A life-changing album would have to be one with intense personal significance, that was a soundtrack for my life for an extended period, has songs I can still lipsynch to this day, is something I would still want to listen to and sometimes do, and comes with stories that help explain who I am and how I got that way. I notice that as I get older, albums are less likely to "change my life." The most recent album on my list came out back in 2001. I've just stopped going through album-length phases. If I love new music, I love one song at a time. Probably the Internet is to blame, since these days I mostly survive on promotional mp3s. The album as an organized and cohesive art form is lost to me... and probably to many others. Even when I do buy one, I am prone to hit "Forward" on the ipod at a moment's notice. I can't just LET THE MUSIC PLAY.
Here's my list. It's roughly chronological in order of obsession.
1. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles. My parents had this on vinyl back when vinyl was the only viable listening choice. I was raised mainly on classical music with a smattering of folk, so Sergeant Pepper's blew my mind. Once I figured out how to play records, I would put this on and lie under the coffee table with the sleeve and liner. I liked to read the lyrics whilst they were sung (sorry Jarvis Cocker) and stare at George Harrison in the gatefold. He was TOTALLY DREAMY. (Wow, I looked up "gatefold" on Wikipedia to make sure I was using it correctly, and the demo photo is of the exact picture I'm describing. Freaky.)
3. Like a Virgin: Madonna. I was not the girl in our school who actually dressed up like Madonna every day (black lace, mini skirts, multiple necklaces, frosted hair with bows). But as your average American girl in the early 80s, I was caught up in Madonna's vast charisma. Like a Virgin is not just an album, it's a madeleine of happy 80s memories. It reminds me of running away to New York City and getting a modeling contract, chewing gum in a sassy manner, partying at art-dance clubs, sleeping on the floor in an alphabet city squat, and generally living like a Tama Janowitz character as much as possible. (I never did any of these things, except maybe the gum, but Madonna transports me there anyway.)
4. Big Lizard in My Backyard: The Dead Milkmen. OMG! In early high school, my friend decided to get "into" punk rock, which doesn't seem very punk rock in retrospect. I think she liked a guy who liked that music, so she decided she'd like it too. She bought Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and DRI and the Forgotten Rebels and spiked her hair and wrote things on her jeans jacket in black marker. She also, possibly by mistake, bought the Dead Milkmen. I took to it right away--fast, irreverent, and so so funny.
5. The Lion and the Cobra: Sinéad O'Connor. Sinéad is like the anti-Madonna. Super real, gritty, raw, bald. I remember the day Nancy, still one of my best friends, played me this record after school and told me about Sinéad. We memorized her weird yelps and warbles and Gaelic raving. This was about when high school got a bit more bearable; I stopped worrying so much about fitting in and started enjoying being an individual.
6. Horse Rotorvator: Coil. Mmm, industrial. It makes me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. Dark and gorgeous and gross and morbid, it's actually a great pick-me-up if you're in a bad mood or if the weather is getting grey or the days growing darker... like now. This album was very helpful when depressing things were happening in my life.
7. Appetite for Destruction: Guns 'n' Roses. I think this is the first on the list that was my very own commerical album--not someone else's or a tape-of-a-tape. I went to Buzzo's and bought this with my own money (on tape, of course) and I'm still listening to it. Basically any taste I have for cigarettes or Jack Daniel's or tailgating or monster stadium tours can probably in some way be related to this album.
9. Fishbone EP: Fishbone. Is it cheating to list an EP? This album or whatever is just so vivacious and fun and noisy. I think with the possible exception of #12, the English Beat/Fishbone tape has gotten the most play of anything in my life. (I had #8 and #9 back-to-back on the same yellow cassette.)
10. London Calling: The Clash. In first year university, the guy across the hall came into our room, put this on the tape player, lay on my roommate's empty bed, and sang every song to himself. I fell in love with it (not him). This is just pure goodness.
11. Red, Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter. It must be cheating to have a various artists collection on my list, but here it is anyway. Like Sergeant Pepper's was my introduction to pop/rock sounds, this Cole Porter collection by pop artists was my entree to music that swings. You know how in High Fidelity the narrator claims he can explain how he got from Deep Purple to Howling Wolf in 7 records (or something like that)? Well Red Hot & Blue led me to Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Fred Astaire, Benny Goodman, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Shirley Horne, Dinah Washington, Bobby Short, Hadda Brooks, etc. etc.. Basically it showed me that music I thought was stuffy, unbearable and "for old people," was actually really, really cool.
12. Paul's Boutique: Beastie Boys. I discovered this late, after believing all the crappy reviews when it first came out. But they couldn't keep me away for long because I LOVE THE BEASTIE BOYS. This album is an amazing piece of work and endlessly entertaining. I am still figuring out some of the samples they put on there. A true desert island disc.
13. Blood Sugar Sex Magick: Red Hot Chili Peppers. My deep onetime love of the Chili Peppers now seems fairly uncool. But I did so love this and also the albums that came before it. (The ones that came after it? No way.) When musical attention was largely focused on the grunge coming out of the American Northwest, I was turning to Southern California and the Chili Peppers. I drew their eight-armed asterisk logo on my wrist all the time in some kind of fake tattoo solidarity.
14. Elastica: Elastica. In the mid-90s there seemed to be a bit of concern over whether it was OK to like "Britpop." I'm not sure if it was the Brit part or the Pop part, but I did like it. While Blur and Oasis were fine, Elastica, fronted by the well-read Justine Frischmann, was awesome. I had a theory that each song paid individual tribute to a different band or genre... this song is the Cure and this song is Blondie and so forth. I have now forgotten all the brilliant arguments I put together to illustrate that theory.
15. Nightsongs: Stars. Stars gave me hope that lush, romantic, forlorn pop like the Smiths might rise again. As if there was any question about their planned direction, the first Stars song to get much play was their cover of "This Charming Man" (c.f. Little Darla Has a Treat For You, volume 15). I have documented my love of Stars elsewhere, but this album is what cemented it in the first place.
So what about you, care to share? Leave comments or Facebook about it!