10 Most Influential Albums of my Teenage Years
I’m not exaggerating when I say that music was the most important thing in my life when I was a teenager. More important than school, more important than my fast-developing body and yes even more important than my Mum’s macaroni cheese (mate, that is really saying something). Every week I had the NME, Melody Maker and Smash Hits delivered, as well as going out and buying Select, Vox and Record Mirror magazines (yeah I got a discount at the newsagents I worked at thankfully). Whilst my brother was eating, sleeping and breathing football, I was doing the same with music. It’s safe to say that music plays an important role in the socialisation of adolescents. When you think of your teenage years, you will most likely have a soundtrack that accompanies it. After seeing a friend list her favourite albums from her teenage years on Facebook, I started to consider which would be mine. Every time I thought of an album, I realised sometimes its influence on me was possibly far more important than it’s musical credibility. Therefore, these albums aren’t necessarily the best albums of my teenage years or even my favourites, but they are the albums that influenced me the most and helped shape me. Some were released before I was a teenager, but were albums that I discovered and listened to a lot in my teen years. I’ve included a Spotify playlist at the end of the best songs from each album.
Raw Like Sushi by Neneh Cherry (1989)
Neneh (remember, it rhymes with henna) was the first act to get me into hip hop music (ok I was rather partial to Walk this Way by Run DMC before then) from there I embraced the sounds of De La Soul (technically the hippies of hip-hop because they had some flowers on their album cover), Monie Love and Queen Latifah. Yes, the creme de la creme of late-80’s/early 90’s hip hop. Is this the right time to mention, that I loved Betty Boo too? Moving on…
So, I was beyond excited when on Christmas day I was presented with the Raw Like Sushi LP by my parents. I spent the rest of the day locked in my room, ignoring my family and playing the album over and over again.
A common theme with some of these albums that soundtracked my teenage years, is that both myself and my friends were equally obsessed with them. Raw Like Sushi is one of them. We would sit in each other’s bedrooms listening to it whilst “rapping” along (have you ever heard a group of 13/14 year old girls from Oxfordshire rapping? We sounded goooood). So, altogether now:
“who’s that gigolo on the street, with his hands in his pocket and his crocodile feet, hanging off the curb, looking all disturbed, at the boys from home, they all come running….”
“Chocolates, bananas, doughnuts and salami, ain’t gonna fit cos you’re full of bologna”.
Ooh nice burn, Neneh.
I remember reading an interview with Neneh in Smash Hits magazine (greatest magazine of all time) and talking about her hatred for Margaret Thatcher. Whilst, it probably wasn’t a radical point of view, it felt radical to me at that age, to hear one of my idols talk about our country leader in that way. Also, remember the storm that erupted when Neneh performed on Top of the Pops heavily pregnant? One newspaper denounced her and claimed performing whilst pregnant was bad for the unborn child. This was less than 30 years ago. I don’t believe she was trying to make a big political statement. Rather, she was just a woman who happened to be pregnant and was just “getting on with things” and I absolutely loved her for it.
I still love Neneh and have bought every album she’s produced since, but nothing will top the glorious Raw Like Sushi.
Favourite song: Buffalo Stance
Everything by Bangles
Many of you will probably remember slow dancing to Eternal Flame at the school disco with Aaron Taylor who later on that evening gifted you with the chewing gum from his mouth as you snogged by the bins*. But for me the Bangles and this album meant so much more than a slushy song one would exchange saliva to.
Imagine it’s 1989 and you’re a teenage girl that wants to be in a band with your girlfriends and you want to play your own instruments and write your own songs. Imagine that you look at the charts and your only female role models available are mainly female pop singers that have songs written for them. Then you see the Bangles on Top of the Pops doing exactly what you want to do. Here began my love/obsession with them.
I loved everything about them. Their music (I remember telling my Mum that I thought Eternal Flame was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. I was 13 okay! Leave me alone. God), their clothes ( you have no idea how many charity and vintage clothes shops I trawled trying to imitate their style), their harmonies and yes even the hair (I dreamed of having pillar box red hair a la bassist, Michael Steele). I did go on to form my own band with my girlfriends. We used to sit in each other’s bedrooms writing teen angst poetry and trying to put the words to music along with very bad guitar playing. We were awful. Then I went on to join a Bowie covers band. We were also awful and that was the end of my band member career. However, the dream of being in a band all started with my love for the Bangles. I still love them today, but I’m not sure if that’s just with nostalgic affection for the 13/14 year old me or whether I actually think they’re any good.
Favourite song: Something to Believe in
The Cole Porter Songbook by Ella Fitzgerald
Perusing my best friend’s parents’ CD collection (being the nosey cow that I am, I always did/still do this when I spot a music collection in someone’s home), I came across a couple of Ella Fitzgerald CDs of her singing Cole Porter. After much begging, my friend agreed to put these albums on for me (at the time she would have much rather listened to Carter USM). I already had one Ella album, but was desperate to hear her sing Porter. I wasn’t disappointed. This album started my infatuation with all the greatest American Jazz singers (Billie, Dinah et al), but it was Ella’s voice that captured me the most. Her effortless, natural vocal style (or as my Gran would say “she can sing lying down that one”) had a huge impact on my own vocal style. I would spend hours in my bedroom trying to emulate Ella’s voice. Needless to say it was a futile effort, as no one would ever be able to get anywhere near her talent and perfect sound, but her style would influence my singing forever.
Favourite song: Too Darn Hot
Screamadelica by Primal Scream
By 1992, my love of all things Indie was in full flow. I spent the whole summer with my best mate Ange discussing Blur in great lengths (she was in love with Damon, I was in love with Alex), accidentally starting fires in the local park and debating who would die first if we tried to strangle each other at the same time (no, we weren’t very bright teenagers). We also spent most evenings in the pub hanging out with a group of ‘boys who loved music’. The band that united them the most as a group of friends was Primal Scream. It was these friends that “introduced” me to Primal Scream. I say “introduced’ lightly as it was more like “barked-at-me-until-I-relented”. However, I was very pleased that they did. I’ve never been a fan of people telling what I should or shouldn’t be listening to, but this time these friends were right. This was one of the first albums, that I would just lie on my bed and listen to without moving or having to do anything else, other than enjoy it. I found it (and still do) an almost meditative album. I went to see Primal Scream live at Glastonbury. Myself and my tiny friends (we were all 5’4″ and under) practically got crushed and had to leave after the first song. I had scratches down my legs, one friend lost her watch that her parents gave her for her Birthday and another friend had a panic attack. For years after, the words “Primal Scream” were muttered with contempt (because it was obviously, completely their fault we thought standing in the middle of the crowd would be a good idea for us) by all of us, but secretly I would still listen to my Screamadelica album alone, my love for it resilient to our traumatic experience of trying to see it live.
Favourite song: Higher Than the Sun
Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos
As I got ready for school, cleansing my face with Anne French cleanser, spraying myself with a suffocating amount of Exclamation! perfume and listening to Simon Mayo do the breakfast show on Radio 1, I remember stopping everything that I was doing when he put a record on by Tori Amos called “Silent All These Years”. I quickly decided it was the best song that I had ever heard (yes even better than Eternal Flame) and bought the Little Earthquake album as soon my savings from my part-time job would allow. Then there was very little else that I did with my time other than listen to it and wish that one day I would be as good as a songwriter as Tori. This album imbues rawness and bravery, from the eeriness of Me & a Gun (written about Tori’s traumatic ordeal of being raped) to the sexually overt Leather to the many songs that reflected her childhood (Mother, Winter, Tear in Your Hand). This was an album that an abundance of teenage girls in the 90’s (and beyond) turned to as their anthem. It is one of a handful of albums from my teen years that I still listen to and genuinely enjoy today (and obviously sing along to at the top of my voice as I still know all of the lyrics).
Favourite song: Winter
Help! by the Beatles (1965)
I’ve documented my love for the Beatles in this blog here, but it was the Help! album that first made me fall love with the Beatles. I bought this album after watching the insane Help! film with my friends (yes it was this same film that made me fall in love with Ringo. I’ve always loved an underdog me). Whilst, this may not be my favourite Beatles album, it has some of my favourite Beatles tracks on it (Help!, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Ticket to Ride and I’ve Just Seen a Face). I still absolutely love the Beatles to this day and it all started with this album. Do read my above blog on the Beatles if you’re a fan or want to read more.
Favourite song: Help!
Dry by PJ Harvey (1992)
“Let’s listen to this John Peel session then”, I said to myself at almost 16 years old, which basically meant “let’s change my life forever”. The moment I heard Water, I sat up alarmed, like my brain and ears had heard music that I’d been waiting for all my life. The very next day I ran to my local, independent music shop (which closed down in the 90s, but last year, a truly wonderful thing happened and it opened back up again in exactly the same spot) and bought the Dry album. Then started my life-long love of PJ Harvey that has not waned in the slightest. Every PJ Harvey gig that I went to in my teens, made me love her even more. From the nervous girl from Yeovil on stage at Glastonbury with her one earring, to the woman clad in a red dress and leopard print fur coat and shades at the Forum, to the absolutely awesome Polly in her pink jump suit, black bra and blue eye shadow completely owning the Pyramid stage, she continued to entertain, enthral and bring me joy throughout my teenage years and beyond.
It’s hard for me to articulate what PJ Harvey means to me, but know this, she is very special to me and this album will be part of me forever.
Favourite song: Dress
Like a Prayer by Madonna (1989)
Raw Like Sushi was not the only LP that I played in my bedroom over and over again on Christmas Day, 1989. Yes, not only did my parents present me with one LP, but they laid two in my palm. Double excitement!
Now before this album was released, I was already a Madonna fan. I had already learnt the lyrics to Like a Virgin off by heart, singing the song over and over without really knowing what I was singing about. My best mate & I were already obsessed with the True Blue album, drawing the conclusion that Papa Don’t Preach, La Isla Bonita and Live to Tell were some of the best pop songs every written (on reflection we were probably right) and I had of course as any self respecting girl of my age, tried to dress like her in Desperately Seeking Susan, but it was with Like a Prayer that I become a Madonna fan 4life.
I remember the excitement and buzz that surrounded the release of the Like a Prayer single and its accompanying video (I also remember staying up late one night and watching the Word where it showed a clip of the video reversed, that proved in actual FACT Madonna is singing “hear us, save us Satan”. I mean there’s absolutely no way that’s bollocks, right?). So, like Raw Like Sushi by the end of Christmas day, I had pretty much learned all of the lyrics. I also felt, I had established a deep understanding of Madonna’s inner psyche. I mean, Till Death do us Part is totally about her and Sean Penn and Promise to Try is totally about her Mum dying and that. I had her sussed and I actually thought I was probably the only person who had ever made these connections (despite the fact she went on to deny there were any autobiographical grounds to Like a Prayer. Does she think we’re stupid? Answer: probably).
It’s not unusual for a woman my age to have long-lasting love for Madonna. I’ve stuck by her through thick and thin. However, our relationship has been tested at times (see Hard Candy and Swept Away– fuck it- most of her films).
Many people don’t get her and some seem to hate her with an inexplicable passion. I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out (though I am generalising) when I say most of the time it’s straight men that don’t like her (and don’t they just love to tell you about it. That and the fact they don’t find her sexually attractive. It’s ok, I’ll make sure she gets the memo, guys. I mean, how dare a hugely successful woman show her face within the public sphere when you don’t fancy her). However, it cannot be denied that her cultural impact has been monumental. Some claim she is the greatest gay icon of all time. She has undeniably helped liberate female sexuality and the amount she has raised for AIDS charities is nothing short of admirable.
Favourite song: Like a Prayer
Rhythm Nation 1814 by Janet Jackson (1989)
When Janet Jackson released this album she said that through her music, she wanted to capture the attention of a younger audience who may have been unaware of what it meant to be socially conscious. This is exactly what she achieved with me with this concept album released in 1989, covering subjects such as racism, poverty, and education. At 13yrs old, I had to look up in the dictionary the meaning for some of the words that Jackson introduced me to, such as ‘prejudice’ and ‘bigotry’. Yes, that is how naive and ignorant I must’ve been, not forgetting privileged. Listening to this album on repeat made me quickly realise this.
Whilst, some of the songs have dated and don’t sound as great as they did when I was a teenager, there are still many fantastic songs (Rhythm Nation, Miss You Much, Black Cat, Escapade). The amount of time I spent in my bedroom trying to copy and perfect all of Janet’s dance moves to this album, I think we can all agree, were in no way wasted. I even created a stage show using the music and dance routines from this album. In my head.
Then there was the accompanying film that featured three songs from the album and told the story of two boys who pursued their dream of a musical career which was then destroyed by substance abuse and addiction (it was a fun film). I remember making my Dad sit down and watch it with me to which his response was probably along the lines of “yes very good, I better get on wth planting the runner beans now”. Still, it all added to my light bulb moment that “gosh not everyone has had the same chances as me. How thoroughly unfair”.
Janet Jackson was the first woman ever to be nominated for a Grammy for best producer, with Rhythm Nation 1814 and the album received much critical acclaim. She expected the social consciousness of the album to have a negative effect on album sales, but the album has sold over 12 million copies worldwide and was the biggest selling album in 1990 in America. Sadly, the issues that Jackson wrote about on Rhythm Nation 1814 makes the album still very relevant today.
Favourite Song: Rhythm Nation
Modern Life is Rubbish by Blur (1993)
I’d played my Leisure LP to death, I was already in love with Alex James (don’t judge me), I was even one of three people who bought the Popscene single. When I went to my first Blur gig (not at a festival) at Fulham Gardens, we somehow gatecrashed their aftershow party at the Maison Rouge recording studios down the road. After drinking the free bar dry, I accosted Damon and told him how the song ‘Sing‘ from the Leisure album was my all time favourite song. He seemed disappointed in this. “Fine’ he said “but it’s our new music you should be interested in. You need to get on board with it. We’re going in a different direction and it’s going to be massive”. So, when I stumbled out of the recording studies at midnight like (actually not even vaguely like) an indie-Cinderella giddy with excitement, my mind was reeling with the prospect of Blur’s new album. Then, THEN the announcement came that they were to release a new single and album. I remember in the hour long lunch break I had at my college in Henley where I was doing my A-levels, I ran to the train station and got the train to Reading. I then ran from the train station in Reading to HMV, picked up my reserved copy of For Tomorrow, ran back to the station, got the train back to Henley, ran back to college and spent the afternoon not being able to concentrate in class knowing that I had the new Blur single in my bag. I then sat on the bus home at the end of the day, clutching and staring at the single with much anticipation and excitement. When I got home, I no doubt ignored my Mother, ran upstairs and played the single over and over again. I went from being a Blur fan to an obsessed Blur fan. A Blur loyalist if you will. A week later the album was released and I was forever in love with Blur. I bought ‘Modern Life is Rubbish‘ t-shirts and wore them with pride as I served in my local newsagent to the mirth of men who had clearly lived through the second world war and thought it was hilarious that I thought modern life was in fact rubbish. When they asked me why I thought it was rubbish, I thought it was wise not to just say “because Damon Albarn said so & he’s so pretty”, so I just mumbled something about computers.
Then, as luck would have it, posters appeared all over my college announcing that Blur were doing a warm-up gig for their Sugary Tea tour, in of all places- the night club Washington Heights in Reading (or as we liked to cleverly call it- Washington Shites). Queue more running and train journeys to Reading and back to buy tickets for the most hotly anticipated gig of my life (there was a lot of running involved for me when it came to music). Me and my three other Blur loyalist friends went to the gig and again forced ourselves into their aftershow party where (and I cringe as I write this, but it’s almost cathartic for me and maybe it will encourage other people to confess their embarrassing 90’s indie stories) I presented Alex with a poem I had written for him about stars. Oh yes. Yes, I actually did that. Now, I know I’m no Patti Boyd, but on Blur’s following album Alex did write a song for it about…stars. I know, the coincidence is too much, but I’ll happily take credit for Alex’s creative input into Parklike. You’re welcome.
We then followed them for most of the Sugary Tea tour, always standing at the front (but to one side to avoid being totally crushed. We’d learnt that valuable lesson since Primal Scream) at every gig. I even won a Melody Maker competition to interview them before their gig in Brighton (I asked them how much sugar they took in their tea. Just call me Kate Adie). This album out of all of the above albums was the most influential for me as a teenager. It made me love the country I lived in, it made me ask questions (and not just about sugary tea), it widened my music taste, and I’d even go as far to say that it made me want more out of my life. I guess you could say in many ways, it made my life definitely less rubbish, which kind of contradicted the whole album theme, I suppose.
Favourite song: For Tomorrow
The Albums That Almost Made It:
Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. by George Michael (1990). Best song: The Stevie Wonder cover, They Won’t Go When I Go (There is not one bad song on this record. Also, ohmyGod George’s voice on this record)
Germfree Adolescents by X-Ray Spex (1978). Favourite song: Identity (Poly Styrene was a hero)
Bostin’ Steve Austin by We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna to Use it (1986). Favourite song: What’s the Point? (I wanted to be in punk days-Fuzzbox so badly. They always looked like they were having so much fun. Also, hair.)
So, that’s my most influential albums as a teenager. What were yours and why?