My most influential albums of all time, full list


I have received a few challenges to list the 10 albums that were most influential to my musical tastes, without comment or review, one per day. To which I say, NO F-ING WAY. There is no way that I could condense my musical tastes to a list of ten albums. And the albums that I do chose absolutely need context, otherwise you would think that I rock out to "You're the Inspiration" on a daily basis. And hell, the interesting part of a list like this is the reason it was put together. I could easily put together a list of albums that makes me look cool if I didn't have to explain why I picked them. Better to provide the story behind the album. And 10 days? I would totally flake after two. 

So here now is my list of the 19 albums that shaped my musical tastes, all at once and with explanation and review. Note: These are not necessarily my favorite albums. They might have been at one time, but many of these I haven't listened to in years simply because I'm burned out on them or my musical tastes have changed. The goal is a list of influential albums, not greatest, coolest or best. But these are the albums that opened certain doors for me that *did* lead to the greatest, coolest and best albums, or at least shaped my mind to a point where I could appreciate those albums.  

So, without further ado, here they are, listed chronologically by release (not necessarily by when I discovered them, because most I discovered well after they were released.)

1) Neil Diamond His 12 Greatest Hits (1974)

Yes, I know a greatest hits album is cheating, but when I was 6 or 7, I had no idea what "greatest hits" meant. I just knew there was a whole album of awesome songs for me to put on the record player while I was building forts in the basement. My mom was the Neil Diamond fan, which I guess I inherited from her. 

How it influenced me: Neil Diamond is one of the great singer/songwriters. He writes tightly constructed pop songs with a folk/rock foundation. But he's not afraid to get bombastic and theatrical, which I think probably opened my mind to bands like Queen and Pink Floyd.

Stand out tracks: Well, all of them because it's a greatest hits album, but specifically "Sweet Caroline," "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" and "Cracklin' Rosie." 

2) Paul Simon Greatest Hits, Etc. (1977)

OK, I promise there won't all be greatest hits albums. This was another one that I inherited from my mom. I remember listening to this one on road trips. We had a black 1980 Pontiac Grand Am that came with an 8-Track and the 8 track was about the only thing that actually worked on that car. I remember thinking the song "Slip Slidin' Away" was about an actual Slip N' Slide, because I was 8 and a moron. Listening to that song now breaks my heart but I don't love it any less. 

How it influenced me: Paul Simon is an incredible lyricist who can paint a picture with a simple phrase. Listen to a song like "Late in the Evening" (not on this album) and you can imaging the city, the bar, the audience, you can picture the entire night as he lays it out. Lyricism like that opened me up to artists like Ben Folds and Van Morrison

Stand out tracks: Again, not a stinker in the group."Slip Slidin' Away," "Kodachrome" and "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard." 

3) AC/DC Back In Black (1980)

I had heard AC/DC before and liked select tracks. I can specifically remember as a kid while staying in a beach house at Cannon Beach (back when Cannon Beach was just another crappy little beach town) listening to my friend's Dirty Deeds tape and playing "Big Balls" over and over again because, come on, that shit's funny. But Back In Black was a goddamn game changer. Brutal, loud, punishing, devil-horns-in-the-air rock and roll for 42 glorious minutes. 

How it influenced me: This was my gateway to hard rock. Everything from Metallica to Guns N Roses to Led Zeppelin started with Back In Black. Hell, in a way I owe my career in rock radio to this album but about 50% of the songs I play on a daily basis can be traced back to this album. 

Stand out tracks: The obvious ones are "Back In Black," "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Hells Bells," but those aren't even my favorites. I'd go with "Shoot to Thrill," Rock N Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" and "Have a Drink on Me" 

4) Pink Floyd The Wall (1979)

I didn't get into Floyd until high school, which I guess is the time to get into Floyd. I went to my friend Cary's house and he put on The Wall movie, which blew my 16-year-old mind. I had already discovered Queen, so I could appreciate the theatrics, but Floyd took that shit to a stratospheric level. Listening to Pink Floyd made me feel the way I thought being high would feel (boy was I wrong.) 

How it influenced me: Pink Floyd is such a singular band that they have their own branch of the rock tree in my mind. So much so that to this day I have not heard an acceptable cover of any Pink Floyd songs. Bands have tried but all have failed (including the Foo Fighters who, with the exception of their attempt at "Have a Cigar," improve every original with their remake.) The Wall opened me up to Floyd's entire catalog, especially Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, both of which I actually like better than The Wall. 

Stand out tracks: "Comfortably Numb," "Run Like Hell" and "Young Lust."  

5) Chicago 17 (1982)

I am embarrassed to say that this is the first album I ever spent money on. Back in the day, there used to be a roller skating rink in Oregon City (where the theater is now.) That was the place for kids to hang out, sometimes overnight. I remember the DJ would play "You're the Inspiration" during Couples Skate, which I never did because I was a buck-toothed, fluffy-headed little spaz and girls wouldn't come near me. But between skating an MTV, I fell in love with Chicago's sappy, saccharine, jazz-inspired pop-love songs. 

How it influenced me: I went through a sappy love ballad phase there for a while through the 80s. I loved the power ballads of Van Hagar, White Lion, Nelson, etc, all of which were just Chicago songs with bigger hair and distorted guitars. I can still appreciate a good heart-rending, emotional love song and it may even have in some way paved the way in my brain for emo bands like Dashboard Confessional and My Chemical Romance

Stand out tracks: "Stay the Night," "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "You're the Inspiration." 

6) Michael Jackson Thriller (1982)

I mean, come on. Do I really have to tell you what a huge album this was? I was in 2nd grade and this thing was EVERYWHERE. We had a Halloween party at school where we watched the making of the music video for the song "Thriller." I begged my mom for nylon parachute pants and a matching windbreaker, which just made me looked like a bucktoothed, fluffy-headed, spastic duffle bag. Obviously no one had heard the stories about Michael back then, but in retrospect it's a bit cringey. 

How it influenced me: Thriller made me aware of the whole pop/funk scene of the 70s and early 80s, but also of Motown in general. As you could tell from the Neil Diamond/Paul Simon/Chicago trifecta, I did not grow up in the most soulful house, so my exposure to the likes of Prince, Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, the Temptations, Sam and Dave, etc was pretty limited. After Michael Jackson blew up, I started looking into some of those other artists. And while hard and alternative rock are my chosen genre, I still love putting on Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye or Prince, which is due in part to the introduction into that world by Michael Jackson.  

Stand out tracks: "Want to be Startin' Somethin'," "Thriller" and "Beat It"

7) Van Halen 1984 (duh) 

Van Halen had been a staple on MTV for years, but this album made them legitimate superstars. It also destroyed the band, sending David Lee Roth on a spiral of self-indulgence, and ushered in the love song-heavy Sammy era of the band. To me, this was Van Halen hitting on all cylinders, which you can almost literally hear on "Hot for Teacher," (the opening drum beat was supposedly inspired by an idling Harley.) 

How it influenced me: This album introduced me to the bombastic, over the top world of hair metal and all the bands that would come in its wake like Poison, Def Leppard, Motley Crue and GNR. After 1984 came out, people started wearing Diamond Dave style spandex pants (which I never did) and growing their hair out (which I did) into giant mullets (guh, fuck... yeah, I did that too.) This album ushered in my transition from pop schmaltz to dumb, decadent butt rock.  

Stand out tracks: "Drop Dead Legs" (my all time favorite VH song), "Panama" (my second all time favorite VH song) and "Hot For Teacher" (third.) 

8) Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill and Run DMC Raising Hell (both1986) 

I listed these two albums together because to me they were like a double album from the same artist. Not that they are so similar as to be indistinguishable. They are sonically and stylistically different, but coming out at the same time they were in a constant rotation in my tape deck. Once one finished I would swap the tape and put the other in. Wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes I would mix it up and play side one of the Raising Hell and follow it with side one of Licensed to Ill. So, in my mind, they were kind of like an Outcast record- two different styles and messages inside the same cassette case. We even took to listening to them both during class when the teachers let us. 

How they influenced me: Much like just about every other white kid from the suburbs, these two records were my real introduction to rap. I had heard rap before, but it never connected the way these two albums did. The skill and style of Rev. Run, Darrell Mac, Mike D, MCA and Ad Rock, mixed with the incredible beats and samples of Jam Master J and Rick Rubin's producing blew my 12-year-old mind. Without the introduction to rap from the Beasties and Run DMC, I never would have sought out other artists like Public Enemy, N.W.A., Tribe Called Quest and everything that comes since. Not to mention, Aerosmith. I don't think I had ever heard Aerosmith's original version of "Walk This Way" as a kid, or if I did I didn't pay attention to it. In my mind, the Run DMC cover *is* the original. I know that sac-religious for Aerosmith fans, but it's the truth.

Stand out tracks:  Beasties- "Paul Revere," "Slow and Low," and "She's Crafty." Run DMC- "Peter Piper," "Walk This Way" and "My Adidas."

9) INXS Kick, U2 Joshua Tree (both 1987) 

This is another two sides of the same coin situations for me. I spent a lot of time replacing one tape with the other, going from INXS's dance beats to U2's moody, ethereal guitar loops. U2 and INXS are similar in a lot of ways, despite coming from opposite sides of the planet. While INXS was dancier and U2 more introspective, both seemed to share a common thread in my mind.

How they influenced me: While I had always been aware of and like the New Wave hits on the radio, these two albums led me to look deeper into bands like New Order, Joy Division, Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds and Tears for Fears.

Stand out tracks: INXS- "New Sensation," "Need You Tonight" and "Never Tear Us Apart." U2- "Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for" and "With or Without You."

10) Def Leppard Hysteria (1987) 

Hysteria probably is still to this day the album that I have listened to more than any other. I wore out three separate cassette copies of this album. This was back in the day before iTunes so people tended to listen to the same thing over and over, but I LOVED this album. It was my soundtrack for everything. I always had my Walkman with me and this was usually the tape in it. 

How it influenced me: This was the bookend to Van Halen's 1984 and the culmination of all the hair bands that came before and after. But where so many of those other buttrock bands can be written off, Def Leppard's Hysteria is still a classic. Not to mention a staple in every strip club. 

Stand out tracks: "Pour Some Sugar On Me," "Hysteria," "Animal."

11) Guns N' Roses Appetite For Destruction (1987)

The only thing that saved me from wearing out more Def Leppard tapes was the release of Appetite For Destruction. But where Def Leppard kept one foot in the pop world, GNR chopped that foot off and staggered forward on the stump. Appetite is an unrepentant hard rock album with an especially graphic set of liner notes that appeared to show the sexual assault of a woman at the hands of a robot. Why? Because they're Guns N' Roses, fuck you, that's why. 

How it influenced me: In many ways GNR is a hair metal band- From LA, decadent lifestyle, teased out hair (early on) and spandex- But they were also the perfect buffer between hair metal and the grunge that would be coming in just a few years. The subject matter was dark. Where their contemporaries were singing about partying and girls and getting wasted, Guns N Roses had songs dealing with addiction, depression, self hatred. They talk about the other stuff too, but they had range. "Mr. Brownstone" could easily have been a song by Alice In Chains. 

Stand out tracks: 'Rocket Queen" "Paradise City" and "Welcome to the Jungle." 

12) N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton (1988)

How far we've come since Chicago 17... Straight Outta Compton was the soundtrack for my drive into school with my stepbrother, Chris. We would pile into either his Plymouth Skylark or my '68 Volkswagen Bug and fly down the backroads of Beavercreek. We typically took his car because he had the better stereo, which was still a massive piece of shit, just not as massive as the one in my car. I'm sure the guys in N.W.A. would have laughed their asses off so see a couple of dopey white kids in the middle of Bumfuck, Oregon listening to their album on the second worst stereo in the state. 

How it influenced me: Where Run DMC and the Beasties introduced me to rap, N.W.A. showed me how it could me used to convey a message of protest, outrage, anger, oppression and subversion. Straight Outta Compton is a brutal and repeated punch to the face. While the beats and rhymes are brilliant, the subject mater isn't pleasant. It's a look into a world that as a middle class white kid from Oregon I had no concept of. N.W.A paved the way in my mind for bands like Rage Against the Machine, Snoop Dogg, Notorious BIG and Tupac

Stand out tracks: "Straight Outta Compton," "F**k the Police" and "Dopeman"

13) Jane's Addiction Nothing Shocking (1988)

This was another band bequeathed to me by my friend Cary in high school. Shortly having my teen brain blown by The Wall, Cary put on Nothing Shocking, which blew the remaining fragments of my brain all over again. I immediately made him make a cassette copy and spent the next several weeks listening to that and Jane's Addiction's follow-up album Ritual de lo Habitual on the flip side of the same tape. 

How it influenced me: Jane's Addiction was the perfect transition from the decadent LA hair metal scene to the grunge scene that they literally helped usher into the world through Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza. Jane's used the same heavy powers chords and soaring guitar solos that you might hear on a Motley Crue album, but through the filter of an art school drop out and sung by someone whose only past experience was Tiny Tim karaoke night. All of which sounds like it should be awful, but it all worked. Jane's Addiction opened my field of vision to the whole of the college music scene- The Pixies, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and eventually the entirety of Seattle.  

Stand out tracks: "Summertime Rolls," "Mountain Song" and "Ted, Just Admit It......."

14) Rage Against the Machine Rage Against the Machine (1991)

I honestly can't remember what finally got me to listen to Rage Against the Machine's first album. Starting from my first few days of my freshman year at Linfield College, I worked at the college radio station KSLC. I spent most of my waking hours there because it was just so exciting and fun. This is the way radio was meant to be. It was like playing your favorite songs on your stereo for all your friends at a party, except the stereo had a range of about 50 square miles and the party was a liberal arts college, a moderate sized town and some of the best wine country on the planet. And while that Rage album was always around, I never cared to try it out. I guess I thought, based on the cover, it would be some thrash, scream-o metal band and that wasn't my scene. It may have been Lollapalooza '93 that I finally gave them a chance. Somewhere between Arrested Development and Primus on the main stage, Rage played a set on the side stage (right after Tool, if I remember right) and that's when I finally understood what Rage was one of the best fucking bands I've ever seen. 

How it influenced me: Rage expanded the definition of what rap and rock could be in my mind. Sure, Aerosmith and Run DMC proved the two could mix back in the day and Public Enemy had some success with it on a limited basis in the late 80's, but the fusion of rap and rock *was* Rage Against the Machine. Tom Morello's guitar solo/DJ scratching was nothing I had ever heard before. And Zach de la Rocha's far-left fury felt more like a protest rally than a rock album. This was my first real experience with protest music, which continued on with bands like System of a Down. 

Stand out tracks: "Killing in the Name," "Take the Power Back," and "Know Your Enemy." 

15) Pearl Jam Ten (1991) 

This is the big one. This is probably the single most influential album of my life because it kicked open a whole new world of music for me. I remember hearing Pearl Jam in high school and not thinking much about them. But on a ride in my college friend's convertible VW Cabriolet through hills around McMinnville it clicked. Before that trip I was not a Pearl Jam fan and by the time we pulled back into the Linfield parking lot I was fucking addicted. I couldn't tell you what happened in that 20 minute span of time, but whatever it was it was life changing.  

How it influenced me: This is the single most influential album for me on this list. Everything opened up after this: Yes, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, but even smaller bands like Hammerbox, Sunny Day Real Estate, Green Apple Quick Step, Green River, Goodness, Screaming Trees, Brad, Meat Puppets, Fastbacks and so many more. Then the vast ocean of college bands like Buffalo Tom, Afghan Whigs, Lemonheads, Soul Asylum, Liz Phair and so many more. My musical tastes pivot on this one album. Everything changed in my mind, once this album clicked, so much so that I became a bit obsessed. The sheer amount of posters, press clippings, memorabilia and ticket stubs I have for Pearl Jam far and away eclipses any other band in my library. And rightfully so. 

Stand out tracks: Really? I have to chose? There are the obvious hits, but I'm not going to take that route. I'll take the less appreciated "Oceans," "Porch" and "Release." But really you could pick any song on this album. 

16) Jeff Buckley Grace (1994)

My wife (then girlfriend) worked at KSLC in college as well. She was the music director and she really had a knack for picking artists that would much later become huge. Jeff Buckley was one of those picks. I thought he was alright, but she insisted that I give him another listen. Then a few more after that. Eventually I heard what she picked up on her first listen. Jeff Buckley was amazing. You may not know him, but you've probably heard his influence. If you watch American Idol regularly, you will occasionally hear someone sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," but in a more slowed down and somber way. They are likely trying to sing Jeff Buckley's version of the song. Jeff would have been a massive star- he was young, super talented and ladies thought he was cute, but he tragically died while recording his second album when he drown taking a swim in the Mississippi. 

How it influenced me: Jeff Buckley was the son of folk singer Tim Buckley and there is a hint of that in his work, but there is much more of a jazz tinge (likely from his early days in NYC playing in jazz clubs.) But it's his vocals that really stand out. He's able to hit falsettos that David Lee Roth could only imagine. Jeff Buckley opened a world of indy singer/songwriters who could write a song that could kick you in the gut and leave you begging for another boot to the solar plexus. After him came artists like Elliott Smith, Death Cab For Cutie, Decemberists and Nick Drake. 

Stand out tracks: "Last Goodbye," "Lover, You Should Have Come Over" and "Hallelujah" 

17) Radiohead The Bends (1995)

Holy shit, I love this album. As much as Pearl Jam was *my band,* I think The Bends may be the single best album of the 1990s. You can debate whether The Bends or OK Computer (their next album) is better, and there is a debate to be had there, but to me The Bends is absolute perfection. 

How it influenced me: I got really into Brit-pop around this time- British bands that were huge on the charts in the U.K. but were just considered little Alternative bands over here. Bands like Blur, Travis, Aqualung, Oasis, Pulp, Supergrass, Stereophonics, The Verve and eventually Muse. That fascination all started with this album. 

Stand out tracks: They all stand out, but if i had to pick three it would be "The Bends," "Just" and "Fake Plastic Trees." 

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