Influential Albums: 744-750
Fri., May. 27. 2022 3:45pm EDT
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.
744. Sweets from a Stranger - Squeeze
Squeeze's fifth LP charted higher than any of their others in the United States (#32), but don't read too much into that. I suspect that it rode the coattails of their previous album's breakthrough hit, "Tempted" (#49 pop, #8 rock). Released in May 1982, Sweets from a Stranger only had one charting single — a nice little number known as "Black Coffee in Bed" (#51 U.K. pop, #26 U.S. rock). The second single, "When the Hangover Strikes," struck out entirely. A third track, "I've Returned," was released as a single only in the Netherlands. Overall, I don't think the tunes on Sweets are nearly as catchy as their previous three albums, but my friend Michael Ranieri did introduce me to a hidden gem on side two, "His House Her Home," which ranks among my favorite Squeeze songs. I also like the title of another track, "Stranger Than the Stranger on the Shore," a reference to Mr. Acker Bilk's #1 hit from '62, "Stranger on the Shore," the first single by a British artist to ever top the Billboard Hot 100. In October '82, Squeeze released a "best of" collection, Singles - 45's and Under, which sold a million copies, but the band had split up by the end of the year, having never achieved a U.S. Top 40 hit. Five years later, however, they'd release another album, Babylon and On, which would net them not one but two: "Hourglass" (#15 pop, #22 rock) and "853-5937" (#32 pop, #37 rock). In between Sweets and Babylon, Squeeze's main songwriting team, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, released an album called Difford & Tillbrook with a song I enjoyed called "Picking Up the Pieces."
745. One Step Closer - The Doobie Brothers
As I mentioned long ago on this list, I picked the 1976 release Best of The Doobies as one of my initial Columbia House Record Club "13 for $1" selections. I couldn't wait to get it, and I was not disappointed. My copy of the group's ninth studio LP, One Step Closer, came from Columbia House, too, but I didn't select it. Rather, it came from a neighborhood friend. He hadn't selected it, either, but received it anyway after he'd forgotten to send back his "selection of the month" card. Consequently, he was eager to unload it on me. I probably traded him a second-tier comic book or baseball card or something for it; that's how I did business in the fall of 1980. The Doobie Brothers' previous album, Minute by Minute, hadn't exactly dazzled me, even though it went to #1, sold three million copies, and produced three Top 40 hits: "What a Fool Believes" (#1), "Minute by Minute" (#14), and "Dependin' on You" (#25). But the first single from One Step Closer, "Real Love" (#5 Billboard, #1 Radio & Records), was my least favorite Doobies hit. I liked the second single, "One Step Closer" (#24), a lot better, although I still thought it paled in comparison with anything on Best of The Doobies. The third single, "Keep This Train a-Rollin' (#62), was OK, but it was a far cry from "Long Train Runnin'." Still, I kept playing the album, which I had on cassette. By the time I finally got used to it, I think it started making those dreaded screeching noises. I liked Michael McDonald's early hits with The Doobie Brothers like "It Keeps You Runnin'" and "Takin' It to the Streets," but his overall output with the group didn't grab me quite the way Tom Johnston's (and Patrick Simmons') did. I do enjoy imitating Michael's voice, though, and I loved his 1986 solo hit "Sweet Freedom" (#7) and his guest appearances on songs like "Ride Like the Wind" by Christopher Cross, "This Is It" by Kenny Loggins, and "Rose Darling" by Steely Dan. I also got a kick out of this old SCTV skit featuring Rick Moranis as Michael McDonald: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0HzWMqLeiE
746. Harper Valley P.T.A. - Jeannie C. Riley
I bought a used copy of this album while I was in college, because I needed the title track for my collection of #1 hits. But I would have liked the song anyway ... and I remembered it from my childhood. Released in August 1968, "Harper Valley P.T.A." was the first single by a female artist ever to top both the pop and country charts. That hasn't happened as often as you'd think — Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" was the second, in 1981. The Harper Valley P.T.A. album sold half a million copies, but the single sold six million, topping the pop and country charts in Canada, too. It was Riley's first and only U.S. pop Top 40 hit, although she'd go on to have a dozen more U.S. country Top 40 hits, including "Oh, Singer" (#4), "There Never Was a Time" (#5), "The Girl Most Likely" (#6), "Country Girl" (#7), and "Good Enough to Be Your Wife" (#7). None of those tunes were on the Harper Valley P.T.A. album, but it did include songs about a number of the characters mentioned in the title track, including "Sippin' Shirley Thompson," "Widow Jones," and "Mr. Harper." Another track with an intriguing title was "Satan Place." No, it's not like something you might expect from Slayer or Black Sabbath; it's a play on Peyton Place, the popular book (1956), movie (1957) and television show (1964-69), which was also name-checked in "Harper Valley P.T.A." Of course, "Harper Valley P.T.A." also inspired a movie in 1978 and a television series that ran for two seasons in 1981-82. In both cases, the protagonist — widowed, single mother Mrs. Stella Johnson — was played by Barbara Eden. I never saw the movie or followed the show, but I watched plenty of reruns of Barbara's previous program, I Dream of Jeannie, when I was a kid. It wasn't until many years later that I realized she played both Jeannie and her dark-haired, troublemaking sister, who was also named Jeannie. Speaking of Jeannies, ApologetiX has never spoofed Jeannie C. Riley, but we have spoofed "Baba O'Riley" by The Who.
747. Little Criminals - Randy Newman
Before he became the Pixar soundtrack king, Randy Newman was simply known as a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter. Or maybe I should say "songwriter-singer," since the critics loved his lyrics and music a lot more than his voice. Released in September 1977, Little Criminals was Newman's fifth studio album and his only one to hit the Top 10 (#9) on the Billboard 200 or to go gold (sales of half a million copies). I think I may have bought a discount copy for my sister Kris in the late '70s, because she liked the song "Short People" (#2 Billboard, #1 Cash Box). Or maybe I bought her the 45. Either way, it took me years to get the underlying message of Newman's song, which is basically to focus on the folly of personal prejudices by using an extreme example. As Newman said about the song's protagonist in The Billboard Book of No. 2 Hits, "It's so clear to me the guy is nuts that I just didn't think anyone would really take it seriously." Eagles members and associates Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, and J.D. Souther apparently got the joke; they sang the backing vocals. Frey also sang and/or played guitar on three additional tracks on Little Criminals. Other Eagles made appearances elsewhere on the album; Joe Walsh played guitar on two tracks, and Don Henley sang on another. Newman first found fame in the late '60's and early 70's through other artists covering his songs, like "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," "You Can Leave Your Hat On," and "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," which Three Dog Night took to #1 in 1970. Three Dog Night also covered his song "Cowboy" on the same album and did a version of "My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine and Dandelion Wine)" several albums later. I like all of those songs. After years of reading about Randy's work, I eventually sought, bought, and enjoyed a number of his tunes, including "Sail Away," "Louisiana 1927," Rednecks," "Political Science," and "I Love L.A." (#110 pop), plus the ones I mentioned earlier. Of course, as a father with young kids at the time, I also purchased "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story and "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc. Randy even had a #1 rock hit, "It's Money That Matters" featuring Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits on guitar. I also own and absolutely love the instrumental song "First Day" by his cousin Thomas Newman, from the Finding Nemo soundtrack. ApologetiX spoofed Three Dog Night's version of "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" in 2001.
748. Greatest Hits - The Righteous Brothers
I worked for my dad's printing company for almost the entirety of the 80's (part-time, then full-time). The accountant there was a huge fan of The Righteous Brothers and let me borrow multiple albums by them in the summer of '84, including Greatest Hits. Back then, you couldn't get all their hits on one collection, because they'd been on multiple labels. I needed their two #1 songs, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'," which was on Greatest Hits, and "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration," which was on Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. My two favorites from the albums I borrowed were "Unchained Melody" (#4) — years before the movie Ghost made it a hit all over again in 1990 (#13 pop, #1 adult contemporary) — and the duo's first chart hit, "Little Latin Lupe Lu" (#49). Not too long after that, my friend Tom Dellaquila made me aware of The Righteous Brothers' big comeback hit from 1974, "Rock and Roll Heaven" (#3), which I also liked. Their other Top 20 hits were "Ebb Tide" (#5), "Just Once in My Life" (#9), "He" (#18), and Give It to the People" (#20). The aforementioned accountant was a big fan of their song "Go Ahead and Cry" (#30), too. In 2006, Rhino Records rode to the rescue, releasing The Righteous Brothers Anthology 1962-74, a two-CD set that included all of those tunes, plus "Dream On" (#32 pop, #6 AC) and 20 more.
749. Top Gun - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that the Top Gun soundtrack was a #1 album for five weeks and sold over nine million copies in the United States alone. You most likely remember the singles "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins (#2 pop, #7 rock), "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin (#1 pop, #3 AC), and "Heaven in Your Eyes" by Loverboy (#12 pop). But did you know there were three more singles after that? Probably not, because they weren't very successful. "Playing with The Boys" by Kenny Loggins only went to #60 pop, while the other two — "Mighty Wings" by Cheap Trick and "Top Gun Anthem" by Harold Faltermeyer (yeah, the "Axel F" guy) — didn't even chart. The original album contained only 10 tracks, but the 1999 special edition added five more, including "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous Brothers (#1), "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding (#1), and "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis (#2). The 2006 deluxe edition took the total up to 20 tracks, including "Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon (#1), "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister (#1), "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" by Starship (#1), and "The Final Countdown" by Europe (#8). ApologetiX has spoofed "Danger Zone," "Great Balls of Fire," "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Broken Wings," and "The Final Countdown."
750. Audio-Visions - Kansas
Released in September 1980, Audio-Visions had a terrific title and a cool cover. It was the ninth studio LP for Kansas and the last one to feature the original line-up until Somewhere to Elsewhere came out 20 years later. The first single, "Hold On" (#40), was the third song with that title to hit the Top 40 in a 14-month span, following efforts by Triumph (#38) and Ian Gomm (#18) the previous year. But hold on ... in years to come, they would be joined by Santana (#15 in '82), Wilson Phillips (#1 in '90), En Vogue (#2 in '90), and Jamie Walters (#16 in '95). The Kansas version was written by Kerry Livgren in an effort to share his newfound relationship with Christ with his wife, Victoria. She received it better than some of the members of his band, and the two are still together and active in their faith. Obviously, I think that's pretty cool, but I was actually an even bigger fan of the second single on Audio-Visions, "Got to Rock On," which was written by Steve Walsh. How could you not get pumped up listening to that tune? It only went to #76 on the pop chart, but our local rock station played it plenty of times. Billboard didn't institute a rock chart until 1981, so I don't have an official way to monitor its popularity on such stations. The album itself went to #26 on the Billboard 200 and sold half a million copies. Walsh left the band afterward, but returned for their 1985 album, Power, on which he sang and co-wrote another one of my favorite Kansas hits, "All I Wanted" (#19 pop, #10 rock, #14 adult contemporary).
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.