It’s Just a Phase
We’ve all gone through musical phases – points in our lives that we can look back on and think to ourselves “Oh God…why did I listen to Good Charlotte every day of summer break 2002?”. Some of these are horribly embarrassing, like the time I adamantly proclaimed that the Baha Men were the best band of all time and that their feature on the Rugrats in Paris soundtrack was a music history landmark. On the other hand, there may be songs or albums that were a sort of gateway drug to the music you love today. Regardless of how good or bad our phases were, each one has helped to shape our musical palates, so consider this an homage to the stupid shit we listened to when we were in middle school. Here’s a timeline of my own musical phases (so far).
The First Phase:
Will Smith – Willenium
The first album I ever personally owned was Will Smith’s Willenium. It came out in 1999, which put me at seven years old. The adolescent version of myself listened to “Wild Wild West” on repeat to the point that I was given a CD player and headphones to keep the rest of my family sane. I’m not even slightly embarrassed about this one. The song features a sample from Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” which is just about the grooviest thing any human being has produced, and as a seven-year-old, the eponymous film starring Will Smith was the coolest thing I had ever seen. As far as first albums go, it’s no Nevermind, but I definitely could have done worse.
The First Rock Band Phase:
Incubus – Make Yourself
In what was probably an attempt to get me to listen to anything other than Will Smith, my older brother introduced me to what would would be my first favorite band ever – Incubus. I think a lot of factors drew me to their music at the time. I was just starting to become interested in playing drums, so I really connected with Jose Pasillas’ unique style. I was also an angsty little turd with a temper, so all the fuck words were exciting too. Everything about their sound intrigued me and set me up to actually listen to something with a little more lasting power than the theme song to a steampunk western.
The One Step Forward, Two Steps Back Phase:
Green Day – American Idiot
After getting super into Incubus, it appeared that I was on track to liking some good music. Unfortunately that was put to an abrupt halt when Green Day’s American Idiot was released. Now, I’m not hating on Green Day. They’ve put out some great stuff, but looking back at American Idiot, it just doesn’t hold up against albums like Dookie and Kerplunk. But back then, I couldn’t get enough of it.
The Metal Phase:
Slipknot-Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)
By middle school, I was really starting to get into metal. I still am into metal, but now I prefer more technical and progressive stuff than I did back then. The first metal band that really clicked with me was Slipknot. I think a big part of my attraction to it was its aggressive nature. I grew out of throwing tantrums, and instead released pent-up energy by getting a double bass pedal and head-banging in my living room when no one was home. The thing is, I never went full metal. I shopped at Hot Topic and wore black and wrote silly poems about being angry, but I also played on my school’s football team and hung out with friends on weekends and played in a band. Regardless, I connected with Slipknot’s music for quite some time, which paved the way for a lot of the heavier music I listen to today.
The Ska Phase:
Reel Big Fish-Our Live Album is Better than Your Live Album
Once I got past being angry and playing football, I took up skateboarding and fell in love with 2000’s ska. It was fast-paced, funny, and featured different instruments than what I was used to hearing in rock music. Being a young drum set player surrounded by middle school band kids, I always aspired to start a ska band with my brass player friends – something I sort of got around to doing in high school. I remember walking around at recess trying to come up with sweet ska band names like “JP and the School-Yard Kids” or “The Lunchbox Bandits”. All the while, I kept on replaying Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake albums while trying to land that kickflip – something I never got around to doing.
The Classic Rock Phase:
Styx – Everything Except Mr. Roboto Because That Song Sucks
Yes, you read that correctly. In early high school, I got really into Styx. And Boston. And Aerosmith. And Foreigner. And just about every stadium rock band to ever come out of the 70s and 80s. I liked this stuff so much that I went and saw Styx three times in high school. That’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but who can deny the sweetness of James Young’s forehead wipe at 2:42 in the middle of a bad ass rock n’ roll guitar solo? The good news about having spent so much time listening to “Suite Madame Blue” and “Renegade” is that it helped introduce me to a lot of classic rock bands that I’m not embarrassed to have seen, which leads us to the next phase:
The Classic Rock Phase Part II:
Rush – Moving Pictures
“Hell yeah! Do you hear how many drums he’s playing? Listen to that bass lick! Alex Lifeson is literally the most underrated guitarist of all time!” These are all things that I’m sure I said at some point while in this phase. Rush’s music was like gospel to me. As was the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles. As I started becoming more and more interested in being a musician and developing technical ability, I also became more interested in more technically written music. I don’t mean to say that Styx weren’t technically proficient dudes, it’s just that songs like “2112” and “No Quarter” have so much depth and complexity, which I started to really seek in music. I think this is sort of the starting point of the music I listen to now.
The Progressive Rock Phase:
Dream Theater – Octavarium
So complexity was what I was after. Well, I found it in Octavarium. Dream Theater is known for their incredibly fast guitar and keyboard solos, really long songs, and super over-the-top sound. Plus everything has a hidden meaning. Like Octavarium being their eighth studio album, and there’s eight notes in one octave, and the song is 24 minutes long which is a multiple of eight, etc… While today I’m stuck between wondering if prog is the coolest or lamest genre of all time, I found a lot of long-lasting favorites during this period. Even today, I still listen to The Mars Volta, Pink Floyd, and Tool. In fact, if you take all of the complex elements of Dream Theater and strip away the grandiose you’re left with pretty much where I’m at today.
The Pretty Much Where I’m At Today Phase:
The Felix Culpa – Sever Your Roots
I was a junior in high school and I went to a show at a small local venue. This band was one of the openers, and it was pretty much exactly what I was waiting to find in a band. It’s angry, it’s catchy, it’s heavy, it’s technical, it’s complex, it’s relatable. It was a love at first sight kind of moment. Since then, I’ve been endlessly searching to discover more music similar to theirs, and it’s brought me to a lot of great, very different bands like Menomena, Anathallo, O’Brother and so many more.
Of course there’s always overlap between these phases. And I’m just as likely to listen to a hip-hop record or a symphony, but I think it’s helpful to look back at what we used to like, what we don’t like anymore, and what we do like now. It can teach us a lot about how our tastes develop and reminds us that no matter how good we may think our taste in music is, you probably really liked “The Thong Song” too.