This was a very difficult task as hundreds of records have shaped where I am musically today – but as we are riding in the van from Madrid to Paris I will open my mind and see what comes of it. This is my list.
1). Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River – when I was young my father owned a seafood store in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I can remember waking up really early and going to work with him in a little blue Toyota pickup truck. There were lots of tapes to listen to but I think my first musical memory is hearing “Bad Moon Rising” and just feeling the electricity of the band and John Fogerty’s voice. I think this album and song had the biggest impact on my brain musically. Thankfully my father and mother had great taste in music or I could have turned out way differently.
2). Bob Marley and The Wailers – Uprising – I can remember at about 9 or 10 my parents essentially handed over their record collection to me – including some amazing classic rock, motown, folk and soul. Basically from the early 60’s on. I remember seeing the cover of the vinyl of uprising and being blown away by the artwork. Marley was a man, a mountain, a larger than life character and I was so intrigued by the imagery. Then when the first clav notes start with the first track “Coming in from the Cold” and the toms and snare crack in I remember it sounding like a thunder cloud and then marching into a reggae beat that would change the way I hear music forever. It felt like I had known this music my whole life on the first listen. The album ends with “Redemption Song” – which is one of the scariest, heaviest and sad songs of all time. I think it’s up there with anything Dylan and Cohen ever did. True Democracy by Steel Pulse was a similar discovery and might also be the greatest Reggae album ever made – but something about the diversity of Uprising has stuck with me forever.
3). Van Morrison – Astral Weeks / Moondance – This isn’t intentionally in chronological order but it would seem that shortly around middle school time – when Nirvana was exploding and Pearl Jam were at the Top of the world, I was falling in love with Van Morrison. These two albums, almost companion pieces were so beautifully put together that it was unlike anything I heard to this point. Soul, Folk, emotion and storytelling. Van Morrison’s singing style is unlike any other voice in the world. He is cool, calm, collected and deeply in love or viciously heartbroken at any moment. I would say these two records heavily shaped my eventual vocal style. Cypress Avenue, The Way Young Lovers Do and Into the Mystic are outrageously good songs that never get old. Ever. I can’t say that Procol Harum, Ian Gillan or Joe Cocker didn’t have a profound
4). Notorious B.I.G – Ready to Die – I heard this album for the first time in 7th grade, when I was 13 or 14. It really changed my perception of hip hop forever. I had already really liked Black Street, Montell Jordan, Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Run DMC, even MC HAMMER. Hip Hop was fun and Jazzy and funky to me. Then I heard this record and it was hands down some of the best story telling I’ve ever heard. It was raw, real and powerful. Biggie was really the grittiest, angriest and smoothest MC of all time. He could inspire you in so many ways. It was real violence, Lyrical prowess and viciously shard rhyming skills. It made me feel cool just to hear him be cool. Coogi Sweaters and Timbs were a real point of clout at my middle and high school and I think that was simply because the biggest, baddest rapper of all time made them cool. His story is triumphant and sad and for those who think hip hop is not an important art form in music you’re simply ridiculous. This record is about as funky and hard core as anything else out there. Machine Gun Funk is insanely good – “I live for the funk, I die for the funk”. Can’t get enough of that album.
5). The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Lady Land – This album absolutely blew my mind wide open to a world of guitar and song driven music that pushes my limits as a listener and writer further every time I listen to it. It is the strongest side one of any LP ever. “..and the gods made love” into “Have you ever been” into “Crosstown Traffic” into Voodoo Chile. That is unreal that it even exists in that order. It’s a real musical journey but it’s not a concept record. It pushes soul, blues, funk, and real heavy rock and roll into very new territory. You can see that Hendrix had all the potential in the world and showed you anything within the walls of rock music was sacred and possible. It’s so beautiful. Even on “Rainy Days” it delves in to Jazz and makes you wonder where he would have gone with it all. This record is simply one of the best rock albums ever.
6). Sam Cooke “Live at The Harlem Square Club 1963” If you think you know soul music and you don’t have this record you have to re-evaluate what you think you know. This record is Sam Cooke at his finest, the definition of soul, front man, snake charmer and just all around the best voice of all time. He is vocally smooth and warm but at the same time Shreds as hard as anyone. I love James Brown and Otis Redding and O.V. Wright and Solomon Burke – but holy shit is this one of the best live vocal performances I’ve ever heard. Two Shows, packed out into a small club in Harlem, you hear Sam work through songs that who wrote, produced and performed in top physical condition. You can see him sweating, smoking a cigarette and unbuttoning his top button and showing the world one chorus at a time what hits are. And it’s no surprise you can hear the women in the crowd cheering just a bit louder than everyone else in the room. He has them at “Good evening”.
7). Miles Davis – Round About Midnight – I’m not sure if this is critically heralded in the same way that Bitch’s Brew or Miles Ahead is but this album really spoke to me. The band is incredibly tight and the arrangements are very catchy and exciting. For Jazz, this record can give even a non-fan a lot of listening pleasure. This record really showed me the critical importance of a band being very tight. Being good at your instrument is important, but being able to listen to everyone else while you are playing is crucial for making really exciting and transformative music on stage live. This album also sounds incredibly good as far as studio production goes. It never sounds dated, but as if it was recorded yesterday. Also the red cover and the red Columbia label is just amazing. All these old Jazz Covers look so damn cool. Simple, bold and cool as hell.
8). Tom Waits – Closing Time I remember hearing the song “Martha” for the first time and having my heart ripped out by this gravel-voiced genius of a song writer. The story, the nuance of the piano and Waits’ voice above the mix is just as raw as anything you can imagine. And as soon as you feel bad for him and can’t believe Martha has moved on with her life and left him to wallow in his own empty despair – you hear “Ice Cream Man” and all of the sudden you realize he’s one part heart-broken poet and simultaneously a hyper-sexual beast who can have any woman he wants on the planet with one chorus of a song. His voice was soulful and strange and the songs are genius. If you listen to this album and then Rain Dogs you realize soul is everything.
9). Sade – Lovers Rock If we put aside the tremendous physical beauty of Sade, which is incredibly hard to do, you find yourself with such gorgeous and uniquely soulful voice. Understated and perfect. She doesn’t have to sing any louder than she does to completely draw you in and make you ache. “King of Sorrow” which mixes the organic guitars and hip-hop driven beat is such a sad and beautiful song. She is almost whispering, to heart-broken to emote anymore – each phrase and twist cuts deeper than the last. It’s very hard to describe why or how this record touches me – but if you’re looking for soul, jazz, hip hop and heart break, this is it. But you don’t leave sad. You know that at the end of the day – You are her rock, the one she clings to in a storm. This is one of my favourite to get lost in with headphones, the mix is equally incredible. It’s full of tiny little ear-candy that makes each song perfect and better than the last.
10). Clutch – Blast Tyrant – It is no secret that I am an enormous and genuine fan of this band. I want to begin this by saying I’ve been a fan from around the time of self-titled, and even albums like “Live at the Googaplex” and “Slow Hole to China” are some of my favourites. Recently I think Clutch has come into its own golden age of prolific songwriting, since Beale street to now, I think the songs are the best of their career, with Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare revealing the truest, most powerful potential of the band I love the most from Maryland. What they do now is incomparable to any other band out there – combining funky, groove driven rhythms and just about the Catchiest chorus’s out there. There isn’t a song that isn’t almost instantly a classic in their catalogue between those two records and I think that’s apparent by how massive their fan base has grown in the past 5 years. So while I will not pick my favourite Clutch album, I can absolutely say that the first time I heard Blast Tyrant I was in Tower Records on Rockville Pike in Maryland, at about 11pm on week night. They used to have these listening stations – and I wanted to hear it a few tunes – I knew I was buying it anyways. I was blown away. It was as if I was hearing the band in 3-D for the first time. The opening riffs of Profits of Doom, The catchiest chorus of Mob Goes Wild or the incredible The Regulator – you could feel in the moment the band was on to something really special and incredibly powerful. It was different in the best way possible. It was mature and heavy and it really inspired me to start thinking about lyrical content in a more creative and story-telling way – and those we should never be afraid of the funk. Little did I know after buying this album 2 years later we’d be in the road supporting this band. That was 10 years ago. I would have to say on a whole Clutch has inspired me year after year to push myself, push the band and be true to who you are as a musician while also allowing yourself to take risks and grow.
Nathan Bergman sings and plays guitar in the band Lionize. They are currently wrapping a year of touring in 2016 and heading into the studio in January to complete their 6th Full Length LP.