Here are my (Donick's) top 5 cassettes and albums from 35ish years ago... sophomore year of high school! I might be off by a few months here or there -- but this is what my brain remembers... and these were the soundtrack of my early life:
1. The Specials: The Specials
I played this cassette thin on my Sears boombox. I remember spilling a screwdriver on it and then it played slow because it was all gooey for a while, but eventually got its groove back as the OJ wore away. That opening drum beat on Nite Klub played in my head almost everyday. Do the Dog blared in my Walkman headphones constantly... originally a Rufus Thomas song -- little did I know I'd be bringing Rufus out to Nantucket to play at our wedding 10-11 years later. OR that Horace and Lynval would be playing music for Musack 30 plus years later and helping us raise money to send guitars back to the high school I was in at the time!!
2. English Beat: Special Beat Service
This one actually wore through and I had to buy another copy. The soundtrack for every crush I had throughout high school... I Confess, End of the Party, Save it for Later, Sorry, Sole Salvation... ugh it takes me back to all those clumsy emotions and missed opportunities-- THE ROMANCE and HEARTACHE was so real! It was all the perennial soundtrack for summer and being on the beach and mixing up green concoctions in milk jugs with vodka into something called a "jungle coola" -- girls with tans and trying to surf and starry nights with a fire on the beach -- Ackee 1 2 3... Spar Wid Me... and Jeanette... (I actually dated a Jeanette then for a little bit -- so sometimes things do lineup with the soundtrack!)
3. Joe Jackson: Look Sharp & I'm the Man
Prime cassette time... just played these over and over. A side would finish and then you'd flip the cassette and play the other side. That would finish, and then you'd flip and play it again. Over and over. New wave, punk, reggae, jazz -- these have it all. They have even more songs about failed relationships -- One More Time, Is She Really Going Out with Him?, Fools in Love, Happy Loving Couples. Plus, songs about finding confidence -- Look Sharp, I'm the Man... all with a tinge of anger -- "On your Radio," "Don't Wanna Be Like That." SO MANY good tunes... perfect pop tunes.
4. Squeeze: Singles
Another one that just got played and played. Same deal -- some anger, some loss all in an upbeat, super catchy package. You could sing along to every word. And I did 1000 times over and over.
5. No Wave/This Are Two Tone/ Fast Times at Ridgemont High Soundtrack
Okay I know -- it's three more cassettes -- but these were always on deck and always being played. A lot of the top 4 cassette bands on these, but adding to the mix great tunes from The Dickies and Klark Kent, and The Stranglers on No Wave and adding some of my favorite bands ever to this day -- Madness, Bad Manners, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers on This Are Two Tone. And Fast Times was full of guilty pleasure nonsense -- Sammy Hagar ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High"), Joe Walsh ("Waffle Stomp"), Billy Squier (Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives)), Jimmy Buffet ("I Don't Know (Spicolli's Theme)). How was it possible that this movie both made you want to pull yourself together and land a girl like Phoebe Cates AND also want to cash out and become Spicoli. It was more than a movie or a soundtrack. It was a blueprint for how to live... for better or worse.
At the same time records were still a thing. SO certain things were only on vinyl...
1. This is Boston Not LA
I was loving and digging bands like Black Flag and Minutemen and Bad Brains, but this was NEW punk rock happening right now from my east coast neighborhood -- "Time Bomb, Green Berets... bands like Gang Green and The F.U.'s. BUT it was The Freeze that stuck. They seemed to be channeling my anger at exactly the things that were happening to me. They were sloppy and funny and angry all at once -- Idiots at Happy Hour, This is Boston not LA. And "I hate Tourists" perfectly summed up being a local in a tourist trap.
2. The Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
Politics and sharp funny lyrics at 33rpm. My pet mice, named Sid Vicious and Mr. T used to ride this disc around. "I Kill Children," "Stealing People's Mail," "Holiday in Cambodia," California uber alles," "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "Kill the Poor." Holy crap there were a lot of great tunes that made you shout along. AND a Great cover -- "Viva Las Vegas"... I'm a sucker for a great cover.
3. Sid Vicious: Sid Sings
"My way" is enough. But also TWO great Eddie Cochran tunes. Sid's "Something Else" became the song seared to my first crush and "C'mon Everybody" a rallying cry to keep going -- never stop. Sid Sings and the soundtrack to The Great Rock N Roll Swindle intro'd me to Jonathan Richman and Cochran and The Stooges and Ramones. These were gateway drug albums. They led to the real stuff, the hard stuff. The Sex Pistols are underrated for their ability to choose artists to cover!
4. Buzzcocks: A Different Kind of Tension
"You say you don't love me, Sittin' round at home, I don't know what to do with my life..." These were anthems for teen confusions. "I believe" is a manifesto.. These guys were so smart and ARE STILL so smart --- they are still putting out albums full of fury and prickly smart verse.
5. 20 Reggae Classics (The Music That Inspired a Generation)
Finally someone collected all the Jamaican tunes that all the ska bands I loved were covering... This was the first wave of ska... WHAT? Amazing. It happened before? And then it got slowed down and became reggae... and then it all moved to London where it hit punk rock and sped back up again? AMAZING. Plus there is a Vol. 2 and 3 and 4. They were covering Stax and Detroit sounds... Small world.
I'll stop there! Hard to believe the Clash and the Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and the Grateful Dead didn't make either list... BUT they are all number 6 on both!
Feel free to share your own top 5 cassettes and/or albums from any time of your life!
-Donick (Founder and President of Musack)
MUSACK is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that gives kids and teens a voice through music by providing guitars, drums, and support for music teachers. MUSACK makes music happen. We raise most of our funds by throwing a giant backyard Rock n' Roll Carnival in LA.