My 40 Favorite Albums of All Time

Recently I went to see Matthew Sweet in concert. He was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Girlfriend by playing the album in its entirety live. It was great to hear one of my favorite albums played in the order I’m used to by the artist live. Afterwards I reveled at just how much I love almost every track on that album. I must have listened to that whole album a lot.

That led me to wonder about what other whole albums I really love. It was hard, at the time, to come up with 10.

You see, I can point to four distinct phases of my life.

My Parents’ Music

My parents have good taste in music. We grew up listening to a good array of music: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, James Taylor and Carly Simon. My parents were raising 5 of us and they didn’t spend a lot of time or energy buying new records or 8-tracks. We had greatest hits albums. Most of the artists from my parents’ collection I know are from excellent greatest hits collections.

The Beatles Greatest Hits were released in two two-record sets, the early years were on records that were actually red and the later years were on records that were actually blue. Dad eventually also had the red and blue 8-tracks of the same collection. When a Beatles song ends, my brain automatically goes to the song that comes next on the “red record” or “blue record”. I love the Beatles because of Saturday mornings spent cleaning up the house with those records playing loud so you could hear them in any room of the house.

Music Discovery

This was when I was old enough to care about music, but young enough not to own my own.

You might call this phase “My Brothers’ Music”. My brothers loved music too. My brother Pat was a huge music collector. At different points he has had hundreds (maybe thousands) of tapes, hundreds of CDs and now some outrageous number of digital tracks. Pat’s and my tastes don’t line up perfectly, but you’d be hard pressed not to find some section of Pat’s collection you didn’t like. Just by listening to what they loved, my brothers inadvertently introduced me to a bunch of music.

During this phase I heard the greatest hits of The Who, The Rolling Stones, Styx, Rush, Foreigner, Journey and ELO.

Also during this phase we spent a lot of time at the local pool. Our pool played music all day from the local radio stations and the head guard apparently had good taste. This is where I came to love Yes, the Police, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams.

Once again, this phase was mostly single tracks. I didn’t pick up full albums except one. Pat and I were out somewhere and I bought my own copy of J. Geils Band – Freeze Frame, which I played over and over on my tape player until it wore out.

High School and College

I bought a few tapes in junior high and early high school–Queensryche – Empire, Beastie Boys – License to Ill, Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction–but I didn’t really start collecting until I got a CD player.

I was an early adopter of CDs. I remember the day I bought my first player: a refurbished one with a big dent in the back corner from Silo. Along with it I bought 2 CDs: Aerosmith – Greatest Hits and AC/DC – Back in Black. From there, I couldn’t get enough. With the help of a BMG music club subscription I signed up for under a friend’s name (which was spelled incorrectly) I started collecting.

During high school I went through my classic rock phase, hard rock phase, metal phase, progressive rock phase and grunge phase. I wonder why I never had a punk phase?

The Digital Music Era

Around 1997 or so I was made aware of something called an mp3. Not long after I started pulling all of the music off of my CDs onto my home computer, mostly so I could make mix CDs. I didn’t hop on the iPod bandwagon until Gen 3, but it didn’t take long for me to fill the 60G iPod in 2003. Somewhere around there me (and everyone else) lost the album. I can’t say that I’ve listened to a lot of albums since then, unless I found an artist just so compelling that I wanted to know what the rest sounded like. These listenings have led to a few instances where I found an album that I loved cover-to-cover including Zwan, Coldplay and Moby.

My Criteria

Everyone always wants rules when I come up with my “games”. I have two rules for this one.

It has to be a commercial album that isn’t a compilation. That means live albums released by the record company work, but no bootlegs. But greatest hits compilations and various artist compilations don’t count. This makes me a little sad because some of my favorite artists aren’t well represented. As I said earlier, I was introduced to Foreigner, Rush, The Who and even The Beatles by their greatest hits albums. Oh well. These are the albums I love.

The second rule is that it is not the “best” or “most influential” or even “most respected” albums I’m listing. I’m simply listing what I like best. These are the albums that made an impression on me for a variety of reasons. Some I’m not even proud of–Hootie and the Blowfish was a phase that I’m not proud of, but I still love that album. There’s a large grouping in my favorites from the the years I was in high school and college (otherwise known as the 90s) for reasons that I think should be clear by now.

The List

I’ll make notes along the way of some of the reasons that I think make me love the album so much.

#1 Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik

To start, I love the music on this album, but of every album on this list, this one is the most cohesive. The band clearly put together a whole album that just invites you to listen to the whole thing. Songs transition right into each other and take you for a bit of a ride. That ride is fun with a little heartfelt in the middle and then back to fun. I love the way they end it all with a Robert Johnson remake that brings it all together.

#2 Temple of the Dog – Temple of the Dog

You’ll figure out as you read down that grunge brought me a lot of my favorites. This one brought together some of my favorite parts of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden perfectly. But not just that, when you know the story behind this album, written as a tribute to a lost friend some of the songs become even more poignant and beautiful. I seldom listen to one track from this album, one track would only make me long for the rest.

#3 Pearl Jam – Ten

My introduction to the grunge world. My brother bought this album and I pretty much commandeered it. By college mine was so well loved that it wouldn’t play anymore. Luckily a friend had an extra copy that he had found somewhere. I still have the mysterious CD with the name “Justin Krumm” on it in my car. Sorry Justin, whoever you are.

#4 Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend

Great music start to finish. Beautiful harmonies and driving, simple guitar. It would be hard not to love this album.

#5 Zwan – Mary Star of the Sea

This is what Billy Corgan did in between when Smashing Pumpkins broke up and he reformed a new band calling it Smashing Pumpkins. It was loud and lovely and upbeat. I tell people that I loved Smashing Pumpkins, but I would prefer them happy…and that’s called Zwan.

#6 Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

#7 Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

#8 J. Geils Band – Freeze Frame

My first tape. This album had Centerfold and Freeze frame on the A-side. If that wasn’t enough, it had a song called Piss on the Wall on the B-side. What more could a 10 year old want. I question my parent’s oversight here, but I loved this tape.

#9 Toad the Wet Sprocket – Fear

#10 U2 – Joshua Tree

#11 Pearl Jam – Vs.

#12 Counting Crowes – August and Everything After

#13 U2 – Achtung Baby

#14 Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

I remember being at the record store on Court Street in Athens, OH at midnight when this album came out. Two CDs and they are both great. Like other great albums, this one seems to all go together. One song leading to another through a (long) journey of music.

#15 Nirvana – Nevermind

My generation’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think this album was stuck in my friend Rob’s CD player because it was all we listened to with Rob for at least a year.

#16 Dave Matthews – Under the Table and Dreaming

My introduction to Dave and I still think his best all-around album.

#17 Peter Gabriel – So

#18 Def Lepard – Hysteria

I believe that this album ushered me from liking random Z95/B96 pop music into liking bands, albums and rock music. I was mesmerized by two things: how great the guitars sounded on this album and the stories of how much women loved these guys. That was the end of pop for me, I wanted to be a rock star.

#19 Guns and Roses – Appetite for Destruction

#20 Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill

I think those who love and those who hate the fact that rap is part of the mainstream today can thank this album. It was fun, it was funny, it was clever and it was white guys from New York. Us suburban kids loved it. It had just enough rebellion to be cool, but not enough talk of shooting people to scare the bejesus out of our parents. On the outside all of the music sounded friendly enough.

#21 AC/DC – Back in Black

My first CD. Has extra significance because when we decided to start a band I used this CD to teach me to play the drums. It was complicated by the fact that the CD kept skipping due to the constant jostling of my maniacal playing. But who can resist this whole album starting with the bells?

#22 Cake – Fashion Nugget

#23 Metallica – And Justice for All

Hysteria took me into rock and I passed through Poison, Skid Row and Motley Crue before things got serious and I discovered this album. I remember more than once at this point getting home from school and being the only one in the house (a rarity in my life) and being able to play this as loud as my stereo would handle.

#24 Van Halen – 1984

Start to finish David and Eddie taught us what rock was supposed to sound like.

#25 Boston – Boston

#26 Ben Folds Five – Forever and Ever…Amen

Can you play the piano and still rock? No, you can’t. Not many can. Ben Folds can!

#27 Radiohead – OK Computer

I have a love/hate relationship with Radiohead. I love Creep, but could leave the rest of Pablo Honey behind. I like most of some of the albums, hate most of others. We can’t seem to form any kind of lasting relationship. OK Computer, though is great all the way through.

#28 Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience

Entry #1 that I’m not proud of. We loved this album so much that it would be hard for me to not sing along with Hey Jealousy or Allison Road today.

#30 Hootie and the Blowfish – Cracked Rear View

Entry #2 that I’m not proud of. This album was the album for a year in Athens, OH (probably 1995-ish). It had a regular location in my 6-disc for that year.

#31 Fleetwood Mac – Rumors

One of the non-greatest-hits albums that had regular rotation in my parents’ house. I still hear each track transition into each other starting with Second Hand News and ending with Gold Dust Woman.

#32 Moby – Play

I never expected to like Moby. To this point I would have considered all electronic music to be pretty flimsy. I’m not sure what it was about this album that changed that, but I still love it today. Sadly, I haven’t really connected with another Moby album since.

#33 Weezer – Blue Album

#34 The Who – Who’s Next

I didn’t discover the greatness of the Who until my 30s, about 30 years after the albums had been released. I discovered that I loved a large number of tracks by the Who so I thought I’d give their albums a try and I’m glad they did. This album and The Who Sells Out are excellent from start to finish. How can you go wrong when you open the album with the intro to Baba O’Riley, which I think we can all agree goes on just long enough to make a lasting impression without being annoying.

#35 Yes – 90125

Another non-greatest-hits album that got a lot of play at my parent’s house. So many great tracks all strung together.

#36 Rush – Exit Stage Left

This is the album that made me love Rush. I was introduced via Chronicles, their greatest hits compilation, but this live album showed me how amazing these guys could be. I think when I heard the drum solo the first time I checked just to see that they only had one drummer, and they do, if Neil Peart counts as just a drummer.

#37 Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

#38 The Who – The Who Sell Out

#39 Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker

#40 Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to The Head

So, what do you think ?