Bill Janowitz – My Life in Music

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The Buffalo Tom General on His Essential Listens: “I Have This Thing for Big, Sprawling Double Albums”

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

Columbia, 1965

My grandparents had neighbours who were getting rid of a ton of records, which are still among some of my most cherished albums. On the same day, I got Out of Our Heads by the Stones, Wild Honey by The Beach Boys, and some others. But of those, Highway 61 Revisited has just been a constant for me. You can imagine being seven or eight years old and trying to make sense of it… It was raw, kind of sloppy even, but that voice singing those words blew my mind open. It was forbidding and inscrutable, but also compelling. He’s singing about Rimbaud, which opened my mind to literature and poetry. That kind of thing was edifying to my songwriting later on, for sure.

The Beatles - The Beatles

Apple, 1968

The Beatles were omnipresent when I was a kid. I was born in ’66, so I missed out on that whole, ‘I saw them on Ed Sullivan and it changed my life’ kind of thing. The album that’s stayed with me is the ‘White Album’, mostly because I have this thing for big, sprawling double albums that cover a lot of ground. “Dear Prudence” might be my favourite Beatles song on any given day, but there’s so much going on, from the avant-garde “Revolution 9” to straight-up homages to The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry. Part of it is quantity as well as quality. It’s like, ‘Here’s a big thing I can lose myself in for a long time.’

Joe Cocker - Mad Dogs & Englishmen

A&M, 1970

This is one of those records that grabbed me as a kid and has never let go again, which is what led me to write the Leon Russell biography that came out last year. You’ve got this English guy singing like Ray Charles, but in more of a rock ’n’ roll way, with this big band. You’ve got horns, you’ve got a choir of backing singers. They’re singing Beatles songs, they’re singing Dylan songs, they’re singing Ray Charles songs, and they’re singing original songs, some of which were written by Leon, and all of which were arranged by Leon. It’s loose at times, but always comes back on certain cues. I love that idea of getting lost in this big travelling circus of a band.

The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St

Rolling Stones Records, 1972

I make the argument in my little 33⅓ book on Exile on Main St that it’s the greatest rock ’n’ roll record, certainly up to that point. You could say, ‘Well, there are these other albums by The Beatles’, or that Sticky Fingers is a better album overall. These are valid arguments. But, to me, Exile… captures everything that was essential to rock ’n’ roll, and all kinds of roots music. That’s the thing about the Stones: they were never held back by inhibitions, they had a brash confidence to take on all these musical forms. I love the gospel stuff, I love that era of rock ’n’ roll where it’s real R&B-influenced, with the bass up, organ sounds, big voices. It’s all here – not to mention beautiful ballads and country music as well.

Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life

Tamla, 1976

The first album I bought was Songs in the Key of Life. Again, another sprawling double album… that came with an EP with four more songs on it! He couldn’t even capture all of his ideas on a double album. It’s just an incredible statement, the culmination of a five-album run of unerringly great music that I don’t think has been bettered. It’s the gospel influence, the soul influence, but you can also hear how Stevie is influenced by the ambition of The Beatles and the wordplay of Dylan. It’s just this great continuum of stuff. The longer Buffalo Tom goes on, the more you can hear these classic influences, but Stevie would be harder to discern because I can’t come anywhere close to what he does.

Talking Heads - Remain in Light

Sire, 1980

I was already a Talking Heads fan because they were actually played quite a bit on the radio starting with “Psycho Killer”. But this is the first album I had, and it’s their furthest out. It’s an Eno record as much as a Talking Heads record, this cool layering of sounds. I was really into guitars by this point, so to hear Adrian Belew making these animalistic noises with his guitar was just mind-blowing. It was one of the first times I felt like, ‘Alright, now there’s music being made contemporaneously for me and my peers’, rather than going back and finding these old records. It really grabbed me, and Talking Heads were my favourite band for a few years.

The Replacements - Let It Be

Twin/Tone, 1984

I’m flipping a coin right now between The Replacements’ Let It Be and Zen Arcade, the double album by Hüsker Dü. Both of those bands from Minneapolis were hugely influential on Buffalo Tom, but if I have to choose one of their albums, I choose Let It Be, because there was something more tender about it. Even as I’m saying this, I’m thinking that Zen Arcade has some amazingly tender moments! But I was not a hardcore kid – The Replacements started out more as a Stonesy, garagey punk rock band, and I could identify with that. Paul Westerberg as a songwriter is probably the greatest of our generation. And for me to skip over REM and Elvis Costello to get there is a big thing…

Dinosaur Jr - You’re Living All Over Me

SST, 1987

When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine introduced me to J Mascis. He was already this interesting, enigmatic guy with Nick Cave hair, who barely said any words. I liked the first Dinosaur record quite a bit, but it does sound like a local band. Whereas this blew my head off. The songs, the guitars, the way he took Neil Young and Hendrix and made it new to me, because these are all the same influences I grew up with… It was a revelation, and it led to us asking J if he could help us in the studio. We didn’t want a polite record either; we wanted a record where the guitars are so loud that the needle jumps off the record.

Buffalo Tom’s new album Jump Rope is out now on Scrawny Records; they play Whelan’s, Dublin (27th September), SWG3 Warehouse, Glasgow (28th), and Lafayette, London (30th).