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.
Many of you know Harrison Bieth from his work in Quality Living. His exemplary saxophone playing with the Ringwood band is both energetic and nuanced. I asked guitarist/singer/songwriter Darrel Norrell about what Bieth brings to the band. “Harrison joined Quality Living right in time to bring his lively, jazzy saxophone playing into the mix on our last album, Something Softly Caught Me.” He continued, “Since then, he’s fully adopted a role as the Man with the Secret Sauce, finding clever ways to make the songs more colorful while branching out as a multi-instrumentalist.”
What you might not know is that Bieth has released two albums and EPs on his own including this year’s “Splash Of The Oceanic Sky”. In addition to the saxophone Bieth is equally adept on the guitar. His solo work has elements of indie rock, synth pop and jazz. It is an eclectic mix that references both Bieth’s personality and outlook on life. That included an element of fun. Just take one listen to “I Brought You Tacos and All I Got in Return Was This Lousy Song” and try not to grin from ear to ear.
Bieth answered a few questions below to get to know him a little better.
When did you first start playing the saxophone and why did you choose that instrument?
I started playing when I was 11, about to enter middle school. I feel that part of the reason I wanted to play saxophone was because I felt left out not starting in fifth grade like others did and so I remember sitting in my car and telling my parents that I wanted to start playing. The reason I ended up playing tenor was because only one other person was playing it at the time and they needed the numbers, which did not make carrying it around easy as a middle schooler haha.
Your saxophone playing has a jazz quality . Are you a fan of jazz?
I’m a pretty huge fan of jazz, although it took me years to appreciate. Growing up, I had some jazz records that either I bought or teachers gave to me but I only listened to a little bit. What ultimately got me hooked was this cover I heard when I was a junior in high school of “God Only Knows” by saxophonist Seamus Blake. I loved it so much that the world of jazz started to click for me and I wanted to absorb as much as I could. I felt that that was also key for helping me find my sound on sax.
What other instruments do you play?
I started taking guitar lessons two years after I started playing sax, so I’ve been playing guitar almost as long. I also play piano/keyboards, bass, and a little bit of drums (although I am not very good haha) I did not track drums on any record I’ve released, that was all Max Rauch and he did great every single time.
How do you approach your songwriting when putting an album together?
With every release, my main objective is to try to tell a musical story as best as I can. I often found myself in writer mode where I would have a song idea and record the music on my phone first and the ideas that stick with me for a longer period of time I will then write lyrics for. With this project, most of the songs I had written maybe two years ago and I wanted to tackle more personal and introspective topics in my lyrics, such as depression, anxiety, and emotional burnout. I also had this joke song about tacos which I almost wasn’t going to include on this release, but after releasing my soup song on Pizza Bagel Records compilation, I decided that I had to because I wanted to end the record on a lighter note.
Does your solo work allow you to experiment a bit more than when you play with other bands?
It definitely fills a hole which allows me to satisfy my need to experiment with different sounds and rhythms that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise when I play in other bands. However, I would also argue that I have been fortunate enough to be able to have some level of musical experimentation in almost every band I have played in. Granted, my role is different in a band setting because I am what I call a “gap filler” where I fill in the missing pieces and I tend to not overextend my welcome and play with purpose while not getting too much in the way that will make the song sound busy. With my solo work, I never have to worry about being a “gap filler.”
What do you think people who listen to your solo work would be surprised by?
That I can sing hahahaha. In all seriousness, what I find really nice about my solo work from when I first started recording songs to this most recent project is the evolution of my songwriting capability and my ability to arrange songs with a clearer head. Working with Max has especially been satisfying because he’ll offer suggestions that I wouldn’t otherwise think of, whether it be add this synth sound or add this harmony here. We have such a good working relationship that I trust his judgment and he hasn’t led me down a wrong path that took anything away from a song but further enhanced it in a way I couldn’t have otherwise imagined. So I hope others can hear that when they listen to my material.
First off, thank you so much to You Don’t Know Jersey for asking me to contribute and be a part of this project. Picking my ten favorite albums was more challenging than I expected it to be because my musical taste changes so much that it is hard to find the ten albums that made the most impact on my musical journey. Here is my best attempt to discuss and explain those ten albums:
10. Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory
High school was when I started expanding my musical palette. This was also when I started gravitating towards heavy metal, specifically progressive metal. Dream Theater was one of the many bands I was discovering and at one point they were considered my favorite band (before Rush took that spot, but I’ll delve into that subject later on this list). I chose this album because I love rock operas, and the story told in Scenes From a Memory has really affected me in such a positive way. The story is centered around a character who goes on a journey of self-discovery while also trying to solve a murder that took place in the 20s (although fictitious, it is still fascinating). Many years later, these songs still hold up, especially “The Spirit Carries On” where the character Nicholas finally has a sense of closure, not only for knowing about why Victoria was murdered, but also that death is no longer something he is afraid of. The musicality of Dream Theater has always been my main attraction, but on this the lyrical content shines on and made them a household name in the progressive metal scene.
9. Incubus – A Crow Left of the Murder…
When I was fourteen, I went to Madison Square Garden with my dad and one of my friends to see this band called Incubus. We had tickets to this show because The Vines were supposed to open. One month before this show, my friend and I both learn that The Vines were no longer performing. We were no longer looking forward to this show because we didn’t know Incubus and now we weren’t sure who was going to open. At the time I only knew two Incubus songs, “Megalomaniac” and “Talk Shows On Mute”, both of which were on this album (before that show, I was unaware that “Drive” and “Pardon Me” were by Incubus). When they opened with “Megalomaniac”, I immediately became a super fan just from the sound knocking me back into my chair. After that show, I picked up this album and fell in love with every song from it. Brandon Boyd’s voice soars throughout the record and the guitar work of Mike Einziger kills, especially the solo on “Priceless”. My favorite songs on this include “Beware! Criminal”, “Here in My Room”, and “Pistola”. This is still, to this day, one of my favorite shows I’ve seen.
8. Between the Buried and Me – Colors
This was a band that I discovered when I was in college. I knew about them for a while but had never checked out their material. I first heard their covers album, The Anatomy Of…, where they covered artists like Metallica, Soundgarden, Queen, and King Crimson. The cover that made me want to explore this group’s body of work was their version of “Us and Them”, which I loved. From there, I looked up the album closer “White Walls” and I was instantly hooked. Every time I listened to this album I found more to like. The eclectic mix of genres on this album was what impressed me the most. There are elements of jazz, progressive rock, metal, electronic, and even a twenty second bluegrass breakdown towards the end of “Ants of the Sky”. I also love how the album flows from one track to another so seamlessly. I always described listening to Colors as being on a roller coaster ride, full of twists, turns and loop de loops with some cool down moments before the grand finale.
7. Opeth – Ghost Reveries
I got into Opeth through the band Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson, the frontman of Porcupine Tree, produced the three Opeth releases prior: Blackwater Park, Deliverance, and Damnation. Those three records made me fall in love with the group. Their ability to combine death metal and progressive metal while also switching to folk rock was so impressive to me and I had never heard a band mix genres so fluently. This, for me, set them apart from the rest of the bands in the metal world. Ghost Reveries is their Moving Pictures, a perfect compilation of who they are
as a group that showcases all the material they had recorded before. When I saw them at The Wellmont back in 2013, Mikael Akerfeldt introduced “Ghosts of Perdition” as the Bon Jovi song “Renegade”, making a reference to Slippery When Wet in his signature dry humor banter. That ten minute song switches between Mikael’s menacing growl and his sweet but hauntingly clean delivery when he sings “Devil cracked the Earthly shell / Foretold she was the one / Blew hope into the room and said: ‘You have to live before you die young.’” I also am fond of
the closing track “Isolation Years”, which is a soft ballad and not how you would expect a metal record of that level to end, but it just continues to show the musical versatility of Opeth as Mikael sings about the pain of being isolated. He also sings of the fear of dying alone, which I think strikes a chord for some of us especially this past year.
6. Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage
When I was in college I went through a huge Zappa phase. I had heard some of his songs in high school, but it wasn’t until college that I explored his musical catalogue. I listened to a lot of his records, and there are no shortage of them. Out of the many albums he has put out, the one that made me appreciate him as an artist was Joe’s Garage. I love how this album takes the listener on this amazing musical journey while simultaneously criticizing the music industry, religion, and government. In short, the story follows Joe as he tries to get a music career only to find out that it gets him into trouble with the law, takes a trial on his health, and eventually gets him arrested. Another thing that I admire about Joe’s Garage is that this was only the second Zappa record released on his own label Zappa Records following lawsuits from his previous label, Warner Bros. Records. Some of the highlights for me include “Watermelon in Easter Hay” (one of all time favorite guitar solos), “Sy Borg”, and “Keep It Greasey”. Here’s a fun fact: I played in the School of Rock program as a teenager and our first gig was at Bergen PAC with the Philadelphia All Stars. They played their Zappa set accompanied by Ike Willis, the voice of Joe. I met him backstage and he was super chill.
5. Jethro Tull – Benefit
I credit a lot of my musical taste to my dad. He is the reason I listen to bands like Genesis, Yes, and especially Jethro Tull. I have very fond memories of the first time I heard “A New Day Yesterday” and “Fat Man” off of the album Stand Up. While those songs still bring up great memories, it is the album after that, Benefit, that I always think of when I think about Jethro Tull. I feel like this album is not talked about as much as some other Tull releases. Stand Up may have been the starting ground for them as a group, but Benefit is what shaped the band musically into where they would go. This is especially so on songs like “With You There to Help Me”, “Alive and Well and Living In”, and “Teacher” which was originally only released on the US version. My other favorite song from Benefit is “To Cry You a Song” because of the cool riff played by Martin Barre while Ian Anderson’s vocals soar throughout. A truly underrated album.
4. Sum 41 – Does This Look Infected?
I find that the saying is true: the music that you listen to in your teenage years is the stuff that is the most meaningful and impactful. I can’t think of an album that fits that description better than Does This Look Infected? No matter how old I get, this album will always be a part of my life. This is an album that deals with heavier subjects than their previous work, as well as exploring the metal influences in their sound. For example, “The Hell Song” was written about a friend of the band who contracted HIV and her trying to find ways to cope with having this
deadly virus and how it affects those in her life. “Everybody’s got their problems / Everybody says the same things to you / It’s just a matter of how you solve them and knowing how to change the things you’ve been through.” The music video for “Still Waiting” was what sold me on this record. The premise is that their manager, played by Will Sasso, suggests the band should change their name from Sum 41 to The Sums because of the popularity of bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Vines. While they are performing, the band is wearing matching outfits as a giant sign that says The Sums is lit up behind them. They are paying homage to the video for “Last Nite” by The Strokes. Eventually, the band destroys their gear and the sign because they just cannot get onboard with the new changes and want things to remain as they were. What makes “Still Waiting” still great for me is that the song was written after the events that took place on 9/11 and the lyrics still ring true to this day, as Deryck screams, “So am I still waiting for this world to stop hating?” This record changed my life at age 12 and still
impacts me at age 31.
3. Daft Punk – Discovery
The music video era changed the game when it came to how music was marketed to the masses. As a child, music videos were often the way I would discover new artists before the internet. One day I was watching MTV2 and I saw a clip from a music video for a song I had never heard before. All I knew was that the video had blue people playing instruments in space and that I really liked the song. I was glued to my TV for weeks in hopes to find whatever that
song was so that I can get the album and love it forever. That song was for “One More Time”. I picked up that record at Sam Goody and have loved it ever since. “One More Time” is one of the songs that will never get tired to listen to and makes me feel alive and free. “Music’s got me feeling so free / Celebrate and dance so free.” The rest of the songs on that album are just as good, especially “Something About Us”, “Face to Face”, “Voyager”, and of course, “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger” and “Digital Love”. Discovery was my introduction to electronic music and was the gold standard for how to make it fun and engaging, while bringing in some old school elements to what has been described to be a stale genre. Daft Punk were a house group back when Homework dropped in 1997, but on Discovery they start to add elements of disco into their sound, which carried over into Random Access Memories many years later. The song “Voyager” is a great example of Daft Punk’s ability to combine hose and disco and is one of the standout tracks off of Discovery for me.
2. Rush – A Farewell to Kings
“And the men who hold high places, must be the ones who start / To mold a new reality, closer to the heart.” Rush is my all-time favorite band and has been my gold standard for how a power trio should operate. I could’ve picked any one of their albums for this list, but I chose 1976’s A Farewell to Kings because it showcases the very best elements of Rush. It captures their prog elements on songs like “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X1”, their hard rock elements on songs like the title track, and their pop sensibility on “Closer to the Heart”. After the unexpected success of 2112, Rush had creative control to make the music that they wanted to make and on A Farewell to Kings, they perfected their sound to a T. “Xanadu” is based off the poem ‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and takes the listener on this eleven-minute musical journey where they explore with synthesizer for the first time and double necked guitars and basses, which become the standard when they play the song live. “Madrigal” is one of the most underrated Rush songs, not only on this album, but in their whole catalogue, and yet is one of the simplest songs on the record. It draws on the works of medieval music while Geddy sings about how love is all you really need to survive. A true masterpiece. Every time I put it on, I feel like I “have dined on honeydew and drunk the milk of paradise.”
11. Radiohead – OK Computer
What can you say about OK Computer that hasn’t already been said by every major music publication in the world? This record was a game changer in the world of indie rock because of the drastic change in sound from where they started. Suddenly, it turned Radiohead from “that band who wrote that song “Creep”” to “one of the most important rock bands of the 20th Century.” Although Steven Hyden argues that Kid A was the record that changed everything for Radiohead, and I do understand the points he makes in his book, I will always view OK Computer through those same lenses. I will admit, the first time I heard the album I did not get it. The music sounded cool, but everything went way over my head. I was fifteen when I bought it so maybe I just needed time to let it grow on me, but I was certain that I would never like this band. Then in college, a friend of mine told me to listen to In Rainbows, which was the current record at the time, and that was the moment when everything unlocked for me. I suddenly saw all the genre mixes, intricate songwriting, the outstanding production, and the overall musical versatility of each of the five members of the group. After exploring the rest of their albums, I went back to OK Computer and it finally made sense. Radiohead has always been about never being afraid to go out of your comfort zone when it comes to creativity and that taking risks can sometime be very rewarding. Even though it is still a rock album at its core, OK Computer goes so far beyond that. This was an album that explores elements of electronic music for the first time, messing around with different instruments, and even not playing straight 4/4 all the time. The best example of this is the song “Paranoid Android”. What starts off as your typical rock song only becomes more complex by adding some 7/8 metered sections, layering guitar sounds, and tempo changes, all while Thom’s soaring and haunting vocals paint a picture of what true paranoia looks like. “No Surprises” sounds like a more depressed version of what could’ve been an outtake from Pet Sounds, even mirroring the opening to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. I hope one day to write even just one song that has the creative energy that Radiohead put into making OK Computer.
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