Top 5 Most Influential Musical Moments

One of the things I find the most fascinating about music is how much stuff is out there that I know absolutely nothing at all about. From songs, to bands, to entire genres, you can easily find something new every single day if you want to, especially in the electronic age we live in.

Going into the way-back machine, I first really discovered music other than what my parents played around 1983. We got cable, and it was my first exposure to MTV. I didn’t even listen to the radio at this point, but MTV became my de facto radio station, and through it I discovered a bunch of stuff for the very first time.

Back in the day we were so limited in our ways to discover music (no, this isn’t one of those “we had to walk both ways uphill in the snow things”, it’s just a fact). As a kid with no easy access to a record store, there was the radio, MTV, and your friend’s older siblings. That was really it. And where you grew up had an impact too – in the places I lived, teenagers were generally into either rock or pop. Sure, my school had those one or two guys who listened to rap, and a small group of sort of goths, but they were the exceptions to the rule and didn’t represent “real” music to most of the rest of us, who were secure in our self-imposed musical prisons. Now, for my friends who grew up in Los Angeles or Texas, I’m sure the experience was different with tons of rap in places like LA and lots of country in Waco. Basically what I’m trying to communicate in way too many words is that there just wasn’t a lot of opportunity to really expand your musical horizons, and since as young people we formed our identities in part around what type of music we listened to, going outside your genre represented some kind of risk in our mind.

So…. I was thinking about those break-through moments that happen once in a while, when a piece of music completely blows away everything that you thought you knew about music and what you liked about it. Something that changed your perceptions, expanded your horizons, and got you thinking about music in a different way. This could come from a song, a band, an album, even a live performance – after all, it’s your experience.

Below are my personal Top 5 Most Influential Musical Moments. It would be cool if you shared yours as well (all 5-6 of you that actually read this blog).

1. Motley Crue – Shout at the Devil cassette. Cassettes! Yes! I got my first walkman right when this album came out, and now I could listen to music anywhere – the mall, on my bike, cranked up to 11 in the middle of the night on my headphones! Music freedom. And the first tape I bought was Shout at the Devil. And it almost made me crap my pants. It was the absolute hardest thing I’d ever heard in my entire life, and it freaked me out more than a little. But this was my introduction to hair metal (or glam metal… or butt rock… or whatever you choose to call it), and I was all in. Five years later I started growing a mullet.

2. Sir Mix-a-Lot – Swass cassette. I had two friends who were into rap in high school, and when I got my license one of them rode to school with me. We had about a 30 minute drive, and while I usually dominated the tape player in the car (man that 1984 silver Mustang was something else!), sometimes I let Mike put something of his choosing in. Usually it was UB40 or some other type of pop, but one day it was Swass, and I was hooked. Here was an artist from the place where I lived (Issaquah was hardly Seattle, but it was close enough that we could go there), rapping about places I’d actually been to (“Posse on Broadway”) and inside jokes from our community (“Bremalo” – “hangin’ round third and Pike on a 10-speed bike, you can say I’m a liar but you know I’m right, the girl’s a Bremalo!”). This opened me up to other rap, and while I never got very deep into it, I quickly added some Run DMC and other mainstream rap to my music library, and Public Enemy and N.W.A. still get regular play on my iPod.

3. Madonna – The Immaculate Collection CD. OK, some of you that have known me for a while probably just choked on whatever you were drinking when you read that. The bottom line is this – for a long time I defined myself as a “rocker” in terms of my musical taste, and pretty much stuck up my nose at anything that wasn’t rock or metal. But I had a secret. I actually liked some pop music. And one day I was browsing through music at the store and ran across Madonna, and I remembered how much I liked some of her early hits when they were in constant rotation on MTV (back when she was hot and wasn’t spouting off her inane political opinions, as if what a musician thinks about politics means anything at all). And I realized I was being an idiot by not listening to music I liked because it didn’t fall within some arbitrary limits that I somehow thought held meaning and importance. Holly raised an eyebrow when I brought this home, but it was the start of me breaking out of that rock/metal shell and listening to a somewhat broader range of music, especially getting back to some of that early 80s pop and new wave.

4. The Devil Makes Three and Hillstomp, live a The Crocodile Cafe in Seattle. I already liked The Devil Makes Three at this point, which was a further branching out of my musical tastes. But this show was like an electrical jolt to my brain (the PBR tallboys may have helped). Hillstomp, the blues duo from Oregon, was beyond anything I’d seen before – two guys, and the drummer played on buckets. They were energetic and intense, and we’ve seen them five more times locally since then (I think that’s a tie for the most times I’ve seen a band live, alongside Sugar Ray). And then The Devil Makes Three came out and the place was just a frenzy of energy. This show not only solidified my feelings about The Devil Makes Three and introduced me to Hillstomp, but it also was an eye-opener as to how great shows could be in small venues, and most of the shows we’ve seen since have been in cozier confines.

5. Gusgus – 24/7 and live in Reykjavik, 2009. I’m not entirely sure how Holly and I ended up attending Iceland Airwaves for the first time in 2009. We’d been to Iceland once before, and we were discussing where to go for vacation that fall. The obvious choices were warm locales like Hawaii or Arizona, but I remembered that she’d dropped a hint about wanting to go to Airwaves someday, and since I loved Iceland and wanted to go back I suggested we check it out. She was so excited I think she actually booked the trip that night, so I wouldn’t have time to change my mind. A friend of ours joined us, and for the most part we barely knew any of the bands (to be clear, Holly knew a few of them, and I’d never heard of a single one). We had a great time, and I was discovering new stuff at every turn. The icing on the cake was the final night of the five-day festival when Gusgus headlined at the venue NASA (capacity of about 700). I’d never heard them before, and I was in a trance. Their current album at the time, 24/7, made it into steady rotation on my iPod, and the rest is history.

What about you? What are your Top 5 Most Influential Musical Moments?

The Devil Makes Three – “The Devil Makes Three”

This is, without a doubt, one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. Holly heard about the band through an article somewhere… probably Seattle Weekly… and picked up this CD. As soon as I heard the song “Graveyard” for the first time I knew this was something different, something way outside the types of music I normally listen to, but absolutely amazing.


Just a leanin’ on my shovel
In this graveyard of dreams,
Yeah that’s me

I picked up this vinyl re-release a few months back even though we already had the CD, in part because I want to support the band and also because there were four live bonus tracks included that we didn’t have. I’m not sure if the new version of the CD also has the live tracks, but you can check it out on the band’s website.

So what kind of music does The Devil Makes Three create? They don’t fit neatly into a genre, which is probably a good sign. They’re a three piece with no drums – two guitarists (often with at least one of them playing banjo) and a stand up bass. There’s bluegrass here, and blues, some country, and a healthy dose of punk. The stripped down sound really helps them create the mood that fits their songs, many of which are about people that seem to fall outside of the societal mainstream – people struggling to get by, boozers, badasses and criminals… but telling their stories in ways that emphasize their humanity.

But I don’t come round here to meet nice people anyway,
And what the hell am I doin’ drunk in the middle of the day,
And I can feel the departure of all my hard earned pay,
But with the shades drawn everything just drifts away.

The band paces their songs well to establish the appropriate mood, with many of the tracks on The Devil Makes Three slow, steady, and deep – the trio really know how to get the most out of their instruments. Pete Bernhard’s vocals are rich and emotional, and while Cooper McBean doesn’t have any vocal leads on this particular album, his voice is a really great contrast to Bernhard’s, with a much more gravely old school country sound. Bassist Lucia Turino sings backing on a number of tracks while also helping the band keep time, and there’s a desperation in her voice much of the time that really plays well off of her bandmates. The way the three of them come together vocally on Dynamite is particularly notable.

And I will rob till my fingers they are down to the bone,
Wander till I can’t remember my own home,
Drink till I don’t know the meanin’ of alone,
Until that bullet flies to carry me home.

Holly and I have seen The Devil Makes Three live probably five or six times in Seattle, and we’re going to catch them again at The Showbox in November. Their live shows have an amazing energy – they’re pacing is often much faster than on their albums, and the crowd is really active with a sort of dance-mosh that often breaks out in front of the stage. The two songs that consistently get the biggest rise out of the crowd are “Old Number Seven”, with the entire crowd chiming in for the chorus, “Thank you Jack Daniels / Old Number Seven / Tennessee whiskey got me drinkin’ in heaven”, and “The Bullet”, which the audience sings at full volume in it’s entirety.

You really need to do yourself a favor and check out The Devil Makes Three, and this self-titled album is the perfect introduction.

Gruppo Sportivo – “Mistakes”

This just arrived in the mail a few hours ago. It’s like breaking news on the vinyl blog… except that it’s a 33-year-old record (how is that even possible???).

Gruppo Sportivo may be the first band to appear on this blog for a second time… as I touched briefly on their 7″ More Mistakes a few weeks ago. It was so good (Holly and I both liked it, and so did our friend Matt – three thumbs up constitutes a winner in my world) that I decided to look these guys up on eBay, as they’re not on iTunes. Mistakes from 1979 looked promising, and we’re generally fans of earlier albums from bands, so I ordered it. And since it’s Friday night and we’re drinking margaritas, it seemed like the perfect night to put this on for a spin.

The first song on Side A (“Mission A Paris”) opens with a kazoo. So there’s that.

This is some real power pop. No punk here, and it’s not new wave either. I mean, this has saxophones and trumpets (and the previously mentioned kazoo). I might be having a flashback to the first concert I ever went to without my parents – Huey Lewis & the News circa 1983 in Columbia, South Carolina (Holly says that while there are horns, they are not Huey Lewis calibre horns… she says more early 80s Billy Joel. I hate it when she’s more or less right.). But this still has a raw feel to it, which I really like.

This isn’t as stylistically diverse as More Mistakes, which was actually released along with the promo versions of this album. The big difference is that the 7″ seemed to be comprised of six songs all done in completely different genres, which was extremely cool, while Mistakes is more homogenous.

Side A ends with “I Shot My Manager” – which out of nowhere goes into a reggae chorus of, “I shot my manager / Because he took all my royalties”. Welcome to the record biz.

There’s a lot of pop here, including some Japanese and surf rock, and reggae influences. Hell, a lot of this has a very late 50s/early 60s pop-love-song-doo-wap sound to it. You’ve got horns, kazoos, and even steel drums in addition to the standard pop guitar, bass, and keyboards, so there’s a lot going on here, and all of it is pretty good. I mean, there’s a goddamn triangle being played in “Bottom of the Class”, a song that also references the television show “Columbo” (seriously, were we exporting “Columbo” to Holland? Really? That was the cultural TV export to the world circa 1979?).

Go dig through the cheapo bins and find yourself some Gruppo Sportivo. It’s worth the listen.


“God’s Favorite Dog” Compilation

I know a lot of people don’t like comps, and I get why – a good album is an integrated experience, and when you strip songs out of their intended environment they don’t have the same meaning or sense of being a part of a larger work (<- pretentiousness alert!!!). That being said, I like me a good comp since it’s a great way to get exposure to a lot of different bands in one sitting. Not all comps are created equal, to be sure, but when done well they’re solid.

Touch & Go Records’ God’s Favorite Dog is a slightly different take for a comp – instead of featuring songs by all different bands, or blocks of songs by the same band, you get six bands each contributing one song to each side. I know of most of the bands, though I have limited experience with them. The roster is comprised of Butthole Surfers, Killdozer, Scratch Acid, Hose, Happy Flowers, and Big Black. To make the recording even a little more interesting, it includes three covers – Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” as performed by Scratch Acid, along with Neil Young’s “Down by the River” and Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” recorded by Hose.

I initially was tentative about this album. The reason is that the Butthole Surfers were one of the first bands that truly made me uncomfortable with their music back in the day (hell, maybe even still today). Skinny Puppy was undoubtedly the first, but I can remember in high school staying over at my friend John’s house and listening to his older brother crank Locust Abortion Technicians and being more than a little freaked out by it. This was not Def Leppard’s Hysteria… hell, it wasn’t even Master of Puppets – it was something totally beyond metal and industrial and noise. Something bizarre. Something I couldn’t figure out if I liked or thought should be sealed in a lead-lined container and buried deep in a mountain until it cooled off. Later I discovered Ghostigital, and I really think my experience with the Butthole Surfers allowed me to appreciate how awesome they are (though it still took a while), so I guess I owe them for that.

Side A (referred to as “God’s Side” on the album) can best be described as “sludge”, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I actually had to double check the record while “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing to make sure that I wasn’t supposed to be playing this on 45 rpm… but I wasn’t. It was just slllooooooowwwww. It’s music filtered through molasses, but without the sweetness. I think someone may have actually been killed in the studio on the Big Black track. This is a recording where the snap, crackle, and pop of the vinyl actually seems to actually be an integral part of the music.

The order of bands is reversed on the flip side (a.k.a. “Dog’s Side”), with Big Black opening and Butthole Surfers wrapping things up. It also has the best song title on the comp, “All I Got Were Clothes for Christmas” (“No Toys!” is the best lyric) by Happy Flowers. The Zep cover is solid, and may be my favorite track on the album (I know… I know…. it’s a cover!). The lo-fi sound and feedback fits perfectly with the song. Dog’s Side is my favorite side of the album overall – I just think the songs are better in general, and “How Many More Times” is solid.

If you like your music muddy and a bit weird, God’s Favorite Dog is for you. I dig it, but it probably won’t make the regular rotation.






Lower East Side Stitches – “Staja 98 L.E.S.”

New York City’s own Lower East Side Stitches formed in the late 1980s, keeping the punk flag raised high in the face of the grunge onslaught. This was yet another pickup from the New Arrivals bin at Easy Street Records in Seattle, and since I’m a sucker for a punk record on colored vinyl (stupid, I know… I think it dates back to my days of buying Sub Pop 45 rpm singles and always being on the lookout for the colored vinyl limited edition releases) it looked like it was worth a shot.

Staja 98 L.E.S. is the band’s second full-length LP, released in 1999, and it has some of the old school punk feel, but with some good production (the bass is a bit heavy on my system… but I can’t say how much of that is the recording, and how much is my stereo). Not fast enough to be hardcore, it still has a good nice quick pace. Supposedly Joey Ramone was a fan, and you can see why with the band’s pacing and sound… though this is a lot harder than The Ramones.

You can almost hear Mick Brown’s punk sneer in the vocals.

In classic punk fashion, the album’s 14 songs are pretty short – only one clocks in at more than 3:06 (“Rustic City” is a very un-punk 4:32). I think the best track on Side A is “Parasite”, which is probably the fastest song on the side. “Frustration” on Side B is some classic fast punk, and probably my favorite from that side.

The lyric sheet insert is, as always, a help on these records. I thought maybe I’d find something funny here, but for the most part the message is somewhat dark, about a life that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and is filled with angst. And drinking. And traveling to shows. At least it sounds honest.

Overall some really good punk. I’m impressed by my first listen to this band, and I suspect this one will get some more spins on the turntable and possibly even burned to mp3 (a necessary step until I put a turntable in my office). If you’re a classic punk fan, this one is worth checking out.