My Top 20 Albums of All Time

A few years ago, I made a list of my top 10 albums of all time.  I revisited the list recently, mostly as a way to prioritize which albums I should buy as I've just gotten a new record player.

I wonder if the same 10 albums would make the cut if I made the list now, which then led me to wonder which albums I'd include if I expanded the list.

So let's see.

The Original 10

While I'm not sure if all of these would still make the top 10 (I'll have to give it some thought), they'd certainly all still make the top 20.

R.E.M. -- "Life's Rich Pageant"

In the end, it's really my brother who's to blame for me being as odd as I am. He hooked me with "Superman" (not even written by R.E.M.) because I was into comics, and the next thing I knew I was listening to the entire album. It's cliche, I know, but "Fall On Me" is still one of my all time favorite songs.

I can remember, years later, going to see R.E.M. in concert on their "Monster" tour. My friend Brett and I had never seen them before, but had been fans for years. We met my brother there, who had seen them years earlier on their last tour. He had brought a friend who had actually seen them on the tour before THAT.



Pearl Jam -- "Ten"

Any note from any song on this album immediately takes me back to high school. I lived for this band. This was what moody teenagers listened to before emo. There were a good couple of years in there, from perhaps 1992 to 1995, when I was the Pearl Jam guy. I bought everything I could find by them -- I even bought a CD single because it had two unreleased songs on it...and I didn't even own a CD player yet! That was how obsessed I was. I even owned a box set by them at one point.

I honestly don't know where most of that stuff is now. I'm sure I sold it all.



The Afghan Whigs -- "Gentlemen"

Every man alive has wanted to be Greg Dulli at some point in his life. Don't try to deny it.

I actually got to see the Whigs live twice. The second time, Dulli threatened to come down off the stage and "beat up your Greek ass." This was funny because the guy he was talking to wasn't Greek, he was wearing a fraternity hat. The crowd ate it up.

The video below sums it up:



Jawbox -- "For Your Own Special Sweetheart"

My introduction to the world of indie music came, not surprisingly, with a major label release. Most of my college life was defined by this band. "Savory" is also up there on the list of greatest songs I've ever heard.

I could go on and on about how Jawbox changed my life. I have two CDs worth of music that I helped write that has their fingerprints all over it. They also got me to quit thinking and looking at things on the surface and to start digging a bit deeper, not just in the music world, but culturally and intellectually (they are one of the smartest bands I've ever heard). They're also the first band I ever had any personal contact with, both online and in person.



Fugazi -- "Repeater + 3 Songs"

I can remember, the summer after my freshman year of college, driving to my job at a grocery store and blasting "Merchandise" as loud as I could. "Blueprint" still gives me goosebumps.

While Jawbox opened my eyes, discovering Fugazi was like finding the Holy Grail or, rather, an alternate Bible. These were the guys who were more or less responsible for everything I'd ever listened to over the last few years. I had no idea how far ranging their influence was. It was also interesting to learn, later in life, how Fugazi's influence seemed to stop halfway across the country, how two very different definitions for "punk" were born because of this.



Sunny Day Real Estate -- "LP2"

Sure, a decent argument could be made for their first record, "Diary." But the overall tone of this album -- and the simple fact that there's not a bad song on it -- pushes this one ahead. Enigk's yelling at the end of "Rodeo Jones" is inspired.

I'll add this, too: when I got this album, I knew the band had already broken up. I can remember very distinctly hearing the end of it and thinking "that's it. That's the last SDRE song I will ever hear." Thankfully, that wasn't the case, but the band that would reform was very different.



Radiohead -- "The Bends"

I could have been cliche and gone with "OK Computer" on this one, but the fact is I never would have bought that album if it hadn't been for this one. "The Bends" is what got me into Radiohead. And every person who has ever picked up a guitar and tried to write a sad song has tried desperately to write something as good as "Fake Plastic Trees."

Radiohead is also responsible for helping me keep a job at a record store. My boss was pretty much insane, but when Radiohead hit it big, I became the in-house expert. I picked out all the singles, bootlegs, and imports to order and we constantly sold out. Sadly, a lot of those sales came from me.



Pretty Girls Make Graves -- "Good Health"

This was their masterpiece. The energy level is so high on this album, the guitar work is so insane, and the vocals are off the charts. It's pump your fist in the air math rock. And, not to be kill a theme, but I still get goosebumps during "Sad Girls Por Vida."

I got to see PGMG at the Troubadour a few years back, before their second guitarist quit. It was -- and still is -- one of the best shows I've ever seen (most shows at the Troubadour rank pretty high on my list). When they went from a two guitar attack to one guitar and keyboards, the band was never quite the same. They were still good and the songwriting was still high end, but the energy level fell off; the music was never as kinetic.



Nada Surf -- "Let Go"

An argument could be made that if any single band could be referred to as "Kyle's favorite band," it would be Nada Surf. Known by most as a one hit wonder, this band writes songs that constantly amaze me. I've seen them more times than I can count and I will continue to see them every time they come my way, because I just love their music that much.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Nada Surf are mostly known as a one hit wonder because of their song "Popular," which, frankly, isn't even the best song on that album (probably the second best). It's weird to think that my favorite band is dismissed by so many people in such a way. It almost makes me wonder if there are some other one hit wonders out there that deserve a second chance. Almost.



Wilco -- "A Ghost Is Born"

Sad and hopeful at the same time, this is (I will admit, arguably) Wilco's best album. There's only one song on this entire album that I'm not in love with, and that's saying a lot. There's an amazing combination of songwriting and flat out weirdness on this album that Wilco will probably never duplicate, but I'm fine with that. This is enough.

Wilco happened to play one of the most serendipitous shows I've ever seen. It was at the Coachella Music Festival in 2005. Each act was given 45 minutes to play. Wilco had approximately 10 minutes left (after having played 35 minutes of every song I liked) and I though to myself "well, I guess I won't get to hear 'Kidsmoke,' since they barely have enough time for it and, besides, it's a music festival, they're probably trying to win over new fans." And just then, as the sun was setting behind them, out there in the desert, they started playing "Kidsmoke." It totally blew me away and solidified their spot on this list.



 If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that Pretty Girls Make Graves, Fugazi, and the Afghan Whigs might have dropped down on this list.  Honestly, I don't think they did, but they're the least secure of the ten I listed above.  Most of that comes from the fact that I just don't listen to those albums as much as I used to.

The New, Additional 10

Jimmy Eat World -- "Clarity"

You know, I own every Jimmy Eat World album, but I can't say that I would listen them as one of my favorite bands.  At a certain point, their stuff became redundant.  I keep waiting for the album that will show them growing as a band, trying new things.  Because here's the thing: they got it right with Clarity.  Sure, there are some great songs on their later albums, but they nailed it with this one.  Achievement unlocked.  Time to move to the next level.



Weezer -- Weezer

Choosing a Weezer album was hard.  My favorite is "Maladroit," which is full of giant rock riffs and was probably the last time Weezer was really inventive.  It's hard to argue with the impact that "Pinkerton" had on the legend that is Weezer.  But, in the end, it's their debut that set the table for everything to follow.  I was also fortunate enough to get in on these guys on the ground floor, so I was able to enjoy this record without all the fanfare.



Metallica -- Ride the Lightning

I only listened to Metallica in bits and pieces when I was growing up, so I often knew individual songs, but not entire albums.  It was only later that I was able to appreciate each record as its own entity.  And while there are some great songs on other Metallica albums, for me, "Ride the Lightning" is the strongest as a whole.  Maybe that's because Cliff Burton was still around or maybe it's because of the amazing evolution from "Kill 'Em All," but if I had to take one Metallica album with me to a desert island, it would be this one.  Besides, it's hard to argue with "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Fade to Black" back to back.



Minus the Bear -- Highly Refined Pirates

 I've probably said this before, but Minus the Bear makes me think of college.  Something about the lyrics just strikes me as the college experience, even though the band is far removed from that time (I'm not sure if any of them were ever even students).  Up until "Menos El Oso," their albums were somewhat choppy.  So why pick "Highly Refined Pirates" over "Oso" or what could be their best album in years, "Infinity Overheard?"  Simple: it has the best individual songs.  It's everything that makes Minus the Bear great, from the math rock guitar and drums, to the triumphant loud quiet loud, to the extremely sing-able vocals.



Rival Schools -- United by Fate

There's a decent argument to be made that if I were to ever be in a band again, they would sound like a (bad) version of Rival Schools.  They are the perfect mix of heavy riffs and melodic hooks, with lyrics that never get too sappy.  They can give you the big, loud, guitar rock you want, but there's intricate songwriting going on beneath that.  Their debut album was on repeat for a solid six months before I made myself listen to something else.



Nirvana -- In Utero

It would be disingenuous for me to make a Top 20 list and not include a Nirvana album.  The 90's were such an influential period of my life that a case could be made that this entire list should feature grunge bands (or alternative rocks bands, if you will).  Nirvana's commercial breakthrough meant a lot to me, but it pales in comparison with their fourth (and final) release (assuming you count "Incesticide").  The sound is less produced and the songs are more inventive.



Ned's Atomic Dustbin -- God Fodder

Many years ago, my wife was working on a movie and the crew decided to post their lists of their top movies of all time.  My wife's list featured a few oddball choices -- movies not generally considered to be classics.  And one of the crew members told her that, as she got older, that list would change, in theory to better reflect the traditional lists that people in the industry tend to make.  The problem with that, to me, was that a list of top anythings includes things that mean something to you.  It doesn't matter if they're great in the traditional sense if they encapsulate a particular moment in your life, a time that was and always will be important to you.  And that's how I feel about "God Fodder."



Helmet -- Meantime

I bought this on tape and I listened to it so much it broke.  Helmet was the happy medium between alternative rock/grunge and heavy metal, yet they seemed to refuse any of the trappings of either of those genres.  Were their songs redundant?  Yes, but it wasn't all that noticeable over a single album (an entire career, however, is different story).  There are a lot of great songs on this album, but let's just be honest here and say that "Unsung" is one of the greatest songs of all time.



Quicksand -- Slip

Funny enough, I'm making a point of avoiding putting multiple albums from single acts on this list, which probably ruins the whole things, as it's entirely possible a couple of the bands in my top ten would have second albums on this list.  My arbitrary rule is stretched a bit with Quicksand, which features Walter from Rival Schools.  But this album is just too great to leave off, and 3/4s of the band is different, so I'm going with it.  "Unfulfilled" will always be one of my favorite songs, a song I wish I'd written myself.



The Stills -- Logic Will Break Your Heart

I love The Stills.  Love them.  I seem to be the only person I know who loves them, which is strange even for me.  I may listen to a lot of indie bands, but come one, I still know people who listen to them, too.  I love The Still so much that it was hard to pick an album to put on this list, but in the end I went with their full length debut.  They write wonderfully simple, atmospheric songs with catchy vocal lines.  Try "Still In Love Song" for a taste.


So there you go, my expanded list of my top albums of all time.

What do you think?