I'll Never Forget the First Time I Heard...
Thirteen songs that transformed me into the twisted wreck I am today....
Chemical Brothers "Song to the Siren"
My old friend Jen Murphy (where are you Jen??) made a life-altering mix tape for me called Santa Worshippers for Christmas of '96. The tape almost singlehandedly turned me into a raving dance music fanatic, so heavy it was with the delectable greatness of Bjork, Thrill Kill Kult and the Chems. I played the oxides off that tape on my old yellow Walkman that winter while charging around the East Village in my army-issue boots and $5 overcoat, and "Song to the Siren" always added an extra six or ten BPMs onto my stride. Jen also turned me onto Moloko, Portishead, Massive Attack and Jeff Buckley, to name just a few. For that I owe her my first, second and third born. At least.
AC/DC "Back In Black"
The first time I heard "Back In Black", it reconfigured my DNA. It's the space in the song -- the air between those pummeling hits -- that makes it so completely devastating. Everyone in the band wisely stays out of the way of The Groove and that's why it fucking kills you. Nobody else does this like AC/DC.
The Cure "Plainsong"
I spied a vinyl copy of Disintegration at my friend Krista's house one fateful December day and I pulled it out of its jacket and dropped the needle on it, out of innocent curiosity, while she was in the shower or something. And out of the speakers came this shimmering wash of white light -- it was a door opening onto a whole new world.
Queen "We Will Rock You"
Think about this: anybody can execute a solo performance of this song, without a musical instrument -- isn't that cool??!
One of the things I love the most about Queen is that, while they made the most painstakingly elaborate recordings of their time (maybe of all time), they were also brilliant enough to produce something as primally simple and universally affecting as this; "We Will Rock You" is essentially just a stomp, a clap and a chant. When you think of all the ways they could have fucked this up, it's all the more amazing.
Cocteau Twins "Blue Bell Knoll"
I'd read alot about the Cocteau Twins and realized they were the godparents to all my favorite 90s shoegazer bands (along with the JAMC) so I thought I'd better check them out. Wise choice. Blue Bell Knoll happened to be my first Cocteaus record and it turned out to be a great place to start. The instant "Blue Bell Knoll"s stormy harpsichord riff wafted out of my speakers, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite bands. Otherworldly.
I first heard Ministry around the dawn of the 90s, when alot of exciting music was happening. My friend Craig was on the cutting edge of it all, being the first kid on the block to have Jane's Addiction, Fishbone and NIN records. Ministry was kinda like metal but it was more subversive, confrontational and abrasive than metal. Somehow it just says "FUCK YOU". I love anything that makes me feel "FUCK YOU" right down to my bone marrow.
Led Zeppelin "Whole Lotta Love"
I was the kid with the radio under the bed covers at night, listening to the rock station that my parents didn't want me to listen to. Hearing Led Zeppelin for the first time was frightening in its almost tactile wickedness. That radio was like a direct line to another dimension, and my blood went chilly when I heard Robert Plant's demonic wail on the other end, sounding, in the song's fadeout, like some spectral horseman galloping off into the tar-black night.
Big Audio Dynamite "Medicine Show"
My metal-only ethos took a big hit when I first heard B.A.D. There was comfy familiarity in the voice of Mick Jones, which I recognized from certain Clash FM radio hits (and I would eventually get to their back catalog too), but this was sing song-y dance pop with an electronic beat -- the kind of thing I had always vehemently rejected. Something shifted in me when I heard "Medicine Show"; it was the right song at the right time. Within a few years I was a full-fledged pop fan and a major Big Audio Dynamite aficionado. Thank you Larry P! Wherever you are.
Madonna "Into the Groove"
I used to be a Madonna hater like everyone else (that's a whole other blog post). But eventually, inevitably, irrevocably, I came around to the Material Girl. Of course I'd heard "Into the Groove" several hundred times since whenever it came out in the mid 80s but in the context of NYC in the summer of '97, the song took on a whole new life. It seemed as essential as "Blitzkrieg Bop" or "Genius of Love". Nothing's been the same since.
Siouxsie and the Banshees "Christine"
Of all the Banshees' albums, Kaleidoscope put the biggest mark on me. I'd bought a used copy of it one evening in fall of 1995 (autumn being the best time to indoctrinate oneself to Siouxsie) and stopped over to Joe H's house in semi-rural Pennsylvania to listen to it on his boombox. "Christine" perfectly blends poppiness and dark mystery, resulting in a shady, almost exotic otherness that defies description.
Hot Hot Heat "No, Not Now"
This song grabs you by the lapels right on the first downbeat. An absolutely perfect piece of songwriting, there's not an ounce of fat on this baby. Killer melodies and just enough sonic candy to make it a unique listening event. When I first heard it, I thought, "This is exactly the kind of song I want to write."
The Damned "Rabid"
The Damned are my favorite first-wave punk band because they gleefully wriggled out of punk's doctrinaire straitjacket and basically did whatever they pleased with the style. Punk was just a jumping off point for these guys and by the time they cooked up this irresistible slab of ragged pop adrenaline (a stellar and terribly overlooked B-side gem from the ambitious Black Album era), they'd all but outgrown the punk rock uniform. "Rabid" made me realize punk could be fun, catchy and even sophisticated.
Sex Pistols "Bodies"
The sneering, spitting malevolence of this song is unparalleled. It's joyously unrepentant in its offensiveness and it makes you feel totally, thrillingly alive.