The full album experience is one of the greatest gifts that an artist can possibly give to someone. The chance to sit down and listen to a complete work of art the way the artist intended is something that is few and far between in the streaming era, but that’s value will never go away. In honor of National Album Day being on October 13, I wanted to share with you all my 15 favorite records of all time.
15. The 59 Sound– The Gaslight Anthem
Maybe it’s a New Jersey thing, but songs about listening to classic rock in your car while driving around from diner to diner just hit home. The 59 Sound is the perfect culmination of my love of punk rock and classic rock. Brian Fallon’s lyrics teeter on the edge of being cliche but they never are, and they paint vivid landscapes for the listeners. When “Great Expectations” opens the album it kicks off with a guitar sounding like a broken record, then it goes straight into an unabashed celebration of influences, it’s genius. Plus, it has one of my top 3 opening lines in album history with; “Mary this station is playing every sad song/I remember like we were alive”.
14. Songbook-Chris Cornell,
I feel like this is cheating since it’s a live album, but I couldn’t resist including it. Chris Cornell’s voice is one of the greatest instruments in music history. It goes with literally anything. As much as I love to hear Cornell belt out some of the heavier Soundgarden songs like “Jesus Christ Pose”, his voice is best suited for the stripped back unplugged treatment. The vulnerability and power that Cornell’s voice carries accompanied by just an acoustic guitar is undeniable. Songbook’s versions Temple of the Dog’s “Call Me A Dog”, Audioslave’s “Like a Stone”, and Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days” are the most graceful and emotional they’ve ever sounded.
13. White Blood Cells- The White Stripes
The White Stripes have always perfectly blended my love of garage rock and blues rock. Elephant is the album that gets all of the hype and adoration, but White Blood Cells is where it’s at for me. I love how this album opens with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, it sets the stage for what this album is; it’s loud, it’s dirty, and most importantly it’s rock and roll. It even has the huge singles like “Fell in Love With A Girl” and “We Are Going To Be Friends” too. But those are almost an afterthought on an album full of boot stomping, distortion drenched rock.
12. Graceland-Paul Simon
Sometimes albums are tied to specific moments in time, specific places, or specific feelings. For me whenever I think of Paul Simon, I can’t not think of my Dad’s old pick up truck. I don’t remember much about it to be honest, but the one thing I do remember is that his pick up truck was where the foundation of my musical taste was born. My Dad always had something in the tape deck, generally it was some sort of rotation of Billy Joel, Elton john, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd, CCR, CSNY, and of course Simon and Garfunkel. One of the albums in threre that left the biggest impression on me was Simon’s 1986 solo album, Graceland. It was poppier than most of the other music we listened to, but it also felt much more intellectual. The worldly influences that Simon drew on gave Graceland such a unique sound that I fell in love with it. Today 32 years after it’s initial release, it’s more influential than ever and it’s aged far better than it should have.
11. American Idiot- Green Day
Growing up, I pretty much only listened to classic rock or Frank Sinatra, save for a brief 5th grade flirtation with Top 40 music (thank God that’s over), I was pretty sheltered. When American Idiot came out in 2004 I had no idea who Green Day was or any of the political over/undertones that American Idiot had associated with it. My friend burned me a CD of the album though and I was hooked. I instantly loved how pissed off it was, how unafraid the album was to take shots at authority, even if I wasn’t sure who, why, or what that authority was. As I’ve grown older and more politically engaged my adoration for this record (and punk rock in general) has only grown. “Jesus Of Suburbia” is 9 minutes of genius inside of a superbly constructed rock opera. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” were unavoidable at the time, but my favorite cut off the album is “Holiday” which hit me with all of the angst and anger that I didn’t know I had.
10. Go Farther in Lightness- Gang of Youths
Go Farther in Lightness is the youngest record on this list having just been released in 2017. No matter how recent it is, it’s still a record that I turn to when I am desperate need of healing. The opener “Fear and Trembling” is the perfect embodiment of what the album is; starting with a beautiful and slow piano, before midway through exploding into full on guitar driven rock and roll. I try to avoid comparisons as much as possible, but to give you a taste of what “Fear and Trembling” sound like to me, it’s almost like The National, Bruce Springsteen, and Foo Fighters had a love child. The sonic soundscape that Gang of Youths paint for the listener is vast and wide, but the lyrics are where this album truly shines. Sure it’s a little long, clocking in at one hour and 17 minutes, but the excess if part of what makes it such a terrific album.
9.The Freewheeelin’ Bob Dylan- Bob Dylan
Another one of the records from my Dad’s pickup truck. Maybe Blood on The Tracks is the more complete Bob Dylan record, but nothing beats the simplicity and realness of Dylan’s sophomore effort. “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “The Girl From North Country”, “Masters of War”, and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” have all carved out their rightful place in the great American songbook. Dylan’s lyrics are full of life lessons, philosophy, and heart.
8. Exile on Main Street-The Rolling Stones
Recorded in France while the Stones fled the UK for tax reasons, nothing about Exile on Maine Street should work. This album is bloated, long, didn’t spawn a ton of hit singles, and was recorded during one of the shakiest and most drug addled periods of the Rolling Stones career (that last part is really saying something). This album should be unfocused and a disaster, but it isn’t, instead it’s positively the Rolling Stones finest hour (or hour and seven minutes to be exact). The sequencing is fantastic all the way through and for as long as it is, it never becomes a chore to listen to.
7. No Code- Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam are so much more than their singles off of Ten. They can be anthemic and communal with huge choruses that are perfect to sing along with a stadium full of people, but they can also be challenging and diverse. No Code sees them largely at the latter. There aren’t many singles on here, gone is the radio friendly grunge rock that made them superstars. Instead it’s replaced by eastern influenced slow burners (“Who You Are”), emotional acoustic numbers (“Off He Goes”), songs featuring harmonica that were heavily influenced by the Godfather of Grunge Neil Young (“Smile”), and aggressive in your face punk rock (“Lukin”). In fact, “Hail, Hail” and “Habit” are two of the only songs on the record that even sound like “Pearl Jam” songs at all. Vitalogy was the start of Pearl Jam challenging their audience in hopes to alienate and shrink some of their fan base, but No Code was the full fledged realization of that goal. Nothing about No Code is an easy listen, but is extraordinarily rewarding, and time after time it reveals itself to be Pearl Jam’s greatest work.
6. Nebraska- Bruce Springsteen
It’s pretty funny to me that the least Springsteeny album is by far my favorite Springsteen album. It’s not a knock on the Boss, I am a huge fan of Bruce, I’ve seen him live and I own and adore a good portion of his records. But living in New Jersey there is a certain amount of over-saturation that is inherent to Springsteen. His songs are literally everywhere. “Born to Run” and “Rosalita” are basically written into the DNA of every person who has ever called the Garden State home. So it was a welcome surprise when I discovered Nebraska, the album that made me fall in love with Springsteen all over again. Nebraska is raw, emotional, almost demo like, recorded in his bedroom direct to tape with an acoustic guitar. It’s also the pinnacle of Springsteen as a storyteller, which is no small achievement for one of Rock’s greatest songwriters. Songs like “Nebraska”, “Atlantic City”, and “My Father’s House” all paint a bleak, but vivid picture for the listener. True fans know that Springsteen has always been dark (don’t let the melody fool you, “Hungry Heart” isn’t exactly a happy love song), but Nebraska is a stark and lonely departure from his most anthemic songs, and it shows a side of The Boss I am not sure we’ve seen before or since.
5. Who’s Next- The Who
I am not sure why, but to me The Who always felt dangerous. There was always an edge to them that set them apart from other classic rock bands that I loved like Zeppelin, The Stones, or the Beatles. Who’s Next was supposed to be Pete Townshend’s next concept album, it never developed that way though and instead what we are left with is a tour de force of 70s rock and roll music. Who’s Next was a cornerstone of my musical identity before I even knew it was, I first heard the singles like “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Baba O’Riley” and “Wont Get Fooled Again” on the local classic rock station, but once I got a whole of the entire album it was all over, I was completely sucked in and lost to rock and roll.
4. Abbey Road-The Beatles
When I was in 8th grade my Grandmother gave me one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received, a brand new Crosley record player. It was a three speed wood player with built in speakers, a cassette deck, a CD player, and of course a radio. She knew how much I loved music and how annoyed my parents were that I was always on the computer trying to download songs from Limewire, and she couldn’t resist the chance to give me my very own Crosley. It isn’t a stretch to say that it completely changed my life. With it, she let me pick out a few of her records so that I could bring them home and have something to play. She had all of the classics; Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Coltrane, hell she even had some old Steve Martin comedy records, but of course my eye was drawn to The Beatles. She had Help, Rubber Soul, The White Album, and then of course Abbey Road. I was old enough to have already heard and fallen in love with The Beatles through the local classic rock station by that point and they were already my first favorite band. I took all of them home and as soon as I got it set up the very first album I played in it’s entirety was Abbey Road. It’s my personal favorite Beatles album and the songs on it have sound tracked so many of the most incredible and memorable moments of my life. But I am not sure any of those were more impactful than that very first moment of carefully taking the record out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, and dropping the needle only to hear that crackle that only vinyl can give you into the opening notes of “Come Together”.
3. Boxer- The National
The catharsis and healing that a great record can give you is unparalleled throughout the world. I learned that first hand with Boxer. This is the album of my 20’s. I discovered it when I absolutely needed to find it the most and I’ve been unable to set it down since then. Sometimes albums just completely grab a hold you and find you, there’s no way to explain it. The music on Boxer reveals itself more and more every-time you listen as the Dessner brothers are absolute geniuses when it comes to arranging songs, but it’s the lyrics that really elevate the album to me. They’re sad, emotional, and extremely sarcastic. The National have developed a reputation as a band that demands repeat listens to really appreciate them, I think that’s fair because every-time I listen to Boxer I take something new away from it. Like all of the National’s output since 2005’s Alligator, Boxer is a stroke of genius. It just happens to be their best, and arguably most personal too.
2. Wasting Light- Foo Fighters
In high school people always look to find ways to define themselves. For me it was rock and roll. When Wasting Light came out in 2011 the popular sentiment that was around the genre was that the it wasn’t just dying, it’s was already dead and buried. Everything about Wasting Light killed that narrative though. From Dave Grohl’s screams that open “Bridges Burning” down to the climax of the anthemic “Walk”, Wasting Light was the perfect counter to that whole false “rock is dead” conversation. It was a wholly complete and laser focused 48 minutes of rock and roll fun with every song being perfect. Even the lesser known cuts like “Back and Forth” and “Matter of Time” felt like they needed to be sang in a stadium every single night. To me this was the perfect album for me at the perfect point in my life and it hasn’t left my daily rotation in the seven years since it’s release.
1. Nevermind- Nirvana
As we’ve already established, back during my freshman year of high school my musical horizons were pretty limited to classic rock, Frank Sinatra, and Green Day’s American Idiot. Then one night I left my IPod at a friend’s house after their party. When I pulled up to school on Monday he handed it back to me and told me that he threw some albums on there that I needed to check out. The albums were; Blood Sugar Sex Magik- Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Color and the Shape– Foo Fighters, 21st Century Breakdown- Green Day, and Nevermind-Nirvana. At that point I had no clue who the fuck any of those bands were. After talking with him I decided to dive in to Nirvana first. I didn’t have the cultural context surrounding the band, the singles, or the album to have any sort of pre-conceived notions of what Nirvana or grunge was when I heard it, in fact I went in pretty cold and I am so glad I did. I entered Nevermind with no expectations and I came out on the other end 49 minutes later a changed man. This album hit me like a bass to the head right away and never let up. People always talk about finding an album where you don’t skip a single song and for me Nevermind is that album. From the insane punk energy of a songs like “Territorial Pissings” and “Stay Away”, the hugeness of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium”, and the power of songs like “Drain You” and “In Bloom”, to me this album is perfect. As cliche as it sounds, Nevermind wasn’t like any other record I had ever heard before or since.
Honorable Mentions: Walk Among Us-The Misfits, Badmotorfinger-Soundgarden, The Suburbs-Arcade Fire, Led Zeppelin II-Led Zeppelin,, Damn The Torpedos-Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Nevermind The Blocks, it’s The Sex Pistols-Sex Pistols, Rust Never Sleeps-Neil Young, Is This It-The Strokes, Sound of Silver-LCD Soundsystem, To Pimp a Butterfly- Kendrick Lamar, What’s The Story Morning Glory-Oasis, Brothers-The Black Keys, Tell Me I’m Pretty-Cage The Elephant
What are your favorite albums and why? Do any represent a specific memory or evoke a specific feeling from you? Let me know in the comments!