If you’re familiar with the type of music I create, then you may have noticed a trend of artists and music that are on the heavier more progressive side of music.
Well, believe it or not, the top 5 artists that I consider instrumental to kick starting my music career or had a dramatic effect on the way I write, are not who you think they would be….well that’s not entirely true, but there are a couple artists that you may look at and say “Really Geoff? I thought you were all about shred and prog and crazy music”…no. It didn’t always start out that way.
We’re going to go chronologically down the list. Which was kind of hard to narrow down to just 5, as there are at least 20 more – but these would have to be the most polarizing artists or albums that changed me as an artist or moved me emotionally....
#1. Batman OST - Danny Elfman
It was the summer of 1989. I was 9 years old. My Dad took me to the movies to see Batman.
I can vividly remember sitting in a packed theater, popcorn on lap and hearing the opening music to this film. The Batman Theme!!
Something stirred inside of me. I immediately made him buy me the soundtrack. I ended up getting Prince’s “Batdance” single, but that was close enough. Regardless, I was hooked.
Also not too mention, 1989 was the summer of BATMAN! Trading cards, toys, tshirts, etc etc. It was Batman everywhere.
All the while never forgetting that moment in the darkened theatre as the theme music came, this would be the start of Elfman’s influence on my composing and my obsession with movie soundtracks.
#2 - The Phantom Of The Opera - Andrew Lloyd Webber
In was early 1993. I reluctantly agreed to go see this musical in Toronto in middle school. Little did I know that this would decision lead to years of obsessing over ALW’s musicals and got me into doing drama and writing my own musicals.
Later that year, I got the album. I would listen to this double CD, over and over again. Obsessing and fetishing over every little nuance of the recording.
Example: in the song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" right around the 0:43 mark when Christine sings "You were all that mattered" - there's a little noise in the background. It sounds like a pencil dropping or the conductors baton hitting the music stand.
Now that I listen to it these days, I'm still hearing new and interesting things in the recording. Like how I never noticed the synthesizers that are introduced in the 2nd verse.
This album holds so much magic, inspiration and nostalgia it's hard to put into words.There are certain parts of the album where I can remember exactly where I was, what I was doing when I was listening to that particular part.
That's just the magic of music I guess.
#3 - Live At The Acropolis - Yanni
Yes, Yanni…not joking. Summer of 1994. PBS always used to play this concert every weekend and so innocently I’d leave it on because he played piano, and I played piano. I thought it was good.
Shortly thereafter I saw the CD at the music store. I was torn though. I was either going to buy “Live at the Acropolis” or King Missle’s “Happy Hour”. I asked the guy working there what he thought of Yanni. I vividly remember saying “Yea, it’s got some great guitar work on it” Well, as great as the album was…there were no guitars on it, save the bass. I ended up buying it anyway. It was the better choice between the two.
It was because of Yanni I began to take playing piano a bit more seriously too. This album ties in with Phantom Of The Opera because it was around this time I began writing my own musicals and songs on the piano, so I think Yanni’s influence brought more of a new age flavor to my pieces.
#4 - Awake - Dream Theater
If you know me, you know I’m a recovering prog-head. As much as I try to deny it, DT is part of my DNA and my musical make up unfortunately. J
I was a Sophomore in high school and joined the marching band. After a rehearsal one random night, my friend Mathew Pike and I jumped into our friend John Rosini’s car as he put on “Caught In A Web” and “Erotomania” from DT’s Awake album. I can still remember every aspect of those moments. What the interior of the car looked like. What the weather was like outside. It was yet another one of those moments in my life where I knew things would never be the same.
A couple weeks later, I was at the music store and saw the CD and bought it. I literally listened to it non-stop all weekend. This album not only got me into progressive rock but inspired me to get better as a guitar player.
FUN FACT: still to this day, I can still play the solo section from Erotomania that I learned when I was 16 yet I can’t remember the chords to a Steely Dan song I learned last week.
#5 - Grace - Jeff Buckley
In the late 90’s I was in full on prog mode. My daily diet of music consisted of Dream Theater, Kansas, Rush or Frank Zappa. However one night I was watching 120 Minutes on MTV and caught the tail end of the video for “Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley so I randomly decided to tape it. Over the next week I’d keep watching that little bit of the video and became more and more intrigued. A few days later I saw the album “Grace” at the music store and picked it up.
It was at this point in time my songwriting moved up a couple notches. The album was unlike anything else I was really listening to at the time. Amazing songs and performances but what drew me into the music more than anything was the use of subtlety and the whole “less is more” mentality. Minimal orchestration which made the listener focus more on the vibe and less on how many notes and technical fireworks were happening in the song. With the main focus, obviously on Jeff’s other-wordly vocals. It’s hard for one to not be enveloped into this album.
I then began analyzing the way I wrote and tried to strip down my crazy epics to the most essential parts and focus more on the song itself, rather than the 14 minute instrumental interlude that would follow a bit of singing.
I often refer back to this album when I’m working on something new and I’m questioning if I’ve put too much into it. Typically Grace will tell me what I need to take out.
So that's it! Well there were a few honorable mentions that you will see below. I shan't go into more detail on these or add anything else because this list would have like 100 bands on it, but I hope this list gives you a bit more insight on what my musical DNA is comprised of.
I have curated a Spotify playlist below, which highlights a couple of the key songs from each respective album. Perhaps you enjoy the same albums? At least some of the songs?
What are your Top 5 albums?