The other night I was listening to a deep cut I hadn't heard in years off one of my favorite albums. I started nostalgia trippin' pretty hard and got to thinking, can I even possibly pick 10 favorites, the ones that made such a huge impact I can listen to them from start to finish at any time? Turns out I can. I quickly wrote down my favorites which took next to no effort, although I did have to trim the list a bit to get it to 10.
Honorable mentions: Dirt (Alice In Chains), Core (Stone Temple Pilots), I Remember Clifford (Arturo Sandoval), Audioslave (self-titled), Born in the USA (Bruce Springsteen), Genesis (self-titled), Graceland (Paul Simon) and all of "Weird Al" Yankovic's first six albums.
10. Sports - Huey Lewis and the News
When I was about 8 years old or so I had a Walkman and one of my Mom’s coworkers got me two Huey Lewis cassettes for Christmas: Picture This and Sports. It was a great surprise, and since I had so few albums I used to listen to those two constantly. It started a lifelong habit of listening to music while I drifted off to sleep. Sports was the better of the two and one of the defining albums of my childhood. To this day every time I hear "If This Is It" I picture my own version of a music video that I conjured up way back then: Han Solo singing the song to Leia in Bespin’s carbon freeze chamber while the stormtroopers sing the "doo-wop" backing vocals. It’s the best video that never existed.
9. Tell Me I’m Pretty - Cage The Elephant
This album was given to me by a buddy at at SouthHouse in Philadelphia who knew I was a huge fan of Cage The Elephant. And 5 months later he got me a meet & greet with the band since he had enough industry connections to get that kind of street cred. We got smashed on IPAs and it was a killer concert. Cage is my favorite modern band and it’s probably because they kind of sound like a late 60s rock band, especially on this album. In my opinion, it’s not only the best of the bunch but the one album that feels like a solid and complete effort from start to finish. "Trouble", "Too Late To Say Goodbye" and "Cold, Cold, Cold" are just a few of the highlights. It’s so good that it beat out some classic 90s albums to earn a spot on my personal favorites list.
8. Brothers in Arms - Dire Straits
This is the first album I can remember me and my mom both loving equally, even though she was dubious when I first told her about the "chicks for free" song I’d heard sometime in second grade. Whether we were driving around town or taking road trips from Reno up to the Sierra Nevadas or over to the Bay Area to visit family, I always had the Chewbacca seat for navigation and tape deck duties in her Isuzu Trooper II. We had an ammo can as a cassette tape holder (true story) and Brothers In Arms was always on the top row, along with Genesis and The Kinks' State of Confusion to name a few. But hot damn, even today the nine tracks on this album are still a masterpiece. From the first chill notes of "So Far Away", Mark Knopfler’s incredible guitar riff on "Money For Nothing", the acoustic magic of "The Man’s Too Strong," to that funky '80s slap bass on "One World"...this album stands the test of time for me. An underrated work of genius.
7. Yield - Pearl Jam
I should get this out of the way right now: Pearl Jam is my favorite band even though I didn’t really discover them until 1998 which was about 6 years after their heyday. High school was 1990 - 1994 but I spent so much time studying jazz and classical music that the grunge era barely registered on my radar. I only heard rock songs when I was on the bus to or from DeLand High School and sadly I...missed the bus (zing!) on '90s rock for several years. When I lived in Tallahassee at the impressionable age of 21 I met some great friends who were Pearl Jam fans and we went to see them live in Fort Lauderdale on the Yield tour. I spent many hours delivering pizzas to broke college students At FSU while getting introduced to Pearl Jam via their 5th studio album. And if you’ve ever been in my house, surely you’ve noticed the huge Yield sign on the wall. My best friend in the Army recon-ed that bad boy for me off an Air Force golf course just because he knew I would love it. To this day I still consider it the best gift I’ve ever received. I went from studying music theory to a hard rocking Gen X-er because of this album. It’s evolution, baby.
6. Stadium Arcadium - Red Hot Chili Peppers
On any given day if you ask me what my favorite RHCP album is I’ll flip my 1922 silver dollar and tell you it’s either this or #2 on this list. After a really hard time in my life I moved back to Florida with my mom’s help and started to put my life on track. This album came out in 2006 and while I liked it at first, it wasn’t until several years later that I realized it was RHCP’s magnum opus and truly appreciated the album as a whole. I could talk all day about every track on this incredible double album. Everyone knows "Dani California" and "Snow (Hey Oh)", but it’s the gems like "Slow Cheetah," "Hey," "Desecration Smile" and "Wet Sand" that are the true standouts here. And Frusciante’s blistering guitar solo on "Turn It Again" is the best goodbye to old friends and fans alike that I’ve ever heard.
5. Baker’s Dozen - Larry Hosford
Yeah, you probably haven’t heard of this guy or the album. But if you have, that means you’re in a select group of fans who appreciated my old man’s tunes. I called him Dad, others called him a true Son of Salinas. He never made it big, but yet he made a big impact to the right people. This was always my favorite of his albums due in large part to the fact that I was present during the recording sessions in the summer of 1987 at MARS. Not gonna lie, I’m slightly partial to the official recorded version of "Ben Henry" with a phenomenal Fender Stratocaster guitar solo by Jeff Cruse. The musicians that worked with my dad on this recording treated me like an equal and didn’t make me feel like a kid, which is a pretty big deal when you're 11 years old. I even got backing vocals and album credit on one song. You can argue which of Lorenzo’s albums are the best, but I’ll stand by this one until the end. Sometime before he died on November 26, 2016 he managed to get this in an official CD Format re-titled as "High On Livin' " after the title track, and it also included his classic "Salinas" as a bonus. But I’ve always preferred the original "unofficial" album and track order when it was just 13 tracks - a baker’s dozen. His explanation to me was how I learned what that term meant.
4. Nothing Like the Sun - Sting
Earlier I mentioned how my mom and I used to listen to many great albums on road trips and bonded over that. In my opinion this was the best of the best. I was never a huge fan of Sting's other solo albums and didn’t know much about The Police when I was a kid, but it didn’t matter. This album is an absolute masterpiece and stands on its own. Plus it introduced me to saxophonist extraordinaire Branford Marsalis who I studied a lot when I was learning jazz sax in high school. I have fond memories of "Englishman In New York," (especially the soprano sax solo and outro) "History Will Teach Us Nothing," and the cover of "Little Wing" which was my accidental introduction to the world of Jimi Hendrix. If I ever stumble into a conversation for the best one-album-wonder contender, this takes my top spot.
3. GRP All-Star Big Band - GRP Various Artists
This album is a powerhouse of 12 classic jazz tracks arranged for big band format starring the GRP label’s biggest artists in the early '90s, hence the rather uncreative title. But don't let that fool you. This gem introduced me to names like Arturo Sandoval, Eric Marienthal, John Patitucci, Ernie Watts and Bob Mintzer. Since I was all about jazz in high school and my two best friends also played sax, we were totally into this album. And even today I can still follow along to every single magical note of each song. This was the gateway that got me into the artists' individual albums, most notably the stunning I Remember Clifford tribute album by Sandoval. And to my dying day I will attest that Eric Marienthal’s stand-up-and-shout alto sax solo on "Sister Sadie" is one of the most badass things I’ve ever heard in my life. But most importantly, this album will always remind me of good times and many great friends at DeLand High School that I won't ever see again.
2. Blood Sugar Sex Magik - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Yep. Talk about influential albums. RHCP is my second favorite band (or really, tied for first) and this right here is a great example of a generation-defining album. It came on the scene in 1991 and I was introduced to it thanks to the lone baritone sax player in high school. At the time I remember thinking, yeah, this isn’t my jam. But when I was in the Army 10 years later and really discovered the Chili Peppers I came to appreciate the true genius of this album. If there’s a list of Generation X’s defining albums then I guarantee this (and my #1) are both on the list. It starts of strong with "The Power of Equality," and the next thing you know you're already grooving to "If You Have to Ask" and it's too late - you've got to listen to the entire album. "I Could Have Lied" is one of my favorites to play on guitar. Who can’t relate to the sorrow in that song? "Under The Bridge" speaks for itself. Yes, it's overplayed and everyone knows it, but there's a reason it holds up. And "Sir Psycho Sexy?" I’ve only seen the Chili Peppers live once on February 13, 2016 and can’t tell you how excited I was to hear that jam. Once in a blue moon I’ll still bust out that song for karaoke if I’m drunk enough. "Soul To Squeeze" is somehow one of their best known songs from the recording sessions even though it didn't make the album and ended up as a B-side. Anyone who knows me nowadays knows how much meaning that song has for me.
1. Ten - Pearl Jam
It's the best album of all time. These things are subjective but you’re never gonna convince me otherwise, so don’t bother trying. Even though I missed the boat on the grunge phase I still eventually grew to love this album while driving around the streets of Tallahassee, delivering pizzas and singing "Porch" at the top of my lungs in my Nissan Sentra. This album is 11 tracks of "I'm on my own and nobody gets me" goodness, although I will admit there’s a 50/50 chance I skip "Jeremy" since it’s a pretty repetitive ("woo woo woo woo woo woo"). It’s a complete album that still rocks the house after all these years. “Even Flow” might be my favorite straight up rock song of all time. Everybody can relate to "Black" because the pain in that song is universal. I still don't know exactly what "Garden" means to me, but damn that's a great song. "Release" is not just Eddie Vedder’s unspoken message to his dad who he never met, it’s my own as well. And "Alive?" Like Eddie himself once said, the song came about because of a death (his father’s), but us Pearl Jam fans turned it into our own song. And now it’s an anthem - a celebration of life. Eddie explained that fans can take the meaning of a song and change it because it means something different to them, and now it's their song too. Mike McCready's guitar solo on the album version of "Alive" is my favorite solo of all time. And last but not least: "Yellow Ledbetter" is one of the most heartfelt songs ever from the recording sessions and everyone knows the tune, but just like "Soul To Squeeze" it was a B-side that didn’t make the album. I think the way they play it live is the best way to close out a rock concert, and it’s appropriate that in 2009 right before I moved to Philadelphia, Pearl Jam was the last band to play at the Spectrum and "Yellow Ledbetter" was the last song played before it was torn down.
In closing, these albums have had a lasting impact on my life and I've got a lot of fond memories attached to them. Not just to the music, but also to the friends and family I associate with these albums, even those folks I won't see again. I heard a quote once that music is the closest thing we have to magic, and I've always agreed with that.
“Where I go I just don’t know
I got to got to gotta take it slow
When I find my peace of mind
I’m gonna give ya some of my good time.”