Favorite Albums of All Time: 170-161

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.

250-241 200-191
240-231 190-181
230-221 180-171


Artist: Various
Title: Rent [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
Year:  1996
Favorite Tracks:

  • Rent
  • Today 4 U
  • Tango: Maureen
  • Another Day
  • Will I?
  • Santa Fe
  • Seasons of Love
  • I’ll Cover You (Reprise)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: In September 1997, I saw Rent performed at the National Theater in Washington. One of those friends gave me a copy of the cast recording and I listened to it over for the next year or so.

Thoughts: Jonathan Larson updated La bohème as a story of people with AIDS, the LGBTQ community, and artists and academics struggling to survive in Manhattan’s East Village.  That community is long gone, but the issues that they deal with are startlingly relevant.  While generational notions can be overdone, this really feels like the defining musical for those of us who came of age “living in America at the end of the millenium.”

Bonus Sounds: Last year’s tick, tick… BOOM! is a sort-of (auto)biography of Rent creator Jonathan Larson set as a musical.


Artist: Afro Celt Sound System
Title: Sound Magic 
Year: 1996
Favorite Tracks:

  • Saor (Free) / News from Nowhere
  • Whirl-y-Reel 1 (Beard and Sandals Mix)
  • Dark Moon, High Tide
  • Whirl-y-Reel 2 (Folk Police Mix)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 1996, around when it was released

Thoughts: Afro Celt Sound System are an ensemble of musicians who mix traditional Celtic and African music with electronic music.  In other words, everything I like all together.  I came upon this album serendipitously and until researching the band for this post, I didn’t realize that they still existed and released several other albums.  I guess I have some catching up to do.

Bonus Sounds:


Artist: Various
Title: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto 
Year: 1985
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Awungilobolele” (Can You Pay Lobola for Me) – Udokotela Shange Namajaha
  • “Holotelani” (Daughter-In-Law) – Nelcy Sedibe
  • “Qhwahilahle” (Leave Him Alone) – Moses Mchunu
  • “Sini Lindile” (We Are Waiting for You) – Nganezlyamfisa No Khambalomvaleliso
  • “Nansi Imali” (Here Is the Money) – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Checked it out the library in the late 80s when inspired by Paul Simon and Johnny Clegg to listen to more music from South Africa.

Thoughts: A great compilation of different styles of South African music released at a time when the boundaries of popular music in the US were expanding beyond North America and the U.K.  The guitar styles remain an amazing revelation.

Bonus Sounds:


ArtistThe Roches
Title: The Roches
Year:  1979
Favorite Tracks:

  • We
  • Hammond Song
  • Mr. Sellack
  • The Train

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Early 2000s.

Thoughts: The first album by the sisters Roche (Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy) as a trio sounds really like nothing else from 1979 (or before or after for that matter).  The quirky lyrics about everyday matters, the sublime harmonies, and Robert Fripp’s guitar combine to make a masterpiece.

Bonus Sounds: I listened to other albums by The Roches, but none compared to this debut. The Avalanches (who will appear later in this list) are known for their deft deployment of samples and the segment of “Hammond Song” that appears in “We Will Always Love You” (featuring Blood Orange) is divine.


Artist: Hüsker Dü
Title: New Day Rising
Year: 1985
Favorite Tracks:

  • New Day Rising
  • The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill
  • Celebrated Summer
  • Books About UFOs
  • I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Last year, as part of the Rolling Stone 500, to my eternal shame.

Thoughts: Something was in the water in the Twin Cities in the mid-80s when Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, not to mention Prince and all his associated acts, were churning out some of the most enduring albums of all time.  New Day Rising anticipates the hard-crunching guitar sound that’s nonetheless melodic of the Alternative Rock revolution by about 5 years.

Bonus Sounds: I wasn’t aware of Hüsker Dü in the 1980s (except the name) but I did come to really like Bob Mould’s next band Sugar in the 1990s thanks to Alt-Rock radio staples like “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.”



Artist X
Title: Under the Big Black Sun
Year: 1982
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Hungry Wolf
  • Riding With Mary
  • Blue Spark
  • Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
  • Real Child of Hell
  • How I (Learned My Lesson)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Early 2000s.

Thoughts: Like the Lakers, we move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, but in punk instead of basketball.  The punk rock sound of X seems to be a natural progression from earlier L.A. bands like The Doors as well as incorporating rockabilly and folk rock elements. The interplay of John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s voices creates an ominous mood for the lyrics.

Bonus Sounds: X is so Los Angeles, they named one of their early albums Los Angeles.


ArtistBob Marley and the Wailers
Title: Catch a Fire
Year: 1973
Favorite Tracks:

  • Concrete Jungle
  • Stop That Train
  • Baby We’ve Got A Date (Rock It Baby)
  • Stir It Up
  • Kinky Reggae
  • No More Trouble

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s.

Thoughts: This is one of those albums that has so many great tracks on it that it is surprising it is not a greatest hits compilation. This is the peak of the Bob Marley/Peter Tosh/Bunny Wailer era of the band.

Bonus Sounds: I have another Bob Marley and the Wailers album coming up, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the band’s studio albums. Assuming you already have the Legend collection, you can branch out with Burnin’, Exodus, and Uprising to hear the evolving sound of reggae.


ArtistLed Zeppelin
Title: Led Zeppelin II
Year: 1969
Favorite Tracks:

  • Whole Lotta Love
  • Heartbreaker
  • Ramble On
  • Moby Dick
  • Bring It On Home

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s.

Thoughts: Led Zeppelin’s sophomore outing is the peak of their early Blues-infused hard rock sound. Try not to play air guitar while listening to this album.

Bonus Sounds: For this list, I pared down the Led Zeppelin contributions to just two (with one more album to come).  Other Led Zeppelin albums I considered were Led Zeppelin, and Houses of the Holy.


ArtistVampire Weekend
Title: Vampire Weekend
Year:  2008
Favorite Tracks:

  • Mansard Roof
  • Oxford Comma
  • A-Punk
  • Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
  • Campus
  • Walcott

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2008

Thoughts: There was a lot of buzz for Vampire Weekend leading up to their debut album.  I think this was the first album by a new band that I purchased basically when it was released and was the most recent album on my 2009 Favorite Albums list.  Vampire Weekend have released several albums since then, overturned their lineup, and I think have basically broken up now, but their first album still remains my favorite with its high energy indie pop interpolated with Afrobeat sounds.

Bonus Sounds: Vampire Weekend’s next great album is 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, featuring the track “Step.”


ArtistSimon & Garfunkel
Title: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Year: 1970
Favorite Tracks:

  • Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • Cecilia
  • The Boxer
  • The Only Living Boy In New York

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s

Thoughts: The final album from the duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is musically and lyrically diverse, and shows how far they had come from the earnest folkies of 6 years earlier.  If only every group could go out on such a high note.

Bonus Sounds: It was hard to narrow down the Simon & Garfunkel discography to just one album for this list as all five of their albums are worth a listen.  Bridge Over Troubled Water is their most polished album and their earlier, stripped-down work is a great contrast in sounds.  Bookends from 1968, though, is more experimental and probably deserves to be on this list too.  It includes some tracks from the soundtrack of The Graduate, although lyrically they have little to do with that film.