Lists are always fun to do. When I hit middle age (yes, by definition 40 is middle age) April of 2009, I had this idea of compiling a mix tape of my 40 favorite songs by the time I was 40. Well, that has not happened yet, but I figured even though 41 is just a few months away, I still have time to compile some Top 40 at 40 lists. What better way to start than with my Top 40 Albums.
Some quick rules. I had to have heard the album before my 40th birthday. I did not include greatest hits compilations, but live discs were okay. Now, without further adieu …
40. Fish Karma – Teddy in the Sky With Magnets. One of the most hilarious albums I have ever heard, indie folk music with a sharp edge to it.
39. Phil Collins – But Seriously. Yes, seems to be an odd addition to my list, but this was a stellar offering from Mr. Collins. His last huge seller is also my favorite disc of his.
38. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes. The début from this great trio. This disc should hold a special place in the hearts of anyone that was part of Sunnyslope Vikings wrestling from 1983-1985. Amazing first four songs.
37. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Classic, old-school Brit punk. Where would punk music be today without these guys? This still sounds as fresh today as it did more than 30 years ago.
36. Catherine Wheel – Chrome. Kudos to the Bob for hammering on me about this amazing slab of vinyl until I finally realized what a great album it is. Shoegaze with a more powerful edge to it, what a disc.
35. Radiohead – OK Computer. Kudos to Burch for convincing me to pick up this album. It took me about four listens before I finally got it, but once I did I was blown away by its sheer power and beauty.
34. Slayer – Reign in Blood. Best thrash metal album of all-time, hands down. Slayer took metal to places it had never ventured before with this offering.
33. SSD – Get it Away. Militant, brutal straight edge punk from Bean town. One of the most powerful hardcore albums in my collection.
32. The Chameleons – Strange Times. Last studio album before the band’s original split in the eighties, Strange Times is classic Britpop that this incredible band did better than just about anyone else.
31. Mighty Lemon Drops – World Without End. Tremendous disc from these Wolverhampton, UK fellows, taking the elements from their début disc and subsequent EP, then adding in even more polish to create a brilliant album.
30. Black Flag – Damaged. The first recording with Henry Rollins on vocals. Brutal hardcore, this album showed the mighty Flag at their most intense, re-recording several older tracks for the album for full damage potential.
29. Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy. Incredible début from JAMC, and one of the loudest, most feedback laced discs I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Beach Boys meets Britpop meets shoegaze, what a combination.
28. Minor Threat – Minor Threat. Minor Threat’s first EP, and one of the first discs released on the legendary Dischord label. This EP put straight edge hardcore on the map, eight incredible songs of pure fury.
27. SNFU – And No One Else Wanted to Play. Melodic hardcore from up north in Canada, this band’s début on BYO Records possesses incredible music and vocals, as well as some of the most amusing lyrics ever set to paper.
26. R.E.M. – Reckoning. Second album from the college radio kings, this album showed exponential progression from their classic début and one of the most potent four song openings to any album in history.
25. Lords of the New Church – Lords of the New Church. One of my favorite records from high school still sounds as fresh today as it did back then. Melodic goth rock with an old-school punk edge.
24. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time. The Funeral is one of my all-time favorite tracks, and the rest of this stellar début from the band is every bit as good. This is good old-fashioned Southern rock with an indie twist.
23. Nada Surf – The Weight is a Gift. Classic power pop from this severely overlooked and under-rated band. Beautiful vocals, stellar musicianship and pop hooks galore are all over this fine album.
22. Sebadoh – Bakesale. Critics were all over earlier offerings from this band, but for me this disc stands out as their crowning achievement. Indie rock with a serious garage edge to it, set to one of my all-time favorite vocal deliveries.
21. Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin. A stunning disc from this Oklahoma based band, and one of the more emotional discs I have come across in ages. The opener to the album sets the tone for one intense and beautiful ride.
20. Big Country – King Biscuit Flower Hour. This was a live recording from New Year’s Eve, 1983 at Barrowland Music Hall in Glasgow, Scotland. I remember seeing this concert on MTV (when they actually played music) and was blown away by the power of the band. Incredible live disc.
19. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation. The watershed album from one of the godfathers of alternative rock, this brutal album has an underlying beauty to it that cannot be truly explained. You have to listen carefully to the album from start to finish. Only then will you realize the sheer majesty of what this band created. Incredible.
18. XTC – Skylarking. Orchestral Britpop done in a manner only this band could pull off, and boy, did they do so in an amazing manner! Another one of those albums you must listen to from beginning to end to fully understand the depth of the message.
17. Kitchens of Distinction – Strange Free World. My sister introduced me to this band back in the nineties. Outstanding disc, full of shimmery guitars and wonderful vocals, this is classic shoegaze.
16. Swervedriver – Mezcal Head. One of my all-time favorite bands delivered an incredible sophomore effort with this release. The album travels through a myriad of tempo changes, all laced with powerful guitars. These guys took the nuances of shoegaze to dizzying heights with this album
15. The Jam – Sound Affects. My number one choice for a band reunion, and I have to believe it will never happen. Outstanding release, every song is power Britpop at its best. Great vocals, great guitars and drums, and some of the best bass tracks ever laid down to vinyl.
14. TSOL – Dance With Me. One of punk rock’s all-time best bands is still tearing it up today. This disc was the band’s first full-length album, a scorching release of goth inspired melodic punk. Try and tell me you don’t know the lyrics to Code Blue by heart.
13. Lonely is an Eyesore – 4AD compilation. 4AD Records was one of my favorite labels back in my early college days. This compilation features a couple of tracks from Dead Can Dance, plus one track each from This Mortal Coil, Wolfgang Press, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Dif Juz, and one of my all-time favorite songs, Muscoviet Mosquito from Clan of Xymox.
12. Echo and the Bunnymen – Porcupine. The first of two albums on my list from Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen, Porcupine may be the band’s most eclectic disc. My belief is it is their most adventurous, chock full of epic post-punk melodies.
11. MIA – Murder in a Foreign Place. What an incredible album from this underrated SoCal punk band via Las Vegas. Melodic thrash hardcore, full of crisp vocals and wailing guitars. The first track may cause uncontrolled stage diving.
10. Lord of the Rings soundtracks. Yes, I am cheating here by including all three in one pick, but then J.R.R. Tolkien intended for the trilogy to just be one book, so I am just following his lead. Epic music here created by Howard Shore, my all-time favorite score to a movie(s). I highly suggest finding the versions which contain the entire score for each movie across several CD’s, plus one DVD with each flick’s entire score. Great investment!
9. Dead Can Dance – Within the Realm of a Dying Sun. This duo was my favorite find on the Lonely is an Eyesore album, and this album my personal favorite. Gregorian chant meets the orchestra meets gothic Britpop. Simply exquisite.
8. The Ramones – It’s Alive. The reason three-chord punk rock became fashionable in the first place. Terrific band, unbelievable live during their prime. This is a double-album from a concert on New Year’s Eve, 1977, at the Rainbow Theater in London. The album features tracks from their first three, mind-blowing albums.
7. Valley Girl soundtrack. The soundtrack to one of my favorite movies is a trip down the eighties memory lane. Featuring three songs from The Plimsouls, a great power-pop band that appeared in the movie, the entire disc is full of eighties new wave classics, featuring the greatest song OF EVER, I Melt With You from Modern English. Yes, OF EVER.
6. Agent Orange – This is the Voice. My favorite album from my all-time favorite punk rock band, this album takes the mid-tempo ferocity of the band’s early work and cleans things up, creating a power pop explosion that has stood the test of time for over 25 years. Surf and punk rock never sounded so good together.
5. Gang of Four – Solid Gold. A post-punk masterpiece, the second full-length album from the Gang expands on the groundwork laid down on their first album. Creating some of the most intelligent and brutal music ever put on vinyl, this is a sonic assault that will both cause you to think and pummel you into submission with the ferocious guitar work.
4. Sugar – Copper Blue. I was so bummed when Husker Du broke up, but after two solo efforts from Bob Mould he put this band together and unleashed this album on the world in 1992. Music has never been the same. Critics, college radio and punk rock fans knew they were listening to the work of a genius when playing Copper Blue. I saw this legend play four of these tracks at Coachella in 2009. These songs still sound incredible to this day.
3. Juno – A Future Lived in Past Tense. One day a good friend came by my place of work, handed me a CD and said, “Put this in. Now.” I am glad I overcame the desire to slap him, put the disc in my player, and fast-forwarded to a song he said I needed to hear by the name of Killing It in a Quiet Way. Years later that song still blows me away, and the scary thing is it is not even close to being my favorite track on the disc. Unfairly tagged as an emo band, Juno took that genre to a whole new level with this release, full of uncompromising lyrics, an incredible three-guitar attack, and complex song structures that hammered at the senses. The manner in which this band changed tempos within a song was amazing.
2. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid. This band is on the verge of claiming the title of Frank’s Favorite Band. If their fifth album is anywhere near as good as this one, that is precisely what will happen. The first three Elbow releases were all stellar pieces of work. Their fourth release encapsulated everything the band had learned up to that point, allowing them to create one of a handful of what I would consider to be “perfect” albums. Every song on this album is incredible, every song tells a story, and every song possesses perfect structure, musicianship and vocals. The disc was the 2008 Mercury Prize Award Winner for Best Album. Rightly so, and the music buying public may finally be catching on to the magnitude of Elbow’s greatness. The band hit on every type of music they play on this one disc, from rousing rock and roll (Grounds for Divorce) to quiet, breath-taking ballads (Friend of Ours) to inspired Britpop (The Bones of You) to epic dream pop (Some Riot). You will find it all on this album.
1. Echo and the Bunnymen – Ocean Rain. Ian McCulloch proclaimed Ocean Rain as “the greatest album ever made” when it was released in 1984. In the humble opinion of this writer, the lead singer of the Bunnymen was 100% correct. Porcupine was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to what Echo was about to create. This is a stunning, epic pop album, the culmination of the greatest four album output in the history of rock and roll. Yes, I said it. The Bunnymen took the energy of Crocodiles, the power of Heaven Up Here and the splendor of Porcupine, added in a full orchestra to amplify things, and gave their fans an album that 25+ years later still defies description. Ocean Rain featured some of Ian’s best vocal work, the typical stunning rhythm section of Les Pattinson on bass and Pete de Freitas on percussion, and Will Sergeant’s patented guitar work, although subdued a bit to fit the style of this album. It was never the same for Echo and the Bunnymen after this album, but what an incredible end to an era.
Folks, I had a marvelous time compiling this list, and so happy that on any day I can flip through my disc collection and pull out one of these fine pieces of work. Check out the links for the artists you are not familiar with, maybe there is a yet undiscovered gem for you in there somewhere. Happy listening!