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Albums That Influenced You

Music is the great collaborator. Music brings us together, and chances are, even someone who has no opinion or interest in anything has some interest or opinion in at least one form of music. Think about it, how many people have you met for the first time, through University perhaps or in a new job, where to break the silence and learn more about them you might ask what type of music they enjoy, what sort of bands or artists they listen too and maybe who they’ve seen live?

More than any other pastime, however, music is something that it is so easy to get involved in. Now, whilst learning an instrument does possess challenge and skill, listening to music, purchasing and collecting records and albums, attending gigs and singing in the shower are all – in some ways – relatively inexpensive. And with the advent of high speed broadband and legal streaming services like Spotify and iTunes direct to your mobile device it’s now easier than ever to find virtually all the music you’ll ever want. And on top of that, you can expend far less effort than even 15 years ago in doing so.

I first started discovering music when I was 13. Of course, I was listening to music and specific artists before this, but it wasn’t until I was at that age that it had such impact on me, affecting the way I dressed, my career aspirations and even my political beliefs; between the ages of 13 and 18 I discovered artists and groups that have stayed with me until today as a result of their influence at this important time in my life. My younger brother played bass in a band, and that ended up affecting his music taste in a huge way, as he went on to play some live music in local venues. Personally, I worked in Radio, and so everything from choosing the music for my shows to learning about new artists and promotions had a huge impact on my life as well.

For this article I wanted to take a look inward, and talk about albums that have influenced me. But there’s nothing like a little friendly competition to get the thoughts moving. I mean, how horrible would it be if everyone looked the same and listened to the same album; so in that spirit of diversity and difference – as well my thoughts and ramblings – I would encourage you to comment by giving me YOUR thoughts on the albums and the music which helped shape and define the person you are right now.

Metallica – St Anger (2003)

Metallica were a huge influence on me. I actually got into the band indirectly from Queen, another one of the huge influences that will feature on this list. I ended up purchasing a video cassette of the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert from April 1992 where, following Freddie Mercury’s death, the surviving members of Queen staged a large benefit concert at Wembley Stadium. Several bands who performed during the first portion of the day – Metallica, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses most notably – would go to become some of my favourite artists of all time. And in truth, it’s unlikely I’d learned of them at the same time as I did if not for Queen and their appearance at that performance.

So when I started to get into Metallica properly, St Anger was the first album released with me being a fan – and for that reason it holds a huge place in my heart – as I can even remember taking the bus to town on that June day in order to buy a copy of the album. Many might expect me to say I hated the album, but considering my first live experience with the band would be just a few days later (as part of the ‘Madly in Anger World Tour 03’) and I’d already listened to practically everything Napster were giving away the Winter previously (!) there really was no denying that I just loved this album because it was new material from Metallica.

Thinking about it now, I can even remember my friend (the same one who I bought the album with) ringing me up one night – at a time when we’d first got mobile phones – to tell me that he’d seen the ‘St Anger’ video on Kerrang TV. Now, Kerrang TV was a subscription service, and you needed to phone in and request specific tracks that you wanted to listen too. Since Metallica’s new single was LITERALLY just being released, Kerrang had aired the video at the stroke of midnight before it was part of the rotation, and then every 20 minutes thereafter. The video itself was filmed at San Quentin Federal Penitentiary in California; and believe it or believe it not, myself and my family took an incredible vacation to California not long thereafter. Giving me another reason to love the nostalgia and the memory of the album a lot of people really seem to hate.

Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

By the time I saw Green Day on the American Idiot Tour (in January 2005) I’d already seen a few bands live. But this particular performance always holds a special place in my heart regarding live shows. For a start, and to this date, I’ve not seen Green Day live since – and the venue in which the gig was held (Dublin’s Point Depo) no longer exists. It was also the place where I’d seen my first ever concert, in 2003, and this album was exactly what I needed at the time.

It was actually my brother who’d been a Green Day fan for long before this, and he ended up detesting American Idiot save for one track, feeling the band had completely devalued their earlier sounds. I would soon come to find out that certain bands I love (such as Machine Head) would have a habit of taking the previous special appeal they had to fans in a time and place and repackaging and re marketing it for a new generation 10 years later. So, thanks to my brother and a friend of mine, I was slowly introduced to Green Day and encouraged to come to their performance.

Personally, I’d just recently started University, and my life itself was going through some pretty major changes. Looking back, I’d actually reflect and say American Idiot was released during one of the most turbulent and challenging periods of my entire life to date. It is perhaps the only album released during that period that I still look back on with fondness, and will occasionally belt out ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ with nostalgic glee to anyone deaf enough to listen. It’s definitely funny for me how this album really forced me beyond my skin and – in a sense – was me looking to accept a new group and a new form of music into my life; probably taking the Punk thing too much to heart as well, although stereotypically a few Summer’s late.

New Kids on the BlockYou Got It (The Right Stuff) (1988)

From the bands second album ‘Hangin’ Tough’ (released 1989) the earlier single – known commonly as ‘The Right Stuff’ – was released by NKOTB in 88. In that year I would have been 3, and its also the year my younger brother was born, so it’s extremely unlikely that I’d of heard the album or the single – and remembered it – at that time. However, I can tell you that I once asked my mother to obtain a copy of the album from her friend, if I gave her a blank cassette. It seemed like even a weird request to my mother at the time, but I got the album back – and it was definitely because of the love for this song.

I won’t lie, this was a long time ago, but I did want to make special mention because it did play some small part in my musical tastes and does hold a fondness to this day. It’s cheesy, it’s 80’s and it’s Pop – but actually it’s still a great tune. I’m just sorry I don’t have more information about my experiences with it.

Nobuo Uematsu – Music of Final Fantasy VII (1997)

I don’t listen to a lot of Classical Music. I appreciate it, and it’s use in film scores, but I can’t think that I am actively engaged in listening to such music. That being said, I absolutely couldn’t do this list and not include the music of a particular video game – which, by definition of it’s creation – is a classical piece. Final Fantasy VII was originally released for PlayStation in 1997 and I won’t go into a speech about the game on this article because there’s already at least two articles on that website to cover such things. Suffice to say, one of the huge reasons the game had such an impact on me was because of the music, and I can definitely remember this being the first time I cared so much about a game’s soundtrack.

To me, Uematsu’s soundtrack is essential to the game itself, bringing you deeper into the story, introducing you to the nature of the characters and creating tension or building hype without saying a single word. Much like Die Hard will use ‘Ode to Joy’ as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber finally realises the vision of opening that safe, the music within this game brought you closer to it, and gave you a bigger context for it. Remember, this was at a time when Sony (already a leading music producer worldwide) had revolutionised gaming with the sound chip of the PlayStation – games like Wipeout and Grand Theft Auto, for example, took advantage of stereo quality sound to insert the music of known artists into video games. FFVII used it as a character; and that was a big deal, especially for an RPG (Role Playing Game) which meant you spent a lot of time with Cloud and his compatriots wandering valleys and hills in search of Sephiroth.

I have so many great memories of playing this game originally. I remember in particular going into town after school one Friday to collect the game from my favourite store, with a friend from school, and remarking on the bus back that it would probably take me the entire school holidays to finish it. If I have a particular favourite piece it’s either ‘Shinra Theme’ or ‘Those Chosen By The Planet’ but ‘Tifa’s Theme’ is also a big one for me. And a small special thanks to Uematsu for his work on re imaging the soundtrack for the 2020 remake which, once again, captures the beauty and the majesty of the game as I’d expect with incredible advanced technology.

Kid Rock – Cocky (2001)

I’d heard of Kid Rock after he sampled Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ to rework the track into ‘American Bad Ass’ in 2000. It was largely due to my love of WWE (then WWF) and the use of that particular track for The Undertaker’s theme tune when the latter made his return in May 2000. Shortly thereafter, Rock covered ZZ Top’s ‘Legs’ for a WWE Compilation and also released ‘Cocky’ on Atlantic Records; which had several songs sampled by WWE, most notably the title track (which I’m almost positive was used as a PPV theme) and ‘Lonely Road of Faith’ which was used in a rather nostalgic video about wrestlers out on the road. ‘Cocky’ itself went on to become even bigger, thanks to ‘Picture’, a duet with Sheryl Crow.

Kid Rock also ended up becoming an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame, as well as touring several highly successful albums to date. In 2004 I saw him live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and then again in 2008 I saw him open for Bon Jovi in Kildare, Ireland. So he is officially the only artist I’ve seen in my life – so far – on two different continents. And I’ve just realised typing that, it’s not true, as I also saw The Supersuckers in both Dublin and in Tower Records in Los Angeles at an in store performance. Either way, Kid Rock’s album influenced me greatly, and my appreciation of his music stays with me to this day, I’ve even a copy of ‘Live Trucker’ on Vinyl.

Guns N’ Roses – Live Era (1999)

I bought the album in Golden Discs on Grafton Street in Dublin. I didn’t have enough money for the album and the guy behind the counter let me off with a Euro, or a Pound, at the time. I didn’t have enough because I still needed to pay for my bus fare home and when I got home I sat and listened to the album from start to finish. It was my first Guns N’ Roses record and I later got it signed by Gilby Clarke, who toured and recorded with the band between 1991 and 1993. I wish I still had it but I foolishly sold it when I lived in Edinburgh in 2008.

This album, for all intensive purposes, was created to supplement contractual obligation and make the main members of the original Guns N’ Roses at the time (Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan) some quick cash. People have been critical of it’s production, and it’s value, but at the time of release – and certainly at the time I purchased it – this album was the nearest thing to a Greatest Hits and captured the band as I loved them most, live. I wouldn’t see those three men live together until 2017. People might not understand but before Spotify, and if you weren’t intending on downloading illegal music and creating your own compilation, an album like this really was the best way to hear this music.

On top of anything else, the album also contained a full colour booklet, featuring photographs and imagery which showed me pictures from previous tours. Despite this band having effectively fractured years before I could even comprehend their importance to my musical taste, they are one of the most important musical influences to me. Period. I’m still a member of the fan club to this day.

Queen – Innuendo (1991)

I could have put any Queen album on this list – with the possible exception of the ‘Cosmos Rocks’ and ‘Hot Space’ – and it would mean just the same. Innuendo doesn’t even feature my favourite Queen track of all time (that’s either ‘Save Me’ from ‘The Game’ or ‘It’s Late’ from ‘News of the World’) and the band itself, these musicians – and particularly it’s lead vocalist – have had the greatest influence on me. In essence, they are the perfect band in my eyes, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of them. Fact.

This album I received on cassette, for Christmas, in 1995. No idea whatever happened to my cassettes from when I was younger but I used to have a special yellow box where I kept my favorite cassettes and they were virtually all Queen originals. A lot of my music at that time was blank copies etc.

Their influence and their music has been with me my entire life. And I can’t think of anything more to say because that sums up exactly how I feel. I’ve grown out of other bands, grown into bands, developed tastes, picked apart material here and there. There is nothing I can’t love (yes, even the albums mentioned at the start can be loved) about this bands output. They are flawless.

I’ve really enjoyed sharing this list with you, I’d love to hear from you guys too about what music ranks in your inspirations…..

Whilst we dream of electric sheep; we’ve become androids ourselves…..

What happened to game show contestants? You know what I mean, right, Norma from Wembley aged 87 trying to figure out what Michael Barrymore is talking about? Frank from Leicester, the retired Postman whose worked in the village since 1968.

Recently I’ve spent a little time watching Challenge – available on Freeview Channel 46 – which plays those classic reruns of Price is Right, Bullseye and Supermarket Sweep; when the idea of interacting with our television was so novel that you wanted to see your neighbors on the tube. You’d send off a postcard hoping to get picked, you’d nominate your grandmother or secretly hope Noel Edmonds would give you a ‘Gotcha’ when you split that milk in the supermarket.

As the years rolled on, television audiences changed, and so did television. It became slightly less interactive whilst also becoming more subversive. Big Brother, reality television, effectively replaced the need for traditional Saturday night entertainment. You didn’t need to watch Noel’s House Party or Gladiators, not when things were getting saucy and the participants were getting plastered on Channel 4. In general, we approved of this culture initially, and encouraged the likes of Jeremy Kyle, which effectively took the handbook from Soap’s and found people who behaved just like the cast of Eastenders – without actually being actors.

In true style, the audiences rebelled, and whilst game shows like ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and ‘Deal or No Deal’ were always staples of viewing, it was the guests who began to change. Gone were the potentially senile or quiet and shy, discounted were those with interesting jobs and an afternoon off work to attend the taping. Instead, television program participants representing “the general public” now seem to be more exciting, more popular than ever before. Instead of being an accountant or a nurse, contestants are now YouTube content creators, professional gaming enthusiasts or even models.

In some cases television was sent to ridicule you. The Chase and Eggheads presented quiz contestants secretly mocked by the host due to their obscure knowledge of the most random content. Shows like ‘The X Factor’ stepped this up further, sometimes inviting people with genuinely hidden talent to try and catch a magical ticket to their fame. In the process, they needed to endure a stadium full of people watching their open audition, live weekly programs where they battled for the adoration of the millions watching at home and then a phone in where people could vote to eliminate you because they simply didn’t like the person the production team encouraged you to be.

There’s an old episode of Red Dwarf in which Lister reads Rimmer some mail from his mother. In the letter, his mother tells him that his father had died, and as a result Rimmer leads himself to question his own identity – posing the question “what is a man if not his job?”. Another character, Kryten, later challenges Rimmers repeat of this question by asking whether Albert Einstein was a patent clerk, or whether he was the greatest mind in human history?

Using the example of television, it would seem to be that society is now breaking away from the older, more traditional and established social norms. Primarily, things like what your day job is, who you are and what you do for a living are meaningless and practically irrelevant. In my own life I meet so many people who I’m confident would rather be defined by their social activities (Writer, Wrestler or Social Media Influencer) than by their traditional day job. And in some cases I’m almost ashamed to say I don’t even know what that person’s “real” job is.

Now, I say real because we currently live in two worlds, one in the physical and the other in the digital. We’ve been escaping to this world for about 30 years now – either through gaming or vlogging or even in MMORPG – and we’ve perhaps been escaping to a virtual world even longer if you include Hollywood in the picture. But modern technological advances have meant that as the years go on we’ve found ways to become even more subversive. And yes, whilst we dream of electric sheep, we’ve actually become androids ourselves – submerging with our digital lives on an almost hourly basis – texting, posting, tweeting, swiping – mostly commonly through the artificial extension in your hand.

In the case of social media accounts, many people (myself included) now have at least two. One which represents their “real life” or their more personal account, the kind you want your parents to see, want colleagues in that job you’ve just taken to notice; and the other representing an identity, an idea, a fragment of what they want to be – or just representing the more ideal vision of themselves. If wrestlers play a character, that second profile is exactly that – kayfabe for the internet age. A heel or villain to mock fans, a face to thank fans. Just like an actor it can prove useful to be able to submerge in the identity. If that person is a writer, they might choose to be more streamlined and professional on their account, presenting links to their work and encouraging direct interaction and praise with their writing.

And who doesn’t enjoy friend requests? It’s a much wider question to ask what digital friend requests actually mean, but suffice to say we do like the idea that people have taken the time to reach out and extend a digital handshake. Those friend requests you receive may be from a singular account or a person with two accounts. Many times have I been offered a friend request from someone I’ve actually met in the real world, only to find it is not actually their active account, but a puppet account set up to promote their brand. An extension of a personalized marketing tool perhaps. We abhor racial segregation but we welcome digital segregation.

You have to be careful, granted, when your sexuality could be perceived as a potential issue – or when you feel the lifestyle choices or personal opinions you can control are not in kin with everyone (or even someone) else. We enter new jobs in a particular mode, playing a role, acting in a very specific way when absorbing new situations. And we all, no matter who we are, wear masks.

“Plato’s Stepchildren” episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, first broadcast November 22, 1968

It seems like light years now since Star Trek attracted controversy in the 1960’s by featuring the first ever interracial kiss on US Television screens. Of course, that in itself is a popular misconception, as another kiss predates even this infamous moment. But if we ignore the misconception for the moment, we could perhaps see social media as a form of digital segregation. If your Facebook profile is like a nightclub, your friends list is a safe space, where you can invite people to share in your personal expressions. We’ve all seen the Facebook adverts – everybody’s got their own level of privacy, right?

So what if that second profile was your real profile. And within your nightclub, you’ve got a VIP Lounge, a special place where you’ll further filter those who know you. Yes, you’ve heard of me, met me and even spoken to me. But what makes you think I even want you knowing me?

Whether I earn the majority of money in any given year from Journalism is irrelevant. I can call myself a Journalist simply because I write an article like this and post it online. That is 2020. My first ever Journalism tutor told me that to be a Journalist was a calling, something you became once you believed you were just that, a writer, a recorder, an archivist, an observer. Maybe he was trying to sell me the class on the first day and my colleagues were too baked to remember it, but that mantra has stuck with me ever since.

In the years I’ve been writing I’ve probably been taken advantage of – in one way or another – because of my good nature at least once a year. Sometimes its an article that I’ve been promised payment for which isn’t given, other times it’s quitting my job to start a new opportunity and ending up in a whole heap of trouble. I can sincerely understand why people create a safe place, because the world can be cruel. And there’s no assurance of success. People would rather live their character than be themselves, it’s far less painful, and you’ve got far more control in that.

I can’t help thinking that we’ve lost our way. That Instagram likes and boastful posts will only get us so far. But at the same time, the world is encouraging us to use bad grammar, hashtags and slogans – asking you to avoid thinking about the bigger picture and instead simply commit yourself to the fact that you can do anything you want. You can live the role and not the reality, lie to everyone on a daily basis by presenting this false image of yourself and letting the mask take over your life. Without questioning whether you should?

So much of our lives are now influenced by our online personas. We model our lives around this digital world; choosing our jobs, our path in life and even our friends across a digital landscape. Realism? There’s a time and a place, no doubt, but it’s not anywhere after you login.

Time to see what else is on.