Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The 15

Senor presented me with this project from Facebook, and I enjoyed reading his answers so much that I decided to give it a go myself. I posted Senor's answers at the end of this post, if you are interested in getting to know him a little better (assuming you don't already).


Think of 15 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 musically shaped your world.

Please note that this is not necessarily a "15 All-Time Favorite Albums" list. Some of these would surely be on THAT list, but some would not (and I think you'll see why.) If you want to do a list of favorites, be my guest.

HERE ARE MY ANSWERS, in roughly autobiographical order:

1. 1988-- Milli Vanilli "All Or Nothing"-- My first boyfriend played "Girl You Know It's True" on the phone for me in 6th grade. I wonder where you are today, Bobby Wolfe... I went out and asked a friend who sang it. "Bobby Brown." So, officially, Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel" was the first album (on cassette, of course) that I ever bought, only to find that "Girl You Know It's True" was not on it. My second cassette, then, was "All Or Nothing", I listened to it a lot. It was the first time music meant something, even though I didn't know what that something was.

2. 1988-- Paula Abdul "Forever Your Girl"-- Hey Baby! You gotta remember!! About the time of this album's release, I discovered that my friends liked music that I had never heard. I hadn't been paying attention. I'd been busy listening to Blue Oyster Cult, The Eagles, and Jethro Tull on my dad's stations. So I embraced "Forever Your Girl" with all the fervor a 10 year old can muster and insisted that the next time my friends demonstrated that they knew all the words to "Cold Hearted Snake", I would be able to sing along. I believe my discovery of this album also marked the first time I really understood that I wasn't quite fitting in.

3. 1990-- Gloria Estefan "Cuts Both Ways"-- My mom loved Gloria. We listened to it driving to and from my new school in 7th grade and beyond. It was the sound of mom's day to drive carpool. I was beginning to discover that love does, indeed, cut both ways.

4. Paul Simon "Graceland"-- It was released in 1986, but I remember it best as the soundtrack of road trips to Lake Havasu with my parents. This album was not in regular circulation, at least the way that I experienced it. It only came out when there was a long way to go. It was the sound of getting away at a time when I was just beginning to appreciate the great relief that comes with getting away and going back to things that have been the same since you were old enough to remember them. And while I haven't been to "The River" in about 15 years, I know that it's exactly the same as we left it, and I can see the expanse of desert stretching out before us every time I hear "Graceland".

5. "Top Gun", the soundtrack-- Another 1986 release (good year!) that didn't make it's way into my life until a bit later, due to adult themes, I suppose. It was really the "Top Gun Anthem" that brought me to this album by way of dance class. My teacher used the anthem every week during warm ups along with the instrumental piece from "Rain Man". My brother has called "Top Gun" the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" of our generation, and I guess that makes the "Top Gun Anthem" our generation's "Moon River"? Yeah, I'd say that's about right.

6. "Dirty Dancing", the soundtrack-- Again, I was too young for the 1987 release of this movie and soundtrack, but by '90 and '91 I was fully obsessed with both. It was the sound of longing. As a dancer and a preteen with no one to love, I was Baby, and I spent many summers wondering why real people don't have summer romances like that. I listened to this on my Walkman while my friends listened to whatever they listened to on their Walkman (We called this hanging out? Even less personal than e-mail, huh?), and we all dreamt that things would happen for us someday... once our acne went away, our hair decided whether it was going to be curly or straight, our boobs grew in, and we started looking good in cut-off jeans and tied up blouses... I never did have a summer romance as good as my romance with this album.

7. Tie: "Footloose" and "Flashdance", the soundtracks-- I came to these movies many years after the soundtracks had already made their places in my life. They played a role similar to "Dirty Dancing", except these two seemed to speak to my young wild side as opposed to my inner heartbroken sadsack. They inspired a level of rebellion that I have still never accomplished, but I can still dream.

8. "RENT", the soundtrack-- Freshman year of college. I didn't like it at first, but my theatre school classmates were OBSESSED to a level that I couldn't resist. I listened to it again, and it began to grow on me. And then it clicked. And I was obsessed, too, though not in all caps like the others. It counteracted the preppy, good girl thing I had going but was busy loathing about myself at that time. By sophomore year I was trying out a little bit of bad girlness (you wouldn't think so if you ever knew a true bad girl, but it was the best I could do), and I wasn't getting any closer to belonging in the Life Cafe. It eventually wore off, and the people who still loved it started to bug me the appropriate amount, but I cannot deny the power of the album that made even Me think that heroin, prostitution, and homelessness were bitchin'!

9. Ozomatli "Ozomatli"-- 1998-- Between my sophomore year at USC and my year in Englad was the summer I worked at Tower Records. I was a college student and sorority girl who spent every night until midnight with stoners and punks and rastas and homies and I loved every minute of it. I was in love with my manager, we were sneaking around, the security guy got pot poisoning from brownies that someone brought in, and I learned to rock it a little harder. Ozomatli came around every three hours or so, and it just made me want to jump. I brought it into a party one night because the party could have used a little more jump, and it got left behind. I have yet to replace it, but I always intend to... I will one day.

10. Frank Sinatra "The Very Best of Frank Sinatra"-- Released in 1997, this two-disc best-of album became a fixture in my life when I went to England to study abroad. I arrived in my dorm room, turned on a radiator for the first time, unpacked my one suit-case and loaded up my discman with the one thing I knew could make me feel at home: Frank. "A Foggy Day in Londontown" was the first song I listened to, and the on-the-noseness made me feel like I understood why I was there, even though now I know I didn't have a clue. Frank's voice filled up that concrete room in a way that no rock or pop could. It was unapologetically American in a way that I couldn't quite dare to be-- yet it was still unoffensive, which I was striving so hard to be. It set a tone for me. I just recently found the second disc, which I thought I had lost long ago, and though I don't listen to it much, I feel such relief that they are there safely in their box if I ever need them.

11. David Grey "White Ladder"-- I was introduced to David Grey by my last boyfriend before we broke up. It sounded as grown-up as he made me feel. It was sophisticated in a way that I wanted to be for him and with him. It filled many a long drive to his apartment and back. It filled many a long wait for him to drive to my apartment (my first apartment by myself!). And then we broke up, and I listened to it even more than ever. Sometimes it helped me recapture the feeling of having him there. Sometimes it expressed the hopelessness I felt without him. And sometimes, though rarely, it made me feel like I might someday have that again with someone. Turns out I did. With him. This album now sounds like sweet surrender, sweet relief, and sweet understanding. When I hear this album now, it sounds like the struggle and triumph that I used to hear in "Dirty Dancing" and "Footloose" and "Flashdance"-- except this time it was MY soundtrack and OUR story instead of someone else's. It's our happy ending because it was also our beginning.

12. White Stripes "White Blood Cells"-- Also brought to me by Senor. It was there alongside David Grey the whole way, only I used this album when I was bein' bad or mad. What's a 23 year old to do when she still lives at home but wants to have her first sleepover with a boy? Lie about a girl's night at Ashley's, of course. And then blast White Stripes the whole way to Senor's. Likewise, when we broke up, this album got blasted when I was mad at him or me or the injustice of it all. Unlike David Grey, though, this album didn't so much come out the other side. Once we got back together, the anger was gone, and then sneaking around was over, and the songs almost made me uncomfortable in the way they reminded me of all that. They got me through one of the most emotionally violent periods in my life, and I love them for it, but I don't like them now interrupting the peace. Well, maybe once in a while...

13. Dar Williams "The Honesty Room"-- Senor gave me this album for Valentine's Day, about 3 days after we got back together. I listened the hell out of this one. I would say it replaced "White Blood Cells". I felt like Dar had been through what I'd been through. It was a grown up and wise sound that perfectly captured the battle-scarred happiness that I was feeling at the time. This album helped soften me up after almost a year of defensiveness and anger. It brought me peace as I went through the sometimes rocky process of introducing my relationship back into the rest of my life.

14. Norah Jones "Come Away With Me"-- Norah filled up all the cracks between the other things I was listening to. This album was like a tranquilizer when my head was too busy; I could sing along and tune out the noise. It provided respite when I was tired of feeling so much. It was a palate cleanser between courses. I could be pretty and nice and regular with Norah when I was feeling anything but. I consider this a monumental triumph.

15. Fleetwood Mac "Rumors"-- I'm a grown-up now. I'm almost certain of it. And this album makes me feel like one. Senor and I listen to it on road trips and I know that I am safe and happy to be going where ever I'm going. This album is the soundtrack of the long journey we're on together, the one that continues on so far that it bends around the horizon and out of sight. This album will always be with us.


So, in rough autobiographical order:

1. The Bangles, "Different Light." What? Hardly a classic album; I don't even own a copy of this anymore. Here's the thing: when I was eleven years old, this was the first record I bought with my own money. I think that suggests that the phenomenon of marketing music based on the taste of pre-teens is not a new phenomenon.

2. Aerosmith, "Pump." If you were a fifteen-year-old American male in 1990, you owned two copies of this (one on CD, one on cassette.) I was OBSESSED with this record (and honestly, had a pretty strong affinity for hair metal in much so that the phenomenon of Nirvana sailed right past me almost unnoticed. I got better.)

3. The Police, "Zenyatta Mondatta." And then came the Sting/Police obsession. As I shook off the after-effects of the hair metal party, my tastes in music got slightly more sophisticated, and I discovered the Police (five years after they broke up.) One of my favorite pastimes in those high school days was lying to my parents about my whereabouts and heading out onto the highways and byways of Michigan to explore, to get away, to feel free. On those trips, this was the tape I listened to most often.

4. The Replacements, "Tim." I can single out a few specific people in my life who have been pivotal in shaping my taste in music (and thereby my life in general.) One such person was this guy Brad who lived in my dorm my freshman year in college. Brad was from Minnesota, and was a 26-year-old sophomore who mostly wore t-shirts with holes in them. Brad introduced me to the concept of "college rock," which now allows me to converse comfortably with people who associate the early '80s more closely with getting vomitted on by Paul Westerberg than they do with getting up early on Saturdays to watch the Smurfs. "Tim" has become a sort of generational shorthand for me, one that says that I can be just as cynical as you. Probably more.

5. Jayhawks, "Tomorrow The Green Grass." This is the sound of a thousand lonely Arkansas nights. If I like Wilco and Ryan Adams today, it's because I liked the Jayhawks in 1996.

6. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, "The Saint." Remember when electronica was supposed to take over the world? I think we all know how THAT went. Still, this was a very sexy CD for a very unsexy 22-year-old, and I listened to it at the beginning of many evenings that would end as they began: alone in my bedroom, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

6. Radiohead, "OK Computer." Much has been written about how this is the defining album of my generation, and who am I to disagree? In my life, it's been pretty rare that I would feel in step with the zeitgeist of my peers (alienated, but very definitely alive) and the release of "OK Computer" in 1997 (right around the time I graduated from college) was one of those times. It continues to be the one record to which I most relate on a personal level.)

7, 8 & 9: Beastie Boys, "Hello Nasty"; Velocity Girl, "Simpatico"; XTC, "Upsy Daisy Assortment." These three discs are forever linked together as the soundtrack of my two years in Richmond, Virginia. I was just out of college, working for a childrens' theatre company, and enjoying my first taste of REAL freedom (with its attendant responsibilities/irresponsibilities.) "Intergalactic" will ALWAYS sound like the sidewalk outside my rowhouse on West Main, or Shockoe Bottom on a Saturday night. "I Can't Stop Smiling" will ALWAYS sound like my apartment, where I would dance with joy at the end of a grueling leg of the tour, or like hauling ass up I-95 to see Huddo and Dave in Silver Spring. "Senses Working Overtime" will ALWAYS sound like driving around the south side, trying not to get shot at. Good times.

10. U2, "The Joshua Tree." It's really this simple: if you're taking a road trip with me, you can expect to hear this CD played in its entirety at least once. Leave it to an Irish band to make the best record ever about America. "Running To Stand Still" takes on a whole new meaning when you're moving from Virginia to California and your '86 Nova leaves you stranded in Oklahoma City for three days in the dead of winter.

11. Tie: Elvis Costello, "My Aim Is True," Bruce Springsteen, "Born To Run," Van Morrison, "Moondance," and Crowded House, "Woodface." I've known who these guys were since I was a kid, but before I moved to California and started listening to a now-defunct album oriented rock station called Channel 103.1, I didn't really know or understand their music. Now I do. To me, these four records are what turning into an adult sounds like.

12. David Gray, "White Ladder." Once upon a time, I fell in love with girl to this album. Then, after we broke up, I sat around broken-hearted to this album. Then, we reconciled and found out what true, lifelong love feels this album. We've been married for almost three years, and if I had to single out one record as the soundtrack of our life together, it would be this one.

13. Fleetwood Mac, "Rumours." What can I say? My in-laws are Baby Boomers, and we need something to talk about. (Aw, who am I kidding? I love Lindsey Buckingham.)

14. The Weepies, "Hideaway." This disc is distilled happiness. Every song on it sounds like it was written for the enjoyment of an unborn child, which is rather convenient, seeing as how my wife and I are expecting our first next month. We play the first track, "Can't Go Back Now," to our in-utero kid via headphones all the time (you Obama fans will remember it as the "heartbeat" song from his campaign ads.) Seriously, if you have small children, go buy this CD immediately. Do not read on...

15. Pavement, "Slanted and Enchanted." I've never listened to this CD. Couldn't name one song from it. So, what the hell? Why is it on this list? Once upon a time, I could have said the same thing about "London Calling." Or "Automatic For The People." Or any of the discs I mentioned in #11. Now, they're all cherished favorites. As a music lover, I'm a late bloomer, and I'm still catching up on all the records I'm supposed to have fully absorbed by now. "Slanted and Enchanted" is one of those highly regarded albums that has just slipped past me all these years, and so, it earns a spot on the list as an emblem of what the future (by way of the past) may hold.

1 comment:

amanda said...

The Honesty Room made your list? Mortal City made MY list - it just nudged out THR. Nice choice!