All images courtesy of Getty/Alamy Images
By Andrew Daly & Andrew DiCecco
Intro phase 1. Daly’s piece:
I’ve always had a cinematic/poetic mindset, as such, when I think back on my life, I see it through that lens. I guess that makes some of it easier to process.
Like many of us, my road has been hard. Some inherited. Some self-imposed. But the way I’ve managed it all, the way that I’ve coped, moved forward, and grown is through music.
When I was a kid, my dad had a 1980 Chevy Impala. I loved that car. That car is long gone, but I still love the idea of it. To me, that Chevy wasn’t just a car, no, it was a breeding ground for musical exploration with my dad. He’d take me here, there, and everywhere, and we’d listen to cassettes.
By the time I was old enough to process what I was hearing, the car was well on its way to 15 years of age, and the top-dash speakers were long since fried by the sun. My dad, ever inventive, crafted a small wooden box, bolted aftermarket speakers into it, and adhered it to the hump in the floor under the dash, and it was those speakers that exposed me to Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, and many others.
I didn’t know it then, but in those moments with my dad, my DNA as defined by music was beginning its initial synchronization. What began as a means for my dad and me to escape the rigors of a harsh home, became a pastime that I still love to this day – driving around and listening to music when things get hard. Like many of us, music is in my DNA, and I can’t imagine life without it.
Intro phase 2. DiCecco’s piece:
My journey has been shaped by many variables, some of them controllable and some not, but music has always served as a source of strength and encouragement.
Music has always been my refuge, my remedy for digging deep and finding my way back on track, even on my darkest days. Whether happy, sad, or angry, the songs I associate with each emotion compose my life’s soundtrack.
One of the great things about music is that you often find yourself revisiting and rediscovering different phases and preferences from your formative years, with each phase serving as an essential component of your musical makeup.
The people I have met and shared experiences with through music will always have a special place in my heart. Some broadened my musical horizons by introducing me to bands or genres I was unfamiliar with, while I’m forever unified with others, whether we listened to an album on a road trip, attended a concert, or the music symbolizes our relationship in some way.
Like many of us, music is in our DNA, and we can’t imagine life without it. The records below are the few that we’d take with us come hell or high water, and for one reason or another, have defined our travels through life to this point.
Part 1. Daly’s Picks:
Kiss – Love Gun (1977)
“Dropped out of school when I was 22
What can I do to satisfy you?“
At the age of 34, the irony in Peter Criss’ tongue-in-cheek lyrics is not lost on me. When I first discovered Love Gun at the age of 8, I never could have known that not only would I drop out of college at the age of 22, but that Love Gun would be the jumping-off point for my love of music going forward. Now 26 years later, I look back on the faithful evening that I discovered my father’s old, and deeply yellowed KISS cassette. My mother did not want me to listen to rock music, and so, I still vividly remember deftly escaping to my bedroom, evading my mother, and sheepishly popping the relic into my Aiwa bedroom stereo system, and then subsequently having my young mind blown by the kabuki clad heroes. In this moment, two integral things happened, both of which would prove critical to who I was, would be, and am: KISS became my favorite band, and music became the lynchpin of my life. Love Gun is not my favorite KISS record, but it is by far the most important to me.
Coheed & Cambria – Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV (2005)
“If it was up to me
I would’ve figured you out
Way before the year clocked out
Oh, I hope you’re waiting…”
In the months leading up to my senior year in high school, Coheed & Cambria, as a band, was completely unfamiliar to me. Prior to this, I was mostly a classic rock guy, with some punk and 90s alt-rock mixed in for good measure. New music was foreign to me, and I mostly rejected it, or simply didn’t care. That all changed one evening at a house party in October of 2005. As I said, it was my senior year, and I had just gotten out of the hospital after a weeklong stay stemming from a nasty stomach condition. Of course, within hours of regaining my freedom, my first order of business was to drain a few six packs of Natty Ice with my friends. It was at this party that Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV was seemingly playing on repeat all night. Long story short, the next day I ran over to my local record shop, Looney Tunes, and purchased my own copy. That CD remained in or around my ’92 Chevy Suburban’s aftermarket CD player all year, only being removed to be listened to during wrestling practice, or at wrestling tournaments via Discman. I won my first tournament in Amityville after amping up to this CD. To this day, I still revisit this rager often.
Oasis – Don’t Believe The Truth (2005)
“Suddenly I found that I’d lost my way in this city
The streets and the thousands of colors all bleed into one”
My love affair with Oasis began around 2006, just after graduating high school. As I said before, prior to my senior year of high school, I was pretty closed-minded when it came to music. Once I graduated, considering I was an uncooperative college student, who never went to class, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I mostly used that free time to peruse Limewire, and The Pirate Bay for new music to become addicted to, and subsequently “borrow.” As fate would have it, one day, I discovered Oasis, and within minutes, I was addicted.
As the next several years went by, my love for the band grew, and I still cherish being able to see them at MSG in 2008, mere months before the band imploded in the summer of 2009. While I love all of Oasis’ records, Don’t Believe The Truth is particularly meaningful. Its lyrical content spoke to me deeply during a period when I was estranged from my family and living with my lifelong friend Joe’s family from 2011-2012, and Joe even gifted me the album for Christmas that year. I love the record, but it’s a touch bittersweet (at times) as it signifies the beginning of a particularly turbulent time in my life. As a side note, Oasis is the only band that has ever come close to unseating KISS as my favorite band. Close, but no cigar.
The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound (2008)
So why, why wouldn’t you?”
Sometime around 2011, when I was living with my friend Joe’s family, I had the bright idea one lazy evening to dig deeper into this band’s catalog. As luck would have it, I was immediately thrilled that I had, as it became apparent to me rather quickly that The Gaslight Anthem was special. To this day, in my opinion, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better songwriter than Brian Fallon. Of course, Fallon’s lyrics may only speak to you if you’re of a certain down-on-your-luck disposition, which I was. I still recall the first time I heard the band’s 2008 album, The ’59 Sound; I felt as if this guy was telling my story, song by song, word for word.
Pushing forward a few years, after my first ramshackle marriage ended, which was one of those classic few months long mistakes that some of us youngins make, I used to drive around the backwoods of Kentucky (where I had moved from New York) and listen to this album on repeat in my Grandfather’s cigarette-soaked – and I mean soaked – 2004 Chevy Malibu (which I borrowed). When my second marriage ended, I did the same thing, only this time, I wasn’t in Kentucky (back home to New York now), and I owned my own car (big steps). The ’59 Sound is a rock for me. It’s got me through two failed marriages (no small feat for a 34-year-old), and a multitude of other really awful days.
Spread Eagle – Spread Eagle (1990)
“I got rats in the kitchen
Rippin’ up the trash
Cold wind blowin’ down my back
Straight through shattered glass”
As I’ve entered my mid-30s, stabilized my life, found a partner who supports me, and have created a foothold in all the areas that I want to be in, I guess I’ve learned to really lean into who I am, and where I’m from. In my heart of hearts, I’m a New York guy. I’m good with that. As for Spread Eagle, it’s a gritty ode to all things New York. It’s a track-by-track tale of hard living, dark days, and trials and tribulations brought forth via bad hands dealt, and mistakes made. If you’ve ever lived life on the edge, or been exposed to the underbelly of life’s storms, then you get it.
Like many of the albums I love, Spread Eagle is a mix of hard-knock poetry, lurid storytelling, and evocative imagery erring a bit toward the rougher side of life. Now, if that’s not the story of who I am, then I don’t know what is. For a guy who was always a bit rough around the edges, came from less-than-nothing, and was never going to do anything – regardless of the consequences, or outcome – any other way than his own, Spread Eagle speaks to me.
The four guys in Spread Eagle never knew any other way, and neither did I. I still don’t. But I made it work, and for that, I raise my fist in the air, and I take pride in doing life my way, in no uncertain terms, no matter the difficulty. As an aside, I cherish the fact that the band’s singer, Ray West, has become a good friend of mine. As they say, it was meant to be.
Part 2. DiCecco’s Picks.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)
“If you need a shoulder
Or if you need a friend
I’ll be here standing
Until the bitter end“
Regardless of how many times I hear the opening riff for “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” I get chills and smile, as it reminds me of, er, childhood memories. As a child, I would gaze aimlessly out the window on long car rides as my iPod blared at maximum volume, fully immersing myself in the sheer brilliance of Appetite for Destruction. My relationship with Appetite will forever hold personal significance to me, as it led to my full-blown absorption into the vast world of rock ‘n’ roll. Having never heard anything like it, I was utterly blown away by the album’s rawness, attitude, authenticity, and musicianship. The quintessential apex of rock albums, Appetite redefined songwriting as a nuanced art form and introduced the world to some of the most influential and identifiable figures in rock ‘n’ roll, including Axl Rose and Slash. I couldn’t imagine a world without it.
Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous (1978)
“Driftin’ like a drover
Chasin’ my career
From the ships docked in the harbor
New horizons will appear“
Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott ranks alongside Paul Rodgers, Steven Tyler, and the aforementioned Axl Rose on my Mount Rushmore of rock frontmen. The combination of Lynott’s soothing, soulful vocals and his inherent songwriting ability contributed to my initial attraction to Thin Lizzy, and with the passage of time, my affinity for the band has only grown stronger. Despite never addressing it publicly, anxiety is something I grapple with daily and is often remedied by the calming inflection of Phil Lynott’s voice.
Though it first appeared on 1977’s Bad Reputation, my first exposure to “Southbound,” a favorite Thin Lizzy deep cut, came via Live and Dangerous. I often turn to “Southbound,” a captivating and contemplative piece, in dire times, and it never ceases to recalibrate my mind when I’m in need of reflection or clarity. Apart from that, I consider Live and Dangerous to be one of the greatest live rock albums ever recorded, perfectly encapsulating Thin Lizzy’s musical DNA.
Boston – Boston (1976)
“Well, I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ along
You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone“
It is worth noting that those two lines are among my favorites in all of music for their symbolic meaning in my life. My journey to find my calling in this world has taken me many years, and no, I don’t expect people to remember me after I’m gone. However, I strive to make a meaningful impact here and now.
Going back to my adolescence, when I would glare out the window on long car rides lost in thought – slowly bobbing my head to the beat emanating from my iPod as my earphones vibrated – Boston’s self-titled debut was another album I listened to regularly. If only for a moment, Boston teleported me back to simpler times, erasing all my troubles and worries. Moreover, it’s an album that I consider synonymous with my parents, the bedrock of love and support in my life.
Anyway, let’s get back to the memories of a young Andrew listening to Boston on his iPod. My dreams were never clear to me at a young age, but for some reason, when Brad Delp sang, “I’ve got to keep on chasin’ a dream,” on “Foreplay/Long Time,” it resonated with me. As I said, I didn’t know what that dream was back then per se – I do now – but in that moment, those immortal words inspired hope and optimism into a young kid, giving me the feeling that I could do anything. Whenever I hear “More Than A Feeling,” I am instantly transported back to those seemingly endless summer nights in high school, when my friends and I would drive around with the windows down free and without a care in the world. Moments that I’ll cherish forever.
Chicago– Chicago (1970)
“Feeling like I ought to sleep
Spinning room is sinking deep
Searching for something to say
Waiting for the break of day“
Originally, I planned to include Chicago Transit Authority, but Chicago features songs such as “25 or 6 to 4,” “Make Me Smile,” and “Colour My World” that are even more meaningful to me.
I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old when my sisters and I gifted my dad a Chicago CD to play in his car, as an alternative to counter the redundancy of the radio. At that age, I had no idea what Chicago sounded like, but seeing the excitement and gratitude on my dad’s face at our sentiment was enough to pique my interest. Despite some of the details being rather vague, I vividly recall my dad tapping into his intrinsic drumming prowess, profusely battering the steering wheel during “25 or 6 to 4” and playing the CD front-to-back whenever we were in the car. It also added another dimension to our relationship, allowing us to bond over music. “Make Me Smile” is another song on the album that holds significance for me, as I can recall many weekends traveling to our next adventure with Chicago playing in the background. In retrospect, his album not only broadened my musical horizons, but subconsciously strengthened my relationship with my father as well.
Britny Fox – Britny Fox (1988)
“In the morning sun, I see your face
I can feel your love and your embrace“
I credit my parents for instilling in me an indomitable work ethic and steadfast determination, but I also feel partially indebted to the city of Philadelphia – where I was born and raised – for shaping me into who I am today. You see, the city of Brotherly Love doesn’t pull any punches, nor does it reward mediocrity, but rather demands a blue-collar mindset and an unwavering spirit of perseverance. Through my upbringing, I became accustomed to these principles at an early age. Consequently, I was deeply enamored by Britny Fox, a Philadelphia-based quartet that overcame considerable odds to ascend to prominence in a genre dominated by west coast acts.
Due to my understanding of what was required to succeed as an east coast hard rock act in the late 1980s, I probably have a greater appreciation and admiration for Britny Fox than most. As a matter of fact, once I discovered the band’s gold-charting self-titled debut, it rarely left my CD player. From the piercing snarl of Dean Davidson to the thunderous drumming of Johnny Dee to the tasteful soloing of Michael Kelly Smith, Britny Fox portrays a distinctly east coast vibe infused with passion, energy, and a discernible sense of urgency.
At my highest and lowest points, Kelly Smith’s solos – many of which are songs in and of themselves – have been a source of inspiration and comfort throughout my life. As fate would have it, I now consider Kelly Smith a dear friend and one of the most genuine human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
– Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at email@example.com & Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.