There has been a meme doing the rounds on Facebook where people have been invited to select the albums that had the biggest influence on their taste in music. It’s been fun seeing the albums that friends have chosen but a disappointing aspect of that meme is that it asks participants to NOT say why they picked those particular albums. I think it would be much more interesting to hear the reasons why those albums were special enough to be picked! So I thought I’d have a go at listing mine in this blog post, with some commentary. (Note: The Facebook meme seems to have mutated from 7 to 10 albums, but I’ve kept mine to 7 – split into 2 posts! You can find Part 2 here)
Most influential, not best
One of the things that I had to get my head around is that the challenge is asking people to select the albums that most influenced their taste in music, not just select their 7 favourite albums. That might seem like a subtle difference but it’s an important one. I’ve tried to explain why and how my selected albums made the grade on the basis of the influence they have had.
‘New Jersey’, by Bon Jovi
I was a pop fan before I got into rock and heavy metal. The first albums I bought were albums by Five Star and Michael Jackson! I remember though that a friend came round one day, when I was in my early teens, with Iron Maiden and ZZ Top albums. The Iron Maiden album was their Number of the Beast one, which had been released in 1982. I’m not sure what the ZZ Top album was, but both of them sounded very loud, interesting, and a bit dangerous.
Although I liked what I’d heard it would be another year or so before I bought my first rock album and it was Bon Jovi’s New Jersey album which was released in 1988. I’d been watching a TV music programme that played videos by Bon Jovi and Van Halen that were both very exciting. The songs were ‘Bad Medicine’ and ‘Jump’ respectively. It was Bad Medicine though that proved particularly alluring, with the video shots showing Jon Bon Jovi running around stage in front of a huge adoring audience.
So I got Bon Jovi’s New Jersey album. I think it was as a Christmas present. And I loved it. Bad Medicine remained my favorite but some of the other tracks that I liked included ‘Born to be my baby’, ‘Living in sin’, ‘Lay your hands on me’, ’99 in the shade’ and ‘Blood on blood’.
Now that I look back on it all these years later, I would rate it as a good album but definitely not as strong as Bon Jovi’s predecessor album, ‘Slippery when wet’. The reason I’ve included it among my 7 most influential albums though is because it started me off on the adventure of exploring rock and metal music. From Bon Jovi, I branched out to similar heavy rock bands stuff as Def Leppard, Posion, Aerosmith, The Quireboys, and there would be no turning back – from then on it’s been loud guitar-based music that has been my main musical passion.
‘Pump’, by Aerosmith
As I got into rock music in the late 1980s, I started listening to the Friday and Saturday Night Rock Shows on Radio One. Those were shows hosted by Tommy Vance and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, and they provided really the only outlet that rock music had on mainstream radio in those days. It was pushed to one side, one dark corner, by the powers that be but that made it more exciting.
Through those shows I heard a huge number of bands that were new to me. They were playing Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, W.A.S.P., AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, and too many more to mention. I remember the exact moment though when I first heard Aerosmith. It was a Friday night and Tommy Vance played a song that I would discover is called ‘Rats in the cellar’. It’s a song from Aerosmith classic 1976 album, ‘Rocks’. It starts with a cool Joe Perry riff and then Joey Kramer’s pounding drums come in before, best of all, Steven Tyler’s velveteen vocals. It’s a song that oozes sass and from that moment I was an Aerosmith fan.
I possibly could have found a way of getting their Rocks album but I read that they had a new album coming out and started to hear tracks from it being played on the radio. And I had to get that album. That album was ‘Pump’ and the year was 1989.
I’ve recently been going back and listening to lots of rock albums from 1989 that I didn’t get around to buying at the time, but Pump probably still remains my favourite from the many great albums that were released that year. And I would argue that it’s one of four absolutely essential albums that Aerosmith have issued over their long and distinguished career. The other three are ‘Rocks’, ‘Toys in the Attic’, and ‘Permanent Vacation’.
Pump starts at a frantic pace with the very cool ‘Young Lust’ not even leaving room to draw a breath before ‘F.I.N.E.’ follows. The latter is a ridiculously cool sounding song but one that probably is only known by Aerosmith fans given that it was never released as a single. There’s a few lines of the lyrics towards the end of the song that probably wouldn’t have made it suitable for radio airtime but it’s a shame that they didn’t create a radio friendly edit so that it could have joined all the other hits from the album.
Next up is ‘Love in an elevator’ which was the big hit from the song. It’s instantly catchy and contains some sumptuous vocal harmonies. It was a staple of rock discos back in the late 80s and early 90s. We go from there to ‘Monkey on my back’, a song about Tyler’s drug-addled history. It’s another gem of a deep-cut from the album – one of the best songs on a fantastic album. Completing ‘Side 1’ on that old cassette format was ‘Janie’s got a gun’, which was a big hit for the band. It’s notable for being one of the few songs where Aerosmith get a bit political, as the song is about child abuse and gun control.
The second side of the album wasn’t far off the quality of side one. In ‘The Other Side’, and ‘What It Takes’, Aerosmith added another two great ballads to their already bulging collection. ‘Don’t Get Mad, Get Even’ is fun, and ‘Hoodoo Voodoo Medicine Man’ is cool, and ‘My Girl’ is great. In my opinion there are no filler tracks on this album and it remains one of my very favourite albums of all time.
Appetite for Destruction, by Guns N’Roses
Reaching consensus on what the greatest rock album of all time is would be an impossible task, but many rock fans would award that accolade to this Guns N’Roses album that was released in 1987. My introduction to the band and album came about after a school friend copied the album onto a blank cassette and gave it to me. I better not mention his name in case the cops swoop (!) but thanks Colin (oops) for introducing me to this classic!
I remember that Guns N’Roses sounded more edgy and dangerous than the classic and glam rock bands that I had been listening to up until this point. For a start, the album was littered with expletives, but it also had a really aggressive guitar sound courtesy of the twin guitar genius of Slash and Izzy Stradlin.
The intro to first song ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ is utterly awesome and if it’s the first time you’ve heard Axl Roses’ raspy screaming vocals then you’re in for a treat. Axl is a divisive character in terms of some of his eccentric behavior over the years but he has a vocal range that very few in any form of music can match, and one of the most distinctive sounding voices too.
The big hits on the album were ‘Sweet Child O Mine’, ‘Paradise City’, and ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. They’re all fantastic but some of the album’s other tracks are equally good. Check out ‘Nightrain’, ‘Mr Brownstone’, ‘My Michelle’, ‘It’s So Easy’, ‘Think About You’, and ‘Anything Goes’. In fact the whole album is spectacular.
I listened to this a lot on my Sony Walkman (so that my parents wouldn’t hear the swear words) and it was a main staple of the albums that my friends and I played at university. If you have any liking for loud guitar orientated music then you owe it to yourself to check this masterpiece out.
The Beast of Alice Cooper, by Alice Cooper
It’s probably a slight cheat to include a greatest hits package but I HAD to include an Alice Cooper album and this was my introduction to the great man’s music. Another school friend had recommended that I listen to Alice Cooper given the other bands that I liked, and I’m glad that I went with his recommendation to buy this album!
For anyone who doesn’t know, Alice Cooper is a man, not a woman, and he is considered the godfather of shock rock, with hugely theatric stage shows that frequently included the villainous figure of Alice being executed in some way. 🙂
Beyond the theatre and shock value though, Cooper is one of the greatest songwriters of rock music. As someone who already had a fledgling interest in lyrics, I was immediately drawn to his songs and I love the sense of humour that permeates through so much of his music.
The Beast of Alice Cooper is a greatest hits package that showcases many of his biggest hits from the 1970s. Of course, it’s got ‘School’s Out’ which was such a big hit for him. Both my sons were really into Alice Cooper from an early stage. I remember that we had to fill in a sheet when my oldest boy started nursery and it had a question around what his favourite song was. I imagine it probably surprised the Nursery school teachers that his was ‘School’s Out’!
The album is jam-packed with great songs. Some of the other most famous ones include ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ ‘Elected’, and ‘Only Women Bleed’. But some of the coolest songs on the album are ones that may not be as familiar to aficionados of rock music – songs like ‘Desperado’, ‘Teenage Lament ‘74’, and ‘Is it my Body’.
This album makes my 7 most influential albums list primarily because it made me become a big Alice Cooper fan, and I would go on to collect a significant number of the albums he’s ever released. My wife and I even went down the aisle to an Alice Cooper song – a much later track called ‘Be with you awhile’. But Alice has also been an influence on my later lyric writing exploits. There’s quite a few lyrics that I’ve written that owe a bit of a debt to Alice’s blend of dark lyrics done with a bit of humour!
I’ve split this post into two parts, to try to avoid it being too long! This first part can be characterised as my introduction to could be described as hard rock, or classic rock. With Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, it includes a couple of bands from the 70s who remained relevant and successful through the 80s. And Bon Jovi and Guns N’Roses were the new kids on the scene, who by the end of the 80s were amongst the biggest bands in the world, whether you look at rock or any other genre.
In part 2, I’m going to turn my attention to albums (and bands) that I discovered during my university years in the early 90s. I’d love to see people leave comments about what albums they would include, and why?!
Above is the cassette that I listened to Appetite for Destruction on for the first time. I cut a picture of Slash out of a rock magazine and stuck it onto the cassette’s casing. Still have it all these years later!