Albums of My Early Years

19 Jan

I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone’s list of formative albums, so here’s mine. For those who only want to know the list, they’re at the top. The reasons are below.
KISS – Double Platnium

Star Wars Soundtrack

James Bond – Cassette of title songs (through “All Time High”)

Amadeus – Official soundtrack

Queen – Greatest Hits

Chicago IX

Sting – The Dream of the Blue Turtles 

Genesis – Invisible Touch 

“We Are the World” – single 

Paul Simon – Graceland
KISS – Double Platinum 

I can’t exactly recall how KISS landed on my radar. Perhaps it was because they were everywhere in 1977. Another possibility was the 1977 Marvel comic book (printed in real KISS blood!) Nevertheless, sometime after April 1978 when this two-LP, 20-song package of KISS Klassics was released, I bought it. That was all she wrote. I was enthralled, and, except for a few years in the 80s, have never looked back. KISS is my first, favorite rock band.
Star Wars – Official soundtrack

I’m an only child and much of the music I learned I discoverd on my own. The music of Star Wars was a natural thing for me to get because it was Star Wars! I’d try and get anything related to the movie. Little did I know that the music of John Williams would lay the groundwork for much of the music that came after it. With this soundtrack, I was introduced to long-form instrumental music. I could “see” the movie in my head. I learned about themes and motiffs (although I didn’t know the terms yet). The Cantina Band song was arguably my introduction to jazz and the primary reason I selected the alto sax as my instrument in 6th grade band. Over the years, Williams has scored some of my favorite films and added numerous themes, but this original soundtrack with its original tracklisting remains foundational for my love of music.
James Bond – Cassette of title songs (through “All Time High”) 

Whenever I drove in a car with my dad, he’d almost always have the car radio tuned to KPRC-AM, talk radio. My mom’s musical tastes while driving was KODA, i.e., elevator music. Most of the albums I had were actual albums and I had no means of transferring them to a cassette. Somewhere along the line, we got a compilation of James Bond theme songs from Dr. No’s instrumental opener to “All Time High” from 1983’s Octopussy. This was common ground for all three of us. My parents loved the movies–they also had the novels–and this was my introduction to singers beyond KISS. It was here my love of Tom Jones began. It was with these songs I heard how the same titular character could be conveyed in various musical styles. You had it all with these songs: 60s pop (Jones), early 70s rock (McCartney), mid-70s proto disco (LuLu), and ealy 80s pop (Sheena Easton), all as filtered through the Bond sound.  
Amadeus – Official soundtrack 

If Star Wars was my introduction to instrumental music, then this soundtrack full of Mozart’s music was my bridge into the world of classical music. This 2-LP soundtrack was a greatest hits collection of Mozart’s music, starting off with the thrilling opening movement of the 25th Symphony. Moreover, Mozart himself, as played by Tom Hulce, educated me in how to listen to classical music. In the film, he describes the third movement of the Serenade for Winds in B flat major, K. 361. That scene in the film was eye opening.
Queen – Greatest Hits 

Most folks my age can remember taping a penny to the card of a Columbia Music service postcard and getting 13 cassettes in the mail. This album was one of them. I had known who Queen was since 1978 and even had the Flash Gordon soundtrack, but this collection of songs did two things for me. One, it gave me a taste of a band competant enough to change style on almost every song. From rockabilly to theater to disco, this band could do anything. Secondly, and most importantly for me, was the inclusion of “Under Pressure” with this other guy named David Bowie. I liked Bowie’s voice and sought out his records. Let’s Dance was first, then two compilations–ChangesTwoBowie and Golden Years. After that, a radio broadcast on 101 KLOL-FM in Houston (which I taped) was enough to send me on a Bowie trajectory that I never left. And it all started with Queen.
Chicago IX 

The summer of 1985 was THE summer for me. First car, first girlfriend, and glorious music on the radio. A fellow friend of mine in band loaned me a cassette of this band called Chicago. He said I’d probably know a few songs, but love them all. Chicago IX was the band’s first hits collection. Not knowing a thing, I slipped the cassette into my walkman, got the leash on the the dog, and starting walking. I pushed play. Track 1 was “25 or 6 to 4.” In my headphones came the sound of Terry Kath’s opening guitar riff, then the in-your-face horns, then Peter Cetera’s clear vocals, then the incredible guitar solo, and finally the ending. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. Track 2 was “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and it delivered a completely different sound and voice in Robert Lamm. But those horns were still there! Third came “Colour My World,” followed by “Just You n’ Me” with its soprano sax solo. I literally ran home and called my friend. As low-key as every teenager is, I declared this music the best ever. Quickly, I started collecting all the other albums, never realizing I already owned–but never played–Chicago 17. I can’t even remember how I got 17 but I was hooked. Still am.
Sting – The Dream of the Blue Turtles 

I owned Synchronicity (who didn’t?) but few of the other Police records. So when Sting left the band to make a record with jazz musicians, I was intrigued. Frankly, I expected Police-like songs with…I didn’t know what. The first single was “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” a great tune of which I’ve never grown weary. But it was the rest of the album that helped introduce me to the then-contemporary world of jazz. Branford Marsalis’s sax, Kenny Kirkland’s piano were wonderful. All of that, filtered through Sting’s songs really paved the way for my love of jazz.
Genesis – Invisible Touch 

If you were a kid in the 80s, Phil Collins was EVERYwhere. If it wasn’t a solo tune, it was a Genesis song or a one-off soundtrack song. Being a sheltered person, all of Genesis’s music sailed under my radar until 1986 and this album. Here was Phil with this other band (?). What the heck? But this led me to learn more about this band that played, in “Domino,” long songs. Little did I know at the time that this other guy (Peter Gabriel) who had a hit song called “Sledgehammer” used to be in Genesis. I can still remember my astonishment. I like the older material better now–“Supper’s Ready,” the 24-minute song, is my favorite–but it all started here with the bright sheen of 80s Genesis. 
“We Are the World” – single 

Not a record–although there was one–but a phenomenon, a cultural milestone. The song is a near-perfect snapshot of 1985 in music. All those artists singing together in a song that, for me, has held up. I distinctly remember that song playing on multiple radio stations at the same time, including KLEF, Houston’s defunct classical station. It showed me that celebrities can do things besides sell records and tickets. As an interesting experiment, listen to the original then the 2010 version recorded for relief in Haiti. Note how in 1985, you had multiple voices that sounded different, then note in 2010 there was a homogeneaty to the sound.

Paul Simon – Graceland

I’m not alone in confessing that this 1986 album opened my ears and mind to the wonders of world music. Before this, I knew little if any world music. Afterwards, I fell in love with it and sought it out. The beats of the world still pulse in my ears.

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