About a year ago, I went through the aging hipster phase known as Buying A Record Player, in my case a relatively sleek one from Pro-Ject Audio. Yes, I am one of those people who fights for analog (thanks, David Sax!) on a daily basis. Music can and should be art, not just entertainment. Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last.
I’m also a dad to a 12-year old boy who thinks a great deal about Star Wars, PlayStation and Lego, but is also starting to become aware of Springsteen, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin (thanks, Sirius XM in the car!). He’s currently on a school camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park and is learning some U2 songs on the ukulele.
So this Medium post is my attempt to catch him at the crossroads, and leave him with a reference to the 10 albums that mean(t) the most to his dear old man, back when he himself was finding his own rhythm. The music that mattered to me then and hopefully still does now, all sounding imperfectly better on vinyl, of course.
Of course, these are subjective, and for kicks, I asked some friends what they would include. But in the end, any list like this is very personal and biased by design. Disagree with my selections? That’s maybe the point.
Here they are, about in the order that I first heard them:
1 — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: I may be old now, but this album was released even before me. The whole thing feels like an orchestral kaleidoscope, a musical journey, a mixtape of dreams that shaped the idea of a concept album. The opening title track makes my top 3 all-time Beatles tunes. When this trippy, unofficial movie adaptation came to television, it blew my mind (I think I thought the Bee Gees were the Beatles, and George Burns was Sgt. Pepper).
2 — Born in the U.S.A.: This was my first exposure to Bruce, and it was pure rock joy like I’d never heard before. I didn’t have a Blinded By The Light experience but Rochester, NY sure did feel like New Jersey at times. The record is still among his best, but more importantly, served as my reverse gateway to his older material (my favorite songs of his — Atlantic City, Born To Run, and Thunder Road — came years before).
3 — Synchronicity: The dawn of MTV and Every Breath You Take was that song you knew was sinister but still felt endearing when you didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics. Most of you kids out there forget that Sting was Sting, lead singer of The Police, long before he was Sting, solo artist and saver of rain forests. Check out this live rendition, and try not to clap along like Bruce.
4 — Graceland: This album was everywhere when it came out, and I still recall how much my Dad loved it, too. I was born in Zambia and the idea of these South African musicians taking center stage with Paul Simon seems, well, still crazy after all these years. Then again, so was making a video with Chevy Chase. Graceland had another huge effect on me: it was the first time I really started exploring the importance of Elvis Presley. Also, Vampire Weekend wouldn’t exist without hearing this first.
5 — The Joshua Tree: 1987 and I was a sophomore in high school. I think this might have been my first CD, and I distinctly remember hearing Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and then With Or Without You in that order. No band has meant more to me, and their ongoing reinventions have been a template for how everyone, not just musicians, should push themselves in daring and sometimes ridiculous directions.
6 — Led Zeppelin II: If you haven’t read the “biography” Hammer of the Gods, pick up a copy. I’m not sure if half of it’s true, but it’s still my blueprint for rock ’n’ roll hedonism (wrecked hotel rooms, groupies, rumors of devil worship), and enough legend and lore to make you understand why there will never be another Led Zeppelin. Why their second album? One of the greatest love songs, Thank You, is on there. So is the massive Whole Lotta Love. But when I discovered that Ramble On was about the Lord of the Rings (“…in the darkest depths of Mordor!”), I knew I had found my music. Stranger Things might have made it ok for this current generation to play Dungeons & Dragons, but Robert Plant and Jimmy Page made it sound like some sort of substance-abusing Viking cult.
7 — Beggar’s Banquet: I think the cooler version of me would have put down Exile On Main Street, but this album starts with Sympathy For The Devil, my favorite all-time Stones song. It’s an epic, and I love that Mick Jagger supposedly read The Master and the Margarita before writing it. The album is gritty and Brian Jones is on it, a good reminder of the dark side of rock ’n’ roll excess (he drowned under shady circumstances, in 1969, a year later).
8 — Highway 61 Revisited: Bruce said it during Springsteen On Broadway, “When I first heard him I thought, “Man, that’s the toughest voice I ever heard.” What’s more to say; just like many of these other artists and bands on my list, Dylan has countless greatest hits and peculiar gems. This particular record, however, has Like A Rolling Stone opening it up, which is him at his finest snarl. There’s a punk attitude going on here, and hearing The Stones tear it up makes it even more timeless.
9 — Volume One: The Traveling Wilburys existed before the Internet, which I’m sure would have ruined the fun and mystery of this low-key masterpiece. You could tell this legendary “family”— Lucky Wilbury (a.k.a. Bob Dylan), Nelson Wilbury (George Harrison), Lefty Wilbury (Roy Orbison), Otis Wilbury (Jeff Lynne) and Charlie T. Jr. (Tom Petty) — were making magic without even trying. The album feels like a rambling road trip or lazy summer barbeque. Volume 3 was pretty solid too, but whatever happened to Volume 2??
10 — I struggled on this last one, that’s the trouble with these damn lists. I had thought about Being There by Wilco, the Ramones self-titled album, R.E.M.’s Document, Lou Reed’s New York, something from The Band or Neil Young. Then I realized I didn’t have any women on this list, let alone other genres besides dad-friendly rock, so I sort of gave up. As I said, I even turned to Facebook looking for answers… who really knows what’s missing, and maybe that’s the point.