2exm0ev11Parallel Lines
1978, Capitol

The first time I heard the song “Heart of Glass,” I was about 12 years old and spending all of my time at Wheels ’N Motion, a rollerskating rink that was the preferred hangout for sixth-graders in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The second I heard Debbie Harry’s angelic voice crooning the first lines, I stopped pretending I knew how to skate backwards and slooowly cruised to the rest of the song by myself, the disco ball throwing off tiny flecks of light, thinking, This is the most perfect song to rollerskate to, ever. Afterwards, I asked the lady who ran Wheels ‘N Motion what that song was, and she laughed her throaty laugh from behind the candy counter and said, “It’s Blondie, honey, don’t you know Blondie? Ya GOTTA know BLONDIE.” I forgot all about this encounter until college, when I was rooting through the discount bin at a record store and saw the cover of Parallel Lines—a picture of Debbie Harry in a white dress with her bossy fists on her hips, frowning, surrounded by men. I brought the record home, and thus began a long-term band/fan relationship that’s still going strong today. There’s something mean and nice and scary and innocent and bratty, all at once, about Debbie Harry, that makes her endlessly fascinating to me, and that makes Parallel Lines hands-down one of my favorite albums of all time. It includes such classic songs like “One Way or Another,” “Heart of Glass,” and “Hanging on the Telephone,” and it just doesn’t get old. —Krista

2003, Star Trak/Arista

Kelis had released two critically acclaimed albums before Tasty, but this one was where she truly broke out, mostly propelled by the lascivious, double-entendre double-dutch song “Milkshake.” That little number said so many complex things about sex appeal and youth culture that Tina Fey put it on the soundtrack for Mean Girls, but Tasty is comprises smart jams from front to back. “Millionaire,” featuring Andre 3000, is a tutorial in self-esteem, while “Sugar Honey Iced Tea” is one of the sweetest g-funk love songs ever recorded. One of the best songs on here, “Attention,” is almost a blueprint for talking things through in your relationship when you feel you’re being neglected, sung in Kelis’s gloriously husky voice. Tasty was written when Kelis was falling in love with Nas, so there’s a lot of passion in it, and like the glossy album cover suggests, the songs just gleam. —Julianne

Green Day
1995, Reprise

After selling 10 million copies of their breakout album, Dookie, the dudes from Green Day came back with Insomniac, a record filled with anger, rapid thinking, confusion, and a ton of eff-off energy. Overlooked and underrated, it’s the band’s reaction to the insanity that came along with their fame, especially the rejection they were handed by the punk community they came up in (selling 10 million records on a major label–a thing that used to happen!–was not good for street cred in 1995). This record basically got me through eighth grade, as it’s perfect to write boring essays to because it’s loud, fast, and motivating. I’m not really on board with today’s Rock Opera Green Day, but Insomniac holds a special place in my heart for being the angry, snotty, funny soundtrack I needed at a deeply cynical time in my life. It’s somehow both bitter and hopeful, tailor-made for going through dark times and feeling around for a light switch. —Pixie

d0046543_02030821Raw Power
Iggy and the Stooges
1973, Columbia

Raw Power was born during a time of turmoil for the Stooges. Iggy Pop was struggling with heroin addiction and the record company was displeased with the band’s lack of commercial success, so David Bowie was brought in to mix the album. I don’t know if the Pop/Bowie connection should get all the credit, but the result makes you want to dance—either slamming in a mosh pit or swaying in a sultry manner in your room—and yowl along with Iggy. “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm,” Iggy declares over a killer riff on the opening track, “Search and Destroy.” The next song, “Gimme Danger,” is like a dare—it plays in my head whenever I’m doing something I know I shouldn’t be, but think will be worth the risk. Columbia asked Iggy to remix the album himself in 1997, but he even states in the liner notes, “I don’t think you can beat David’s mix.” I prefer the original myself, but both are available (Bowie; Pop), so check them out and decide for yourself. —Stephanie

Azealia Banks - FantaseaFantasea
Azealia Banks
2012, Polydore/Interscope

Like most people, I became completely captivated with Azealia Banks the first time I saw her video for “212,” which came out in fall 2011. The song was catchy as hell, and watching Azealia dance in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt quickly melted my steely exterior. “212” became my #1 obsession for a WHOLE MONTH in which I listened to it on repeat and walked around like I owned the town. The song’s spirit seeped into my life, and I actually had one of the crazier months that I’ve had in a while. Why am I sharing this cool story bro with you? To tell you that Azealia Banks’s music is so rad that it can change your life. I was so stoked when she announced the imminent release of a new mixtape on Twitter last spring; two months later Fantasea came out, and oh boy, it did not disappoint! All the songs are total jams. I especially love “Neptune,” which combines a ’90s synth-y beat with a melody that totally wraps around your body; “Jumanji,” with steel drums that offset the directness of Azealia’s rhymes; and “Fuck Up the Fun,” where the percussion sounds like a room full of women beating baseball bats on tables and showing up the menz while Azealia and her friend laugh, basically. Fantasea is a summer record for running around with your girlfriends, causin’ a bit of trouble and not giving any fucks. —Laia

minaj-pink-fridayPink Friday
Nicki Minaj
2010, Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown

Nicki Minajdoesn’t mess, and she lays out exactly why that is on the first track of this album, “I’m the Best” (“Got the eye of the tiger, the lion of Judah. Now it’s me and my time, it’s just me in my prime”). Throughout Pink Friday, and everywhere always, Nicki comes at you with confidence backed by talent. She’s impossible to ignore, as her rhymes are both clever and funny, and her alter egos, like Roman Zolanski, only add to the (mostly stellar) madness. My favorite Nicki verses are actually on other people’s songs, I have to admit, but Pink Friday is a good introduction to an artist who isn’t afraid to grab attention with her flow, her style, and her demands:


1988, Atlantic

Before I heard this album, the otherwise unmentionable subject of sexual desire was presented to me, in my repressed rural Midwestern upbringing, by TV shows, movies, and pop songs that mostly said that boys think girls are pretty, and girls hope they’ll be good enough for the boys they like to think they’re pretty enough to like them back. Then I heard “Devil Inside” on the radio. The song opens with Michael Hutchence, INXS’s sensitive, handsome singer, crooning appreciatively, “Here come the woman, with the look in her eye.” I wondered: What about this “look”? Could I ever be “the WOMAN”? Another single, “Need You Tonight,” provided strange hints (“Whatcha gonna do? Gonna live my life”), invitations (“Slide over here and give me a moment”), and assuring recognitions (“You’re one of my kind”). The rest of the album was similarly instructive, and I credit INXS with helping me understand what I was capable of. —Lena

Gloria_Trevi-Tu_Angel_De_La_Guarda-FrontalTu Angel de la Guarda
Gloria Trevi
1991, Ariola

Gloria Trevi was the first musical feminist in my life. I don’t know if she actually identifies as a feminist, and honestly I don’t care, because that’s what she was to me. I was seven when Tu Angel de la Guarda came out, and although I understood probably half of what Trevi was singing about, I loved the album enough to choreograph a dance routine to its biggest hit, “Pelo Suelto,” a song about wearing what you like, letting your hair fly in the wind, and not caring what other people think of you. In some of the other songs, Trevi sings about owning a “bad” reputation (unlike people who pretended to be the virginest of the virgins), about killing herself over a boyfriend who’s dumped her and then coming back to haunt him (she says she’s his guardian angel, but let’s get REAL!), and about society not letting women do anything without a man and she’s not putting up with it anymore. I actually still own this album on cassette; I listened to it for the first time in DECADES while writing this review, and man, it’s still totally aces. —Laia

iprime.wordpress.comRated R
2009, Def Jam

This was when Rihanna was really coming into her own as a pop star, having solidified her “good girl gone bad” image, and asserting herself as an adult who would defiantly make her own decisions. So the sound on here is completely different from anything she’d ever done: The songs are much harder and darker (she was one of the first famous singers to incorporate dubstep into her music). She was also getting more adventurous lyrically, exploring her sexuality and her rebellious sides more than ever before (it was also around this time that she chopped off all her hair and started wearing studded everything, a surefire sign of someone getting intimate with their own independence). There’s still pop on here—“Rude Boy” was a huge hit—but there’s a more profound edge that hints at where Rihanna would go next. —Julianne

OLE-1036-Savages-Silence-YourselfSilence Yourself
2013, Matador/Pop Noire

The women of Savages definitely want your attention, and they know how to get it. Their sound harks back to late-’70s British postpunk bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, underscored with a powerful beat that reminds me of Babes in Toyland, one of my favorites. I gave this album a first listen while running, which is a time I really need strength, because I don’t like running and I have to force myself to do it. Silence Yourself had more than enough energy to sustain me through my run, and is now my official go-to album for whenever I need to up my game. —Stephanie

Madonna-Bedtime_Stories-FrontalBedtime Stories
1994, Maverick

Bedtime Stories might be Madonna’s most underrated album, maybe because she was coming out of being America’s most hated woman with all her SEX BOOKS and BANNED VIDEOS and BEING NAKED WITH VANILLA ICE and all that, but it’s a perfectly nice and mellow and sort of bummer-out-y record, perfect for rainy days. Of course, this being a Madonna, even an album that feels underrated still has like four hits on it: In “Human Nature” she tells everyone she’s not sorry for talking about sex and whispers things like “Would you treat me like this if I was a man? Would you like me better if I was?” which is so specific to that point in her career, but also to being a woman pretty much all the time, and sometimes when I’m in a crappy-ass mood I will just listen to it on repeat and imagine myself re-creating the KILLER choreography from the video, which is one of the best videos ever. “Secret” is a love song that is full of FEELINGZ, and it has a sweet little acoustic-guitar riff that is a perfectly “contemplating the sunset on a summer day when nothing actually happened but it was still the best day ever” kind of thing. “Sanctuary” is minimal and chill and Madonna’s voice reverberates like she is telling you a secret that no one else knows. Then there’s “Take a Bow,” a song that I listened to too much once upon a time, and now it makes me feel like crying or cringing at past feelings, depending on my mood that day. Bedtime Stories is a great record to fall asleep or maybe even to make out to. On a completely unrelated note, Madonna’s style during this period is the BEST. —Laia ♦