Top-5 Albums Day One

Michael: We all have our favorite albums. Some influenced us as players, some as people, and some as both. It’s easy to assume it would be easy to pick a Top-5 until it comes time to do so. Looking back so much music touched our lives. So many styles. So many genres. So many bands. If you were like me you grew up musically in the 1980’s. What an amazing time! You had classic rock, new wave, pop, rap and hair metal all competing for spots on the charts thanks to MTV. In one sitting you could see Depeche Mode, Run DMC and Motley Crue. This variety of choices influenced me to appreciate a wide range of music which guided me as a drummer. I didn’t, (and still don’t) lean toward any specific style of music when I play. I enjoy sitting down behind the kit and jamming to everything from AC/DC to INXS. My Top-5 represent what I like to call my “coming of age” albums. They are records that had an immediate impact on me when they first came out and continue to hold my attention. I still listen to these songs frequently and I play along to them as part of my practice routine. I also have maintained my affection for the artists who produced these monumental albums, some of which dominate my iPhone. (In fact, one band completely dominates it).

I thought it would be fun to share a post with a friend and put together a list of our Top-5 albums. My pal and drummer David Thibodeau rose to the challenge and put together an amazing list. We have broken it up into five separate postings to cover an entire week. These will be in no particular order. Here’s our first installment starting with David:

David: As I write this, Metal Mayhem is on MTV and I am watching videos that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager in the 1980s. I was living in Bangor, Maine and wishing that I already lived in LA. Looking back now I can say those were great years. Music was progressing from rock to heavy metal and I loved all of it. Thanks to my Father and Mother, I was raised on bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Doors, The Eagles and Chuck Berry. At the perfect timing in my life, the music got harder, more aggressive, faster and louder, just as I was reaching puberty and learning to play drums. Beating the hell out of the kit gave me a positive outlet to deal with all the changes I was going through and the MUSIC…amazing! How great was the music that was coming out almost every day it seemed. Queensryche, Motley Crew, Van Halen, Dio, Ozzy Osborne, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I have been asked to choose five Records that inspired me over the years. What a hard thing to have to do: choose! So many great records, hours and days and months of music to share. This list is not in order. I can’t say I love one CD more than another. To me, they all stand on their own.


Rush – “Moving Pictures”

What a classic masterpiece. A good drummer can hear a piece of music for the first time and anticipate what fill or cymbal crash the drummer will hit next. You can’t do that if it’s Neil Peart playing on the track. This is why I spent my sophomore year learning this record from start to finish. This power trio seem to share a spirit when they play together. Geddy Lee, (bass/vocals) Alex Lifeson, (guitar) and Neil Peart, (drums, percussion and lyrics,) are the perfect combination, destined to find each other and show a whole generation what three musicians can accomplish when they work together. When you think of “Moving Pictures” you probably think, “Tom Sawyer,” a wonderful song full of poignant lyrics by Peart, drawing a parallel between Mark Twain’s visions of being a boy on the Mississippi river in simpler times to growing up in the modern age. It’s a powerhouse song featuring amazing drums track from Peart. So many changes and complex drum fills that make you listen to the song over and over and shake your head because you just can’t see how a person can be this good at their craft.

“Red Barchetta,” paints a beautiful poetic picture of another time, going to the country on the weekend to spend with family and a very fast vintage car. The song was inspired by the short story, “A Nice Morning Drive,” written by Richard Foster and published in 1973 in Road and Track magazine.

“YYZ” is probably the first song that showed me that one doesn’t need lyrics to be a kick ass jam. Instrumentals have been around forever but this one was special. The classic intro sounds like Morse Code on the bell of the cymbal or triangle. Pronounced “Why-Why-Zed,” YYZ is the IATA airport identification code of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, near the band’s hometown.

Such a rocking tune is a buffet of happiness if you’re a young man trying to perfect your craft. Guitar, bass or drums, you can’t go wrong learning how to play a few Rush songs.

“Limelight,” captures the dream of every young musician. To be…to live forever within your creation. Also, probably my first introduction to odd meter. I always loved learning and playing the 6/4 time slower part. Alex Lifeson said that, “the solo was his favorite to play, it’s a little sad and lonely.” It’s really about the scrutiny that comes with fame. Apparently, Neil was very uncomfortable about being in the spotlight.

“The Camera Eye,” is an epic eleven-minute song, very enjoyable for a drummer, (love the marching snare drum bit at the beginning.)

“Witch Hunt,” sets a somber, dark mood right away, drawing a parallel between old world fear of the unknown that leads to killing what you don’t understand and the ignorance of having that medieval mentality in a modern world where all information is a keystroke away. The song’s message about mob violence, fascism and censorship remind me of posting something controversial on Facebook and watching your Christmas list shorten before your very eyes. Just a great record, one of the best of all time.


AC/DC – “Back in Black”

This was the very first record I ever bought. I think I was probably 12 years-old at the time. My cousin introduced me to AC/DC and I think I was drawn to their dangerous song titles. Of course I was a rebellious teenager. What parent wouldn’t be shocked at songs like “Hells Bells?” Today as a parent, I can see AC/DC’s double-entendres on song titles like “Given the Dog a Bone.” What struck me back then was the groove that was driving every song. I instantly fell in love with the simplicity of Phil Rudd’s drumming and I am still enamored with it to this very day. It’s not what Rudd plays. It’s what he doesn’t.

It seemed like every song on this album had a similar backbeat but it worked so well with whatever the rest of the band was doing. Is there any groove better than “Back and Black?” The fills, as few as there were, are perfectly placed. Songs like “Shoot To Thrill” feature some brilliant breaks that accentuate exactly what the guitar is doing. Hit songs like “Shook Me All Night Long” show that AC/DC can appeal to a wide audience while not changing what they do best. The whole band knocked it out of the park on this one. No wonder it’s one of the highest selling albums of all-time. When I’m in the mood to put on a pair of headphones and jam, this is one of my first choices. Here are some thoughts on my personal favorites:

“Hell’s Bells,” What better way to acknowledge the untimely passing of singer Bon Scott than to open the record with an ominous tolling of the bells? This record came out several months after Bon’s untimely death and was a tribute to the singer from the opening music to the all-black cover representing the band’s mourning. This was also the first time we hear Brian Johnson’s voice. In an early interview with Brian he said that he was so nervous about filling Bon’s shoes he just stepped up to the mic and belted the lyrics out as loud as he could. It immediately showed that Brian had his own distinctive voice and that AC/DC had a familiar tone but new vocal sound.

“Shoot to Thrill,” This song stands out on the record drum-wise with its up tempo beat. The lyrics are great too. “Shoot to thrill – way to kill – too many women and too many pills…” Of all the songs on the record this one really showcases drummer Phil Rudd’s tasteful playing. There is a nice break in the song where Phil plays a tribal tom sequence that compliments the dynamics of the guitar perfectly. It is understandable why the Iron Man movie series uses this song in the opener of Iron Man 2. In fact I believe that the Iron Man series uses all AC/DC music.

“Back in Black,” THE quintessential hard rock groove. You can’t listen to this song without bobbing your head. Drummers and guitarists love playing this tune for its slow tempo and brilliant simplicity. The opening riff is epic and Johnson’s vocal can’t get any better. Rudd’s playing once again shines through as he mimics the guitar parts perfectly. No fills are needed and that in itself makes the song stand out among other rock songs. This is one of my all-time favorites to put on the headphones and play along to. It’s not that easy to lock into that feel as Rudd’s timing has a definite swing to it. It takes practice.

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