Jaybird gave me the idea for this post, yesterday. (Edit from Jaybird: I’ve modified the post time for this in order to make it Monday’s Essay because it’s *JUST* *THAT* *GOOD*. So this isn’t referring to “yesterday” yesterday.)

Lots of artists can make a good song.  Some artists can make lots and lots of good songs.  Very few artists wind up making truly stellar albums.

These are the albums that maybe you bought on LP, and again on cassette, and then again on CD.  These are the albums where… if you’re flipping through the radio and you catch even the beginning of one song, you skip past it *even if it’s a great song*, because you know that it’s not the same as listening to the whole thing.  These are the albums that remind you of when you plopped them in and listened to them over and over… and then did it again the following year, and the following year, and maybe yesterday.

These are the albums where you don’t skip a single track.  These are the albums where you are affronted mightily when someone else *does* skip that single track (big fans of Synchronicity, you know what I’m talking about here.  People who skip “Mother”, they’re wrong!  I can’t listen to “Every Breath You Take” any more, or it’d be on my list).

These are the albums where if you grew up listening to them, you can’t bring yourself to buy the “Best Of” for the band, because you know some of those songs are going to be missing.  Or, even better, you bought the Best Of Album and then went out and bought this album, too, even though 4/5ths of the songs were on the Best Of Album.

To keep this list short enough to be consumed, I stuck to three rules religiously.

One: I had to own it (sorry to those artists who I’ve inherited a love for, but not yet bothered to buy their whole album outright, or who I own most/all of their stuff but not in its original format – Led Zepplin and the Stones are two examples).

Two: it couldn’t be a compilation or “best of” album (which is obviously cheating).  With one exception, I left all live recordings out of consideration because too often they also wind up violating the compilation rule.  Band of Gypsys is required, and doesn’t violate the compilation rule.  With one exception, I left off all EPs as being too short (In Search of Manny is long enough that I let it squeak in).

Three: no guilty pleasures.  I had to honestly think the musician work was excellent either for its genre or on its own merits or both.

Here’s my first pass list.  Now I really do have to get the Amazon Affiliate thing going; I’ll repair this post later.  Your candidates in the comments!

  • The Art of Noise – In Visible Silence
  • Abbey Road – The Beatles
  • Ben Harper – Burn to Shine
  • Travelers & Thieves – Blues Traveler
  • 13 – Blur
  • Brother Sister – The Brand New Heavies
  • Disintegration – The Cure
  • The Head on the Door – The Cure
  • Beautiful Freak – Eels
  • Watermark – Enya
  • The Real Thing – Faith No More
  • You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby – Fatboy Slim
  • Reach The Beach – The Fixx
  • Jazzmatazz, Vol I – Guru
  • Human’s Lib – Howard Jones
  • The Swing – INXS
  • Ritual De Lo Habitual – Jane’s Addiction
  • Band of Gypsys – Jimi Hendrix
  • Surfing With The Alien – Joe Satriani
  • Whitechocolatespaceegg – Liz Phair
  • Kiko – Los Lobos
  • In Search of Manny – Luscious Jackson
  • Business as Usual – Men At Work
  • Ride the Lightening – Metallica
  • Red Sails in the Sunset – Midnight Oil
  • Hard Again – Muddy Waters
  • Good For Your Soul – Oingo Boingo
  • Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd
  • Reggatta de Blanc – The Police
  • Purple Rain – Prince
  • Life’s Rich Pagent – R.E.M.
  • Moving Pictures – Rush
  • Scorpions – Love At First Sting
  • Sublime – Sublime
  • The Hurting – Tears for Fears
  • The Invisible Band – Travis
  • Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest
  • The Unforgettable Fire – U2
  • Van Halen – Van Halen
  • Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
  • One Second – Yello
  • Tres Hombres – ZZ Top


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. Dude, I’ve drunk too much to tackle this right now. We may have to bump this and make it a Monday post to give it the attention it deserves…

    • You’ve got all weekend, no rush!

      If you want to “depublish” it for trafficking purposes, go ‘head. Although Friday Wrong seems to have become a thing, and it fits.

      No serious objections either way, on my part.

      • This is a GREAT list, Pat!! Very, very good. Being an old fogie(47) I don’t know quite a few of these songs–anything offhand you can think of that is a must listen to? I’m a Stones, Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Cohen, Who, Pink Floyd, kindaguy–okay, sorry guys, I think this is the greatest rock song of all time: Procol Harum, A Salty Dog. It’s magnificent, harmonically sound and tight and heartbreakingly beautiful. The last 1.5 minute or so is the greatest song ending of all time. God I love this song!!! Hope you do as well.

        This is a GREAT list, Pat!! Very, very good. Being an old fogie(47) I don’t know quite a few of these songs–anything offhand you can think of that is a must listen to? I’m a Stones, Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Cohen, Who, Pink Floyd, kindaguy–okay, sorry guys, I think this is the greatest rock song of all time: Procol Harum, A Salty Dog. It’s magnificent, harmonically sound and tight and heartbreakingly beautiful. The last 1.5 minute or so is the greatest song ending of all time. God I love this song!!!

  2. I’ll second Violent Femmes-complete classic album
    REM- Murmur and Reckoning
    X- Live at the Whiskey A Go Go-yeah i know its a live disc, sue me. live albums can catch something special about a band
    Dream Syndicate- Days of Wine and Roses
    Echo and the Bunnymen- Crocodiles

    If you can handle Prog Rock these two are as good as it gets.

    Yes-Close to the Edge
    King Crimson- In the court of the crimson king

    • I once got in a drunken fight over Yes and Rush.*

      * nobody was hurt in the course of this drunken fight, so not much of a fight, really.

      • Egads!! Any good Yes fan should be to stoned to want to fight. And Rush….please. The English are much much better at pretentious arty orchestral rock.

      • Well Pat, glad the fisticuffs didn’t make any solid landings–very few things make a wired up broken jaw for 6 weeks worth it.
        Especially an inebriated, “did you see the way he looked at me?”

  3. What!? Were you taking the Rush side?!. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Well not much.

      • I’m just floating in the heart of the sunrise down by the river close to the edge

      • What??????? I thought you and Kelly and I were going to attend the Limbaugh Institute For Conservative Studies. Bummer. Maybe I can talk the Doctor into it–but let’s be honest here–the Doctor leaving his ideological safety zone is about as possible of him going to bowl at a nude bowling alley.

      • Scanners? It worked! My head just exploded like a watermelon stuffed with cherry bombs. Good work, sir! Now, to find some Merry Maids to come clean up the mess.; Yuck.

        Could we get more girls here if we promise to do one of those Chippendales dances for them, way of Skype? No charge for them, either–hell, I’ll even pay them! Maybe we can get Chris and Bob jump out of cakes for special birthday celebrations. Chris, you can even wear that Darth Vader costume you have in that picture—are you still three feet tall?

        Nerds Gone Wild! IQ Busters! Mensa Mania! Pedantic Love Machines! Gluons Love Punishment!

  4. Aja — Steely Dan

    I want to say Who’s Next, but skipping The Song is Over is really OK.

    If we lower the bar a bit, the first side of Dire Strait’s Making Movies is three of the best songs Mark Knopfler ever wrote.

    • Yes, Yes, Yes, LOVE Dire Straits! I hope I don’t ever come across sounding like an insufferable musical snob–I’m not, but know it can sound like it. Please feel free to deliver a good slap upside the head–my musical arc and rainbow starts just before Renaissance, and ends at about Mahler or Stravinsky. Of course, like everything else, there are exceptions to this. I believe there are some teachers and educators amongst this crowd–as far as I am concerned, music is up there with math and the sciences and is in every way as relevant as a subject to be taught and mastered and most of all, loved. as any other. I’d put a foreign language in there as well. What say any educators out there?

      And this is just pure, mind-blowingly, gorgeous!!

    • +1 for Aja. And I think that Dire Strait’s “Brothers in Arms” makes it onto my list.

      1. Two by Frank: “Come Fly With Me” and “In the Wee Small Hours”
      2. Ella Fitzgerald: “The Harold Arlen Songbook”
      3. Miles Davis: “Kind of Blue”
      4. Tom Waits: “Nighhthawks at the Diner” (yes, it’s live, but I don’t think that it violates the compilation rule. Umpire?)
      5. Henryk Szeryng playing the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied violin

        • And Henryk.

          I’m partial to the Jean-Pierre Rampal and Robert Veyron-LaCroix version of the Bach Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord.

        • All my Ella, Louie, etc., is compilation stuff. DQ’d.

  5. Led Zeppelin – I,II,IV
    Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen
    Ben Folds – Rockin the Suburbs
    Sting – Dream of the Blue Turtles
    Allman Bros. – Eat a Peach
    Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
    Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
    Steve Morse Band – The Introduction
    Supertramp – Breakfast in America
    U2 – Under a Blood Red Sky
    Van Halen – Fair Warning, 1984
    Van Morrison – Moondance
    Donald Fagen – The Nightfly
    Bob Marley – Natty Dread
    Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow, Wired
    JellyFish – Bellybutton, Spilt Milk
    Jackson Browne – Saturate Before Using
    Horace Silver – Cape Verden Blues
    Dixie Dregs – Free Fall
    Dave Brubeck – Take Five
    Carlos Santana – Moonflower
    Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
    Ben Folds -Songs for Silverman
    The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper
    AC/DC – Back in Black

    What this exercise has taught me is how much of my music is on my ipod and thus remains in no particualr order and because I’m always on shuffle, it never plays in album form. Also, how much of my music has been purchased piecemeal over the last 6 years and also how much of my music came in “greatest hits” form. Also, how much of my music is now in boxes where I can’t find the names of the albums, e.g Crosby Stills & Nash first album which may have actually been called “Crosby Stills and Nash.”

  6. I’ll just throw out a short list here (everyone else’s lists have definitely given me some research to do):

    Masters of Reality – self-titled
    The Who – Tommy
    The Beatles – Sgt.Pepper
    Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
    The Breeders – Last Splash
    Weezer – Blue Album
    Blues Traveler – Traveler’s & Thieves
    Zac Brown – You Get What You Give
    Adele – 21
    Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger
    Dave Brubeck – Take Five
    JD Crowe and The New South – self-titled
    Nora Jones – Fly Away with Me
    Harry Connick Jr – Oh, My Nola

    * Pat – super cool that you included Travelers & Thieves. That album never got it’s due.

  7. Chris Isaak “Forever Blue” (Pop/Rock)
    Bob Schneider “Songs Sung and Played on the Guitar At The Same Time” (Acoustic)
    Frank Black “Black Letter Days” (Alternative)
    Tom Petty “Wildflowers” (Heartland Rock)
    Jackpot “Weightless” (Stoner College Drop-Out Alternative Rock)
    Richmond Fontiane (Alternative Country)
    Phil Pritchett “Suburban Legends” (Rock)
    Mike McClure “Foam” (Automobile Rock)

  8. OK, OK, I admit it. I got way, way too in to this exercise.

    I tend to like albums more than singles, so I went back as far as I could to try to think of the album that got played over and over and over each year since I started buying records of current artists. I made a list of the new release album I remember listening to most each year. (Previous to this start of this list, I was building collections of Who, Beatle and Kinks records, and never bought any new release albums.) Because of this choice of criteria, a lot of albums I might have included (Revolver, Exile On Street, Village Green Preservation Society, etc.) were sadly but necessarily left out. Also, I decided to limit myself to pop & rock albums, so jazz and classical (which tend to be crafted to be entire albums rather than a collection of songs, and which therefore have an unfair advantage) were also disqualified.

    I found making this list interesting. First of all, bands that I listened to a lot don’t get the attention they deserve – and a lot of them don’t even make the list. Also, having to “win” each year skews the results away from my overall tastes. For example, REM gets on the list with Out of Time because of the amount I played it that year, despite the fact that it’s not one of my top 5 favorite REM albums. Lastly, in 1990 there is no choice because I had stopped buying rock/pop albums altogether – in fact in the next few years you will see that I am just buying albums from the few artists I already liked, not finding new favorites; the selection had become stale and overproduced. I still credit Napster’s influence in changing this trend.

    It’s also nice to see that for me, these have stood the test of time. I might not have listened to Making Movies much in the 90s because of the degree to which I overplayed it in the 80s, but I would listen to it now. In fact, put any five of these into my car CD changer for a road trip and I will be really happy.

    1980 – The River / Bruuuuce!
    1981- Making Movies / Dire Straights
    1982 – Imperial Bedroom / Elvis Costello
    1983 – Punch the Clock / Elvis Costello
    1984 – Learning to Crawl / The Pretenders
    1985 – Little Creatures / Talking Heads
    1986 – Strong Persuader / Robert Cray
    1987 – Joshua Tree / U2
    1988 – I’m Your Man / Leonard Cohen
    1989 – Lyle Lovett & His Large Band
    1990 – N/A
    1991 – Out of Time / REM
    1992 – Us / Peter Gabriel
    1993 – Joshua Judges Ruth / Lyle Lovett
    1994 – Long Black Veil / The Chieftans
    1995 – All This Useless Beauty / Elvis Costello
    1996 – Odelay / Beck
    1997 – Sypathetique / Pink Martini
    1998 – The Miseducation of Lauren Hill / Lauren Hill
    1999 – Mule Variations / Tom Waits
    2000 – The Moon & Antarctica / Modest Mouse
    2001 – Oh Inverted World / The Shins
    2002 – Phrenology / The Roots
    2003 – Welcome Interstate Managers / Fountains of Wayne
    2004 – Funeral / Arcade Fire
    2005 – Plans / Death Cab for Cutie
    2006 – Ganging Up on the Sun – Guster
    2007 – Wincing the Night Away / The Shins
    2008 – Back to Black / Amy Winehouse
    2009 – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix / Phoenix
    2010 – TIE: The Suburbs / Arcade Fire ; Brothers / Black Keys
    2010 – Codes & Keys / Death Cab for Cutie

    • Village Green Preservation Society

      Yeah, it’s between that and Something Else for my favorite of theirs.

      • It’s funny. There are more songs I like as stand alone songs on Something Else, yet somehow I like VGPS as an album better. Go figure.

        • Try listening to the two different versions of Rubber Soul: the original (UK), which is what’s on CD, and the US, which, unless you have the LP, you’ll have to assemble from the Help and Rubber Soul CDs. They’re largely the same collection of songs (10 in common out of 14 and 12 respectively), but have a very different feel.

          • I listened enough to the US LP most of my life to know it by heart. But I did get the new remastered Rubber Soul a year or so back. I agree about the different feel.

          • I grew up on the US versions, but I’m enough of a geek that when I made cassettes for the car, I copied the British albums. With mostly superior results: the 11-song Revolver is a travesty, but I have to admit that Meet the Beatles, with Till There Was You as the only cover, is great.

  9. The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails
    Millions Now Living Will Never Die – Tortoise
    Heaven or Las Vegas – The Cocteau Twins
    Indigo Girls Debut (Particularly don’t wanna hear other versions of those songs)
    I second Watermark by Enya
    The Wall – Pink Floyd
    Fear – Toad the Wet Sprocket
    OK Computer – Radiohead (I can be forced to skip the robot-voice song, but it never seems right)
    Ray of Light – Madonna (the last song wraps it all up perfectly, and that never gets played as a single)

  10. I’m with you on “Every Breath You Take” finally killing the greatness of synchronicity and your comment on “Mother” I think is one of my favorite examples of album artistry. “Miss Gradenko” is my favorite song on Synchronicity. But without “Mother” in front of it, it does strangely little for me.

    If I thought harder I could come up with a longer list of great albums, but the following three definitely infected me when I first heard them. I couldn’t get them out of my mind when they weren’t playing and when they were playing I wanted to experience the whole album all at the same instant.

    Pixies- Dolittle
    They Might Be Giants – Apollo 18 (all the fingertips songs!)
    Arcade Fire – Funeral (already mentioned but I second it)

    • The Pixies were one that after finishing my album by year, I was shocked to see didn’t appear even once.

      • I had Trompe le Monde stuck in my car’s tape player. It was either listen to that or nothing (a tape in meant the radio was not active). After about 8 months I finally chose nothing. And yet I can listen to the album today and I still love it. But it is no Dolittle.

        • That is so weird. When I was young I had a Pixies tape (Surfer Rosa) stuck in my car’s cassette player, and the radio did not work. So I also listened to it for a long time, and then stopped as well.

          And then my car started making funny, dangerous sounds that worried me. I didn’t have the $ to get it repaired, so I started listening to the Surfer Rosa again, but really, really loud, s that I couldn’t hear the car.

          Then everything was good.

          • The Pixies didn’t make my list though Surfer Rosa would probably be my pick. On a slightly self-congratulatory note, I have tickets to see them at the Louisville Palace next week. Super-pumped.

  11. Is it weird or a record industry conspiracy to get young men hooked on the Pixies by making tapes that were slightly too big for the players’ eject mechanism? Probably the former. But it is quite funny.

    • Ah, I just thought my friend borrowed my Surfer Rosa album for an extended amount of time for the cover.

      I love how the album choices listed thus far definitely describe the ages of the readers here. This task of looking for albums for this collector seems a bit daunting although I admit glancing through many of what has been listed to be quite good!

      My curiosity is how many of our younger predominantly single purchasing readers actually have full album lists. Are people still regularly buying full albums?

      • Good point Johanna. If my seventeen year-old daughter is an accurate sample the answer is yes. She will buy albums for the bands she really, really likes but she also has hundreds (thousands?) of downloaded single tracks from iTunes.

  12. I second OK Computer.

    My Pixies album would be Sufer Rosa, and to Pink Floyd’s contributions I’d add Meddle, Animals, and Wish You Were Here. Also,

    Illmatic – Nas
    Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – The Flaming Lips
    Remain in the Light – Talking Heads
    The Score – Fugees
    Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest
    Ruby Vroom – Soul Coughing
    Emergency & I – The Dismemberment Plan (though I have a soft spot for The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified! too, there are songs I will skip on it)
    Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
    Blue Train – John Coltrane
    Your Funeral… My Trial – Nick Cave and the Badseeds
    The Band – The Band
    The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill
    Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
    Electric Ladyland – Jimi Hendrix
    Slanted and Enchanted – Pavement
    Nothing’s Shocking – Jane’s Addiction
    and anything Biggie did.

    I suppose I haven’t gone out on any limbs here.

  13. Beatles albums I could argue fall into this category:

    With the Beatles
    A Hard Days’ Night
    Rubber Soul
    Sgt. Pepper
    Abbey Road

    And if you edited the White Album down to one disk, that too. (You could probably start a 100-comment thread in what would be in that version.)

          • No, I’m going to talk about why only Abbey Road got play on my list.

          • I certainly think that Abbey Road is the best play though of all the Beatles. The second side especially lends itself to a good, long listen. (Of course, you have to be willing to live with the cold-water-in-the-face moment when your growing, bluesy, groovin’ to I Want You comes to that inexplicable jarring end.)

  14. The ones coming to mind for me are all technoish:

    My Bloody Valentine: Loveless
    God Is An Astronaut: The End of the Beginning
    The Chemical Brothers: Dig Your Own Hole
    God Lives Underwater: God Lives Underwater

    If I dig into my rock albums I find a handful of Elton John (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboys and Madman Across the Water) in the one section and Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream and Temple of the Dog: Temple of the Dog in the other.

    I miss the 90’s.

    And some of the 70’s.

    • I thought about Siamese Dream, but ever since I saw the Smashing Pumpkins put on two of the worst live shows I’ve ever seen (in ’94 and ’95), I haven’t been able to hear them the same. I still like Gish and Siamese Dream, and they’ve retained some of their glory for me as the memory of those god awful shows has faded, but still.

      Also, “Hunger Strike” just popped up on Pandora.

      • “Hunger Strike” ain’t bad but “Call Me A Dog” and “All Night Thing” are the tracks I’m always delighted to have remembered after having forgotten them.

        • I haven’t listened to that entire album in probably… 12 years. I just thought it was an odd cooincidence that “Huner Strike” popped up as I was reading a blog comment about a band I rarely think of anymore. Now I want to listen to the album, though. I think I had it on cassette, though, so if it’s hidden in storage somewhere, I’m going to have to find a tape player to play it.

  15. I’m chasing a two-year-old around the house today, so I haven’t had the opportunity to devote much attention to this.

    That said, the album that sprung to mind immediately was “The Globe Sessions” by Sheryl Crow.

  16. I just started pulling through my LP collection, a large chunk of which was nabbed from my uncle when he CD-ified all of his albums.

    There are a lot more additions. I’ll have to write a whole ‘nuther post some day.

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