It sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Albums that change your life? But, honestly, I think it’s actually a pretty common experience shared by all of us who listen to music and buy albums.
Perhaps it was more prevalent when people actually bought albums, instead of just streaming singles, but I feel like it’s a universal experience, still happening today, regardless of how music is being listened to.
The early days
As kids, we would listen to whatever our parents played in the car, or whatever was on the radio/in the top 40. So, up until my early teens I was pretty naive to the wider-world of music on offer.
My points of reference were few, but mostly excellent (not all of them….). Bruce Springsteen, Meatloaf, Phil Collins, Genesis, The Beautiful South, Elton John, David Essex (how?!), Rod Stuart. The list goes on, but this was the crux of it.
Mixed-in with a slew of Disney soundtracks (all bloody excellent!) and some novelty songs (Mr Blobby anyone?!), my tastes were mild and looked for more of that sing-along, pop-joy that came from pretty much all of the above.
That hasn’t changed so much (who doesn’t love a good sing-along?!), but what did change was my exposure to music as my friends shared their loves and much less sheltered experiences.
Being a teenager and suddenly being able to identify with others, with these people singing songs about things I could relate to, or with a style that appealed to me, it was a revelation.
Sure, I owned the Spice Girls album and a couple of “Now that’s what I call music….” tapes, but my first album purchase that was all mine, was the one that started it all off.
The Offspring – Americana
Welcome. To. Ameri-cana. Please. MakeYour. Selection. Followed by THE. Pound. Sign. Now…
Possibly the best opening salvo of songs, of all-time. The production here is incredible, blending one into another. “Have you ever” and “Staring at the sun”, amazing! It still gets me pumped now, whenever I start the album.
I’ll be honest, my draw here was “Pretty Fly (for a white guy). Pop, punk, silliness and lyrics I arguably didn’t really understand at the age of 13, but it was exactly what pre-pubescent me was dying for.
My first foray into punk and the wider world of distorted guitars, clever lyrics and music that I was suddenly able to relate to, although not quite so much as future albums I’d buy.
Aggression and noise and (to me) a sense of going against the grain. Teenage dreams!
I delved into the whole back catalogue and became a lifetime fan, but this album started everything for me. Including my propensity to sing in a key higher than neccessary at all times.
Blink 182 – The Tom, Mark and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back)
So, guitars were this big thing in my life now, and I knew I wanted to play something.
Then my friend Craig copied an album for me that he’d been raving about for weeks. I thought I’d give it a go…..
If Americana was some kind of awakening, this was an evolution of that. Silliness, guitars, riffs and lyrics I could truly relate to. Holy crap, this was EXACTLY what I’d been looking for in my life, and I had no idea until now.
Suddenly, I felt like I was at home. It was mildly offensive (enough to get a rise out of my parents), it was stupidly funny, and the songs were sincere and really spoke to me.
Beyond that, this is the album that encouraged me to start playing bass, and eventually guitar, and of course lead to playing in bands.
I learned how to play things, I learned how to play and sing (generous term) them at the same time, and I truly found my place in the world of music. What a thing to have!
Atticus: Dragging the lake
Of course being a big Blink 182 fan, Atticus was a big name in my life. T-shirts and belts, that dead bird was my symbol of pride to be a part of this world now.
One day in HMV, I saw this compliation. Bands I’d heard of, but never really given time to. Bands my friends loved, and bands I’d never known about. It was Atticus, though, so of course I had to have it.
What a gateway……….I learned about Finch, Sugarcult, New Found Glory, The Movielife, Glassjaw, The Starting Line, The Used, Alkaline Trio and Jimmy Eat World.
Sure, there were some bands that I already knew (Alkaline Trio and New Found Glory were pretty prominent in my life by now), but holy crap did I have my mind opened.
This compilation lead to me becoming a lifelong fan of all the above-listed bands, countless albums and shows. I learned what I liked from the Blink and Offspring albums, but this taught me to expand my horizons and held my hand through the first few experiences.
What a collection of songs!
Finch – What it is to burn
Stemming-off from Dragging the Lake, Finch was my next-level awakening. My introduction into the world of, what would be dubbed as “screamo”. You don’t just have to sing about girls, you can bloody shout it, and make some serious noise about it.
Beyond that, there was this heavier, more meaty aggression that I latched onto. The titular tile “What it is to burn” is a fucking belter, even today. The whole album from start to finish is something that just unlocked something in me that I didn’t know I had.
Project Mayhem genuinely pushed me out of my comfort zone at the time, it was a bit jagged around the edges, and it wasn’t really a singable song. An aggressive, mixed-bag of guitars, screaming and electronics. Still a regular on many playlists of mine. Finch became something quite special to me, just as The Offspring and Blink 182 had before them.
With those pop-sensibilities wrapped-up in “Letters to you”, I had some of my pop(ish) safety net to fall back to, as a ventured deeper into the album. A definitive album, if there ever was one.
Arguably bettered by their follow-up “Say Hello To Sunshine”, but never beaten in terms of impact on my teenage self.
Something Corporate – North
This was a tough one. Which album do you round-out this list with? 5 isn’t enough really. I committed to 5, and I’ve had to really think about each and every one. Leaving out some albums that have been massive in my life, for those that really started to shape me in on way or another.
“North” by Something Corporate is exactly that. I’d been a big fan of “Leaving Through the Window”, and I’ve been a massive fan of all the Andrew McMahon projects since. Nothing quite hit me like “North”, though.
Calm, clever, pop-rock at it’s finest. Arguably not as good an album as say “Everything in Transit” but this is where I was able to calm down a bit. Solid, well-written and well-produced pop songs. A touch of distortion here and there, but a different, slower-paced and more thoughtful way to deliver the same emotional impact as the other albums listed above.
North was the realisation that I didn’t only have to like the more aggressive side of music. Almost harkening back to what I grew up on, musically. Pop isn’t a bad thing, when done properly, and sincerely.
Playing “21 and Invincible” as the first song I heard on my 21st birthday, “Break Myself” when things weren’t going too well with a girlfriend. Hammering “Space” and “Only Ashes” as loud as possible in my Ford Escort, signing at the top of my voice.
To say only 5 albums had an impact on me, would be ridiculous. I’ve missed out some massive albums, some huge moments. Steel Train, The Used, Sugarcult, Fun. and on and on and on.
Being a teenager in the early 2000’s was excellent, and no doubt, every generation has a similar things to latch onto.
The ups and downs of heartache, growing out of friends, and vice versa. Coming to terms with the beginnings of adulthood and work.
Gaining the confidence to try and do these things myself, even writing and recording an album, and playing in bands for years.
If it wasn’t for these 5 albums, I know for a fact I’d be a different person. Possibly a better person, but it would have been a dull ride!
What albums do you consider the 5 life-changers? It’s a tougher question that it appears.
Also: shout-out to Absolutepunk.net (now Chorus.fm) for giving me an insight into this world of music and helping me always find new bands. I spent so long on that site, checking it every single day for years and years.
Never very vocal in the comments, but always absorbing everything going on in this exciting universe. It always felt like a home on the internet.