I’ve got this top five albums that I carry around in my heart. They aren’t necessarily my top five desert island albums or the top five albums I think are the pinnacle of what music should be. These are if, say, I needed to explain to someone how the fuck I got this way without my own words, I would just hand them these CDs. That’s a situation I’ll never be in, but guess what, Dear Reader? You’re on my blog, so technically you’re in that situation right now.
These are meaningful to me because of the times in my life when I fell in love with them, and the fact that they can so easily transport me back to how I exactly felt during a listening session. To be fair, Mandy Moore’s “Candy” can do that too, but I’m pretty sure that’s universal.
The Wallflowers, Bringing Down The Horse, 1996
If there’s a theme going forward, it might be “depression.” I don’t know that I was ever clinically depressed, but sadness plays a big role in these picks, and pretty much every song on Bringing Down The Horse is, in a word, bleak. I was eight when it came out, and I think I got the CD when I was nine or ten. That may sound weird, but I grew up watching adult sitcoms and listening to both alternative/pop radio and classic 70s/80s rock, so The Wallflowers, The Verve Pipe, Matchbox Twenty, these were all sort of the backdrop to my childhood alongside Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen. I used to make up supernatural stories to the songs on Bringing Down The Horse, pretty easy when Jakob Dylan’s lyrics are already so prose-y and fantastical, and it sort of paved the way for me to really get into writing more dark and somber stuff. I mean, a pre-teen is probably already on the verge of that anyway, and the images of a boy living in a tower, a girl dying of a broken heart, and a man who can survive disconnecting the wires in his own heart just push you over the edge. Every song is magic, and if you didn’t before, you will absolutely appreciate the existence of the slide guitar after one listen, but of the non-singles, I’d suggest “Josephine” to get a feel for the album as a whole. (Please keep in mind that to a nine year old, the schoolgirl imagery was not weird. As an adult, I find this song…odd, but I don’t think that escaped the band.)
Green Day, American Idiot, 2004
The first time I was old enough to cast a ballot for the President of the United States, I had the privilege and the honor to vote for Barack Obama. Everything I felt about this country could be summed up with the title track on this album when I was a teenager, and consequently, it’s probably more accurate now than it was 14 years ago. Beyond a punky middle finger to George W (remember the good ole days when Bush was the bad guy? Now the dude who infamously said well, I can’t pick just one, is the voice of reason!), there’s this sad, angry, trippy story about finding yourself and your place in a fucked up world on this album, and that’s what a lot of teenagers deal with. Sadly, the story itself ends with the protagonist giving up, so I was never keen on the last couple parts, but I like to think that just because he gives up on Whatshername doesn’t mean that Whatshername ever gave up fighting the good fight. The album is also incredibly theatrical (they did adapt it for the stage, after all) and loud and in your face. Basically a lot of things I wasn’t but desperately wanted to be. “St Jimmy” is one of the most fun, scream at the top of your lungs with your tongue sticking out songs:
The Killers, Sam’s Town, 2006
I used to say The Killers was my favorite band, but I realized that it’s actually just that they made one of my favorite records because they change pretty drastically from album to album. There are a lot of songs on their B-sides release, Sawdust, that I really like, but you can tell those songs were the ones that didn’t make it onto Hot Fuss because they belonged on Sam’s Town but ended up on Sam’s Town‘s cutting room floor. (A little detour here, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is probably The Killers’ best song, but it’s weirdly on Hot Fuss despite the very clear Sam’s Town vibes it gives off, though it might be too hopeful and cymbal-crash-y for the latter. Okay, I’m done!) Again, there are a lot of story-telling songs, but the focus here is faith and in the mid 2000s that’s what I was struggling with too. Who am I, what’s my role in the world, what does God (yeah, big G) want me to do? All that bullshit. I also got interested in my mom’s life when she was growing up as I got closer to the age she was when she had me, thinking “I could never have a baby right now,” and curious about my biological father, and Brandon Flowers explores similar ideas in a lot of these tracks. “For Reasons Unknown” spoke to me on a primal level, and “Read My Mind” was basically the soundtrack to my struggle with sexuality. I don’t know if everyone has experienced this, but you know that thought when you’re driving over the speed limit toward a sharp curve on a country road and you’re like, “You know what, self? You don’t have to turn, you could just, like…keep going straight.” Well, “Why Do I Keep Counting” basically kept me wondering enough about mortality and God and the future to stay out of the ditch and keep my feet on the ground throughout 2008:
Meat Loaf, Bat Out Of Hell, 1977
If there’s one album that doesn’t fit in…except it totally does! It’s a rock opera, it tells a story, it’s about finding yourself (though admittedly finding yourself half naked in the backseat, dry-humping a cheerleader), and it’s epic. I think my mom got this on CD when I was around eight, and I’ve been listening to it since. It was always fun, even when it was about heartbreak and death, and it might be what introduced me to the idea of the devil being a pretty cool guy. Like with Bringing Down The Horse, I wrote supernatural stories in my head to this one too, only these were cheesier and self-aware. There were vampires and werewolves and demons and blood pacts and necromancy and, of course, motorcycles, but with bat wings. And all before Twilight! I’m not going to offer you a non-single suggestion because “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” is literal perfection and Ellen Foley is a goddess (that’s not her in the video though):
My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade, 2006
The Black Parade is a desert island album for me. In fact, if I could only listen to one album for the rest of my life, just one set of songs, it would be this. Why? I wish I fucking knew, honestly. It’s super dramatic, it’s sad and self-loathing, it romanticizes war and cancer and abuse all of which are absolutely not romantic, but it’s also loud, clever, thoughtful, uses “fuck” unabashedly, it is just so much fun. Of course, My Chemical Romance’s popularity wasn’t born out of fun, they rode a wave of emo tears to the top of their genre. I wasn’t a huge fan of their first two albums (but “I’m Not Okay” always does it for me), and I never had scene hair or a lip piercing, but I felt a lot of the things expressed in these songs. Yes, they’re self indulgent, but I don’t think you can really feel an emotion without wallowing in it for at least a little bit. On top of all that, The Black Parade presents music in some of my favorite ways: broadway-esque with vocals that are full of emotion (and also ENUNCIATION), borrowing from other cultures and sounds but making those things sound borderline poppy, orchestral sounds, and lyrics that are angry but also humorous and kinda grotesque and demonic. Or maybe I’m over-analyzing it and it’s all shit, but it doesn’t matter because I love it. So on that note I’ll leave you with one of, if not the, most fucked up songs on the album.