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?