When I decided to take a look back at my high school soundtrack from 1996-2000, I realized something, it’s also my modern day playlist. Just as I’m still surrounded by the same old VHS tapes, video games and action figures I grew up with, the music that filled me with joy as a kid still gets me rockin’ today. So let’s take a look back at the pop, rock and punk that made me the man-child I am today.
Weird Al Yankovic, “Bad Hair Day” (1996)
Prior to high school the only music I listened to was New Kids On The Block, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells, the Mortal Kombat movie soundtrack and the many albums of Weird Al Yankovic. Of these, the only artist that could stay with me going into Freshman year and not garner shame was Weird Al.
The album Bad Hair Day which came out my Freshman year featured the Coolio parody “Amish Paradise” and a spoof that changed TLC’s “Waterfalls” into “Phony Calls” was a pure delight. I even lip-synched the deep cut track, “Everything You Know Is Wrong” for a Drama class assignment where I acted out Al’s insane lyrics. I think the reason I found comfort in Weird Al’s music is that he transcended mockery since he was already ridiculous, which was pretty much my M.O. in high school, “Embrace being a goofball before anybody can make fun of you”.
Smoking Popes-Born To Quit (1995)
While visiting the local used CD store during my Sophomore year of high school in 1997 I began flipping through the Comedy section to see if I could find a Weird Al Yankovic album I didn’t yet own. Instead I found a CD featuring a doughy, shirtless guy flexing on the cover that said Smoking Popes. I had zero to go on and thinking it was an album of humorous tunes I forked over the $3.
Throwing it in my boombox at home, I was surprised to find not laughs, but heartfelt pop punk tracks about broken relationships and the deepest feelings of young love. As a young romantic myself it was as if I had finally found a band to call my own and listened to the album endlessly. The Smoking Popes remain my favorite band of all time, though another famous rock group was certainly my obsession for many years.
KISS-You Wanted The Beet, You Got The Best (1996)
As mentioned above, my musical taste was narrow entering high school, so when a guy in my Freshman Algebra class who always wore t-shirts of the band KISS asked me to take a listen one day, I was apprehensive. But once he wore me down into actually listening to the band and I heard the musical range of songs from the bombastic rock of “Detroit Rock City” to the slow string-filled ballad, “Beth” I was hooked. My new friend lent me his copy of a live album compilation album called “You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best” for the summer and by the start of my Sophomore year I was a full-fledged KISS fanatic.
I bought every album from their 25 year history at that point and even joined up with my heavy metal guru to form a garage band where we played several KISS tunes. It was KISS 24/7 for me and I couldn’t get enough, wearing KISS belt buckles and carrying albums around with me to share the musical revelation with friends. There were few takers.
Eventually a good friend of mine bought a display poster for this album at a Los Angeles record shop and gave it to me for my birthday. Everyone knew of my proud place in the KISS Army. At my upcoming 20 year high school reunion I’m sure to get the question, ‘Do you still listen to KISS?”
Metallica-Garage Inc. (1998)
I was a heavy metal virgin when I joined my high school garage band, but the mix of songs I was given on a cassette tape and told to learn for my gig as lead singer were a major education in hard rock. Metallica had just released a 2 disc set of cover songs from their favorite bands and so my group would perform tunes by Thin Lizzy and Bob Seger at talent shows or battle of the bands competitions, but with the arrangements created by Metallica.
So we were basically performing covers of covers. We were a “Deep Cover Band”. I eventually pushed for us to write original songs and we did come up with some rocking riffs and lyrics, but Garage Inc. will always be the warm-up album for playing rock star in my mind.
I would never have discovered Primus if not for children’s theater. A strange statement to be sure, but the truth nonetheless. I had gotten a paying job acting in plays for kids at a local theater located in a shopping mall and one of my co-stars became an instant friend. I tried to get him to play KISS when we would go out on adventures but he wasn’t having it. Instead he always popped a Primus CD in his car stereo.
I never really connected with “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” or “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”, but the day my friend played “Momma Didn’t Raise No Fool” from the band’s newest album, Antipop, I was hooked. It’s still the only Primus album I own, but tracks like “Laquerhead”, “Natural Joe” and “Coattails of a Deadman” keep me coming back again and again. As I understand it, most hardcore fans didn’t dig this release from the band, but it will always be my Primus.
Buckethead-Robots and Monsters (1999)
After enjoying Antipop, my friend took me to a Primus concert and opening up for the band was a guy in a blank, white face mask with a KFC bucket on his head. I was enamored with his robotic movements and lightning fast guitar riffs played over funky beats. This was Buckethead. The next day I ran over to the Wherehouse record store and bought his album Robots and Monsters, which totally delivered on the live experience. Weird, but solid guitar tunes with guests vocalists like Bootsy Collins and Les Claypool from Primus added another dimensions to the demented music.
In my usual fashion I bought all the Buckethead albums I could find, even Japanese imports, then at the height of it all dressed as Buckethead for Halloween that year, mimicking his robotic movements all night and not uttering a word under my mask. I’ve seen the guy live a couple times since then and he’s still provides a one of a kind concert experience.
As we reach the final album of my playlist, I realize how influential the year 1999 was for me in terms of my musical taste and this album is the big dog. At this point I was 2 years into my heavy metal education and was entering Punk 101. The Misfits featuring Glenn Danzig were a band that had catchy tunes, but offensive lyrics, so when the more PG-13 version of the band called simply Misfits hit the scene with American Psycho in 1997 I was all in.
I remember spending hours on the internet leading up to the release of the album listening to 30 second clips of tracks like “Forbidden Zone” and “Fiend Club” on a loop, counting the days until the CD would appear at the local music store. Once it hit my Sony Discman I never stopped listening. Beginning to end it is a masterpiece of gothic metal that strayed far from their punk roots but that was fine by me.
Famous Monsters was the second album from this incarnation of the band to feature Michale Graves on lead vocals and he was absolutely my rock idol. His stage antics were those of literal psycho, seemingly suffering from many mental afflictions and I was entranced every time my bandmates and I saw the Misfits live (at least 5 times) on that tour. If there is one album that had remained in constant rotation from my high school playlist to now, Famous Monsters is it.
It’s interesting to see how an introduction to one band led to another in my high school musical listening experience, but at the core of it all were the friendships and experiences behind the music. I’ll be curious to hear how many of you were listening along to these same tunes in different parts of the country. So be sure to share some of your favorites in the comments below.