25 Albums That Saved My Life


Richard Van Camp

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sincere pleasure to bring to you my list of the top 25 albums I have ever had the joy of listening to:

  1. Prince - - Purple Rain I think I was fourteen at the time, but I do remember a horrified cashier working at the drug store in Fort Smith, NWT, going, "Can you believe they can print lyrics like that on the cover of a record jacket?" I read the lyrics for "When Doves Cry" and on the record jacket and bought it immediately. I had seen the video for "When Doves Cry" and thought Prince looked like a naked monkey with sideburns sitting in his bathtub, yet really loved his band and him (when clothed) dancing around. I was always scared he'd slip and fall and twist something in those heels, but he pulled it off all right. When Marnie raised her voice in protest about the lyrics she raised my interest in Prince. I already had "1999" and knew Prince was a highly charged sexual force, yet nothing prepared me for "Purple Rain." I think this album is the one that launched my passion for music.

  2. Kate Bush - - Hounds of Love Saw the video for "Running up That Hill" and fainted. Ran to the same drug store in Smith and, Thank You God! it was in stock. Ran home across the potato field, flew to my room and put it on. I lay there for days in a daze. I love Kate Bush's ability to stuff novels, anecdotes, ideas, moments of her life into songs. Anyone who has seen the video for "Experiment IV" or meditated on her near-dance with Hitler in "Heads we're Dancing" knows what I mean. Where are you now, Kate?

  3. Platinum Blonde- Standing in the Dark. I saw the video for "Standing in the Dark" and loved the look, loved the lyrics, loved the hair! I bought the album at the drug store (probably a few days after "Purple Rain" and "Hounds of Love" came in) and knew something had changed deeply inside me. All of their albums are superb and I miss them. I was babysitting those days and would listen to "Standing in the Dark" over and over while reading "True Crime" magazines, which seemed to be all the rage in the early eighties. I remember babysitting one winter, reading an article about a serial killer who shaved the pubic hair off all of his victims with a straight razor after binding them to their beds before feeding on them. The song playing as I read this was "Cast No Shadows". I still get that "alone in the dark" feeling whenever I hear it. That tape became my soundtrack for terror lacing itself with horrible images of crime photos of bedsheets and bloodstains. I was so scared I made myself watch "Good Rocking Tonight" on CBC. Eddie Grant's "Electric Avenue" video was really the only thing that stopped me from running home screaming through ice fog at 2 in the morning without my jacket or shoes.

  4. Van Halen - - 1984. I was listening to this in grade 8 along with every other mammal on the planet. I could feel the rock and cockiness of the band and began my secret career as an air drummer in my bedroom. Most males hop around the room playing their leg like a guitar but I chose the drums as my vent. It didn't take a genius to know I was in the presence of great United States of America Kick Ass Rock and Roll Band before falling victim to my glorious teenage years. Who was better- -Sammy Haggar or David Lee Roth? Who cares? Both lead singers took the band and its fans to heights never achieved before by any hard rock band.

  5. Cindy Lauper - - She's So Unusual. My childhood ended with this album in grade 9. My buddy Lorne was sleeping over one night and received a phone call from his hysterical mother who was screaming that his father, Sandy, went missing. She was sure that when he was cutting wood he must have fallen through the ice. She was sending a friend to pick him us up so we could look for Sandy. Sandy's friend was a paramedic of some kind. I brought "She's So Unusual" along thinking that if we were going to find a body we had better have some "happy" music. Well, fuck, Cindy turned on me. Sandy's friend, Mr. Paramedic, began telling us stories of all of the bodies he's ever found. "She's So Unusual", over the course of one of the most terrifying evenings of my life, became my soundtrack for body-hunting. Whenever I listen to it now, I see a white face opening black eyes as it rises out of cold dark water. I never, ever should have brought that tape along because we listened to it seven complete times while driving through a long cold 40 below night. We learned, after almost losing our own lives to the highway graters, that Sandy caught a ride home from another pal of his and was safely tucked away in bed By the way, in "All through the night" I thought for years Cindy was singing, "We have no cats/ we want respect/please hit me forward all through the night" when she was really singing, "We have no past/ we won't reach back/ keep with me forward all through the night." But that's not as retarded as my buddy Trevor who thought the Police were singing, "There is no milk for our Chee-ri-os" instead of "We are spirits in the material world." But you know what? That's not half as bad as Andy C. who thought Sting was singing "I'll always be king of Spain" instead of "King of Pain". Try and figure that one out!

  6. Depeche Mode - - Violator. Listening to this in grade 12 when Luke Oskirko, who I think may be dead now, moved to Fort Smith. I cruised to this tape so much I went through three of them before buying the disc, which was eventually stolen from me. I could direct a thousand videos based on the visuals I get from each song, especially "Waiting for the Night". DM's "Blue Dress" is written and sung with such a polite ferocity and with such a disturbing Lolita message I still get the chills whenever I hear it: "Because when you learn/ you'll know what makes the world turn."

  7. Eurythmics - - Touch. I tried being a pothead between the grades of 9 and 10. Each time I was stoned, I seemed to end up back in my loft lying on the floor listening to this album. Even when I listen to it now I get these great flashbacks of one night the power being out, my family visiting beneath me in the living room, and little stoned me lying on my back in the loft floating around the room via candlelight. I was always a little spooked by David Smith in their videos, especially "Love is a Stranger". I've since surrendered all awe to him and Annie but remember my days of doubt as I inhaled sweet mojo through a toilet paper roll over red hot stove elements.

  8. Fine Young Cannibals - - Fine Young Cannibals. Saw the video for "Johnny Come on Home" and was a little alarmed at the band's stage show: Two strange white guys dancing awkwardly not smiling while this dark boy gave it all away dancing on his knees begging for Johnny to come on home. I ran across the potato field immediately to a new store in town called "The Video Store" and, Thank God again, it was in stock. I bought it on the spot and this is the 911 dramatization of the conversation I had with the lady owner who went out of business one week later.

    Owner: Fine Young Cannibals? That's a strange name for a band. Are they, like, Death Metal?

    RVC (hyperventilating): Aw, man. Aw, man, you haven't heard of them? You know that song, "Johnny, we're sorry, come on home?"

    Owner: No. No, I can't say's that I have.

    RVC (still hyperventilating): Aw, man, you will--YOU WILL!!

    I ran home and put it on and started dancing on my knees just like the lead singer. Fuck, I was so cool back then! If you watch all of FYC's videos those white boys never crack smiles--ever.

  9. Pearl Jam - - 10. My folks were out of town. Someone, I won't say who, was fooling around with his girlfriend in our log house in Fort Smith. She had just returned from the city with the disc. I saw Pearl Jam's video for "Even Flow" and had discounted the velocity of the band based on Eddie Vedder's potato hair. They turned up the tunes up so I couldn't listen to them go "straight erogenous" (my words, not theirs). Thank God they did because I left my body that night. Vedder's resonating voice and Pearl Jam's velocity stole my soul. I taped it the next morning and listened to it over and over before they woke up.

  10. The Cure - - Disintegration. I saw the video for "Fascination Street" in the spring of 1989 and windsprinted all the way downtown Calgary yelling at the top of my lungs. I didn't know an album could actually pull my spirit from my body and show me heaven so fast. I was listening to it when I graduated from William Aberhart High School in Calgary where I did my grade 12. I must say, though, that I return to their "Faith" album a lot more than "Disintegration" so we may have a tie. Either way, "Disintegration" gets my vote for the best-written album of all time.

  11. Sisters of Mercy - - (Tie!) First and Last and Always and Floodland. Now because the band broke up to reform as The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy and, briefly as the Sisterhood, I think I'll choose an album before and after The Breakup. Before The Breakup, I would have to say "First and Last and Always" because every song is pure Goth. Why this album meant so much to me was I was working at McDonalds in Calgary making $4.20 an hour. I loved the lyrics and loved Andrew Eldritch's deep, drowning voice. I loved the mystery behind the Goth movement. I loved how the Sisters stood backlit by searchlights six feet back from the stage surrounded by fog. Used and abused, I'd lay there at 7am eating my McMuffin sipping my McCoffee saving my McHashbrown for last, smiling away in the darkened staff room with a shiny forehead and a Rudolph nose blaring the Sisters. I was actually pretty lame back then. I'd wear my black "Fuck Me and Marry Me Young" Sisters' shirt under my McUniform and think I was a McSomebody. What a fool! I was crushed for a second when I found out the Sisters split up. I say "for a second' because both bands went on to do beautiful work. The Mission's "Wasteland" and "Children" were awesome, but never touched me as deeply as the Sisters. After The Breakup, I would have to say The Sisters' best album was "Floodland" because it is so well written with heart and soul. You can really feel Andrew Eldritch mourning the loss something deep inside. Check out "Driven by the Snow" and try not to see people buried in white. I learned 10 years later that "1959" was recorded by Andrew Eldritch after a fan named "Isabelle" wrote to the lead singer and suggested he record a song with only piano and voice. Isn't that just class? One of the best albums ever written. I will always be a slave to the Sisters.

  12. Ministry - - The Land of Rape and Honey. Bought it from the cover alone in 1989. I had no idea what ferocity would be unleashed inside me when I opened her up. The second I head Alan Jourgenson sing, "Stronger than reason/ Stronger than lies/ The only truth I know is the look in your eyes . . . " I knew I could never go back to anything I believed in before. In fact, it was this album that spilled my cocaine glands and lit my rat brain on fire. This led to my dangerous friendship with Skinny Puppy, Hilt, Revolting Cocks, Nine Inch Nails, Front 242 and Chris and Cosey. Chris and Cosey, by the way, suck. I wasted so much money trying to find anything beautiful about them. I saw one video of theirs and was a sucker for years trying to find the track to that video. Anyways, If you've never heard the Revolting Cocks'(the Ministy's sister band) cover for Rod Stewart's "If You Think I'm Sexy" and Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical" you have not lived. I want to say that the Ministry's following album "The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste" is also brilliant. "Dream Song" will always haunt me. Do I believe in angels? You're fucking rights I do after I heard this song.

  13. The Smiths - - Strangeways, Here We Come. I can't remember what exactly turned me on to The Smiths. Maybe it was the fact that they were not Top Forty or maybe it was Morrissey's great hair. Who knows? All I know is the second I heard "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" I was hooked. I ended up getting everything they ever did and even followed Morrissey's career when he went solo. I never knew a man could take his voice to such beautiful places. I challenge anyone to listen to the Smith's "Hatful of Hollow" and try not to disappear inside themselves to return with a heavy heart and a prayer on one's lips after hearing: "Back to the Old House", "Real Around the Fountain" and "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want". On his own, "Viva Hate" was by far Morrissey's best. What a voice! What a band!

  14. The Modern Lovers - - Modern Lovers. This was the soundtrack for my year studying Land Claims in Yellowknife. I had heard Jonathan Richman sing "Pablo Picasso" one late night on CBC's "Brave New Waves" and ordered it through Yellowknife's Sam the Record Man. I love Jonathan Richman and was so disappointed with anything he did before or after this album. He looked so sick years later in "There's Something About Mary" and wished he'd never have appeared in the movie. Everything's so right with this one album, though, and can't blame him for trying to reach the level of genius he achieved with this one. He was so horny and lonely when he wrote it and it sounds like someone's just broke his nose. Jonathan speaks for every fucking guy who's ever lived!

  15. Iggy Pop- Blah Blah Blah. When I saw the video for "Cry For Love" I fell to the earth and started moaning. Here was Iggy Pop, a man who had obviously seen better days, dancing like a weirdo and looking great doing it. I had to have the album. When I listened to it I sensed immediately that I was in the presence of a true artist who had just put out a collection of songs that were dear to him. I liked how he could kick my ass with "Winners and Losers" and yet sing so tenderly in a track like "Shades". It's an awesome album. Years later, I thought he made an ass of himself with Blondie and their "Did You Ever?" video and later with his "Lust for Life" track off the Trainspotting Soundtrack, but this is one of my all time favorite albums.

  16. Fleetwood Mac - - Rumours. I was always scared of Mick Fleetwood's balls on the cover, yet I love the look in Stevie Nick's face. It's both submission and wonder. A great album: I believe their finest. I had seen it in everyone's house and home but never really listened to until my first year in college in Yellowknife. I had escaped a landlady who was damn ripping me off and had called in a favor from a friend to let me stay at her apartment. She was madly in love and agreed: she was never there anyway. I played it one late summer night while having a bath and couldn't believe how timeless the entire album was. I heard "Songbird" and left my body, swam around the universe for awhile, and came home shivering but happy.

  17. Beastie Boys - - Check Your Head. I can't even listen to this anymore because it's tattooed in nodules across my brain. I listened to this tape a thousand times while at the En'owkin International School of Writing. I could feel all the hard work and focus the Boys put into every song. It's like they knew that LP would either make them or break them. I think this album made them men and they felt and knew it, too.

  18. Cocteau Twins - - Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay. Man, where do I even begin with these three angels? I was working for the Dene Nation in Yellowknife in their Health Department one summer. I was sent to Ottawa upon the second day of my employment for a meeting about the Brighter Futures initiative. I took notes and was supposed to keep my mouth shut, but instead ended up telling everyone what a great job they were doing and how proud I was of them. I am sure they thought I was developmentally delayed. Anyhow, I walked into a head shop/tape shop and asked the scariest guy there what the most beautiful music in the world was. He said immediately, "Cocteau Twins" and found their tape "Heaven or Las Vegas" for me. I listened to it but didn't care for it; however, I was drawn to one song: "Frou-frou foxes in midsummer fires." Although Elizabeth Frazer did not sing in any language, I could feel what she was trying to say. When I listened to it over and over (much to the alarm of my mother who thought I was smoking up again), I remembered an interview I had read between the Cure and HMV in which I learned that Robert Smith listened to nothing but the Cocteau Twins during the making of "Disintegration." Well, that was it. I had to hear what he heard and feel what he felt. I ended up buying "Tiny Dynamine" and listening to it tens of thousands of times never getting enough. They do create the best music in the world. One reporter confessed she had "Eargasms" listening to them and I really wish the world would discover them as deeply as I have. This tape saved my life with I worked at a bush camp outside of Yellowknife and was miserable for a thousand reasons.

  19. Tragically Hip - Fully Completely. I heard this one night cruising with my crew on a Fort Smith Christmas break and felt for the first time like my own man. Gordon Downie took the band above some Canadian freakshow and launched them internationally. I don't see the shine in them anymore the way I did with that album. Downie's lyrics are so full of the poetic mystery. I saw him once at the Vancouver airport. He just looked pissed off. It was 7am and I'm sure I didn't look any better. What a wizard!

  20. Slowdive - - Souvlaki. This is a soundtrack for my first year at UVIC. I heard a song one midnight in Penticton at the Green Bean Café and went running into the kitchen begging the waitress to let me borrow the tape so I could hear this song again. She did. She even called the waiter who made the mix and hummed a few verses of the song to find out the name of the band. I got mixed up and bought Slowburn which sucked and thought maybe I was retarded for about six months while working for CBC's TV series: "North of 60" until one day I found Slowdive at A&B Sound (incidentally, the first time I ever discovered A&B Sound and never looked back-- HMV, you fucking rip-off's!!) and picked it up. When I listened to it, I could not believe the harmonics and melodies of the group. They were so young yet knew how to take me away from the taxman and any guilt I had ever felt about anything. They produced another great album: "Just for A Day" which almost measures up to "Souvlaki". I know the technology will never be available to come even near the video I would love to make for their song "Allison". Incidentally, Slowdive broke up after only five years and formed Mojave 3, which sucks. Anyone dying for gorgeous music? I bring you Slowdive.

  21. Cranes- Forever. Here I thought I had escaped that "looking for a body in the darkest of winter with only a headlight and a handgun" feeling until I heard this awesome band. Lead singer, Alison Shaw, uses the voice of a little girl to haunt you while her brother, James, and the other Cranes rock you. Music to find bodies to . . . for everyone.

  22. The Smashing Pumpkins - - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Saw the video for "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" and did a back flip! Ran to A&B Sound in Victoria and knew I was standing in the way of something huge and fierce. They Pumpkins could have gotten away with any one of the two discs in the set and they would have still lit me on fire. Anything from them before or after this project bores me; however, they blessed a year of my life in university. In fact, I would say it was the soundtrack for my second year at UVIC.

  23. PJ Harvey - - To Bring You My Love. Saw the video for "Down By The Water" and cartwheeled out of the house in Yellowknife to custom-order the CD. Every song rocks. I'm always scared when I see Polly Jean Harvey in action: she's so skinny I keep thinking she'll collapse any second and yet she's so full of voodoo when she sings. Where does she find the strength to rock and rage like that? And yet I bet she has the softest kiss.

  24. Placebo - - Without You I'm Nothing. Best album I've heard in years. Soft, tender, hard and cruel. You can feel the lead singer slipping away to heroin's grip. He's trying, really trying to capture any kind of beauty in this album and succeeds. It's honest and brilliant. I just hope he's around to do another album again. The little lost Goth inside me adores the suffering that every song purrs with.

  25. Afghan Whigs - - (Tie!) Gentleman and 1965. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie. When I saw the video for "Gentlemen" I flew to the Groove Shop located downtown Penticton and bought it. This is a kick ass album that you can put on "repeat" and live your days out quite nicely. Every song flows with guilt, sin and hard living. I immediately went on a reconnaissance mission to find everything the Whigs ever did before this and, you know what? It's pretty lame. I wish now I had never done it. I was so jaded from my collection of early work I almost didn't bother to buy the album after "Gentlemen", but thank God I did! "1965" matched "Gentlemen" perfectly. It's like they made both albums at the same time. Awesome albums from a band struggling with itself and where it wants to go. And there's a new element I haven't heard in Greg Dulli's voice before: lust. Any woman who can listen to "66" and not throw their panties at the speakers has got to be deaf or dead. They lost me with their albums, "Up In It" and "Congregation", but brought me back inside their grace with "1965". Hallelujah

From Crisp Blue Edges: Creative NonFiction by First Nations Authors, Theytus Books
© 2001 Richard Van Camp
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