Based on the title, I’m going to interpret this to mean that these albums have had an influence on my overall musical education. These are the albums that I bought with my hard-earned allowance and wore out on the turntable, in the tape deck or in the CD player. I had to keep it pre-2000 just to keep the numbers down, and these are mostly off the top of my head, so I could very well be omitting something huge and obvious. It’s clear that I could easily make a list of 100, but the rules said 50. So here are 50 plus a few more…
I’ve linked to a few full-featured, ahem, biographical reviews in the Great Albums category. Ideally, I’ll write one of those for each album on this list, even if that seems daunting and scary. For you as well as me.
And please not that I wrote this originally between midnight and 2:00am so my “notes” are a little slapdash. I reserve the right to add, delete, and edit at will
The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)
* Incredible in its range and showcasing the full range of the Beatles’ creative genius.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)
* The first album I ever bought, in 1975. I remember thinking the band was really good, but that the singer couldn’t sing.
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
* The first concept album I knew, and the beginning of an amazing decade for Bowie.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
* THE soundtrack to my stoner years.
Alice Cooper – Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974)
* What a run Alice Cooper had to have a greatest hits album out already in 1974. A really versatile and underrated songwriter.
Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)
* “Bohemian Rhapsody” was huge, but my friends and I played this right through at most of our high school house parties.
Max Webster – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977)
* I loved the combination of “hoser rock” and art rock that Max Webster always embodied. Plus, they’re in drag on the cover!
Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)
* Much has been made about the “manufactured” nature of the Pistols, but for me, the songs were and still are very good. And no one had ever sneered the way Johnny Rotten did.
The Clash – The Clash (1977)
* I loved the fact that a punk band could have two different singers.
Ramones – Rocket to Russia (1977)
* Every song is a winner even as every song sounds like the same song.
Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express (1977)
* Perhaps no other album invokes a time and place so perfectly.
The Cars – The Cars (1978)
* I’ve written about this one elsewhere. “Just What I Needed” – more memories of unrequited love. Not saying that memories of unrequited love were just what I needed.
Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
* Angular and yet soulful. Arty and yet kind of primitive.
Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
* Twitchy and danceable, if nerds danced.
The Clash – London Calling (1979)
* Amazed then and now at this band’s range.
The B-52s – The B-52s (1979)
* Loved loved loved this whole album, except “Rock Lobster,” strangely enough.
Gary Numan and Tubeway Army – Replicas (1979)
* Wore the grooves off this one, during my “I’m really a robot trapped in a gawky teenage body” phase. Lost interest when “Cars” came along and he seemed to forget about the guitar.
Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979)
* Only fully discovered this album recently, but loved the way they took punk in a new direction.
Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1979)
* Didn’t own this at the time, but I remember the songs and the attitude.
Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming (1979)
* Just like Dylan, I was going through a spiritual transformation around this time, and this remains a powerful document of that time in my life.
The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979)
* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but this album’s finest tracks have been overshadowed by “I Don’t Like Mondays,” my least favourite track.
The Specials – The Specials (1980)
* Of all the ska revival bands, I found The Specials the most versatile and politically engaged.
Teenage Head – Frantic City (1980)
* These semi-local heroes seemed to embody working-class teenage rebellion for me and my friends. Sort of punkabilly.
The Pretenders – The Pretenders (1980)
* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but for my 15-year-old self, Chrissie Hynde was what sex looked and sounded like.
Magazine – The Correct Use of Soap (1980)
* I didn’t discover Magazine until maybe 20 years after this came out, but singer Howard Devoto (the original Buzzcocks frontman) and bassist Barry Adamson define postpunk for me. Cool and yet warm, with angular guitars underscored by funky basslines and overlaid with whipsmart lyrics.
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (1982)
* “Someone Somewhere in Summertime” still brings back memories of unrequited love, though for whom I can’t remember(!).
U2 – War (1983)
* Spirituality engaged with the real world in the nuclear-frightened 80s. I was finishing high school.
The The – Soul Mining (1983)
* I’d never heard music like this before and still can’t classify it. Confessional and haunting lyrics, catchy tunes.
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)
* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but to sum up: world weary and impossibly cool, I wanted to be Lloyd Cole
Billy Bragg – Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)
* Picked out of a delete bin in the mid-80s, unbelievably. Soft-hearted socialism like Billy’s defined me as a young man, and likely still does.
REM – Reckoning (1984)
* Michael Stipe’s mumbled lyrics over Byrds-like jangly guitars was pretty revolutionary in the synth-drenched 80s. It felt authentic.
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985)
* Spooky, smart and sexy.
The Waterboys – This Is The Sea (1985)
* I loved the Waterboys’ (and later World Party’s) “Big Music” which was bombastic and yet felt incredibly personal at the same time. I loved the oblique spirituality and the sense of the divine lurking just around the corner.
The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
* Not since Lennon and McCartney had there been such an amazing songwriting partnership as that between Stephen Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr. Morrissey’s ambiguous sexuality helped those of us who weren’t quite frat boys.
Violent Femmes – The Blind Leading the Naked (1986)
* Gordon Gano was another geek talisman, singing about Reagan and faith and not getting the girl.
The Wedding Present – George Best (1986)
* David Gedge’s strangled voice and the band’s unbelievably fizzy guitars made miserable relationships seem like fun.
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
* I first heard this very very loud at a party and it still speaks to that part of me that likes music very loud. Also has the best song ever about our capacity for evil (“Ted, Just Admit It…”)
Pixies – Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim (1988)
* Completely innovative song structures and tightly-controlled aggression helped me through a very tough year.
The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988)
* Mike Scott’s rediscovery of Irish traditional music was warm and open-hearted and got me through a very rough year.
Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)
* My first exposure to Björk’s heavenly voice, and Einar Orn’s not so heavenly voice.
Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
* Just a towering album which seemed unlike anything before it. And like lots after it.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
* Sonic ear massage. Sometimes painful and then forms into something incredibly beautiful. Kevin Shields is sculpting with sound.
Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (1991)
* Matthew Sweet emerged almost fully formed with this amazing album of rock, power pop, and even country songs. An amazingly gifted songwriter.
Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
* Pavement’s brand of slacker rock seemed slapdash and spontaneous, but they were really just trying to hide their smarts.
Rheostatics – Whale Music (1992)
* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but a bit like Max Webster in the 1970s, the Rheos played a winning mix of hoser rock and art rock. Martin Tielli’s voice and guitar took this into sublime orchestral territory for much of its length.
Catherine Wheel – Ferment (1992)
* Catherine Wheel were like the slightly tougher rock cousins of the shoegaze scene.
PJ Harvey – Dry (1992)
* Polly Jean Harvey kicked ass and made you want her and fear her all at once. When she later started wearing dresses and stopped playing guitar, I was sorely disappointed.
Pulp – His ‘n Hers (1994)
* Cynical Jarvis Cocker sang with a world-weary nostalgia about the seamy side and had me singing along with catchy hooks.
Sloan – Twice Removed (1994)
* Perfect pop songs from Halifax.
Spoon – Telephono (1996)
* Pixies comparisons abounded but Britt Daniel’s Texas roots gave Spoon more soul than simple imitators.
Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
* Radiohead began to take over the world with this ambitious and sprawling masterpiece.
Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)
* Filled with startling lyrical imagery, this album matched the words to jagged music that stopped and started and changed directions. Startlingly original and exciting.
Spoon – A Series of Sneaks (1998)
* Spoon showed real development on their second album, pushing into more angular and yet funky territory.
Built to Spill – Keep It Like A Secret (1999)
* Original and every track is a winner. Not an ounce of filler here.
I had to stop this before the year 2000 to keep it near to 50, but maybe I’ll do another version of my top albums from the past decade.