Joel Gion: Records that changed my life

5 min read

Joel Gion: Records that changed my life
The Brian Jonestown Massacre's tambourine-playing frontman reveals the albums that left a mark, from The Stone Roses' indie euphoria to The Monkees' last flop

The Stone Roses—The Stone Roses

the stone roses album sleeve
I had just moved out on my own to San Francisco in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco when this came out.
There was a big Tower Records right down the street where I could finally buy NME, Sounds and Melody Maker on a regular basis and follow all the shenanigans they were getting into—dousing their old record label office with paint and all that.
I had primarily been into UK post punk all through my teens, but this felt like more of a big bang that coincided with a new decade, engaging with the newness of the big city and being green lit as an adult. 
"That era was the last stand of drug culture in the mainstream"
Combining dance with indie really pushed the flares vibe forward and rightly helped starting off the 1990s in a genuine Sixties way that becomes more obvious with time. That era was the last stand of drug culture in the mainstream, especially with the underground illegal rave scene that found its way over to San Francisco via England’s Wicked DJ crew.
I wasn’t a raver, but it felt like bands like The Stone Roses and the Weatherall’d-up Primal Scream makeover made it possible for an American UK indie music kid to have dual citizenship. Or maybe I was just high. 

The Beatles—Beatles for Sale

beatles for sale album sleeve
I wasn’t even aware of the Beatles for Sale album until my very early twenties, which was suddenly like having a newly released album by your favourite band.
In the US, this record in particular had been completely cannibalised and dispersed onto other Capitol Records catalogue padding-out albums, and was never released in its proper album form until the late Eighties with the advent of CDs (a media form I ignored as much as possible). 
What blew me away was the depressed nature of most of the original compositions, now placed together as originally intended.
“No Reply”, "I’m a Loser”, “Baby’s in Black”, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and “What You’re Doing” were all downers in song scenario and newly relatable on a next-level basis to someone whose favourite modern band was The Jesus and Mary Chain.
"Why did the freewheeling Hard Day’s Night-era fabs appear to look so bummed out?"
The all-upbeat cover songs peppered throughout seemed to exist only to bring some positive vibes to the proceedings—giving double-meaning to the term “cover”, as to mask the real mood of what we now know was Beatlemania burnout
The record cover was also new to the narrative: why did the freewheeling Hard Day’s Night-era fabs appear to look so bummed out? This made them look even cooler, and they were already as cool as it gets, and somehow this all retained a sheen of outsiderdom despite being by the biggest band in the world then and now. 
I’d also discovered the Velvet Underground around this same time through the VU compilation.
These two albums together were on repeat in the audio landscape of my new life experiences, having just moved from my first apartment in North Beach to the Haight-Ashbury, where all the action was, getting involved with the local music scene and many of my young-person life “firsts”.
To this day they are still my two favourite bands of all time.

The Monkees—Head

monkees head album sleeve
Because The Monkees had a TV show in regular daily afternoon syndication, as a toddler they technically barely beat The Beatles in being first to open the gate for me into the world of music.
Despite not knowing, or even having the capacity to care until later, that they didn’t play the instruments on their records and were supposedly a “fake” band, it turns out they were in fact actually just as legit as many of the “authentic” world-famous bands in the LA scene around at that time.
The Byrds' breakout first single (ahem) "Mr Tambourine Man", The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album and a whole lot more than most people realise were recorded by the session musician collective “The Wrecking Crew”.
These days, playing your own instruments can be seen as neither here nor there, but back then there was a negative stigma to the ultimate degree. 
With Head, they implemented a pre-meditated self-implosion as a last-bid-gambit for “legitimacy”, despite the public ignoring the fact that they’d already released a pair of self-performed records.
This film was truly psychedelic as well as displaying Eastern philosophy, anti-war commentary, the failure of consumerism and all the hippie ideals of the day. 
As intended, it alienated their teenybopper following but then failed to turn on the “turned on” sect. It was such a “flop” that the film (and the band) all but disappeared after its initial release.
"This film was truly psychedelic as well as displaying Eastern philosophy"
Maybe they felt like the times weren’t going to leave them much of a choice soon, but they did gamble hit-TV show financial security for being accepted by the public as cool, a bet in which they lost, and losing gloriously is something that I can kind of relate to. 
I first saw the film when Brian Jonestown Massacre started making periodic trips down to LA in the mid-Nineties.
Our garage rock record label owner at the time had a big collection of rare 1960s music videos and lost rock films on VHS, and when I watched Head, it was immediately recognisable to me as an act of defiance, one that was way beyond the career comfort zone of most Sixties “rock rebels” and was a true anti-establishment statement. 
What’s wild is, the day after I watched Head, the Dig! documentary filmmakers called me, whom we’d just recently just met, saying that they had camera crew jobs on a Monkees comeback video shoot and wanted to sneak me in to “do something we can put in the film”, which I did.
I was tasked with ruining a take by pretending I was confused and walking into the middle of them miming a song, doing some rubber necking, checking my pretend watch with furrowed brow before continuing on into the arms of staff, who then promptly chucked me out of the building as the Monkees watched on. 
They became huge for me again and on a whole new level after that trip to LA, because who knew what rebels they really were? Even if they did need to reform for a horrible 1990s reunion album, because rebels usually go broke being rebels.
Joel Gion’s new memoir, In the Jingle Jangle Jungle: Keeping Time with the Brian Jonestown Massacre is out now, published by White Rabbit 
Banner credit: Andreas Turau
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