Ten Albums that Influenced Me When I Was a Teenager

My rather extended thoughts on this little Facebook trend.

  1. The White Album- If I were to pledge some great impact from or allegiance to whatever was going in music when I was a teenager, I would be lying. I was a classic rock kid and dozens of albums that were recorded when my parents were teenagers meant more to me at fifteen and sixteen than the music that was coming out then. Then and now, no band has ever mattered more to me than the Beatles. This is not an original take on the matter or something unique to me. It is the default, but it is also the truth.

I first fell in love with the Beatles listen to my dad’s record of the 1967-70 collection. I was also a bit of Greatest Hits kid and admit with much shame (more on that later. I moved on to the albums in short order, however, and while Sgt Pepper, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, and Let It Be were just as heavy in the rotation in my teens, The White Album had the biggest influence on me then because it is so incessantly strange. Forget the hits on it. They’re great of course, but for me, this album is about Happiness is a Warm Gun, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and Piggies It’s about John, Paul, George and Ringo at their weirdest, indulging in being famous enough to be truly eccentric and still making some of the best Rock N’ Roll ever recorded. It is an album that seems full of cryptic messages and deep insights- so much that it obsessed one deranged man who built a murderous cult around it- but it is full of jokes and playfulness and infighting and self-deprecations too. Did I mention it also has approximately a million killer tracks on it, good enough to justify the persistent need to skip crap like Revolution 9? It is exactly the kind of thing you get obsessed with at fifteen, but unlike so many of those things, it is still enjoyable at thirty-five.


  1. Picture of Nectar- I didn’t get the nickname Hippie Matt as a freshman in college for ironic reasons. I was a Phishhead and a Deadhead and super into Bob Marley and constantly donned in tie-dye. That mostly all started with listening to Picture of Nectar after my cousin lent it to me. It was weird (not White Album weird, mind you) and totally different from the Classic Rock I was listening to, but also fun and full of great guitar and ripe for geeking out on, which I did in a very major way. I could follow this up with a list of the ten Phish bootlegs I wasted the most time on internet message boards trying to trade for, but it would be sad, sad reminder of just how little did with my life in those days and who needs that? I don’t listen to Phish much these days but I still enjoy some of it if I am I the mood. I cannot at all connect with the person who cared so much about it now, though, and that makes me sad. This was a big deal for me way back when.


  1. A Love Supreme- One of the things that might happen if you get super into jam bands is that you might slip down the improvisational music rabbit hole and land in the Wonderland of Jazz music. Jazz is mostly a punchline today, especially the more avant-garde versions like this. I love it though and Coltrane deserves at least 90-percent of the reverence that is laid before him. He is amazing and this album is amazing. As with Phish, I don’t listen to A Love Supreme much anymore. I listen to Coltrane’s Sound or Blue Train all the time, but not A Love Supreme. Maybe when you are young, you have more patience for the experimental, or maybe you find depth in things that seem deep that isn’t really there or maybe you miss the deep in the things that are less weird because strange things are strange and that seems important. I don’t know. I should probably listen to this album more, but I won’t.



  1. Nevermind- It feels obligatory to cite Nirvana, but it is a case of the cliché being true. Smells Like Teen Spirit was a watershed moment in music for my generation. Grunge was our Rock N’ Roll, the style that came of age with us and it was pretty great. I grew out of Nirvana before I stopped being a teenager and had to get ten years or so away from it before I could go back and remember it for being as important as it was. Some of that was the side of me that has to reject the popular thing and some of it was all the terrible shit that followed that was trying to sound like Nirvana. There was a ton of terrible shit. Nevermind was brilliant though and of all the Rock N’ Roll alternate histories you could make, I think Kurt Cobain not killing himself is one of the most fascinating. He was a brilliant artist in several mediums and a thoughtful and empathetic person. Things would be different today if he was alive. I’m not sure how, but they would be different.


  1. Ten- For all the incredible impact that Nevermind had, Pearl Jam’s Ten is the better album and was at least equally important to me as a teenager. As an adult, the resonance of songs like Alive, Even Flow and Black is so powerful that I often forget that Jeremy is even on this album, which given the fact that it was played approximately 20 times an hour on the radio and on MTV in defiance of the laws of space and time, is remarkable. Of all the music that is labeled “grunge” only Nirvana’s Unplugged and this album really seem to exist outside that time and trend.


  1. Recipe for Hate- I was just two or three days into high school when James Imonti passed me a cassette tape of this Bad Religion album. It blew my mind. It is another album that I have not listened to in years, but the melodies to American Jesus and Don’t Pray on Me, still linger in the back of my mind. If you aren’t going to discover punk through The Clash or The Ramones, this isn’t a bad place to get your start. I could have had much worse introductions in the form of the pop-punk wave that Green Day ushered in around this time, so I am grateful to James and to Bad Religion for sparing me that fate. Lyrically, it isn’t hard to draw the line between Bad Religion and the protest music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seegar that I grew up on. In that respect, this album is still quite relevant. American Jesus, in particular, seems to be as poignant as ever.
  1. The Ultimate Experience- Despite being obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, I didn’t own any of the studio albums until my late teenage years. Such is the foolishness of youth, I guess. At 13, I joined one of those scammy CD clubs that sent you eight CD’s for a penny (oh, things kids of the next generation will never know) and got Clapton’s Timepieces and this Hendrix compilation. It was probably one of the things I listened to the most as a teenager, much to my folky parents utter dismay. This was the music of their teenage years and they hated it then and hated it just as much when I was teenager. For all the uncoolness that comes with Greatest Hits compilations, this is a fantastic collection and covers the Hendrix catalog amazingly well.
  1. 24 Nights- I might judge myself as uncool for buying all those greatest hits albums, but the same impulse, which was to get the highest number of the songs I liked on one album, also steered me to live albums, so I would say my youthful ignorance paid off in the long run. This Clapton album was my absolute favorite Clapton album and I started playing guitar after hearing the original Layla for the first time, so that really is saying something. This album gets bonus points for the time when I turned a pretty girl on to Bell-Bottom Blues at age 17 and got to feel like someone who knew important secret things about music.
  1. Europe 72- I love the Grateful Dead. Along with Bob Dylan and the Beatles, they are a cornerstone in the soundtrack of my life. Today, I tend to listen to the studio albums, especially American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead more than the live stuff, but this album is still one of my favorites and may be the highwater mark of the entire jam band genre. Going back to my teenage days, I could justifiably pick another Dead live compilation- Hundred Year Haul- just as easily but Europe ’72 gets the nod if just for the China Cat> Rider jam, one of my all-time favorites.
  1. Sublime- I can’t really say that Sublime had a major impact on me the way that these other albums did, but if I was making a movie set between 1994-1998, my own personal Dazed and Confused, it would have to have What I Got, Santeria, Doin’ Time and Wrong Way all very prominently featured on the soundtrack. There is no other music on earth that transports me back to high school as much as Sublime. Maybe that because Bradley Nowell died and this was basically the entirety of their run as a popular band. Maybe it is because they got played to death on the radio. Maybe it is that this music- Sublime specifically, but also ska in general- was bright and fun-sounding (even in songs about teenage prostitution and being locked up) and fit with the carefree summer days of being a teenager in a way that the grunge of those days never could. Regardless of the reason for it, there is no music on earth that takes me back to riding in J’s beat-up, bird’s egg blue Chevy Reliant quite like Sublime.

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