Influential Albums: 491-497
Fri., Sep. 17. 2021 6:40pm 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. Rather than listing the albums in order of preference or excellence, I've been listing them in chronological order of when they influenced me, as best as I recall. We were well into 1987, and you'll start seeing a lot of Christian albums once we get to 1988.
However, in May 2021, I realized that I'd neglected to include many influential albums along the way, so I've been catching up on those for a while before we get to that momentous moment in '88 when my life and musical trajectory was forever changed. You'll still see plenty of secular albums after that, but music was never the same for me after.
491. Madness – Madness
By the time this compilation was released in the United States in January 1983, the British pop/ska septet Madness had already released five U.K. Top 10 albums (including a different compilation that hit #1 there) and other successful standalone singles dating back to 1979 … with a dozen U.K. Top 10 hits and two others that hit the U.K. Top 20. "Our House," their first and only U.S. Top 10, peaked at #7 on the pop charts in July 1983. It even reached #9 on the rock charts. Madness would go on to have one more U.S. Top 40 hit, "It Must Be Love," which was also included on this album. I owned both of those songs on 45 but eventually got the LP, too. Furthermore, after this album, four more Madness songs hit U.K. Top 10 and four others hit the U.K. Top 20. Aside from the two U.S. hits, my favorites on this record were "Tomorrow's Just Another Day," "Madness (Is All in the Mind)," and "House of Fun," their only #1 U.K. hit. I didn't know it was a hit at the time; I just knew it was insanely catchy. Despite all that, however, this LP didn't contain my all-time favorite Madness song, "One Step Beyond," which I first heard during sophomore year in college. One of my apartment mates, Kevin "Kebo" Johnson, loved to play that song, and I loved to hear it. It's easy to see how it became the band's first U.K. Top 10 hit.
492. Motown Grammy Rhythm & Blues Performances of the 1970's – Various Artists
Don't be confused by the ambiguous wording of the title; these are the original studio recordings, not songs performed live on the Grammys, and that's a good thing. This reasonably priced album featured five #1 hits and two #2 hits, one #3, one #4 … and one that went to #24. That included a bunch of hits I needed that were harder to find in the days before digital music, including "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" by The Temptations, "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston, "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye, "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross, and "Boogie Down" by Eddie Kendricks. I'm pretty sure I bought it at the store in 1984, the year it came out.
493. Women and Children First – Van Halen
During my sophomore year in high school, I used to sit on the bus next to a junior named Joe Bauman. His younger brother, Brian, and I had collected baseball cards together in grade school. Anyway, Joe was had a great sense of humor and was a major Van Halen fan. He simply could not wait for the release of this, the band's third album, in late March 1980. Unlike Van Halen's previous two albums, Women and Children First contained no cover versions of other artist's songs. However, I'd like to commend the artist who designed the cover sleeve; it's my favorite in VH's entire discography. David, Eddie, Alex, and Michael didn't waste any time getting to the point on this LP; the first two tracks, "And the Cradle Will Rock …" and "Everybody Wants Some!!" are the ones you're most likely to hear on classic-rock radio. "Cradle" is one of my all-time favorite Van Halen songs. It only went to #55 on the pop charts, but I'm amazed it even got that high. Meanwhile, it's hard for me to hear "Everybody Wants Some!!" without thinking of a hilarious scene in the 1985 John Cusack movie Better Off Dead where a Claymation hamburger sings and plays that song with a white-striped, red guitar (complete with whammy bar) that looks an awful lot like Eddie's. That song also inspired the title of the first Van Halen biography, Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, which I read not too long after its release in 2008.
494. Hard Labor – Three Dog Night
Released in March 1974, Hard Labor was Three Dog Night's eighth non-compilation studio album, and the last one to go gold. I got a vinyl copy 10 years later — from my old roommate Kebo, I think. Hard Labor boasted three hit singles: "The Show Must Go On" (#4), "Sure as I'm Sittin' Here" (#16), and "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)" (#33). All three of those songs made it onto Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits, as did a fourth track on this album, "I'd Be So Happy," the flip side of the "Play Something Sweet" single. But the version of "Sure as I'm Sittin' Here" on Hard Labor is superior and about a minute and a half longer than the single version used on Greatest Hits. The same goes for "The Show Must Go On," which is about 45 seconds longer here. That song brought back fond memories of my childhood. Hey, what kid could resist a tune that started and ended with circus music? As far as the non-hits, I'd recommend the funky "Put Out the Light" and the mellow "Sitting in Limbo." Like The Beatles' Yesterday and Today album, Hard Labor had a controversial cover; it depicted the birth of a record album ... in the operating room with a doctor and staff performing the procedure. It was a bizarre picture for sure. Whomever or whatever was giving birth to the album appeared to be humanoid but was wearing a grotesque mask and had legs like a chicken. The original pressings came wrapped in a manila file folder that obscured most of the picture. Subsequent editions had a huge Band Aid across the front. CD reissues since the 1990's just show the cover the way it was originally intended.
495. Setting Sons – The Jam
Released in November 1979, The Jam's fourth LP was originally supposed to be a concept album. Hey, what else would you expect from a band so obviously influenced by The Who and The Kinks? Although that project never came to full fruition, you can still detect traces of it in certain songs. Setting Sons contains The Jam's first U.K. Top 10 hit, "The Eton Rifles" (#3), which would be a highlight for me whether it had hit the charts or not. Rounding out my top four on this album would be "Smithers-Jones" (I love the strings on this version) "Saturday's Kids," and "Thick as Thieves." Other notable tracks include: "Girl on the Phone," "Little Boy Soldiers," "Burning Sky," and a high-speed cover of the Motown 60's hit "Heat Wave." If you can't relate to my posts about music made by Paul Weller and the other fellers (Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler), then blame my old friend Michael Ranieri; he got me into a Jam I couldn't get out of.
496. Rock of the Westies – Elton John
Technically, this album could be much higher on my list, because I borrowed it from the Greensburg library way back in early 1978 — it was the only Elton album they had at the time — but I didn't really get into it till the summer of '87. Rock of the Westies is a clever title, although it took me a while to notice the play on words. Like its predecessor, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, it entered the Billboard charts at #1 — they were the only two albums at the time to have ever done so — but I don't think it's anywhere near as good. In fact, if I were ranking Elton's first 10 albums, all of which I enjoy, I'd probably put this one 10th. That being said, I'd be hard pressed to find any other artist besides The Beatles who put together such a strong 10-album streak. Three of the tracks on Rock of the Westies reached the U.S. Top 15: the #1 very politically incorrect hit "Island Girl" and the double-sided #14 hit "Grow Some Funk of Your Own" and I Feel Like a Bullet in the Gun of Robert Ford." My favorite non-hits were the opening tracks on side one and two, "Medley: Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly" and "Street Kids," respectively. Other memorable songs (some not for good reasons) were "Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)," "Feed Me," and "Billy Bones and the White Bird."
497. Presence – Led Zeppelin
I realize this album has been conspicuous in its absence from my list until now, seeing as I've already included the other seven studio albums Led Zeppelin released while the band was active and intact. The penultimate Presence was released in 1976, and I bought it in the summer of '87. I could never really get into it, though, aside from the big radio songs, "Achilles Last Stand," "Nobody's Fault but Mine," and "Hots on for Nowhere." But those three songs alone make it worthwhile. I don't know about you, but I think Heart borrowed a bit of "Achilles Last Stand" for their 1977 hit "Barracuda." Speaking of borrowing, sometime in the late 80's or early 90's, I was shocked when I visited a little Pentecostal church and heard a man singing "Nobody's Fault but Mine." I didn't know at the time that Led Zeppelin had taken their song from an old Gospel blues song written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson in the late 1920's. I'm also a big fan of the rendition by Dred Zeppelin, a reggae-styled Led Zep cover band with a lead singer who sounded (and dressed) like Elvis. Their version was called "Nobody's Fault (Butt Mon)." Presence was Zep's lowest-selling album (a meager three million copies in the United States), but it did go to #1. In fact, the only two of their original eight studio albums that didn't go to #1 were their debut and their classic untitled fourth album (sometimes called "Zoso"), which stalled at #2 but sold 20 million copies more than Presence.
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 '88. However, I hope you'll see (as I do) how God's hand was at work behind the scenes from the start, preparing me for the work I believe He intended for me to do.