I’ve written a good bit about music over the past week, and this post is one that I actually have thought about writing for a long time. As someone for whom music has always played a huge role…and for whom music is at least a small part of his job, I’m constantly influenced by it. Here’s a rundown of the music that has affected me as a music lover, as a singer, as a writer, and as a person in general…in rough chronological order. (Note: I’ve inserted links to allmusic.com sites or artist sites.)
The Beatles: I would think that most serious music fans would have to claim The Beatles as at least some sort of influence. My mom shared her love for their joyous, raucous early music with me, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve gained a tremendous appreciation for their more artful later music. In recent years, I’ve drilled down into the more obscure stuff and started to acquire a collection of vinyl. Who can argue with such a vast collection of great, timeless songs and indelible musical moments? The Beatles are the best rock band of all time in my opinion, and I can’t imagine that there will ever be another band with the amount of influence that John, Paul, George, and Ringo have had on music and pop culture. (I’ve promised I’d write about the box set, and I will soon after I finish listening to all of it.)
The Carpenters: Another influence straight from my mom. Their songs were just great songs when I was a kid, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to appreciate them on a whole different level. What may seem on the surface to be light, easy-listening pop is truly remarkable songcraft…music that was lovingly written, artfully arranged, impeccably produced (all the way down to those incredible mutli-tracked vocals), delivered by the amazing alto voice of Karen Carpenter. They’ve never really gotten the respect they deserved.
Dolly Parton: This is the main influence from my dad in my early years. He had two Dolly Parton 8-tracks that he listened to constantly. I loved her stuff even when I claimed to hate country music in my teenage years.
“Oldies” in general: Both my parents loved the music of the 50’s & 60’s, and that has rubbed off on my to an extent. On my own, I’ve become a big fan of both Dusty Springfield and The Mamas & The Papas thanks to the love they had for that era. (Notice how, even as a kid, I loved music driven by great voices and well done harmonies?)
Olivia Newton-John: My aunts took me to see Grease in the theater in 1978 (can you believe that?!?!), and my first crush began. I was madly in love with her at the turn of the 80’s, and her music is good, solid pop, but I don’t know what allure it has for me now beyond nostalgia.
Amy Grant: And here was my second crush, which lasted far longer than the first. Amy Grant was the first Christian singer I regularly listened to. When I first heard the Age To Age album back in 1982, I was an instant fan. (I had actually heard other songs of hers before, but that was the first time I connected her as an artist to the actual songs.) Her music played a major role in my life throughout my pre-teen and teenage years and into my 20’s, and I still enjoy her “classic” stuff to this day. Lead Me On is still among my favorite albums of all time. I don’t think she’s come out with anything nearly as compelling in the last decade as she did in the 80’s & 90’s, but she’s still an amazing artist.
Kansas/Kerry Livgren: In 1985, Covington Christian Church was abuzz: “one of the guys from Kansas is coming to our church!” I had heard the obvious Kansas hits: “Dust In The Wind,” “Carry On, Wayward Son”…but I decided at that time to dig into their music. As I got to know Kerry personally, I discovered his solo music as well. His complex, progressive rock style and profound lyrics both as a seeker of truth in Kansas and as a believer in Christ as a solo artist have challenged my ears, mind, and spirit ever since. I’m proud to call Kerry a friend, and I’m praying for his recovery from the stroke he suffered earlier this month.
Over The Rhine: During my freshman year of college, in the midst of what I consider a low point in pop music, I discovered a band from Cincinnati called Over The Rhine. I had heard that they were Christians but that the music they were making wasn’t considered Christian music. From the very start, their music intrigued, entertained, and refreshed me. After their first album, I lost track of them, but I rediscovered them in 1997, caught up, and haven’t lost touch since. From the folk- and chamber-pop of their early releases to their more jazz-inflected recent albums, they continue to create lovely, artful music that inspires. And Karin Bergquist’s voice just knocks me out cold! Their two Christmas albums are my favorite holiday music of all time.
Vigilantes Of Love/Bill Mallonee: Another college-era influence, I discovered VOL in Athens. Wonderful local music, with a variety of influences, from Americana to classic folk to sweet, trippy Beatlesque pop. Bill has made a prolific solo career for himself as well, doing it his way and constantly proving why he was named one of the top songwriters of all time by Paste magazine. I’ve also struck a friendship with Bill over that past year, which has been a real treat.
Pat Green: My brother turned me on to Pat Green in 2001. His singer-songwriter brand of Texas country owes as much to rock and folk as it does to contemporary country music. Pat is head and shoulders above most of the stuff on mainstream country radio these days…
Hillsong United: The first Hillsong United song I heard in 2002 or 2003 changed the way I looked at worship music. They continue to amaze and inspire me, and we proudly use quite a few of their songs at Eastridge. Hillsong United challenge me as a worshipper, as a believer, and as a writer. One of these days I hope to write a song that comes even a smidgen close to the powerful songs they write. (As a by-product, I’ve become a big fan of Brooke Fraser, one of their worship leader/songwriters, as well…I deeply dig her solo stuff.)
Gomez: I first discovered Gomez a few years back when their cover of The Beatles’ “Getting Better” was used in commercials for Philips light bulbs. I didn’t hear anything else out of them until 2006, when their splendid album How We Operate was released; I fell in love with that album immediately. Gomez’s scrappy brand of rock is both experimental and accessible, and their love of British rock and Americana are evident in their music. Their latest album, A New Tide, is hands down my favorite album of 2009.
That was a lot, but it’s just a taste of the music that has shaped me over the years. I’d love to hear from you; what music has influenced your life?