So everyone is (or should be) bored and has some time on their hands. Maybe you looking for some new music to listen to. Maybe you want to know how I became me. Either way, in no particular order I have listed my top 20 albums that define my life. Then I made a Spotify playlist with the essential track off of each to hopefully expand your own playlists as well as pass the time as we try and save lives. Either way, I hope it helps in some way. It was worth the time for me as without these pieces of art I wouldn’t be me, you would unlikely know me, and I hope it helps someone.
- Plastic Ono band- John Lennon
“God is a concept by which we measure our pain” is the first lyric of the song “God” and imo the theme of this masterpiece. This list is in no particular order but without a doubt, front to back this is my favorite album ever recorded. The whole album is a continuous stream of emotion and all the genius that made John Lennon part of the greatest songwriting team in the history of music.
Essential Track-The Patient
Choosing a single track of an album that is essentially a single stream of consciousness where the album really doesn’t work if you take one track out, or change the track order. In my life, I’ve constantly reverted back to lines from the song to guide me through hard times. “If there were no rewards to reap, no loving embrace to see me though, I certainly would have walked away by now, and I still may… gonna wait it out”. This album and this band has seen me through every stage of my life, expanded my mind, humbled me, made me reach out further than I thought possible and grounded me just the same. The essential Tool record IMO.
- Couldn’t Stand the Weather- Stevie Ray Vaughn
Essential Track- Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)
SRV was my childhood idle. He made it cool to be a bluesman again. He took Jimi’s Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and made it sound like a Texas burner. This sound, his tone, It would have been amazing to see Jimi’s face if he had lived to hear it. This is SRV’s 2nd record with the first being mostly cover’s. I chose this album because his songwriting skills started to truly take shape.
- Hot Damn!- Every Time I Die
Essential Track- Floater
“To my Mistress the bridge” Every Time I Die has their own day, the keys to the city, and are in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame for a reason. This album, their 2nd, came basically out of nowhere from a town that’s hardcore scene was still focused on the elder Snapcase with not much attention paid to the younger ETID. They created an almost southern rock hardcore with lyrics so poetic and meaningful to me. Like all these albums on this list, my life would be forever different if they didn’t exist. I can remember specific direct points in my life that would have turned out much different without it. “Drag the lake… you’ll find it full of love.” and from the song, “Rushmore” “The greatest lovers, were murderers first.”
- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill- Ms. Lauryn Hill
Essential Track- Ex-Factor
“Tell me, who I have to be, To get some reciprocity”. This album is filled with some of the most amazing music. Doo Wop, Ex-Factor, the underrated Every Ghetto, Every City, which to my knowledge she never performed live. Front to back, even the interludes it’s perfect. It captured a moment in time in my life when I was transitioning into being a better person. It helped. It captured a star who supernova’d at the moment she recorded it, and then basically faded from existence.
- Antichrist Superstar- Marilyn Manson
Essential Track- Cryptorchid
In 1995-1997 there wasn’t a bigger star. I am not sure how many of his shows I went to… 30-40… I dunno, a lot. My son even attended one in utero. I chose Cryptorchid as the essential track because it was IMO the thesis of what I got out of the album. “Prick your finger it is done
The moon has now eclipsed the sun, The angel has spread its wings, The time has come for bitter things” Even Dave Matthews covers this song. The album though made me feel ok expressing my anger outwardly. It really made me look around at the many that “got it” and made me feel not alone.
- Adrenaline- Deftones
Essential Track- Bored
I had no idea who the Deftones were. They showed up at a warped tour and I immediately knew when I heard their sound everything was going to change for me. Not quite rap-rock but they didn’t really fit into any other category. It was hard for me to pick a track on this album. Listen to the whole cd if you get the chance.
- In Utero- Nirvana
Essential Track- Scentless Apprentice
“Like most babies smell like butter, His smell smelled like no other”. I would be riding my bike to the Keysa public pool by my house with my walkmen with this cassette blasting into my head as loud as possible. Not long after he was gone. The gloss of Nevermind only rearing its head on a few tracks this was Nirvana. It’s such a shame we didn’t get anymore.
- Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites- Skrillex
Essential Track- Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
I never cared at all about electronic music. I have always liked music that was more challenging and aggressive. A friend mentioned I needed to hear this album in early 2011. “Oh my God” (a sound bite from a cup stacking girl on youtube) every hair on my stood up. Never before had a single song, or record expanded my musical tastes so abruptly. I knew this was for me.
- Back to Black- Amy Winehouse
Essential track- Some Unholy War
“If my man was fighting some unholy war, I would stand beside him”, “I’ll battle till this bitter finale, just me, my dignity, and this guitar case.. Whoa.. oooo” Every man wants an Amy in his corner. When I was working nights embalming in Denver this album filled my commute and my evenings. Like SRV she made it cool to have soul again. Much like SRV she kicks the drugs and dies anyway. It still breaks me and I visit her statue every time I’m in Camden. Winning her grammy (so rightfully announced by Frank Sinatra) for this album my hair always stands up when I think of her words. “For London… cause Camden town ain’t burning down”. There are no bad songs on this album.
- Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band-The Beatles
Essential Tracks- Within You Without you
“Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change, And to see you’re really only very small, and life flows on within you and without you”. The Beatles at this point were now a studio-only band and the production of this record is 50 years on still completely breathtaking. There is a reason this is widely considered the greatest album of all time and there is no argument from me on how you get there. McCartney-Lennon by any measure are the greatest songwriting team of all time. I chose maybe the biggest outlier on the whole album, completely made by George Harrison and other Indian musicians playing traditional Indian instruments. The lyrics to this song are a perfect reflection of how I have come to see the world.
Essential Track- Hey Brother
Avicii very successfully mixed bluegrass/country with electronic dance music on this album. What more is there to say? Everything he touched was golden. “Hey brother! There’s an endless road to rediscover”. Losing him was a tragedy. He has been the soundtrack of my travels since I started traveling full time.
- Mer de Noms- A Perfect Circle
Essential Track- Rose
Anything Maynard Keenan does I’m going to be interested in… but calling APC a side project was quite a mistake. In many ways his best lyrical and vocal work. This whole album is incredible… but to me, Rose in particular.
- L.A. Woman- The Doors
Essential Track- The Changeling
“But I’ve never been so broke that I couldn’t leave town”. The Doors occupied so much of mind as a teen and young adult. Jim Morrison’s poetry books swirl in my head to this day. This album is basically a blues album. Recorded in their practice space, Jim’s vocals in the bathroom, Elvis Presley’s bass payer. Their greatest album… a few months later it was over.
- Pretty Hate Machine- Nine Inch Nails
Essential Track- Something I Can Never Have
This whole album for me has a strange vibe. Released in 1989 it was 1992 or 3 by the time I heard it. So ominous, so obvious of what was to come from NIN. This album though recorded almost completely by Trent with simple equipment. Barebones beautiful music… visceral. An electronic garage band feel. In 1989 nothing sounded like this. “Back then I couldn’t do the things that I can do now, this thing is slowly taking me apart, grey would be the color if I had a heart.”
- “V” is for Vagina-Puscifer
Essential Track- Momma Sed
Maynards solo project’s first album. The whole album is a creative masterpiece. Still, many people don’t know this project exists, 4 albums deep. Some of his best work is here. Momma Sed is the song that in my opinion provides a blueprint for raising any human in this world. “Listen up, son of mine, Momma got something to tell you, All about growing pains, Life will pound away, Where the light don’t shine, son, Take it like a man. Changes come, This too shall pass”
- Universal Mother- Sinead O’Conner
Essential Track- Famine
This whole album is so eclectic. Cover of Nirvana’s All apologies, ballads, rap, pop… it’s wonderful and sad all at the same time. Sinead at her peak IMO. Her voice, so powerful. I chose Famine a quasi-rap song that gives a history lesson the so-called famine in Ireland, from an Irish perspective….its haunting and an important lesson… especially in our times. It is a shame she is mostly remembered for covering Prince’s Nothing Compares 2U and here controversies. She is/was so talented.
- Self-Titled-Rage Against the Machine
Essential Track- Freedom
I am going to say very little about this album other than you should listen to it. The lyrics should be essential reading in public school, and the guitar, bass, and drums were so inventive. They exposed me to issues I never knew existed, bare-bones and in your face. It made me feel passionate about oppressed people.
- Straight Outta Compton- NWA
Essential Track- Fuck the Police
This album provided a glimpse during the most dangerous decade in US history 1988-1998 in culture and artform that few knew existed. This album is arguably one of the most important pieces of art produced in my lifetime. If you never listened to it, took the time to understand it, and appreciate it, you have no right to comment on the struggle of oppressed Americans. The fact you haven’t taken the time to understand this album is why these problems still exist more than 30 years on. “Fuck the police coming straight from the underground, A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown, And not the other color so police think, they have the authority to kill a minority, Fuck that shit, ’cause I ain’t the one, for a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
to be beating on, and thrown in jail”. Still the truth.
- Definitely Maybe-Oasis
Essential Track- Live Forever
“Maybe I will never be all the things that I wanna be” Oasis was the biggest band in the world during their run for good reason. I LOVE Oasis, team Liam, but Noel is a songwriting force. This album is always there for me. In any mood, at any time. Thank you Oasis for having existed.. I may be alive because of it,