With that in mind, in my suburban Bellevue, WA existence...I had no concept of nor any access to exotic stuff like the New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Hanoi Rocks, Social Distortion, the Velvet Underground, Stooges, MC5, or any number of other great alternative bands. Those acts might as well resided on the planet Pluto. The just were just not visible to me. Instead, 90 percent of what you heard was stuff like Duran Duran, Foreigner, Journey, Michael Jackson, Pat Benetar, the Cars, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, Genesis and groups seeking to clone one of these act.
Within the remaining 10 percent, what did stick out to me were bits of lyric that rung true, a sound unlike what else is on the radio, a rebellious look or attitude. Within the narrow context of what I could actually hear on a daily basis, these were the things that struck me as different than the mainstream and what I gravitated to. Not sure why, but that's what happened. There were a few albums that really punched trough to me at that time...and in hindsight served as "gateway" records that opened up a whole world of music later in high school and well beyond. Anyone who loves music has the same story I am sure.
Below I've listed four albums that did this for me. They date from the period of time when I really started to pay attention to music in any serious sense - 1979-1983. These are not highbrow selections that prove "I knew what was happening" back then or that I had some sort of instinct for cool music. No, I suspect they are rather pathetic. Rather, these are the faves I connected with on an instinctual basis. The best you could do was hear something on the radio and check it out at the record store or find something similar. If your were adventurous, you could head to the U-District or Capitol Hill in Seattle to try to find an import. That was it. Based on what I heard on the four albums below, I did this.
While there are more than four albums that I could list as important to opening up new channels and interests in music for me from those days, here are four FOR SURE that did do that for me. Their value lies not in there own quality compared to some other more spicy acts, but instead in their ability to slice through the dearth of the mainstream and inspire an American suburban white boy that there was more out there than the norm...and inspire him to look deeper.
So, without further adieux, here are the four albums that back in the very early 1980s that really cut through and made an impression on me:
Billy Idol - Don't Stop
Ah, Billy Idol. Time has not necessarily solidified him as a rock great, but at the same time he was a clear standout in the early 1980s. His songs were on the radio and his videos were playing on this new thing called MTV. Remember when MTV played videos?
Anyway, Billy's attitude, lyrics, the aggressive nature of his songs...man, they were all very appealing. And, at a time when most teenagers were walking around trying to look like a member of Ratt, Def Lepard or (on the other extreme) Duran Duran...Billy's spikey blond hair and torn shirts look really struck me as cool. When his Don't Stop EP (EP was a term for a short record of 4-5 songs) came out with Money Money, Baby Talk, Untouchables and...you know it...Dancing With Myself I was smitten. I quickly learned that Billy had previously been the singer in a London punk band called Generation X. This lead me to check out as many of these groups as I possibly could. As a result I found my all time favorite group, The Clash. Also, I discovered the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Damned, The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division and many more.
Stray Cats - Built for Speed
Rock and roll stared in the U. S. of A. and when it did it was a combination of country and "jump blues" that came to be called rockabilly.
In the early 1980s The Stray Cats championed a revival of this type of music with a New Wave/Punk dressing. And I loved it. There was something about the cool guitar sound, the rebel attitude, slicked up and back hair and tunes about girls and cars that just sounded so cool to me. By listening to these lyrics and reading interviews with singer Brian Setzer, I was introduced the older rockabilly artists such as Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis and many more.
And, I started to take Elvis Presley seriously. In the 19070s and after his death, he was kinda an over-the-hill joke. But, listening to the Stray Cats got me to revisit his Sun Records and early RCA output, and I am a big fan now. I never got to see the Stray Cats in concert back in the 1980s, but many years later I saw them live as they toured through Seattle in 2007.
AC/DC - Back in Black
I remember in my freshman year in high school a classmate who was, shall we say, very New Wave said to me one morning..."look, I hate metal, but you HAVE TO have Back in Black by AC/DC. It's a must."
Hearing this from a guy who was sporting a Flock of Seagulls hairdo made an impact. For sure, I'd already heard Shook Me All Night Long and Hells Bells. But, based on this dude's comment I went out and bought that Back In Black cassette tape (that's what you bought back in those days you youngsters reading this) within a week. Later, I would become friends with a guy named Doug who was a huge AC/DC fan and between Mr. Flock of Seagulls and Doug I came to love AC/DC. This is good enough on it's own. But, it also opened my mind to other types of hard rock and heavy metal. Getting to love AC/DC led to other explorations by me into Metallica, Guns 'N Roses, Led Zeppelin, the Who, and a few other bands of that ilk.
Oingo Boingo - Only A Lad
I had never heard of Oingo Boingo. Some of you may not of either...even to this day.
But one afternoon after a long freshman day in high school, I bummed a ride home after school with a friend of a friend named Eric. He put in a tape (again, remember cassette tapes were it(!) then) called Only A Lad by this group called Oingo Boingo. Well, this was something different. The combination of driving beat, quirky lyrics about "nothing wrong with the capitalism," being "on the outside" or "faceless surgeons armed with razors cutting out our imaginations" frantically delivered by Danny Elfman along with the horns, guitar and sax of the band created a manic stew that was impossible to ignore. This led me to check out their entire set of albums...and you should too. To me, Oingo Boingo was the great doorway to alternative music. I'm not talking about punk here, but rather the truly strange underground music scene that never gets airplay on the radio but sells out live shows everywhere it goes.
I also have to give a special call-out to my high school friend Scott N (last name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent) for introducing me to "deep Beatles" and the Stones. Yes, I had heard all the early stuff like I Want to Hold Your Hand, Satisfaction and such, but Scott had the real goods...he had Sergent Peppers, the White Album, Sticky Fingers and more. The insertion of this channel of music really turned me on to not only the more interesting later output by the Beatles an Stones, but also other acts such as The Kinks, Van Morrison, the Doors, Pink Floyd and many others. Thanks Scott!
So there you go...four records and one guy who introduced me to albums of music that opened up my mind, my interests and my wallet to new forms of music that have served me so very well through the years.
Do you have a similar story? I'd love to know what albums set you off on your musical ventures.