First of all, I had to go with a “Top 25” for this list, because music was such a big part of growing up for me. There’s no way I could narrow it down to just 13 albums.
As for the criteria: These are full albums from the era I grew up in, from childhood through my teens, which had an impact on my pop culture experience, and the future of my taste in music. These are the albums I wore out, singing along to the soundtrack of my life.
Music is a big part of pop culture, and a big part of my life. It always has been. It always will be. Sure, there are years, even decades, in which the musical crop is pretty weak, but the best thing about music is that it doesn’t fade away. Those great old songs of classic eras gone by, that each generation grew up with and still hold dear, are still available to us, to pump out of our speakers and into our minds, to fill the void when musical resuscitation is needed.
Fortunately, I grew up in a great era for music. I was also born and raised on the great Rock Music of my parents’ generation. There’s great background music augmenting all of my favorite memories of childhood and adolescence. Here are some of the albums that made a lasting impact on my life:
25. Billy Joel “The Stranger”/The Beatles “Abby Road”
The first 2 “adult” albums I owned on vinyl. Before them, I had quite a collection of Sesame Street albums, and a bunch of 45’s of Early 80’s hits, but these 2 epic albums were my first foray into adult LPs. No, I wasn’t alive for one’s release, and was in diapers for the other, but music doesn’t have to be current to be appreciated. The word “classic” exists for a reason, and these 2 albums help to show why.
24. Billy Joel “An Innocent Man”
Again, this is a historical pick, representing a milestone in my personal musical enjoyment. “An Innocent Man” was the very first cassette tape I ever owned (soon to be followed by Van Halen’s 1984). Cassettes were the new medium, and Walkmans were all the rage. I chose to fill mine with this great storybook album, in which all the songs seem to fit together into the greater scheme of a story, inviting us to fill in the blanks in between, connecting the very enjoyable songs.
23. “Singles” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
One of the many examples in the 1990’s of a soundtrack being better than the movie, the Singles Soundtrack stood out in refreshing brilliance. It introduced the rest of the world to many of the Pacific Northwest’s hidden jewels, such as Chris Cornell (with and without Soundgarden), Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees, plus Midwesterners Smashing Pumpkins, while treating us to an all-time great in Jimi Hendrix. The film is boring to say the least, but the soundtrack greatly improved the musical landscape, and hinted at brighter things on the horizon.
22. Nirvana “Nevermind”
Because of when I was in high school, you knew this had to be on here. As clichéd as citing this album may be, its impact on the pop culture and Rock Music scene of the 90’s and beyond can’t be denied. Nirvana didn’t invent “Alternative” Rock, or even the Seattle Grunge sound. What they did was perfect both for one brief moment, long enough to break into mainstream America’s consciousness, and pave the way for the bands that would follow, and even some which came before them. Nirvana took the music world by storm, kicked it in the butt, sprayed graffiti on it, and put it back where they found it, forever changed, never able to go back to what it had been. Even though their follow up efforts were greatly inferior, “Nevermind” is the album that made Rock Music cool again.
21. “The Crow” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
An exception to the rule in the 90’s, since the soundtrack and the film were both good, the album mirrored the dark tones of the movie quite well. Most of the featured bands had been around for a while, but weren’t really on the mainstream public’s radar. Most people may still not be overly familiar with some of these bands, but I guarantee they recognize the songs that were in the film.
20. They Might Be Giants “Flood”
Was any other album ever so much fun? Full of catchy, quirky songs that force you to sing along, and demand you get up and dance, TMBG made a big impact on “Alternative” Rock with this great album. They were welcome comic relief to the sappiness dominating Hair Rock, and the intense subject matter of its replacement, Grunge. This album caught them at their campy finest.
19. Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream”
“Siamese Dream” is a very beautiful sonic assault on the eardrums and the music world. Billy Corgan and crew may be better known for their later Pop songs, imaginative videos, and internal strife, but “Siamese Dream” is one of the most magnificent Rock masterpieces of all time. Never before have I felt so serene while something bashed in my skull.
18. Pink Floyd “The Wall”/”Dark Side of the Moon”
Is there anyone with a pulse who wasn’t influenced by these 2 epic masterpieces from this brilliant band? Again, like with “An Innocent Man”, the songs on these concept albums fit together into epic sagas that would be missed by casually listening to only the separate singles. These albums tickle our ears with great music, while exercising our minds with their complex themes. Never again could listening to music be casual or passive.
17. Misfits “Collection”
This is a great compilation of some of the best songs from one of the most enjoyable bands of all time. This album is filled with fun sing-along songs such as “Die, Die My Darling”, “Skulls”, “Mommy Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight”, and “Teenagers From Mars”. Danzig, Jerry Only, and crew took the genres of Punk and Metal, melded them with a love for Sci-Fi/Horror B-Movies, and created a sound all their own. Themes of anger, not fitting in, and non-conformity struck a chord with those of us dealing with the same, while lightening the mood of those same subjects with dark humor. This collection brought together the highlights that are hard not to love.
16. Concrete Blonde “Bloodletting”
A great Goth album with vampiric overtones, at a time when the works of Anne Rice and the new version of “Dark Shadows” made vampire pop culture much cooler than today’s “Twilight” nonsense. Brilliantly dark songs like “The Best”, “The Darkening of the Light”, “The Sky is a Poisonous Garden”, and “Tomorrow Wendy” flanked the singles “Joey” and “Caroline”, which both brilliantly expressed themes of loss, confusion, and unrequited love. Unfortunately, Concrete Blonde’s follow up efforts paled in comparison, but “Bloodletting” remains a favorite of early 90’s Alternative Rock and Goth fans to this day.
15. Dead Kennedys “Give Me Convenience or Give me Death”
80’s Punk greats Dead Kennedys were always political, always controversial, and always a lot of fun. Jello Biafra’s whiney voice sang out lines we love to sing along, but not in front of our parents. This compilation is filled with classics such as “California Uber Alles”, “Holiday in Cambodia”, “Police Truck”, “Night of the Living Rednecks”, and the legendary, only once performed “Pull My Strings”. This collection of their best public-shocking songs proves the clichéd ad slogan, “There’s always room for Jello.” Stop fighting with each other and reunite already!
14. New Order “Substance”
Following Ian Curtis’ poorly-timed suicide, the remaining 3 members of Joy Division regrouped, refocused, and reinvented themselves as New Order. 80’s New Wave’s best Electro Pop group treated us to such gems as “True Faith”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Blue Monday”, “Procession”, and many other early singles, which were collected on 1987’s “Substance”. A friend and fellow fan gave me this double cassette set, and I enjoyed it greatly (although I think he stole it from someone else).
13. Husker Du “Warehouse Songs & Stories”/“New Day Rising”
Husker Du had the intensity of Punk, mixed with the ability to write gorgeous Pop songs, with a bitter rivalry thrown in for good measure. Bob Mould and Grant Hart pushed each other to greatness by trying desperately to outdo each other. Many of these songs are all-time classics, that were somehow overlooked by most music fans. Had Husker Du survived into the 90’s, they would have become “Alternative” Rock superstars, but alas, only the good die young.
12. INXS “Kick”
This great album produced so many memorable singles, yet some of its greatest treasures are hidden amongst them. It’s impossible to hear one of these classic songs without expecting the next album track to immediately follow it.
Another major impact this album had on my adolescence was when The Young Studs performed our inspired rendition of “Never Tear Us Apart”, to the delight of many young ladies at Caesar’s Brookedale’s talent show. We won. Was there ever any doubt?
11. Nine Inch Nails “Pretty Hate Machine”
In a year dominated by Rap music, underground Industrial one-man band Nine Inch Nails provided much appreciated relief with this unbeatable album. “Pretty Hate Machine” is filled with well-written, well-performed songs, that flow into each other perfectly from beginning to end, the highlight of which being side one’s last track, the orgasmic “Something I Can Never Have”.
One key personal memory involving this album was at my graduating class’s all night party. Two friends and I kept bugging the DJ all night to play “Head Like A Hole”, until he finally relented (just to shut us up). The 3 of us had a great time dancing to it, while everyone else sat around asking each other “What in the world is that?”
10. Depeche Mode “Violator”
English Electro Pop band Depeche Mode had been around for a long time, and had released many great songs by 1990, but “Violator” was by far their pinnacle. It was their musical coming out party, and it was darn near perfect. The gorgeous “Enjoy The Silence” and the beat-driven “Personal Jesus” were deservedly big hits, but songs like “Halo”, “World In My Eyes”, “Policy of Truth”, and “Sweetest Perfection” were equally spectacular. Enjoy the Depeche Mode of the 80’s and the Depeche Mode of today, but make sure you listen to “Violator”, the band’s greatest moment preserved forever.
9. Sonic Youth “Dirty”
Noise Rock/Feedback Rock pioneers Sonic Youth blessed the music world with their earlier masterpieces, such as “Daydream Nation”, but 1992’s “Dirty” was the album that dominated the my late teen years. I even had a hard to find poster of the album cover on my closet door. I really feel bad for the many people who never discovered this underrated album by this underrated band. “Chapel Hill”, “Sugar Cane”, “Youth Against Fascism”, “JC”, “100%”, these are some of the greatest Rock songs of all time, and you need to hear them. Trust me, your ears will thank you, once they get used to the feedback.
8. Violent Femmes “Self-titled”
My friends and I always had a great time bopping along to the infectious songs of this delightful album, while cruising around in my friend Scott’s car. We also shocked a lot of pop culturally brainwashed people by playing Femmes songs at the one high school and one college dance that my dad and I DJed. How can an album that’s so much fun be so controversial? America needs to stop taking itself so seriously.
7. The Clash “The Story of the Clash”
I grew up in the “Combat Rock” era, but The Clash’s greatest hits album introduced me to their wonderful older material as well. Along with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, the Clash helped to forever change the world’s musical landscape with songs including “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, “The Guns of Brixton”, “This is Radio Clash”, “Career Opportunities”, and of course “London Calling”. This double cassette was one of my favorites in my massive tape collection, and easily influenced my future musical interests.
6. Social Distortion “Self-titled”
The moment I first heard “Ball and Chain” on the before-its-time Sunday Morning Alternative Show, I fell in love with the unadulterated, Rock N’ Roll the way it was meant to be done, music of Mike Ness and Social Distortion. The Country Rock undertones and old-school guitar riffs added a great Americana feel to this Punk album. Throw in a bold cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, amid great story songs like “She’s a Knockout”, “So Far Away”, “Sick Boys”, and “Story of My Life”, and you have one of the best albums of all time to rock out to for an extremely enjoyable listening experience.
5. The Doors “Greatest Hits”
What can be said about The Lizard King that hasn’t already been beaten to death? The Doors brief career, which realistically ended with Jim Morrison’s death, left the world with many songs that are hard not to love. Morrison’s poetic lyrics, addicting persona, and haunting voice made a huge impact on my writing, singing, and musical tastes, and my life in general. Was he a great role model on how to live life? No. But as a vocalist and frontman he’s only rivaled by Sinatra, and as a lyricist he’s second to none. Crooning along to this collection wore out my voice many a nights.
4. The Ramones “Mania”
The real history of Rock music began in the mid 70’s with the Ramones. The Beatles and Stones are often cited as the greatest bands of all time, but no band has had more influence on the Rock genre than the leather and jeans clad foursome from NYC. They put Punk Rock, Modern Rock, fast and furious music, and the New York Scene all on the map with a fury. This collection containing some of their all-time best work certainly hit the spot for me, and for anyone looking for great songs to stir up the heart and get the blood flowing. In an imperfect world, the Ramones took up the banner of imperfect people and ran with it, letting us all know that it was ok to be ourselves again. This album is a great place to start for anyone searching for good music done right.
3. Dead Milkmen “Beelzebubba”
Presenting Philly’s finest at their finest, I don’t know of any other album that has so many classic songs with so many classic lyrics. Creativity and dark humor are at their very best in songs like “Stuart”, “I Walk The Thinnest Line”, “Ringo Buys A Rifle”, “RC’s Mom”, and the all-time classic “Punk Rock Girl”, despite its mistaking of the Mammas and the Pappas for the Beach Boys. Minnie Pearl trumps all, I suppose. If you’ve never heard this album, do yourself a favor, and treat your ears and your sense of humor to this much needed enema.
2. “Pump Up The Volume” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Here’s a rare occurrence where one of the greatest films of all time also produced one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. The movie was filled with great, obscure tunes, some in the background, others played on Happy Harry’s pirate radio show. The soundtrack offers us a well-chosen, yet small sampling of them. Some highlights include the slowed-down “UK Surf” version of the Pixies “Wave of Mutilation”, Henry Rollins and Bad Brains combining to cover MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams”, Concrete Blonde’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”, Peter Murphy, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, the list goes on and on. This film and its soundtrack were hugely influential in my life, and helped mold me into the person I now am proud to be.
1. The Cure “Disintegration”
“Disintegration” has the greatest production value ever of albums Alan Parsons didn’t have his hands into. This album is dynamic from beginning to end, with no weak spots at all. It was my introduction to the Cure, and the album that made me fall in love with “Alternative” Rock in general. The signature single, “Love Song”, is so good that I’m dancing to it at my upcoming wedding. It expresses love in that self-conscious, afraid to dare expose yourself to happiness, “you make me better than I am” kind of way that only Robert Smith can convey. Songs like “Lullaby”, “Pictures of You”, and “Fascination Street” keep the legendary Cure gloom and doom alive and well, as the master rarely strays from the art he perfected. This album truly changed my life musically, and was the catalyst to the life I would lead from then on, from a pop culture standpoint anyway.
Agent Orange “This is the Voice”
Bad Religion “Recipe For Hate”
Barenaked Ladies “Maybe You Should Drive”
Black Flag “Damaged”
Circle Jerks “Golden Shower of Hits”
The Cure “Standing on a Beach”
Descendants “Milo Goes to College”
Dinosaur Jr. “Green Mind”
Frank Sinatra “80th: All The Best”
Guns N’ Roses “Appetite For Destruction”
Less Than Jake “Losing Streak”
Metallica “And Justice For All”
Ministry “Psalm 69”
P.I.L. “Greatest Hits”
Poison “Open Up & Say Ahhh”
Radiohead “Pablo Honey”
Rev. Horton Heat “The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of”
Sex Pistols “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”
The Smiths “Meat is Murder”
Teenage Fanclub “Bandwagonesque”
The Vandals “Hitler Bad, Vandals Good”
Weezer “Self-Titled” (aka “The Blue Album”)
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