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  • Rich Kassirer

The long and winding road: Albums that changed my life

The road to where I am now musically is one that took many twists and turns. I can pinpoint 1976, the bicentennial year, and all I can remember is Three Dog Night songs were all over AM radio. I knew all the words to “Shambala,” “One,” and “Joy to the World.”

In high school (I was definitely a late-bloomer), I was introduced to FM radio – to Billy Joel, Tom Petty, mind-altering substances and Pink Floyd. After that, music completely opened up for me, and continues to open up to me.

Below are the albums that blew my mind in the order I remember them. The year in parenthesis is when I discovered the album – not necessarily the year it came out. Check it out. Let me know your list!!

JOY TO THE WORLD: THEIR GREATEST HITS (1976) Three Dog Night – A 15-year-old’s soundtrack to the bicentennial celebration. Favorite songs: “One,” “Shambala.”

THE STRANGER (1977) Billy Joel – The Piano Man rocks out. Hey, I was a sophomore in high school who had just discovered FM radio. Favorite songs: “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “The Stranger.”

YOU’RE GONNA GET IT (1978) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Of course by junior year, the rock was becoming a little harder… Favorite songs: “I Need to Know,” “Listen to Her Heart.”

WISH YOU WERE HERE (1978) Pink Floyd – … and listening to albums that would take me higher. Favorite songs: “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Welcome to the Machine.”

STREET SURVIVORS (1979) Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Freebird”? Sure. But this album had Skynyrd playing hyped-up country music. Still love some of these songs today. Favorite songs: “I Know a Little,” “Honky Tonk Night Time Man.”

MOONFLOWER (1981) Santana – Live double-album heaven. Favorite songs: “Europa,” 14-minute “Soul Sacrifice.”

KIND OF BLUE (1981) Miles Davis – This album blew my mind. I didn’t even know jazz existed before this. Favorite songs: “So What,” “Freddie Freeloader.”

OFFRAMP (1981) Pat Metheny Group – I’ll never forget telling Pat he was “awesome” as he walked by us in an alley next to the State Theatre, where he was playing in Ithaca. Favorite songs: “Are You Going With Me?,” “Offramp.”

LIVE IN THE COOK COUNTY JAIL (1981) B.B. King – A blues phase that I rode all the way to Chicago … north, south, even – um – the west side. Favorite songs: “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “Thrill Is Gone.”

LIVE/DEAD (1982) Grateful Dead – Got on the bus for several years. Quite a ride. Favorite songs: “Saint Stephen,” “Dark Star.”

SURVIVAL (1983) Bob Marley and the Wailers – After the blues, it was reggae. Other albums were more popular, but, to me, this is his best. Favorite songs: “Zimbabwe,” “Top Rankin’.”

BEFORE THE FLOOD (1984) Bob Dylan & The Band – Yeah, I’d heard Dylan before and I’d heard The Band before. But I’d never heard them together! I love the way Bob rearranged all his classic tunes on this album. Favorite songs: “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” “Stage Fright.”

SHADOWS AND LIGHT (1985) Joni Mitchell – This live album had Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorious and others as her backup band. Favorite songs: “Edith and the Kingpin,” “Coyote.”

SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS (1987) Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians – Fell? in love around this time. This album was oddly the soundtrack: “What I am is what I am, are you what you are – or what?” Favorite songs: “Nothing,” “Little Miss S.”

SHORT SHARP SHOCKED (1988) Michelle Shocked – Goodbye classic rock/Grateful Dead era. Favorite songs: “Graffiti Limbo,” “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore.”

IN A SILENT WAY (1989) Miles Davis – Candles, incense and use your imagination. Favorite songs: “Shh/Peaceful,” “In a Silent Way” (The only two songs on the album!).

TIME (THE REVELATOR) (1989) Gillian Welch – How can two people playing acoustic guitars sound like a full band? Favorite songs: “Revelator,” “April the 14th, Part 1.”

UP UP UP UP UP (2002) Ani DiFranco – This literally blew my doors off.  I had never heard anything so funky and punky. The sounds she gets from her acoustic guitar are stunning. Favorite songs: “Come Away With It,” “Tis of Thee.”

GRAND (2003) Erin McKeown – Heard “Slung Lo” on the radio, and my immediate reaction was “WHO is THAT?” Awesome. Favorite songs: “James!,” “Cinematic.”

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (2004) Patty Griffin – The voice crush is born. Favorite songs: “Florida,” “It Don’t Come Easy.”

WOMAN KING (2005) Iron & Wine – Sam Beam’s hushed voice in front of the churning world-beatish beat. Favorite songs: “Woman King,” “Jezebel.”

THE ANIMAL YEARS (2006) Josh Ritter – The ascent of a great singer-songwriter deservedly mentioned up there with Dylan and Springsteen. Favorite songs: “Girl in the War,” “Thin Blue Flame.”

RABBIT FUR COAT (2006) Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – An authentic country album from an alt-rocker. Favorite songs: “Rise Up With Fists,” “Run Devil Run.”

SHAKEN BY A LOW SOUND (2006) Crooked Still – If someone ever told me I’d be listening to a bluegrass album over and over, I’d have laughed – hysterically. Favorite songs: “Come on in My Kitchen,” “Mountain Jumper.”

LIKE, LOVE, LUST & THE OPEN HALLS OF THE SOUL (2007) Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter – A whiskey-drenched voice and wailing guitars. That’s all I need. Favorite songs: “LLL,” “The Air Is Thin.”

HONEYSUCKLE WEEKS (2008) The Submarines – Upbeat, happy songs? It’s so not me. Favorite songs: “Swimming Pool,” “You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie.”

I AND LOVE AND YOU (2009) The Avett Brothers – Appalachian folk with a punky spirit. Favorite songs: “Tin Man,” “Kick Drum Heart.”

SEA OF TEARS (2009) Eilen Jewell – Revisiting the early ‘60s sound of the Animals, with a kickin’ electric guitar. Favorite songs: “Sea of Tears,” Codeine Arms.”

HADESTOWN (2010) Anais Mitchell. Brilliant folk opera based on the Greek myth Orpheus. The voices and the music are mesmerizing by themselves, but put into context of a concept album, it’s mind-blowing perfection. Favorite songs: “Hey, Little Songbird,” “When the Chips Are Down.”

THE HARROW AND THE HARVEST (2011) Gillian Welch – Eight years had passed between albums… Could Gillian still give me chills? Yes. Of Course. Favorite songs: “The Way It Will Be,” “Hard Times.”

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