Tuesday, February 17, 2009

15 rock albums that shaped my taste over the years (part I)

I often think about the scene in "High Fidelity" where John Cusack's character, Rob, explains to Dick his new organizational scheme for his record collection: autobiographical. I have no desire to organize my entire collection in this way, nor can I think of how, given that it's mostly in digital form. But I am posting here the next best thing: a list of 15 albums, arranged chronologically in terms of my awareness of them, that shook up my music taste when I first heard them. (FYI: This is not my list of 15 favorite albums of all time. That will come sometime between "later" and "never.")

1. U2 - Joshua Tree
I'm pretty sure this is the first complete album I ever consciously listened to in its entirety. I was about four, and I fell completely in love with "With or Without You," which my four-year-old brain was somehow convinced was sung by the bearded dude on the cover (not Bono). It's funny to think that my long and twisted journey into rock music fandom started with a band that, in retrospect, was already nearing the end of its serious musical relevance, yet is still producing "hit" records that I would never in a million years pay money for. Nevertheless, Joshua Tree's anthem-rock odes to the American West will always hold a special place in my heart. 

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
This was the first CD I ever owned. I'm pretty proud of that. A lot of people I know wouldn't want anyone to know what their first CD was, but I stand by mine 100%. I asked for the album for my 10th(-ish?) birthday from a group of friends, one of whom chided me that I had poor music taste. Ha, if only he could hear what I listen to nowadays. Coincidentally, the Chili Peppers were also at what I now consider the end of their creative relevance with this album, and they too continued to make mainstream "hits" that I would never buy. But this album was and still is fantastic. It was right at the crossing point between their spastic funk and chilled out alternative periods, a phase I wish would've lasted longer.

3. Weezer - Weezer (Blue)
I'm starting to notice a trend here. The first four albums on this list are all by artists who have gone majorly downhill in recent years, yet have the mainstream backing that allows them to sell out stadium shows with ease. Weezer's self-titled debut (the first of three self-titled albums... jerks!) was a staple of my middle-school post-grunge alternative diet. I was a little too young and perhaps not yet angry enough to fully appreciate grunge when it first came out. Bands like Weezer, Beck, Green Day, Blur, and Oasis dominated my interest in those formative years. The Blue album remains in my top ten(-ish?) albums of life to this day, and has one of my favorite songs of all time too, "Say it Ain't So." Also, on a personal note, in 7th grade, when I was dating Elain Szu, "our song" was "Buddy Holly." 

4. Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming
I had a long love affair with DMB from late middle school until early college. It'd be easy for me to say that I'm embarassed of this period, since I don't really like them anymore, but I will not. In my defense, this was before the days of downloading music, and the rock music on the radio in the late 90s was a steady stream of garbage (Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20, Blink 182). During this dark period of mostly boy-bands and bling-bling hip-hop, DMB's fun, mellow songs were the best of what was around. Appropriately, the opening track on this album was called, "The Best of What's Around." Anyway, even though I no longer consider myself a fan, I still contend that DMB's first three studio albums were all pretty good, including this one, which had their first big hits, "What Would You Say?" and "Ants Marching." Also, interestingly enough, the second (and final) time I dated Elain Szu, in 8th grade, "our song" was "Satellite."

5. Dispatch - Bang Bang
This one is sort of cheating, because I never listened to Dispatch songs in album form, and had to Google their discography just now to figure out which album I should put on here. Why? Because to me, Dispatch = Napster. My freshman year of college coincided with the peak of illegal downloading on Napster. Dispatch was one of the bands that benefited the most (at least in terms of fame) from Napster, because their popularity spread like this: friend > AOL Instant Messenger > me > Napster > CD Burner > Discman. Yes, the process has been streamlined in the last decade, but this band, and specifically songs like "The General" on this album, were the prototype for peer-to-peer music sharing over the internet. Their jammy songs were pretty good too. Yes, they lacked depth, but back in the early aughts, we weren't looking for complexity. We were looking for things that were free. When the RIAA took Napster to court, Dispatch held a benefit concert for the cause, attended by Napster founder Shawn Fanning, in his ironic Metallica hat. I met the band at that gig at the 9:30 Club, and then I was one of 110,000 people to attend a free reunion/farewell concert in Boston a few years later.

Stay tuned for Parts II and III in the coming days.

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