10 albums that changed the life of Pulitzer prize-winning author and Star Trek showrunner Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon headshot
(Image credit: Gregg DeGuire)

Michael Chabon has a nasty habit – a wallet-draining vinyl obsession that well into its fifth decade continues to burn with the intensity of a thousand solar flares. Thankfully, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of modern classics like Telegraph Avenue (set in a fictitious used-record store) – and the showrunner for Star Trek: Picard – has the means to support his passion.

“There’s simply no comparison to two good speakers, a turntable and a cartridge,” he tells Classic Rock. We asked Michael to share his 10 essential slices.


Various: Themes Like Old Times (1969)

When I was four my dad took me to the library and picked this collection of old-time radio themes out and we brought it home. This was the world of his childhood and it all came pouring out of the cloth-covered speaker grills of our GE record player. It was an incredibly important moment because I saw that with a record, you could connect to somebody else’s life in another place and another time.

Grand Funk Railroad: The Loco-Motion, 7-inch (1974)

The original was way before my time but this cover version by Grand Funk Railroad was the first 45 that I bought myself. I remember sitting in my room and listening to that thing over and over again. After this I began saving my money and buying more 45s.

Queen: A Night At The Opera (1975)

This is where I progressed from 45s to albums. It was gatefold, with the lyrics printed on the inside and you could just sit there poring over them and trying to figure who Freddie might be talking about on songs like Death On Two Legs. It was a deep pool to jump into for a first album listening experience.

Bruce Springsteen: Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)

The picture of him on the cover was a really interesting moment in rock music. He looked like he had just rolled out of bed and had his picture taken in front of stuff until they took that one. Sonically, Bruce tears it up with his guitar playing in a way that I don’t feel that he ever did before or since.

The Clash: London Calling (1975)

If somebody had given me that record without telling me this was a punk rock band, I wouldn’t have known. It’s what we’d now call ‘classic rock’. Songs like Spanish Bombs had me wondering what the song was about, how it related to the Spanish Civil War and why was Joe singing about it? You know how you listen to a record so many times that when one song ends, the next song is already getting cued-up in your mind? This is one of those records for me.

Elvis Costello: Get Happy!! (1980)

The lyrics focused on relationships between men and women going bad in all kinds of ways, but they were so cryptic and enigmatic. That was sort of a window into what the adult world was going to be like and what relationships were going to be like and I started looking at the adults around me in a more critical way, as you do when you get to be 16 or 17.

The Velvet Underground: Loaded (1970)

Loaded had Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll which, to me, are the two of the greatest songs ever about rock itself and about what it is and how it feels to listen to it.

Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue (1959)

In 1987 I had moved into this house in Laguna Beach, California and, tragically, my record collection had gone missing. I went into this second-hand store and there was a copy of Kind Of Blue sitting there. I bought it because it was going to be the only record I’d have for a while and it became the soundtrack to that period of my life.

The Pretenders: Pretenders (1980)

This is one of the most astonishing debut albums in the history of music. On songs like Tattooed Love Boys you’re wondering, “Who is Chrissie (Hynde) singing about when she says, “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for?’” That was just one of those obsessive listening records for me.

Big Star: #1 Record/Radio City (compilation, 1978)

I tracked down this double album, but I didn’t have a turntable at the time, so I rented a record player and speakers, just so I could listen to the first two Big Star records! [laughs] I was so hungry to hear what I knew I was going to love, and I did. It’s like pop rock made by fans of pop rock. That’s its essence.

This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 209, in May 2015.

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