When I finished my last series of blog entries, I was at a lost as to what to cover this summer. But, then it hit me. I had made lists of my 100 favorite albums from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Aughts and Twenty-Teens respectively. Why don’t I use those charts to create a new list of my 500 Favorite Albums?
Initially, I went dark to spend a week compiling this list. First, I needed to get Grandchild-3’s birthday party out of the way. We followed that with a family weekend vacation with our two sons and their families. What I should have anticipated was the fact that if one of those little rascals has a cough, then we will ALL end up with that cough from one degree or another. Which means that everyone of us, all ten men, women and children ended up with a cough and/or sinus infection. Unfortunately, I was the last to come down with this virus. Fortunately (and knock on wood), I suffered the least amount of time with this stupid infection. Currently, I seem to be on the mend after a couple days of this, while the malaise continues for the fourth day, the cough appears to be diminishing.
If you have been a semi-regular reader of this blog, you probably have noticed that my musical tastes tend to rest in the late-Seventies through the Eighties, with some Nineties artists sprinkled into the mix. And, of course, that observation bears out with some data that I gathered from my list.
The two things I narrowed my focus toward were the number of albums from each decade as well as which artist(s) had the greatest number of albums on that list. The former category gave me little to surprise, as you can see below (I have ranked the decades by the larger number of albums on the final chart to fewer albums.
- Eighties – 151 albums out of 500
- Seventies – 131 albums out of 500
- Nineties – 91 albums out of 500
- Sixties – 49 albums out of 500
- Aughts – 43 albums out of 500
- Twenty-Teens – 34 albums out of 500
- Fifties – 1 album out of 500
No surprise there, right? Not at all. But, what I discovered next was something a little more shocking to me. I have maintained for the better part of three or four decades that my favorite artists are, in order, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Cheap Trick, Queen, Daryl Hall & John Oates and Paul Weller. Those eight have jockeyed from time to time but this has been pretty much settled for the last 15 to 20 years. Yet, when I did my analysis upon finalizing my list, I discovered something quite unexpected. Here are my Top 10 artists in my 500 favorite albums list.
- Paul Weller – 14 LPs (8 solo, 3 with The Jam and 3 with The Style Council
- Prince – 11 LPs
- R.E.M. – 10 LPs
- Bruce Springsteen – 9 LPs
- Daryl Hall – 8 LPs (1 solo, 7 with Daryl Hall & John Oates)
- Paul McCartney – 8 LPs (2 solo, 6 with The Beatles)
- Bob Mould – 7 LPs (2 solo, 4 with Hüsker Dü, 1 with Sugar)
- Daryl Hall & John Oates – 7 LPs
- David Bowie – 7 LPs
- George Harrison – 7 LPs (1 solo, 6 with The Beatles)
- John Lennon – 7 LPs (1 solo, 6 with The Beatles)
- Tom Petty – 7 LPs (3 solo, 4 with The Heartbreakers)
I knew that I had held Paul Weller in high regard, but, now, it seems as though he might actually be my favorite artist of all since I continue to have albums from various eras of his little-known career here in the States on my turntable. The results of the rest did not really surprise me until I got to Bob Mould. Once again, this man’s work has been criminally under appreciated, especially the band with which he started Hüsker Dü. Maybe I simply need to recognize those two gentlemen as two of my favorite artists of all time.
With that said, let’s kick off this countdown with the lowest ranked 50 albums on my list. Once again, this ranking is for fun, is solely MY opinion, not a ranking of which albums are the best (though I AM arrogant enough to actually believe in my list more than Rolling Stone‘s lists they have created over the past 35 years or so). I know that I have left off historically significant albums which I love for those innovations and their cohesive statements. However, I did not love them enough to bump these albums out of the way for their inclusions. Finally, I did not consider greatest hits or other compilation albums. While many of those albums are fantastic (like Earth, Wind & Fire, KC & the Sunshine Band or Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoff’s, which are ALL essential), they are not the traditional album as a statement as define in the mid- to late-Sixties as a set of songs written and/or recorded by an artist as a cohesive artistic statement to be digested whole.
With that all said, let’s get a-rocking!
500. Styx – The Grand Illusion (1977). I believe this album was handed out to incoming high school students in the fall of 1977.
499. Jackson Browne – The Pretender (1976). If you want to know how one suicide devastates a family, this album will teach you all about it in a beautifully sensitive manner.
498. The Cars – Candy-O (1979). Many of the people with whom I went to high school thought this band was punk at the time. Oh, to grow up sheltered in rural Indiana…
497. Echo & the Bunnymen – Crocodiles (1980). Think of this as the post-punk world finally meets up with The Doors, which just might make this band the Reece’s Cup of the rock world.
496. Phish – A Live One (1995). The best of the second generation jam bands release this live album at the height of their concert powers.
495. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters (1995). Rock’s nicest star and poster child of the ADHD generation, flies on his own upon the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Is Grohl the LAST rock star on earth?
494. Hüsker Dü – Candy Apple Grey (1986). If you love Nirvana, there are two Eighties bands who invented their sound, and Bob Mould’s Hüsker Dü was the first one.
493. New Order – Brotherhood (1985). From the ashes of post-punk gods Joy Division came synthpop wünderkinds New Order to push the punks and post-punks on the dance floors.
492. The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997). The Verve rode a transcendent song to success with an album full of terrific Britpop sounds.
491. The Kinks – Low Budget (1979). This forgotten gem paints a grim picture of the world economically speaking in 1979. Yet, songwriter and singer Ray Davies never loses his sense of humor while making his wry observations of middle class life.
490. Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983). A synthpop album that played like a guitar rock album. Brilliant!
489. The Jam – In the City (1978). If you love the fire and fury of the Sex Pistols or The Clash combined with the energy of early Who songs live and the English working and middle class observations of The Kinks, then The Jam were for you. This album HAS got to be where Green Day cut their teeth.
488. The Cure – Pornography (1982). When you go back to compare the sinister sounds of this album with the day-glow pop rock of the New Wave crowd, you could see where the Pink Floyd comparisons of the day came from.
487. Parliament – Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (1977). Who knew you could mix LSD, cocaine, dark forces, science, rock and funk into one delightfully weird dancefloor concoction?
486. Led Zeppelin – In Through the Out Door (1979). If you listen to this album within the context of Zep’s catalog, you’d think they were slipping. But, if you went to it as your first Zep album, then you have a Seventies band actually feeling threatened by punk and post-punk to begin to nudge their sound into the Eighties.
485. Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am (1979). Really? Did one of the world’s greatest funk bands really need David Foster to produce them? They did get one hell of a sexy ballad in the process, but Foster nearly made the band a bland vehicle for his schmaltz. Fortunately, Maurice White still packed a punch as a songwriter too.
484. 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). Natalie Merchant’s original band is a forgotten band that took the jangly sound of R.E.M. to a poetry reading and came out with some brilliant post-punk folk rock.
483. Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club (1981). In 1980, Talking Heads created a brilliant album called Remain in Light, arguably their masterpiece. Then, the following year, the band took a break and did some solo work. The husband/wife rhythm section of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weynouth put together an ace band of funkateers and other nuts to play a loosened version of the Heads’ Afrocentric beats onto the dance charts.
482. Squeeze – Argybargy (1980). Hello Squeeze! I hear you guys have the newest Lennon/McCartney songwriting heirs. This is a delicious set of Beatles-esque music that sounds timeless.
481. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Imperial Bedroom (1982). After a brilliant run of terrific angry young man power pop rock based music, Elvis was beginning to feel artistically constrained by the first three years of music recorded in his career, so he finally responded with this gorgeously dark set of orchestrated songs full of heartache and angst.
480. The Runaways – The Runaways (1976). In the year the Bicentennial, no one had seen a group of teenaged girls as a self-contained band of songwriting musicians playing glam- and metal-infused punk rock. Then The Runaways changed everything…forever.
479. The Human League – Dare (1981). The album arguably represents a high point in the world of synthpop.
478. Steve Miller Band – Fly like an Eagle (1976). By 1976, Sixties blues rockers were attempting to update their sound. But no one was as successful at this than the Steve Miller Band as they incorporated the synthesizer to make the first foray into space blues arms race that ZZ Top will perfect seven years later.
477. Roadmaster – Sweet Music (1977). Indianapolis’ most successful rock act in the pre-John Mellencamp years indeed make some sweet music on this album. Unfortunately, they were just a step behind the Journeys, REOs and Styxes of the world as far as timing was concerned. Yet, they left behind this fantastic slab of 70s AOR.
476. Billy Idol – Rebel Yell (1983). Just when rock music needed a touch of dance rhythms mixed with a metal guitar and a metal look, along come the former lead singer of the pop punk band Generation X to provide the sound, the look and the snarl.
475. Talking Heads – Little Creatures (1985). After creating one of the more influential albums of the Eighties (Remain in Light), followed by a funk-inspired new wave album (Speaking in Tongues), the Heads reached back to their stripped down beginnings of their CBGBs days to find a sound to accompany their adult-theme lyrics. The whole juxtaposition was compelling.
474. The Style Council – The Cost of Loving (1987). Released during a stellar year of music, TSC sounded as if they were beginning to run out of creative steam. Yet, they still took their brand of sophisti-pop to new heights over the course of this Eurocentric album.
473. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994). A terrific song-cycle of the perils of rock stardom and the star’s descent into depression and addiction. This is the REAL version of Alice Cooper Goes to Hell schlock-fest from the 70s.
472. Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses (1987). This is the beginning of Depeche Mode’s ascent to rock’s commercial throne. The band never sold out; the audience simply caught up.
471. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine (1989). I remember hearing cuts from this album on a local alternative radio station in Southwest Ohio and thinking that Trent Reznor was the first person of my generation to question all forms of authority in rock music. And, that’s what briefly made him a voice of a generation, a title he walked away from.
470. Blink-182 – Enema of the State (1999). While the original punk scene in Seventies NYC was art-based and the original London punk scene was economically-based, by the Nineties, punk bands were becoming caricatures. Blink-182 is the best example of the latter, only they were talented enough to pull off the images of being the jesters of pop punk.
469. The Church – Starfish (1988). This album contains all of the sounds of Eighties alternative rock: jangly guitars, poetic lyrics, melancholy vocals, dark textures all with a hopeful undercurrent. That’s why this album continues to resonate to this day.
468. Neneh Cherry – Raw like Sushi (1989). It HAD to happen, but it was not expected to happen so quickly. What is that? A terrific dance pop record that is based on the current hip hop sounds, beats and scratches. This is the sound of the future right then.
467. Madonna – Ray of Light (1998). By 1998, Madonna had transitioned from a twenty-something sexpot to thirty-something provocateur to earth goddess MILF. And, this album helps make the transition complete.
466. Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas (1987). In the early days of rock & roll, popular artists recorded Christmas songs in order to annually cash in on the holiday season. By the end of the Seventies, the process had become passé. But, then uber-producer Jimmy Iovine, in an effort to raise funds for the Special Olympics, brought the idea by allowing many of the biggest stars of the day to breath some new life into old Christmas standards, and even allow Run-DMC to create a new one for Generation X. And, the rest is history.
465. Fine Young Cannibals – The Raw & the Cooked (1989). When the English Beat were put on ice for the end of the Eighties, the band’s two guitarists grabbed a modern day Sam Cooke and released a modern soul album in 1986. The band then followed that one up with a classic mix of soul, hip hop, dance and pop for a timeless hit that has unfairly been forgotten over the years.
464. The Police – Outlandos d’Amour (1978). The trio took a softened reggae beat, a flexible jazzy bass and some prog rock guitar textures and mixed them all together with some trendy punk rage and playing speed to create a new sound known as The Police. All I need to say is “Roxanne.”
463. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988). You know, things for the inner city black person still has not changed. This album, from the rhymes to the beats to the samples all scream anger. While Ice-T and N.W.A both brought the West Coast ghetto to life, NYC was not represented until PE came along to knock the doors down with their brand of a wall of sound (or was it a wall of samples?).
462. David Bowie – Young Americans (1975). On this album, Bowie toned down the artistic pretentions and went for the hits by doing, of all things, a soul album.
461. Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Paul Simon (1973). Simon’s sophomore solo album since jettisoning Art Garfunkel three years earlier has the beginning of Simon’s explorations into the music of other countries that will come to fruition a baker’s dozen of years later. Simon establishes himself as a creative force on this album.
460. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions (1988). At the time of this album’s release, Cowboy Junkies were being hailed as some sort of folkish/countryish/Americana-ish Velvet Underground. That notion was only reinforced by their cover the Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” A beautifully haunting album.
459. Roxy Music – Country Life (1974). The whole New Romantic movement of the early-Eighties in the UK was based upon this era of Roxy. Perhaps, Roxy was the biggest influence on the post punk era this side of David Bowie.
458. Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic (1975). You couldn’t go through my neighborhood in the mid-Seventies without some teenager blaring this album out of their window as the sunbathed, worked on their cars or, in my case, taking 500 shots in various spots on my driveway basketball court.
457. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Southern Accents (1985). At the time, Tom was battling some inner demons as well as a new found stardom, so there was immense pressure on him to produce a successful album. But when drugs become involved, the second-guessing begins. So, we got an album full of a hodgepodge of sounds that Petty intended to go in wholeheartedly. Instead we got a quilt look of the work he was doing at the time. If he had only stuck with his original vision of a look at the life of a modern Southern man, we might have gotten a true American classic. But, we might not have ever heard “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
456. Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987). By 1987, the band was imploding. So the trio’s two songwriters, Bob Mould and Grant Hart went on individual creative benders to create their second double album in three years. It was quite a statement in diversity and a nice way to put an end to the band.
455. The Bangles – Everything (1989). Here we go again. A band experiencing inner turmoil, brushes off the pressure and creates a scattershot album of songs that show the individual personalities but lack the cohesiveness that made these women so endearing. What a great band!
454. The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me (1987). The Replacements were one of the great American bands of the Eighties. But they were constantly shooting themselves in their feet, usually by drinking themselves into oblivion during performances (Exhibit A: their 1986 SNL performance). For this album, they fired their original guitarist (due to his alcoholism) and replaced him with a more professional gunslinger who aided the band in making the most rock-oriented and professional sounding album up to this point. The song “Alex Chilton” is an ode to Big Star’s enigmatic leader.
453. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born Soundtrack (2018). Lady Gaga was perfect in this role. And, this soundtrack is awfully good.
452. Hole – Live Through This (1994). Rumor is that Courtney Love got help writing the songs on this album from hubby Kurt Cobain. Who cares because this is a classic rock album.
451. Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory (1998). What’s a musical genius like Elvis do for an encore? Write an album’s worth of songs with another musical genius in the form of Burt Bacharach. Elvis roughed up Bacharach’s sound while Burt gave Costello a burst of sophistication. This album is so much better than I expected. Beautiful, simply beautiful.