15 Albums That Changed My Life

“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.”

1.) Rubber Soul – The Beatles. This is the first album I fell in love with and consequentially, I religiously memorized every single song. “In My Life” was played on repeat on the W’s record player at night when I’d fall asleep in her bunk beds. We’d stay up to talk about the things that mattered to us at the time – things pre-teen girls understand, but that I probably won’t ever remember. It doesn’t matter. That album changed my musical life.

2.) Unplugged – Nirvana. I’ll mark this album as the catalyst for my love of live music. The raw emotion that comes through Kurt’s voice is almost too much, but it is impossible not to listen to. Where Did You Sleep Last Night? might be the most heart-wrenching jam I’ve ever heard. (It doesn’t hurt that this album also reminds me of 6-hour road trips to the beach.)

3.) Little Voice – Sara Bareilles. This wonderful woman and artist has most likely had the most impact on me personally as a musician. After I discovered LV, it didn’t take me long to find a personal connection strong enough to repel me through years and years of adoration of both the music and the musician. She gave me goosebumps and filled me with hope and tears the night I finally saw her live. She has released her albums as I’ve needed them, exactly for what I’ve needed them for. She has inspired me to let go, to love again, to be happy, to be brave. And the last one is really, really hard for me when it comes to my own musicianship, but I truly believe that her prodding lyrics “show me how big your brave is” will get me on the stage for myself within the year.

4.) Room For Squares – John Mayer. Every time I play this, I can see an entire year of my life at once. From the moment I got this CD until I finally retired it (aka giving those around me a break), so much change occurred. I hear it whenever a memory from the ’03, ‘04 era passes through my mind. This opened up his catalog to me, then and in future releases (Battle Studies, Born & Raised, Where the Light Is, etc.), all of which connected to my soul in a deeply moving way. He found my heart’s diary, cracked it open, and wrote about it, year after year. To boot, he’s a blues master and he’s awesome live, an experience I’ve now twice been blessed to have.

5.) Stripped – Christina Aguilera. Ah, high school love and loss. This album got me through an extremely difficult time in my life. Every word of every song mirrored the things I was feeling. It was really nice to feel less alone and to do that, all I had to do was throw on this album every day as I showered. She let me know you could be a badass, sexy bitch without apology, and I’m so thankful for that lesson in strength.

6.) Beyonce – Beyonce. Damn girl. You just really fucking put women on the map with this one. You showed that we can feel and still be strong; that we can do what men do. You wrote about sex the way we ACTUALLY speak of it to our girlfriends and significant others. You took risks, and they all paid off. You took your voice all over the place, range and genre-wise. While you’ve always been my queen, for me, this truly solidified the fact that you are also my sister in arms.

7.) Thriller – Michael Jackson. It was really, really hard for me to pick between Thriller and Bad, but Thriller takes it for being the first MJ record that I put on repeat. I’d find the copy in the beach house, throw it on the turn table, and force everyone to listen to it every. SINGLE. year on my birthday. I remember the feeling when I finally got my own copy, put it on my own record player, and turned the volume up to 11. I couldn’t believe the sheer musical innovation happening in 1982 that still felt so new, and so incredibly influential. You can’t listen to it without hearing MJ infused into hundreds of acts since his beginning reign as the King of Pop.

8.) Back to Black – Amy Winehouse. Another album that truly reflected what was going on in my life at the time, I listened to this before it hit the big-time. That being said, I’m glad that it got the publicity it did because it revisited old soul in a way I haven’t heard in a very long time. Her lyrics speak to me, and I cried poolside the day I heard of her passing. Such an artist, just too many demons.

9.) Portrait of a Legend – Sam Cooke. It’s not really possible to explain a love for the man with the melty voice. His voice is transcendent. Something just happens to him when he opens his mouth, and in return, it happens to us. You can feel his voice run through you, all the way down to your bones. I know we all feel A Change is Gonna Come all over our skin, but there are other amazing songs on this album that just blow me away.

10.) The Wall – Pink Floyd. I know most people’s most “influential” Floyd is Dark Side of the Moon, and I’m right there with you; I love that album more than words can say. But the epic dual album that is The Wall is and was so damn relatable, especially when I was a young woman trying to find myself in the days of right after high school. I wanted to fight the man (Another Brick in the Wall), and I felt distant and used (Comfortably Numb), and I thought about death and war way. too. often (Waiting for the Worms/Goodbye Blue Sky/PRETTY MUCH ALL THE OTHER SONGS ON THE ALBUM).

11.) The Runaways/Queens of Noise – The Runaways. I know. I’m cheating. This choice actually caused me to hold off on posting this entry for a week because I felt like I had to pick, or at least should have been able to pick, one of these albums. But they’re so different, and that’s necessary to really explain how The Runaways impacted me. They could be these young, wild, freshly-minted artists with badass jams, or they could be women with force behind their lyrics, clear talent, raw emotion, AND STILL HAVE BADASS JAMS. They touched (and still touch) both sides of me: the girl who has fun and the woman who has drive. (Both are badass, though, like the albums 😉 )

12.) Abbey Road – The Beatles. Growing up, I was thoroughly instructed in every way one possibly could about The Beatles. Naturally, as I got older, I fell in love with Abbey Road in the same manner I had first done with Rubber Soul. It holds some of the best songs that have ever been written or played within the grooves of the vinyl, the lines of the CD’s polycarbonate – whichever you have or prefer. Without this album to listen to, to set our wedding dances and funerals and sunny days to, life would not be the same.

13.) College Dropout – Kanye West. This is out of left field in this list, but Kanye really redeemed rap for me. I had lost hope, and he found a way to make it not only interesting but meaningful. The variety of beats and lyrics found on this album make it nearly irresistible. I KNOW there’s at least one song on College Dropout everyone can love, even if they’re not so willing to admit it. I can still picture riding around Eden with all of my friends and the windows down, jamming to Spaceship. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I LOVED YEEZUS.)

14.) Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind. If you’re a 3EB hater, I’m gonna need you to politely exit the building. I listened to this album constantly as both my parents streamed it from their car radios on a regular basis. I memorized the lyrics to every song on road trips to and from Roanoke, VA. There’s no way I couldn’t love it or associate it with more than a handful of good childhood memories. When I got older, the fact that the lyrics I’d been singing for years actually applied to my life only helped to continue my love for them. This is one of those rare albums that is awesome from start to finish.

15.) Mothership – Led Zeppelin. I’m technically cheating here, but how can you even begin to choose? I HAD to go with a compilation, lest I leave out an important album! These guys are completely unmatchable to me, and I’m always in the mood to hear them, regardless of where I am or how I am feeling. The abundant mixture of sounds and styles they’re able to put together and actually make sense of is astounding. Getting hooked on them completely changed my understanding of music, and finally let me see it for the orchestra it really is.

There are so many more albums I feel are important to me for some reason or another, but I’m confident in this start. What are yours?

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