Someone brought up the concept of influences which got me thinking. Mostly how the influences that carry the most weight occur when you’re in high school and college. After that, you’re not the blank slate you were at 15 years old and things you run across, while you may love to high heaven and backwards, don’t carry the massive influential weight of earlier stuff because you’ve already progressed along on your journey.
My influences nowadays are almost impossible to pin down because they’re literally hundreds of little tiny snippets from this and that. At 15 i listened to Pink Floyd The Wall every day for months and all i wanted in life was to grow up and get good enough to make something that would be as awesome.
Yet now, those great influences of youth are not so obvious. I was going to list the 10 most influential albums of my life, but i can’t do it. The big albums that made the most impact were stuff i listened to years ago and just don’t anymore. In the same way if i list my favorite albums of all time (which i’m about to), you’ll note most of them don’t sound anything like what i do.
However, i’m not going to list the big beginning influences. I’m going to list the 12 albums that have not only made a serious impact, but also stuck around. The ones that i have not only loved, but could still put in at any time and feel ecstasy. It’s not enough to have loved it obsessively as a teenager, it must be something i can still put in any time today. I’d also note, if you asked me to list my favorite albums of the past 5 years, or the past 10, none of these would be on it. These are the all time big ones.
12. Mercury Rev: Deserter’s Songs
The sound of me sitting at 1 AM smoking and thinking and feeling. The mood of this album is exquisite and nothing else quite touches it. It captures a feeling perfectly and i am a better person and musician for it.
11. Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run
Strangely, outside of the American Northeast where i was raised, i have to defend this album a surprising amount and always to people who have never listened to it but simply react to the name Bruce Springsteen, look at me funny and say “Born In The USA?” Seriously, it gets old. This is one of the greatest albums ever made, people. Listen to it. Also it’s one of the greatest lyrical albums ever made. I still aspire to these lyrics. I do not have time to list all the things i learned from this album, but a short overview goes: storytelling, melody, mood, power, lyrics and dynamics.
Don’t judge. Listen.
10. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I grew up in Pittsburgh. You know what they listen to in Pittsburgh? Shitloads of classic rock. They’re listening to it right now. I went back to visit after at least 5 years, probably more, this last Christmas. Lo and behold in every store on every street i walked into and on there was classic rock a playin’. It’s actually overkill. Insane overkill, but there you go. So guess what music i was raised on? Just, out of the blue give a guess. Yup. Classic rock.
Wilco is like a great classic rock album that’s been deconstructed and reassembled. I can’t describe it any other way. The songs are great, but the way they’re presented is what takes this album to the next level. The songs are deconstructed and reassembled. Anyway, this floored me the first time i heard it and still remains awesome.
9. Pink Floyd: The Final Cut
At the height of my Pink Floyd obsession in high school, The Wall and Dark Side were like holy scripture. After high school it was Animals. OH was it Animals. Wow, did i love me some Animals. But as time has gone by and by, it is not Animals i put on. It is not Dark Side (cause holy hell have i heard Dark Side.) I might once a decade pull out The Wall. Shockingly, the album that has stuck around the longest and gets picked up more throughout time then the others is The Final Cut. I know it should be one of the classic Floyd albums, but i’m telling you, it’s the Final Cut that wins the long term award. (The Wall would win most influential and it and Animals would tie for “Albums I’ve Most Obsessed Over At Some Point In My Life”). Also, lyrically, The Final Cut is beyond compare and i still aspire to write lyrics as good as are on this bloody album.
8. Frank Zappa: Joe’s Garage
See, the thing is, i still pull this out. Now, it DOES tell a story, although that story is kind of insane and definitely x-rated. And not x-rated in a way that’ll get you all frisky. The first 3rd is kind of funny, but as it progresses the music get longer and longer and more and more out there. Zappa used this ridiculous technique where he had the band jam but put in guitar solos he recorded from live concerts playing completely different songs. Insane stuff. And yet by the end, the crazy story is actually enormously moving and all the madness gives way into Watermelon In Easter Hay, and you feel like you have truly witnessed an epic unlike any other.
I didn’t necessarily want to post the entire 3 side album, i just wanted you to listen to the beginning Central Scrutinizer Intro and then the first real song Joe’s Garage (the first 9 minutes of music) but the only YouTube vid that had it is the entire damn thing.
7. Radiohead: OK Computer
This is what a perfect album sounds like.
6. Yes: Yessongs
Why try to pretend i wasn’t a little prog geek back in high school? I was. And this album just sums it all up. Grand orchestral rock. It might be pretentious as hell, it was what punk rebelled against BUT I LOVE IT. So suck it. There is a long orchestral opening (prerecorded and played over the band entering) which ends with band properly coming in at 2:45.
5. The Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame
If i had a dollar for every musician who runs across Mahavishnu Orchestra in college and proceed to shit themselves into a frenzy, i’d be a very, very rich man. And i am not immune. It was hard not to list the album Apocalypse as THE Mahavishnu Orchestra album, and really, i cannot describe the impact Apocalypse had on me. But i’m still going to go with Inner Mounting Flame here. I’ve pulled it out more over time, all things considered.
4. Tom Waits: Mule Variations
This one’s a toss up between Mule Variations and Small Change. Tom Waits is a god. I learned how to put clangy things in my music from him. I leanred percussion from the soundtrack to Passion, but i learned how to make it clangy from Tom. I also learned what the bottom of my soul sounded like.
3. Genesis: Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
We finally have an all time favorite album that actually IS a direct influence on my work. Although interestingly, this album attempts to tell a story and fails utterly and completely. I mean, no one listens to this for the story. it nice that there’s sort of a story there, or supposed to be, but really, who can follow it and who cares?
Of all the classic progressive rock i used to listen to, Genesis still stay. It’s a toss up between this and Selling England By The Pound, but i’m gonna go with this one, because why not. Even if it is 3 songs too long.
2. Miles Davis Bitches Brew
This album changed how i listen to music. I realize it is not for everybody, but to me it is indescribably awesome. It taught me how to relax just go with the groove while appreciating the controlled chaos that keeps the groove from becoming boring. I just LOVE the sound. It creates a new sound. It doesn’t sound like jazz, it’s doesn’t sound like rock.. it’s such a unique sound. I can still listen to this album any time, anywhere.
1. Phish A Live One
I’m a massive Phish phan. Truth is, they’re my favorite band of all time. I can discuss various shows from various eras in detail and go into minutea of different jams of the same song in different concerts. Just trust me, i dork the hell out over them. Interestingly, they have almost no perceptible influence in my work. I did try some years ago to incorporate aspects of their jamming, but i failed so miserably i gave up and never worried about it again.
I think it’s like this: when i’m working on a project or preparing for the next one, i’m always listening to stuff around me to see if there’s an idea i can use, i thought other works will spark. With listening to a Phish jam, i don’t bother doing that. I’m off work for once. I just listen to enjoy and not for some ulterior motive.
I would point out that this band is known for improvisation. They start with a song of theirs and after going through the verse and choruses then set off into a long emotional improvisation. This right here is as good as music gets: