The Beatles

The author’s first record, The Beatles’ White Album, purchased with babysitting money, has been adorned and played to death. It’s that good. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/The Watch)

Facebook is a well-known time suck. It’s filled with amusements, great stories (Humans of New York nourishes me daily), connections with far-off friends and family, as well as sometimes being a lurid cesspool of conspiracy theories and other nonsense. It’s easy to tumble down the rabbit hole.

One easy way to vaporize too many hours is to get sucked into the games or quizzes or cat memes that render us homebound folks way too attentive. Usually, if there are those “tag-you’re-it” challenges, I ignore them. But when I got tagged in the Name Your 10 Most Influential Albums challenge, I decided, “Why the hell not?”

The challenge was interesting in that it demanded I look through my record collection not so much in search of favorites (so many) or records that can evoke stories (most of them), but more in terms of which records served as a doorway for further explorations and new discoveries. The studied selection of my most influential records reminded me, yet again, of the wealth of amazing music to which my generation came of age.

I — a notorious bender of rules — ignored the “no commentary, no explanation” part of the challenge and instead supplied mini-essays for each one. It was an exercise I came to relish, so much so, that I lost count of the days and logged 11 records. I found it interesting to return to my roots. Accepting the challenge forced me to articulate why the records I chose are as much a part of my DNA as the characteristics I’ve had handed to me from blood relatives. 

This space doesn’t have enough room for all of them. In fact, the whole experience has me thinking in terms of back-burnering my dystopian novel (this pandemic could have been lifted from my languishing book draft), in favor of penning a series of essays derived from my record collection. For now, here are a few entries in my “Influential Album” series.

My opening gambit was Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” “You've seen the 10-days of influential album postings, I'm sure,” I wrote. “I love reading them. You're supposed to nominate someone else with each posting, but I'm not gonna do that because most of my music-loving friends have already been tapped. So ... rule-bender that I can be, I'm just going to post 10 records that shaped my tastes and that sent me off on sonic ventures, a journey that has happily lasted a lifetime. … I first heard this at a party at someone's house while I was in high school. Neil Young instantly became one of my favorite artists. I still love his work.” 

Told ya I was a rule-bender. Here’s another. Dylan (“Greatest Hits, Vol. I) on Day 5.

“I don't think there's a songwriter out there who doesn't aspire to capture a moment, a feeling, to draw sharp observation in a single phrase in a way that cuts to the marrow and resonates with meaning, even as time marches on, as Dylan does. My parents owned this album meaning I was exposed to the Bard of Hibbing at the age of 9, going on 10. Dylan would again re-emerge in my musical landscape in a huge way in college, when ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Desire’ were new and we listened obsessively. Dylan's various phases are all solid. I love his latter career work, too, and records like ‘John Wesley Harding,’ ‘Planet Waves,’ ‘Modern Times,’ ‘Love and Theft’ and ‘Street Legal’ cycle in and out of my favorites list. I even love his holiday album. I can't say enough about this giant of American music. It's been said, and by far more articulate people than I.”

My love of jazz can be directly attributable to the records in my parents’ collection. These two classics — “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and Miles Davis’ astounding 1959 release, “Kind of Blue” — made the cut. (Two records in one entry. Rules, schmules.)

“It stands to reason that anything influential will come from one's parents, and as far as music goes, I'm fortunate my parents liked what they did. Their tastes in music informed mine. When I got to college and started my first record store job, my musical worldview exploded, but the roots could be traced to the records I heard growing up as a youth. Jazz, however, took a hiatus in my late teens and 20s, until I got to Telluride and started attending and then working for the Telluride Jazz Celebration (now Festival). The timeline of discovery I rode zoomed back and forth, past to present and my appreciation for jazz deepened. Huge tip of the hat to Miyan Levenson who took great delight in revealing to me the charms of John Coltrane, and to Bill Pieper, who poured jazz giants like Chet Baker and Roy Hargrove into my willing ears.”

Through 10 or so days, I took the reader through George Carlin, “West Side Story” and the prog band that started it all for me in that genre, Yes, before getting to my so-called “gateway band,” The Beatles.

“Through them, my personal musical journey began. They were MY band, not my parents', not an older sibling's, but mine. By the time my voracious appetite for music was fully ignited, the Fabs were frayed and nearing the end of their world-changing career as a band. The White Album, as it has come to be known, was released in 1968 on Apple. It was the very first record I purchased with my own money, a dizzying accomplishment, as it was an expensive double album (about $9) and my sole and paltry source of income was babysitting, a job I tolerated so I could achieve my goal — buying this record. I got this in early 1969. Look what I've done to it! The poster is still there, but the individual portraits are scattered ... somewhere. This one is virtually unplayable and I've purchased other copies, including a white vinyl edition, to play. This is a fascinating record, full of experimental soundscapes, sweet ballads, crunchy rockers and fuzzed out blues. Can you imagine a 12-year-old absorbing this?”

The coolest part of revisiting those selections was the assurance that my love for music has never faded. If anything, my ardor has intensified — right down to my roots.