Thursday, May 21, 2020

Under The Influence: Rio

I'm not big on subjective lists.  So, coming up with the 10 albums that influenced your musical tastes is a chore.  Probably because it is personal and that you only heard an album if you bought it, borrowed it or copied it.  Things changed by the 1990s and since -- as you can just go to YouTube, Spotify or any other service to hear full albums.  So, a lot of it depends on what you got your hands on or what song on the radio made you part with money you made on your newspaper route.  Then there is the parental effect...they control the stereo in the car, so you listen to what they do.  Paul Harvey was a standard in Dad's car while Mom was more Pop radio with hints of country.  So what singles you heard would determine if you were interested in getting a whole album.

Duran Duran's 1982 sophomore effort, Rio, had a long simmering inspiration as I was affected by the singles and MTV domination as almost everyone else was.  "Hungry Like The Wolf," "Rio" and "Save A Prayer" were huge.  Later in junior high school, my friend Phil would make cassette copies from his rather vast collection for me.  He was a Duran Duran fan among other acts.  So, I played my copy of Rio over and over.  But one song, "The Chauffeur," specifically hit me as otherworldly.  That pan flute sound hooks you while the keyboard and bass take you elsewhere.  "New Religion," "My Own Way," "Last Chance On The Stairway," "Lonely In Your Nightmare" and "Hold Back The Rain" were great songs as well and got played on my little stereo enough to almost feel like singles.

Rio as well as the follow-up albums, Seven And The Ragged Tiger and Notorious, made me want to play music...form a band.  I'm not going to list those endeavors here but how can I not name an album that led me towards performing which led to journalism and all that you've seen here.  Only saw them perform once but it was well worth it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Under The Influence: Alpha

During the 5-year run of Talking 80s Music, I mentioned 1983 and how important that year was musically to me.  I've had a long-standing belief that a lot of the influence on your music choices come from a young age... as early as 12.  (I'd still love to see a research paper on it.)  I specifically remember being at a friend's house (her name was Princess) for a birthday party and, prior to the party, they had MTV on.  I recall 2 specific songs from that day, "Puttin' On The Ritz" from Taco and "Don't Cry" from Asia.  One got me into modern Jazz covers and the other put arena rock on the musical map for me.  I still have this on vinyl in a box in my closet.  Such a beautiful cover created by Roger Dean.

There is something upbeat and optimistic about "Don't Cry" that also touches on that inner white knight in me.  I also found myself endeared to the emotional "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes."  So many good moments on here like "Last To Know," "The Heat Goes On," "Never In A Million Years" and "My Own Time (I'll Do What I Want)" but this is probably the first album that I wanted to hear in order.  The singles were great but I really liked the balance in energy from song to song.  The production and use of keyboards to enhance the landscape of the music impressed my young mind.  I definitely believe this led me into the rest of their catalog, Styx, Journey, Foreigner, The Alan Parsons Project and Rush.  This almost didn't make it here but a lot of albums are going to miss this list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Under The Influence: The Size Of Food

Do you think anyone actually stole the book titled Steal This Book just because of the title on the cover?  Do you think anyone has been inspired to buy an album because of the cover?  Well, I can answer the last one as a big, "YES!"  I mean just look at the cover of Jean-Paul Sartre Experience's 1989 album, The Size Of Food.  Crazy, right!  From a distance it looks like an eye but closer up has that thermal imaging photo of people reaching out to the center of a circle bringing the last person towards them.  Or are they ostracizing someone with their hands pushing that person away.  Or, the zombies got to the last human.  Amazing what a perspective change can do to an image.  But this photo led me to one of the albums that inspired my musical tastes.

Beyond that surface, this is a heartfelt psychedelic trip.  It's hard to describe the journey the band take us on here as some of these songs dabble in creepy, damaged, haunting, melancholy and vulnerable.  "Inside And Out" has a romantic undercurrent with a chorus of, "Baby, it's your heart that I'm after."  Creepy, I guess, if you are taking it as literal.  One gem that I catch myself singing often is "Shadows" which hits the melancholy and dark vibe.  (Maybe a psychedelic song for goths.)  Remember that boat ride during Charlie & The Chocolate Factory?  Well, that's the feel of "Get My Point."  The guitars drive several of the songs here -- songs that have inspired me to look outside the mainstream and into genres I might not otherwise sample.  Definitely an album that needs a few listens...especially if you are staying in on a rainy day.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Under The Influence: Greatest Hits Volume 1

I'm a stickler for the rules provided me for challenges and this one said nothing about 'best of' collections.  This was difficult enough as I really dislike making definitive lists like this, but I am thankful that I don't have to rank them.  Anyhow, this was possibly among the first couple cassettes I ever owned.  I think there were 3 purchased tapes -- one yet to be listed and a Star Wars Christmas -- as well as several recordings off of the radio.  I pulled Mom aside this week to ask her why she bought me this collection.  She said that she just thought they were good songs.  You can't get more to the point than that.  It was derided as a collection at the time as Linda Ronstadt was just hitting her stride and seemed to be too soon to release a retrospective.  More than 7 million have sold in the U.S. alone which, to me, means they were wrong.

Ronstadt's recordings set a high bar for female vocalists for me.  I believe that is reflected in my crates of CDs as I have leaned towards the bluesy pipes of an Alison Moyet and fewer songbirds like Linda.  I would also note the early part of Ronstadt's career was stylistically in flux.  Hear the banjo and fiddle on "Love Is A Rose"?  Well, the b-side to that was the Pop/Dance hit "Heat Wave" which is also on here.  (After 1984, I couldn't hear "Heat Wave" without "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" invading in my head.)  Then you have the R&B influence on "You're No Good."  "Different Drum" and "Long, Long Time" will always be peak moments on this collection.  So many great renditions of classic songs here as well.  What I'd like to really say is that, if an artist or album is going to make an impression on you and influence your musical tastes, it needs to fill a void or surpass a prior favorite.  This one did.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Under The Influence: Johnny Diesel & The Injectors

Staring at me right now is a 7-piece set of Hohner Piedmont Blues harmonicas on my DVD shelf in my office.  I really do need to spend some time with them soon.  You see, I had a cheap little harmonica that I would carry in my black leather jacket during high school.  Now, I could barely play a blues riff on it but I loved it.  During that time, I had a rotation of cassettes for my VW in a storage case usually under the passenger seat.  1989's eponymous debut Johnny Diesel & The Injectors would become my blues fix.  I caught a video for, "Don't Need Love," their first single from the album on MTV late at night and was drawn in.  This album would send me off to shop later for Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Eric Clapton and the Robert Cray Band.

The album has my favorite rendition of "Since I Fell For You" on it as well as a few other standards.  But, the originals like "Don't Need Love," "Cry In Shame," "Fire Without A Flame," "Lookin' For Love" and "Soul Revival" kept me going back.  Mark Lizotte is still one of the most underrated guitarists out there to this day.  He makes his instrument cry all over this album.  The sax really holds its own on these tracks while the rhythm section is solid.  I'm probably going to listen to it again, right now.