If you’ve been keeping up with the American presidential election cycle (and you should be, because it’s FUCKING ELECTION DAY!!,) you’re probably minutes away from spontaneously snapping at loved ones or deliriously mumbling about binders, battleships and an assortment of other tangential crap.
But you’ve probably also noticed amid the deluge of white noise perhaps the single whitest noise of them all: professional clown Donald Trump has made what will certainly be a bombshell announcement: a promise to donate $5 million to a charitable cause should President Obama comply with Trump’s request to make public his passport history and “college records.”
Now, we don’t know what “college records” means to you, exactly, but to the Popblerd staff – doubtlessly ready to just vote like all good Americans should, and get on with, I don’t know, fantasy football or something – it conjured up memories of the records we attained in college. For some of us, those formative, experimental years linger on the highway of life, ever-constantly shrinking into the rear-view mirror; for others, it pretty much just happened. But one thing’s for sure: these years were full of sonic discovery, and that beautiful metamorphosis into the music geeks we were all meant to be.
Without further ado, the Popblerd staff gives you, from sea to shining sea and beyond, a look at our college records.
It’s funny to think that when I left for Seton Hall University in the fall of 2005, I could fit my entire CD collection in two stacked, slotted plastic holders. Armed with a lot of free time, a brand-new debit card and nobody around to say, “hey, shouldn’t you be buying something else instead of…,” it soon became clear that I was going to have a lot of fun buying a lot of music.
But the shopping sprees didn’t happen overnight. There were other ways to feed my burgeoning musical addiction at first: I went to the school library and copied an impressive stack of discs to my brand-new laptop, from Van Halen’s 1984 to The Power Station’s first album to the Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List soundtracks. (I mean, perfect makeout music, right?!) The campus also offered an unwieldy download program called Ruckus, which was like Spotify without the grace and with a lot of digital rights management restrictions. From there, I’d download many box sets and deluxe editions, from Motown’s expanded Marvin Gaye catalogue to The Pet Sounds Sessions. And yes, I’m not proud of it, but I would illegally download spare tracks when they came to me, from hard-to-find 12″ mixes on Russian MP3 sites of dubious legality to errant pop singles from various file-sharing programs. (I guess that rules out my dreams of the presidency; your move, Donald.)
The watershed moment, though, was when I accompanied my then-girlfriend and her roommate to Hoboken one Saturday afternoon, where at my now-beloved Tunes on Washington Avenue, I gave in to the fact that “Sowing the Seeds of Love” had been stuck in my head for a week and bought Tears for Fears’ Tears Roll Down compilation. From there, I had two new or renewed obsessions: ’80s pop brilliance, and the “oh my God, this is so much cooler than FYE” moment of visiting a real-life record store. Being a lifelong New Jerseyan, I quickly discovered how blessed I am in this regard, and trips to Vintage Vinyl in Fords, Scotti’s in Summit and the Princeton Record Exchange became more regular. Couple that with one-cent impulse buys on Amazon (and the fortuitous opportunity to write for several music websites), and you now have a college graduate with a keen eye for music buying and a long-suffering but still-standing bank account. (And, my hand on your serious book of choice, I’ve replaced every one of those copied discs with a store-bought equivalent.)
I listened to more music in my college years than any other time in my life. And no, I wasn’t making nearly any money. But I’d walk around the campus at San Jose State University with my Discman (you had to get the one with at least the 10 second skip) and I would have at least three CDs with me in my back pack at all times. There was a Wherehouse right across the street from campus and if I needed a new CD immediately, I’d go there right when it opened. Of course, this meant leaving one of my classes early, which I had no problem doing. I can remember buying Jay Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life and Outkast’s Aquemini on the first day of release (same day – September 29, 1998) and rocking those in between classes for the next month.
For whatever reason, I relate Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to college because I listened to that album on campus more so than anywhere. I also wondered if the hip hop heads were going to dig it as much since there was a lot of R&B on it. And you know how with some songs, you remember where you were when you heard them first? Whenever I listen to Lauryn’s album, I think of SJSU. Every time.
So, so many records were integral to my undergraduate experience at the University of Pittsburgh. And of course, each has a slew of memory associations. Buying Beck’s Midnite Vultures directly after finals, late night gatherings that somehow always ended with a mac & cheese feast accompanied by Hot Hot Heat’s Make Up the Breakdown, watching Outkast’s video for “The Whole World” in a TV Crit class, or letting Sigur Ros’ () album play on repeat as we slept in our hotel every night at CMJ 2002.
While there were an ocean of musical experiences in college (thanks to similarly obsessive friends and spending all of my time at the campus radio station), one album stands out to definitively represent my time in college: Daft Punk’s Discovery. I don’t remember the album coming out, I barely remember buying it, and I couldn’t even tell you the first time that I heard it. In our little college radio world, Discovery was ubiquitous. It was the album we listened to while getting amped up for a night on the town. It was the album we listened to while out on town. Every dance party, DJ gig, mix tape, and station event seemed to have Discovery as a backdrop. It also provided fodder for a term paper on pop music and advertising (I got an A, perhaps because my essay was the only one that came with a mix cd). A few years ago, I remember hearing the boys from Chromeo refer to Discovery as “the French Thriller.” That’s a completely apt comparison – it was certainly the most constantly and consistently present album in my college years. Quite simply, we played the album to death.
So much so that in 2012, Discovery is certainly not my go-to Daft Punk album. That honor goes to 1997’s Homework, an admittedly more adventurous and interesting album. Even so, every time I do listen to Discovery or hear one of its great tracks, I’m instantly transported to a very specific place and time in my life, with a very specific group of people, and very specific (and positive) memories. Ah hell, now I feel like taking a nostalgic listen to “One More Time.”
My collegiate years were eye-opening for me; that is to say, the second my eyes opened, I went out and bought a bunch of music. This happened most days, and often supplanted my earliest classes. (In all fairness, it is genuinely mean-spirited to ask anyone to sit through a Western Civilization lecture at the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM.) Between working, buying music, and finally discovering how to get girls, my college years were filled with everything but academics.
One thing I quickly discovered was musical diversity. Where my high school years were marked by individual trends – I had a brief and unfortunate country music phase, followed by a long hip-hop era, followed by a classic rock regression – I discovered early on how to cast a wide net with my listening. Freshman year, spurred on by my fellow white rap enthusiast Joe, was the year of hip-hop – in January The College Dropout came out, which was an awesome new thing, but I spent the previous semester finally catching up on the Roots albums that weren’t called Phrenology or Things Fall Apart. I dove headlong into the indie rock of the day – Hold Steady, Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene, Guster – and, eventually, shameless pop music – Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, I even bought Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High based solely on the promise of a Jay-Z guest shot.
Speaking of Jay-Z, the Jiggaman dominated my college experience, too, despite the fact that my college years coincided exactly with his short-lived “retirement: he bowed out in my freshman year with The Black Album, and resurfaced my senior year with Kingdom Come. This period of time was largely spent listening to The Black Album. Subsequently, I know every word to The Black Album. WITH NO PEN, JUST RAW INSPIRAY-SHUN!
And that’s what my college years were – I remember the people, and I remember my time spent in the glorious city of Boston, but it’s all scored to music. Walking to work through mountains of snow listening to Van Hunt’s “Daredevil, Baby”; driving along the Charles in the middle of the night to the strains of Okkervil River’s “Red”; Ben Folds’ “Time” watching the sun come up over the ocean. There you go, Trump — ARE YOU SATISFIED?
Sit back and relax, kids. I’m a lot older than the rest of these Popblerders, so my tale begins way back in 1985, when a young Joe Piscopo was leaving Saturday Night Live to conquer Hollywood. I, on the other hand, headed to the University of New Hampshire for my freshman year, armed with among other things two boxes of records. One was filled with rock albums: U2, Dire Straits, Genesis, Rush, The Who, Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc. The other was dorkily labeled “Metallic” and was full of harder stuff like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, et al.
I had one of those crappy Panasonic all-in-one stereo setups that had a turntable, receiver and double-cassette deck. My side of the dorm room was decorated with big Zep and Rush posters; my roommate wasn’t really a music fan so there were no arguments about what was being played.
And vinyl was my format of choice. I had cassettes, but they were mainly recordings of my records that I could listen to on my Walkman. CDs had been out for a few years, but they weren’t commonplace yet; my friend Rob was the first person I knew with a CD player. Hell, my RA still had an 8-track player.
My love of hard rock and metal soon became the butt of jokes from the guys I started hanging out with. They were more into Springsteen and similarly mainstream acts, so it was a constant source of amusement for t hem to give me shit about listening to Krokus (although for the record, I always hated that band). Eventually, I only listened to the harder edged stuff when I was alone because I didn’t really know anyone at school who was into it.
Meanwhile, I got into the mainstream stuff everyone else was listening to: Sting, Don Henley, Eurhythmics, as well as more interesting music from Prince, Run DMC, Beastie Boys and Cameo. My neighbor Mike got ahold of a tape of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” months before it became a hit in the U.S. and blasted it during a party; it quickly became a favorite, although we would sing, “I’m a dentist, I’m a dentist” instead of the actual chorus. Still, I took most of my music cues from listening to WBCN and WFNX, the Boston-area rock stations and gradually I started listening to more “alternative” acts like R.E.M., Peter Gabriel, Big Audio Dynamite, The Pixies, The Cult, The Cure, The Smiths and Public Image Limited. I still like the metal, but I would only really indulge when I’d go home on breaks and hang out with my metal-lovin’ buddy Chris. We were getting into thrash metal by this point, blasting Metallica, Anthrax, Overkill and S.O.D. while working night crew jobs at the local Market Basket.
When I started working at the college newspaper, my fellow editors and I used to listen to Barry Scott’s great Lost 45s radio show on productions and renewed our love of the 1970s AM pop we heard as kids. Stuff like “Brother Louie,” “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” and “Moonlight Feels Right” would be played as we worked into the night, alternately laughing or cringing. Then at my off-campus apartment, we’d watch MTV all the time and became very familiar with videos from Madonna, Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, which played seemingly non-stop.
By the time I graduated in 1989, I was listening to more alternative and putting the metal behind me, for the time being anyway. I drove away from campus for the last time, with all my belongings packed into my Hyundai Excel, listening to R.E.M.’s “I Remember California” from the Green album. I was two weeks away from starting a job as a reporter at a daily newspaper, and I recall thinking my life would never be the same again. And for better or worse, I was right.
Aaaah…college! For me it was the point where I realized that there was way more music out there than I was being exposed to on the radio. Growing up in suburbia we had our choice of 3 classic rock stations, and a pop station. The rock stations did not play much new rock, and each one felt the need to “get the Led out” every single hour. I love Zeppelin, but damn, can we hear something else, please? The stations rarely, if ever, played album tracks – just the same tired songs over and over.
So I left my suburban shithole town and went to college in Boston, at Northeastern University. Boston welcomed me with a radio station, which sadly, is no more – WFNX. WFNX, along with Northeastern University’s student-run radio station, WRBB were responsible for introducing me to a lot of what was going on in the music scene at the time. WRBB’s staff, welcomed me and showed me a ton of new music. One of the staff members there, incidentally, went on to work at WFNX after graduation.
But in that period of the mid-to-late1990s, I had a new group of friends, no parents, and was living on my own having a blast – going out to concerts on a weekly basis, and coming home anytime I wanted to. These are the albums that defined that period in my life, many of which I still listen to today.
Ash – 1977
Feeder – Yesterday Went Too Soon
Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway
Kent – Isola
Letters To Cleo – Wholesale Meats & Fish
Meat Puppets – No Joke
Monaco – Music for Pleasure
Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
Possum Dixon – New Sheets
Sheila Divine – New Parade
Stereophonics – Performance & Cocktails
Sugar – File Under Easy Listening
Matthew Sweet – Blue Sky On Mars
Jen Trynin – Gun Shy Trigger Happy
Verbena – Into The Pink
The Wannadies – Be A Girl (released in the U.S. as “The Wannadies”)
Guess what? I didn’t attend college. I graduated high school, and was completely directionless for a summer. I didn’t get accepted to any colleges away from my home, so in August 1993, I went to enroll in Queens College, the same school at which I’d participated in a journalism program that set forth my preferred career path. I registered, signed up for classes and took the bill home. My grandmother said “sorry, I can’t help you pay for college. And by the way, you need to get a job.”
I filled out an application to work at Tower Records, aced the interview after the store manager threw a bunch of album titles at me and I correctly guessed every one (except for a Pink Floyd title.) I spent the next 2 1/2 years there, and it served as my college community experience of sorts. I was exposed to people who were definitely not like me, as the store was like a campus…with CDs and cassettes (and VHS tapes, and laserdiscs.) We ate, drank, smoked and (in some cases) slept together. Just for the record, I wasn’t part of anyone sleeping with anyone. I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about others, and I discovered tons of music.
I’d already had a fairly broad (so I thought) knowledge of popular music, but working at Tower was like having a new world opened to me. We got the jump on new artists before the average person, so I was grooving to Jamiroquai in the fall of ’93, a good three years before the general public, and I was smoothing out to Sarah McLachlan in the summer of ’94. I got pre-release promo copies of Ready To Die and Brown Sugar (which, somehow, I still have) and even discovered bands like Steely Dan (through my friend Fred) and Led Zeppelin (through the radio! What a concept!) I entered a serious Beatles kick for the second time in my life (the first was when I was introduced to Rubber Soul and Revolver by my fifth grade teacher) and got stoned in my friend Brian’s dorm room listening to The Orb’s live album.
My tenure at Tower aligned fairly nicely with what would have been my college career-sort of. I was unceremoniously dumped from the orange and red in early 1996 (roughly coinciding with what would have been my junior year’s winter break,) but much like your first couple years of college (in an ideal world) will open you up to people of different cultures and lifestyles and make you more of a social being, Tower broadened my social horizons, and left me with a lot of great music, if not much else!
KJ’s “Community College Records”
Unlike most college experiencing young adults I didn’t get into the so-called “indie rock”. Maybe that’s because I spent four years attending community college. Oops! Nope, I remained mainstream.
My fondest memories of “records” and “community college” include driving 45 minutes to school, realizing I’m 10 minutes early, turning on The Tony Rich Project’s Birdseye or Babyface’s The Day, and taking a powernap which usually lasted for a class and a half.
NOTE: The following has never been published before so feel proud that I’m debuting it with you all.
Occasionally when a new album was being released my brother, buddy and I would head to Tower Records, in the shadow of the Space Needle and stand in line waiting for the clock strike midnight.
Except while we waited in line anxiously awaiting Boyz II Men’s Evolution everyone else was waiting for the new Presidents of the United States album. Oh, and an autographed poster signed by them. In my awkwardness I told them that I liked their first album, was buying Boyz II Men but still wouldn’t mind a signed poster. “Who knows maybe I’ll sell it on eBay,” my nervous response was. All I got was a dirty look.
In 2000, we stood in a long line for an album I don’t know if I want to mention. As we again anxiously, the plaid-wearing dudes in front of us asked if we were waiting for “the vinyl.”
“The Vinyl? No, N Sync.” Turns out they were waiting for Pearl Jam’s new album and my brother mistakenly thought “The Vinyl” was the name of the group.
They turned and laughed and I pulled my brother aside telling him, much the way Winston told Ray, “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say YES!” Instead telling him, “If someone says you’re buying the vinyl, you say YES!”
Finally, I think our last trip to Tower Records at midnight involved Britney Spears. It was that night where I’ll never forget my buddy whispering to the clerk, “Britney Spears … and double bag it.”
OK, so I was into the whole boy band craze, but the tunes were catchy! I also dug anything by 112, New Edition, Blackstreet, Brian McKnight and Keith Sweat. Does that help? Probably not.
So, I guess I do have memories of “records” and “community college”. Maybe not fond, but they are fun to look back at and laugh.