For every hardcore rock n’ roll fan, there is, I believe, a moment. A breakthrough moment where our relationship with popular music changes…from that of a passive receiver of the narrow band of options commercial radio, and in today’s world…Simon Cowell can offer, to that of an active, relentless seeker of artists, styles, and past eras to inspire us.
For me, that moment occurred in the summer of 1981.
Fifteen at the time, rock was already a regular part of my life, but my own music collection was limited to LPs by a few of the popular AM rock bands of the day (Kiss, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, Kansas, Cheap Trick, AC/DC) and the occasional 60s greatest hits package (The Beatles 62-66 and 67-70 collections were must owns amongst my peers, as were Hot Rocks, Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, and Led Zeppelin 4). Beyond that, any chance for further enlightenment came almost exclusively from those Memorial Day countdowns that were all the rage in the late 70s/early 80s.
It was on one of these countdowns in 1981 that I heard Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze for the first time.
“Now this,” I thought, “is cool!”
Within a week, Jimi’s Smash Hits was on the turntable, and I was on my way..
Two months later, my family took a week long vacation at a resort on the north shore of Kauai. I know, sounds great…but there were no kids there my age, the pool was smaller than that at your garden variety Holiday Inn, and the beach, though gorgeous, was rocky and not too swimmable. Aside from losing to my more athletic younger brother on one of fifteen tennis courts, there was nothing to do.
Then, one day, I wandered into the resort’s gift shop, and stumbled upon The Book of Lists 2. And inside, there was this excerpt from a 1977 poll by rock critic Paul Gambacinni.
The 20 Greatest Albums in Rock n’ Roll
1. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
2. Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
3. Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
4. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison
5. Rubber Soul – The Beatles
6. Revolver – The Beatles
7. Exile on Main Street – The Rolling Stones
8. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones
9. Abbey Road – The Beatles
10. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
11. The Sun Collection – Elvis Presley
12. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
13. The Band
14. The Velvet Underground and Nico
15. Layla, and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos
16. Forever Changes – Love
17. Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix
18. The White Album – The Beatles
19. Who’s Next – The Who
20. Legend – Buddy Holly
Hmm, I thought. I loved every artist on this list that I knew, and I’d heard rumblings about this Springsteen guy, but I had yet to give any of these original releases a listen…and who was this Van Morrison dude, or the Band, or Love, or Derek and the Dominos, or The Velvet Underground?
And that was pretty much it. Not long after that vacation, I landed a job at a Burger King next door to a Tower Records, and armed with the Gambacinni list and a recently purchased copy of The 1978 Rolling Stone Record Guide…my music world exploded.
Each paycheck became a license to pilfer Tower Records 4 for $20 bin, to which almost all of these phenomenal titles had already been demoted. Pricing in a record store…I quickly learned…was not based on quality.
In one year, I went from owning a record collection highlighted by Double Vision, Point of No Return, Live at Budokon and Pieces of Eight to one that included most of the titles above, as well as top releases from Graham Parker, Mott the Hoople, The Doors, Captain Beefheart, Spirit, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Tim Buckley, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Santana, David Bowie, Procul Harum, all the Motown greats, Chuck Berry, Sly and the Family Stone, the Byrds, the Animals, the Rascals, the Amboy Dukes, the Bobby Fuller Four, the Hollies, the Turtles, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, and the Stooges.
To my friends’ sometimes astonishment…and to my parents’ and wife’s sometimes chagrin…this comprehensive, obsessive approach has continued, unabated, for the last twenty-eight years. From the New Wave 80s through the Nihilistic 90s to the Nerd-and-Hip-Hop-Dominated ‘Oughts, I’ve been listening. And now, I’d like to share some thoughts on what I have enjoyed.
While I hope any random web surfer will find some value in my posts, my aim is really targeted at two specific audiences…older rock n’ roll fans who would love to stay up on the best in current music but can no longer make the time …and young hardcore fans, just getting started, who wouldn’t mind a guiding hand to point them towards some of the best of what’s come before.
Obviously, I have my own biases…fans of modern metal or American Idol-style mainstream pop won’t find much to their tastes here…but I do listen to, and will profile works from, just about every other genre that falls under the broad rock n’ roll spectrum.
I hope you enjoy.