The Music That Made Me

In which I attempt to distill the music of my most formative years down to five artists, and one record per artist that, to me, most personify their music.

Phil Collins, Hello I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going was not my first Phil Collins record (and in the mid-80’s records were “tapes”), however, one of my first tapes was a Phil Collins record: his third, No Jacket Required (which does contain a couple of my favorite tracks of all time, Take Me Home and Inside Out).

Released in November of 1982, Hello I Must Be Going was Phil’s second solo record. It was produced by Hugh Padgham, who might make multiple appearances in this series. I was introduced to two tracks from the record in my drum lessons of the mid-to-late ’80s: I Cannot Believe It’s True and It Don’t Matter to Me.

Of course, Phil Collins began his music career as a drummer. And he’s always been amazing. It was the groove-oriented tunes from his early solo career that really grabbed me, though. (Genesis might make a top 10 list but will be left out of this top five list.) These two tunes I had as part of my drum lesson material also featured a lot of horns, and I was playing a lot of jazz and fusion at the time (The Brecker Brothers were another groove and horn-infused drum lesson artist).

It wasn’t just the grooves on those two tunes, though. The guitar riff at the beginning of Like China and the intentional accent on the vocal and the guitar effects on the solo felt like another world to me. Do You Know, Do You Care? is better and angrier than In The Air Tonight ever was. The West Side, the instrumental, from this era when pop artists put instrumentals on their records. I miss that era.

I would later get into more Genesis, Brand X, and other projects involving Chester Thompson (Phil’s touring drummer, who performed a drum clinic at my high school) like Fire Merchants. But it was Hello I Must Be Going that got me going down that road to begin with. My appreciation for Phil’s solo catalog ended with 1989’s …But Seriously, but those first four records have probably had more musical influence on me than any other such collection of work.

Rush, Exit…Stage Left

You can’t be a drummer and not like Rush. I should rephrase: I’m sure there are drummers out there who don’t like Rush, I just haven’t met any yet.

Not only am I a drummer, and have been since the third grade, but I also grew up in central Pennsylvania, and while near the small capital city of Harrisburg, it was largely rural and demographically homogeneous. There was probably more than one classic rock station on the radio and this was a time when we still listened to the radio. I also had one sibling, a sister nine years my senior. She introduced me to Yes and Boston. I am, however, unsure of when I first heard Rush. It had to be on the radio.

Regardless, Exit…Stage Left was my first Rush record…on an extended-play tape.

It was the drum solo on the track YYZ that did it. I am not really into drum solos anymore–possibly an indication of a more mature drummer–but at the time that drum solo completely blew my mind.

The record has a lot of their classic hits: The Spirit of Radio, Tom Sawyer, etc. It’s a good introduction to what is probably their most famous and commercially successful era.

I would later go on to consume every era of Rush and finally see them live on their last two tours ever, while in my 30’s and soon after my 40th birthday, here in Dallas.

Musically Rush is divisive, but no one can deny that they were one of the most talented trios of musicians and all around good people ever to grace the radio waves. Even if you’re not a fan of rock music at all, the documentary film Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is still a must-see.

The Choir, Circle Slide

Circle Slide is the sixth studio album from Christian alternative rock band The Choir, released in 1990.

Circle Slide starts off with the title track, which starts off with a tight drum roll followed by a strum of the guitar with that glorious Choir guitar tone. There’s no record that better represents that guitar tone than this one. The reverb-heavy drums, saxophone, and guitars create a dreamy bed for Derri Daugherty’s gentle voice.

Imagine one perfect circle / Above the stratosphere / Where lovers hide away / And children cheer / Because the ground has melted / Where the devil stood / Never mind the carnival in your own neighborhood

It’s like settling into a deep dream, where everything occurs in soft focus..It’s haunting and beautiful, like slipping into a warm bath, eyes closed, heart settled…And then in the second verse, the carnival shuts down, and the fantasy collapses. – An Atheist’s Guide to Christian Rock

Steve Hindalong is a very musical drummer. His parts are intentional, thought out, in service to the song. He was probably the first such drummer I had heard.

That opening track is almost seven and a half minutes long. And it fades out.

Once in high school, I sang the chorus of If I Had a Yard acapella to a girl. She, of course, had never heard the tune. But that might have been the first time I realized I could sing.

The final track, Restore My Soul, bookends the record perfectly. Again with the guitars and reverb-heavy drums and the extended track length. I’ve wanted to cover this song forever, and despite covering a number of other Choir songs, never have. Some things are too sacred.

Sting, The Soul Cages

I hesitated to include this one, as Sting is even more divisive than Phil Collins or Rush, and I became disinterested in his music after Brand New Day (and even that’s a stretch). But recently watching Rick Beato’s interview with Sting, in which Sting and Dominic Miller name Soul Cages as their favorite of his catalog, I feel like this deserves its place on this list.

Manu Katché was still Sting’s drummer at this point, and he’s one of my top five favorite drummers (largely for his work with Sting and Peter Gabriel during this era, although sample his solo work as well…also he’s French). Whenever I do get a chance to play the drums, I still almost always play a couple of tunes off this record–favorites are All This Time, Mad About You, and the title track. Sting’s songwriting and production values were at their peak at this point. For a large chunk of the 90s I was a big devote of Sting and his band. Dominic Miller is still one of my favorite guitarists (seek out his solo work as well).

This is Hugh Padgham’s second appearance as producer in this short list.

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3

The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Polish: Symfonia pieśni żałosnych), is a symphony in three movements composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976. – wikipedia

I first heard this piece of music at the end of the movie Fearless, sometime during my freshman year of college. That movie was the first I’d ever seen that left me feeling changed, and this piece of music was a significant contributor to the experience. I immediately sought it out, sat with it, not just consuming it or appreciating it, but letting it do work on me. I don’t return to this music often anymore–it usually does not work as background music, it requires dedicated listening time–but its fingerprints remain on me these decades later. If you ever feel sad, confused, neglected, overwhelmed, rejected, poor in spirit…this is the music to spend time with.