A couple friends recently made posts about the 10 albums that affected them. See Alex’s list at this link. See my friend Jeff’s post here. This was great for a couple reasons. I am also nostalgic about the music I have listened to over the years, especially with an overflowing rack of CDs. The second was also to remind people that Facebook sucks and they will vacuum up the data from your personal posts and build more data on you. In addition, as Alex said, #SayNoToWalledGardens.
The important word in this list is…Impact. This isn’t my favorite 10 albums of all time. Some on this list would make a short list of personal favorites, and others wouldn’t. What this list accomplishes is document the albums that opened new and important doors for me, musically.
As a child of the 1980s that came of age in the 1990s, I am essentially the last of Generation X. My first exposure to music was my parent’s country music, and I decided pretty quickly that wasn’t for me. The popular music at the time was glam rock, in fact, my first cassette was Bon Jovi’s New Jersey. I had albums from Skid Row and Poison. ….much of that music has not aged well.
It would be easy to just list all the best albums from the Grunge Era since I was 14 when Alice In Chains’ “Man In the Box” was released and Nirvana/Pearl Jam launched the Seattle Invasion, but it wasn’t that simple.
This list is in chronological order, because, the impact was felt at different times in my life and it would be impossible to make a coherent list any other way. I will try to explain the impact and some of the other music it would eventually lead me to. Alex focused on a lot of genres, but for me, many of these albums were the first portals to other musical universes.
I also realize this list is heavily dependent on when you “came of age.” Although the classic rock revival happened when I was a teenager, I don’t think it is a coincidence that the majority of the Top 10 happened when I was 13-20 years old. As far as Impact, those were the years when my musical taste would develop for the rest of my life.
I also want to make a point to thank my Mother, who I realize looking at this list, never discouraged our taste in music no matter how loud and profane they were. I remember specifically purchasing Warrant’s Cherry Pie that had “Ode To Tipper Gore” on it because I thought it was cool to have a CD with cuss words (PS: It was cool).
Hope you enjoy.
List Of Albums
1973: Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
I know, I know, pretty original. This isn’t exactly a hot take to say that one of the great rock albums of all time happens to an album that has impacted me the most.
I got to this album two decades after it’s release. This could have been Sgt. Pepper if somebody had introduced me to it first.
Alas, everything is perfect and sublime on DSOTM. The fear of blind materialism and feelings of isolation could not be more perfectly demonstrated than this album. It also represents the high point of the band working together. David Gilmour had expertly succeeded much of Syd Barrett’s arrangements, Roger Waters wasn’t yet a total blowhard and the lyrics were succinct, and the singing between Gilmour and Rick Wright matched in a way that wouldn’t be seen until Alice In Chains.
I know people love The Wall, but I think this album is orders of magnitude better. As far as classic rock goes, this record belongs in that top tier with the best Beatles, Stones, and Zeppelin albums. So I won’t apologize, one of the best albums ever is also one of my favorites.
PS: Animals is a terrible album.
1988: Metallica – …And Justice For All
…And Justice For All arrived in an unlikely way for me. We typically listened to LA’s Pirate Radio during this period and they played more Glam than Metal. KNAC played real metal but had a poor radio signal in the Inland Empire and it was tough to pick up.
A neighbor of ours found a cassette tape with this album on it. She didn’t want it, so I took it home and listened to it. My mind was blown. This was about 1989, when I was 11 – 12 and starting to develop and extend my musical taste. We didn’t have MTV at home, so we didn’t see the “One” video on constant rotation.
A bonus fun moment: my half-Brother reporting that my Brother and I were devil worshipers because he heard one of our songs about killing someone’s Mother. Our Step-Mother flipped out, and even tried to destroy my cassette tape. They were technically right, except….the Mother was…Mother Earth. Blackened, you see, is an environmental protest song. Needless to say I wasn’t a fan of my Step-mother.
This album is a perfect fit in …And Justice For All which is a superb protect album, from justice in court, to our planet, to protesting war, you name it.
Most people I talk to think Master of Puppets is the best Metallica album, and that’s hard to argue with. I am partial to Kill ‘Em All as well, but …And Justice For All was my gateway drug into the wide world of metal.
I have often told my friends that the four greatest metal albums of all-time are the first four Metallica albums, and I won’t back down from that hot take.
PS: I just got the 30th anniversary remastered edition of this album and it simultaneously made me feel old and inspired me to get this blog post done. Such a great listen after all these years!
1989: Faith No More – The Real Thing
At some point, my family did have some MTV coverage. If I remember right, a Cablevision guy showed up one day offering a 30-day free trial, so my parents said, “Why not?” Then, I think the Cablevision guy forgot to show up and disconnect. We had cable for a number of months before they called up the company to disconnect to avoid getting a big bill.
“Epic” was a video like nothing I had seen. Not only was the song arresting, especially for a kid my age, but I distinctly remember a shocked reaction to the video that couldn’t affect me today. The dying fish was pretty controversial, even at that time, although I had seen enough flopping fish from my family fishing. The piano blowing up was pretty incredible for a 12 year-old.
Eventually, I had the cassette and I played it to exhaustion. The entire album was filled with deep cuts. Songs like “Woodpecker From Mars,” “Surprise You’re Dead,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Zombie Eaters,” made me a fan for life and made me determined to look harder than my local radio station for great music.
The album holds up to this day, and has been a constant companion of mine. I picked up every subsequent FNM release (honorable mention to Angel Dust, another incredible album) and while they didn’t quite capture me in the same way, probably due to the departure of Jim Martin, they have remained a sentimental favorite.
1989: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
I don’t think I owned this album until about 1991. NIN played at this thing called “Lollapalooza” and a Scout friend had the shirt on. Even the logo was badass. He told me I had to get the album.
And what an album. It’s pretty insane to think that Trent Reznor recorded this album almost by himself while working as a night janitor at a recording studio so he could steal recording time. It wasn’t a fluke either, as I remember listening to the beats and being completely mesmerized. I had saved up allowance to get a boombox with “extra bass” which I promptly blew out listening to this record. We had gotten the warranty so I replaced it, and promptly blew out the tweeters on that one too. I got rid of it, except, those speakers somehow wound up in my Dad’s garage and he kept using that damn blown out stereo for years.
Now, I must say, this album doesn’t quite hold up in the same way, especially because some of the lyrics are just downright bad. But the music, oh the music, is still just divine. Sanctified and Kinda I Want To remain personal favorites.
This isn’t my favorite Nine Inch Nails album, which is indisputably The Downward Spiral. TDS is also the album that has followed me the most, but it was Pretty Hate Machine that started me on that path and led me into a different world that wasn’t glam, wasn’t rock, wasn’t grunge….it was something else for me to find and indulge. For that, I am quite thankful.
1990: Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual
Not many albums can say their lead single is by far the worst song on the album. “Been Caught Stealing,” of course, was their biggest radio hit and yet, a completely irrelevant song when you consider their first three albums which are all classics.
RDLH was my alternative to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who I liked but didn’t love, and eventually grew extremely tired of (not coincidental is that my favorite RHCP album is the one with the Jane’s’ Dave Navarro on it). The albums were strange, quirky, and undeniably cool. Three Days is still one of the great musical epics of my life, and the background to the song is also incredibly sad and poignant.
Jane’s never reached these heights again, and although I followed all of the various projects that followed the band’s demise (Porno For Pyros, Deconstruction – a rare but fantastic favorite, Panic Channel, etc.), this album has never left my psyche. It is still irreverent and powerful, and its a great honor to keep great records like this alive nearly 3 decades later.
1990: Led Zeppelin – Boxed Set
Two of the truly seminal moment’s of my musical childhood were the release of The Doors movie in 1991 and Wayne’s World in 1992. Neither movie was very good, but it opened up a whole new world to Classic Rock. I quickly figured out that The Doors, Queen, and especially…Led Zeppelin were much better than the Ratt and Warrant I was hearing on the radio. I soon completely dove into classic rock, much to the bewilderment of my parents who thought it was strange I seemed to like the music of their childhood more than they did. I can’t being to tell you how badly I wanted the Zeppelin boxed set and I finally got in one Christmas. It still sits prominently on my CD rack and I quickly knew Led Zeppelin trivia so completely, I could answer practically every trivia question that KLOS’ “Get The Led Out” had nightly at 8PM.
1992: Ministry – Psalm 69
I am not sure if Jesus really did build a hot rod, but what an amazing industrial album. This wasn’t a genre I was likely to find (Nine Inch Nails only dabbled), except that the namesake single would up on KROQ one night. It was a strange but up-tempo song that I liked.
The blend of “metal” and “electronics” would become a blend that I would find musically attractive for the rest of my life. None of the earlier or latter Ministry albums are nearly as good. It was good luck that the one I found first was the best.
1996: Westside Connection – Bow Down
Rap had been around me for a number of years before I dove in on this album. I figured out pretty quickly that Vanilla Ice was pretty lame and NWA were very cool. It wasn’t until my late teenage years that I took the plunge.
There was much to the lyrical content I couldn’t exactly connect with – yet, there was something in it’s defiance and hostility to authority was incredibly attractive. The beats certainly helped too. Ice Cube was and remains one of the best voices in hip hop history. He looked and acted the part perfectly, and this was before he was doing movies.
I have certainly found better Hip Hop albums after that, including 36 Chambers and Wu-Tang Forever. I think Run The Jewels is as good as it gets, and Logic is cool as hell. This isn’t even mentioning the obvious – like the incredible genius of Tupac Shakur who I wouldn’t discover until after his death. This album though, started the whole deal. I am much more picky in hip hop these days, because much of the samples and lyrical content can get quite tiresome. This album for me is still a great listen.
1997: Prodigy – The Fat of the Land
Some of my friends this this band didn’t stand the test of time and they are quite wrong. I didn’t get a copy of Music For The Jilted Generation until I had worn out my TFOTL CD completely and had to buy another.
It’s regrettable that “Smack My Bitch Up” was sampled as it was. The arrangement is phenomenal if not hurt by the unfortunate sample selection. The rest of the songs was ambitious, spacious, and beautiful. Climbatize was such a favorite that my friend Shawn and I originally hosted our website work on climatize.com (climbatize.com was taken). In fact, my first resume, which got me the job I have now had for 20 years, was a web page on the climatize URL.
With this album, a whole new world opened up, and my love for artists like the Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack (which exceed who I feel about Prodigy) was because Firestarter caught me attention and never let go. Their subsequent albums have some cool moments, and MFTJG is also a great album, but it’s this one that got me started on a love for electronica that has never left me since, and I hope never will.
1997: Radiohead – OK Computer
I bought Pablo Honey in 1993 and Radiohead seemed an obvious one-hit wonder (although You and Blow Out are great deep cuts). I can’t begin to describe how sick and tired I got of “Creep” and it’s a lucky thing that the band did too. Heck, they wrote a song about how sick of that song they had gotten.
I never heard of The Bends in 1995. Pablo Honey was a completely unexpected hit in the US, and The Bends was the same for the UK. It wasn’t until 1997 that they truly nailed it.
I remember “hearing” on the radio that the new Radiohead album was good, but didn’t think much of it. At some point, KROQ was playing the hell out of Paranoid Android and Karma Police. I give credit to a friend in college named Dustin who had the album and I found myself borrowing it all the time. This, to me, was the perfect album. I still feel that way. Everything that Radiohead has done since, including being the most critically praised band of this generation, starts with OK Computer. It reaches all the perfect points of pain, isolation, helplessness, in a cold and more machine-operated world. It is just as relevant as the day it came out.
People think of how popular Radiohead have become (and the ridiculous backlash that comes with popularity). They forget that this was as anti-commercial a band as they come. They created an album strictly on it’s own merits, and let the music tell their story. Some will say Kid A is better (they’re wrong), and I always remind them that there is no Kid A without OK Computer. I certainly love all but 1 of their post-1997 releases, but I can say that this album is the one that is the most moving to me. As for the best songs, all of which are incredible, I would pick Climbing Up The Walls as a favorite for it’s haunting and chilling build-up and release. There won’t be a time in my life that I don’t want to listen to this album.
Keeping this list to just 10 albums is very difficult! So like Alex, I have an Honorable Mention section. In no particular (but chronologically organized) order of importance:
- 1968 – The Beatles: I know, you want to call it The White Album. That’s not the correct name. Although most double-albums should just be single records, this is one of the albums that makes the most of a sprawling format. Dear Prudence is the greatest Beatles song (I am right about this). Paul was just starting his kick for Granny songs. It is tough to say this album was better than Sgt. Pepper, which would be a close second. George was totally in his element as a superb songwriter. The personal issues (and Yoko Ono) hadn’t killed the band quite yet. So many people like to say Abbey Road, but….no. The medley is just a bunch of unfinished songs. The Beatles is their peak.
- 1977 – Fleetwood Mac, Rumours: considering the incredible personal relationships and troubles in this group, it’s astounding they made something so amazing in that mess. This album will always intrigue me. That is as much for the music as for how much Lindsey and Stevie were poetically yelling at each other.
- 1982 – Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast: Let’s face it, my teenage ass got this album because I loved how people got freaked out by supposed devil worshippers. But man, what a great album. Bruce Dickinson is as cool a metal singer as they come.
- 1987 – Guns N Roses, Appetite For Destruction: My Brother is the one who had this cassette, although I am the one that played the hell out of it. It was 1988 or 1989 when we got it, and GNR were at their apex. As kids who wanted to defy authority, this album just nailed it for us. Unfortunately, they never hit these highs again, and I don’t particularly care of the Use Your Illusion albums.
- 1990 – Slayer, Seasons In The Abyss: If my Iron Maiden selection came with a bit of subtlety, Slayer said, nah. This was actually one of their “quieter” albums although it kicks some serious ass. This was really taboo at the time for an early teenager to own, yet again I have to be thankful my Mother never batted an eye that her son was playing actual devil worshiper music. Ha. Slayer’s still a guilty pleasure.
- 1992 – Singles Soundtrack: Another album that I never included because it encapsulated all of the grunge I was listening to at the time (like many). The cuts were impressive especially for an album that never got a lot of attention. There are some true standouts too, including an unearthed track from Jimi Hendrix, Drown by Smashing Pumpkins (not the radio edit, but the full version) and one of my all-time favorites, Seasons by Chris Cornell. When Chris Cornell died last year, I played that track about 50 times and I honestly wanted to hear it 50 more. RIP Chris.
- 1995 – Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral: I mentioned this album while including Pretty Hate Machine in my list. This album is still an all-time favorite. The tracks seems to tap into all the pain, isolation, loneliness, and anger I often feel. Every listen is cathartic. This was Trent’s first Interscope release and you can feel the release being given artistic freedom. My friend Sean Nessman gave me this album and I think I still owe him like 13 bucks. I should probably track him down and get that money back to him.
- 1996: Moby, Everything Is Wrong: Non-Stop DJ Mix: My friend Pat got me into this album. Its a DJ remix of the Everything Is Wrong album. I had heard from so many people that if I wanted to get into “techno,” I had to get Moby. I got a Moby CD, and then everybody said, “Oh, he’s yesterday’s news.” I still love the album.
- 1996: DJ Shadow, Endtroducing…..: Oh, I so needed to kick another album off the list to fit this one in. I wish my list could have been 11 albums. Alas, this album, which was been so instrumental in my understanding of music, is an honorable mention. When I started to get into vinyl, this was one of the first albums I jumped at. it’s still awesome. Shadow has made a number of phenomenal subsequent releases, but this one is the best. For a guy who used a sample machine and put this album out to zero fanfare, is is amazing how much he has influenced the music industry. Josh is da man.
- 1996 – Tool, Aenima: This album nearly made the list. I really liked their first album, Undertow. Oh my word, I love Aenima. Perhaps the greatest prog album ever made. The simple lineup belies incredibly complex song structures, lyrics, and themes. Now if they would just get their new album done…………
- 1999 – Peter Benisch, Waiting For Snow: Another album I was dying to get on my top 10 but couldn’t do it. This album speaks to me in a way I can’t describe. Every beat is just sublime and perfect and cathartic. A friend has told me this isn’t that great an album which makes me crazy. This album is better than great. Slightly ambient, with chill beats, and a feeling I can relax and reflect on life to. Will be part of me forever.
- 2002 – Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Amazing indie rock. Sometimes a little too happy, but always a fantastic listen. Poor Places is an all-time favorite.
- 2002 – Interpol, Turn On The Bright Lights: One of the best indie rock albums ever. Unfortunately, they never did hit the same heights on their subsequent albums, although they’re good listens.
- 2003 – Mars Volta, Deloused In The Comatorium: This album almost made it to my list. Completely uncommercial, uncompromisingly complex and intense, and an incredible ride. I am often exhausted listening to this album. There simply is so much to take in.
- 2007 – The National, Boxer: Another indie rock favorite, back when The National could be called indie rock. Alligator and High Violet are also faves. The more recent stuff is okay.
- 2008 – Fleet Foxes: One of those albums I discovered due to the magic of Pandora. All 3 albums are fantastic indie rock. Getting to see them live at Humphrey’s By The Way this year was a real treat. Just as awesome live as they are on album. Thank you Robin, make some more albums please.
- 2014 – Nest, Retold (2014 Special Edition): My friend Alex got me back into ambient, and while I used to like Brian Eno, I got tired of him. This Nest album is simply the best ambient album ever made and nobody will ever tell me otherwise. I’ve fallen back out of love with ambient again, yet I still play the hell out of this album.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.