Thursday, January 20, 2011

8 albums that changed everything

Driving across the country gives me lots of time to listen to music, and to think (two of my favorite activities). I have a feeling this won't be the last contemplative post born of a drive across a midwestern state.

The following albums changed everything. Not necessarily everything in the world, but certainly the world in my head. I'm not saying they're the best albums, or even my favorite (although I heartily recommend you buy all of them, if you haven't yet), but when I heard them they thoroughly rearranged my relationship to music. Thus, everything.

1) Bonnie Raitt - Nick of Time

This is the first album I can remember learning all the words to. I also remember getting up early in the morning, hearing it playing in the living room, and running downstairs and dancing to it. I don't know how old I was at the time, but young enough that the phrase "don't want a man with a monkey on his back" was taken literally.

2) Patty Griffin - Living with Ghosts

This is the first album I remember that made me cry. I was 11 or 12, and the song "Poor Man's House", which I still think is one of the best songs ever written, really hit me in the guts. I also learned to play every one of these songs on guitar, which was another first.

3) Ani DiFranco - Out of Range

I heard this album on college radio soon after it came out. I was 11, and I hadn't yet purchased an album with my own money. I happened to be on the way to the mall with my mom at the time, and I went into a record store and bought this, 'Relish', and 'Tuesday Night Music Club' on cassette. This album was my first conscious encounter with playful, nontraditional lyrics, really biting humor, and lyrical wit.

4) Billie Holiday - Priceless Jazz Collection

My Grandpa bought me this CD when I was 14. I had never heard Billie Holiday before. I remember sitting in my room and listening to "Good Morning Heartache", and thinking I had never heard someone sound so sad. That was the beginning of my Billie Holiday obsession, which has yet to end.

5) Radiohead - OK Computer

My first love turned me onto this record, and I remember listening to it for the first time, alone in my bedroom. I remember the opening chords to "Airbag" as vividly as any opening chords. I also remember lying on the floor, hearing the first refrain to "Exit Music" ("Breathe/keep breathing"), and having tears just stream out of my eyes. Said first love and I would lie together for hours listening to this, Amnesiac and Kid A over and over, not talking or touching. Just listening and longing.

6) Paul Simon - Rhythm of the Saints

I heard this record for the first time when I was 16, on my first tour (as a backup singer in a funk band). I was lying in the back of the van, half asleep, somewhere in Nevada. Someone put this record on, and I remember sitting up and saying, "Who IS THIS?!" I was incredulous that my parents had failed to introduce me to Paul Simon **Editor's note: they DID actually introduce me to Paul Simon, but I was too young to remember. Thanks, Mom, for the clarification.** I listened to it obsessively for the rest of the tour, and I remember it as my first encounter with music in odd time signatures, and songwriting that used complex rhythms as a device. I wrote my first (and only) song in a weird time signature ('Time', which is in 7/8) during this period.

7) Elvis Costello - This Year's Model

My ex boyfriend introduced me to this record, and I am still grateful to him for it. I'm pretty sure this was the first rock and roll album I really loved. I was probably 18 when I got into it, and I remember rocking out to it in my bedroom before going to work at the dog grooming salon.

8) Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul

Okay, I just got into this album last year. I am using it to represent my R&B, motown and soul phase, which has certainly left a deep impression. This record is a prime example of what draws me to the whole genre: simple songs, soul-crushingly groovy bass lines, vocals so sexy they hurt a little. This genre was my first introduction to the concept of arranging songs in such a way that every instrument, at every point, is playing something catchy and melodic and soulful. There is no down time on this record.


  1. When you posed the question on FB, I neglected to include Nick of Time, but I'm so glad to see it on your list! My mom was a huge Bonnie Raitt fan, and it's the first album I remember listening to with her, when I was really young. It was just me and my mom for quite some time, and things got a little crazy for awhile once my stepdad entered the picture... listening to that album reminds me of pure, innocent fun with my mama.

    P.S. Out of Range is also on my list. :)

  2. Take back that comment about failing to introduce you to Paul Simon, or I will post the video of two-year-old Carsie singing, "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes."

  3. Hahaha! Good point, mom. I will edit that.