In the summer of 2014, I started to collect vinyl. My friend’s father had just introduced him to them and my friend later showed me. The first album I bought was Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (1985), at a comic book store. I didn’t have a record player at the time, so I set it aside on my shelf, mostly for decoration. When I finally purchased a turntable, I was able to bust out those stellar Knopfler guitar riffs (“Money for Nothing”) on a radiating rich crisp sound. There was this particular skip in the middle on “Your Latest Trick,” adding singularity to a part you will now hear in your head for the rest of your life – the beauty of scratched vinyls. Vinyls get passed down from person to person – causing scratches on the record, marking the album, and leaving their terrible report cards inside the cover (that’s another story). I remember buying The Beach Boys’ All Summer Long (1964) and the name Wendy was written on the corner of the front cover. It’s funny because obviously of the song “Wendy.” Also, when my aunt gave me her original copy Frampton Comes Alive (1976), there were a few sexual terms describing Peter Frampton on the inner sleeve.
Throughout the time I’ve been collecting, there are always those go to records, that are all scratched and marked.
Air – Moon Safari (1998)
The first time I heard Moon Safari, I was completely blown away. It’s an extremely mellow, downtempo album that sends you on a journey. Sounds cliche, but it was a different album at the time when the late nineties were dominated by pop and hip-hop. I remember when I first heard them, I was listening to a lot of Beethoven, so I was really into the instrumental aspect. The most popular track and distinctive song off the album is the alluring “Sexy Boy”. My favorite tracks include: the opening, “La femme d’argent,” “You Make it Easy,” “Remember,” which replicates the Beach Boys’ hit “Do it Again” and sounds like a late Strokes track, and “Ce Matin Là”. It was the first record I ordered online (I’m not an online buyer) and my introduction into one of my all-time beloved bands.
The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971)
I wasn’t a Rolling Stones fan growing up. I think my uncle sort of ruined that. I knew them and they knew me, but there wasn’t this phenomenon that resonated between us. Finally around eleventh grade, the Stones connect with me. My girlfriend retrieved this album from her uncle in very good condition. She then gave it to me to hang onto since she didn’t care for the Stones either. Usually in the morning when I would be getting ready for school, I’d always play music. One morning, I was getting pretty sick of Pavement’s “Box Elder,” so I remember seeing Hot Rocks on the shelf near me. I played the desired side, including the tracks: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Sympathy for the Devil”. Listening to the songs in this specific order, was like music to my ears, it’s the best arranged Stones compilation. Even though they exclude songs from Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), that probably would’ve ruined it and wouldn’t have given off the same impression it did. It looks back to the best decade of The Rolling Stones, becoming a personal morning favorite.
REO Speedwagon – Live: You Get What You Play For (1977)
In a different way, this album is more special to me than the rest. When I first started collecting and listening to vinyl, I would always show my parents what new albums I acquired. My mother is a huge REO Speedwagon fan and when she saw me holding this coming home one night, she couldn’t believe it. It was an album my mother and I would listen to, primarily side three day in, and day out. We always bonded over music, but this was the album that really connected. Conversations blew up about how good looking Gary Richrath was or how there was an original version of “157 Riverside Ave.” featuring a different lead singer and not Kevin Cronin. Before listening to this, I only knew the more mainstream songs such as “Keep on Loving You” and “Take it on the Run” from Hi Fidelity and the power ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling” off Wheels Are Turnin’. It’s a perfect introduction into the band before they hit it commercially. Personally, REO is one of those bands that were more prime in their early years and this album definitely portrays that.
Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick at Budokan (1978)
Another tasty live album that’s perfect to listen to on New Year’s Eve on a couch, with a glass of Coca-Cola in your hand, and with a couple of cats beside you. The first live album I bought, packed with powerful anthems such as “Surrender,” “I Want You to Want Me,” and their beloved Fats Domino cover “Ain’t That a Shame”. Cheap Trick was adored by the audience in Japan and had a huge following. It was like listening to a Beatles concert. It helped transformed Cheap Trick into multi-platinum superstars and me explore the many works of power pop. It’s one of the most significant live albums recorded and the great thing is, you can find it almost everywhere.
Boston – Boston (1976)
Is there any other supreme introduction than side one of Boston’s debut? Maybe side one of The Cars’ debut, but this messy arranged classic album hits you faster on the first listen than a classic KISS record. The flow from “Peace of Mind” into “Foreplay/Long Time” is near perfect and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” shows more the band has to offer after the flip. I acquired this album for only a dollar in surprisingly great condition, even though the size of the cover had shrunken. It’s an album that is owned everyone, whether it’s in the glove compartment of your car or next to your turntable for those romantic times. This album is the reason why Boston has constant radio-play. Boston’s debut is the epitome of 70’s rock n roll. It was a grand slam by the band which could never be replicated.
The Records – Shades in Bed (UK) or The Records (US) (1979)
My friend had an extra copy of this album and he was such a darling, he lended it to me. I didn’t know anything about it. The only thing I knew was the label Virgin Records, because it matched the brand of my smartphone. Shades in Bed (UK) or The Records (US), is one of the greatest or if not the greatest power pop record ever released. It had a semi-hit titled “Starry Eyes”, but its jam packed with power pop classics including: the fast-tempo Lolita-ish “Teenarama” and the incisive “Girl”. It’s one of those albums that are just waiting for anyone to pick up, considering how underappreciated it is. Once when I looked them up, the band didn’t even have a google profile with images depicting who they were. Classic groups such as Big Star or Badfinger are underrated bands that should’ve been bigger and the same goes to The Records.
Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
Considered one of the best albums from the nineties, this overloading classic indie rock album is striking. After listening to Pavement’s debut Slanted and Enchanted, I did not expect this. A major change from their lo-fi slacker rock style from their early EPs and debut shifts to a clean classic rock sound. Not my favorite album by Pavement, but overall it is their best. It’s like the Dark Side of The Moon in Pavement’s discography. The vinyl copy I have, has this very distinct skip during the introduction of “Silence Kit”. Sometimes, I even incorporate that skip in my head when hearing other versions. Nothing is better after reaching the climax with the screaming“Unfair,” then flipping the record and hearing the beautiful Malkmus pleading “Gold Soundz”. There’s also the precious insults targeting The Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots on the track “Range Life”. The album also offers the band’s anthem “Cut Your Hair” attacking the importance of image in the music industry, a target more likely at Nirvana. The ironic part of this album, is that it mocks the mainstream, but it gained Pavement somewhat-mainstream success and were considered to be the “next Nirvana.” Then they purposely went back to their roots and released the pure and experimental Wowee Zowee (my favorite). However, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, showed audience that Pavement had style and potential to be one of the biggest bands in the nineties.
The White Stripes – De Stijl (2000)
De Stijl was the album that made me believe I was a rockstar. A personal favorite from The White Stripes, that doesn’t carry any of the mixed songs seen on White Blood Cells or Elephant. This one is short and simple. Sure, it can’t match some of the songs from those albums, but album-wise, it’s their best. Rather than their lackluster debut, this sophomore effort was when The White Stripes displayed their unforgettable style and purpose. Their bluesy, messy, raw, electrifying exuberant tracks would fit great on an old 60’s garage rock compilation, such as Nuggets. An album of many styles, including the hard rocking “Death Letter,” more lyrical approached ballads including “Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise,” and then the magnificent soft rock songs such as “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)”. My favorite part of the album comes towards the end, with the track “Let’s Build a Home”. The songs succeeding, are my favorite tracks to play on my invisible guitar (p.s. I play it leftie). The last track “Your Southern Can Is Mine” is a near perfect modernized bluesy version of Blind Willie’s original. There are no anthems on De Stijl such as “Fell in Love with a Girl” or “Seven Nation Army,” but it built the band’s enduring presence in American music.
The Cars – The Cars (1978)
There isn’t an album out there that is more new wave with big hooks and highlighting keyboards and than the radio-friendly debut album by The Cars. Guitarist Elliot Easton stated once, “We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars’ Greatest Hits.” Although, The Cars have an excellent discography, there isn’t one album there that compares to this one. No other songs offer more catchy hooks and melodies than “Just What I Needed” (karaoke classic), “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend,” and “Bye Bye Love”. Not to mention how influential this album was to the new wave era and the garage-rock revival scene that later followed with bands like The Strokes. This was an album I would play repeatedly on winter nights, while working on my U.S. History or English homework. From “Good Times Roll” to “All Mixed-Up,” there isn’t a sizable dose of excitement than portrayed here. It is the album that defines new wave.
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1985)
An album must be pretty good if you own it on vinyl, cassette, and CD. Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms is a greatly produced record; loaded with tremendous guitar work from one of the most underrated guitarists, Mark Knopfler. It includes the best three song streak ever in its opening. With the band still embedded in their roots rock style, Brothers in Arms however, goes a step further. It incorporates new wave, soft rock, progressive rock, and even eighties pop. Almost every song switches to something new with the Making Movies (1980) throwback “So Far Away,” to the aggressive guitar riff on “Money for Nothing,” the “sports bloopers” favorite “Walk of Life,” the outstanding saxophone introduction of “Your Latest Trick,” the charming “Why Worry,” the Dylan-like “The Man’s Too Strong” and then the epic title track closing the album. This is one of those albums that hits you on the first listen. Brothers in Arms helped redefine what Dire Straits was all about in the eighties – MTV and headbands. This is the album that started it all for me.