Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair (1985)
Tears for Fears formed the year I was born. The remains of a British punk band called Graduate. They produced music as a song-writing duo who brought in talent as needed for each album. Except that the first record (The Hurting) went so well that the line-up remained the same for their sophomore release (Songs from the Big Chair). They went back to their original plan and switched things up for their third release (incorporating elements of soul and jazz and enlisting Phil Collins on drums for a track). It kinda sucked. And then one half of the duo left the group for the next 19 years.
I take for granted the fact that I was raised by two parents who passionately love the music they love. My childhood was littered with their favorite records and all their stories to go with ’em. But at the time Tears for Fears were arriving in the US of A, my folks were still not quite old enough to decide to stop devouring new music. Songs from the Big Chair made its way into our household by the skin of its teeth. I actually still have the tape cassette we used to listen to. I grew up keeping it in the back of my mind as “the 80’s new wave I love so much just cause my parents did too.” A few records have stayed with me as I’ve made my own memories and collected my own music into my adolescence and beyond. Songs from the Big Chair has been consistently stuck at the top of the list. And except for a little hiccup in my late teens/early twenties (see below), Tears for Fears remains my favorite band.
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
I love dance music. I absolutely love it down to the center of my bones. When music even harkens but a blink to the rhythm and bass found in disco and electronic producers from the 70s and 80s, I can’t help but smile. Giorgio Moroder didn’t make it into my top 10, but good heavens if that man isn’t made of analog synth gold. He’s got a Midas touch that has carved a way for electronic music eternally. Similarly to the vehicle that brought Tears for Fears into my life, my folks are the reason why I heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller before I knew how to write my name. Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Eddie VanHalen and Paul McCartney. It’s just dumb how much greatness is on that one record.
The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)
I am NOT a Beatles fan. Not by a long shot. But my Dad is. For me, the Beatles (and Sir Paul McCartney in particular) have become synonymous with all that is my Dad. All the good and all the bad. Without turning this into a memoir about being raised by a bull-headed psychologist I can say the Beatles can be an emotional journey for my ears at times. As I’ve grown to develop my own taste for music—both in listening and performing—an appreciation for folks like Paul, John and George ;) has definitely come without hesitation. Learning the loads of backstory, production notes and history that is the epic journey through the 17 tracks of this gorgeous masterpiece, Abbey Road is another record that has staked claim at the top and will forever sit there.
Refused: The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts (1998)
The year is 1998. Just started my Junior year of high-school. I keep my head shaved tight and die it black. I think I’m going to spend the rest of my life playing music with my three best friends. I want it fast. I want it loud. And anything else can sit tight. All the records I’ve talked about before this one have taken a backseat and my adolescence is in full-effect. My favorite band is a hardcore metal band from Pennsylvania called Zao. I subscribe to a series of compilations from a number of punk and hardcore labels like Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords and Tooth & Nail’s “Solid State” subsidiary.
Three months after school started, something happened. Something took what I loved and played it back for me like I had never heard it. It’s Swedish. It’s not afraid to pull off an 8-minute song, incorporate saxophones, keyboards, upright bass and a slew of political monologues. It was the most artistic thing I had heard since I started growing hair-down-there. And it still is the most revolutionary, intensely emotional and fearless record I have ever heard. On paper it was punk-rock. When you hit play it was The Shape of Punk to Come.
Rewind to the end of my sophomore year. I receive a sampler from Tooth & Nail Records in Seattle, WA. It’s for their new hardcore subsidiary, Solid State Records. This Is Solid State Vol. 1. Track three was by a band I had heard before. They were just ok. Zao. Add a lot of drama and some line-up changes and track three on this compilation represented a very different incarnation of the band than I thought I knew. It was both so passionately dark and boldly spiritual—for a sixteen year old youth group kid, this broke me in two. Lyrics desperately searching for truth and music shattering every ounce of me, I couldn’t even stand up. I bought their new record the same day. It was the first to feature their new vocalist and two new guitarists. I was shattered. Questioned everything I thought I knew about God and the Church as a young evangelical Midwesterner. I cried through the entire first listen. And if I’m lucky, it doesn’t take much to re-live that moment with just about every listen since. Zao was my favorite band for the next many years of my life and Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest will always have a place in my heart unlike any other record on this list. I remember only a few years ago talking to my longtime girlfriend about my favorite band, Tears for Fears. She stopped me and said, “wait wait, Tears for Fears? What happened to Zao?” Oh, they’re still around. Tears for Fears keeps me up. Zao keeps me warm. Or something like that.
No. 6 through 10:
Tears for Fears: The Hurting (1983) – I found The Hurting much later in life than Songs from the Big Chair. But, for me, they play as continuations of one another.
Sigur Rós: Ágætis Byrjun (1999) – This marks a step toward a new style of music for me at the time. Closer to all the music I love now. Nothing like anything I listened to then. And to date, the most extraordinary live show I have ever seen in my life. Seven times.
Paul McCartney: Ram (1971) – Paul’s at the top. And this is it when it comes to Paul for me. Contains one of my favorite songs ever, “Ram On.”
Radiohead: Kid A (2000) – Radiohead was just ok for me up until now. Kid A continued what started with Sigur Ros as a love for something much quieter and much prettier. And a new appreciation for Radiohead.
M83: Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005) – A “fully engrossed” version of myself that no longer listens to Zao and likes punk rock made this his anthem in 2005. One year after college, one year into the real world. Growin’ up, oyster analogies, and all that.