I have always been fascinated by what musicians listen to when they aren’t creating their own music. What music inspires them, what albums do they return to again and again—their “desert island” discs. With this in mind I decided to ask some of my favorite New Jersey musicians to name their top 10 favorite albums of all time. Not the albums that they think are “important,” or that have influenced many other artists or ones of technical merit. I wanted to know their very favorite albums that they love just because the records mean the most to them.
It would be difficult to name a more all-around musical multi-hyphenate than Bill Lambusta. A musician, producer, engineer and podcaster, he obviously has a passion for music few can claim. Former guitarist for The Paper Jets he recently joined Scout, Devon Moore’s new indie pop outfit, as a bassist in her post-Fun While You Wait venture. His excellent skills on the bass add the perfect power pop element to their indie sound.
He also co-hosts the outstanding and popular The Great Albums Podcast with friend and former bandmate Brian Erickson. Each week, along with a guest, they discuss an album song-by-song and delve into the history and impact of the full length record. The podcast is a must-listen for the music lover.
I asked Moore what Bill brings to Scout. “Bill is a crazy good bassist. But in addition to holding down the rhythm section, he also has a great ear for recording and mixing – which is something I don’t have at all.” She continues, “He’s pretty much been recording and mixing our demos single-handedly. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Without further ado Bill’s list is below.
This list is 10 albums I love. It’s not in numerical order. It’s a timeline of my discovery of them. I don’t think these are the only ones that I respect and adore. Rather, they’re the ones that, when I look back at the last 20-odd years of my music fandom, are the sign posts for how I learned to listen to and love music. They’re the pivotal experiences that lead me to all the other places I’ve gone in my love of music. Looking at it, I kind of wish it were a little cooler, or maybe a little less obviously a list compiled by a white dude in his mid-30s. But here it is.
Goo Goo Dolls – A Boy Named Goo
This was the first album I bought with my own money. A few days after Christmas 1995, I was wandering around Woolworth’s with my sister, gift money burning a hole in our pockets. The year prior, Jess had gotten a boom box with a CD player, and her old tape player was passed to me. So when we got to the music department, I looked for something I could play. When Jess saw me holding a cassette of Weird Al’s Greatest Hits Volume II, she shook her head and shoved another tape into my hands. On the cover was a nude toddler covered in berry juice with his privates tastefully censored by an unseen adult’s hands. Jess told me I should be listening to something cool (note: at the time, my sister was a 13 year old girl, and later she she turned into someone who listens primarily to popular contemporary country). Despite the reputation the band has since earned for their middle-of-the-road adult contemporary tunes, this album is filled with energetic rockers and clever lyrics (and “Name”).That sound imprinted on me and has helped shaped my tastes and love for punky, alt-rock influenced power pop ever since. I ended up listening to this tape so much that it wore out and snapped sometime around 2000. I replaced it with a CD that I’ll still pull out and sing along to at the top of my lungs.
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
I tend to pinpoint the moment of my first maturation as a music listener to the summer of 2000. I started caring (probably too much) about the artistry and integrity of the bands I listened to. I’ve since softened my teenage views, but I think most music lovers have that period of time where they think music should be Important (capital “i” intended). And I can blame my views squarely on this album. With the third album in their career, Pearl Jam started to care about how the world viewed them and their music. They wanted to take control of their career and how it was perceived. They ended up doing that with a collection of dark, noisy songs that were perfectly represented by the black cover and booklet designed to look like an actual book. Not only influencing how I listened to music, the album influenced how I played guitar too. I took my first guitar lessons only a few weeks before picking this album up. “Not for You,” ” Nothingman,” and “Betterman” were amongst the first songs I could actually play all the way through. I spent the next 2 years obsessed with this band, and thinking I knew what art and integrity really were (spoilers: I didn’t).
Weezer – Pinkerton
2001 was the year I discovered that local bands played local shows. Those bands, being from the year 2001 and all, were pretty heavily influenced by indie alternative bands and emo. It turns out the cross section of those 2 things is this album. Pretty much everyone I met at a rented firehall or the all ages afternoon shows at the Saint would say something to the effect of “Yeah, you know ‘Buddy Holly’ and the new pop album [the Green Album], but Pinkerton is Rivers’ real art.” So, of course, I got the album. And, as a hormone drenched teenage nerd-boy, of course I loved it. Not only did the guitars blast out of the speakers way too loud, but the neurotic, uncomfortable lyrics about an unsatisfying sex life, masturbation, being an outcast, and having inexplicable, unhealthy crushes sounded a lot like the swirl of thoughts in my own head. As a culture, we’ve grown a little to realize that the entitled angry young white kid is a very bad thing to celebrate and emulate, but it’s a phase that a lot of us had to live through. It was nice knowing I wasn’t alone. Ironically, feeling and being weird was actually normal. It would have been bad if I stayed in that mindset, but this album helped me get through it.
The Replacements – Let It Be
Some people will probably scoff a little that I discovered rock and roll via the Goo Goo Dolls. And those who haven’t listened to anything other than Ten were rolling their eyes when Pearl Jam taught me about art and integrity. Well, whatever, because that combination somehow lead me to my all-time favorite band. Having read a ton of Goo Goo Dolls materials over the years, the thing that always popped up was how, at their best, they supposedly sounded like a group of obscure 80s punk rockers, the Replacements, and that Johnny Rzeznick idolized Paul Westerberg’s songwriting. And, kids, let me just take a second here to explain about the early 2000s, a time when the Replacements’ catalog had yet to be reissued and a time before all the hipster blogs told you about how they were there at one of the famously implosive band’s famously implosive shows. And then let me also explain how I lived in the suburbs, where the coolest record shop was the one that just happened to not be in the mall but acrossthe street from it (it was still a chain store – at the time, I think it was a Wherehouse Music, which would be the time after it was a Blockbuster Music but before it was a Coconuts). So I was walking through this store shortly before my 18th birthday in January 2002, and I noticed on the top shelf punk section was the Replacements’ Let It Be. After years of hype, I was excited to put it on in the car and finally hear the opening chime of Westerberg’s 12 string electric guitar as they blasted into “I Will Dare.” The album was nothing like I expected (I still don’t understand why people say the Goo Goo Dolls sounded like them), but I knew pretty much immediately that I loved it. It was messy and rocking and sarcastic and silly and just so right for me. For the next few years into my mid-20s, I often would claim that if you took a can opener to my head, this is what would come out of it. Nowadays, it doesn’t match so closely, but I’m pretty sure it’s still a big part of my DNA.
Guster – Lost and Gone Forever
I don’t think I could ever really explain how important my college experience was for me. Leaving home and getting to define the kind of person I was without my family or the context of my background was a life changing experience. I also had my first “adult” relationship. So much of who I am now was defined by my first year and a half at college, and all of that experience was soundtracked with songs like “What You Wish For,” “Two Points for Honesty,” and “So Long.” They were introduced to me by that college girlfriend (who I ended up spending over 6 years with). When she introduced me to them, I’m not sure I thought too much of them at first. They sounded a little jammy to me. They seemed kind of lame, a little too down to earth – not cool and artsy as I thought my music tastes were. I found them to be earnest, fun, and optimistic. And I was surprised at how much that appealed to me. I began accepting that that was a big part of who I was too. Listening to this record and reading the Studio Journal on the band’s website also helped crack the egg in my brain that let out my love for music production – how sounds are created and captured. I could hear the quality of the studio as they worked with producer Steve Lillywhite. Lost and Gone Forever became a perfect guidepost for what great albums sound like.
The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
If you’ve never heard the New Pornographers, I don’t think I could explain them to you. Think big and loud and talented and harmony and keys and, you know, good. When I first got this album in September 2005, I bought it sound unheard. It was simply off of the Spin magazine (yes, I still read them back then) review, in which they attempted to explain what an 8 person band taking a giant leap forward sounded like, that I decided to give their unique brand of power pop a try. I always liked the album – I have great memories of driving through NJ in my beat up Jeep Cherokee listening to Twin Cinema as the leaves changed that fall – but I didn’t really appreciate just how big of an impact this album had on me until years later when I made a conscious effort to put good hooks into my own songwriting. Anytime I thought about what a “hook” should sound like, it was basically this album. It’s just hooks on hooks on great melodies on great playing on more hooks. The lesson here? Sometimes more is better.
The Wrens – The Meadowlands
My podcasting partner on the Great Albums is Brian Erickson of the Extensions (and formerly of the Paper Jets). When we went to school together, he became a huge influence over the music I discovered and started to love (this album is 1 of 2 with a similar story). Brian and I also started making music together, and one night after an acoustic performance at a Borders book store cafe (yup…it happened), we were driving back home in Brian’s family’s red Dodge Caravan when my ears noticed the sound of a squealing, squelching guitar coming from the speakers. Intrigued, I asked him to turn it up as we listened to the rest of “Boys, You Won’t.” I loved the sound of the band pretty instantly (it was artsy and cool like I always wanted, naturally). A few weeks later, on Valentine’s Day no less, when Brian saw me again, he handed me a used copy of the album he found at Princeton Record Exchange earlier that day. Listening to the whole thing, I fell for its DIY aesthetic and the passion the band imbued on every song. All the nods to the home state I loved didn’t hurt either.
The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
About 8 months after that, a similar event occurred when we were again in the red Dodge Caravan and a rolling, rollicking piano was pumped out of the speakers. Following the near-perfect Roy Bittan impersonation, I heard a hipster beat poet doing a bad version of Springsteen while singing about Minneapolis (also the Replacements’ home town, if you didn’t know). And, if you’ve been paying attention, that was like the perfect mix for me. I’m pretty sure that Brian and I both spent the next 6 months writing songs that were very poor imitations of the Hold Steady. Regardless, if the New Pornographers are equivalent to great hooks, Craig Finn set the bar to aim for when thinking about lyrics. Also, if you want to talk about a band that is effortlessly cool (and decide not to mention the Replacements), the Hold Steady is my go to.
The National – High Violet
The National was a band that was a grower for me. I had gotten Alligator and Boxer when the hype surrounding the band reached me, but, although there were songs that I absolutely adored on those albums, I didn’t hear the sound I wanted in the albums overall. It didn’t quite cohere and make sense to me. Then they put out High Violet in 2010. I got this album and the Gaslight Anthem’s American Slang (another great one) in the same Amazon shipment (along with the last volume of the Scott Pilgrim series), and I probably listened to American Slang a little bit more at first. But then a friend rented a cabin in the Poconos for the weekend. Nothing special happened there. It was nice and it was fun to spend time with my friends, but the real magic happened on the long car ride home by myself. It was a little cool for the summer and I put this album on. I don’t know what happened that day, but it was like something unlocked inside of me as I listened. Every rhythm and note just made sense. I spent the rest of that year pulling apart their other albums and found that I really loved them just as much. I think that was the day I officially became a hipster for like 2 or 3 years.
And my final pick changes depending on my mood, what I listened to recently, and the day of the week. So contenders would be The Joshua Tree, Born to Run, Bleed American, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, something by REM, maybe a not-so-guilty pleasure like So Much for the Afterglow, something from a cool hipster-friendly band from the last decade, a burned CD from an early 2000s local band that no one knows but meant a ton to me, or probably, most likely, a Beatles album.
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