Santa Claus and I have had a tenuous musical history.
There have been some good years, for sure, especially in 1986, when he brought me Christian Death's Only Theatre of Pain on vinyl. I'm sure Kris Kringle, viewing from his magic snow globe, loved seeing my sheer delight as I relished the irony of the gift. I was 17 and pissed at the world, but "Santa," at very least, was supportive.
For years, though, I had suffered from Santa's inability to recognize my evolving musical tastes. There was almost always some music for me under the tree while I grew up, although I typically received whatever crap was popular on the radio. Luckily, I had figured out how to tape over the little holes on a cassette tape and re-purpose the gifts that I didn't enjoy. Somewhere I still have a copy of Quarterflash's eponymous debut that hasn't played "Harden My Heart" since about January 15, 1982. If you were able to find a working cassette player in my house, you'd hear my home recording of an early '80s episode of the Dr. Demento show instead.
Now that I get to play Santa myself, it has made me look back and consider what records I wish Santa had brought me when they came out, rather than waiting for me to either discover them on my own, by reading music zines, or hearing with a friend. A few of these came out before I had the dexterity to operate a hi-fi, of course, but they were all brand new to me at one point, and would have opened my ears and mind to some musical ideas I had not previously considered.
I suppose there is also a selfish connotation to this as well. These are all albums I love and unwrapping them earlier would have just meant that I could have enjoyed them longer or better yet, it would have meant that someone out there, even a rotund herder of reindeer and elves, would have understood what truly makes me tick. When you think of it, those are really the best presents, after all. The ones that say, "I totally get that you are pissed off at the world. Enjoy this death punk classic."
I still have that Christian Death record, by the way, as well as all of the rest that follow.
The Beatles - Abbey Road
Released less than a month before I was born, this record has a little bit of everything. There is not much I can expand upon that hasn't already been written about what has been argued by music critics for almost 45 years, but for me this is the Beatles at not only their best, but their most inspiring. Truthfully,I really didn't appreciate this record until after I started playing music myself, but I also didn't really listen to it until I was an adult.
I wish Santa had given me an original pressing to me for my first Christmas with a note that said, "Open when you are 12... it'll get you chicks." Whether Santa's advice would have been true, I'm not really sure, but I know it would have gotten my attention. It would also have gone a long way in terms of laying a strong foundation on how to structure not only a song, but an entire album. The songs here are so solid from top to bottom that it is much easier to pick which one is the weakest than the one I like the most -- and even then, it's hard to think of "Octopus's Garden" as weak.
I never get tired of how this record just opens up like a fireworks display in full glory with the one-two punch of "Come Together" and "Something," but when we get to side two and the "Medley" hits your ears, it's magic. The transition between John Lennon's "Polythene Pam" and Paul McCartney's "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" is song is so seamless . . . it makes me wonder what they could have done if they'd been allowed to work together again. Damn you to hell, Mark David Chapman.
The Who - Live at Leeds
This could have been a great present for my 2nd Christmas.
I might have been a tad young for it in 1970, but every young dude out there can appreciate the message behind Mose Allison's song "Young Man Blues," which the Who cover here in pure rock 'n' roll fury. Perhaps as much today as when Roger Daltrey sang/shouted it in 1970, the words "Young man, ain't got nothin' in the world today" reverberate powerfully.
I've argued with many folks that this record had as much to do with unleashing the attitude and power of punk rock as the Stooges, MC5, or the Kinks did, and I can't help standing by that argument to this day. Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon attack their instruments as if their lives depend on it, and the entire band is at the top of their game. "Live at Leeds," like "Abbey Road," is a record I am pretty certain I didn't fully appreciate until my 20s.
No one was happier than I was when an extended, remastered version came out with the entire set; Santa didn't have a chance bring it to me, really, as by this time in my life the Who were firmly cemented as the band in my mind. The additions of the oft-covered Allen Touissant song "Fortune Teller" and "Tattoo" (originally recorded on The Who Sell Out) are fantastic.
For me, though, "A Quick One, While He's Away," with the clever stage banter, and "Young Man Blues" will always get me in a good mood. To get a glimpse of what these concerts must have looked like, take a gander at the video of the Who's 1970 Isle of Wight set.
Maximum R&B indeed.
Wire - Pink Flag
Santa had the power to make me the coolest 8-year-old on my street -- perhaps even my whole school -- and he blew it when he didn't put Wire'sPink Flag
under our tree in 1977. I didn't even know this record existed until about 15 years later and boy had I missed out. From the opening notes of "Reuters," which builds with the kind of distinct tension Wire has become known for, the record dips and dives with static blasts of dissonant guitar, biting vocals, and more than adequate bass and drums on tracks like "Strange" and the pure post-punk middle finger in the face of the status quo "Ex-Lion Tamer."
Unbeknownst to me until the early '90s, this record was highly influential to literally hundreds of bands that broke through between 1977 and the onslaught of Nirvana and their ilk in the late '80s. My first taste of Wire was hearing Minor Threat cover "12XU" on Dischord's Flex Your Head compilation.
This was a sound I had been searching for my whole life, and I when I finally found it -- and realized it had been around since 1977 -- I felt betrayed. Betrayed by Santa, yet again. Why didn't he know?
Devo - Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo!
This little slab of goodness came out just short two months before my 9th birthday, but did I see it for Christmas that year? No. Instead, I got Styx'sPieces of Eight
-- which I will have to admit that I loved, but still. I could have been listening "Mongoloid" instead of "Lords of the Ring" (both track 5 on their respective albums) while playing baseball in the backyard of my neighbors' house all summer in 1979.
"Gut Feeling/Slap your Mammy" will always hold a special place in my heart. It is one of my favorite songs to cover, and the build-up at the beginning is pure genius. I didn't hear this record in its entirety until I was in high school, and I look back now and know I would have loved it just as much as a musically precocious 9-year-old as I do now. It is just that good.
Devo's deconstruction of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" should be a lesson to every band in how to properly cover a classic song -- if you're going to cover a song like "Satisfaction," make it your own or leave it alone. It's Track 2 here, and it really cements this band as a force to be reckoned with, especially when you consider how much it must have taken the piss out of people to hear a radio staple rearranged in such a cool way in 1978. I remember watching them play "Satisfaction" on Saturday Night Live a little over a year after this record came out and thinking how much it ruled.
To Santa's credit, he did give me Oh No, It's Devo a few Christmases later in 1982.
The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette
I am convinced this record was recorded for everyone's inner punk-adolescent. I don't know if it's my favorite record by the Damned, but the Jolly Old Elf could have scored major points if he would have left this under my tree in 1979, rather than making me buy it myself nine years later at Bleecker Bob's (RIP) on Melrose in L.A.
For one thing, this record eluded me for years -- it was never in stock when I would make my semi-regular pilgrimages to Zia. I distinctly remember there being a copy at Trax in Wax at one point, when I was about 16, but the price was too high for my meager teenage budget. My friend Mark had it, though, and I would always ask him to play it, probably to the point where Mark wanted me to just shut the hell up.
But how could I not want to hear it all the time? From top to bottom, it just rules. Starting out with "Love Song," then the title track, and "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" as the first three songs is excellent, but the album really hits its stride with for me with track 4: "Melody Lee." Piano was never so punk and there is a sense of urgency that make the little hairs on. the back of my neck stand up to this day.
The Jam - Sound Affects
Granted, there was only about a five-year gap between the release of this record in 1980 and the first time I purchased it, but those five years could have beenso
much better. As a bass player, I fell in love with this record more than any other Jam record. Bruce Foxton played his arse off on Sound Affects and even though he ripped off Sir Paul's bass line from "Taxman" on the opening track (US release, that is), "Start," all is/was quickly forgiven. Paul Weller was also in his typically fine form with this batch of Jam songs being among the best of the best.
Other standout tracks on Sound Affects include "That's Entertainment" and "But I'm Different Now," but one of the other real treats is listening to "Man in the Corner Shop" and thinking how much Oasis's Gallagher brothers owe Weller, Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler. My junior high classmates would have probably not known what to do if I had shown up on a vespa wearing a well tailored suit. If only Santa Claus had wanted me to be a mod in 1981.
Bauhaus - Press Eject and Give Me the Tape
Like several others from this list, Bauhaus' 1982 live effort,Press Eject and Give Me the Tape
, is not their best record. But it rocks. It is raw, at times, and visceral. When I heard it for the first time in 1986, I fell in love with its power. Peter Murphy is in full command here, as is Kevin Haskins whose solid back beat provides the meter that separated Bauhaus from all of their batcave-dwelling peers.
I was in 8th grade when this came out. Had Santa put a cassette of this in my stocking, the end of junior high and the first part of high school could have been considerably different. The power and draw of punk was not lost on me, but I also didn't really know any punks yet, and "goth" was not a term I was familiar with. I could have easily slipped into wearing all black and eschewing any semblance of a tan.
Bauhaus' cover of John Cale's "Rose Garden Funeral of Sores" is fantastic and spooky at the same time. It drips with sarcasm and the interplay between the band, which was rounded out by guitarist Daniel Ash and bassist David J is amazing. Their slow and mid-tempo songs, the dark, brooding Bauhaus that many of us came to love, like "Hollow Hills" and "the Spy in the Cab" made me picture their live show as something very different than the shows and concerts I'd been to in limited gig experience at this point in my life.
Santa in black eye liner and a blood red suit. Yes.
Butthole Surfers - Psychic...Powerless...Another Man's Sac
When I first heard this in 1987, I fell in love. The Butthole Surfers pretty much instantly became my "it" band, and this record was the psychedelic epicenter of my short stint in the U.S. Army, but that's another story all together. Originally released in December 1984 (Fuck you, Santa), this could have saved me from missing out on a couple of legendary Phoenix Surfers' shows, as well as some regrettable phases in my early punk years.
Songs like "Mexican Caravan" and "Cherub" showed just how biting Gibby Haynes' wonderfully distorted (and disturbed) vocals could be, but for anyone who has heard it, "Lady Sniff" steals the show. What 15-year-old boy shouldn't get the opportunity to hear Gibby shout "Pass me some of that dumbass over there" through a megaphone over Paul Leary's twisted, backward-ass guitar solos? Apparently I was naughty that year, because I didn't get this one.
Full disclosure: Santa did try to be a little hip that year; I did receive The Smiths' amazing Hatful of Hollow and U2's best all-around effort, The Unforgettable Fire. Hindsight being 20/20, I would have rather had some Buttholes.
Nirvana - Bleach
One of the biggest regrets of my musical life is not going to see Nirvana at the Mason Jar in February 1990. I was invited to go, had a great fake ID -- I was 20 at the time -- but I didn't leave the house that night, because I got confused by all the new Seattle bands that were starting to surface. I couldn't remember if Nirvana was the one I liked, or was it Soundgarden, or was it Tad?
I choose to blame Santa, though, since if he would have brought me Bleach for Christmas in 1989, I definitely would have gone to the Jar and gotten my first taste of live Nirvana.
If you don't know about this record, I'm pretty sure you may be beyond my musical help, but do yourself a favor and pick it up. I did get to see them in San Francisco opening for Dinosaur Jr. at the Warfield, just two short months before Nevermind came out, and it was well worth the wait. But I couldn't help hearing the little voice in the back of my head saying, "Remember when you stayed home and did homework instead of going to the Jar?"
Sebadoh - Sebadoh III
I was in a dark place at the end of 1991 and beginning of 1992, and a little Lou Barlow, Jason Loewenstein, and Eric Gaffney would have really helped.Sebadoh III
came out at the end of the summer in 1991, but like its predecessors on this list, I had no idea it even existed. Thanks, Santa.
My first introduction to Sebadoh wouldn't come until early 1993, when I picked up Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock during a big Sub Pop sale at Zia. It didn't take long for me to want everything they had put out, and I quickly tracked down a copy of Sebadoh III, which quickly became my favorite release of theirs.
The standout track for me has always been 13, "Hoppin' Up and Down." I'm pretty certain I love this song because it seemed to sum up the little world I was living in at the time and it also seemed like something I could play myself. The notion of it being something I could play was very inspiring, as is the vast majority of this record. The delicate melancholy (I know, melancholy and Lou Barlow are usually synonymous) of a track like "Truly Great Thing" was something that was quite interesting to my ears after being inundated with the early grunge days.
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At 23 tracks, though, this record (like all of the early Sebadoh stuff) goes all over the place. The infusion of Loewenstein into the mix was an excellent addition to the band as his songs provide a nice change of pace to Barlow's steady thrum of sadness and loss. They even do a very passable cover of the Minutemen's frenetic "Sickles and Hammers" early on that helps set a powerful tone. Other standout tracks, at least for me, are the opening track, "The Freed Pig" and "Supernatural Force." There is also a nice homage to the Velvet Underground at the beginning of "Smoke a Bowl."