Music has been a big part of my life. Today, I follow new releases no way near as much as I did throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, but I hear that’s a common thing. Apparently, very few people add new acts to their personal canon once they’ve reached the age of 30. So, what follows are (in no particular order) 25 albums that have had a particular impact on me.
Please note that this is not a “Best of” type of thing or a list of recommendations. It’s just personal history. I have made no attempts to make the list more diverse or politically more sound than it is. It reflects the environment I was socialized in, with all its faults and shortcomings. This is, for better or worse, a personal blog.
Simon & Garfunkel, Greatest Hits (1972)
I don’t know where I got that record from, it was just around early on. It’s always been a favorite, but mainly a secret pleasure. For many years, I felt embarrassed for liking Simon & Garfunkel, but as Paul Simon once said: “Some songs have meaning, some songs are just songs. People like songs, they are pretty.”
Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung, À la carte (1984)
EAV, the best of Austrian pop. Smart, witty, and with a political edge I didn’t quite understand as a child, but which I appreciate all the more today. Geld oder Leben was their big seller, but I always preferred Á la carte. “Oh Bio Mio” and, especially, “Schweinefunk” are outstanding.
Talking Heads, Little Creatures (1985)
This was when I first ventured from bad pop to not-so-bad pop, inspired by some artist friend of my mom’s. “Psycho Killer” would have been the number one song, but, out of the albums, Little Creatures left the strongest mark.
Iron Maiden, Live After Death (1985)
This was my entry gate into metal, which would define my teenage years. The right release at the right time for me, it left a deep mark.
Testament, The Legacy (1987)
There are plenty of metal albums from the 1980s I am fond of, but Testament’s The Legacy remains a notch above the others. Slayer’s Reign in Blood would come in second, then an Anthrax or Helloween release.
Bad Religion, Suffer (1988)
I have a distinct memory of putting this on my turntable and, ten seconds into “You Are (the Government)”, thinking that this is what music should sound like. Edgy, yet melodic, I hadn’t heart anything like it before and it was a perfect fit. I’ve always had a soft spot for pop, and I’m afraid to say that pop punk appealed more to me musically than punk that seemed politically more interesting. If politics was the sole criterion, I’d probably have to list the Dead Kennedys’ Bedtime for Democracy, which marked my personal transition from metal to punk. Musically it was all about Epitaph, though. Rancid became an obvious choice, but – crucify me for it, if you like – the most playtime went to the Offspring’s Smash. Bad Religion albums got continuously worse after Against the Grain; at some point I just lost interest.
Ton Steine Scherben, Keine Macht für Niemand (1972)
The definite album for “Autonome”, the militant, extra-parliamentary left of the German-speaking world I came of age in.
The Last, Confession (1988)
If anyone asked me for my favorite album ever, this would probably be it. As stated above, I’m a sucker for pop if it’s good, and this is pop at its very best.
The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988)
What’s not to like about the Pogues, really? “Young Ned of the Hill” would be my favorite song, this is my favorite album.
Tom Waits, Rain Dogs (1985)
Similar experience to putting on Suffer for the first time: music as it ought to be! My infatuation with Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law did its part. Bone Machine would rank as my second favorite Tom Waits album.
Fellow Travellers, Just a Visitor (1992)
The Fellow Travellers might be the most underrated band ever. But at least in the German-speaking world (for whatever reason), they had a niche following in the early 1990s.
Beastie Boys, Check Your Head (1992)
I always felt that my personal development ran parallel to that of the Beastie Boys. I was 14 when Licensed to Ill came out and thought it was great. When I was 20, I thought Licensed to Ill was terrible, but then Check Your Head came out, which I thought was great again. Didn’t like the following albums too much, but reckon Paul’s Boutique is a dark horse.
House of Pain, self-titled (1992)
I assume that today many would see this as a prime example of cultural appropriation, but I was intrigued at the time and still find the album very listenable. I also like some of Everlast’s solo stuff, particularly “What It’s Like”.
Rage Against the Machine, self-titled (1992)
True story: I walked into my favorite record store, flipped through the new releases, saw a cover that caught my attention, asked the shop assistant to put on the record for me, and was sold in no time. Little did I know that this would become a blockbuster. Can’t change my opinion just because of that.
Attwenger, Pflug (1992)
There is a lot that’s bad in Austria, but when something is good it’s often very good. Here is a case in point. As terrible as it sounds, the combination of accordion, drums, and rap really works. Markus Binder, as grumpy as he seems (and perhaps is), has an incredible way with words, too. He’d certainly be more deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature than Bob Dylan, but we don’t need to talk prizes. In any case, one of Austria’s most precious cultural gifts of the twentieth century, no doubt.
Brand Nubian, In God We Trust (1993)
With an interest in hop hop, philosophy, and Black politics, it was impossible not to take notice of the Five Percenter bands appearing on the scene in the early 1990s. In God We Trust was the standout album. Lord Jammar has said some wacky things over the years, and not all of the lyrics on the record are kosher (pun intended), but it remains a very unique release.
Cartel, self-titled (1995)
The first time that immigrant kids in Germany made hip hop their weapon and got widespread recognition for it. Also hugely successful in Turkey, where most of the multi-lingual crew originated from. I guess it’s what you call groundbreaking.
Tocotronic, Digital ist besser (1995)
As excited as I was about Cartel, my own background caught up with me when it came to Tocotronic, a geeky German indie band, which released their first album right around the same time. I still think their early stuff was brilliant, but with the “White Album” of 2002 they turned too hipster and metropolitan German for a boy from the Alps like myself.
Innocence Mission, Birds of My Neighborhood (1999)
Pretty songs anyone? And pretty voice? Yet, what really intrigues me about Innocence Mission is the Catholicism. I grew up Catholic, was an altar boy, left the Church in my late teens, and later came to realize how much of a cultural Catholic I was. In that sense, Innocence Mission is a gift.
Low, Secret Name (1999)
To prove that I am no cultural or religious sectarian, I’ve also always been intrigued by this Mormon indie trio from Duluth. Plus, who knew that music could be played that slow? As with Innocence Mission, there are man and wife at the center, the latter providing the superior voice. Many lonely nights in my tent turned into good memories thanks to Low tunes.
Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004)
In the early 2000s, I mainly listened to what became known as “indie”, a musical category as vague as they get. But it was in that category where I found most of what I liked at the time. This was my favorite album of the era before I discovered the one below.
The Drones, Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By (2005)
Even the title tops Good News for People Who Love Bad New, which is already pretty good. And we’re talking about an Australian band! When I first listened to the album, I knew that my traveling days were coming to an end, I had always enjoyed my visits down under, and it has always put me in a good place since.
Dungen, Ta det lugnt (2004)
The reason this took on particular meaning for me also owes much to circumstance. I had already been intrigued by a band singing in Swedish becoming popular in US indie circles, but I developed a particular interest when moving to Sweden a couple of years later and even used the lyrics as a tool to learn the language – it worked pretty well.
Soap and Skin, Lovetune for Vaccum (2009)
Home court advantage. Wonderful artist from Austria, nuff said.
First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar (2012)
Home court advantage II. The Söderberg sisters grew up a short bicycle ride from where I settled in Stockholm. When they hit it big, their only problem was, in the words of a Swedish journalist, that they might be “loved to death”. I think they handled it all in stride. Great covers, too, from “Dancing Barefoot” to “War Pigs”.
(January 1, 2023)