Monday, October 18, 2010

Young, moderately loud, and not so snotty: high school albums

The Deciblog recently published Laura Pleasants of Kylesa’s list of five albums that remind her of high school, and asked, via their Twitter feed, people to submit lists of their own. I heeded the call, then thought that a fleshed-out version might make a decent post. So, here we are.

I wish I could say that I had a better time in high school—cutting class, sticking it to the man, barfing O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock while leaning out of a speeding Datsun 510. None of those things happened. I was really crappy at being a teenager. I was never high in high school. I’m pretty much the same person I was when I was 14, except that the peach fuzz ‘stache is gone, and I can talk to girls now.

Oh, and music was almost all crap when I went to high school. When I started grade eight, Keith Moon, Bon Scott, and John Bonham all died in quick succession. Foreigner were big. Michael Jackson and music videos happened. When I graduated, Duran Duran were huge. If I could sum up high school with one phrase, it would be “a state of constant discouragement.”

In no particular order, these were some of the records that kept me going.

“In the high school halls, in the shopping malls...” Signals isn’t my favourite Rush album of the period (Permanent Waves came out just as I turned 14, followed by the untouchable classic Moving Pictures), but I remember it being more ubiquitous than most. My first day of senior high at Burnaby Central, I heard Signals drifting out of someone’s car in the parking lot. Rush were growing up, for better or worse. The songs focus on late adolescent concerns. "Subdivisions," of course, lent some sympathy to bored suburbanites, “New World Man” was like a social studies class in song form, “Digital Man” was in sync with budding comp sci majors, and “Losing It” was a sobering dose of reality for those of us enjoying the best years of our lives. Signals was a senior high wake-up call. Time to put away childish things and get serious.

AC/DC—Back In Black
Talk about ubiquitous. This was the Nevermind of its day; the album on which a former cult band exploded into the mainstream. This record got so much play that I’ve never actually owned it. We got into AC/DC with Highway to Hell, and its soon-to-be death-tinged mystique, but Brian Johnson and the band’s thunderous intent took things over the top. We played most of these songs in our band, with Willingdon Black gritting his teeth at my attempts to “improve” on Phil Rudd’s beats (I was a deluded little bugger). Back in Black was more than just a party record—we studied it and learned from its lean, mean songcraft. WB and I have since been in many bands together and separately, but when we’re collaborating on songs, we speak the same Back In Black-derived language. I wish more bands today would learn from it as well.

Iron Maiden—Number of the Beast
Like Back In Black, this album was an event, albeit of a more cultish variety. “Wrathchild” got some airplay and I thought it was a damn cool song, so when CFOX premiered the new Iron Maiden album in its entirety, I was there, rolling tape and getting blown away from “Invaders” onwards. (Although I despise file-sharing and the havoc it’s wreaked on 21st Century music consumption, I never bought into the “home taping is killing music” argument back then. Just one of the many hypocrisies I live with daily.) As with AC/DC, a new singer helped bring new popularity to Iron Maiden, along with an album that was obviously an instant classic. I saw them at the Coliseum sandwiched between Girlschool and Scorpions later that summer, so suck on that. On second thought, things kinda ruled when I was in high school!

Marillion—Script for a Jester’s Tear
I realized that I’d be a progressive rock fan for life when a copy of Close to the Edge made the rounds between my friends, and I was the only one who could stomach it. My enthusiasm for Yes and ELP in high school was tainted by the knowledge that they’d both peaked a decade ago. There was nothing fresh and new to get excited about. I tried really hard with 90125, which was a quality pop album, but not really Yes. Genesis had no mystique either; they were all “No Reply At All” or “Illegal Alien.” Marillion came along in the nick of time (i.e. before I had to buy another Saga album). Script... had intrigue, especially because the North American edition didn’t come with a lyric sheet. I dove right in, puzzling over every sonic detail, trying to figure out what the concept was, man. They were my favourite band for five years.

Pink Floyd—The Final Cut
Although it didn’t take long to suss out that this wasn’t really Pink Floyd, we bought into this album wholeheartedly. I was a bit too young/naive to get fully into The Wall when it came out, so The Final Cut was it—it was new, it was ours. We loved the cover (not by Hipgnosis, I now realize), we loved the “holophonics by zuccarelli labs ltd.”, the swearing on “Not Now John,” and Roger Waters’ Falklands-inspired bitterness. Hey, I was bitter too—Thatcher and Reagan seemed callous and out of control, and nuclear annihilation surely awaited us all. Along with The Day After and If You Love This Planet, The Final Cut fuelled the fear and secret hope that I’d get to see two suns in the sunset and high school would suddenly become the least of my worries.


jmax said...

My goodness, Rob... so close and yet so far. This was in Burnaby? My not-quite parallel universe overlapped greatly. But heavens, Rob... no Blizzard of Ozz? no Shout at the Devil?? no Diver Down???

A year or two I read Klosterman's Fargo Rock City, and it was, er.... orienting. He's a little younger than you and I, but I realized that a lot of the (very similar) music he says was key to his upbringing was kind of "turning point" music... where 'metal' (such a naïve term, really) was on the point of fragmenting into its pop-metal and thrash genres (which would then define subcultures for years to come).

Since then (and in 20/20 hindsight, I admit), it seems to me there were some really important albums we listened to from the early 80s, and then a lot of schlock that we spent time with too... 'cause our immature ears couldn't tell the difference. Def Leppard comes to mind, as does the latter day Rush and AC/DC albums, IMHO.

All this is academic. And pointless, really. So thanks for the reminiscences, anyway... Cheers!

S Robertson said...

And none of them had auto-tune, High School must really suck now.

The Mule said...

You're right, John—there were so many possibilities for this list, and a couple years' difference in ages counts for a lot. I was quite a picky music buyer as a kid, so I passed over Ozzy, Crüe, and Van Halen (other than the first album, after which we thought they descended into self-parody). I dug 'em on the radio, but it didn't get beyond that.

"Pyromania" definitely reminds me of high school—in a bad way, because the first time I heard the whole record was the night two of my friends tried to convert me to Christianity! That record makes me somewhat uncomfortable to this day (I do own it now).

invisibleoranges said...

To an extent, my entire site is about albums that remind me of high school. Judging from your albums, you're slightly older than me, but some of them are part of my high school memories. As one band I discovered at that time sang, "Good Times Bad Times".