A few months ago, there was a meme going around Facebook where people posted the albums that influenced them the most during their teenage years. I had an interesting discussion with my friend Rik about it over drinks one night. Rik is a fellow music aficionado and writes his own excellent blog called A Pile of Concert Tickets which I highly encourage you to read. Rik’s take on the meme was that people were posting the albums that were most likely to make them look cool. As he put it, “Yes, I was listening to David Bowie and Duran Duran in high school, but I was also listening to The Thompson Twins!” And he has a point. Who wants to confess that they really loved Nik Kershaw in the 9th grade?
I argued that the meme asked us to list the albums we were most influenced by, and listening to something and being influenced by something are two very different things. I had a copy of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual when I was in high school. I liked it a lot back then, but I don’t listen to it now and it didn’t really shape my musical taste over the years. The albums that influenced me, the ones I still listen to, are the ones that have stood the test of time, that still speak to me after all these years.
Without further ado, here is my list:
1. Duran Duran – Rio
Ah, Duran Duran. I have loved this band for most of my life. Rio was the first album of theirs that I owned, bought for me by my favourite aunt. On that same shopping trip, Aunt Pat bought me the first makeup I ever owned – brown mascara, blue eyeshadow, pink lipstick. I was 14 and my parents didn’t want me listening to rock music or wearing makeup. Aunt Pat was a high school teacher and understood what mattered to kids my age.
Rio is, for me, a perfect album. An album full of light and joy and fun (Rio, Hungry Like The Wolf, My Own Way, Hold Back The Rain), introspection, loneliness and doubt (Lonely In Your Nightmare, Last Chance on the Stairway, New Religion) and pure unfettered beautiful atmospheric weirdness (The Chauffeur). When I got married, I asked for Rio to be the last song of the night because it’s such a joyful song.
And of course, I owe so much of my musical growth and discovery to Duran Duran. Read on…….
2. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
John Taylor and Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran talked endlessly in interviews about what a huge influence Bowie was on them and the whole band, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album in particular. So of course I had to find it.
My first copy of the album was actually a copied from vinyl onto cassette for me by Ken, a guy I babysat for who had a massive record collection. I was gobsmacked the first time I heard it. I had never before heard an album with such a perfect story arc, executed with such beauty and ferocity and precision.
Finding the actual album proved to be a bit of a challenge. This was the mid 80s, before the age of the Internet (yes, I’m old – shut up) and most record stores didn’t carry Bowie’s earlier stuff. There used to be a store called Incredible Records at Bloor and Yonge, on the second floor above a clothing store. It was huge and spent many Saturday afternoons there, after telling my parents that I was at the library. They had tons of Bowie, but not Ziggy. After screwing up my courage to talk to the guys who worked there, I bit the bullet and paid $30 to have the album shipped from the UK. It was worth every fucking penny.
3. Sinead O’Connor – The Lion and the Cobra
This album was a turning point for me. My tastes in early high school were pretty mainstream still. Lots of new wave and pop music. Sinead was anything but mainstream. She was raw and fierce and like nothing I’d ever heard. I was fascinated, but wary. Fascination won out and I bought The Lion and the Cobra and was captivated by it. By Sinead’s voice, by how she could be shrieking herself raw one minute, and be tender and vulnerable the next. By how the album was all over the place musically, and yet hung together perfectly.
4. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Pretty Hate Machine came out in late 1989, and it took a few months for it to show up on my musical radar. But when it did, it’s impact was immediate – visceral and quite honestly, life saving. I bought it at the start of the summer of 1990. I was 19, and things were very bad at home and I had very few outlets for the anger and helplessness I was feeling. I remember hearing Head Like A Hole for the first time, and feeling an instant shock of recognition. I wasn’t self-absorbed enough to think “Trent knows my pain” or “He wrote that song just for me”; what I did know was that here was someone expressing anger in a way that gave a voice to everything inside of me. That album stayed on my turntable all summer and to this day, I swear it kept me sane.
5. The Cure – Disintegration
There are moments you remember forever. One of those moments for me is unwrapping Disintegration, putting the pristine album on my turntable, dropping the needle onto the first song of Side 1, and being struck dumb as the perfect, plangent beauty of Plainsong poured out of the speakers. The whole album is an elegant, mournful and darkly romantic masterpiece, full of lush instrumentation that fills the room, all layered over with Robert Smith’s inimitable voice.
But Plainsong is the song that always gets me, every time, even after all these years. Many years ago, I saw The Cure on the Curiosa tour at the Molson Amphitheatre. It was a warm summer night and sun was just going down as The Cure took the stage. They opened with Plainsong and the sky blazed gold and red as the opening chords floated out into the night. It was another perfect moment that I remember like yesterday.
6. New Order – Substance
Strange as this may sound, this album became a favourite for me in retrospect. My friends and I used to make tapes for each other as Christmas and birthday gifts, and that was where I first fell in love with so many classic New Order songs. I remember lying in bed with the lights out, listening to Perfect Kiss, Shellshock and Subculture long after my parents thought I had gone to sleep. Months later, I discovered Everything’s Gone Green and fell in love all over again. And then I stumbled upon 1963 and then I finally picked up Substance in a record store and realized that all these songs were on the same album. I bought it, raced home and it didn’t leave my turntable for months.
7. Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure
I started this list talking about how much Duran Duran influenced me. I wasn’t kidding. When I read in Smash Hits that John Taylor’s favourite song was “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” by Roxy Music, I had to track it down. The track was off of Roxy’s second album, For Your Pleasure, and like Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, it was very hard to find. Again, I went back to Incredible Records and paid a large sum of money for them to import it for me from the UK. When it arrived, I smuggled it home in my backpack and unwrapped it in the privacy of my room. It was packaged in a double sleeve with some of the most beautiful album art I had ever seen – Bryan Ferry and Amanda Lear all in black against a nighttime cityscape.
Of course, the first track I listened to was “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”. I have never heard anything like, before or since. The song starts slowly, full of creeping obsession and lust while Brian Eno’s keyboards build a sense of creeping unease underneath it all. Halfway through, the song explodes into squalling guitars as Ferry wails about his lost love. It sends chills down my spine to this day.
8. Depeche Mode – 101
This may strike some people as an odd choice. Why not Black Celebration, Music for the Masses or Violator, all iconic albums and ones I love deeply. 101 – both the album and the documentary – is special to me for a couple of reasons. I bought the album the day after a disastrous high school dance, to console myself.
Guys were not lining up to date me in high school. One day, as I was leaving English class, a guy waiting outside told me he liked my hat (a white fedora, as I recall). After that, he would often catch my eye and smile as I left class and soon we were chatting regularly and when the next high school dance came up, he said he’d be there and hoped I would be too. I tried not to read too much into it, but my stomach was full of butterflies as I got ready for the dance. I’d spent all my high school years watching other people go on dates, have boyfriends and girlfriends. Was it finally going to be my turn?
I got to the dance, the guy was there and…he ignored me all night. Even worse, he spent all evening paying attention to my friend’s sister. I was devastated, as only a spurned, lonely, awkward high schooler can be. The next day, I told my parents I was going to the library, but instead I went down to Sam The Record Man on Yonge St and bought 101. I brought it home and drowned myself in the music. That live version of Never Let Me Down Again still sends chills down my spine.
On the weekend that I first saw the documentary, my parents were away for the weekend and I was at loose ends on a Saturday night. I saw in NOW Magazine that 101 was playing at the Bloor Cinema and on impulse, I went. This may not seem like a big deal, but I was very sheltered and had my parents been home, there was no way they would have let me go downtown by myself at night. Especially not to see a movie about a rock band. I still remember how daring and bold I felt as I took the subway down to Bathurst and Bloor and then sat in the darkened theatre thrilling to the sights and sounds of Depeche Mode. And how pleased I was when, back at home, I realized I had gotten away with it.
9. Sisters of Mercy – Floodland
Towards the end of high school, I started dressing more and more in black. I dyed my hair as much as I could get away with while living under my parents’ roof. I don’t even remember when or where I heard the Sisters of Mercy for the first time. I probably heard about them in one of the British music mags I kept stacked under my bed, and I probably saw the video for This Corrosion late at night on Much Music.
When I bought Floodland, I dove into it headfirst and immersed myself in the shameless bombast and drama that is Uncle Andy at his finest. To say that I became a bit obsessed with the Sisters is putting it mildly. I spent hours and way too much money in Penny Lane Records buying import copies of all their albums, EPs, live bootlegs, cassettes, fanzines, unofficial bios etc. I hopped into a car with a bunch of complete strangers to travel down to the States to see the Sisters play their first US gig in 7 years. Two of those strangers are now my very close friends.
10. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Barbed Wire Kisses
Another album that I first owned on cassette. I picked it up used at a local record store. Barbed Wire Kisses isn’t really an album, per se, but a collection of B-sides, and rarities. That doesn’t matter. The songs are arranged perfectly, starting with several noisy droning tracks that lull you into a state of music-drugged bliss. Then come the short, sharp, noisy guitar anthems, then some more buzzsaw drone, and finally some perfect power pop to end it all off. I used to lie on the floor of my tiny dorm room with the lights off and incense burning and listen to Barbed Wire Kisses over and over.
11. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Tinderbox
I’m supposed to say that I bought this album because Siouxsie is both a goth and a punk icon, but the truth is, I bought this album because of a boy. His name was Dan and he was in my Grade 11 drama class. He was tall and skinny and he wore a black leather jacket and had spiked hair and a British accent. I thought he was really cute and really cool and I wanted him to think I was cool too. I showed up in drama class one day with a cassette copy of Tinderbox in my Walkman, and made a point of mentioning it as often as possible, hoping that Dan would notice and be impressed. He didn’t and he wasn’t.
Instead, Tinderbox became my gateway into the dark, driven, beautiful and mesmerizing world of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
12. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
I didn’t buy this album because I was a punk fan. It was kind of the other way around. I bought the album because it seemed like all the kids that I thought were cool and popular (and intimidating) were into punk. And the Pistols were kind of legendary. So I bought Never Mind The Bollocks and was amazed at the anger and energy and outrage that came pouring out of the speakers.
And then my father caught sight of the album cover and blew his stack, and I became a diehard punk fan for life.