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Influential Albums: Wk 50
Fri., Apr. 23. 2021 4:02pm EDT

J. Jackson, lead singer and lyricist for ApologetiX here again.

Here are the latest entries in the "albums that influenced me" series I started writing in May 2020. They are not listed in order of preference or excellence, but in chronological order of when they influenced me, as best as I can recall.

344. Fly by Night Rush
Easily one of the top 10 rock albums with an owl on the cover. Probably top three. Possibly number one. I liked the sound of early Rush — and this second album adds Neal Peart on drums and lyrics. He makes his presence known immediately, with the classic opening track, "Anthem." If you didn't know something was different after that, you had to know after "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." And who could resist the title track, which kicks off side two? "Making Memories" and "Best I Can" are great, too, but in the end, I think my favorite track may have been "In the End." That's as great a closer as "Anthem" was an opener. Lest you think I was being purely facetious about albums with owls on the cover, don't forget Night Owl by Gerry Rafferty. Released in 1979, it was his follow-up owl-bum to the #1 City to City, and it went to #9 and sold half a million copies. The title track was a #5 hit in the UK, and two other songs, "Days Gone Down (Still Got the Light in Your Eyes)" and "Get It Right Next Time," went to #17 and #21 in the U.S. pop charts, for those of us who give a hoot about such things. In case you're wondering, the Little River Band #6 hit "The Night Owls" came from an album called Time Exposure, so there was no owl on the cover. None on any of the albums by Owl City, either.

345. Tumbleweed Connection Elton John
My next-door neighbors, The Davises, owned this record. I used to babysit the Davis girls in the late 1970's, and I'd seen it in their parents' record collection but had never bothered to play it, since it didn't have any hits. However, when you have an album with as many quality songs as this, you don't need hits. Once I finally bought a copy for myself in the summer of '87, it quickly became one of my favorite Elton LPs. I can't remember what finally persuaded me to purchase it. Maybe it was "Burn Down the Mission," the one song on Tumbleweed Connection that gets significant airplay on rock stations. I instantly took a liking to "Country Comfort" and "Where to Now St. Peter?" Another standout is "Amoreena," which accompanies the opening credits of the 1975 Al Pacino movie Dog Day Afternoon. Even though it has nothing to do with the plot, it's the perfect song for the job. And those are just a few of the fine tunes on Tumbleweed.

346. Blood on the Tracks Bob Dylan
If you don't like Bob Dylan well, you're probably normal. But I don't claim to be normal. When I heard the song "Tangled Up in Blue" on the radio, my deeper appreciation of Bob Dylan began in earnest. Yeah, I already owned his first two greatest-hits compilations, but this was a different Dylan. What a great song. I actually got to write and perform a spoof of it at a fancy retirement party for the outgoing president of my former company, Equitable Gas. There I was, wailing away at LeMont on the top of Mount Washington. No, I was not singing to Fred Sanford's son. That guy's name was Lamont, although Fred called him "Dummy." LeMont is a classy restaurant with an awesome view overlooking downtown Pittsburgh. Anyway, "Tangled Up in Blue" came from (and leads off) the album Blood on the Tracks, and I can see why many critics believe its Dylan's best album and one of the best albums of the rock era. I agree; it's strong from start to finish. So many great songs: "Simple Twist of Fate," "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," "Meet Me in the Morning," "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," ah, don't get me started. Even if you're not a Dylan fan, you might remember the beautiful "Shelter from the Storm" from the end of the movie Jerry Maguire. And Hootie & the Blowfish lifted a sizable portion of the lyrics from "Idiot Wind" and stuck them in their biggest hit, "Only Wanna Be with You" such a sizable portion, in fact, that it reportedly led to an out-of-court settlement with Dylan.

347. Caress of Steel Rush
I immersed myself in old Rush albums when I discovered a bunch of their cassettes on sale at bargain prices (I think they were $3.99 each or something ridiculous like that). Die-hard Rush fans may balk at what I'm about to say, but I favored the first three tracks, "Bastille Day," "I Think I'm Going Bald," and "Lakeside Park," over the multi-part "The Necromancer" and "The Fountain of Lamneth." If it's any consolation, though, I really, really, really liked those first three tracks. Apparently, the record company did, too, because they front-loaded them on that album and also included them on the Chronicles "best of" compilation in 1990.

348. Madman Across the Water Elton John
The first question that comes to mind when listening to this 1971 album is: How in the world did the opening track, "Tiny Dancer," get left off Elton John's Greatest Hits in 1974? At least the second track, "Levon," was included on Greatest Hits Volume II in 1977. Yeah, I know, "Levon" went to #24, and "Tiny Dancer" stalled at #41, but they put "Border Song" from 1970 on Greatest Hits, and it only went to #92! "Tiny Dancer" finally made it onto the 1992 reissue of Volume II, but that was only after some legalities necessitated moving two of the tracks on Volume II to Volume III, which left gaping holes in Volume II that "Tiny Dancer" helped fill. Two other songs on this album that I loved are "Holiday Inn" (an all-time fave) and "Razor Face." I also liked "Rotten Peaches" and "All the Nasties." And, of course, there's the title track, which is probably the only other song on Madman Across the Water I ever heard played on the radio.

349. Desire Bob Dylan
I convinced my old college roommate Tom Dellaquila to move to Latrobe in the summer of '87 to join a band I was in called Uncle Charlie. Tom got a job at the place where I worked, Foothills Litho, and we renamed the band Nice Piranha. Like many bandmates, we shared an apartment, but it wasn't remotely as cool as The Beatles' digs in the movie Help! or anything like that. Tom knew how much I'd been enjoying Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks album, so he introduced me to "Hurricane," the first song from Dylan's follow-up album, Desire. Whoa. That thing was one of the best story songs I'd ever heard! So I bought Desire on cassette. It wasn't as strong as Blood on the Tracks — and nowhere near as polished — but it had at least four other songs that this Dylan fan still counts among his favorites: "Isis," "Mozambique," "Black Diamond Bay," and "Joey."

350. In the Dark The Grateful Dead
I had a friend named Mike "Stone Monkey" Wise in college who loved two bands: The Who and The Grateful Dead. I was already a Who fan before college, but I didn't buy my first Dead album until the year after I graduated. In the Dark was released in July 1987. Like many other Americans, I was charmed by its opening track "Touch of Grey," which became Jerry Garcia and company's first and only hit. That's right: Just like The Who, The Grateful Dead achieved iconic status despite having only one U.S. Top Ten song. But The Who had 15 other Top 40 hits; The Dead had none. With all that being said, the song that got me to buy this album was actually the second track, "Hell in a Bucket," which I seem to remember hearing at The Gap at Westmoreland Mall in Greensburg. That song went to #3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts. Two others I really liked were "Tons of Steel" and "Throwing Stones." By the way, all those pairs of eyes on the front cover are members of The Grateful Dead, but the one eye by itself is famous concert promoter Bill Graham, well known for his longtime association with the band.

Note: Just because the albums on my list influenced me back then doesn't mean I give them all a blanket endorsement now. I started actively listening to music in the early 70's and didn't become a born-again Christian until early 1988. However, we are well into 1987 now, so you'll start seeing more Christian albums here soon enough.