Thursday, November 05, 2009

What Time Is It? It's Meme Time!

Yeah… we haven't done the meme thing in quite a while, but a meme about music kinda hits me where I live. About which, this:
Now these albums are emphatically not the 15 greatest albums of all time. While that's also an interesting question, that's not what I had in mind. These are more like the 15 albums I'd have to take to a desert island with me... the ones I don't think I could go without. Maybe, my 15 favorites of all my favorites.
That would be Blog-Bud Jim's swell pal Donatello speaking… and this post kicked off the madness.  And that's the meme: list your 15 all-time favorite albums.  Pretty simple, eh?  Jim is supposed to post his own "15 favorites" sometime today, but we're just slightly ahead of our time here… given as how this post will go up sometime around midnite. I'll update with an appropriate link later.

I had to go back and re-read the post in question before I embarked on my own. I was seriously mistaken, seeing as how I thought this was all about "15 albums that changed my world." It ain't… at least in its original incarnation. Still and even… "music that changed my world" seems like an appropriate variation on a theme, and that's the way I'm gonna go. Let's get started.

The year: 1957. The place: Ankara, Turkey. The Ol' Man was stationed in Ankara at the time and to say the USAF BX/PX distribution network ain't what it is today is a MASSIVE understatement. Elvis' debut album came out in 1956, I got it placed in my hot lil grubby hands for Christmas in 1957… as part of a gift package from my grandmother, God bless and rest her soul. How in the HELL she figured out a 12 year old kid would like… no, LOVE… something as radical as Elvis' first album is so far beyond me as to be almost alien. But she did, and as I said: God bless her for that. Keep in mind: popular music in 1957 was pretty much all Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney and the like. Elvis wailing "Hound Dog" was as different from that mainstream as hip-hop is to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."

Honorable mentions go to the Fats Domino and Chuck Berry singles that were also in that Christmas box… they were all part of a package that seriously changed my musical tastes. But it was Elvis who rocked my world.  And changed it forever.

Fast forward to 1960. I was now 15 and living in Washington, D.C. I'll choose the James Brown single on the left as an example of the revelation that came upon me beginning sometime around 1959 and culminated in 1960. That revelation was Black Radio and the R&B music featured there… which was unlike anything I had ever heard before (sorta: see Fats Domino, above). I'd go into my room at night and listen to my crackly, staticky AM radio, marveling at the music I heard… music that was Unobtanium in my white-bread, lily-white suburban world. Once again, consider the times… you simply did NOT find James Brown, Lloyd Price, or Ray Charles in the "hits" bin at Woolworths back in the day… that day being 1958 - 1960… at least not in suburbia. I would have had to journey into Southeast Washington to get that music in my hands back then and since I was only 15 and without a driver's license, that was out of the question. My parents simply wouldn't go there… literally but the music was on the radio, the radio was in my room, and it was ON every single night. It was an education like no other.

1964. Biloxi, Mississippi (Keesler AFB). Three viewings of "A Hard Day's Night" the movie followed up by the IMMEDIATE purchase of the album and every single Beatles album released ever after. Beatlemania struck us HARD and opened us up to The British Invasion. Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Hollies, the Kinks, and The Rolling Stones weren't far behind. But the Beach Boys and early '60s American pop were left behind… FAR behind. My world changed… again.

1967. Lompoc, California (Vandenberg AFB). I was stationed at Lompoc Air Force Station and did shift work for about three years straight. One night in 1967 I came home from a swing shift sometime around 0030 hours and didn't want to go to bed immediately. So I got myself a beer, parked my tired young ass in the living room, switched on the FM radio, and began surfing up and down the dial… when I came across this playing on KCSB… the college radio station out of UCSB in Isla Vista:

Yowzers! Moby Grape!  My eyes opened wide… my ears perked up and I was frickin' mesmerized. About 10 seconds into the cut I turned it up… WAY up… prompting an irritated visit from The First Mrs. Pennington, who had long been asleep. I apologized and went to headphones. And stayed up all night… listening to bands like It's a Beautiful Day, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and so on. I went on break a couple of days later, whereupon I drove down to Isla Vista and dropped an obscene amount of money (for a young three-striper) in a local indie record store. A (plastic) hippie was born…

So. We remained deeply immersed in "alternative rock" for the next ten years or so. We went from Moby Grape to Buffalo Springfield (and its individual members, like Stephen Stills and Neil Young), Santana, The Byrds, and so on and so forth. We bought the Woodstock album. We were seriously into Dylan and Joan Baez. The whole nine yards… the music led us to the counterculture, such as it was, and thus was a serious life altering event. And we stayed there for quite a while. Until 1978 or so… but before we go there… there's this:

1975. Tokyo, Japan… Yokota Air Base, actually. Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." I've told this story before, so there's no real need to repeat myself. EKTIN changed my life for-frickin'-EVER and was the soundtrack for the best years of my life. I just can NOT leave this album out. No way. No how. It was definitely THAT big to me.
1978 - 1980. North Bend, Oregon. College radio, yet again… and this time it was a break from what had become "classic rock," in the form of Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, and Nick Lowe… just to name three. You could also toss in the first Dire Straits album, coz it was released during that time, as well. Our musical tastes were evolving, ever so subtly. And then in what might be the most amazing case of serendipity I've ever experienced… I received orders in 1980 assigning me to RAF Uxbridge in London. The Second Mrs. Pennington and I were set down in what was arguably the very heart of the alternative music scene at the time. And we took advantage… going out to pubs, clubs, concerts and the like every damned weekend. It was… ahem… Nirvana.

So. Just one more and then we'll go. The year is 1988. Dee-troit. My Good Buddy Greg dropped by late one evening, as was his habit, and left Lyle Lovett's "Pontiac" with TSMP and I. This is the last "life changing" album I can think of and it was life changing in the sense it opened my eyes to "New Country." I've been a life-long fan of Lyle's… and country music in the larger sense… ever since.

This is only half of the meme's requisite "15 albums," and Lord knows I could add more… many more. A couple more Beatles albums. At least one John Hiatt album. Motown. The Who. Pink Floyd. Leo Kottke. Soul Asylum.  Six Dylan albums, and at least that many from the Stones. More than a few from Joni Mitchell. Etta James.  And we haven't even scratched the classical music genre, there being more than a few Mozart and Vivaldi albums I couldn't live without. The Blues, too. Da Blooze would merit a post all its own, when you come right down to it. But this is the state of my musical memories at the moment… so it's gonna have to do.

Update:  Jim's 15.  That ol' cliché about looking up "eclectic" and finding Jim's picture as the only entry in the dictionary applies.  Hoo-Boy, does it EVAH!


  1. In 1968 I saw an ad in the movie section of the paper, where it listed a new FM stereo radio station. OK, here's the deal - no one I knew had an FM stereo radio! Is that the dark ages or WHAT?? Now get this, I've been buying 45 records for a few years, and you can get into that level of mutilation of sound. I've been to a few live bands at that point and 100 amp gadgets that the guitars were plugged into, so knew all about dynamic range if not what to call it. So I start my search for the cheapest FM stereo radio. I was in luck, because my neighbor had bought a new console stereo for the living room (remember those, holy cow, I feel like fish coming out of water and walking on land now) and he said his brother had a record player with a stereo receiver (picture a 13 year old kid with an erection at this point). So anyway, the guy works at a bowling alley on weekends, and they just swapped-out about 100 bowling pins. My job was to chop the heads off, and then split the fat part down the middle with an axe (bowling pins used to be made out of wood, and made excellent fire wood). That done, the record player was mine. I got her all plugged in, listened to all my 45's, and then started playing around with this new fangled FM stereo radio. Blip! this red light came on, the room filled with about 100dB more dynamic range than the shit records I had just finished listening to, and BAM! Janis Joplin started wailing out of the radio. This is no crap, the first song I ever heard on FM stereo was Piece of my Heart from beginning to end. FM Stereo was part of my life for the next 20 years. Plastic was out. Then, yea, the culture shifted and FM stereo became the new AM radio, and AM radio became the new cesspool of savantism, and I became an old man who can't even find a G note on a strat if my life depended on it...

  2. Love, love, love this post - will have to think about my 15.

  3. Way cool, Buck, way cool! That you snapped up this idea so quickly thrills me. I love reading about the choices folks make on something like this. I've printed this out, for reading at my leisure, and will return with salient commentary - if I actually have any - after reading.

  4. Well done, Buck. Nice twist (excuse the expression) on the idea. Damned interesting beginning, too, being in Turkey and all. I expect, had I been hit over the head with something so startling after having lived in a relative vacuum, I might have more "Aha!" moments such as yours. As it was, I just sort of floated from one haze to another :-)

  5. Hmmm. Not albums -- most are just songs.

    Iron Butterfly's "In a Gadda Da Vida."

    Joni Mitchell's anything.

    The Mothers of Invention's "Yellow Snow."

    A few albums stand out, though. The "White Album" and anything "Smothers Brothers." Especially "The Purple Onion." Ad the soundtracks to "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," "The Pink Panther," "Mary Poppins," and "West Side Story."

    I had a warped childhood.

  6. Henri sez: ...because my neighbor had bought a new console stereo for the living room (remember those, holy cow, I feel like fish coming out of water and walking on land now)

    Yup... that's what I had until I went to Japan in 1968 and bought my first component system. Mine was big-ass walnut Danish Modern monstrosity from GE (!) that sounded surprisingly good. Hell, my ex-wife might still even have that thing!

    Thanks for adding your memories to this, Henri.

    Jim: Your post just blew me away, Bud. EXCELLENT stuff.

    Barry: Thank ya, Sir. I look forward to your 15!

    Moogie: My Mom was my earliest musical influence and I was raised on a steady diet of Glenn Miller and freakin' EVERYTHING Rogers & Hammerstein. Until Elvis... at which point she jumped into rock 'n' roll with both feet. So... I relate to your "warped childhood" remark!

    And... Joni? Sublime. Best Chirp EVAH.

  7. Like I said a Jim's place, I thought I had eclectic taste. You all are cah-razy.

    I'd embarass myself if I attempted this. I'd have to admit to things like Bat Out of Hell and all things Sting. There could be a few interesting things on my list...maybe. We'll see.

  8. Kris: Jim and I had an off-line on this topic and he said there are no bad choices in this space. I agree with him. Go for it!

  9. For a girl who grew up on Bob Wills and Texas Swing music, you can probably figure where my musical tastes went - south. I was country, when country wasn't cool. My few albums included Willis Alan Ramsey, Michael Murphey, Willie Nelson, and a bunch of other lesser known outlaws. I did have a Simon and Garfunkle and some John Denver and a Seals and Croft. It wasn't until I married Toby that my tastes improved to the likes of Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac and a little more R&R.

  10. I'm with Moogie on the Iron Butterfly tune. It is still fresh.

    Here is a little gem; Benny Goodman at the Carnegie Hall in 1937 (Or is it 1938?) "Sing, Sing, Sing"?

    Finally; The 1812 Overture. Total Rock and Roll, complete with Cannons and Church bells.

    Out AC-DC's AC-DC!

    There is so much great music to be rediscovered out there. Pity that the closed minded Record Company Executives have twisted the music music to their own image.

  11. Lou: So you're sayin' you married UP? ;-)

    Darryl: I agree with you about the music industry but that IS changing, what with new bands putting their stuff on web sites, developing local followings and touring their asses off. Or so I read.

    I also agree with ya on Goodman and Tchaikovsky, but not on Inna Gadda Da Vida... I've just heard that tune TOO many times. It broke new ground in its day but I've heard it enough to last me the rest of this life, the next life, and probably well into the one after that.

  12. Oh boy, yea, the gadda thing. I used to punch people in the nose who started banging on the bar table trying to do the drum solo.

    I picked-up an Akai Reel to Reel (I think it was the 200D model, but my mind is onto more current topics... Anyway, FM radio again, almost all the early stations played albums late at night once a week. My task was to remain awake and record the albums. I don't care what the album was, put it on tape, and vote later.

    I really didn't like the early Fleetwood Mac sound. That singer was too pop, but after Rumours sold more records than a Texas oil well could feed, I revisited a lot of that stuff, and yes, it was mostly crap as I remembered. It was only after they got a real chick and a guitar player that they were able to rock my otherwise stable brainwaves.

    I went country for awhile. I'm sorry, but the women were wilder, the beer better, and the people just were a lot more fun at the park. I'd go to a rock and roll bar every now and then, but for the most part they were losers, and stunk up my bedroom with Canadian pot that wasn't fit for a cow to feed on. I could get more mileage out of my wanker with wine then I could a smoker dipped in PCP, and I think it's important for a man to have control of his wanker at all times...

  13. Henri sez: I really didn't like the early Fleetwood Mac sound.

    You're not talking Peter Green, blues-era Fleetwood Mac are you? In the '68 - '70 time frame? I think that was the BEST incarnation of the band... I left 'em after Rumours came out (although I bought it), not being a fan of Stevie Nicks AT ALL. Taste, and all that! ;-)


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