Favorite Rock Albums/CDs of All Time
(order negotiable and excluding "best of" collections)
(1) BEATLES, Magical Mystery Tour: though most experts rate Sgt. Peppers a bit higher, perhaps because of its overall unity, here the title cut, along with "Hello, Goodbye," "I am a Walrus," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and "All You Need is Love" are enough to put this album over the top. This is thematically unconstrained rock and roll psychedelically swirled together with classical melodies and instrumentation. George Martin also deserves credit, surely one of the best efforts from a producer. [runner-up in this genre -- BEATLES, Sgt. Peppers].
(2) LED ZEPPELIN, Led Zeppelin (I): deference must be paid to the original bluesmen. Even so, hands down, ZEPPELIN did it better. Jimmy Page gives an absolutely stunning interpretation of Dixon's "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Babe," and Page's own "Dazed and Confused" took Blues to a height that only Hendrix could match. Robert Plant could scream with more emotion than typically shown in traditional blues circles. And the bonus is John Bonham's drums , especially on "Good Times Bad Times" ... [runner-up in this genre -- LED ZEPPELIN, II, with CREAM, Desraeli Gears close behind].
(3) YES, Close to the Edge: granted, the pick and the ranking are controversial. Worse, the drummer Bill Bruford once called this particular offering "cosmic slop." But progressive rock was part of my formative years, and arguably none did it better than YES. And great musicianship -- Stevie Howe on guitar (influences outside the blues, rare for a rock guitarist, and with an eccentric choppy style), Chris Squire on bass (the first bassist outside jazz whose dexterity could match that of a lead guitar player), and the clever Bill Bruford on drums (take a listen to his subsequent work with KING CRIMSON, solo projects, and his jazz band EARTHWORKS). Rick Wakeman, too, was a perfect fit for Jon Anderson's mystical writing style ... [runner-up in this genre -- EMERSON, LAKE, AND PALMER, Brain Salad Surgery].
(4) BOB DYLAN, Highway 61 Revisited: something that transcends music, DYLAN defines both a culture and a generation of American independents and rebels. His voice is poor, his playing mediocre, but he's James Dean and Maya Angelou put to song. "Like a Rolling Stone" is a national anthem, and will raise the spirits whenever it is heard. "Tombstone Blues" and the title cut are also classics. Best heard while driving a car, windows down, wind blowin, feeling like you're on your own ... [a runner-up but a pick that's closing fast in this genre -- BOB DYLAN, Time Out of Mind -- very honest Dylan but polished with savy studio musicians, best categorized as folk blues with a bit of light jazz drummed in the background. Nice. And, as far as ballads go, "Standing in the Doorway" is a must to hear)].
(5) BRUCE HORNSBY & THE RANGE, Scenes From the Southside: A really nice sound -- jazz piano over country rock. The writing is excellent, especially on "Look Out Any Window," "The Road Not Taken," "Show Goes On" (the opening soundtrack to the movie Backdraft), and my favorite, "Till The Dreaming's Done" (you can almost see the waitress that everybody knew was a wonder). The music has a deceptively simple appearance and produces a peaceful, calming effect ... [runner-up in this genre -- MARC COHN, Marc Cohn, whose "Walking in Memphis" and "Silver Thunderbird" are both nostalgic, but for quite different reasons].
(6) STING, The Soul Cages: STING'S solo projects are all unique, the most intelligent and well-crafted music on the popular scene. The musicianship is top rate. And STING has certainly carved out his own style: a pop jazz and jazzy rock with melancholy depth. Also, there's usually something for everyone on each album. Soul Cages in no exception. "All This Time" is a good pick-me-up, "Why Should I Cry For You?" is full of emotion and speaks to a fateful human condition, and "When the Angels Fall" is cosmically profound ... [very close runner-up in this genre -- PETER GABRIEL, So, whose "Red Rain" and "In Your Eyes" are exceptional. What GENESIS could have been ...].
(7) JOHN McLAUGHLIN AND THE MAHAVISHNU ORCHESRTA, Inner Mounting Flame: there is something to be said for being the greatest electric guitar player, and McLAUGHLIN is it. Not only that, this first incarnation of the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA was a veritable "all star team" with Billy Cobham on drums, Jan Hammer on keyboards, and Jerry Goodman on violin. "Meeting of the Spirits" is a progressivist classic, with fiery riffs from McLaughlin and Goodman following. My favorite, however, is "Lotus on Irish Streams," a nice but sometimes rough mixture of classical guitar, violin, and grand piano ...[runner-up in this genre -- MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, Birds of Fire].
(8) U2, The Joshua Tree: Arguably the best rock band since the Beatles, almost everything U2 does turns to gold (er, platinum, whatever). Yet the Joshua Tree represents an important stage in the band's evolution where the dark Dublin spirit and the raw post-punk sound gives way to a shining cosmic confluence of forces that still drives hard. My favorite is "Where the Streets have No Name." "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is rightly praised. And "In God's Country" is just plain fun, with its driving drum beat and honest guitar ... [runner-up in this genre -- U2, Achtung Baby].
(9) BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, Tunnel of Love: Springsteen delivers a refined folk and countrified rock. The E-Street Band still rocks on the title cut. Other than that, "Tougher Than the Rest," "Walk Like a Man," and "When You're Alone" are songs that would make Willie Nelson proud. "One Step Up" is extremely well written and well delivered, capturing the day-to-day struggle of marriage and living. Yet "Valentine's Day" is truly memorable, a simple but powerful ballad ... [runner-up in this genre -- hard to know, Springsteen is fairly unique, maybe BOB SEGER, Night Moves].
(10) THE ROLLING STONES, Sticky Fingers: this isn't just a perfunctory pick, the STONES did their own thing, and it was a mistake when they tried to imitate the BEATLES (remember their 'Satanic Majesties Request'?). In any case, "Wild Horses" is a classic, and Jagger a natural Blues balladeer. "Brown Sugar" is probably the best if not the only pure/honest/raw sample of rock on this list. And my favoite, "Moonlight Mile," is a showcase for Richards, laid back and tastefully done ... [runner-up in this genre, or at least some more pure/honest/raw stuff -- JAMES GANG, Rides Again, some of the best work, acoustic and electric, by Joe Walsh].