I thought I’d take a little break from my usual writings to share six of my my all-time favorite albums. Aside from the fact that I never tired of listening to these albums, each one of these albums transformed my life in some way.
Curious to know how they’ve influenced me? Read on!
When I was 12, a cute boy burned me a copy of Blink-182’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. I already knew the words to every song on Enema of the State and was a huge fan of Blink 182 (I own every album after Enema), but something about this album hit me in the right place at the right time.
This album was sort of a turning point in Blink’s career: they were mega successful as a result of Enema, but they were still young and could relate to their audience. Likewise, I was at a crossroads in my own life. I was entering junior high after being in a small elementary school, and I was so confused about my own identity. Blink-182 reassured me that everyone in school felt as lost and uncertain, even if people acted cool and confident. It was a huge comfort to me.
To me, this is Blink’s finest work. It’s the perfect combination of the raw teenage angst from their early albums and the refined sound of their later albums. It’s still honest and witty, but Mark and Tom learned how to harmonize their vocals better than Dude Ranch or Cheshire Cat. TOYPAJ captures the rush and heartbreak of what it feels like to be in love, and I can’t think of a single experience I had as a teenager that isn’t somehow represented in a song on this album. Everything I’ve ever felt—and everything I still feel to this day—can be heard on this album.
With the exception of his seemingly endless collection of live albums, I own every album Josh Ritter has released. I’ve seen him live four times (maybe more…I can’t remember), and I am still entranced by his smoky, Americana voice and beautiful storytelling. He speaks to a part of my soul I forget exists sometimes, but every time I listen to him, it feels like coming home.
Josh’s words are infinite and poetic; I love reading them, hearing them, thinking about them. I wanted to share them in the hopes that they might reach the right person at the right time. In college, I wrote lyrics from “Thin Blue Flame” and Josh’s other songs on the outside of University of Michigan campus buildings at night. I wasn’t brave enough to vandalize something permanently, but I also loved how the words only stayed until the rain washed them away.
The Animal Years wasn’t the album that introduced me to Josh Ritter, but it’s the one that lives closest to my heart. When this album was released, I was in the animal years of my own life: wolves from my past haunted me, and I was alone in an vast, uncertain wilderness. This album is as much about heart as it is heartbreak, and I teetered in that gray area for too long when I first heard this album. Even today, it somehow manages to sum up the bittersweet memory of my high school experience.
My freshman and sophomore years in college were easy in a lot of ways, but my emotional health was all over the charts. I didn’t know what I wanted in the present. so I spent too much time longing for the past (which, looking at it now, wasn’t even really that great). I longed for the sense of belonging I felt nestled between my high school friends, and for some sick reason, I let myself ache uncontrollably for things I knew I’d never have again.
Unfortunately, a lot of that ache was born out of this album and its irrefutable beauty. There’s nothing I can say about For Emma, Forever Ago that hasn’t already been said, because I think everyone hears their first love and first heartbreak in this album. It still reminds me of the fragile beauty of love: love can be pure and fulfilling, but also catastrophic. Opening yourself up to someone is a very scary thing, and when this album was released, I still refused to let anyone into my life.
No matter how deeply I bury my most vulnerable memories, Justin Vernon knows how to pull them to the surface. This album encouraged me to hold on to certain things for too long, but it’s also the reason I was finally able to let go, get on the other side of my pain, and start living my life again. Eventually I got to the point where I can listen to his music without breaking down entirely (my husband and I selected “Flume” as a song for our wedding ceremony), and it’s still enjoyable without the emotional baggage.
I never had a “Classic Rock” phase in my life. I still don’t like Classic Rock. Whenever “Don’t Stop Believin'” starts playing, under any circumstance, I have to leave because I truly despise it.
But going into my junior year of college, I dated a boy who was so drastically different than me it’s uncanny our relationship lasted so long. Fleetwood Mac was hands-down his favorite band of all time. I didn’t know anything about the Mac other than a few so-so “Classic Rock” songs I quickly dismissed. I liked this boy so I checked out some Fleetwood Mac albums from the library…and quickly found myself obsessed.
I don’t think I listened to anything except Fleetwood Mac during my entire junior year at college. I knew their entire discography and still could not get enough. The band’s personal relationship dynamics, which play out uncomfortably on Rumours, somehow paralleled the rollercoaster of my relationship with this boy. We painfully tried to make it work out for far too long, and Fleetwood Mac got me through it all.
And, in the end, “Dreams” was the most comforting break-up song (and still my favorite break-up song of all time).
Similar to Rumours, Paul Simon’s Graceland holds such a significant place in the history of music that it almost feels like a cop-out to say it transformed my life. I’d been listening to songs from Graceland since high school and thought they was really good, but the full album didn’t really take root in my soul until 2012.
My boyfriend (now husband) and I moved in together after college, and even though we loved each other immensely we both wanted very different things. He wanted to stay in our hometown and I wanted to move somewhere far away and explore new places. In trying to keep the other person happy, we made ourselves unhappy. At the time, it seemed incomprehensible that we could both get what we wanted, so he moved out and I lived in our apartment by myself.
Remembering that Paul Simon wrote Graceland while traveling in Africa after his divorce, I revisited the album to see if it would speak to me. It spoke so strongly and so true that I planned a road trip to Memphis a few weeks later, even though I knew Paul’s “Graceland” is metaphorical (by that time, Sam and I had reconciled and he joined me on the trip). Africa wasn’t a feasible option, so Memphis seemed like the next best thing.
Now I listen to this album when I need to realign myself: these songs help me remember my own dreams and identity when they get lost in the noise of the world. I strongly believe in maintaining a sense of one’s self in any relationship, and Graceland reminds me that I need to listen to my own heart if I’m going to make a relationship work with someone else.
From the moment I first heard “I Wanna Get Better,” I was crazy about Bleachers. The honest energy reminded me of Blink-182, but it was different in all the right ways. The sound was more complex, more mature, and had an edge that was lacking in other songs.
I’d long given up that I’d find an album later in my life that would mean as much to me as albums from the formative decade (12-22) of my life. So when Sam gifted me Strange Desire as one of those “going out a limb” gifts, I had no idea I was holding my new favorite album in my hand. Every song on this album is pure gold. Jack Antonoff’s dedication to his craft and artistic identity is so admirable, and it’s evident in the details of Strange Desire.
I fell in love with Sam wildly and almost instantaneously. It was a little reckless maybe, but before either of us knew what happened, we were crazy about each other. Strange Desire captures the electricity of falling in love, and in retrospect, I think this album resonated so strongly with me because it’s overflowing with the same vigorous attraction I have always felt for my husband. My love for Sam lives in every pulse of my heart, and that pulse is mirrored on this album.
Do you have a favorite album or song that defines a moment from your life? Share in the comments!