Top Five Albums From My Youth

I’ve been doing some deep thinking over the weekend about things like hope, grace, meaning, love and a host of other topics (such is life when you’re a minister). My intention was to post today about some of the thoughts that traversed through my head this weekend, but that intention got waylaid when I got in the car this morning and “What You Need” by INXS came through the speakers.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that song. And I’d forgotten how good it was.

I loved this album as a kid.

This immediately made me remember the Kick album, specifically it’s black and white and red graphic and picture of a skateboarder in mid-Ollie. Granted, “What You Need” wasn’t on the Kick album, but I’m not responsible for the associations that my brain makes.

I was 12 years old when Kick was released, and my friends and I were in the midst of a skateboarding craze. I remember at least two Christmases in a row that were defined by people getting new decks (I got a Steve Caballero deck complete with Independent Trucks and Bones bearings and wheels; I seem to recall my friend Pete getting a Tony Hawk deck that same year, though he might’ve traded his old Vision deck for it rather than getting it new – Pete, feel free to correct me on this).

For a kid like me, to whom the skateboarding thing was a first taste of pre-teen rebellion (sanctioned and funded by my parents, if that tells you anything about me and rebellious streak), seeing that skateboard on that album cover was a validation. It told me that the culture into which I’d plunged was legit. Nevermind that I couldn’t skate nearly as well as my friends (indeed, I barely mastered the art of the Ollie, let alone anything like this), I was just happy to be along for the ride, to be part of something bigger and different.

Kick was the music we skated to for quite a while. As the child of Baptists, I played “Devil Inside” much quieter than I did the other songs on the album, but to this day I still feel like I did back then whenever I hear songs from the disc. “New Sensation”, “Never Tear Us Apart”, “Need You Tonight” and “Mediate” (the video for those two became an overnight sensation), “Guns In The Sky” and, my personal favorite, “”Mystify” – these were the songs of my preliminary steps into independence.

And again, one song brought all of that to my mind.

It also brought back the horrible incident with a Beastie Boys album, as well as the power of Ten during my high school years. But rather than babble on with inane anecdotes, I’ll just list the top five albums of my youth. Maybe you’ll see one or two of your own (or remember those that were).

1. Kick – INXS: I’ve covered this plenty.

2. Licensed to Ill – Beastie Boys: I don’t remember exactly, but I think my unsuspecting Aunt Melanie gave me this cassette for Christmas one year, unintentionally fueling my subversive little self. I wanted the tape because it had “Fight for Your Right”, the party anthem that everyone – even those of us who had no reason to fight – held as their own personal theme of independence. I made the mistake of blaring the music from this album a little too loud on my Kmart special boombox, and my dad became so offended by the lyrics (though I can’t recall which song or why), he marched into my room, ejected the tape, and literally flung it out the front door. When I went to retrieve it, he said, “Don’t you dare bring that crap back into my house, Jason.”

I didn’t.

3. Ten – Pearl Jam: I spent countless hours driving around during my upperclassmen years of high school listening to this album. Part of the reason I remember Ten so fondly is because of the tape deck in my first car, a 1984 Honda Accord 4-door. The tape deck had a music sensor, so you could fast forward or rewind, and when the sensor detected a pause on the tape, it would stop and start playing. To put it in terms you kiddies can understand: my tape deck had a seek button before anyone knew what a seek button was. I could literally skip from song to song, without having to guess when to stop the tape. It was awesome, and it single-handedly assured that the song “Alive” got played about 10,000 times from January 1992 t0 June 1994.

And yes, I realize how old that paragraph makes me sound. And feel.

4. Music – 311: This was a tough call, as I think I actually listened to 311’s self-titled album far more than I ever listened to Music. But through the magical speakers of David Evans came the most amazing drum beats I’d heard at that time in my life (sophomore year of college, 1995), and I was instantly hooked. My two favorite songs were hands down “Freak Out” and “Feels So Good”, and while I never embraced the culture of 311, I certainly enjoyed speeding through the streets of Athens to their Music.

5. Document – R.E.M.: While their Rumor album is much beloved by most fans, for me Document was the best R.E.M. album I ever heard. I know the band recently broke up (and let’s be honest, they were really done when Bill Berry left to go farm), but R.E.M. might be the best band of my generation (feel free to insert screams and hate-filled diatribes here; what do you expect from an unabashed populist?) and Document highlights everything that made them good. You know the standards from this album (“It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, “Finest Work Song” and “The One I Love”) but it’s the quirky little gems that make it so great. I love “Disturbance at the Heron House”, and I think “Oddfellows Local 151” might be my favorite on the whole record, but you can’t help but enjoy the other songs like “Strange” and “Exhuming McCarthy.”

So those are my top five – what’s yours? I’d love to know what music shaped your life.

5 thoughts on “Top Five Albums From My Youth

  1. Very nice. I had to put on “Licensed to ill” while I was reading this. 311 and Pearl Jam=winning. I never got into INXS or REM. I remember my dad took away “Licensed to ill” because of the lyrics. I also remember the first time I heard “Living on a Prayer” on the radio. My best friend had the tape and let me borrow it. I put it in one cassette player and a blank tape in another. Set them both up facing each other and copied “Slippery When Wet”. Good times. Better memories.

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    1. Kevin –
      Thanks for the comment. INXS and R.E.M. click with some folks, and not with others. Of course, this is true of all music. Whilst I certainly dug some of the songs you have a passion for, I never connected with metal the way you did, but I live vicariously through your blogs on the topic. I always enjoy reading your thoughts on music and how you connect with it (same thing with food, too).

      I’m just grateful neither of us were the kind of people drawn to NKOTB or BackStreet Boys. Ugh – that would’ve been nightmarish, no?

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  2. Just like any other good baptist, i think Rage against the Machine’s Evil Empire will have to be my number one album. followed closely by Elephant by The White Stripes, Decemberunderground by A.F.I., High’n’Dry’ by Def Leppard, oddly enough, and Plagues by The Devil Wears Prada. While i am still in my youth, these were the albums i remember most vividly from my more youthful days.

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    1. Love the Rage Against the Machine album (as a fellow good Baptist), am laughing over the Def Lepperd album, and have never heard of A.F.I. But as you know, I frequently don’t know some of your deeper musical references…

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