Beatles sing-a-longs not withstanding, my first musical memory was probably either singing MC Hammer at a water park or going to see the New Kids on the Block in New Orleans when I was five. Needless to say, the 80s impacted me growing up, but not in the zany Cindy Lauper kind of way- more like the cheesy Vanilla Ice kind of way. By the time I got to middle school, however, my sister started dating an artsy guy who listened to The Cure and Alice in Chains, so I got a little better in the 90s. It took a little while for me to start buying records that didn't completely suck- the learning curve is pretty steep when you're from Baton Rouge and music blogs haven't been invented yet. Two things saved me from the the suburban palate of bland: soundtracks and MTV. Granted, they represent a limited segment of the color wheel (maybe 3 primary colors at best) but soundtracks were the blogs of the 90s- professional mixed tapes, musical tastes customized from the music industry elite.
Soundtracks that sculpted my early musical taste include: Reality Bites, Singles and Good Morning Vietnam.
In 6th grade, I got hold of the soundtrack for Reality Bites. I'm still not sure how I managed to smuggle Juliana Hatfield's 'she's such a sucker, he don't wanna fuck her' lyric past my mother (who, for the record, burned Footloose because it glorified premarital sex), never mind Alanis Morisette who's still referred to as 'The Chicken-shit Lady.' The song on this record that stands out the most is still Turnip Farm by Dinosaur Jr. Probably my first exposure to dissonant rock, where the guitar overpowers the simplified lyrics. It's a great mix of grunge, acoustic and (wait for it) Peter Frampton, with a little bit of revival thrown in there for diversity.
Admittedly, I heard most of this record on repeat through my sister's wall, but exposure to 90s Seattle gunge was a huge deal in the sheltered South. My virgin ears learned Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam -- doubtless some of the best bands of my formative years. In fact, when recently polled on my favorite records of all time it was *very* difficult not to include Jar of Flies in this mix. Another huge favorite (though not from Seattle) from this record was The Smashing Pumpkins - still one of my all-time favorite bands (Mayonnaise kills me). And though I didn't learn about Jimi until my dad busted him out on a road trip much later in life, Hendrix's "May This Be Love" made its way on to the record.
Way before Forrest Gump was even an idea, Adrian Conauer taught me about the 60s with some great tunes and really dirty jokes (which I can quote to this day). A lot of these bands are past my time, so this soundtrack spark a musical adventure, but it did function as a complete piece of art that encapsulated the energy and pain of the Vietnam war. "Nowhere to Run To" by Martha and the Vandellas - yes!" and the Supremes, "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On" are great favorites - with their brassy ladies leading the charge with tambourines and sparkles to back them up. The Beach Boys got hooked up with three songs here, including "I Get Around" and who could forget Louis Armstrong closing the record with "What a Wonderful World" which is played as Saigon takes on gunfire.
Honorable Mention -- Dangerous Minds:
It would be hyperbolic to call this whole soundtrack earth-shattering, but Gangta's Paradise really was. Beyond my dance team picking up an edited version for our half time performance (true story), this soundtrack opened up rap and hip-hop in my school. Master P, C Murder, Mystikal and the 504 Boyz quickly popped up as we all tried to rebel against the status quo with really bad Gangsta Rap.