The Top 10 Teenage Albums meme


So this has been doing the rounds around the internet recently: ten albums that mattered to you the most in your teenage years.

My teenage years, as defined by the meme, fall between 1991 and 1997, which is not an all too shabby period to have grown up to. I mean, it starts with Nevermind and ends with OK Computer: what more could you ask for? It’s certainly the last time music was any good, if you ask me, but then, that’s what everyone says about the music from their youth.

It was also a period of transformation from tapes to CD, so these first albums I’ve consciously listened to were also the first CDs I ever bought… although by the end I would switch again, to downloading mp3s (1998 – Audiogalaxy!) I admit, my memory being what it is, I had to google a bit to find out when the albums I remember best were released, and it turned out that some of my all-time favourites either haven’t been around until 1998 or were already released before 1991, so don’t fall into this meme’s remit. With this in mind, here’s the list (I’d say feel free to add your favourites in the comments, but nobody ever comments on this blog 😉 :

  • Sting – Soul Cages (1991)

A toss up between this and George Michael’s “Listen Without Prejudice“: two final pop albums of the 1980s, released the same year as Nevermind, both marking a change in the air. A definite ending of an era in music.

  • Bjork – Debut (1993)

    This is such a powerful album, still! There’s not a single song here that’s not a timeless work of genius. Not much to say, except that, through Post and Homogenic, Bjork was always a key presence in my soundtrack all through the 90s.

  • Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dreams (1993)

    Like most people, I missed Smashing Pumpkins first album, and only heard of them when they released “Today” video, but it was only when I started exploring their back catalogue after Mellon Collie that I got hooked up on Siamese Dreams. As you can tell from this and the next few selections, 1994-96 was definitely the culmination of my Emo Teenage phase.

  • Nirvana – Unplugged (1993)

No, I wasn’t that unaware of contemporary music to not notice the fucking Nirvana until 1993. It’s just that, somehow, I was more of a Pearl Jam kid for the first couple of years. It wasn’t until In Utero that I began switching my allegiance, and of course, Unplugged was the one that finally made me see the light – just a little bit too late.

  • Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

 

Yeah, it doesn’t really get any happier, does it? This is the “Hurt” one. For a moment this was my most-listened to album of all time. I actually had this in a double CD, with “Further Down the Spiral” remixes, most of which I vastly preferred to the original. This version of Piggy is from the remix album:

 

  •  Body Count – Born Dead (1994)

Ice-T‘s Body Count was a gateway drug to hip-hop for all the white kids hooked on grunge and metal. If you liked Rage Against the Machine or Atari Teenage Riot (and who didn’t?), Body Count was the next thing to bang your head to. And then you’d start to wonder, what else did this guy record? Wait, you mean there’s more?

  • Tricky & co. – Nearly God (1996)

The ultimate trip-hop album, and possibly the weirdest thing to listen to in the mid-90s. I was deep, deep into trip-hop at the time, but this one was definitely my favourite one of the lot. A bizarre project led by Tricky off of Massive Attack, but with co-singers like Terry Hall of the Specials, Siouxie Sioux or Alison Moyet. Trippy and dark as fuck.

  • Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

The greatest album of the 90s? Yeah, I believe so. 2nd most acclaimed of the decade after Nevermind, apparently (and no other than these two in top 30 of all time). Nothing was ever the same after OK Computer. This is where the 90s end the 2000s begin in music.

  • Yoko Kanno – Vision of Escaflowne OST (1996)

1996-97 is when I start to listen to anime soundtracks and J-Pop/J-Rock, downloaded from primitive early internet. By chance, it’s also the time when some of the best anime soundtracks of all time become available: Kenji Kawai‘s Ghost in the Shell and Yoko Kanno’s Vision of Escaflowne. Later on, I’ll start discovering the classical influences behind this music, while Yoko Kanno would go on to produce the masterpiece that was Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, but at the time, as far as I was concerned, this was as good as music got:

  • Genesis – Selling England by the Pound (1974)

I have to mention this one, or my story of the 90s music wouldn’t be complete: it’s also the time when I was introduced (by my then gf) to progressive rock, in the form of the first four Genesis albums (FGtR doesn’t count!). Unlike our relationship, this was the love affair that would last for the rest of my life.

The Year the Music Died #ripgreglake


Come share of my breath and my substance
And mingle our streams and our times
In bright infinite moments
Our reasons are lost in our rhymes.

In a year that started with the death of David Bowie, and went downhill from there, I didn’t think anything else would have the power to affect me this much so near the end. We’re still three weeks off, and who knows who else will join the super-group in the sky (Fripp? Wakeman?), but, like the straw on camel’s back, what finally broke for me how horribly awful this year was for all my music heroes was the news of the death of Greg Lake.

Maybe it’s because of the double whammy of Keith Emerson dying in March – you rarely get two sets of #rips under one band’s YouTube videos in one year. Or maybe because Greg Lake was the first actual prog rock singer I’ve listened to consciously – long before I discovered the likes of Genesis and Yes – though back then I didn’t even know his name.

That song was “The Lucky Man” by ELP, taped from a late night radio show to a blue Stilon cassette, and played incessantly until I knew every glissando in Emerson’s mad final Moog solo by heart.

Greg Lake was the Galahad of the prog rock Round Table, with his baby face and an angelic voice. Possibly the only vocalist to match a mellotron’s rising cadence, he was the man without whom King Crimson would probably remain just Robert Fripp’s niche experimental fusion jazz combo – and the history of rock as we know it would never happen. On the 21st Century Schizoid Man he sounded less like the cherubim, and more like a wrathful archangel, come down to fight Satan’s hordes. In those pre-internet days of music copied from radio, it took me a while to realize the same man sang the Schizoid Man and Epitaph. You could always easily recognize Ian Anderson’s shrill or Peter Gabriel’s hoarse bellow, but Lake’s voice was always the most surprising.

In ELP, Lake brought poetic calmness and medieval whimsy to counter Emerson’s feral virtuosity. Like Galahad and Percival, with Palmer’s help, they searched for prog rock’s Holy Grail, and, admittedly, got lost along the way in the end – but before they did, they produced some of the finest music this side of the Beatles, like this little Yes-like ditty from the Trilogy album:

2016 was a bitch of a year, and considering nobody’s getting any younger, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better going forward. Eventually everyone we knew and thought great will die – such is the passage of time… At least their work remains with us forever.

Confusion will be my Epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.