What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
If nothing else, we love a list here at Dubsism. This one had it’s genesis a year or so ago at the beginning of the global “pandemic” when social media was filling up with time-killers for all the people on “lock-down.” This one in particular came from one of my British friends, and while I took up the challenge, I also decided to give it a distinctly American feel.
In other words, I’m not just compiling a list of ten of my favorite albums; this list is also about records which shaped me as both a music fan and a musician. But since I’m an old-school nerd, and more importantly distinctly American…what is more distinctly American in the history of popular music on the radio in this country than Casey Kasem’s countdown?
So, now that you now the format, let’s get on with the list. As Casey would say, the numbers get smaller as the hits get bigger!
Those of you under the age of 40 won’t remember the days when Rolling Stone magazine wasn’t a sewer of intellectually bereft bits of pseudo-cultural flotsam and jetsam bound with staples and the thinnest veneer of what it’s publishers believe is journalism. There was a time when this bilge fit only for lining the bottom of bird cages was actually credible.
But back in those days, Rolling Stone called this 3-record set The Clash’s answer to The Beatles’ self-titled “White Album.” Despite the fact I am reticent to compare anything done by anybody to anything done by The Beatles, there are times it’s valid…and this is one of them.
Like the “White Album,” Sandinista was a complete scoff at the idea of building on commercial success. Instead, it was loaded with experimentation as it meandered through genres like Funk, Swing, Calypso, Rockabilly, with a healthy dabbling of Rap which was emerging at the time.
For my money, Sandinista is one of the most important records of the 1980s, largely because it laid down the rule of rock music that there are no rules…something far too many musicians forget.
Boomtown is the single effort from the duo of David Baerwald and David Ricketts. As studio musicians, they are far more well-known for work they have done with other artists, such as as Waylon Jennings and Robbie Robertson. But in 1986, they went into the studio for themselves and caught lightning in a bottle.
This record makes my light because it shines a bright light into those dark recesses we all have; the very same that most of us pretend that we don’t. The pop-ish melodies and exquisite production values belie it’s exploration of the dark side.
I remember buying this record for the single Welcome to the Boomtown. Picking up an album for one song was a risky practice in the 80s; it was easy to get that one song you like and eight you would never listen to again.
That’s certainly not the case with Boomtown. It opens with the single, and builds from there. By the time you get to Ain’t So Easy, you know you’re in for a ride. The third track on Boomtown, Ain’t So Easy lulls the listener in with it’s innocuous pop melody, and the first three line of lyrics follow suit. But the fourth lands with the force of the blow it seemingly references, and by the end of the second stanza, you’re right there in the shame spiral and abuse cycle on either end of domestic violence.
I didn’t realize what I was signing up for when I laid down my nine bucks in 1986 for these nine tracks. First of all, I discovered that every song on this album has it’s own hook you can’t escape. Then, I wondered why I couldn’t stop listening to this album chock full of sadness and anger. After about the third run-through, it dawned on me Boomtown might just be a soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist like what Roger Waters did with The Wall.
The part I couldn’t figure out was how did these songs fit together for a narrative that wasn’t immediately apparent? Some epiphanies are borne from spirituality, some from distilled spirits, and some come out of the clear blue sky. Regardless of the origin, I later discovered the screenplay this album was meant for was my life in the summer of 1987. While I’ve written about that year being my own personal best for what was happening in the sports world, my personal life at the time was a complete trash fire.
So…without getting into all the gory details, the bottom line is how you tell the story can be as important for forming connections as the story itself.
#8 is all about the number “4”…as in a number of strings. The fifth grade is when my journey into the world of classic strings started. Learning the violin and hearing Eleanor Rigby for the first time led to my first true musical “Eureka!” moment. As a kid whose ears cut their musical baby teeth on “classic” rock, I thought the world modern music was ruled by the “Guitar Gods.” But Eleanor Rigby showed be that a classic string quartet has capabilities, complexities, and depths that every “Guitar God” perched upon Mt. Stratocaster can only dream about.
If you recall, a trademark of Casey’s American Top 40 shows was the “Long Distance Dedication.” No Casey Kasem tribute would be complete without it.
So here goes…
Back in 1980, I was just another punk kid in California with a Suzuki 125 dirt bike and a growing taste in music. Well, I kept hearing this new band on the “bad kid” radio station, the one all my friend’s older brothers listened to which played all the hard rock stuff like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. One day, I noticed my neighborhood 7-11 convenience store had a copy of this band’s album on cassette in their small music right next to the room with the pinball machines and these new-fangled contraptions called video games.
The problem was I didn’t have the $5.99 to buy it, and I certainly wasn’t going to swipe it from a store where I was known.The beauty of Southern California at this time is there was a 7-11 at almost every major intersection, so I rode my not-street-legal dirt bike a few neighborhoods over, and sure enough that store had that tape in pretty much the same spot. But it was in this two-foot-long hard plastic case so you couldn’t just stuff it in your pocket and walk out.
The woman behind the counter was 50-something with a bad home perm; she just looked like her name was Eunice or Mavis or something like that. She also was too involved in her Marlboro and People magazine to give a damn what I was up to. There was no way I was greeting that cassette out of that anti-theft device without a major cutting tool, so I just grabbed it, ran out the door and hopped on my Suzuki. That woman didn’t even take the cigarette out of her mouth to yell “Come back here, you nappy-headed little son of a bitch!”
Casey, I would like to dedicate the signature track off that cassette tape I stole some 40 years ago. So for Eunice or Mavis or whatever the hell her name was, would you play “Breaking The Law” from Judas Priest’s 1980 release “British Steel?”
This song was also the initial installment in my series “Misty Watercolor Memories.”
#7 is a tale of 2 instruments. The previous installment in this countdown was all about my being a strings guy. But like Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, my journey started with strings but eventually led to the skins. Anybody who ever manned the cans and didn’t study the musicality inherent in the drum stylings of Buddy Rich…well, they cheated themselves.
Leave it to a guy who loved music and ended up majoring in physics eventually to make a math reference. Set your “wayback machine” for 9th-grade algebra and that Chinese puzzle of overlapping circles known as a Venn diagram. Cream is in the spot where the three rings representing Acid Rock, Delta Blues, and the infancy of Heavy-Metal intersected.
This was borne out in tracks ranging from “Strange Brew,” which is little more than a re-tooling of the old blues standard Lawdy Mama to Tales of Brave Ulysses, which is about as “acid rock ” as it gets. There’s a ton of great tracks in between which all add up to “Disraeli Gears” landing the #6 spot on this list.
Not to mention, there should be bonus points for Jake Bruce’s head pelt in that video.
“Punk” might be the most misunderstood of all of rock’s genres, but its’ influences can’t be understated. For my money, the world’s first punk band was The Kinks…a band whose influential nature has tentacles across the rock genre. After that, “Punk” was brought to the forefront in the 1970s by acts like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. But there was one band, despite it’s several incarnations, which distilled “punk” down to it’s essence. For me, the best example is Slip It In by Black Flag.
There are purists who may wonder why I picked this effort over so many others given all the incarnations of Black Flag. The answer is easy; Slip It In is the “Freebird” of Punk. Most Punk songs clock in at about two minutes; this cut runs well over six.
Even in my youngest days, my radio was my most dependable companion. If I wasn’t listening to a sporting event, I was pulling your show or the songs it featured from the airwaves. But one thing that always caught my attention was hearing something different.
In the late 1970s, the FM dial was dominated by that sounded similar; a lot of “disco” and general “pop” crap. But in 1977, I discovered something which defined “different.” This was a year dominated by the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and Debbie Boone’s religious knob-slob You Light Up My Life.
Then I heard the first single released by a new British band called the Police. Their sound was unique to say the least; it blended the sinew of Caribbean sounds like “reggae” and “ska” wrapped around a raw steel skeleton of “punk.” Nothing could have been more of a departure from what was populating the FM band than Roxanne, a love ballad to a prostitute punctuated with scratchy-raw guitar riffs and a gut-punch hook.
Flash the clock forward a few years when the influence “punk” had on me would be rivaled by that of two high school teachers. The first was a French teacher who was born in a Polish refugee camp in the aftermath of the Second World War. The second was an English teacher who could have been one of the all-time great “sit-com” dads; he had the innate sensibility of “Ward Cleaver” delivered with wry stylings of Bob Uecker from “Mr. Belvidere.” In either case, together they gave me a lesson in the power of perspective and it’s impact on the perception of what is possible.
So, for those two teachers, there really can’t be a better dedication than a funky, punky tune written by The Police’s Gordon “Sting” Sumner…an English Lit major who penned this song in French.
P.S. There’s a tale for another time when I actually got to meet “Sting” and he handed me a Fender Precision Bass he signed with a Sharpie.
In the J-Dub universe, there’s a “Golden Age of Rock;” a period defined as when the vast majority of the classic rock which will live forever was created. Granted, there are some exceptions to this era, but the dates which define it are very specific.
My “Golden Age” dawns on February 7th, 1964; the day The Beatles landed at JFK Airport. I don’t we really need to explain their importance to this era. The end is marked by September 25th, 1980; …the day Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham died. Since they hit the scene in 1969, every fledgling garage band EVER has tried a Zep tune; it’s actually the law in several states in America. Every one of those bands found out in a big hurry that there’s more than meets the ear with almost every Led Zeppelin song; trying to cover them means you’d better bring your “A” game.
I know this because I was in more than one those bands, and 1975’s “Physical Graffitti” gets the #4 spot because it has more Led Zeppelin songs that haunt my “garage band” memories than any other of their albums.
In the last installment, I mentioned the day The Beatles landed at JFK, but something similar happened 14 years later when this American band arrived at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. The Japanese crowds went wild for this group, who were largely unknown back in the States, and had only modest success in Europe.
But in the Land of the Rising Sun, these four mid-westerners from Rockford, Illinois were the Japanese equivalent to the “Fab Four.” They packed arenas, crowds mobbed the streets they traveled, and they had to sneak into hotels through the service entrances. That’s why this live album always reminds me of how The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show sounded in 1964.
Take a listen to my #3 album, Cheap Trick’s 1978 “Live at Budokan” and hear it for yourself. Not to mention, I can’t tell you how many snare drum heads I burned through imitating Bun E. Carlos until I learned the secret…don’t light the cigarette.
I’ve always been convinced there’s an inextricable link between classical music and rock. “Prog” rock was easily the best example of that, and the purest example of “Prog” rock was 1971’s “Fragile” by Yes. If you can’t hear the connection between the #2 album on my list and Brahms (not counting the parts where it’s blatantly obvious)…well, your musical exposure is not yet complete.
Well, we’re almost to the end of the J-Dub Album countdown, which means it’s time for something else Casey Kasem did in all of his countdowns…listing what happened to be #1 on all the other charts. Frankly, the Billboard charts are a bit boring, so I invented my own…
Four Words: “Black heavy-metal dudes.”
C’mon, “CHiPs” fans…insert your “Ponch” jokes here. There was a soul-healing factor seeing a guy from a “Grungy” 90s band rocking an old-school Fender Telecaster. But, it also re-affirms my commitment to sometime before I croak starting a 70s cover band called “Adam-12.”
These guys were the soundtrack to my 1987 that wasn’t covered by David and David.
Classical music meets the 1980s. The Pink Floyd influence is unmistakable, perhaps because this album was produced by David Gilmour.
Speaking of David Gilmour, here’s a guy who never gets mentioned when we talk about great axe-men in the history of rock. Take a close listen the the two solos in “Comfortably Numb” and you’ll understand quickly how wrong that is.
If they had electricity, Fender Stratocasters, and Ludwig drum kits in the 1770s, Ludwig von Beethoven probably would have sounded a lot like 1970s Deep Purple. After all it’s not a big jump from Beethoven’s most-famous riff in classical music to Ritchie Blackmore and the most-famous riff in rock history. Listen for yourself if yo don’t believe me…
Start with a Fender Telecaster, add a steel slide guitar, some mismatched off-the-rack suit separates topped with a taco-shell-shaped cowboy hat, and you get pure…if not odd…genius.
I’ve been playing bass for over 30 years, and I have yet to figure this guy out
There’s no such place, but if there were, it would not be complete without bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. You know there were plenty of times when Jimi Hendrix would take off on one of his steel-powered excursions headed to God only knows where when Redding and Mitchell said something like “I have no idea where he’s going, but you stay in tempo and I’ll stay in key because he’s got to come back to us as some point.”
It all started in 1985 with a crap six-piece drum set, a double-neck guitar, a case of Old Style beer and a dream. It sure as shit wasn’t The Cavern Club, but that washer-and-dryer equipped basement was the birthplace of “Laundry Room Rock;” a genre whose three anthems will recall these days for at least six months after I’m dead.
And now…the #1 album on this list…
Here’s the best description of Rush I’ve ever heard.
“If you liked the precision of Yes, and the power of Black Sabbath…Rush was for you.”~Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters
If you look back at the nine albums which led up to this point, regardless of genre, two qualities you can easily see in various degrees across that list are power and precision. Like the man said, there was no better combination of the two than Rush.
Anybody who really knows me figured out a a long time ago the discussion was really all about which album was going to get the #2 spot – #1 was reserved for 1981’s “Moving Pictures.”