1. Alan Vega - Shooting For You (Just A Million Dreams, 1985)
Hitching a ride on the headphone express. The right song can get you wherever you want to go. Eyes closed, ears open, waking into twilit memories and faded fantasies. Backseat rides nodding off through childhood trips and forgotten familiar streets to CD swirls of another world, or into teen heat fever dreams, getting gone to siren songs of faded summer sweethearts. Mp3 is the mass market flux capacitor, digital vinyl spinning at 88 revolutions per minute.
2. American Nightmare - (We Are) (Background Music, 2001)
Weekly visits to the record store constituted my real teenage education, and I knew I was on to something really good when the store actually had to special order certain albums in for me. Those IMPORT stickers were like little seals of approval and promises of magic within.
3. Rise Above - Black Flag (Damaged, 1981)
Hearing that album for the first time was like finding the magic sunglasses from They Live that let you see the world the way it really was. Five minutes of Damaged and you started noticing sinister subliminal messages everywhere you looked, brainwash banners telling you to CONFORM, BUY, SUBMIT, REMAIN PASSIVE, DON’T QUESTION. Five minutes of Greg Ginn slaughtering his guitar and Henry Rollins slaughtering his throat and you started seeing aliens and evil overlords in every business suit and pair of spit-shined shoes.
4. Gorilla Biscuits - Start Today (Start Today, 1989)
Punk rock was an alchemical equation, an occult potion that stripped away the illusions of suburbia and the lies your teacher told you. Teenage thrash and burn. Our band will be your life.
5. Iron Maiden - Wrathchild (Killers, 1981)
Horror movies paved the way to those horror movies of parents everywhere: punk rock and heavy metal. Black Sabbath, Metallica, Iron Maiden and the Misfits. Songs of Satan and serial murder, suicide, sex and smoking, and t-shirts and album covers full of bloody knives, inverted crosses and sultry devil-women. These bands spoke to every adverse impulse my youth damaged mind could concoct. Ozzy Osbourne sang about the sweet leaf and Aleister Crowley. Metallica were the four horsemen of the apocalypse, making me want to kill ‘em all (until the apocalypse actually came, and it was called the Black Album). Maiden gave me Satan’s phone number and not only did the Misfits sing about all those movies I grew up on, but they made me realise I wasn’t the only one more interested in the monster. Even the Ramones sang about chainsaw massacres, ancient goblins and warlocks.
6. The Jesus And Mary Chain - Just Like Honey (Psychocandy, 1985)
Remembering sounds like synthesisers and drum machines floating in an amphetamine swirl of static and reverb that feels like its been decaying for the past thirty years, like the everlasting echo of a chord struck by My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus And Mary Chain through a never-ending delay pedal back in 1987, ringing on through the years and ears of faded youth.
7. King Diamond - Dressed In White (Fatal Portrait, 1986)
I thought about that girl, and wondered if there was anything I could have done when I had briefly crossed paths with her years before, to turn her away from a future of bike track rape and hammer brain surgery as high school initiation. And I thought about how close I had come to this violence that I had never encountered before in my life. Mine was a mind exposed to violence only ever through the looking glass of the silver screen, raised on chainsaws, decapitations and disembowelments and woefully unprepared for the non-celluloid alternative, something so simple and unfathomable as a hammer against the head of a girl I might have known.
8. Lifetime - Theme Song For A New Brunswick Basement Show (Jersey’s Best Dancers, 1997)
When I discovered punk it just cemented my resolve, and made me believe it could actually happen. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts my first band came out more Poison than punk rock. I wanted to be At The Drive-In but ended up at the drive-in in the old man’s Ford. Literally stuck in the backseat of my father’s Falcon for the five hour drive to our first out-of-town show because he thought I was too young to ride with the rest of the band for such a distance, and so the first realisation of my dreams of playing in a travelling punk band didn’t exactly turn out the way I envisioned while reading Alternative Press back issues and watching my favourite tour documentaries.
9. Metallica - Ride The Lightning (Ride The Lightning, 1984)
My first board was a fluro yellow behemoth hand-me-down from my older brother that looked like the bastard spawn of an orgy of bad eighties trends, filtered through the voyeuristic lens of a never-cool nineties chain store trying to imitate old school style. A twenty dollar piece of shit from Target complete with a not-quite-offensive decal of an anthropomorphic bird with attitude, neon green nose and rail guards and matching wheels, and foot-pad grip tape only, so you could always show off that fluro yellow deck that may as well have been made out of an entire Redwood. I could barely lift it and even a real skater would have had trouble getting that monster in the air. I was stoked.
10. Minor Threat - Betray (Out Of Step, 1983)
I did my research online and slowly worked my way across a virtual America, regional scene by regional scene, trying to visualise what these places looked like through clues I gleaned from lyric sheets and the sound of the guitars on a given record. I tried to decide where I would fit into these different worlds; was I more New York hardcore? DC? Boston? Dischord Records or Revelation Records? Faith or Void? Minor Threat or Youth Of Today? Straight edge, left-wing, anarchist, vegan, Hare Krishna, youth crew or skinhead?
11. Nas - N.Y. State Of Mind - (Illmatic, 1994)
I used to listen to Nas’s Illmatic and the first generation of Wu-Tang albums and trip out on visions of New York, astrally projecting myself through all the places I heard name dropped. Rattling through the boroughs on the hip hop A-train, I was spraying graff on a wall in Queens as the train from “The Genesis” sailed overhead, and then I was off to Staten Island with the Shaolin Shadowboxers, watching Scarface, Shogun Assassin and Iron Man cartoons. I had a New York state of mind, and I was only built for Cuban links. Those albums were audio books with accompanying soundtracks, every incidental noise, overheard conversation and snippet of background music incorporated into the story. You could get lost in them, and they were better than the majority of the actual books I’d already read.
12. New Order - The Perfect Kiss (Low-Life, 1985)
Of course we ended up kissing, and it was like coming up for air after an entire life spent underwater. From the kiss it was straight to weeks spent on her bedroom floor because her bed was too in view of her father’s open door policy. On her floor and on further bushwalks we discovered sex in each other’s bodies, by doing everything but. Always fully clothed and acting like we were doing something else just in case, illegal hands shot up shirts and skirts and down pants. I left stains on her carpet the way the time we fooled around in her pool when her parents were out stained my feelings of arousal with the smell of chlorine for years after.
13. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The Beginning And The End (Architecture & Morality, 1981)
The jangling guitars, echoing drum machines and romantic synthesisers of New Wave were the aural antithesis of hardcore, but I found them just as earth shattering. The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order. An older guy at my high school would hand me some new, mystical burned CD every morning and tell me “Listen to this”. That was all it took.
14. Pentagram - Sign Of The Wolf (Relentless, 1985)
I wouldn’t learn their names until after, but if it had anything to do with George Romero, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, or the absolute king of celluloid filth, Tom Savini, odds are it gave me a prepubescent gore-rection. The nod of approval or “Right on, dude” from the sinister stoner in the Pentagram and Slayer shirts was all I needed to slap down the five buck weekly allowance that was burning a hole in my pocket and take home another dispatch from the land of depravity I so desperately wanted to live in.
15. Poison - Talk Dirty To Me (Look What The Cat Dragged In, 1986)
Posters of Nirvana adorned my bedroom walls alongside conflicting banners for the hair metal bands and seventies and eighties superstars that Kurt Cobain had consigned to supermarket CD racks and music store sale bins: Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Poison, and others from the spandexed and teased hair legions. Monthly injections of Guitar World’s obsession with bygone superstars and fretboard wankers gave me a skewed taste in music as a teenager hitting puberty in the twenty-first century, when even the grunge that had destroyed eighties metal was considered dinosaur rock.
16. Prurient - Many Jewels Surround The Crown (Bermuda Drain, 2011)
Childhood dreams were hallucinogenic head movies populated by lawnmower men, cyborgs, robocops and road warriors. Making up movies to go with the covers of tapes I saw after I’d already filled my weekly allotment and were either gone or forgotten by the next trip usually set the imagination going even faster than the movies I did see. Inner skull projections of a dystopic future, decimated neotokyos abandoned by organic life, all crystal canyons and quartz spires and signs pointing to Bermuda Drain. Somewhere the Terminator stalked Mad Max and a one-eyed Kurt Russell just fucked around in the debris and bloody aftermath, to a score of synthesisers and drum machines. Sirens and searchlights coloured the non-stop death disco, and the dancers hid in gutted skyscrapers and burned out cars and in endless underground caverns, tunnelling to nowhere in the echo of the machine heartbeats above. Industrial machinery hammering out twisted infernal dance music in the Always Night, soundtracking memories of a past life in the postapocalyptic wastelandscape of the American 1980s.
17. The Smiths - I Know It’s Over (The Queen Is Dead, 1986)
Henry Rollins and Morrissey sounded like polar opposites but they both spoke to the same electric currents of teenage life. The Smiths were one of the only bands that I had to own everything by, even the compilations and foreign versions that were basically the same albums, bar maybe one or two songs. I had Singles, Louder Than Bombs and The World Won’t Listen. The Queen Is Dead is probably still the most perfect forty minutes of music I’ve ever heard, and “I Know It’s Over” maybe the single most beautiful song to grace these ears. I would listen to that song on repeat after numerous break-ups I felt should have affected me more, trying to force some emotion to justify the seemingly unnatural amount of love I had for the song. Every time I hear that album it takes me back to endless afternoons spent listening on repeat while tracing the progress of a spider across my bedroom ceiling and thinking about the normal kids outside in the sun and that girl who was definitely not inside listening to The Smiths and thinking about me.
18. Strawberry Switchblade - Since Yesterday (Strawberry Switchblade, 1985)
There’s an eighties movie inside me trying to get out, a mess of memory and dreams of a film I’m not sure I ever saw. Pastel California sunshine, fluro skate decks and girls with New Wave hair, with a score by Tangerine Dream and Giorgio Moroder. I’ve been chasing it my whole life. I feel a nostalgic pull every time I hear the echo of drum machines or the swoon of synthesisers, or see spandex and sprayed hair, lost in a John Hughes prom scene.
19. Tangerine Dream - The Dream Is Always The Same (Risky Business OST, 1984)
She made me want to run. She made me want to throw out my books and burn all my records, because I could blink an entire galaxy into existence with the energy I got from one glance at her, and burn it out by the time my eyes opened again. She made me want to drive into a brick wall, to tear down every forest in the world and drain the oceans. But mainly we drank, we smoked and we drove in circles all night wearing out her tape deck. We went clubbing, we took pills, and I fell a bit further every time. I’d finally found a girl as obsessed with Henry Rollins as I was, and I was resolved to become her next ex-boyfriend or die trying.
20. Venom - To Hell And Back (Black Metal, 1982)
His trailer was a shrine to his heavy metal majesties and Satanic gods, emblazoned all over the walls his love for Sabbath, Maiden, Venom, Mercyful Fate and of course King Diamond. There was even a defaced poster of the Master of Puppets album cover, with the names Hetfield, Hammett, Burton and Ulrich scrawled in the same handwriting on separate gravestones, each dated 1991. Not a fan of the Black Album either, then.
21. Youth Of Today - Flame Still Burns (We’re Not In This Alone, 1988)
This was the ultimate feeling and expression of my teenage nights: climbing through the window after my parents were asleep and hitting the black top on those feet of youth in the quiet and moonlight, going to see my friends with a belly full of buzz and a head full of spin. Drinking and learning to smoke in parking lots and empty football fields, lying on the grass or warm tar on countless summer nights waiting for the lights over the field to go out, or just reeling from too much MDMA. Trying to impress whatever girls we’d conned into coming out with us, and running into other groups of pilgrims on parallel drunken slogs through the midnight hours. Youth was a nation unto itself and we lived in the dead hours inbetween days, ghosting our way through daylight sentences at school and home and all those fixtures of the sunlit world. At night we ride.
I’d heard a few later Jimmy Eat World songs and liked what I’d heard. Clarity was the only album the record store had in stock, and even though I didn’t recognise any of the track titles on the back cover I figured it was a sure thing. Boy was I wrong. Buyer’s remorse multiplied by disappointment multiplied by betrayal equaled one unhappy kid. I hated Clarity with more passion than I found in the several songs I managed to stay awake through. For reasons unknown I gave it a second chance on road trip Walkman duty a few months later. Half asleep in my parents’ backseat, somewhere in another state and about twelve minutes into the outro of “Goodbye Sky Harbor” I finally got it.
I can’t stand Bono and generally feel the same way about U2 as a whole. The Edge is probably just as bad as Bono. Anybody who wears a beanie 24/7 and has “The” in their name clearly can’t be trusted. That being said, The Unforgettable Fire is pretty much a perfect record and almost makes up for everything else. How much of that is down to Brian Eno is up for debate.
A kid in a record store with a pocket full of lawn mowing money and no clue. Somehow by my early teens I’d never heard “Common People” or “Disco 2000” and thus didn’t know Pulp were not, in fact, a hardcore band, contrary to what I thought was the rather explicit promise of the album title. Naturally, I hated “This Is Hardcore”. Naturally, as with most albums I hated on first listen, it would later become an all-time favourite.
Jesus Christ is no Jarvis Cocker, though he has the same initials.