1. R.E.M. Automatic for the People
This album still evokes the soft translucent orangegold of the tape I first listened to during a middle school trip to Baltimore. The REM albums I owned at the time seemed like collections of great songs, but this was one fluid river of music, a solid mood of peace and anguish. The album starts with a punch called Drive, stops by the grand hits Everybody Hurts and Man in the Moon, and ends by immersing you in the violin depths of Nightswimming and Find the River. The songs have classic videos, too, which can be found on the band's DVD Parallel.
2. The Beatles Abbey Road
Abbey Road is the Beatles album to top all Beatles albums - and that's saying a lot. On the best-selling album from the best band of all time, you get everything that made them great. You get a dose of their classics with Come Together and Here Comes the Sun, and one of the most beautiful love songs ever written with George Harrison's Something. Their fun side comes through in Octopus's Garden, one of the only Beatles tracks that Ringo sings, and Maxwell's Silver Hammer. While The Beatles (the White Album) has more of their best experimental, edgy tracks, this delves that way with the engrossing I Want You (She's So Heavy), which stops on a dime and paves the way for my favorite Beatles epic - the stream of songs from Mean Mr. Mustard to The End. The End itself, Paul, John and George's legendary guitar jam and the last track on the last Beatles album recorded (save for the coda Her Majesty), is the perfect cap to the most distinguished career of any musical act in history. The funeral procession on the cover represents the end of The Beatles - and they went out with a bang.
3. Radiohead OK Computer
I have a good book that examines this album and revels in the moment in Karma Police in which Thom Yorke's voice rises up to a sublime height - the middle of the song in the middle of the album. For that and for Paranoid Android alone, this would earn its place in any Best Of list.
I also have a Radiohead tribute album where somebody does a really rocking cover of Fitter Happier, of all things.
4. They Might Be Giants Flood
My first TMBG album, and their top seller. I don't listen to it as much anymore, but that's partly because TMBG just keeps churning out great song after great song on dozens of albums. This one has their hits like Birdhouse in Your Soul and Particle Man, other catchy songs like Women & Men and Your Racist Friend, and also tons of quirky stuff. It also has the benefit of containing lots more songs than your average album.
5. Ben Folds Five Whatever and Ever Amen
My introduction to Ben Folds and still the most consistent album. Well, I guess the first one was consistent, too, but less professional and well-made. This one perfectly mixes hard piano rock, such as Kate and Battle of Who Could Care Less, with slow lullybystic ballads, like Smoke and Evaporated. Brick, their big hit, is not one of my favorites here.
from Selfless, Cold and Composed:
come on baby,
now throw me a right to the chin
don't just stare like you never cared
I know you did
but you just smile like a bank teller
blankly telling me: "have a nice life"
6. The Beatles The Beatles
The "White Album" is #200 in sales on Amazon today - not bad for 40 years later. This is possibly the most experimental and varied pop album ever. Four of my absolute favorite Beatles songs are here - Happiness is a Warm Gun, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, I'm So Tired, and George's impressive tour de force, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Any one would make an album legendary. The two-cd album holds several fantasticly sparse and haunting acoustic ballads - Mother Nature's Son, Martha My Dear, Blackbird, Julia, I Will, and Dear Prudence. Then there are the hard-rocking tunes, with McCartney belting out Helter Skelter against type, plus Back in the USSR, and Birthday. Then there is the weird, fun stuff - the satirical Piggies, the bouncy Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, the strange Why Don't We Do It In the Road? and the country westerns The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and Rocky Racoon. I like Cry Baby Cry and Yer Blues a lot too, and Revolution 1 more than its faster-paced, popular version. And the bizarre cacaphony of Revolution 9 must have been completely mind-bending at the time, but it leads into a soft Ringo-sung album closer, Good Night.
More history courtesy of Spud:
The individual members of the band hardly saw each other during the recording of this album. They were pretty much disgusted with each other and with the concept of "the Beatles", but still had plenty to say to us. Therefore, acknowledgement must be made to the genius of George Martin who kept the still great ideas together and focused. Many of the songs were written with the idea in mind of "ok, if people like the freakin' Beatles so much let's see if they like..." a new Happy Birthday song and a simple and crude tune like "Why Don't We Do It In The Road". Ha! They ended up proving the very premise they were trying to dispel. Also, "Revolution 9" was just a bunch of stuff that John and Yoko threw together. No one else actually cared whether is was on the album or not. So, this was to be the "last" Beatles album until Paul beckoned the others to give it one more try... with Abbey Road.
7. Girl Talk All Day
This is the youngest album in my top ten here. It takes a lot to break through the taste I developed in that key period of late high school and college (this is probably true for many people). Nevertheless, this is eminently listenable, and it is perfect for my daily walk across town to work - so energizing. If you're not familiar with the work of Girl Talk, he mashes up tons of classic songs to create lively beats and fun juxtapositions of lyrics.
8. The Tragically Hip Day for Night
I love listening to the dark, quiet mood of this whole album - that picture on the cover captures it perfectly. The whole album flows together beautifully. Oddly, I've tried other Tragically Hip albums and none of them held any appeal to me remotely like this one.
9. Cake Motorcade of Generosity
Good song after good song. And some of their most creative are on this album. Mr. Mastodon Farm is ingenious - so syncopated it's almost spoken word. Jolene and Ruby Sees All are two of my favorite Cake songs. And Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle and I Bombed Korea sneak in vehement but nuanced political messages.
10. Spoon Gimme Fiction
This song has a few misses for me (like Sister Jack, which I find kind of annoying), and so doesn't flow as perfectly as some other albums on this list, but the other songs more than make up for it. They Never Got You is a favorite of mine, and The Beast and Dragon, Adored and The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine, which start the album, are magnificent.
11. R.E.M. Out of Time
So many amazing songs on this album - Near Wild Heaven, Texarkana, Me in Honey. And of course, R.E.M.'s biggest hit ever, Losing My Religion, as well as their weirdest non-R.E.M.y track, Shiny Happy People. The album opens and closes really strongly with Radio Song and Me in Honey respectively. This is one of the earliest albums I ever owned.
12. They Might Be Giants Apollo 18
My second They Might Be Giants album, this one has a lot of great songs -included one of my all-time favorites, The Guitar - that range from rock (See the Constellation) to quirk (Mammal). And it's got Fingertips, which is a medley of short song clips all over the music spectrum. Though I first bought this as a cassette, Fingertips was brilliantly demarcated on the cd as 17 different tracks, so when you shuffle, your songlist basically goes crazy go nuts.
From I Palindrome I:
"Son, I am able," she said, "though you scare me."
"Watch," said I.
"Beloved," I said, "watch me scare you though."
Said she, "Able am I, son."
13. Pearl Jam Ten
Like Automatic for the People, Ten evokes a consistent, soothing mood of quality songs. But unlike REM, Pearl Jam's first album surpasses their many subsequent works (though the next two were also very good.) Along with Nirvana's Nevermind, this is the masterpiece of a generation and the epitome of the entire world of Grunge. It's incredible to think that all these great songs are on a single album - Once, Even Flow, Alive, Black, Oceans, Jeremy, Deep, and the double Release that closes the heavy-hitting album with a sigh.
14. Crash Test Dummies
God Shuffled His Feet
I have no real interest or knowledge of this band outside this one album, but I love it. Afternoons and Coffeespoons is one of my favorite songs by any band, and there are lots of other melodic story-songs that serve to transport you to some Renaissance land. Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, their only big hit, is probably my least faovrite track, though.
15. Paul Simon Concert in the Park
This is the first CD I ever owned - and it's still a favorite in my collection. Of Paul Simon's studio albums, both Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints are excellent, but here we get all of those hits, like Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al, along with many Simon and Garfunkle staples like Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Boxer, Sound of Silence and Cecilia. The energy is amazing and the versions of the songs take creative turns that make them distinct from the studio versions.
- A Ghost is Born - Wilco
- Keep it Together – Guster
- Welcome to the Monkey House - The Dandy Warhols
- Monster - R.E.M.
- Full Moon Fever - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Billy Breathes - Phish
- Mink Car - They Might Be Giants
- Wildflowers - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- The Bends - Radiohead
- Under the Table and Dreaming - Dave Matthews Band
- Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - Flaming Lips
- Unplugged - 10,000 Maniacs
- Nevermind – Nirvana
- Throwing Copper – Live
- Achtung Baby - U2
- Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five
- So Far - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
- Gorillaz - Gorillaz
- Feed the Animals - Girl Talk
- Rift – Phish
- Rubber Soul - The Beatles
- The Greatest Hits - Fatboy Slim
- Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin
- Sing-Along Blog & Commentary - Dr. Horrible
- On and On - Jack Johnson
- Made of Bricks - Kate Nash
- The Best of the Doors - The Doors
- Before These Crowded Streets - Dave Matthews Band
- If It Was You – Tegan and Sara
- Across the Universe - Beatles (soundtrack)
- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco
- Fashion Nugget – Cake
- Play – Moby
- Rock Spectacle - Barenaked Ladies
- Once More with Feeling - Buffy
- Give Up - The Postal Service
- Odelay - Beck
- Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords
- Weezer (blue) - Weezer
- Girls Can Tell - Spoon
- The Crane Wife - The Decemberists
- Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
- Is This It - Strokes
- This Business of Art - Tegan and Sara
- El Oso - Soul Coughing
- Life for Rent - Dido
- Get Behind me Satan - White Stripes
- The Odd Couple - Gnarls Barkley
- One EskimO - One Eskimo
A new Zagat guide to the best albums was just released. Their top ten matches some of my own:
ZAGAT'S TOP TEN
1. "Born To Run," Bruce Springsteen
2. "Abbey Road," the Beatles
3. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the Beatles
4. "The Joshua Tree," U2
5. "The White Album," The Beatles
6. "Kind of Blue," Miles Davis
7. "Darkness on the Edge of Town," Bruce Springsteen
8. "Revolver," the Beatles
9. "Dark Side of the Moon," Pink Floyd
10. "Achtung Baby," U2
Press Conference, 1964:
How does it feel to be putting on the whole world?
Ringo: We enjoy it.
Paul: We aren't really putting you on.
George: Just a bit of it.
John:How does it feel to be put on?