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: The Kevin Hanson Trio
- I Wish
- Just Because
- Make Sweet Love
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Kevin Hanson performed at Club Passim. I feel like he opened for another artist I was more familiar with or was part of a multi-artists panel? Anyway, I got the CD at the merch table.
Thoughts: Last time I ranked my all-time favorite albums back in 2009, I placed this album at #4. I kind of feel like I was showing off by having a rather obscure album ranked so high. Finding anything about the album online was a challenge, but eventually I found it streaming under the band name The Fractals. And … it’s still pretty darn good music that holds up well. So, check it out if you can.
Bonus Sounds: It was hard enough to find this album, much less anything else by the Kevin Hanson Trio.
Artist: Nina Simone
Title: Wild is the Wind
- I Love Your Lovin’ Ways
- Four Women
- Lilac Wine
- Break Down and Let It All Out
- EIther Way I Lose
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Counting down the Rolling Stone 500.
Thoughts: Nina Simone feels like a one-person review of popular music and still something uniquely of her own. This album dips into Jazz, blues, folk, and R&B with themes varying from simple love songs to the multi-generational trials of Black women. It’s really quite amazing!
Bonus Sounds: A good introduction to the life and art of Nina Simone is the 2015 documentary What Happened Miss Simone?
Artist: Curtis Mayfield
- Freddie’s Dead
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another favorite from the Rolling Stone 500 project.
Thoughts: This soundtrack for a Blaxploitation film also works as a concept album dealing with the struggles of Black urbanites contending with racial discrimination, crime, and substance abuse. The music is also super funky!
Bonus Sounds: An early 1990s compilation called Pimps, Players, & Private Eyes was an introduction to me for a lot of the funk and soul classics that scored Blaxploitation films in the 1970s.
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Title: Let’s Get It On
- Let’s Get It On
- Come Get To This
- You Sure Love To Ball
- Just to Keep You Satisfied
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Early 2000s? Maybe earlier?
Thoughts: Marvin Gaye puts the most courteous and persuasive request for sexual intercourse to music. The album explores the spiritual and healing powers of sexuality with the same consciousness of Gaye’s social justice songs on What’s Going On? The only flaw with this album is that it’s way too short.
Bonus Sounds: Marvin Gaye will be on this list again, but my first experience to hearing Gaye as a child was his brilliant 1982 sing “Sexual Healing.”
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: Exile on Main Street
- Shake Your Hips
- Tumbling Dice
- Torn and Frayed
- Loving Cup
- Let It Loose
- Shine A Light
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Sometime in the late 80s when I got a bunch of old Rolling Stones albums on cassette.
Thoughts: For most of their history, the Rolling Stones have been a great singles band. But from 1968-1972, the band released four consecutive albums that are masterpieces in their own right. The final of these four albums, Exile on Main Street, didn’t spawn any huge hits and really all the songs work best in the context of the album. Listening to this album feels like going to a roadside bar somewhere in rural America (in a magic place where rhythm and blues and country get equal billing) and listening to the local bands rock out. On a good night, and after a few drinks, you might even exclaim that this is the best band ever, even if no one outside your county has ever heard of them. Except, of course, this is music is from one of the most famous bands ever. I like some of the other Rolling Stones’ albums better musically, but Exile on Main Street is that works best as a cohesive entity.
Bonus Sounds: The Stones like to be known as a Blues band and in 2016 released an excellent collection of cover songs of Chicago Blues classics, Blue & Lonesome, that makes a good companion to Exile.
Artist: Richard Shindell
- Next Best Western
- Reunion Hill
- A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress
- On a Sea of Fleur de Lis
- Are You Happy Now?
- Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Got it when it came out in 2002.
Thoughts: Richard Shindell is one of my favorite singer-songwriters that I became acquainted with during my Folk Music Period (circa 1997-2005). Including a live album on this list is kind of a sneaky way of getting past my “no greatest hit rule.” But having seen Shindell perform several times at Club Passim and elsewhere, I believe him to be one of those artists who just sounds better in live performance.
Bonus Sounds: I’ve lost track of Richard Shindell’s career in recent years but his early discography is excellent. I’ve enjoyed all of these albums.
- Sparrows Point (1992)
- Blue Divide (1994)
- Reunion Hill (1997)
- Somewhere Near Paterson (2000)
- Vuelta ( 2004)
Artist: Franz Ferdinand
Title: You Could Have It So Much Better
- Do You Want To
- This Boy
- Walk Away
- Evil and a Heathen
- You’re the Reason I’m Leaving
- What You Meant
The First Time I Heard This Album …:I can’t remember who recommended this to me, circa 2005, but thank you anonymous person!
Thoughts: As I write these reflections on my favorite albums, I’m realizing that I went through a lot of periods of styles of music that I listened to. One of these periods was my Punk/New Wave/Post-Punk period of roughly 2002-2008. This meant I was largely listening to music made ~25 years earlier, but it also coincided with new music made for a Post-Punk Revival of which Franz Ferdinand were a prominent part.
Bonus Sounds: Other works of Franz Ferdinand didn’t resonate with me as much as this album. Another great album from the Post-Punk Revival that I like but didn’t crack my 250 is The Strokes Is This It.
Title: The Joshua Tree
- Where the Streets Have No Name
- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
- With or Without You
- Red Hill Mining Town
- One Tree Hill
The First Time I Heard This Album …: My sister got the cassette right after it came out.
Thoughts: I was never a U2 superfan but I’ve usually liked their music well enough. U2 began to become known in the U.S. in the mid-80s, and among the Irish-American community there was a special pride and curiosity about a rock band from Dublin. My Dad, of course, disliked his copy of War someone gave him because it sounding nothing like Irish trad. The Joshua Tree launched U2 into the level of super-stardom in the U.S. I remember that the album and “With or Without You” were released in March 1987, and thus a lot of the promotion was tied to St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, U2 drew their influence for this album from a mythical America so it’s not St. Patrick’s Day content, at least by the standards of someone like my Dad.
Bonus Sounds: There is more U2 to come in this list, but I gave strong consideration to several of their pre-Joshua Tree albums.
- Boy (1980)
- War (1983)
- Under a Blood Red Sky (1983)
- The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
Artist: Fiona Apple
Title: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
- For Her
The First Time I Heard This Album …: June 2020
Thoughts: I’ve come to associate this album with the Stay at Home period of the early pandemic. It seems suitable since musically and thematically it’s all about catharsis and release.
Bonus Sounds: Fiona Apple first made waves way back in the 90s when she showed that someone who is very petite could sing with a really big voice on “Criminal.”
Artist: Run the Jewels
- ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier)
- walking in the snow
- JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams and Zach de la Rocha)
- a few words for the firing squad (radiation)
The First Time I Heard This Album …: June 2020
Thoughts: Another album from the hell year of 2020 that I associate with the summer of rage in response to the murder of George Floyd. The album was obviously not created in response to Floyd’s murder but reflects the sad repetition of the devaluation of Black lives. That being said, this album also has moments celebrating Black joy.
Bonus Sounds: Run the Jewels previous album Run the Jewels 3 was also under consideration for this list.