Recently Goldmine Magazine asked me to list the ten albums that changed my life which led me way down memory lane. It was a tough road to follow because I could have written about a hundred albums, books and movies that changed my life … not to mention women! Anyway, here’s what came to mind right away so come take a trip with me.
Kingston Trio (1962)
Because I still identify and rejoice in that incredibly brief but shining moment in the early 1960’s when it seemed everything was changing and although just barely a teenager I was anxious to change with it. The folk movement was in full bloom and The Kingston Trio were at the forefront. We were already singing their Pete Seeger penned hit “Where have all the flowers gone” but this album, by borrowing a phrase from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, associated itself directly with those coming changes. By this time the band featured John Stewart who wrote or co-wrote many of the tracks. His 1987 solo album Punch The Big Guy (1987) is an overlooked classic in my opinion.
Bob Dylan (1962)
Out the same year as New Frontier and the album that switched the strings on my guitar and mind from campfire nylon to the bluesy metal of Greenwich Village clubs. It was both the bemused attitude of that Billy the Kid boyish face on the cover with the cap, the voice and half smile, and the harmonica from another century that was so unforgettable. Stylized as close to rock ‘n roll without exactly being that but still a harbinger of things to come. I was mesmerized by “House of the Rising Sun” and knew it was not about girl scouts and totally prepared for the Animals version some short few years later. 1962 was an amazing year for pop music with Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and “Twist and Shout” all on the charts but nothing came close to being as original as this.
Everything is A-OK
Again, the cover said it all: dressed in matching gold lamé jackets, sprawled out in front of beautiful white Fender amps and guitars and coming from Colorado. The Astronauts were about as far from the California surf scene as I was in New York but that didn’t matter and even the Ramones played their instrumental hit “Baja” many years later. I still remember those great rock ‘n roll instrumentals by bands such as The Ventures or The Shadows or never-say-die Dick Dale and can still hum you the main theme of “Telstar.” Anyway, it was that other worldly reverb drenched Fender guitar sound of that album and others like it that pushed this fledgling Long Island folkie over the line into skinny electric guitars full of nothing but electricity and attitude.
Glad All Over
Dave Clark Five (1965)
They weren’t as cool as The Rolling Stones but we could easily learn to play their four chord songs while practicing in somebody’s wood paneled basement in our high school groups and stomp our Beatle boots during “Bits and “Pieces.” I saw them live and was duly impressed by the girls in the front row and the musician’s wily smiles and wanted to know what exactly went on backstage. I had the good fortune to meet Mike Smith many years later and ask where his Vox organ went. Dave’s got it, he said.
When I was 15 I so desperately needed a knowing girl like the mysterious babe in Norwegian Wood “who started to laugh” and never believed that John “crawled off to sleep in the bath.” Who would with such an obviously hip chic? “You Won’t See Me” is still a song I can’t get out of my head. Can I say that this is the point that the Beatles became less British and more worldly without offending anybody? For the first time, I felt the huge generational gap that was coming down the road and could spot a “Nowhere Man” when I saw one. And their hair seemed even longer then before! So I grew mine as well.
Wheels Of Fire
Well, Clapton was God after all and back in the day I would have sold my soul to play like him. Never quite got there but maybe close for a while in my own power trio “Stud” where we did long jams on such sensitive poetic originals as “Die Baby” as well as our own versions of “Crossroads” and “Spoonful” which were on this double album. Clapton turned me on to the blues and it’s because of him I went to the source and discovered Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and the rest of the masters. From Cream I watched every move Clapton made and when he appeared on “The Dick Cavett” TV show some years later where my sister was interning I got to see him in very close proximity. He must have passed within inches of me when he left the TV studio and although I resisted reaching out to touch him it felt just like seeing God, of course.
Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
Rolling Stones (1970)
Because it was always about the live show and the albums were supposed to come almost as … aftermath. Ironically, it seems to have gotten back to that in some fashion as CDs become like T-shirts. The Stones just kept getting better and better on stage until they truly lived up to the title “The Best Rock ‘n Roll band …” If Mick Jagger had played guitar on stage he never could have moved like he did, he took it way beyond Elvis and so you really needed him and Keith to make it work. Takes two to tango or dance with the devil.
The Velvet Underground (1970)
They were really almost a Long Island band but I never knew they existed until I started hanging out in Max’s Kansas City in NYC where they played their last summer shows. Is it possible that two of the best rock ‘n roll songs of all time – one being called just that and the other about a mysterious “Sweet Jane” could be from the same album that both the listening public and music business totally ignored at the time? They say everyone who bought a VU album started a band and maybe that’s true but more importantly, for the first time here was a band whose music seemed to only grow in stature years after their demise. Gave all of us hope that perhaps this was “art” we were dealing with in after all.
Greetings from Asbury Park
Bruce Springsteen (1973)
Just before recording my own first album legendary rock critic Paul Nelson gave me another freshman try album up at his Mercury Records office and told me it was something I should listen to, that it was important. Paul had defended Dylan when he went electric so I took his word as gold. I didn’t get the postcard cover at all because it seemed hokey and I was expecting a sensitive-seventies-softrock-singer-songwriter but man like the title track said I was blinded by the onslaught of words and diversity of styles within. This was an artist who seemed to have something to say to all of us not just the entitled hipsters and what was more amazing he didn’t seem to be suffering. In fact, he looked tan and rested and living the beach bum life somewhere on the coast of NJ. Bruce put the smile back on the face of “rock ‘n roll” because it “ain’t no sin to be glad to be alive” when you can sing and play like that.
Elliott Murphy (1973)
Excuse me but we were talking about albums that changed my life? That change that has shaped my destiny for the past 35 years became most apparent the first time I heard “Last of the Rock Stars”, the lead-off track on my album, on New York’s very cool WNEW-FM radio because then I knew it was real and no matter what happened no one could take that away from me. I had made it onto the same airwaves as all my heroes so everything that might have to come after that was gravy. First albums are like no other an artist or band records because it had been a lifetime of dreams and desire up until that point. Thirty something albums down the road and Aquashow still has my favorite cover – me and my brother Matthew sitting in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel thinking about The Great Gatsby and wondering if the Record Company would buy us lunch (they didn’t.) While recording this album I stepped into a world of musicians like Frank Owens (Like A Rolling Stone) and Gene Parsons (The Byrds) who really knew how to play and gave my songs a grace I didn’t know was possible. The albums know more about us then we know about them and my first one began with … A.