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Here Are The Albums You Said Changed Your Life

Two people browse wooden boxes of vinyl albums at a fair — one holds an album up, both appearing to look at it.
Want to change your life? Go listen to some music.
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We recently explored the power of the album on our newsroom’s public affairs show AirTalk with NPR music critic Ann Powers.

The question: What album changed changed your life?.

Listeners called in to share the albums that had deeply affected them, and we’ve heard from more of you since then.

Why now? Well, the start of any new year prompts a lot of us to make resolutions, committing to change our lives. So with 2023 just around the corner, we’re sharing what we heard from you about your most life-changing albums and you'll also see what some of our colleagues had to say about their's.

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We hope they’ll give you the inspiration you need.

Audience Picks

Hill of Thieves, Cara Dillon, 2008: After losing my fourth daughter at birth and grieving, in deep distress, I found this album by chance and clung to it. I listened to it so many times, a lifeline out of the darkness. It was hope in audio form. — Anne Hamilton

Love (self-titled), 1966: My dad used it as a way to bridge our music preferences. It became a means of communication in which he referenced specific songs to convey his feelings when he had a hard time doing so directly. — Katy

The Modern Lovers (self-titled), 1976: The first Modern Lovers album showed me there was music beyond what corporations and status quo could offer that was unique, melodic, original, intelligent, passionate, and that there was still room for individual artistic expression. — Thomas Thieme

Use Your Illusion II, Guns N' Roses, 1991: Use Your Illusion II was the soundtrack to my teen years and has followed me through life into my 40s. It’s probably cliché to say, but the overall tone/mood of the album pretty much mirrored my own feelings about the world around me. — Kevin

The World of Pete Seeger (compilation), 1972: [This album] was perpetually on my family’s turntable at home. I learned right from wrong, love for humanity, musical genius, and how passionate music can be from this album. Decades later, it’s still my #1. — Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein

You Never Walk Alone, BTS, 2017: The album contains a song, “Spring Day,” about missing lost ones — but after the dark cold winter, spring day will come. It was also written as a tribute after the Korean Sewol ferry disaster. — TS

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Other albums listeners said they responded to include OK Computer by Radiohead (1997), Post by Björk (1995), and Suzanne Vega’s 1985 self-titled album.

Staff Picks

A Lego model of a record store, with several people, including one holding album, another pulling the vinyl record out of an album. There are several rows or records in stands, boxes of records on the ground, a speaker hanging on the wall, flying V guitars hanging on the wall, more albums and records hanging on the wall. One of the people is wearing headphones.
Come browse the crates with us.
(Ryan Howerter
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Here’s what some of our colleagues had to say about the albums that affected them:

…And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid, 1995: I found the CD at goodwill as a teen growing up in Tacoma, Washington. The first song, “Maxwell Murder,” doesn’t waste any time getting INTO it, and I remember being blown away by the bass lines. — Sarah Steinman

Black Celebration, Depeche Mode, 1986 and Live Through This, Hole, 1994: I have several depending on the era of my life, but one for sure was Black Celebration by Depeche Mode in my teens, and Hole’s Live Through This in my early 20s. The angst and rebellion in the latter spoke to the angry and depressed 20-something I was at the time. — Cynthia Covarrubias

Continuum, John Mayer (2006): It came out my senior year of high school in 2007, and the subject matter was right time and place — songs like “Gravity” about dealing with the pressures of the world and what everyone expects you to be, or “Stop This Train” about wanting to slow the world down because you’re growing up too fast, or “In Repair” about healing and getting back to normal after relationships.

That album was a huge part of the reason I decided to teach myself to play guitar — I wanted so badly to be able to play the songs on that album and learn the unique chord fingerings John often uses. It was the album that kind of legitimized him in my eyes as more than just the “Your Body Is A Wonderland” guy.

I grew up with my dad listening to a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King, two guitarists that heavily influenced John’s style — so I immediately was drawn in by John’s guitar licks, where you can hear Stevie, and B.B., and Clapton. — Matthew Dangelantonio

In the Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson, 1969: I listened to it in high school, and it was the first time I heard music that sounded like its primary intention wasn’t as a commercial product. — Nicolas Perez

Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, New Radicals, 1998: For most, they’re probably a prototypical one-hit wonder, with “You Get What You Give” hitting the top 40 and proving so lasting that the band reunited last year to play it at the inauguration. I love the song too — I remember being in high school weight training class when I heard that song come on the gym stereo, hitting me when I was in a dark place.

Lines like “Wake up, kids, we’ve got the dreamers' disease” and the chorus’s “You’ve got the music in you” hit me like a freight train, and gave me hope. I bought the album and listened to it over and over. I still listen to it today, with different songs affecting me in different phases of my life. I try remaining the same earnest, non-cynical kid that let those words push him to try making others’ lives brighter. — Mike Roe

Moon Pix, Cat Power, 1996: After growing up as a “grunge baby” in high school, to hear someone like Chan Marshall on the local college radio station (KSPC) blew my head open. The song “Cross Bones Style” was like seeing my first indie movie. “Wow, art can be like this” was the feeling I had and still have when I revisit that album.

I can remember when listening to music was just that — lying on the floor, doing nothing else but listening and reading liner notes. Also, at a time when female artists rarely made radio play, hearing her deep raspy voice was EVERYTHING! — Delaine Ureño

Oh You're So Silent Jens, Jens Lekman, 2005: When I heard Swedish indie-pop musician Jens Lekman’s 2005 singles compilation Oh You're So Silent Jens, it felt like hearing the type of music I had always wished someone would make. It sounded like the Beach Boys or Burt Bacharach, with catchy melodies and lush string arrangements.

The lyrics could be heartfelt, funny, and self-deprecating in the same song. He wasn’t afraid to sing with a beautiful croon, which was refreshing at a time when so many male vocalists hid behind aggression or detached irony to keep from being fully vulnerable.

This past May, Jens Lekman performed with Youth Orchestra Los Angeles in Little Tokyo. Before the encore, a male fan at the edge of the stage handed Jens a note written on a napkin.

Part of the note read, “Thank you for your music and helping me not feel so alone, for being the male voice I needed when there were no others.” I realized how much Jens Lekman’s music touched other people the same way.

My favorite song is “Maple Leaves,” about the misunderstandings in life that are simultaneously humorous and poetic. — Roy Lenn

Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel, 1966: When I was around 14–15, I would sit in my room for hours listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence endlessly. I repeatedly cycled through their discography for an entire year listening to little else — a short blip in my musical taste considering I don’t listen to them much at all anymore. But at the time, their moody light folk rock was perfect for my small sad teenage emofolk soul. — Daniel Martinez

Whitney: The Greatest Hits, Whitney Houston, 2000: I got a Whitney Houston Greatest Hits double CD for Christmas in 2000, and would play the remixes side obsessively. I loved “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay (Thunderpuss Mix).“ I still listen to that track and hear it at the gay club from time to time. It recalls my fierce 10-year-old self strutting around the house with a Walkman to this track. — Peter Hernandez

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