I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. On the one hand, it allows me to stay connected with former classmates and colleagues, keeping me sort of ambiently aware of their successes or struggles. On the other, it also lets me know who just ate the best avocado toast.
Facebook has grown increasingly complicated in the months since your neighbor with the “Still Crazy After All These Beers” window decal helped to elect Orange Julius Caesar. Even the most innocuous conversation can turn into a political debate, one that usually ends when the most vocal participant’s mom tells him that he’s over his Screen Time limit for the day. But last week, everyone temporarily stopped typing “No, you’re the snowflake” and instead started arguing over which Blue Oyster Cult record was the best. That’s the kind of interpersonal conflict I can get behind. (Also, it’s Secret Treaties).
It seemed like everyone on my feed participated in a meme that asked you to name 10 records that made an impression on you as a teenager, and I absolutely loved reading everyone’s lists. The responses fit into two categories: those who were completely honest about their middle school record collections and those who got a little revisionist with their memories: “Yeah, I’d say that my most influential albums were Big Star’s Third demos, a mix tape of unreleased SST Records singles and a 60-minute recording of a rabbit screaming.” Stop, it was Smash Mouth and you know it.
Anyway, I spent a tremendous amount of time writing and rewriting my own list, possibly more time than I’ve spent on this column. (Just kidding, editors! It took the same amount of time!) So, with no apologies but plenty of explanation, here are the 10 records that made the biggest impact on Teen Me.
The Beatles, The White Album: My parents were Motown and beach music people, preferring Marvin Gaye to Paul McCartney, so I was surprised to find this LP when I was rummaging through the cabinets in the family room, trying to find the Appetite for Destruction cassette that my mom had confiscated. At the time, I didn’t know the Beatles except by name, but somehow I think I knew that this record would change my life. These 30 songs started a love affair with the Beatles that has endured longer than anything in my life, other than my chronically oily T-Zone.
Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA: This, along with the Top Gun soundtrack and a handful of Alabama songs, reminds me of midsummer weekends with my dad, when I’d climb into the shotgun seat of his Ford Bronco and he’d reach over to help me roll the window down. I was too young to comprehend the Important Themes of the album and now — despite knowing all of the headline-grabbing ideas it rails against — whenever I hear it I instinctively think of a time when someone tucked me in every night and the worst thing I could imagine was someone dropping a toothbrush in my Trick-or-Treat bag. This album has always made me happy, whether it’s supposed to or not.
Genesis, We Can’t Dance: Because what middle-schooler doesn’t relate to a mournful 10-minute ballad about 19th Century British railroad workers?
The Grateful Dead, American Beauty: On one middle school Saturday, I was forced to hang out with a kid from another school while our parents had dinner together. After we’d scrutinized each other’s baseball card collections, he pulled out a couple of cassettes and popped them in. “These are my dad’s,” he told me, as though I was supposed to think that was awesome, even though his dad had a habit of picking his nose during lulls in conversation. When he pressed play on American Beauty, I was completely transported out of his bedroom, which may be why I didn’t notice that he’d stolen my Kirby Puckett rookie card.
Green Day, Dookie: We’d gone back-to-school shopping in the state capital and, other than a mock turtleneck, this was the only thing I bought. I tore it open in the back of the minivan, dropped it into my Discman… and hated it. It took several listens before I understood that there were songs that were supposed to be screamed and music meant to be played loud enough to kill the shrubbery outside your window. This is the album that taught me it was okay to turn the volume knob all the way to the right.
Paul Westerberg, 14 Songs: My 14-year-old self was completely transfixed by the slightly unhinged looking musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” who slurred lines like “I say he who laughs first/ Didn’t get the joke.” I intentionally stayed awake to see his second performance, even though the back half of the show was always littered with Rob Schneider sketches. Within two weeks, I’d loaded the dishwasher enough times to earn $15, so I strolled into Camelot Music and asked the cashier where I could find “Pat Whistlerberg.” 14 Songs will forever by my favorite of the, um, Whistlerberg catalog, and it eventually led me into the drunk and disorderly arms of the Replacements. For that, I’m forever grateful.
REM, Automatic for the People: I bought this the day I started my period. “Everybody Hurts” indeed, especially everybody’s newly spasming uterus.
The Smiths, Singles: I’d never heard of this band when I saw their CD at the mall, but there was something alluring about the expression of the woman on the cover, a look somewhere between boredom and abject misery that as a 10th grader I was all too familiar with. So I dropped $18.99 on the disc — the most I’d ever paid for music at the time — and hoped it would be worth it. Was it ever.
Sugar, File Under: Easy Listening: This record introduced me to the brilliance of Bob Mould, and songs like “Believe What You’re Saying” and “Can’t Help You Anymore” prepared me for the kind of relationships that wouldn’t disappoint me for another decade.
Weezer, The Blue Album: I was recovering from an emergency appendectomy when this CD showed up in the Columbia House catalog. I wasn’t allowed to participate in gym class for several weeks, so I sat on the bleachers listening to “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” while my classmates threw lopsided volleyballs at each other. As a nerdy, uncool kid, this record was beyond reassuring, and not just because I thought I would’ve been picked for kickball before Rivers Cuomo was.
Now, who wants to see a picture of my avocado toast?