“Give Me the Beat Boys and Free My Soul…”

If I could work my dream job, it would be in the music field. While my actual musical talent is average at best, my passion for music is overwhelming. Concert or album reviewer would be my sweet spot, though I wouldn’t shy away from artist profiles, or album cover design.

Thanks to my passion obsession for music, I was enamored with Kaylee Hauck’s blog post that she shared on Facebook. She listed her Top 25 favorite albums, and how they’ve become influential in her life. This got me thinking about what my Top 25 list would look like.

Unlike Kaylee, I don’t listen to full albums anymore. Thanks to iTunes and the iPod, I am free to pick and choose two songs here, three songs there, throw them into a playlist and call it a day. This makes picking a favorites list difficult. However, if I picked the Top 25 albums that most influenced my musical tastes, I’d have no problem. My list isn’t in order, because I don’t think I could choose just one to fill the top spot.

Christy’s Top 25 Most Influential Albums

smashes_thrashes_cover1.)  Smashes, Thrashes & Hits – Kiss (1988)

When I say this is a list of music I grew up on, I literally grew up on this album. This is the first CD I remember listening to in my Dad’s red truck at three years old, and I still listen to my favorite tracks at 23. I think listening to something for 20 years definitely qualifies as “growing up” on it. The track list isn’t exactly appropriate for the preschool crowd, but we would skip to the ones that were (somewhat) acceptable. “Beth” was one of the first songs I ever learned to sing, and thanks to the lack of words in “Rock and Roll All Nite,” I picked that one up pretty quickly as well.

Standout Tracks: “Beth,” “Tears are Falling,” “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” “Rock and Roll All Nite”

2.) The Singles: 1969-1973 – The Carpenters (1973)

Another album I’ve been listening to for 20+ years. “Top of the World” was another one of my go-to songs at three, and it still manages to get a smile out of me today. The fun thing about learning more about the music business and industry (thanks History of American Popular Music Class!) is that I found out a lot of these songs are covers, notably “Ticket to Ride” (originally by the Beatles) and “It’s Going to Take Some Time” (originally by Carole King).

Standout Tracks: “Top of the World,” “Goodbye to Love,” “It’s Going to Take Some Time”

3.) Falling Into You – Celine Dion (1996)

I had to include Celine somewhere on my list. I  didn’t realize how important this album was until I found it recently (like last week) and popped it into the computer to take a listen. I remembered almost every song. It was “all coming back to me now,” pun so definitely intended. My mom said I used to run around singing that song and had dramatic stage-presence and arm movements to go along with it. Thankfully, that isn’t saved on tape anywhere.

Standout Tracks: “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” “Because You Loved Me,” “Declaration of Love”

4.) Spring Break…Here to Party – Luke Bryan (2013)

This was the first full-length Luke Bryan album I ever purchased. I had “All My Friends Say” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” on my iPod after hearing them at the church fair a few summers before, but they weren’t in heavy rotation. One night, my freshman year of college, I couldn’t sleep. I had to be up the next morning for an early-ish class but I just could. not. sleep. I decided to browse iTunes, found this album that had been released at midnight and impulse bought it. Four Luke shows, and two albums later I’m still a fan. I even analyzed “Suntan City” for my final project in History of American Popular Music class that same year.

Standout Tracks: “Buzzkill,” “If You Ain’t Here to Party,” “Love in a College Town”

5.) No Strings Attached – NSYNC (2000)

In the 90s and early-2000s you were either NSYNC or Backstreet Boys. Forget Team Jacob or Directioners, these fanbases were twice as competitive and didn’t identify under some weird group names. In the early 2000s I was NSYNC all the way, but I’ve warmed to the BSB over the years. It was hard to choose a favorite NSYNC album, but with “Bye Bye Bye” and “It’s Gonna Be Me,” how could I pick any other but this one? There were some cons though. “That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You” used to make me cry (at six that song sounds like it’s about death and the end of the world, and then reminds you that you and your family will die some day; it was very heavy stuff), and while “This I Promise You” was one of my favorites, it can get a little soured when you ask a guy to dance with you to it at the seventh grade dance and he laughs in your face. Either way, this album is 17 years old and still amazing, so it gets the nod.

Standout Tracks: “Bye Bye Bye,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” “This I Promise You,” “No Strings Attached,” “Bringin’ da Noise,” “I Thought She Knew”

6.) Home for Christmas – Amy Grant (1992)

I couldn’t leave Christmas music off the list. Christmas music has been just as influential in my life as year-round music. In our house, you couldn’t bust out the Christmas music until Thanksgiving, and had to pack it away again on New Year’s Day. The ride to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving dinner, and then the ride to Overly’s Country Christmas usually did a good job of breaking in the Christmas CDs. We always had Amy Grant’s Home for Christmas on as the first play of the year. Thanks to Ms. Grant (and Celine Dion, and Carol Brady), I was the only kid in my Kindergarten class to volunteer to sing a solo on our caroling field trip to the retirement home. I listened to “O Come All Ye Faithful” on repeat for days until I learned the entire song, then stood up in front of a room full of “Golden Girls” and sang it. I remember being nervous, a lot more nervous than when I raised my hand to sign up. My mother has pictures from my moment in the spotlight, and my parents never fail to bring up the memory when we drive by that old folks home. Again, something else I’m really glad we don’t have on tape.

Standout Tracks: “Breath of Heaven,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Grown-Up Christmas List,” Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Night Before Christmas”

7.) Home for Christmas – NSYNC (1998)

I must enjoy Christmas albums called Home for Christmas, since this is the second album with the same name that made the list. This CD came through one of those send away music clubs that worked like the Scholastic Books catalogue. You would get a magazine in the mail each month with new titles and you could pick which ones you wanted, send away a check, and they would be delivered in the mail. Take that Barkbox and Graze, the music club was ahead of its time. This arrived the same time as the self-titled NSYNC and Backstreet Boys CDs (Thanks Mom; I still have all three). The best part of this album is all the original songs that don’t suck. A lot of original Pop Christmas songs have no substance (Read: Anything to come out of Disney) but these ones are surprisingly good. “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” is still my Christmas Break jam.

Standout Tracks:  “Home for Christmas,” “I Never Knew the Meaning of Christmas,” “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” “All I Want Is You This Christmas,” “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night,” “The Only Gift”

8.) Lizzie McGuire Soundtrack (2002)

Lizzie McGuire, short-lived as it was, defined cool in second and third grade. We all wanted to be Hillary Duff. We all wanted to dress like Lizzie and Miranda. We all wanted to date Ethan Kraft, though some of us wouldn’t have minded Gordo either. Some of us (*cough* Chelsea and I *cough*) fought over who was allowed to wear the animated Lizzie headband to school, and who was first to get the Lizzie McGuire lip gloss at Limited Too (mine was lemon-lime flavored). Disney’s marketing department was smart, and pulled us further into Lizzie’s world with a soundtrack “from and inspired by the hit TV show.” Don’t act like you didn’t jam out to “I Can’t Wait,” or argue over whether she was singing about “boy shoes” or “bowling shoes.” I made my poor father listen to the same like five songs on this CD every. morning. on the way to school in third grade. He’s probably really glad I listen to rock music now.

Standout Tracks: “I Can’t Wait – Hilary Duff,” “All I Can Do – Jump5,” “Everybody Wants Ya, S Club 7”

9.) Nothing Personal – All Time Low (2009)

Though you might not believe it given my musical fanaticism, there was once a time when the music I listened to was supervised. No swear words, no inappropriate themes. 50 Cent? Forget it. Eminem? Keep dreaming. Britney Spears? Absolutely not.

This ruled out a lot of popular music that wasn’t churned out of the Disney machine. By seventh grade, I got an iTunes account and this nifty (but spammy and now illegal) software called LimeWire, and started to control some of my own music choices. By the end of ninth grade, pop punk was still a relatively new genre to me. Enter All Time Low’s Nothing Personal. To most, pop punk wouldn’t be seen as edgy, but to me it was the ultimate rebellion. These guys swore in their songs! They were holding up their middle fingers in the booklet! So scandalous! Plus, I actually liked their music. I finally got to see ATL in concert two summers ago, and it was wonderful screaming along to “Stella” and “Break Your Little Heart” with a bunch of other “rebels.”

Standout Tracks: “Break Your Little Heart,” “Damned if I Do Ya (Damned if I Don’t),” “Stella,” “Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal,” “A Party Song (The Walk of Shame,” “Therapy”

10.) Into the Rush – Aly & AJ (2005)

If you play an instrument, do you remember the first moment you said “I need to learn how to play this?” I remember when I first realized I wanted to learn to play guitar. I was watching Disney Channel and the music video for Aly & AJ’s “Do You Believe in Magic” came on and they were both playing acoustic guitars. Something just clicked and I knew I wanted to learn to play. They looked like they were having so much fun. It took another seven years or so before I got my first guitar and learned to play but it all started with that music video and this album.

Plus, this album basically defined my sixth-grade year. “Sticks and Stones” was my anthem for the whole school year, and “Something More” and “Out of the Blue” made me think of  my middle-school crush. And if “Speak for Myself” is not the perfect growing-up, needing independence song then I don’t know what is.

Standout Tracks: “Collapsed,” “Something More,” “Sticks and Stones,” “Slow Down,” “Do You Believe in Magic”

11.) Greatest Hits – Bon Jovi (2010)

I guess this one is technically cheating. I was trying to decide which Bon Jovi album was most influential in my life, almost settling on the 1994 Greatest Hits release, Cross Roads, but that album came out before Crush, Bounce, and Have a Nice Day, all three of which were important in making me a 20-years-too-late Bon Jovi fangirl (title coined by Alli Roddy at their 2013 Pittsburgh concert stop). Greatest Hits, thankfully, includes some of my early 2000s favorites like “It’s My Life”, and the duet version of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”. While this compilation doesn’t include all my iconic Bon Jon songs (notably missing are anything from Lost Highway, and “Joey” from Bounce), it has more than my top five, so it has rightfully earned its spot on my most influential list.

Standout Tracks: “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” “Have a Nice Day,” “I’ll Be There for You,” “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” (Duet with Jennifer Nettles), “Always”

12.) Boys Like Girls – Boys Like Girls (2006)

Though it was released in 2006, I didn’t stumble upon this album until freshman year of high school. A good friend at the time told me I had to listen to this band. We had silent study hall together so we spent the time passing notes instead of doing actual homework. We would draw doodles of flowers, play tic-tac-toe, gossip, and scrawl song lyrics on each other’s notebooks, binders, and anything else we could get our hands on. She wrote a lot of Boys Like Girls lyrics on my notebooks, and I liked the words. When I finally looked them up on iTunes I discovered I liked their sound too. I’ve bought both albums they’ve released since, and am still waiting to see if they’ll ever make a tour stop in Pittsburgh (Stage AE, please).

Standout Tracks: “Five Minutes to Midnight,” “Thunder,” “Up Against the Wall,” “Heels Over Head,” “Broken Man”

13.) Have You Forgotten? – Darryl Worley (2003)

My parents think it’s a mystery how I got into country music, but it’s their fault. We picked up this album–along with Play’s self-titled EP and Brooks & Dunn’s Steers & Stripes–at some middle-of-nowhere Wal-Mart between Indiana and Pennsylvania in the summer of 2003, on the way home from my Uncle’s wedding. I couldn’t tell you how or why we ended up at some Wal-Mart. Maybe we needed snacks, or gas or something. I have no clue. What I do remember is listening to this album most of the way home, and everywhere else for rest of that summer. Just shy of two years past Sept. 11, the title track rang true. Other songs like “Too Many Pockets” were silly, and made me wonder why anyone would write a song about something so insane, yet now I listen to cookie-cutter tracks about trucks and beer… Songs like “A Good Day to Run” and “I Need a Breather” still define summer and road trips for me.

Standout Tracks: “Have You Forgotten?,” “I Will Hold My Ground,” “I Need a Breather,” “Shiloh,” “A Good Day to Run”

14.) Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980-1995) – Def Leppard (1995)

Listening to this album finally made me admit I liked my Dad’s music. In middle school, I didn’t think it was “cool” to like music that wasn’t rap or from Disney Channel artists like the Jonas Brothers (meanwhile, music from the Disney Channel was never cool, but the thoughts you think in middle school don’t make sense). I never wanted to give Hair Metal or Rock music a chance, but when I went places in my Dad’s truck, those were the only CDs he had. Finally, after my fifth or sixth request for Vault, I had to admit it was starting to grow on me. I branched out to Whitesnake and Poison. I was supposed to go see Def Leppard in concert last summer, but the weather was calling for storms so we didn’t want to go sit on the Pavilion lawn and get electrocuted. It never rained, and I still regret not going.

Standout Tracks: “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Two Steps Behind,” “When Love & Hate Collide,” “Armageddon It,” “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad,” “Hysteria,” “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak”

15.) The Dance – Fleetwood Mac (1997)

When I was young, I thought Fleetwood Mac used saws as one of their instruments (some people actually play saws; look it up). I figured anyone who dressed like that and played banjos also played saws. I didn’t quite grasp the different between Boho and Hillbilly. Saws or not, Fleetwood Mac is a groundbreaking band. This was also my first experience with “live” music, or at least a live album. I’m not a fan of live albums because I like original recordings, but I must love this one for the nostalgia. Although, I do fast-forward through sections or ends of songs where there is extraneous talking involved. The live recording of “Landslide” is right up there with Kiss’ “Beth” and The Carpetner’s “Top of the World” as one of the first songs I remember learning how to sing.

Standout Tracks: “Dreams,” “Landslide,” “Say You Love Me,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Go Your Own Way”

16.) These Dreams: Greatest Hits – Heart (1997)

Heart’s These Dreams showed me that girls can rock, not just sing poppy tunes about sunshine and boys. Don’t get me wrong, the Wilson sisters sings a lot about relationships and heartbreaks, but it’s different than the typical pop-female music stereotypes, especially those that were influential in the 90s, like the Brittneys and Christinas. I thought that was so cool. A lot of the Hard Rock/Hair Metal genre is dominated by men, minus Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and the Wilson Sisters. I liked seeing (hearing?) girls that could rock!

Standout Tracks: “Crazy on You,” “If Looks Could Kill,” “Alone,” “Who Will You Run To,” “Nothin’ at All,” “Barracuda”

17.) Night Train – Jason Aldean (2012)

This Aldean selection makes the list only because it was the soundtrack to a weirdly significant period in my life. The title track finally made my good friend Steph admit that, “I guess some country is ok.” Some of the songs related to my relationship situation at the time (“Walking Away”), and one even talks about the state of music the year I was born (“1994”). Plus, how could you not be influenced or inspired in some way by a duet from Contemporary Country’s Big Three–Aldean, Luke Bryan & Eric Church?

Standout Tracks: “When She Says Baby,” “Talk,” “The Only Way I Know” Duet with Luke Bryan & Eric Church, “Take a Little Ride,” “Night Train,” “Walking Away”

18.) Speak Now – Taylor Swift (2010)

Taylor Swift’s third album was another that marked a pivotal and strange era in my life: senior year of high school. Despite being released two years before senior year, the track list unfolded like the ups and downs of my relationship situation at the time, and dealt with themes like moving on and growing up (“Long Live”) which was perfect for that transitional period. I was inspired by the fact that Taylor Swift wrote all the songs for this album by herself, though I’ve never been able to follow her lead in that department. Plus, I have a special place in my heart for this album after attending the Speak Now tour, which was my very first country concert.

Standout Tracks: “Mine,” “Sparks Fly,” “Dear John,” “The Story of Us,” “Enchanted,” “Last Kiss,” “Long Live”

19.) Own the Night – Lady Antebellum (2011)

It was so difficult to choose a Lady Antebellum album to include on this list. They’re my favorite band and I like all of their music. However, I think Own the Night is my favorite album with 747 close behind. For me, Lady A’s music is feel-good music. It’s honest, it’s emotional, but it’s also fun. Plus, I love their harmonies. I tried to teach myself how to sing harmony by listening to the title track and following along with Hillary Scott’s part. If I was a better singer, my dream would be to collaborate with these guys on a song. Or, if I was better at rhyming, poetry, and writing music, I’d want to write a song for them to sing.

Standout Tracks: “We Owned the Night,” “Dancin’ Away with My Heart,” “When You Were Mine,” “Singing Me Home,” “Wanted You More,” “Love I’ve Found in You”

20.) …Hits – Phil Collins (1998)

While Phil isn’t my favorite artist of all time, he was a big part of my musical upbringing. Phil Collins is my Mom’s favorite artist, so he was one of the go-to staples on car rides. Phil has a different sound and likes to incorporate different styles and instruments into his music. He also does a lot of covers, some of which I think are better than the originals. My only regret is that this was released before the Tarzan soundtrack, and therefore no songs from that are included.

Standout Tracks: “Easy Lover,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Two Hearts,” “Sussudio,” “In the Air Tonight”

21.) Tangled Up – Thomas Rhett (2015)

Thomas Rhett’s sophomore album is categorized as country, but it does big things in the way of crossover. Country fans are very black and white about their tastes. Either they love “old country,” Willie, Hank, Johnny Cash hard-nosed outlaw, twangy stuff, or Luke Bryan spring-break Bro Country. There is usually no in-between. Thomas Rhett is on the Luke Bryan side of the scale, but he’s not afraid to take risks and really show the type of blends that are possible amongst genres. From the clapping percussion on “Crash and Burn,” to the Disco-beat on “Tangled,” and the rap collaboration on “I Feel Good,” this record has a little bit of everything, and that’s why it’s so influential. Good music can’t be bound by genre.

Standout Tracks: “Anthem,” “Crash and Burn,” “South Side,” “Die a Happy Man,” “Vacation,” “T-Shirt,” “Playing with Fire” Duet with Jordin Sparks, “I Feel Good” Featuring LunchMoney Lewis

22.) The Definitive Collection – Whitesnake (2006)

While Whitesnake wouldn’t be considered traditional blues, they do occasionally turn out some blues rock songs. Until I took this History of Popular Music class in college I didn’t know the different among these different brands and styles of rock music, but I was able to learn these styles, from the music itself to to instruments included, and then recognize those same patterns in music I already liked. The Blues are so important because they’ve influenced every kind of music that came after, especially rock.

Standout Tracks: “Love Ain’t No Stranger,” “Judgment Day,” “The Deeper the Love,” “Here I Go Again,” “We Wish You Well”

23.) Big Ones – Aerosmith (1994)

Before Steven Tyler tried to bust into country, and before he found out he had African American Civil War ancestors, he was singing about crossdressers before they were mainstream. He can hit some crazy (no pun intended) high notes that even some sopranos can’t notch. The man was even able to turn Santa into a rock ‘n’ roller on a Christmas episode of Lizzie McGuire. Steve Tyler and Aerosmith make me want to be a little hipper, a little cooler, hit high notes. They also gave people a rude but witty tune to sing any time Bruce-turned-Caitlyn Jenner showed up on TV.

Standout Tracks: “Love in an Elevator,” “What It Takes,” “Cryin’,” “Amazing,” “The Other Side,” “Crazy,” “Angel”

24.) Celebrity – NSYNC (2001)

Remember earlier when I said I had a hard time picking just one NSYNC album? Well, I couldn’t pick just one. Between No Strings Attached and Celebrity, NSYNC made up a majority of my early-2000s music diet. But you’re not really reliving your childhood until you’re making the “ka-ching” noise at the beginning of “The Game Is Over,” talking in a weird robot voice at the end, and making the “pop pop pop” noises with Justin Timberlake.

Standout Tracks: “The Game Is Over,” “The Two of Us,” “Gone,” “Selfish,” “Just Don’t Tell Me That,” “Something Like You,”

25.) Untamed – Cam (2015)

Despite the Carrie Underwoods and Miranda Lamberts of the world, the current state of country music is dominated by men. Girls like Cam are trying to bust the Bro Country stereotype. She covers everything from regrets to failed relationships to one-night stands. Not only do I admire her songwriting credits on all 11 tracks, but also her ability to get across her joy, pain and heartbreak without the slight tinge of crazy or obsession that can come across in Carrie and Miranda revenge songs. I love those, especially “Church Bells” and “Gunpowder & Lead,” and Cam’s “Runaway Train” does fall into that vein, but I like the deviance and originality that Cam is trying to explore.

Standout Tracks: “Untamed,” “Hungover on Heartache,” “Mayday,” “Burning House,” “My Mistake,” “Runaway Train,” “Half Broke Heart,” “Want It All,” “Village”

Bonus Upcoming Influential Albums

26.) The Weight of These Wings – Miranda Lambert (2017)

I just got through saying that I like a deviance from Miranda Lambert’s style, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her music too. This two-disc collection is my latest music purchase. The songs are slower and more raw than her older stuff. It took awhile for “Vice” to grow on me, but I connected with “Tin Man” right away, and have had it on repeat since the single release. My latest two favorites are “We Should Be Friends” and “Getaway Driver.” I seem to like the first disc in the set, titled “The Nerve,” better than disc two, “The Heart,” but, hey, that could change over time.

Standout Tracks: “Runnin’ Just in Case,” “We Should Be Friends,” “Getaway Driver,” “Vice,” “Pushin’ Time,” “Use My Heart,” “Tin Man,” “Things That Break,” “Keeper of the Flame,” “I’ve Got Wheels”

27.) Steel Town – Steve Moakler (2017)

A country singer from Pittsburgh with an album dedicated to the town. This album was a recent 1 a.m. impulse buy and I’ve been playing it on repeat since. I had heard “Suitcase” and “Love Drunk” on The Highway on my way to and from work. Both of those songs are good, “Love Drunk” especially, but the two real gems have Pittsburgh Roots, “Steel Town,” which talks about the resilience and tenacity of Pittsburgh, and “Siddle’s Saloon” about a real bar in Upper St. Clair (I think it may be closed now, but it was a real bar at one time). From the hard work-ethic to the sports and alcohol-filled Friday nights, Steve Moakler has put out one of the best representations I’ve yet to come across in music.

Standout Tracks: “Steel Town,” “Suitcase,” “Jealous Girl,” “Love Drunk,” “Wheels,” “Siddle’s Saloon”


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