The other day, the Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Trilogy came bubbling up to the front of my brain (from wherever it had been hiding for the past 35 years or so!) I used to borrow that album from the City Hall library in my hometown of St. John’s, which was my main source of new music when I was in my teens. (Never having heard the word trilogy, I pronounced it “tri-ology” until a classmate in junior high school corrected me.)
In any event, I added the album to my Rdio collection and gave it a listen. Not only did I still enjoy it, but it instantly transported me back to the 70’s. It also got me thinking about other albums that had a big impact on me in my “formative years.” After giving it a little thought (not too much – these things can easily be over-thought), I put together a list of 10 albums from the ’70s that had a big impact on me. Note that these are all rock albums. Even though I like many different kinds of music, rock music was my first and longest love. (I may be inspired to make similar lists for jazz and classical music sometime in the future.) Also, it’s the impact the album had on me on first listen (or soon after) that counts here. Some of these albums have not aged well…
So, without further ado, here they are (in alphabetical order by artist):
1. The Beatles – 1967-1970 (1973). I guess it’s almost a foregone conclusion that a Beatles album would be on this list. This is one of three compilation albums on the list and one of four that I didn’t own (it was my brother Reg’s). Even though I now think virtually all Beatles albums are great, it was this album that really introduced me to the genius of the band. Strawberry Fields Forever is still my favourite Beatles song (and one of the top two or three by any artist).
Fun fact: I think Old Brown Shoe is a great song. Really.
2. Elton John – Elton John’s Greatest Hits (1974). I guess this album is known as Volume 1 or something like that now, as there are a number of Elton John greatest hits packages. This is the second compilation on my list. Also, this album has the distinction of being the first album I ever bought. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me remains my all-time favourite pop song by any artist. And if you think Elton John is only a pop singer, check out Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting – Elton and the band could rock out like nobody’s business. Like The Beatles, many great albums, but this one not only introduced me to Elton John, but to good rock music in general.
Fun fact: Never could figure out the lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
3. Jethro Tull – Songs from the Wood (1977). This is another album that I discovered at the City Hall library. If memory serves, I had already heard of Tull because my best friend Wayne had Aqualung. In any event, this album was the first to introduce me to the joys of rock music that incorporates folk elements, opening the door to bands like Steeleye Span and Newfoundland’s own Figgy Duff. Some of this album is very heavy; other parts are very light. (As you will see, I love dynamic contrast.)
Fun fact: Hunting Girl is one kinky song. Clever, too: “I raised the flag that she unfurled.”
4. Klaatu – Hope (1977). I first found out about this album through a review in some music magazine long since forgotten. I was intrigued by the reference to “orchestral backdrops” and thought combining rock music and orchestra might be interesting. (I was unaware at the time of any such music.) Well, I bought this album and brought it home and played it. I vividly remember my reaction – I was knocked out. The album came as advertised, with orchestral music coexisting fairly harmoniously with the rock instruments. A strong Beatles influence is present throughout, although I only found out later that some thought that Klaatu were, in fact, The Beatles re-formed (a mistaken impression the record company unsurprisingly did not discourage). Although the album has not aged very well, I still get a kick out of Around the Universe in 80 Days.
Fun fact: After I bought this album, I played it through at least once per day for 30 consecutive days. Maybe that’s why it didn’t age well…
5. Paul McCartney and Wings – Band on the Run (1973). This was the second album I ever owned. When I got it, I only knew the Band on the Run single. When I played the whole album through, it seemed to me a direct descendant of The Beatles later work. Almost every song seemed like an instant classic, with McCartney’s trademark melodies combined with great arrangements and great playing. Some have said this album is all style and no substance, but I disagree. There seems to be real passion in these performances.
Fun fact: Back then, I was inordinately proud that the first two albums I owned were so great. Little did I know that Barry Manilow was in my not-too-distant future…
6. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973). I first became aware of this album because my oldest brother had the 8-track. I remember that one of the cars he owned was a huge ’69 Mercury Marquis two-door convertible with an 8-track player and he used to play this tape in it. Later, my other brother bought a home stereo with an 8-track player (that I was not allowed to touch, natch.) I used to sneak in and listen to this tape whenever I could. What impressed me was that the whole album seemed like one long connected piece (what I would later learn was called a “concept album”). Whatever. I only knew it was great, especially under headphones. This album holds up remarkably well for something almost 40 years old.
Fun fact: I was never a great whistler, but I had just enough range to whistle Dave Gilmour’s solo on Time (one of my all-time favourite guitar solos, by the way).
7. Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975). My brother Reg introduced me to the album, via Bohemian Rhapsody. If memory serves, he heard a bar band cover it (!) and went out and bought the album. I never owned a copy of my own until years later. Not much to add to what’s already been said about Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury, but I have to say that, to me, Queen is Brian May’s band. It’s his guitar playing that is my favourite element of Queen’s music and the solo in Bohemian Rhapsody remains my all-time favourite guitar solo. I love how he gets that “screaming” sound on the highest note.
Fun fact: Whenever I played the song Death on Two Legs in my room, I would run over to the stereo and turn down the volume when Mercury sang “But now you can kiss my ass goodbye” for fear my mother would hear it and confiscate the album.
8. The Runaways – Waitin’ for the Night (1977). Can anyone out there remember 90 Minutes Live with Peter Gzowski? That’s where I first saw The Runaways. They played two songs from Waitin’ for the Night on Gzowski’s program (Wasted and School Days – two of the best songs on the album). I remember two things about their appearance: the power of the music, and the fact that they all thanked their moms for supporting their rock’n’roll dreams. I have noted elsewhere on this blog that there is a sense of earnestness to The Runaway’s music that, although anathema to the true spirit of rock’n’roll, is somehow endearing. Cherie Currie was out of the band by this point, by the way.
Fun fact: I may have blushed when I finally figured out what Joan Jett meant by “getting wet” on a couple of the songs.
9. Rush – A Farewell to Kings (1977). Rush is my all-time favourite rock group, so it was obviously tempting to throw two or three other albums on this list (especially Hemispheres, which is my favourite Rush album.) However, we’re looking at impact here, and this was the first Rush album I ever heard. I had never even heard of the band when I settled in to watch the Juno awards in 1977 (or ’78, can’t recall for sure). When I saw Alex Lifeson play the classical guitar intro to the title track, I was interested. When the electric guitars came crashing in immediately after, I was hooked. By the end of the song, I was a Rush fan for life. It was one of those times where you want the song to never end. I went out and bought the album with money I got for my birthday. The album is somewhat uneven, but the best tracks, like Xanadu, are as good as anything Rush has ever done.
Fun fact: I bought the Sweet album Off the Record at the same time. My brother Reg hated Sweet, but grudgingly admitted that the Rush album was “pretty good.” High praise, coming from him. (He was four years older than me and didn’t generally like anything I liked.)
10. Steeleye Span – Original Masters (1977). While Jethro Tull mixed folk elements into their rock music, Steeleye Span approached their folk-rock fusion from more of a folk perspective. My best friend Wayne had this album and I fell in love with song All Around my Hat the first time I heard it. The contrast between the folk and rock elements, the use of traditional melodies as a base and especially Maddy Prior’s singing all combined to make music that I have never tired of after 30 years of listening.
Fun Fact: Still don’t know how the first word of the band’s name is pronounced. Is it “steel-eye” or “steel-ee”?