List the five albums that have been most influential to you. Not your *favorite* five albums necessarily, but the ones that changed the way you play or think about music, or even the way you look at the world around you.
Wow. This is quite a bit more difficult than naming "favourites!"
John Williams, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) I bought this album as a double-LP set and was mercilessly denounced by every cool kid in my school for listening to "classical music." This is where I learned that good music was good music no matter what anyone said.
Billy Joel, An Innocent Man (1983) I went to a high school with an extra-ordinary vocal music program. This was the album of choice my freshman year while we were performing Brigadoon as the spring musical. Meanwhile, backstage, up in the boys dressing room, "The Longest Time" was being sung over and over again by guys who couldn't get enough of the sound. I was still a boy soprano at the time, so I sang the very highest line. Now I sing the bassline. This is where I learned to sing in four-part doo-wop; in a way, where I really began to sing, period.
Paul Simon, Graceland (1986) 1986 saw the release of two unforgetable masterpieces, Graceland on our side of the pond, and the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead on their side. But it was Graceland that ultimately affected me more, long-term. I suppose that the lesser lesson was thinking outside of the box: when you first heard that album, and it opened with an accordian, while you were starting to say, "WTF?" your jaw that had begun dropping in shock continued falling all the way to the floor as the brilliantly-restrained drum fills began and Baghiti Khumalo's incomparable basswork left you reeling in ecstasy. And deciding accordians are pretty choice, after all. More than that, though, the gift of this album for me was to make me notice and keep coming back to the utter craftsmanship of the lyrics. Simon's writing continues to improve with age. This album was such a hit, it took me years to realize that Simon actually did his best work on his next, The Rhythm of the Saints.
The Cure, Disintegration (1989) Because my only real musical training was in vocal music, everything else in a song was more-or-less just "accompaniment" to me, and I had a tremendous amount of work ahead of me in learning to really hear everything that was going on in a song. It was in Disintegration that I began to hear in this way, because of the simple and effective way that the Cure has of building a song in "layers," as I thought of it. You can listen to "Lullaby," in particular, to witness this effect. I always thought of this as their best work, and couldn't listen much after that.
George and the Freeks, Join Us On the Ride (1995) Okay, laugh at me if you want, but it was the release of this album by some friends at Notre Dame that fills out my list. It was their first work, and rough compared to their later individual efforts, but it was the music that dominated the life of the band and even some of the circle around them. It was in being around these guys that I learned to write songs in a serious way, and their acoustic-based folk-rock was very influential for later writing of my own. Even today, it is musicians from this circle who still have a huge effect on my writing and production, often as participants, always as critics.
I'm going to cheat a bit here, or at least raise a question. Or a point of procedure. As I came to the end of determinine my five, I suddenly realized that if I was going to be completely honest, I'd have to say:
The Renaissance Men, Life and Other Impossibilities (2004) Making my first album taught me more than I was aware I could learn. The process of seeing production through from writing to mastering, with everything that happens in the studio, in re-recording, in editing and mixing: it changed everything for me. We were all laughing in the big SUV we had with all our equipment, after we finished the major recording session in Nashville, how we couldn't listen to the radio now without hearing all the songs as separated into their original component tracks: you could tell what tracks had been laid down first, what came later, the process was in the music. I learned enough making the CD that, could I do it again, I wouldn't come out with the same CD at all. That was as transformative a musical experience as I'm ever likely to have. I recommend that everyone make a CD on your own, just with a program on your computer. Whether or not anyone but you even likes it, it'll be a grand and even profound time for you.
Now I really gotta get back to work!