Ten Influential Albums

Last week I was finally tagged in one of those items: “Post a _____ every day for _____ days, without comment.” In this case, it was “Post an influential album every day for ten days, then tag someone else.” Right off the bat, by the way, I’m not tagging anyone else. Anyone who wants to play is welcome to decide whether they want to play or not.

But I did post ten album covers with no commentary (at the time). Not because I really cared if anyone else understood anything about the albums, but because I wanted to see how I would react. What would be my criteria? And what if I wanted to post something that I wanted to defend or explain? I wanted to focus on my personal experience of choosing the albums.

Since it’s been a day since I finished, though, I’m going to provide commentary on my thought processes. First of all, “influential” doesn’t necessarily mean “favorite”. I was trying to choose ten albums that, taken as a collective and as part of a commentary (which I did not provide), would give a picture into who I am and where I came from. This is by no means a complete list of every album that influenced me; if I’d tried that, I’d’ve gone mad.

1. ABC’s “The Lexicon of Love”. This is indeed one of my favorite albums, which is part of why I started with it. It was one of the first albums I purchased for myself (in a batch that also included “Shuttered Room” later on this list). My older brother drove me and some other people to Sam’s Jams in Ferndale, driving a station wagon that he’d gotten from our father. Its headlights weren’t working, so we drove down Woodward with no headlights. So the album has memories attached. At the same time, this is a list, and ABC tells me the start of a list. So.

2. Suicidal Tendencies’s “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow…”. Mike Muir has several excellent songs that touch on depression in an honest way that’s rare enough for a man, let alone a heavy metal singer. The song “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today?” sums itself up in its title. ST isn’t even a genre I normally listen to: I first heard about them from their punk song “Institutionalized”, which appeared in the movie “Repo Man” but also got some MTV play. I wasn’t a fan of the rest of that debut album, but I did somehow follow them to the next album, which was a radical stylistic change.

3. Wall of Voodoo’s “Seven Days in Sammystown”. Musically, I preferred Andy Prieboy’s singing to Stan Ridgway’s. Ridgway is a much better story-teller, but I think “Seven Days in Sammystown” is stronger musically than “Call of the West”. It suffered in sales from fans screaming about the personnel change. Also, the lyrics of “Far Side of Crazy” speak to me; even Prieboy at the time seemed to realize that he was not going to be allowed to emerge out of Ridgway’s shadow under the Wall of Voodoo name. More than anything, this song feels like the underdog, the couldabeen, a victim of the way the creativity functions under capitalism.

4. Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet”. I bought this for “911 is a Joke” and “Burn Hollywood Burn”. I was a young White kid. I listened to it maybe twice, then put it on the shelf for years. Eventually, I matured into it, and have listened to it dozens of times in the last few years. It is a reminder to contrast who I am now with who I was then.

5. The Fixx’s “Shuttered Room”. Quite possibly my favorite album of all time, although I don’t listen to it much anymore. “Stand or Fall” is a rallying cry, although I fall personally more often than I stand.

6. Therapy?’s “Infernal Love”. Probably my favorite Therapy? album, made that much more so by the bad press it got. One review suggested that they’d made it to deliberately sabotage the brink of genius they were on with “Nurse”. Dark and brooding, it reflected who I was. Parts are hard to listen to now, particularly the violently misogynistic cover of “Diane”. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

7. Nine Inch Nails’s “Pretty Hate Machine”. This marked a major transition for me, from New Wave to industrial. Ministry’s “Twitch” might have been a better choice, in retrospect, but “Pretty Hate Machine” is better musically, so there.

8. Brand New’s “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me”. Musically, I think this is one of the strongest and most complex entries in my collection. It is seeped in feeling of remorse and alienation. It’s made that much more difficult by revelations that, around the time it was being recorded, the lead singer was seducing teenage fans; he’s admitted to two cases of underage sexual conduct. The title, allegedly about a friend with schizophrenia, also contains a self-referential element. Reflections on toxic masculinity from a sexual predator.

9. Bronski Beat’s “The Age of Consent”. This came out (I’ll leave the pun) when I was a teenager. I was struggling with my masculinity. I believed I was straight, and would have attacked anyone who had said otherwise (although I don’t think anyone ever did, where I could hear). I kindasorta knew about the LGBT themes in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (particularly the title track and “All the Young Girls Love Alice”), but other than that, homosexuality was some freakish thing that freakish men did. So “Small Town Boy” humanized gay men in a way that no song had yet done. It planted seeds that would take a few years to sprout in my brain.

10. Cheap Trick’s “All Shook Up”. One of the first albums I owned. I think I got it from my big brother because he didn’t want it, or because it was a spare copy. It’s dumb. It’s pop candy. It’s fun. The whole list couldn’t be serious and reflective.

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