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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2009/02/25
by Mike Gruenberg

Top 25 Influential Albums (To Me)

In My Life

At the end of every year, radio stations around the world poll their listeners and present on New Years day the results of their survey by presenting the top 100, 200, 500, albums of all time. It makes for great radio and nostalgia, especially for someone like me who grew up listening to 60’s and 70’s rock. To me that was the Golden Age of music for my generation and I still enjoy listening to my favorites from that time.

I do attempt to listen to current music and it is quite impressive to hear the new music. I especially like to tune into Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius 25. I make it a point to hear Andrew Loog Oldham on that channel. Andrew was the original manager of the Rolling Stones. He also produced their early albums and is a wealth of information about Mick, Keith and the boys in addition to giving his views on current and past music performers and their managers/producers. Each morning I listen to Andrew on the drive into work and he puts me in a mellow mood to help me face the day. If I can figure out a way to listen to him during the day so the mellow mood continues with me until the eveningAnyway, his show is often the high point of the day.

In addition to exploring the new music that is inundating our airwaves, I try to keep current with Facebook. Each day, I keep up with the latest developments of my family, friends and colleagues. It is truly an enjoyable adventure and each day I try to learn a new skill set in navigating through and trying to understand Facebook.

Recently, I was sent the following directive on my home page on Facebook:
Think of 25 albums, CDs, LPs (if you’re over 40) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dig into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wasu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean.

Yikes! Talk about a challenge that I could not resist! I am over 40 (just barely, not really), I have many LP’s (and CD’s too) and there are many of those albums that truly
had a profound effect on my life. After all, I lived in the 60’s and do remember some aspects of that time. The fact that I could try to compile a list of the My Personal Best 25, maybe even play a couple of them again was an intriguing thought. I decided to find the 25 albums that had the most profound effect on me although as I reread the challenge, I was not quite sure what a “wasu” was. But I decided that this was information that wasn’t necessarily important as I embarked on this adventure.

Beginning the quest was easy since you always have certain favorites in your mind which I certainly had before I began. My beginnings always start with the Beatles. Whether it’s a song, a quotation, a story or an anecdote, the lads come first. To me, Rubber Soul and Revolver had the most profound effect on me. While Sgt. Pepper has always garnered the most critical acclaim and is consistently mentioned in listener surveys, to me it does not even come close to the beauty of my numbers 1 and 1A choices, Revolver and Rubber Soul.

I bought my first copy of Rubber Soul on the Odeon label while I was in France. When I brought it home and played it for my friends, it had 14 songs as opposed to the U.S. version on Capital which had only twelve. Not sure why the U.S. and European albums had different song titles, but the fact that I had Beatle songs that no one else in the U.S. had was very cool to me. Perhaps the most striking of this album was the way the lads looked on the cover. They were “cute” no more. The front cover and back cover photos made it clear that this was not the same group that Brian Epstein dressed up in suits and ties. They had met Bob Dylan who presented them with new ideas on what frame of mind a musician needs to have while creating music. The group followed Bob’s suggestions and through Rubber Soul was announcing to the world that they were entering a new phase of their career with the release of this album.

On my copy of Rubber Soul George Harrison contributes “Think for Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone” setting the stage for the public to realize that George’s song writing talents would someday eclipse those of John and Paul. On this album is the classic “In My Life” (for which this column is named) that is my all-time favorite Beatles tune. The piano part is flawlessly played by Beatles producer, George Martin.

Revolver gave us more of the same, yet even better. George was given three songs to contribute among which “Taxman” is considered a classic and probably one of the ten best rock songs ever written. The intricate string section attached to “Eleanor Rigby” is by far one of the most haunting and beautiful songs ever released by the Beatles or anyone.

My next choice was the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. This was the first record that introduced us to the term “supergroup”. Made up of musicians from The Hollies, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, CSN demonstrated the capacity to write meaningful lyrics, create lasting melodies and combine those aspects with perfect harmonies. By any yardstick, their first album was perfect in every way. Upon opening the album, I remember noticing that there were no liner notes inside the gatefold or on the back of the album. On the front was the now infamous photo of the three musicians sitting on a couch outside a house. The photo was taken by noted rock photographer, Henry Diltz. Included within the album, next to the record itself was a foldout paper with all the lyrics, writing credits and other necessary facts about the album. There is even a special mention made to Ahmet Ertegun who as President of Atlantic Records was a significant person in the creation and recording of this group.

When the Beatles finally broke up, many of us mourned their passing. There were high expectations of eventually listening to albums individually from John, Paul, George and even Ringo. However none of us were prepared for the magnificence of the first release by George, All Things Must Pass, and my next selection. A three record set produced by Phil Spector, featured a who’s who of rock musicians such as Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Badfinger and Ringo. For whatever reason, John and Paul were not included. I bought my copy of the album at the now defunct NY shopping mecca, EJ Korvettes. Included in the album was a poster of George and all the lyrics for all the songs. “My Sweet Lord”, “Isn’t It a Pity”, “If Not for You”, “Apple Scruffs” are among the many noteworthy tunes on this album.

One of the greatest “live” shows ever recorded was the Mad Dogs & Englishmen courtesy of Joe Cocker. Recorded at the Fillmore East on March 27-28, 1970, organized by Leon Russell, it features a great band with the distinctive Joe Cocker vocals. This two record set included such great Cocker interpreted classics as “Cry Me a River”, “Feelin’ Alright” and “Delta Lady.”

In 1967, four guys from California began a short lived career calling themselves The Doors. When lead singer Jim Morrison died in 1971, the group ceased to exist. However, within that four year time, Jim along with Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore created a sound and persona that has yet to be matched by any rock group. I vividly remember playing “Light My Fire” from that first album over and over and over again. The album I bought was not even stereo, it was a mono copy and it still sounded awesome. Produced by Paul Rothchild with production supervision by Elektra label owner, Jac Holzman, the record sounds even better today than it did 42 years ago.

To be perfectly honest, I purchased Tarkus by Emerson, Lake and Palmer because I liked the cover art of the album. It was their third release after their initial “Emerson, Lake & Palmer” and “Lucky Man” which I had already. To me, Tarkus set the stage for their glory days which followed with such incredible albums as “Brain Salad Surgery” (another unique album cover), “Welcome My Friends to the Song That Never Ends” and “Works, Volume 1 and Volume 2”.

Motown records were a staple of my record collection. We danced to the tunes, marveled at the production, loved the Motown roster of artists, delighted in hearing the musicianship of the backup bands for those artists and considered label founder, Berry Gordy as a genius. What was never apparent was any social consciousness until Marvin Gaye released What’s Goin’ On? and then we knew that Motown was serious about social and ecological issues that our country and our world was facing at that time. For me, that album gave me a serious kick in the gut and I have been grateful for the music and the message ever since then.

So this piano player from England shows up one day at the Troubadour in L.A. plays a set or two and becomes an overnight sensation. In 1970, Elton John released ostensibly his first album on a major record label. It sold 3 million copies, contained “Your Song” arguably still his best song and the rest as they say, is history. Elton and his writing partner, Bernie Taupin created a hit machine that produced extraordinary results. To me, this was another landmark album that launched a career.

The mother of all live albums has to be the Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East. Recorded in March of 1971, it is considered to be the best live rock n’ roll record ever.” All the familiar Allman Brothers favorites are included. Duane Allman who tragically died in October of that same year is featured and gives classic performances.

Below is the list that you can see on my Facebook page. These are my choices in relation to the 25 albums that had the most profound effect on me. They may not be the best or the best by the particular artist, but these meant the most to me.

I would also like to thank all my friends who, after seeing this list on Facebook gave me suggestions of what I should have included. Thanks, but this is my personal list. I think you guys had great choices, but I still stand by this group. Stay tuned to next months’ column when I continue to review the list.

Since I couldn’t possible squeeze in 25 choices, I added 10 more + 2 honorable mention.

1. Revolver – Beatles 2. Rubber Soul – Beatles 3. Crosby Stills & Nash – 1st album 4. All Things Must Pass – George Harrison 5. Mad Dogs & Englishmen – Joe Cocker 6. Doors – 1st Album 7. Tarkus – Emerson, Lake & Palmer 8. What’s Goin’ On? – Marvin Gaye 9. Elton John – 1st Album 10. At Fillmore East – Allman Brothers 11. Animal Tracks – Animals 12. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys (Brian Wilson) 13. Blow by Blow – Jeff Beck 14. Child Is Father To The Man – Blood, Sweat & Tears 15. Songs For A Tailor – Jack Bruce 16. Fresh Cream – Cream 17. Chicago II – Chicago 18. Turnstiles – Billy Joel 19. In the Court of The Crimson King – King Crimson 20. Something Else – Kinks 21. Days of Future Passed – Moody Blues 22. 12 X 5 – Rolling Stones 23. John B. Sebastian – John Sebastian 24. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel 25. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd 26. Gasoline Alley – Rod Stewart 27. To A Blind Horse, A Wink Is As Good As a Nod Faces 28. James Taylor – 1st Album (on Apple Records) 29. Silk Degrees – Boz Scaggs 30. Mr. Fantasy – Traffic 31. Who’s Next – The Who 32. Harvest – Neil Young 33. Odyssey & Oracle – Zombies 34. Groovin’ – Young Rascals 35. Introducing The Beau Brummels – Beau Brummels

Honorable Mention
Rod Stewart Album – Rod Stewart
Muswell Hillbillies – Kinks

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