Semil Shah works on operations at Votizen and is a contributor to Techcrunch. He is also a super awesome advisor to Rexly.
I don’t think of my formative musical experiences as tied to a specific song, or a live show, or some experience — for me, it’s about the full length album. Albums that we all remember, first to last song, and have played over and over again. For me, those albums are Thriller, Led Zeppelin IV, The Unforgettable Fire, andAppetite for Destruction. These are all great albums, no doubt, but while I remember each track, in order, and have pegged it to a series of specific memories and times in my life, they didn’t really transform how I listened to music. Instead, they are more nostalgic for me. That has a lot of value, but yet remains static, in the past. When I fire up these albums, I’m only taken back in time.
The first album that really opened my ears to the depth of music was OK Computer. One of my best friends in college took music appreciation to a new level. In those days (mid 90s), we were impressed by how many CD “books” someone had. My friend had more than I could imagine. I happened to be with him on the Tuesday morning when Radiohead released this album, and saw him buy 6-8 new CDs that had just been released. I kind of felt like buying one. I asked him for his guidance. He thought about it for a while, and then picked up not one, but two, copies of OK Computer, proceeded to checkout, and then handed me my new CD. His rationale was that, based on what he knew about me, I may like this particular album.
He was right.
I loved OK Computer. I still do. I know all the songs, in order. I know every beat, riff, chord, cymbal, piano key, and wail. I know the songs that slow you down, rev you up. I hadn’t heard anything like it. There was something orchestral about it, but it was so electric and computer-generated. I’d be lying to if I said I understood what the sociopolitical messages in the album were (I don’t even know today), except that if felt as Radiohead’s frontman, Thom Yorke, felt alienated in some way, and well, yeah, I did too — and still do, to some degree. OK Computer wasn’t an album you listed to “with friends,” it was a solitary pursuit. While I was walking to class, or studying, or just kicking back in my room. Sometimes in the car on long rides on a fall night, or in the dead of winter.
While I’m a big Radiohead fan, I wouldn’t say I like all of their songs. In fact, I only really like about 50% of their stuff, but I am insanely obsessed about those 50%. Everything from ballads to dub-step beats in their music. Before listening to this album, I realized my interests and tastes in music were so mainstream and sheltered. Had I been gifted OK Computer a few years earlier, I may not have reacted as I did in 1998. I don’t even like their prior work. I don’t like their “old stuff,” like Creep or Fake Plastic Trees. Boring.
By fully absorbing OK Computer, I was able to dig deeper into different types of music, less out of the mainstream. I listened to OK Computer so much that my own standards for deeming albums “complete” rose, and I was constantly on the hunt for other albums that did the same thing for me as OK Computer did. Some of those albums are Pinback, by Pinback; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, by Wilco; andThe Suburbs, by The Arcade Fire, to name a few. Each one of these albums has opened the door for me into new sounds that I wouldn’t have had to tools to find had I not stumbled upon OK Computer. With Pinback, I’ve found artists like Jose Gonzalez; with Wilco, I went back in time to learn about the formation and influence of Uncle Tupelo (and Jay Farrar); and with The Arcade Fire, they completed captured my imagination by penning an album that simultaneously evokes a childhood from the suburbs as well as my unwitting foray back into them in the present day.
I still remember ripping off the cellophane on the OK Computer jewel case, some 14 years later. Little did I know it would have such an impact on my taste in music going forward.