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Yeah, Me Too
August 9, 2003 — 11:58 pm

After Justin’s great list, how can I resist adding my own? Here are the 32 albums that have been most influential on my own musical development, roughly chronologically . . .

Polka Party!Weird Al Yankovic

When I was a kid, I was a classical music snob. I believed the simplistic forms of rock and pop music were only palatable to those with simple minds. In middle school, I started to give the form a chance — because Weird Al made it funny. At least, to my adolescent accordion-playing sensibilities. I had listened to Weird Al before Polka Party!, but this was the first album that really hooked me.

Raising HellRun-DMC

Not long after I started high school, I finally started to give non-parody pop music a chance, in part because Run-DMC still made it funny. Remember “You Be Illin'”? Or the video for “It’s Tricky” co-starring Penn and Teller? Although I’ve never been much of a rap or hip-hop fan since then, I continue to have great respect for the form and the musical vocabulary it spawned — elements that are valuable when appropriated in music of which I am a fan.

SoPeter Gabriel

This Peter Gabriel album was released at about the same time I started exploring the world of pop music. I liked it from the start, but in retrospect I think I may have embraced it in no small part because Weird Al played the “Big Time” video on a 1987 episode of Al TV . . . This was also my first real exposure to Tony Levin, bassist extraordinaire and longtime member of King Crimson.

Magical Mystery TourThe Beatles

My lifelong friend Travers hooked me up with a dubbed cassette of this album — the first Beatles album I “owned.” Although it’s far from their best album, I played it in the car incessantly and The Beatles became my favorite band.

LincolnThey Might Be Giants

I had seen the video for “Don’t Let’s Start,” from They Might Be Giants’s first album, on Al TV — but this was the first full album I bought, after hearing “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” and “Shoehorn With Teeth” on Dr. Demento. I’ve been listening to them ever since, and I’ve seen them live seven or eight times.

Big ScienceLaurie Anderson

In high school I became a teenage poetry snob while taking a couple of TAG writing classes, one that took place on Monday nights throughout the fall semester of my sophomore year, another (Writer to Writer) that lasted for a full week the following summer at Lewis and Clark College. Matthew Hattie Hein was in both classes, and his writing became a primary inspiration for my own. When he started quoting lyrics from Big Science, I had to get it. I’ve never looked back.

Mister HeartbreakLaurie Anderson

But it was Laurie Anderson’s masterpiece, Mister Heartbreak, that became the fountainhead for scores of other albums. This is the album that began my obsession with album credits. I was gratified to find Peter Gabriel had participated in writing, performing and producing a few songs on this album, but who were all these other guys? Bill Laswell? Adrian Belew? William S. Burroughs? Little did I know . . .

GracelandPaul Simon

I became a fan of this before ever really getting into Simon & Garfunkel, although the lyrical rhythm on “You Can Call Me Al” baffled me the first time I heard it. This also features Adrian Belew. And Los Lobos (one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen), at about the same time they became really famous for “La Bamba” and their other Ritchie Valens covers.

Remain in LightTalking Heads

More Adrian Belew. The video for “Once in a Lifetime” slapped this young dadaist upside the head. To this day, it remains my favorite Talking Heads song.

Stop Making SenseTalking Heads

But this live soundtrack album does the song, and every other song, one better. My first exposure to the genius of Bernie Worrell.

New YorkLou Reed

Justin told me about a Lou Reed video he had seen (“Dirty Blvd,” I think) and described Reed as being kinda like Laurie Anderson. “He kind of talks instead of singing.” This album got me into The Velvet Underground, of course. And whadda you know, Reed and Anderson hooked up in the ’90s, musically and otherwise . . .

SpikeElvis Costello

I became interested in this from seeing the “Veronica” video on MTV. And the fact that Paul McCartney co-wrote some of the songs clinched it. Many Costello fans regard this as a low-point in his career, but as far as I’m concerned Spike is a highlight. Guests like McCartney, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Marc Ribot on guitar. Whenever I hear “Chewing Gum,” I think every pop song should have a tuba. And Ribot’s avant skronk.

Ankety Low DayTone Dogs

Portland’s populist mayor Bud Clark established the Mayor’s Ball in 1984 as a way to defray campaign expenses and toss a bone to charity. I attended the ball in 1988 with Travers and Matt Sherman, and discovered the Tone Dogs. We planned to watch a few minutes of their set before taking off to check out another band in another part of the Coliseum. But I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t even look away. Through Amy Denio, I went on to discover The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet and Curlew, through Fred Chalenor I went on to discover Caveman Shoestore, Pigpen and Zony Mash (thanks in part to Wayne Horvitz, who’s coming up later) and Matt Cameron went on to drum for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, of all bands . . . But none of it has hit me the way they did the only time I saw them live, and on their debut album, Ankety Low Day. This album was also my first exposure to Fred Frith, although the name didn’t mean anything to me at the time.

We’re Only in It for the MoneyFrank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention

Travers’s parents played this for me when I was about nine years old. Freaking out Mormon kids can be fun. It gave me a headache and I didn’t know what to make of it. Later, in high school, Travers dubbed me a copy and I listened to it incessantly. Zappa recorded better albums, but not funnier ones. Which is saying a lot.

Telephone Free Landslide VictoryCamper Van Beethoven

I first heard “Take the Skinheads Bowling” on Dr. Demento, and became an instant fan. Of course, it didn’t hurt matters to find out (from a Lincoln student on the bus on the way to a week of teaching environmental propaganda to 6th graders as an Outdoor School junior counselor) that Matthew Hein had performed the song at a high school assembly. The song “Where the Hell is Bill?” became kind of an anthem for me and my fellow poetry-snob/journalism/Prankster friends.

Key Lime PieCamper Van Beethoven

But Key Lime Pie really blew me away. I still listen to this often. Recorded just before the band imploded, and without their longtime violinist Jonathan Segel, many fans don’t like this as much as the band’s earlier stuff. It’s definitely a departure — but for the better. This version of the band had the grandiosity and lyrical pretension that made the offshoot band Monks of Doom so good. I think I’m on my fifth copy or so of this album . . .

Larks’ Tongues in AspicKing Crimson

All these albums with Adrian Belew on guitar, but I hadn’t heard his most famous work — with King Crimson. My friend Jacob brought Discipline to school one day, and although I didn’t listen to it I noticed Adrian Belew’s name on the credits. So the next fall, when I was a freshman at BYU, and I noticed a $4 cassette of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic at the BYU bookstore, I picked it up hoping to hear more Belew. No Belew, but the most amazing music I had ever heard. I couldn’t believe music like this actually existed. And I was lucky enough to know about it. King Crimson became my favorite band.

The Compact King CrimsonKing Crimson

I asked for this cassette for Christmas, 1991. This had Belew, and the discovery of ’80s Crimson music was almost as much of a revelation as Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. The cassette had a couple of songs that the CD doesn’t — “Catfood” and “Red”.

Show of HandsRobert Fripp & The League of Crafty Guitarists

King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp had taken a few years off from life in the public eye to lead an ongoing series of guitar seminars. This was the fourth release by The League of Crafty Guitarists, but their first since 1987 or so. I was lucky enough to become a Fripp fan right when he started releasing new material again. This is groundbreaking music, and it led to The California Guitar Trio, Trey Gunn‘s various projects, and an array of other Guitar Craft-related music, all of which I’ve liked. Very much.

Flight of the Cosmic HippoBéla Fleck and the Flecktones

While I was a missionary in Florida, my friend Matt Sherman sent me a mix tape of Flecktones stuff, largely from Flight of the Cosmic Hippo. Wow. This was my first real entry point into the worlds of both bluegrass and jazz.

Naked CityJohn Zorn

On another mix tape, Matt Sherman sent a song from John Zorn’s first Naked City album. He wrote (paraphrasing) “This album changed my life. It’s still changing my life.” He had sent me the most subdued track from the disc, a cover of Ennio Morricone‘s “Sicilian Clan,” so I wasn’t prepared for the sonic assault of the full album. But this introduced me to not only Zorn, but guitarist Bill Frisell, guitarist Fred Frith, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, drummer Joey Baron and screamer Yamatsuka Eye — at least a couple hundred related albums have followed.

GravityFred Frith

My pal Jacob sent me a cassette dub of this album while I was a missionary. It didn’t really lead to the discovery of additional artists, but I listened to it constantly for months, and it cemented my love of all things Frith. I didn’t manage to find this on CD until 1997, at a Borders in downtown Washington, DC.

Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis)Praxis

Yet another Matt Sherman mix tape introduced me to Praxis, a Bill Laswell-produced project featuring Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Buckethead and Brain. I remembered Laswell from Mister Heartbreak, and Worrell from Stop Making Sense. But I hadn’t started listening to P-Funk yet . . . This, and the next album, started sucking me into the vast Laswell vortex. Check out both his own discography and the list of stuff he’s appeared on.

Hallucination EngineMaterial

Another groundbreaking Laswell project, again courtesy of Matt Sherman. More Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins. Another great spoken-word performance by William S. Burroughs. My introduction to Jonas Hellborg and Nicky Skopelitis. And Wayne Shorter.

Weird Nightmare: Meditations on MingusHal Willner

The best CD I ever got from Columbia House. Hal Willner projects are every bit as sprawling, collaborative and groundbreaking as Bill Laswell’s are, but Willner is less prodigious. This tribute to Charles Mingus is amazing. Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Henry Threadgill, Vernon Reid, Don Byron, Greg Cohen, Bobby Previte, Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Chuck D, Henry Rollins, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, the list goes on and on. This is a masterwork, a bravura piece. This also led to future Frisell/Costello collaborations, and Don Byron joined Vernon Reid’s band.

My Favorite ThingsJohn Coltrane

My first Coltrane album. I have several dozen more now. What more can I say?

Bitches BrewMiles Davis

And my first Miles. This pissed off jazz purists, but I love it so. Some of my favorite Miles is the insane electric stuff.

Miss AnnWayne Horvitz and Pigpen

The worlds of Naked City and the Tone Dogs merge together, as Wayne Horvitz moves to Seattle and hooks up with bassist Fred Chalenor. The title song is an Eric Dolphy cover; I started listening to lotsa Dolphy soon thereafter.

Have a Little FaithBill Frisell

Bill’s tribute to the wide range of American music. Covers of Copland, Ives, Sousa, Dylan, Madonna, Muddy Waters, etc. You’ve never heard any of it like this. And I think the Madonna cover proves that any music can sound great if it’s performed right . . . This was my introduction to avant-garde accordionist/composer Guy Klucevsek.

It’s a Jungle in HereMedeski, Martin & Wood

These guys spent years working with guys like John Zorn, Marc Ribot and the Lounge Lizards. So when they got together it was kind of a small-scale supergroup. Jazz/funk jams. This album has horns. And Ribot. They have a huge following today, but this early stuff is some of their best.

Carry the DayHenry Threadgill

I had seen Henry Threadgill’s name in the Weird Nightmare credits and various Laswell projects (in fact, I picked up this CD in part because Laswell produced it), but this was the first time I experienced the full force of his vision. It was as new and revelatory as anything else I had ever heard. I collect his stuff obsessively.

SextantHerbie Hancock

Easily one of the best albums recorded by anyone at any time. Spaced-out free-form funk that actually achieves the transcendence so many others strive for. Why doesn’t this get more props?

— Eric D. DixonComments (1)

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  1. […] a decade — and, more significantly for me, their first new release since I’d become a fan four years earlier. (”Your eyes are all a-twinkle,” my college roommate Dave told me after he walked in on […]

    Pingback by The Shrubbloggers » The Airport Exercise — June 25, 2009 @ 12:14 am

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Eric D. Dixon

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