Ten Albums

There’s a thing on Facebook right now where you’re supposed to post ten albums that influenced your musical tastes. This got me thinking, not so much about what I like and listen to now, but the music that surrounded me growing up, and, I presume, influenced my tastes in some way. So here they are. (Not sure if there’s actually ten.)

  1. Barbershop

Barbershop. Not sure it was this one in particular, but Barbershop Quartet was a staple in our home when we were kids. Tapes, records, and a few 8-Tracks, and an entire box set of the SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America) champions.

2) Them Mushrooms

There were a lot of bands that played the standard Kenyan tourist tunes – Hakuna Matata (no, not the Lion King one), Lala Salama, and so on – but in my mind it’s always Them Mushrooms.

3) Dr. Hook

I don’t know that I could even name one of their songs at this point, but there was a Dr. Hook album, and dad played it a lot. Might have been this one. I don’t know.

4) Mlimani Park Orchestra

Many Americans, on hearing Mlimani Park Orchestra, say “that sounds like mariachi!” And I suppose there may be similar roots, if you go back far enough. This was mostly on the radio, and I don’t think I ever actually had it on tape or LP until after I moved to the USA and missed it so much.

5) Graceland

Someone (probably my sister?) brought Graceland back to Kenya with them. This was the first I had heard of this Paul Simon fellow, but he was playing music with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, so it seemed like he might be worth listening to. And I don’t think I had heard of Graceland, or Memphis, before, either. But “Homeless” and “Under African Skies” and the one about the angels in the architecture, opened new worlds of music to me.

6) Rush

Of course, I have to mention Rush. In 1985 (about?) Kristina Silva sent me a mix tape of this new band she had just discovered, and I’ve been listening to them ever since. I couldn’t find that original tape, but I know it’s around here somewhere.

7) Mix tapes

Growing up in the 80s, you cannot really ignore the influence of mix tapes, passed around between friends. This particular one was also from Kristina, and there’s pretty much nothing on this one that I even remember, much less still listen to. But a steady supply of mix tapes that she sent me (this one was apparently during college, but most were while I was in Kenya, and didn’t have a local radio station that played top 40 stuff) definitely shaped my tastes.

And of course kids these days swap Spotify playlists, which is even more amazing, because it leads to discovery of other tracks that neither you nor your friends had heard of. But, of course, mix tapes hold a strong nostalgic corner of the 80’s kids’ hearts.

8) The Joshua Tree

Yes, I’m one of the people who discovered U2 when The Joshua Tree came out, and I was hooked. But then I discovered their older stuff, and was even more hooked. This one gets two images:

I don’t remember where this particular mix tape came from. I probably recorded it off of LPs at Bobby’s house.

9) Watermark

Enya’s album Watermark was where I learned that, for some reason, the radio people always choose a middle-of-the-pack song from an album to give air time. Meanwhile, the rest of this album was really amazing, in a weird sort of way that was completely unlike everything else I listened to at the time.

10) The Other Side of the Mirror

Back in the 90s there were tape/record clubs where you got a dozen tapes for one penny (!!!!) and then there was the small print about buying a million other tapes at full price over the course of the year. This was one of my dozen.

Growing up outside of the top 40 radio scene, I hadn’t heard of Fleetwood Mac, and I didn’t know who Stevie Nicks was.

This was another album that strongly influenced my taste. Here was Stevie, who was beautiful, had this amazing smoky voice, and sang songs that actually meant something, and were poetic. Amazing.

This quickly led me to Fleetwood Mac, of course.

11 and beyond …)

And the rest … well, picking just 10 is always hard. I didn’t even mention Men at Work, and the “Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings Outlaw Reunion” tape that was one of my first two album purchases *ever* (the other was the Ghostbusters movie sound track!) and Roger Whittaker and … well, so many others.