Friday, April 10, 2009


Pitchfork has an ongoing feature which highlights artists who then pick out influential songs at 5 year intervals in their lives to see if it reveals anything about them and the music that they wind up making. I thought it was an interesting idea and wanted to turn it on myself to see what I listened to at those points in my life...

Age 5: Michael Jackson, Thriller

I still recall unwrapping the vinyl album for my birthday and listening to this endlessly. It was also paired with a Beach Boys double-vinyl of hits. I was pretty much listening to whatever my dad had on the radio which was golden oldies like CCR, the Beatles, and the Temptations. But MJ was the first music that I really gravitated towards that wasn’t because it was just what my dad was playing. I even had the Thriller Music Video and Making Of VHS which also had the Beat It video and Billie Jean live performance.

Even today I listen to vintage MJ on my iPod. The music he was making was unparalleled, which makes his descent into the crazy house so sad.

[Video on youtube]

Age 10: Whatever other kids were listening to.

Music was not a huge part of my life at this point so I pretty much missed out on all the 80’s music that everyone nowadays can’t get enough of. I was much more into cartoons like The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At this time, every girl was obsessed with New Kids on the Block and I probably heard more of their music than I care to admit. I think it was also around the period of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, both of which I had cassette singles of their hits.

[Video on youtube]

Age 15: Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

The gap between 10 and 15 is immense. My tastes in this interval were admittedly questionable. I had CDs of Boyz II Men, Color Me Badd, and Mariah Carey, hahaha. Then came Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video. I didn’t have MTV as a kid so when a friend showed me the video, it was a revelation. I was immediately a convert to the whole Alternative scene. Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple and Pearl Jam’s Ten are all incredible albums, but nothing came close to Nirvana.

At age 15, the year was 1994 and Kurt Cobain had just committed suicide. I remember vividly where I was when I saw the MTV breaking news segment. It’s probably my generation’s John Lennon death moment. I was haunted and mesmerized by Nirvana’s Unplugged performance. I’m thankful they released it on CD because that thing didn’t leave my CD player.

[Video on youtube]

Age 20: Radiohead, OK Computer

Again, the interval of 15 to 20 is so large, it’s hard to feel that one album manages to encompass the whole period. I was still firmly rooted in Alternative, but was definitely poised to branch out into less mainstream offerings. Electronica was starting to seep its way into my CD collection, with Thievery Corporation and Portishead leading the way. I also rediscovered The Beatles in a big way. The Anthologies came out, as well as an All-Beatles, No-Commercials radio station, which was unheard of in the pre-internet streams days. Collecting the entire discography was a long, hard mission.

Like Smells Like Teen Spirit, seeing Radiohead’s Karma Police video felt like a turning point. OK Computer remains one of my top 5 albums of all time and I wore out the CD and had to buy replacements.

This was before Radiohead really blew up and became the backbone to pretty much everyone’s Favorite Bands list. Not to sound like a music snob, but I remember a time when even just meeting someone who had heard of Radiohead became my instant friend. Kid A had yet to come out and my anticipation was at a fever pitch. This is when music became an obsession rather than a hobby.

Gomez also sprouted up as a heavy weight in my CD collection. Their first two albums, Bring It On and Liquid Skin, are still their best. Their varied and versatile body of work included delta blues, electronica, psychedilia, and Beatles-esque melodies. I hunted down bootleg copies of their live albums, which was tough in the pre-Bit Torrent days.

[Video on youtube]

Nowadays, I’d like to think that my music tastes are as varied as ever. My playlists incorporate old school country, lots of indie, electronica/dance, 80’s, 70’s, classical, jazz, hip hop, bluegrass and “world” music. I’ll admit that music is more accessible today than ever, but there was a sense of accomplishment to actually digging around and discovering something new.

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