Important Albums in my Life (Part 1)

by theaudioprof on March 19, 2009

Several weeks ago a friend of mine, Aaron Bragg “tagged” me in a Facebook note giving me the following instructions:

Think of 21 albums, CDs or LPs that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it.

It was, indeed, hard to whittle it down to only twenty-one albums.  And, in fact, I’ve already had to revise my original list after one of my friends made a list of their own (I’ll fess up to which one in Part 3… as I tell you a little bit about why they each made the list):lonesome-john-mellencamp
1. John Mellencamp–The Lonesome Jubilee

It might seem obvious that someone who has spent almost one quarter of his life in Bloomington to have a Mellencamp on my list.  And although I have seen John (yeah we’re on a first name basis) around town a few times…my love of his music goes back to undergrad days.  This particular album has special significance to me, in fact.  After months of bugging the Program Director for the local CHR (top 40) station in Spokane…at the time 93 Zoo FM…I was invited to come into the station’s production room and record an audition tape in their production room.  I was given 45s of their current playlist and some liner cards and told to “pretend you’re doing a show.”  I chose Paper in Fire as the first song on the audition tape and worked for more than an hour hitting the post on that intro.  Still remember the liner note–93 Zoo FM/Spokane Transit Zoo Cruiser (a transit bus wildly painted with the station logo that people could ride for free!).  It’s an album that I’ll always associate with the start of my “big time” radio career…although the on-air audition was terrible…a blog for another time.  Although there are other Mellencamp albums that I listen to more often now…this one has such strong memories for me that it made the list.

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2. U2–The Joshua Tree

I remember being given a cassette tape of their Under a Blood Red Sky concert album from Red Rocks when I was in high school by one of the “cool” kids.  I listened to it initially to try to aspire to his level of hipness…but they were soon to become my lifelong favorite band.  This was, certainly, the album that brought them to the mainstream.  I can remember (again a memory trace from my undergraduate years) exactly where I was driving in Cheney Washington when I heard With or Without You coming out of my car speakers for the first time and knew that this was a band that would be around for a long time.  I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is one of my favorite songs of all time…but it wasn’t until the recorded scene from their movie Rattle & Hum that I was able to recognize it’s gospel roots and recognize that as one of the reasons I liked it so.  And, of course, as a young man who was trying to figure out how to live his faith in action…the fact that Bono was seeming to do that to the level of mass popularity was very appealing to me.

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3. Willie Nelson–Stardust

Remember the “big time” radio career I mentioned in #1 above?  Well…that career actually first began at a small station in Tri-Cities, Washington.  The station doesn’t even exist any more…KOTY-AM.  It was a country station.  And I was a high school Junior/Senior.  The last thing I knew about (or cared about) was country music.  But at least I had heard of Willie Nelson.  And that began my role as a Willie fan for over 20 years.  One of my great memories from the last five years was getting a chance to see him in concert in the IU Auditorium (thanks to my wife for the WONDERFUL Christmas gift).  Here’s a guy in his 70s who was on stage performing for the entire 2 hours.  Then, he did an encore for 20 minutes.  Then he signed autographs across the entire front of the stage which people had crushed against.  After finally leaving the stage…THEN he came back onstage and did another pass across the front of the stage signing more autographs (including one for me!).

There are bigger SONGS of his in my mind than those on this album…but his ability to take these standards and make his versions all HIS seems to be classic Willie Nelson.  Favorite Track:  Blue Skies

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4. Talking Heads–Stop Making Sense

This was an album that I didn’t buy…in fact…I think I technically stole it.  I worked at another radio station…and another one that doesn’t exist anymore.  KAZY-FM in Denver, Colorado.  It was an AOR (Rock ‘N Roll) station and…once again…I wasn’t in the target demographic.  I had left the CHR station (KZZU) where I loved the music– and was plunged into being the Promotions Manager for a station where Led Zepplin, Jethro Tull, and The Doors reigned king.  I was desperate for anything that wasn’t rock.  So one day when I was snooping around the station I came across a bunch of CDs in the storage room.  There were stacks of them…still in the ‘CD carts’ that meant they used to be in the studio and on the air.  I looked through them and found a Beattles album and this one.   I found listening to it to provide me with a lot of solace–interesting because it is obvious that the band was not into soothing their audience.  Great concert album.  Still love to listen to it.  Favorite track:  Life During Wartime.

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5. Sting–Dream of the Blue Turtles

Wow, writing this blog entry makes me realize that ALL of these first 7 albums have a radio connection.  I don’t know why that surprises me, considering my background.  But, here’s another one.  This was my freshman year at Eastern Washington University.  It was before KEWU, the jazz station I mention below for album 7 and before the CHR I mention for #1.  I was working at the 10-watt campus radio station known as KEWC that programmed college alternative–I didn’t know much about that format.  I knew Top 40 (as a listener).  And Sting was Top 40.  This album was great… a combination of cool jazz from Branford’s saxophones.  KEWC signed on at noon every day and I remember how cool I thought it sounded to have the first song be If You Love Somebody Set Them Free (“woke up in my clothes again this morning…don’t exactly where I am…”).  Plus, MTV was still pretty new and I thought the videos of If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and Fortress Around Your Heart were great.  The first for it’s visual imaginativeness…the latter for its untold narrative.  I still do.

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6.  Jon Secada

This album is one of two on the list mainly due to the fact that it was what I listened to when my wife and I first started dating in 1993.  Many may not of heard of this guy.  I have a piece of record company swag that is signed by him…it’s hanging on the wall in my IU office.  Students always say “Who’s That?” and when I tell them they go…”<sigh> Oh.”

Secada was a background singer for Gloria Estefan during her career and this album has  the expected Cuban feel to it.  I have a radio story for this, too.  His hit single from it, Just Another Day, was one we played in Power Rotation at 93 Zoo FM.  As Music Director/Research Director it was my job to track call-out research results on the hook from the song.  It refused to die…it always tested through the roof!  In fact, I’ll bet it still would.  I use that song as an example of how Program Directors eventually have to cut back on airplay no matter what the research says.  Of course I don’t do it by name (remember the “<sigh>, Oh.”).

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7. Miles Davis–Kind of Blue

Wish I had something scholarly to say about this album.  Something about putting Miles on a list like this makes me feel like I should be able to make statements about his “tonality” or something about his use of something that is music-theory-sounding…his “syncapation.”  Heck, I don’t know.  Just am thankful that KEWC eventually made way to KEWU, a Jazz-formatted station.  Kathy Grabicki, the Program Director of the station at the time, introduced me to some fantastic music…and this is at the top of that list (a few more will follow in the continuation of this thread).

I do remember hearing an episode of Jazz Profiles on an NPR podcast about Kind of Blue where Davis was quoted as saying that the important part about the album wasn’t the notes he played…but the silences between the notes.  I have no idea what he means…but I sure love listening to this album and trying to figure it out!

So, there you have it.  The first in a 3-part installment of the 21 important albums in my life.  I enjoyed writing this one…and am surprised at what I learned about myself by doing it.  Stay tuned to The Audio Prof Blog for the other two lists in weeks to come.  And, I’d love to know what would be on YOUR LIST.  Care to leave a comment?

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