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.
If you are in and around the New Jersey music scene chances are you have met Chris Nova. I first met Chris when I interviewed him for a profile on his band Boxed Wine many years ago. They were one of the first local bands I covered here at YDKJ and the thing that struck me was his friendliness and sense of humor. He made one of my early forays into music journalism a breeze. With addictive hooks, driving rhythm and Nova’s energetic delivery, Boxed Wine kicked major butt as well. With his continued work with Quality Living among other projects he is always busy. His latest band is Ruby Bones with drummer James Janocha and FC Spies on bass. Their new single “Heart of Darkness” is a short, frenetic burst of indie rocking power.
On to the albums. In his own words, “Here’s the monstrosity of a list I composed!”
I was terrible at technology when I was younger, absolutely terrible. So much so that I became entrenched in a weird Limewire and Kazaa purgatory, spending hours downloading single songs at a time and then painstakingly building their respective albums in iTunes. This ended with me burning possibly/mostly incorrect records onto minidiscs (remember them?) and then eventually CDs for my Sony Walkman (thanking god for the G-Shock protection and Bass Boom features every night.) Between this and scrambled pornography, the early 2000s were obviously a difficult time for everyone, especially high school freshman Chris.
Needing a better system, I ended up paying a classmate to burn me albums in bulk. No, I didn’t have a clue as to how torrenting worked and yes, I was simultaneously terrified of the RIAA. With my odd method in place I quickly managed to build a collection of music to match my burgeoning tastes and teenage angst. The first non-classic rock bands I ended up enjoying were AFI, Coldplay, Taking Back Sunday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a little up-and-coming rock band called the Strokes.
While I listened to these groups on repeat, that teen angst turned out to be peer-pressured. AFI quickly disappeared, along with the first two TBS records. Then Seth Rogen ruined Coldplay for everyone, leaving only RHCP and the Strokes left. Both bands (respectively) became favorites, but the Strokes seem to be in it for the long haul. At this point I’ve adored just about everything they, and their members, have done (and no, we don’t talk about half of Angles.) So in terms of personally beloved records, there’s no better place to start:
The Strokes – Room on Fire (2003)
The Strokes are just that one band for me. Everybody has one, and I’m not sure one even gets to choose which group becomes theirs. Timing, age, upbringing, etc. dictate what music you’ll end up being attracted to, and nothing sounded as cool to 14 year old me than a hip New York band playing a throwback sound that reminded me of all the classic rock bands I was raised on. The huge difference with the Strokes was that I could call the band my own, and that might be the most important thing for any teenager.
Thankfully the world happened to agree and their first two records are now certified classics in whatever’s still left of the rock establishment. And while some make a case that the band were pretty boys and payed their way to fame, most of those people are also in the indie rock bands that never got the same recognition. There’s a reason for that, and it’s called songwriting. The Strokes, simply put, write excellent songs.
The same way the Cars and Velvet Underground did before them, Julian Casablancas crafted short, insanely catchy pop songs that weren’t afraid to rock. While contemporaries Weezer wrote earworms for the nerdy outcasts, the Strokes recorded and delivered music that just had swagger, with a singer not afraid to croon one minute and scream through a chorus the next. It had and has a way of sticking with you, and while their debut is the more critically lauded record, I always end up listening to Room On Fire more often than Is This It. Both records are just about perfect, so it really is a toss up depending on the given day.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way (2002)
While I rarely listen to this record now, I still feel overwhelmingly compelled to include it in this list. It’s the album I listened to most before college, and the one that I remember driving around to throughout high school. As I said earlier, I strongly believe that the same douchey frat boys who ruined Dave Matthews Band and championed the copyright-infringing Sublime have also sullied the good name of RHCP.
Yes, the band isn’t afraid to be ridiculous and goofy. Yes, they sometimes look childish for it. Yes, they technically sold out on every account when that was still not cool to do. I know all of this, but it doesn’t truly bother me. By the Way is still a fantastic record, bouncing around genres, filled with hooks and, most importantly, not afraid to be beautiful. It’s the best record John Frusciante did with the band, and in my opinion the best record they’ve made period.
Take it away from their identity as a rock institution, all their shirtless fans, and even most of their discography, and I promise you’ll appreciate this record.