Which I’m defining as the period before high school, because if we include that miserable glorious period of my life, things start to get messy (read: we’d definitely need to add The Cure to the list). Besides, high school is adolescence, right?
The following is a list of the 6 albums that sprang immediately to my brain as the most important and influential when I was growing up. I’d like to stress the MOST in that statement, as there were a ton of influential artists and albums that didn’t make the cut (Van Morrison, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paul Simon, and Greg Brown to name a few). These are just the ones that I most remember truly falling in love with and listening to until my parents wanted to tear their eyes out. (Although, if that’s the category we’re using we’d have to also include the Parachute Express albums, which I’d prefer to leave out for everyone’s sake.)
Aretha Franklin Chain of Fools: Some of my earliest memories are of adoring this album. “Respect” was my 5-year-old jam and any time I heard it I would start dancing or singing at the top of my lungs. All things considered, Motown & Stax records make the best kids music and provided my parents with a sweet relief from Disney soundtracks. And really, it doesn’t get better than Aretha. This album in particular features some of my favorite hits of hers. “I Never Loved A Man” is one of my favorite songs of all time, and the title track really never gets old.
Traveling Wilbury’s Volume 1: This is arguably my longest loved album. I adored it growing up and when I was little my dad made me a Traveling Wilbury’s mixtape so I could listen to them to my heart’s content (and miss out on the less appropriate numbers). And while it’s tricky pick a favorite album, Volume 1 easily wins out by virtue of Roy Orbison (I mean…that VOICE). I think what I love best is that you can tell that all of these guys were having so much fun together, which makes the listening experience equally enjoyable. Also by including this I can slightly cheat and mention 5 artists that dominated my childhood listening tastes, because their solo careers were always on too.
Enya The Memory of Trees: Maybe this is super lame and revealing. But hey, I love Enya. And it’s not like I’m writing down David Arkenstone (though I loved him too). I most associate Enya with my mother, as I remember buying Shepherd Moons for her on her birthday (i.e. Dad bought it and I “gave” it to her). Enya also factored among the first music I ever owned—my parents gave me a collection of her greatest hits for my 9th birthday. Of all her albums, however, Memory of Trees was always my ultimate favorite. The title track alone has this deeply emotional yet meditative quality and I remember long hours of playing it and imagining far away lands filled with labyrinths and gently setting suns. Say what you will, but the woman knows how to layer sounds and has a stupendous voice. This was also arguably the gateway drug for my future obsession with film scores and classical music.
Tracy Chapman Telling Stories: Tracy Chapman was one of several female artists who helped me understand feminism from an early age. When I was 10 my Dad made me a birthday mix filled with songs by Chapman, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Cindy Bullins and Sheryl Crow and I used to listen to it for hours. Some of my favorite memories involve long car rides where my mother and I would sing along and then pause the CD and talk about women’s experiences, the importance of independence and being able to support oneself, as well as what constituted as a loving relationship. Of all these artists Chapman has always been my favorite and I think this is still my favorite album. The title track is brilliant and alongside numbers like “Less Than Strangers” and “Wedding Song” the album presents a gallery of different stages of love. It’s still one of the most poignant records I’ve heard and I love the rich bluesy textures of it.
U2 The Joshua Tree: Really any U2 album would do. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released when I was 13 and I fell full down the rabbit hole with this band. Because I was homeschooled, I can confidently say that I spent most of 7th grade in a papasan chair with my cat, reading Willa Cather novels and working my way through the entire U2 catalogue. Boy and Rattle and Hum deserve honorable mentions as my other two favs (Boy is actually probably my favorite now) and I distinctly remember being bizarrely smitten with Achtung Baby, but I feel like Joshua Tree has to take the cake. I honestly don’t even want to know how many times I listened to “With or Without You” that year. I particularly love the sound of this record and the way so many of the tracks build slowly and deliberately. The first three songs are all particularly good and timeless. Also Target used constantly play a riff from “In God’s Country,” on the monitors in their electronics section, which simultaneously thrilled and frustrated me (no one else recognized it and I wanted to know WHY they were playing that bit). Side note: definitely also had a huge crush on The Edge…yeah…I know I’m weird.
Peter Gabriel Us: If there is one album that truly defined my childhood it is this one. I remember perfectly the first time I heard it. I was 5 or 6 and my dad called me into the kitchen while he was doing dishes and put “Steam” on for me. [Insert clip of tiny Mallory dancing around the table here.] From that point on, I was obsessed. And while I remember loving all of Gabriel’s stuff, this was the album I truly adored. I would put it on and listen for hours—letting all the layers and textures wash over me. And while I didn’t often understand the subject matter of the songs, I understood the sentiments and appreciated all the raw beauty it offered. Gabriel’s vocals alone are unbelievably powerful and expressive. I ALSO remember getting upset with my mother as she’d make me skip “Digging in the Dirt” due to its lyrics. I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics and didn’t care…why change the song when it sounded so good? Now that I’m older I understand her point a bit better…and I still love that song. This album truly gets better with age, and my relationship with it changes as I grow. And the music itself is so rich and phenomenally textured that it’s never dull. All the unadulterated love.
Okay, now that I’m done waxing poetic and navel gazing, it’s your turn. What albums most shaped your childhood? Which records make you revert to a 6-year-old? Or is that just me?