The Book Of Mormon
Original Broadway Cast Recording
2011, Ghostlight

For those of you who don’t know much about the stage show: it is not for the easily offended, language-wise, and some might be turned off by its depiction of religion (which focuses, obviously, on Mormonism, but the message put forth essentially can be applied to religion in general). A friend and I were recently discussing the show (which we have both seen, it is so great, if you get the chance, go!), and though we spent most of the time talking about how funny and smart it was, he stopped to point out that “the songs were just really good, just as songs.” He’s right: the music itself is great, a mix of old school Broadway-type tunes (so many Music Man vibes!), spiked with hilarious lyrics and not-so-subtle parodies of certain Disney lion musicals. The best part of the Book of Mormon is that the laughs are (well, almost) never cheap: the lyrics can be silly, yes, but the show has a genuine love for its characters that never seems to let up, which makes it a show that feels joyous as opposed to vicious. Also? It’s just really effing funny. There just aren’t enough musicals out there that let their lead character yell, “I can’t believe Jesus called me a diiiiiick!” You know? –Pixie

Into the Woods
Original Cast Recording
1988, RCA

A VHS of the Broadway recording of Into the Woods is the first thing I can remember ever seeing on a teevee, and it BLEW MY MIND. What sucks is explaining it to people, because a “fairy tale mix-up” sounds so ZANY and annoying. My sister played the Baker’s Wife in this play once, and it also sucked telling people that, because the Baker’s Wife sounds like the name of a character who has one line in Beauty and the Beast, and not like one of the leads. However, TAKE MY WORD, this musical is the REAL DEAL. It is my favorite musical by Stephen Sondheim, and my favorite musical EVER, and Bernadette Peters plays a witch who RAPS ABOUT VEGETABLES, so WHAT IS THERE NOT TO LOVE? I know it sounds like I’m saying, “It’s so bad it’s good!” But it’s so not like that. It’s so complicated but catchy, and parts are gonna make you cry, and oh my GOD this is making me so emotional just talking about it. –Tavi

The Idler Wheel
Fiona Apple
2012, Epic

I had been waiting for the new Fiona Apple record for ages, and then it arrived at exactly the time that I needed it the most, and it made me alive. The opening song where she sings about how her brain never stops thinking and she just wants to FEEL EVERYTHING immediately became my anthem. The most important thing about this record is that she really IS feeling everything. Whereas her other records tend to be more about heartbreak, loneliness, and the darker sides of the heart, there is a sense that she has moved past that and is basking in love–and even celebrating it when it don’t work out so well. In “Daredevil,” she proclaims she is ALL THE FISHES IN THE SEA which, OMG, is the best thing to ever tell someone that is on the fence about you or isn’t ready to give in. Her records have become more stripped down and bare over time, and on this one she gets as REAL as can be with just her voice, her piano, and sparse percussion arrangements that make you feel like you are sitting in the room with her while she bangs shit around her. As always, there are songs I can’t listen to, because they are too real and too raw (“Left Alone” and “Regret”), but that’s really just the magic of Fiona. The real gems in this record come at the end, where we get a glimpse at a different side of her, a playful Fiona that likes to love and isn’t the sullen girl that everyone paints her to be. “Anything We Want” is as hopeful a song as she’s ever had so far, and she sings about being in love with someone and pretending they are kids and playing hooky and then growing old and falling in love and then finally having everything they want. My most favorite song is “Hot Knife,” where she and her sister take turns singing about being a hot knife and a dude being a pat of butter (and vice versa), which like #1 BUTTER METAPHOR OK I AM HERE WITH YOU and #2 SO GENIUS. And when she sings “I get FEIS-TY whenever I’m with him,” I SWEAR you can hear the mischievous grin that forms on her face as she sings. I cannot say enough good things about this other than Fiona is still, and always will be, literally the best thing ever. –Laia

Boys for Pele
Tori Amos
1996, Atlantic

This album came out in the middle of my junior year of high school, which was probably one of the most melodramatic, stress-filled, insanely emotional periods of my life. So every night before bed, I put on Boys for Pele and rode out the waves of awfulness with Tori. On Boys, she delivered what I’d come to expect from her previous two albums: a gorgeous voice that told me secrets in poetry set to the tune of a piano. And she added more—harpsichords, other instruments I didn’t know the names of but whose textures I loved, and even a gospel choir. She told me stories of girls I could relate all too well with, like “Marianne,” whom Tori couldn’t believe had actually killed herself by crawling down “in that old deep ravine.” She called out to her friend Muhammad, coyly reminding him that it was time to tell the world that it was a girl born back in Bethlehem. With “Doughnut Song,” she helped me realize the truth of how bad my last relationship had been. When she tremulously sung “Hey Jupiter,” I realized I wasn’t alone. Boys for Pele is a mythical world that I still turn to, especially when I need “a big loan from the girl zone.” –Stephanie

The Cure
1989, Fiction

A staple for those with broken hearts and drawers stuffed with terrible poetry, Disintegration is a dream of an album, though that dream shifts from frightening to beautiful and back again several times as it progresses. It’s the type of record that makes sadness atmospheric; you can feel someone else’s pain, anger, and confusion mingling with your own, which makes every song drip with a mix of cynicism and empathy. The music is gorgeous, as is Robert Smith’s voice, and when you listen to it, you feel like you’ve escaped to some otherwordly place. It’s a soundtrack for someone who is falling apart and trying to decide between pessimism and optimism, ultimately ending with a desperately romantic compromise of both. Love is hard, love is fleeting, but without it, where would anybody be? It’s one of those albums that you go back to again and again, when you need it to help you get through dark things (or when you need it to laugh, to remind you of how dramatic you’ve been in the past). It’s pretty much perfect. Or, in the words of South Park’s Kyle Broflovski: “Disintegration is the best album ever!” –Pixie

Once More, With Feeling
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
2002, Rounder

I’ve often thought, Wouldn’t life be so much more fun if people randomly burst into song and dance like we were in one big musical? Apparently, Joss Whedon also had this thought, so he wrote, “Once More, With Feeling,” the memorable musical episode of Buffy. As soon as I saw it (which, um, was this summer, because I’m way late to the Buffy party), I went on iTunes and bought the soundtrack. It has to be the most fun musical soundtrack EVER. Even if you’ve had the worst possible day, you cannot help smiling when Anya bursts into her musical tirade about bunnies during “I’ve Got a Theory.” (The theory is that bunnies are evil and sketchy, obvs.) And there is nothing more deliciously angsty than Spike’s “Rest in Peace.” Like the series, this episode and soundtrack are original and dark and somehow not remotely implausible. –Stephanie

Original Cast Recording
1996, Verve

It is a goal of mine to one day learn all the words to “La Vie Boheme,” including the food order and the details of the “impromptu salon.” Really, it’s just a mellifluous name-checking of things that rhyme and/or are remotely associated with hipster lifestyles (“German wine, turpentine, Gertrude Stein, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa, Carmina Burana”), and it ends with an impassioned call to activism (“revolution, justice, screaming for solution, forcing changes, risking dangers, making noise, and making pleas”). It just pumps me up every time I hear it, which is often, as I have the soundtrack on my iPod. In retrospect, I realize Rent was kind of commodifying the artiness of downtown NYC, which is in part what the characters in the play are so outraged about, but to this day, the music brings me back to the theater and reminds me how much I wanted to be IN the cast. “Seasons of Love” never fails to make me cry (like when Mindy Kaling used it for Michael’s departure on The Office, even though I didn’t even really care that he was leaving). In fact, right now, I am thinking of how few minutes there really are in a year, and how I spend too many of them on the computer. –Phoebe

Original Broadway Cast
2003, Verve

If you’re not familiar with Wicked, get familiar. It’s the story of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, back when she and the Good Witch were roommates in college. The soundtrack might be a bit confusing if you haven’t seen the play or read the book, but the songs are so good it doesn’t matter (but read the book anyway, it’s amazing). The official soundtrack features Idina Menzel (best known for her role as Maureen in Rent and Rachel’s mother in Glee), who plays green-skinned Elphaba, and Kristin Chenoweth (The West Wing, Pushing Daisies, and GCB) as the air-headed Glinda. At first they can’t stand each other, captured in hilarious songs like “Popular,” where Glinda offers to give Elphaba a makeover to make her better-liked (this actually happened to me in high school, and I didn’t take the girl up on it). Eventually, they become friends and find themselves caught up in the middle of some trouble that’s sweeping through Oz. This is a great story of a realistic, complicated friendship—the masterpiece of the whole soundtrack, “Defying Gravity,” is a breathtakingly beautiful argument as they choose to go their separate ways, all while wishing each other happiness. If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you know how the story ends—but after Wicked, you’ll have a lot more sympathy for poor, misunderstood Elphaba. And you’ll also have a lot of great new songs stuck in your head. –Rachael

Murder Ballads
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
1996, Mute

This album is a dark, twisted fairy tale. Every song is that last act in a Shakespeare tragedy where almost everyone dies. Sometimes, like in “Stagger Lee,” the deaths are almost unbearably violent. Sometimes, like in “The Curse of Millhaven,” you get kind of a sick pleasure in hearing about the terrible, green-eyed, yellow-haired, 15-year-old Lottie on a murder spree because “La-la-la, all God’s children have to die.” (At least me and my first roommate did. This is a great song to blast when you hate your upstairs neighbor.) In addition to all the great Stephen-King-meets-TwinPeaks-meets-Nick-Cave’s-scary-scary-mind stories, you have incredible guest balladeers like PJ Harvey, who joins in on “Henry Lee,” Kylie Minogue on “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” and then the album closes out with a great group singalong version of Bob Dylan’s “Death Is Not the End.” –Stephanie

Put Your Back N 2 It
Perfume Genius
2012, Matador

You know when you listen to an album and there’s a feeling in your stomach that’s something like love and fear combined? Like there’s a shock running throughout your whole body? Or like you couldn’t move at all, even if something in your vicinity were to catch on fire? I feel all of these things when I listen to Put Your Back N 2 It. Singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas has a voice of hope and heartbreak. The songs cover extremely personal and heavy topics. He sings about wanting to heal his mother in “Dark Parts,” and about wanting to be able to hold his boyfriend’s hand without hesitation in “All Waters.” “17” sounds like a suicide note. You don’t have to have lived an incredibly tragic life in order to appreciate this album. Hadreas sings about pain that’s familiar to everyone, and the personal stories he shares are told in a way that brings you into his world. You hurt as he hurts, and by the end of it, you feel a little bit stronger. –Katherine

Les Misérables
Original London Cast Recording
1985, Relativity

It’s almost hard not to be familiar with the songs that make Les Mis so enduring, but as much as I love “I Dreamed a Dream,” which Anne Hathaway does a killer version of, and “On My Own,” it’s some of the less-sweeping tracks that make the album so listenable the whole way through, like the inebriated pas de deux between the innkeepers in “Master of the House.” (If you had to be in a supporting role, it always seemed like the lady innkeeper, who memorably complains of her husband’s manhood, was a fun part to play.) “At the End of the Day” is so urgent and rousing, with the chorus lamenting that each day is one less to be living (in between their taunting of Fantine). And sometimes I think my true favorite is “Do You Hear the People Sing.” The numbers where the whole company gets involved are always kind of the best, and the reprise includes a martial beat, which comes in the wake of so much death, and it concludes the play on an epic note that just gives me the chills. –Phoebe

Motion Picture Soundtrack
2006, Sony

When we went on the Rookie Road Trip, I had a playlist of my favorite Dreamgirls songs that only Hazel was into, so we listened to it on our own in our hotel room, because I guess we were the only ones with souls or whatever? Jennifer Hudson and BEYONCÉ, you guys. These songs, along with those of ABBA, are the only ones that just purely MAKE ME HAPPY. No complicated nostalgia or anything, just PURE JOY. –Tavi

West Side Story
Motion Picture Soundtrack
1961, Sony Classical

There is a 97% chance that you’ll develop a snapping problem after listening to West Side Story–it comes with the territory, daddi-o. One of the catchiest scores ever (IMO), this adaptation of Romeo & Juliet is filled with musical theater classics, covering the saga of Maria and Tony as their romance blossoms among the gang wars between the Jets and the Sharks. It is physically impossible for me to hear any song from this show without getting psyched up in some way–particularly “Something’s Coming“–as everything is so intense, hitting on every emotion possible, from anticipation to love to hate to death to redemption. –Pixie

Not Your Kind of People
2012, Stunvolume

Not Your Kind of People is Garbage’s first album in six years. They put it out on their own label and their own terms, which made me instantly admire it before I’d even heard it. And it lived up to my expectations. Musically, it reminds me of their first two albums—that perfect marriage of dance-y synth and big guitars. Lyrically, there are oh-so-so many songs to get you powered up to survive your own life drama or just that first crazy month of school. My favorites for getting pumped are the one-two punch of “Battle in Me” (shaking it up when you’re “a train wreck of lipstick”) and “Man on a Wire” (shooting your fear in the face and setting yourself on fire). The title track and “What Girls Are Made Of” are awesome for reminding yourself of how strong and extraordinary you are when phony people are giving you shit. Basically, it would be impossible NOT to feel like a total badass when you’re walking around with this album playing on your headphones. –Stephanie

Little Shop of Horrors
The New Broadway Cast Recording
2003, DRG

When I listened to this soundtrack the whole way through for the first time, I was too young to understand the dark humor in a story about a florist feeding people to a Venus flytrap, because its growing size impressed his crush, or a dentist laughing himself to death from gas (played by Steve Martin in the movie!), or “dreaming of a big, enormous, 12-inch screen” in “Somewhere That’s Green.” The flytrap’s voice literally gave me nightmares. I still loved the way the songs sounded, though, and now I obviously think the story is the best thing ever. Ignore the fact that Seymour is kind of a Nice Guy. Focus on the 1960s girl group–style narrators, especially how one of them says “PEORIA” on the last song from the 2003 cast recording. –Tavi

The Secret Garden
The Original Broadway Cast
1991, Sony

Musicals! My mother cleverly trained me to adore musicals, so she would have someone to accompany her to the theater every weekend. Our favorite is The Secret Garden. It is the moodiest, spookiest musical you will ever see. It’s based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, about a sullen orphan named Mary who goes to live with her creepy uncle in the wuthering moor. It contains one of the most challenging and haunting duets found in any musical ever. I listen to The Secret Garden, and I think, What happened to you, American Musical? You once were my heritage, but look what you’ve become: part Disney corporation, part pathetic reboots, part transparent contrivance to cram existing pop sings into some asinine semblance of a plot in order to loot my pockets. That is not Broadway. This is Broadway. –Maggie

In Love With Oblivion
Crystal Stilts
2011, Fortuna Pop!/Slumberland

Listening to In Love With Oblivion is a bit like finding yourself in a David Lynch movie; there’s something dark, forbidding, and creepy about it, though at the same time, it’s pretty awesome and trippy and weird. A song like “Alien Rivers” sounds, fittingly, like something someone would listen to if they were a lost cowboy on the moon; distant guitars, ominous keyboards, and droning voices. For every song that signals doom, however, there is something uplifting; this is a band that can make a song about black holes seem hopeful. Highly recommended for late-night drives, make-outs, and insomniac writing sessions. –Pixie

Motion Picture Soundtrack
1978, Polydor

My love for Grease is well documented on Rookie, but apart from the rad outfits and Rizzo being pretty much the best character ever, the songs in the movie are really the bestest. There’s the electric theme song that opens the film, and the classic “Summer Lovin,’” but my favorite songs from the movie are ones that Rizzo sings: “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” is the best mean girls song that ever meaned; on “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” she’s all, I guess I could not be slutty and stay home, but that sucks so whatever I’ma just YOLO-ing it, and it’s without a doubt my most favorite song in the movie. The cool thing about the soundtrack is that it not only has all the songs that everyone sings in the movie, but also the songs that get played at the parties, like “Born to Hand Jive,” which I think would be a great staple at any gathering if all your friends know how to hand-jive (and why would they not?), especially because I would totally try to pull off Cha Cha DiGregorio’s moves, aka flipping your dress up and showing your underwear to people, because she is totally made of magic. The only bummers on the record are the two ballads that Sandy and Danny sing, but I think that’s just my opinion because I hate everything, especially LOVE and FEELINGS. But all in all, everything about this soundtrack is perfect and if you ever find it in a thrift store, you should definitely buy it because it will make your life funner! –Laia