20 Life-Changing Albums

Months ago I started seeing Facebook posts listing people’s choices for 10 life-changing albums.  I totally planned on making my own post.  Then when I made the list, there were over 30 albums and I was only able to pare it down to 20.  Also, I’m incapable of doing things without adding a little something extra, so I wanted to write a little about each album rather than just making a list.  Therefore, it has taken me several extra months to do what should have been a 15-minute exercise.


(No, there’s really no correlation between the music and my tiki god collection.  Unless you consider that I hear drumming when I look at them.)

The album choices on this list have one primary feature in common: I’ve listened to the full album from beginning to end dozens of times, to the point where I can hear the opening notes of the next track before it even starts.  All of these albums also feature at least one or two songs that I constantly find myself singing in the car or the shower or at work when there is hopefully no one in earshot.

  1. Heart in Motion – Amy Grant: This album was released when I was in middle school, and several of the songs were in constant rotation on the radio station my bus driver chose.  It was guaranteed that I would hear Amy Grant every single afternoon on the way home from school.  [When I start to sing the blues / You pull out my dancing shoes / I think you could be so good for me]
  2. For My Broken Heart – Reba McEntire: One of the overall most depressing albums ever, which I became very familiar with during my first long period of depression a few years after it was released.  [If I had only known / I’d never hear your voice again / I’d memorize each thing you ever said]
  3. Dookie – Green Day: This was the only cassette I ever wore out from playing it too much.  If there had been iPods back then, I’d have had it on “repeat album” for weeks.  [Sometimes I give myself the creeps / Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me / It all keeps adding up / I think I’m cracking up]
  4. The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails: It has been 2 decades since I discovered this album as a high school freshman, and I have consistently returned to it when I need to wallow in self-loathing.  [If I could start again / A million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way]
  5. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette: My first experience of staying home alone was not long after I got this album.  It was great to play really loudly, and scream along with.  Until my family walked in right as I screamed a profanity.  [We all had our reasons to be there / We all had a thing or two to learn / We all needed something to cling to / So we did]
  6. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos: I was several years late to finding this album, having been introduced to it by a friend in my first college dorm.  None of her future albums really spoke to me the way this one did.  [I’ve been raising up my hands / Drive another nail in / Got enough guilt to start my own religion]
  7. The Green World – Dar Williams: I found this one via a friend of a college roommate, and proceeded to spread the word of Dar to anyone who would listen.  I’ve loved all her albums, but there’s a special place in my heart for this one.  [And when I chose to live / There was no joy – it’s just a line I crossed / It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost / So I was not lost or found]
  8. RENT – Original Broadway Cast: I somehow learned of RENT when I was a theatre major, but procrastinated on buying the soundtrack for months.  I finally got it as a souvenir from a trip to Washington D.C., where I was mocked for buying something I could have gotten back home.  [It won’t work, I look before I leap / I love margins and discipline / I make lists in my sleep / Baby, what’s my sin?]
  9. Up – Peter Gabriel: Not sure how I found this album, but it stuck in my head so much that I had a whole series of profile pictures for my online journal that were themed around the songs.  [The news that truly shocks is the empty empty page / While the final rattle rocks its empty empty cage / And I can’t handle this]
  10. Afterglow – Sarah McLachlan: I was a fan of Sarah McLachlan since high school, but this is the one album that keeps drawing me back.  [I’m lost to those I thought were friends / To everyone I know / Oh they turn their heads embarrassed / Pretend that they don’t see / But it’s one missed step / One slip before you know it / And there doesn’t seem a way to be redeemed]
  11. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out – Panic! At the Disco: Love their song titles.  Sure, they rarely have much to do with the content of the song, but they always make me laugh.  [Prescribed pills / To offset the shakes / To offset the pills / You know you should take / It a day at a time]
  12. The Sound of Madness – Shinedown: You know, I have no idea what I love so much about this album.  I just do.  [I’m not angry, I’m just saying… / Sometimes goodbye is a second chance]
  13. Absolutely – Sister Hazel: This entire album makes me cry every single time I listen to it.  Cry and get chills.  [Where do you go and what do you do / When all you have left is hanging on you / Where do you go and what do you do / When you lose everything you ever knew]
  14. Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons: You wouldn’t think there’s much connection between Nine Inch Nails and Mumford & Sons, but this is the other album I always listen to in times of self-loathing.  [But it was not your fault but mine / And it was your heart on the line / I really fucked it up this time / Didn’t I, my dear?]
  15. 21 – Adele: It feels kind of cheesy to put this on here.  Like it’s too predictable.  Still, I find myself (badly) singing these songs to myself all the time.  [‘Cause there’s a side to you / That I never knew, never knew / All the things you’d say, / They were never true, never true / And the games you’d play / You would always win, always win]
  16. Ghost in My Head – Jill Hennessy: I adored Jill on Crossing Jordan, and love the independent folksy style here.  [We walk hand in hand and catch the night train and try to laugh all the truth away]
  17. The Rock and the Tide – Joshua Radin: One of those albums where I listened through the samples on Amazon and instantly felt like I’d known all the songs forever.  [This time you’ve got to make up your mind / This life’s worth living / Get up, we’ve got a ways to go]
  18. Born to Die – Lana Del Rey: This is what I imagine would happen if Tori Amos collided with trip-hop.  I mean, that’s something I wish would happen, so I guess it’s okay if it’s a different artist who made it happen.  [And there’s no remedy / For memory / Your face is like a melody, / It won’t leave my head]
  19. Animal – Ke$ha: This album gives me the same kind of feeling as Jagged Little Pill.  If I want to get up and dance and scream along, this is what finds its way to the “Now Playing” in iTunes.  [Don’t stop, make it pop / DJ, blow my speakers up / Tonight, Imma fight / ‘Til we see the sunlight / TiK ToK, on the clock / But the party don’t stop, no]
  20. Next to Normal – Original Broadway Cast: My current constant musical companion.  By random coincidence, Amazon recommended this bipolar-related musical to me when I was having some retail therapy after my first bipolar-related emergency room visit.  I’ve barely listened to anything else in the nearly 3 months since I received it.  [Do you wake up in the morning and need help to lift your head? / Do you read obituaries and feel jealous of the dead? / It’s like living on a cliffside not knowing when you’ll dive / Do you know, do you know what it’s like to die alive?]

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