Monday, March 2, 2009

Oh, for the love of vinyl...

I enjoyed my friend Tim Sheehan's "Tim's Really Important Albums" so much on Facebook that I thought I'd borrow the idea and toss a few out myself. Because of the failure of my friend Gary and his"Paraquat-Testing Kit" from 1977, I can't remember exact "ages" as Tim can. But, I do remember the albums. Boy, do I remember the albums. (I also remember keeping them in multiple "cantaloupe crates". (Peaches Records in Cleveland used to charge an arm-and-a-leg for these, but I could get 'em for free at the grocery market!)

Not to be an old "fuddy-duddy" (if I truly were, I probably wouldn't be on Facebook) but I have yet to find any download, iPod selection, streaming audio, or plastic-wrapped CD that would equal the feel, sound, and smell of a fresh vinyl disc unfurled from its paper-sleeve and placed on the turn-table. Tuesday was my favorite day of the week, every other week. Payday. It was absolutely automatic that at the end of my shift at the grocery market, I would jump into my 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass and make a beeline straight to the greatest record store there ever was or ever will be: the Quonset Hut in Canton, Ohio. It had an upstairs and a downstairs. When you entered upstairs, you could have your pick of incense, bongs, pornographic greeting cards, and, yes, paraquat-testing kits. And, of course, every t-shirt you can imagine, from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, the Stones to The Clash. But I usually headed straight downstairs. A smaller room had 8-Tracks and, later, cassettes, including blanks. But the bigger room held the vinyl! The QH also had a delicious bootleg section. (I still have a Who bootleg called "Tales from the Crypt", where the vinyl is half-black, half-red!) I can also still remember the white stickers with the red-lettering that were placed on the front of each disc that said "$3.99" or "$4.99". Can you imagine The Steve Miller Band today for $3.99? I couldn't wait to grab what I could afford, get home, and sprint to my attic bedroom. Just gazing at those grooves as I meticulously placed the needle on the edge of that disc made my head spin with anticipation at the thought of what the first note, chord, or drum beat of my new purchase would sound like.

Anyway....I digress, per usual. Here goes:

* "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" - The Beatles... After years of buying .99 singles like Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun", I found "Sgt. Pepper" and "Rubber Soul" at a garage sale down the street for .10 a piece. I remember walking through the house and my father seeing the words "Beatles" and screaming at me as I ran all the way upstairs that "those mop-tops are ruining this country". My sister's room had the only turntable in the house and even she would come in occasionally to say that she liked "Lovely Rita"...before she'd kick me out.

* "Tommy" - The Who...My friend Chris Belden introduced me to The Who for the first time in 8th grade. I had never really heard many albums, much less a "concept album". I was mesmerized by Keith Moon's rapid-fire, non-stop assault...or as Greil Marcus once wrote in Rolling Stone, "he attacks the drums like they owe him money". The combination of John Entwistle's bass gymnastics and the recurring, almost-hypnotic "themes" from Pete Townshend's brain made listening to this album through headphones while lying in bed at night the highlight of my day. I recall Chris and I going to see the movie "Tommy" repeatedly when it came to Canton. We loved Daltrey, but snickered at how the soundtrack paled in comparison to the real thing. To this day, The Who remains my favorite band.

* "Quadrophenia" - The Who... The adoration of the "concept album" continues. Entwistle's work on "The Real Me" inspired me to try my hand at the bass guitar. I also racked my brain trying to decide whether to be a "Mod" or a "Rocker". Maybe I was too nice of a guy to be a Rocker", though I definitely lacked the fashion sense to be a Mod. Ah, but Pete Townshend considered himself a Mod. Decisions, decisions. In addition to my initial problems with the whole "transubstantiation" issue in Catholicism, I'm sure it led me eventually to therapy.

* "Big Hits" (High Tide and Green Grass) - The Rolling Stones... Mark Johns introduced me to the Rolling Stones. We would drag his turntable outside and sit it on the back steps, so that we could hear "Time is on My Side" while we played basketball in his driveway. He also later sold me a spare copy of "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out" along with a scratched up version of "Dead Flowers" which sat inside a Jim Croce cover, for reason that weren't quite clear to me.

* "Boston" - Boston... Most people contort their facial muscles in disbelief if you mention that you've never seen "The Sopranos" or watched "America Idol"...or aren't on Facebook. A similar reaction followed if someone found out that you did not own a copy of Boston's first effort. The layered guitar sound was mesmerizing, as was the unmistakable Brad Delp vocals. Every song rocked, every song rolled. (My personal favorite: "Something About You") Roll up and down Whipple Avenue on a Saturday and at least 2 out of every 5 cars had it pulsating through their Jensen speakers.

* "The Yes Album" - Yes... Between the ages of 15 until I went away to the seminary when I was 20, I worked at a grocery store down the street called "Lemmons".(you know, where I got the free cantaloupe crates?) This also meant that virtually all of the other stock-boys who worked with me were older than I was. When I started stocking shelves there, I generally cared about 1 thing: sports. They generally cared about 4 things: girls, pot, their cars, and music. It was at Lemmons where I received my musical education. Riding with them in their SS Chevelles or Ford Thunderbirds or AMC Javelins to the Quonset Hut or to pick up a half-ounce of sensimillion, I got to experience not only some pretty primo stereo systems but also some pretty good tune-age. "Cat Scratch Fever" or "Night Moves" would go along for the ride, but, invariably, "Starship Trooper" or "Your is No Disgrace" would also accompany us. ("Perpetual Change" still remains my favorite from this album.) They called it "art-rock". I called it a strange brew of gargantuan musical prowess and mystical lyrics....and, of course, Jon Anderson.

* "Rumours" - Fleetwood Mac... Don't laugh. In my school, if you had ANY hope of landing a "tough" chick, you HAD to have this album. I can still air-drum the whole thing. Plus, that small solo in the middle of "The Chain" was one of the first passages I mastered on my bass! Not that it helped me get beyond the confines of Kim Jackson's meticulously ironed Catholic school uniform. I still spent plenty of lonely nights in the attic bedroom with my headphones on doing windmill chords to "Won't Get Fooled Again".

* "Houses of the Holy" - Led Zeppelin... When I think of a "rock band", I think of Led Zeppelin. They are the Jungian archetype. Prodigious lead singer...a stalwart multi-instrumentalist bass player...a drummer who does more than just keep the beat (my friend Chris calls Bonzo a "clod-hopper")...and, arguably, one of the most complete guitarist in rock. (although my friend Brad, also a guitarist, has absolutely no respect for me when I place Jimmy Page in the pantheon of guitar immortals) Zeppelin was loud, and I like it loud. I'm no guitarist per se, but there is absolutely NO sound quite like a Gibson Les Paul being funneled through a stack of Marshall amplifiers. (Sorry, Bradley, but I don't think too many people put that stack through its paces like Mr. Page.) Plus, if I'd consumed enough Strohs, I was always asked at parties to air-drum during "D'yer Mak'er".

* "Outlandos D'Amour" - The Police... Can just three people truly wreak all this havoc? What an infectious sound, this "white reggae", or whatever they called it.

* "After the Gold Rush" - Neil Young... This was actually one the first 8-Tracks I bought in order to try to "match up" my album collection with what I could carry in the car. I really never arrived at Neil Young via CSNY; I had been listening to WMMS one day and heard this plaintive, slightly out-of-tune voice singing the lyrics " I was lying in a burned out basement/With the full moon in my eyes/I was hoping for replacement/When the sun burst thru the sky." I was hooked. I was driving in the car and it had been raining all day. Suddenly, the sun blasted through this misty late-afternoon rain. Coincidental. Surreal. Beautiful.

* "Dire Straits" - Dire Straits... Just a wonderfully-crafted album. Lyrically inventive. And then there's Mark Knopfler. Whoa.

* "Sunburst Finish" - Be Bop Deluxe... My immediate circle of neighborhood friends and acquaintances ( a very small circle, mind you) didn't really care for BBD. I was shopping at Quonset Hut one afternoon and "Fair Exchange" came bolting out of the store's speakers. I asked a clerk, "Who is that?" He, in his Elvis Costello t-shirt sneered at me. "Uh...Be Bop Deluxe?" I sauntered over towards the "B's" and took it home that day.

* "Darkness on the Edge of Town" - Bruce Springsteen... I've often said that if I were going to be executed and I could listen to only one album during my last meal, I would probably pick "Darkness on the Edge of Town". It slams me as if I were hit on the head with a sledgehammer. It expresses so much of what I was feeling at that time, and, to a certain extent, still do. Even though The Who is my favorite band, I'm not sure that there is a record in their whole discography that comes close to the influence that this album has had on me. Just looking at the cover evokes nights of riding around in a car thinking, wondering, and questioning. It's an album of deep, unsettling nuances. It's a unique answer to "Born to Run" in that it's almost deceptively simple, yet heavy. It's straight-forward, musically, yet complex. Its themes pound home the guilt of broken dreams and unrealized expectations, and the cold, hard slap-in-the-face reality that things aren't what they seem, and never will be. Its a kind of existentialist, angst-ridden album where victories lie just beyond the tracks, but there's no way to get there, and the only recourse is to sit at the kitchen table with a six-pack, smoking your last cigarettes in the dark. It's a road-map of what to expect, where unfulfilled promises elicit sage advice like "But if dreams came true, oh, wouldn't that be nice/But this ain't no dream we're living through tonight/Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price." In my neighborhood, Bruce Springsteen was a mystical figure. Much of it was due to Mark Lux, a friend of ours who assigned Springsteen the role as the 4th member of the Trinity. Because of Mark, we held Bruce parties. We took Bruce road-trips. (remind me to tell you sometime about the fictitious "Bruce Lake"!) If Bruce even came near Cleveland, we were there. But even beyond the neighborhood idolatry, there was something different about this album. It's imagery of "night" and "dark" and its themes of dishonesty and remorse were, in a way, a kind of strange therapy for me. It still is. I ask you: is there a more chilling, soul-wrenching wail than this: "And when you realize how they tricked you this time/And it's all lies but I'm strung out on the wire In these streets of fire" (And who else but Max Weinberg could get way with that long intro of just him rat-a-tat-tatting on the hi-hat at the beginning of "Candy's Room", huh?) This album is my "Blood on the Tracks", my "Abbey Road", my "Exile on Main St.", my "Kind of Blue".

* "Setting Sons" - The Jam... Prior to the start of a 1979 concert in Cleveland that featured headliner Blue Oyster Cult and special guest Be Bop Deluxe, a 3-piece band from England came out beforehand to "warm up the crowd". They were given minimal stage lighting, a couple of strobes from the back of the Coliseum, and 30 minutes to play. To this day, it remains the most exhilarating half-hour of rock I've ever witnessed. Maybe it was because Paul Weller and The Jam were huge fans of The Who, I'm not sure. But when they launched into "This is the Modern World", I knew I had to add them to my collection. I struggled between this album and "All Mod Cons". But this disc has a few of my favorite songs from The Jam, including "The Butterfly Collectors" and "Thick as Thieves".

* "Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols" - Sex Pistols... "Anarchy" shrink-wrapped into 3-minute increments. What more is there to say?

* "Some Girls" - The Rolling Stones... I think Mick and the boys did some risky, inventive things on this album. There was the experiment in pseudo funk/dance/what-cha-ma-cal
l-it with "Miss You. There was the country ballad experiment with "Faraway Eyes". And I'm not sure what category "Shattered" falls into, but that cool groove and the occasional chanting of "shuh-doo-bee" was infectious. And the rest of the album just balls-out ROCKED!

* "Exodus" - Bob Marley...To say it's just "reggae" is like saying Dogfish Head's "Burton Baton" is just "beer".

* "Animals" - Pink Floyd... I know you were`expecting "Dark Side of the Moon". But I actually thought this album was better, musically. I still dig the elongated themes. And I know that he will never sit amongst the elite axe-men such as Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, or Jeff Beck, but I don't believe, aside from Mark Knopfler, that anyone can wrench a more unique sound from a guitar than can David Gilmour.

* "Lost in Love" - Air Supply.... Just kidding.

* "Time's Up" - Living Colour... I've almost injured myself several dozen times in the car while playing air-guitar on this album. This disc is a crushing rocker, a dizzying array of sound-textures that nudge up against you and then drop-kick you across the room. The pundits talk about Slash. Don't get me wrong: I loved Guns and Roses. But Slash couldn't carry Vernon Reid's guitar picks.

* "Storms of Life" - Randy Travis... Turn off all the lights, grab a bottle of your favorite beverage, pour yourself a glass, and turn it up.

* "A Night at the Opera" - Queen... Sometime I'll have to do a Note entitled "Matt's Best Concert Experiences". The two Queen shows I saw would HAVE to be included. What a spectacle this album is. Gorgeously produced, infinitely artistic, and musically elaborate. Fun, daring, childish, dramatic...and all because of the vocal brilliance of Freddie Mercury and the ridiculously fluid playing of Brian May.

* "A Trick of the Tail" - Genesis... Perfect for mulling over mistakes you've made with a long-lost love.

* "Pink Moon" - Nick Drake... One of the most haunting voices I've ever heard.

* "Fallen" - Evanescence... Dark and penetrating, an essay on spiritual upheaval via crunchy, distorted riffs. This is a wonderfully produced album with spectacular sonic depth. And it has Amy Lee, so what else do you need? It also works wonders if you're wearing your iPod in the weight room.

* "Kind of Blue" - Miles Davis...Yes, I know. The jazz elitists will scold me for including such an obvious choice. "Oh, duh....really??" But I couldn't pass it up. It's's's moody''s's a bit like waking up from anesthesia, in that you're experiencing something but you're not exactly sure what it is or where you're at. And just when you're not really "getting" it, Miles brings all the pieces together. And, of course, John Coltrane is there to help share your whole experience. The next time you're on the beach, spread out the towel, pull up under the umbrella, stretch out, and be-bop the afternoon away with Miles. It'll change you, even if jazz isn't your thing.

So, you're saying, "What? No U2? No Bob Dylan? Where's Eric Clapton? Where's Bowie?" Hey, each to his own cantaloupe crate! There are always going to be certain songs from artists that could have been included, but I decided to keep this minimized to just albums.

Let's hear about the ones that rocked your world!


* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at

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