I cannot live without music. I’m always creating an internal soundtrack for the movie they’ll never make about my life, but it helps me get through the day. High school was no exception. Join me on a journey through the albums that made me feel ways about stuff back in high school.
(For everyone’s sake, I’m going to skip the country phase I went through because it was short-lived and not really a pivotal part of shaping my taste or who I am.)
En Vogue – Funky Divas
I didn’t buy this album. In fact, it makes the list primarily because I borrowed it from the first new friend I made in high school. She and I met on the first day of gym class, and she let me borrow this album because I loved some of the songs I’d heard. I remember playing this at home and my dad knocking on my door to turn down the bass. My room was in the back of the house, but bass traveled down the hall if I had it up too loud. It would be the first time of many that he’d tell me to turn my music down.
Ace of Base – The Sign
I grew up with a mom who loved ABBA, and subsequently, so do I. So when Ace of Base hit the scene, I was excited to have a modern version of ABBA. Some of the songs are still fun to listen to, but I can’t say that I learned anything profound about myself by listening to this album. Maybe I learned that ABBA is better. That’s about it.
Hootie and the Blowfish – Cracked Rear View
Like most everyone else who watched VH1 regularly, I grew to love the songs on this album and bought it mainly to fit in with my friends. That’s not to say it’s not a good album, but this was very much a case of buying something to fit in. There are many albums I revisit from this time in my life, but this isn’t one of them. I include it on this list to remind myself that as much as I want to remember myself as not caring about what others thought, I desperately wanted to be seen as part of the crowd sometimes.
Into the Woods Original Broadway Cast Recording
I was in show choir all four years of high school, and I loved musicals. Oddly enough, though, it was my French teacher that introduced me to this musical. She showed us a video of it in French II when we were doing a unit on French literature. (I think she just liked it and wanted to show a video for a couple of days, but she said it was because some of the fairy tales had French origins.) I had always listened to musicals, but mainly ones my mom introduced me to. This was the first musical that I bought on my own and listened to obsessively. I still listen to it quite often. It led me to a love of other musicals, like the ’90s revivals of Cabaret and Chicago, and of course Rent.
Alanis Morrissette – Jagged Little Pill
Ah, this album. This album awakened an incredible anger in me when I bought it on a school trip to Chicago. I had heard “You Oughta Know” on the radio, and I wanted to hear more. I listened to the cassette on the whole bus ride home, turning it over and over when each side ended. I absorbed every line and cried when I related to some of the lyrics, like in “Perfect” or “Hand In My Pocket”. I still listen to it today, but I have to laugh at how badass and rebellious I felt listening to this album. It was before I discovered Riot Grrrl music, so I didn’t know any better.
Blues Traveler – Four
Once again, this was one I bought because everyone else had it. However, I played it quite a bit. I also won a bet by owning this album. A guy bet me I didn’t know all of the lyrics to “Hook,” and most certainly couldn’t sing them. That was the easiest money I’ve ever made. (I still remember all of the lyrics, so fair warning if you ever bet me I don’t.)
10,000 Maniacs – MTV Unplugged
Most people might cite the Nirvana episode as the pivotal ’90s episode of the MTV show, but this was the one that resonated with me. My friend Carrie made me a copy of her cassette, and I played it constantly. I wanted to mimic Natalie Merchant’s voice, and I cried every time I heard “These Are Days”. I still might sometimes.
Honorable mention goes to Natalie Merchant’s solo album, Tigerlily, which almost made the list, too.
The Cranberries – Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Don’t We?
I adored this album. While I appreciate “Zombie” and the sound of the next album, it’s this album I associate most with high school. I danced along to the optimistic lyrics of “Dreams,” and I felt so intensely the heartbreak of “Linger,” when my high school crush didn’t feel the same way. I think “Linger” was the first song that I cried to in that teenaged way of feeling that I’d never feel any better, that the sun would never shine in the same way. Oh, teenage Stacey–you really did feel some ways about stuff.
Chris Isaak – Forever Blue
Revisiting the theme of always curating a soundtrack to my life, I bought this album the day I graduated from high school because of the song “Graduation Day”. The whole album is great and totally holds up, but I laugh at my high school self when I think about taking time out of my day with my friends and family to run to Target to buy a CD. That said, my love for this album lasted longer than some of my high school friendships, so maybe I knew what I was doing.
Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet
I remember when my friend Mike let me borrow this one. He said, “It’s really weird. You’ll probably like it.” He was right. Beyond “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” every song had some bizarre lyrics but surprisingly orchestral and thoughtful music. I still revisit this one from time to time and am never disappointed.
The Rembrandts – L.P.
I knew who the Rembrandts were before they performed the theme song from Friends, and I bought this album on a whim because I wanted to own the theme song from Friends. I remember buying it when my mom and I were shopping for clothes for my senior pictures. I don’t remember much about it other than there was a song about wanting to be with someone who didn’t know you were alive that I related to at the time. I include it here as a reminder that I was so much better than that dumb crush.
Reality Bites Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
This has to be one of the albums I’ve listened to the most ever. And actually, I heard the soundtrack way before I saw the movie. I heard the soundtrack in my friend Mike’s car, and we had a huge argument about whether or not “My Sharona” was a new song. (I knew it wasn’t, but he insisted it was.) I bought the soundtrack myself, and it instantly got a permanent spot in my CD changer for a while. The songs resonated even more when I saw the movie a few years later (don’t ask–I just never got around to it until a particularly depressing time in my freshman year of college). I still love every song on the album, but one in particular led me to my favorite album from high school.
Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories – Tails
When I heard “Stay (I Missed You)” on the Reality Bites soundtrack, all I wanted was more Lisa Loeb. Thankfully this album came along to satisfy that need. To say I loved (and still love) this album is a gross understatement. Every song is good. It’s not like Hootie or Blues Traveler, where you play the songs you know and never revisit the other songs after the first listen. Loeb’s thoughtful, sometimes weird lyrics are fun to sing and convey a lot of emotion. I played this album when I was angry, sad, or just wanted to sing along. That’s still the case today.
I could probably name more albums that came out while I was in high school, like No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom or the Cranberries’ To the Faithful Departed, but I didn’t buy those until the summer after I graduated. They kicked off my college playlist. But that’s another list for another time.