I saw Liore’s post on #3AlbumsThatChangedMyLife, and I started to think back on my own impressionable youth and the albums that affected me.
I was raised in a somewhat musical family, but I didn’t become “interested” in music until let’s say my mid-to-late teenage years. Prior to that most pop songs went in one ear and out the other and I never owned any albums. (Okay I did buy a single of M-M-M-My Sharona, a song that was entirely inappropriate for my then-age.) In high school I started to learn to play guitar (again) and really started to buy, collect, and “study” music. Since then I’ve dabbled in writing songs and home recording and all manner of audio things, which now manifests as an occasional YouTube upload. But I think my musical senses really peaked in my late teens and twenties, which is reflected in this list.
For this exercise, I’ve picked albums that didn’t necessarily change my life per se, but albums that sparked my imagination and changed what I thought was possible with music. Albums that were more than merely a collection of catchy tunes, but windows into other worlds, visions of endless time and space, filled with possibilities. (Yucky music metaphors ahead.) I’ve excluded movie soundtracks and classical music.
By the way I think all of the YouTube links below are helping the referenced artists, but if they aren’t somebody yell at me and I’ll remove them. I hate ripping off musicians. If I couldn’t tell I left out the link.
3. Queensryche - Promised Land
The first Queensryche song I ever heard was Silent Lucidity on the radio. I liked it because of the clear Pink Floyd influence. Then I heard Jet City Woman, which is an entirely different kind of song. Then I heard a third song from the same album (I think it was Another Rainy Night). With three songs that I liked from the same album, all three similar but different, I figured there was a good chance I’d like the whole album, so I bought Empire, and not surprisingly, I liked it.
I then bought their previous album, Operation: Mindcrime. It’s very different-a concept album-but I loved it, too. (I didn’t like their earlier stuff as much, though.)
Both of those albums might have been on this list, but soon afterward, Queensryche released Promised Land.
I eagerly bought it. It was different from both Mindcrime and Empire. The band’s sound had evolved yet again, a talent that I really appreciate in musical acts. It’s a glorious mixture of goth, metal, and rock with top-notch production values. Dense reverbs throughout made it feel like you were inside a huge cave of awesome. All of the songs felt deeply meaningful and relevant to my life at the time, too. “Life’s been like dragging feet through sand, and never finding the Promised Land.” Good stuff. Very uplifting. :)
2. Pink Floyd - The Wall
I mean, obviously, right? I first heard songs from The Wall when some friends suggested I needed to expand my musical repertoire and made me a mix tape (a cassette!). I remember it had Van Halen on it, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, but it definitely had Comfortably Numb and possibly Hey You from The Wall.
Being a student of electric guitar at the time, Comfortably Numb obviously became an instant hit with me. And when I listened to the entirety of The Wall from start to finish, it was like listening to something from outer space. (It’s hard to come up with metaphors for music, ya know?) I would just sit there mesmerized. How could humans possibly make music like that?
I was amazed at the pristine production value of that album. The absolute precision of every track in those songs, and how it all sounded so amazing and perfect. There were orchestras and classical guitars and pianos and male choirs and sound effects and even actors. It was the first “rock opera” I ever heard. (“Rock” is kind of a loose definition for The Wall, but back then it was definitely rock.) And it was a compelling story, too. At least to me in my youth.
(I didn’t care for the movie, though … it spoiled my image of the music.)
(I later learned that a lot of The Wall was the work of Roger Waters, and his later albums The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and especially Amused to Death, both masterpieces, would have made this list, except I heard The Wall first.)
1. Queen - A Night At The Opera
A Night At The Opera was the first album I can remember blowing my mind completely. I only knew of its existence from my older brothers. At some point in my teens, around the time I became interested in music and was bumbling around learning chords on an acoustic guitar, I came across the album on cassette and instantly decided that this was the goal that I should be striving for in all my efforts to learn about music. It seemed like the ultimate expression of thoughts and ideas in the audible spectrum.
Several things struck me all at once. Practically every song on the album is a different style. Radically different. It’s always impressed me. Obviously Freddie Mercury’s singing is amazing, but since I was learning guitar I was drawn more to Brain May’s amazing guitar work. Sometimes it was hard and metallic, sometimes it was quiet and lyrical, sometimes it was acoustic, sometimes it was electric. It was complex and layered and seemed to display every possible sound you could make with a guitar.
Most people know A Night At The Opera as the album with Bohemian Rhapsody on it, but my favorite song is The Prophet’s Song. It’s amazing. When I listen to that song, I see an entire Cecil B. DeMille movie play out in my head. It’s like an entire epic fantasy book series all in one song.
Extreme - III Sides To Every Story. Extreme is similar to Queen and clearly influenced by them, and this album was their finest work in my opinion. But it’s a bit redundant with Queen already on the above list.
The Strange Days Soundtrack. I discounted movie soundtracks from the above list, but this soundtrack is a collection of songs. It opened my eyes to the power of rawer, punkier, more “alternative” music.
Enigma - Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi. Don’t ask me to pronounce that. :) The genre used to be called “new age” music, but I don’t know if people still call it that. I love many albums in this genre-anything by Tangerine Dream, for example, or Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth-but this Enigma album took new age music to a whole new level for me. It’s such a lush “soundscape,” with cool drum beats and even some singing.
Steve Vai - Passion and Warfare. This is a master class of electric guitar work. In a way, it’s like a rock opera of instrumental songs. It makes my jaw drop whenever I listen to it.
This turned out to be a fairly hard post to write, because I’ve always considered the music that people like to be deeply personal. When somebody criticizes the music you like, it often feels like they’re criticizing you personally.