25 Milepost Albums
This has been going around, and it sounded fun. Here are 25 albums that mark important moments in my life as a music fan.
1. The Muppet Movie (Soundtrack)
The first album I can remember listening to, and seeing around the house and being interested in. The first time I recognized music as being something separate from the radio or TV that you could play on demand.
2. Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
The first album I owned. I was maybe ten or eleven and had no interest in music. A well-meaning aunt gave me the cassette as a birthday present. I suspect my lack of enthusiasm may have, alas, showed. A few years later, as I started to like music, I went back to it and discovered that “hey! I like this!”
3 and 4. Beverly Hills Cop/The Goonies (soundtracks)
When I got my first cassette player, my mother took me to Sam Goody to get a cassette for it. I talked her into getting both for me. I ended up listening to these a lot; these were my first heavy-rotation albums. They also foreshadowed my future love for film music, as my favorite tracks on each were the instrumental “Axel F” and the bit of Dave Grusin scoring at the end of that album.
5 and 6. Invisible Touch, Genesis/Fore!, Huey Luis and the News
The first “pop” albums I got hooked on. I would lie on my bed with my tape player and play one after the other, night after night. The first albums I memorized. (I was young!)
7. The Joshua Tree, U2
When “With or Without You” hit big I was annoyed by its constant presence on MTV. A few months later though, something happened. I was into it. And I liked the other two singles too – especially the sweep of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” So I biked down to Ridgewood to buy the cassette. First album I bought with my own money. And still my favorite album, by anyone.
8. Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice
My father had the original concept album on LP. I taped it to cassette, and to this day can remember the few skips I inadvertently recorded. The first theater music I fell in love with.
9. The Best of the Police
My father got me this for Christmas (I was maybe 13?). I had only the dimmest sense of who the Police were, and was kind of annoyed that he wasted a Christmas gift on such nonsense. But then I listened – and found I knew (and liked!) almost all the songs. I still think of this as the broadening of my musical taste, the realization that I liked stuff I didn’t know I liked.
10. The Lonesome Jubilee, John Mellencamp
Same story. My mother got me this one and I was nonplussed. I only knew that “Paper in Fire” song from the radio, which she knew I liked. But that didn’t mean I would like a whole album of his stuff! Except, as it turned out, it did. Ever since, I’ve been an album guy, not a singles guy.
11. Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim
We did the show in high school and I listened to the score over and over. I had no idea at the time, but an obsession with Sondheim’s genius had begun.
12. Achtung Baby, U2
By the time this was released I had become a huge U2 fan, had all their albums, and had inducted my sister into the cult. This was the first album I remember waiting for. We knew the release date, and went to get the CD the day it was released. Put it on in that same cassette player in my room. Listened. And were confused. This was not U2. This was some strange, noisy thing. But then we listened again. And again. And realized how good it was – once you found that essential “U2” spirit in the new sounds. This is the album that showed me artists can change, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
13. Spike, Elvis Costello
“Veronica” had been on the radio and I had liked it. I knew Costello otherwise only from the snippet of “Watching the Detectives” that was played on some Time-Life collection commercial. But the cassette was in a bargain bin at a store at college for $5. So I grabbed it. And became an instant Elvis Costello fan. I kind of think of my musical appreciation as having two phases. This marked the beginning of phase two.
14. The Soul Cages, Sting
This was the first album I dug into the bones of. I loved it enough to buy the piano/vocal book, and very clumsily would play through certain songs, getting a sense of the chord structures and how they worked. I don’t really play guitar or piano (just enough to play some chords), so this was the first time I’ve understood music in this sense.
15 and 16. Mahler’s 9th Symphony and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
I got the Mahler out of the library on a whim (mostly I think because Sondheim name-checked Mahler in Company) and was blown away by the music. The Beethoven I did in college (singing in the chorus), and I fell in love with it that way. Such a remarkable, big, piece of music, and something I own multiple versions of. These albums will always represent to me my discovery of classical music.
17. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
I was browsing in a Borders, killing time, and this was on a listening station. I put the headphones on and gave it a listen. After hearing 30 seconds I bought the CD. That’s never happened to me. My jazz gateway drug.
18. Star Wars, John Williams
When the movies were re-released in 1997 I got the full soundtracks they were releasing. 2 discs each. I had always loved Williams’ stuff, but this was turning a corner. The start of my film score obsession.
19. Floyd Collins, Adam Guettel
Bought on a whim at the Virgin Music store in Times Square while on a break at work. I listened to this dozens of times, and couldn’t get enough of the inspired mix of folk/bluegrass and Broadway. This CD started me down a road of more current theater music, and now almost all the theater music I get is by new composers (aside from Sondheim, of course).
20. OK Computer, Radiohead
15 years after I made her into a U2 fan, my sister returned the favor and got me into Radiohead. Nice.
21. Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan
I had “Highway 61” from years back, but didn’t like it. Can’t remember why I got this, but it was like a revelation – oh, THAT’S why people revere Dylan like they do!! I went back to Highway 61 and kept building, and still have more to go. Dylan is the 20th Century Shakespeare, and we get to hear him, even see him perform live! How lucky are we! (Dylan may have supplanted U2 as my #1 musical obsession, actually. Shhh, it’s a secret).
22. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire
Got the CD out of the library on a whim and fell in love. One of the few current acts I’ve really gotten into. Reminded me that you can’t rest on all the old artists you love. You have to make room for new ones.
23. De Profundis, Arvo Part
I went to see the Rutgers Glee Club after I graduated and they did an Arvo Part piece that I was astonished by. Bought this CD and haven’t looked back – Part is easily my favorite contemporary composer.
24. Ella Fitzgerald, The Best of the Songbooks
I had heard for years about how great Ella was, and when I got this I was almost surprised – I was expecting a bigger, “prettier” voice. But soon enough she taught me what jazz singing was about.
25. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi
It doesn’t need to be Christmastime to play this album. Just a singular piece of work that makes me happy every damn time I hear it.