WNYC’s Soundcheck had a great episode yesterday “The Album That Changed Your Life.” It is well worth listening to the entire program. One caller stated that Marvin Gaye What’s Going On was his life changing album. A quick search of YouTube reveals that this song and album have political and social significance for many. I found tons of video montages with images as diverse as Dr. King to the Twin Towers burning. I now hear and experience this music in a new way.
There was much discussion about the formative time of life, adolescence, when music has the most power to change your life/make an impact. I get that. You are struggling to figure out who you are, fit in, and feel much like an outsider in your own body. Angst. Yeah. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are often tossed around for my generation, the group that changed an era of teens, and are often revered as the kings of that grunge sound. I liked the band, don’t get me wrong, but that wasn’t the collection of songs that really made the biggest impression on me.
Dirt by Alice in Chains was the album that spoke to me. That was the group that turned me on to a new sound, and that sound wasn’t prone to fitting into labels. They called it grunge, but it really wasn’t. I loved the song “Them Bones” with its haunting, dismal lyrics:
“Dust rise right on over my time
Empty fossil of the new scene
I feel so alone, gonna wind up a
Big ole pile a them bones”
Loved it. BUT, I’ve loved lots of music before that day (Alvin and the Chipmunks, anyone?). I’ve loved a lot of music since that day. Was this the album that changed my life, just because it is what I struck upon in my whiny, teenage angst? The answer is no. Many albums have “spoken” to me, depending on the various points of my life. I know this album isn’t the one because I don’t continue to listen to it. My copy got lost long ago. So, for the me the way to look at the life changing album question is to figure out, what do I keep going back to, to listen to time and time again?
There are a few:
1. Robert Johnson, the complete recordings
2. Tracy Chapman – self-titled debut
3. Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes (though this is a close tie with Winter)
4. Felix Mendelssohn’s symponies (the violin concerto rocks too)
5. Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See (to be honest though, this one has a lot of emotional baggage with it so I listen to it very, very rarely)
Sure, there are other artists too, but it is their general collections not a specific album that I keep going back to: Johnny Cash, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucinda Williams, Counting Crows, and tons of classical stuff. A list of songs that changed my life would have a different flavor, different artists. I’m sure there is new stuff that will come along, but my list will just get longer. There is no “one” album or song that changes me. They all do that.
What is your life changing album, song?