The right music can be life-altering. Here are six artists whose music changed my life in some way…

Pat Benatar Crimes of Passion (1980)

Picture it. It’s 1981. I’m nine years old and there is still one older sister out of three living at home with me. My older sister is seventeen and has a stereo that plays vinyl. Every night, I hear her playing songs by Hall & Oates, Rose Royce, The Eagles and Pat Benatar. I am especially attracted to Pat Benatar’s voice. It’s huge, clear, and powerful. The album my sister plays is Crimes of Passion. I remember seeing the cover of it; tiny Pat is wearing a sparkly black leotard and is backed up to a barre. Her brown hair is permed and curly and she’s wearing a lot of makeup. Even though the big hit on that album is “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, I’m attracted to deeper cuts– “Prisoner of Love” and a song called “Out-A-Touch”. I also love what Pat’s done with Kate Bush’s song, “Wuthering Heights”. At that time in my life, I had not yet been exposed to Kate Bush. I didn’t realize that the original was a lot better than Pat’s remake. I wanted my own copy of that album.

Remember, it was 1981. That was before people were so concerned about kidnappers or other dangers. My parents were very underprotective by today’s standards. I was allowed to walk to the store by myself. This was permitted even though getting to the store involved walking along a busy major highway and crossing four lanes of traffic to get to the shopping center. The shopping center had a Murphy’s Mart, which was a discount store kind of akin to K-Mart. I remember scrimping and saving up about eight dollars so I could buy my own vinyl copy of Crimes of Passion. I remember the pride I felt in that accomplishment. It was my very first music purchase.

Pat Benatar sings “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.

Years later, I still own a copy of that album, though now it’s in a digital format. I still really admire Pat Benatar’s talent. I love a lot of her early rock performances, though I was even more impressed when in 1991, she released True Love, an album that showcases her jazz and blues chops. I wish she’d do another album like that one.

Kate Bush The Dreaming (1982)

A couple of years after I purchased my own copy of Crimes of Passion, I was hanging out with another sister; this one is eleven years my senior. This sister is also a music lover, but her tastes are definitely more artistic and rock oriented than the other sister’s. We share a room in my parents’ house, because this sister is only home on breaks and frankly she and the other sister would be at each other’s throats if they had to share a room. This sister also has a stack of vinyl records and a stereo. And one day, she’s playing music that, to me, was both foreign and wonderful.

I asked her who the singer was. My sister explained that it was Kate Bush, a British singer who had just come out with a new album called, The Dreaming. My sister had seen Kate Bush perform on Top Of The Pops when we lived in England a few years prior. She was impressed, so when she saw Kate Bush had a new album out, she took a chance and bought it. I remember being completely enchanted by songs from that album, particularly “Night Of The Swallow”, which stuck in my head for years until I finally purchased my own copy of The Dreaming on cassette.

“Night of the Swallow”

After I bought that album in 1989, I became a full-fledged Kate Bush fanatic…

James Taylor Flag (1979)

I could write an ode to just about all of James Taylor’s albums. They have all meant a lot to me. It was 1979’s Flag, though, that really got me hooked on his music. The same sister who was into Kate Bush had a copy of Flag on vinyl and I remember hearing her play “Up On The Roof”, Taylor’s gorgeous cover of a song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. I remember being affected by the warmth of James Taylor’s vocals. There was something about his voice that was so comforting and moving to me. I also loved the arrangement, which made use of strings and piano.

James Taylor sings “Up On The Roof”.

I bought my own copy of Flag in 1990 and remember listening to it a lot in college, especially during my freshman year. It consoled me through a lot of tough days.

Alison Krauss and Union Station New Favorite (2001)

Alison Krauss is one of those artists I used to hear a lot about when I was growing up, but I never bothered to sit down and listen to her music. Until the last fifteen years or so, she was primarily known in bluegrass circles for playing fiddle and having a beautiful, pure voice. Of course, now she’s a huge star who’s even recorded with Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s legendary front man. I think I’d heard her sing with Lyle Lovett on his 1998 double album, Step Inside This House and was impressed. So in 2002, when I still had a membership to Columbia House and had some free CDs coming, I purchased her solo album Forget About It and her 2001 album with her band, Union Station, New Favorite. I loved both of the CDs and quickly started adding to my Alison Krauss collection. I think I have just about all of her stuff, now. But it was New Favorite that got me there.

Alison Krauss and Union Station sing “The Lucky One”.

Lyle Lovett Joshua Judges Ruth (1992)

I remember the very first time I heard Lyle Lovett sing. It was in 1996 and I was in Yerevan, Armenia at a gathering of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. The married couple who was hosting the get-together had turned on some music. I wasn’t paying too much attention to it, until my ears caught the chorus of Lyle Lovett’s song, “Since The Last Time”. The song starts off kind of slow, then builds into an upbeat number with bluesy harmonies and lyrics about losing touch with loved ones… until the last time somebody died. When I got back to the United States in 1997, I started buying Lyle Lovett’s music so I could find that song. As I recall, I had bought most of his available albums when I finally stumbled across Joshua Judges Ruth. Since then, I’ve found plenty of songs by Lyle Lovett that I love… but this one was the very first.

Lyle Lovett and “Since The Last Time”.

Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key of Life (1976)

Anybody who was around in the 70s and 80s knows Stevie Wonder. He was everywhere during that time period. I discovered his album, Songs In The Key of Life in the late 1990s. It was my oldest sister who introduced it to me when I heard his beautiful song, “As” playing on the radio. I had heard the song many times, but that was the first time I’d ever really listened to the lyrics closely. I started buying all his early albums until I finally found Songs In The Key of Life, a magnificent two volume set with songs that had healing lyrics. I can honestly say that Stevie Wonder’s music helped save me from clinical depression. If that’s not life changing, I don’t know what is.

Stevie Wonder sings “As”.

Of course, I can think of plenty of other songs and artists who have changed my life in some way. The six artists profiled in this article are the ones who have been pivotal to me… at least today as I sit here thinking about it. These are the artists who actually inspired an obsession… I was compelled to buy their music and I still love what they do years later. Can you think of any artists or albums that changed your life? Leave a comment.