5 Albums That Changed My Life

Don’t forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life.

It’s the end of the year, which means every blogger, journalist, and other ne’er-do-wells are composing their end of year lists. You know. Because it’s the end of the year. I’ve now used that phrase three times in two sentences.  Perhaps you can tell the season is wearing on me.

As I started to think about the kind of list I wanted to put together, I found my thoughts straying much further away from 2011. Ultimately, probably because I have music on the brain, I started reflecting (read: navel-gazing) about the music that marked important turning points in my life.  We all have them, the song or singer who means a lot to our sense of identity, looming in our memories.

So I humbly present to you five albums that marked important points in my own life. They aren’t the best albums ever made or even still in my regular rotation, but I hold them with a certain sense of fondness. They’re listed in chronological importance in my life, but not necessarily chronologically for release date.

Guns and Roses: Appetite for Destruction
Guns and Roses: Appetite for Destruction

Guns N’ Roses: Appetite for Destruction

Released July, 1987

The summer I was headed into seventh grade, Appetite for Destruction was released. I left school in 6th grade with lopsided bangs I cut myself, once wore a panda printed sweat shirt with a clashing pair of flower printed jeans to school, and by the time I came back in the fall, I was acid washed denim skirts and band t-shirts. Hearing “Welcome to the Jungle” on MTV was an eye-opening experience for a girl who, like so many others, had previously been listening to MJ and Madonna and watching Dancing on Air after school. I wanted to be the tough singer in the leather pants, playing late gigs at dive bars, and whatever else I thought went on in the off-stage life of these bands. (I didn’t fully appreciate the lyrics to “Mr. Brownstown.”) I settled for shoplifting Circus and other metal magazines from the CVS and smoking cigarettes on the football field after school.

True story 1: In the first fiction short story that I ever got any real praise for, I named every single character the real names of the members of Guns N’ Roses.

True story 2: Looking back now as a real Grown Up Feminist, I often cringe in embarrassment at my 12-year-old self getting angry that the band was forced to change the original record cover because “˜that’s censorship’! Oh, so earnest. So myopic. The original cover is heinous. No, I won’t link it here.



The Sisters of Mercy: Vision Thing
The Sisters of Mercy: Vision Thing

The Sisters of Mercy: Vision Thing

Released October, 1990

Freshman year of high school. The boy I nursed a crush on from 6th grade until the day of high school graduation was in my English class. One day he leaned across the aisle to me, held up a cassette tape in his hand and said, “Have you heard this? I think you’d really like it.”

Oh, god, did I ever. To be fair, I probably would have liked it even if he hadn’t given me the cassette and I found it on my own, but him recommending it certainly got me to give it a listen. And so launched my long standing love affair with the goth genre, which directly led, many years later, to me being brought in as a consultant for the producers of the second Crow movie. No, seriously. It did. I can still sing all the lyrics to every song on this thing. Try me.



Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes album cover
Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

Released January, 1992.

Tori was feature in an article by Spin magazine about artists they liked at that year’s New Music Expo. I took that issue of the magazine, went to the local record store, and bought every CD I could find that was featured. Tori was among them.

Little Earthquakes was one of my first exposures to a woman talking directly about the trauma of her rape (“Me and a Gun”), to a female artist who was being celebrated for her talent instead of her sex appeal, and probably the only piano driven CD that was in my collection. I have a very distinct memory of sitting with my friend Sharon in a parking stall at the mall, neither of willing to get out of the car until the tape was over, singing our off-key hearts out.




PJ Harvey: Rid of Me album cover
PJ Harvey: Rid of Me

PJ Harvey: Rid of Me

Released May, 1993

On my 22nd birthday, my college friends threw me a surprise party. I was several months pregnant, had dropped out of school for a job three years prior, and was soon to be laid off. After I cut the cake, I stood talking with my two BFFs, one of whom turned to me and said, “You know, this is the first time since I’ve known you that you haven’t been angry. When we first met, you were just so damn angry all the time.” It shocked me, because in the moment he said it, I knew he was right. I had just lived with it for so long that I no longer even recognized it.

Cut to two years prior, when I was a college freshman and a not-very-good-friend introduced me to Rid of Me. She was a heinous person, but at least I got Harvey for my trouble. I identified, deeply, with every furious shriek and howl that Polly Jean forced out of her mouth, with her insistence that you will fucking look at her and you will hear her, and you will not ignore her. Tori appealed to my sadness, but Polly appealed to my anger. Years later, when Polly moved into her more mature work and no longer shrieked and howled, I felt personally betrayed by the shift in her tone.



The Smiths: Louder than Bombs album cover
The Smiths: Louder than Bombs

The Smiths: Louder than Bombs

Released July, 1987

The Smiths were long over by the time I came to the mountain. I knew who they were, of course. I traveled in the punk and goth circles, which had its own fair share of Smiths fans. But I couldn’t stand them. To my ears, they were whiney and mopey, and their songs were stupid, and god, will someone just put something else on already? (I also nursed a deep and abiding dislike of The Cure, which I eventually grew out of.)

I don’t know why I picked up the Louder Than Bombs CD (it’s a greatest hits compilation). It was pretty out of character for me, even in my mid-twenties. But I put the music on and it was like I was suddenly listening to an entirely different band. Of course, I was just a different person. Suddenly I got the humor, the self depreciation, the sly self-inflicted wounds. I loved the romanticness, the sadness, the sweeping guitars. On a 4 hour drive to visit my parents, I excitedly told my husband “You’ve got to listen to this!’ and by the time we got there, we were both converts.

True story 3: I have some of the lyrics to the song “Rubber Ring” tattooed on my feet. I went from a hater to a major fan in 10 seconds flat.

True story 4: Louder Than Bombs is in my car stereo right now and has been for the last week because I’m too lazy to pick something else out.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

16 replies on “5 Albums That Changed My Life”

Little Earthquakes, absolutely. I actually wore out that tape and had to buy a replacement.

Pearl Jam, Ten. I was in high school, and this changed EVERYTHING. How we dressed, how we acted, what we listened to. I know Nevermind is usually listed as the defining grunge album, but for my little corner of the world, it was Ten.

The Fugees’ The Score. Take a sheltered white girl from the ‘burbs, put this album on repeat for her entire freshman year in college, and watch an entirely new world of music open up to her.

Weezer, the Blue Album. This album also opened up a whole world of music to me. Without it, I never would have sought out the Pixies, or David Bowie, or Sonic Youth. Weezer was my gateway drug.

I’m sure there’s a fifth for me, but those are the four that came immediately to mind.

Five of the albums that had a huge impact on my life would be (but are by no means limited to):

Carole King: Tapestry (1971) Standout Songs: ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ and ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’

The Strokes: Is This It? (2001) Standout Songs: ‘Last Night’ (duh!) and ‘New York City Cops’

Stars: Set Yourself on Fire (2004) Standout Songs: ‘Set Yourself on Fire’ and ‘What I’m Trying To Say’

The Veils: Nux Vomica (2006) Standout Songs: ‘Calliope!’ and ‘Advice For Young Mothers To Be’

Micah P. Hinson: Micah P. Hinson & The Red Empire Orchestra (2008) Standout Songs: ‘When We Embraced’ and ‘My God’ (The bonus track, not the track from the later album)

1. My Life, Mary J. Blige – I didn’t understand this album when it came out.  Then I had my first (and only) HUGE heartbreak. Mary J. Blige knows pain.  Damn girl.

2. Death Certificate, Ice Cube – This was his first album after his beef with NWA/Dr. Dre. I was in high school and one of 6 Black kids and facing racist bullshit damn near every day.  I needed to borrow Cube’s anger: it was an outlet for my own. If you want to know what caused the LA Uprising, listen to this album.

3. Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest – Dre dropped The Chronic and Snoop dropped his debut album and everyone was all over them. I had left LA for college in the ATL and everyone was like “You from Cali, you must LOVE Snoop.” Hell to the no. I threw myself into any hip-hop/rap that wasn’t West Coast. Enter ATCQ.  Because of this record, I met friends I still have to this day. We wrote graphic novels and movie scripts and went to comic book conventions with this record playing in the background.  See also: Do You Want More?? by The Roots/Southerplayalisticadillacmusik by Outkast

4. Invincible, Michael Jackson – IMHO, MJ’s best album, one that marked a return to his R&B roots.  This album came out shortly after 9/11, and I think I needed something happy and upbeat and was a throwback to simpler days.  I was still teaching at the time, and listening to this record made me realize that there was a time when I wanted more out of life other than working 9-5 until I was 65. I enrolled in a grad program to become a principal.  I met a set of guys I call “my fab 5”, men who helped me become more sexually confident and independent.  And of course, this album was on repeat the whole year.

5.  The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole – I didn’t realize how much this record changed my life until I stopped hearing this record.  You see, my dad played this record every Christmas.  To me, hearing Nat’s voice means that the holidays have officially started. But since dad died, we haven’t played it. That’s why I’m sitting here on the computer on 12/23 and haven’t bought nary a gift, or thought about putting up a tree, or what’s for dinner. Christmas is in two days?!?  I can’t tell, because I haven’t heard dad put that record on.

There are albums that, when I listen to them, immediately take me back in time. I don’t know if any of them changed my life, but they definitely chronicle my life. I really love this list, though, and I look forward to trying to make one of my own when I have a little bit more living beneath my belt.

And lady, as someone who wore maroon jeans way way way before hipsters discovered them and gave them any cache, let me say that I FEEL IN MY BONES that 6th grade outfit you described.

1. My parents’ Hank Williams vinyl box set. One listen and I had to revamp my “I hate country music” mantra to “I hate newfangled, suck-country music”.

2. NIN “Pretty Hate Machine”–let’s just say Trent played a serious part in my sexual awakening thanks to this album

3. Grateful Dead “Europe 72-Live” bootleg–it didn’t really change my life, but it has remained one of my all-time favorite albums.

4. Buddy Holly “That’ll Be The Day”–My initial foray in to early rockabilly

5. The Cramps “Bad Music for Bad People”-The album that made me realize that I might live in a small town, but I was most definitely not a small town girl. I was the ONLY person in my high school who even know who The Cramps were!

Appetite for Destruction is the majority of my workout playlist. I can run my ass off to Mr. Brownstone. Have I ever shown you this picture? We were Axl and Slash for Halloween one year and it was epic. My friend even drew all of Axl’s tattoos on me. We have been trying to top this one for years.

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