It’s taken much longer to get to this point, but hopefully it’s been worth it. This list is what difficult to compile, but I feel like it reflects my tastes fairly well, especially when you throw in the years I covered throughout three decades.
I have been asked many times how many albums I actually own. I really do not like to announce numbers, I feel comfortable doing this on my blog since I’m not widely read. If I remember correctly, I do own between 300 and 400 of the albums on this countdown, and many that I do not own on vinyl I used to own on CD. However, I purged nearly my entire CD collection near the beginning of the pandemic which has knocked my total WAY down as I owned around 1200 CDs. Now, my CD count is below 100 with Prince and Springsteen CDs being slowly replaced by their vinyl counterparts. As far as 7-inch singles, or 45s as they are called here in Indiana, I have close to 400, though now I only collect specific artists (especially Prince, of course) or special releases. In addition, my 12-inch singles/12-inch EP/10-inch EP collection currently stands just a bit under 100. I own approximately 30 box sets, both in vinyl and CD versions. I even own a little over 20 concert videos/documentaries. Despite all of this, my main focus is on vinyl albums, of which I own over 1500, including picture discs and vinyl box sets. To my friends, I may have the largest collection, but rest assured I am nowhere in the Top 100, or even Top 1000, largest collections.
I collect vinyl first for the music. I don’t care, I will listen to all of my purchases, except for the picture discs. Those things are slightly stupid to own but make fantastic artwork hangings in the music room. But, as a reaction to the CD-era and the current streaming age, I love the large, tangible cover and inner sleeves, as well as whatever else is included, be it stickers, a poster, or in the case of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, paper panties. Plus, during the 60s, 70s and 80s, some musical artists made their packaging some complete works of art. The Velvet Underground’s debut album is an Andy Warhol art piece with a peel-able banana sticker included or the Stones had the man create a usable zipper on the cover of their Sticky Fingers album. Probably the last grand album artwork was a special edition of Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues whose packaging was an interesting three-dimensional piece of modern art.
Recently, the introduction of colored vinyl, an old staple of children’s records in the 50s, 60s and 70s, has made a comeback with rock albums. It began when Jack White started Third Man Records in order to release unusual vinyl albums. It then picked up steamed via Record Store Day celebrations since 2008. The final stamp of approval has come in the past five years as both Walmart and Target have been selling special edition colored vinyl of some new and classic albums, making collecting that much more enjoyable.
And, if the current pricing of new vinyl seems steep in comparison to the “good old days,” just keep in mind that your new Prince record in 1984 had a list price of $9.99 would, adjusted for inflation, now cost around $24 in today’s money. Therefore, much of the cost is the same in economic terms. However, today the number of vinyl copies are not being produced at the same levels as they were in the 80s, so there is much more room for growth as a very small investment (You will NEVER get rich with vinyl purchased over the counter; that only happens if you have masters of famous artists or unreleased albums, which are exceptionally rare).
Plus, I just do this because I love to listen to music…all kinds of music.
125. R.E.M. – Document (1987). R.E.M. has always been associated with musical integrity. And, although, this album was a huge hit, the band’s sound was even more aggressive than they had ever recorded. This album was successful because Michael Stipe’s vocals were up front and the playing was aggressive, much like the band’s live shows. The hit was “The One I Loved,” but we all knew back in the day that “It’s the End of World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” had the legs.
124. Van Halen – Van Halen (1978). Was there an across-the-board, unanimous decision about a debut like there was for this album? The album absolutely resonated throughout my high school. And why not? It had everything that would appeal to a teenager: aggressive virtuoso guitarwork, a driving rhythm section, a lead singer who acted like a gameshow host, lyrics about teenage lust and loud rock music. The darkside of this album was that it was the dawning of the hair metal scene that gave us such luminaries as White Lion, Firehouse and, perhaps worst of all, Poison.
123. The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965). Rubber Soul represents The Beatles shedding their “boy band” personae and embracing a new artistic phase. The album also happens to further signal that rock & roll was becoming rock music, as a new maturity permeated throughout the Fab Four’s music and lyrics. This is the album that influenced Brian Wilson to make The Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds, as well as the band acknowledging Bob Dylan in their lyrics. Thank God for this album because we might have gotten The Bangles in return.
122. Supertramp – Breakfast in America (1979). Few expected this former prog rock band to capture the attention of the world, but the band found huge success as the 70s were ending. This is what happens when great songwriting meets great musicianship. Breakfast in America will always hold a special place in my heart.
121. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013). My older son made me aware of the whole EDM scene by playing artists such as Moby, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. But, I could have never imagined how Daft Punk would embrace their inner-Giorgio Moroder to produce a modern disco classic. And they accomplished this by reaching back the glitter ball era and tap Nile Rodgers as their guitarist. In doing so, they hit the jackpot by giving the kids of that generation a taste of what mine all ready knew: Disco rules!
120. The Strokes – This Is It (2001). I distinctly remember telling my boys how I missed Cheap Trick/The Cars-type bands. Shortly after saying that, he came home with this CD, slapped it in the CD player and told me to listen. Yep, those bands were still around at the time. The Strokes, however, had something my bands didn’t and that was a New York cool. For me, The Strokes saved rock music just as I was beginning to think it was dying.
119. Sugar – Copper Blue (1992). The years 1991 through 1994 had some terrific music. Plus, it was a time of the Third Wave of Power Pop. We all knew that a power pop artist was residing deep in the psyche of Bob Mould, as we could hear it all buried behind the feedback and speed of Hüsker Dü and some of his solo work. But when his latest trio Sugar debuted, he put it all out in the open and on display on this outstanding album. Yet, another album I feel as though doesn’t get enough love.
118. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980). Pound for pound, this just may be my favorite Bowie album. This is where all of his musical instincts and previous experiments combined in one coherent, influential sound. If most of the successful new wave artists that sprung up in the aftermath of this album didn’t get all of their ideas from this album, I’m not sure where exactly they did. Plus, if you carefully watch the video for the terrific “Ashes to Ashes” video, you might recognize that one of the male dancers is future-MTV VJ Alan Hunter. You just don’t get that kind of information from any other rock writer.
117. The Go-Go’s – Beauty and the Beat (1981). As an older member of Generation X, like much of us, I had no idea at the time just how important The Go-Go’s were. I just loved their music. Then, I realized they were accomplishing things that no other band composed completely of women had done so previously. You see, I grew up with female rockers like Fanny, Suzi Quatro, The Runaways, Heart, Pat Benatar, solo Joan Jett, that I simply thought this was normal. At least now we can say that an all-female IS normal. But, it couldn’t have been done if the women of The Go-Go’s weren’t talented musicians and superb songwriters. Plus, they had that added sex appeal that we cannot overlook, since these women appealed sexually to both men and women. I can’t help it, but I will ALWAYS be a Jane and Kathy man!
116. The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (1978). Yes, this album is of its time. It is full of misogyny and unflattering racial stereotypes. But, God, there is so much fantastic music surrounding those gawd awful lyrics. Plus, what other album could give a supremely great dance track (“Miss You”), a faux country tune (“Far Away Eyes”), a Keith Richards cowboy-ish song (“Before They Make Me Run”), some totally wrong songs (“Some Girls” and “Beast of Burden”), a Motown cover (“Imagination”) and a batch of snotty rock songs as an answer to punk (“When the Whip Comes Down,” “Respectable” and “Shattered”). Regardless, when the Stones are on, and they are here, there are few as good.
115. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Abandoned Luncheonette (1973). On their second album, the greatest duo in rock history officially threw their hat in the Yacht Rock ring, though we just called it great music back then. It was as if the guys had been holed up listening to Steely Dan’s debut album and came up with this batch of songs as an answer. This album would be significant if it only contained “She’s Gone,” which inexplicitly would not become a hit for another three years. Yet, it is full of the rock and soul sound for which Hall & Oates became famous. This was their first classic, but not their last.
114. The Stooges – The Stooges (1967). Although 1967 is known for The Summer of Love and all the groovy sounds that followed in its wake, it is significant for being the year in which both punk and alternative music were born. Not only did The Velvet Underground release their debut, but so did our proto-punk heroes from Detroit, The Stooges. Unfortunately, outside of the great Creem magazine, few were singing their praises. Eventually, the rest of the world did catch up.
113. Rage Against the Machine – The Battle for Los Angeles (1999). Man, I love these guys! No one articulated my angst for the free market system than RATM. Plus, they did it with their innovative metal/hip hop amalgamation that was light years ahead of the Nu Metal sound in both execution and style.
112. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes (1979). Petty had the biggest balls in all of rock history. He was in a contract dispute with his band’s record company, held firm and actually broke the company while not even having a real hit or big album. When the dust settled, he got the contract, paid AND his own label. Then, the band released their career-defining album that blew them up so big and fast that it took them years to sort it all out. This is the dawning of the greatest American rock band.
111. Chicago – Chicago II (1970). So, the band dropped the stupid Transit Authority part of their group name and simply called themselves Chicago. Then, they delivered the second consecutive jazz-rock double album. Only this time, the songwriting was more focused AND experimental. This album is most famous for its wonderful Side Two suite Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon which contained TWO monster hits in “Make Me Smile” and “Color My World.” Where else can you get that kind of pop/rock sophistication?
110. The Police – Ghost in the Machine (1981). This album resonates for a couple of reasons. First, you can hear the band on the verge of becoming a musical force, if they weren’t all ready. Second, you knew the volatility of the members of The Police were one day cause the band to implode. One didn’t know at the time that both were coming up in the aftermath of the next album. Ghost in the Machine shows everything that is great about The Police with great playing, lyrics, hooks and one truly classic song in “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”
109. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). This album is something of a hip hop Sgt. Pepper in that everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in to make a timeless sound. If this album had not been made, would we have ever gotten Drake? I doubt it. I still feel like the non-hip hop crowd secretly loves this album.
108. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001). Daft Punk kind of stumbled upon the disco sound on this album, even though a majority of it remains steeped in the EDM of the day. Discovery remains a terrific transition album as the duo goes from EDM auteurs to disco innovators, which makes for a compelling listen.
107. Prince – The Gold Experience (1995). I’m going to level with you. The Gold Experience is the last truly great and classic album in the Prince catalog. All of the subsequent albums, sans the Crystal Ball compilation, all pale in comparison to this magnificent yet vastly underrated album. Any album that contains “Endorphinmachine,” “P. Control” AND “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” has got to be classic in anyone’s book.
106. George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (1990). So, the man unjustifiably never got his songwriting respect as a member of the boy band Wham! Then, for some reason, critics got caught up on the man’s great looks instead of his songwriting on Faith, which battled Michael Jackson’s Bad to a near draw with regards to shear numbers of hit songs. So, Mr. Michael fought back with the greatest song cycle of his career. “Praying for Time” and “Freedom! ’90” are just the hits.
105. No Doubt – Tragic Kingdom (1995). If you were like me and loved the ska produced by the English bands Madness, The Specials and The (English) Beat, then I am certain that you were hooked by this album that seemed to squeeze every 80s new wave hook into one album. Personally, I can never say enough good things about No Doubt and how underrated they seem to have become in the wake of Gwen Stefani’s ascent into mega-celebrity. Just don’t forget that she was a legitimate rocker before all of this Blake Shelton crap started.
104. R.E.M. – Out of Time (1991). Don’t get me wrong. For me, Out of Time is the sound of the band taking a well-deserved victory lap as they break little new ground. Hell, nearly everything sounds like an homage to something older. Yes, “Losing My Religion” IS everything that is great about R.E.M., and their quintessential song. Yet, the lead instrument is an mandolin, which guitarist Peter Buck was just learning to play. My MVP for this album goes to mild mannered bassist/vocalist Mike Mills for his fluid basslines and his underappreciated vocals.
103. The Kinks – The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968). The Kinks, or should I say specifically Ray Davies, became the master of depicting the average working bloke in England of the late-Sixties. And, the band’s playing only enhanced those lyrics. Suddenly, Brits felted like someone was talking about them and not pandering to some unknown and unseen Americans. This album has been noted as a major influence on all of Paul Weller’s incarnations (The Jam, The Style Council, solo), The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Pulp, Primal Scream, Blur, Oasis, Supergrass, The Libertines and the rest of Britpop. Take a bow!
102. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989). If you went to the local record store in 1989 to buy this album expecting a sequel to Licensed to Ill, then you got the shock of your life. The whole musical blueprint was thrown away for a whole new cut-and-paste post-modern approach to hip hop. The boys, with the help of producers The Dust Brothers, took the idea of sampling to a whole new level to create a sonic collage which had the sample weaving in and out and around each other to the point where it was often difficult to recognize where one ended and another began. Yet, it made for a compelling soundscape that immediately influenced the hip hop world, though the general public was slow to warm to it. Think of this album as the Beastie Boys’ version of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk: experimental, compelling, frustrating and rewarding all at once.
101. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995). This album is a prog rock album dressed up in alternative band’s clothing. And, man, is it ever great! You can hear Billy Corgan piling his guitars up like a Boston album. And D’Arcy’s bass is so low end that you’d think it was almost dragging on the ground. The songs are terrific and stick in your head for days on end. How can a song with no real chorus/refrain like “1979” be a great hit song? Only when it is perfectly executed, that’s how. Let me some it up in one word: Masterpiece!
Brace yourself. The Top 100 is coming!