Earlier this month, I saw my friends and colleagues from The X write about ten albums that had the greatest influence on their lives. Sitting around all weekend listening to the DVE Memorial Day 500 got me thinking about all the artists and albums I love and I thought what the heck, sports guys love music too, I can make my list!
So here we go, ten albums that have had the most influence on me during my three decades of life. Note: I tried to order these chronologically based on when they came into my life to the best of my memory.
My first memories of music as a kid come from time spent in the car with my mom. We would load up her Jeep, drive to my grandparent's farm in West Virginia, and crank tunes the whole way. My mom loved two men (besides my dad): Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. You often hear that music is poetry, and the title track Wildflowers, to me, is the perfect example of this. Just one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
Key Tracks: Wildflowers, You Don't Know How It Feels, You Wreck Me
My uncle gave me this CD for Christmas one year, right as I was beginning to learn to play guitar. I had never heard anything like it. I still haven't heard anything like it. It's amazing to me that 1) Hendrix was able to find that tone all the way back in 1967, and that 2) despite infinitely better technology, no one can replicate Jimi's tone today.
Key Tracks: Little Wing, Castles Made of Sand, Bold as Love
"These ideas are nightmares to white parents, whose worst fear is a child with dyed hair and who likes earrings. Like whatever they say has no bearing, it's so scary in a house that allows no swearing." Listen, if you were a white male who grew up in the suburbs in the 90s and 2000s, you had an Eminem phase. We all did. Our parents hated him, and we adored him. Even though both of my parents loved me and WERE NOT drug addicts, I still felt I related to Eminem. It was the first time I ever felt like that with an artist. 'Till I Collapse was the song we always played in the hockey locker room to get pumped up before games. Lots of nostalgia with this one.
Key Tracks: White America, Without me, Sing for the Moment, Hailie's Song
The title of greatest album ever is a two horse race in my opinion: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Led Zeppelin IV. I love The Beatles, but not like I love Led Zeppelin. Plant, Page, JPJ, and Bonham dominated my early teen years. I listened to almost nothing else except the Led Zeppelin box set for months. While there are many Zeppelin albums I could list here, this is the one for me. If I was a professional baseball player, When the Levee Breaks would be my walk-up song.
Key Tracks: Black Dog, Rock and Roll, Stairway to Heaven, Misty Mountain Hop, Going to California, When the Levee Breaks
Blood Sugar Sex Magic was released the year I was born, but it wasn't until about 2004-2005 that I really started to explore RHCP's music. I like the Chili Peppers, but I LOVE John Frusciante. I wanted long hair and a Strat from the time I was 15 until I was about 18, and it was all because Frusciante. So glad he's healthy and back with the Chili Peppers now.
Key Tracks: Suck My Kiss, Mellowship Slinky In B Minor, Give It Away, Under the Bridge
When I was growing up, I had posters of three guitar players hanging on the wall in my room: Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn (more on him later), and John Mayer. I know plenty of older people reading this are thinking "Really? John Mayer? That 'Body is a Wonderland' pop star?" If you haven't listened to Continuum, Born and Raised, or The Search for Everything, it's your loss honestly. John Mayer rips. Along with Derek Trucks, Mayer is the greatest guitarist of my generation.
Key Tracks: Gravity, Stop This Train, Slow Dancing In a Burning Room, In Repair
Confession time: rock and blues have always been my favorite genres of music. But everyone my age went through a rap phase. It was just a product of our generation. Graduation dropped right as I was entering that 'freedom' stage of life - 16 years old, getting my drivers license, etc. That first time in your life when you really feel like you're growing up. Kanye released some great albums before he became better known as a celebrity than as a musician, and Graduation is the best of the crop. Everything I Am is still one of my favorite songs of all time.
Key Tracks: Good Life, Can't Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights, Everything I am, Homecoming
It's a good thing I wasn't into tattoos growing up. If I was, there would be plenty of Kid Cudi lyrics somewhere on my body. This album was released the first month of my senior year of high school, and it's all my friends and I listened to as we drove my little Mazda 3 all over Western Pennsylvania. Field parties, beer pong, prom - Cudi was the soundtrack for all those memories. Eric Church once sang "Sometimes a melody, feels like a memory. Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night." That's the best way for me to describe this album.
Key Tracks: Soundtrack 2 My Life, Heart of a Lion, Day 'n' Night, Alive, Cudi Zone, Make Her Say, Pursuit of Happiness
Stevie Ray Vaughn. Where do I even begin with this guy? My father is a violinist, a classical musician in every sense of the term. But he saw Stevie live in the 80s and said it was one of the most amazing performances he'd ever seen. It stuck with him for decades. And his love for SRV rubbed off on me big time.
In the movie Superbad, Jonah Hill's character makes a joke where he says, "Have you ever stared into his eyes? It was like the first time I heard The Beatles." That's SRV's guitar playing to me. I could live another 5,000 years on this earth, and there will never be a guitar player I love as much as Stevie. Even with his tragic passing at a young age, SRV's influence still permeates rock and blues music to this day.
Key Tracks: Love Struck Baby, Pride and Joy, Texas Flood, Lenny
I have a music theory: There are certain artists and bands that don't grab your attention and interest until a certain stage in life. Growing up, I hated the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Now I love them both. When I was 25 I feel in love with the song Althea by the Dead, and that lead me to albums like American Beauty and Working Mans Dead, where I got hooked by their sound. I always liked Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Neil Young, but I fell in love with this album as I grew into my twenties. I had to reach that certain age to really understand and feel what they were writing and singing about.
To me, this album paints the perfect picture of growing up in America in the 60s and 70s. It has that pure 'Americana' feel to it, which is ironic I know, considering Graham Nash is British and Neil Young is Canadian.
Side note - Listen to this album now and tell me it doesn't sound like a quarantine survival guide! I mean just look at these key tracks: Carry On, Teach Your Children, Almost Cut My Hair, Helpless, Our House. Quarantine playlist!
Honorable Mention Albums:
American Beauty - Grateful Dead
Blood On the Tracks - Bob Dylan
Slowhand - Eric Clapton
Dookie - Green Day
New Moon Shine - James Taylor
Everyday - Dave Matthews Band
Wesley Uhler is the host of Steelers Blitz, Noon-2 on Steelers Nation Radio, and a Producer for ESPN Pittsburgh. You can find him on Twitter @WesleyUhler.