10 Album Covers In 10 Days

There’s a “challenge” going around Facebook in which someone posts 10 most influential CDs, one per day, and if you do that, you can nominate someone else to have to do it as well.  Now, I was nominated to do this by John Frank, who used to be my friend.  I have chosen not to nominate anyone, figuring anyone who wants to do this can just do it without prompting.  But on Facebook, the idea is to keep it quick, and just reveal the album covers one each day with not much discussion.  Since so many people wonder about my thoughts (tap … tap… is this thing on?), I decided that I would put a few words about each album here.   These are no in any order of importance, just a blend of 10 albums that – when I look back on my development as a music fan – likely had the biggest impact on me.  Maybe I’ll even link to a representative song from each!

  1. Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind (1983).  Back in high school, we had Van Halen, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and then these Iron Maiden guys came on my radar.  My friend John Zanniker and I got tickets, on a whim, to the Maiden concert at Riverfront Coliseum maiden.jpg(maybe Cincinnati Gardens, RIP?) in Cincinnati.  We ended up on the floor.  I was sort of scared at being that close, would I go deaf from the loudness?  Get poked in the eye by a metal stud flying off leather pants?  At this point, my image of metal bands was stereotypical (I liked the music, but had a narrow interpretation of it).  Iron Maiden rushed out on stage to hit their first song, which I didn’t know since I really didn’t know any of their music well yet, and I wasn’t sure what I was seeing.  A lead man wearing a white lace shirt?  Bright blue clothing on a guitarist, rather than black leather?  Smiles?  Non ear-bleeding volume?  What the hell was this?  And then came the part when Bruce Dickenson introduced a song called To Tame a Land, by saying it was all about the book Dune.  And suddenly my mind was blown.  Here was a combination of what was growing to be my favorite form of music and also science fiction books?  Considering that this was about the same time as I was thinking, “That record Off The Wall sounded pretty good and I like Thriller, maybe I need to check out more Michael Jackson”, I think this single Iron Maiden concert and record (which I bought after the concert) changed my life.
  2. Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell (1980).  I honestly don’t remember if I finally got this record before or after the one above.  But this was my first Black Sabbath album ever, and I was blown away by the combination of heaviness, mood, sabbathdelicacy, and Ronnie James Dio’s amazing vocals.  If you’re not a metal fan and don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the song Children of the Sea, and pay attention to how Dio switches from angel to demon at the 40-second mark; this is everything great about him, and if you don’t get it, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you!  I think I was previously aware of Sabbath because of Never Say Die, and wasn’t really expecting the different vocalist here.  When I then went backwards to check out the early years, my next purchase was Black Sabbath IV, and my first reaction was “WTF”?  It took a long time to adjust to the older Ozzy sound, but as a good soldier, I figured it out.
  3. Dream Theater: Images and Words (1992).  A few years before this, CDs had become a thing, and I was working on building my collection – I kept going dtwith the big name metal and rock bands, as well as some new age stuff.  The whole glam / hair metal scene wasn’t doing if for me, and I wasn’t yet really digging below the surface to find alternatives.  But it was getting easier to keep an ear to the ground, and I started hearing some names of more underground metal bands popping up.  Not yet ready to commit CD dollars to them, I went to a store and bought two cassette tapes:  Dream Theater’s Images and Words, and Fates Warning’s Parallels.  Fates Warning was great, and I continue to follow them to this day, but Dream Theater … ho.lee.shit, I had no idea that this sort of sound was out there.  I almost thought it was a practical joke – I mean, how could there be a band out there that so perfectly blended my interests, taking the intricacies of Kansas, Rush, &  Yes and blending them with the in-your-face heaviness of metal?  The song out there on the radio ended up being s shortened Pull Me Under, but some others – like Under A Glass Moon – spoke to me more strongly.  And so here was punctuated equilibrium step number 2 in my musical life, and I was lost down the next rabbit hole of finding out just what else was out there.   (Believe it or not, though, one of my next cassette purchases was Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss, talk about whiplash!)  In conjunction with this discovery of Dream Theater, I also came around to find that there was a good internet (“Usenet” at the time) based heavy metal community filled with really cool people, and I made my first “internet meet up” with a group of people for a concert – Dream Theater, at Hammerjacks in Baltimore.  That spending of $50 for a night out has now evolved to having spent thousands of dollars attending ProgPower USA.
  4. Rush: Moving Pictures (1981). I don’t know if I knew much about Rush before this, except for maybe some radio hits off Permanent Waves? But Tom Sawyer was out there now, and this onerush came up as a feature in the Columbia House Record Club (I was starting to become a pro at signing up to get “6 records for a penny” with the obligation to buy one more in a year … or was that BMG?).  So I ordered this based on marketing, and was really glad I did!  It was another good example of how what you heard on the radio was very often not the best song on the record (that belongs to Red Barchetta here).  When it’s all said and done, I think I like Signals a bit more (I mean, it does have The Analog Kid on it), but in terms of “influential” I have to go with Moving Pictures, because if this record hadn’t stoked my fire for progressive hard rock and its cousins, I likely may never have bought Signals afterwards.
  5. Styx: Cornerstone (1979).  This album was in the bullseye of my musical tastes at the time.  When I look back over it all, it’s not the best Styx album by any means, styxbut it was my first one, and we’re talking about influential here, not best.  I think this was one of the first times buying a single 45rpm led me to purchase the full record.  Of all the records I ever owned, this is one I remember the most of putting on the turntable over and over, playing with the cover (it opened up in a tri-fold), and reading along with the lyrics.  Oddly, what would have been my favorite songs back then are now replaced as favorites by ones that were likely in my least favorite – like Boat on the River.  Back then:  ugh, skip, no wonder it’s a B-side!  Now: Tommy Shaw, you are one of my favorite songwriters ever!
  6. Little River Band: First Under the Wire (1979).  Along with Cornerstone, this was one of my early favorites when starting to collect albums (well, at the time, I don’tlrb think I knew I was turning into a collector, I was just starting to take up more space with LPs).  LRB was the first real concert I ever went to (second, if you count Shaun  Cassidy).  It was all because of Lonesome Loser, and I found lots of other songs on the record to love as well.  I mean, who doesn’t love Cool Change.   I think my favorite is The Rumor.  This album taught me that it was OK to love vocal melodies and light rock.  And to this day, the bands that incorporate layered melodic vocals go right to the top of my favorites.
  7. Tangerine Dream: Force Majeure (1979).  Hmmm, I had to look up the year of release for this one, and it’s actually a later release than I thought.  Anyway, this is Tangerine_Dream_-_Force_Majeure.jpgthe oddball compared to the rest, since it’s all ambient / electronic new age.  I was introduced to Tangerine Dream by my friend Alan in church youth group (yeah, it was a thing) in 1983 or so.  I learned that this is GREAT music to read fantasy novels to, and now I have several mental associations with books and music.  Whenever I listen to this album (ex: Cloudburst Flight) , I start remembering scenes from Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson.  I followed up my initial exposure to Force Majeure and Rubycon by eventually owning about 40 Tangerine Dream CDs.    TD led me to many other spectacular new age artists, like Vangelis and David Arkenstone.
  8. Alan Parsons Project: Turn of a Friendly Card (1980).  Hey, are you noticing like I am that a lot of my most influential albums came out when I was in high school and finally had money to spend on stuff like this?  Turn of a Friendly Card was probablyaparsons my first foray outside the more mainstream radio hits.  Sure, Games People Play was on the radio, but this was a case of radio drifting over to Alan Parsons, not Alan Parsons drifting over to radio.  When I found that this album had a song that by itself almost took up and entire album side, I thought that was pretty cool.  Yeah, this one brought me over to the side of progressive rock more than others, I think.  I probably would never have tried Tangerine Dream if I wasn’t already softened up for stranger music by Alan Parsons.
  9. The Rippingtons: Curves Ahead (1991).  This is what I was listening to before rippingtonsDream Theater blew my mind.  I was living in the DC area, and had access to some good jazz stations.  I started really liking the more modern poppy jazz that probably was considered vile stuff by jazz purists. The Rippingtons were the first jazz band I really dove into, and this was the album that started it all.  They were my gateway to Spyro Gyra, Larry Carlton, David Benoit, and so on.  I have a lot of excellent concert memories from that part of my musical life, such as seeing The Rippingtons as part of the “Jazz on the Roof” series in Indianapolis at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, which was the most magical venue at which I’ve ever seen a show.  Maybe Center Stage in Atlanta is in competition for that, though.  I don’t really follow jazz bands anymore, but if someone has tickets to a good show, let me know.
  10. Seventh Wonder: Mercy Falls (2008).  This could very well be my favorite album of all time.  It’s certainly in my Top 3.  Apart from a quick mishap with some awful voice acting that spoils the best part of a ballad, this is, to me, a perfect album.  It is the “youngest” album in this whole list, so its influence is not the same as the others – it did not set me on a musical path, but rather it has confirmed that every musical choice I ever made was the right one, because each choice led me to this album – which has on it everything I love about heavy metal; it’s heavy, it’s soft, and it all comes with great melodies and awesome vocals.  The song Unbreakable is a microcosm of all that – it sweeps through everything I love about music.  This concept album also has an emotional punch.  I defy anyone to listen to this short song – which is from the point of view of a little boy whose father lies in a coma – and concentrate on the lyrics, and not have to tell people around you that you got something in your eye.  See?  All of this in just one album.  Whammo. seventhwonder


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