My friend William asked me to assemble a list of my favorite albums. I’m up to the challenge, yet a little bit loathes to make such a list. I am sure to leave something off , and in a couple of years, it’ll be shuffled with new finds and old favorites. Thus, I’m offering a truck load of favorite albums, but not a definitive list.
I’ve settled on a handful of rules to pick 20 albums.
- No compilations. This includes an album of multiple artists, movie sound tracks, or ’best of’ issues. The soundtrack for Until the End of the World is fantastic, but not on the list.
- Make the collection, but don’t rate the albums. This is just a list, not an enumerated list; I am not suggesting that the second album is “my all-time second fav” or anything like that. The exception, as I’ve said before, VU is the best. Always.
- A corollary to #2, I will bubble the best entries towards the top, so the #3 in the list, I think, is better than #17, but there is no way of knowing that #16 is preferred to #17.
- One album per artist, even though we all know that all the Beatles and all the Velvet Underground could dominate the list.
- Sometimes I break rules.
Plus, I’ve assembled a YT playlist with samples from the first ten albums.
1. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
This album is raw but learned. It is experimental, noisy, proto-punk, and beautiful. It combines the avant-garde with street-cred poetry and musical forms not yet identified in 1967. They’ve inspired others to form bands, others have tried to copy them, but nobody sounds like VU.
2. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
Innovation rules, and a gravelly voice cleaned up just enough to not scare away the masses makes Rain Dogs a high-ranking favorite. The rhythms and instrumentation are insane. I think they’re literally hitting a brake drum with a rock to achieve percussion.
3. The Clash – London’s Calling
Joe Strummer made punk matter. Smart, righteous, and innovative, he surrounded himself with musicians and sang like he had something to say. This album is the pinnacle of an entire belief system.
4. Patti Smith – Horses
I was really struggling, Horses or Easter; which one makes the list? Easter includes “Because the Night”, which was her breakout moment. That’s important (although the song was written by Springsteen).
Horses documents the beginning of the band, and what she was trying to achieve. She started out at poetry readings, then added guitar accompaniment. Later, after a set, she exclaimed in the microphone, “We’re looking for a drummer. You know who you are.” They met JayDee. They turned into a punk rock band.
Both are important albums that I love very much, so you get them both.
5. Patti Smith – Easter
There’s something to be said for taking on taboo; spit in its face, throw it to the ground, and hold your foot to its neck. That’s what Patti does with the N-word; I still can’t say it or type it, but Patti can scream the fuck out of it.
6. Nina Simone – Sings the Blues
Damn Nina can sing! Received as part of a record-of-the-month club two years ago. Good grief, how had I never listened to this before.
7. John Cale – Words for the Dying
My interest in classical music began with John Corigliano’s movie soundtrack, Altered States. My devotion to what classical music could be was solidified with John Cale’s work. (Plus, I like Beethoven and all the rest.) Now, can people help me identify full-orchestra music that has the punk ethos and raw emotions? I’m still searching.
8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Good Son
9. Paul Simon – Graceland
Loved this album when it was released over 3 decades ago; I’ll listen now and it’s still fresh, innovative, and danceable.
10. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
11. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
12. The Chameleons UK — Strange Times
13. The Pixies – Doolittle
14. Hoodoo Gurus – Stoneage Romeos
15. The Who – Quadrophenia
16. Nirvana – Nevermind
17. David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
18. The Beatles – The White Album
19. The Psychedelic Furs – Mirror Moves
20. The Verve – A Northern Soul
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