There was life before these records, and there’s life after them.
If you’ve spent any time around me or my online presence, you’ll know about my vinyl collection. I’ve lovingly dubbed it The Stacks; just like a library. It’s all over my Instagram page where I have a whole series dedicated to it. I’ve committed myself to putting the whole thing on YouTube in the near-ish future. Hell, it’s even in photos on this blog.
But a recent Instagram stories trend had me looking at my extensive music library in a different light. The prompt for the latest trending Q&A/show-and-tell sticker was “6 albums that changed your life.”
It was cool seeing everyone's responses! So I dug into The Stacks and came up with an answer. In case you missed it on my stories – you probably did, Instagram’s been a real drag lately – here are 6 albums that changed my life.
Pictured, 1st row (from left): Derek and the Dominoes – Layla, Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II. 2nd row, from left: Joni Mitchell – Blue, Jimi Hendrix – Live at Woodstock, and Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde.
1. Derek and the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970):
Because it’d be a crime if I kicked off this list with anything else!
I’ve centered my whole “brand” around this guitar-wielding buffoon’s ode to his best friend’s wife. I really do love this one so much it hurts. I’ve traced my “origin story” to discovering this album; not to mention Layla is my pen name! If you haven’t read my two-parter on how Layla changed my life, you can do so here and here.
2. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973):
So cliché, I know. But please hear me out.
My history with rock-and-roll goes back farther than you might expect if you’ve been keeping up with this blog. Yes it’s true, I caught the bug after I got an entire record collection for free my sophomore year of college. One of my earlier exposures was by way of this kid I went to middle and high school with. A true artist through and through. He’s always been way cooler than me; the un-pretentious kind of cool that pulls merry pranks like sneaking an accordion into our shared study hall!
I was only just dipping my toe into The Beatles via “You Can’t Do That” and wanted to get more into rock-and-roll. He was the bass player in a garage band at the time; the coolest thing EVER when you’re in the 8th grade. So he a natural to ask. One of the 3 artists he recommended to me was Pink Floyd.
Seeing as it’s been in my life for a decade now, The Dark Side of the Moon is the record that’s stuck with me the longest! It’s everyone’s first Pink Floyd record. Even if you say it wasn’t, you’re lying, it was; purely by virtue of that iconic album art. Unlike the 40th anniversary t-shirt I got the summer before high school, I can’t ever and won’t ever grow out of the music. I feel like I understand it more and more as I age. It meant something at 13, it meant something different at 16, and it’ll mean something different at 23. Storm Thorgerson’s album art is perfect because the music of Dark Side is an ever-changing lens. Every time you listen, it’ll show you something different.
3. Led Zeppelin II (1969):
This was the toughest choice to make. My buddy Matthew and I were recently talking about what we thought was the best year for music. 1969 obviously came up, seeing how 3 game-changing albums came out within a three-week span: Abbey Road, In the Court of the Crimson King, and Led Zeppelin II.
Pictured: Some of the best art-making advice I’ve ever received was to “kill your darlings.” I guess I have to do that by picking just 1 from these 3! (From L-R: The Beatles – Abbey Road, King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King, and Led Zeppelin II.)
I know, right? It’s impossible to choose the “best” of the three! But in terms of which one has affected me the most, I have to go with Zeppelin II. It’s not my favorite Zeppelin record, that’s Houses of the Holy. It doesn’t even have my favorite tune of theirs: “Achilles Last Stand.” So why do I pick it?
Led Zeppelin II really was the perfect starter album for getting into their stuff. I had a couple false starts in the past. I tried to start with III as that was the first one I got, but it’s the most challenging of their four self-titled records. As underrated as “Out on the Tiles” is...what baby Zeppelin listener is going to want to start out with the first 30 seconds of “Celebration Day” and “Hats Off to Roy Harper”?
Once I’d gotten ahold of II at a flea market it all just...clicked for me. It’s got so many standards: “Thank You,” “The Lemon Song,” umm, “Whole Lotta Love”? I could go on?? Robert Plant nailed down his iconic vocal style on this record. (He said something along the lines of it being more singing and less shouting here – I see what he means.) The drumming on "Moby Dick" remains unmatched even now. The keys are sublime. I decided my heart belonged to Jimmy Page halfway through the “Heartbreaker” solo. How four such individually talented musicians ended up all in one band together, I’m still not totally sure! What I'm sure of is just as Zeppelin commandeered where rock-and-roll went after ’69, they had a hand in steering my music taste to where it is now.
4. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971):
“Up go the flaps, down go the wheels.
I hope you got your heat turned on, baby,
I hope they finally fixed your automobile.
Hope it’s better when we meet again, babe.”
Honestly, if you don’t like Joni Mitchell, I have trouble trusting you.
This one arrived at my feet at just the right time. I discovered it through an interview of another silly little band I love so much it hurts. (I’ll be writing about these guys for my next post!)
I remember finding my copy vividly. Fourth of July at a Newbury Comics store. I picked it up with Back Home Again, some stereo mix of Surrealistic Pillow that sounds truly awful, and Bookends.
Blue is often hailed as one of the greatest breakup albums ever recorded. I can’t help but agree. I found this record in the aftermath of a truly crushing breakup and this was the perfect soundtrack to lick my wounds to that summer. When we did finally meet again in the fall, it wasn’t better. In fact, I left the gazebo of the on-campus apartment complex we both lived in to cry in a Dairy Queen parking lot. Never to see him again. Really! It’s hard, hard, hard to heal when you know it was your fault. I was a lot to handle. I was selfish and I was sad.
The solace Blue offered me was this: things do not have to be “better.” You might not get “better” right away, things will just be different and that’s alright. Different is the road to better.
5. Jimi Hendrix – Live at Woodstock (recorded 8/18/1969, released 1999):
Pictured: Hendrix playing the “third day” (it was really the fourth!) of Woodstock. (Photographed by Fred Segal? I think?)
You haven’t heard Jimi Hendrix until you’ve heard his live recordings. I nearly picked Live at the Fillmore East for this slot, but went with Woodstock purely for the kickass backstory I have with this one.
My family made a road trip out of moving my sister into her first-year college dorm. One of these days I’ll put the whole trip into writing, as it was all truly life-changing for me. All of the albums on this list soundtracked that trip in some way. But this story is just about the steep commitment I made for the drive down.
Those two days driving south happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival. I’ll be honest, I was gutted that I couldn’t go to my college town’s celebration! So instead, I loaded up my Spotify queue and listened to the full Woodstock setlist – all 1,380+ minutes of it – as it happened. It was a long haul for sure, but 100% worth it. Listening to a play-by-play of Woodstock did wonders for expanding my music taste! There was SO much time for figuring out what I did and didn’t like.
The crown jewel was hearing Hendrix’s set while driving through a valley somewhere in North Carolina. Nothing will ever, ever compare to being on that highway, with the midday sun just breaking through the clouds, and Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” playing at the exact time he performed it fifty years before. If you were on that highway with me...that moment would've permanently altered your brain chemistry too.
6. Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde (1966):
Like all the greatest love stories, me and the music of Bob Dylan just sort of happened upon each other. And Blonde On Blonde made me fall hard for the archetypal Gemini man. I’ve been a hardcore devotee since my first play.
It was like someone had fired a gun right next to my head and I’ve had this album ringing in my ears ever since.
Dear reader, if you can stand it, I want you picture this.
It’s past midnight in a hotel room somewhere in Virginia. Where exactly? You’re not sure. You’ve taken a break from your listen-through of Woodstock to return to Bob Dylan. You are a thorough Dylan addict. You love him with all your heart and you need your fix before you even consider sleep. After poring over the Live at Royal Albert Hall bootleg for hours, you are moving through Blonde On Blonde in full for the first time.
At last, the emotional climax of the album. You are swept away on an 11-minute-long epic of what may have been the truest love rock-and-roll has ever seen.
“And your saint-like face, and your ghost-like soul
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands, Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes, My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums, Should I leave them by your gate? Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?”
I laid there and just...cried. Silently, in the too-cold A/C, as I’d trained myself to do for two decades. This would be a profoundly stupid reason to wake my family up. And yet...
I had fallen hopelessly in love with a ghost. A version of a man that once existed over fifty years ago, but has since wrinkled and greyed as we all do. That ghostly heart belonged to someone else. And this eleven minutes had voiced every last want I’d yearned and ached and pleaded to the universe for. All the world’s greatest loves haven’t worked out, and Bob and Sara Dylan's was no exception.
No one in the whole world could ever love me like that because that love had already existed and it was gone. The version of the man who crafted the song was gone. But the song stayed behind. At that moment in time, it felt like it stayed behind for the express reason of breaking my already-broken heart. “How could anyone ever see me like that? I want to be loved like that.”
Do twice-broken bones heal stronger? I wouldn’t know. But I know a thing or two about twice-broken hearts. Blonde On Blonde and “Sad-Eyed Lady” spun all my venom into gold.
Pictured: Bob Dylan and his Sad-Eyed Lady, Sara, in an airport circa 1969. I’ve scoured all over for her outfit. So far I’ve got the sunglasses, a similar dress, and a passable jumbo cross pendant. If you’ve got the loafers, name your price.
Well...there you have it! There’s so, so many more albums that have changed my life but the prompt is just for 6. If you were lucky enough to be touched by these albums too, please reach out and let me know. I like feeling a little less alone on this rock flying at incomprehensible speeds through infinite space. What better to bring us together than rock-and-roll saving our souls?
P.S.: So sorry this post came late! It otherwise would’ve coincided with the release of my Disgraceful Magazine interview! Purchase your copy digitally (or physically if you're in the UK) here to read. Thanks again Disgraceful for having me on board!