News From The Woods.37

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published February 3, 2000


"Musical Influences'


I've always wanted to do this. With the dawn of a new millennium arriving, many of the music trade magazines had the same idea. Someone was assigned the monumental task of compiling a list of the top recordings of all times. As one might expect, each list shared many of the same title-holders, like "Dark Side Of The Moon", "Sgt. Peppers", and "Pet Sounds", but after the top 10, opinions varied from "slightly" to "waaaaaaaay" different. For instance, technical journals tended to list some of the more innovative and original albums that set certain trends or bristled with new advancements in audio engineering. Others merely reflected what that particular writer thought was a milestone in their own estimation.

My list is quite different. I want to share with you the most influential albums in my career…… Albums that shaped my particular musical taste and pushed all my buttons for various reasons. You will notice that there are many albums, which might grace those other lists, will not appear here. You will also discover that there are no albums from the 90's included on my list. I am not trying to be trendy here. At 53, there hasn't been much music released in the past couple of decades that have really impressed so much that I play them over and over. For me personally, most of my musical influences occurred between the mid-50's through the mid-70's. Admittedly, due to my family background (my mother was a professional pianist and singer) there are a number of influences stemming back to even the 40's because I grew up on movie soundtracks like "The Sound Of Music" and "West Side Story", and introduced to the music of such keyboard giants like Fats Waller, Earl Grant, and Floyd Cramer.

I have decided to limit the scope of this list to mainstream popular music and what we now call Classic Rock n' Roll. After all, these ARE the roots of my career. I started collecting 45-RPM records as far back as the early 50's. I even remember the very first "hit single" I bought for myself in 1957. It was "The Banana Boat Song" by Harry Bellafonte on RCA. I still have the record, although it IS getting a little scratchy. My early influences were Pat Boone, Elvis, and Spike Jones, or for that matter - any comedy record. Each night my mom would perform at her Steinway and I literally grew up on the standards of the 30's and 40's. Torch songs, boogie woogie, and music from movie soundtracks. She played them all, and without so much as one single sheet of music on the piano. If she heard it once, she could instantly sit down at a piano and play the melody totally by ear. At my young age, I had NO IDEA just how special this gift was. I suppose you could say that my GREATEST influence musically would have to be my mother. To this day, whenever I hear any one of those "old standards" I can still see her sitting there at her grand piano, entertaining a roomful of admirers.

Now for the fun part. I guess this all stems from my old radio days as a disc jockey. One of the favorite pastimes of DJ's when they are not on the air is to sit around and argue about which album was "better" than another, or had more influence on a generation. Invariably there were personal choices which often raised the most eyebrows. And that's because music is so subjective, based on the particular influences of each and every individual. That's what makes the musical world go 'round! If we all liked the same stuff wouldn't life be VERY boring (sort of like I feel about much of today's music "hits")? Therefore, here you are, dear reader, MY personal list of the top 20 greatest albums of ALL TIME! Remember; don't email me because I left "yours" out. This is MY list. Go make up your own!

1) "Rubber Soul" - The Beatles. Yes, I KNOW that "Sgt. Pepper" is the definitive milestone album by the Fab Four, but THIS album inspired me more than that "other" album. The songs were simply so beautiful, and talk about "stereo" !
2) "Dark Side Of The Moon" - Pink Floyd. Well, you KNEW it would eventually show up, didn't you? After all, any album that stays on Billboard's Top 100 LP chart for over three years has bound to have some influence on everybody.
3) "Surfin' USA" - The Beach Boys. What!?? I shunned "Pet Sounds"? Yep. Although I admit "Pet Sounds" influenced more people, again - this is MY list, remember? I used to go to sleep every single night with side two (the slow side) of the LP playing on my record changer. Every night for the entire summer of 1964.
4) "Abbey Road" - The Beatles. The groundbreaking "concept" album. This was almost 1970 and I was heavy into radio as a disc jockey and thought I had heard everything. I was wrong. This album really introduced me to the role of "record producer". There WAS a "fifth Beatle" and his name was George Martin.
5) "Are You Experienced?" - Jimi Hendrix. Technically, I suppose "Electric Ladyland" was more groundbreaking, but for the sheer power and "gotcha!" factor, the first exposure to Jimi was for me a real revelation. I simply had never heard anything like it (and STILL haven't)

From here on out, the lines get a bit blurred, but stay with me on this:

6) A three-way tie: "The Book Of Taliesyn", "Shades Of Deep Purple", and "Deep Purple" - Deep Purple. These three albums (now out of print on Bill Cosby's Tetragrammaton Label) gave me my first taste of British rock while at the same time showed me that a hard playin' rock and roll band can be tasteful, dignified, and talented. Art for art's sake. Up to this point in time, I HATED classical music, but Jon Lord showed me the way (and this was before Keith Emerson copped the concept). Ritchie Blackmore opened new doors for me in guitar appreciation. And Ian Paice totally blew my mind and concepts about rock drumming (and with just a SINGLE bass drum!) I found these albums years later in Wal Mart on CD (!) in a cutout bin. Was I happy? HAHAHAHAhahahahaha! OF course I still have all their vinyl as well in my large collection (yes - I DO have "Smoke On The Water" too…..)
7) "Medusa" - Trapeze. This one's a ringer. I was promoting rock concerts at the time and had an opportunity to get Trapeze on an "off night" for a reduced fee. London (Threshold) Records sent me this album in advance of the concert for PR and I absolutely flipped over the sound, the songs, the performances, and the whole deal. To put it mildly - I was stoked! In addition, when I met the band they were as "real" as it gets. I won't go on here about our personal relationships through the years - but to comment on that particular album: The production was as sparse as it gets. NO reverb on the drums, NO reverb (or very little) on the vocals. The vocals and guitars were brilliant, as was the drumming and bass playing. This was and still is a damn fine album! This was a damn fine group! WAAAY ahead of their time.
8) "Come Taste The Band" - Deep Purple. Okay, okay!! …... So I have a Deep Purple fetish! So sue me! But this particular album was a personal milestone for me as by then I had already met with the band while in the states on tour and had done a couple of radio interviews with them. Ritchie was "on and off again" with the group at this point in time and I lamented to many of my radio associates (as well as my radio audience) that the only guitarist who could even hope to replace Ritchie would be an obscure 19-year old American by the name of Tommy Bolin, who was probably unknown to any one on the other side of the world. And then guess what? When this album reached my sweaty little hands - there was TB playing guitar! In addition, not only THAT, but former Trapeze bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes was hired on as bassist and co-vocals with David Coverdale. TWO fine lead vocalists in the same SUPER band. I had died and gone to heaven!
9) "So What" - Joe Walsh. Yeah, he WAS good in the James Gang, but this album reached ME in a way none of his others had before. It wasn't even his first solo album. "Barnstorm" preceded it but was reissued AFTER "So What" started selling great guns. Joe is a wonderful tunesmith and makes the most out of both lyrics and arrangements. But for me - that particular association with Kenny Passarelli and Joe Vitale was a magic combination.
10) "Crosby, Stills, and Nash" - Crosby, Stills & Nash. One of the very first supergroups demonstrated just how tight good harmony could be. The songs are finely crafted to compliment the vocals. This album NEVER gets old.
11) "Hotel California" - The Eagles. This album is the epitome of songcrafting. Hit songs, combined with picture perfect performances by outstanding musicians.
12) "Led Zeppelin" - Led Zeppelin. The first time I ever heard this album, I was on the lake and a friend had one of those "new-fangled" portable record players that he brought on the boat with him. Even through those tiny speakers, I knew this was something completely wild and different. It was raw and powerful. You could even hear the "ghost" vocal tracks from the original vocal lines sung by Robert Plant bleeding through the drum mics.
13) "Time Loves A Hero" - Little Feat. Simply put, Lowell George was way ahead of his time, and he never lived long enough to see the world catch up to him. Sadly, by the time it did, he was gone. But he did leave behind some truly great albums with Little Feat. This one had the heaviest influence on me.
14) "Queen" - Queen. What can I say about this group that hasn't been said? Stacked heavy metal guitar riffs with massive overdubbed vocals. Freddy Mercury was a vocal genius, and played some pretty good piano as well! One of my Mom's all-time favorite songs was "Bohemian Rhapsody".
15) "Tubular Bells" - Mike Olfield. Well, this was just so far out it HAD to make this list. Who ever heard of an album with only one song on it? What a nightmare this must have been to mix.
16) "Vanilla Fudge" - Vanilla Fudge. Although the "hits" on this album were covers ("You Keep Me Hangin' On", "Ticket To Ride", She's Not There", "People Get Ready", "Eleanor Rigby") I had never heard anything like this. It was dripping with psychedelic fuzz guitars, and KILLER drums n' bass. And I have always had a weakness for Hammond B3.
17) "Rumours" - Fleetwood Mac. I don't know which was more reported in the press….. The masterpiece album or the disastrous lives of the group, entwined in all sorts of sordid tales of love and heartbreak. Either way - they produced a wonderful set of tunes.
18) "Steppenwolf" - Steppenwolf. I wandered into a record store in 1969 in Rogers, Arkansas. It was set up so you could actually take the album out of the sleeve and place it on a turntable in a little standing booth to audition the record. As I walked around the store, I noticed a group of kids hovering in a booth and talking very excitedly. I strolled past just in time to hear "God damn the Pusher Man!" I almost fainted! I could not believe that a record album actually had "cussing" on it! Boy, have times changed! Incidentally, that song was written by Hoyt Axton, who also wrote "Joy to the World". Go figure!
19) "Boston" - Boston. Tom Sholtz, the mastermind behind this album, already had enough money from his developments for Polaroid and also from his new invention, the RockMan headphone guitar amp. So he waited and waited and shopped around until he found a label that would back him on the project. He recorded it himself in his own studio (this was before the phrase "project studio" was ever coined) and took over a year to fine-tune it. It was worth the wait. Unfortunately, the follow up albums were lame by comparison.
20) "Fresh Cream" - Cream. The very first supergroup, starring Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce. Look up "Power Trio" in the dictionary and you will see a picture of Cream. I had never heard of a Marshall amp before Cream poured onto the scene.

Y'know, it just occured to me that if you joined the members of "Boston", "Cream" and "Humble Pie" you could name the band "Boston Cream Pie"..... Oh, Never mind!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

"The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper"
"Spectrum" - Billy Cobham
"Running On Empty" - Jackson Browne
"Chicago II" - Chicago
"Green River" - Creedence Clearwater Revival
"In Rock" - Deep Purple
"Layla" - Derek and the Dominos
"Dire Straits"
"Toulouse Street" - The Doobie Brothers
"Emerson, Lake & Palmer"
"Fleetwood Mac"
"Fire & Water" - Free
"Ah Via Musicom" - Eric Johnson
"Led Zeppelin II"
"Lynyrd Skynyrd"
"Alone Together" - Dave Mason
"Drums Are My Beat" - Sandy Nelson
"Secrets" - Robert Palmer
"Out Of Our Heads" - The Rolling Stones
"Abraxas" - Santana
"Captured Live At The Forum" - Three Dog Night
"Back To Oakland" - Tower Of Power
"Brother To Brother" - Gino Vanelli
"Van Halen"
"Walk Don't Run" - The Ventures
"Arc Of A Diver" - Stevie Winwood
"The Who Sell Out" - The Who
"There's The Rub" - Wishbone Ash
"Songs In The Key of Life" - Stevie Wonder
"Fragile" - Yes
"ZZ Top's First Album" - ZZ Top
"Apostrophe" - Frank Zappa

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