Music has always been important to me. It inspires me, challenges me, and sometimes annoys me. Looking back, I’m glad that I challenged myself at an early age to avoid top 40 and have a relatively diverse list of influential songs. Putting together a list like this took much longer than I expected. I could have easily added 5-10 songs by a few bands and called it quits, but this list limits it to one song per band and forced me to think about what songs continue to be my favorite, pushed me in a new direction, or represent my strongest memory of each band.
- Candy man: Sammy Davis Jr. I remember this as a childhood obsession. My sisters would help me call the local radio stations and beg the DJs to play this song. I don’t even remember if they played it. One time they rewarded me with a Commodores’ record.
- Funky Town: Lipps inc. Moo and I played this non stop for hours.
- Tiptoe through the tulips: Tiny Tim. Moo broke my record. It was a tragic end to the song.
- Macho Man: The Village People. Early warning sign? I was too young to understand the real meaning of YMCA and In the Navy, but Macho Man didn’t lack in subtleties.
- Bad Girls by Donna Summer. Perhaps this was the seed to my obsession with prostitution movies.
- Delta Dawn by Helen Reddy. My sisters must have forced me to listen to this song because it’s still stuck in my head.
- I’m a woman: Peggy Lee/Enjoli perfume commercial. This also should be filed under early warning.
Punk and New Wave
- My War: Black Flag The angriest song.
- Pay to Cum: Bad Brains. This was one of the first punk records I bought and it is blistering.
- Freedom of Choice: Devo. I use this song regularly to explain the pros and cons of multiple choices.
- Ha Ha Ha: Flipper Like the Bad Brains song, this was one of the first punk records I bought and laid my musical foundations.
- Walk together, Rock Together: 7 seconds. I’ve always been straight edge, but didn’t realize it until discovering 7 seconds and Minor Threat. This song summarizes the movement’s goal to breakdown the barriers and create a unified, stronger punk movement. As an aside, I was really stoked to get a comment from Kevin Seconds on this blog almost a decade ago.
- Multi-Death Corporation: MDC. This record prompted me to stop eating meat 30 years ago.
- Straight Edge: Minor Threat. A song that summarized my teenage life… and continues today. In this interview, Ian MacKaye talks about the song and movement
- War of the Super Bikes: Meatmen
- Ace of Spades: Motorhead Like Johnny Cash, Motorhead was a band that was universally loved across musical borders. Hessians, Skins, and everyone in between loved Ace of Spades.
- They saved Hitler’s Cock: Angry Samoans
- Blitzkrieg Bop: the Ramones It’s hard to say which Ramones song had the biggest impact.
- Rock the Casbah: the Clash This was my introduction to the Clash and favorite MTV video when it came out.
- God Save the Queen: Sex Pistols
- Your god is dead: Mussolini Headkick. This was one of my favorite industrial songs and also introduced me to the history of Mussolini and Italian fascism.
- Urban Struggle: Vandals
- Cokes and Snickers: Jodie Foster’s Army. The cliché fast, short song that makes no sense. Cokes and Snickers is all I eat. Cokes and Snickers is all I need. Health Sucks. Health Sucks.
- Oh No !Bruno!: NoMeansNo Actually, the entire album transformed punk from raw aggression to controlled chaos and intellectualism.
- Negative Creep: Nirvana I was a fan of the Bleach album, specifically Negative Creep when I went to go see Nirvana play with Pitchfork at Iguanas in Tijuana. I didn’t expect Pitchfork to get upstaged.
- Smells like teen spirit: Nirvana – The song that changed a generation
- Queen of the BarBQ: Hickoids The best country punk band and their ode to BarBQ Drag Queens.
- Lady Sniff: Butthole Surfers
- Unhappy Meal: the Happy Flowers Don and I drove many miles listening to the Happy Flowers and Butthole Surfers. These are probably the most unlikely bands for driving music. Let’s give it up for Mr Anus and Mr Horribly Charred Infant.
- Dykes are We: the Frogs Pseudo-Gay anti-folk. How could it go wrong?
- Wild in the Streets: Circle Jerks – A few of us did this song at our school’s inaugural air band competition. Our school was not happy with our posters promising a mosh pit, let alone the meaning of “circle jerk” spread around the campus. We were a disaster.
- Lisa’s Father: Alice Donut. While I prefer the entire The Untidy Suicides of our Degenerate Youth album, this 7” introduced me to Alice Donut and had a strong impact for its humorous reading of an actual bible pamphlet. I still pick up Chick pamphlets hoping to find Lisa’s Father on a park bench.
- Walk on the Wild Side: Lou Reed. This taught me about New York culture.
- Broken Toy: SNFU. I forgot about this song and couldn’t remember why I routinely hummed “there was a boy, who had a toy…” until the song came on iTunes radio for NoMeansNo. Then it all came back, including the flying hair of the lead singer. I watched them many times and always enjoyed their shows.
- Meat is Murder: the Smiths This also came at a time when I became a vegetarian and the sound of the abattoirs is haunting.
- Cory and the Mandara Suicide Pyramid Action or Gas Satori: The Boredoms. I have to admit, the first time Glen Galloway played the Boredoms for me I didn’t get it. This Japanese noise band made Trumans Water sound like Beethoven. But then I watched them live and they blew me away.
- Angry Inch: Hedwig and the Angry Inch Punkest trans since Jane County.
Post-Punk and Post-Rock
- Genuine Negro Jig: Carolina Chocolate Drops. Technically this is not post-punk, rather a re-interpreted folk song from the early 1900’s. However, I had the opportunity to watch them perform this live and felt very modern and post-punk, just with bones and fiddle instead of guitars and drums.
- Bolero by Maurice Ravel. Replace the wind instruments with guitars and you’ve got the prototypical post-rock song. I’m also intrigued by the back story of mental illness.
- I heard you looking: Yo La Tengo
- Loco Tracks – Mono
- My Father, My King: Mogwai. San Diego had a pirate radio station that played this song one morning while I drove to work at the Museum of Art. It blew me away and I sat in the parking lot for the entire 20 minutes to find out what it was. It was my first introduction to Mogwai.
- Svefn-G-Englar by Sigur Ros. I enjoyed Sigur Ros, but it didn’t click until I was listening to them while my plane was landing in Iceland and the pieces fell into place. The music is an audio representation of Iceland.
- Rainbow Warriors: Coco Rosie
- Breadcrumb Trail: Slint Slint’s Spiderland album has been etched in my memory. It’s a foundation for so many records that followed.
- The Wilson Ave Bridge by the Chicago River 1953: Brokeback There are a lot of post-rock bands that include found sounds. Brokeback’s integration of natural sounds, especially the birds in this song, have been artistically inspirational. I find myself listening to this album while out photographing.
- Homage to Lucien Freud: Buick – My pal Lubey (Iain Smith) sent this limited edition disk to me from New Zealand and it was a constant companion to my Slint CD.
- Somewhere near Denton: Threnody Ensemble
- Storm: God Speed You Black Emperor! God Speed’s Storm record was one of the first post-rock albums that I purchased. It led me to explore Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and others.
- Twenty Two Fourteen by the Album Leaf: This song pulls in my favorite parts of BrokeBack, Explosions in the Sky, and Black Heart Procession.
I’m not a collector. Fortunately, I have friends that are. My music library has grown enormously through the symbiotic relationship of Durward buying records and my conversion of them for our iPods. Durward’s collection is vast and eclectic, which has greatly expanded my appreciation of music. Perhaps his best influence has been the introduction of early gospel guitar, especially Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and field recordings from the Smithsonian.
- Shout Sister Shout: Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She kills it with her rocking gospel.
- I Love My India: Pardes sound track – Durward found this soundtrack in an Indian grocery store and we listened to this for years before actually watching the movie. It’s an anthem for Indian patriotism, but it lost some of its shine when we actually saw the movie.
- My Suitor: Kahimi Karie – I was familiar with noisy Japanese, but Durward introduced me to the cutesy Japanese and Korean pop singers.
- The Fox: Sleater-Kinney. Durward took me to see Sleater-Kinney in San Diego. I had heard of them, but this blew me away. I like the noisier aspect of their music and could listen to the Fox until the cows come home.
- Rebel Girl: Bikini Kill This is my favorite Riot Grrl song. It’s full of pride and power.
- At the Mall: Pansy Division. Durward introduced me to homocore, of which he was a key player as a booking agent for clubs in the DC Area. I thought Pansy Division was fun, but watching them play at an outdoor festival in Los Angeles made me realize what we were missing from every Gay Pride parade and festival. They’re full of humor, anger, and sexy times. This song is way too long, way too silly, and way too repetitive. It’s also the song that I love to play when someone is trapped in the car. You can’t stop humming the damn song.
- We Shall Overcome: Selma Marchers. Durward’s collection included many field recording compilations from the Smithsonian.
- Let Your Hammer Ring: Prisoners at the Ramsey and Retrieve State Farms, Texas. I worked long hours when I joined Yahoo. I got used to working 11-12 hours a day and the prison songs helped me as I pushed code late into the day. I’m just glad I was only creating web sites and not crushing rocks under the hot sun.
- Internationale: Various artists: Who would’ve known the Best of Communism would be such a great record.
- Sinews: Drive like Jehu. It’s impossible to say what Jehu song was the most influential for me. Jehu powered me through long days in the darkroom, journeys around the globe, and miles on the freeway.
- Sick Animal: Night Soil Man. I discovered this band while I was still new at being a vegetarian. The animal rights focus of the songs struck a chord with me. I thought they were also musically brilliant and it was no surprise Mike and Mark joined John and Rick to create Drive Like Jehu.
- Sinking: Pitchfork. This is the Pitchfork song that I keep coming back to. The song paints a story that plays in my mind, albeit a morose story.
- Penelope: Pinback Like Sinking, Penelope tells a poignant story of an ill gold fish. It gives me goose bumps.
- In a gadda da vida: Iron Butterfly All college DJs have a soft spot in their heart (and bladder) for this 17 1/2 minute song.
- Aroma of Gina Arnold: Trumans Water Trumans Water at its spastic finest.
- Pinhut: Three Mile Pilot. This was the song that was on auto-repeat in my mind when I watched one of the first 3 Mile Pilot shows. My pal Ken and I ended up attending just about every 3MP concert within Southern California for the next 3-4 years.
- Square Heart : Black Heart Procession The perfect song for a broken heart. Gaining Black Heart Procession and Pinback almost made up for losing Three Mile Pilot.
- Transcendental Meditation: the Nephews
This Beach Boys cover by the Nephews has always been one of my favorite.
- On a Rope: Rocket from the Crypt I love ’em, even if they did break up Jehu.
- Swing Jesus: Fishwife This song represents everything I loved about Fishwife. I feel like I’m back in the front row dodging Ryan’s balls.
- Gar Forgets His Insulin: Hot Snakes Let’s face it, John and Rick could put out an album of fart noises and I’d think it was amazing. This song by Hot Snakes brings the power of the dynamic duo with fond memories of Fishwife, Gar’s previous band.
- Super Moto-X: Creedle. Creedle is one of those bands that need to be seen live to appreciate.
- Orca (.mp3) Was Orca a song, a band, or an extravaganza? Orca was a super group of San Diego musicians that filled the old Casbah to play one 30 minute long song. Orca was awesome.
- Disco Party: A Minor Forest. Don Diehl and I saw them play a show and were hooked on the song Disco Party. We immediately decided to start our own record label and release something with the band, as long as they’d include this song. The band was great and we put out a fabulous 10”. But then Don and I got to busy to do much with it, so we sold the records back to the band at cost and everyone was happy.
For more information on San Diego music, check out It’s Gonna Blow.
Blues, Soul, and Jazz
- Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday Susan Coppock introduced me to many great things: photography, serial killers, abandoned military buildings, and Billie Holliday. This song about lynching in the south had the biggest impact on me and started my appreciation for old jazz.
- Mississippi Goddam: Nina Simone – Nina follows Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit with a song of utter frustration and anger. Could this be the first punk song? “You don’t have to live next to me. Just give me my equality!”
- Gimme a pigfoot: Bessie Smith Billie and Bessie built my appreciation for the blues.
- Respect: Aretha Franklin Proud black women have always had a big influence. Aretha demands the respect she is due.
- Sex Machine: James Brown Get on up… Get on up…
- Hot Nuts: Lil Johnson. I loved playing this song at KCR radio.
- Temptation: Tom Waits I first saw Tom Waits in the Streetwise documentary and have been following him since. This song rings in my head when I think of Tom Waits.
- Pineapple Princess: Annette FUNicello This is one of the few songs that I have memorized the lyrics. I’m not sure what that is saying about me.
- La Bamba: Ritchie Valens – This is the music you play when driving your parent’s Caprice Classic off road, sliding around curves, or jumping off curbs. Not that I would have any first hand knowledge of this.
- Walk like an Egyptian: Del Rubio Triplets The world’s greatest 80 year old triplets with short shorts singing their hearts out. They played a gay bar in San Diego on the day of a friend’s memorial service. It was a tough time, with a lot of people dying, yet these ladies brought a smile and lightened my spirit.
- Diary of an unborn child: Lil Markie This is a song by a nutjob right wing Christian fundamentalist about a baby growing in the womb until it’s mother gets an abortion. It’s like one of those movies that is so bad that its funny.
- Fight the Power: Public Enemy. I’m not a big fan of rap. But Public Enemy is the punk rock of rap and this song is timeless.
- Speeding Motorcycle: Daniel Johnston
- Who’s got the crack: Moldy Peaches. I have no idea where the Moldy Peaches cd came from. Perhaps it was a Durward gift. It was an obsession for me, especially as we were rebuilding Maison Bleue, a former crack house.
- We like the moon: Rather Good. We like sponge monkeys!
- Mandinka: Sinead O’Connor I had just started KCR radio when this came out. It’s a powerful song and I can understand why she performed often at punk shows.
- Tweedlie Dee: Alice Babs There’s nothing like blasting this with the top down in the City.
- I walk the line: Johnny Cash My token country song.
- Walk like Thunder: Kimya Dawson. This is a powerhouse autobiography of struggle with abuse and self empowerment. It’s a song that makes me want to share it with others every time I hear it.
- La Vie en Rose: Edith Piaf
- I don’t like Mondays: The Boomtown Rats. I was home sick when Brenda Spencer began shooting at the elementary school and watched the live news coverage. It was amazing that the Boomtown Rats had a song about this for the next Saturday Night Live.
- Tu Veux ou Tu Veux Pas: Bridgette Bardot
Songs that have a strong negative reaction
- Stairway to heaven: Led Zeppelin This song is pure torture to me. Please… make… it… stop!
- You’re so vain: Carly Simon This song has the worst lyrics of all time. You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you. No shit!
- Brand New Key: Melanie. I just can’t.
- We: The Roches. I can’t help but mock and sing this song in a horribly off-tune voice. If I wanted to torture somone, I’d tie them down and force them to listen to the song repeatedly.