In high school, did you drive a car? Did you have deep, earnest talks about the universe in specific basements? Did you in fact spend most nights in cars, in basements, or somehow en route to either, all with a soundtrack present and thriving? Or maybe someone made you a mix-tape, or wrote you a song, or maybe the a capella group at your school were functionally a cause celeb? I’m interested because these things are true of me.
Steven Elliot’s The Rumpus (link) has a pretty sweet recurring column called ‘Albums of Our Lives,’ in which people share the CDs (CDs!) and tapes (TAPES!) that shaped them and thrilled them in formative years. I’m stealing the idea. While it doesn’t often do to dwell and paint the good times in wistful purple prose, for the sake of list-making – which is always fun – I am going to tell you about some of my favorite and formative albums, and then I invite the same from YOU GUYS. Note that these are the albums that affected a particular era and have a particular sound – we shall call it capped a few years after high school. This means sorry Radiohead and ilk, Laura Nyro and ilk, general improved taste and ilk. Especial sorries to Arcade Fire, because I think ‘Funeral’ is probably my bona fide favorite album to date. Nonetheless, here we go magic, the albums of my life from back in the days when I was a teen-aga:
- Stadium Arcadium, Red Hot Chili Peppers (Most Heavily Anticipated) This requires some explaining: I know this album is not that great. I know this band is pretty cheesy. I discovered RHCP when one of my friends who was always burning me CDs lent me Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and very soon after I was failing to perfect ‘Under the Bridge’ on acoustic guitar sans a capo. I once watched the video for ‘Can’t Stop’ at my friend Sam Simon’s house upwards of fifteen times in a row. You know those songs you can’t bear to hear end? Like, individual repeat isn’t even good enough, you just wish this song went on for forty minutes? Yerp, droogs. Plus I wanted to make out with Anthony Kiedis.
Stadium Arcadium was the first album I remember waiting for, is the thing, and by waiting for I mean trying to purchase at midnight the day it hit Border’s. Me and Courtney B accordingly spent all of our time in the Silver Chips newspaper lab hatching a scheme to follow this tour around the world. It backfired when I was grounded for most of the eleventh grade, but the story ends well: I wept hearing John Frusciante play ‘Tiny Dancer’ at VirginFest 2006 and this summer, at Bonnaroo, watching the Red Hots with new haircuts and a very clean new guitarist, it crossed my mind that maybe people don’t actually change so much. Like maybe they’re not even capable of changing.
Top tracks: Dani California (funniest video of all time), Make You Feel Better
- Oh, Inverted World! The Shins (Best Sad Girl/Angst-a-tronic Basement Frowntimes Tunage)I saw Garden State the year I started writing beat poetry, not disconnected incidents. Now is as good a time as any to admit to you that WHILE I PROBABLY KNOW A LOT OF BANDS YOU DON’T AND CAN HOLD MY OWN IN PLENTY O’ CHATS ABOUT B-SIDE BOOTLEGS, I really like singles. Singles are engineered for you to like them, and I am a human, and still when I am sad I listen to ‘New Slang’ on individual repeat for hours and hours and feel better. First song I mastered on the guitar, source of my e-mail address, cried hearing James Mercer at Bonnaroo this year. And when you had flickers of morose teenagedom, this was aces – even long over the angst, these lyrics still seem quite profound.
Top tracks: Caring is Creepy, Know Your Onion, Girl Inform Me
- New York, Lou Reed (The ‘I’m Getting Cooler’ Phase)Though I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and The Who and The Velvet Underground and David Bowie in high school, one of the only whole albums I had on constant, meaningful replay in this era was New York. Not least because of the subject material and what was going to become a real hankering for gritty bohemian urb-life. Mostly, I fell for his lyrics. Love this first line of ‘Romeo Had Juliette’ still and so much: “Caught between the twisted stars/the plotted lines/the faulty map/that brought Columbus to New York.” I have seen the man himself twice, once at the 930 Club in DC and once en route to a tai chi workshop at Astor Place (him, not me). He is about as small and serious as expected. At first sight, I suppressed a weird urge to tell him, “I made it! I’m here now!”
Top tracks: Busload of Faith, Dirty Blvd., Romeo Had Juliette
- Room on Fire, The Strokes (The Sexiest)Big fangirl crush city. Julian Casablancas has been an intermittent desktop favorite of mine since the first computer I ever had control of; it has always been either him or Robert Plant. This was another individual repeat scenario; Sam Simon and I also watched the video for Reptilia for looped hours. Complex layered guitar parts, grungey, whiny, sexy greasepots. The Strokes’ look and feel was somehow what I was aspiring to in all of those basements for all of that time. And while it’s not on this album, the song ‘Someday’ also makes me cry whenever I hear it, still, reminding me of something or someone vague and maybe never real.
Fun fact: I saw J.C on 10th street two years ago and actually had the nerve to say “Hi-I-love-your-music-I-don’t-mean-to-bother-you!’ He said ‘thanks.’ It was a huge deal. After this fact he didn’t seem to recognize my screams from the audience of any Strokes concert I’ve since attended, though, which is cause for a broken heart. Ain’t that always the way, with the biker jacket Brooklynites.
Top tracks: Reptilia, The End Has no End, 12:51
- Speakerboxx/The Love Below, Outkast (Best Dance Music) I did a weird thing in high school – and the other day, at a party – where whenever ‘Hey Ya!’ came on I would screech and sort of seize and dominate any size of room to shake it like a Polaroid picture. Maybe this happens to other people with other songs, but it has so far seemed pretty obnoxiously singular to me. World, this album is the most fun to dance to. I like to think I kind of OWN it, it is MINE, even still when I go out and some deejay in the know lets it roll.
Top tracks: The Rooster, Happy Valentine’s Day, Dracula’s Wedding, Roses
- Greatest Hits, Jackson 5 (Has Stood the Test of Time)I have a lot of emotional ties to Michael Jackson. This was the first CD I ever received, my Dad gave it to me for Christmas when I was nine. With certainty I tell you my favorite song in the world is ‘I Want You Back,’ and no it doesn’t ever get old, and yes it will always make whatever room you’re in more fun or lighten your load just a smidge. That’s all I have to say about this.
Top tracks: I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save
- Immaculate Collection, Madonna (Best History)This one is sort of cheating: we had a thing in my high school where every year the most promising senior girl in the theatre club got to hold on to a copy of Madonna’s ‘Immaculate Collection’ that had been passed down and signed and beloved for years. When I got joint custody of the thing and tasked with blasting ‘Holiday’ and ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ before our shows, I was so thrilled. Because it meant me (and my dear friend Caitlin) were the actual Lucky Stars. Such bliss with the profession has since gotten harder to find.
Top tracks: Holiday, Like a Virgin, Like a Prayer, Vogue…
- The Blue Album, Weezer (Best Lingering Sing-a-long Potential)There was this kid named Diego at my high school who would only ever play ‘Say it ain’t so’ on an acoustic guitar he seemed to carry with him everywhere. And we always sang along, and pretended to be annoyed.
Top Tracks: Say It Ain’t So, My Name is Jonas, Only in Dreams
*Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin and London Calling, The Clash receive runner-up medals for ‘Best Screaming in Crowded Cars.’
* Also Rubber Soul and Abbey Road by The Beatles, for basically obvious reasons.
I feel I’ve neglected a lot of important, varied tracks and phases: Cake, De La Soul, Eminem, Sublime, No Doubt, The Offspring, Everclear, Blink 182, The Band, Van Morrison, Queen, Radiohead, Gladys Knight, Madonna, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones… I have always been susceptible to the dukes of the juke. A greatest regret includes breaking up with a first boyfriend when he had tickets to a Billy Joel concert so yes, you watchful guitar gods, you can go on and bury me in the tomb of the boom.
Yet the moral I want to extract from this playlist that make me giddy and ardent and able to speak in commercial copy is that THE MAIN JAMS are very much about being starry-eyed and kid-like. You really have to be in a place, in a mood, for music to dig into your skin and assign itself to memories. These songs underscore my break-ups and first dances and first love and incredible hooligan fun and danger and forming opinions. But there will be more music, always. There will always be more of this. And doesn’t that somehow make the future – the next time you have to be in a car, even! – that much more exciting? There will be a beat below it, your next big thing?
So my advice is to stop making sense, and keep on rockin in the free world, and take your mama out all night, and pour a little sugar in my bowl. Note and notice your historic, important beats and give credit where it’s due. Sing and feel and dance yourself clean! Happy Friday!