Top 10 ‘Impact’ Albums of my Lifetime

This post originated from one of those Facebook tag games – Do your Top 10 albums, tag someone and get them to list their Top 10 albums….. and so on. I usually ignore 99% of those things but this one struck a chord, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The original tag game says that you’re supposed to post the albums that made an impact on your life. I’m going to add that those albums should still be on your playlist(s) today – a sign of real lasting impact.

The ‘rules’ also say you should only post a picture of the album cover – no further details required.

Where’s the fun in that??!!

If you’re going to spend so much time in your mental filing cabinet then you may as well spend a little more time and get some satisfaction from the whole process. Like…. 4,500 words worth of satisfaction?!

I was tagged by my mate Shannan, in Melbourne, who I thank for making me exercise the little grey cells.

Without further ado, then….

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Albums that didn’t make the list

My first back-of-the-envelope list for this post comprised nearly 20 albums. These are some of the records that I removed from the Top 10, and why.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Lauryn Hill) – It’s a masterwork of modern soul music but I don’t listen to enough of the record with any great regularity anymore. A couple of songs are on regular rotation, but not enough.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Red Hot Chili Peppers) – I can’t believe this album is nearly 30 years old! The artwork and the music still stand up so well. BUT… it doesn’t get any rotation nowadays and therefore I can’t claim the impact this list deserves. But still, what a record!!

Batman (Prince) – this record has probably had the single biggest impact of any record on me, ever. You could make an argument for it being #1 on this list. It’s the record that turned me on to Prince’s music, which has been an obsession ever since. I’ve chosen to put my favourite Prince album on this list instead, however, because while Batman’s impact was nuclear at the time, it’s Prince’s wider catalogue that has stayed with me. This one doesn’t see the light of day very often anymore.

Destroyer (Kiss) – Before I was a fan of anything else – before I was a teenager, even – I was a fan of Kiss. And I did it right, too, having every Kiss album available, except one, at the age of 12. Destroyer was my favourite.

Couldn’t Stand The Weather (Stevie Ray Vaughn) – The question as to who was my first guitar hero would probably end in a tie between SRV and Eddie van Halen. Stevie probably wins by a hair. But again, I just don’t play his stuff enough to claim the right level of impact. A legend.

Songs for the Deaf (Queens Of The Stone Age) – QOTSA are a recent addition to the repertoire and I absolutely love their work. I just can’t quite push any of the records listed below out of the Top 10 to make room for them – yet.

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10 – Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Centre of the Universe – Fishbone

Thanks to both Dione and Triple-J for introducing me to Fishbone, a band that blew me away when I first heard them and still make me feel more alive every time they pop up on my shuffle.

The late 80’s and early 90’s saw a very long-haired Swade always looking for new bands with awesome guitar chops. Rock, metal….. whatever. As long as you could play it loud.

The first Fishbone song I heard was from this album, released in 1993. The song was called Servitude. I can’t remember if I heard it on the radio or saw it on MTV but there were a few things that caught my eye/ear:

1/ It rocked, obviously. It was proper, determined, heavy guitar playing but with a non-metal melody and a social message.

2/ These were black guys, and this was definitely not something you’d regard as black music at the time. They rocked.

As I got exposed to more and more Fishbone, I realised just how talented and diverse these guys were. Servitude is typical of Give a Monkey a Brain…. it’s heavy, and this is Fishbone’s heaviest album.

Listen to just the first 20 seconds if you’re not into heavier music, just to get a taste.

Songs like Swim, End the Reign and Black Flowers follow the same lead, with heavy guitar parts.

Other such as Lemon Meringue, Properties of Propaganda and No Fear show the band’s more groovy side. Then there’s weird shit like The Warmth of Your Breath (key lyric: “May the dog’s colon be familiar with the warmth of your breath”)

Diversity check……

Below is a song called Everyday Sunshine, from their previous album The Reality of My Surroundings. Compare this to what you heard with Servitude, above. It’s hard to believe it’s the same band, right?

This joint still gives me goosebumps. It’s one of the most joyful songs I’ve ever heard.

Fishbone were reputedly one of the wildest live acts of the late 80’s and 90’s. I can only wish that I’d heard of them sooner so I could have seen them in their prime (they loved Australia!). The band went through a lot of trouble just after this album as personalities and creative differences took their toll. Key members of the band left and they’ve not been the same since.

Whatever success (or lack of) they’re all experiencing right now, they can always hang their hat on this album. A work with this sort of integrity is a rare thing, the sort of thing most aspiring musicians dream of.

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9 – Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black – Public Enemy

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday in 1991 and I’m sitting in my car, parked ….. somewhere I can’t remember and eating my lunch while the radio plays in the background. The announcer mentioned a new album by some band called Public Enemy. I’d never heard of them (I already mentioned the long haired guitar thing, right?).

Well, I heard from them that day.

The song they played was By The Time I Get To Arizona and the album was PE’s 4th studio album. I went and bought it the same day and it started a fascination with civil rights and history in America, a subject that seems to come back to the fore every second year or so.

I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with rap music. I was born in 1970 so I can remember the breakdancing craze that swept Australia in the early 80’s with the Rock Steady Crew, Grandmaster Flash and movies and like Beat Street. Rap was a part of all that and I loved it.

This was something completely different, though.

This was like Rage Against the Machine but more meaningful than angry. It was like a 100 tonnes of dynamite with another 100 tonnes of dynamite as a fuse. Chuck D’s booming baritone and laser-focused lyrics tore into my chest, drilled into my brain and opened my eyes to the whole concept of social justice.

The album’s been with me ever since and my love for PE’s work has never dwindled.

I had the good fortune to see Public Enemy in Tasmania around 1999. Sadly, I washed my T-shirt from that concert with a new red sweater and it came out pink! I was devastated.

I also had the good fortune to meet Chuck D around 15 years later – at a Prince concert!! I plucked up my courage, walked over and shook the man’s hand. I thanked him for that gig in Tasmania (he remembered the venue and the date – an amazing mind!) and for everything he’s done for music.

What a dude!

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8 – Living in Large Rooms and Lounges – Hunters and Collectors

Non-Australians might be unfamiliar with this band. If you have heard of them, it’s probably because of one song – Throw Your Arms Around Me – which received a bit of attention when Eddie Vedder started playing it at Pearl Jam gigs. Vedder once made the mistake of getting Mark Seymour, the songwriter and original singer, to come on stage and sing it with him. Seymour makes Vedder sound like rust in that clip.

Hunters and Collectors are a quintessential Aussie pub band. They hit it big in Australia in the 1980’s and 1990’s but never really got bigger than that.

Living in Large Rooms and Lounges is a 2-CD set featuring songs from two different gigs. The first was a small ‘acoustic’ gig and the second was one of their more regular pub gigs. The first CD is the one I love.

To the music, first….

Aussie pub bands can be really great storytellers. That’s not true of all of them, but it is of the best of them. ‘Hunters’ were one of those great storytelling bands, living out the experience of Australian life through their songs. The suburbs, the country, adolescence, drinking culture, and of course, some very blokey love songs. You haven’t been to an Aussie gig until you’ve heard 1000 blokes in a sweaty room screaming “You don’t make me feel like I’m a woman anymore”.

The following’s not one of their well-known songs. It’s a nice illustration of what they could do both musically, and as storytellers. It’s called Back in the Hole – about life working in a mining town.

This album’s not all about the music for me. I love Hunters and I love this album. For me, though, it’s more about the time.

This album came out in 1995 – one of the best years of my life. I’d moved to Tasmania to study and came to love the beautiful Tasmanian landscape, my uni lifestyle, and a bunch of great new friends, some of whom remain my closest friends to this day. We listened to this over and over for a few years and it still comes up on playlists at some stage during our annual catch-ups.

That’s what music does – it binds people. It’s part of the shared experience. It can define a time or a place and bring that time back to mind in the blink of an eye.

That’s what Living in Large Rooms and Lounges does for me.

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7 – Appetite for Destruction – Guns n Roses

This record is a textbook example of something that needs no introduction. If you didn’t hear Appetite in the late 1980’s, chances are you weren’t born until the 1990’s.

The 80’s began with New Wave, a somewhat limp-wristed answer to the disco revolution of the 1970’s. The mid-80’s saw a spandex-covered response to New Wave in the form of ‘hair metal’ bands like Motley Crue, Def Leppard (sorry Shannan!), Ratt, Bon Jovi, Poison, and others.

Guns n Roses arrived in 1987 and delivered the musical equivalent of blunt force trauma to the ‘hair metal’ genre. The ‘bad boy’ facade that other bands portrayed with so much theatrical effect (read: make-up) was shown for what it was by a band that was truly living the nightmare.

This is GnR’s drummer, Steven Adler, talking about hanging out in LA in the early days.
It’s from Mick Wall’s amazing bio of the band, Last of the Giants:

“[Slash and I] would dip school nearly every day. We’d walk up and down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard and each day we had this thing where we’d take a different type of alcohol and we’d walk up and down, up and down, and we’d be talking about how we’d be living when we were rock stars. It was like this dream that I always knew would come true. We’d go out and meet chicks – older women – who would take us back to their Belverly Hills homes. They’d give us booze, coke, they’d feed us. All we’d have to do was f**k them. Occasionally a guy would pick me up. In return for a blow job, I’d get a little dope and thirty or forty bucks.”

That quote alone ought to be enough to put this album into perspective for you. The Gunners were tapped out, strung out and burned out before they even began – and they still managed to write and record the seminal album of 1980’s hard rock.

‘Appetite’ is full of hard rock anthems. There’s not a bad song on there. The first single was It’s So Easy but it wasn’t until the video for Welcome To The Jungle made high rotation on MTV that the band really broke the surface.

The release of a video for Sweet Child O Mine sent them over the top. A new Superband was born.

The clip below is Paradise City, as performed at one of the band’s most famous gigs – at The Ritz in 1988. Watch the whole gig if you can. The energy is amazing.

What blew me away about this album wasn’t just its immense power. ‘Appetite’ was great because it was basically flawless. It featured amazing songwriting, unrelenting attitude, it had a ball-busting but still completely emotional vocal performance by Axl Rose as well as simply brilliant, melodic guitar lines. Other metal bands of this era outdid each other by playing faster and faster arpeggios. Slash wiped them all away with a performance so soulful it can still give you goosebumps 30 years later (and isn’t that a scary realisation – that this album is now more than 30 years old!).

Guns n Roses were a band for a particular point in time. They were explosive, a potent mix of people and experience fomented at a unique time, in a peculiar place. Appetite for Destruction is basically the product of a depraved sociological chemistry experiment.

It’s telling that good as many of them are, nobody from the band ever reached the same level of success or musicality again.

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6 – OK Computer – Radiohead

I received OK Computer for my 26th birthday. I knew nothing about Radiohead at the time. I’d heard ‘Creep’ a few years before but that seemed more like an interesting one-hit-wonder to me than anything else. I’ve always been more of a CD-listener than a radio guy so new music doesn’t always get to me quickly. Thus, Radiohead didn’t cross my radar after ‘Creep’ and that was fine.

OK Computer, then, was a revelation. It was also a slow burn. When the big guitars, irregular beats and floating vocals of Airbag first pumped through my speakers, I couldn’t help but think “what the hell is this?” Those 5 words went through my mind a lot the first few times I listened to this record. It cuts through eventually, though, and when it does – WOW!

OK Computer is a sonic journey. It’s not a life-exploration piece or a social commentary of the world we were living in at the time. OK Computer is the musical coming-of-age of a bunch of nerdy dudes from Oxford who found some magic formula for seamlessly mixing electronics with A-grade musicianship. And I mean A-grade. These guys are accomplished and very cerebral with their music. It flows from them, moving in ten different directions at once like there’s something there for everyone to engage with if they have the time and the patience.

This is No Surprises. It hard to know whether to concentrate on the song or the clip.

I’ve gone through various stages of loving Radiohead and being nonplussed by them. They’re more of a ‘winter’ band, if that makes sense. I’m not always in the right frame of mind for the layers of moodiness they impose. When the time is right, though, and when you have the time to dig down into the multiple layers these guys build, Radiohead become about as complete as a band can be.

They changed my perception of what music could be ….. and that is what I call impact.

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5 – Let Love In – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

This might be a bit of an outlier on this list.

Every other band on here features prominently in my collection. I have multiple albums from all of them. In fact, for most of them, I’ve got everything they’ve ever released. Nick Cave’s an exception. I have Let Love In, which I ADORE, and I have one other record. That’s it.

I came across this record while listening to Australia’s main indie-music radio station – Triple-J (which is owned by the government, making it both the ultimate in mainstream and completely indie at the same time). The song that caught my ear at the time was Loverman, a Joker-esque love-letter to yet another one of Cave’s damsels in distress.

I bought the album on a whim based on the strength of that one song and I was completely blown away. Immediately.

I didn’t know much about Nick Cave. The Ship Song got some airplay a few years earlier but I’d not heard much else. Loverman was fascinating enough to get my interest. The full album vacuumed up what was left of my tiny musical mind and opened my eyes to just how rich music could be as an immersive, theatrical experience.

The opener, Do You Love Me? sets the tone and it’s all uphill from there. This record is full of deranged characters, flaunting their frailties for all to see. Love them or leave them.

(you’ll love them if you know what’s good for you).

Red Right Hand is probably the best known track from the album, especially now that it’s been picked up as theme music for the period drama, Peaky Blinders.

My favourite song from this album, though, is a track called Thirsty Dog. It’s raw. It’s loud. It’s rough. And it’s sorry.

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4 – Feed – Skunkhour

I had two albums at this position right up until it came to write this section. Then I cut one of them out, which means it’s out of the Top 10 altogether.

The album I cut was The People Tree, by a band called Mother Earth, released on the Acid Jazz label. Sadly, I don’t play them as much as I do Skunkhour, hence the choice. Consider it another honorable mention and check out Institution Man and Apple Green to get a taste.

Skunkhour and Mother Earth both represent the Acid-Jazz-slash-Groove-slash-Modern-Soul-slash-whatever section of my record collection. It’s a smooth fusion of groove and soul that can either lift you up or chill you out.

Skunkhour is an Australian band that made their debut in 1993 with a self-titled album. Their second album, Feed, came in 1995. I love just about everything they’ve ever done. I even have a massive Feed album poster in my living room here in Sweden.

As you can tell from the proliferation of 1990’s albums in this list, that time of my life was a pretty fertile time in musical terms. There seemed to be so much going on, especially after Nirvana’s Nevermind broke the concept of Indie music into mainstream consciousness. Record companies, TV stations and the more on-trend music shops started promoting bands that wouldn’t have got airplay just a few years before.

I came across Skunkhour courtesy of a guy I used to share a house with. I’d just moved in with Dave when I discovered Feed in CD form on a shelf and decided to give it a go. I spent the next few weeks enjoying a jazz/hiphop adventure that I still enjoy to this day.

I think the reason I love these guys SO much is due to the special mix they have of groove and Aussie-ness. They take me back to those early Hobart days, sure, but more than that, they just take me home.

Let’s just go straight to the music, eh?

This is the first song of theirs I can remember hearing. I’m not even sure it’s the first one on the album, but it’s the first one that stuck with me. It’s called Green Light.

And this one’s featured on this website before – Up to Our Necks In It. If I could get you to watch only one clip on this page, to listen to just one song, it’d be this.

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3 – Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not – Arctic Monkeys

Finally! Proof that I’ve listened to something released after the 1990’s!

The year was 2011 and I was living in Trollhattan, Sweden, working my first job in the automotive industry for Saab Automobile. We had a guy come over from Saab’s UK office (G’day Dave!) and he put me on to this rock band from Sheffield that I’d not heard of called The Arctic Monkeys.

That it was 2011 and I’d not heard of The Arctic Monkeys is indicative of how little radio I was listening to in the preceding years. This album he turned me on to, the album you’re reading about now, was released some five years earlier, in 2006.

Shame Steven, Shame.

And it wasn’t as if this was a subtle album, a sleeper that didn’t penetrate the charts. Whatever People Say I Am…. was the fastest selling debut album in UK history, the fastest selling debut indie album in US history and it hit #1 in the UK, Ireland and…… Australia. It won Album Of The Year at the BRIT Awards, NME Magazine and Time Magazine.

Still, better late than never, eh?

Whatever People Say I Am…. is forever linked to Trollhattan for me. Holed up on my own on the other side of the world at the time, I absolutely devoured this record as I went on my nightly walk, as I caught the bus, as I went to the shops…… wherever I went, the Monkeys went with me.

Whatever People Say I Am…. is basically a young guy’s diary of adolescent life in one of England’s once-decaying industrial towns. They’re a bunch of lovable rascals you’d want to kill one minute and have a laugh with the next.

Just look how young they all were!

Alex Turner, the band’s singer and chief songwriter, was just 20 when the album was released but the songs were written quite a bit earlier. In fact, many of the songs on this album were released online two years before the album hit the shops, making The Arctic Monkeys one of the first bands to cultivate an audience purely online before seeing commercial success.

A lot of people would rate this as The Arctic Monkeys best work, purely because of how honest and gritty it is. I’m not so sure about that – some of my favourite songs of theirs come from later works (especially A.M) – but there’s no doubting the quality of this release and the way it sucks you in.

If you like great rock music and for some reason, like me back in 2011, you’ve been living under a rock for 12 years, check this record out.

You won’t regret it.

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2 – Peace Beyond Passion – Meshell Ndegeocello

My introduction to MeShell came in the form of her 1994 single If That’s Your Boyfriend (he wasn’t last night). That song is notable for many because of it’s cheeky lyrics. For me, however, it was notable because not only did MeShell write it and record the vocal, she also played bass on it. And it has a FUNKY bass line.

Peace Beyond Passion dropped in 1996 with the most notable single being a cover of Bill Withers’ Who Is He And What Is He To You?. This recording was the first clue (that I knew of) as to MeShell’s bisexuality – something quite easily accepted today but a little less so for a public artist in the mid-1990’s. Who Is He… was the biggest commercial success on the record, hitting #1 on Billboard’s dance charts and #34 on R&B chart (personally, I’d have thought it would be the other way around, but there you go).

Peace Beyond Passion is another one of those experiential albums for me. It’s tied to the time it was released and the shared enjoyment I’ve had of it with friends over the years.

But it’s more than that, too.

Musically, this is little short of a masterpiece of smooth grooves and deep soul. It’s moody, honest and conscious. It penetrates. It’s in no way playful like If That’s Your Boyfriend as it addresses issues such as religion, sexuality and society. Instead, it’s confronting, but without being confrontational.

It’s not there to make you feel bad. It’s there to make you think.

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1 – Love Symbol – Prince

I made a choice at the start of this exercise to restrict Prince to one album. That means there are three or four Prince records that probably should be here, but aren’t.

If I have to pick one – and I do – it’s the nameless ‘Love Symbol’ album from 1992. This is the Prince album I love most completely. There are 18 tracks on it and 10 of those are absolute killers. Most of the rest are damn good, too.

The headliners are Sexy MF, My Name is Prince and 7. The three songs are all quite different in feel and character, reflecting different elements of Prince’s personality – respect, sass, confidence, tenderness.

Sexy MF is direct. It’s sexually charged. A lot of people hear Sexy MF and think it’s exploitative. But if you take the time to check out the lyrics in their totality, you’ll see it’s Prince talking up women as being sexy in every way – mind, body and soul, but especially the mind.

My Name is Prince is fun, confident and funky as all get-out. In fact, I remember the church that I used to belong to holding a youth event in our local area in 1993. We got one of the hotter christian musical artists in Australia down to perform and it was my job to drive him around for the weekend. We had this album, and My Name is Prince in particular, on repeat the whole weekend.

7 has an ethereal feel to it. The lyrics place the subjects above everything, clinging to each other while they watch the world around them fall. It features some rich orchestration and a sitar-like guitar part played in a floating, middle-eastern style. It’s beautiful.

There’s so much more to this album, though.

The Continental is a funky/sexy rock jam. The Morning Papers – one of my favourite Prince songs, ever – is a gorgeous ballad with a killer guitar solo at the end. And God Created Woman is Prince’s own creation sub-story, and Love to the 9’s is a sugar-sweet jazzy number that’s like no other Prince song you’ve ever heard. Guaranteed.

The album finishes with a funky jam called The Sacrifice of Victor. Many have speculated as to it’s meaning. I wouldn’t bother. Just play it loud and let your foot do the stompin’.

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So that’s it.

10 spots, 11 records.

All of it stuff that I still love and still listen to in 2018.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. Feel free to go put on something funky and be smoother than smooth.

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3 Comments

  1. Nice to see Hunters and Collectors on the list and surprised to see Fishbone, although mostly for the same reason people who know I’m American would be surprised to see Deeper Water by Paul Kelly and True Colours by the Enz on my list.

    Actually got to see Fishbone a few times over the years, including back in the 80s and 90s, when they’d often play unpublicized warehouse shows around LA. They were an impressive live act.

  2. You have great taste in music—-which makes it surprising that there are no George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic/P-Funk albums on the list! Prince would have included a couple!