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: Amy Winehouse
Title: Back to Black
- You Know I’m No Good
- Just Friends
- Back To Black
- Tears Dry on Their Own
The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2006 or 2007
Thoughts: It’s a shame that tabloid headlines and her early death overshadow Amy Winehouse’s massive talent. She was the cornerstone of a soul revival in the Oughts along with the likes of Adele, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Joss Stone and this album is a testament to that era.
Bonus Sounds: The documentary Amy leans toward exploitative but contains footage of Winehouse developing her talent as well as how she was destroyed by the celebrity media complex. It also includes the sweetest scene of her spending time with her idol Tony Bennet.
Artist: Harry Belafonte
Title: Belafonte at Carnegie Hall
- Cotton Fields
- John Henry
- The Marching Saints
- Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
- Jamaica Farewell
- Mama Look a Boo Boo
- Hava Nageela
- Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma
The First Time I Heard This Album …: late 1980s
Thoughts: When I was growing up we had a collection of LPs and 45s from various relatives, and one treasure of my late Aunt Barbara was the Harry Belafonte collection. This concert performance recorded in April 1959 features Belafonte’s interpretations of African American songs, Carribean calypso, and traditional folk tunes from around the world.
Bonus Sounds: The blockbuster Calypso (1956) was the first LP to sell over a million copies and kicked off a global calypso craze. Not bad for someone who took up singing as a side gig when he couldn’t get acting parts.
Artist: Sigur Rós
Title: Ágætis byrjun
- Ný batterí
- Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)
- Olsen Olsen
The First Time I Heard This Album …: circa 2005
Thoughts: The first album I ever heard by Sigur Rós remains the best. The sweeping orchestral arrangements are cinematic in scope. While I don’t understand the lyrics, many of which are in a language made up by Sigur Rós frontman Jonsi called Hopelandic, they still speak to me. The title track is extra special since it was playing in the delivery room when my younger child was born and means “A Good Beginning.”
Bonus Sounds: I have a Music Discovery on Sigur Rós’ albums through 2016 and highly recommend their concert film Heima.
Artist: Janelle Monáe
Title: Dirty Computer
- Crazy, Classic, Life
- Django Jane
- Make Me Feel
- I Got the Juice
- So Afraid
The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2018
Thoughts: Monáe’s masterpiece, so far, hit big in 2018 and is surprisingly only her third full-length album. It’s Monáe’s most personal album and challenges the fears of our troubled times while celebrating women, Blackness, sexuality, gender identity, and even American identity.
Bonus Sounds: I wrote my very first Music Discovery about Janelle Monáe as well as a concert review from the Dirty Computer tour.
Artist: The Specials
Title: The Specials
- A Message To You, Rudy
- Nite Klub
- Concrete Jungle
- Too Much Too Young
- Little Bitch
The First Time I Heard This Album …: early 90s
Thoughts: The debut album from the Two Tone ska band The Specials contains many of the band’s greatest songs and established the new genre of U.K. Ska.
Bonus Sounds: The band’s follow-up album More Specials (1980) took a strange turn into “Muzak” inspired music but is still interesting, while their more recent reunion album Encore (2019) is also pretty good.
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: Beggars Banquet
- Sympathy For the Devil
- No Expectations
- Parachute Woman
- Street Fighting Man
- Prodigal Son
- Stray Cat Blues
- Factory Girl
- Salt of the Earth
The First Time I Heard This Album …: late 80s
Thoughts: The Rolling Stones were always best as a Blues band, and their best album sees them embracing roots music to create a rock & roll classic. While the Stones have never been an overtly political band, a lot of the songs on this album come from the perspective of working class people, which also makes it interesting.
Bonus Sounds: This is the third Stones’ album on my list so I’ll just reiterate that Out of Our Heads (1965), Aftermath (1966), Let It Bleed (1969), Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (1970), Sticky Fingers (1971), Exile on Main St. (1972), and Blue & Lonesome (2016) are all worth a listen
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Title: Talking Book
- You Are the Sunshine of My Life
- Big Brother
- Lookin’ For Another Pure Love
- I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s
Thoughts: This album has a timeless quality, it sounds like it could’ve been released this year. It must’ve been revelatory when people first heard it in 1972. Wonder experiments with numerous keyboards, synthesizers, and drums, continuing as a one-man band on many tracks, but also has numerous guest artists including Jim Gilstrap, Lani Groves, David Sandborn, Deniece Williams, Ray Parker, Jr., and Jeff Beck. Also, “Superstition” is one of the all-time great songs. It never fails to amaze me.
Bonus Sounds: This is the fourth of four Stevie Wonder albums on this list, more than any other artist, so you know you can grab any Stevie Wonder album from the 60s or 70s and you can’t go wrong!
Artist: Talking Heads
Title: Remain in Light
- Crosseyed and Painless
- The Great Curve
- Once in a Lifetime
- Houses in Motion
- Listening Wind
The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s
Thoughts: Talking Heads incorporated Afrobeat sounds into their New Wave and art rock creating one of the seminal albums of the 1980s (as well as one of the defining music videos of the early MTV era).
Bonus Sounds: Beninese superstar Angélique Kidjo created an excellent cover of this entire album!
Artist: Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
Title: Tanglewood Tree
- Happytown (All Right With Me)
- Tanglewood Tree
- The Mountain
- Hey Conductor
- Crocodile Man
- Cat-Eye Willie Claims His Lover
- Cowboy Singer
The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2000
Thoughts: When I ranked my favorite albums of all time in 2009, this was the number one album! It may seem like a demotion but really any of my top 25 could be number one and I have to rank them somehow. The late Dave Carter wrote the mystical lyrics on this album while their partner Tracy Grammer provides harmony and fiddle.
Bonus Sounds: Two of the three albums released by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer before Carter’s death made my Top 250, but the duo’s final album Drum Hat Buddha is also excellent.
Artist: Johnny Clegg & Savuka
Title: Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World
- One (Hu)’ Man One Vote
- Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World
- Dela (I Know Why the Dog Howls at the Moon)
- It’s An Illusion
- Woman Be My Country
- Warsaw 1941
The First Time I Heard This Album …: 1990
Thoughts: They say the best music ever is what you were listening to when you were 17. When I was 17, I was lucky enough to be listening to Johnny Clegg & Savuka. The racially integrated band formed in South Africa during Apartheid and the music blended Western and African sounds with many lyrics in Zulu. The album is politically charged yet hopeful.
Bonus Sounds: Before Savuka, there was Juluka, a band formed by Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu that was one of the first multi-racial acts under apartheid and released several albums between 1979 and 1984. I’m also fond of the 1993 Johnny Clegg and Savuka album Heat, Dust and Dreams which reflects on the exciting times after the release of Nelson Mandela and end of apartheid.