A friend and I recently decided to compile our lists of Top 10 Records of All Time which is, sadly, not even the geekiest thing that I've ever done. Anyway, since I spent the last month listening to tons of music to come up with this list, I thought I'd write about it here.
Before I delve into the list itself, I have to say that this was more difficult than I expected it to be. Like most people, my taste in music covers a very wide range of eras, styles and artists and I found it very difficult to crystallize which records are, in my opinion, the best or most important.
I should also mention that the phrase "Top 10 Records of All Time" is inherently ridiculous. Let's not kid ourselves here, if I made this list once a year for the rest of my life, it would probably be a very different list from year to year. Music sometimes has a tendency to come and go in my life.
After careful consideration and much deliberation, I went with the music that had the most impact on me as a listener, as a musician and just as a person. Once I came up with this parameter, I was able to narrow the list down to my definitive top ten, at least for today.
As you would expect, a lot of this music came on my radar in late high school and early adulthood. I've always thought that this is the period when people are most likely to form their musical identity. Everything we hear after that is shaped by those seminal listening experiences. Having said that, there are a few albums that are more recent and there were a lot of near misses that were released in the past ten years or so.
Okay, without further adieu, here, in order, is my Top 10 Albums of All Time:
1) The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
This one was actually an easy choice. It's one of those records that has always spoken to me. I remember hearing it for the first time, the day my brother brought it home from the store, and thinking that I didn't really need to hear anything else. I could just play this glorious album over and over for the rest of my life. It's combination of blues, country and British rock influences has probably shaped me as a songwriter more than anything else I've ever heard.
2) Muddy Waters - Hard Again (1977)
I was around twelve years old the first time I heard this record and it completely fucked me up. I was at once terrified, confused and inspired. Up to that point, I really had no idea what "The Blues" was. A few months earlier, I had convinced my mother to buy me a harmonica and an instruction book by Tony "Little Sun" Glover called "Blues Harp: An Instruction Method for Playing Blues Harmonica." I'd spent the time in between pouring over the book and trying desperately to figure out what it all meant and who all of these people - Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters - were. Wandering through my local library, I happened to notice a section of the record racks labeled "Blues" and "Hard Again," which was new at the time, was the very first record on the stack. I checked the album out of the library, took it home and proceeded to blow my mind for the next two weeks. People often talk about music or literature or films that changed their lives, this album, more than any other, did that for me. It's the reason I started playing music and in the blues, it gave me the style of music that has always defined me as a performer and songwriter.
3) Bob Dylan - Desire (1976)
For years, my favorite Dylan record was always "Blood On The Tracks" but, at some point this album took over my consciousness. It includes some of Bob's strongest songwriting which, given his incredible track record, is really saying something. "One More Cup of Coffee," "Joey," "Isis" - every song here is a masterpiece. Interestingly, the Bob Dylan album that came the closest to knocking this one off this list was "Modern Times," which is also his most recent work.
4) The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street (1972)
I almost didn't include this album on the list because I think it occupies a space that is, sonically speaking, very similar to Muswell Hillbillies. But how could any self respecting fan of rock music not include this album? Mick and Keith and company were firing on all cylinders and the music has a depth of feeling that has rarely been approached by anyone else. I should note that this album is by far best enjoyed in it's original vinyl format. The Stones did an amazing job of arranging each of the double album's four sides as if they were self contained entities. That vibe gets lost a bit when you don't have to pause to flip the record over.
5) Johnny Cash - The Sun Years (recorded as singles in the 1950s)
I don't know whether to rave about the breathtaking quality of songs like "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk The Line," "Mean Eyed Cat" and "Big River," or about the guitar playing of Luther Perkins who, along with Carl Perkins (no relation) and Scotty Moore, was among the first true guitar heroes in rock and roll. Yes, I said, rock and roll. Johnny may be primarily known as a country artist, but this music is rock and roll plain and simple. More than fifty years after it's release, it still sounds dark and brooding and, most of all, dangerous. When Johnny says he killed a man "just to watch him die" we not only believe him, there's no guarantee that he might not do it again. No artist has worn his demons on his sleeve more than the great Johnny Cash and these recordings are where it all started.
6) Neil Young - On The Beach (1974)
For some reason, this has never been one of Neil's most famous albums and it never seems to get the credit it deserves. It's dark mix of blues, country and stoned rock is at once comforting and extremely unsettling. "Revolution Blues," "For The Turnstiles," "Vampire Blues" - even the song titles are dark and mysterious. Every time I play this album, which is often, I want to cover a different song from it. I keep wanting use cliches like "dark masterpiece" because I really don't have words to describe how much I love this record.
7) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads (1996)
In the mid 1990s, Johnny Cash made an appearance at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas and chose Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds as his impromptu backing band for the occasion. This may be all that needs to be said about Nick and his gang of dangerous men and women. I bought this album in the late 90s, after buying, and loving, it's follow up "The Boatman's Call." At that point, I'd been listening to music for over twenty five years and I really didn't think anything could shatter my preconceptions like this album did. If you don't already own it, stop what you're doing right now and go buy this record. Then buy everything else Nick Cave has ever done.
8) The Who - Who's Next (1971)
As a kid I played this album so much that I actually wore out multiple copies of it. Even after hundreds, possibly even thousands of plays, it still hasn't lost it's appeal. I'm listening to it as I type this and it still moves me in new and different ways each and every time I hear it. As much as I love rock music, much of it is nowhere near as important in the scheme of "great art" as we'd all like to believe. "Who's Next" is one of the exceptions. If you needed an album to give to an alien race as an example of just how good rock music of the late 20th century could be, this would be your best choice.
9)Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Last DJ (2002)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are the great American rock and roll band and this is quite simply their crowning achievement. Taking aim at the decline and fall of rock radio in particular and the music business in general, Petty conjures the finest songs of his career. The record is nothing short of a bitter sweet masterpiece. Songs like "Dreamville" and "Blue Sunday" are as powerful as any that the genre has ever produced.
10) Bob Marley & The Wailers - The Complete Upsetter Singles (recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s)
While I love all of Bob Marley's music, these sides, which pre-date international stardom by a year or two, are the most powerful music in his considerable cannon. Virtually all of these songs found their way onto later Marley albums but these raw recordings, produced by Jamaican mastermind/crazy person Lee "Scratch" Perry, are his greatest moment. Much like the Elvis Presley records of the 50s, they witness the birth of a new music, in this case reggae. Bob was writing songs constantly and hearing his excitement, passion and joy as this music literally unfolds before his ears is as close to a religious experience as music is probably capable of.
6 years ago