Following up on my 100 Favorite Books of All-Time project, I now embark on another 10-week project to countdown my 100 Favorite Albums of all-time. By albums I mean collections of popular music (my eclectic tastes defy genres) regardless of format – vinyl LP’s, cassettes, CD’s, or digital formats, I’ve listened to them all.
Please note that I use the word “favorite” to describe these albums, this is in no way an attempt to make a definitive list of the best albums of all time, just my personal favorites. If an album you love doesn’t make this list it’s because I didn’t like it enough, or more likely never listened to it or maybe never even heard of it. So don’t razz me for the albums that don’t make the list, but if you’d like to suggest an album I should hear, post a comment.
I’ve excluded “best of” and “greatest hits” compilations by a single artists as I don’t really consider those to be an cohesive or intentional work. I do include “live” albums which often include a retrospective collection of an artist’s songs but the recording of the concert is in itself a unique interpretation. Albums by various artists follow the same rules. “The Greatest Hits of 1965” won’t make the cut, but albums organized around a theme like charity, a soundtrack, region or record label do.
With no further ado, here’s the first ten albums.
100. Dim The Lights, Chill the Ham by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (1991)
It sounds like a gimmick – a band from Ontario that plays instrumental surf rock, but this is an album full of fun, upbeat tracks. Try putting it on at a party. This band is best known for the theme song and incidental music on the comedy show The Kids in the Hall.
An excellent collection of folk-rock songs written and performed by women artists from Boston (well, at least they were in 1999) to benefit Respond, Inc., an agency that works to support victims of domestic violence. Introduced me to several great musicians including: Colleen Sexton, Jennifer Kimball, Catie Curtis, Mary Lou Lord, Jess Klein, Mary Gauthier, and Kris Delmhorst.
EFO was probably my favorite band from about 1996-2002, and this album captures them at their creative apex. Highlights include “Gravity,” “I Don’t Think I Know Me,” and “The Train Song,” all displaying a clever mix of humor and pathos.
The Irish-American Celtic Punk band Black 47 is one of those bands I find much better in concert than on their studio albums. I picked up this album after seeing the band perform after a Mets game at Shea Stadium. Highlights include “Funky Ceili,” “James Connolly,” and “The Reels.”
96. Whip Smart by Liz Phair (1994)
I know that everyone that’s cool thinks Exile in Guyville is the only great Liz Phair album, but I’m quite fond of Whip Smart. Probably because it was one of those random albums I picked up without knowing anything about the artist and its full of humor, crudity, and just plain rocking out. Highlights include the title track, “Nashville,” and “Cinco de Mayo”.
95. Emergency & I by The Dismemberment Plan (1999)
One of the many great D.C. punk bands with a bit of funk and a healthy serving of irony created this excellent album. I probably would not be cool enough to know about the Plan if I hadn’t sort-of known one of the members while in college. Highlights include “You Are Invited,” “What Do You Want Me To Say,” and “Spider in the Snow.”
For the best decade and a half, Beck offers up a consistent record of excellence in music, lyrics, and creativity. It’s hard to pick out which of his albums should make this list bu Mutations stands out because of its more somber, unique folk and blues sound. Highlights include “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” “Lazy Flies,” and “Bottle of Blues.”
93. Crossroads: Southern Routes (1996)
Smithsonian Folkways may be my favorite record label of all time as they carry on the tradition of making available an enormous catalog of the music and sound of people from around the world. This compilation’s audacious task is to sum the music of the American South in 16 tracks which it does admirable with samples of folk, country, blues, cajun, zydeco, rock & roll, gospel, tejano and soul. Hard to believe that so much great music originated in one region.
Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Infantino, this local Boston band bills themselves as UnPop for the Unpopulous. This album captures them at their creative best with witty lyrics and catchy tunes played on guitar, upright bass, and drums. Highlights include “Ahead of the Curve,” “Cheat to Lose,” and the cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy” as beat poetry incorporating Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di.”
Ireland’s great singer-song writer Christy Moore’s album is unusual in that almost of all the songs are written by other artists (as well as being a bit too heavy on the synthesizers). There are some beautiful, hard-working interpretations of songs like “The Deportees Club,” “Mystic Lipstick,” and the slightly cheesy but heart-warming title song.
I just noticed that all but one of these albums are from the 1990’s. I promise that will not be true for the remaining 90 and several decades will be represented. See you next week.