Friday, October 19, 2012

All Time Favorite Albums

Here's a break from my usual alcoholic ramblings.  A list of my top ten favorite albums.  As I am not a music snob or expert, I did not set out to make a "Best" list.  These are simply my personal favorites.  I applied a few simple principles.  I didn't choose artists that I primarily know through Greatest Hits compilations (Guns and Roses, Sublime), and only chose albums that were solid from top to bottom, rather than vehicles for singles.  For example, as much as I love Billy Joel (shut up all haters), he's a singles hitter.  Also, I tried to have a diverse list that reflects my musical taste.  Here they are from 10 to 1:

10.  Talking Book, Stevie Wonder-This is regarded as Stevie's transition from Motown wunderkind to legit artist.  The funk tracks are fun, "Superstition" is one of the greatest songs ever, and there are some strong social themes.  The ballad "You and I" is a poweful love song of the type that you will rarely hear from modern artists. 

9. Summertime Mixtatpe, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie-I might put this higher on the list except I already feel like I am cheating bc/ it's not really an album, per say (it was a free download a couple of years back).  But nothing captures the feeling of summer better than this mash up of hip hop and pop songs.

8.  Kind of Blue, Miles Davis-Jazz afficionados would probably roll their eyes at my weak effort to get some jazz on this list, but cannot deny the lasting power of this record, the best selling jazz album ever. 

7.  Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid, Collective Soul-At at time when grunge bands were singing about--and committing--suicide, and "gangsta rap" was having a moment*, Collective Soul wrote catchy hooks and lyrics about peace, love, and the power of forgiveness.  Their self titled follow up album got better reviews and had more hits, but I'll always have a soft spot for their debut.  Their career hasn't lived up to the promise of their early albums, but I still loved seeing them live a few years back and consider myself a lifelong fan. (*Disclaimer-grunge, rage, and hardcore rap have their places and reason for being, too).

6.  Abbey Road, The Beatles-Rubber Soul may have been their first artistic entry, and Revolver and Sgt. Pepper their masterpieces, but I'd rather walk down Abbey Road.  I know it sounds disjointed, almost like two different albums, but in a way it encapsulates the Beatles whole career--a few great singles followed by a great concept album.

5. Parachutes, Coldplay-It's popular to make fun of Coldplay these days, but it doesn't diminish their greatness.  Parachutes was mind blowing when I first heard it.  My college roommate was studying minimalist piano at the time, and Parachutes' simple, repetitious melodies certainly fit that bill.  The first song, "Don't Panic," is haunting and beautiful, and sets the stage for a fantastic album and legendary career.

4.  Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest-Tribe is the greatest.  Early conscious hip hop.  Midnight Marauders is hip hop's answer to the concept album.  Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali Shaheed Muhammed at their pinnacle, taking you on a lush journey through beats, rhymes, and life.  Check out the documentary about the group for an education in true hip hop.

3.  Graceland, Paul Simon-I am forever indebted to my wife for introducing me to this album.  Prior to meeting her I only knew the song "You can call me Al" by way of the music video with Chevy Chase.  There's a documentary that came out last spring about the controversy surrounding this recording, as Simon "appropriated" many of the sounds on a trip to South Africa at a time when the UN had imposed a cultural ban on the country during apartheid.  The title track is one of my all time favorite songs, "Losing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you're blown apart, everybody feels the wind blow."  I've seen Rhymin' Simon perform twice, and he's still got it.

2.  Ok Computer, Radiohead-I enjoy a lot of Radiohead's envelop pushing stuff, but this record is the perfect storm of their progressive rock sensibility, technological prowess, and poetry.  Beautiful melodies and challenging themes in a perfect lineup of songs.

1.  What's Goin' On-Marvin Gaye-Motown wanted Marvin to crank out more hits a la "I Heard it through the Grapevine."  But Marvin wanted to sing about drug addiction, racial injustice, and the Vietnam war.  He also gave credit to the Motown studio band, the Funk Brothers for the first time (according to the Wikipedia page).  The title track became known as the black national anthem, and Marvin's mold breaking album is now a consistent top 10 choice in almost any list of greatest albums out there (number 6 on Rolling Stone's top 500).  "Mercy Mercy Me," his song about the Mother Earth, sounds as fresh and relevant today as the day it was penned.  Marvin's vocal range is remarkable.  His lush, soothing voice is in stark contrast with the sounds and subject manner.  Yet it all comes together wonderfully.  His songwriting and producing abilities were finally able to shine on this record.  If you haven't listened to this album, you need to.

Honorable Mentions-Blueprint Vol. 3 (Jay Z), John Legend Live in Philadelphia, On in Five (One Nine Crew), The Score (The Fugees),  Losing Streak (Less than Jake), Chicago III (Chicago), Thriller (Michael Jackson), Upbeats and Beatdowns (Five Iron Frenzy), Viva La Vida (Coldplay), Various Albums (U2), Homecoming (Craig's Brother), Skafunkrastapunk (Skankin Pickle), Diary of Alicia Keys (Alicia Keys)

I reserve the right to modify this list.  I imagine I have made some oversights.  Please feel free to chime in with some of your own favorites.


  1. you've got some range in your favorites. I was hoping to see Usher - 8701 make it on here. haha, not really. Blueprint vol.3 is a fantastic album as well, nice to see it get a shoutout, although in my opinion all of jay-z's cd's have been great. some of my top favs are weezer - blue album, cake - fashion nugget, and weird al. (all of his are great, the newest one, alpocalypse is really good). you also might want to check out Drake - Take Care. (i'm sure you can hear a bunch of songs from this on the radio, but there are a couple great ones they dont play)

  2. Cake - fashion nugget would've been top 5 easily. I also like the Cranberries - No need to argue.

  3. Nice list, Greg. I do wonder, though, if we sometimes like an album from a particular artist simply because it was our first introduction to them (i.e. your choice of Coldplay's "Parachutes" versus the more obvious selection of "A Rush of Blood to the Head.") In my case, I didn't become a big Collective Soul fan until their third album. After exhausting "Disciplined Breakdown" I worked my way backwards in their catalog. (They seem to have gotten cheesier as they got older...ditto Counting Crows and a host of other fading artists.) More recently, I loved the debut of The Freelance Whales but their follow-up just hasn't stuck. Sometimes a great album can make even a good one sound weak in comparison. Coming out with a great debut is a catch-22: you want people to love your music, but if you set the bar too high you can only move down in their eyes; and they'll simply look for the next best thing.

  4. Brad, 8701 is quality, Chris is actually the one who encouraged me to buy it at the mall. I don't really love Drake but maybe it's just the ones I've heard. Weezer Blue Album is classic but more like in my top 25 or so.

    Mike, no need to argue haha Fashion Nugget is a strong entry. The Cranberries are probably underrated, too.

    Paul, I think you have a strong point. In the case of Coldplay, though, I actually think Rush of Blood is not their best album. I think Parachutes is so original and haunting, and Viva La Vida a more complete work. Rush of Blood had the great singles but I don't think it was as great. Just my opinion. Disciplined Breakdown is, for me, Collective Soul's fourth best, behind their first two and the overproduced but still strong Dosage. Though you could easily argue Breakdown is better than Dosage. I like the newer Collective Soul albums but you're right, they are cheesier and it's probably more nostalgia, though I think they do have some standout songs.