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5 Albums That Changed My Life: Jimmy Callaway

Is it me, or does music intrude on our lives all too much? Sure, it was cute when you were a kid, laying on your stomach on the floor next to your record player with your best friend, kicking your feet in the air in time to the latest Bobby Darin 45. But personally, by the time I hit my mid-20s, more and more often I found myself pining for the sweet bliss of silence. But that’s probably just me being an asshole. Whether I like it or not, music has defined who I am and how I look at the world as much as comic books, crime novels, Coen brothers movies, or anything else I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time devouring. So here, dear reader, I present to you the 5 albums that have formed who I am as a person—this isn’t merely a list of personal favorites, but these records are also the benchmarks by which I can measure my musical taste (such as it is). That is to say, if it weren’t for these albums, I might be an even more boring old fart than I am now.

1. “Weird Al” Yankovic In 3-D, 1984—Like any young buck in the early 1980s, I was absolutely nutty for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. I was only in the first grade when that album swept the nation, which made me prime marketing material, even more so than the dopey junior high school kids in my neighborhood—I was even stupider. At that age, I thought pop stars were born fully formed from the head of Zeus, red leather jacket and all. So when this frizzy-haired bespectacled kook released his infamous parody, “Eat It,” to say I was shocked and surprised would be the understatement of the century. Basically, “Weird Al” broke my brain at an early age, never to re-heal quite the same ever again. I realize now that Al is hardly the poster boy for ripping social satire, but for a six-year-old kid, it was as close as it was going to get and just as effective, if not more so. On top of that, my burning desire to watch this video as often as I could led to me watching MTV non-stop for months on end, thereby exposing me to the pantheon of pop music such as it was. “Weird Al” was my gateway drug in more ways than one.

2. Run-DMC Raising Hell, 1986—There’s really nothing cuter to me than white kids co-opting black culture. Sure, a lot of folks are annoyed by the unimaginative and possibly racist way in which privileged suburbanite snot-noses emulate the appealing surface qualities of rap and hip-hop without giving much thought to the artistic and/or political drive behind such music. But I know in my case it was a sincere desire to escape my backwards, bigoted, and plain ol’ boring middle-class purgatory which led me to wear my ballcap sideways and call my best friends “money.” And this classic album, produced by the great Rick Rubin, was the beginning of all of that. And while Run-DMC were certainly in no way soft or watered-down, they do strike me now as being the most accessible rap act of the ‘80s. Well, actually, the Beastie Boys were probably more accessible since they were white, but as good as License to Ill was and is, I think even the Beasties would agree that Run-DMC outshine them by more than a little. They mostly worked clean, they were more funny than angry, and they did a song with Aerosmith, for chrissakes. It wouldn’t be until junior high that I got into the harder stuff like N.W.A or Public Enemy, but Raising Hell enjoys heavy rotation in my record-listening to this day.

3. The Beatles The White Album, 1968—Hello, and welcome to the most generic entry on this list. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, rap music was ceasing to be of any interest to me. I had a ton of adolescent rage going on back then, and even though I couldn’t have been less black, the anger and initiative in the voices of Chuck D, KRS-One, and the Geto Boys inspired me to be myself in the face of gargantuan conformity and social brainwashing. But then, by the time Snoop Dogg released Doggystyle and Dr. Dre put out The Chronic, rap music started going in a more laid-back (musically, if not lyrically) direction, where more emphasis was put on partying and making money than it was on “Fuck Whitey.” That’s fine and all, but that’s not gonna let me vent my impotent teenage angst, is it? Actually, turns out that it probably would have, and in a mentally healthier way, but it also turns out that I was 15 years old, and therefore, a moron. It wouldn’t be long before I discovered punk rock and all of its particular sound and fury, but first there was a distinct period where I re-discovered the rock of my parents’ age, and the Beatles’ untitled double-LP became the center of that. I suppose the familiar strains of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were a comfort from a simpler time, while the harder-edged “Helter Skelter” helped prepare me for a future of feedback and distortion. Regardless, I listened to this record more than any other Beatles’ album, except maybe Magical Mystery Tour. It’d be a few more years before I developed a taste for their less pretentious earlier stuff, but this is still likely my favorite.

4. Dead Kennedys Bedtime for Democracy, 1986/The Dead Milkmen Beelzebubba, 1988—I hate cheating like this and cramming two into one, but I do have a viable excuse. After a few years of Beatles records, along with a lot of the standard Seattle sound of the time—Nirvana and The Breeders, in particular—I had whetted my appetite for guitar-driven rock stuff, and was now ready for something a little harder. Both of these “Dead” bands had whipped past my field of vision here and there over the previous years, but it wasn’t until that fateful day in late 1993 at the Sam Goody in Parkway Plaza, El Cajon, CA, that I finally bought my first punk albums. On cassette, of course—I never went anywhere without my trusty Sony Walkman. The Kennedys’ album was the harder-core pick here, and my aforementioned raging hormones aside, the high-octane guitars likely would not have gotten my blood as boiling if it weren’t for Jello Biafra’s nasal, high-pitched vocals, the standard by which I measure vocalists even today. The Milkmen were not as liberty-spiked to be sure, but not unlike “Weird Al”, they brought a comic sensibility that suited me right down to the ground and back up again. Definitely a watershed day for me, and I had never been so glad that I’d not wasted that week’s lunch money on food.

5. The Mummies Play Their Own Records, 1992—Fresh out of high school, I was still as enamored of punk as I’d ever been, and I only got more excited as I discovered all the little pockets and sub-scenes—hardcore, straight-edge, speed-metal, pop-punk. Sure, all their little rules and dress codes were pretty lame, but I’d never paid any attention to those in my straight life, and I sure as hell saw no reason to start now. I’d heard the term “garage” thrown around quite a bit, but to me, that was just another way of saying “unsigned”: even if you were a post-modernist jazz ensemble, if you still practiced in the garage, you were a garage band. But then I ran across this collection of the Mummies’ early singles one day at the old Off the Record out by SDSU (now the site of a new-and-used tire shop), and my perception of “garage” changed forever. I’d actually heard of these guys in the letters page of Peter Bagge’s comic book Hate and how they dressed as mummies on stage. If Bagge said they were worth a listen, then that was good enough for me, and thus my indoctrination to garage rock had begun. The late ‘80s/early ‘90s saw a slew of these kinds of bands who had hoarded hundreds of compilations of one- or even no-hit wonders of the 1960s, and the Mummies were hands-down the best of the worst of the best. All their records were made using the oldest, shittiest equipment they could find, giving them a raw, dirty sound so refreshing compared to the crisp-‘n’-clean, Green Day-style punk that was everywhere at the time. Add to that their abusive stage presence and general fuck-off attitude, and I was a Mummies fan for life. It was going to be quite a while before I even developed a taste for the original stuff, and so I labored under the delusion that all these Wailers and Sonics songs were original Mummies tunes. But as we’ve established, I was (am) a moron.

Jimmy Callaway
Jimmy is a naerdowell that can be found running, with scissors, down the halls of the Criminal Complex headquarters. He has been known to make a great omlet, but only after breaking entirely too many eggs. Check him out on Facebook, Twitter,  said Complex and various dive bars.