Influential Albums: 547-553
Sat., Nov. 13. 2021 4:19pm EST
J. Jackson, lead singer and lyricist for ApologetiX here again.
Here are the latest entries in the "albums that influenced me" series I started writing in May 2020. Rather than listing the albums in order of preference or excellence, I'd been listing them in chronological order of when they influenced me, as best as I recall. We were well into 1987, and you'll start seeing a lot of Christian albums once we get to 1988.
However, in May 2021, I realized that I'd neglected to include many influential albums along the way, so I've been catching up on those for a while before we get to that momentous moment in '88 when my life and musical trajectory was forever changed. You'll still see plenty of secular albums after that, but music was never the same for me after.
547. The Solo Albums - KISS
Ah, the sheer audacity of releasing four solo albums simultaneously under the KISS umbrella! Not even The Beatles would try that! There's nothing like the sweet smell of excess. But that's why people loved (or hated) KISS, right? The release date was September 18, 1978, and the world would never be the same. Well, OK, the world didn't change much, but the record racks sure looked cool to these 14-year-old eyes with all of those albums side by side. For the record (or is it "Four the records"?), Peter's album went to #43, Paul's went to #40, Ace's went to #26, and Gene's went to #22. Ace's sold the most copies in the long run and spawned the only Top 40 hit out of the bunch, "New York Groove" (#13) — a remake of a Russ Ballard song the British group Hello had already covered in '75 and taken to #9 on the U.K. charts. Ironically, Ace hadn't even wanted to record it, but his co-producer, the legendary rock engineer Eddie Kramer, eventually prevailed upon him to do so. I bought that single and Gene's "Radioactive," which went to #47. Both of them received many spins on my record player. My friend Jeff Henry went a step further and bought Gene's album, which also contained a cover of the Disney chestnut "When You Wish Upon a Star," plus another song featuring a guest appearance by Gene's girlfriend Cher. The single from Paul's solo album, "Hold Me, Touch Me" went to #46, but I never owned it. Peter's album was the only one to produce to two singles — "Don't You Let Me Down" and "You Matter to Me" — but neither charted, which probably did let him down and mattered to him.
548. Fiddler on the Roof - Original Cast Recording/Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Recording
Fiddler on the Roof is another musical where both the Broadway and film versions influenced me. We had the original cast recording in our house when I was a kid, and I heard it aplenty, but I remember seeing the movie, too, although I can't recall if it was in the theater or on television. Anyway, I've owned the soundtrack for many years now. As a father of four daughters, I can identify with Tevye, the protagonist in Fiddler on the Roof. He had one more daughter than I do, but I have five kids like he did, and my first four were girls, too. I've shown the film to my kids a couple of times — initially to the older ones and later to the younger ones. Zero Mostel (whom you may remember from the Mel Brooks movie The Producers) played Tevye in the original 1964 production and won a Tony award for his performance, but Chaim Topol played him in the 1971 film. It's not like Topol was new to the role; he'd already played Tevye in Tel Aviv and in the '67 London West End production. He went on to perform the role more than 3,500 times in shows and revivals through 2009. In fact, Topol lasted so long that an actress who played one of his daughters ended up playing his wife, Golde, in a later production in which he was still playing Tevye! In the early 1990's, I also bought a comedy album that did rap versions of songs from Fiddler on the Roof. It was called Fiddling with Tradition and was performed by a duo called 2 Live Jews — a.k.a. Moise MC and Easy Irving — who in reality were two young Jewish men posing as two old Jewish men. Speaking of comedy (or attempts at such), I wrote a spoof of "If I Were a Rich Man" for my dad's birthday or Father's Day one year when I was growing up. What a great song ... the original, not my parody. Others iconic songs everybody knows from the show include "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset," and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," although other numbers also stuck with me through the years, like "Do You Love Me?" "Tevye's Dream," "Miracle of Miracles," "To Life," and "Far from the Home I Love." Believe it or not, the song I remember most from a performance I saw at a dinner theater in the 1990's is the dirgelike closing number, "Anatevka."
549. Signals – Rush
This album contains the answer to a trivia question most rock fans would be hard-pressed to answer: What was Rush's only Top 40 hit? It was actually the first single from Signals, "New World Man," which went all the way up to #21 ... significantly higher than their second-biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "Tom Sawyer," which is far better remembered although it only went to #44. "New World Man" also became Rush's first #1 hit on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The band would eventually have four more of those — "Show Don't Tell," "Dreamline," "Stick It Out," and "Test for Echo" — but none came from this album. The other big album cuts from Signals on rock radio were "Subdivisions" and "The Analog Kid," which went to #8 and #19, respectively, on the rock chart. "Subdivisions" almost made the pop charts, too, bubbling under the Hot 100 at #105. "New World Man" was one of the songs in the repertoire of the nameless rock band I sang for in the summer of '83 (I wanted to call us "Common Courtesy," but we never could come to an agreement on that). I used to have a cassette of us performing it at our keyboard player's sister's graduation. Another future founding member of ApologetiX, Andy Sparks, played guitar and occasional bass (when I wasn't playing it) in that band. Alas, despite the airplay on pop radio, Signals was a step backward on the album charts for Rush. The previous two albums — 1980's Permanent Waves and 1981's Moving Pictures — both hit the Top 5, but 1982's Signals peaked at #10. More tellingly, Moving Pictures sold 5 million copies, whereas Signals only sold a million. Then again, Moving Pictures was Rush's biggest album and the band's only non-compilation to sell more than a million besides their 1976 classic, 2112 , which sold three million.
550. Thriller - Michael Jackson
If you were a pop music listener between 1982-84, how can you not have been influenced by this album? Like it or not, Thriller was the first LP to produce five Top 10 hits, six Top 10 hits, and seven Top 10 hits. Only two other albums have done it since — Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen and Rhythm Nation 1814 by Michael's sister, Janet, who bested her brother by becoming the first and only artist to have an album with seven Top 5 hits! But Thriller went to #1 on the album charts for 37 weeks, second only to the West Side Story soundtrack. Moreover, it became the best-selling album in history — a title it still holds — with an estimated 70 million copies worldwide (49 million certified, including 34 million in the United States). It started out so innocently ... a duet with Paul McCartney called "The Girl Is Mine" that hit the Billboard Hot 100 on November 6, 1982, and eventually went to #2 for three weeks. I was a big McCartney fan, so I wanted it to succeed, even though all of us in the all-guy dorm my freshman year in college thought it was cheesy. We left for Christmas break with nary a clue that 1983 would be the year Michael would become the King of Pop. Then, on January 2, his record company released the second single from Thriller, "Billie Jean." That song was still climbing the charts when they released "Beat It" on February 14. "Billie Jean" hit #1 on March 5 and stayed there for seven weeks until it was finally knocked out of the top spot by "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners. The following week, "Beat It" hit #1, where it remained for three weeks. I had learned about that song over Christmas break ... my first band's bass player, Gerard Dominick, played it for me because he thought the crossover with Eddie Van Halen was so cool. Those singles would be followed by "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (#5), "Human Nature" (#7), "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" (#10), and "Thriller" ("#4). As if that weren't enough, in between those last two, another duet with Paul McCartney, "Say Say Say," hit #1 for six weeks. I was already a veteran chart watcher by that time, so I was fascinated by the whole thing. Like many people my age, my first remembrance of Michael Jackson is from The Jackson 5ive, a cartoon series that ran Saturday mornings on ABC (of course) from 1971-72. My sisters had the sheet music for Michael's first #1 hit, "Ben," when it was a hit in 1972. Our family also had the music for "Rockin' Robin," Michael's #2 hit from earlier that year. I remember singing both at the piano in our living room. I liked a lot of Jackson Five songs, but the first Michael Jackson record I ever purchased myself was "Ease On Down the Road," his duet with Diana Ross from the '78 movie adaptation of the musical The Wiz. That single just missed the Top 40, conking out at #41. Of course, I'm a Jackson brother myself. When my wife and I had only three kids, people called us The Jackson 5. Once we had five kids, people called them The Jackson 5.
551. Asia – Asia
Asia's debut album did a very rare thing; it made progressive rock palitable to pop audiences. Then again, the band Asia itself was a real rock rarity — a "supergroup" that not only lived up to the hype but actually exceeded it. And the hype was warranted — all four members of Asia had already been members of other notable rock groups, including Atomic Rooster, The Buggles, Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, U.K., Uriah Heep, and Yes. At the time, I thought the group's name was kind of bland (especially when compared to some of those other groups' names), but I guess if you're going to name your band after a continent, you might as well pick the biggest one. Besides, that amazing album cover more than made up for it. Roger Dean, famous for his Yes album covers, did the artwork. He even found a way to make the band name look cool, turning it into a logo that has graced the cover of all 13 of Asia's studio albums, the last of which was released in 2014. I still remember the first time I heard their first album's first single, "Heat of the Moment," on the radio. It was April 9, 1982, and I was riding home from Pittsburgh in my classmate Michael Ranieri's car. We'd just seen The Police in concert (with opening act Bow Wow Wow) at the Civic Arena. The Asia album had actually been released on March 18, but the single didn't hit the Billboard rock chart until April 3 and the pop chart until April 17. I liked it immediately. "Heat of the Moment" eventually peaked at #4 on June 26, staying in that position for three weeks. It did even better on the rock chart, going all the way to #1 and staying there for six weeks. The second single from the album, "Only Time Will Tell," went to #8 on the rock chart and reached #17 on the pop chart in September. In between, four other album cuts also hit the rock chart: "Sole Survivor" (#10),"Wildest Dreams" (#28), "Here Comes the Feeling" (#40), and "Time Again" (#43). Not a bad haul for a "new" band's first release! Consequently, the album hit #1 for nine weeks and sold almost five million copies, including four million in the United States alone. I bought a copy to give as a gift. ApologetiX spoofed "Heat of the Moment" in 2015.
552. Voulez-Vous - ABBA
Released in April 1979, Voulez-Vous was ABBA's sixth studio album. I remember seeing ads for it in my Columbia Record House catalog and hearing its first U.S. single, "Does Your Mother Know," on the radio. It was strange to hear Bjorn singing the lead vocals instead of Agnetha and/or Anni-Frid, even though he'd done that a lot in their early days. I thought it was catchy but corny — it went to #19 on the U.S. pop chart, #4 U.K. — so I didn't give the album much thought. Six months later, when Greatest Hits Vol. 2 came out, I heard two of the other singles from Voulez-Vous, "Angeleyes" (#64 U.S., #3 U.K.), which I liked instantly, and "Chiquitita" (#29 U.S., #2 U.K.), which took many years to grow on me (although I like it a lot now). But that was only scratching the surface. Many years later, I would discover "I Have a Dream" (#2 U.K.), "If It Wasn't for the Nights," and the sizzling title track, which actually went to #80 U.S. and #3 U.K. as a flip side of "Angeleyes." This was peak ABBA, my friends. But it got even better: Later CD editions included the beautiful "Lovelight" and two of the best tunes from Greatest Hits Vol. 2, "Summer Night City" (a #5 U.K. hit that was originally recorded in the sessions for Voulez-Vous but was inexplicably left off the initial release) and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)," which was released as a single in October '79. It didn't chart in the United States, but went to #3 on the U.K. chart.
553. News of the World - Queen
Released in October 1977, News of the World was Queen's sixth album. I can't remember exactly how I wound up with a copy, but it came from one of the kids in my neighborhood. News of the World contained Queen's biggest U.S. hits up till that point, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions," which went to #4. The actual single featured "We Are the Champions" as the A-side, but radio stations often played the album version, which segued from "We Will Rock You." The single sold two million copies in the United States, and the album sold four million here and over five million worldwide. I was in the basement section of Troutman's department store in Greensburg when I first heard "We Will Rock You" in '77. The next thing I knew, the kids were stompin' to it on the bleachers in the school gym at a pep rally for our basketball team. ApologetiX released spoofs of both songs in 2009. The second U.S. single from this album was "It's Late," which went to #74. The second U.K. single was "Spread Your Wings," which went to #34 there. The most memorable other track for me was "Sheer Heart Attack," which was actually written for the band's third album, Sheer Heart Attack (duh) in 1974. It wound up as the B-side of "It's Late" in the U.S. and "Spread Your Wings" in the U.K. The iconic cover for News of the World was painted by Frank Kelly Freas and was based on artwork he had done for the cover of the October 1953 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Queen drummer Roger Taylor had a copy of that magazine, which inspired the band to contact Freas and see if he would alter the painting to include the four band members. The giant robot it depicts came to be known as "Frank," which I'm guessing may be a nod to the artist. Believe it or not, Queen originally hoped to call this album Duck Soup, continuing with the Marx Brothers film titles they had recycled for the previous two albums, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Groucho Marx turned them down but said they could use the title of his next movie, The Rolling Stones' Greatest Hits.
Note: Just because the albums on my list influenced me back then doesn't mean I give them all a blanket endorsement now. I started actively listening to music in the early 70's and didn't become a born-again Christian until early '88. However, I hope you'll see (as I do) how God's hand was at work behind the scenes from the start, preparing me for the work I believe He intended for me to do.