The album that started my collection was Extensions by Manhattan Transfer. The hit single from the album, “Twilight Tone”, took the iconic hook of The Twilight Zone theme song and turned it into a post-disco hit. My 7-year-old ear loved it to death, and I wouldn’t stop pestering my parents till I had the album in my possession.
That’s the earliest, cognizant memory I have of music. Before that, I just hummed along with whatever was playing on the radio, my vocabulary not developed enough to understand any of the lyrics, let alone remember song titles or artist names.
The majority of albums on this list were discovered many years after their original release. I didn’t want to exclude music from the first decade of my life just because I hadn’t yet developed listening habits.
Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, Xanadu
I checked this record out of the library back in high school, but I didn’t understand it at the time. I had to go through a schooling in punk and post-punk before I could seek this album again. I became so enamored of it, I snatched up tickets to the original line-up’s tour in 2005.
Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
I didn’t take the plunge with this album till it was available on eMusic, but I’ve known about it since high school.
Yvonne Elliman, Love Me
I heard Elliman’s singles all over radio, but I never learned who she was because DJs had that awful habit of never mentioning who was playing. It would take a few decades before I would seek out the album with her most memorable music.
Clannad, Clannad 2
No Clannad collection should exclude the six folk albums, but if I had to choose one, Clannad 2 would be it.
Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky
No Emmylou Harris collection should exclude her first six albums, but if I had to choose one, Pieces of the Sky would be it.
New York Dolls, New York Dolls
My introduction to David Johannsen was not through the New York Dolls but through Buster Poindexter. Given the Dolls’ Velvet Underground-like influence, I’m sure I would have found my way to this album through some other means.
Yvonne Elliman was one of those artists whose music I heard all over the radio as a child, but I never knew her name.
That changed in high school when I went through my Andrew Lloyd Webber phase. I learned the Hawaii-born singer who originated the role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar also formed some of my earliest musical memories.
Elliman, however, had embodied the disco era, and nothing was more uncool in 1988 than listening to disco. I checked out Night Flight from the library but couldn’t get past the first song.
When the recorded music industry transitioned to compact disc in the early ’90s, Elliman wouldn’t get the compilation treatment till 1995. The ABBA renaissance made disco acceptable again, but an actual reissue campaign for Elliman’s albums never became a reality.
It’s a good thing I have a record player, then, because used vinyl copies of her albums are the only way to explore her career with any depth.
If one album ought to get a proper reissue treatment, it would be Love Me.
The album starts off with the three singles that were ubiquitous in my childhood — the title track, “Hello Stranger” and “I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind”. Elliman hadn’t completely thrown her hat into the disco ring at this point, so a lot of the tracks on Love Me sound more like California pop than New York dance floor.
“(I Don’t Know Why) I Keep Hangin’ On” has some of the signature marks of disco but nothing on the level of “If I Can’t Have You”. If anything, the dreamy strings of “She’ll Be the Home” and “(Without You) There Ain’t No Love at All” make the album harder to date.
While Love Me was never reissued as an album onto itself, a compilation released in the UK cleverly titled The Collection includes all 10 tracks of Love Me thrown in with seven other tracks from other albums.
So it’s entirely possible to enjoy Love Me without the aid of a record player if you’re willing to track down the compilation in a music store. It’s not currently available on any streaming service.