04 August 2009

25 Albums That Shaped My Life

I got 'tagged' on a facebook note asking me to name the top 25 albums that "shaped my life" as the directions stated. While I don't usually partake in those things, I like the girl who tagged me and I thought it could be really interesting. I haven't proofread my response but I wanted to share it on the blog to chronicle my thoughts.

This is what they say:

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 musically, shaped your world. Don't just name your 25 favorite albums. When you finish, tag 25 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good.

This is what I say:

It's difficult to make a list without explaining the meaning behind the selections. Since I have a little time, I need to write a brief explanation to go with these choices otherwise they won't make sense to even me.

1. Chicago - The Chicago Transit Authority

Not only is my all time favorite song "Beginnings" on it, but this album was also the 'beginning' of Chicago's jazz/rock sound that became the soundtrack of my childhood. Chicago was my first concert at age 4 and has become an annual event for my cousin and me to keep the tradition alive for my entire family. I'm lucky that the band who started my love for music also happened to be one of the greatest out there overall.

2. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

This self-titled album was a miracle for me. My mother played this for me in its entirety the night before I moved out on my own for the first time. This first time also happened to be to West Virginia with a guy I had only met once prior during a rather dark period in my life so I was holding back a lot of tears when songs like "Luna" and "Breakdown" started playing on the turntable - these songs with so much emotion already bottled inside that it was overwhelming. "Breakdown" is still one of my favorite Petty songs.

3. Melissa Etheridge - Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled

When Mr. West Virgina didn't work out, I took to hard female singer/songwriters for the first time in my life - not by choice but by need. I needed to hear a tough chick singing about how their ex-lover will never find someone as good as them. I don't listen to Etheridge much anymore but during that time this album and "Breakdown" were my pacifiers. Her covers of "Refugee" and "Piece of My Heart" are so good I have no words.

4. John Legend - Once Again

This is the key album for me in terms of emotional dependency on music. I seriously think I would've gone insane during this time if it weren't for Legend's smooth vocals and soulful beats. I am obsessed with John Legend - he's one of those top ten artists for me and this album helped once again with that WV trip. Finding a great love (and then deep heartache) is the real way I was able to finally understand so much amazing music like this.

5. Pete Yorn - musicforthemorningafter

Pete Yorn started my love of acoustic singer/songwriters that has just continued to grow since this album came out. I bought this at The Wiz - long before an iPod was even a twinkle in my eye. It was just me and this cd everywhere, every minute. It remains a favorite.

6. George Harrison - All Things Must Pass

Mr. Harrison is the greatest Beatle - also the first one to come out with a solo record after the Beatles breakup AND made it a double because, well, he had enough insanely great material stored up for three times that. I'm a little embarassed to say I actually purchased this after his passing and truly fell in love with it some time after that but it hasn't left my thoughts since.

7. Everclear - Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile

I've haven't listened to this album in a long time but when I first bought it, I couldn't stop listening. Everclear was the first 'hard' rock band I ever fully enjoyed and something about Art Alexakis's voice sunk into me. I like his personal story and these songs could not sound better live. It's a shame Everclear doesn't get the respect they deserve - every album has been impressive.

8. The National - Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers

This is my favorite band. I am in love with everything about them from Matt Berninger's voice to their melancholy lyrics to the fact that they found the greatest drummer on the planet. While Boxer was the album they had out when I first discovered them, this was the album that solidified my obsession. You MUST check out "Fashion Coat". It says it all in about 2 minutes.

9. Nina Gordon - Tonight and the Rest of My Life

This is a dusty one. I love singing and when I was younger I would force people to listen to me sing or have singing competitions, etc. with friends and I would always choose to sing Nina Gordon off this album. Even at age 14 or so I knew she had it going on. She's another artist that didn't get the right amount of praise but this is one of those timeless-young-women-coming-of-age-I-think-I'm-in-love sort of albums that are undeniably catchy and angsty all at once.

10. Jason Mraz - Waiting for My Rocket to Come

I bought a Sony discman in white and orange one day many years ago. I was with my mother and stepdad on the way to work with them and realized: I didn't bring any cds to play in my new cd player. Since they're nice folks we stopped by a Borders in South Jersey and I picked out this album by a guy people had been comparing to John Mayer. I got in the car, opened the package, and to my surprise the disc was the same shade of orange as my discman. For some reason, that memory has always stayed with me and I cannot really express my love for Mraz in the right way. Mraz was a way of life for awhile (Lauren knows). Of course now he's famous and everyone loves "I'm Yours" but check out his live album at Java Joe's from way back in 2000 or something and you'll see why we waited four hours in the back of The Stone Pony to give him a stuffed cat in the blistering heat.

11. Incubus - Make Yourself

This is me being a product of my generation - and another one only Lauren could relate to. This was THE album in like 9th grade. You'd go to a party, hear "Pardon Me", see the cute senior hanging out with a wine cooler and think 'if only I could be like that too'. In reality it was more like, 'if only I could see myself in 5 years and realize that I'm way cooler than that' but of course you don't know that in high school. Unlike some other really bad bands we all enjoyed back in the day, Incubus has remained relevant and some of those songs sound so good today that it's hard to imagine we've been hearing them for so long.

12. Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything

I have a crazy relationship with this album. I wrote about it in my application for the journalism major at Rutgers (saying with one listen it might change the course of the war) and I have gone to great lenghts to learn about each song on it. Todd Rundgren is a genius. "I Saw the Light" is so deliciously eerie that I get chills even thinking about it. And "Hello, It's Me"? Oh my God. This album kills me. I would marry the first person to mention their love of this album without me mentioning it first. Even the title is amazing.

13. Paula Abdul - Forever Your Girl

This was the first music I ever consciously chose to enjoy. I was about 3 years old and I would try to copy her dance moves off the tv screen. I just thought she was the most beautiful, fun, high-spirited girl I had ever seen and I wanted to be just like her. My cousin and I still listen to songs like "Straight Up", "Cold Hearted Snake" and "Opposites Attract". Those are classics! I had a button of her on my winter coat for many early elementary school years.

14. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

It doesn't get anymore cliche but this album completely changed my outlook stylistically - in terms of both music and fashion. This was the first jazz record I purchased with my own money and I remember feeling so proud of it (this was also at the now defunct Circuit City) . The cover of the album, in all its simplicity and stylish fonts, inspired me to think differently about everything. Later on when I found John Coltrane's "Blue Train" and "A Love Supreme" then Miles' "Bitches Brew" and "Sketches of Spain" - the cement had been laid for my love of jazz. Clearly, it was like nothing I had ever heard before. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around their incredible sounds.

15. Chet Baker - My Funny Valentine

I don't know what led me to pick up Chet Baker's biography at the library one day but I do know that I couldn't stop reading it and fell in love with this deeply troubled man that reminded me of my father and totally blew my mind. Since I read his entire life story before hearing his music, I always feel like he's more of an old friend than a musician. His voice is slow and sad and his trumpet playing is otherworldly. You must listen to Chet Baker right away. I'd never be able to explain.

16. Howie Day - Australia

I guess there's no getting around this guy. I didn't want to add him because when I met him, he was a jerk, but before that incident this album was on heavy rotation in my cd player - this was back in 2002/2003 - and it had that great feeling that only certain albums do. There was this feeling that every song was written just for me or at least I was the only person who could completely understand the message. I was an idiot, sorry, but I know if I put it on right this minute I would burst into tears like an even bigger idiot. Songs like "She Says", "Secret", and my favorite, "Morning After", are rather intense especially when you have a history with them.

17. Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy

Although the album is older than me, this is one that recently affected me and it all started with "D'yer Mak'er", my favorite Led Zeppelin song. I realized I had been listening to it for so long on my iPod that it became one of those cases of ignoring the rest of the album. When I finally got around to listening to the entire thing I knew without a doubt that I had stumbled onto the most obviously great album in rock history. That's a hefty statement but I can't think of another album that even comes close to the greatness of Houses of the Holy. Not that I have to list them but: "Over the Hills and Far Away", "Dancing Days", "The Ocean", and my other personal favorite "The Crunge" all on one record. Insane.

18. Fleetwood Mac - Greatest Hits

When I was younger I thought of this as the "green album". I didn't really worry about differentiating one song from the next and just enjoyed the entire experience of Fleetwood Mac. My cousin Wendy was the first to play them for me and her constant rotation of "Gypsy" did me in. I was a fanatic. We would listen to this album in the car all the time then it'd start to skip, she'd take it out of the cd player, lose it somewhere then re-buy it and the process would begin again. For christmas two years ago she finally bought me my own copy of the more complete dual disc "The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac" but that green album still haunts my memories.

19. Bright Eyes - Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

I hate Bright Eyes. I used to own this album but only because I got a good deal on it and Mr. West Virginia was obsessed with them. I only put this album on the list because I strongly believe Bright Eyes was responsible for much that was wrong with him. He so desperately loved them (and music in general) to the point that I believe he became just as depressed as Conor Oberst sounds in these stupid, pitiful songs and couldn't sustain a decent relationship because of it. He was young and I'm sure that he's changed by now but I'm lucky to have an incredible boyfriend currently who has questionable music taste but a great love of humanity. This band is disturbingly depressing but was a large part of my life for a couple years.

20. Eric Clapton - Unplugged

For many years I loved Cream and appreciated some of Eric Clapton's solo work but it wasn't until I read Pattie Boyd's autobiography and Clapton's back to back that I started becoming really interested in everything about him. About six months into my Clapton craze I took an autobiography class at Rutgers where I chose his book as a term paper subject and gave a 20 minute oral presentation on him complete with a "Layla" listening party. Watching the unplugged special was the highlight of all my research though and his blues covers became my favorite parts of his repertoire.

21. Alien Ant Farm - ANThology

I love Dryden Mitchell! His voice still knocks me out every time I hear it. I don't care if it's stupid to love Alien Ant Farm because they are great. Yeah, "Smooth Criminal" is nice but "Movies" and particularly "Attitude" are above par. I've been listening to them for so long now that I 've probably had twenty different hairstyles, three completely different wardrobes, moved twice, and still can't shake my love of this band. I don't even know if they plan to make any new music but their old stuff is good enough for me and if they ever plan a comeback tour I'll be first in line.

22. Sondre Lerche - Phantom Punch

One time, long ago, I wanted to be an actor and got a scholarship to an acting school in Manhattan. Accepting the offer to attend this school changed the entire course of my life and ironically helped me to realize I maybe didn't want to be a professional actor but set me on the road to writing even more about music. Sondre Lerche had just come out with this album which I had bought at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square (R.I.P. you amazing store) on a lonely day and sat in Bryant Park listening to until the sun went down. This was also pre-iPod so I continued this cycle for almost the entire semester: going to the park in my bright red coat, whimpering into my discman - the orange one - and hoping Sondre would help me understand my stupid life. Maybe he did help. Please listen to him.

23. Johnny Cash - The Legend of Johnny Cash

I was working at FYE during the Christmas rush of 2005 when I began heavily listening to older country music. I knew I was never going to get into Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, etc. but I took an instant liking to the classic stuff and wanted to learn more. I didn't own any country cds at the time so I used my employee discount and picked this cd up. As you could guess, I haven't stopped listening to it since and Johnny Cash has become one of my favorite musicians of all time. Loving him has led me to amazing musicians like Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, Ernest Tubb, Kris Kristofferson, Eddy Arnold, etc. and his autobiography "Cash" is seriously one of the best books I've ever read, it's not just something they say in High Fidelity.

24. John Mayer - Room For Squares

This is it. This defines everything. Believe me, I wish it was some other, more impressive artist that changed my life but I was 15 (which sounds so freakishly young now) on a birthday trip with one of my favorite people, Melissa, and her mom to New York and we walked into the Virgin Megastore and there sat the album that was destined to be in my hands: Room For Squares. This was 2001, mind you. There was no buzz, no Jessica Simpson scandals, no stupid "Daughters" song - nothing. John Mayer was just John Mayer, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter discovered by Columbia at South by Southwest. If I told someone back then that I loved John Mayer it wouldn't have been a big deal. Now when I admit my favorite artist I cringe and wait for them to say a variety of negative comments. He did that to himself I guess but as long as the music hasn't changed, I don't mind. I used to sit in class writing out the lyrics to all his songs because the words were too good to forget. They still are.

25. John Mayer - Continuum

I end with this because I guess it's my favorite album and the one I listen to almost everyday. I can't imagine getting sick of it and I would defend it with my last breath. It's not The Clash or Joy Division (although I like those bands too) but it's what struck a deep enough chord with me that I will continue loving it for a long time. I see it's flaws and love it regardless. I see John Mayer's flaws and love him regardless. He is a brilliant guitar player and rather than being embarassed that if you google "Angelica Diamond John Mayer" more entries come up that are actually me than if you google my name alone, I am proud. Take that for what it's worth.

So if you're bored, listen and enjoy.

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