We Should Probably Be Brutally Honest: Favorite Albums From My Teenage Years

We're in the middle of a brief Facebook trend of putting your top albums from your teenage years up, and it is nonsense. I know that we tend to see our past selves through rose-colored glasses, but apparently everyone on Facebook has reimagined themselves as characters from a Nick Hornby book, squirreled away in their room listening to The Replacements on vinyl. This is ridiculous.

Musical taste is not innate. When we were thirteen and piling into minivans and someone was cranking the radio, we were not exploring the lyrical intricacies of Bob Dylan's last great album, Love and Theft, and pretending otherwise is pretending you didn't have a real adolescence. And you're also trying to impress your current friends with how cool your teenage self was, which is a special form of sad.

My favorite post in my Facebook Newsfeed today:

Agreed. Let's just admit that there are some parts of us we were glad to leave behind.

Listing your favorite albums from your teenage years is a very tough thing to do, because you change so much over that period. What you loved in 7th grade you might have hated by 10th, but that doesn't change how much you loved it in seventh grade. So I decided to rank albums grade-by-grade. That only seemed fair.

For the sake of my own embarrassment, I'm glad that this trend is doing albums and not songs, as there are sure to be some disasters if I counted favorite songs year by year. Would Backstreet Boys' "As Long As You Love Me?" be on a top-10 list from 7th grade year? The only question is whether Chumbawumba's "Tubthumper" would beat it. And what about the period in eighth grade I spent mooning over a girl named Jessica and playing Mariah Carey's "My All" on repeat? And what about the period I was trying to get everyone into a then-unknown Canadian band named "Nickelback?" There are a lot of minefields left untraveled here.

I put my top-two albums from every year up, with a few almost-made-its just below.

Without further ado, then:

6th Grade: 

Jars of Clay, Jars of Clay
R.E.M., Automatic For The People

Both of these are leftovers from my brother, as I had yet to discover any music on my own. The first was a gift from him, the second just the reality of riding along in the car with him to all sorts of places.


7th Grade: 

Matchbox Twenty, Yourself or Someone Like You
Chumbawumba, Tubthumper

Others Receiving Votes:
Jars of Clay, Much Afraid
DC Talk, Jesus Freak
Newsboys, Take Me To Your Leader

I tried to keep Chumbawumba out of the top two slots, but it simply defined my 7th grade year. It was the first album I ever bought, as people would play "Tubthumper" constantly as we were warming up for basketball games, and so I went out after practice one day and bought a copy. For about six months, I played the whole record on repeat while playing a very crappy NBA game on the computer in a room that had no door. I do not know why my parents did not kill me that year.

Matchbox Twenty came late in my seventh-grade year (I'd only just started listening to the radio on my own in about March), but I fell in love with this album immediately. I was given a $10 gift card to Strawberries, a now-defunct New England based music store with ties to the mob. I couldn't afford the CD with $10, so I bought the cassette, instead. I still have it somewhere.


8th Grade: 

Third Eye Blind, Third Eye Blind
Barenaked Ladies, Stunt

Others Receiving Votes:
Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine
The Wallflowers, Bringing Down The Horse
Barenaked Ladies, Rock Spectacle
Newsboys, Stepping Up To The Microphone
Third Day, Conspiracy #5
Eve 6, Eve 6

The next record I bought was Third Eye Blind's self-titled debut, though whether it was soon thereafter or months later, I have no idea. I do remember that it was during 8th grade that I really bonded with the album, as it resonated nicely with my tortured hormonal mood swings. And Stephan Jenkins is a hell of a songwriter.

Barenaked Ladies were my first ever concert, an event reminisced about here. This was probably about the peak moment in the world of lyrically-clever acoustic rock, before nu-rock came and just destroyed everything.


9th Grade: 

Counting Crows, Recovering The Satellites
Third Eye Blind - Blue

Others Receiving Votes:
Live, The Distance To Here
Jars of Clay, If I Left The Zoo
Collective Soul, Dosage
Audio Adrenaline, Underdog
Silverchair, Neon Ballroom
Plumb, candycoatedwaterdrops
Sixpence None the Richer, Sixpence None The Richer
Caedmon’s Call, 40 Acres
Three Doors Down, The Better Life

For a long time, Counting Crows were my favorite band. I did a massive report on them my sophomore year of high school that involved visiting our nearby college library and digging through mounds of microfiche for old articles about the band.

Between a combination of timing and personal taste, I place their debut record, August and Everything After (which everyone considers their best) no higher than third on the all-time list of Counting Crows albums, and that's when I'm feeling generous. Recovering The Satellites sits at number two.

Third Eye Blind's second album didn't have the consistency of the first, by I was a true-blue believer by then (pun not intended, then noticed, then grudgingly allowed). There's some filler on this album, and not every song hits, but they never made a better song than "Wounded," except for maybe "The Background." Don't @ me.


10th Grade: 

Matchbox Twenty - Mad Season
Everclear - Songs From An American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile

Others Receiving Votes:
Counting Crows - This Desert Life
Goo Goo Dolls - Dizzy Up The Girl

I annoyed my dad with the radio a lot, but I really annoyed my dad when the single for the new Matchbox Twenty came out. Not only was I just scanning through stations, looking for a good song, I was scanning through stations looking just for the new Matchbox Twenty single and nothing else. Our commute home was half-an-hour long. I'm surprised I didn't get left on the side of the road at some point.

This Everclear album is a favorite because Art Alexakis went off to make a sad, wistful solo album after his second divorce, but then the joyful part of the memories kept bubbling up, and eventually he brought the rest of the band in to play on the album. All of a sudden they were doing covers of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and Art was singing over a ukulele strum about their honeymoon in Hawaii. The album still holds up today, but "Otis Redding" and "Learning How To Smile" are particularly lasting.


11th Grade:

The Normals, Coming To Life
Caedmon’s Call - Long Line of Leavers

Others Receiving Votes:
Our Lady Peace, Happiness Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch
Smalltown Poets, Third Verse
Smalltown Poets, Listen Closely
Coldplay - Parachutes
Various, City On A Hill: Songs of Worship and Praise,
Lifehouse - No Name Face
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
P.O.D. - Satellite

I had a tough time coming up with a second album after The Normals album - everything seemed like sort of a tie. It was the heady days of Napster, and I listened to a ton of everything that year. Most of the albums that made the cut here were assembled song-by-song from Napster at various bitrates, and this was during a time when I was a member of the BMG Music Club.


12th Grade: 

The Normals, A Place Where You Belong
Jars of Clay, The Eleventh Hour

Others Receiving Votes:
Jimmy Eat World - Jimmy Eat World
Coldplay - A Rush of Blood To The Head
Thursday, Full Collapse
Various, I Am Sam Soundtrack

This was the easiest selection by far. That year, I had a cassette onto which I had recorded all of A Place Where You Belong on one side and The Eleventh Hour on the other, and I played it in the car for several months straight. This was during the period where I was driving my brothers to school as well, and while they complained constantly about all of my other music, they never once made the slightest peep about this one.


College Freshman:

Counting Crows - Hard Candy
Our Lady Peace - Gravity

Others Receiving Votes:
Matchbox Twenty - More Than You Think You Are
Andrew Osenga - Photographs
Dave Matthews - Some Devil
Dashboard Confessional - A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar

Hard Candy was an easy one - I played that album on my discman at near-constant rate for several months - but picking the second album was tougher. My freshman year led to the discovery that you could just snag music off of anyone's computer within our shared college server, and so there was a massive pooling of music within our tiny liberal arts college. College freshman are all relatively the same, but that gets a lot more pronounced when they're all listening to the exact same music.

I chose Gravity over the other options because I went on fall break with a few friends right after the album had come out, and we listened to "All For You" approximately 250 times over the course of those four days. If you play that song for me now, all of a sudden I'm back in Ohio, trying Skyline chili and visiting a buddy's high school for no apparent reason.