I am suddenly two weeks away from never again being able to identify as a teenager – a realization that is alarming and liberating all at once. On the one hand, my very YOUTH is slipping away, and unfortunately, I will no longer smell like teen spirit. Or start teenage riots. Or be a teenage superstar. Or live out that teenage dream Katy Perry was talking about. (iTunes search function, you’re making this too, too easy.) On the other hand, the label “teenage girl” carries a stigma that can sometimes cause others to devalue your opinions or judge you based on stereotypes and preconceived notions. I especially dislike the eye roll that can ensue if a teenage girl says “Music is my life,” as if teenage girls are too vapid to know what “real” music is. Not that this has been a huge problem for me, but it’s still nice to be able to naturally shed that label.
So, how should I reflect on it all? I really can’t think of a better way to BARE MY SOUL than to stop and take stock of my favorite records of all time as I approach this critical juncture in my life. I’m aware that this list will change – probably dramatically – as the years go on, and that I have yet to discover so much music. But I’ll probably want this snapshot of teenage Jenna, if nothing else for the laughs. I can just see myself looking at this 20 years from now and pulling a giant facepalm.
In all seriousness, though, these albums collectively tell the story of my teen years. Behind each are memories and associations that mark various stages of my adolescence. They’re culled from my high school years through the first half of college, and they pretty much represent every phase I’ve gone through in terms of musical taste.
These are the albums that I’ve listened to the crap out of, that I am consistently wowed by, that I never feel the need to skip a song on. But that’s not all, because there are obviously many other albums I love that don’t earn the distinction of “all-time favorite.” Besides being musically excellent (in my humble opinion), these albums either changed the way I see the world or drove me to classic levels of ~*~*teenage obsession *~*~.
This is part one. Part two will follow shortly. There’s no way I’d be able to rank them, so they’re alphabetized by artist.
The Beach Boys, Surf’s Up (1971)
Surf’s Up is by no means the Beach Boys’ magnum opus. (That’d be Pet Sounds.) But god, this album is gorgeous, and so overlooked – probably because of the somewhat… disjointed… way in which it was made. Like, six of my favorite Beach Boys songs are from Surf’s Up. Which is pretty incredible, because there are only 10 songs on the album. This is around the time when the Beach Boys got all political and existential with their songwriting, with obtuse lyrical gems such as “Unfolding enveloping missiles of soul” and “Whether willing witness waits at my mind.” (What does it all MEAN??? Where are the surfers and cars and sun-tanned California girls???) It’s a pretty hit-or-miss kind of situation, especially with the politically-charged “Student Demonstration Time.” But in the end, I don’t even care how cryptic this album tends to be! At least they’re not singing about vegetables!!!!! And at least Brian Wilson isn’t rapping!!!!! (Yes. That happened. It is so bad that it is good.)
Death Cab for Cutie, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (2000)
Well, DUH. I’m going to be real with you and say that every single DCfC record should make this list because for NO OTHER BAND can I recite the albums in order, with years, and with track listings. I’m not sure if I’ll ever know more about a band than I do about DCfC; my knowledge extends way, way past just the discography. Honestly, only a teenager or a very disturbed adult would be capable of attaining such a high level of obsession with a band. Fun fact: To this day, I still feel uncomfortable hearing DCfC songs in public – doesn’t even matter which one – because they all feel too tied to my identity and it’s like my soul is leaking all over the place if others hear them too.
Why’d I choose We Have the Facts? It’s mostly because if I absolutely had to rank all the DCfC albums, it’d take the No. 1 slot. There aren’t really any “hits” on Facts, but it’s a classic.
Grimes, Visions (2012)
I had to think about this one before including it – the relative newness of this album to me, and to the world in general, could be clouding my vision. (HEH. HEH. Get it? Vision?) But then I was like, who am I kidding, Grimes is a goddess. She will continue to be my queen 4eva and eva. Let’s put it this way: I didn’t even know music could sound like this until I heard Visions. I credit Grimes and this album for completely altering my perception of electronic music, for guiding me towards an understanding of how a female can occupy space in a genre that’s dominated by males, but in a way that productively bucks the (sexist) status quo.
Hole, Live Through This (1994)
Not even a question. I mean, I wrote a 10-page paper on this album (in which I maintained a professional and academic tone and totally didn’t use the phrase “vomit pink” in the title). This album has profoundly affected my views on feminism and is basically my bible. So much love for ya, Courtney Love. Minus the drugs ‘n’ stuff. Oh, the things I’d do to get my hands on the beautiful white vinyl LP for Live Through This. For some reason they haven’t re-issued it in years. Whaddup with that?
OK so there you go, there’s half of my very being. More to come.