If we make music, I believe we’re all a product of our influences. I’ve loved music ever since I was very small and over the decades, I have listened to a lot of music. I had hundreds of albums, when vinyl was king. I had hundreds of CDs. As a musician, songwriter and producer, I was always listening to those records, both to entertain myself, so that I could feel the emotional power of those works, but also to learn how to make music myself. The theory was (and is) that if you learn how the music you like was made, you will find a way to make music you like, or more accurately, find a way to like the music you make.
So I learned to listen to my favourite music in two ways. One way was at face value, letting the music take me on a journey that satisfied my emotional needs. In this mode, I was a pure consumer. The other way was to learn to listen to the pieces that made it up, de-constructing it to learn how the parts went together and second guessing which processing, synthesisers or effects were used. I wanted to know the musical structure, how the arrangement evolved and what the harmonic and chordal nuts and bolts were.
Every now and then, in all those years, I would hear a record so fresh, original, different, new and surprising, that I couldn’t figure out how it was made and had to go back to basics to figure it all out from scratch. These records not only made a sonic impact on me, they reached me at the time of my life I encountered them, in ways that other records couldn’t.
In every case, they changed my entire approach to music making, playing, singing, harmonising, song-writing, record production, arrangement and even the instruments and sounds that I wanted to use. Some encouraged me to believe that a single artist, working with the right people and equipment, could produce outstanding results, if they tried. It encouraged me to carry on developing my skills as a music maker. I played each of these records to death, gaining insight and inspiration from every play. These are the records I loved most.
A list like this is very personal and what worked for me may leave everybody else cold. Some people might even think this collection naff. That’s kind of irrelevant to the present discussion. It doesn’t matter how it affects you; it’s what affected me.
Rather than explaining what it was that stood out for me on each of these records, which is a subject of a blog post per record in reality, I thought I would just present the list below, without comment. There were many notable singles that stood out for me too, but these albums were, to me, little perfectly formed gems, which held my interest from beginning to end and left me with a sense of completeness. Here they are (in no particular order):
- Hits of Les and Mary – Les Paul and Mary Ford
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
- Abbey Road – The Beatles
- Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Rick Wakeman
- The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
- Band on the Run – Wings
- A Night At The Opera – Queen
- Ego Is Not A Dirty Word – Skyhooks
- Boston – Boston
- Black Rose – Thin Lizzy
- Rage in Eden – Ultravox
- The Golden Age of Wireless – Thomas Dolby
- Oxygene – Jean Michel Jarre
- Magnetic Fields – Jean Michel Jarre
The astute reader will notice that these records were all made a long time ago. That isn’t to say that newer albums didn’t impress me or make an impact on me, just that these records came into my life at a formative time and lead me in the directions that would result in a lifetime of musical study. I like lots of the more recent music, but these are the records that first shook my world and opened my mind to the possibilities. If I had thought about it for too long, I would have been tempted to add probably another fifteen equally beloved records, but these are the few that made me realise that all I had known before was in need of serious revision. These were the ground-breaking events in my musical life.
If you have the chance to listen to these records, what you’ll notice is that I like a lot of musical colours in my music. For those of you that have seen my paintings, this will not come as a surprise. It’s entirely consistent. Other musicians that do this exercise might also be pleasantly surprised to notice a consistency of aesthetic at the heart of what they do. This consistency of aesthetic is revealing of our authenticity, as artists. It’s a good thing.
I believe that these breakthrough records impart an indelible stamp on you as a musician, no matter how your personal style and sound evolves. Just the approach to making music that each one teaches is like a fingerprint, detectable in all you write and record. This is my musical DNA.
So this is what made me the musician I am, as near as I can tell. If you are a musician, which records profoundly influenced your music?