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: Derek and the Dominos
Title: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
- I Looked Away
- Bell Bottom Blues
- Key to the Highway
- Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
- Little Wing
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s Classic Rock phase
Thoughts: Recent events have once again shown that Eric Clapton is an asshole. Perhaps in 1970 he wasn’t an asshole but it’s very likely that he was. In fact the whole impetus behind the songwriting on this album, Clapton wanting to steal away his best friend’s wife, is kind of an asshole thing to do. So it’s with regret that I still find myself love the blues rock on this album. But it’s not just Clapton, there’s a whole band of talented musicians here including Bobby Whitlock who shares songwriting and lead vocals duties as well as Duane Allman on guitars.
Bonus Sounds: Derek & the Dominos were more of a project than a band, so they only released a single album. But they had an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show which is pretty cool.
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Title: Songs of Leonard Cohen
- Sisters of Mercy
- So Long, Marianne
- Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
The First Time I Heard This Album …: circa 2000?
Thoughts: Leonard Cohen charted a different course from other singer-songwriters who made impressive debut albums and had their songs covered by umpteen different artists. As he got older, and his voice got deeper, his own recordings got even better right up until his death.
Bonus Sounds: Cohen’s last release before his death, You Want it Darker appeared earlier in this list, but I’d also considered including his 1988 release I’m Your Man and 1992’s The Future, but you really can’t go wrong with Cohen from any era.
Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: Sticky Fingers
- Brown Sugar
- Wild Horses
- Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
- You Gotta Move
- I Got the Blues
- Dead Flowers
- Moonlight Mile
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s Classic Rock phase
The opening track and #1 single is best enjoyed if you don’t listen to the lyrics too closely (which I think most people have done over time). But the rest of the album brings about much less conflicted enjoyment with some great Blues rock (“Sway,” “You Gotta Move”), Mick Jagger’s most soulful vocals (“I Got the Blues”), country rock (“Wild Horses,” “Dead Flowers”), Latin jazz fusion (“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”), and the most thrilling to song to listen to while walking a long a moonlit beach when you’re a 15-year-old camping with your family on Assateague Island and can’t fall asleep (“Moonlight Mile”).
Bonus Sounds: This is the second of three Rolling Stones’ albums to make this list, but some other albums I’d recommend include Out of Our Heads (1965), Aftermath (1966), Let It Bleed (1969), and Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (1970).
Artist: The Decemberists
Title: The King Is Dead
- Calamity Song
- Rox in the Box
- Down By the Water
- June Hymn
- This Is Why We Fight
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Around the time of release in 2011.
Thoughts: The joke at the time of release was that The King Is Dead was the best R.E.M. album in 20 years. While guest artist Peter Buck adds a familiar jangle to a few tracks, the album is also The Decemberists at their peak. I’ve always imagined that if Edward Gorey were reincarnated as a band it would sound like The Decemberists.
Bonus Sounds: The King is Dead was the fourth in a string of the four best albums by The Decemberists, preceded by Picaresque (2005), The Crane Wife (2006), and The Hazards of Love (2009).
Artist: Jane’s Addiction
Title: Nothing’s Shocking
- Ocean Size
- Had a Dad
- Summertime Rolls
- Mountain Song
The First Time I Heard This Album …:around 1989
Thoughts: My sister went away to college and when she came back for summer break she played this album for me. I had no context for this music that kind of sounded like heavy metal but wasn’t metal. Soon we’d be calling it alternative rock. I immediately liked the folky “Jane Says.” It took me longer to adapt to the harder stuff.
Bonus Sounds: Jane’s Addiction’s eponymous live debut album is even more raw in its sound and concludes with the mind-bending “Chip Away.”
Artist: Christy Moore
Title: Ride On
- The City of Chicago
- Ride On
- The Dying Soldier
- Back Home In Derry
The First Time I Heard This Album …: circa 2002
Thoughts: Christy Moore is one of the most influential figures in contemporary Irish folk music and this album is his most solid collection. It features some memorable original tunes and brilliant interpretations of the works of others, including the definitive version of the title track by Jimmy McCarthy and “Back Home in Derry” written by Bobby Sands.
Bonus Sounds: One of my favorite songs by Moore is the whimsical “The Reel in the Flickering Light,” about a magical dance party of animals and insects.
Title: The Innocents
- A Little Respect
- Ship of Fools
- Chains of Love
- River Deep, Mountain High
The First Time I Heard This Album …: early 90s
Thoughts: My high school had a small but vocal circle of Erasure fans. I was slow on the uptake but grew to like their hits. This album came out during the heart of my teenage years and has several of Erasure’s most iconic tracks. I remember learning that Andy Bell was openly gay, and while this sounds kind of stupid, I realized that the love songs he was singing were addressed to another man and that made me think of gay people in less stereotypical way than I had been.
Bonus Sounds: The Innocents was part of a string of excellent albums by Erasure that I highly recommend including The Circus (1987), Wild! (1989), and Chorus (1991). And the duo’s early single “Oh L’amour” is a synthpop classic.
- A Wall
- Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)
- Lips that Bite
- Clara Rancia
The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2017
Thoughts: Back in 2017, the rise of the authoritarian right to the White House prompted many people to quip that at least we’d get a new era of great punk music out of it. It didn’t quite happen that way, but we did get this great collection from the Downtown Boys, a bilingual, socialist band from Providence, R.I.
Bonus Sounds: The Downtown Boys 2015 release Full Communism is also great, including the single “Wave of History.”
- If I Can I May
- Sense of an Ending
- Mist :: Missed
- So Young So
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Summer of 2020.
Thoughts: Mourning [A] BLKstar is “a multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora” based out of Cleveland. The music is beautiful of every genre of Black American music you can imagine and then some. This was my favorite album of 2020 and so emblematic of that troubled year, but it still holds up today.
Bonus Sounds: I only just discovered that Mourning [A] BLKstar released a new album this year called Celestial Bodies, so I’m going to have to listen to that and let you know what I think!
- Walk Like a Panther
- Cry of the Martyrs
- The Underside of Power
- Death March
The First Time I Heard This Album …: October 2017
Thoughts: Atlanta’s Algiers is a band that brings the Southern Gothic feel to its blend of post-punk rock, soul, and gospel. Their 2017 release is politically-charged response to our present-day dystopia but with hope for the future.
Bonus Sounds: The eponymous debut album from Algiers is also excellent including the song “Irony. Utility. Pretext.”