Nov 1, 2010

Ron Scalzo's "15 Albums That Changed My Life"

This week we introduce the pivotal musical moments of Ron Scalzo (Return To Earth / Q*Ball)

1. "Pretty Hate Machine" - Nine Inch Nails

Upon first listen, in the back of my friend Joe Sigona’s junker (affectionately called The Boogermobile due to its dark green color) on the way to the legendary Limelight nightclub in NYC, this album’s dark qualities, both musically and lyrically, became the benchmark for my musical aspirations. I soon picked up the mighty Korg 01/WFD sequencing keyboard – a heavy-as-hell dinosaur that I wound up writing about 100 songs on in my best attempt to become Trent Reznor.

2. "The Joshua Tree" - U2

I was too young to get into U2 during their ‘Unforgettable Fire’ heyday, so my first exposure to the band was watching Bobcat Goldthwait impersonate Bono in the ‘With Or Without You’ video during his HBO Comedy Special. Then I saw the trailer for Rattle & Hum in theaters. Curious, I went out and bought ‘Joshua Tree’ and became transformed by the sincerity, the soul, and my first real experience with topics that would become prevalent in a lot of my songwriting – the search for answers, addiction, hope, and especially women.

3. "Abbey Road" - The Beatles

My Dad used to make Beatles mixes on his reel-to-reel machine, so I was enamored with The Fab Four from a very early age. When I first picked up an instrument, all my guitarist friend Scott knew how to play were Beatles songs. The whole Beatles mystique became fascinating to me – ‘Paul Is Dead’, the iconic album cover, the ‘Golden Slumbers’ suite, the fact that this album was made while the band started falling apart. And oh yeah, the music….

4. Led Zeppelin IV

My parents’ music was extremely influential on me, and I eventually raided their extended vinyl collection, unearthing many gems from acts like Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Kansas. But Zep IV, with its folklore fairy tales, John Bonham’s epic backbeat, and of course, the masterful ‘Stairway To Heaven’ opened my ears. As a teenage drummer, ‘Stairway’ was one of the first songs I learned how to play on the drums. The first 6 minutes were real easy….

5. "...And Justice For All" - Metallica

My Whitesnake, Def Leppard & Warrant albums were pushed aside instantly when I first saw the ‘One’ video on MTV. The next day, you’d find me at the record store purchasing the entire Metallica back-catalog, plus every Anthrax album. Thrash metal became my new passion, much to my parents’ chagrin, as bands like Pantera, Sacred Reich, Wrathchild America, and Prong rarely left my CD player. I could relate a hell of a lot more to the alcoholic nerds singing about war, horror movies, and bloody knuckles than the teased-hair morons singing about their cocks and the bitches they lusted after.

6. Mr. Bungle

I spent most of college sitting on the steps of the quad with my friend Scott, singing this entire album acappella. Bungle’s first album was a revelation of circus music, filth rap, death metal, and Mike Patton’s affirmation that you can be completely out of your mind, totally eclectic, and mesmerizing all at the same time.

7. "Paul's Boutique" - The Beastie Boys

You simply can’t make an album like this anymore (without getting your pants sued off, at least). The Dust Brothers’ musical contributions to the Beasties’ clever raps, a complete right turn after the ‘cock rap’ of ‘Licensed To Ill’, were awe-inspiring, and made me want to go out and buy a sampler right after I picked this one up on vinyl. And I did.

8. "OK Computer" - Radiohead

I was a huge fan of ‘The Bends” in college and then attended Radiohead’s infamous post-Tibetan Freedom Concert show at Irving Plaza in NYC, where they played a bunch of tunes from this album, and I fell in love. A sonic boom for the alternative scene, ‘OK Computer’ literally blew my mind from beginning to end.

9. "Appetite For Destruction" - Guns N' Roses

There’s something iconic about seeing that skulls-on-a-cross logo for the first time, seeing Axl’s ridiculously teased ‘do as he walks off the bus from Hicktown USA into “The Jungle”. GnR was my first taste of ‘gutter rock’, the best album they would ever make – by far – before all the drama and the megalomania, it was just dirt and spit and a big ol’ ‘Fuck You’ to authority. Everyone I knew who was playing an instrument in high school wanted to be in Guns N Roses, myself included.

10. "Dark Side Of The Moon" - Pink Floyd

Musical theater in its finest psychedelic form, one of the coolest albums to listen to thru headphones, and I totally buy The Wizard of Oz thing. My first real introduction to a concept album – songs didn’t have to start or end, this was a journey of a different sort and it was hypnotic.

11. "Nevermind" - Nirvana

RIP Magazine’s Lonn Friend debuted the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video on a new segment on Headbanger’s Ball called ‘The Frantic Fringe’ (lame). Hair metal had already gotten cancer and once I saw this video, I knew it was terminal. Good. I didn’t have long hair, wear spandex and eyeliner, or learn how to play my instrument adequately so I could bang half naked girls. I was a shy skinny high school kid who loved music. So was Kurt Cobain. It was cool to wear a sweater again and let the world know that you had a tortured soul. This album opened the floodgates for Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and my sizable sleeveless flannel collection.

12. "The Real Thing" - Faith No More

I was only familiar with FNM by name when I saw Vince Neil & Tommy Lee tell Riki Rachtman how much they loved this band on some lame-ass Headbangers Ball special, which was followed by the fish-floppin, piano-bursting video for ‘Epic’. I bought the album the next day and never looked back. They would outdo themselves with ‘Angel Dust’, but their keyboard-infused rock/metal style would open my mind to new styles and new ideas as an artist.

13. "Violator" - Depeche Mode
14. "Songs From The Big Chair" - Tears For Fears

My first real taste of electronic music during my early teenage years came predominantly from these two acts, and their best and most commercially successful releases. Both albums are perfection, not a stinker tune in the bunch. TFF were more introspective and experimental, DM more dark and sultry. And yes, I would go to house parties in Brooklyn and Long Island with my blazer over my t-shirt and my Cons on and dance to this shit. And I was sober. Fuck you, the 80s ruled.

15. "The Fat Of The Land" - The Prodigy

Late ‘90s electronica was all the hype at a time when I had already been making this music for 4-5 years. The fact that a band like The Prodigy could actually be commercialized gave a guy like me hope. Of course, the fad didn’t last (or maybe it never left, it just somehow morphed into Timbaland & The Black Eyed Peas). But for fans of the genre, this was ‘The Golden Age’ – Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, Moby, Orbital – I was a fan of all and more, but this particular album blew me away – a vile groove unapologetic in its lyrical nastiness. This was The Sex Pistols discovering MIDI. Danceable electro-punk became possible.