Ask any music fan the albums they can’t live without and you’ll find where their passions and sentiments (and a story) lie.
For me, my desert island listens aren’t necessarily by my favorite bands/artists. Truth be told, I couldn’t tell you I have a favorite band, the list is too long.
While my Top 10 is mostly consistent on any given year (give or take one or two which may rotate out of favor), my Top 3 remain unchanged and that’s only because I know that without them, I likely wouldn’t be alive to write this.
Music has always been profoundly important to me. I grew up with parents who, by their own right were both musical and music fans. My father was in bands in high school and college and would still tinker on guitar well into my adolescence and my mother was a singer. I grew up in a rock and roll household, so everything from Top 40 radio to folk and stadium rock would fill our house.
By time I was in the 6th grade, I had an allowance and enough of an opinion of what I liked to start purchasing cassettes or records with my own money and due to my obsessive leanings towards collecting things, I’ve always had a music collection (whether physical or digital) of note.
However, this article is just about those Top 3: the albums I wouldn’t be able to live without and why.
In the mid-90’s I was going through what would prove to be the most difficult years of my life. It started in college, circa 1996 and would reach something of a conclusion by the spring of 1998. This was when I was hospitalized 5 times for either suicide threats or suicide attempts.
Music was always there for me.
If a relationship went bad, I had music.
If I was struggling in school, there was music.
As I was writing and performing in bands, it was music that was in my eardrums inspiring me to keep writing, keep playing and to just stay alive.
In no particular order, if I were stranded on a desert island, I would need these three albums to get me through:
Jane’s Addiction-Nothing’s Shocking
Few bands, certainly of this era, successfully managed to combine rock, metal, funk and even jazz into something cohesive. While I do like all of the music the band has put out, I’m not sure that Jane’s would even make my Top 20 in terms of favorite bands. However, there’s just something about this album that has always blown my mind.
Like a lot of albums that came out in the 80’s, the mastering on it is quieter than I’d like, and I’d love a more dynamic version to come out that still keeps some integrity to the original quality of the music.
If you’re not familiar with the band, you may have heard either of the two “hits” from this album: Mountain Song and Jane Says.
Mountain Song, if memory serves, was my introduction to the band. I would have been about 13 years old when it came out. I’m 45 now which means this album has been a part of my life for over 3 decades (more so than the other two albums I’ll mention).
Perhaps because there are so many different styles of music on this album and it gives me at least a small taste of nearly every genre I already like, it’s nearly perfect in that regard.
The Smiths-The Queen Is Dead
Somehow, when The Smiths were still a functioning unit, I never paid attention to their music. While the original album, The Queen Is Dead, actually came out before the previously mentioned Jane’s Addiction album, it didn’t become a part of my life until 1992.
I remember walking into a music store around that time which carried new and used CDs (RIP Manhattan Music) and while I was perusing the recently acquired used section, there was a huge selection of Depeche Mode, The Cure and The Smiths CDs which had just been brought in.
I asked the associate why someone would want to get rid of all of those discs. He told me that the guy who traded them in had just gotten out of the psych ward for attempting suicide and he said that those albums completely depressed him so he wanted to sell them off.
“Hmm, his loss…my gain.” I remember thinking to myself.
While I can see that music like what those three bands were putting out was anything other than happy music, there was something about The Smiths that struck a different chord with me.
It was once I got to college, that I actually dived into the album, The Queen Is Dead, and more importantly, the song “I Know It’s Over.”
I know a lot of people who just can’t handle the singing or the writing of The Smiths former frontman, Morrissey. For me, I don’t know what I would have done without him. Yes, he’s dramatic. Yes, he’s mopey. And yes, for me, I needed to hear the words of someone who I felt was at a lower point than I was to help me see a light to get out.
And it was in that song, I Know It’s Over, where I heard the line: Oh, Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.
Jesus, I thought. There’s a guy who’s clearly more miserable than me. Surely I can see my way out of my own mess so I don’t end up writing lyrics like that to my own music!
It was music like this, that somehow gave me hope. Hope that I could pull through and the feeling that I knew I wasn’t alone with all those muddled emotions. Someone else understood…
I think the entire album is awesome. Even today when I listen to it, I’m able to step outside of how it affected me some 25+ years ago. There’s the person who needed to hear those words back then and the person who has somehow evolved in appreciation for it now. Now, when I listen to The Queen Is Dead, it’s just great music.
Coincidentally, it’s the last artist/album I mention who will have something of a link to The Smiths. Jeff Buckley released the album Grace in 1994. I was just about to start college then.
Like me, Jeff was also a Smiths fan and he’s got more than one cover version of the aforementioned song, I Know It’s Over, to his credit as well.
I have arguably turned more people on to Jeff Buckley than any other artist I can think of. Sadly, he accidentally drowned in the Mississippi River less than 3 years after the release of Grace.
The first song I ever heard from Grace was his single “Last Goodbye” and while I did like the song at the time, it didn’t exactly reach out and grab me.
What I did notice was that there were several critics talking about how much they loved the album, so I bought a copy for myself in 1995.
I remember being in my college dormitory working on homework one evening with Grace playing in the background. At first, I just let it be background music…and then Hallelujah came on.
I stopped what I was doing and just listened.
It was, without question, one of those unforgettable music moments for me. I played it back again and again and again.
Jeff, as many may know, covered Leonard Cohen’s original song but he was performing a John Cale version which had additional lyrics to it. Since then, it’s only increased in popularity, most notably by Rufus Wainwright’s version from the movie Shrek.
Once Hallelujah took a hold of me, I couldn’t be separated from my Jeff Buckley disc for anything in this world. I think every song on there has been a favorite of mine at some point.
Like the other two albums mentioned, I’ve probably listened to Grace hundreds of times and every time, I can find something “new” that I love about it.
With Jane’s Addiction and the remaining members of The Smiths (Morrissey and Johnny Marr, specifically) there is so much more music to dive into beyond what albums I referenced. Jeff only had one studio album that he was alive to see come to fruition. He died before his second album could be completed although a posthumous release still came out as well as many other live and assorted compilations have come out since.
While the album itself is basically flawless, Jeff was ridiculously good live (often better) than he was in the studio.
If you’re unfamiliar with any of these albums, I invite you to listen to them. You don’t have to like them. They obviously mean something different to me because of the period of life I survived while they were a part of me.
These albums, at my weakest points in life, were the reminders: You’ll get through, you’ll be ok, everything will be ok…
Music may have a different place in your life. Maybe you’re connected to what you were listening to when you got married, or you partied to in high school or what you open your children’s ears up to.
The music that shapes my life stretches far beyond these three albums. I like many things faster or heavier or more dance-oriented or catchier. I love music designed for subwoofers and music that makes you want to smash weights in the gym.
I love music that makes me think, makes me cry, makes me dance with my wife at night, makes my kids jump up and down, and reminds me why I exist in this world and what I lived through to tell the tale.
Music is peace.
Music is salvation.
Music is love.
Music is something I hope you’ll think about as you read this.
And if you have a moment, send me your Top 3. I’d love to hear how and why those albums matter to you even if they don’t mean the same thing to me.
Until then, I’ll be spreading the message to my boys, just like Sebastian gets to be a part of as you see below.