Below is a list that I am very passionate about. These albums aren’t just “good” or well-produced, they hold clouds of memories from my past and have helped me learn about myself in ways conversation or lessons never could. Consider this list a photo album of memories through music.
Disclaimer: this is not a list of my “favorite” albums. Judge me all you want, but this is the good shit.
The Beatles- “Revolver” 1966
When I was little, my dad had set my clock radio to wake me up for preschool or daycare or whatever it was, and he set it to play “Good Day Sunshine.” As soon as I was old enough to figure out how to work the CD player, “Revolver” was the first album I stole from my dad (there were many more to follow.) When I fell in love for the first time, I decided that “Here, There, and Everywhere” would be the song I walked down the aisle to. When I fell out of love with that same person, “For No One” was played on repeat until my mother came into my dimly lit room and kindly told me, “Jesus, get over it. You’re only 14.” “Revolver” taught me what love should and shouldn’t be like, what it’d be like to live in an underwater community, and how sad it would be to end up like Eleanor Rigby, with no one to mourn me at my funeral. It also made me predisposed to hating “The Man” and the future of dealing with taxes…which I’m currently well-aware of when I see a quarter of my paycheck disappear to the ubiquitous government cloud that surrounds us all.
-The Essential Michael Jackson: 1969-2005
Now I know this is kind of a cop out, considering it contains hits from all of his albums, but I certainly could not pick just one. I was in dance classes from the time I could walk, to performing professionally in early adulthood. As every dancer knows, Michael Jackson is the King of Dancing, as well as Pop. My first dance number, in a little black and white leotard and baby-sized jazz shoes, was to “Rockin’ Robin”. The first time I heard “Ben” and “The Love You Save”, back when it was still The Five on Motown Records, I fell in love with little Michael. Being a kid of the 90’s, I had the full Michael Jackson catalog (belonging to my older sister and other dancers at the studio) and took the time to practice and perfect those signature dance moves. When I heard “Dirty Diana” on a road trip through the mountains of Colorado with my sister, I DID feel dirty, in the best possible way. I guess that’s the best thing about MJ; regardless of what went on in his personal life, his songs stir up specific memories for anyone. Whether it be the videographer at my sister’s wedding in the middle of the dance floor during “Beat It”, executing MJ’s dance moves perfectly, or my best friend singing “Man in the Mirror” at every karaoke opportunity, everyone has memories associated with Michael Jackson songs. On a good day, you can still catch me dancing down the street to “P.Y.T.” blasting in my headphones on the way to the subway station because I just. can’t. stop.
Against Me! “As The Eternal Cowboy” 2003
Before Tommy Gabel became Laura Jane Grace in 2012 (good for her), Against Me! produced “As The Eternal Cowboy”. This record is the combination of all my high school summers in album form. I remember sitting in a sweaty basement with a bunch of dudes, playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and watching skate videos. It was in one of those skate videos that I heard “Turn Those Clapping Hands into Angry Balled Fists,” and my life was changed. WIth such rawness and rasp, Against Me! quickly became my favorite band and has remained at the top of my list to this day. “You Look Like I Need A Drink” catapulted me into the fast-paced world of skanking and moshing at basement and garage shows put on by neighborhood kids where the parents would be inside, keeping an eye out for underage drinking and potheads. “Sink, Florida, Sink” was another song I would play on repeat when mourning the loss of another short-lived high school fling (I fall in love very easily…). This album is unlike most punk records; with a few acoustic numbers, such as “Cavalier Eternal”, you feel like you’re sitting around a bonfire with these dudes, drinking beers and talking shit about relationships and how you should never be in one.
Regina Spektor “Begin To Hope” 2006
When I listen to this album, I picture myself sitting on the roof of my best friend’s house in the suburbs of Chicago, smoking cigarettes and feeling far too existential for a pair of sixteen-year-olds. This album is a bi-polar mix of upbeat and optimistic and cripplingly depressing. Hearing “Samson” I felt this new sensation of a swelling in my chest and the welling of tears in my eyes; I had no idea heartbreak could be so audible. “On The Radio” was my anthem for the longest time; one verse in particular. “This is how it works; you’re young until you’re not. You love until you don’t. You try until you can’t. You laugh until you cry. You cry until you laugh. And everyone must breathe, until their dying breath” This Russian girl and her piano had a voice that spoke directly to me, even if it was in a different language (“Apres Moi”) and my best friend and I played and played this album until we knew every word; even the ones in Russian. “Begin To Hope” helped me appreciate music as an art form. Just a girl and her piano could teach me things about myself I wouldn’t have ever known.
Lupe Fiasco “Food and Liquor” 2005
I was raised on hip hop. As a dancer, I was exposed to all the greats; Tribe Called Quest, Notorious BIG, Wu Tang Clan, you name it. But when I heard Lupe Fiasco, a Chicago native, I felt refreshed. “Food and Liquor” brings me back to the days of lurking around the skatepark in my neighborhood, trying to catch the eyes of the shaggy haired kids who were oblivious to anything but dropping in and landing tricks. “Kick, Push” was the soundtrack that played in my head when my friends and I would roll around the burbs, get into trouble and kicked out of skate spots. “Daydreamin‘” uses one of my favorite samples in a hip hop song and spoke of my generation and life in Chicago in a way that made me angry and excited at the same time; “I’d like to thank the streets that drove me crazy, and all the televisions out there that raised me.” Ugh. It was his fresh writing and perspective that made me excited about where hip hop was going…unfortunately it hasn’t headed in the best direction; but here’s hoping autotune is outlawed (ASAP) and MCs shift their focus from drugs and money to beliefs and storytelling like the good ol’ days.