My Top 20: The Albums That Have Influenced My Life

July 6, 2011 § 4 Comments

Whenever I speak about music, it is usually from a critical standpoint. I stray away from putting my personal thoughts about music into my writing because I look for a more objective approach. It wasn’t until today, as Britney Spears lyrics ran through my mind, where I realized how greatly music has impacted my life. As a nod to my age (I turn 20 in September) I’ve round up the top 20 albums that have had the most influence throughout my life. They represent specific stages in my life so far, as well showing my growth as a Pop music enthusiast. I think it’s important to note that I actually own hard copies of all these CD’s; most of them are cracked and scratched due to constant overplay. While these albums don’t necessarily reflect my musical taste as a whole (my iTunes library suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder) they are the basis of how I understand, interpret, and love music. Here we go!

20. Mavado: Gangsta for Life (2007)

I grew up with Dancehall & Reggae in my household, so I’ve always had a deep love for listening and supporting Jamaican music. I have a soft spot for Dancehall music, especially from the 90’s, but when Mavado’s debut album dropped in 2007 I was ecstatic. He provided a new sound to Dancehall; his pain-inflicted voice and violent, unforgiving lyrics were a mix that I have never heard before. Mavado is not the typical Jamaican artist; the combination of gun songs, party songs, gospel-influenced songs of this album gave Mavado the perfect stepping stone in becoming one of the greatest Jamaican entertainers of my generation.

Favorite Tracks: Don’t Cry, Amazing Grace, Me & My Dogs

19. Gwen Stefani: Love.Angel.Music.Baby (2004)

As a young kid I always thought No Doubt was a cool band, so when Gwen Stefani released her first solo album I knew it was going to be something special. The album released when I was in 8th grade, a time period where I was beginning to search for the types of music I like. Love.Angel.Music.Baby was a breakthrough for me because I was never exposed to such an eclectic sound before. The album is very 80’s kitsch synth-pop driven; a sound that I’ve grown to love.

Favorite Tracks: Bubble Pop Electric, Danger Zone, Crash

18. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)

I was first introduced to the Arctic Monkeys in the summer of 2006 at Exeter’s summer program; I remember the exhilarating moment like it was yesterday. I was in a friend’s dorm room and we were chatting as her music played. But then this schizophrenic clash of rushing guitar & drums came on, and my ears were immediately intrigued.

I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor was such a different sound for me. I was exposed to alternative/indie rock before, but this was something completely fresh; it was British rock. The album gave me a taste of the British youth: the way they spoke, danced, acted, drank, etc. After hearing WPSIA,IAN, I began to research other modern British bands & fell in love. Now, in 2011, I’m an avid British rock fan 🙂

Favorite Tracks: When the Sun Goes Down, Mardy Bum, Riot Van

17. Ashlee Simpson: Autobiography (2004)

Back in 2004 (when MTV actually cared about music) I watched “The Ashlee Simpson Show”. During the short-lived reality series, Ashlee created her debut album. I was already a fan of the show, so when Autobiography dropped, I quickly bought it. I think I related to her album at the time because it covered themes of pain, yearning for attention, puppy love, finding oneself, etc. At age 12, the year when pre-teens think no one “gets” them, I totally connected to the lyrics of the songs. While I don’t listen to Autobiography as much as I used to, it truly does represent my angst-y stage as I transitioned from kid to teenager.

Favorite Tracks: Love Me For Me, Nothing New, Autobiography

16. Kings of Leon: Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005)

I remember when I first heard Kings of Leon. I was watching the FUSE channel when their video for “Four Kicks” came on. The record was so energetic, bad-ass, and new. In 2005, I was so used to metal and emo-core. So when I stumbled across the Southern band, it came as a breath of fresh air. After hearing the record, I searched for more of the band’s music and fell in love with everything I heard. After six years, I’m still a dedicated fan of the band.

Favorite Tracks: Soft, Four Kicks, Razz

15. Michael Jackson: Bad (1987):

I am a HUGE Michael Jackson fan (I mean, who isn’t?) & I love all of his albums (I mean, who doesn’t?), but I believe I gravitated towards Bad because it found MJ delving more into a rockier, edgier sound. Every single song on this album is distinctive, gritty, fun, intriguing, and timeless. What I love most about the songs is the way that MJ’s vocal range mimic the guitar riffs, the drum beats, and the piano notes. The album highlights his artistry more than any other album, simply because the dirty/glam rock references have more of a capacity to play with than a soulful Motown beat. I know that I’ll be listening to Bad for years to come!

Favorite Tracks: Bad, Another Part of Me, Smooth Criminal

14. Backstreet Boys: Millennium (1999):

It’s no surprise that I love Pop music, and Backstreet Boys’ Millennium is one of the reasons why. I find the album incredible because it embodies the definition of what Pop music was (& still is) supposed to sound like. The ballads are soulful and heartfelt, the mid-tempos are tense and truthful, and the up-tempos makes you want to move. Those aspects, combined with 5 talented voices, make for great music. I actually enjoy the boy band’s debut album more than their sophomore effort, but I chose Millennium for this list because it showed me that there are different musical sides to Pop that I did not see before.

Favorite Tracks: Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely, Don’t Want You Back, I Want It That Way

13. Good Charlotte: The Chronicles of Life & Death (2004):

As this list shows, I was introduced to many different sounds in 2004. I knew who Good Charlotte was before this album dropped, but I gravitated towards TCOL&D because (as I stated earlier) I was going through the uncomfortable & angst-y transition of kid to teenager. I believe I received this album for Christmas, and I remember listening to every track over & over again. I was a very miserable & emotional 13 year-old, so listening to this album served as an escape. The lyrics are filled with hate, anger, & dread; the rhythms elevated these heavy emotions. TCOL&D is special to me because represents the “Emo” stage of my life, where I thought this kind of pop-punk music was something I was supposed to listen to.

Favorite Tracks: Meet My Maker, S.O.S., Ghost of You

12. Britney Spears: Blackout (2007):

Unlike other music critics/fans, I will defend Blackout until I run out of breath. Many people do not realize how GOOD of a Pop album is this, solely for the fact that the album dropped at the same time as Britney’s unfortunate mental breakdown. First off, the production on Blackout is downright insane; collaborating with mega-producers Danja, Bloodshy & Avant, etc. gave Spears a more urban sound that totally worked for her. The techno/bass heavy rhythms combined with Britney’s chameleon-like ability to twist her voice to fit any song (this is not Auto-tune people, Britney does have talent) makes for the ultimate Pop album.

Blackout is one of the few albums that I can play from beginning to end without skipping a song. Furthermore, every single song on this record can be played at any club around the world. Who else can master that? I truly wish this album had the promotion it deserved; because of Britney’s personal issues the album was overshadowed by the MUCH weaker Circus, people did not get a chance to appreciate Blackout for what it was: a solid, electro-pop, urban mashup that can be played in the clubs for years to come.

Favorite Tracks: Get Naked (I Got a Plan), Hot as Ice, Outta This World

11. Damian Marley: Welcome to Jamrock (2005):

Bob Marley is one of the most influential figures in Jamaican history, so when his children follow in his musical footsteps you know it’s going to be good. I believe Damian Marley is the rawest and most talented (after Stephen) of all the Marley children. When his 3rd album dropped, I knew I had to have it. Every single track on this album unveils the truth of Jamaica; it reveals the struggle of the people rather than covering it up with a picture of sandy beaches. There are so many themes within this album (love, war, drug abuse, self-loathing, infatuation, fun, etc) that are relatable to everyone, whether you’re Jamaican or not.

Favorite Tracks: Confrontation, There For You, Pimpa’s Paradise

10. Story of the Year: In The Wake of Determination (2005):

I may have grown into a Pop music fanatic, but my first foray into music began with Rock, specifically emo/metal. It took me a while to find the rock bands I most connected with, but after a long journey I stuck with a few bands. The most prominent one is Story of the Year, a post-hardcore band from St. Louis Missouri. I’ve never really been into the hardcore rock sound, but it was something about this band that struck a note with my ears and mind.

I first heard of Story of the Year in 2003 with their debut album, Page Avenue. But it wasn’t until In the Wake of Determination when I actually fell in love with the band. Compared to all of the other softer indie sounds I listen to now, I stuck with Story of the Year because they aren’t afraid to scream in their songs, rip apart their guitar riffs, or beat their drums into the ground. The sounds in this album are so gangster & tough, in that heavy metal way. When I first listened to the album, I felt like I needed to get off my ass to do something important & memorable. In the Wake of Determination makes me feel so energized and determined; I enjoy listening to it now as much as I did in 2005.

Favorite Tracks: Take Me Back, Taste the Poison, We Don’t Care Anymore

9. Ashanti: Ashanti (2002):

This album was released at a time when I was delving into songwriting in 6th grade. It sounds bad now, but I adored Ashanti’s debut album because the self-penned lyrics sounded like songs that I would’ve written at the time. I remember practicing the songs with my friends after school; I even sung Baby at my elementary school’s karaoke event. Looking back at the album now, the lyrics are, in fact, a bit juvenile. But they hold true emotion about love, pain, and just a girl’s life in general. In 6th grade, I was all about R&B and this album elevated my love for the genre. While I don’t listen to R&B as much now, I still get butterflies when I listen to Ashanti from time to time.

Favorite Tracks:  Baby, Rescue, Over

8. TLC: Fanmail (1999):

Hands down, TLC is the most influential girl group of my life. I received Fanmail as a gift from a family member; I remember the moment when I opened the package, gazed at the album book, and the first time I popped the CD into my boombox. This album exposed me to things that a 9-year-old shouldn’t be listening to, but it was so new and interesting for me. Like many other artists, TLC spoke about sex, relationships, and heartbreak. But what separated Fanmail from other albums is its futuristic sound. The lyrics are so raw and unapologetic; the girls act just like men and don’t give a damn. The production itself is otherworldly, especially for the time it was released. The album can be re-released now in 2011, and it would still be fresh and inspiring. Now that is true artistry.

Favorite Tracks: Silly Ho, Fanmail, Dear Lie

7. N’SYNC: Celebrity (2001):

Even though I loved both boy bands dearly (and still do), I always favored ‘NSYNC over the Backstreet Boys because their music had a more urban vibe to it. With their final album Celebrity, the 5-man group pushed this sound even further. I have distinct memories of bringing this CD with me to my 5th grade Art class (our Art teacher gave each classmate a day to play their favorite music). Looking back, the reason I think I played this CD so much was because my Pop music ear was beginning to change, as was ‘NSYNC’s sound at the time. Celebrity wasn’t their best album commercially, but the songs were so different from the other Pop songs out at the time, which is why I still have the album on repeat.

Favorite Tracks: The Game is Over, The Two of Us, Gone

6. Kanye West: College Dropout (2004):

While I enjoy listening to it, I’ve never been a crazy fan of hip-hop/rap. But Kanye West’s debut album, College Dropout, highly peaked my interest. A friend in Junior High copied the CD for me as a favor; I couldn’t stop listening to it from that point on. The way Yeezy combined classic samples with lyrics that came straight from heartfelt memories was groundbreaking for me, as well as many other hip-hop fans. I also enjoyed the “College” concept of the album; funny skits about Kanye’s dropout are brilliantly intertwined with the album’s tracks. He spoke about people we can all relate to: teachers, bosses who forget our names, and school classmates. With College Dropout alone, Kanye West was single-handedly able to bring soul back to a once-hard hip-hop genre.

Favorite Tracks: We Don’t Care, Spaceship, Never Let Me Down

5. Christina Aguilera: Stripped (2002):

I have always been a dedicated supporter of Christina Aguilera ever since “Genie in a Bottle”, but when Stripped was released in 2002 my love for the artist skyrocketed. The album marks the 1st time Aguilera took creative control of a project, and it worked so well. This album is strong, bold, confident, unforgiving, sultry; all of these attributes turned Aguilera into someone I looked up to (and still support to this day). At this point in my young life (I was 11 when the album dropped) I was dealing with some family issues that I didn’t want people to know. Stripped served as my escape, my comfort zone. Aguilera’s booming voice encapsulated me, warming my core and made me feel secure. For that, I will always praise this album.

Favorite Tracks: Walk Away, Fighter, Cruz

4. Aaliyah: Aaliyah (2001):

Aaliyah, the late R&B singer’s 3rd and final album, is one of the most underrated albums I have ever come across. It is the epitome of a solid R&B record, and it is the perfect reflection of the quiet artistry that Aaliyah held. With this album, Aaliyah, along with her producers including close friend & mastermind Timbaland, pushed the boundaries of what R&B music meant. They blended Latin, Funk, Pop, Metal, Soul, and Hip-Hop to create a fresh sound that was unprecedented for the time of the album’s release. The sounds of the songs reflected the delicate-yet-kittenish aesthetic of Aaliyah’s voice; the rhythms were freeing, smooth, and strong. The Aaliyah represented on this album is mature, confident, and cool; all the reasons why she is still one of my idols. R.I.P ♥

Favorite Tracks: Loose Rap, I Care For You, What If

3. Nirvana: Sliver: The Best of the Box (2005):

I know this isn’t technically an album (the CD is a compilation of Nirvana’s demos and unreleased recordings), but there was no way that I couldn’t put it on this list. Like The Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana was introduced to me at Exeter’s Summer Program in 2006. I accidentally stumbled across the album at a record store. I was perusing through various albums when Sliver caught my eye; actually it was the cheap price that got me! At that time, besides the ubiquitous “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, I was not familiar with Nirvana’s work at all. A friend talked me into buying the album, and so I did. I first thought of it as an impulse purchase, but I didn’t know what I getting into as I bought it. The album changed my life.

I was just so used to listening to crappy rock bands, so when I first heard the strum of the guitar on “Spank Thru” I was HOOKED. I remember thinking, “Is this what rock music is supposed to sound like?” Throughout the rest of my stay at Exeter, I wore that CD out like nobody’s business. I vividly remember being alone in my dorm room, blasting the CD on my Sony disc player while using the lyrics of the songs to inspire the poems I was working on at the time. Every song was so fun, so raw, so talent-filled, and just downright awesome! Sliver: The Best of the Box drove me to search other classic bands like Nirvana; I felt this album woke me up to a sound that was missing in my life. I am so grateful for buying this album, even if it was a careless gesture!

Favorite Tracks: Blandest, Old Age, Floyd the Barber

2. Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006):

I’ve been a fan of Justin Timberlake (JC used to be my #1) ever since he debuted his amazing curls in NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” video. When he broke out as a solo act in 2002, I was fully supportive of the album. But when Justin’s sophomore album dropped in 2006, the way I thought about music changed drastically. Prior to this album, I was used to the standard, predictable form of Pop music. When I received this album as a birthday present, my musical ear was shifted and defined for the better.

With FS/LS, Timberlake and Timberland (an amazing pairing) took Pop and R&B into their own hands, and twisted the genres in a way that was so new to people. The album is just shy of being a concept record, with the songs and sounds speaking of sex and love, respectively. But these ideas are presented in a way that was so refreshing and innovative; the lyrics surrounded by Euro-influenced electro beats and sexually suggestive breathy voices.

At the time of the album release, I was tightly focused on emo-core/alternative music; this CD pulled me out of that slump and introduced me to a new sound that I currently adore. I proudly credit FS/LS as one of the best albums of the past decade, even one of the best of my generation. It will be forever on constant rotation for years to come.

Favorite Tracks: What Goes Around/Comes Around, Lovestoned/I Think She Knows, Losing My Way

1. Britney Spears: Britney (2001):

Having two albums on this list from Britney Spears clearly shows that deep down, I am a true Pop music fan. I received Britney as a Christmas present in 2001, and a decade later I haven’t stopped listening to it; my copy of the CD is cracked due to constant rotation from my boombox. This album was such a breakthrough for the then-young popstar. We were introduced to her when she was a product of her label. But when this album dropped, all of that protection and manipulation was shattered (for the time being).

The self-titled project reflects Britney’s feelings toward how she is used as a product of the media and her team, which is such a breathtaking case of foreshadowing. It was a break away from the bubblegum pop we were all used to; the 1st single “Slave 4 U” proves just that. It was a peek into the sexified bombshell that Spears was becoming, an image that was driven deeply in 2003’s In The Zone.

This album means so much to me because it was the 1st time I began to understand the power of good production and a solid album message. It was the first time where I realized how intricately music & lyrics affect me, both emotionally and sonically. Britney is sexy, defiant, touching, and experimental. The production on this album is so unique; it mimics the sultry adult persona that the pop singer was budding into. Overall, the album is a banger from the first track to the last. It’s the perfect Pop album, and I’ll be in love with it until the end of time.

Favorite Tracks: Let Me Be, Cinderella, Overprotected

This post, while lengthy, shows my musical growth as well as my support of certain genres. These albums are so dear to my heart, and are so reflective of the past 20 years of my life. At the end of the day, as anyone can tell with this post, I will always hold Pop music close to me as the sound has affected my life the most. I have now shared my most personal album experiences, so what are your top 10 (or 20) albums?

🙂

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