1. Ministry – “Thieves and Liars”
This song has always pumped me up. I remember listening to it back in high school, before football games on Friday nights. I was probably the weirdest high school player ever… I put a lot into it and didn’t really think too much about going to football practice wearing black nail polish. I also didn’t think overthink changing out of my leather pants at the end of the school day in favor of football pants.

2. Nine Inch Nails – “Gave Up”
I played in an band in, well, I always played in a band until about 5 years ago… but one band in particular – Candy Apple Red – covered this NIN song. We were all broke then, and Pro Tools wasn’t so cheap, so we recorded our cover of “Gave Up” on a 4 track (cassette) recorder in my dad’s basement. I can still hear parts of that cover in my head. The drumming was superb, and one of the fills recording in the cover version was one of the coolest accents in a song I’ve ever heard. Kudos to, ahem, that drummer.

3. Pink Floyd – “Comfortably Numb”
The “Pulse” version of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen… truly. The first time I ever saw it, I remember my cheap, white Stratocaster was resting on my lap. I was watching, and the mirror ball opening was mesmerizing, and David Gilmour’s guitar tone during the big outro solo was elating and literally brought me chills. Absolutely amazing work.

4. Refreshments – “Banditos”
This song is classic 90s. I’ve always loved it. The Star Wars reference is the same to me as the Sufjan Stevens reference is in the Snow Patrol song “Hands Open” is… it’s like “yeah, nice tribute… it’s not something I’m crazy about, but I still love the song.” But also, I saw the Refreshments in 1996 at Edgefest in Dayton, Ohio. That was the first time I had ever crowd surfed. And I remember the guitarist was wearing some tall, mushroom, hippy kind of hat. Pure 90s.

5. Sublime – “Sublime” album
This band doesn’t define the Leaving Celestia sound by any stretch, but I have always had a deep respect for Bradley Nowell, and the rest of the band’s, work. I bought this album just outside of Washington D.C., in an underground mall (Crystal City shops, maybe). The self-titled album is really a great one and, at that time, was on repeat on my CD player. I remember on that trip, my buddy Roland borrowed the CD and was jumping up and down on the hotel room bed while listening to it with headphones on. That was years ago. My CD is still nice and safe. I hope Roland is, too.

6. Local H – “Bound for the Floor”
The raucous nature of this song provides a better direct-correlation to the music of Leaving Celestia. As I understand it (and have for a long time), Local H was originally a three or four piece band (or whatever). The other member(s) apparently departed, and the two dudes left put out the album they had been working on. It hit the charts hard, and “Bound for the Floor” is still being played on the rock radio stations today. It’s such a great groove, and I find myself screaming “you keep it copacetic, and you learn to accept it, you know you’re so pathetic!” every time it comes on. Technically, this came out in the “post grunge” era (whatever that means), but it still has that grittiness that makes me want to categorize it as grunge. The song is super catchy, and that grittiness, coupled with my draw to the song, taught me that music doesn’t have to be polished to get your point across.

7. Nada Surf – “Popular”
This song spoke to me on different levels. As mentioned, I played football in high school, but I wasn’t truly a part of the “jock” crowd. They were good friends of mine, yes (the jocks – not Nada Surf!), but there were also great differences between us. I loved, and love, the song “Popular” because it’s kind of a mockery of those who take themselves too seriously, and because all of us guys secretly longed to be the captain of the football team who gets all the girls.

8. Stabbing Westward – “Shame”
This song has long been an anthem. It just rocks. It’s dark, gets the point across, and is full of emotion. Stabbing Westward has always been a big inspiration because, not only were they a talented band, but they also also really cool. As a teen, I used to hang out behind Bogart’s – a venue in Cincinnati – to chat with my favorite bands. When SW was in town, the guys – Chris, Andy, Mark, etc., would answer all the questions I had about being in a touring/recording band, and it made me really feel like I was a part of something important for a while, coming from Small Town USA. I loved how Jim, Stabbing Westward’s bassist, noticed that the big, local rock radio station, WEBN, sponsored the show. “They don’t even play us, do they?” he asked. “No, they don’t,” I had to tell him. Good times.

9. Stone Temple Pilots – “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart”
I really started liking STP when other people starting liking them less and less. Really, “Interstate Love Song” was kind of bland compared to other stuff that came later. Okay…. so I’m really just trying to make excuses… But to change the subject, holy crap, I saw STP in 1996….!!! Get this – the opening band was Local H. Bill – my best friend’s stepdad – drove us all to the show, and he didn’t want to see the opening band (even though I did), so we hung out at Chi-chi’s Mexican restaurant for about a half-hour after the time posted on the tickets. We then headed over to the Nutter Center. Due to the boycott of Local H, we ended up missing the start of the Stone Temple Pilots set. Gee, thanks a lot, Bill!

10. The Doors – “Light My Fire”
I grew up listening to The Doors on vinyl. My brother had a record player and, when he was gone, I would sneak into his room and listen to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles. I also played his drum set when he wasn’t around. SHhhhhh!! “Light My FIre” is one of the songs, among many, that have had a lasting impression. “The End” is another that’s amazing and timeless. But I really have always loved “Light My Fire” and Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Jim Morrison on the Ed Sullivan show, as exaggerated as it may have been. And, naturally, there is some sort of kinship between me an Val Kilmer. I know we’ve crossed paths, so it’s only a matter of time until we run into each other..

11. The Dandy Warhols – “Heavenly”
This tune comes right after “The Last High” on the album “Welcome to the Monkey House.” That mentioned track is one of those best on there but, for some reason, “Heavenly” makes me think of vacation. Specifically, it takes me back to being in Daytona Beach with my dad and brother in the early 90s. A giant hurricane was about to hit, our hotel threw all the beach chairs in the pool so they wouldn’t blow away, and we took off for Orlando. I had discovered Tom Petty right around that time. I don’t really know what it has to do with “Heavenly” specifically, but it’s one of those songs that conjures feelings and emotions relating to a very specific time and place.

12. Kansas – “Carry on My Wayward Son”
This is one of the greatest, timeless rock songs of all time. It’s filled with changes and a clever melody the whole way through that makes for a great singalong. My buddy, Dan, is a drummer in the country music scene in Tennessee, and he formerly played in a band with the son of one of the guys in Kansas. I seriously had a dream of jamming with Kansas as a result because, even before that all going down, “Carry on My Wayward Son” was already one of my favorite jams.

13. Tin Star – “Raincheck”
It’s safe to say Tin Star has been my one and only foray into listening to what some label as “trip-hop.” I’m sure this music discovery came from my old buddy, Mike, but where he found it I can only guess… maybe 97x played them (the once-famous and now defunct college radio station Dustin Hoffman referred to in “Rain Man.”) “Raincheck” has a certain mellow, lovely ambiance that has always blown me away. The smooth/thick/synthy bass, the slightly overdriven guitar accents throughout the song, and the vocals all come together to create a mix that transports me to a really comforting place.

14. VAST – “The Last One Alive”
Visual Audio Sensory Theater. The “Last One Alive” is the first track on the 2000 album “Music for People.” The song is a triumphant anthem, especially the chorus: …if the sun comes in your room and awakens you from your vanity, you won’t find me ’cause I’ll be on top a mountain pissing on your grave.” The “nah, nahhh, nahhhh” that follows is like a taunt, which would just be used as an accent to the music in any other song. It’s really a great, upbeat song that gives you a feeling of freedom while driving around town, belting it out, on a sunny day with the windows down and sunroof open. To gently come down from the excitement of this track, check out “I Don’t Have Anything,” which is the 3rd track on the same album.

15. Forget Cassettes – “Quiero, Quieres”
Okay, this one is super obscure. That intrinsically means nothing, good or bad… but, for me, this discovery was a cool one. My aforementioned friend, Mike, somehow already knew about this band, when I was set to run the sound board for them at an indie music festival in Cincinnati. Mike and his wife showed up, and we all hung out at the front-of-house mixing console while I worked… it was a lot of fun. A few months later, I went with another buddy, Brad, when Forget Cassettes were back in the area, playing at a small venue in Dayton, Ohio. I chatted with the band during a break and told the drummer that I mixed for them at the festival. “Aha! I thought you looked familiar,” he said. It was pretty cool, because it’s so cliche for people to say silly things like “Hey, I was in the front row at your show two years ago at the arena in Chicago… do you remember me?” Of course they freakin’ don’t. But I guess working alongside people makes you more memorable.

So anyway, about the song… the style is really hit-or-miss for some people. I’ve played it in the car while driving around with passengers, and some love it, and some hate it. On “Quiero, Quieres,” I love the drumming and catty vocals that are filled with so much emotion. The song just rocks, and it’s a great lead-in to the next tune, “The Catch,” on the “Salt” album. The singer, Beth, is an amazing musician. She can play crazy guitar parts while singing better than I can play the guitar alone.

16. Cracker – “Low”
This song has seemingly been around forever, as it’s really timeless. I like the mix of the acoustic, rhythm guitar with the electric, accent guitar. Those guitar bends during the verses give the song a dreamy feel, complimentary to the “like being stoned” chorus. The whole thing is borderline experimental, with the lyrics about cosmonauts and such and with the flanger on the vocals in the breakdown section.

The rest of the “Kerosene Hat” album leaves a lot to be desired. The second track sounds like a mix of INXS, The Refreshements, Blink 182, and Sex Pistols. Just stick with “Low.” It’s the first track on the album, for a reason.

17. Placebo – “Without You I’m Nothing”
Slow paced and heavy on the reverb, it’s like being in a tunnel. It’s kind of trippy, too, with a nice pair of headphones on, listening to the flange guitar pan back and forth during the bridge. “Without You I’m Nothing” is simply a gorgeous song. Some people are turned off by Brian Molko’s voice, but I just find it to be different. The original version version is on the album titled the same as the song, and an interesting version, found near the end of the “Black Market Music” album, features David Bowie on vocals.

18. AFI – “Love Like Winter”
The style of the “December Underground” album is weird. It’s like highly-produced poppy/synthy/punk/rock. Weird combo, but it’s catchy. Though I’ve been listening to this album on occasion for seven years now, hearing some high heels clicking against the sidewalk or tile floor with every step, I still think of the intro of this song. I love the rhythmic staccato of the bass during the verses, which is replaced by the guitar during the chorus. Also, I’m really adept at playing music by ear but AFI, quite often, takes a while to figure out on guitar or bass. The music flows naturally, but there are a lot of changes. It’s the same with figuring out some of Pete Yorn’s songs.