One thing that kinda sucks about living in NYC is that you don't spend any time in people's cars. I know it sounds weird, but there's an intimacy factor; it's probably as close as you get to someone until you get into their bedroom, if you ever get that far. A lot of the music that really sticks with me, and would guess most of you too, has a strong person/place/time connection. In a car, you instantly had person/place association. Whenever I hear "Only in Dreams," I'm baked out of my mind in the back of Chet's police issued Crown Vic with four other kids, parked down by a lake where no one would bother us. Whenever I hear "Mayonnaise," I'm cruising around with Meg in the middle of the night, feeling lost and hopeless, but also feeling like we belonged; if not to the world as a whole, but at least to each other. Whenever I hear "Marquee Moon," I know it's exactly as long as it took me to drive from the giant Victorian house I split with six other people across from the JCA in Amherst, to Rachel's two bedroom apartment on Randolph Place in Northampton, provided it was late at night and there was no traffic on Route 9.
There were albums that found longterm homes in my tape deck/CD changer (located in the goddamn trunk, which made changing out discs a pain in the ass). Here are 12 of them, plus a playlist including a song from each. I intentionally skipped over the Siamese Dreams and Ok Computers of the lot, because you can google search "90's playlist" and hear all that shit whenever you want (not that it isn't excellent). It may be nostalgia for those of you in your 30's, if you're younger, here a list of awesome stuff you maybe haven't heard. (playlist at the bottom)
Whip-Smart, Liz Phair, 1994
I think Exile might be a better album overall, but there's bunch of slow stuff at the end that kinda make the album drag. Phair's lyrics are meaner, nastier, dirtier, and angrier on Exile too, and that spoke to me in high school. I bought this album for "Go West" (which was also on a mixtape my girlfriend made before our summer road trip across country). I went through a period of just always wanting to hear it, and that's a good thing, cause I'm pretty sure my CD player broke and I only had like 10 tapes in my car.
1977, Ash, 1996
The drummer of my high school band was totally into Lookout Records and not much else, but he insisted I listen to this album. I was kinda shocked that it was alt/indie rock, but damn, he was right to force it on me. It's overly sentimental, but it played right to my teenage heart. It holds up as a great pop album; four legit singles and decent album tracks.
Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, The Flaming Lips, 1993
The Lips really changed the game with The Soft Bulletin, but this album is so guitar heavy, I just absolutely love it. You probably know the single, "She Don't Use Jelly," but the rest of the album is maybe even better. You'll find a bunch of fuzz, monster drums, and slick pop song writing from Wayne Coyne before he was Wayne Coyne. Regardless of what you think of the modern Lips, crank this one and give it a listen. The last track, "Slow Nerve Action," is the best example of the drum and guitar production. Just. So. Fucking. Huge.
|The Lips, back in the day|
Bricks Are Heavy, L7, 1992
Another loud album, I think the only true grunge album on this list. Y'know, grunge was pretty bad in retrospect, but this is a fine album. Three legit singles, and fun album tracks. Donita Sparks is at the top of her game as a songwriter and the Butch Vig production... Damn, he knew the sound that my teenage ears wanted to hear. There was nothing like putting on shades, lighting some smokes, and cruising around listening to "Shitlist."
Downward is Heavenward, Hum, 1998
It's a nerdy sci-fi album with heavy guitars and elongated swooping leads, I mean, come on. I actually drove all the way to Birmingham, Alabama to see a reunion show in 2003. It was worth it, though they were just as uncomfortable in front of a crowd as you'd imagine. It's a pity, I feel like a lot of crap emo and like, straight up bro music was inspired by these guys, but if you can get on board with this album, you'll find it to be really rewarding and unique.
The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers, 1976
There was a little closet-sized record store we used to hang out at and the dude who ran it was super cool, but not it a modern record store way; he was just chill, not judgey, and would suggest new stuff. I think I remember him being like, "Hey, try this, my wife went to high school with this guy," and handing one of us a copy of this album. Ok, so we were teenagers aimlessly driving around Massachusetts and half this album is about teenagers aimlessly driving around Massachusetts, but I feel like the underlying themes will hold up in any state.
The CD Version of the First Two Records, Bikini Kill, 1994
Riot Grrrl was the most important and interesting social movement (maybe the only real social movement) to come out of Gen X culture. Being a kid, and being picked on, being beaten up, being treated like a disease and having people call me a "fag" all the time... I really gravitated towards outsiders, especially artists who wanted to say "Fuck you!" to uber-masculinity, which I felt was behind a lot of the torment I received.
Get Lost, The Magnetic Fields, 1995
69 Love Songs would be the obvious choice from this band's discography. If you attended a small liberal arts school in 1999, they practically handed it out in the dining hall next to the steamed broccoli and clumped-up spaghetti. But to me, Get Lost is a more compact (if admittedly not as noteworthy a release), and dirtier album. I really came to enjoy the drum machine, distorted guitars, and strong keyboard leads on this album. It just doesn't seem like as much of a production.
Murmur, R.E.M. 1983
I had this and Chronic Town on cassette, so when my CD player broke, they both got a lot of action. Most of my generation grew up with "Losing My Religion" and "Everybody Hurts" all over the radio. I like that stuff too, but thanks to BMG/Columbia house I picked up everything R.E.M. ever did (Monster was the newest at the time), and I totally fell in love with the early stuff. This album is a clinic in good bass playing.
Deserter's Songs, Mercury Rev, 1998
This album was given to me as the entire side B to an extra long mixtape, in preparation for a long road trip. It's one of the more perfect nighttime driving albums. True to it's name, a lot of the tunes feel as if they're about leaving something behind. Deserter's Songs was recorded by Dave Fridmann in the same studio, at the same time as The Soft Bulletin, and you can definitely hear similar textures if you listen to the two back to back. If you haven't heard this album and you're a Neil Young fan, give it a couple chances, trust me.
Bakesale, Sebadoh, 1994
Another tape that was floating around when a trunk flood wiped out my CD changer. This is the best Sebadoh album, though my favorite Sebadoh tracks (Brand New Love, Soul and Fire, Perfect Way), are all on different albums. There are a ton of great rockers on this one too though. Lou Barlow is such a good and prolific songwriter, he definitely belongs on the lo-fi Mount Rushmore, if one were ever carved.
Dirty, Sonic Youth, 1992
I grew up on this sandbar which extended 55 miles out into the middle of the North Atlantic. No colleges, no indie rock clubs, no decent radio, some of us had access to 120 mins, others didn't. I think we got into this band through the generations of weirdos before us. In the dog eat dog social world of high school it was simple, you either knew of SY and were an ally, or you didn't and were a possible enemy. If I was around SY fans, I knew they were people who cared enough to seek out something different; that they placed value on being unique and arty. They weren't going to give me shit about dying my hair or wearing a dress to the junior dance.
I think Sister is my favorite album, though I think Washing Machine or Evol is the best. Thousand Leaves is the most interesting, and Daydream is probably the most popular. Dirty is the best teen age rocker though. Another Butch Vig gem, by the way. It's loud, catchy, and political; perfect for a sunny day cruise through a teenage wasteland.
Here's a sampling of each album, enjoy! (oh and like HBR on Facebook when you get a sec.)