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Led Zeppelin - Black Dog

#3 in the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives thing of which I will have more than five.

One day, I’m pretty sure it was around the 4th of July, 1973, I was in my cousin’s room, staring at the vinyl and the artwork on the covers. I wanted to listen. I wanted to hear. Something about those rock and roll records drew me towards them. I heard footsteps coming up the stairs and hurriedly picked an album from the wall. Led Zeppelin 4. I ran out of the room, down the hallway and hid in the bathroom until I was sure my cousin had gone out again. When he left I went back in his room and lifted the lid to the record player.

I pulled LZ4 out of its cover and placed it gently - using just the edges of my fingers the way I was told - on the turntable. I lifted the arm, positioned it over the very first groove. I put the needle down.

Scratch. Crackle.

Hey hey mama said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.

The lone, strong voice coming from the speakers made my heart skip a beat.

Then that guitar. The voice again. The guitar again. I was mesmerized.

Later, this album became the soundtrack to everything. Every summer. Every moment spent in Eddie’s fort or Dennis’s garage. Every walk to school, every  night spent in the sump hiding from Officer Goldberg (car #106). My god, we thought we were bad ass and we were just punk ass. Punk ass suburban kids with a lot of time on our hands, most of which was spent in basements and garages and behind 7-11 drinking warm quarts of Miller beer and analyzing every word on Led Zeppelin IV.

Stayin' Alive
  • Stayin' Alive
  • The Bee Gees
  • Saturday Night Fever
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Bee Gees - Stayin’ Alive

#7 in the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives thing of which I will have more than five

Of all the years of my life – and that’s 46 of them – 1977 is the year I could tell you the most about. It was a time so jam packed with intensity and emotion and drama – I don’t recall any other year of my life being quite like that one. Of course, I was barely 15 at the time and there’s enough emotion and insanity inherent in that alone to make the year worth telling about. But there was something so different about 1977, especially the late spring and summer. Especially in New York.

There was Son of Sam, a blackout, the Bronx on fire and the most tumultuous year the New York Yankees ever had. And there was disco. We were rock kids, hell bent on eradicating disco from existence. We sat in our little suburban cocoon, wishing we were old enough to go see the Dead Boys at CBGB’s and maybe cruise by Studio 54 and shout insults at the coked up, glammed out disco crowd.

Then there was Saturday Night Fever. I loved this movie and didn’t want anyone to know. The girl with the “Disco Sucks” button on her Levi jacket totally into a movie about the music she professed to loathe? I’d lose whatever cred I had. And cred is everything to a 15 year old.

The opening scene. John Travolta’s swagger. The shots of his shoes. The popped collar. New York. And the Bee Gees. They made disco sound good. Stayin’ Alive when coupled with all that New York/Travolta stuff – it was good. I liked it. I liked it enough to steal my mother’s album and lock myself in my room to listen to it on my headphones. You Should Be DancingNight FeverJive Talking. And the awesome closer of the album, The Trammps’Disco Inferno. I sat in my room, covered in shame and guilt as I shook my ass to that song over and over again.

Of course, now I don’t care who knows how much I love this soundtrack. I still listen to it every once in a while and every time I do, it’s 1977 and the Yankees are about to win the World Series.

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Huey Lewis and the News - I Want a New Drug

#4 in the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives thing of which I will have more than five.

This is my time at the record store. Never mind that during my tenure there we had a rotation of albums that consisted of Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, The Smiths, New Order, Minor Threat, REM and host of other good music. It was s Sports that left a mark indelible enough for me to associate its music with my long days and nights at Record World. 

Everyone liked this album. Not everyone would admit it, but everyone liked it. Sports was the house music in the store for a long time. Working opening to closing seven days a week around the holidays, fighting off hordes of Madonna fans when new singles were released, making fun of hair metal dudes, opening boxes in the basement with Gary Dell’ Abate (worked with him until he left us for WNBC), dealing with drama queen coworkers, relationships and breakups, drinking away our dinner breaks at Houlihan’s happy hour, watching hockey games in local dives - all of it is soundtracked by this album. No matter how many other bands I loved and discovered and listened to during my time there, Huey Lewis’s greatest achievement has become my time machine back to those days. 

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Grateful Dead - Sugar Magnolia

Going off Mike’s request for the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives, I’m going to (of course, I’m a rule breaker) do more than five and do them separately and inundate you with them all day because it’s too cold to go outside. So here’s the first (and i’m going to tag them all morrowalbums).

American Beauty (and nearly every other Grateful Dead album) is this: late 70s, high school, a few years spent thinking I was born too late and I should have been a teenage hippie in the 60s, not the 70s. So much pot and so much acid and oh my god the mescaline, how I loved the mescaline. Tripping balls at Dead shows, seeing them five or six nights in a row and I’d always groove to the music along with everyone else but as soon as they broke out into Morning Dew, you knew there was a 700 minute space jam coming and there wasn’t enough acid in the world to keep me from falling asleep during those jams. 

But everything about this album is that middle section of high school, the nights spent in Maryanne’s basement or in that abandoned house next to the school, driving to Alley Pond Park for hash, thinking that life was always going to be about getting stoned and peace and love and happiness.

When I'm Dead
  • When I'm Dead
  • Stabbing Westward
  • Darkest Days
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Stabbing Westward - When I’m Dead

#2 in the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives thing of which I will have more than five.

Darkest Days, indeed. I listened to this album and this album alone on repeat for about three weeks straight. I spent most of those days and nights in my bed. I was a wreck. I was despondent. I was depressed. I was angry. My god, was I angry. And bitter. I don’t think there was ever an album that echoed my sentiments at any given moment in my life so much as this one did (Everything I Touch I Break was written for me, I was sure). It was a really, really bad time, filled with bad choices, regrettable decisions, alcohol, apathy, neglect, despair. Wallow. Wallow. Wallow. Rinse, repeat.

I can listen to this album and give you exact moments to go with each song. What I was thinking. What I was doing. What I wasn’t doing that I was supposed to be doing. What I was drinking. What I wasn’t eating. Every thought that was in my head. Every thought I wanted to get out of my head.

I have reached the point where I can now listen to this without all the emotional attachment because what’s done is done and really, this is a pretty good album. It was the last decent thing Stabbing Westward ever did and all that went with it back then were the last regrettable things I’ve done. 

Except eat that hot dog at the Knick game last night. Totally regrettable.

No Regrets
  • No Regrets
  • The Von Bondies
  • Pawn Shoppe Heart
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The Von Bondies - No Regrets

#5 in the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives thing of which I will have more than five.

January, 2008. My third visit to California but my first time in San Francisco. We bought this album at Amoeba Music because we needed something to listen to for the ride back to Sacramento. I knew I knew “that one song they do” (which turned out to be C’mon, C’mon) but I knew nothing else about them. 

Love at first listen. Every song. Everything about the album. We listened to it on the drive back, hit repeat a couple of times, then listened to it every time we got in that rental car for the rest of the trip. When I got home I spent a good portion of the cold winter weekends reading while listening to Pawn Shoppe Heart.

This memories of this album stretch through two months and always evoke specific memories: the realization that California was meant to be my home, losing my fear of flying, Haight Ashbury, downtown Sacramento, New York slush and snow, reading three Christopher Moore novels in the space of two weeks, feeling like my life was finally shaping up to be how I pictured it.

It’s a really, really good album.

The River
  • The River
  • NoMeansNo
  • Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?
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NoMeansNo - The River

#6 in the five albums that most vividly evoke a specific time of our lives thing of which I will have more than five

While Why Do They Call Me Mr.Happy? came out in 1993, it became the background music to most of my 2006.

Here’s what this album conjures up every single time I listen to it: The agony of a long distance relationship. The emotions that come with being in love with someone who is a six hour plane ride away from you. The fierceness with which you maintain a relationship that relies on phone calls and instant messages. Falling in love when you said you would never fall in love again and having that love feel as driven and relentless as every single drumbeat on this album, as powerful as every bass line. Feeling like it had been so long since you really got into an album this hard, taking apart every word, every note, repeating songs, pounding your fists on the steering wheel, so filled with toxic emotions left over from that thing that happened in January and then overflowing with all these new emotions and pulling out some old music that becomes new all over again, music which helps you release so much bullshit clogging up your soul, wondering if you ever felt so “at one” with an album before.

Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? is perfect. Perfect. Even if it didn’t remind me of all that stuff, even if I didn’t click with it so beautifully for a few months it would still be perfect and this song would be the epitome of that perfection.