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:
- 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
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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!
- 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."
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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
- Sisters of Mercy - - (Tie!) First and Last and Always
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
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cocteau Twins - - Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay.
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- The Smashing Pumpkins - - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- Afghan Whigs - - (Tie!) Gentleman
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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