Someone asked me recently, “How would you define the word MUSIC?”
To me, music is borrowing ideas from those who inspire you, and using those ideas to create something original and unique to you.
There’s a handful of artists, songwriters, producers, and musicians whom I owe endless thank you’s to for inspiring me. To express my gratitude, I’m sharing my Top 10 most inspiring Pop Albums. With Pop being my favorite genre and line of work, this was a hard list to make. It started at 25 and gradually worked it’s way down to this.
Some you may like, or know, or hate, or never heard of. The joy of inspiration is that everyone’s is different. If we all had the same inspirations, all music would sound the same. And that would be boring. Thank God for variety.
In no particular order:
“Songs About Jane” - Maroon 5
10 years ago, this album came out and totally rocked my world. I was a little chubster middle school boy who hated going inside to practice piano while my friends played basketball. Then, this album came out and I realized that piano might actually be “cool”. I played the album over and over, memorizing the piano licks and attempting to write songs like Adam Levine. With hits like “This Love”, “Harder to Breathe”, and “She Will Be Loved”, this album was brilliant. “Sunday Morning” wasn’t even released as a single it become one of the most covered songs in America. Between the killer songwriting, funky guitars, driving bass-lines, and grooves that will make your neck hurt, this entire album is ridiculously awesome. Thanks Mom & Bre for passing this album along to me.
“Contiuum” - John Mayer
Thank you, John Mayer, for this life changing collection of songs. Since 2006, I’ve gone back to this album for inspiration every year. First, I was inspired by instruments. “Vultures”, “I Don’t Trust Myself” and “Gravity” are some of the best grooves I’ve EVER heard. After fan-girling over that for two years, I started to notice the songwriting. “Stop This Train” and “Heart of Life” had me writing in my notebook for months. They took me to a new place, challenging me to write with meaning…to write stuff that’s real and happening in my present life. Now, 5 years later, I turn to this album EVERY MONTH for production reference. Seriously. The engineering, the production, the simplicity…it’s astounding. This album taught me as a producer that “Less is more”. For every record I put out, I will forever swear by and follow this motto.
“Little Voice” - Sara Bareilles
This is yet another brilliant work of art. I was initially drawn to this album by her voice. This was the first time I had heard her and I was blown away by her vocals….so pure, so much control, so much power. Every single line she sings on this album is flawless. I listened 100 times trying to find a fault, and couldn’t find one. This is her first album, and still trumps her latest two for me, though “Kaleidoscope Heart” is close behind. In addition to her vocals, the songs are catchy, well-structured, and flow beautifully from one to the next. Also, it’s insane how clean the production is on this album. I’ve spent hours trying to replicate these drum sounds. Overall, this album is certain to re-surface on every long drive.
“Once Again” - John Legend
What can I say…this album was songwriting crack for me. These songs filled me up with ideas I never knew existed. When this came out, I was a freshman in college. I would breathe this record while walking to class, during class, during lunch, during class some more, and go home and write. With classics like “Again”, “Save Room”, “PDA”, and “Where Did My Baby Go?”, Legends 2nd album is by far his best, to me.
“Turn Around” - Jonny Lang
This album is a gem. As we all know, a pop record is only as good as the lead singer. This record takes vocals to an entire new level. Jonny has the grittiest, most soulful, most unique voice I have ever laid my ears on. It’s the type of vocals where you think, “There’s no way that voice is coming out of that guy…” Where did this white boy get so much soul?? And along with great vocals, this album has some incredible musicians on it. The production hits hard…so much groove, funk, and black gospel, it’s impossible to sit still. I had the pleasure of visiting the studio where this record was mixed in Nashville…I heard some edits that didn’t make the album, and I almost cried. The songs are not only incredibly funky, but they are testaments of Jonny’s faith in God. The whole record is moving. I would suggest this to any music lover.
“Tim’s House” - Kate Walsh
Have you ever heard music that takes you to a different place?… That kind of music that makes you close your eyes and forget about where you are? Kate Walsh does this for me. This album makes life stand still. I remember being single when I first heard “Your Song”, and it made my heart go insane….I wanted to fall in love right that second. The album is super raw too….production is low and there’s nothing flashy about it. This record is just for my listening pleasure. Thank you Kate for keeping me sane for the last 5 years.
“Barton Hollow” - The Civil Wars
Haunting. Gorgeous. Brilliant harmonies. Beautiful instrumentation. This album changed my life. The first song I heard from them off this album was “To Whom it May Concern”. Oh man…speechless. I remember listening to this song before I met my wife, knowing exactly what they were talking about it, and hoping to one day find my soulmate. And literally a month later, I found her while singing this song in my head. Their blend and knowledge for music is so incredibly tasteful. It’s the kind of phrasing that makes you take notes and say, “I gotta try that in the studio”. Civil Wars, thank you for your wisdom.
“Teenage Dream” - Katy Perry
I know what you’re thinking….Katy Perry? Really?? Yes. Really. Of course I love music with substance, deep meaning, and elegance, but sometimes I’m just a sucker for Top-40, catchy, non-sense, girl pop. This album is amazing. It became the 2nd album in history to have 5 number one singles, right under Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album. 7 songs made it to the charts (Teenage Dream, E.T., Firework, California Girls, The One That Got Away, Last Friday Night, Part of Me). I’ve always admired Dr.Luke’s production skills, and he really shows off on this record. If you ever want to know the formula of Pop radio, study this. Also, I’m a fan of Katy…I’ve watched her do live acoustic sessions, and she’s really quite the talented musician and vocalist. Much respect to Katy and thank you for several dance-filled car rides.
“Mylo Xyloto” - Coldplay
You can’t have a top 10 Pop Album Blog without including Coldplay. It’s a must. While Coldplay has a lot of amazing songs and albums in the past, my favorite is by far their latest release. Carissa and I went to the store one day and bought this. It played in our car for 2 months straight…over, and over, and over. I love how this album takes classic Coldplay and mixes it with current radio Pop. The first time I heard “Paradise”, I was almost peed my pants. It’s such a delicious meshing of strings, piano, and beats…the producer in me was crying for more. Then I heard “Princess of China”. This song was incredibly inspirational for Carissa and I. It had her urban background mixed with my rock background combined in one song. We listened, talked, wrote, emulated, borrowed, loved, and wrote some more all as a result of this song. Lastly, “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” makes me want to run through the streets naked screaming in the rain with my hands in the air. If my life could have an anthem song playing at all times, it would be that song.
“The Essentials” - Michael Jackson
I tried picking just one album, but I couldn’t. So I went with the greatest hits collection. If you pick “Thriller”, you don’t get “Rock With You”….a.k.a one of my Top 10 favorite songs of all time. So I went with the essentials, which even has a few Jackson 5 throwbacks. Seriously…Michael Jackson is a huge influence. I remember borrowing my dad’s MJ cassettes and listening to them for hours when I was about 8 years old. Michael Jackson, to me, is the definition of timeless. His music never fades and is still playing today on the radio daily. Why? Because the instrumentation is current. It’s just a band, with real instruments, amazing vocals, and incredibly well-crafted songs. I hope to one day make music like this…music that never dies, and doesn’t pass away in a fad. I plan to play this album for my kids, and my kid’s kids. Thank you Michael.
Well….there it is. My Top 10 Pop Albums. While I would love to share the other 40, the “michael, stop talking. now you’re just boring” Alert Message just went off in my head. In my next blog, I’ll be sharing my Top 10 musical influences! Pretty pumped about that one.