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.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Under The Influence: The Closer You Get

Ever seen those musician trees that show this one band and how it's connected via a branch to this other band, someone from that band left and formed another band and another forming a cluster within a genre?  Well, I see my musical inspirations in clusters.  My appreciation and love for Country music started right here with Alabama's 1983 album, The Closer You Get.  Without it, I don't know if my passion for deep emotional songwriting, group harmonies and a hint of twang would be where it is.  Willie Nelson, Restless Heart, The Zac Brown Band, Exile, Lonestar and so many others would just be names.

How could you not get lost in a song like "Dixieland Delight?"  It saunters along starting simple, adding layers and layers, then picks up its pace until it's a gallop and becomes a party.  Then there are songs like "She Put The Sad In All Of His Songs" and "Lady Down On Love" that play the heartstrings expertly.  The pacing and production of the title track also was a perfect song to lure me over from the Pop and Rock side of things.  There are some great moments on the album which is why I do have to credit The Closer You Get for being that bridge that led me to Nashville...and Alabama.  As a matter of fact, I was lucky enough to be in attendance at their performance in Las Vegas on October 10, 1998, which was filmed for the live DVD, 41 Number One Hits.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Under The Influence: Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse

Remember me mentioning 'found sounds'?  Well, that's what leads us here to Skinny Puppy's 1986 album, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse.  This had to be here as it made a big influence on my music purchases and enjoyment.  This was the kind of music that when I was my worst moods, I would turn off the lights, lay down, close my eyes and escape into -- knowing that life really was better when you returned from the journey.  I remember hearing some tracks at a friend's house and at that time I would listen to KUNV's program Difficult Listening which would challenge the brain a bit.  So, back to found sounds, Skinny Puppy has a way of taking it to a different level by including movie lines, guitars, vocalist Ogre's abrasive spoken-word poetry and sampled sounds all on top a layer of synth.

The progression of the band's career musically is worth hearing.  But M:TPI is one of their big steps forward.  Too many great moments here to list from opener "One Time One Place," the stunning "Love.," "Deep Down Trauma Hounds," "200 Years," "Chainsaw," "Addiction" and much more.  This album may not be for everyone but I believe musically and in life we have poles.  We have markers that set boundaries and Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse set a flag further out on my musical landscape than any other.  It made it easier to describe acts like Ministry, Throbbing Gristle and Nine Inch Nails.  So, if you are looking to expand your borders... take a journey.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Under The Influence: Some Great Reward

I specifically remember the video for "People Are People" first appearing on local UHF music channel KRLR 21.  At that time it was branded as Las Vegas' Vusic (video music) Channel.  Yes, if for some reason you didn't have MTV for a time, you had KRLR.  So the video first appearing was my first introduction to industrial 'found sounds.'  I was lucky enough to discuss the topic with Andrew McCluskey of OMD during a Talking 80s Music episode several years ago.  Some Great Reward was also an introduction into the impressive songwriting of Martin L. Gore.  It barely beat out the less experimental but much more endearing Music For The Masses but if the list is about inspiring me musically...this one earned it.

Depeche Mode's 1984 album was a 9 song journey through love, faith, BDSM, equality, change and desire.  I remember sitting in the back seat of a friend Julee's car and hearing "Blasphemous Rumours" and thinking the line "I think that dog's got a sick sense of humor" was insane but maybe a quizzical blurb.  My misunderstanding, funny as it was, brought me closer to the song which examines faith in controversial moments.  "Somebody" is probably one of the most beautiful presentations of one's hopes for a future relationship...which is why it is used at many weddings.  I could actually go through each track on this album and how they affected me but it's something you should do yourself if you haven't.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Under The Influence: Shout At The Devil

Not my first experience with the genre of heavy metal, but Motley Crue's 1983 sophomore album, Shout At The Devil, was an important step for me.  Personally, it was a strange time as I received a copy of it from a beautiful girl who meant a lot to me.  I believe she was also the first girl I ever kissed, but we aren't going to out her here as she has and created an amazing life and family since.  It was a gift around a time that I was changing schools and my parents had divorced.

I still can visualize the moment after school on the day that I put the cassette into the stereo and cranked it up (because it starts so softly.)  I also remember racing to the volume knob to turn it down seconds later.  The intro "In The Beginning" is epic and very dystopian.  It's funny to see this in context as I just posted about the Beatles and this includes a great cover of their "Helter Skelter." It could be the teenage angst, family issues and emotional issues that most of the songs made a connection.  The singles were solid and each song made you want to sing along... well except the instrumental for obvious reasons.

I believe that because it didn't come with lyrics, photos and all the promotional fixings that imagery was overlooked on my part.  As I am usually focused on lyricism, the words meant less to me because I wasn't reading along during my first listen. 

The album still takes me back to a time in my life full of change.  Shout At The Devil may not have led me to the occult but led me towards other albums and artists.  I think metal guitar has a purpose and I felt it first here on an album full of rebellion, energy and passion.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Under The Influence: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

I decided to use the blog to expand upon the intentionally vague Facebook posts about the top 10 albums that influenced my musical tastes.  Just the covers are posted there but I figure context is pretty important and why not rant a little on them.

The early 1980s in Las Vegas were an interesting time for radio as we had stations regularly playing older music.  I believe a lot of this could be due to the 1981 release of the "Stars On 45 Medley" single which started with a few other songs ("Venus" and "Sugar, Sugar") which lead into The Beatles songs ("No Reply," "I'll Be Back," "Drive My Car," "Do You Want To Know A Secret," "We Can Work It Out," "I Should Have Known Better," "Nowhere Man" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl.")  The following year, The Beatles would be behind the release of  "The Beatles' Movie Medley," which would include "Magical Mystery Tour," "All You Need Is Love," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "I Should Have Known Better, " "A Hard Day's Night," "Ticket To Ride" and "Get Back."  This resurgence also saw two reissued singles, "Love Me Do" in 1982 and "Twist And Shout" in 1986 (mostly due to the success of Ferris Bueller's Day Off.)  So, amidst the embers of disco and emerging New Wave was something retro and different.

The song "Nowhere Man" from Stars On 45 stuck in my head.  I don't know why but I would even harmonize with a friend in elementary schoold singing the song and a few others.  But, it is funny that I only knew the snippet that was from the medley.  But my interest in the songs and the Beatles' music would later inspire my mother to pick up a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hears Club Band on cassette for me.  I delved deep into the 1967 creation until the wheels on the cartridge seized and tape spewed everywhere.

I am a true believer in music challenging the listener's ear.  My 3 listens rule definitely applied here but I think the pop sections reel you back in for more.  The stylistic range of the album is as wide as the subject matter and vocal styles.  I think this really this opened me up to accepting a lot of different sonic templates which you will see on this list.  That's what an influence is, isn't it?