Wednesday, September 15, 2010

15 Albums That Changed My Life

Over the last two weeks I've been tagged by several friends on Facebook to participate in a list of the 15 Albums that have had a huge impact on my life and will always stick with me.  Here we go...

This album came out the month after my family moved to Arizona from Chicago.  The first 3 tracks were huge singles and are among the greatest songs ever written.  My personal favorite from this album is 'Red Hill Mining Town.'  I love this album so much.  I remember checking this out from the library here in town on vinyl and dubbing it onto cassette.  There wasn't enough room at the end of the tape, so the last track was cut off.  I never knew that 'Mothers of the Disappeared' existed until I got the official tape a year later.

Jane's Addiction were the soundtrack to my late teen years.  One of the greatest bands to have ever existed.  All three of the original albums are phenomenal.  But if I had to choose one, this would be it.  The second side has the epics 'Three Days' and 'Then She Did,' along with the bizarre 'Of Course' and the breathtaking 'Classic Girl.'  This album has some of the best bass lines ever written.  So incredible, so rad.

Every song on this album could have been a single, in fact I think 5 of them were.  Some of the saddest lyrics ever, put to beautifully constructed chord progressions and harmonies.  My brother and I were at the release party at Tower Records in Mesa, AZ, the day this came out.  The band played about 5 songs in front of about 50 people.  A few months later, they were on David Letterman and all over MTV and the radio.  So honored to have recorded the new Audra album at singer Robin Wilson's studio and to have him sing on a couple of our songs.  This album is the soundtrack to Tempe, Arizona.  

There is no doubt that Bowie's musical output in the 1970s was incredible.  In 1974, he released this collection of songs partly inspired by George Orwell's 1984.  Everyone knows the single from this album 'Rebel Rebel,' however, the essential part of this album is the mammoth 'Sweet Thing / Candidate' that takes up the majority of side one.  It's amazing.  This was the first Bowie album that I fell in love with.  From it's bizarre cover art to it's dark subject matter, it's one of my favorite albums of all time.  

I'm going to assume that you already own this one.  If not, get it now!  :)  Way ahead of it's time, the banana album is a classic.  'Heroin,' 'Waiting For The Man,' 'Venus In Furs,' 'I'll Be Your Mirror,' 'Sunday Morning,' 'Femme Fatale'... these songs are outstanding.  If you haven't heard 'Heroin' before....  wow.  The fabulous Nico sings lead vocals on three tracks before she departed for a solo career.

The very first time I hit play on side one of this cassette, I had never heard anything like it before.  The frantic drumbeat of 'Disorder' leads the listener through an icy and sometimes chaotic emotional rollercoaster.  From the stark artwork to the minimalist production, this is a uniquely great album.  Sometimes I wonder what Joy Division would sound like today, if Ian Curtis had lived.

Years and years ago, a friend of a friend let me borrow 2 tapes:  The Cramps - Bad Music For Bad People and Christian Death - Catastrophe Ballet.  The one thing that I remembered about the second tape was the eerie keyboards on the opening track and the intense female backing vocals.  I returned the tape to the friend and a couple of years later I ran across the same record at Stinkweeds for a couple quid.  I used to listen to this album over and over.  I just couldn't believe that these songs weren't well known.  Singer Rozz Williams died in 1998 and for me, this is his masterpiece.  Both rockin' and dreamy, this album came out way under the radar in the same year that brought us Van Halen's 1984.  :)

As you probably know, I am a huge Jane's Addiction fan.  In the pre-internet days, discovering cool bands was an art form in itself.  You either found out about good music from reading interviews in magazines (sometimes finding them in back issues at the local library), watching 120 Minutes on MTV, your friends or just plain coincidental.  Back in 1990, my brother and I met this kid named Robert (he's actually a year older than me), anyways, all three of us bonded with our mutual LOVE for Jane's Addiction.  These same 3 kids went on to form a cool band named Audra.  Okay, where was I?  Oh yeah, we collected live recordings, videos, interviews, whatever we could get our hands on.  But the holy grail of the Jane's Addiction world was Psi Com - Perry Farrell's first band.  It was rumored that the one 5-song record that Psi Com released in 1985 was limited to just 1500 copies and half of those were warped and discarded.  So, that left only 750 copies in existence on vinyl.  Sometime in 1992-1993, in our usual rounds to all of the Tempe / Mesa record stores, I asked the clerk at Rockaway Records if they happen to have any rare Jane's Addiction recordings.  He replies, 'Yeah, I think we have a copy of Psi Com in back.  Let me go grab it.'  WHAT!!!!  So this guy comes back to the counter and in his hand is a SEALED original copy with a price tag on it that reads $140.  Bart and I were starving students that were also teaching karate lessons for below minimum wage and barely had money to eat.  So we asked to use their phone and we immediately get Robert on the horn.  'Robert, bring $150 to Rockaway!!!!'  He shows up 30 minutes later and we all leave with that record in hand.  Now, the decision:  Do we open it?  Hell yeah!  With a couple bottles of Strawberry Hill Boone's Farm already downed, Robert opened up the original shrink wrap and we listened to it one time, at the same time dubbing it onto tape, so Bart and I could listen at home.  I will never forget this story.  It represents a time in my life where music was exciting and bands could be something sacred.  A few years after this, Triple X Records re-released Psi Com on CD and our secret discovery became available everywhere.  Psi Com combined the raw post punk sounds of early Siouxsie & The Banshees, Gene Loves Jezebel and some Joy Division with Perry Farrell's lower range, before the howling falsetto for which he became famous. 

One of the most overlooked bands from Manchester, James have been making great albums since the early/mid 80s.  The title track is perhaps their most recognized song in the States, yet it is just one of the many songs that make this album outstanding.  You need to buy this immediately.  The opening 2 tracks are just phenomenal.  I got to spend 3 hours in a car with singer Tim Booth on a road trip after their show in San Diego a couple of years ago.  Tim is one of the greatest singers ever.  

In the early 90s, three years between albums seemed like a long wait.  Back in April of 1995, my brother and I were at Tower Records in Phoenix and an unfamiliar track from a familiar voice came in on the store.  I went up to the clerk who was a huge Bauhaus / PM fan and he told me that there was a new album coming out the following week.  Although most people cite Deep as their favorite, and of course it has some amazing songs on it, I consider Cascade to be his strongest solo album.  Some of his earlier efforts suffered from what now seems to be dated production and instrumentation.  Cascade still remains fresh sounding 15 years later.  There is not a weak track on the album.  The accompanying tour was spectacular, focusing predominantly on the Cascade material.  A young, soon-to-be famous Jewel opened the show!  

Before the Chili Peppers became superstars with the success of 'Under The Bridge' and the other singles from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, in 1989 they were still pretty obscure.  A teenaged guitar prodigy named John Frusciante filled the void left by the death of guitarist Hillel Slovak.  Frusciante's first appearance with the band is Mother's Milk, mostly known for the cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Higher Ground' and the instrumental 'Pretty Little Ditty' that was desecrated by a one-hit wonder band who 'sampled' the main parts for a song called 'Butterfly.'  You know it, it's from that guy who continues to check in on Celebrity Rehab.  Anyways, I had this baby on cassette back when it came out.  In my mind, I can still smell the booklet in the little plastic case.   

Whenever anyone asks me which Smiths album to get, I always immediately point them to this one.  Released in 1986, The Queen Is Dead is THE best album by this Manchester quartet.  It is a perfect album from start to finish.  'I Know It's Over,' 'Bigmouth Strikes Again,' 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,' 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'... well, I might as well name every song because they are all superb.  I bought this on cassette back in high school after reading about them in a guitar magazine.  I have been a huge fan ever since and still continue to buy Morrissey's solo albums the day they are released.  :)

This was a difficult decision.  If I had to choose one Cure song, it would be Just Like Heaven.  I used to listen to that song over and over again when it came out.  I'd come home from school and pop in that song, which I recorded on tape off of the radio.  For most people, Disintegration is the obvious choice, but I'm going to go with 1992's Wish.  I remember driving around with my brother and we passed by one of those radio station vans that were parked on the corner of Alma School & Southern here in Mesa, Arizona.  We stopped and they gave us a promotional copy of Wish on cassette.  1993 was a relatively sad time in my life and songs like 'Apart,' 'To Wish Impossible Things,' 'A Letter To Elise' and 'Trust' were just the perfect soundtrack.  It also was the end of an era for The Cure.  While they've continued to make good records since, they have not equalled the brilliance and beauty of Wish.

I had heard of Gram Parsons for years, though I was never aware that I had HEARD his music.  One day my girlfriend and I were flipping through the records at Zia in Tempe and we pulled out an LP with a guy sitting in a chair in a brown room and the record was called GP.  I put it in the stack and took it home and instantly fell in love with it.  On the next visit, I grabbed this one, Grievous Angel, released shortly after GP's death in 1973, a week after I was born.  This is a great album and features Emmylou Harris on backing/duel lead vocals on most of the tracks.  So, you don't like country music?  I didn't really think I did until I heard this album.  Do it.

Since we are on the subject of albums that had an effect on my life, the list would not be complete without this one.  The making of Audra's third album is not only of the main highlights of my musical career, but also my life.  Since releasing our second album, Going To The Theatre, back in 2002, we went through a lot of trials and tribulations in our personal lives.  While always remaining active, doing shows and writing songs, we didn't make it back into the studio in the summer of 2008.  In less than 10 days, we put our hearts and soul into these 10 songs.  The record came together on its own, effortlessly.  I have a lot of great memories from these sessions, for which I will share in the future. 

Thanks for listening.


  1. Wow great stuff. Love you. Fear peach

  2. Here Here! Well said and well read! Thanks for some insight into what makes Bret Helm tick and breathe!

    L. Breeze
    San Diego, CA

  3. Wow! Great choices! I must say that David Bowie, Peter Murphy, Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths, and the Velvet Undergroung are definately on my top 10... and I really believe that from the first time I was introduced to your music, way back in 2000, by my dearest friend and kindred spirit, eStella, Audra is on it! ... Thanks for creating music that has touched my heart and soul... it isn't easy to find music that inspires now a days!!!

    Sandra Esparza
    Los Angeles, CA

  4. Thank you so much, Sandra. :) - Bret.