My Favorite Albums

1.– The Doors, their first album. I consider this the most perfect album of the era. It has no weaknesses at all, and was revelatory in its day. As one teen of the day drily observed, “After listening to the Doors, sitting down to dinner with your parents was never the same.”
2.– Surrealistic Pillow, (Jefferson Airplane). The legendary San Francisco sound—in spades. Psychedelic but beautiful, and still sounds fresh today.
3.– Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan). With this stunning double album Bob Dylan hit his lyrical and musical peak. All but two of the songs are about relationships with women, surreal and cockeyed. Like picks #1 and #2, this album is deemed a rock masterpiece.
4.– The Beatles Second Album. Everyone who loves the Beatles has a favorite album. This one is mine. It’s full-bore rock and roll start to finish, with the driving rhythms the Beatles played in Liverpool club dives in their early days. McCartney’s vocals, alternately frenzied and honeyed, have never been better.
5.– Bob Dylan (his debut album). When Dylan walked into the studio to record this, he was so naïve about the record business that he thought he had to play the songs one after another, only pausing between them, because that’s how an album sounded. He was twenty years old, an indigent newcomer to the folk scene in Greenwich Village, an “unwashed phenomenon,” as Joan Baez described him. This initial album only sold a few thousand copies, barely enough to pay for the production, and the record company leaned toward dropping him. The executives were persuaded otherwise by Johnny Cash and a few other musicians. Indeed, nothing on this album even whispers, “hit song.” There are no protest songs, no surreal lyrics, no bittersweet memories of star-crossed love affairs. Most of the songs aren’t even his own. Yet something is so elemental and convincing about his voice that enjoying the album in a single go is effortless.
6.– Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd). Where do you begin with an album that stayed on the Billboard charts for over nine hundred weeks? The truly weird part is that this is a philosophical album. It’s about alienation, death, and greed—about mental illness, war, and the elusiveness of meaning. There are dark nights in a man’s life when kicking back and listening to this album is the necessary thing to do.
7.– Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles). The A side of this is the soundtrack of the Beatles film of the same name. The B side has songs the Beatles released on 45’s in the months before they broke up. Even when the songs explore darker themes, the album remains light-hearted. The title really says it all.
8.– 12×5 (Rolling Stones). Every rock critic this side of Mars avers that Exile on Main Street is the best Stones album, with Sticky Fingers a close second. The truth is that almost everything the Stones released until 1971 is still enjoyable. They were so talented that in 1967 they collected rejects from their previous albums and released them under the title Flowers, and it’s a better album than the greatest hits collections of most bands. All those early albums deserve occasional listens, but the one that most often ends up on my turntable is 12×5, their second album. When they recorded 12×5, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were twenty years old and weren’t even dreaming about stardom. They were just putting their energy into re-arranging Chicago rhythm-and-blues songs for the benefit of British teenagers. That’s what they did on 12×5, and today it sounds as powerful as it did then. The production is virtually perfect. There isn’t a single note that doesn’t belong, nor a note missing.
9.– Retrospective (Buffalo Springfield). I wasn’t going to include any greatest hits albums, but this is a classic, and I play it too often to leave off my list. This band only existed for two years, and the members spent most of the time fighting amongst themselves and getting busted for drugs. It’s a testament to the creative talents in the band that they were able to put together such a wonderful set as this album holds.
10.– Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. My record of this timeless masterpiece is by the New York Philharmonic, directed by Leonard Bernstein, but I imagine any production of it is wonderful. The Seventh Symphony is also superb.