30 Albums That Changed My Life (as of 2020)

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. They’ll be listed roughly in the order they came to my attention.

Beatles - Rubber Soul Vinyl Record (180g Mono)  (6907670339)
  1. Rubber Soul – The Beatles I was 15 and had just moved and was at a church social 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 jerk 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 Rolling Stones - Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) [USA] + ...

2. HighTide and Green Grass – The Rolling Stones 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 for the weekend. I had bought my own copy by the time I gave it back.

Larry and I also began writing our own lyrics, about things in our own lives, and putting them to Beatles and Stones and other pop songs of the day, the first time I had ever done that, and while we were doing it mostly for humour, it was great practice for the rest of my life.

The second band I was in played mostly Rolling Stones songs, or as many as we could fit in. I always tell people I learned electric guitar listening to the Stones.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Wikipedia

3. Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles Somebody told us that the Old Beatles were good and the new Beatles weren’t, so Bill McKay and I talked John Ranes into buying it first and then we went over to his house and listened to it every day after cross country practice. We played it from side one to side two every day for months, a ritual, the Sgt Pepper cult. Mom said: “Coach Preston is working you extra hard, you’re getting home so late.” We had never heard anything like it.

To be honest, while I still like the album, it’s hard for me to hear what we heard then. The songs are good, but only a couple are among my favorite Beatles tunes. But it opened our minds up to possiblities.

Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. I (1975, Vinyl) | Discogs

4. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits 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.

There’s actually more to the story. I didn’t have any friends who liked Dylan to turn me onto him. Every weekend we used to drive to EJ Korvette’s on Ritchie Hwy because they had a record department and weekly sales that were the best deal in town. And every couple of months, they’d have an All Label sale. I was there one Saturday Morning just after “John Wesley Harding” had come out and Dylan’s face kept staring at me from the cover. And I loved the story on the back. But it was his face that kept me coming back until I bought it, feeling stupid because I was buying something I was sure I wouldn’t like. And I loved it, every bit of it. It was all mysterious and wonderful.

But even then, I was convinced that the ‘new Dylan’ was good but not the rest. And then I saw that album for 99 cents and I was hooked for life. So an Honorable Mention Most Influential to “John Wesley Harding”.

John Wesley Harding (album) - Wikipedia

I hadn’t owned Greatest Hits for many years, had bought everything else and didn’t need it, until about 15 years later I bought what I thought was a used Tim Buckley album that instead had Dylan’s GH inside. I put it on that night and I swear I could remember thinking one way before I first heard it and another afterwards.

Moby Grape (album) - Wikipedia

5. The Psychedelic Explosion (several records) We were at least a year behind the West Coast in pop culture, and when Gene Munger went to visit family in Seattle, Gene came back with albums full of the new psychedelic music that was different than what we were hearing on Top Forty Radio, our only outlet (that we knew of) at the time. I could list any of four or five albums here, but the first song to break through to me was Moby Grape’s “8:05” and it was the first album I bought from the West Coast wave. I still love “8:05”.

Quicksilver Messenger Service (album) - Wikipedia

After playing Moby Grape over and over, I bought Quicksilver Messenger Service’s first album and loved it too, especially side one with “Pride of Man” and “Dino’s Song”, written for their lead singer Dino Valente, who was in jail when the record was made. You might remember “Get Together” which Dino wrote for the Youngbloods under an assumed name (or maybe his real name). The funny thing is when Dino eventually rejoined the band, I lost interest, mostly because I hated his voice. Nicky Hopkins played in this band for a while. When I moved into my first place of my own, we played their 27 minute version of “Who Do You Love” from their next album as the first song as we moved in, always an important choice.

The Grateful Dead (album) - Wikipedia

Gene Munger then tried to convince me to like the Dead’s first album, which I hated then (and many people still do). He was so convinced it would kick in that he gave me his copy to take to college with me where I played it at first out of obligation to Gene, and then because I did indeed fall in love with it. You have to like a garagey kind of rock, but I do, and “Cold Rain and Snow”, “Golden Road”, and “Morning Dew” still knock me out.

The Byrds' Greatest Hits - Wikipedia

6. The Byrds Greatest Hits Still one of my favorite albums, even though I own all the other Byrd albums too. Pure pop with Dylanish lyrics. Great songs, singing, guitars, lyrics, all made for the radio and my heart.

Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield - Wikipedia

Honorable mention to Retrospective, the Buffalo Springfield, who were influencing me at about the same time.

Roots Vinyl Guide

7. 64 Motown Greatest Hits is a cheat chronologically because it didn’t come out until 1975, but it’s a stand-in for the radio, which I still listened to, especially in the car. And the radio of my youth was filled with Motown. I had a Temptations best in high school, later a Miracles best, a Marvin Gaye best, a Stevie Wonder best, a Four Tops Best. And at Davidson when I first got there, soul reigned supreme and they hated Dylan and psychedelic. Individually, none of those albums had a particular influence, cumulatively the songs sure did. So here’s to Motown! (I wore this one out when I did buy it. Hitsville USA is a great box CD from many years later.)

Dylan once said that Smokey Robinson was our greatest living poet and I thought he was just blowing smoke at the interviewers. That was before I really listened. I might have argued for Chuck Berry instead, but I got Dylan’s point.

The only reason I wasn’t more of a fan earlier was that all the cool kids at my high school liked Motown, which immediately made me suspicious. But the songs were too good to deny.

Gene Munger (who talked me into playing acoustic guitar and writing) used to play folk-rock versions of “Tracks of My Tears” and “You Can’t Hurry Love” at our first shows. Also “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” but that’s another band and another story.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes (Judy Collins album) - Wikipedia

8. Who Knows Where The Time Goes – Judy Collins This was my introduction to Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, still one of my favorite songs, as well as Leonard Cohen (“Bird on the Wire” and “Story of Isaac”) and Ian Tyson (the wonderful “Someday Soon”) and her own great “My Father”. I was a freshman at college and missing my friends and played “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” over and over. I can remember thinking how fast time went by. Hah.

Wildflowers (Judy Collins album) - Wikipedia

“Wildflowers” has her pop hit of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, then my introduction to Joni’s music, and Cohen’s “Suzanne”. It came before “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” but I didn’t get it until later.

The Band (album) - Wikipedia

9. The Band I bought “The Band” the same day I bought “Abbey Road”, a good day in my life. I had “Music From Big Pink” and liked it and of course they had backed Dylan, but they inhabited the songs of this album, one of, if not the, first Americana albums. It’s another album I played so much that I have to separate the songs from their original context or I don’t hear them anymore, I know them so well.

Sweet Baby James - Wikipedia

10. Sweet Baby James – James Taylor “Fire and Rain” still knocks me out. The whole album is clean and focused. I was a sophomore in college, about to drop out, not yet playing guitar or singing, but writing lots of lyrics that I thought were poems and Taylor’s spare, honest lyrics spoke directly to me.

Tom Rush (1970 album) - Wikipedia

Tom Rush’s eponymous album at least should get an assist because it introduced me to the music of both James Taylor and Jackson Browne, as well as two fine Canadian songwriters: David Wiffen (Driving Wheel, covered later by Roger McGuinn) and Murray Mclauchlan’s great “Child’s Song”, my favorite song about leaving home.

Blue (Joni Mitchell album) - Wikipedia

11. Blue – Joni Mitchell “A Case of You” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard” still speak to me, as does the sentiment of “All I Want”: “All I really really want our love to do/Is to bring out the best in me/ and in you too”. A major influence on me lyrically.

Astral Weeks - Wikipedia

12. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison The first time I heard “Madame George” (or anything from Astral Weeks) I was lying on the floor of a friend’s house listening to WGTB late at night, and as I let the music wash over me, I thought it was too short at 9:46. I already had “Moondance” and loved it, but this was different, not pop music, but mesmerizing. A great album as Van reveres his past and predicts his future in simple songs brilliantly played. No hits here, though my friend Frank Mirenzi once came home and played “Madame George” 8 straight times, trying to decipher its meaning to him.

Neil* - Young Man's Fancy (Vinyl) | Discogs

13. Young Man’s Fancy – Neil Young The year I was 21 and learning to play guitar and sing, Lee (Daktari) Cadorette and I shared a cottage in Arnold, MD, the first time any of our friends had a place of our own. Lee bought this bootleg, still one of my favorite albums, but especially then, between “After the Goldrush” and “Harvest”. I never liked “Harvest” much because I liked the versions from “Young Man’s Fancy” so much better.

Neil Young - After The Gold Rush (Gatefold, Vinyl) | Discogs

I already had all of Neil’s albums, plus CSN&Y and the Springfield stuff. After “After the Goldrush” and “Young Man’s Fancy” all my lyrics sounded like Neil for a long while.

I learned to play guitar and joined a band simultaneously when Kevin Ranes taught me the three chords to “Helpless”. We spent the whole first practice on that song, Kevin being very picky so the rest of the band wouldn’t know I knew one song. The next week was Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright”, with two of the same three chords, and after that I was off.

Meanwhile, I bought 2 songbooks, a Dylan and a Neil Young, and used them as instruction manuals, while Gene Munger and I started playing together, Gene using my lyrics to write songs at first before I added my own music.

REED, LOU - Lou Reed - Amazon.com Music

14. Lou Reed I learned to play guitar at 20, and I didn’t sing between the ages of 12 and 20, when Gene Munger talked me into forming a duo with him and beginning to sing some of my own songs. But after that amount of time, I really couldn’t sing. And then one day I had this album on and I had an epiphany: “I can do that!” I thought as I listened to his form of talk/singing and then I did.

I already had all of the Velvet Underground albums, so Lou Reed had been influencing me for some time. As a freshman in college in summer school, I roomed next door to an arch-conservative senior who turned me on to at least two albums that summer: Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” which I still didn’t have, and “The Velvet Underground & Nico” (the one with the Warhol Banana Peel cover.

My voice changed when I was 12, only I didn’t know it. Before that I sang in choirs and choruses, did solos occasionally, and probably would have stayed in it for life. My music teacher at school also didn’t notice my voice had changed, and she had me do our class solo soprano, which I wasn’t anymore. I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t find the notes and I didn’t know why. As I sat down, she said: “It’s ok. Some people aren’t meant to sing.” Devastating. I didn’t really believe her, I always knew I could sing, but I didn’t sing another note until I was 20, just to spite her. My stubbornness sometimes works for me, sometimes against.

This is what Gene Munger did for me. He would get a show at the local coffeehouse, play the first few songs himself, then play a couple of songs we wrote together, bring me up to sing 2-3 songs in my new Lou Reed-like voice, and then I’d leave Gene alone on stage before the audience figured out I couldn’t sing. And then he’d play another one we wrote together before returning to his own songs. I was protected and I got better and I”m forever grateful.

Murphy, Elliott - Aquashow - Amazon.com Music

15. Aquashow – Elliott Murphy I bought Elliott Murphy’s “Aquashow” and Springsteen’s “Wild, Innocent, and E Street Shuffle” the same day, and after listening, walked to my room and wrote “By the Water,” an 8 min. song in about the time it takes to sing it. It was good enough to record with Lloyd Maines 25 years later and was once listed among the “Best Songs You’ve Never Heard” on Amazon.uk. That’s inspiration.

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle - Wikipedia

What these guys did was complete my lyric education by showing me what was missing in my writing. They wrote about their friends. When I was in high school, I had written short stories and a novel about my friends, the secret to their popularity. So far, I had learned to write about the end of relationships well, now I added my friends to the mix and “write about what you know” became wider.

Aquashow influenced me at the time more than Wild because Bruce was writing about a more urban setting, and Elliott had the “White Middle Class Blues” like I did.

“Last of the Rock Stars”, “Hometown”, “Don’t Go Away”, “Sandy”, “Incident on 57th St”, “Rosalita”!!! I heard all those songs for the first time the same day, in the same hour! It was an overload but an epiphany for my writing.

Late for the Sky - Wikipedia

16. Late for the Sky – Jackson Browne Jackson Browne had been influencing me for some time before this came out, from listening to “These Days” on the Tom Rush album. Trish Gaffney and I went to see him at the Cellar Door in DC about the time “Saturate Before Using” was released, and sat about 5 feet away from Browne and David Lindley, his sole accompanist that night. I decided to get a job when I lived in LA because Jackson’s “For Everyman” and the new one from the Dead came out the same day and I had to have them. But this album spoke to me the most. I was brokenhearted from love, had lost my closest friend to a car wreck when we were 22, and was writing songs about my past while trying to figure out my future, or something like that. And Jackson had either gone through or was going through the same things. I played it to death.

Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band - Winterland 12/15/78 (2019 ...

17. Winterland Night – Bruce Springsteen In 1978 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made a series of radio broadcasts across the country. I taped “Passaic Night” from 98 Rock on my Teac A3340S the night he played there, and we played it a lot on the reel to reel (there was a break in the middle of “Rosalita”), but it was when Joe Mirenzi bought “Winterland” on a more convenient LP that it replaced Springsteen’s first three albums for me. It’s about 4 hours worth of music, so we used to have parties where it was the only album played.

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 Winterland before every show, just to remind us what was at stake.

Road to Ruin (Ramones album) - Wikipedia

18. Road to Ruin – The Ramones This was the first Ramones album I bought or even heard, as far as I can remember and it just wiped much of the music of the time out of my mind. I loved the Beach Boys melodies, the Spectorish sound, the great cover of “Needles and Pins”, the three great chords, the fuzzy guitar, the energy, “I Wanna Be Sedated” and more. At our first Kerrville, we still didn’t know if we belonged until the first night, very late, we heard “I Wanna Be Sedated” coming through the camp on acoustic guitars.

One of the great pleasures of Sherry’s and my life was getting to know Tommy Ramone (Erdelyi), the drummer before “Road to Ruin”, and the co-producer of “Road to Ruin”. He was playing mandolin in his own group Uncle Monk at the time, and looked like a small Jerry Garcia. He played ‘percussion’ on his knees when we played “27 Voices” and told us it was “cathartic”. He also produced “Tim”, one of my favorite Replacement albums.

Elvis Presley - The Sun Sessions (1976, Vinyl) | Discogs

19. The Sun Sessions – Elvis Presley When I was growing up, Elvis was just a fat old man who had squandered whatever talent he had. I didn’t like his songs, or him. Then one night Sherry and I were at the 930 Club in DC, early and waiting for the show and instead of the usual headbanging videos, they played Elvis from the 50s and I got it immediately, was riveted to the screen, sorry when the real show started. We bought “The Sun Sessions” and for a few years I used it to warm up my hands every morning. It’s so clean and simple and breathtakingly beautiful. And it has a groove. I now believe that music doesn’t get any better than this (it can, and has, been as good).

After that, I worked my way through his catalog and found there were still good songs in the 60s and 70s, and a couple of good albums, especially from the early 60s. I made a CD called “Elvis for Dummies” to convince my friends.

There’s no nostalgia involved here on my part, since I was too young for his Sun days, and my parents didn’t like him, and I didn’t like him during the most formative days of my music listening. No, I just think it’s great music that sounds timeless to me.

John Fogerty and Creedence were able to capture this sound perfectly on a couple of songs.

My friend Bob Baugh tried to tell me about Elvis in high school, but I wouldn’t listen!

Richard & Linda Thompson - Shoot Out The Lights (2005, Vinyl ...

20. Shoot Out the Lights – Richard and Linda Thompson Though I had a Fairport Convention Best Of, I didn’t really listen to Richard Thompson until this album. Then I bought all the rest. One of the influences on our vocal sound. A great breakup album.

The Great Twenty-Eight - Wikipedia

21. The Great Twenty Eight – Chuck Berry I’d been influenced by Chuck my whole life, because you can’t play or love rock and roll without him. Or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He’s the one who wrote the lick everybody knows. But this album was the first time I studied him, as I continued to step backwards as well as forward for my influences. He writes as well about America as anybody, and after Chuck, you’ll never hear “Subterranean Homesick Blues” the same way again.

Chuck Berry (Chess Box)

If you like Chuck as much as I do, you’ll want to have the Chess Box. He wrote a lot of great songs after his heyday (i.e. came out of prison) though a little darker and you do have to skip “My Ding a Ling”, his last ‘hit’, but it’s great stuff.

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22. 20 Golden Greats- Buddy Holly and the Crickets This isn’t the best compilation (that would be “The Buddy Holly Collection” unless you want to go the box set route with “Not Fade Away”), but I sure played it to death in my early 30s. I always liked him, his songs were catchy and covered by the Beatles and the Stones and the Dead, but after my deep dive into Chuck Berry, I dove into the 50s for a while and discovered how much I really love his music.

I also loved the usual suspects: Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Little Richard. Mostly there are greatest hits that serve them well; all are building blocks for a writer. But there are a couple of others I’d like to recommend: Charlie Feathers (who lived in Severna Park, for all you Severna Parkers out there), Johnny Burnette and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio (who blaze through songs like “Train Keep a Rollin”, covered by the Yardbirds), and most of all, Bobby Fuller, who you probably mostly know for “I Fought the Law”. But “Never To Be Forgotten” and “Let Her Dance” (both covered by Marshall Crenshaw) are just as good.

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I like “Never To Be Forgotten: The Mustang Years” (2 CDs), the most, but this single Rhino disc has the songs I mentioned above and more.

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23. Places that are Gone EP – Tommy Keene Tommy Keene’s 6 song EP was named “EP of the Year” by the Village Voice. It was perfect power pop and he was from DC, so my friends and I used to go see him a lot. We liked it so much that we used Steve Carr at Hit and Run Studios where Tommy had recorded his record for all our released music from Maryland. And his lawyer/record co. president, Josh Grier, showed me a lot about record companies and how they work when he came to see us at CBGB’s in NYC. Also, our guitarist Rob Martin liked the guitar work of both Tommy and Billy Connelly and brought that to some songs we were working out together. So this EP influenced me in a lot of ways.

Image may contain: one or more people, text that says 'TOMMY KEENE THE REAL UNDERGROUND'

This CD contains all of the “Places that Are Gone” EP and more. It’s the one to look for because it has the Steve Carr recordings plus his other early indie work.. But “Tommy Keene You Hear Me?” has some of the same songs plus his Geffen stuff and some of his later work, and it’s great, too!

“Places that Are Gone” (the original, on Dolphin, recorded by Steve Carr) is one of my favorite songs. Period. He’s got a lot of others that are favorites of mine, too, but “Places” was the hit in my alternate world. It’s why I recommend “The Real Underground” over “Tommy Keene You Hear Me”. “Tommy” goes with the Geffen version, and it’s fine, but the original has a spark.

Tommy got the big push for awhile with Geffen, recording on the Isle of Montserrat in George Martin’s studio with Geoff Emerick (the Beatles engineer) producing. He continued making CDs, all at least worth a listen for the sound alone. (Very electric guitars, my folkie friends.) And worth it for some of the titles, considering his past. “Long Time Missing”, “I’m Alive”, “Never Really Been Gone”, all wonderful songs. My DC friends know the story better than I do, so I’ll leave that to them, but I was a fan, and I still play his music.

Little known fact: Tommy Keene auditioned for Ron Flynt’s band 20/20 in L.A. Ron would have to tell you more.

Here’s how good he was: one night many years ago a friend was staying at my house while he worked out his marital difficulties. (Sherry used to call my place “Jim’s Home For Wayward Boys.”) They talked all afternoon, and finally reached a point of reconciliation. Then he found out Tommy Keene was playing that night and we were all going. He called her and explained that now that they’d worked things out, one more night apart might be good for their overall relationship, to think about what they’d accomplished. Or something like that. She thought it was romantic and he went to see Tommy Keene with us.

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24. Let it Be – The Replacements; Native Sons – Long Ryders; Gas, Food, & Lodging – Green on Red; The Days of Wine and Roses – The Dream Syndicate

It’s cheating to name four, but the influence on me came not from one album, but a movement, all at once. These four were influential, but so were a lot of others. There were two kinds of bands I liked a lot during this period, punk bands who had moved toward more classic sounds, and classic sounding bands who moved into punk clubs and filtered their music toward punk. I met Troy Campbell of the Highwaymen during this period and we exchanged our EPs.

The Replacements‘ album would be here if only for Paul Westerberg’s stunning “Unsatisfied”, the anthem of a generation in my alternate world. I’m also a big fan of the albums “Tim” (produced by Tommy Ramone) and “Pleased to Meet Me”.

I liked every album The Long Ryders ever put out, including a reunion one a year or so ago. On this one, “Final Wild Son”, “Ivory Tower” (with Gene Clark), and “I Have a Dream” blow me away, but it’s all good. On a future album, they cover NRBQ’s “I Want You So Bad” like the Byrds would have. One of the great pleasures of my life came when The Long Ryders’ Sid Griffin and members of his band The Coal Porters backed us for a couple of songs in a hotel room in Canada (or was it Memphis?) at Folk Alliance. The Coal Porters are different, but great, and anything Sid does on his own is worth getting. In his solo career (I think) he does a great cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “You Tore Me Down”, one of the best songs you probably don’t know.

The Coal Porters have done great bluegrassy versions of “Paint it Black” and “Like a Hurricane”.

We used to cover “That’s What Dreams” from this Green on Red album. Also loved the albums “Gravity Talks” and “No Free Lunch”. When we played the Austin Music Network, it was Willie day, and we needed a Willie song, so we borrowed Green on Red’s arrangement of “Funny How Time Slips Away”. We also used to use the electrified version of Danny & Dusty’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as our ‘guide’. Danny and Dusty were made up of members of Green on Red, Dream Syndicate, and The Long Ryders. Danny Stuart, Green on Red’s main songwriter and singer, was living in Austin in the mid 80s and invited Sherry and me to visit and stay at his apartment. If we had, we’d have moved here sooner. Danny also introduced us to his booking agent, who helped us get into a couple of clubs we’d been struggling with, so more influence.

My pal Steve Buschel gave me some tapes of Green on Red live in Europe in the 2000’s, and they were great and worth searching out. Leaned more than previously on Chuck Prophet’s great guitar.

This is not my favorite Dream Syndicate album, but they had me with “Tell Me When It’s Over”, the first song on the album, where Steve Wynn channels Lou Reed. As albums, I like “Medicine Show” and “Out of the Grey” and the ‘best of’ does a fairly good job. Steve Wynn has continued recording, both solo and with bands. Start with “What I Did After My Band Broke Up”, which leads off with the great “Amphetamine”.

Other bands that I could have used: NYC’s The Del Lords (rockin’ Woody Guthries), LA’s The Blasters (rockabilly filtered through punk), LA’s Los Lobos (like a Hispanic version of The Band), Australia’s The Saints, (where Chris Bailey channels Van Morrison/ Mick Jagger), and more. REM and the Clash were the forerunners, and “London Calling” is one of my favorite albums.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Southern Accents - Amazon.com Music

25. Southern Accents – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I could have picked “Damn the Torpedos” because it’s almost a perfect album, or “The Waiting” because the title song was Sherry’s and my “song”, but I picked “Southern Accents” for its slightly flawed ambitions, its insightful songs about Petty’s home, and the great Petty/Dave Stewart collaboration on the psychedelic “Don’t Come Around Here No More”.

There was a record store in Pikesville run by a guy named Howie and he used to like to bet he could play me one song from a record and get me to buy it. Two I remember are Elvis Costello’s ‘Alison’ and Petty’s “American Girl”.

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26. Chess Box Set – Willie Dixon When I bought this vinyl box set, I was a casual fan of the Blues, afterwards I was a fanatic, not so much because of these records (though they’re good), but because of where they led me. Willie wrote songs for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Otis Rush, and more, all favorites of mine. And so this record was my door.

I started working for my pal Geoffrey Himes, who has one of the great record collections, as well as a mini used record store in his garage (I might have bought this there). One of the perks of the job was that I could listen to his vast collection while I worked. So I worked my way through the artists on the Dixon album, and more that Geoff suggested: T Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, BB King, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Johnson, Robert Johnson, Elmore James and more.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like blues before, I just had rarely gone to the source, where all the good stuff is. My first experience with the blues was just after high school (I think), Paul Butterfield’s “East-West” which we listened to regularly with the usual crowd: Jim Gugliotti, Lee Cadorette, John Ranes, Gene Munger. And then there were the Allman Bros. But while I eventually followed the Dead backwards into some of my favorite blues songs, I never really liked them as a blues band. And as great as Clapton is, I liked the ‘pop’ stuff better with Derek and the Dominoes. I didn’t like Chuck Berry’s blues, just his rock. So it wasn’t until much later that I really listened.

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27. 24 of Hank Williams’ 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 Kenneth J. 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.”

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28. Austin Skyline – Jimmy LaFave Sherry and I came to Austin for the first time for SXSW in March 1994 with no gig and ended up playing Butch Hancock’s Lubbock or Leave It Jam that Sunday night. The lineup was full of people who now are friends, and when Butch came over to ask if we wanted to play a couple of songs, Jimmy LaFave and Randy Glines were onstage, the first time we had ever heard of Jimmy. I can’t tell you for sure what we played that night, but Jimmy played Joe Ely’s “Because the Wind” and Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand”. We bought one album while we were in Austin, this one, and one of my biggest memories of that summer was sitting with our friends at night in our spacious backyard, listening to Jimmy. We moved to Austin in August, five months later.

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A definite Honorable Mention to this album or albums, Butch Hancock’s great “No 2 Alike”, a 14 cassette series of Butch at the Cactus, that I listened to while I was working for Geoffrey Himes. That led to me going to see Butch at the Roots Cafe Baltimore and going out to breakfast with Geoff and Butch. So I sort of knew Butch, as far as I knew the only person I knew who lived in Austin (Troy Campbell reminds me that he was here, I just didn’t know it), and that made us stop as we walked by Lubbock or Leave It and I said: “I think that’s Butch Hancock’s place.” The Lubbock gang, led by Barbara Roseman, took us in, leading to us playing that Sunday and moving to Austin five months later.

Gene Clark - American Dreamer 1964-1974 (1993, CD) | Discogs

29. American Dreamer – Gene Clark I was always a Gene Clark fan, from the Byrds through “White Light” and “Roadmaster” but it was this 24 song best of that sent me back to his work with the Gosdin Brothers and The Dillard and Clark Expedition. It’s a good start, but if you fall in love with the music by this American original, it won’t be nearly enough.

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says 'GENE CLARK FLYING HIGH'

Then I bought this twofer (41 songs) which began to open up the later 70s and 80s for me. After that I just bought everything I could find, some of which is still just being released. Few artists of Gene’s caliber have been so poorly treated with their catalogs.

Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders (mentioned earlier in this series) and The Coal Porters wrote the informative liner notes for both “American Dreamer” and “Flying High”.

About a decade ago, we were involved in a near death near accident in the snow in Tipton, MO, birthplace of Gene Clark. And as this jeep bore down on us, my last thoughts? “Wonder if anyone will even know we died where Gene Clark was born?” My ‘last thoughts’? Fortunately they weren’t actually my last thoughts, but when we were back in Austin, telling this story at a party at Dickie Lee Erwin’s, and Jon Sanchez walked in, listened for a minute and said: “Tipton? That’s where Gene Clark was born!”

You’ll also want PreFlyte, the Byrds when they were the Beefeaters, which has just been rereleased, remastered and sounds great. Clark’s contribution: about a dozen Beatlish pop songs including “You Showed Me”, a top 10 hit for the Turtles.

Leonard Cohen - Live In London - Amazon.com Music

30. Live in London – Leonard Cohen How to grow old gracefully (and powerfully). 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.

Leonard’s been influencing me since 1970 when I cut a quote from “Bird on the Wire” from LOOK magazine out and put it where I’d have to see it when I walked out the door. The quote’s still there, and the LOOK cutout lasted until the 2010s, when it fell apart.

“Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Everybody Knows”, “Tower of Song”, “I’m Your Man”, “Hallelujah”, “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”, “Anthem”, “Bird on the Wire”, “Suzanne”, “Sisters of Mercy” and many more. But that would still leave you needing “Joan of Arc”, “Chelsea Hotel”, “Waiting for the Miracle”, “Love Calls You By Your Name”, “Story of Isaac”, “You Know Who I Am”, “Tonight Will Be Fine” and more.

So if I were you, and I didn’t have any Cohen, I’d buy the two best ofs and three live albums, this one, Cohen Live, and Field Commander Cohen. “Essential” is another fine studio collection that could replace the two best ofs.

1 thought on “30 Albums That Changed My Life (as of 2020)

  1. Thanks you guys,  Lotta work, tears and joy revisiting or even identifying the thirty albums that changed your life. I don’t think I could do it. But I do think I will enjoy going through your retrospective, especially with the explanations as to why.Thanks for including me in your life. I will share with my brothers and Guillaume. Regards,

    Bill Smith512-444-7744Mobile: 512-656-2066

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