The Album Quest

Think of 15 albums, CDs, or LPs that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the ass, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean. Then when you finish, tag (at least) 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill.

1. Bookends
by Simon & Garfunkel

This album came at a pivotal time in my life: my junior year of high school. My parents bought me a record player for Christmas, so I started listening to all of my dad's old records and frequenting this record shop that was in downtown Plainfield -- it's gone now. The first time I listened to "Bookends," I was absolutely mesmerized. I was sitting against the wall, with the album sleeve in my hands and a giant pair of headphones on, my breath taken away by Simon & Garfunkel's harmonies and Simon's lyrics, both hauntingly beautiful ("Old Friends/Bookends") and particularly upbeat ("Punky's Dilemma"). This album is the story of growing up and I grew up to it.

2. Revolver
by The Beatles

For two solid years, I listened to nothing BUT The Beatles. That's not an exaggeration, either. It was during my seventh and eigth grade years; I was awkward, I didn't have many friends, my church was crazy, my dad and stepmom were really strict about what I could and couldn't listen to -- that's why I kept my Beatles collection to myself, hidden in my closet. My mom and stepdad, though, kept buying me all these Beatles CDs and I was monumentally grateful. The Beatles provided the soundtrack to my teenage years, just like they did for teenagers growing up in the 60s. That's how powerful their music is -- it transcends time! I'll never forget the first time I heard The Beatles: it was around 11 at night and I was sleeping. I was about 11 years old. In those days, I slept to the radio and I liked to listen to the Oldies station: Oldies 104.3 FM. My favorite DJ was Dick Biondi. I was fast asleep, but woke up in the middle of the night for no particular reason and heard Paul McCartney crooning "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. But now it looks as though they're here to stay." I didn' know it was The Beatles at the time, but when I found out, I decided to listen to them and them alone from then on. "Revolver" was (and still is) the album that sticks out the most for me.

3. Stop Making Sense
by Talking Heads

I was privileged enough to see the Talking Heads one and probably only reunion when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After I heard them play "Once In a Lifetime," I decided I needed to get their greatest hits, because that song was changing me. I was a freshman at NIU that year and I commuted to the school everyday from Joliet (nothing like spending four hours on the road everyday when you're 18, right?), so I stayed on campus between classes. There's a tiny little record shop here in DeKalb called Record Rev -- this establishment provided me with some of the most necessary music in my collection and, sadly, will be closing its doors in a few, short months. The owner, Mark, and I came to know each other on a first name basis because I was in his shop every single day of the week, browsing around and spending obscene amounts of money on used CDs. One day, I asked him if he knew where I could find the Talking Heads "Greatest Hits" album. He said, "I've got something way better." As it turns out, Mark's favorite band is Talking Heads and he showed me his entire collection and told me the significance of each album. "'Stop Making Sense,'" he said, "Is the best place to start if you just want something representative of their work. Then, I would suggest watching the movie of the same name." He gave me a discount on the CD and I fell in love with it, though it take me about a month to digest some of it. I went back and told him I how much I loved it, so he let me borrow the movie, which I also loved. We started talking about his high school and college days, when "Talking Heads: '77" came out and he and his friends would spin that record as their party soundtrack. After listening to all his stories and the album he gave me the discount on, I bought all of their CDs and they quickly became one my of famous Top 5 bands.

4. Much Afraid
by Jars of Clay

This album is the one that started the process of slowly chipping away the religiosity of my spirit. Everybody here knows about my stories in the UPC and how legalistic it was and all that, so I won't bother getting into it, but for a while, I was the UPC poster boy. I was judgemental, self-righteous, legalistic and all this by the time I was 15. I bought this CD the day it came out, when I was 13, because I loved Jars of Clay's music, but I never really listened to it until I was 17. That's when the lyrics started meaning something to me. "All of these things / I've held up in vain / No reason nor rhyme / Just the scars that remain / Of all of these things / I'm so much afraid / Scared out of my mind / By the demons I've made / Sweet Jesus, you never ever let me go." I alienated a lot of my friends with my beliefs and judgements and I lost the fun I was supposed to be having in high school. I had thrown so many stones at so many people, and for what? When I started to question my own beliefs, these lyrics rang more and more true with me. I was so much afraid of the demons I had made in my own ignorance up to that point. Thank God for His never letting me go -- I didn't deserve grace, but He gave it to me anyway.

5. The Invisible Band
by Travis

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that Travis isn't the best band in the world by any stretch of the imagination. However, they are quite good. Mr. Oswald was my history teacher during my senior year of high school. I had two classes with him: World History, first period, and AP European History, fifth period. Whenever we were taking a test or just having silent reading time -- anytime that he wasn't talking -- he would play a new CD on his stereo. I picked up a lot of great tastes listening to whatever he played, and "The Invisible Band" was one of those albums. A few weekends before he played that album, I was at my mom's house watching MTV2 until three in the morning when I saw the "Sing" music video -- the one where the bandmates go to this rich dude's mansion and they have a food fight. Doesn't sound cool? What if I told you they throw an octopus across the room and it lands on the rich dad's face -- NOW how cool does it sound?? I absolutely loved the song, but didn't catch who did it until I heard it again coming from Oswald's stereo. I told him I really wanted to hear the rest of it so he let me borrow it and I couldn't get enough of it -- it was like the secular version of Jars of Clay in a way, maybe that's why I was so attracted to it. At any rate, this album makes the list because it introduced me to exchanging and borrowing albums from people. To this day, that's how I hear about most of the music I listen to.

6. ( )
by Sigur Ros

This is another "senior year of high school" albums. My best friend, Kathleen, was dating this guy named Don Stinson and I really liked him because he was a musician and he listened to cool music and he was in college. He called me up one day and asked me to come over because he had a new CD he wanted to listen to. When I got to his house, he was sitting on the floor against the wall with "( )" on. I asked him who it was and he said, "Sugar Rush." The name didn't sound like the beauty of the music, so I asked what it was called and he said, "I don't know -- Parantheses, I guess?" So we sat on the floor, listening to it. I had no idea what they were saying, but the music was too beautiful to care. He burned me a copy of it and a few others (including the next album in my list) and I went home to listen to it again. And again. And again. And again. I think I listened to "( )" a dozen times before it left my CD player, and I even went back to it another half-dozen times.

7. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
by Wilco

What can I say about "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" that's never been said before? Hm. This is another album given to me by Don Stinson, though it was introduced to me by Mr. Oswald. I liked hanging out with Mr. Oswald during passing periods so I could listen to his music some more and one day he was playing this album. And he played it the next couple of days too. This album was like nothing I had ever heard before. It was slightly country, slightly ambient, slightly noise, slightly rock -- all these things combined turned out to be what is called "indie," a term that I hadn't heard before, but was definitely attracted to. I love this album for many reasons, but I mostly love it because it broke me out of the box. This was that landmark album where, after listening to it, I asked myself "What else is out there?" And so began the journey that continues to this day.

8. Pink Moon
by Nick Drake

I discovered Nick Drake only a couple years ago, after I'd graduated. I couldn't sleep one night, so I was surfing YouTube for Tim Buckley videos around four in the morning. Nick Drake came up as a "Related Video," so I clicked on it -- that song was "Pink Moon." I really, really liked it, but went to bed and didn't think much of it until a few weeks later, when I was listening to the "Garden State" soundtrack and realized that the song "One of These Things First" was Nick Drake too! "TWO Nick Drake songs that I really, really love? I must investigate further!" So I surf YouTube some more for his work and I come across a couple of documentaries. I watched them in full and was incredibly saddened by them -- such an amazing talent to be taken from the world so quickly. I was working at Borders and a promotional copy of his demos collection, "Family Tree," came in so I nabbed it, took it home and listened to it incessantly. His guitar playing and breathy voice was so haunting, so beautiful, so empty and full at the same time. As a worship leader at the time, I decided to incorporate as much of Nick Drake's influence into my playing as I possibly could and I finally landed at a style all my own. I have Drake to thank for that.

9. Old Crow Medicine Show
by Old Crow Medicine Show

This was Reverend Jeff's contribution to my collection. I was becoming increasingly interested in bluegrass after listening to Nickel Creek, old Steve Martin banjo routines and, yes I admit, the "O, Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack. Jeff and I were working at Lemstone and there was this album called "Old Timey Gospel Bluegrass" or something to that effect and we listened to it over and over in the store -- we drove the owners crazy with it. Jeff said, "If you like this, I should give you this CD called 'Old Crow Medicine Show' -- they're the best thing you'll ever hear in your life." He was wrong. Even though they're not the best thing I've ever heard, they are still really incredible. I was amazed at the skill and profiency levels of their playing, I liked their twangy vocals and I particularly love their lyrics. That was a gateway album that introduced me to the likes of the Avett Brothers and the Felice Brothers.

10. All Things Must Pass
by George Harrison

I'll admit that I was one of those people that never realized the genius of George Harrison until he was gone. The day he died, I went to the record store and picked up the three record box-set "All Things Must Pass" -- Harrison's first solo release after the Beatles' breakup. What amazes me is that of all the Beatles' solo albums, this one is by far the best, and I would even consider it one of the best of the 1970s -- absoutely in the Top 10 -- but Harrison hated it! He hated the album! He said the production was too over the top and "big" is the word he used. I absolutely disagree, but that's just me and the rest of the world. At any rate, I was attracted to this album so much because it symbolized Harrison's career and my musical journey as well -- he was in the shadows of two amazing talents, was allowed a little room to shine every now and then, then blew the world away with this magnum opus called "All Things Must Pass." I'm always drawn to underdog stories.

11. Blood On the Tracks
by Bob Dylan

VH1 told me I needed this record in their "Top 100 Albums of All Time" countdown, so after hearing the story of how it was made, I went to the record store and bought it. Now, I liked Bob Dylan well enough before I had this album -- he was never anything special to me, but I liked him well enough to not turn the dial when he came on the radio. He never would've been my first choice to listen to though, until I heard "Blood On the Tracks." One of the things that I couldn't stand about Dylan was that I never knew what the hell he was talking about. His lyrics made no sense to me. But, on this album, he suddenly became more honest, open and revealing. That's what attracted me most of all. But when I realized that I really enjoyed the music as well, I dipped into his back catalog and discovered how much of a genius he truly is.

12. So
by Peter Gabriel

And 'so' we have another Oswald influence, though this wasn't a direct influence. There were three songs that drew me to this album, even though I didn't know who it was at the time. The songs were "Sledgehammer," "In Your Eyes" and "Don't Give Up." I made it a habit to write down the songs I liked in a notebook, then I'd bring them to Oswald and ask if he knew the artist and whether or not he thought I should explore the artist further. In this case, it turned out that Peter Gabriel was the artist for all three songs AND they all came from the same album: "So." Rather than buying this album straightaway, I bought his greatest hits album, "Shaking the Tree" -- that's when I discovered "Solsbury Hill," "Shock the Monkey," "Red Rain" and, his most powerful song, "Biko." Much like I did with the Talking Heads, after listening to his greatest hits, I bought all of his CDs ("So" being the first) and I even have all his of records. Peter Gabriel is an artist that I go through phases with and, at certain times, I will listen to nothing but him for a few months at a time. His music is so powerful with such a full sound. Listening to "So," my interest in world music piqued and I discovered bands from all over the world that I never would've listened to before had it not been for Peter Gabriel and his label, WOMAD (World of Music and Dance).

13. Rhythm of the Saints
by Paul Simon

Everybody says that "Graceland" is Paul Simon's greatest solo album and one of the greatest of all time, but I disagree. I mean, yeah -- it is a great album and all, but I don't think it holds a candle to his follow-up effort, "Rhythm of the Saints." I loved "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes" from the "Graceland" album, but what I loved more was the Brazilian percussion solo during that song on his "Live In Central Park" album. The drums were so powerful, so commanding and it was unlike anything I had ever heard. I went back to listen to "Graceland," but they weren't on there and so I thought maybe it was just the live album that he did it on, until my stepdad gave me the "Paul Simon 1964/1993" boxset that had the "Rhythm of the Saints" album included. If "So" piqued my interest in world music, "Rhythm of the Saints" sent me diving headfirst into the deep end of world music.

14. The Life Pursuit
by Belle & Sebastian

"Why can't music be fun?" I think that's the lesson I take away from listening to "The Life Pursuit," Belle & Sebastian's fullest album (in my opinion). Though some point to their more mellow albums like "If You're Feeling Sinister" and "Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant," I've never had so much fun listening to music than I do when I listen to "The Life Pursuit." Every song is brimming with sexuality and rebellion and feel-good-ness, but not in an over-the-top way. Songs like "The Blues Are Still Blue" and "White Collar Boy" ooze with swagger in a glam way that would make even T. Rex humble while songs like "Another Sunny Day" and "To Be Myself Completely" demand to be listened to with the windows of your 2000 Ford Taurus all the way down.

15. No Fences
by Garth Brooks

I know, I know. If one were doing a puzzle of "Which of these does not belong?," this would be the most logical choice and I'm almost ashamed to include it in my list. Garth Brooks has little to no musical talent, he's not a very good singer, his music is average at best, etc, etc, etc. But, all that aside, I had to include this album because between the ages of 6 and 10, I didn't listen to anything else besides the aforementioned Oldies station. Garth Brooks was my escape from reality when I was a kid and I refused to listen to anything but him. I can't remember why I loved him so much, but I did. I even dressed like him! Talk about hero worship... I had the same cowboy hat he had, I wore cowboy boots, black jeans and I even wore the same shirt designer that he wore, just to be more like him. I believe the brand of shirt was Mo' Betta, lol. But, all that aside, Garth is the reason I started to play guitar -- if I was going to be the next Garth Brooks, I had to learn how to play the guitar. My grandmother bought me my first guitar, I learned how to play "The Thunder Rolls" and life has never been the same.