These 5 Albums Might Just Make You a Kinder Person
Ah, music. The song of the soul, the soundtrack to existence itself. Writer Adlous Huxley famously said that, after silence, “that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Where is the lie?
Music is pure emotion, catharsis for our angst, the deepest eloquence of romance. It’s humor and grief and all the rest of it. We use it to express and validate our feelings. But can it change them, too? As we move through this complicated world, searching for answers, meaning even, can music make us kinder? Can it make us better versions of ourselves?
Of course, the short answer is maybe. What sparks joy or self-reflection in one of us may bring the opposite to another. But let’s roll the dice. Looking for music to usher a kindness shift doesn’t have to come from the spiritual or bland. Pop music works just fine. And, in these cases, the very best. From classics old and new, these records are guaranteed to change your worldview.
1. Bob Marley, “Kaya”
Don’t let the commercialization of Bob Marley’s music ruin it for you. I know, it’s a bit of eye-rolling quicksand, but hear me out. While Marley’s tenth studio album “Kaya” is home to the oversaturated “Is This Love?” there’s perfection here from start to finish. As the record opens into “Easy Skanking,” you can’t help but feel the ease. Maybe it’s Marley’s island life. Maybe it’s a warm and mellow place inside all of us. But it’s undeniably a reminder that that place exists. And I dare you to point to a better reggae horn arrangement than what you’ll hear on “Misty Morning.” Tune out the rest of the world for those three-and-a-half minutes and see if you don’t come out the other side a better person. The rest of the record is sheer perfection, too. From the relatable struggle on “Running Away” to the longing on “Satisfy My Soul,” to the sobering “Time Will Tell,” “Kaya” is a reckoning. It’s a necessary examination of the human spirit. Let it show you yours.
2. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”
Marvin Gaye’s four-octave vocal range helped make him one of the most talented singers of all time. And on his seminal eleventh studio album, 1971’s “What’s Going On,” Gaye uses that soft and soothing voice to rip the veil off and force us into reflection. There, Gaye is able to reason with even the most stubborn of us using his greatest tool. The album takes us on a journey, like the ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. Gaye doesn’t skirt around issues; he addresses the Vietnam War, racism, environmental issues, and the need for our personal and collective change. Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is an infectious hook, and Gaye is the master here on the album’s biggest hit, “Mercy, Mercy, Me (The Ecology).” When he sings, “Ah, things ain't what they used to be”—it’s not a lament, it’s a call to be ever focused on the present moment—the good and the bad. There, he assures us, we'll find all the answers we need.
3. Joni Mitchell, “Blue”
Close your eyes and imagine, if you can, a world without cell phones or Internet. A world that’s not necessarily less complicated, but, perhaps, just paced a bit more, shall we say, reasonably. There is time for things like sitting in the warm summer sun, road trips, camp fires, and thinking about love and change, the world around and within us. This is Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” The album is filled with vulnerability, but don’t mistake that for weakness. This is humanness at its most raw—her unapologetic lust on “Case of You,” her demand for a more progressive world in “California,” and the bruises of transformation on “River.” Her humility is our gain. As she works through the layered reality of being a creative woman during the early 1970s as anti-war protests, women’s rights, and civil rights movements were re-shaping our culture, it’s nearly impossible to not find our own humility bubbling up to the surface, too.
4. Taylor Swift, “Lover”
If you’re looking for something a bit more modern but also timeless, the seventh studio album from singer Taylor Swift is just the thing. For Swift, “Lover” was a liberation—her first work after parting ways with Big Machine Records over a long contract dispute that gave the label full control over the masters of her work. But “Lover” isn’t vitriolic. Swift is ever in the glass-half-full camp, dredging through the lows of heartbreak and disappointment but always coming out better than she went in. She insists you follow her. She’ll show you your wounds, too, but she’ll soften them in the sonic equivalent of a big fluffy, warm blanket and a toasty mugful of hot cocoa. You simply can’t come away from the work feeling anything less than transformed.
5. Kendrick Lamar, “Damn.”
On his fourth studio album, "Damn," SoCal’s Kendrick Lamar is all about the mantra, from “Yah” to “Loyalty." The refrain from “Humble” (“Sit down. Be humble.”) rippled through the summer of 2017 like a never-ending heat wave. It was indeed a scolding, but it was also an invitation to step up and be your best self. Here, Lamar does what he does best: tells relatable stories. He’s the hero and the enemy, victim and savior. Aren’t we all? Ever the philosopher, Lamar refracts his broken past into the light of a better future. He’s not telling fairy tales, though, he’s got himself a sobering crystal ball that jumps ahead to a world where justice and equity, where values, and, indeed, loyalty, trump all. If this doesn’t make you want to take stock of your priorities and find a way to be kinder, it’s not likely anything will.
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Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.