My First Album

As we start this newsletter journey, I felt the natural place to start was at the beginning. For me, the true joy of music, discovery, and finding my own taste started with Run-DMC’s Raising Hell.

Not only was was Raising Hell the first cassette I bought with my own (10th birthday) money – purchased at K-Mart in Lockport, NY shortly after release in 1986 – but it was the first album I listened to repeatedly, memorizing all of the lyrics. It was also the first record I bonded with friends over: my friend Alex and I would listen repeatedly in his bedroom or while playing Sega Genesis – we’d each take turns being Run or DMC, nailing our parts as we went through each song.

The love of Run-DMC evolved creatively as well – we eventually started writing our own raps as Run-PVD (as creative a name as you could expect from a 10-year old) with our friend Eric. We even performed in the hall for our 5th grade student teacher the following school year.

The discovery of Hip-Hop was universe expanding for me in many ways – especially after a childhood of exposure to classic and yacht rock via my parents. Run-DMC led me to LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer, the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, and the Fat Boys’ Crushin’. From there: Public Enemy, Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Erik B. & Rakim, Nas, BDP, 3rd Bass, Black Sheep, Digital Underground, the D.O.C., Geto Boys, Ice Cube, Young MC, and Digable Planets. I was hooked.

Highlights From My Focused Listen and Reflection


1. “Peter Piper” – 3:23

Wow, that drum and cowbell combo, sampled from Take Me To The Mardi Gras by Bob James, is so iconic. The lyrics, relying so heavily on nursery rhymes and fairy tales, made for a relatable introduction (for a 10-year old, at least) to the album.

2. “It’s Tricky” – 3:03

We are not thugs (we don’t use drugs) 
but you assume (on your own) 
They offer coke (and lots of dope) 
but we just leave it alone It’s like that y’all (y’all), 
but we don’t quit 
You keep on (rock!) shock! cause this is it…

As a ten year old, drugs and alcohol weren’t really a thing yet, but these lyrics did influence me as a young person. I didn’t drink alcohol until I was 21 and I’ve (still) never done drugs. Hardcore music and straight edge helped me get through the teenage years, but hearing this early on definitely had an impact.

Easily identifiable samples: Mickey by Toni Basil and My Sharona by The Knack.

3. “My Adidas” – 2:47

One of my favorites. This song definitely sparked my desire for Adidas in elementary school. For the record, I had black with white stripes.

Got a pair that I wear when I’m playin ball 
With the heel inside, make me 10 feet tall

4. “Walk This Way” – 5:09

Given my childhood to date, I was obviously familiar with Aerosmith, so this song was a weird mix of familiarity and something so new.

The Walk this Way video sums up my relationship with music and Run-DMC as a whole for me at that point in time: my parents were obviously Aerosmith playing their music loud and I was rebelling against it, experimenting with my own tastes, and putting my own spin on things. Such a good video.

5. “Is It Live” – 3:07

6. “Perfection” – 2:52

7. “Hit It Run” – 3:10

Now how devastating can an MC be? 
My name is Darryl, but you can call me D 
Hit it Run!

One of the hardest/toughest songs on the album. Run kicks it with some fast, aggressive beat boxing, while DMC’s rhymes don’t hold anything back… it’s certainly a precursor for modern day Hip-Hop music.

8. “Raising Hell” – 5:32

The title track continues the momentum started on Hit it Run — this time with an awesome metal-influenced guitar riff. Had Walk this Way not been a single, this track would have gotten way more attention.

The lyrics to start the track were some of my favorites:

Kings from Queens from Queens come Kings 
We’re raisin hell like a class when the lunchbell rings 
The king will be praised, and hell will be raised 
S-s-s-suckers try to faze him but D won’t be fazed 
So what’s your name? 
The King is me! 
Your High-ness, or His Majesty! 
Now you can debate, you c-c-c-concentrate 
But you can’t imitate D.M.C. the Great!

9. “You Be Illin’” – 3:26

Man, this song! I vividly remember doing this song with Alex in his dining room area. Such fun, corny lyrics… how can you not enjoy this song?

(To)day you won a ticket to see Doctor J 
Front row seat (in free!) no pay 
Radio in hand, snacks by feet 
Game’s about to start, you kickin’ popcorn to the beat 
You finally wake up, Doc’s gone to town 
Round his back, through the hoop, then you scream “Touchdown!” 
You be illin’

10. “Dumb Girl” – 3:31

11. “Son of Byford” – 0:27

12. “Proud to Be Black” – 3:15

Lyrics and other goodies from

Listen to Raising Hell on Apple Music:

Open in Apple Music

Listen to Raising Hell on Spotify:

Buy the Vinyl

Support your local record shop! But if not, here are a few online options:

What was your first record, cassette, or CD?

My November Playlist

I love this idea from Merlin Mann and Do By Friday: the “Follow Your Nose” playlist…

  1. Pick a song you love and start a playlist
  2. Go to the artist’s page and view the Related Artists/Fans Also Like section – then pick a group you aren’t familiar with…
  3. Go to their page and start listening to their top songs & add one you like to your playlist.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 from that artist page, building out your playlist until you are bored or hit an artist where you can’t do #2.

Almost like a choose your own music musical adventure. So much fun!

Here’s my first attempt in Apple Music.

November, without a blush

  1. Without a Blush by Hatchie
  2. Lucky Girl by Fazerdaze
  3. Show Me How by Men I Trust
  4. Persephone by Yumi Zouma
  5. Shadow by Wild Nothing
  6. Nausea by Craft Spells
  7. Dreaming by Seapony
  8. Please Be My Third Eye by La Sera
  9. Found Love in a Graveyard by Veronica Falls
  10. Capricornia by Allo Darlin’

Feel free to follow me on Apple Music. I’d love to see and listen to your playlists!

My Favorite Recent Releases

Short Songs for End Times by The Casket Lottery (Listen)

Their first album since 2012. I vaguely remember seeing this band when we lived in Seattle in the early 2000s, though I wasn’t ever a super fan. This release however, was exactly what I needed at the moment it game out. Their sound is a good mix of post-hardcore and emo — think the almgamation of The Get Up Kids, Sparta, Thrice, Snapcase, and Grade. I only wish more of the bands I loved in the 90s and early 2000s released new, better recorded material like The Casket Lottery.

Side note: I rediscovered the band Small Brown Bike while listening to this, so that’s a bonus. They’ve been on rotation ever since. Check out The River Bedand Dead Reckoning.

Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks (Listen)

Not officially out until 2021, but based on the collection of singles that have been released, I’d guess this album will be on many “Best of 2021” lists. Part bedroom indie pop, part R&B… all super talented songwriter.

Closer Than They Appear by Lyric Jones (Listen)

I love smooth jazzy beats and loops — classic hip hop. Lyric Jones delivers that and more on one of my favorite hip hop releases from 2020.

Hopefully you enjoyed the first issue! Feel free to send me feedback, questions, ideas — anything. I’d also love if you shared this newsletter with anyone you think would enjoy and encourage them to subscribe.

Until next month! (I’ll be tackling my “Best of 2020” picks next issue.)