Pitchfork has a cool feature that seems to be alternately called “Music of His/Her Life” and “5-10-15-20”. The basic premise is the subject talks about what music they were listening to and influenced by as their life progressed, using five year age intervals. This got me thinking about my own personal 5-10-15-20, so I figured what the hell, I’ll put it out on the blog. While I focus primarily on albums on Life in the Vinyl Lane, it’s as much about my relationship with music as it is about music itself, so why not.
5 (1976) – The Amazing Spider-Man
I don’t have any memories of music being played in our Philadelphia townhouse. That’s not to say there wasn’t any – I just don’t remember it. We had one of those record player/cassette/8-track combos and the record player allowed you to stack multiple records on it at once. It would play the side of the first one and when it hit the runout the arm would automatically pick up and move back to its resting position, then the next record hovering over it would drop on top of the first one, and the arm would move back over atodrop on the first track. During the holidays mom would stack up Christmas records on that spindle, playing all the A sides, then flipping the entire stack over and playing all the B sides. That was our holiday soundtrack for years and years.
As for me, I do remember having a few of these comic book / 7″ record combos that I’d play on a little portable record player in my room. I think this Spider-Man was one that I had – it came out in 1974 so the time is right. If I had any music, I don’t remember it.
10 (1981) – Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer
I was tempted to fudge a bit here and push this out to 1983, because that’s when I started actually choosing the music I wanted to listen to. But I wasn’t there yet in 1981. My dad was a big Neil Diamond fan though – and I mean big. By 1981 he was just coming through a rough patch and Diamond’s music spoke to him. We even saw Neil in concert in Columbia, South Carolina right around this time – I’m pretty sure it would have been 1981 or 1982, and it was the first concert I ever went to. His connection with Diamond was something I didn’t get, and it wasn’t until I became much older and went through my own mid-life struggles that I came to understand the powerful way Diamond speaks to that experience. I never got into him per se, but when I went back to vinyl I eventually picked up a copy of The Jazz Singer, and now I get it.
15 (1986) – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
By the mid-1980s my tastes were firmly entrenched in rock and hair metal, but it wasn’t until 1986 that I discovered that band that would become and remain my all-time favorite – Led Zeppelin. I still recall the situation. I was down in the “Sophomore Pit”, a section of the basement of my high school where all sophomores had their lockers. I was talking to some friends about music, and I believe I was talking crap about some of their current favorites like U2 and Dire Straits. At some point someone mentioned Zeppelin and I said I didn’t know them. It was one of those needle scratching off the record moments and derailed the whole conversation. Because these were my friends they cut me a little slack, but made it clear that I needed to rectify this situation immediately.
Our school at that time was located across the street from the big Bellevue Square Mall, so as soon as the day ended I headed over to Musicland and found a copy of Led Zeppelin I in one of those huge bins of discounted cassettes that used to be in the front of the store. I liked it, didn’t love it, but I went back a few days later and picked up Led Zeppelin II from the same bin. And my life changed forever. That tape, and later a CD replacement, became the soundtrack of the next few years. I ravenously consumed their entire catalog, and that led me deeper into the world of classic rock that came to define more and more of my musical life.
20 (1991) – Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
I’d been into Soundgarden since 1987s Screaming Life EP. Being that I lived in the Seattle area I was lucky enough to be exposed to a ton of what later became the great grunge bands. There was a lot of talk in the late 1980s that the Seattle scene was going to break nationally and among my friends there were three bands we figured to be the likely candidates – Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Tad. Honestly Nirvana was barely on my radar at that point, though I did have the “Sliver” 7″. My personal favorite was Soundgarden.
When Badmotorfinger came out in 1991 I was blown away at how fantastic it was, and I’m not talking about “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”, but instead songs like “Slaves & Bulldozers”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, and “Room A Thousand Years Wide”. I even had a Soundgarden t-shirt that I practically wore out. But. It was also clear to me that this was the end of grunge, despite the fact that Nevermind came out the same year and finally brought the genre to the mainstream. Badmotorfinger is many things, but grunge is not one of them. But this style of darker rock held a strong appeal to me and shaped my appreciation for bands like Alice In Chains, White Zombie, and Godsmack.
25 (1996) – Sammy Davis Jr. – I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise
I wasn’t buying much music in the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason I told my dad I’d like some CDs for Christmas, specifically some of the old crooners that he was fond of. One of those CDs he bought me was the newly released I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise. I played the hell out of that in my car as I drove around the Eastside doing sales calls. The first four tracks are pure magic – “Lush Life”, “A Stranger In Town”, “What Kind of Fool Am I”, and “Once In a Lifetime” – and I can probably still sing all four of them word-for-word. I tried getting deeper into Sammy’s catalog, but I always found myself coming back to this CD. I still play those first songs in the car sometimes and still get goose bumps at the smoothness of Sammy’s voice.
30 (2001) – Sugar Ray – Sugar Ray
I’m still amazed at how much people will say they hate Sugar Ray. They were like Nickelback before it was popular to hate Nickelback. I got turned onto Floored (1997) and Holly and I both fell for the band, so much so that we’ve now seen them live a half dozen times in three different states. In fact they are the first band that we traveled out of state specifically for the purpose of seeing them play, heading down to Lake Tahoe to catch both shows they did on back-to-back nights. I was a big enough fan that I actually burned my own personal Best Of Sugar Ray CD for my car (remember kids, this was before iPods were a thing and smartphones were still something out of a sci-fi movie). And you know what? I still like them. If they did a reunion show with the original band I’d strongly consider going to see them. This was probably the start of me realizing that I didn’t need to care what people thought of the music I liked – I could like what I wanted and didn’t have to explain it to anyone. That may sound obvious, but it was seriously liberating to someone like me who had come to define themselves by the kind of music I listened to and, just as importantly, didn’t listen to (even if I secretly liked it).
35 (2006) – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – So Far
Much as my dad hit his tough patch and leaned on The Jazz Singer, I hit mine in my mid-30s and gravitated towards So Far. It’s the one period in my life that when I look back on it I feel like I simply don’t even know the person that I was at the time. Somehow I made it through without making any truly terrible decisions and with my relationships and career still intact. Frankly it could have gone either way.
There was something in the harmonizing of CSNY that drew me back to this album, one I’d probably owned since high school. The songs are beautiful and heartfelt, and I suppose there’s an undercurrent of sadness that appealed to me at that time in my life as well. I actually find it hard to listen to these songs now – as much as they helped me then, they’re too stark a reminder of a period I’d just assume not dwell on.
40 (2011) – Agent Fresco – A Long Time Listening
I first experienced Agent Fresco at Iceland Airwaves in 2010 and was immediately a super-fan. Their debut LP A Long Time Listening came out the same year an I played the hell out of it for the next couple of years. This was the start of my love affair with Icelandic music, and Agent Fresco were ground zero.
I’ve pointed a lot of people to this album over the years, and most of them took to it. It’s a record of tremendous beauty, but also significant personal pain. Sometimes it’s almost too hard to listen to, but it really depends on your frame of mind at the time.
45 (2016) – The Kills – Ash & Ice
2016 was the year of the female artist. Four of my top five albums were by women or female bands – The Kills, Dream Wife, Iiris, and Kælan Mikla. It ushered in an era of appreciation for women in music that I’m still in today.
Alison Mosshart is a fantastic front-woman and I pretty much love every project she’s involved with – Discount, The Kills, The Dead Weather. She owns the stage, and also has the capacity to show both unwavering confidence and vulnerability depending on the need of the song. And as for Jamie Hince, there may not be a better guitarist out there today.
So there it is, a sort of musical life story. It seems weird to think about it in this way, but it was also an interesting trip down memory lane, looking back to specific periods, both the good and the not-so-good. What would your list look like?