Tears for Fears: The Hurting- Purchased 1984
The Albums that Shaped Me Microblog continues with the debut album by Tears for Fears, The Hurting, released in March 1983. While Songs for the Big Chair, released two days before I joined the Navy, on 25 February 1985, may be the more commercially accessible album, The Hurting was the one that mattered the most to me.
Sometime in mid 1984 the song ‘Way You Are’ was getting play on 102.1, Toronto’s CFNY, my station of choice at the time after graduating from the classic sounds of Buffalo’s 97 Rock. The Way You Are was recorded while on tour in support of The Hurting and was a precursor to their pop sound to come. It wasn’t until just before leaving for boot camp in February 1985 did Tears for Fears explode with the release of Shout. Right after boot camp, I was living in the Chicago area and two of the first albums I bought were The Hurting and Songs of the Big Chair. The first concert I was able to attend after boot camp was Tears for Fears at the Aragon Ballroom on Lawrence Ave. It’s a beautiful old theater, similar in appearance and age to Buffalo’s Shea’s Theater. The band played every song off of both albums except one (The Prisoner). While not overpowering as a live act, the live versions of The Hurting gave the music more pace, stripped back some of the production, and revealed excellent song structures, with themes that resonated with the 18 year old me living in the big city.
I did a girl wrong (not felony wrong, poor gentleman behavior wrong) around this time. She sent me the lyrics to Change, and I felt shame. I never did a girl wrong again, so thank you to that girl, you know who you and gratefully you forgave me.
The band’s combination of Curt Smith’s soulful tenor and Roland Orzabal’s masculine baritone, complimented each other. The music, again not complicated or virtuoso, is well produced for the period, and they grew as musicians through their catalog. Their clear Beatles influences are mostly observed in 1989’s Sowing the Seeds of Love and 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, and The Hurting is more about emotions played across the full spectrum.
The album took me to a place of introspection. Songs dealt with alienation, childhood trauma, isolation, failure, the loss of friends, death. The subjects were weighty, they were handled with intelligence, and they further expanded my mind to the power of music as a window into emotion and passion. It was dark but danceable, moody but not pretentious. Passion comes in many styles, but it can’t be faked.
Memories Fade, Start of the Breakdown and Watch Me Bleed were the tracks that stood out to me while Pale Shelter, Mad World and Change were the ones most gravitated too.
I was lucky enough to see them perform in Buffalo in 2004, an acoustic show, in support of their last studio album. Quality was always valued more than quantity by Orzabal and Smith, and as long as their long but perpetually fragile relationship holds up I’m sure they are capable of a late career gem. Will we get it? Who knows, but what we do have are these time capsules from a different time and a different place.
The Cult: Love- Purchased 1985
The Albums that Shaped Me Microblog, 1985’s Love by The Cult.
This was The Cult’s second studio album after a bit of a rebrand from their gothic punk roots.
I had never heard of The Cult before the girls at the club on Bennett Road in Orlando started dancing to She Sells Sanctuary around Christmas 1985. Not every album in my series touched me on an intellectual or emotional level, some just rocked. A band could not be more masculine than the sound of The Cult. Loud and in your face. While not the new wave Motörhead they became with 1987’s Electric, this album is a sonic assault lead by Billy Duffy’s Gretch White Falcon and Jamie Stewart’s pulsating bass. Singer Ian Asbury has been compared to Jim Morrison most of his career. The Wolf Child has a lot of similarities with the Lizard King, including filling his shoes when Robbie Krieger and Keyboardist Ray Manzarek brought The Doors Of the 21st Century on the road. By the that was a hell of a reimagined Doors, with the 2002 lineup including Stewart Copeland of The Police on Drums along with Asbury and the boys. Something else. I digress.
This was my Cult, not the one that came before or even the one that came after. I loved the sound, the production, and I didn’t mind the trippy lyrics because of the passion that Asbury brought to it.
When they started to write Electric they recorded 12 new sounds at Manor Studios in England. They did not like the sound. They wanted to go in a harder direction, and hired Rick Rubin to produce what many consider their masterpiece. Those 12 discarded songs were reworked by Rubin, but the originals have leaked out over the years, many issued by the band themselves. The songs were an extension of Love. While I dug it, the band didn’t and that’s all that mattered.
Not deep, not introspective. I danced my ass off to Rain and She Sells Sanctuary in 1986. Sweaty and alcohol fueled, those nights on the floor at St. Catherine’s Gords Place or Welland’s Aquaduck seemed like they would never end, but alas, nothing lasts forever and that moment in a young person’s life is fleeting. I wish I would have realized how fleeting, but then again, that’s part of the maturation process. The people, the music, it’s all ingrained in memory now.
John and Mary: Victory Gardens 1991
The Albums that Shaped Me Microblog continues with John and Mary’s Victory Gardens.
This 1991 release was high on my radar for many reasons, primarily my enjoyment of folk rock, Buffalo acoustic bars, and the 10,000 Maniacs, where John Lombardo, John, was Natalie Merchant’s writing partner and band mate before leaving just as commercial success came with 1986’s In My Tribe. After meeting classicly trained violist Mary Ramsey just six months previously, the duo recorded the album with most of the Maniac’s and a who’s who of American underground college rock alumni at Mitch Easter’s studio in North Carolina.
I wrestled with if a 10,000 Maniacs album belonged in this spot, but quite frankly I lump them all together anyway, as John and Mary are member’s of both and the music is really no different. Two different lead singers, but both brimming with talent.
In late 1991, the Maniacs were still recording what would become their last album with Merchant, Our Time in Eden, and they played a few nights at the Tralf in Buffalo and played many new songs, most of them with extended instrumentals. It was an incredible live experience. Who knew except the band themselves that Merchant declared her plans to leave at the end of that albums tour. A few days later I saw John and Mary play a small bar in Buffalo. Again, mentally no difference.
I loved the Maniacs. Merchant went on to have a forgettable debut solo effort, and her big homecoming to Buffalo’s Art Deco masterpiece, Shea’s Theater was a study in tedium, as her band was boring, with a heavy dose of militant feminism surrounding the affair. Not the boat ride I signed up for. The death of Rob Buck in 2000 silenced one of the best and distinctive guitarists of his era. I’ve never considered Natalie Merchant again relevant, which is sad because I find her a compelling artist, but John and Mary, and some version of the Maniac’s live on.
It’s said that Mary Ramsey has perfect pitch. That may be true, but what I do know she is my favorite female American musician and vocalist, the highest praise available to this reviewer.
Highlights are The Azalea Festival, Red Wooden Beads and Rag of Flowers. A selection from the album and two John Lombardo era Maniac’s songs in the comments.
The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses-Purchased 1989
The Albums that Shaped me Microblog’s latest installment is perhaps the greatest British New Wave Album ever recorded, 1989’s eponymous The Stone Roses.
This is a blog about the albums that shaped me. It is not about bands with longevity, or hardest working. If that was the case, The Stone Roses, slackers in every sense of the word, would not be on this list.
It’s easy to be captivated by the Roses mix of danceable rhythms and atmospheric, yet powerful guitar leads. The band’s rhythm section of bass player Mani and drummer Reni anchor this sound, but the riffing of Guitarist John Squire and the opaque nature of singer Ian Brown’s lyrics seal it.
With the epic ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ sounding all of an updated ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, to the danceable ‘Elephant Stone’, the first side of record gets your attention. Side 2 is a masterstroke, a suite of seperate songs but connected in spirit and vibe, similar to side two of Abbey Road. Powerful, in your face, but never obnoxious.
Another Manchester Band, and along with the Happy Monday’s, maybe one of the last great bands of the 1980’s before Oasis arrives. A long inactive period followed, with a fight over their music label, and a lot of weed later, the band delivered “The Second Coming” (with the strongest track in the comments) in late 1994. Too late, and the moment had come and gone for them.
This album owned by cassette deck on the summer 1989 mid Pacific operations that were getting pretty tedious to me with less than 9 months until getting out. Music was my escape during the long, hot and tiring hours in an engine room of a submarine, and this album passed a lot of time. Thirty years later, it’s one of the few albums I will put on a listen to in its entirety, a testament to the writing and this snapshot in time in my 23rd year.
Love and Rockets: Express- 1986
The Albums that Shaped Me Microblog continues with 1986’s Express by Love and Rockets.
Love and Rockets are a classic, flawed band, that produced flawed records punctuated by moments of greatness. The band, and even this album, acts more as a gateway drug to a greater world of the musicians involved, and the creative output of them not only in Love and Rockets, but in their previous band, Bauhaus.
Love and Rockets first broke into my musical archive in late 1985, when their cover of Ball of Confusion owned the dance floor of Club Exit in Niagara Falls. It was the dawn of the dancing era for me, uninhibited and unconstrained by the social construct and rules that governed conduct in high school, free to wear a cardigan sweater, a jean jacket, and some old broach and not give a f**k what anyone thought. Ball of Confusion went on seemingly forever and it laid the groove down.
Driven by a highly compressed and processed guitar played by the immaculately coifed/immaculately cheek-boned Daniel Ash, and a rhythm section of two brothers, David J on the bass guitar and Kevin Haskins on the drums. Express comes at you like a psychedelic sledgehammer, driving and pushing the sound that was dark and gothic with Bauhaus to the edge of pop sensibility with lyrics deeper than first impressions. The groups debut album in 1985, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, hinted at this direction, but Express delivered.
In one magical six day period in December 1986 I saw Love and Rockets on the Express tour, New Order on the Brotherhood tour, I turned 20 years old and I reported onboard the submarine Louisville. Lots of activity, all good memories of an era that I miss, surrounded by people that I miss.
The band produced four excellent albums in a five year period, as well as non stop toured. This was on the heels of Bauhaus’s four albums in a three year period. Bands worked hard back before the instant gratification world.
Again, a gateway drug. Bauhaus wasn’t my scene really, as I wasn’t a goth. That said, I liked the music and this led me to Peter Murphy, lead singer of Bauhaus, and his solo career.
I always found it amusing when the Bills, for many years, would play the opening bars of Kundalini Express before kickoffs. I wondered how many in the crowd were there in that small, sweaty bar in December 1986 when Love and Rockets gave a masterclass in psychedelic rock. I wonder how many even knew the name of the song or its history. No matter, folks don’t care much for these sort of things anymore, but luckily some of us still do.
Dead Can Dance: Towards the Within- Purchased 1994
The 27th and final Album in the Albums that Shaped Me Microblog, 1994’s Toward the Within, a live album by Dead Can Dance
This is not an easily accessible band, and like many of their 4AD label mates, I tried them in the ‘80s but it didn’t resonate. In my late 20’s, married but well before adopting Jae, I was still experimenting with new artists, and I heard a cut from Dead Can Dance’s new album on CFNY and I was captivated by singer Brenden Perry’s rich baritone. After doing a bit of reading, the Live Album was as unique as the band, as only 3 of the 15 tracks ever appeared on a studio album.
Dead Can Dance followed this album up with Spirtchaser in 1996 and with that I was locked in for good.
Co-vocalist Lisa Gerrard has an other worldly operatic range and she compliments Perry’s songs and deep emotive singing. World music is one way to describe the sound, composed with samples of unusual folk wind, string and percussion instruments tuned to organic brilliance.
While many have never heard of Dead Can Dance, singer Gerrard has lent her voice to some of the best movie soundtracks of the 90’s, Michael Mann’s brilliant, The Insider and another Russel Crowe movie, Gladiator.
After a long hiatus, they returned with 2012 Anastatis, and 2018’s Dionysus.
Brilliant music, made my master craftsmen. Not for everyone, but not intended to be.
I set out at the start of the quarantine to share the albums that shaped my life, and along the way that became the “30”albums blah blah blah. Arbitrary.
I made it to 27, and I started to question the concept of good versus great versus epic. Our culture tosses around adjectives loosely, in particular the assignment of superlatives. Halls of Fame are businesses, and businesses need products to sell. To that end, they assign arbitrary and completely subjective judgement on who or what was great, and by inference, all others. They assign status, the status applies cache, and suddenly we have named something great and all are expected to accept their greatness because they are in a museum that sells tickets and makes you exit out of a gift shop.
What happens in reality is the great are mixed with the semi great, very good and the questionably good. This is a very long way of explaining my disdain for the business of Halls of Fame, but also to explain why I shouldn’t, and will not, water down my list of albums that shaped me simply to get to an arbitrary number. If it’s 27 it’s 27.
I’m going to wrap this microblog up however on a final note, a droning open chord from the past. I had a collection of albums that came close but just didn’t make the cut. I’m not going to denigrate them by explaining why they weren’t good enough to make my subjective listing, my hall of fame (oh the ironies) but instead just point out their moments of brilliance and what the album meant to me.
In case you are interested, the 27 albums that shaped my life are:
U2 -Unforgettable Fire
Joy Division -Still
Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority
Waterboys- Fisherman Blues
Duran Duran – Rio
Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
New Order- Low Life
The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow
Talk Talk – Colour of Spring
REM -Fables of the Reconstruction
The Replacements -Tim
Simple Minds -New Gold Dream
The Beatles- Past Masters
Depeche Mode- Black Celebration
Siouxsie and the Banshees- Tinderbox
Prefab Sprout- Steve McQueen
Echo and the Bunnymen- Songs to Learn & Sing
The Psychedelic Furs-Mirror Moves
The Cure- Standing on the Beach
The Cars-The Cars
Tears for Fears-The Hurting
John and Mary-Victory Gardens
The Stone Roses-The Stone Roses
Love and Rockets- Express
Dead Can Dance- Toward the Within
I have no specific number, arbitrary is dull, and I’m also sure I may miss something so I’m not constrained by the editorial standards of say the NYT (oh the irony as well) and I can edit later.
The Jesus and Marychain- Darklands
While Psychocandy could have also made the cut, the cleaner guitar and completeness of Darklands makes this an album I revisit every so often. As a band, you may have considered their thin musical chops and figured them to be no better than a momentary blip, but the Reid Brothers had a good ear, weren’t bashful about ripping off melodies, and made the brew of distortion their own.
Kate Bush-Hounds of Love
I can’t say I’m a huge Kate Bush Fan. The idea of watching the Babooshka video or hearing it again is not something I’m interested in. That said, I sat in a laundry mat in Orlando in 1985 and read about Hounds of Love and I gave it a chance. I loved the first side, Cloudbusting, Hounds of Love and Running up that Hill in particular. Timeless. A real artist I have very deep respect for, she’s just not my touchstone like she is for others.
10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
I loved the band. I loved they were from Western New York and I believe they were one of the most talented bands to emerge from the 1980’s. Guitarist Rob Buck, Rest In Peace, drove the band, and young Natalie Merchant gave the band passion and energy. Natalie has other plans and the band broke up when they should have been in their creative peak.
The Police- Album?
I wanted several times to add a Police Album to this list, but I couldn’t put my finger on one that actually shaped me. If forced to I’d say Regatta De Blanc, their second album. I don’t think the band aged well, the song production, the musical themes, I find dated. Virtuoso players also often focus on their personal virtuoso playing and less on the passion, emotion and intensity that to me defines and underscores as a common theme my 27 album suite. Ghosts In the Machine came close as well. Synchronicity, while a masterstoke of song construction and hit making, to me falls short. It lacks empathy.
Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera- Surf
Technically a Roddy Frame solo record, but the reality is most of Aztec Camera was a Roddy Frame solo effort anyways. Late career, deeply moving, powerful without overpowering. Roddy would be top five on any list of best guitar players or singer/songwriters.
The Railway Children- Reunion Wilderness
A Manchester band on the same music label as New Order, intelligent pop music. WellConstructed, fantastic vocals, popping bass, but also failing to make their audience believe them with the same fever as others could.
Propaganda- A Secret Wish
Cool, lush German. Mechanical, metallic. An incredibly produced and assembled collection of songs on the ZZT label and from the same team that made Frankie Goes to Hollywood a worldwide phenomenon. With ex Simple Mind, the greatest bass player of the era Derek Forbes, the music came to life. Timeless.
The Clash/Big Audio Dynamite- Album?
A similar problem as I had with The Police, The Clash and BAD, In particular the music of Mick Jones, was a soundtrack of my young life, yet none of their albums spoke to me as a complete work.
Bryan Ferry- Boys and Girls
Roxy Music was before me and didn’t resonate to me but Bryan Ferry did. His singing touches a nerve deep inside, and the session players he assembled created complex and soulful compositions that set a mood more than anything. This, and the follow up Bete Noir, were a high water mark of his music. Putting the album on in 1985 on the dark streets of Orlando’s seedier side and just driving is a memory of my youth and the shaping into adulthood, the very concept of this blog.