Although it may seem like a cliché or an annoying adage you’ve heard a parent bark at you in the past, it couldn’t be truer. Experiencing new things outside of your comfort zone can be fun and exhilarating, and there’s no better time to diversify yourself and expand your horizons than during your college experience.
Since most life prior to college can be dictated by parental control or community mores, collegiate life may be a person’s first exposure to different cultures, religions, ideas and personality types. This immersion in a new community may lead to a growing interest in politics, art, sports and (most importantly) music.
We here at eCollegeFinder have taken it upon ourselves to create a short list of important rock, jazz and pop records that are as ground-breaking, stimulating and worldly as your college experience itself. So take a chance on these innovative albums and prepare your mind for the diverse cultural landscape that is college life.
Originally created as a response to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds is the album that conceptually pushed American rock music closer towards the epic scope of classical and opera. That’s not to say that Brian Wilson strayed far from his surfer-boy crooning and whimsical pop sensibility, but he consciously designed an album tied together by a unifying theme, expanding his band beyond the traditional scope of bass, drums and guitar. The finished product is an absolute masterpiece, marrying the lovelorn melancholy of Wilson’s lyrics with the jovial clamor of a day at the carnival.
Further listening: The Kinks – The Village Green Preservation Society; The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
Funny, culturally astute and masking a scholarly genius behind a façade of frat boy brashness, The Beastie Boys boldly tried to mash together all of the elements of their Manhattan upbringing into every track on their sophomore effort. Amazingly, they succeeded, creating an album overflowing with elements of funk, early hip-hop, rock, punk, metal, jazz and reggae. This tasty mélange of cultural sound bites rides smoothly beneath the brilliant wordplay of the Boys, as they amusingly skewer modern culture, old movies, political figures and milquetoast American sensibilities.
Further listening: De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising; MF Doom – Operation Doomsday
The Clash – London Calling
Desperately trying to diversify the single-minded world of UK punk, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (the Lennon and McCartney of punk rock) mined their deep musical influences, seeking a sound that kept their inherent rawness, but mixed it with the rock history that preceded it. London Calling is this combination of past, present and future; destroying world-worn political and social ideals while conveying these messages over a bed of complex and interesting rock, pop and blues ballads.
Further Listening: The Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady; Gang of Four – Entertainment!
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Quite possibly the height of modern jazz music, trumpet player Miles Davis sculpted a work of relaxed brilliance that exemplifies jazz music’s willingness to step outside the constraints of traditional song structure, while still performing with the utmost skill and nuance. Regularly acting as a gateway for jazz novices, this album is the perfect starting point for anyone interested in experience the hypnotic tones and unpredictable twists and turns of this under-appreciated American music.
Further Listening: John Coltrane – A Love Supreme; Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
Combining his passion for rock, blues, country and American folk music, the world’s greatest songwriter built his seventh album into a virtual encyclopedia of the musical form. From “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’s” ramshackle barroom blues to “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again’s” rambling, long-winded, absurd brilliance, Dylan showed himself as an artist capable of extreme diversity, while never sounding like anyone but himself.
Further Listening: Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water; Beck – One Foot in the Grave
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Despite the years of controversy, bankruptcy, ridicule and eccentricity surrounding Michael Jackson, nothing can take away from the sheer brilliance of his 1982 album, Thriller. Outside of its overwhelming sales, seven Top 10 hits, insanely memorable music videos and sold out live performances, every track on this watershed is flat-out amazing; reflecting the scope and range of Jackson himself and his producer, Quincy Jones. It would be impossible to realize the electronic funk of The Neptunes or Black Eyed Peas without “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and its revolutionary synthesized club beats. R. Kelly wouldn’t be able to create stirring soul from his shameless womanizing without “Billie Jean’s” torrid paternity tale. An entire youth culture wouldn’t be emotionally scarred without Jackson’s frightening and eternally cool “Thriller.”
Further Listening: Madonna – True Blue; Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
Nirvana – Nevermind
Although often unfairly lumped into the faceless “Alt-Rock” genre, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana are much more than your standard modern rock act. On their key release, Nevermind, Nirvana echoes the quiet-loud dynamics of The Pixies, the low-end rattle of Black Sabbath and the quirky lyrical absurdity of the Olympia, Washington rock scene while forcing these odd bedfellows into the rigid structure of a pop song. It may seem like walking a tightrope, but Nirvana purveys their unique spin on rock effortlessly, all the while wearing their influences and hearts on their sleeves.
Further Listening: Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation; Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
Basically inventing the slack and sarcastic indie rock of the early 1990s, Pavement managed to bleed art rock’s wordiness of its pretensions and mix it with a catchy, guitar-driven pop that masterfully plays to your desire to dance, but still pours on enough cultural references and non-sequiturs to keep a Lit. major happy.
Further Listening: Built to Spill – Keep It Like a Secret; Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Bearing little resemblance to their early work with Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was a profound step forward for the underground rock pioneers, who bravely stepped out of the shadows to craft this masterful treatise on loneliness and the decadence of human existence. This courageous effort expanded rock’s sonic palette, opening the doors for future acts to take risks and experiment with electronic instruments and unconventional song structure.
Further Listening: Radiohead – OK Computer; My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Various Artists – The Harder They Come Soundtrack
Introducing the sounds of reggae music to America, The Harder They Come aptly compiles Jamaica’s biggest hit makers to tell a tale of the corruption and poverty of their homeland. Star of the feature film and head contributor on the soundtrack, Jimmy Cliff shows all sides of his impressive talent; presenting an unwavering optimism on “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and brilliantly depicting Jamaican hardship on “Many Rivers to Cross.”
Further Listening: Bob Marley – African Herbsman; The Congos – Heart of the Congos