Music, being an integral part of the human experience, has obviously shaped countless lives and continues to shape the way we think and feel about our world. In an effort to share a little of what has helped propel the course of my life, I tasked myself with the truly impossible feat of picking my “Top 10 Favorite Albums”.
But, those of you who know me well know that I hate the very notion of having a favorite anything. How can you choose just one?! So I tried to give 10. But choosing 10 albums from an ocean of incredible music seems to be a laughably absurd and futile concept.
Below is really just a cross section of some of the albums that, at one point or another in my life, I couldn’t stop listening to: whether it was experiencing something new, or marking a certain period of my life.
So here are my (mutable) Top-10 Most Influential Albums, in an approximate order of when I discovered them:
(I’ve added a Spotify playlist of a couple choice-selections from each album at the bottom of this page.)
I grew up on this music. My dad went to 60+ shows, and my first concert ever was June 24th, 1995 at RFK stadium, seeing “The Dead” with Jerry Garcia. I was not quite 9 years old. Europe ‘72 is a classic recording from their catalogue. I love Jerry’s guitar tones (Fender Strat) throughout this album. The harmonies, solo section, and most of all, the stories that these songs tell really encapsulate the band’s sound in my opinion.
I was in 3rd grade when this album came out and I had a copy on cassette. I would listen to it over and over. In fact, I played it so frequently that I knew exactly how long to hold down the “rewind” button to replay my favorite songs. I would read the lyrics from the liner notes and try (and fail) to understand what any of it meant. I didn’t care though, I was just drawn to the rawness and energy of the tracks.
The only compilation album on the list. I remember having this on CD. My brother and I would play it in the background while playing video games with the TV on mute. I would play air guitar to all the solos and riffs and hum them. I still know every word to every song. At that time I never actually imagined that I could play guitar. It seemed like this magical thing that only a magical person like Jimi Hendrix could do.
After getting my first electric guitar the day before my 12th birthday, I became obsessed with guitar music. It felt like a rite of passage to do a deep dive into the English classic rock bands and the one album that stood out to me was Zeppelin I. I used to play along with this album cover to cover. I knew every song on guitar and learning the solos really helped me understand how to play blues and take a basic solo.
OK – I’ll admit it: growing up as a dead-head “purist” I didn’t give Phish a chance. But when a friend lent me this album on CD and insisted I listen to it I literally did not believe my ears. The combination of the instrumental virtuosity, the organized chaos of the jams, silly musical and lyrical concepts, and guitar tones and techniques literally seemed unreal. Getting into Phish unlocked the next phase of my musical development and what I could imagine was possible with music, paving the way for some of the selections to follow.
My high school guitar teacher Carl Filipiak gave me my first Zappa album. And I hated it. Frank’s music is definitely an acquired taste, but a taste I certainly acquired after realizing there is some really serious music happening here behind all the crude lyrics and gimmicks. It’s safe to say that Frank Zappa has probably influenced and shaped my musical world more than any other single artist. This album, known as “The Helsinki Concert,” was recorded live on a single night in Finland. How is this music even possible?! The musicianship is off the charts and the compositions are so unique. There’s no question FZ was a true genius, and far, far ahead of his time.
After high school, I went to Berklee College of Music, where I started getting more into jazz. When it came to jazz, the old-timey stuff just didn’t do it for me. This album was different. The second release from Miles’ second great quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter, their sound was like nothing I’d ever heard. Every track was a deep exploration of melody, harmony and rhythm.
Around the same time, I got into Stevie Wonder. The only artist, besides Frank Zappa, that I’ve ever become completely and thoroughly obsessed with is Stevie Wonder. Between CDs and records I think I have every album he’s every released. SITKOF is a masterpiece: a double album with a song for seemingly every mood.
This album literally took me months to digest. The music has such depth of content that I would replay EACH SONG until I could fully wrap my head around what I was hearing. It’s not an exaggeration that I would literally repeat a song 50 times before I moved on to the next track on the album, and my favorite one is probably the last one! TOOL quickly became my favorite rock band. It was amazing to get to see them live a couple years ago after their long anticipated release, Fear Inoculum.
In the summer of 2016 I got the chance to travel to Victor Wooten’s farm known as Wooten Woods and study from him and his colleagues in one of his incredible music and nature camps. I hadn’t really listened to that much of his music and so I stumbled upon this album on the drive there. I was truly moved by the ensemble, made up of Victor and Roy “Futureman” Wooten, Bela Fleck, Jeff Coffin and special guests Sandip Burman on tabla, Paul Hanson on bassoon, Paul McCandless on saxophones, Andy Narell on steelpans and Tuvan throat singing by Kongar-ool Ondar. This is a magical record that is fantastic for summer roadtrips through beautiful landscapes.
By: Charles Simon, General Manager & Guitar Instructor
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