Sunday, February 15, 2009

15 Albums That Changed My Life

All right, I got this from Gail over there at The Worley Gig, who got it from one of those lists floating around on Facebook. I was unaware of that one, but Skunk Gal has a hysterical response to the 25 Things You Don't Know About Me, which is so popular it was even featured on The Today Show this morning.

I've yet felt compelled to fill that one out, but the 15 Albums seemed like fun. Gail contends that her list doesn't contain anything from beyond 1987 because of a dearth of kick-ass music. I'd argue that it's not the music's fault. We just generally feel things more strongly in our youth. For example, close your eyes, think back to that crush you had back in eighth grade, how you would just die! if you weren't together forever. Now, open your eyes, turn around ... Where are they?

So, I won't claim that my 15 Albums are the greatest of all-time, or even the ones I think are the greatest. However, these albums all represent something important to me--even if I don't listen to them now. I hope you enjoy and feel free to add your two cents.

1. Prince -- 1999

My Uncle Rodney got me hooked on Prince at a very early age. My Uncle Rodney surprised me with a surprise ticket to my first concert, 1999, and I got to go with him, my cousin, and my cousin's best friend, who I had a huge crush on. A few years ago, when my uncle lay dying in a drug-induced semi-coma in the ICU, I put one bud in my ear and another in his ear and played 1999 for him. That was the last time I saw my Uncle Rodney alive.

2. Prince -- Purple Rain

While Prince is my favorite artist and "When Doves Cry" is my favorite Prince song, Purple Rain isn't even my second favorite Prince album. Despite that, at one time, I took the success of this album so personally, you'd have thought I was getting royalties. You can read this old post, Prince and Eye to find out why.

3. X-Clan -- To the East Blackwards

Yes, I, too, loved Brother J Funkin' Lesson and Professor X, The Overseer, sisssssyyyyyyy!!! While I don't think X-Clan was the most innovative group of the period (though the one with the best mythology), I credit them for getting my young, angry ass to look into vodou, santeria, obeah, and other Africanist religions, which really influenced my first novel. I gotta give credit where credit's due.

4. Various Artists (but mostly the Bee Gees) -- Saturday Night Fever [OST]

Steve Miller's "The Joker," "The Theme from S.W.A.T." and "Welcome Back" (from Welcome Back, Kotter) were my first 45s, and this soundtrack, bought when I was a mere 7-years-old, started my music addiction that has not been slaked to this day.

5. LL Cool J -- Radio

Most people forget the early days of hip-hop when even black radio wouldn't play rap music. In a lot of cities at the time, they were violently opposed to the music. And I, being young and bougie, fell into their classtrap. LL brought me out of my delusion. I've been a hip-hop head ever since. I still blame him for the horrendous concept of the "rap ballad" (after all, who remembers MC Shan's "Left Me Lonely"?), but LL was the man.

6. John Coltrane -- Giant Steps

Back in high school when I wanted to hear more jazz, I bought this album, My Favorite Things, and Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners. But this is the album I kept coming back to. This is the one that gave me my life-long love of jazz.

7. Public Enemy -- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

I think before this album came out, I was just a peeved, young black man.

8. Fela -- Original Sufferhead

It's hard to believe with all my pro-black, pan-Africanist militancy back in the day, it took me until I was 25 before I discovered Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti. Of course, it's totally believable that it was an older white guy from Alabama who made the introduction. Supremely funky, militantly outspoken, Wole Soyinka's cousin, Fela's everything I love in an artist--no matter the medium.

9. Ice Cube -- Death Certificate

Face it, nothing beats Cube's children's movies, but, not only was O'Shea at the top of his game and on top of the world, Death Certificate perfectly encapsulated the rage we were feeling after the Rodney King beating.

10. R.E.M. -- Document

All right, this is a weird one because Document marks more of a negation than any of my other picks. Because of MTV's racial policies of the time, I was more into rock than I'd ever been before or since. So, in the mid-80s, I was really into R.E.M., U2, The Police, Talking Heads, Kate Bush, Tears for Fear. But in '87 I got BET, and it was pretty much over for rock. Document's the last rock album I'd buy for almost 20 years.

11. Billy Eckstine -- Everything I Have Is Yours: The Best of the M-G-M Years

Being from Pittsburgh, I'd heard homeboy Eckstine's name all the time. So, in college while I was a jazz DJ for the radio station, I dubbed this album and became addicted to him and "corny" jazz vocals. So, by day, I'd pump Digital Underground, but at night, I'd while away the time with Billy and Sarah.

12. Wu-Tang Clan -- Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

After spending almost a year in the Czech Republic, I was pretty much out of sorts. I'd missed African-Americans, our culture, our music, everything, and I missed all the food options America can offer. Of course, with all that stuff now available, I was suffering culture shock like you wouldn't believe and didn't know exactly where I belonged in this world. Then I heard one little word spelled out, and I knew I was, indeed, where I belonged. "M-E-T-H-O-D."

13. D'Angelo -- Voodoo

This album made it OK to love (R&B) again. I thought D'Angelo had firmly established himself as the ruler of R&B and that he'd ushered in a new day for the stale genre. Boy, I was wrong on both counts. But that's all right, this was a great album.

14. Jazzanova -- The Remixes 1997-2000

I hadn't really been into electronic music since I'd left Chicago's House-plagued land after college. Then I got a hold of this two-disc set, and I really went ape-shit. I ended up being an electronica critic for BPM and for years and did something I was always loathe to do: go to clubs (generally to review and/or interview DJs--but still).

15. The Slits -- Cut

A few years back, I was contemplating writing a coming-of-age book set in the '80s. It was to concentrate mostly on hip-hop, but, for background, I picked up the great Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds. Because I liked their names, I first checked out The Slits. God, I love these women. I totally got into Post-Punk (Devo, Gang of Four, ESG, A Certain Ratio, Pere Ubu, James Chance, Young Marble Giants, the list goes on and on). Soon thereafter, I got into the White Stripes, Coheed and Cambria, and a whole bunch of other rock. After some 20 years, I like rock, and it all starts with the Slits.


nunya said...

Take a wild guess at which one of those CD's (albums) I owned?

I cannot comment on most of the music that so influenced you.

Alissa said...

interesting list. my dad got me into jimi hendrix at a young age by trying to convince me that he sounded just like prince.

Reina Williams Productions said...

i knew prince would be on the top of your list.

Grant said...

I hadn't thought about it but Saturday Night Fever might be on my list too. How Deep Is Your Love takes me right back to my 2nd grade crushes. I've listened to 1999 and Purple Rain more times than I'll ever know, but the one that really changed my life was Around the World in A Day. Giant Steps will change anyone's life if they give it a chance, though Kind of Blue and Shorter's Speak No Evil got to me first.

Gail Pink said...

Hey Bill, Thanks for the name check and the link! I agree that we are affected more in a "Life Changing" way in our youth...and I had reached my 15 albums by 1987 (I was in my mid-twenties at that time). Your list is very interesting and quite inspired! Thanks for sharing,

Gail x

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

i need to add Funkadelic- ALL
Gil; Scott Heron - ALL
Bob Marley - All

boukman70 said...


I think I have a clue, but I refuse to make a guess. I don't want to piss off anyone in the liberal blogosphere. Sarah Palin told me you guys are dangerous. :)


Your father's a genius. Do you think I could sucker kids into listening to Jimi by telling them he sounds just like Ne-Yo?


Yes, I'm in Prince's key demographic. So, leave it to me to be typical.


(And please don't shoot) I don't think I've ever listened to Speak No Evil. But if Kind of Blue would've reached me first, it would definitely be on this list instead.




There were some albums that I was absolutely astounded didn't make it on this list and under different criteria they definitely would have (I mean no Curtis Mayfield, '70s Stevie or Marvin, no Tribe!!!). But I only had 15 to work with. All three of those are really important to me--especially Bob. And you know what I'm saying when I confess that "Your Daddy Loves You" puts tears in my eyes every time.

Karen said...

Yes, LL did create the rap ballad and it was f---in genius, dude. Often imitated...never duplicated. Glad u came out of your bougie haze to recognize. Great list.