“What’s your top ten albums?” is a question that gives me high anxiety. What are those ten albums? List after list after list is made before I settle on one. That list rarely changes. A constant ten jostling for first position. On occasion, one or two reaching new hights (the top five), but I don’t like to assign numbers. That’s just way too tough.
When asked about a top 15, my head near enough exploded. So many possibilities. An endless list of albums that are just ‘bubbling under’. Whittle them down to just five!? Challenge accepted. Countless notepads later and the list has been decided. Not necessarily the best albums I’ve heard, but these fifteen are favourites. Albums that I’ve turned to time and time again.
Masters of Reality – Masters of Reality (1988)
often referred to as The Blue Garden on account of the splendid painting that adorns the cover, this album has long been a favourite. So much so that I paid £36 for the original Def American CD from eBay and thought nothing of it. It’s a classic rock album flavoured by psychedelic stoner blues and 60s and 70s vibes.
Screaming Trees – Dust (1996)
I totally subscribed to that whole ‘grunge’ thing after hearing Nirvana. I was late to the Screaming Trees, though – this was the first album of theirs I bought. Utterly brilliant start to finish despite the troubles within the band and the label. It transcends ‘grunge’ and surfs on rays of psychedelic splendour.
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
I posted about this one a while back if you want to read all my thoughts on it, but in short this is classic rock dragged backwards through glass.
The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen (1993)
My friend Joe had given me this back at the dawn of the millennium. Back then I was hooked on K-Billy’s Supersounds of the 70’s and alternative rock. When we got talking about music and he identified that I was into a whole load of alternative rock, he says “do you like The Afghan Whigs?”. I’m glad he asked me that question. Aside from the slap on the chops when I said “no”, he told me he’d give me a loan of Gentlemen. “It’s fuckin’ awesome”. Yup.
The Afghan Whigs – Black Love (1996)
… and I don’t understand exactly how The Whigs were overlooked. They really are one of the best from the alternative rock boom back in the 90s. Swagger, soul, sparring guitars, imagination, and a whole load more. This is my favourite, though. Just. Dulli took his demons and wrapped them all up in a wonderful slice of noir.
Tom Waits – Mule Variations (1999)
This one is perfect. Sprawling, warm and beautiful. Not only is there not a bad song on here, but it boasts some of my favourite Tom Waits songs.
Johnny Cash – The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
This is an audacious album to release as your debut. So many great (and timeless) numbers and I honestly never tire of it. One that we’ve listened to a fair bit over the years. I dare say it’s my wife’s favourite, too.
Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special (1965)
The first Johnny Cash album that I properly listened to and the one I tell folks to listen to when they start that whole “all Johnny Cash stuff sounds the same” shenanigans. It’s a special record – wonderful cover, Dylan songs, murder, prison, a train, and You Wild Colorado.
ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1973)
Is it possible to discover an album within the last five years and call it one of your all-time favourites? I reckon so. I can’t believe that I overlooked ZZ Top for so long. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. Craig Hughes was baffled when I explained that I had never heard any ZZ Top albums. He assured me they were only one of his favourites and responsible for a bunch of absolutely essential albums. Highlighted this as a life changer. He wasn’t wrong. I’ll never tire of this. Ever.
Stone Temple Pilots – Purple (1994)
I remember hearing this back in the day and falling in love with it from the off. Big riffs, darkness and all sorts of energy. There was loads of noise about the band being Pearl Jam copyists – ‘grunge-lite’. But they were completely different bands. Plus, for my money that other lot never made an album this good.
Mark Lanegan – Scraps at Midnight (1998)
Lanegan has so many great solo albums, but this one will always be my favourite and it’s one I just keep going back to. I bought this on release day and took it back to my friend Alan’s place. We sat and listened to this sucker and then got Blast Corps on the old Nintendo 64. Then we listened to Izzy Stradlin’s 117° (which I picked up the same day after ordering) and Scraps at Midnight again. Good times.
The Doors – Strange Days (1967)
Magnificent stuff this – and I covered it fairly recently.
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Yup. This is awesome. The first great alternative rock album of the millennium and one I honestly don’t think has been bettered (though I do reckon their… Like Clockwork comes really pretty close!). I still listen to this an awfy lot. Just absolutely incredible.
Spirit – The Family That Plays Together (1968)
Twelve Dreams … is the one folks pick out as being the bonkers psychedelic masterpiece, but The Family That Plays Together is looser, and, for me, the perfect marriage of Strange Days-era Doors psychedelia and 60s pop. Utterly infectious, too. You can pretty much draw a line to everything that’s good about alternative rock, ‘stoner rock’ or ‘desert rock’ from this album. Or at least this band (and The Doors and ZZ Top, of course).
American Music Club – Mercury (1993)
Another that Joe introduced me to. Late 1999, I believe. Took a copy on mini-disc and listened to it practically every day until buying my own copy after a couple of weeks. Love this album. Joe introduced me to a lot of great stuff and this is one of the very best.
So, there you have it, 15 of my absolute favourites. I noticed while putting this list together that there’s a whole bunch from the 90s. Well, I guess you can tell when I had my major ‘musical awakening’, eh? The stuff I discovered then has inspired me and stuck around with me, too. Through a whole host of different things.
As the question was thrown out there for all to participate, there are a bunch of other writers out there posting their 15 top albums (or books about music in 1537’s case).
Here’s a bunch of others for you to check out (I’ll add links to others as they appear).
Keeps Me Alive
– Uncle Meat
Iron Tom Sharpe
Living a Beautiful Life
1001 Albums in 10 Years
Caught Me Gaming
Pop Culture Forays
Tangled Up In Music
A Hole In The Head
The Audible Stew
Nick Green Reviews
Another Bad Conversation
500 Reasons Why The 80s Didn’t Suck
*note the exclusion of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Easily in my top 5, but I have no idea where my CD copy is, so I couldn’t possibly include it.