Twenty-Five Influential Albums


I enjoyed writing this for Facebook (February 19, 2009), and thought I'd repost it here, with a couple of minor edits. It generated some good discussion. These are, unless I rethink this, 25 of the most influential albums in my musical life.

I kept it to 25, and restricted myself to one album per artist. I would probably have many Pink Floyd and Beatles albums in this, as well as several other multiples, but I thought it would be a better exercise for me if I stick with this rule. I also resisted the temptation to put a lot of albums that I know should be here, but in all honesty have not played as much of a role in my life as I know they should have, particularly as a musician.

1. “The Wall” – Pink Floyd

It quickly became and has remained my all-time favorite album. I find it aesthetically beautiful, sad, clever, and musical. David Gilmour’s guitar playing has remained a source of inspiration for me it terms of soul and an economy for notes. He plays nothing unless it is a significant improvement on silence. Sam Pilafian, my tuba teacher in graduate school, has a very impressive discography and resume in his career, but his involvement with ‘The Wall’ still captures my imagination.

2. “Abbey Road” – The Beatles

The Beatles broke up just as I was getting old enough to know who they were. By the time I became acquainted with Abbey Road, I had heard many of the songs. My father had bought a used Mercedes that had an eight-track tape deck, and a box of tapes in the trunk that included Abbey Road. That was by far my favorite of the bunch.

3. “Ein Deutches Requiem” – Chicago Symphony (Sir George Solti)

I have decided that this is my favorite classical work. It makes many bold moves. It does not follow the liturgy of the requiem and just uses pensive passages of scripture, it makes German sound mournful and beautiful, and it makes the violins tacit for the first movement, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen elsewhere. I fell in love with it when I played a band transcription of the first movement at music camp before eleventh grade. I bought this recording of it, and played it into the ground.

4. “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme” – Simon and Garfunkel

It was a toss-up between this and the “Live in Central Park” album, but I chose this one because it came first both in existence, and in my life. Though the album was fifteen years old by then, my freshman roommate and I played this cassette tape almost every night for the first semester. They really took folk music to an art form in this album. “Central Park” was important because I listened to it all summer in my car driving 60 miles one way to visit my girlfriend almost every weekend during college.

5. “The Cars” – The Cars

This album has remained an important one. I became aware of it as it was my neighbor’s favorite tape, and I bummed a ride to school from him for a good part of my freshman year. I got it myself, and listened to it until I had worn it out. It became the soundtrack of my early adolescence, for sure. I have held it up since as a great example of a well crafted collection of songs that come together as one cohesive work.

6. “Kind of Blue” – Miles Davis

This album belonged to my dad, and until I was most of the way through high school, as far as I knew, my dad was the only person who owned a Miles Davis record. He owned a lot of them, and I liked them. This was my favorite. Miles taught me that music that doesn’t catch you the first time you listen to it isn’t necessarily bad music. It might be great because of that. Miles compels you to want to understand him.

7. “Dream of the Blue Turtles” – Sting

I had been a Police fan before this album, and have been a huge Sting fan since. This particular one is so important because it sounds like it gave Sting some freedom to really explore his various influences and talents.

8. “Rock of the Westies” – Elton John

Elton John is why I wanted to learn piano. He is also why I was disappointed that the eye doctor said I didn’t need glasses. This is an important record because it was the first one I ever bought with my own money. It’s not his best, or most popular, but I loved it, aside from feeling ripped off that “Philadelphia Freedom” wasn’t on it.

9. “West Side Story” – Stan Kenton

This, like the Miles Davis record, is one that my dad introduced me to. It brought both Stan Kenton and the music of West Side Story into my life, and both have become very important. Kenton was my ‘gateway drug’ into the concept of the big band. I listened to a lot of Kenton in college, and since.

10. “Van Halen I” – Van Halen

My sister Julie got me this for my 16th birthday, because I asked her for it. I asked her for it because I found myself drawing their ubiquitous logo on my school book covers despite the fact that I didn’t know any of their music. I really did fall in love with it, and found them to be great players who sounded like they were having a terrific time. Turned out the latter wasn’t always the case. David Lee Roth said of their chemistry that it was a shame they couldn’t work it out. They were better than the sum of their parts. It turns out that they were keeping him from becoming an irrelevant clown, and he was keeping them from becoming “Toto”.

11. “Changesonebowie” - David Bowie

In tenth grade, I felt compelled to gain favor with particular a classmate in high school who loved David Bowie, so I ran out and bought this album because I recognized a couple of songs on it, and wanted to be educated enough on Bowie to discuss him with her. That didn’t really work as I’d hoped, but it did start a lifelong appreciation for Bowie that still goes on. I can also report a life long friendship with said classmate.

12. “Jarreau” – Al Jarreau

My introduction to this album is a funny story. I have a friend who is one of the most passionate musicians I know, and has grown into one of the finest teachers I know. He and I had known each other at music camp, and were now hanging out together at a social gathering during marching band camp my freshman year at UNH. Over the stereo came “Boogie Down”, the first cut on side one. Consumed, he took the floor and danced, and I mean danced. He pantomimed every horn lick, every rim shot, and really gave a spirited performance of Jarreau’s scat solo after the second chorus. The crowd parted and observed him, lost in the groove, with amused disbelief. I wanted to pull him off the floor and away from this social suicide, but I knew he didn’t care. He was into it. I bought the album for myself shortly thereafter, and have gotten lost in it myself many times, but not in front of nearly as many people.

13. “Roger Bobo Plays Tuba” – Roger Bobo

Roger was for many years the tubist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I bought this album at the suggestion of my applied tuba teacher in college, Nic Orovich. He thought it important that I really hear what a tuba is supposed to sound like. This one did just that, and I still listen to it often. This album also fueled my love for the music of Paul Hindemith.

14. “The Stranger” – Billy Joel

Remember when Columbia House used to give you 13 records for a penny if you buy just nine more in the next three years? This was one of my thirteen, when I was in seventh grade, and I think my favorite. I had chosen it because one of my friends has done a report on it for music class in school, and it sounded cool. He slipped in front of Elton John and my favorite singer/songwriter/pianist with this album. The two have been neck and neck since.

15. “Solas” – Solas

Check back with me in a few years, because this one might end up higher on the list. I ran into Solas at the Lowell (MA) Folk Festival in 2001. I’d been to Ireland the previous summer, and was starting to really appreciate Irish (and other forms of Celtic) music. It was this Solas concert, and hence their CD's starting with this one, that I think fueled an ever-growing love for this type of music.

16. “Incredible Journey” – Bob Mintzer

It’s a great album. Terrific compositions, wonderfully performed, and impeccably produced. It was not released in a wide scale, but it’s out there. It was given to me by Mr. Mintzer when he came to play with the Disney Band I was in in 1987. It wasn’t really a gift as much as a desperate plea for me to become better acquainted with the material so the concert wouldn’t be such a disaster. I hope he feels like it worked. I listened to it non-stop in preparation for the gig, and an awful lot since.

17. “On the Line” – Lee Ritenour

This is an odd one on the list, but it is an important album for me. Ritenour is a very capable guitarist who is closely affiliated with pianist/composer Dave Grusin. It is very carefully crafted jazz/fusion, that in retrospect often sounds like music they use to get in and out of commercials during televised coverage of golf tournaments. It’s pretty smooth and antiseptic stuff, but something about this particular record spoke to me. He is very clean and very smart, and I liked it, a lot.

18. “Switched On Bach” – Walter Carlos

Another album that dad had, only this one was on reel-to-reel. It is the first album ever to be recorded using a computer. It is the music of J.S. Bach performed by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos on the Moog synthesizer, which was monophonic, and had to be done with numerous overdubbed tracks. I had no idea of the musical importance or controvoursy at the time. I just knew that when you heard it, Dad was coming to get you, and you were going to get tickled, good!

19. “Take 6” – Take 6

These guys still blow my mind. I learned about them about the time that I graduated from UNH. They are a gospel jazz a cappella group that has as much soul and depth as they do talent and chops. The arrangements are genius, and the performance is flawless, even live. I know each note of this album.

20. “Dire Straits” – Dire Straits

This is one of the few albums that my dad bought while I was old enough to notice. We both loved it, and when I went off to college, I really had to talk him into letting me take it. They’ve done great stuff since, but this, their first effort, might be their best.

21. “Mary Poppins: Motion Picture Soundtrack” – Original Cast

I’ve owned three copies of this. I can’t leave it off. I listened to it incessantly when I got my first record player, and my son has done the same. I learned what an “overture” was from this album.

22. “Close To You” – The Carpenters

I admit it…I love me some Carpenters. I always have. This particular album was their first big break-out success, and it was one of the records in my grandparents collection that I could listen to. It is easy to belittle them. They invite it with some very saccharine production, with overdone background vocals and stings, etc., but the songs are well written, and Karen Carpenter's low and soulful voice is beautiful, and all the more melancholy knowing what she was going through at the time, and how it hastened her untimely demise.

23. “Heaven and Hell” – Joe Jackson

From 1997, I was consumed by this one for a long time. It is a musical exploration of the seven deadly sins, and is wonderfully clever. It uses a unique collection of collaborations, and is somewhat appropriately released on the Sony Classical label. It’s not your run-of-the-mill Joe Jackson album, if there is such a thing.

24. “Purple Rain” – Prince

It is possible that this one is not ranked high enough, but I might be too embarrassed to put it any higher. I think that Prince has all the soul and chops of anyone in pop history. He’s a weird dude, but he knows his music. I think this album saw him keep his libido just enough in check to put out a serious work, almost.

25. “Chicago II” – Chicago

I love Chicago, and had to put one of theirs in there. This is the one I have listened to the most, for sure. I love the “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanon”, which included “Make Me Smile” and “Color My World”. I was buying Chicago albums as they came out for many years, but stopped at 18.

I'd be intrigued to see your lists as well, or your impressions of mine.