Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Not too long ago Jeff and I were discussing the most important songs or albums in our lives. It was an entertaining conversation, but I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. The most time and effort I put into any school assignment (aside from a failed attempt to understand Kepler’s Harmonies of the Planets) is when I took a recording engineer class and we were asked to write about our top five albums of all time. There are so many moments that came to mind during the discussion – from one of my earliest memories of being scared as a two year old by the opening heartbeat and screams of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” while my dad cranked it on his HiFi, to the 2003 Killing Joke LP that spoke to me so strongly that it helped me find peace with my declining health. How could I forget moving the needle around Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” from their hit “Heart of Glass” to the way cooler and addictive “Hangin’ on the Telephone” in 1977? Or when I bought my first New Order album just because the cover is so damn mysterious and beautiful? Or along the same lines, when Bill said that I should buy the Joy Division album with the white squiggles, because he thought he remembered hearing it at Charlie Taylor’s party one time? All of these are moments are of great importance to me personally in defining my tastes and impacting the quality of my life, but what is truly the most important album of them all? To answer this question, I have to look at things differently than I normally do. When I finally narrowed down an all-time top five for that assignment, I think I managed at that moment (1992) to combine my most listened to records with those that helped shape my interests and found ways to expand my horizons. Interestingly, I don’t think any of those are the most influential album, mainly because each one is an individual artist or band. My decision isn’t based on what I’ve simply listened to more than any other either, but how it led me to many of my most listened to albums of all time. What is this magical album? “The Vertigo Sampler,” a double LP released in Canada in the spring of 1985.
The day I found this record is still burned vividly in my mind. I found the record at Driftwood Mac (often referred to as “Butthole Mac”) in Taft on a warm but showery spring day in 1985. My parents had dropped me off there while they took care of some errands on that end of town. I was just becoming an avid music consumer, but was limited by not having an income outside of a weekly allowance for chores. I had been into our towns only record store once or twice before and was a little scared of the Mike, the hippie that owned the store. I wasn’t so sure about the random display of the small selection, or of the proliferation of psychedelic HP Lovecraft posters on the yellowed walls. However, I quietly continued on to search the records on display and avoided eye contact with hopes of avoiding any conversation with Mike. After all, I was stuck there until my parents swung by to pick me up anyway. Moving from A to Z, I didn’t find anything I wanted, but I did see a gray double album in the Various Artists section that was priced at $5. I picked it up to examine it. It included ABC’s “Be Near Me,” which I already owned a 45 for. It had a couple of Big Country songs and I liked what I had heard of them, but most significantly, it had what was called a “World Remixed Version” of Tears for Fears’ first LP single “Mad World.” For five dollars I decided I had to buy it!
When I finally put the needle down on the record, I went straight to this remix of “Mad World.” No matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, there seemed to be no remix. It sounded the same as the version I already owned. Despite this disappointment, I listened on, and little by little the songs sunk in. I heard the Boomtown Rats, The Icicle Works, Cocteau Twins, The Cult, Gene Loves Jezebel, Tones on Tail, Colourbox, This Mortal Coil, and complete unknowns Rubber Rodeo and Zerra 1. What did this collection do for me? It exposed me to several new artists. During the next year, I am certain that I bought 40 albums directly due to their exposure on the Vertigo Sampler, which in turn allowed me access to the artists that inspired them and so and so on. It is truly the most important album in my life, even if I’ve only listened to it a few times since the 80s.