13 Albums That Changed My Life

(these albums are not necessarily my favorites or even the best albums by these bands, but they are albums that affected me so profoundly that I can actually remember thinking differently before and after I heard them. Listed roughly in the order they came to my attention)

the Beatles – Rubber Soul – I was 15 and had just moved and was at a church dance my parents made me go to with people I hated, and then somebody put Rubber Soul on the stereo and my life changed. I kept putting it on the stack even after somebody said: “Who’s the asshole that keeps putting that album on?” I bought it the next day and I was no longer alone. I like the British version better because it has more songs, but it doesn’t start with “I’ve Just Seen a Face”.

the Beatles –Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band –somebody told us that the Old Beatles were good and the new Beatles weren’t so we talked John Ranes into buying it first and then we went over to his house and listened to it from side one to side two every day for months. Mom said: “Coach is working you extra hard, you’re getting home so late.” We had never heard anything like it. 

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol 1 – I was part of the “Dylan can write, but he can’t sing” school. Then one day I went to the Naval Academy to get my college physical and this album was in the hospital’s tiny BX for 99 cents. I couldn’t pass it up, and found out I loved just about everything about Dylan. I thought one way before listening to him, and another after.

the Rolling Stones –  High Tide and Green Grass – my friend Larry Prather sat behind me in Chemistry. When I told him I didn’t really like the Stones, he loaned me this to take home. I had bought my own copy by the time I gave it back.

The Byrds Greatest Hits – Still one of my favorite albums. Pure pop with Dylanish lyrics. Great songs, singing, guitars, lyrics, all made for the radio and my heart.

John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band – Unlike the others on this list, I’ve only played this album a few times. Its power is in the statement. Listened to it for the first time with Walt Konetzka, in my room at home and we both were blown away by the sheer honesty of the recording.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks – I’ve loved this album since I first heard the great “Madame George” on WGTB in the early 70s. It doesn’t have his hits, doesn’t have anything resembling one on the album. What it does have is artistic beauty. Originally made to be a song cycle, his label changed the order, but it still has the feel of a song cycle.

Neil Young – Young Man’s Fancy (live bootleg but the recent release of Live at Massey Hall is similiar and almost as good and the sound is great) Lee Cadorette (Daktari to you Austin friends) bought the bootleg and it quickly became the most popular album in the house we were sharing. It’s between After the Goldrush (which we loved) and Harvest and contains the first time we heard most of Harvest’s songs, striking for their purity without a hint of the pop touches that were to come.

Elliott Murphy – Aquashow – I bought this and Springsteen’s Wild, Innocent the same day and they were both a revelation to me that I could write about what I know and the friends I knew. I had done that in short stories when I was in high school, but it never occurred to me to do it in song. I wrote By the Water that same day, an eight minute epic I wrote in about the time it takes to sing it.

Bruce Springsteen – Winterland (live bootleg) – Springsteen’s live shows then were so much more powerful than his albums themselves, and I like this one best, though Passaic Night is pretty great too. We used to have people over and play the entire concert, beginning to end. Sherry and I played this on the way home from our first Edge City show ever, at Wesley College in Delaware, and it sure sounded great driving home at night on empty roads in the dark. We used to play the version of Darkness on the Edge of Town from here before every show, just to remind us what was at stake.

Hank Williams – 24 Greatest Hits – when I bought this I wasn’t a country fan, much less a Hank one. I bought it because I knew he was a great writer and I wanted to study him. I would come home, put Hank on, and cook dinner for Sherry. One day I couldn’t find Hank, and I went crazy, going through all of my records, because I had to hear that album. That’s when I realized I wasn’t studying Hank anymore, I had fallen in love with his music. Once we were at a local club here and our friend Ken Schaffer introduced the next song as “the greatest song ever written”. I laughed out loud and said: “Pretty big claim, Ken.” He smiled and said: “It’s called ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’” I said: “Oh well, then. Go ahead.”

John Coltrane – Afro Blue Impressions (especially My Favorite Things) – Damian Einstein, on WHFS, possibly the greatest station of all time, played something by the Dead that I liked, followed it with Coltrane, and followed that with the Byrds’ Eight Miles High. And I got jazz, or at least Coltrane, and bought the album the next day. I carried it around with me on tape all summer in case I needed to hear it. Coltrane led me to Miles Davis, pre Bitches Brew, which I never liked.

Leonard Cohen – Live in London – How to grow old gracefully (and powerfully). This is one of the newest records on this list. Cohen combines decades of great writing into one great sound. He didn’t used to be able to sing, now his voice is resonant with character.


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