I really didn’t think picking a Top Ten Most Influential albums was going to be this hard…The problem, of course, isn’t coming up with ten; it was was parsing the list without disregarding the many bands that haven woven their songs into my life. You'll notice I didn't rank these in any order because some things just can't be done, friends. Enjoy!
Queens of the Stone Age - Self Titled
In a world of Napster, Limewire, or whatever the hell else we were using at the time, I heard Queens of the Stone Age for the first time around 2001, about three years after it was released and completely out of order. I was at band practice for an alternative band I was in, huddled around a computer in a tiny attic in the South Side when “Walkin’ On The Sidewalk” came rumbling through the speakers. It changed all of my song-writing priorities; I only wanted to sound like THAT; a sound that was confident, menacing, staccato, yet sexy. It opened the gates for me to explore all of the dessert rock bands, most of which I adore for the collective DGAF attitude. The Queens career discography is flawless in my opinion, there’s not a single album I don’t love for one reason or another and Josh Homme continues to be one of my favorite song-writers of all time.
Kiss - Alive
Maybe not a shocker that I was a theater kid. I started theater school when I was about eleven years old and was completely obsessed, eventually finding myself lost when I was of the age to graduate from the school. When my Dad offered to take me to see the Kiss’ “Psycho Circus” Tour around 1998, he told me it was like seeing a play and insisted I didn’t need to know anything about them to enjoy it. Growing up with his record collection accessible, the freakish super hero album covers had already told me volumes before I heard a single note. The show was pure theater—-and this is no heyday 1970’s Kiss, no, I was seeing a re-masked reunited go-round in the late 90’s and it was STILL insanity for my teenage brain. It was the first time I had watched rock music collide with theater in a fully actualized bombastic way that spoke to having some confidence and a good time. I sold my drum kit and bought a guitar about two weeks later. With Ace Frehley as my teacher and no patience for traditional lessons, I went over the same parts again and again on Kiss' Alive. (I still have some bad, very Ace Frehley habits I still can’t seem to drop).
Radiohead - OK Computer
This album helped connect me to my sister for life. Only eighteen months apart, we should have had far more in common most of our lives, but we just didn’t. She was a country mouse, I was a city mouse. When she was listening to Radiohead in her bedroom, I paused at the angelic ethereal vocals in the middle interlude of “Paranoid Android,” through the walls and promptly walked over to her room, knocked on the door, and helped myself to a seat on the floor. (We watched the video on MTV and it sealed the deal that this was our new favorite band, maybe forever). Like Black Mirror before it ever existed, OK Computer spoke to a teenage angst of general mistrust of, well, everything; technology, government, or blindly following your designated track in life. Radiohead has been one of the most consistent bands in my musical repertoire. Even albums I don’t care for on first listen, become all time greats after a second go round. My favorite song in the world is “Let Down” from Radiohead. Like seriously, you can play it at my funeral.
The Misfits - Earth A.D.
In my late teens and very early twenties, I was in a lot of places I shouldn’t have been. I was playing in a punk metal band and frequently in bars and clubs in which no one ever asked to see my ID. (Seriously, one time a club employee asked ME to check people’s ID people at the door for a show when I was definitely nineteen years old and very bad at math). Being welcomed so warmly into this music scene, also meant that when I wanted to see other bands play, bouncers let me in without hesitation. And it was all punk. It was the only food I wanted. We could have picked a lot of choices from this time in my life and many of them are Misfits records, but Earth A.D. was always my go-to choice. Without indicting myself, this is the soundtrack to some of the most blurry times in my life and also ushered in a tongue n’ cheek love for anything Glenn Danzig does.
Megadeth - Rust In Peace
“Yeah well you let me know when you can play Rust In Peace." Huddled around a set of desks in our 9th grade classroom, a bunch of boys were geeking out about their guitars; talking gear, specs, make, model. (I’ve never been a gear head, I just really don’t care. I put everything on noon, and I tweak from there until I like it and there you go; that’s my sound). Stupidly, I tried to include myself in their conversation. I quickly proved how little I knew when I called Humbuckers “Humbuckles” and illustrated that I didn’t even know how to pronounce the make of the only guitar I owned. I nearly got laughed out of the conversation when I brought up Kiss Alive because this was a time of nu-metal with Deftones, Soulfly, and System of a Down dominating most of our age group’s listening. One of the boys asked me what kind of songs I knew to play, and I rattled off a few classic rock choices like Black Sabbath “Paranoid.” He nodded as if acceptable but laughed when he said “Yeah well you let me know when you can play Rust In Peace.” Who the hell is Rustin Peace, I wondered? I did my homework and found Megadeth’s 1990 release and was dumbfounded, fearful and wide-eyed when I heard the first round of intricate and punishing speed in “Holy Wars.” The more I thought about it, did that boy just mean the SONG “Rust In Peace” or the whole album? Hmm. I figured it was best to learn the whole thing. This album was my first foray into the world technical, heavy metal guitar playing. While I completely entered this world on what I perceived to be a dare, I ended up loving it so much that I became a true Megadeth fan. (Don’t ask me to play a single solo off of that record, that was not the perceived challenge). Also, in a total after-school-special moment; I DID get to play it, for the boy who had completely no recollection of EVER telling me to learn the album in the first place, but for me it was still worth the wait.
Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
This is not only a top influential album for me, it is a life spanning, life affirming, work of art and if I had to pick one record for the rest of my life, you’d have a hard time convincing me that this wasn’t the best choice. I didn’t discover this record until the early 90’s and I may have been the only child under ten years old listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on vinyl, reading the liner notes and learning everything I could about it. And boy did it make me un-freaking-relatable in elementary and middle school to have Elton John be my favorite artist, but not only did I use this record to learn to play piano, it’s opening track “Funeral For A Friend,” was a piano recital staple for me. Seriously though, it’s a gorgeous record and it belongs to many more people than me. My parents’ first dance at their wedding was to “Harmony” which is the final track on the album and I simply cry every single time, it always gets me. My favorite though is probably “Grey Seal.” But Elton John is in my Top Ten for life.
Failure - Fantastic Planet
Again in the world of Napster, I actually feel in love with an out of order version of most of the songs on Failure's Fantastic Planet, but it’s effect on me was the same. “Smoking Umbrellas” was the first track I heard and it delighted and frustrated me as I strained to even imagine how I could start to play it on guitar. Each track was similar, I had truly never heard anything so beautifully and purposefully dissonant—-with so many progressions that just shouldn’t have worked, yet came together to form this beautiful dystopian soundtrack. I can’t pick a favorite on this record as they’ve all rotated into that honor at different times in my life. (But boy was I pumped in a post Napster world, to actually get a physical copy of the album to find out there were three tracks that I had never heard before that also ruled). This actually helped bring me more into Tool and A Perfect Circle with Failure's Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards, and Kelli Scott showing me everything that was cool. It taught me to push myself as a song writer, both musically and lyrically. I follow any project Ken Andrews is involved in, it’s always perfect. Also BIG career highlight is when Failure came to perform at the station in 2016 and brought Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens of the Stone Age with them and I died a thousand times.
The Pixies - Death To The Pixies
I know it's kind of a cop-out here by saying Death To The Pixies, a double album spanning the band’s career (at the time) is my favorite, but it really is the first I had ever heard of them. Plus you can go down a rabbit hole of finding alternate versions of the same Pixies songs, and the versions that appear here still end up being my favorites. From the first amp reverberation on “Cecilia Ann,” I knew I was hearing something completely foreign to my musical ears. Nearly everything I had loved in the past had been a work of studio perfection; particularly in it’s packaging and squeaky clean production. But hearing The Pixies for the first time was explosive, untethered, uncomfortable yet dancey, and an experience that taught me a screeching guitar could be just as powerful as a perfectly polished tone. All of a sudden I wanted to learn how to bass because of Kim Deal. I still scream the chorus of “Planet of Sound” anytime it comes on in my car which I can’t link here because of the swear words so how about a little “Gouge Away” instead.
Carcass - Heartwork
I knew immediately I was going to love this album from the opening chords and I don’t know if I ever would have found it on my own since I was nine years old when it came out. My future husband, ten years before we’d even go on a date, was one of my most reliable concert buddies. We loved a lot of the same things and would platonically travel out of state to see some extreme metal bands that weren’t coming to Pittsburgh. We had a legendary trip to NYC where we drove to see Emperor, ate a piece of pizza, then drove all night to be back in Pittsburgh the next morning. One day, he had dropped off a “BOX OF METAL” to my apartment. It was a haggard assembly with literally no jewel cases, just a bunch of CD’s smacked up together in a cardboard mailer with pages of printed notes as to why each selection was awesome. (How I didn't see that this was love at the time, I just don't know). While not all of the choices made a lasting impression, Carcass’ Heartwork became one of my all time favorites. Because it came out in 1993, I don’t beat myself up too much for missing it the first time around. But this album not only reminds me of my husband, but all of the bands that we still love so much.
Weezer - Blue Album
This was my middle school to high school soundtrack and everyone I was friends with basically had to be down with Weezer or I could safely assume we wouldn’t get along. Luckily I found my people. I have many memories of myself with friends, singing The Blue Album to one another, loudly and animated while pantomiming guitars and swinging our arms around like idiots. And I probably could have picked Pinkerton too, but I’m fighting my urge here and am going to stick with The Blue Album. Without getting sappy, this album just reminds me of a time in my life when I was young, naive but capable of falling in love, shamelessly dorky, and growing up one awkward moment at a time.
Check out the rest of the gang's 10 Most Influential Albums: