I often have a hard time pinning my musical tastes to just one genre, and even within those genres I have difficulty choosing specific albums, but this is a question I’ve thought about a lot over the years and it’s funny to me that it has largely remained the same each time I go back to it.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m looking specifically at records that I discovered when I was young and only just starting to really get into music and just starting to play guitar, so these are the “records of my youth” which define me as a musician, performer, and songwriter.
I’ll try to order them but it’s near impossible to do that here given their own distinctions.
10. Nirvana – Nevermind
My brothers really took to the Grunge scene when it hit Canadian radio, so I got into Nirvana quite young, but it wasn’t until I started playing guitar that I really dove hard into their records. We had them all, so I stole them from my brothers room and hoarded them for a long while – I still have most of them, like Nevermind and In Utero, but some found their way back to the communal CD cupboards eventually. “Come As You Are” was one of the first guitar lines I sat down to learn after tackling “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I loved the raw grit of Kurt’s vocals and the simplicity of the instrumentation – without Nirvana, I likely wouldn’t have dove into so many other grunge and alt-rock bands of the same time.
9. Elliott Smith – X/O
My online friend Sean Gallagher turned me over to Elliott Smith pretty quickly when we first began chatting about music and at the time I was hyper addicted to downloading live concert footage. It was hard to find Elliott’s performances but there was one in particular I really took to, and I’d watch it about every single week. In it you see a very timid Elliott quietly working his way through a selection of 15 songs or so, barely looking at the audience but every now and then, the slightest hint of a smile showing his appreciation for their attention. He stands out to me as one of music’s biggest losses and I constantly wish there was more of his music to take in.
8. The Clash – London Calling
The Clash hit me like a punch in the face when I first started going through dad’s collection and found “London Calling”. He was always really into British Rock bands and once I heard The Clash, I understood why. They stood apart from everything else I was digesting at the time, and it’s a quality I still have trouble pinpointing and can only really say, “Well, that’s The Clash”. As a band, it would be the ultimate goal to reach that level of originality in my own playing, when people hear it and just say, “well, that’s CF”.
7. Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends
Teenage angst in its purest form. Is there a band that took on alt rock-screamo better than Taking Back Sunday? I still don’t think so. Lyrically this remains one of my favourite records, and the blend of melodic guitar lines coupled with Adam Lazzaro’s intense vocals is hard to beat. If “The Clash” was my punch to the face, this was my head-first into a brick wall, and I surely broke a few skulls banging along to this one.
6. Blink 182 – Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
I distinctly remember going to Sunrise Records with the $80 some odd dollars I’d been gifted for a birthday one year and grabbing as many Blink 182 and Green Day records as I could hold in my hands, bringing them to the register and saying, “do I have enough for all these?”
I think I had to put 1 or 2 away, but I went home with 7 records that day, and this was one of them. Again, it’s pretty hard to choose just 1 Blink 182 record for this list here, but I’ve always preferred this record to Enema of the State for whatever reason, even musing over getting a semi-related tattoo to solidify my love for it on the back of my arm (not yet, not yet). Vocally I probably say I take after Tom Delonge too much for my own good, and my initial guitar playing was highly influenced by his – I’d consume a ton of their live convert footage, too, adopting similar stage mannerisms with my first punk rock band.
5. Green Day – Insomniac
When I returned to school in September the summer after buying my first guitar, I’d bike home from school at lunch often to get a few minutes of practice in. Along the way, I’d blast Insomniac and other Green Day records like Nimrod & Shenanigans heavily. Again I marvelled at the instrumentation here, how 3 guys could pack so much into a 3 minute track – for a long time I’d pin Green Day above Blink 182 for this despite preferring Blinks songwriting overall, and I still think they’re at the top of the leaderboard here. Billie Joe Armstrong remains as one of my all-time favourite stage performers and I still think he holds the title as best punk-rock vocalist, especially after catching them live. As far as performing goes, this is a band I still aspire to get on the level of.
4. Sum 41 – All Killer No Filler
I’d be hard-pressed not to include Sum 41 in this list, and while I think that “Does This Look Infected?” is still my favourite album of theirs, AKNF was definitely more influential from the outset. This was pop-punk in its best form; upbeat, melodic, and catchy as all hell. You could dance to it, but at the same time it defined an entire generation of Canadian kids trying to find their place in life at an age when they were wholly unsure of what direction they should be heading. I don’t think any other Canadian rock band has been able to hone in on that quintessential 90’s suburban upbringing like they did with this record.
3. Johnny Cash – Live at Folsom Prison
I listened to country music here and there as a kid but by far the first artist of the genre I got into was johnny Cash and it all boiled down to this record specifically. When it comes to producing music, this record is a big reason why I’ve made and continue to make a lot of the decisions I do. I know I said that “Nevermind” by Nirvana was so raw, but we all know it wasn’t (great production though) – THIS was raw. This was unfiltered songwriting and performing at its best, and for all the right reasons as I’d later discern when I read the story about how it came to be. What I loved about Johnny Cash from the outset was not his songwriting, not his playing, but the imperfection in his voice. As someone that is still working to find their own voice, Johnny shows that you don’t need to be an all-star vocalist to write truly great music – it’s legacy speaks for itself.
2. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity
At a time when I was taking in so much different rock, Jimmy Eat World’s “Clarity” hit a spot that other bands were lacking for me, and it came in the form of breathy-repeating background vocals and accented instrumentation like strings, glockenspiels and chimes. While lot of other records were fuelling my need for aggressive distortion, this one paired those with depth and space, reminding me to take a breath once in a while. I used to say of this record the reason I pin it as my top-Jimmy Eat World record is because when I needed help calming myself down, this record helped me do that, getting lost in the different textures that weave in and out like a strange rock lullaby, and I still think it does that for me in a way the other records never could.
1. Treble Charger – Wide Awake Bored
If you guys knew how often I used to blare Treble Charger records from my stereo, it’d make you sick. While Sum 41 definitely came out on top as far as lyrically speaking more directly to me as a fellow suburban Ontario kid, Treble Charger’s Wide Awake Bored’s overall production stands as being the number 1 most influential album for me as a listener and writer. While I mentioned above that vocally a lot of what I do I’d say I derive from Tom Delonge, the more I listen to my own music, the more I hear Greig Nori’s distinct influence; the gritty quips, the harmonizing guitar lines, and the overall layering of sound (how much is too much?). I keep telling myself that one thing I really want to do is write a record both akin to Treble Charger’s Wide Awake Bored, but also their Self=Title record – sonically, that’s one of my all time favourite’s still, and almost would’ve taken this top spot if not for the polished radio-friendiness of WAB.
These are artists that are all equally, if not, in many ways than those listed, more influential to me, but because I couldn’t pin point a single album out of their discography having played them all so many times over as a kid that I can’t hardly tell them apart from one another, I’ll list them for you here and choose just 1 song to highlight.
The Rolling Stones
Who makes your 10 top? And remember, it has to only be artists that you’d say influenced you the most when you were first getting into the whole thing, not the 10 you’d cite as the person/musician you are now.