Friday, December 26, 2008

The Gateway: 10 Records from My Pre-Punk Days

Mike E. over at the wonderful Strange Reaction (if you don't read it regularly, you must!) posted his Top 10 Pre-Punk Albums. The parameters he defined and challenged others to base their own lists on, were as follows:
"These were the albums I had as I was starting to get into punk, my gateway crap. You have had the same albums, hell, you may hate them all – that’s OK, I hate some of them now. Leave some comments; list your top ten pre-punk albums/singles/EP’s."

OK, Mike, I'm up for the task. I can't call it a "Top Ten" because they are in no particular order here, but these were definitely the earliest seeds of a collection that now numbers almost 3000 titles, and were the records that most greatly informed my later musical tastes:

1. Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes, 1982

Had this record before just about anyone else I knew, and played it until the grooves wore smooth. Still my favorite album, start to finish, of all time, but oh how powerful this was to the 15-year-old me! Makes me laugh to see how retro-chic this LP became over the years. Everyone and their uncle sings along with "Blister in the Sun" nowadays; in its time, this record couldn't get the time of day from most people!

2. Beauty & the Beat by the Go-go's, 1981

People forget how huge this record was in '81. People also forget the newsworthiness of an all-girl band who played their own instruments having a hit record (and somewhere, the Runaways were undoubtedly gnashing their teeth!) Sure it's a naive pop record. Still, the freewheeling exuberance comes through even 27 years (!) later. To this day I have a crush on Jane Wiedlin...

3. Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam & the Ants, 1980

Yes, I was a sucker for Antmusic. Still love the quirky, angular sounds of this record, although it doesn't see nearly the level of airplay in my home that it did all those years ago. Nowadays, I prefer the earlier, much darker Dirk Wears White Sox, but for years "Antmusic" was my favorite song.

4. "Mexican Radio" single by Wall of Voodoo, 1982

I once heard Wall of Voodoo referred to as "the thinking man's Devo," and while the backhanded slap at the Spudboys is unnecessary, the spirit of the description is fitting. I remember grabbing this single the day after I heard the song - it sounded like nothing else I had heard to that point, and I loved it! Over the years, I have come to appreciate much of WoV's other work more greatly, but I guess I'll always wish I was in Tijuana eating barbecued iguana...

5. "Money" single by the Flying Lizards, 1979

The record that put New Wave on my musical radar! In 1979, the local Top 40 station, WLAN, was an AM station (remember those days, kids?) that I used to pull in with a hand-me-down AM-only radio that just barely made the scratchy signal audible. Each Friday, listeners would phone in their votes for best songs of the week, and the DJ would count down the Top 5. One week, this made the Top 5 by votes, but the DJ refused to play the record because "that's not even music!" I needed to have the record immediately, and thus began my hatred of commercial radio.

6. Freedom of Choice by Devo, 1980

"Whip it, whip it good!" On one of those VH1 specials where a bunch of irrelevant D-list celebs give their opinions on stuff, someone (forget who) said that Devo were ahead of their time then, and that record is still ahead of it's time even today! Yeah, I can go with that. For as much as Devo can come off as a novelty band, this record showed them capable of creating a cohesive album that flows start to finish. Still one of the best records in my collection.

7. The Beat - various artists, 1982

A K-tel Records New Wave collection? It happened! The cult-like as-seen-on-TV K-tel Records was infamous throughout the 1970s for their slap-together compilations of whatever was popular on the radio that month. Their heyday was steeped in disco, which made it astounding when the TV ads for this one started up: Bow Wow Wow? Thompson Twins? Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark? The Waitresses? Heck, half the albums playing list hadn't been touched by commercial radio yet. Even Duran Duran was unknown when this came out, with their scandalous "Girls on Film" tucked away in its grooves. Today it plays like New Wave retro jukebox, but at the time it introduced many a young waver to bands before their time.

8. "Valley Girl" single by Frank and Moon Zappa, 1981

You had to be there, I guess, but this was hysterically wonderful when it first came out. I knew girls who talked like this - and knew more who suddenly began talking like this once this record hit the shelves. Definitely dated and really just a novelty record, the thing rocks surprisingly hard when you dig past the surface.

9. Alive II by Kiss, 1977

I was in 4th grade, and my greatest ambition at the time was to join the Kiss Army. This was prime Kiss - too heavy for the glam crowd, too glam for the metal crowd; too metal for the punk crowd, but undeniably awesome. They were in some ways the sonic offspring of the MC5 and the Dictators, but they went a decidedly different direction than the punk rock family tree, finally ending up as just another metal band. Without them, though, I would never have appreciated the power of loud, hard, bowl-you-over music, and may never have made the side-step to punk rock.

10. Rarities by the Beatles, 1980

Just prior to my entry to the worlds of New Wave and Punk Rock, I was a Beatles fan. I believe, no matter what genre ends up being your music of choice, your path has to have gone through Beatleville at some point. In 1980, as a 13-year-old with a paper route, I wasn't buying records willy-nilly just yet. But, I knew I wanted the Beatles represented. This was the perfect choice for the blossoming counter-culturalist in me, for it was a Beatles record with versions of the songs that most people didn't know. When I hit the height of my Punk Rock days, I purged this record from my collection - no self-respecting punk would own a Beatles record, right? Wrong! I finally replaced the album some time ago, and hearing it again years later put a smile on my face.

So, there is my list of 10 "gateway" records into the musical world universe I now inhabit. How about you? What were the 10 records that started you on your musical journey?

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  1. You're taking me back here...mostly to my college days. Adam Ant...that was a great album. Antmusic is a song that should get more radio airplay, and, yes, "Dirk Wears White Sox" was phenomenal. I'm impressed.

    Also really loved Devo, Flying Lizards, and Violent Femmes. And wow...being the radio geek I am...I always loved "Mexican Radio." to read this...

  2. I loved my K-Tel cassette "The Beat". It introduced me to many of favorite bands. "Dreaming of Me" by Depeche Mode is still an all-time favorite!

  3. "The Beat" was and still is a fantastic album - I have two vinyl copies (one of them warped on me!) and - believe it or not - a copy on 8-track!