Hey, I’m Jittery Jeff. I play bass and sing in Capitalist Kids. This was a tricky task, but I tried to take the prompt seriously. I tried to list not three records that would make me look cool, but three records that shaped me as a music lover. I apologize for my discursive loquacity.
Beatles – Past Masters Volume II
So yeah, I kind of have to start with the Beatles. I was raised with Christianity, and with the Beatles, but the Beatles are the only religion I still follow. The music that resulted from that group of young Liverpudlians meeting and mind-melding is nothing short of miraculous.
In the early days of compact discs, the Fab Four’s catalogue was all finally released in America in the proper sequence, as it had originally been in Britain. Over there they held the belief that including a single on an album was not really cricket, so all the singles remained separate. So Past Masters Vols. I & II are all the singles collected on CD. I could’ve just as easily picked Help, or really any Beatles album, since there’s no way to remember which I technically heard first, but this collection hit my developing young brain with “Day Tripper,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Paperback Writer,” “Rain,” “Lady Madonna,” – then skip one George Harrison track, and you’re on “Hey fucking Jude.” How is a kid’s life going to be the same after that barrage? That’s up there with the moon landing in terms of defining your perception of what the human race is capable of.
I have a new jangly power-pop band called NITE SOBS, and we try to let our Beatles worship shine through. We don’t have the mastery of exotic chords we would need to write like them, but we sing as many three-part harmonies as we can. I like to describe us as sounding like the Beatles if the Beatles weren’t talented. But talent aside, it’s difficult to actually “sound like the Beatles” because their sound never stood still. I think that’s hopefully something they instilled in me at that formative age – strive to be inventive. Even if reach exceeds grasp, it’s good to have squadgoals.
Green Day – Dookie
Shocker. This one is a no-brainer because it hit when I was fourteen, and quite literally changed my life. Who knows how my path would have gone if I hadn’t spent so much of it post-Dookie trying to emulate Green Day? No, no, I mustn’t blame Billie Joe and the boys for my life. But yeah, this album is a solid gold masterpiece that still holds up beautifully, thanks to Rob Cavallo’s masterful production. When I heard the powerful angsty attack those songs have – all without ever sacrificing a bit of melody – well, that was all I wanted out of music from then on. I learned to play bass by playing along in my room to Dookie and its follow-up Insomniac every day after school, which is why I have ripped off Mike Dirnt’s style so much. He’s the reason I play with a pick instead of fingering like a real bassist. But I am not the slightest bit mad, because he is great. I shook his hand once. But I digress.
The other impact of that album, which can’t be overstated, is that it opened up a world of underground music. Once you heard Dookie, then you found out Green Day had records before that, you discovered Lookout Records, and that meant you discovered Screeching Weasel, the Mr. T Experience, Groovie Ghoulies, and so much more. [Side note: It pains me a little that I couldn’t devote one of my three slots to MTX’s Love is Dead here, but I have done a whole podcast appearance talking about that album and that band’s greatness, so they are definitely another major thread of the Lookout life-change tapestry.] After being hipped to all that wonderful underground pop-punk, you realized that playing music for fun as a passion was a noble pursuit, and it wasn’t about getting on MTV or any of that. (Also, once you started to meet other kids into punk, you would be informed that it was not cool to like Dookie; one was only supposed to like the first two records, or claim to anyway.)
Green Day has done so many embarrassing things since then, but I still have a poster of them on my wall. It’s a poster for a show at Madison Square Garden, which is not a show I attended. I just have it because it happens to feature the first photograph I ever saw of Green Day in the local newspaper. That image altered my brain. I had never seen anybody so cool.
They Might Be Giants – The Spine
This was the first They Might Be Giants album I ever bought, and it holds the most special place in my heart. It wasn’t my first exposure to the band; that would have been the song “Mammal,” which was included on a compilation that came bundled with the SEGA CD console in 1993. I wore that song out, but I was so dumb at that age that it never occurred to me to seek out the band’s other music. But a decade later I picked up the Spine, and TMBG has been my favorite band ever since. It’s like there are all these other bands that I absolutely love, and then there is TMBG just somehow in a category of their own.
For my money, John Linnell is the world’s greatest living songwriter. But the other John, Mr. Flansburg, holds his own on this record. Having a group with two songwriters who are constantly trying to reimagine what a pop song can be with every new composition could easily lead to a disjointed collection of songs that just happen to be on the same disc. But this album really has a feel that permeates it – like a color, if you will. Linnell’s voice, Danny Weinkauf’s basslines, Pat Dillet’s producing hand – it’s all flawless.
I like a little humor in my music, and TMBG’s tunes are regularly hilarious while also being masterpieces of chords and melody. For example, track no.4, “Wearing a Raincoat” contains the lyric “turning to drugs to help you sleep/ will only lead to sleep/ and sleeping is a gateway drug/ to being awake again.” I remember blasting this song in my kitchen trying to get my roommates to understand how important it all was.
This album changed my life by just raising the bar. Devouring their discography made me realize that nothing I had ever written had actually been that good, and it led me to become dissatisfied, which is probably a good thing for growth, even if it feels frustrating. The Spine made me an eternal fan, and that’s an enviable thing to be, because the Johns crank out music at a staggering pace, and manage to keep topping themselves all these years later.
The Capitalist Kids is a punk rock band from Austin, Texas, USA.