. My son Ethan comes rushing home from Middle School one day SO excited.
“Dad, wait till you hear this amazing band I just discovered! I think you’ll really like them.”
“Super. What’s their name?”
“Led Zeppelin. Isn’t that a cool name!?”
“Yeah. But, ummm, Ethan?”
“Guess the name of the band I discovered when I was just about your age?”
“Led Zeppelin. The same Led Zeppelin.”
You’ve never seen a face so crest-fallen. I assured him he had great taste and it shouldn’t stop him from treating them as a new band FOR HIM. But I had to chuckle to myself afterwards about how, for our kids, the world began when they were born. Anything earlier than that is ancient history.
To his credit, he didn’t hold it against me and has introduced me to plenty of bands I HAVEN’T heard of since.
#9. Dark Side of the Moon — Pink Floyd — 1973
There isn’t a whole lot to say here. Clichés become clichés for a reason. I, like many of my cohort were BLOWN AWAY by this album.
It might be worth mentioning at this point that when we reached senior year in high school, the national Class of 77 tested the highest for drug use in the history of the University Michigan annual study, which they’ve been doing since 1975. A coincidence, I’m sure…
I would have picked Wish You Were Here, but gotta stick with the first as I’ve done all along.
#10. Yessongs — Yes — 1973
This triple live album is a way of cheating, I suppose, as it keeps me from having to choose a single Yes album. But as a proud “YesFreak” it is also appropriate. It’s also my final choice. Please indulge me.
The Yes of this period includes singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and drummer Alan White, who replaced Bill Bruford on all but three tracks (Bruford went on to join King Crimsom and tour with Genesis before eventually rejoining Yes).
Wakeman was the one who took the band to a new level after original keyboardist Tony Kaye was fired (though he rejoined the band 1982–94). Wakeman was a classically trained pianist and noted studio musician, with credits including T. Rex, David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Elton John. Squire commented Wakeman could play “a grand piano for three bars, a Mellotron for two bars and a Moog for the next one absolutely spot on” which gave Yes “orchestral and choral textures that befitted their new material.”
It was the merger of rock and roll, classical training and sensibilities, poetry and electronics that drew me to Yes. The band’s art by Roger Dean and elaborate stage and light shows completed the picture. Their music is the soundtrack to a certain strand of my mid-high school to early college experiences. There is no more fitting album to finish off my list.
I had a much better time doing this than I anticipated. Though I intended to go to 1977, I only ended up making it to 1973! I’ll have to do another list of 1974–1981 sometime (high school through college) that would expand into classical and jazz.
Here are a few records that didn’t make my list despite being worthy entrants.
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars — David Bowie — 1972 — The ONLY reason this album isn’t on my list is because I didn’t actually hear it until later. Otherwise, Bowie is a major influence. There isn’t a false step or a bad song on this record, and it sounds as fresh today as ever.
- Eat A Peach — Allman Brothers Band — 1972: Before there was any other southern rock, there were the Allman Brothers. Last album before Duane died. Includes “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” “Melissa,” “Mountain Jam” (live from Filmore East) “One Way Out,” “Little Martha.”
- Selling England by the Pound — Genesis (with Peter Gabriel) — 1973: It was difficult not to pick this album, because after I heard it I went back and bought, then practically wore out, everything Genesis had done up till that point. I then followed everything Peter Gabriel did for the rest of his career. If this was a list of most influential musicians, he would definitely be on it. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway also deserves mention.
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — Elton John — 1973: I don’t know what more to say other than that this is one of the best albums ever recorded in terms of the quality of each song: “Candle in the Wind,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”