Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list. This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts. The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.
Artist: Green Day
- Basket Case
- When I Come Around
The First Time I Heard This Album …: I think I ordered this on a whim from Columbia House after hearing “Longview” on the radio.
Thoughts: Dookie came out a time when “alternative” music was suddenly everywhere and one could hear cool stuff on the radio, not just on the independent stations on the left of the dial. I don’t think I really knew how Green Day were carrying on the punk traditions from the 70s (nor how controversial they became in the punk community for being successful). I grew tired of the album and it wasn’t until I listened to it again for the Rolling Stone 500 project that I realized how well it held up.
Bonus Sounds: I’m kind of indifferent to the rest of Green Day’s music, but I do remember them being a big part of the documentary Punk’s Not Dead.
Artist: Elvis Costello
Title:This Year’s Model
- Pump It Up
- (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
- Radio Radio
The First Time I Heard This Album …: While familiar with the work of Elvis Costello for a long time, I probably listened to this album in its entirety for the first time around 2002-2006 when I went through a phase of listening to early punk and post-punk music.
Thoughts: While not my favorite Costello album (we’ll see that later on the list), it’s a solid collection that includes the ultimate banger “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.”
Bonus Sounds: One of my favorite Elvis Costello songs not from the albums on this list is “Shipbuilding,” a social commentary on how the Falklands War was manufactured to revive industries in Britain.
Artist: Depeche Mode
- World in My Eyes
- Personal Jesus
- Enjoy the Silence
- Policy of Truth
The First Time I Heard This Album …: This album was everywhere when I was in high school, so I think I absorbed it by osmosis.
Thoughts: Before grunge hit, alternative music typically meant UK bands like The Smiths, The Cure, New Order, Erasure, and Depeche Mode. While Depeche Mode had a huge hit with “People are People” in the US in 1985, they were kind of under the radar until they hit big again with this album full of hits. Violator will always remind me of high school dances even if the music isn’t necessarily the most danceable
. Bonus Sounds: Speaking of dancing, Depeche Mode’s 1987 single “Strangelove” seemed to be the unofficial anthem of The Cafe, a dance club for teenagers I frequented in my youth. I learned much later in life that the DJ was Moby.
Artist: Living Colour
- Cult of Personality
- Desperate People
- Open Letter (To a Landlord)
- Memories Can’t Wait
- Broken Hearts
- Which Way to America?
The First Time I Heard This Album …: I acquired this when I was a high school student in 1988 and played it death for the next few years.
Thoughts: Living Colour was one of the first hard rock bands I ever enjoyed. And their debut album came out at a time when I had stopped listening to anything contemporary under the belief that the only good music was Classic Rock. So this album opened my mind to new artists. It helped that the Rolling Stone invited Living Colour to open for their 1989 tour. The social commentary of the lyrics also appealed to my growing consciousness as a teen.
Bonus Sounds: Living Colour remained of my favorite bands from around 1988 to 1994. I got all of their subsequent albums – Time’s Up, Stain, and the EP Biscuits – immediately upon their release. Stain was a particularly ear-opening experience as the band adopted a more thrash metal sound. One of my favorite songs by Living Colour is their cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution.”
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Title: Born in the U.S.A.
- Born in the U.S.A
- No Surrender
- Glory Days
- Dancing in the Dark
- My Hometown
The First Time I Heard This Album …: I think my mother got this one from Columbia House in 1984.
Thoughts: I had an internal debate over what Bruce Springsteen album to include on this list, if any. I’ve never been a huge fan of Springsteen, but I like a lot of his songs from across his career. Plus I admire the way he reflects the struggles and joys of working people in his songwriting, and he and I were actually born in the same town! I ultimately decided to go with Born in the U.S.A. because when I was 10 years old, this was my introduction to The Boss and it has a lot of great songs.
Bonus Sounds: There probably isn’t a bad Springsteen album out there, so instead I’m just going to list my 10 favorite songs that are not on Born in the U.S.A.
- 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
- Hungry Heart
- The River
- Atlantic City
- Brilliant Disguise
- Human Touch
- If I Should Fall Behind
- American Skin (41 Shots)
Artist: Boston Women To Benefit Respond, Inc
Title: Respond: A Compilation
- Melissa Ferrick – “Everything I Need (Acoustic Version)”
- Jenny Reynolds – “Whisper”
- Kris Delmhorst – ‘Weatherman”
- Mary Gauthier – “A Different Kind of Gone”
- Jess Klein – “Romeo”
- Mary Lou Lord – “Two Boats” (I once had the delight of seeing Mary Lou Lord busking this song at the Park Street MBTA station)
- Deb Pasternak – “One Regret”
- Catie Curtis – “Do Unto Others”
- Charan Devereaux – “Come Around”
- Lori McKenna – “Fireflies”
- Alexis Shepard – “Purple Ray Gun”
The First Time I Heard This Album …: I picked up this double CD at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 1999. I even got it autographed by Jess Klein, Laurie Geltman, Charan Devereaux, and Linda Sharar.
Thoughts: Respond, Inc. is a pioneering domestic violence prevention agency for the Greater Boston area. This benefit album includes songs from 27 women singer/songwriters of the Boston folk scene. Not only did it support a good cause but was an introduction to a lot of talented local musicians.
Bonus Sounds: The album was produced by Charan Devereaux who also contributed a song to the collection. She’s still active in community based projects in Somerville, MA to this day.
Artist: John Prine
Title: John Prine
- Hello in There
- Sam Stone
- Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore
- Angel from Montgomery
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another personal discovery from the Rolling Stone 500 project.
Thoughts: John Prine brought a country twang to his folk tunes about everyday people and their milieu. His music is right up my alley and yet somehow I was not made aware of it until after he died.
Bonus Sounds: Prine was one of the early victims of COVID-19 and NPR’s All Songs Considered ran a great piece: “John Prine’s Life in 10 Songs.”
Artist: Lou Reed
- Perfect Day
- Walk on the Wild Side
- Satellite of Love
- Goodnight Ladies
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Last year, for the Rolling Stone 500 project.
Thoughts: Lou Reed’s sophomore solo album establishes him as the street-level documentarian of gritty 1970s New York.
Bonus Sounds: The first Lou Reed album I ever had came out when I was in high school and was appropriately called New York. Reed updated his observations on the city in the Reagan/Koch era on songs like “Dirty Blvd.”
Artist: Van Morrison
- And It Stoned Me
- Crazy Love
- Into the Mystic
- Brand New Day
- Glad Tidings
The First Time I Heard This Album …: I first heard the title song in the soundtrack of the movie An American Werewolf in London, but I got the album during my Classic Rock phase in high school
Thoughts: I learned from the book Astral Weeks that Van Morrison is a cantankerous asshole. In recent years he’s even revealed himself as a political reactionary with his angry tirades against government action to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But somehow, this perpetually angry and self-centered individual expresses himself in some of the most poetic pop music ever created. Moondance contains a lot of terrific songs and remains my favorite Van Morrison album
Bonus Sounds: Van Morrison is not a good person, but he did create a lot of beautiful songs. Astral Weeks is generally considered his greatest work, although I’ve always preferred Moondance. Another album I enjoyed was Irish Heartbeat, Morrison’s take on traditional Irish tune with the Chieftains. And a song I’ve always loved is “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile).”
Artist: Fine Young Cannibals
Title: The Raw and the Cooked
- She Drives Me Crazy
- Good Thing
- Don’t Look Back
- It’s OK (It’s Alright)
- As Hard as It Is
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Around the time it came out when I was a teenager.
Thoughts: The Fine Young Cannibals, a trio from the UK, hit number on the album chart with their second album and had two songs go to Number One on the Hot 100. They sounded like no one else at the time, and despite their popularity they didn’t inspire any significant sound alikes. And then they pretty much disappeared. But, dang, what a document to leave behind to show that you made your mark!
Bonus Sounds: FYC recorded an excellent take on “Suspicious Minds” for their 1985 debut album.