Reading through the most recent posts of my blog post feed this morning, I found many people had participated in the #top15onthe15th tag, and listed their 15 favourite albums. And I decided I’d add my opinion to the mix, too! Of course, it is well and truly the 16th in Australia, now, but anyway… This list certainly isn’t comprehensive. My full list of all-time favourite albums would probably only fit on ten rolls of toilet paper, and narrowing it down to 15 was certainly hard! But anyway, in no particular order…
Revolver (1966) & The Beatles (1968): The Beatles
Revolver is easily my favourite album of all-time. Featuring everything from dark, mysterious psychedelic rock, to a garage song with searing hot guitar, to spellbinding, well-crafted ballads, it possesses a special kind of magic. It was the album that made me realise just how special The Beatles – and music, in general – are. ‘Genius’ is oft overused, but it certainly applies here.
Compared with the perfectionism of Sgt Pepper, The White Album isn’t technically good at all. But technicality and perfectionism has never been an essential requirement in good rock music, and the album is perhaps one of the best embodiments of this. Sprawling from proto-metal to soft folk to avant-garde musique concrete to vaudevillian jazz to good-ol’ fashioned rock’n’roll, it transcends genres. Whilst it’s certainly self-indulgent in parts, this contributes to the unconventional vibe of the album. And that – its eccentricity – is what makes it so great.
Hunky Dory (1971) & The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972): David Bowie
Hunky Dory is a work of musical art. Displaying Bowie’s eclectic gift for songwriting – ranging from the pop of ‘Changes’, to the flamenco-infused folk of ‘Andy Warhol’, to the music hall-inspired ‘Oh! You Pretty Things, to the glam-rock of ‘Queen Bitch’ – each song is perfection. Lyrically, the album contains some of Bowie’s best, his unique imagery and way-with-words particularly evident on tracks such as ‘Life on Mars?’ and the aforementioned ‘Queen Bitch’. Utter genius!
There isn’t a single song I don’t love on Ziggy Stardust. Bowie tells the story of a rock star who takes it all too far – subject matter rarely broached by a popular musician – with surrealist imagery, his voice (ranging from the screaming passion of ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ to the almost-lazy tone of ‘Suffragette City’), thought-provoking lyrical matter and guitars, drums and saxes that absolutely rock. It’s easy to see why it affected teenagers so much at its original release, and why it continues to do so – myself included – today…
Tommy (1969) & Quadrophenia (1973): The Who
Tommy was my first Who album, and continues to be the one I listen to the most. Whilst its narrative is more disjointed and less plausible than that of Quadrophenia, this is definitely accounted for with the music. Containing everything from the falsetto beauty of ‘See Me, Feel Me’, to the hard rock of ‘Go To The Mirror!’, to the (successful!) ambitiousness of the album’s instrumentals, it is certainly one of the band’s best.
Quadrophenia is definitely my favourite Who album. With it, the band reached levels of emotion, passion and musical virtuosity that would be the highest they’d ever reach. The tracks are something of songwriting genius, again arguably the best of The Who’s career. And though the story is incredibly sad, it’s ability to move listeners only serves as a testament to its power and importance.
Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967): The Rolling Stones
An unpopular opinion here: Satanic Majesties – The Stones’ psychedelic experiment – is almost universally hated, by both fans and the band themselves. And yeah – the lows are unarguably very low (‘On With The Show’, anybody?), but its highs are incredibly high, as well. From the driving hard rock of ‘Citadel’, to the baroque pop of ‘She’s A Rainbow’ and – my favourite – the hypnotic, hazy psychedelia of ‘2000 Light Years From Home’, it is moments like these that make it so good.
The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967): The Velvet Underground (featuring Nico)
The Velvet Underground and Nico was the first non-Beatles album to affect me, and it’s easy to see why. Incredibly edgy, yet with its share of exquisite beauty; the voices of Lou Reed and Nico delightfully nonconformist; the lyrical matter still controversial to our 21st-century ears, it was totally unlike anything I’d heard before. Ranging from out-of-tune protopunk to the prettiest ballads, it is truly a masterpiece.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967): Pink Floyd
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is – unlike the lengthy prog. rock of Pink Floyd’s later work (which, of course, are ‘gems’ as well) – is a psychedelic gem. The album patents a brand of wild, cacophonous psychedelia – heady and deeply rooted in the underground. Syd Barrett’s lyrics, too, are wonderful. Whimsical and naïve, they add a level of childlike innocence to the music. As much as I love the band’s prog era, it is – hands down – my favourite Floyd album.
The Doors (1967): The Doors
The Doors’ self-titled debut is often regarded as their best, and my opinion is no exception. An intriguing mix of psychedelia and jazz, the music is mysterious and dangerous; Ray Manzarek’s organ, in particular, adds a layer of shimmery beauty to the tracks. And of course, Jim Morrison’s lyrics are as well-written and fascinating as usual, his voice a contrast to the trends of the time…
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970): John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band
John’s first post-Beatles solo album is a stark contrast to Abbey Road, the last album the band would record together. Musically, it’s pared back to tough, basic hard rock (with a couple of exceptions); lyrically, it’s a mixture of realism, denouncement of authority and a recurring theme of his painful childhood. But it’s contrast to The Beatles is, again, what makes it such a great album. John had moved on, and he had begun to make great art on his own.
Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015): Courtney Barnett
Though only released in the March of this year, Courtney Barnett’s debut studio album quickly has become among my all-time favourites. I don’t know what it is about it – whether it be Barnett’s wonderfully witty and intelligent lyrics, her Australian accent, the music itself (a brand of grungy rock’n’roll rarely heard these days) – but it is impressively good, and will likely be listened to by indie fans alike many years from now…
Horses (1975): Patti Smith
I picked up Horses at a nearby record shop on a whim, a few months ago, to see if I agreed with all the accolade. I inserted it into the CD player, and turned it up loud. ‘Gloria’ began, with its serene piano chords and Smith’s famous lyric of “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”. The music soon turned into unique arty punk, something which intrigued me. I felt a sense of liberation – maybe it was Smith’s lyrics, or her singing (which reminded me a little of my own), or her successful merging of bohemianism and punk. But anyway, I knew it was my kind of music. And I’ve loved it ever since.
Attack and Release (2008): The Black Keys
Though The Black Keys have forever been plagued by comparisons to The White Stripes, it is with Attack and Release that they prove these claims blatantly wrong. Helped by their then-new partnership with producer Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse), it is the perfect mix between psychedelia, blues rock and punk, perhaps my favourite genres ever. Easily my favourite Keys album!
Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (recorded 1968, released 1996): various
This one’s self-explanatory. There is so much to love: a John Lennon-fronted supergroup (featuring Keith Richards on bass and Eric Clapton on lead guitar) playing a searing version of ‘Yer Blues’, an electrifying Who performance of their mini rock-opera, ‘A Quick One While He’s A Way’, a set from The Stones themselves, featuring a spine-chilling slide performance from Brian Jones and a rendition of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ seven months before its release… Virtually my musical dream!
So, what are your favourite albums of all time? Be sure to tell me in the comments!