Influential Albums: 554-560
Fri., Nov. 19. 2021 2:27pm EST
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'd 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.
554. Remote Control - The Tubes
One of my college housemates from junior and senior year, Dave Anthony, bought this during our freshman year, when we lived on the same floor of the same dorm. Released in 1979, Remote Control was The Tubes' fourth studio album (and fifth overall) ... and their first album produced by Todd Rundgren. Actually, every Tubes album up till that point — even the live album —had been produced by a new person, and their previous studio album, Now, was produced by a guy named John Anthony (no relation to Dave). Remote Control is a concept album (as per Rundgren's suggestion) about an idiot savant who is addicted to television, inspired by Tubes lead singer Fee Waybill's favorite book, Being There, a novel written published in 1970 that was later made into a critically acclaimed movie starring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine. Ironically, both Remote Control and the Being There movie were released the same year; the album came out in March '79, and the movie came out in December '79. The songs I initially liked and taped when Dave got Remote Control were "Turn Me On," "Telecide," "Only the Strong Survive," and "Prime Time." Many years later, I got my own copy and my new favorites were "Getoverture" and "T.V. is King," but I like the whole album. It's consistently strong. Although Rundgren would be replaced by David Foster on the next two Tubes albums, he returned as producer for their 1985 release, Love Bomb. The Tubes toured with Rundgren to support that album, and Dave Anthony and I saw them play at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh on June 8, 1985.
555. The Music Man - Original Broadway Cast/Original Soundtrack
The first songs I ever learned from the 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man were "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "The Wells Fargo Wagon." We had to learn both of those when I was in grade school ... in music class, naturally. Years later, when I was a senior in high school, our chorus director recruited me to be part of a very short-lived barber-shop quartet, singing "Lida Rose." Meanwhile, my first exposure to "Till There Was You" was Paul McCartney's version on Meet the Beatles. Meredyth Willson wrote the book, music, and lyrics for The Music Man, and his widow later told The New York Times that his estate made more money from the royalties of The Beatles' recording than from the musical. Somewhere along the way, I also learned "(Ya Got) Trouble," "Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little)," "Marian the Librarian," and "Gary, Indiana." We've driven by that town many times on late-night band bus rides after going through Chicago, and it's hard not to think of the song when we see the signs. I don't remember watching the 1962 film adaptation till many years later (although I'd seen commericals for it, and it looked like fun), but I loved it and have shown it to my kids a couple times (first the older kids, then the younger). They watched it begrudgingly but wound up loving the show and the songs. Two favorites I didn't discover till the movie were "Rock Island" and "Iowa Stubborn." Super-clever stuff, but I didn't know the territory! The original cast recording went to #1 on the album chart for 12 weeks in 1958. The movie became the third highest-grossing film of 1962, and the soundtrack went to #2 for six weeks that same year.
556. Afterburner - ZZ Top
ZZ Top's 1983 album Eliminator looms so large in 80's lore that it can make the follow-up, Afterburner, seem like an afterthought. That's understandable, since Eliminator sold 10 million copies in the U.S. alone, but Afterburner still did a brisk business, with 5 million. It also became the Texas trio's highest-charting LP, hitting #4 on the album chart. Released in October 1985, the singles from Afterburner were actually more successful overall than its predecessor. The first single, "Sleeping Bag," hit #8, matching the peak position of "Legs," the highest-charting single from Eliminator. However, the only other song on Eliminator to hit the Top 40 was "Gimme All Your Lovin'" (#37), whereas Afterburner produced three additional Top 40 singles — all of which charted higher than that — "Stages" (#21), "Rough Boy" (#22), and "Velcro Fly" (#35). For some reason, I bought the extended play dance single of that last one. Two of those songs, "Sleeping Bag" and "Stages," also went to #1 on the rock chart, and "Rough Boy" went to #5. Another non-single, "Can't Stop Rockin'," went to #8 on the rock chart. In fact, seven songs from Afterburner hit the Top 20 on the rock chart. Not bad for the beards and the Beard.
557. The Band - The Band
Despite the title, this is the The Band's second LP, not their first, which was the critically acclaimed Music from Big Pink. By the time this album came out in September 1969, self-titled non-debut albums were in vogue. Blood, Sweat & Tears had done the same thing with their second album in December '68. Furthermore, The Beatles had done it with their ninth studio album (a.k.a. "The White Album") in November '68. Perhaps not coincidentally, The Band's eponymous album is also known as "The Brown Album." I got a free used copy from my brother-in-law Dan. The main attraction me for me was "Up on Cripple Creek," The Band's first Top 40 hit and the highest charting single of their career (#25). I already loved that song and was glad to have it on vinyl. Another song I liked on this album was "Rag Mama Rag," which I later discovered was the second single. It went to #57. The opening track, "Across the Great Divide," was memorable, too. But the biggest song off the album became a hit for somebody else — "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," which Joan Baez covered and took to #3 in 1971. We had the sheet music for that song in our house, and my sister Kris made me learn it. As a kid, it never made sense to me that there was a lady on the cover of the sheet music who was apparently singing it, but the song was obviously from the perspective of a man named Virgil Kane. It all made sense years later when I got this album. The Band's version was actually the B-side of their "Up on Cripple Creek" single. My all-time favorite song by The Band isn't on this album and never hit the Top 40. "The Weight" was on Music from Big Pink. It was The Band's first charting single, but it only went to #63, although it produced three cover versions that charted higher than that —— Aretha Franklin's version went to #19, a joint effort by Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations went to #46, and Jackie DeShannon's went to #55. Nevertheless, the band members' vocals on the original are priceless. I also like the song "Chest Fever" from Big Pink, because of Three Dog Night's cover version. We'll hear more from The Band later on this list.
558. Centerfield - John Fogerty
I couldn't believe it when I first heard John Fogerty's new single, "The Old Man Down the Road," in the winter of 1984-85. It sounded so good! I was even more amazed when it hit the Top 10 on the pop chart and #1 on the rock chart. But the biggest shock came when Fogerty got sued for copyright infringement by the head of his old record company, who claimed the song sounded too much like his old Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Run Through the Jungle." Fogerty eventually prevailed, and Centerfield became a #1 album, selling two million copies. In the spirit of CCR, the second single was a double-sided hit — "Rock and Roll Girls" (#20) and "Centerfield" (#44). Ironically, although it charted the lowest of the three hits on the album, "Centerfield" is the song that probably proved to have the most staying power; it's even in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two other tracks on the album that made headlines were "Mr. Greed" and "Zanz Kant Dance" (eventually changed to "Vanz Kant Dance"), each an unflattering tribute to Saul Zaentz, the owner of Fantasy Records, who controlled the distribution and publishing rights to Fogerty's music with CCR. I bought "Eye of the Zombie" and "Change in the Weather," two singles from Fogerty's follow-up album in 1986. "Eye of the Zombie" only went to #81 and "Change in the Weather" missed the Hot 100 entirely, but both songs hit #3 on the rock chart. The flip side of "Change in the Weather" was a cover of Rockin' Sidney's country hit "My Toot Toot," which I also enjoyed. It's now included on the CD version of Centerfield.
559. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. - Bruce Springsteen
If you thought The Beatles came a long way in the three and a half years between Meet the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, you should hear how far Bruce Springsteen progressed in the two and a half years between Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and Born to Run. Released in January 1973, Springsteen's debut LP is a charming, likable record, but it's stunning how much he had matured as a songwriter and performer by the time Born to Run came out in August 1975. Like many others, I discovered those two albums in reverse order, and the first thing I noticed about Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was how much Bruce's early songwriting reminded me of Bob Dylan's, with a bunch of rapid-fire, anything-goes, everything-but-the-kitchen sink rhymes. Manfred Mann's Earth Band famously covered two of the songs on their 1976 album The Roaring Silence and took them to each end of the Top 40 — "Blinded by the Light" (#1) and "Spirit in the Night" (#40) — but they trimmed down Bruce's lyrics considerably. In 1981, they covered a third track, "For You," and took that one to #106 on the pop chart and #15 on the rock chart. Bruce's versions seem so lighthearted compared to theirs, which is kind of funny when you consider that Manfred Mann was the same guy whose earlier band brought us "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "The Mighty Quinn" years earlier. My favorite song on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is "Growin' Up." In fact, it's one of my favorite Springsteen songs, period. Overall, I found this album to be a lot easier to digest than Bruce's second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, although I think that album's best known song, "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" is better than anything on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. ApologetiX released a parody called "Greetings from PNC Park, PA" in 2021, but it's actually a spoof of a song from Bruce's 1980 album, The River.
560. Pearl – Janis Joplin
Released in January 1971, Pearl was the #1 album in America for nine weeks, and we had a copy of it in the Jackson home. Unfortunately, Janis Joplin had already been gone for three months by the time it came out. Pearl also gave Janis her first and only #1 single, "Me and Bobby McGee," but the version I knew best was my sister Gayle's. Although she is my youngest sister, Gayle is six years older than I, so she turned 13 the year the album came out. Anyway, Gayle sang and played guitar quite well, and by the time she was in high school, she was performing both that song and another from Pearl, the comedic "Mercedes Benz." I've heard that song played on classic rock stations, but it was actually the B-side of the second single from Pearl, "Cry Baby," which just missed the Top 40 (#42). Ironically, the song I know best after that — which I have also heard played on classic rock stations — is "Move Over," the B-side of the third single from Pearl, "Get It While You Can" (#78). I spoofed "Me and Bobby McGee" for my mother's birthday or Mother's Day years later when I was a teenager, but my favorite parody of that song was, "Me and Mr. Magoo" by Bob Rivers. He got a Janis Joplin soundalike to do the vocals, and she nailed it. Of course, you have to be familiar with the old Mr. Magoo cartoons to get all the jokes. But it's out there for all to hear at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHsFCroV4h0.
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.