After years of refusal by my parents, in February of 1988 I was finally allowed to go to my first concert. It was stipulated, however, that my older brother had to go with me, I had to be home by a certain time, and couldn’t smoke grass. (The last stipulation was implied.) I hadn’t been a true Yes fanatic in years, but they were playing in Houston and my brother was coming home from college and wanted to go, and after missing every touring band I’d wanted to see play live (Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, among others), I was determined to see the inside of an arena, no matter who was rocking it. And I would buy a T-shirt.
Seats found, T-shirt in hand, I watched as the room darkened, took note of the legendary smell of grass wafting over from the next section, and cheered the aging hippies on stage as they dedicated a song to the previous year’s magically relevant Harmonic Convergence; now, thanks to the magical internet, the entire concert can be downloaded. Groovy.
10. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Flavor Flav is all over VH-1 with his reality series Flavor of Love and, prior to that, his stint on The Surreal Life. If you’ve wondered what happened to the group that gave him his claim to fame, they’re still around, still on the edge—maybe they even fell off the other side. See, for example, “Fuck George Bush”; for even more edge-defying, here they are performing in Austin, Texas.
9. Galaxie 500, Today
The funny part is, my parents actually had a big gold 1968 Ford Galaxie 500, (though not the convertible), so there was no way I could refuse a band that named itself after one of the pillars of my childhood. I mean, good thing they were so good, right?
8. Dinosaur Jr., Bug
The conversation about Dinosaur Jr. usually begins with “Living All Over Me—what an album.” This is almost always followed by: “You know, Bug is good too.” And that’s exactly what it is; this is good, too. If you love the other, you’ll like this. It’s second-rate, comparatively, but come on, that’s next to one of the decade’s greatest recordings. Second-best, but better than most bests.
7. Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
I don’t mean for this to get all learner’s-permit Less Than Zero, but that’s the way it happened, so that’s the way I’m going to report it. My parents and I got in a fight and, after shoving my dad against the fridge (true), I ran to my car, jumped in, and sped off. After driving for 10 minutes or so, it started raining—a certain kind of rain that Houstonians know well—a hot, springtime shower that begins and ends almost without warning: when the humidity goes past max, squeezing water out of the air. After only a minute or so, unable to see, with the water slushing up to the curbs, I pulled into a cul-de-sac, and listened to “She Divines Water” over and over, concentrating, forcing myself to remember every detail, thinking it would be something I’d need someday—and now here we are.
6. N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton
Is there anything more embarrassing, more toe-curling than narrative interludes on an album? It’s nerve-wracking, like improv. And how does N.W.A. pull off cheesy narrative interlude after interlude? (Dr. Dre: “Ice Cube…Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help your black ass?”) Because N.W.A.’s MC lineup was unstoppably talented—Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Ren. Headliners all. They’re like the hip-hop version of The State. (Ice Cube: “You goddamn right.”)
5. My Bloody Valentine, Isn’t Anything
This is the other My Bloody Valentine album. The other other My Bloody Valentine album (Ecstasy) came out the year before this (and the other other other album—the goth one—two years before then), and was a fraction as good. However, because of the My Bloody Valentine album—the one that would come out three years from this point, the other other My Bloody Valentine album soon would be worth a small fortune—until mp3s flattened the rare recording market, that is. In fact, I had a copy of that album and sold it just weeks before I downloaded my first copy of Napster. That sale, anchored by a childhood’s worth of Transformers and G.I. Joes, netted around $3,000 and funded my move to New York in 1999.
4. Morrissey, Viva Hate
Since I missed the Smiths, this was the first new Morrissey album I would get the chance to buy. And I bought into the whole thing: got the album, the singles, the T-shirts, the magazines, the stickers, the pins, the posters, the confused parents, the confused metalhead friends, the clothes, the shoes, the quotes, the James Dean book, the mope, the haircut—traded everything I had for everything I wanted to be. I still have the glasses. Oh, and the albums.
3. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
I turned in an album review to an editor once and he asked me to give it a rating on a scale of one to 10; I emailed back: “10.” He asked if I were certain about that, and to consider that “10” had to be a flawless album—”like Daydream Nation.” Which made perfect sense, because that’s where this album sits in the pantheon of music criticism: Daydream Nation is the unimpeachable apex of indie rock. It’s the form to which all other albums of its ilk are compared. I’m going to give it a 9.8.
2. Eric B. & Rakim, Follow the Leader
What an album: stripped-down hip-hop to the core, but a with a big push of the envelope, and after 20 years Rakim’s deadly lyrics are still unblunted; Eric B.’s tangential production—introducing classical piano to scratching, synths to dance-beats—still drops jaws. Not just an essential step in hip-hop’s musical development, Follow the Leader is polished brilliance.
Album of the Year: Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking
The first time I saw this album was in the darkroom during photography class. Under the orange light, a friend held the tape up and asked if I’d heard it yet.
“Metal,” he replied.
Of course, it turned out to be more than that; it turned out to be an entirely different kind of music: a combination of metal, rock (hard, classic, all varieties in between), funk, punk—even Caribbean (you know, the steel drums in “Jane Says?”). It was the alternative to everything, even though it was everything wrapped together as one. It was multicultural, it bridged everything, and backed down from nothing. It was electric, made your hairs stand; it was heartfelt, and melted more than a few. This album, the band’s second, launched the band into the public consciousness, sealing a future of Lollapaloozas, smart drinks, and piercings.
In fact, it may be the reason behind your tattoo. Whether you know it or not, it probably is.