mary poppinsWalt Disney’s Mary Poppins
Various artists
1964, Walt Disney

Mary Poppins was the musical of my childhood, and to this day it makes all of my boring, annoying tasks a little more cheerful. A spoonful of sugar still helps the medicine go down! The songs from this soundtrack are suited for all work occasions: “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” helps romanticize babysitting and trips with kids to the park, “Step in Time” makes sweeping more fun, and “Feed the Birds” brings the right level of solemnity to the walk to class. I’ve also found that “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is the perfect song to pump me up after an all-nighter. —Tova

the whoMy Generation
The Who
1965, Brunswick/Decca

What’s rad about a lot of the popular tunes that were coming out of the UK in the ’60s is that their inspiration derived from being young and working class. My Generation, the Who’s bratty power-pop debut, was a huge part of the mod youth culture that thrived there/then and centered on modern music, fashion, and general alienation from mass culture. This album is so fun to listen to, mostly because it’s pure energy. The Who are restless even on slower tracks, like their cover of the James Brown slow jam “I Don’t Mind.” (Bands like the Who were attracted to American soul and blues music—genres that, thematically, were in many ways their predecessors.) This agitation comes across most perfectly on the stuttering classic “My Generation,” which is all about being young and hip and unwilling to fit into your parents’ mold for adulthood. It rings just as true these days. —Brittany

belle and sebastianThe Life Pursuit
Belle and Sebastian
2005, Rough Trade/Matador

When I wake up in last night’s pants, with confetti and a crumpled McDonald’s bag in my bed, feeling the uncomfortable memory of something I probably shouldn’t have said or done creeping to the top of my brain—in other words, when the party’s over—this record is the first sound I want to hear. Its overall message is to own up and get on with it. The songs talk about who people really are, when their best behavior and surface glamour start to dissolve away. In “White Collar Boy,” the hero is a thief. In “The Blues Are Still Blue,” the cool kids are not as hip as they think. And in “Dress Up in You,” my favorite, the star turns out to be a jealous, mean-as-hell has-been. Belle and Sebastian line up all of these characters to call out their faults/secrets/sins, but instead of slapping anyone’s wrists, they move them right along. The way this album faces the flaws of being human reminds me a whole lot of Joan Didion’s essay “On Self-Respect,” another thing I come back to whenever I need a reality check. Except The Life Pursuit also has the Belle and Sebastian pop thing going, plus this blues-y vibe that’s sort of an anomaly in their catalog. I highly recommend it for those times when you want to dance on the grave of whatever idea you had about perfection and end up feeling pretty good about it. —Lena

lou reed and john caleSongs for Drella
Lou Reed and John Cale
1990, Sire

A couple years after Andy Warhol died, John Cale and Lou Reed, founding members of the Velvet Underground, recorded a concept album to memorialize their artistic mentor, coterie figurehead, and challenging muse. It’s not their most celebrated work, but there’s SOMETHING about it that always floors me. I think it’s because, thematically, this album is so unusual. The songs tell us about how Warhol was typecast as “Party Andy,” when he was actually an extreme workaholic. We learn about his childhood insecurities and how he compensated for his difficult inner life by creating the Factory and his collection of “superstars.” We hear about how Warhol deeply influenced the work of Cale and Reed—for fans of any of these people’s art, this insight is a treasure. In the song “Work,” Cale’s driving, repetitive piano rhythms propel Reed’s droll recounting of his experience with Warhol as a relentless motivator who cracked the creative whip on his musical mentees. Knowing that there were stretches of time when the Velvets wouldn’t even speak to Warhol, it’s deeply stirring that Cale and Reed produced such a thoughtful, honest tribute. Songs for Drella resonates in the part of my heart that holds the tenets of hard work, inspiration, mentorship, and creativity close. —Dylan

laurie andersonMister Heartbreak
Laurie Anderson
1984, Warner Bros.

Where many of Laurie Anderson’s peers in the male-dominated 1980s electronic music scene focused on the doom in dystopia, she found humor in it. On this album, she balances her stripped-back approach to composition with splashes of cheeky pop. One of my favorite tracks, “Excellent Birds,” juxtaposes strangely lighthearted lyrics, some sung by Peter Gabriel, with controlled, sparse beats. It sounds immensely considered AND beautifully effortless, which to me is indicative of Anderson’s focus and dedication to her work. —Eleanor

rise againstAppeal to Reason
Rise Against
2008, DGC/Interscope

Rise Against is one of my favorite Chicago punk bands. Their earliest albums were pure, moshable hardcore, but their fifth record, Appeal to Reason, was more polished and therefore accessible to a much bigger mainstream rock audience. Some of their diehard fans had mixed feelings about that development. I can’t blame them for side-eyeing the frat-boy types who were all the sudden slam-dancing at RA shows, but I think the wider appeal is a good thing. When a whole arena of people are pumping their fists to “Re-Education (Through Labor),” a song about the struggles of the working class, it’s pretty revolutionary. There’s also the heart-wrenching acoustic ballad “Hero of War,” which imagines an Iraq War veteran’s experiences, and one of my all-time Rise Against favorites, “From Heads Unworthy,” a complaint filed against an uncaring world. It’s protest rock at its very best. —Stephanie

my fair ladyMy Fair Lady
Various artists
1964, Warner Bros.

My Fair Lady is the musical adaption of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. The cast recording of the 1960s film version, starring Audrey Hepburn, is my favorite musical soundtrack, hands down. I appreciate the lyrics’ clever jokes and witty jabs, but more than anything I love how perfect it is to sing along to while I’m cleaning. The songs correspond with all the emotions related to undoing a mess: There’s the sad, longing start (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”), the point where you’re mad at the world and the task at hand (“Just You Wait”), that hopeful moment when the end comes into view (“With a Little Bit of Luck”), and at point when you’re almost done and floating on your accomplishments (“I Could Have Danced All Night”). In this version, the singer Marni Nixon performs Audrey’s parts (her singing was not as strong as her acting, and she lip-synced in the movie), which makes me feel for Audrey, because I have the worst singing voice ever. —Tova

blurModern Life Is Rubbish
1993, Food/SBK

Modern Life Is Rubbish—even just its title—summarizes British style and humor. When this record came out in the early ’90s, Blur had perfected their sound, which combined 1960s British guitar rock with something a lot more punk to create something new and all their own. Songs like “For Tomorrow” and “Oily Water” illustrate the hopes and hopelessness of being suburban or working class while celebrating and satirizing life in England. The lyrics have a sense of humor, a sense of longing, an anti-establishment streak, and plenty of angst. The epitome of teen Britishness. —Eleanor

arctic monkeysAM
Arctic Monkeys
2013, Domino

I’m not usually into traditional rock bands, which is how I’d categorize Arctic Monkeys, but I’ve been totally obsessed with this album since I first heard it. The songs sound a lot like ’50s rock & roll, with some modern alt-rock vibes in there, too; they’re structured very traditionally but are full of dissonant guitar solos and guttural baselines that fit well with Alex Turner’s crooning voice. A lot of the lyrics are about typical dudely subjects—girlfriends, drugs, and alcohol—but they are also gorgeously poetic. It’s one of the most driving, sexiest albums I’ve ever heard, and lines like “Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new” in “Do I Wanna Know?” make this album deeply meaningful, too. —Lucy

the loved onesBuild & Burn
The Loved Ones
2008, Fat Wreck Chords

The Loved Ones are a punk band whose sound is heavily influenced by folks like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg. The result is a near-perfect combination of earnest lyrics and loud/hard/fast music. This album came out at the start of the most recent U.S. recession, and you can sense uncertainty and unrest in its agitated guitar riffs. But despite with the frustration and anger, much of the album is about building. “Louisiana” describes people “pounding nails” after Hurricane Katrina and struggling to put their lives back together after being hung out to dry by the government. My favorite song is the album’s opening track, “Pretty Good Year,” which imagines ways to reinvent happiness after life knocks you down. Whether you’re frustrated by the world or with a difficult personal situation, Build & Burn will help get you through. —Stephanie ♦