self-help playlist
[Photo by: Andrew W.K./Spotify, Bikini Kills/Tammy Rae Carland]

Yeah, we’ve got problems: Paxil ’scripts are rising faster than Dr. Phil’s ratings, and the positive-thinking selections on the shelves at Barnes & Noble are almost crushing the YA section. But when you’ve blown your rent check on Lexapro and depression’s still got you wishing you could go to sleep forever, music’s the one cure that’ll never let you down. Of course, some records heal faster than others—and these are the quickest fixes we know.

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1. Bad Brains – Bad Brains


In their prime, Bad Brains were the most electrifying combo punch of spiritual energy and musical fury ever to hit a stage. Musically, it’s debatable whether this dubcore blizzard is superior to its streamlined 1983 redo-of-sorts, Rock For Light, but whatever: Bad Brains gets our props for a wilder version of the ultimate self-help shout-along, “Attitude.” Like the Brains’ philosophy of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), this one’s straight out of self-help grandpa Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book Think And Grow Rich.

2. Bikini Kill – The CD Version Of The First Two Records

If you were young, female and punk in the early ’90s, you couldn’t help but feel empowered by this set of feminist fight songs. Bikini Kill were a musical train wreck, but the sloppiness only upped their sense of urgency. After all, if these misfits could find studio time, what was stopping more accomplished grrrls from doing the same? Check out “Double Dare Ya” where Bikini Kill challenge young women everywhere to stand up and speak out.

3. Bold – Speak Out

Minor Threat may’ve introduced straight edge with tongues in their cheeks, but late-’80s sXe bands such as Bold took the no-drugs, no-fun lifestyle way literally. Speak Out is tough love for problem children, with a track listing that reads like a drill itinerary for boot camp: “Always Try,” “Accept The Blame,” “Still Strong”…get the picture, maggot? Crammed with scream-along breakdowns, “Nailed To The X” isn’t so much a song as it is a recruitment drive for Bold’s straight-edge youth crew.

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4. Turnstile – Time & Space

Turnstile are the kind of band who have both PAF punks and newbies reaching for their hardcore instruction manuals, seeking some divine truth as to whether the Maryland outfit are, in fact, HxCx. And to that we say, who cares? The band’s stylistic shifts and Brendan Yates’ soul-searching lyrics on tracks such as “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind” (“When I close my eyes it’s fine/And I don’t wanna be hurt/But I don’t wanna be blind”) feels like a road-trip jam on the highway to catharsis.

5. Descendants – ALL

Bordering on a religious transformation, ALL the album begat ALL the band begat ALL the philosophy—and the outcome was joy for fans of caffeinated, hormonal hardcore. As bassist Karl Alvarez said in a ’97 chat with San Francisco’s Video Vision, “ALL is the utmost possible. It’s a way of looking at life, rather than looking at life as if you are a victim.” “Pep Talk” is essential listening to anyone recovering from a breakup, with lyrics so uplifting, they make Deepak Chopra sound pessimistic.

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6. Minor Threat – Complete Discography

For anyone ever picked on by bullies, hassled by authority figures or crushed by friends who’ve sold out, Minor Threat present the ultimate collection of fight songs. As inspiring today as they were from ’80-’83, these tracks are the blueprint for keepin’ it real. Self-help history lesson: Straight edge starts here, too. A little bit of role-playing, a little bit of finger-pointing, and more check-yourself vibes than Oprah and Ayn Rand combined can be found on “Sob Story.”

7. Operation Ivy – Operation Ivy

It’s easy to see why singer Jesse Michaels turned to Buddhism after Operation Ivy’s breakup. He begins this collection by declaring, “All I know is that I don’t know nothing,” and, over 27 tracks of the greatest ska-punk ever recorded, takes the entire frickin’ underground on a journey of self-discovery that rivals Siddhartha’s own. “Unity” is a Band-Aid for a divided scene and a message for elitists who cry “Poser!” when a newbie gets turned on to “their” music.

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8. Rollins Band – The End Of Silence

The square jaw, the severe tone, the Puritan work ethic—if Henry Rollins hadn’t found punk rock, he might’ve become America’s biggest motivational speaker. Of course, given the “I’m OK, you’re OK” messages that started taking over his lyrics after this 1992 breakout disc, it’s possible that he just took an alternate route to that position. Consider “Low Self Opinion”: Take away the crunching metal, and this could be a particularly heated Dr. Phil outtake.

9. Shelter – Quest For Certainty

Shelter’s devotion to Krishna turned off people who saw the band as brainwashed hardcore kids. The reality was that behind the ponytails and beads, Shelter’s quest for enlightenment was the same as any other seeker’s; and, to prove it, they covered Black Sabbath’s holiest song (“After Forever”) on this album. Like the title track, “The News” is an attempt to cut through the noise of modern life to see the bigger picture.

10. Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet

The next time you want to write off Andrew W.K. as that sweaty ape with the hundred million sound-alike songs about partying, spin I Get Wet after a bad day at work. The music won’t sound any less stupid (a compliment here), but the vibe will finally make sense—and, trust us, when it’s time to party, you will party hard. “It’s Time To Party” is the album’s shortest cut (at 1:30), but it sets the slap-happy standard for the 11 tracks to follow.