Several days ago, a friend posted that Facebook chestnut: “List 12 albums in no particular order that made a lasting impression on you, not the ones you listen to all the time but the ones that rocked your world when you first heard them. Only 1 per band/artist. Don’t take long and don’t think hard.”
I was too lazy to do it then, but on this quiet afternoon, seems like as good a time as any to dig into my memory and see what appears:
“A Collection of Beatles Oldies,” the Beatles: Aside from a K-Tel album, the first LP I ever owned. It was a Christmas gift, I think. I was 7 and I loved the Beatles. Now I’m 51 and I still love the Beatles.
“Something Else by the Kinks,” the Kinks: I played this every day of October 1981. I don’t even recall why. It was raucous and soothing at the same time: “David Watts” and “Waterloo Sunset.”
“Nuggets,” Various Artists: Emory College Bowl captain Stan Keen had the best (and most expansive) musical tastes of anybody I knew. (He was definitely the first person I ever knew to mention the Javanese gamelan.) He very kindly shared many of his albums for me to tape. This one comes to mind because I spent a gorgeous early February day — the kind of Atlanta day when winter breaks for a week of springlike temperatures, prompting the young women of Emory to head out to “Dobbs Beach” to work on their tans — condensing this into a mixtape. Yes, that’s what I did.
“Utopia Parkway,” Fountains of Wayne: In a different world, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood would have a string of No. 1 records, and Limp Bizkit would have scrounged for club dates.
“Ingenue,” k.d. lang: Gorgeous and heartbreaking.
“The Royal Albert Hall Concert,” Bob Dylan: I could put a half-dozen Dylan albums on this list, but it took me awhile to get into “Blonde on Blonde” and I didn’t even own “Blood on the Tracks” until I was in my 30s. But this carried a whiff of the illicit: a bootleg, on a cheap cassette, I picked up at the French Market in New Orleans. For years, these were the only versions of “One Too Many Mornings” and “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” I knew. (And it wasn’t until years later, when it came out on CD, that I found out there was a whole set of acoustic songs.)
“Forever Changes,” Love: Another Stan Keen education.
“This Year’s Model,” Elvis Costello: Tighter and faster than “My Aim Is True,” not as lyrically dense as “Armed Forces.” My gateway Elvis.
“Bellybutton,” Jellyfish: The early-’90s version of “All Over the Place” and “Utopia Parkway.” Why is it that the power pop I loved never got beyond college radio? (Yeah, the Bangles had a Top 40 career, but not of the quality of “All Over the Place.”)
“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye: So this is what they were talking about. Somehow, hearing “What’s Going On” and “Inner City Blues” in context made them hit harder than they did as singles on the radio.
Hmm. I’m obviously no Stan Keen; this is a pretty vanilla list, one that seems taken directly from recommendations in the first two editions of “The Rolling Stone Record Guide.” (Even the albums that came out well after that book would fit right in.)
But that’s the thing: These are (mostly) the acorns that grew the tree of my musical tastes (how’s that for a tortured metaphor?). Without the Beatles I never would have investigated the Bonzo Dog Band (Paul McCartney produced their biggest hit); without “Nuggets,” I wouldn’t have paid as much attention to one-hit wonders.
Moreover, it’s been said by people smarter than me that music rarely hits you harder than it does in your teens and 20s. I was a voracious reader of the “Record Guide,” not to mention every other book put out by Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and their contemporaries. With no older brother showing the way, and a taste for the more melodic side of rock ‘n’ roll (ya know, maybe I should finally give “Another Green World” a chance), this was what was new and exciting, especially when the radio was full of Journey and Toto.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to listen to “Paperback Writer” again.