My Ten Most Influential Albums
My Tribute to Vinyl and Non-digital Music
I grew up in the age of the vinyl album, something I sorely miss about music today. For those who only know the digital age of music, an album was a collection of songs that worked together as a music set and was two-sided. Usually, there were a couple of songs that stood out as the “single”, but for the most part, fans appreciated the whole set. Yet both sides of the album played as their own smaller set of songs. The “concept album” was, as it stated, the songs representing an over-all theme. (If you are still confused, watch the movie Almost Famous) The list is not in order of importance, rather it is my own take on how I view them personally.
This is how I chose my list:
- overall songs and how they worked as mentioned above
- the album’s wider value as it related to societal and/or creative importance, i.e., it created a genre of music or a political movement or an artistic movement or are just plain amazing.
- the album cover, liner notes, or album art
- the artists who created the albums became icon themselves and, of course, they sold millions of copies.
#1 Meet the Beatles
Do I really need an explanation here? OK. I’ll explain. I wouldn’t be putting this list together if it weren’t for the Beatles because along with the Beach Boys, they actually created what we think of today as “the album”. In essence, creating songs in the studio using techniques of different sounds and production, in most cases creating a sound that could never be duplicated live; the album as a work of art in and of itself.
#2 Dance Party — Martha and the Vandellas
I know this might stick out from the bunch as defined by me, but let’s take a trip down memory lane; from 1964 to 1968, more than a hundred American cities were swept by race riots. The Race Relations Act of 1965 was the first legislation in the United Kingdom to address racial discrimination, outlawing discrimination on the grounds of color, race, ethnic or national origins in public places. Dance Party was released in 1965 by American Motown and it didn’t take long before both whites and blacks were dancing to the genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland with “Dancing in the Street” “Nowhere to Run” and “Wild One.” This is why I note it as one of the most influential records of all time.
#3 The Who – Quadrophenia
The Who’s Quadrophenia is one of the greatest influences of my life. I remember sitting in many a movie theater watching this story over and over again, with it’s bleak British landscape against this magnificent soundtrack. Townshend’s idea for Quadrophenia was a film, grounded in reality and told the story of Jimmy, a young lad with a four-way split personality. Pete Townshend is a genius. This record is a masterpiece.
#4 Nevermind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols — The Sex Pistols
The amount of music and bands this one album inspired alone qualifies it for a spot on this top ten most influential albums of all time. Political? Certainly, but I think what makes this collection special is the style of the faster tempo, simple chord progression and the “I don’t give a shit about my vocals” attitude that created a worldwide fashion and music culture that is still relevant today. Punk Fashion was the focus of the Costume Institute’s Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013 and many bands that came out of the Seattle Grunge Music Scene in the 90’s credit the Sex Pistols as an influence in getting into music in the first place.
#5 Alanis Morissette –Jagged, Little Pill
Unapologetic, angry, contemplative Jagged Little Pill represents the female artist expressing something other than love songs, or songs solely directed towards men (not that there are none in this collection but they are not exactly loving!) Released in 1995, the monster-selling breakout album will celebrate its 20th Anniversary by surpassing 15 million unit sales. I believe this represents the aforementioned thirst for “the unapologetic, angry and contemplative female perspective” and it’s most satisfying delivery.
#6 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — Elton John
My copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was literally worn out by the time I had moved on to another obsession. Recorded in two weeks at the Chateau d’Herouville in France, genius musical Elton John took genius lyricist Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and created a masterpiece tribute to cinema that still resonates with me to this day. Perhaps it was a subconscious influence in my becoming a filmmaker of music intensive media? Regardless, the title track, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, is clearly Elton’s masterpiece and the album played like a flawless, rock movie score!
#7 De’ja’ Vu – Crosby Stills Nash and Young
Of all the great work written and recorded during the Woodstock Era, I consider this one the most politically influential. It isn’t necessarily a band collaboration, as much as it is a collection, since the songs were recorded by the members, individually, aside from Woodstock, which was written by Joni Mitchell. However, the collection works magnificently as a whole, each member contributing something unique and yet still within the vein of what we then called Folk Rock, which became a huge genre in and of itself. The album helped spawn a certain California sound, which branched out to solo artists like Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and others.
#8 Carpenters – The Carpenters
For anyone born after 1975, it’s difficult to imagine how big “hit AM radio” was back in the day. Once upon a time, there was a genre called Soft Rock (now called Adult Contemporary) which has all but disappeared as a financial market in modern day. But back then, Karen and Richard Carpenter were the Adult Contemporary king and queen. Together, the siblings became one of the best selling music artists of all time, recording eleven albums and thirty-one singles in their fourteen-year career, which ended with Karen’s death from heart failure due to anorexia.
# 9 Steely Dan — Pretzel Logic
In my choosing this album: the album art carried great significance, as did the collaborative studio effort by Donald Fagan and Walter Becker and it’s rich jazz influence. The album cover features a photograph of a pretzel seller at Fifth Ave and 49th St, near Central Park. “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number “ is one of the greatest songs ever written in my opinion. It is timeless. Pretzel Logic is a studio album you could play for guests or enjoy on a rainy Sunday afternoon and every time I hear it, it brings me back to high school.
#10 P!nk –I’m Not Dead
I had to throw this P!nk record into this mix because I love the album art and because of the audacity of Dear Mr. President and Stupid Girls, bravery rarely seen in a pop record. P!nk has never been shy about expressing her opinion, but in this recording the lyrics clearly fall within the spectrum of world politics, sexism and female sexuality and the “dumbing down” of young women. It’s fresh and bold and plays great as a collection. I remember David Crosby mentioning the song Dear Mr. President in a Rolling Stone article, not knowing who wrote it or sang it but praising it for being out there. Truth be told, Dear Mr. President, along with the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines anti-war statement at a London concert, were the only public outcries from celebrities against the Iraq war. Let’s hear it for the girls!