My Top 20 Albums

I just found this post from 2009. It still pretty much works, and might give you an idea of where I'm coming from.

My rules:  

- I won't list a "Greatest Hits" record simply because I love the artist but no actual album really killed me. For this reason, Elvis, among others, is missing from this list. 

- I will list a Greatest Hits record if it genuinely knocked me out (typically it was my first exposure to the artist - Leonard Cohen and Hank Williams make it this way.) 

- For perverse reasons, I list no more than one record by any artist. I can tell you that Dylan and The Stones would be inordinately represented, but I like to spread the love. 

- It's in a weird kind of order, having to do with how much a record has impacted me, but also when. 

- These are from many periods of my life. Some I haven't listened to in years, but they were important to me at the time.

Note that I only encountered 3 or 4 of these at the time they came out. I've always spent more energy digging into the past than scouring the present.


1. Highway 61 Revisited - The Bob. I am pretty sure the first time I heard this was 1981, when I checked it out of the Boulder Public Library. I've never gotten over it. 

2. Exile on Main St. - The Rolling Stones. I could list any record the Stones made between '68 and '72, but this one is the trashiest. 

3. Remain In Light - Talking Heads. I've been rootsy for quite awhile now, but when I was 21 and everything was new and I was discovering Art, this record blew my head off. [This is one I heard when it came out.]

4. Led Zeppelin II. The summer I turned 15, I was alone in the house one day, and on a whim I put on this record that my sister's boyfriend had left, and turned it up louder than I had ever turned up a record before. Everything changed. (For one thing, I never listened to Elton John again.) 

5. Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd. Are you kidding? I was an American kid that grew up in the 1970s. "The ultimate headphone album" was a huge cultural touchstone. 

6. Decade - Neil Young. It was hard to know which Neil Young record to pick, but this was unquestionably the formative one: it's the first one I encountered, when I first went away to college, and if you listen to my music now, you know I've never gotten over it. [Heard this one pretty much when it came out.]

7. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars - David Bowie. Bowie, too, was huge for me in my youth. I devoured many of his records, but this one is a definitive rock masterpiece. 

8. Smithsonion Collection of Classical Jazz - Various. I have no idea if that's even the name of it, but one Christmas vacation in college, sick of the sorry rock music that was being purveyed at the time, I made three or four cassettes from this multi-disc set I found at my dad's house. My favorite one was from the 40s and 50s with Duke, Lester, Diz and Bird all over it. It got me through the early 80s. 

9. Hank Williams Greatest Hits. In 1985, in Boulder, I bought this record at a garage sale for a quarter. I put it on later that day, just when I was starting to get off on mushrooms (kids: drugs are bad!), and "Ramblin' Man" came on, and my heart broke. 

10. Greatest Hits - Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five. Not even really sure if that's the name of it. In my mid-20s I went on a long journey to reconcile my appreciation for jazz with my bred-in-the-bone identification with rock. I started learning about the history of American music. I searched with my ears for a missing link between Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry. Much to my surprise, I found it. 

11. Best of Leonard Cohen. I knew Bob Dylan wrote great songs. I didn't know anyone else wrote songs that were just as great. Until I found this. 

12. Rain Dogs - Tom Waits. When this record came out Tom was on a cusp: he had been one of the great contemporary songwriters, and he was turning into one of the great contemporary sonic artists. This was my first serious encounter with him, and it suited me to a T. [Heard this when it came out.]

13. Abbey Road - The Beatles. Like you, the Beatles are simply in my blood. There was a brief period when I was a kid that the beginnings of our (my sisters and my) album-buying overlapped with the end of the Beatles' album-making. Maybe we got Abbey Road after they broke up, but not long after, and we played the grooves off it during my 11th summer. [Heard this not long after came out.]

14. Darkness on the Edge of Town - Bruce Springsteen. I have had a long and complicated relationship with Bruce, although he doesn't know it. Although I liked the songs I heard from Darkness when it came out, I already had a problem with the whole Boss thing, so I didn't own this record until the early 90s. And then I went nuts for it. It's one of the most passionate records I know of. 

15. Songs In the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder. I have and love everything he did in the first half of the 70s, which, apart from the hits I heard on the radio, I did not discover until the first half of the 90s. 

16. Exodus - Bob Marley. In high school, I lived in northern New York, and the best radio station was CHOM, from Montreal. Every Tuesday night they would play a new album in its entirety, and I would listen on my little clock radio in my little room. I heard My Aim Is True this way, and Exodus. It was very, very cool. [But I didn't buy it until many years later.]

17. Atlantic Rhythm'n'Blues, 1947-1974. Cheap as I am, you don't see many fat box sets in my collection. I guess I was feeling rich one day, and I'm damn glad of it. It's all cream, but the ones I go back to the most are the 60s ones, particularly Stax, Stax, Stax. And Ray. 

18. El Corazon - Steve Earle. In the mid-90s I did a Columbia House thing and got 9 CDs for a penny or something. I figured I could take a flyer on a couple, and I hit the jackpot on this one. Rock, twang, and great songs. [Got it when it came out.]

19. The Band ("The Brown Album") - Inevitably, in my late 20s, I came to these guys, and I still haven't left. With Bob, the Stones, and Neil, The Band has been one of my chief musical influences for a long time now. 

20. Moondance - Van Morrison. It was between this and Al Green's I'm Still In Love With You, and frankly, whatever. Although I could would be content to never hear the title track again, Moondance is a nearly perfect album from "the Irish Stevie Wonder". Can I please write a song like "And It Stoned Me"? Can I at least write a song that has fishing poles in it?

Leave a comment

    Add comment