Here are the albums that I like the most, in no particular order:
Frank Black “Teenager Of the Year” – A friend of mine in high school once said “there are two kinds of people in the world: ‘Surfer Rosa’ fans and ‘Doolittle’ fans.” I asked him “What if you like ‘Bossanova?’” He replied “then you’re just a Frank Black fan.” The Pixies is one of my favorite bands. They are gritty and raw, and their sounds are haunting, and they are completely unique. When Black Francis went solo, and changed his name, he got kind of cheesy in some ways. In the Pixies, he seemed like a scary genius, but by himself, he seemed somehow different. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was the sunglasses. Nevertheless, his second album remains one of my top favorites of all time, and while the Pixies may have written some of my favorite songs, none of their albums stick out to me as being a favorite album. “Doolittle” is very close, however. Despite being kind of cheesy, “Teenager Of the Year” is so full of kick-ass songs that it never gets boring. There is not one skippable track on the album. If I hear “Whatever Happened To Pong?” I have to stick around all the way to the end of this double album. On long drives in my silent car, I often play this album back from start to finish in my head. That’s how much I like it.
Cornelius “Point” – My good friend and colleague, Jamie Grefe, introduced this album to me in his living room when we were in college. He put it on, and I was instantly blown away. I had never heard anything like this music. After hearing this album, I understood why major seventh chords were invented.
Frank Zappa “Uncle Meat” – I was first introduced to Zappa when I was 12. The album was “Absolutely Free” and I loved it. It proved you can make a good album without practicing your instruments, and it’s complete disregard for other people’s ears made the album special to me. A couple years later, I was looking for more Zappa and I stumbled on “Uncle Meat” in the store. I really liked the album cover. I got it on tape, because it was a single tape, and the compact disc was double and cost twice as much. I’ve never heard it on vinyl. Between the three formats, I don’t think any track lists are the same. It is possible that I have never actually heard the real album. In any case, this album made me rethink everything about my life. The sounds were so beautiful and weird. And it’s the perfect combination of orchestral work, rock and roll, jazz and comedy. It never gets old. Listening to it is like drinking a glass of water: necessary.
They Might Be Giants “Lincoln” – TMBG is my favorite band, as you may have heard. This is my favorite album by them. Perhaps my favorite album of any band. If I had to bring one album to a desert island, it would be this one, so long as there was a record player (if all I could do was look at an album, it would be something with more artwork, like Jon Anderson’s ‘Olias Of Sunhillow’). 18 songs, and not one of them even hints at making me want to skip to the next track. This album also has some of my favorite lyrics ever.
Magma “M.D.K.” – My friend Alan turned me on to this band. First he lent me a cd of “M.D.K.” and I dismissed it as…i don’t know…too something. Too operatic? Then I saw the band live, and I understood. Then I relistened to the the album, and I understood. This band stands alone…sweaty, hairy and alone.
Phish “Junta” – When will you jerks stop pigeon-holing Phish as a jamband? These are four top-notch composers and players. This, my favorite of their albums contains almost entirely pre-composed material. This album goes against everything else that was happening in the eighties. It has perfectly phrased lyrics, and the singing makes me smile (probably because it sounds like they’re smiling as they sing). And the album cover is awesome. There is nothing wrong with this album. Good lyrics, musical ideas and playing.
Genesis “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” – This one’s a bit obvious. Maybe I should take it off the list. But it’s such a cool album. Don’t take it off the list. Maybe I should…but if this comes off, “Duke” is going up, and we can’t have that. Ugh.
Frank Zappa “We’re Only In It For the Money” – First, I heard “Absolutely Free” and loved it. Then I got “Freak Out” and I loved it. Then I went for the beautiful compact disc of this album, and I loved it. Plus it had “Lumpy Gravy” on the disc as well, so bonus! And what strange production for the sixties! I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite albums of all time, but I loved it all the same. I loved the album for fifteen years, and then someone told me the story about how Zappa in the eighties hired his then current bassist and drummer to replace all the bass and drum parts on “We’re Only In It For the Money” and made it sound bad. “What do you mean, bad?” I said. My friend explained to me the exact details of the bass and drum sound that had been changed on the album. “Hey, that sounds like the CD I own!” And sure enough, I got a hold of the REAL album, and it is ten times better. Wow, what a record. One of the best things recorded, I think. Even today, I am trying to rid my memory of that monstrosity that the record store owner allowed me to buy when I was just a kid. Why didn’t he warn me? Why didn’t Zappa warn me? Why did the eighties have this horrible effect on people? In any case, the original is a beautiful album.
King Crimson “Red” – The perfect King Crimson album. Short and to the point. Simple and effective. A perfect palindromic instrumental, a slow sad song with a heavy part, a fast scary song with a slow repetitive jam, a noise piece, and a jazz rock thing with a slow part and a really fast part. Slow, fast, loud, soft, guitar, trumpet, bass, sax…it’s got all the stuff in it. I think what makes this more likeable for me than, say “Starless and Bible Black” or “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic” is that it feels more balanced. Those other two albums seem to give a little too much weight to noodling for my taste. There’s something about the simplicity of “Red” that I really like. It feels like the album transpires in a logical fashion, when the other albums seem to be a bit more random. Maybe it’s just the album title.
Brian Woodbury “Brian Woodbury and His Popular Music Group” – When I was a teenager, the guy at the record store said “You like TMBG, right? then you’ll like this.” Boy, was he right. I listened to that album for 12 years before I even found out that Brian had other albums. His other albums are amazing, but this one still sticks out in my mind. Every song is a masterpiece of wordplay and noteplay. This album is pure euphoria from beginning to end.
Van Dyke Parks “Song Cycle” – Like everyone else, I was introduced to Van Dyke through Brian Wilson’s “Smile.” It turns out that Parks is at least as good of a composer as Wilson, and this album shows him at his best. He writes orchestral pop like it’s easy. I can’t even figure out how it’s possible to achieve some of the sounds that happen on this record. And his voice is amazing. No one sings like he does. He sings just like he talks…like a smiling old man in overalls. I couldn’t even think straight at 24 and this character makes an album like this? It makes me more angry than anything.
Brian Wilson “Smile” – You’ve heard this album already, right? Of course you have. I don’t even need to include it in this list, do I?
Anekdoten “Nucleus” – Okay, so they aren’t the best lyricists. I’ll give them a pass on that because they aren’t singing in their native language and this is one of the best things I’ve ever heard come out of speakers. This is scary music. Anekdoten is almost a metal band, but they’re too cool for metal. They’re often labeled as King Crimson wannabes, and there is certainly Crimson influence, but they are doing something way different. They are ice lords. This album will make you rethink having been born, to be sure, but you will come out of it with a positive outlook on life.
Paul and Linda McCartney “Ram” – Everyone’s second least favorite Beatle, I’ve been told, but Paul is one hell of a songwriter. Good lord, I love listening to this album. And people knock Linda for her voice. Phooey! I like her voice. I prefer this album to any Beatles album, although the white album has been moving up quickly on my list and could overtake it in the next decade if I listen to it enough.
Gentle Giant “Free Hand” – Gentle Giant is, of course, one of my favorite bands, and I can never decide which of their 3rd-7th albums is my favorite. So maybe they should all be on this list, but I don’t like Gentle Giant so much as to give them a quarter of a list of my top favorite albums. I suppose “Free Hand” has a lot of memories for me…the title track, “His Last Voyage” and “Just the Same” were the first songs I ever learned on bass guitar. The album is the rockinest, also. It seems a little less self-aware than the previous few albums. In any case, they’re all good albums.