This is the first installment in what will hopefully become a series of articles. These articles will outline year-by-year the music that influenced me throughout my life. I will pick one album for each year with one basic rule: the album must have been released that year or within one year from which I first heard it. This will not only give you some insight on my state of mind during that year but also the state of where music was in general at that time. So I can't say that Journey changed my life in 1998 because not only is that not true, but Journey is also not really representative of the Clinton-sex-scandal-laden and monster-steroid-home run era of 1998. This first part will take you from high school to the first semester of college (1995-1999).
1995: 311 - 311
I know what you are going to say. Only inbred, intellectually deficient frat boys listen to 311. I can't say that in the first half of ninth grade I was hovering much above that level of mental stature. 311 may be a lot of things: annoying and untalented just to name a few. But one thing they aren’t is country. In the young and musically ignorant state I was in, they were exactly what I needed to wane me off of country music and put me on a different path. The guitars were heavier, but the songs were still upbeat with reggae flair. Believe it or not, it was a good medium between country and metal.
1996: Hackers - Original Soundtrack
Computers enter the forefront of not only our lives but in popular music as well. This compilation was my first real exposure to techno music. I latched on to techno music quickly because it was simplistic. It was like listening to rap music without the outlandish lyrics. Most techno songs are spare with meaning and substance so it was easy to listen to while I was studying. I also think the computer geek quasi-hacker in me also tremendously appreciated any art created with computers. This album led me to more bands that I still listen to today like Prodigy, Orbital, and Paul Oakenfold.
1997: Radiohead - OK Computer
I think everyone has that one album that changed their life. For me, OK Computer is close to being it. It was with this album that I began to see the complexity behind music. Radiohead taught me that music didn’t have to be loud and fast. OK Computer was the first album where I recognized the true concept of an album where songs have a particular order and all share commonality while still standing up on their own as individual works. To this day Radiohead remains one of my favorite bands, and each of their subsequent releases since OK Computer has been as stellar.
1998: Korn - Follow the Leader
By the beginning of my junior year, my friends and I were almost exclusively listening to metal and industrial music. Korn’s Follow the Leader happened to not only be their best album, but one of the best metal albums of the late 90’s. And the fact that comic book legend, Todd McFarlane illustrated the album’s cover and directed the “Freak on a Leash” video were icing on the cake. Korn also holds a significant place in my music history. The first concert I ever went to was to see Korn at the Lafayette stop of the first Family Values tour that featured newcomers Orgy and Limp Bizkit as well as underground favorites Ice Cube (“F*ck Dyin’!”) and Rammstein. This opened me up to all sorts of interesting experiences including mosh pits and lead singers that set themselves on fire. You can’t get an education like that in school.
1999: Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile
I anxiously anticipated the release of this album more than any other. Other than the single “The Perfect Drug” on the Lost Highway soundtrack, Nine Inch Nails had not released any original music since the Downward Spiral in 1994. It would be safe to say I was elated upon hearing that they were releasing a double album in late 1999. It was a lot of hype to measure up to, but it delivered. The Fragile is my favorite album of all time. It is filled with such a wide range of emotion from serenity to anger. It also arrived at just the right time in my life when I was undergoing vast transitions. I still listen to this album over and over today. My favorite songs on the album now are not the same favorites I had back then, but those old feelings I had listening to this album over and over as I walked from class to class still resonate. The amazing thing is that even now, at a different time and place, this album seems to grow with me.