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 have asked 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.
Ruby Bones wants to have a good time and they want you along for the party. Their recent sophomore release, the excellent Laser Tooth Tiger, dropped at the perfect time. As we ease out of the pandemic, a big sounding, fun, upbeat, full-out rock album is exactly what my ears were ready for. Apparently I am not the only one as the record has been universally praised.
Drummer James Janocha is a large part of the record’s, and band’s, success. Not only is his playing impeccable, he keeps brilliant time whether taking on the dark and frenzied songs on their self-titled debut or on the lighter, party tunes of Laser Tooth Tiger. Driven and focused, he reminds me of Charlie Watts trying to keep the other Rolling Stones in line. With his musicianship and determination, it is no surprise the band is on a serious upswing.
I asked Chris Fox what Janocha brings to the band. “James is our big band daddy, keeping the beat and keeping us focused. A real ‘eyes on the prize’ guy, rarely on the fly, he enjoys long soaks in rainy jacuzzis at 3:00 a.m. and always wants the next song to be better than the last.” Fox adds, “He’s eventually getting a puppy and will owe me $200 once he does.”
Check out James’ list below and go see Ruby Bones when they play Montclair Brewery with Rosey Bengal on July 9th.
This was a lot harder than I thought. It seems easy to just list out albums, but I found myself focusing on the weird stories and timelines in my life where I found records because those have remained more impactful for me. A lot of stuff you probably wouldn’t expect to come from Ruby Bones, but my formative music years were spent on the heavier side and those records shaped my playing more-so than when I found indie rock.
1. Rush – Moving Pictures
There are very few albums that I can tell you the story of the exact moment I heard it for the first time – and Rush’s “Moving Pictures” is one of those albums for me. I was twelve years old and starting to really become a more serious drummer. I went in for my weekly lesson and my teacher pulled out this record, handed me sheet music and said “this is what we are going to work on today.” Now, let’s just get this out of the way… 34-year old me still struggles to play Rush songs. I’m not telling you I was some prodigy who ran through “Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta,” and “YYZ” right out of the gate, but this record opened my eyes to a world of drumming that I never knew existed. Neil’s parts are so meticulously crafted. There is not a single mistake or note out of place as he swerves in and out of time signatures. His voicing and phrasing drives the band, and while his playing can be very robotic at times, he was an incredibly musical player who understood the timbre of each drum and cymbal on the kit and how it would play off of Geddy and Alex. This record started my love affair with the band and Neil’s playing in particular. I bought the sheet music book, added more toms to my kit, bought every type of cymbal I could find. “Moving Pictures” remains the perfect introduction to prog rock and to Neil’s playing. It is their most commercially accessible offering and is one of their albums you can actually play along too (with some heavy practicing of course). Look me in the eye and tell me when the bridge fills hit in “Tom Sawyer” that you don’t air drum along.
2. Nirvana – Nevermind
Is it a little bit of a cliché to put this album on a list? Sure. But this album started my love affair with Dave Grohl. I can’t tell you anything new about this record, so I’m going to tell you my story with it. Before I heard this album all I was listening to is whatever Top 40 station my mom had on the radio of our Chevy Astro Van driving around to hockey games or my dad’s extensive Kansas discography. I started my first band in eighth grade and our first gig was at the year-end talent show. It began how most bands do when you’re young. A kid walked up to me and said “you play drums, I play guitar. Want to start a band?” and so we did. Without even talking about music tastes or what we wanted to be. The first practice he brought over some CDs and Nevermind was one of them. Holy shit. It was an older record by that time, but it was new to me. The distortion. The aggression. The angst. The power. Instantly I had it in my mind that I wanted to be in a rock band. Like a real rock band. I defy you to find a better Side A on a record.
3. Alice in Chains – Dirt
I have always had a fascination with the 27 Club and thought the idea of “live fast, die young” was the way to go. Even to the point where I blew up my life at 27 on some weird self-mandated deadline. Quit my band, quit my job, moved to New Jersey and opened up a new chapter in life. This record is part of that lore to me. This has got to be one of the darkest records ever created. It’s angry. It’s depressing. But it’s also powerful and emotional. It’s no surprise that I found it during my teenage angst years. And believe me when I tell you I was that stereotypical angry kid holed up in the basement with my drums. “Dirt” serves as a glimpse into Layne’s soul even though most of the record was written by Jerry Cantrell. It has always just felt incredibly honest to me and maybe that’s why I was drawn to it. I wasn’t battling a heroin addiction the way Layne was, but we all have things we’re working out in our mind and this record spoke to me. But this record also rocks. What Jerry does with his guitar tones and textures helped to identify the genre. And Sean Kinney’s drumming is sneaky good. I fell in love with the tom beat at the beginning of “Would?” and the ghost notes in “Angry Chair” had me double take. There are a handful of little indiscernible tricks that I’ve picked up from Sean over the years that get implemented in my playing and this band and record remain an inspiration.
4. Volbeat – Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood
I was introduced to Volbeat by a coworker of mine who suggested I check them out and I instantly fell in love with this record. It was a totally unique mix of thrash-inspired hard rock and rockabilly. Even though it was their third record, they were just finally starting to get on the radar in the states. Michael Paulsen brings this Elvis/Johnny Cash vibe over top of a metal-(ish?) band. We’ve got pedal steel guitars in a heavy rock record perfectly interlaced amidst all the chugging riffs and double bass work. But none of if is overkill. This album started opening me up more to more 60s era and folk-tinged music that I had for the most part ignored – see the cover of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
5. Metallica – Master of Puppets
My first real foray into metal and my introduction to Metallica. The title track features one of, if not the most iconic riffs in the genre and the whole record tears your face off in the best way. Forget what preconceived notions you may have about the band nowadays. This album opened up the door for Metal to a lot of people – me included. It’s big. It’s fast. It’s aggressive. It’s powerful. And it’s fun as hell to play. It was a staple in my truck in high school when driving to hockey games. Nothing gets you pumped like “Master of Puppets.” It’s a massive departure from where I’m at musically with Ruby Bones, but I covered the title track in almost every hard rock/metal band I played in over the years.
6. Ghost – Opus Eponymous
Ghost was a band that I found during my college co-op. A coworker of mine was going to the show and asked if I wanted to come out. All I knew was they were Swedish and metal, but whoa, was I unprepared for what I found when I walked down the steps to the Middle East in Boston. At first glance when you see the Nameless Ghouls decked out in all black and Papa takes the stage you get this idea that it’s going to be a death metal show – hell, the record even opens up with the lyrics “Lucifer, we are here,” but this album is classic to the core. They were paying tribute to the forefathers while making something totally their own. Sure, it’s heavy, but there are no overdriven guitars. And the satanic themes are covered in melodic hooks and big choruses (“Ritual” and “Stand by Him”). The album and show were a ritual (pun intended). Every note is meticulously thought out and they seamlessly bring you into and out of this world they created. Opener ”Deus Culpa” sets the scene with a dark church organ that serves as your vessel into Papa’s world, and after the “service” closer “Genesis” brings you back you reality as if you’re being played out with a church processional.
7. Third Eye Blind – Blue
I unapologetically love Third Eye Blind. Stephan Jenkins is an incredibly gifted songwriter who has this uncanny ability to hide dark themes behind radio-friendly pop rock. Just take a look at the hits on the first record. We have a track about a crystal meth addiction (“Semi-Charmed Life”), a break-up song (“How’s It Gonna Be”) and a suicide (“Jumper”) – all of which I was singing along with on the radio without comprehending what I was actually saying until I grew up and began to appreciate the breadth of the songwriting. While I love that first record and I could list that one here (and “Out of the Vein”), it’s the follow-up that has always stuck with me. It literally checks all of the boxes. The band returns with the pop rock hits “Never Let You Go” and “Deep Inside Of You” – which should have been bigger than they were, but this record took on an edgier side and started to bridge the gaps of the music I grew up listening to on the radio and the grunge records that I was starting to dive into. “1000 Julys” may be my favorite track they’ve written. “The Red Summer Sun” highlight their chops as musicians and gets out of the straight-ahead pop rock grooves – and that chorus is so fun to scream. If “Slow Motion” doesn’t make you feel than something is wrong. My record had the instrumental version, but when you find the release with vocals, it’s so hauntingly beautiful.
8. Billy Joel – The Stranger
I grew up with piano all over the household. My dad has an incredible ear and it wasn’t uncommon for family gatherings to end around a piano with everyone belting out songs or for me to wake up on a Sunday morning to the sound of the keys echoing through the house. So it would come to no surprise that there was a lot of Billy growing up. This album might as well be called a greatest hits because the first seven tracks were all massive songs. This album perfectly showcases Joel’s career to me. There is instantly-recognizable piano playing (see intro to “The Stranger” and bridge of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”), classic love songs (“Just the Way You Are,” “She’s Always A Woman”), it rocks (“Movin’ Out”)… There’s just not a bad track on the record.
9. Dr. Dre – 2001
I have a soft spot for 90s rap. And this album was probably the last one that I was really into (maybe because it is quite literally one of the last records of the 90s), but it totally stands the test of time. The beats and instrumentation started getting away from a lot of what hip hop was at the time. It’s filled with iconic melodies (“The Next Episode,” “Forgot About Dre,” “Still D.R.E.”), and while not every track has a big chorus, the hooks are undeniable (“The Watcher,” Fuck You,” “What’s The Difference”). It’s a record that seems to come back to me all the time or the songs always seem to find their way into my life. I haven’t kept up with hip hop much over the past ten years, but I still love to put it on and it’s one where I find myself going “oh, shit” every time the next track starts.
10. Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One
This album found me at an interesting time. I had moved to Nashville for college and began doing what any 18 year old kid does when he’s 1,000 miles from home.. drink heavily and smoke a lot of weed. “Good Apollo” was a mainstay in rotation for blunt rides around the city – before the pedal carts took over the streets and 12 South was just a street of rundown houses. “Welcome Home” is a fucking anthem and I still catch myself air drumming to the simple 8th-note drum fills. And in terms of hits, “The Suffering” and “Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood & Burial)” show the band at their peak. Tasty licks. Big choruses. Inventive drum parts. These songs rock, but they are also just flat out fun. This record comes back to me all the time and has become a regular when my wife and I are driving in the car and we can’t agree on what to listen to. And how can you not love an album with a ballad where you get to sing “I’ll kill anyone for you.” That’s love right there.
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