This was a lot harder for me than it was for Jason. The majority of my favorite albums are pretty well established as "classics" by music critics (Abbey Road, Kind of Blue, What's Going On). It's true that most of my friends wouldn't have them on their lists, but then again, you can see what my friends Jason and Sean listen to, so that wouldn't have been difficult! So my list below is more of a "I love these albums and can't think of anyone who would put them on their lists" type of list. GO!
1. Bad Religion: Recipe For Hate (1993) - Second year of college, and I was living downtown in the "hippie" section of Albany, NY as opposed to the Spartan uniformity of the uptown campus. There was a small record store called Last Vestige in a small basement apartment on Quail Street (it's much larger now and across the street). I used to go down there every day after school, soaking up the smell of patchouli and the posters lit by candles and mood lights. One day I heard this raging cool punk with harmony vocals. Harmony vocals on a punk record? This rocked. Hard. I asked what it was and the clerk handed me Recipe For Hate. The song was "American Jesus" and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam was providing background vocals. I've been hooked on Bad Religion since then and love the last two albums as much as anything they've put out before.
2. Fishbone: Truth and Soul (1990) - I can't say enough about how much this music meant to me. It was the soundtrack for every crazy thing I did with the friends I kept since high school. Listen to the awesomeness of "Ghetto Soundwave" and TRY not to shake your booty. Attempt in vain not to play air bass along to John Norwood Fisher's insane bass lines in "Bonin' in the Boneyard." Fishbone never got nearly the respect they deserved; I did my part to spread the word by putting up a six-foot poster of lead singer/sax player Angelo Moore in my dorm room. It was hard to choose between this and The Reality of My Surroundings; and in a perfect world you wouldn't have to choose between the two!
3. King's X: Faith Hope Love (1990) - Syncopated guitars with virtuoso solos? Check. Vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Beatles? Check. Massive 6-string bass played with distortion? Check. Plenty of groove? Check again. King's X fired on all cylinders for their third album Faith Hope Love, singing with passion and conviction about the shape of the word we were living in as we approached the last decade of the century, and they did it with a style that was unique in the rock world. And with the dual vocals of Dug Pinnick and Ty Tabor, it provided the perfect soundtrack for rockin' out with a friend in the car. Yes, we were so geeky we sang along and choose which harmony parts we'd do. One day I will tell the story of listening to my friend Steve as he showed me how he could harmonize to any They Might Be Giants song - it is both hilarious and frightening.
4. Frank Zappa: Joe's Garage (1979) - This was the album that turned me into a Zappaholic. Yes, I heard Absolutely Free first and liked it, but once my friend put his cassette of Joe's Garage in the car and I heard the nasal introduction by the Central Scrutinizer, I was hooked. The double-concept album runs the gamut in musical styles: rock, reggae, R&B, funk - you name it, it's in there. People give Zappa a lot of grief for his vocal delivery and his low-brow humor, but those people generally don't listen enough to really her what's going on. Yeah, Zappa's voice isn't great, but that's why he typically has 2 or 3 other killer vocalists sing as well (Ray White on "Outside Now" turns in a hurricane performance), or that his humor usually reflected the fears and obsessions most Americans refused to acknowledge they had riding on their backs. And if you want to see how incredible Zappa's music can be, watch the incredible film Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN all the way to the end; that Frank Zappa's "Watermelon in Easter Hay" playing over the end credits (from this album, incidentally).
5. Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones (1983) - This was another one that was really hard to decide on. There are a few musicians who work is so amazing that I can spend hours arguing which album is my favorite. Tom Waits is one of those musicians (Frank Zappa and Elvis Costello also rank in this list). I finally settled on Swordfishtrombones for one reason. Quantity of Quality. Here you have "16 Shells From a 30.6," "Underground," "Johnsburg, Il," "Frank's Wild Years," and "Down Down Down." I think if you mix this with a couple track from Raindogs and almost all of Bone Machine you have the perfect Tom Waits album. Tom Waits is what you listen to in the dead of the night in the middle of summer when the air conditioning doesn't work and you've got just enough scotch to last until daylight. He's the last of the true troubadours, and he can break your heart and knock you down in a bridge or a chorus.
6. Mike Keneally Band: Guitar Therapy Live (2006) - What do you do when you know you want to add someone to this list, but every album is so different, so unique in its presentation, its delivery, its tone and style, that you can't decide which one would be the best representation? Easy - pick the live album! And this one is a doozy - a special edition (autographed, of course) with a DVD covering an entire show in 6.1 DTS that I happily converted to audio tracks and burned onto CD. Mike Keneally, guitar and piano prodigy, hand-picked by Frank Zappa to replace Steve Vai as his "stunt guitarist." Mike Keneally, who, after releasing a classical album, a solo piano record, and an all-acoustic album, put together a hard-rockin' 4-piece and kicked it with the tangy taste of cheddar over the course of 23 tracks, covering his entire oeuvre. This album is so good my mouth hurts from all the ear-to-ear grinnin'.
7. Eryka Badu: Mama's Gun (2000) - This was my pick for Album of the Year back in 2000, and listening to it now it still holds up incredibly well. Eryka Badu has a voice that colors her songs with shades of Billie Holiday and Etta James. Although her debut Baduizm was the bigger hit, Mama's Gun is the more mature work, with songs covering the pain and beauty that walk hand in hand as life and love. Whether she's walking the high line of spirituality and the divine, or getting down and dirty and playful, her smoky voice and soul find their way in every track. Standouts include "Green Eyes" and "Penitentiary Philosophy." I think together with Lauren Hill, Jill Scott, and Casssandra Wilson, Eryka Badu represent the new Soul Woman.
8. Elvis Costello: My Aim is True (1977) - The first thing you need to understand is, as great is Elvis Costello's first record is, it's not really the album as presented that I'm including on this list. To understand I have to explain how I first heard EC via my friend Mike Sleap (who happens to have a cool one-man show in NYC called Uncertainty - check it out if you're in the neighborhood). The version of My Aim is True that Mike gave me was reversed: instead of starting with "Welcome to the Working Week" (in my mind one of the weaker tracks on the album) it opened with the breath-taking "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" with its great chorus of "But when they told me about their side of the bargain/That's when I knew that I could not refuse/ And I won't get any older/Now that angels wanna wear my red shoes." Even better, it now closed with "Watching the Detectives." This is the way I always listen to the record now. I could have just as easily chosen This Year's Model, Blood and Chocolate, or King of America for this list depending on my mood, but My Aim is True came first for me, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
9. Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light (1980) - Joni Mitchell came to me courtesy of the movie ALMOST FAMOUS. Cameron Crowe is a Mitchell-worshipper; his one purposeful continuity error in the movie is the inclusion of Joni Mitchell's Blue album in a record store, even though the album would not have been released at the time the movie takes place. A day or so later, I was listening to the now-defunct Noneradio on the Internet when my ears pricked up to the background music during an interview. It was a crazy folk/jazz hybrid, and my music geek ear knew it was hearing Pat Metheny on some blistering jazz solo, and it was something I hadn't heard before. Sure enough, it was Shadows and Light, with not only Metheny on guitar, but bass legend Jaco Pastorius as well. I was completely hooked, and ran out to but the album the next day. It's HUGE...Joni's incredible voice and mood mixed in with hard-core jazz and folk. Great solos, great melodies and solos, superb live sound, covers to Charles Mingus tunes set to vocals; this is one of the essential live recordings ever.
10. Funkadelic: Hardcore Jollies (1976) - It was a toss-up between this or Parliament's Up for the Down Stroke. This won because of the superior live version of "Cosmic Slop" and the killer tracks "Commin' Round the Mountain" and "Soul Mate." Parliament was the funk space ship coming down to Earth to set your booty free to shake. Funkadelic was the Soul Soldier of Fortune, here to blast your mind and your booty with the heavy artillery. And make no mistake - this album featuring the same members as Parliament rocks HARD. This is a guitar player's record - there are a number of blazing guitar solos and licks courtesy of new guys on the block Michael Hampton and Gary Shider. Whenever my friends and I would play Parliament or Funkadelic in the car, we would bounce as hard as we could, putting on our best George Clinton and Bootsy Collins voices as we sailed off to the Mothership, baby...