50 Albums That Rocked My World

I’m crossposting this from the Facebook, where Bob Turnbull tagged me.

Based on the title, I’m going to interpret this to mean that these albums have had an influence on my overall musical education. These are the albums that I bought with my hard-earned allowance and wore out on the turntable, in the tape deck or in the CD player. I had to keep it pre-2000 just to keep the numbers down, and these are mostly off the top of my head, so I could very well be omitting something huge and obvious. It’s clear that I could easily make a list of 100, but the rules said 50. So here are 50 plus a few more…

I’ve linked to a few full-featured, ahem, biographical reviews in the Great Albums category. Ideally, I’ll write one of those for each album on this list, even if that seems daunting and scary. For you as well as me.

And please not that I wrote this originally between midnight and 2:00am so my “notes” are a little slapdash. I reserve the right to add, delete, and edit at will

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)

* Incredible in its range and showcasing the full range of the Beatles’ creative genius.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)

* The first album I ever bought, in 1975. I remember thinking the band was really good, but that the singer couldn’t sing.

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

* The first concept album I knew, and the beginning of an amazing decade for Bowie.

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

* THE soundtrack to my stoner years.

Alice Cooper – Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974)

* What a run Alice Cooper had to have a greatest hits album out already in 1974. A really versatile and underrated songwriter.

Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)

* “Bohemian Rhapsody” was huge, but my friends and I played this right through at most of our high school house parties.

Max Webster – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977)

* I loved the combination of “hoser rock” and art rock that Max Webster always embodied. Plus, they’re in drag on the cover!

Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)

* Much has been made about the “manufactured” nature of the Pistols, but for me, the songs were and still are very good. And no one had ever sneered the way Johnny Rotten did.

The Clash – The Clash (1977)

* I loved the fact that a punk band could have two different singers.

Ramones – Rocket to Russia (1977)

* Every song is a winner even as every song sounds like the same song.

Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express (1977)

* Perhaps no other album invokes a time and place so perfectly.

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere. “Just What I Needed” – more memories of unrequited love. Not saying that memories of unrequited love were just what I needed.

Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)

* Angular and yet soulful. Arty and yet kind of primitive.

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

* Twitchy and danceable, if nerds danced.

The Clash – London Calling (1979)

* Amazed then and now at this band’s range.

The B-52s – The B-52s (1979)

* Loved loved loved this whole album, except “Rock Lobster,” strangely enough.

Gary Numan and Tubeway Army – Replicas (1979)

* Wore the grooves off this one, during my “I’m really a robot trapped in a gawky teenage body” phase. Lost interest when “Cars” came along and he seemed to forget about the guitar.

Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979)

* Only fully discovered this album recently, but loved the way they took punk in a new direction.

Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1979)

* Didn’t own this at the time, but I remember the songs and the attitude.

Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming (1979)

* Just like Dylan, I was going through a spiritual transformation around this time, and this remains a powerful document of that time in my life.

The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but this album’s finest tracks have been overshadowed by “I Don’t Like Mondays,” my least favourite track.

The Specials – The Specials (1980)

* Of all the ska revival bands, I found The Specials the most versatile and politically engaged.

Teenage Head – Frantic City (1980)

* These semi-local heroes seemed to embody working-class teenage rebellion for me and my friends. Sort of punkabilly.

The Pretenders – The Pretenders (1980)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but for my 15-year-old self, Chrissie Hynde was what sex looked and sounded like.

Magazine – The Correct Use of Soap (1980)

* I didn’t discover Magazine until maybe 20 years after this came out, but singer Howard Devoto (the original Buzzcocks frontman) and bassist Barry Adamson define postpunk for me. Cool and yet warm, with angular guitars underscored by funky basslines and overlaid with whipsmart lyrics.

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (1982)

* “Someone Somewhere in Summertime” still brings back memories of unrequited love, though for whom I can’t remember(!).

U2 – War (1983)

* Spirituality engaged with the real world in the nuclear-frightened 80s. I was finishing high school.

The The – Soul Mining (1983)

* I’d never heard music like this before and still can’t classify it. Confessional and haunting lyrics, catchy tunes.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but to sum up: world weary and impossibly cool, I wanted to be Lloyd Cole

Billy Bragg – Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)

* Picked out of a delete bin in the mid-80s, unbelievably. Soft-hearted socialism like Billy’s defined me as a young man, and likely still does.

REM – Reckoning (1984)

* Michael Stipe’s mumbled lyrics over Byrds-like jangly guitars was pretty revolutionary in the synth-drenched 80s. It felt authentic.

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985)

* Spooky, smart and sexy.

The Waterboys – This Is The Sea (1985)

* I loved the Waterboys’ (and later World Party’s) “Big Music” which was bombastic and yet felt incredibly personal at the same time. I loved the oblique spirituality and the sense of the divine lurking just around the corner.

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)

* Not since Lennon and McCartney had there been such an amazing songwriting partnership as that between Stephen Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr. Morrissey’s ambiguous sexuality helped those of us who weren’t quite frat boys.

Violent Femmes – The Blind Leading the Naked (1986)

* Gordon Gano was another geek talisman, singing about Reagan and faith and not getting the girl.

The Wedding Present – George Best (1986)

* David Gedge’s strangled voice and the band’s unbelievably fizzy guitars made miserable relationships seem like fun.

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

* I first heard this very very loud at a party and it still speaks to that part of me that likes music very loud. Also has the best song ever about our capacity for evil (“Ted, Just Admit It…”)

Pixies – Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim (1988)

* Completely innovative song structures and tightly-controlled aggression helped me through a very tough year.

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988)

* Mike Scott’s rediscovery of Irish traditional music was warm and open-hearted and got me through a very rough year.

Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)

* My first exposure to Björk’s heavenly voice, and Einar Orn’s not so heavenly voice.

Pixies – Doolittle (1989)

* Just a towering album which seemed unlike anything before it. And like lots after it.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

* Sonic ear massage. Sometimes painful and then forms into something incredibly beautiful. Kevin Shields is sculpting with sound.

Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (1991)

* Matthew Sweet emerged almost fully formed with this amazing album of rock, power pop, and even country songs. An amazingly gifted songwriter.

Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992)

* Pavement’s brand of slacker rock seemed slapdash and spontaneous, but they were really just trying to hide their smarts.

Rheostatics – Whale Music (1992)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but a bit like Max Webster in the 1970s, the Rheos played a winning mix of hoser rock and art rock. Martin Tielli’s voice and guitar took this into sublime orchestral territory for much of its length.

Catherine Wheel – Ferment (1992)

* Catherine Wheel were like the slightly tougher rock cousins of the shoegaze scene.

PJ Harvey – Dry (1992)

* Polly Jean Harvey kicked ass and made you want her and fear her all at once. When she later started wearing dresses and stopped playing guitar, I was sorely disappointed.

Pulp – His ‘n Hers (1994)

* Cynical Jarvis Cocker sang with a world-weary nostalgia about the seamy side and had me singing along with catchy hooks.

Sloan – Twice Removed (1994)

* Perfect pop songs from Halifax.

Spoon – Telephono (1996)

* Pixies comparisons abounded but Britt Daniel’s Texas roots gave Spoon more soul than simple imitators.

Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

* Radiohead began to take over the world with this ambitious and sprawling masterpiece.

Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)

* Filled with startling lyrical imagery, this album matched the words to jagged music that stopped and started and changed directions. Startlingly original and exciting.

Spoon – A Series of Sneaks (1998)

* Spoon showed real development on their second album, pushing into more angular and yet funky territory.

Built to Spill – Keep It Like A Secret (1999)

* Original and every track is a winner. Not an ounce of filler here.

I had to stop this before the year 2000 to keep it near to 50, but maybe I’ll do another version of my top albums from the past decade.

Great Albums: Rattlesnakes

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)

I’d met Goldie through my friend Colin around 1983, I think. With his thinning hair and permanent scowl, he looked like a perennially pissed off old man. We shared a love for punk, even though he was somehow affiliated with the strange evangelical subculture I’d recently become part of. I remember him bringing us Dead Boys records when Colin and I were in residence at Bible College. We’d play those and Colin’s Zapp funk records as loud as we could, enjoying the vicarious thrill of swearing and talking sexy. I remember Goldie and I commandeering the lounge television one night when Rock ‘n’ Roll High School was on. So we shared a taste in music and a slightly skeptical attitude toward the world around us.

Around 1984, our tastes were broadening. Goldie was the first one to tip me off to The Style Council, a new direction from The Jam‘s Paul Weller. So it was no surprise when he showed up one afternoon with a home-recorded tape that he wanted me to hear. Side A was Eden by Everything But The Girl, well before their dance music days. Though I enjoyed Tracey Thorn’s soulful vocals, I was much more interested in Side B, which Goldie hadn’t even mentioned.

Lloyd Cole’s anguished voice and whipsmart lyrics drew me in. Here was a guy who seemed impossibly sophisticated and world-weary at the same time. Every song was tinged with regret but filled with literary barbs and wry humour. One of my favourite lines is from Four Flights Up: “Must you tell me all your secrets when it’s hard enough to love you knowing nothing?” The songs had a sophistication that screamed Europe but the album title sounded American. And Lloyd seemed worldly enough to know New York, London and Paris equally well. This guy was flat out cool, like an upper class and definitely more hetero Morrissey.

In the same vicarious way that I listened to Zapp and the Dead Boys, I absorbed the heartbreak and romantic adventures of Lloyd Cole. I didn’t have anywhere near that sort of experience (and still don’t), but when on the final track Lloyd sang “Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?” I wanted to jump up and scream out “Yes!”

Track Listing

  1. Perfect Skin
  2. Speedboat
  3. Rattlesnakes
  4. Down on Mission Street
  5. Forest Fire
  6. Charlotte Street
  7. 2cv
  8. Four Flights Up
  9. Patience
  10. Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?

Lloyd Cole’s weblog
“Perfect Skin” video on YouTube
“Forest Fire” video on YouTube

Great Albums is an occasional feature on Consolation Champs where I relate some personal stories about life-changing music in lieu of any proper music criticism. You’ll probably learn more about me than about music, so consider that fair warning. For more, click the Great Albums category tag.

Great Albums: The Fine Art of Surfacing

The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979)

The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979)

There was once a time when “Sir” Bob Geldof was known for something other than organizing huge benefit concerts to feed the hungry. In fact, there was once a time when he was the hungry one. Hungry to find meaning in the world, and to find his place in it. In 1979, Geldof and his band The Boomtown Rats released one of my favourite albums, but the fact that it contained what amounted to a novelty hit (“I Don’t Like Mondays”) consigned The Boomtown Rats to “one-hit wonder” status and left the rest of this masterpiece of angry pop criminally undiscovered. In fact, the album was extremely difficult to find on CD in North America until a 2005 release that added some bonus tracks.

We might as well deal with “I Don’t Like Mondays” right away. Geldof was a former journalist, and you could see why he’d take inspiration from a newspaper account of a 13-year-old California teenager who shot 11 people with no remorse. When asked why she’d done it, she replied nonchalantly, “I don’t like Mondays.” Geldof’s outrage is somewhat obscured by his clever lyrics and sneering vocals, but it’s there. On “Diamond Smiles” he tells the sad story of a rich socialite who hangs herself at a grand party. “When the Night Comes” is about how the office drones try to escape their soulless jobs by fumbling for connection. Whether it’s the emptiness of riches, the incomprehensibility of random violence, or the alienation of our modern world, Geldof was a brilliant storyteller. Almost every song has a character at its centre, someone who is acting out their part in this confusing place. On “Someone’s Looking at You,” Geldof even eerily predicts our surveillance-mad post-9/11 culture of suspicion. This is a brilliant collection of pop songs with lyrics that are actually worth listening to.

Some people were surprised when the sneering Geldof became the ambassador for charity in the mid-80s, but not me. You can’t be born in Ireland and raised in a flawed but still vital Catholicism without emerging as an idealist. A frustrated and angry idealist, usually, but credit to Bob for not just giving up on this messy old world. When I first discovered this album, probably sometime in the 80s, I saw Bob as a great example of someone whose brain hadn’t completely crushed their soul. Even without the knighthood, I’d call him sir.

Track Listing

  1. Someone’s Looking at You
  2. Diamond Smiles
  3. Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)
  4. Having My Picture Taken
  5. Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)
  6. I Don’t Like Mondays
  7. Nothing Happened Today
  8. Keep It Up
  9. Nice ‘n’ Neat
  10. When The Night Comes

“Someone’s Looking at You” performance on Australian TV on YouTube
“I Don’t Like Mondays” video on YouTube

Great Albums is an occasional feature on Consolation Champs where I relate some personal stories about life-changing music in lieu of any proper music criticism. You’ll probably learn more about me than about music, so consider that fair warning. For more, click the Great Albums category tag.

Great Albums: Whale Music

Rheostatics – Whale Music (1992)

Rheostatics – Whale Music (1992)

Last night, my best friend Brent and I revisited a pillar of our more than 15 year-long friendship. Let me begin at the beginning. I met Brent in 1989. At the time, I was a suave and sophisticated 24-year old who’d travelled in Europe and was beginning my second degree. Brent was a gawky and sometimes abrasive 19-year old know-it-all. Of course, we hit it off right away. When one of my roommates moved out, Brent decided to move in, and for the next three years, we struggled to make ends meet on our student loans and part-time jobs. Sometime in 1992, we caved in to the inevitable and both of us made the humiliating decision to move back in with our parents for a while. Luckily, by 1994 we were back on our feet financially, and we found another place closer to downtown. I moved out gradually as Brooke and I got more serious, but we still live only about fifteen minutes walk from each other.

I tease Brent about not being a “music person” but I am forever grateful to him for introducing me to my favourite Canadian band, the Rheostatics. I don’t even know how he’d heard of them, but one day he brought home a luridly-illustrated cassette called “Whale Music” sometime before we gave up our apartment, and we must have worn it out. Shortly after that, we began going to see the Rheos in concert, and last night marked probably the 15th time we’ve seen them, although I’ve long ago stopped counting. Each year, the band plays a series of shows at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, and last night was “Whale Music Night”. They played the entire album in sequence, and with a generous encore, the show stretched to almost two and a half hours, but I was never less than transfixed by this transcendent music. As an added bonus, author Paul Quarrington was invited onstage at the beginning of the show to read from his hilarious and sad novel Whale Music which was the inspiration for the title of this record. (In a strange twist, the Rheostatics were invited to provide the score for a film made of the book, so there are actually two albums of theirs with the title “Whale Music”.)

It’s difficult to describe the music of the Rheostatics. For this album, there were four different songwriters, and four vocalists, but more than any other of their records, it feels like one piece. I’m a huge fan of guitarist Martin Tielli, and his compositions feel the most orchestral and moody to me, and I think that’s what ties the whole thing together. All the band members are insanely gifted musicians, but in addition, Tielli is a talented painter who’s created all the band’s album covers, and singer/guitarist Dave Bidini is a well-known writer who’s written books about hockey, baseball and rock music. I’ve had the privilege to meet the painfully-shy bassist/singer Tim Vesely on a few occasions, and I’ve always been impressed by the fact that no one in this band shows even a shred of rock-star ego.

Whale Music begins with a song called “Self Serve Gas Station” and it sounds vaguely like a country song. I’m surprised that I stuck with it, since my problem with most Canadian music (especially bands like The Tragically Hip) is that I think they sound too “twangy”. But I was immediately drawn in by the strange lyrics (“He wanted to bust the glass because I wouldn’t give him gas, I said ‘You shouldn’t even be driving'”). My favourite tracks are the ones by Martin Tielli, and “California Dreamline” might be my favourite song ever (“questionable things like dolphins helping people to swim”) and reinforces my feeling that Martin’s songs are always somehow related to water.

I could keep going but I think the best thing would be for you to let this album wash over you personally. There’s a line in the stunning end-of-album closer “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” that references Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, another seminal album for druggy kids of my generation. This album is sort of like that. Listen to it in a darkened room from start to finish and tell me that you don’t agree that this is the Greatest Canadian Rock Album Ever.

One of the great things about living in the 21st-century is that it’s now possible for more people to hear this wonderful music. You can download the whole beautiful thing for $8.88 right here. Run, people!

Track Listing

  1. Self Serve Gas Station/
  2. California Dreamline
  3. Rain, Rain, Rain
  4. Queer
  5. King of the Past
  6. RDA (Rock Death America)
  7. The Headless One
  8. Legal Age Life at Variety Store
  9. What’s Going on Around Here?
  10. Shaved Head
  11. Palomar
  12. Guns
  13. Sickening Song
  14. Soul Glue
  15. Beerbash
  16. Who?
  17. Dope Fiends and Boozehounds

“King of the Past” video on YouTube
“Shaved Head” video from YouTube

Great Albums is an occasional feature on Consolation Champs where I relate some personal stories about life-changing music in lieu of any proper music criticism. You’ll probably learn more about me than about music, so consider that fair warning. For more, click the Great Albums category tag.

Great Albums: The Cars

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

Another great album from my misspent youth. I hope you’ll forgive my detours into autobiography, but most music that resonates with us also connects with what was going on in our lives at the time. This album will forever be associated with a period in my life when I was first discovering beer and girls. Though it came out in the spring of 1978, my memories are probably from the year after that. This was definitely an album that we were playing a year later. It had classic written all over it, even then.

Every weekend of my 14th year, I was at a house party. Usually hosted by my buddy Ken, they were low-key affairs, mostly involving sitting around listening to music, drinking beer, and if some girls showed up, flirting and hopefully, making out. I’m sure this pattern has been the same for decades, if not centuries, and we were happy not to disturb the universe. For me, the song “Just What I Needed” will always be associated with two girls: one I couldn’t have, and one I didn’t want.

Caroline lived in the same apartment building as me, and like me, her parents were Irish. Hers were from Cork, mine from Dublin, though they weren’t really friends. She was pretty, taller than me, and smarter and more sophisticated than any of the other girls I knew. She was also going out with my friend Bill, who was tall, good-looking and athletic. This caused me immense pain, and on at least one occasion, after a few jars, I was found passed out in a darkened bedroom moaning Caroline’s name over and over. Sigh.

Strangely enough, I reconnected with Caroline a few years ago. In high school, we lost touch as I dropped the partying and she seemed to sink deeper into it. Happily, she emerged and has become a sought-after fashion photographer who works in both Toronto and London. She recently had a little boy. I’m not sure if she reads my blog, but if so, hello! (You did know about my crush, didn’t you?)

Beth was a kind girl, but plain and bespectacled when I met her. One night, as I sprawled semi-blotto on the couch at Ken’s place, she sat down next to me and within minutes we were locked in passionate embrace. An hour or so later, I remember walking her down to the lobby where her dad was picking her up, and I sobered up rapid to realize that she now thought we were in a “relationship.” The next weekend, she was due to arrive at the party and I was terrified. Panicking, I locked myself in the bathroom and wrote her a “Dear Beth” letter on the roll of toilet paper. Tearing off the sheets, I left them on the countertop and emerged to face her. “Uh, there’s something for you in the bathroom,” I mumbled. If I broke her heart, at least she could wipe her tears with the evidence.

Justice was swift for my stupidity. Beth got contacts and a new hairstyle within a year or so, and became a model and actress. Later, she went on to have a proper relationship with a bona-fide Canadian rock star (Mark Holmes from Platinum Blonde). I can’t recall her ever speaking to me again.

What about The Cars, you’re now asking? Well, this was simply a great album. “Just What I Needed” still sounds fresh today, but there were no skippable tracks on this record. “My Best Friend’s Girl” was another jab when Caroline and Bill were around, but a good song nonetheless. “Moving In Stereo” was used in a great scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And “Let The Good Times Roll” always felt like a great kickoff to our festivities.

The Cars were certainly more commercial than bands like The Ramones and Talking Heads, which is probably why I knew about them in 1979. I didn’t discover the more “authentic” bands until later. But The Cars were certainly influenced by the same stuff and they had a vaguely European flavour to my young ears. They definitely were indulging in more expensive and exotic drugs than we were (they even name-drop “psilocybin”) and their sense of style promised better hair for everyone in the 1980s. Pity that didn’t work out, though.

Track Listing

  1. Let The Good Times Roll
  2. My Best Friend’s Girl
  3. Just What I Needed
  4. I’m In Touch with Your World
  5. Don’t Cha Stop
  6. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
  7. Bye Bye Love
  8. Moving In Stereo
  9. All Mixed Up

“Just What I Needed” live on the Midnight Special in 1978 at YouTube

Great Albums is an occasional feature on Consolation Champs where I relate some personal stories about life-changing music in lieu of any proper music criticism. You’ll probably learn more about me than about music, so consider that fair warning. For more, click the Great Albums category tag.