Back in my college radio days…
It’s difficult to organize a list that spans 51 years. A lot of thought has to go into it and for me…it’s very personal. As a lover of music, I find a lot of times my tastes swing all over the place. From country to pop to rock to jazz to alternative to just about anything really, I love most all music in all of its variable forms. Through the years, I have owned hundreds of albums in different formats…vinyl, 8-Track, cassette, CD, digital downloads, I’ve owned them all! And no one format is better than the other, in my opinion.
I think what makes music so unique is that, as you grow, it becomes a part of who you are. A lot of the bodies of work I’m going to list here hold special meaning for me. I can listen to them front to back and not want to fast forward or skip a single track. More often than I’d like to admit, I would love a single song I heard on the radio or in a movie or on tv then I’d go buy the album and I would be disappointed in the rest of it. So…to have an entire body of work be complete ain’t something to disregard. So that really is the only guideline I have for this list. Each of these albums is one I can listen to in its entirety and not need to skip a track.
So here you go…my personal favorite 25 albums ever. Some might surprise you. Some might make you wonder what my ears are thinking. But each one of them are great in my opinion and I would like to thank each band or artist that made this list. Thank you for making a piece of art that I will continue to enjoy for the rest of my life!
25. REO Speedwagon – “High Infidelity” (1981)
Favorite Track: “Out Of Season”
My fondest memory of this album was listening to it constantly in the local video game arcade in my hometown, McConnelsville, OH. As I loaded Galaga with my quarters, the owner of the store would be cranking this album. I must’ve listened to it the entire summer and it always reminds me of those great summer days.
24. Vince Guaraldi Trio – “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)
Favorite Track: “Skating”
I’ve pretty much grown up watching this every holiday season of my life and every time I hear it, I go back to a much simpler time. I’ve even been known to throw this one on in the summer months when I need cheered up. Love every single track. Merry Christmas everyone!
23. Def Leppard – “Hysteria” (1987)
Favorite Track: “Run Riot”
Summer of 1987. I mean seriously…were ya listening to anything other than this and “Appetite For Destruction?” I was a Def Leppard fan when “Pyromania” came out in 1983, but this took it to a whole other level. And I love the pop/rock nature of this album. Where some bands rebel against their leanings, Def Leppard embraced the fact that they could rock AND have great melodies without losing their rock band integrities. I burned this album out that summer and through the winter months. Love every track on the album which is why it made this list and not Guns N Roses. While I like “Appetite,” I don’t like every track. This one? I do with the weakest for me being “Pour Some Sugar On Me” which just got entirely too much airtime.
22. INXS – “Welcome To Wherever You Are” (1992)
Favorite Track: “Baby Don’t Cry”
My first year in Dayton, OH and I remember it came out during the summer months. Honestly…it’s just a really good summer album. I can throw it on and listen to every track and it reminds me of a time where all I had to worry about was myself and my friends. Good times…
21. Nirvana – “Nevermind” (1991)
Favorite Track: “Polly”
Not gonna lie…when this album came out…I didn’t get it. Everyone was raving and ranting about this band from Seattle who was changing the music scene and upon first listen? I hated it. Loud, couldn’t understand the lyrics, I didn’t know what to make of it. Then I started to just enjoy the music, forgetting the lyrics. To this day, in almost half of this album, I have no idea what Cobain is singing about but that’s what keeps bringing me back to it. Oh…and it just fucking rocks!
20. Gordon Lightfoot – “Sundown” (1974)
Favorite Track: “The Watchman’s Gone”
Summertime…you need an album to relax to? Throw this one on. I don’t know exactly WHEN I started to love this album but I can say it has been a mainstay for me since I saw him perform live in Dayton, OH in the early 90’s. I loved “Sundown” & “Carefree Highway” in the 70’s and then I finally caught hold to what a great album the entire thing was. Now I listen to this album whenever I need to take a breath and think about the ocean.
19. Oingo Boingo – “Dark At The End Of The Tunnel (1990)
Favorite Track: “Long Breakdown”
Oingo Boingo could easily be written off as an 80’s party band, with appearances on multiple movie soundtracks of that decade. And while their album “Dead Man’s Party” is a MUST own if you love alt-pop from the 80’s, this album is, in my opinion, their strongest body of work. Made after lead singer Danny Elfman went off to do soundtracks with Tim Burton, it is surprisingly dark lyrically and yet the music is spot on Boingo. I remember listening to this in college over & over again and I still love it to this day.
18. Paul Simon – “Graceland” (1987)
Favorite Track: “Boy In The Bubble”
Released my senior year in high school, obviously being named Alan left a lot of room for “You Can Call Me Al” references. Personally…I wouldn’t even put that song in the top 5 best songs on this album. I love the African sounds that Simon utilized in the music and his lyrics are spot on throughout! A pleasant surprise? When he switches to zydeco towards the end of the album on a couple tracks. Gotta love the man’s ability to take various genres and make some fantastic music!
17. The Beatles – “Rubber Soul” (1965)
Favorite Track: “In My Life”
Honestly…you could probably argue every album on this list EXCEPT for this one. But then it breaks into…”Well…it’s not THEIR best album” diatribes and I don’t have the patience to have those discussions really. The Beatles wrote so many great songs that it would be an injustice to even try to compare YOUR favorite album to mine. EVERYONE has their own thoughts on it so I’m giving you mine. Every single track is delicious to the ear. The single memory I have of owning this particular album was getting it along with several other Beatles CDs at a thrift shop in downtown Zanesville, OH. Literally got at least 7 or 8 of their albums for $5 a pop. Other than that memory? I’ve been listening to it since I was born…
16. Sturgill Simpson – “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” (2016)
Favorite Track: “Keep It Between The Lines”
What is NOT to like about Sturgill Simpson? He’s blurring lines in music today, swinging from old country to straight out rock! This album is a fascinating study about a man dealing with fame and being gone from his family. Written for his son, this album hit me hard because it says so much that I feel when it comes to raising a son while being gone so much for work. Kudos also for the album cover, which I think is also just perfect.
15. Beastie Boys – “Ill Communication” (1994)
Favorite Track: “Sabotage”
After their debut with “Licensed To Ill” on Def Jam (which I will talk about a bit more later), the Beasties completely moved on and did their own thing. Thankfully. While I LOVE “Licensed To Ill,” the path they eventually took was more interesting than recycling the same party album over & over again. This album dropped in the early summer of 1994 and I couldn’t stop listening to it. 25+ years later? It’s still music to my ears.
14. Bryan Adams – Reckless (1984)
Favorite Track: “Run To You”
THIS album was HUGE in my life! I owned 2 copies of the cassette at one point. pretty sure it was in my cassette deck when I went on my first drive by myself without my parents and it was the soundtrack to my spring break that year when I received my first kiss from a girl named Skye, who I met in our RV park in Orlando, FL. Every track has meaning for me and I will occasionally throw it on when I just want to remember the good ol’ days. And any time I hear “Heaven,” I’m taken back to that first, awkward kiss…
13. Alexander O’Neal – “Hearsay” (1986)
Favorite Track: “Criticize”
Little known fact…Alexander SHOULD have been the lead singer of The Time. There’s a story behind O’Neal and Morris Day but needless to say…he didn’t get the gig. Instead he became a solo artist and in 1987 (my freshman year in college at Ohio University-Zanesville), “Fake” was a hit single. I loved that song so…I bought the album on cassette and…lo & behold…I loved every song on it! Tracking in with 9 songs, this album also included some pretty silly in-between tracks dialogue which has not aged well. But the music? Timeless and wonderfully 80’s…
12. Phil Collins – “Face Value” (1981)
Favorite Track: “In The Air Tonight”
Let’s face it…”In The Air Tonight” is possibly THE quintessential song of the 80’s and one of the most recognizable songs in the history of music. The drum solo? Come on. It’s perfect. And it’s my personal favorite song of all-time. But what is easy to forget is that there are MANY hit singles on here and it has been one of my favorite albums since it dropped in 1981. I recently got a chance to see Phil in Cleveland in 2018 and, despite having some health issues, the man can still sing! No one does pop songs quite like Phil Collins and this album is fantastic.
11. Boston (1976)
Favorite Track: “More Than A Feeling”
I have no idea how many of the 8 songs on this album were hit singles but every one of them SOUNDS like a hit single. Apparently it peaked at #3 on the Billboard album charts
but was openly recognized as one of the greatest debut albums in history. For me though? It’s all about the music. And this music has been in my ears for going on 40 years strong.
10. Sugar – “Copper Blue” (1992)
Favorite Track: “Fortune Teller”
Bob Mould has a voice that needed to grow on me. A lot like Kurt Cobain, I wasn’t sold on his vocals for a while but the music on this album is just so good that eventually I came around. So many of these tracks are just amazing and once again, this album was released during a crucial time in my life. I had just moved to Dayton, OH and this album was in my music rotation for at least 2 summers.
9. The Pursuit Of Happiness – “Love Junk” (1988)
Favorite Track: “She’s So Young”
I have included a couple of college albums on this list (because high school & college are when you are influence the most, in my opinion), and this album is right up there with the best of them. Produced by Todd Rundgren, this alt-pop band only had a few albums and, as far as I know, charted only with the song “I’m An Adult Now” but this entire album is fantastic! I highly recommend checking it out if you’ve never heard of them. It all reminds me of my days in college radio…specifically the hours spent at the Ohio University radio station, ACRN.
8. Dire Straits – “Brothers In Arms” (1985)
Favorite Track: “Why Worry”
So…there’s a story behind this particular album and even though it really is a classic, there is a reason I hold it in such high regard. In 1985, I was a sophomore in high school. I lived out in the country, no one close by to hang out with. So…many evenings, I would hop on my bike and peddle to the closest town to play basketball at the town square. That summer was when “Money For Nothing” was a HUGE hit for Dire Straits and I bought the cassette. I listened to this album every time I rode my bike home, usually after dark. I listen to it and I remember biking on the open country road, no one to bother me, sweaty from playing basketball and a cool country breeze cool on my forehead. I love this album and the memories it brings me.
7. The Cure – “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” (1987)
Favorite Track: “Just Like Heaven”
I have to be honest…a part of me really wants to put “The Head On The Door” here because I do believe that it is the more listenable album as far as length and radio playability is concerned but this album is how I was introduced to The Cure and they continue to be one of my favorite bands of all-time. If I were to list, in order, the bands that I have probably spent the most time listening to in my lifetime, The Cure would be in the Top 3 with U2 and probably AC/DC. This album just takes me back to my college days. I remember buying “Just Like Heaven” as a cassette single at first. The song sits firmly in my Top 5 favorite songs of all-time. And then at some point I bought the entire album and was enthralled by Robert Smith’s vocals.
6. Violent Femmes (1983)
Favorite Track: “Add It Up”
College. Nothing screams college like this album. It just sounds like college. Every song I know by heart. The guitar sounds like your buddy could be playing it at a beer party in a frat house somewhere on the south campus. I don’t care what college you went to, you have heard this album. And I could listen to it any time and be perfectly happy.
5. Beastie Boys – “Licensed To Ill” (1986)
Favorite Track: “Paul Revere”
Whoo man. Where do I begin with this one? When this album dropped in 1986, I was a junior in high school. While not naive to rap, I had never heard anything like this before and, once again, it had to grow on me. I was used to listening to The Outfield and Bryan Adams, not 3 guys singing about porno mags and fighting for their right to party. But that lead single pretty much changed my taste in music by itself and this album doesn’t have a bad track on it.
4. Prince – “Purple Rain” (1984)
Favorite Track: “Purple Rain”
I don’t think I even need to explain this one. It pretty much speaks for itself. Now…go purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
3. AC/DC – “Back in Black” (1980)
Favorite Track: “Shoot To Thrill”
What do you do when you’re a young kid in the early 80’s and you have access to 2 or 3 radio stations that all play pop or easy listening music? Well…you don’t listen to rock, that’s for sure. And up until my 2nd cousin came to visit my family for a summer, I had never heard of AC/DC. But Tommy showed up with his collection of 8 track tapes, pretty much all rock from AC/DC to Ozzie and showed me the light. At the time, I want to say “You Shook Me All Night Long” had just started to be played on radio. I dug it. Tommy introduced me to their entire collection and I’ve been a big fan ever since. The only downside to this album? “Let Me Put My Love Into You.” While I love the double entendre that AC/DC rolls with in pretty much ALL of their songs, this one is just kinda cringeworthy to me. BUT…the other tracks MORE than make up for it. I don’t hate the song that much to not include this as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. Because it is.
2. R.E.M. – “Document” (1987)
Favorite Track: “The One I Love”
R.E.M. released 3 albums in my college years and “Document” was the first in 1987. As a freshman in college, I really hadn’t been exposed to a lot of “alternative” music. I mean, yes…I had heard some of their music before (“Superman” was a single off of their 1986 album “Life’s Rich Pageant” and had been played on our local radio stations), but I didn’t know anything about Michael Stipe and his band until I got hooked while listening to them at the college radio station at OUZ. One of my favorite moments on this album is the saxophone in “Fireplace.”
U2 – “The Joshua Tree” (1987)
Favorite Track: “Bullet The Blue Sky”
I don’t think this will surprise anyone who knows me. What MIGHT surprise people is that this is the ONLY U2 album in my Top 25. While I consider myself to be a HUGE U2 fan, I have to be honest…not every one of their albums is filled with great songs. I love their catalogue but they definitely have songs that I don’t really care for all that much. If I did a Top 30? You’d find “Achtung Baby” in the mix. But let’s focus on this album. Few can argue its place in rock history. It won “Album of the Year” in my senior year in high school. It had 3 Top 10 charting singles. It is a spectacular body of work and “Bullet The Blue Sky” is my favorite song that they perform live with Bono usually using a bullhorn to get the point across. Easily my favorite album ever.
So there you have it…my Top 25 favorite albums. I’d love to do more but I figure 25 is a nice round number but if you’re curious? Here are a few honorable mentions…U2’s “Achtung Baby,” Supertramp’s “Paris” (the first album I bought with my own money), Bear Hands’ “You’ll Pay For This,” The Cure’s “The Head On The Door” and REM’s “Out Of Time.” I’d probably throw Led Zeppelin’s “IV” in there also.