There is a Facebook “challenge” floating around that is bringing attention to the artwork of album covers. Each thread calls on readers to “post the covers of ten albums in ten days; albums that have had a big influence on you and that you still play. Be honest. No explanation, just artwork.”
I love this idea, but since this is a blog, I have to give at least some explanation.
Album covers remain a way for musicians to provide a unique visual connection to their own work. Unfortunately, due to an increase in digital sales and streaming, this can be a lost aspect of enjoying music. The music-listening experience is enhanced when you can sit down with a vinyl record, gaze at the cover, and open the gatefold.
Sometimes a piece of art or photography can lead to a lasting tie with the music. I have often made some interesting musical discoveries through the album credits. “Wow, Benmont Tench played on that Dawes record?,” “Beck wrote that Johnny Cash song?,” “Lemar Carter is Raphael Saadiq’s drummer? What else has he plaed on?”
Sonic discoveries aside, here are the ten albums that have impacted me. They are not ranked in any order and they may not necessarily represent my favorite album from each artist.
The Ten Albums That Influenced Me
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, U2 (2004) – This album is listed first because it started my love of music. Before this record, I was clueless. I was a freshman at Saint Joseph’s University. I bought this album from the Borders in Springfield, PA just because U2 was popular. Bono’s scream on “All Because Of You” was all I needed to know that there might be something to this music thing. I spent the next year or so hunting for more of that scream in U2’s music, but it wasn’t until 2006 that it really hit me that the same feeling I got from that yell was more present in another band’s music: The Who. Favorite Songs: “All Because Of You,” “City Of Blinding Lights.”
Who’s Next – The Who (1971) – My first concert was The Who and The Pretenders at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center in 2006. Not a bad first show, huh? I loved the music, but I thought Pete Townsend’s guitar theatrics were a bit much… until after the concert when I began to learn how great the old guy on stage was (I really knew nothing). That concert changed so much. Most of the work that grabbed me from that night is from Who’s Next, one of the best albums ever made. Favorite Songs: “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
Wasting Light, Foo Fighters (2011) – There are a few Foo Fighters albums that could be on this list. I selected Wasting Light because I am frequently drawn to the record cover. The interesting way that photographer Steve Gullick and Morning Breath Inc. captured each band member’s face and arrayed them into a multi-colored blend still fascinates me. I was also lucky enough to catch two shows on this tour that included appearances from Bob Mould and Krist Novoselic. Favorite Songs: “Bridge Burning,” “Arlandria,” “These Days”
Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, Kurt Vile (2013) – The complete artistry of Kurt Vile’s fifth album stands above every other record this list. Not only is the LP an outstanding record, but the album cover of Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze has an interesting backstory. The cover is a photo of a mural that was created by artist Steve Powers on the 1300 block of Front Street in Philadelphia. There is an interesting short documentary on how Powers and Vile collaborated on the mural, which is also visible to nearby El trains:
Favorite Songs: “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” “Air Bud”
Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs (2014) – This album cemented my connection with one of Philadelphia’s best bands. I had previously liked The War On Drugs, but this LP took that fandom to the next level. Lost In The Dream is a perfect record. It is a masterpiece that I have listened to more than any other record since it was released. Favorite Songs: “Under The Pressure,” “In Reverse”
What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971) – This record changed how I viewed concept albums and tracklisting. Not only is the inclusion of a unified political message on a Motown record radical in its own right, but every song is so tightly placed that it feels like a symphony. James Jamerson’s bass alone makes What’s Going On mandatory listening for any music fan. Favorite Songs: “What’s Going On,” “Right On”
American II: Unchained, Johnny Cash (1996) – Anyone who has followed this blog from the beginning knows how much I love Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It is hard for me to pinpoint one Heartbreakers record as being especially influential to my own experience. I view the entire discography as something extra special and no album really stands out as my favorite.
I was initially drawn to American II: Unchained, because of the Heartbreakers’ presence on the record. There is such an interesting cross-section of music in this album. Flea and Lindsey Buckingham play on Unchained. Beck and Soundgarden are covered by Cash. American II also served as my gateway into traditional country music. Since listening to American II, I have found so much great country music from Cash’s sphere of influence. Favorite Songs: “Rusty Cage,” “Rowboat”
xx, The xx (2009) – xx opened my eyes for electronic music in the same way that Fitz and The Tantrums’ debut (see below) provided for neo-soul. Through The xx I learned to appreciate the beautiful minimalism that can be present in electronic music. Favorite Songs: “Intro,” “Infinity,” and the non-album track “Insects”
The Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd (1973) – I have previously written about Pink Floyd’s Pulse tour. The eventual DVD that came from that tour has frequently been a source of tranquility to retreat to. Aside from “Comfortably Numb,” the music that I most enjoy from the Pulse DVD all came The Dark Side Of The Moon. It may be a cliché record to put on any list, but it earned that placement through the band’s timeless music. Favorite Songs: “Great Gig In The Sky,” “Time”
Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Fitz and The Tantrums (2010) – The collection of songs on this album is not the same Fitz and The Tantrums music that is played in the grocery store. Before they rebranded as a pop band, Fitz and The Tantrums began as a neo-soul band. This was my true introduction to the genre and opened a door into so much great music.
Because Fitz and The Tantrums appeared on Live From Daryl’s House, I discovered Hall & Oates. Through Live From Daryl’s House I was turned on to Chuck Prophet, Mayer Hawthorne, Sharon Jones, Allen Stone, and Nick Waterhouse and many other artists. No other album begat the discovery of more music than Pickin’ Up The Pieces. Favorite Songs: “Winds of Change,” “Tighter”
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