A friend recently tagged me in his response to a Facebook meme I had no choice but to follow: The “25 Albums” meme. I do recognize that nostalgia greatly influences what I’ve chosen, but bear with me. Because really: It’s not that I think The Postal Service is better than the Rolling Stones. It’s that I heard the Postal Service instead of the Stones when I was ready to be influenced.
And there are a lot of great albums which did influence me which I could’ve added to the list but didn’t because they didn’t come to mind before I hit the limit of the meme. So rest assured that I realize albums like The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” are just flat out better than, say, Letters to Cleo’s “Aurora Gory Alice” (which I don’t list but do mention). These albums are just apparently less likely to get stuck on repeat in my head as I process internet memes. Wha’cha gonna do?
Per my friend’s post, here’s how the list works:
“Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of, they musically shaped your world. They stood up, they lasted, they mattered. They still matter, in some way (even if only in memory). Doesn’t have to be THE 25. Just THE 25 RIGHT NOW, as memory and listening demand.”
My Top 25 Most Influential Albums
1. Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
After growing up listening to Amy Grant and a lot of Oldies, “Jagged Little Pill” was the first secular CD I ever purchased. (The first secular *album* I ever purchased was Ace of Base’s “The Sign,” which I bought on cassette tape from a Meijer’s grocery store on a trip home from Michigan with my grandmother when I was in 6th grade.) I have always and probably will always love this CD. From “All I Really Want’s” growling drive for peace to “Mary Jane’s” haunting plea for survival, this is a lyrical masterpiece of the then burgeoning Grrl Power artistic movement* of chick folk melting into chick alt-rock. I still thrill at the sound of every last rant, whine, cry, and wheeze of comeuppance. (*Yes. I know. I meant the *1990s* version.)
I also wish I had known better at 14 than to pay $18 for it at Sam Goody.
I’m torn on these two as I like them both pretty much equally and they stand shoulder to shoulder as far as their influence on me.
On the one hand there’s Abbey Road’s contributions of “Come Together,” “Because,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” You simply cannot deny the power of an album that introduces you to both a man who keeps a ten bob note up his nose, and a woman with a habit of entering homes through unconventional means via the protection of costly flatware. Abby Road could’ve been a one-sider featuring only “Come Together” and still been a rock classic, you know?
But where would we be without “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “Blackbird,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the achingly hippie-sexy “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?,” and “Sexy Sadie” from the White Album? She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand indeed. Kudos to the most/least successful firearm marketing campaign ever conceived.
I’m “not a girl who misses much,” including the necessity of including the existence of the song “Honey Pie” on a Top 25 Albums list. And Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2003 “Top 500 Albums of All Time” list pegs the White Album at #10 and Abbey Road at #14, so I guess errbody keeps these two kinda close.
3. The Beatles – Revolver
“Even though you know what you know/ I know that I’m ready to leave/ ‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”
Something about listening to this album just always made me feel cool. Made me feel connected to music. Made me feel like I had tapped into that thing, whatever it was, that made the ever present “then” so much better than “now.” Especially after I received it on vinyl for Christmas in 8th grade and could lay back on my bedroom floor and rock out to every last pop and crackle the beautiful black disc afforded. This album? This is my number one album. Ever. Of all time. Love me, love my Revolver.
4. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
“For the benefit of Mr. Kite/ There will be a show tonight on trampoline./ The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo-Fanques Fair, what a scene!”
Welcome to *drum roll please* Rolling Stone’s #1 Album of All Time. You’ve got LSD, men in shiny nautical uniforms, helpful friends, good mornings, and holes being fixed right and left. When you play this album you just– you’ve really just got to admit it’s getting better- a little better all the time- and that drugs plus mustaches make for some seriously great tunes.
5. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs
I first started listening to Ben Folds in college when my then boyfriend introduced me to the work of Ben Folds Five. “Rockin’…” came out the fall of my sophomore year (on 9/11, no less) and was an instant fave. I was so proud of myself for finally getting the claps right on “Annie Waits,” and for finally not crying during “The Luckiest,” possibly one of the most beautiful modern love songs I’ve ever heard. (Click here for lyrics) And you haven’t experienced the ache of a life forgotten- in song form- until you’ve heard “Fred Jones, Pt. 2.” Brilliant album. Fun and funny, touching, memorable, goofy, and genius.
6. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen
You want songs about abortion? We got songs about abortion. You want songs about hippie chicks with monosyllabic names? We got songs about hippie chicks with monosyllabic names. You want songs about angry dwarves and solemn faces? We got those too. Hell- we got 200 solemn faces! Another classic album that reminds me of college. And concerts. And road trips. And sing alongs around the piano. And boyfriends. And break ups. And ex boyfriends. And being 19 again. And that I don’t ever have to be 19 again…
In a true and lasting testament to my having begun serving my time in a liberal arts college in the early 2000s, when Napster reigned supreme and Morpheus was around as a back up when the first shudders of the RIAA’s lameassness began to strike: I never owned either of these albums outright. Just had gobs of mp3s of their songs- album versions, remastered versions, “clean” radio versions- in tidy yellow folders on my computer under the master heading of “Guys.” (As opposed to my other master headings of “Gals,” “Soundtracks,” “Diverse,” “Spoken Word,” “Comedy”, “Burn for Friends,” and “Chill”…)
I eventually burned copies of both full albums onto CDs, but my favorite Cake discs were the ones that combined the best of both albums onto single discs, alongside filler tunes from They Might Be Giants.
I first started listening to Cake in high school, but it wasn’t until college that they really stuck in my craw. But, you know, in a good way. I’ve been told they’re not as much fun to listen to *quality-wise* in concert because of John McCrea’s sprechstimme-y approach to the songs. I long for an opportunity to verify this for myself. From the front row. With friends. :D
9. Clem Snide – The Ghost of Fashion
I was first introduced to Clem Snide when lead singer Eef Barzelay and band member Pete “Can-Make-An-Instrument-Out-of-Anything-Then-Use-It-To-Create-Haunting-Melodies” Fitzpatrick opened for Ben Folds in Madison in 2001. I dug their sound from the get go, but it wasn’t until 2002 when I had my first (and last) crush on a hipster that I realized the gold I’d stumbled upon in hearing this group.
So… the blushing truth behind my greatest musical discovery? I met a guy who looked like a cross between Eef Barzelay and Bob Saget while attending a party hosted by an actor I barely knew at an apartment downtown. A party full of import beers, girls puking in crushed velvet elevators, and hipsters before there were hipsters. I felt So. Cool. And this guy? This cute guy who told people at the party he was from Haifa? Who drove a forklift and cried during the scene in The Royal Tenenbaums when Richie meets Margot at the bus station? This guy *loved* Clem Snide. So I gave them a different kind of listen.
That different kind of listen completely remolded my taste in music for the rest of my life, and shaped not only my social life in college, but shifted the guys I liked, the poetry I read, the essays I wrote, the dreams I had, to something more holdable, more beautiful, more… me. Thank you Andrew James John K. No matter where you’re from, or how many middle names you really have.
10. Clem Snide – Your Favorite Music
Loneliness finds her own way
Cause her skin is so soft
I’m cutting my teeth on her shoulders
And cracking my knuckles while holding her hand…
Loneliness finds her own way
For her I won’t be afraid
I’m holding on to her picture
Cause her good looks have faded from all those parades
11. The Cranberries – No Need to Argue
Dolores O’Riordan goes blonde for this one, but fret not: It’s even more kickass than “Everybody Else Is Doing It.” I rocked the eff out to this one in high school. If I had had my license my sophomore year of high school, “Zombie” would’ve been my driving song. Now I listen to it more for songs like “The Icicle Melts” and “Daffodil Lament.” I guess when the hardest decisions you’ve had to make thus far in life involve choosing electives over Study Halls it’s hard to identify with lyrics like “All night long, laid on my pillow./ These things are wrong./ I can’t sleep here./ I have decided to leave you forever.” But oh how I found ways to identify with them over the years…
12. Damien Rice – O
The first time I heard a song off this album I was at the home of an area actor/musician for the kind of party I had never before been invited to and haven’t been since. The kind of party that’s not a party. More of a gathering. A gathering of folks. Folks who are all cooler and more talented than me at everything we have in common, and even more so at everything we don’t. We drank beer. We drank wine. We smoked cigarette after cigarette on the balcony. We ate chocolate syrup straight from the bottle, off each other’s skin, from unwashed spoons. And I listened. A lot.
There was this impromptu jam session at this particular party in which instruments magically appeared from nowhere as voices I’d only ever heard speak began harmonizing to songs I always wished I knew. One girl there in that circle in the darkened dining room… one girl there sang “Volcano.” Acapella? With a guitar? I can’t remember if there was music behind her voice or merely the hush of our collective awe, but I never forgot the song.
Thank you, “O,” for getting me through the heartache of my last month in California. It meant the world to me.
13. Fiona Apple – Tidal
I wrote about her gig on the Jimmy Kimmel show after I watched her perform for his taping in the parking lot behind his studio. Basically the review says she’s spastic. Beautiful and fragile and strong, but broken and utterly, utterly spastic. I should really post that somewhere… (ETA: Finally found it, finally posted it.)
I dug, and continue to dig, “Tidal” the most out of all three of her albums because it has the greatest number of songs that “work” for me, though really I enjoy everything she’s done. (Her rendition of “Sally’s Song” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is unbelievably sad and sultry.) This album is really all about “Never Is A Promise” as far as I’m concerned. “Never is a promise, and you can’t afford to lie…”
14. Jude – No One Is Really Beautiful (very closely tied with 430 N. Harper Ave.)
The same boyfriend who turned me on to Ben Folds also got me into Jude. I’ll never forget driving with him one Fall to see Jude play at the Cafe Montmarte in Madison (Michelle Branch was the opening act, can you believe it?) only to be turned away at the door because it was a 21+ show, a fact conveniently missing from all the show’s promo details. But never fear, comrades. Jude’s tour manager, and then Jude himself, came outside and got me into the gig after learning my bf ran a website of tabs and chords for Jude’s tunes.
Fast forward a day and the bf and I are driving to Ann Arbor, MI to see Jude perform again, this time getting in for free along with an invite to have a few beers with the band on the tour bus. We didn’t stay longer than maybe an hour, though, as we had the drive back to Milwaukee ahead of us that same night. It really was just one of the coolest music related experiences I think I’ve ever had.
Every song on “No One…” is great, but I think I like “The Asshole Song” most of all now. Ah but “You Mama You” is also pretty groovy… Hm. If you can find a copy to buy, rip, whatever: Do so. The songs are catchy enough that you’re bound to like at least a few, well penned enough that you’re bound to appreciate the lyrics that keep getting stuck in your head, and beautifully played enough that you won’t mind hearing yourself humming these songs incessantly after your first full-disc run through.
15. Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See
I’m a bit torn on including this one. Like– Mazzy Star? Really? I only get to list 25 albums and I choose to include “So Tonight That I Might See”?
I think I toss groups like Mazzy Star into the same mix as The Murmurs and Letters to Cleo and their ilk when I think back on “that era of influence.” Kinda like how I lump Citizen King and Soul Coughing together in my head, even though their sounds and approaches were fairly different. It’s like they’re on the same shelf in my mind; I just can’t list them all here. It’s not that they necessarily sound the same or make me feel the same way, it’s just that they– well they just go together, okay? You’ve got me all defensive over here. Geez…
16. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Between “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and “Cast No Shadow,” this album was an easy pick for me to include on this list. Great modern rock. Great music in general. It takes me back in a way few other albums can, and I’m almost always in the mood for a listen (though I’ve been known to skip over the lagging instrumentals of “Champagne Supernova” to give “She’s Electric” another listen before changing the CD). Back in the day I thought Liam Gallagher was just the cutest stinkin’ thing ever, after John Lennon and Chris O’Donnell of course, and singing along to these songs made me feel cool enough to be at least nineteen, maybe twenty.
17. Phranc – Folksinger
Phranc could’ve released this with only “Female Mudwrestling” and “Amazons” and it would’ve been a worthwhile record. The rest of the tunes are just icing on the cake. The very, very gay cake. “Lifelover” is a nice touch musically, and a chorus of (presumably) lesbians singing along with a crooning Jewish bulldyke in a crew cut about how they “don’t like female mudwrestling” might serve up more estrogen than some listeners might prefer. *shrugs* To each their own I guess. Personally I dig the hell out of it, though I’m generally more of a Melissa Etheridge/k.d. lang kind of gal. lang’s cover of “Hallelujah”? Priceless. Utterly priceless.
Ooh shoot. Should I have made Alix Olson’s “Built Like That” my #17? There really aren’t enough lesbian artists on this list considering how many have been in constant rotation on my cd player/iTunes for the past 10 years…
18. Poe – Haunted
Before we begin: GO BUY MARK DANIELEWSKI’S “HOUSE OF LEAVES” RIGHT NOW. “House of Leaves,” much like “Haunted,” is not for the feint of heart nor the short of attention span. Sure you can find something neat in the mere concept of the novel or of the album, and perhaps even get a kick out of a line or two in them. But to really fall in love with either you’ve got to be willing to commit to, and then be torn apart by both.
This album is glorious on its own; in an indie way, in a creative way, in a creepy way, in a cohesive story way. It’s just not until you read Poe’s brother’s “House of Leaves” with this playing in the background, however, that you are forced to smack yourself in the forehead at how totally and purely and unadulteratedly awesome this album is not only in its artistic integrity but in its massive scope. That and the “Hey Pretty” video is dead sexy.
19. Poe – Hello
Though “Hello” was released the same year as Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” and via it’s singles can easily (although inaccurately, in my opinion) be lumped into the same “angry woman bitching about men” genre, it has a distinctly heavier “alternative rock” feel to it which I greatly admire. I didn’t really discover this album until 1997 when I was 15. I was madly in love with “Angry Johnny” and “Choking the Cherry,” (Emo much?), but it wasn’t until college that “That Day” hit me. And it wasn’t until a peacefully sad break up that “Fly Away” busted my shit. That “Fly Away,” man. That’s some real music right there. YouTube it. It’s devastating.
20. The Postal Service – Give Up
I hung out with a lot of writers, actors, communists, homosexuals, wiccans, stoners, homeschoolers and democrats in college. And boy do those guys know how to pick good up-and-coming bands. “Give Up” came out my junior year of college and was immediately the most burned album amongst my comrades and me. And when we heard TPS was playing at MSOE like a month later? Dude. We were so there. I wore rainbow belted blue pants from Ragstock to that show and danced my little heart out with moves I couldn’t dredge up now again if I tried. That’s where I first heard Andrew Bird, incidentally. He was one of two opening acts. Him and The Muldoons. I love me some Andrew Bird. I love me some Postal Service. I think I have an autographed copy of “Give Up” somewhere actually. I– I should really find that…
I don’t know what I can really say about Sigur Rós except that to love them is to– is to love them? I guess…?
I first heard them in 2000, my freshman year of college. I was heavy into downloading music at the time and remember I was downloading some Boards of Canada or Mira Calix or something in that vein from somebody with a fast connection speed, so I checked out that user’s library and they had all these songs by this group whose name I couldn’t pronounce. I grabbed a few songs, had a listen, and was hooked. If I did drugs, this is what I’d do them to.
If you’ve got the time, have a listen to them on YouTube so you can take a peek at some of their videos as well. I promise they’ll give you a renewed interest in Iceland. And if you just want to ease into the sound? Nice and sweet and simple like? Want to rest? Want to just lay down all hushed like and drown in soft, soft sounds? Listen to “Staralfur” from “Ágætis byrjun” and sail on. It’s pretty mellow. It’s also only one aspect of their sound, which is quite diverse and… cold? Tight? Quiet? White? Chilly? Sad?
Be sure to check their website for tunes before putting down dough on their music, however. They keep a pretty sizable number of their tracks available for downloading for free on there. Album cuts, live stuff- all there. Have at it. (They are worth a good spend, though. For real.)
22. Soundgarden – Superunknown
And now for something completely different. This was and is my only real “hard” album that I enjoy cover to cover. I’m not much for harder rock tunes, and I know by many accounts even this wouldn’t count, but for an Erin McKeown fan: “Superunknown” is a bit of a stretch.
“Black Hole Sun” was, like, the coolest thing in the world in seventh grade. If you knew the lyrics you were hot shit. If you knew the video? Oh man. You were untouchable. Luckily there’s more to this album than the thing in it that pulls in 12 year olds. That’s when it meant the most to me- from age 12 to about age 15- but it still gets me going even today. “Kickstand” is great for when you’re putting on make-up to go someplace where you know you can’t sit on any of the chairs. “Spoonman” is great for when you’re drinking room temperature beer at clubs where everyone is convinced they’re cooler than you when you know precisely the opposite to be true. “Fell On Black Days” is great for whenever. Just– whenever.
There’s a lot of overlap in the track listings on these two CDS, the first albums from singers/ songwriters/ twins/ Canadians/ lesbians Tegan and Sara Quin, so I’m including both as #23.
I don’t remember when I first started listening to them. Some time in college, I suppose, since that seems to be the era in my musical history in which I am irredeemably stuck. At the time I was big into feminist artists, female folk singers, chick rockers. And if they were lesbians– all the better. But with these two– Twin lesbians? From Canada?! JACKPOT! I don’t know where this musical attraction came from, to tell you the truth. I like guys. I really do. But boy nobody can rock out vocally to a guitar quite like a woman with a motive and an alibi. Especially if the motive involves your girlfriend…
I don’t listen to them quite as much any more, though I do enjoy watching their videos on YouTube, something I couldn’t do back when they first entered my sphere. (No, James: that is not a euphemism.) I do still dig the sound, but I feel like the part of me that really got into that kind of throaty indie pop was left behind in college, pinned to the shelf above my desk alongside play tickets, lighting project assignments, and phone numbers given to me by boys I had no intention of calling but lacked the guts to turn away when they asked me to call them sometime.
“Fear is the colour you’ve all exposed./Now I gotta get up here/ And prove the importance of my clothes,/ Of my pose/ I suppose/ Again.”
24. Tori Amos – Boys for Pele
This is one of those albums that’s got so much on it that’s so diverse in sound, instrumentation, lyrical stylings, etc. from one track to the next that if I’m not in the mood for one song, I can almost guarantee I’ll be in the mood for another. It satisfies most of my thirsts, and I like that in a “Top 25 Albums” album.
You’ve got your easier-to-break-into songs like “Caught A Lite Sneeze” and “Father Lucifer,” your shorties like “Agent Orange,” “Mr. Zebra,” and the choral cut of “Way Down,” and the indie film waiting to be born out of “Little Amsterdam.” In fact… That’s not a bad idea. Who’s reading this who can make a movie happen? I’m ready to be buried with a butter bean bouquet.
In the meantime, YouTube videos from Tori’s “Fade to Red” dvd to watch videos for these tunes, featuring commentary from the artist on the songs and videos. Fascinating stuff.
25. Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
I *might* be mistaken on which album it was, but I *think* my high school boyfriend bought me this CD for my 17th birthday. Either this one or “From the Choirgirl Hotel.” But I *think* it was this one. I’m almost always in the mood for some Tori, and “Little Earthquakes” is the easiest one for me to jump right into. “Boys for Pele” I kind of have to ease myself into over time. Flip back and forth between tracks. Work myself up for it. But this one I pop in and I’m rightthere. “Happy Phantom”? Incredible. “Crucify,” “Silent All These Years,” and “Precious Things”? Poetry. “Me and a Gun”? Haunting. This one was a favorite as early as the first time I heard “Crucify” on the radio, and remains high on my list of must-recommends.
There it is. My Top 25 Albums. Now go write yours and then tag me! I’m dying to read what makes your lists. ;D
ETA: As I read friends’ lists I’m seeing a lot of albums that definitely deserve a home on my own list. I’m including them as Runners Up, but they’re more influential than just the “honorable mention” feel the title of Runners Up gives them. Perhaps I should expand this to include my Top 30 or Top 50 Most Influential Albums? At any rate- here they are, once again in alphabetical order by artist/band, my “Other Albums I Thought Of Too Late To Include”:
1. Amy Grant – Heart In Motion
2. Indigo Girls – Shaming of the Sun
4. Paula Cole – This Fire