I keep thinking the first U2 album I experienced was Rattle and Hum. For some reason I forget all about Achtung Baby. I forget it until I put it on and roll into the B-sides, and then it all comes back. This album became part of my nightly cool-down repertoire. I would put on some music, read, and make the transition towards sleep. There's just this relaxed wall of sound going on here that really works for me.
I didn't see the movie Singles until many years later, but I had access to the soundtrack at this point. Actually, it was the first soundtrack I listened to. It provided exposure to so many different artists and sounds. Many of them were challenging to my palate, and I spent a lot of time unraveling its layers.
It was full of firsts. This was the first time I really experienced Jimi Hendrix (weird, I know). There's a Led Zeppelin cover on this album that I couldn't stand at first but later grew to like (also, I had never really listened to Zeppelin, what's with that?) . And then there's the Smashing Pumpkins song that became a bridge to this girl I had a crush on. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
I picked "Seasons" as the takeaway from this album. It has the always excellent voice of Chris Cornell and a clean acoustic guitar sound. There's a drive to the song that really moves forward so naturally. With the musical history that I had, and combined with my growing relationship with the guitar, this song was perfect for me.
My first crush happened in the 7th grade. And it happened shortly after I discovered my brother's copy of Rattle and Hum (which I devoured - huge unexpected influence). I have memories of playing this song loudly on the living room stereo in the evening when no one was around. At the same time I would contemplate the full force of my love for this girl that I knew nothing about. This was one of the easiest and earliest pick for this list, because the memory around it is so clear and so strong.
Seriously, I was (and am) such a hopeless romantic, and this song is just so damned sweet. And good. It goes on this intense journey. There's the song, and then there's this whole emotional instrumental progression for two minutes that has always left me completely drained. After all these years it still works for me.
In these Feel-a-Thon sessions I would sometimes also play "Drown" from the Singles soundtrack sampled above. The girl I was crushing on was into this band I'd never heard of called The Smashing Pumpkins, and this was the only song I had access to (I would later score Siamese Dream, as you'll see). "Drown" had the problem of being a great song, right up until the point where it goes into crazy distortion masturbation land for an additional three minutes. The radio edit removes this, but I didn't have that luxury. So I'd listen to the song, be enjoying myself, and then have to rush back to the stereo and shut it off before it drove me crazy.
This is one of those songs where people don't know the lyrics. It's completely monotone, there are a lot of words, and the music mostly plays over them. So naturally I tasked myself with memorizing all of them. Middle school age kids are so weird.
I hear this song and I'm instantly transported to the school computer lab in the library. I'm transcribing the lyrics from memory and putting them into some imaging program so I can apply some weird coloring effect. I remember the program having terrible text layout, and having to retype things many times. I also remember a girl (Lisa) commenting on how weird this all was. Many years later we would become friends, and many many years later she would be one of people I most enjoyed at my high school reunion, although I'm sure she doesn't remember this library encounter.
Thankfully I don't remember the lyrics anymore. My brain reallocated that space at some point.
I found out that my first crush liked the Smashing Pumpkins, but I had no idea who they were, so I found out. I had to ask my brother. And then somehow I got a copy of Siamese Dream on cassette. It was unlike anything I'd heard before, but “Hummer” was one that really rose above the rest after repeated trips through the album. This song goes through controlled distortion and feedback to a beautiful place. The sound is full and raw but somehow gentle. And I love the place it goes to for those final two minutes.
My crush eventually faded. I never asked her out. I barely even talked to her. She was just cute and to my undeveloped self that was enough for me to completely obsess about her. But then she didn't follow to the same high school and then that was that. Despite the crush expanding for so long with basically no reason, it died without even a whimper as soon as the target out of sight. But here's the thing, this girl introduced me to some great music that has lasted me well beyond that awkward, awkward time.
Odd side note: In going back and fitting songs to the timeline this is one place where I've reached an internal inconsistency. I have a memory of trying to play along to "Soma" from this album with a thoroughly out of tune guitar. As in this would occur in the timeline right after I found a guitar but before I'd tuned it properly and learned any songs. That puts us somewhere around 1991. Siamese Dream came out in 1993, and according to my memory of how I got to the album it'd more be around 1994 when I was listening to it. These memories are incompatible. By the time I was listening to this album I was no longer friends with the person who I remember playing with on a happily self-tuned guitar. My memory is provably wrong here, and I don't know how to reconcile that.