3 Albums That Changed My Life

Every year my music collection grows by leaps and bounds.  When I was a kid I had to save up my money and make careful decisions as to which albums I’d buy with my hard-earned dough.

Unless I could score one of those Columbia House “10 CDs for a penny!” deals.  Then you could load up on whatever they’d let you have for free real quick.

These days I’ve got Google Play and Spotify accounts. And my library has, as of today, 26,587 songs in it.  I LOVE finding cool new stuff to listen to and engaging my completist tendencies to round out my collections of favorite artists.  Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist is one of my favorite things in the world.

But yesterday I started thinking about which albums really changed my life.  Which ones were not just enjoyable to but also came into my life at just the right moment to really change the course of things?

Three albums came to mind.  And the interesting thing is that only one of them will really stand the test of time as a great album.  The other two just happened to be the right music at the right time to tweak my brain into a new life direction.

And they’re old albums of course.  After listening to and playing so much music in my life I doubt there’s anything out there that would cause me to alter my life in any drastic way now.  But I’m certainly always looking for it. 🙂

Let’s get on with it.

Hooked On Classics 2Hooked On Classics II (1982)

This album by Louis Clark conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with the Royal Choral Society is an abomination of classical music.  Each track crams a ton of famous themes into 3-5 minutes and lays a rudimentary kick/snare from a drum machine underneath the whole thing.

Make no mistake… This is a terrible album.  The orchestral performances are fine.  But the arrangements with the stupid beats layered beneath them will make you think you’re watching an ill conceived Disney parade.

But this album changed my life. It was one of the first albums I ever owned and an early exposure to orchestral music.

My brother and I used to create an orchestra full of toy instruments mostly out of Tinker Toys.  We’d lay them out by section on the floor of our playroom and put this record on.  Then we would run around like crazed wild dogs attempting to “play” every instrument as it came up in the music.

“Trumpet part! Run!  I’ll get the violin section over here!”

It was ridiculous and we were sweaty messes by the end of the album.  (Which is probably why, to this day, I judge the quality of my own shows by how drenched I am by the end…)  But for both of us it was a first experience with critical listening to music.  Not just letting it waft over me, but engaging with the music actively and trying to pick out each of the parts and how they worked together.

Girls Girls Girls by Motley CrueGirls Girls Girls by Motley Crue (1987)

When you saw that title you thought one of two things.  “Oh my god, cheesy hair metal.” Or “That album?  Dr Feelgood or Too Fast For Love are way better albums!”

Granted.  Right on all accounts.  Dr Feelgood is a better album and bigger hit.  Too Fast For Love was way more raw and edgy.  And all of it is super cheesy hair metal.

And this wasn’t even my first foray into the musical world of spandex and Aqua Net.  That happened the year before when I heard a new band mixed among the Foghats and Foreigners that were the mainstay of my local rock station.  And when I heard “Talk Dirty To Me” by Poison I went out to buy that album.

“Are they women?” my dad asked upon seeing the cover.  But Poison was only one step removed from the Journey and AC/DC being repeated ad infinitum on the radio.  It was still fun party music.  Just with longer receipts from the cosmetics store.

Girls Girls Girls was my second purchase on that road and it was different. Darker, dangerouser.  (I know that’s not a word, but I like it.)  Leather and motorcycles and what all.

There were better role models I could have picked up for such things.  Motorhead, say. But that’s not what the universe presented to me that day.  All I knew was the girl who had a mohawk and lived up the street from me had a Motley Crue patch on her denim vest. So they must be worth a listen.

Right from the first song, this album taught me that music could be uncomfortable, scary, challenging.  It literally raised my heart rate. Not out of excitement.  Out of fear. Out of the idea that maybe I shouldn’t be listening to this.

Of course, I eventually got accustomed to it and went further afield.  Metallica, Slayer, Carcass… Always looking for that new hit of “this might be too much.”

And I’d argue that the same spirit of challenging the listener to experience something unexpected filters right into the comedy music I write now.  When people laugh uncomfortably at a joke and consider their own beliefs on a subject it makes their heart pound a little too.

I wrote more about this album awhile back too.

Sign O'The Times by PrinceSign O’ The Times (1987)

’87 was a big year.  I was 14, so it’s to be expected.  I had gotten away from the pop music of my youth.  Shout out to KWSS.  Mr Mister, Madonna, Cutting Crew, Billy Joel, Culture Club, A-Ha… All that stuff. I’d even got away from the rap mixtapes my friends traded.  And I hated Prince.

(Oof… I hated typing that sentence just now…)

I’d heard the hits from Purple Rain and totally didn’t get it. My brother and I ACTIVELY didn’t like his music.  We made jokes about it.

For some reason I was given Sign O’The Times for Christmas that year.  I don’t remember asking for it.  And I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand it on the first couple listens either.  The production was weird.  So dry.  And so much going on.

But I was getting accustomed to seeing that an album had something important to give even if I wasn’t ready to get it yet.  And I saw that with this album.  So I kept listening until I got it.  And it blew my mind.

Pop music didn’t have to be just the shiny produced stuff on the radio.  It also didn’t have to sound the same all the time.  It could mix all these different styles… rock, funk, blues, folk.. the sacred and the profane.

And from the time I started writing songs I never wanted to be stuck writing in one style.  You can still hear that in my work.  I’ll use whatever sound suits the story.

This isn’t even my favorite Prince album.  For those I gravitate toward Around The World In A Day or The Symbol Album.  But Sign O’The Times came at just the right time to click my understanding of music into another gear and the effects have guided my musical career since then.

I wrote some more in depth stuff about this album awhile back.

Sure there are other landmark albums in my life… Earth vs. The Wildhearts, Master of Puppets, Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites, Appetite For Destruction, Music In Our Mess Age, Real People…. But the reasons I find them valuable stem from those three old records that were in the right place at the right time.

The great thing about music is that nobody else has the same experience with those albums as I do.  Nobody else would even utter them in the same breath, let alone have the same reasons to cite them.  Everyone has their own life-changing albums for different reasons.

So, what are your life changing albums?

Fall Down Go Boom?

I’ve never been the most graceful person to stand on a stage, but this was a new one even for me.

I was playing at Loonees Comedy Corner in Colorado Springs last weekend.  And it wouldn’t be a Saturday late show if some weird shit didn’t happen.  And for this one, I apparently forgot how to walk up a simple set of stairs to the stage.

Laugh and enjoy.  My girlfriend did. Over and over and over again.

Punched in the face by Thai food

Spicy Thai FoodOne of the side effects of being with a Singaporean girl is having to get used to spicy food.  Before her it’s wasn’t my strong suit.  I’m a firm “Mild” at Taco Bell.

But I’ve gotten used to it over the years and I know if we go to a Thai restaurant I’ll come out looking like I just bombed an audition for Survivor.

We went to a Thai food place the other night and the waitress brought us glasses of water. I said, “I drink a lot of water. You can just leave the pitcher.” She looked at me… and back at her boss… and said, “I’ll just bring it when you need it.”  Like this was my big plan to steal a plastic pitcher and escape to Mexico to fence it to the Cartel.

Her boss came to take our food order.  Probably because we were now “suspect”.

He asked how spicy we wanted our food on a scale of 1 to 10. Which is like your dominatrix asking “How far do you want to go today?”  But there’s no safe word with at the Thai restaurant.

Of course, you’re there and you want the really good stuff.  And you’re also sure it’s a really bad idea.

We told the guy 8.  And when we do that they look at me, then look at my girlfriend.  And she says, “It’s ok. He’s cool.” And I can only imagine the cook looked out at our table and went, “Oh, he thinks he’s cool, does he?”

Because the food that came out was so covered in red Thai chiles it looked like it had measles.

We each took a bite and looked at each other. And my girlfriend said, “We’ve made a horrible mistake.”  But we can’t send it back. We’re in now. So I put on my Richard Simmons terry cloth headband and got to work.

Science has shown that spicy food gives you the same endorphin rush as having sex. Right down to the expelling of bodily fluids if you do it right.  But unlike spicy food, sex doesn’t burn.  Usually.

Not only that.  They also claim that spicy food is an aphrodisiac.  You ever eat a big spicy meal and then feel like jumping right in the sack for a pork session?  Yeah, me either.

My girlfriend said, “You’re gonna be able to write a whole new hour of comedy in the bathroom later.  I said, “I’m going to name that special ‘8’”.

The waitress came out and said, “Is it too spicy?”  Which is like asking someone at the end of a marathon, “Hey, out for a little jog?”

She asked if we’d ordered Thai Spicy or another number.  We said 8.  And she said “Oh, Thai Spicy is 11 out of 10.”  I said, “What are you?  Spinal Thai?”

“Our food goes to 11.  And our customers keep exploding.”

My girlfriend said, “What was that all about?”  I said, “I’m pretty sure she just called us pussies, dear.  Keep eating.”

They also say spicy food is good for losing weight.  Well sure.  If someone is punching you in the face with every bite of food, you’ll probably eat less.

So we finally gave up, only getting about 2/3 of the way through the food.  And then the waitress has THE BALLS to bring us a bill.

Cuz you gotta pay the dominatrix.

The leftovers are still sitting in our fridge.  Waiting to strike.

The Ramones Would Hate This

I Wanna Be Sedated Ramones cover by Phil Johnson and Roadside AttractionI woke up one morning in one of those mid-dream states and a bizarre version of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” was rolling around in my head as a leftover.

Slowed down, acoustic guitar, big vocal harmonies…

Basically everything the Ramones didn’t stand for.

But it sounded so ridiculous in my head that I had to record it. And I’m always looking for an excuse to work on my vocal harmonies anyway. 🙂

How I Arranged The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”

I hadn’t listened to the song in ages, but it’s a pretty easy one.  Basic I-IV-V rock and roll.  Of course.  I started working out the arrangement with a couple chord substitutions here and there, and then I realized I couldn’t remember all the lyrics.

I thought I couldn’t remember them until I looked them up.  Turns out, not a ton of words in this one.  And it’s a very repetitive song.  So I had to pull out some arrangement tricks to keep things interesting for the whole 4 minute arrangement.

If you listen to the vocal harmonies, they start lower than the main melody in the beginning and then use higher voicings in the second half of the song.  I also added tiny instrumental elements to help build the energy towards the end.  A little shaker, a tiny bit of kick drum.

When it came to the iconic one-note guitar solo I needed to find a way of retaining the reference to the original but also create something more interesting to listen to at this slowed down tempo.  I ended up keeping the droning E string and building a sweet little melody below it.

After finishing the recording, I realized another interesting way of doing “I Wanna Be Sedated” would have been to reverse that whole process and have the song go lower in energy as it progressed instead of higher.

In the end I felt like that might have been interesting, but also somewhat unsatisfying to listen to.  That and my to-do list of other projects staring me down. 🙂  But it could be something that pops up later.

Ok, here we go.  Check out my cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated” in the Spotify player below or find it on your favorite streaming music site.

Click here to get the song on iTunes.


An American Sicko In London

University Hospital London

I walked right in this door and my eyeball fixed.

My girlfriend and I took a trip to London recently. Fantastic city and you’ll be hearing about it more in my shows this year.  Because I can’t take a vacation without getting 5 new minutes of comedy out it. 🙂

While I was there I managed to get Pink Eye. The lesson is to wash your hands after riding the Tube.  Also good dating advice.

Hoping to avoid doctors and medication all together I did a little research into which kinds of pink eye heal themselves and which need antibiotics.  Yes, there are different kinds.  And they’re all gross.  Used to get it all the time as a kid which is why I have the vision of a 102 year old in my right eye.

Viral pink eye doesn’t need medication and will heal itself in a week or so.  You can tell if the runoff from your eyeballs is clear.  Bacterial pink eye has the gooey runoff that sticks your eyelids together in the morning.  Even more gross and exactly what I had.  Medication needed.

Not the help I needed…

My first time sick in a foreign country, but I’d heard great things about the English medical system.  So I got on the phone to start getting some info.  Phone trees, on hold, verify my identity a thousand different ways.  I had a hard time understanding the lady I talked to and she didn’t really know anything anyway.

I was talking to my American health insurance company, Blue Cross, of course.  This was the international help line they told me to call if anything happened.

Me: Do I have medical coverage over here?
Her: I don’t know, sir. I don’t have access to your account.
Me: Why am I talking to you then?

She said she could email me a list of doctors in the area that would help me out, but had no idea if it would cost me money or not.  But if it did I could collect 100 different pieces of paper from the doctor and make a claim on my insurance.

Off to the Gynecologist to fix my eye…

The email was a 3 page list of doctors in London.  3 pages.  Easily close to 100 doctors.  As if I’d just googled “doctor in London”.  There were pediatricians and plastic surgeons on the list.  Pretty sure I saw a veterinarian.  Absolutely useless.

I was also instructed to call Blue Cross customer service to see if I had coverage.  But, of course, the 8 hour time difference meant they weren’t even open.

90 minutes into this ridiculousness I gave up.  There was a hospital attached to a medical school about 6 blocks from our flat.  We walked over to the ER there.  I told the guy at the counter what was up and he gave me a 1 page form to fill out.  1 easy page.

I said, “Will I have to pay anything to see the doctor?” and he looked at me liked I’d asked “Will the moon crash land in France tonight?”

“No, you probably won’t,” he said looking at me like “Dumb American…”

I saw an ER nurse who confirmed my self diagnosis.  She sent me to an eye doctor in Urgent Care.  We followed the plethora of signs to find our way there.  (The signage all over London is fantastic…)

The eye doctor also confirmed and wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to pay for it at the machine in the waiting room then go pick it up at the pharmacy.

I paid £8.40 for the prescription.  That’s about $10 US.  Look at that again.  It didn’t matter what kind of medicine I was getting.  They only charged you based on how many different ones you got.  Eyeball goo or Cancer meds… £8.40

Just in case you didn’t want to stab Martin Shrekli enough already…

We went to the pharmacy and picked the thing up and continued merrily on our vacation.  All I paid for was the meds.  And they were cheap. You can be damned sure I’m not going to bother claiming it on my US insurance.  The cheapest thing I did in London was see a doctor.  Amazing.

An easier pill to swallow…

Now of course the system has its problems.  It’s apparently financially delicate.  And they pay a lot in taxes over there. Sales tax alone is 20%.  But it’s already included in the price, not added on at the register.  So it’s easier to deal with.

But to not have to be worried about going broke AND being sick?  Fantastic.  Next time your doctor wants to charge you $700 for a little procedure, Get yourself a flight to London and do it there instead.