This started off as a Facebook thing, but figured I'd 'port it over here, too. Hey, why waste content?' Anyhoo, in no real order...
The Juliana Hatfield Three: Become What You Are - I've said this here before, but everyone has that album they hear in high school that makes them say, "Yes, that's it exactly. Finally someone gets it. This was that album for me. Suburban ennui and melodic hooks that grab you by the face and won't let go... it's kind of perfect.
Recommended tracks: Feelin' Massachusetts, President Garfield, Spin the Bottle
Violent Femmes: Add It Up (1981 - 1993) - This "hits & rarities" comp was my introduction to the band, and pretty much the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. Also, this taught me that the Violent Femmes "bring all their equipment on the bus," and as a result, "you cannot fuck with this band." So there's that.
RT: Blister in the Sun, Add It Up, Out the Window, Dance Motherfucker Dance
They Might Be Giants: Flood - Unlike anything I had ever heard at the time, and the record that taught me that, despite what others would have had me believe, you could be smart and snarky and goofy and utterly yourself well into adulthood and that that was perfectly okay. Still holds up, too, even if the bit at the beginning about "a brand new record for 1990" makes me feel really old.
RT: Birdhouse in Your Soul, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), Dead, Minimum Wage
Mike Doughty: Golden Delicious - Jenny Peters taught me to love Soul Coughing, and I followed that right through to Mike Doughty's solo material, which I think is even better than the SC stuff, great as that was. And this is my favorite record of his, mostly for the fact that myself, Erin, and Liam all love it with equal reckless abandon. Besides, getting to hear Liam's little 3 and a half year old voice singing "Let the sunshine in..." from the backseat of the car is the GREATEST THING EVER.
RT: Fort Hood, 27 Jennifers, More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle
The Cure: Galore - Another singles comp, but this album played a large part in Erin and I getting together, so I can't very well leave it out, can I? I had always assumed the Cure was music for the sad-dudes-in-eyeliner crowd (which they are), but most of my opinions about Robert Smith were formed by the bits they used to do about him on the MTV Half Hour Comedy Hour with Mario Joyner. It never occurred to me that the band could actually be kind of happy and melodic, or that they could be enjoyed by people who owned clothes that contained color. Erin made me a copy of this tape when we were still in the pre-dating stages, and it went a long way toward convincing me this girl was even cooler than I thought.
RT: Just Like Heaven, Close To Me, Friday I'm In Love, Wrong Number
Angus: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Like I said in a comment on Justin's list, Angus was the Pretty in Pink for high school outcast guys. Just a brilliant movie all around (though criminally unavailable on DVD), and the soundtrack flows in and out so perfectly. Really ought to be studied by people putting together movie soundtracks, since it's a Master Class in doing it properly.
RT: Am I Wrong by Love Spit Love, Enough by Dance Hall Crashers, You Gave Your Love to Me Softly by Weezer, Kung Fu by Ash
Weezer: Pinkerton - The Blue Album is the better piece of power pop confection, but this is the better work of art, with Rivers Cuomo pretty much laying his entire psyche wide open for view. Of course, no one bought it, so he went back to singing about drugs and Nightcrawler, which is fine, but most of their output since this has been pretty weak. Much as I enjoy Keep Fishin', for instance, I admit that it's entirely because of the video with the Muppets.
RT: El Scorcho, Across the Sea, Why Bother, The Good Life
Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits - This is less about artistic merit than it is about pure Gen X Nostalgia Chow. 60s and 70s cartoon songs by 90s Alt-Rock musicians... what's not to love?
RT: The Tra La La Song (Banana Splits theme) by Liz Phair & Material Issue, Scooby Doo Where Are You? by Matthew Sweet, Josie & the Pussycats by Juliana Hatfield & Tanya Donnelly, Spider-Man by the Ramones
The Beatles: Rubber Soul - I used to be all about Sgt. Pepper when it came to Beatles albums - and don't get me wrong, I still love it - but I've come around to liking Rubber Soul better now, since like Sgt. Pepper, it's just hit after flawless hit without a filler track or cover in sight, but they're able to do it without wrapping it in a gimmick or attempting to sound un-Beatlesy.
RT: Drive My Car, You Won't See Me, The Word, Run For Your Life, Nowhere Man
Weird Al Yankovic: UHF Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff - Al's sense of humor spoke to me from an early age. "In 3D" was the first album of his I owned, and it remains a favorite, but I think this is the best showcase of his skills, giving his original songs and scripted material from the film (Spatula City, Rambo II) as much spotlight as his parodies. And I'd honestly put the title song on any list of best Rock songs from the 1980s. Al and his band can really wail when they're of a mind to.
RT: UHF, Isle Thing, Generic Blues, Money for Nothing / Beverly Hillbillies
Michael Jackson: Thriller - Come back with me now to a time when we thought Michael Jackson was only a little weird, just after the first nose job but before his skin turned off-white. You loved this album. I loved this album. Everyone loved this album. And if you can banish the images of the current Michael from your mind as you listen, you'll find it still holds up, even during that part where Vincent Price attempts to rap (though I maintain he still did better than Debbie Harry on "Rapture"). And has there ever been a better rock guitar solo than Eddie Van Halen's appearance in "Beat It?"
RT: Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, PYT
So I Married An Axe Murderer: Original Soundtrack - The movie has its moments, but it hasn't aged very well. Flawless soundtrack, though. For one thing, it starts and ends as the movie does, with two different versions of "There She Goes Again," both the Las' original and the Boo Radleys' awesome cover. In the middle you a little Toad the Wet Sprocket, a remix of B.A.D. II's "Rush" that I think is better than the original, and an alt-rock take on the Bay City Rollers. Lightweight, but I've never not enjoyed listening to this.
RT: Either version of There She Goes Again, Saturday Night by Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Rush by Big Audio Dynamite II, Long Day in the Universe by the Darling Buds
Piebald: We Are The Only Friends That We Have - This was Erin's favorite band when we first met, and I liked some of their stuff, but too much of it eventually descended into screamo. With this album, they've grown up a lot, and there's a lot less "angst for angst's sake" and more flat-out rock & roll. The angst isn't completely gone - you can't make good rock music if you're not mad about something after all - but it's more focused. And a lot less whiny. Plus, you have to like a band that writes a love song for their late, lamented tour minibus.
RT: Just a Simple Plan, American Hearts, King of the Road, The Monkey Versus the Robot
The Anniversary: Designing a Nervous Breakdown - Emo, punk, and pop, enveloped Wall of Sound-style in Moog synthesizers, and lyrics sung with such urgency and fervor that the male and female leads might just die if they can't them out like NOW. Retrofuturistic harmonic angst never sounded so good.
RT: The D in Detroit, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Jim Croce: Photographs and Memories - The first music I can remember both myself and my parents liking equally. Croce was gifted at writing songs that could be unabashedly sentimental without being sickeningly sweet, as well as telling stories about the sort of people you hoped you'd never actually meet in your daily life but damn it if they weren't fascinating folks just the same.
RT: Bad Bad Leroy Brown, Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels), Time in a Bottle, Workin' at the Car Wash Blues, I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song
Mickey Mouse Disco - Just about everyone owned at least one of Disney's "Quick, let's cash in on the latest music fad just as it's dying out" albums as a kid. This one was mine. Also the first record I ever owned, so sentimental value far outweighs artistic or technical merit. Also notable for being the one Disney thing I've ever seen outside of the old Floyd Gottfriedson Mickey Mouse comic strip to ever reference Horace Horsecollar. And good for Horace, I say.
RT: The Greatest Band, Watch Out for Goofy, Macho Duck, a very disco-ized Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da.
Barenaked Ladies: Maybe You Should Drive - There was a time when I was obsessed with this band, especially with their first album, Gordon. If you were there, you remember, and I apologize wholeheartedly. What I initially liked about Gordon was that they were a bunch of clearly dorky guys making catchy - and clearly dorky - music. With MYSD, though, they grew up a lot, both in tone and musicianship. Still lots of clever wordplay here, which sometime ventures into "too cutesy" territory, but the maturity, in retrospect, was a breath of fresh air. I needed more maturity myself before I could come to appreciate it.
RT: Jane, Life in a Nutshell, The Great Provider
The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema - Honestly, the New Pornographers have yet to make a bad record, so I could list any of them here and be perfectly happy, but if I had to pick a favorite, Twin Cinema would be it. Lot of gorgeous, synthy power pop, layered like a fine orchestra, available for your consumption in a stunning array of subjects, tones, and arrangements, sort of like a Whitman's Sampler of Awesome.
RT: The Bleeding Heart Show, Sing Me Spanish Techno, These are the Fables
Northern State: Dying in Stereo - Northern State were often called a female Beastie Boys in the beginning, and I can see why... three white kids from Long Island putting out hip hop records, yeah, that sounds a little familiar. But whereas the Beasties had to take a little while to show us the depth they were capable of, NS let us know they were capital-S Smart right out of the gate. Clever rhymes and Having Something To Say aren't exactly new in hip hop, but seeing as this came out at a time when most mainstream rappers were still hung up on Cristal and strippers, the differences where palpable and appreciated. And I appreciate anyone who can reference Chekhov (the playwright, not the Ensign) and Charles Schulz in the very same line. Erin and I both said at the time that we wished we knew teenage girls we could give this record to and say, "Here. You'd do well to listen to what these women have to say."
RT: A Thousand Words, Trinity, The Man's Dollar