Notice that the name of the post is not "Top Albums" or "Best Albums". I think every album speaks to everyone differently and for different reasons. Most of the albums on this list tend to take me back to another time in my life or were significant to me for some other reason. That certainly doesn't make them "top" or "best".
In preparing for this, I looked over several "Top 500" or "Top 100" lists posted on the internet. I found them somewhat helpful in jogging my memory. But the most helpful tool that I used was simply going through the folders of my music on my desktop computer. That's where I found the answers to the question.
What follows is a list of albums, in no particular order, that I consider my favorites. For those that I can, I have commented as to why the album made the list. Some albums are there and I cannot quantify why but I know they belong there. Most of the albums are old - so am I.
You will notice that the list is lacking in the 1990-2010 time frame. I got busy with life, being a father, chasing my kids and not having time to listen to enough music. I don't have as much time to critically listen to music as I used to or I would like. My son continues to expand my musical horizons by opening my eyes to a lot of great new music (which he regularly reviews here). Perhaps that means I will update this list with newer, fresher selections.
I recently read that Pandora claims to be able to determine your voting tendencies by the music you stream on their service. Well have at it Pandora. Let me give you a tip: I vote Republican!
I reserve the right to add to this list and I know I will. This has been a month long effort to identify these albums but it is not an exhaustive effort. I will be adding more so come back to check it out!
I welcome your comments and feedback. Agree or disagree?
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Rumours was released when I was a junior in high school. Fleetwood Mac had the hits stacked up pretty well then and this album was full of future hits. It struck me at the time as great pop music but took on much greater significance when I started dating my future wife and it became "our" favorite album. We listened to this album so much during the summer of 1977 that I wore out one of the cassettes that I recorded from the vinyl for my car. It was the "soundtrack" of our early courtship.
I later grew to appreciate some of the musical and production genius and innovation exhibited on this album. I recently read Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album by Ken Caillat and Steve Stiefel. Caillat, the album's co-producer, tells the full story of what really went into making Rumours - both musically and personally.
Chicago - Chicago Transit Authority
As a young trumpet player, I was totally smitten by the the unique eclectic blend of jazz, classical, and straight-ahead rock and roll when I first heard this album. The trumpet intro to Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is? was my favorite trumpet part for years.
I'm quite certain that I'm not the only aspiring young musician influenced by Chicago. Every high school jazz band has Chicago songs in their library. I remember how excited I was when my high school concert band played a Chicago medley.
Chicago is still one of my favorite bands. I kept all of my Chicago vinyl when I sold my records several years ago. There were just too many good memories there for me to cut them loose. One of the reasons this album appears on my list is because it made me a huge Chicago fan.
I was 13 years old when Elton John released this album and it seemed he was everyone's favorite artist at that time. This album punctuated a pretty good run for him. To me, it seemed like a greatest hits compilation!
It started with the epic Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding and continued on with Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting (which is still my favorite EJ song!).
I think it is on this list because I listened to it very regularly during a very impressionable time in my life - junior high school. Elton John was larger than life during this time frame as well.
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
I was a late comer to Springsteen mania. I was not on the band wagon for Greetings from Asbury Park or The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (though I think Springsteen was more of a local talent at the time those albums were released). Born to Run was released in August 1975 and I don't know that it even hit my radar until the summer of 1976. When I did hear it, I know that I was not overwhelmed by Springsteen's genius because I was listening to a lot of pop music at that time.
Sometime in late 1976 or early 1977, my musical tastes began to mature and I began to realize that the song Born to Run was speaking to me, a 16-year-old boy/young man, about growing up. I realized that the lyrics on this album were deeper and music more complex than what I had been listening to. For the next thirty years, Springsteen was high on my playlist (some would say he was my playlist!).
This album made the list because it marked my maturity - both in musical taste and as a teen age boy! Thunder Road remains one of my all-time favorite songs.
It's the horns. They are all great songs but the Tower of Power horn section did it for me. Little Feat played a wonderful mix of blues, country, and R&B on this album.
All of these songs seem to be re-worked or extended versions of the studio cuts. Recorded on their 1977 tour, Waiting for Columbus was released in 1978. I didn't discover this album until I went to college. I had the album in vinyl and when I replaced it with the CD version in the 90's, I found two songs had been left off (I assume that was so that they could put the two-record set on one CD). Fortunately, a remastered two-disc edition was released in 2002 that expands and re-sequences the songs into a full concert set, with encore.
I ask myself what a live album is doing on my favorites list because I don't feel that greatest hits compilations and live albums carry the artist's theme or message like a studio album. But this one works for me. It soon was in the Friday afternoon playlist at school where we might have washed it down a time or two with a bit of our favorite malt beverage!
Steely Dan - Aja
I was a bit of a audiophile when I was in high school and college. I DJ'd many dances and used that money to finance my addiction to the best audio equipment I could afford. I was regularly upgrading. I learned that certain music could make your system really rock. Aja was one of those albums that could make any system sound good but it made a great system sound fantastic!!
Steely Dan was considered to be a jazz rock but it had a pop influence. But the production was crisp, clear and defined. The bass lines always stood out making the stereo pop. This is still my go-to music to check how my stereo sounds. When I set up to do one of my middle school dances, I crank up Aja to use as a sound check!
Released shortly before I trekked off to college, it seemed that Some Girls was on the turntable at every party I went to freshman year of college. I have always felt that this was the Rolling Stones version of disco music. Some Girls found its way onto many dance floors during this time. Punk and disco were both pretty popular then and it's not difficult to hear the influence of each.
The album did exhibit the Stones versatility with disco of Miss You, the punkish Respectable, the balladry of Beast of Burden, the electric blues of Some Girls and the twangy country track Far Away Eyes. Sprinkled among those gems is some good old Rolling Stones rock and roll.
This album makes the list as one of my favorites because it takes me back to that magical time of being on college campus.
Return to Forever - Romantic Warrior
I started listening to jazz-rock early in college. I remember listening to Romantic Warrior for the first time and was in complete awe of the musicianship. Chick Corea's keyboards, Stanley Clarke's bass, Lenny White's drums and Al DiMeola's guitar blended rock riffs with jazz themes and a sound like nothing I had heard before. It was less of a funk sound than previous Return to Forever efforts.
Each of these guys went on to establish very significant solo careers of their own which is why I have come to appreciate the talent on display on this album more as time goes on. Each contribute their unique song writing skills to the album. The songs are different in style reflecting the the composing artist.
Tapestry was one of the first albums I ever bought. I'm sure I was driven by the radio play of It's Too Late. I know I had no appreciation for King's songwriting skills and extensive catalog at that time. I know I did not realize the deep pool of talent that played and sang with King on the album.
I did know that I loved the music. Many of these songs were recorded by other artists and met with great commercial success.
Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory
Playing "Mr. DJ" at middle school dances for the past fifteen years has exposed me to some music that I like (and a lot of music that I didn't like!). Linkin Park is one of those artists that I would not have become familiar with were it not for the junior high boys who requested them but would not dance to them.
I am not a rap fan but the rock, hip-hop and alternative music blend by Linkin Park caught my attention enough for me to listen to the entire album. I am interested by how they brought several different genres together while the lyrics had a powerful message. Lyrically, it seemed every single song had a message dealing with a deep, dark topic.
This album made the list because, perhaps more than any other album on this list, it caused me to expand my music tastes.
I got a new clock/radio with money I had earned delivering the Minneapolis Tribune when I was about 12 years old. It was the kind of clock that had numbers that mechanically flipped over each minute to display the time. It had a really cool feature that was new to me. The "sleep" function would allow me to have the music play for up to 60 minutes before turning off on its own. So I would set the "sleep" function to 30-60 minutes (it was just a dial that was not very precise) before I shut off the lights each night.
Apparently I did not know how to work it very well because I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the eery sounding keyboard bridge on Won't Get Fooled Again. It reminded me of a horror flick when I awoke but when Daltrey's scream preceded Townsend's crashing guitar, I wanted to find out who sang that song. Once I did, I bought it. The album cover appealed to every adolescent boy's sense of humor.
This album appears on the list because the music moved me to action at a fresh young age.
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town
History now tells us that the ten pearls that ended up on Darkness were survivors from dozens and dozens of tunes Springsteen penned for the album. After listening to a few that didn't make the cut (Breakaway or The Promise), one can get a sense for what a prolific songwriter Springsteen is. The dam of music was full and it was the ten classics on this album that came over the spillway.
Lyrically, the themes are darkness and despair - ones that come easily to Springsteen. Musically,this is rousing rock music with some of Springsteen's best guitar solos and riffs.
Darkness is the first album to feature the classic lineup that came to be known as The E Street Band. The second side of Darkness is without a doubt one of the greatest sides of any rock album that will ever exist and I know of no other album on which the order of songs works as well as this one.
Though his recent efforts have not inspired me like his earlier efforts because they are so dominated by liberal/socialist/idealist themes, this may be my favorite Springsteen album from top to bottom - and that is saying something because I do like his music!
Warren Zevon's sense of humor came through in his lyrics. IMHO Zevon is one of the best singer-songwriters of all time. Excitable Boy was produced by Jackson Browne and guitarist Waddy Wachtel and every song on the album has a story.
The song Excitable Boy is about a juvenile sociopath's murderous prom night. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner and Lawyers, Guns and Money were political statements by Zevon. His most successful commercial release, Werewolves of London featured Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
Zevon's death in 2003 was stunning. After being diagnosed with cancer, in 2002, he refused treatments. He began recording The Wind, which includes guest appearances by close friends including Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, David Lindley, Billy Bob Thornton, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty, Dwight Yoakam, and others. VH1 documented a man who retained his mordant sense of humor, even as his health was deteriorating over time.
There are several Zevon albums that could make this list, but I chose this one because it turned me on to Warren Zevon and his many talents.
Jimmy Buffett - Fruitcakes
I am a Parrothead. It is very, very difficult for me to pick one Jimmy Buffett for this list. Buffett's music was what I was listening to while raising those kids on the river. His music is the soundtrack of my summers.
Fruitcakes exhibits a great collection of the Caribbean flavors Buffett does best. He covers the Grateful Dead's Uncle John's Band with a wonderful calypso style that only Jimmy can do.
Buffett's sense of humor shines on this album. Even the titles of some of the songs (Apocalypso, Quietly Making Noise, Vampires, Mummies And The Holy Ghost, etc) reflect Buffet's humorous slant on the world.
As the father of two daughters, his ode to his daughter Delaney Talks to Statues makes me reminisce about how fast they grow up.
The rest of the list...
These albums are among my favorites. They don't qualify for additional comments because either I couldn't think of anything to say or the music speaks for itself (mostly I just had to get this posted and it was really grinding down!). These albums rate right up there with those above.
Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
Queen - A Night at the Opera
Elvis Costello - My Aim is True
Kansas - Leftoverature
Johnny Cash - American Recordings
Billy Joel - 52nd Steet
Marshall Crenshaw - Marshall Crenshaw
The Killers - Hot Fuss
Hootie and the Blowfish - Cracked Rear View
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes
Boston - Boston
Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
Santana - Abraxas
Eagles - Hotel California
Van Morrison - Moondance