A tough list to compile, given that it isn't really made up of my favourite albums but the ones that made those favourites what I listen to...
1. I hear a lot of talk about Raffi but for me, the story begins with Fred Penner's album The Cat Came Back. He covers John Cash, riffs on sleep as living metaphor, delights in sandwiches and, frankly, I still play guitar the way Fred taught. When I play at all, that is. Besides, he used to come play at our school.
2. One of the first to really get me is The Moody Blues' album A Question of Balance. For those who kvetch about the band forming to sell Hi Fi stereos I can only respond: precisely. I know the lo fi movement's all about glorifying the sound of shit, but it still sounds like shit. This is the album that taught me to pay attention to narrative in music and, I imagine like Pink Floyd probably did for lots of people, taught me to listen to entire albums as coherent productions.
3. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy. I learned to dance with my mom to their cover of Mr. Bojangles, the title of which was also my dad's CB handle. Rhythm and blues and folk all rolled into one, this album will always mean orange carpet, wooden speaker boxes, and the smell of diesel to me - and I will always love stripped down country music (I'm lookin' at you, Mr. Lund).
4. John Denver, Poems and Prayers and Promises. Men can also sing like angels. Turns out, John Denver was an angel of death and I really got a different read on his lyrics when I found out he was a navy sniper in Vietnam: "he was born in the summer of his 27th year, far away from a place he'd never been before", "sunshine, almost all the time, makes me hide".
5. Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen. Just like that, I became an American. The first album I ever memorized start to finish, this album will always keep me programmed for the work of a serious bard and I will likely never fully recover from the way it colonized my cultural sensibilities. And damn, can he rock.
6. Eliminator/Afterburner, ZZTop. Blues meets techno. Innovation can also be slick and there is nothing slicker than these two albums, with the possible exception of Robert Palmer's hair. The Afterburner tour was the occasion of my first concert, at the Winnipeg arena, and the band actually fogged the entire arena and flew the Afterburner spaceship around it in lasers. Holy crap. And to think, the show was a makeup for my mom going to see Tears for Fears with dad instead of me...
7. Platinum Blonde: Alien Shores. This was the first tape I bought with my own cash and completely changed the way I heard bass and rhythm in music. I recognise now that Platinum Blonde were kind of a Canadian love child of Yes and Flock of Seagulls but the syncopated driving synth and bass that powers their songs still echoes in my brain.
8. Born to Be Stupid, Wierd Al Yankovic. Everything can be mocked and all songs may be polkas. Every punk band that thinks their covers are funny needs to play Devo with an accordion. Every pop band that takes themselves too seriously needs to beware the accordion.
9. The Dead Milkmen: Death Rides a Pale Cow. Fuck their covers are funny. Their originals even better. Proof that lo-fi shit can blow your mind and justify your hatred of douchebags.
10. Katrina and the Waves: Walking on Sunshine. I blame puberty for this. Filthy, horrid little hormones. I would play the title track over and over, singing at the top of my lungs until I collapsed in tears. Living in a new city, an undersized weird little kid with no friends, convinced that my brothers and I were just bargaining chips in the hate-fuck that was our parents' divorce, I was desperately trying to feel good. There's goodness to be found in pop music.
11. NWA: Straight Outta Compton. Sometimes having the way you listen to music change can be a bad thing. This album caused more adolescent bullshit misogeny than perhaps anything before or since. I wasn't immune and may still be trying to recover from the shit this put in my head. Gangsta is amazing, infectious, and in its day a vital resistance to authority. But it's no hip-hop and the message will only hurt us all in the end.
12. de la Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising. The solution. It's a crying shame there are so few decent hip-hop albums made anymore, though I will certainly give honourable mentions to the Fugees' The Score and, despite his subsequent descent into ridiculous arrogance, K-Os' Joyful Rebellion.
13. Rage Against the Machine: eponymous. The last original thing to happen to rock and proof that rage can matter. Tom Morello might actually be the best rock guitarist around (with Slash, somewhere up there) and Zach de la Rocha's rap/snarl/scream might sound thin compared to some of his newer, slicker imitators but none of them will ever, ever have the impact of this album. Like a sledge hammer to the fucking eyes: you're stunned but can't stop twitching.
14. Tom Petty: Greatest Hits. Who knew that a basic greatest hits album could actually blow your mind? Every song triggers an "man, I love this song, it's my favourite by him!" response, making me feel like a complete weiner by the end. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I lovelovelove the journeyman road through Petty's career that he built with this compilation - the artist as album.
15. Sarah McLaughlin: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Love and beauty and rightness. One of the two albums on this list I still listen to on a regular basis because I will always need love and beauty and rightness.