RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The Formative Years

Inspired by a thread on Twitter today, in which all the cool kids labelled Nirvana the most over-rated band, I felt compelled to write a list of my favourite albums. The criteria for this list are pretty simple – these albums were a big part of my formative early-teens (first half of the 1990s), and I still listen to them today. Bear in mind that many of these will also be massive sellers that have gained the attention from that special sort of elitist who can’t help but tell you how they are over-rated. Nevermind them.

InUtero

Nirvana: In Utero – Well, let’s start here then, shall we. I was 10 years old when Nevermind came and shook things up. I was still listening to Michael Jackson and Thompson Twins at the time. For In Utero, though, I was 12 and in Senior School (High School if you like), and as such the album hit me hard. A friend gave me a cassette with Nevermind on one side and In Utero in the other, and told me to listen to it. I did. It changed me, probably more than any other tape ever has, and In Utero was the stronger album for me. Sure, as a kid there were lyrical elements that elicited a giggle – “rape me my friend”, “I wish I could eat your cancer”, and so on, but the power of the music is what ultimately grabbed me. Perfectly soundtracking my life as an outcast, drifter, and the family’s black sheep, the haunting harmonies stick with me to this day.

Metallica

Metallica: Metallica (The Black Album) – Another one that came along when I was 10 and was therefore missed, for a while. Of course in Senior School, where so much of this begins, the album was soon shared along with their earlier output. Perhaps because it was the most recent one, or the most accessible, this was the first one that resonated. The opening two tracks were amongst the most divisive in our peer group, with some staunchly believing that Enter Sandman was the best, and others (myself including) favouring the heavier edge of Sad But True. This isn’t now my favourite of their albums, and certainly isn’t in my top ten albums, but it was supremely important at the time.

SeventhSon

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son – My dad left when I was 10, ran off with someone from my uncle’s company. Soon thereafter I went rooting through the drawers in the cabinet that housed the stereo he’d left behind, and found this one on CD, and instantly fell in love with it. I’d heard nothing of the sort before, growing up in a house full of Genesis, Marillion and Pink Floyd, and it struck a chord. I wonder why it lived in that drawer, why it was separated from the rest of my parent’s collection, but I assume either my mum didn’t approve of it (see also Appetite for Destruction below, another drawer find), or she didn’t want me and my sisters to find it. I’m glad I did, it remains my favourite Iron Maiden album to this day.

Appetite

Guns N Roses: Appetite For Destruction – Now this one is very much in my top ten albums to this day. Perfectly recorded and produced, this is to me the ultimate rock record. Massive sounding, with great tone, this was the sound of a band (and producer) that knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. Not a bad song, this is as close to the perfect album as I know. And compared to many of its 1980s peers it’s aged incredibly well. Another that I found in Dad’s abandoned music drawer.

ChaosAD

Sepultura: Chaos A.D. – Now this was a turning point, the album responsible for pushing me into the deep, dark underworld of metal. Let’s be clear, this was not a cool album to listen to. I was ridiculed for my maturing tastes. But so what, it’s a fantastic collection of songs from start to end, and we shouldn’t be listening to music to score points from our peers. Some will prefer the earlier albums (a theme common to so many bands is that people claim to like them, but only the early stuff) and I certainly do love Arise which came before it, but for the purposes of this list, this is the one that introduced the band and cemented them in my psyche.

AJFA

Metallica: …And Justice For All – Metallica again. Today you’ll notice many experts discussing the mastering of this album, which has hidden the bass guitar and with it all the lower frequencies of the recording. Back in the early ’90s though we were absorbing most of our music from cassettes copied from cassette copied from records – hardly ideal, but it didn’t matter the slightest bit, particularly given that we were listening on a cheap walkman from Boots with the headphones that came with it. Kids bemoaning the audio quality of MP3s and Apple earbuds don’t know they’re born. I digress. This album, or songs from it, came to me on the same mixtape that introduced me to Sepultura, and so made a massive impact. Also teaching me that before Black, Metallica had done something quite different. Again not my favourite Metallica album (Master of Puppets as you asked), but at the time this was one of my favourite albums ever, and helped push me to learn guitar.

RATM

Rage Against The Machine: Rage Against The Machine – Another seminal album in the “rap metal” genre, as we knew it at the time. I was an angry child, I think that’s why I fell so hard for metal and punk music. Life wasn’t always easy, and people had a habit of pissing me off – a habit they haven’t shaken in the intervening years. This one spoke to me on many levels, with its tales of injustice spoken over fantastic guitar-based grooves. The first album that made me appreciate the role of the bass guitar in the music I loved. I love this album so deeply that I know that the second song’s name does not end with “of”.

Dookie

Green Day: Dookie – Moving on from the metal that soundtracked my pre-teen years, as I entered my teens I opened up to other ideas. Around this time if started a paper round, earning me £15 a week. Music at the time was quite expensive and that would have bought me an album a week, or several singles. I mostly went for singles for the sake of variety, and one of the very first I bought was Basket Case. Another perfect album, the main complaint I’ve heard about this from the hipsters is that it’s “too well produced”, which is an interesting argument, akin to “it sounds really good”. And it really does.

Smash

Offspring: Smash – Basically a kind of sister album to Dookie, this sufferers from the same problems of the other – too many great songs, too well-recorded to be accepted by true punks. Full of energy, this one. They subsequently went a bit off-the-rails, entering the mainstream as something of a comedy band, though their albums were pretty solid throughout, with the singles genuinely being amongst the weaker songs. This one though, this one is great.

Parklife

Blur: Parklife – This one may be a little surprising given the harder edge if other albums in this list, but this album came along at exactly the right time to impact me. Full of fantastic songs, swinging from hopefulness to despair, this is far more than many will assume from a “pop” band. Damon Albarn is a prolific musician and song writer, putting his name to many different styles of music, but this album captures him (and the band) at the top of their game. Youthful energy coupled with a streetwise knowledge of the world around them, I still get a tingle when Girls & Boys comes on.

Troublegum

Therapy?: Troublegum – I saved the best for last. This was my favourite album in its day, and remains amongst my very favourites today. Another album instrumental in my learning guitar, and the first that I learned to play through! I can’t quite say what magic they bottled for this one, and they certainly haven’t quite managed to repeat it in subsequent albums, but this one represents the perfect storm of anger and anguish. Truly a masterpiece, and largely forgotten today. Not by me!

So there you have a few of my earliest musical memories, with regards to my own musical awakening. Before this lot I was listening to Michael Jackson’s Bad, Thompson Twins’ The Gap, and The Simpsons Sing The Blues. Needless to say, life changed.

What are some of your most important albums, and why are they so? Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic to chat about it!

7 thoughts on “RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The Formative Years”

  1. Some great albums there – I loved Troublegum and Smash too, I credit Smash for saving me from bad nu-metal and getting me into pink rock instead.

    My breakthrough was similar to yours, I got a cassette with Nevermind on one side and Unplugged on the other. Unplugged was OK, but Smells Like Teen Spirit blew me away….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have had several arguments that Smash “isn’t punk”. I mean an album credited with bringing punk back ought to be considered at least a bit punk. Common complaint is that it’s “too produced” because punk is “supposed to be” more raw, as if production doesn’t matter. If it’s supposed to be about not caring, why do they care so much? As for Nirvana the songs that hit me from Nevermind were Stay Away, Lounge Act and Territorial Pissings! Also Come As You Are. Unplugged is a fine album too

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m on your side with Smash and it’s priduction – it’s definitely a punk album with punk influences and tone. I don’t think it’s that well produced to be honest – it’s pretty gritty compared to Americana! Smash was crucial for me as it led to me getting into Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Pennywise, Descendents, Bad Religion…the list goes on.

        I’d say Nevermind is the only album more important to me than Smash. I like you’re picks – Lounge Actvin particular is superb!,

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I never realised it until a few years ago when I started playing bass (after 25 years of guitar) but I’m drawn to bass-led music. Smash is such an album, and bass is crucial in Nirvana’s music, Lounge Act being a strong example of that. Move past Americana, the production gets shinier with each album. Conspiracy of One is one of the better produced albums I’ve heard. Doesn’t affect the quality of the songs.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Very true – there is nothing wrong with good production. It’s always about the quality of the songs.

        Not realized it before, but yeah Smash is a very bass led album…Bad Habit, Gotta Get Away and Self Esteem have some great bass playing on them.

        Liked by 1 person

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