Sigur Ros – Staralfur
(warning: the following post is enormous. feel free to eat a little now and save the rest for leftovers tomorrow. it’ll still hold up well in the morning)
So I’ve been inspired by a couple of different friends to do a musical top five. They both took different approaches to the topic, so of course, I’m going to do the same. What I have before you is My Life In Music. It just may be more aptly titled, though, My Life With Music. What I’m laying out is a time line of sorts into my own musical exploration. From the first record that really made an impact on my life to the most recent album that has completely stolen me away, here are the Top Five*** Most Influential Albums of My Life.
***really…you think I’d only be able to do five? of course not…instead I did five different stages of my life and did two albums at each stop. leave it to me to break the rules
Beatles – Please Please Me (1963) / My Father would put this on at 7am on a Saturday morning and blast thru his whole Beatles collection. That’s enough as it is right? No way. He’d get out his bass guitar (that was the same kind that Paul McCartney played (of course)) and play along with the album. So now I know every bass line to every early Beatles song. Thanks Pops. More importantly, though, My Dad gave me a love for music. Good music at that. I thank him for laying down this foundation. “Love Me Do” was the first song I ever played with my Dad on guitar.
Chicago – Chicago IX – Chicago’s Greatest Hits (1975) / Same as above…but with Chicago songs. My older sister even got her middle name from a member of this band, Terry Kath. She is Jami Kath Harrison and has, throughout her whole life, had to explain that it’s not Kathy…it’s Kath. The songs “25 or 6 to 4”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “Colour My World”, and “Saturday in the Park” all rocked my young ears.
honorable mention – “Lion King” soundtrack / I know every song. Probably shouldn’t have written that out…
MUSICAL EARLY CHILDHOOD
Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind (1997) / After living off the success of my Dad’s music, I finally found an album that was my own. “Semi-Charmed Life”, “Jumper”, “How’s It Gonna Be”, “God of Wine” all found significant rotation in my giant boom box. In fact, I’m not sure that CD would still play if I could ever find it. Oh…and I could still sing all of “Semi-Charmed Life” to you right now if you asked. Seriously…
Dave Matthews Band – Live at the Red Rocks (1997) / In 7th grade, I’d wake up and watch VH1 every morning before school. DMB’s “Crash” video came on all the time…and it terrified me. In 8th grade, I moved to North Little Rock and found out that every single person in this town LOVED this band. As a result of peer pressure, I became infatuated. It was like developing a taste for a good vegetable you didn’t like before. Tasty. The acoustic double album with Tim Reynolds may have gotten more play from me, but nothing beats this Dave-and the Band-at-their-best live album from God’s Country…Colorado.
honorable mention – Counting Crows – Live Across the Wire / simply put: the best live 2-disc compilation…ever.
Radiohead – Pablo Honey (1993) / I am proud to say, there was no peer pressure here. I walked into CD Warehouse, looked around for a bit, and stumbled across this old used album on sale. I put it in the little listening station and spent the next hour glued to my seat. I remember having a soccer roadtrip that same weekend. In between games and at night I’d go lock myself away with my discman and saturate in the smartest, coolest music I’d ever heard. I’ve listened to a lot of Radiohead since, but nothing compares to this one. “Creep” is the popular choice here…but “Stop Whispering” and “Thinking About You” are the two gems.
Coldplay – Parachutes (2000) / I owe great gratitude for this album and the one that follows to a friend of mine named Josh Carr. His younger brother Justin was my best friend and Josh was constantly giving us new albums to listen to and check out. He handed us Parachutes way before “Yellow” ever hit the airwaves and took the country by storm. I remember listening to it for the first time and thinking, “This is the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard…but I think I love it.” Coldplay became what I’d always wanted Radiohead to be again (though they never were): smart, catchy, sincere, heartfelt, penetrating. This album would really open up the door for me to a lot of new bands. It really began a new Brit-Pop revolution. From Doves and Starsailor to Athlete and Elbow…all of it goes back to Coldplay.
honorable mention – Ben Harper – Live from Mars / 2nd best 2-disc live compilation ever. Also…fantastic for driving at day and night.
THE MUSICAL COLLEGE YEARS
Sigur Ros – Ágætis Byrjun (1999) / Right before college, Josh handed us this Sigur Ros album in the church parking lot. Music without real, tangible words. What in the world was this? I’ve never experienced anything before or since that captured the sound of something so heavenly and celesstial and transcendent yet completely grounded in the greatest sounds we could ever create here on Earth. More worshipful than nearly every worship album I’ve ever listened to (though Anthony Skinner’s Forever and a Day certainly comes close). And the music videos? Other bands should simply quit trying. Seriously, watch both of those and tell me you’ve seen something that even compares. This is the only thing that even remotely comes close. “Staralfur” is probably what you’re listening to right now. As you can imagine, all of these songs fit great in films.
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) / Just like Pablo Honey, I stumbled across this one on my own and have never been the same because of it. I immediately knew I’d found my new favorite band. Others have come and gone since, but no one gets me quite like Wilco. They knew me better than I knew myself. While the rest of my friends were falling for Springsteen and Young and Dylan, I was a little late to that party. This album filled that hole for me. In fact, this album was my first real album to fall in love with. There are great songs, but none of them are great without the ones around them. It’s one of those you listen to all the way through.
honorable mention – About a Boy soundtrack – Badly Drawn Boy / Best one-man soundtrack. Jeff Tweedy’s score for Chelsea Walls and Eddie Vedder’s work on Into the Wild both come ever-so-close.
Bon Iver – For Emma Forever Ago (2008) / For a year and a half after college, I lived in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. I completely gave up searching and exploring new music. Shortly after moving back home, though, a dear friend of mine enlightened me to greatness. In fact, this time last year we were the few in the crowd going to see this brilliant up-and-coming star at a local music venue in town. The rest of my friends showed up right as he ended to see the next band…missing the greatest opening act I’d ever seen. So great in fact that we decided to leave after he finished. How could you top that? Bon Iver lit that old fire in my heart and thus began my newfound joy (obsession?) in searching down the greatest music I can. This was easily the best album of 2008. Every song on this album is great. Every one.
J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues ( 2008) / What Bon Iver did for me for listening to music…J. Tillman did for me for actually playing music. I heard something familar in him that spoke to me as a songwriter. Listening to this man make simple music inspired me to begin writing again on my own. It doesn’t hurt that everytime he’s on in my car somebody asks if it’s actually me singing. We apparently have similar voices. Maybe I was just needing to sing to myself all along. “Steel on Steel” may have been my favorite song of all of last year. “Labourless Land” is great too.
recent honorable mention(s) – Avett Brothers, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Fleet Foxes, Joe Purdy, M. Ward, Mumford & Sons, the National, Vampire Weekend / check em out when you get a chance
So that’s it. These may not be the best albums I’ve ever listened to, but they are all certainly the most impactful. They were my roadmaps and guidebooks for what was now and what was next. Make your own top 5. Or, do like me, and make your own top 10 (while also including a whole bunch of honorable mentions because you couldn’t leave someone out). The list isn’t inclusive, it’s instructive. It simply pushes you on to keep seeking and keep searching…