A few weeks ago, I announced I was compiling a list of my ten favorite albums. You know, if I was stranded on a desert island and could only take ten record albums with me, what would they be? I thought it would be easy.
I was wrong.
I love music; I play it every day. My recorded music collection is fairly extensive (more than 13,000 songs in my digital library and about 1,100 compact discs) and it’s fairly wide-ranging, from classical to show tunes to jazz and the gamut of pop music.
The single guiding rule I set for selecting the albums was simple:
They had to be original album recordings – as opposed to compilations or “greatest hits” collections. (By definition, compilations represent music from multiple albums.)
So without further ado, here is my list.
(But please read on to see what surprised me and what I learned as I agonized over this process.)
1. Marc Cohn – Marc Cohn (1991)
2. Rubber Soul – The Beatles (1965)
3. Graceland – Paul Simon (1987)
4. Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)
5. The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby & The Range (1986)
6. Dad Loves His Work – James Taylor (1981)
7. The End of the Innocence – Don Henley (1989)
8. Lauren Wood – Lauren Wood (1979)
9. The Band – The Band (1969)
10. Moondance – Van Morrison (1970)
This is a very personal endeavor – more so than I anticipated. I can’t imagine too many people choosing Lauren Wood for their lists, yet I could not not have that disc on my list.
Another aspect of the personal nature of the list is that, for me, it’s very much about the music on its own merits. These albums stir strong emotional responses within me, yet none of them made the list because they remind me of specific moments or people in my life experience. (There are individual songs – most of which aren’t found on these albums – that mean a great deal because they connect me to life events. But that’s a different list.)
I was surprised at how much harder this selection process was at this point in my life. When I was younger, I would have cranked out a top ten list without hesitation, certain of my choices and confident of my superior taste in music.
This time, I found myself coming up with dozens of recordings that I love. It was quite a mental wrestling match to pare done to ten. At the end of this piece, I’ve listed my 50 favorite discs for your consideration. (Even getting this down to 50 was agonizing. I had to drop Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell – a tough, tough call. And the same is true for albums by Fleetwood Mac, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin…)
Bottom line: I am pleased to see that my tastes have evolved and grown to include a broader spectrum of genres and performers.
It’s a Limited View
I do recognize that my final list contains only popular music (virtually all of it rock) from a fairly narrow time period (late 1960’s to the early 90’s).
While I enjoy lots of different music, it came down to the ten discs I absolutely had to have on my island. And for me, it’s songs with pop melodies and strong vocals.
I imagine this reflects the development of my appreciation for music. My parents had a modest library of records, mostly Broadway and big bands. (I can still hear Patti Page singing, “Let’s take a boat to Bermuda, let’s take a plane to St. Paul.”) My awakening to the power of music came with the rise of The Beatles and the frenzy that this “new” Rock ‘n Roll generated among my pre-teen peer group. Radio playlists and local bands (The Dantes, Sir Timothy and the Royals, Billy Graham and the Escalators) were tremendous influences for my developing sensibilities and enthusiasms.
So, even though I greatly enjoy Broadway’s Les Miserables and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (as well as a host of other different genres), my strongest preference remains rooted in pop/rock. Which leads to…
The Ego Adds to the Work
I found myself thinking in terms of how others might react to my list. Was I hip? Is my taste too dorky? Too dated? If I pick a certain disc, will I elevate my status in the eyes of some people?
This concern cropped up quite a bit – and I had to make a conscious effort to stifle it. After all, these are my choices for my desert island. (See It’s Personal.)
Following the Guiding Rule is Tough
I must admit that some of my most-played discs are greatest hits compilations. In fact, my extended list of 50 includes seven such albums. I also added three other compilations: two tribute albums and a movie soundtrack. (In other words, my expanded list is made up of my top 40 discs plus 10 compilations.)
Marvin Gaye (or probably more accurately, Motown Records) led me to including compilations. I love the music of Marvin Gaye and I assumed he’d have a disc in my top ten, but…
I found it impossible to locate a truly great digital album that wasn’t a compilation of his most popular songs. In my memory (whether accurate or not is a subject for debate), he had two strong record albums back in the day: What’s Going On and Mercy Mercy Me – yet I could not find them in either iTumes or Amazon. There is an album titled What’s Going On, but it has been repackaged to include his greatest hits.
There are literally dozens upon dozens of Marvin Gaye discs available – all with different combinations of his best songs (packaged as duets, love songs, anthologies, greatest hits, his number one singles, etc., etc.).
There’s a Difference between Favorite Albums and Favorite Songs
As I put this list together, it immediately became evident that my favorite albums very rarely contain my favorite songs. There are many albums that contain a great song, but fall short on putting together a total package. And, in this age of mp3 downloads, there is far more emphasis on the sale of singles – to the point where some songs exist without the framework of a complete album. An example of this (and one of my huge faves) is Willie Nelson’s “The Scientist.”
And, yes, a by product of my desert island disc list has been the start of listing my favorite songs. But that will be for another time…
Here, as promised, is my Top 50 Album List:
1. Marc Cohn – Marc Cohn
2. Rubber Soul – The Beatles
3. Graceland – Paul Simon
4. Abbey Road – The Beatles
5. The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby & The Range
6. Dad Loves His Work – James Taylor
7. The End of the Innocence – Don Henley
8. Lauren Wood – Lauren Wood
9. The Band – The Band
10. Moondance – Van Morrison
11. The Art of Tea – Michael Franks
12. Across From Midnight – Joe Cocker
13. Sail Away – Randy Newman
14. Child is Father to the Man – Blood, Sweat & Tears
15. Bustin’ Out – Pure Prairie League
16. Halcyon Days – Bruce Hornsby
17. Nick of Time – Bonnie Raitt
18. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
19. So – Peter Gabriel
20. Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue / An American In Paris
- Boston Pop/Arthur Fielder
21. Chicago Transit Authority – Chicago
22. Thriller – Michael Jackson
23. Faith – George Michael
24. Say I Am You – The Weepies
25. It’s Like This – Rickie Lee Jones
25. New Moon Shine – James Taylor
26. Songs from the Attic – Billy Joel
27. Flag – James Taylor
28. Night Calls – Joe Cocker
29. Aja – Steely Dan
30. Careless – Stephen Bishop
31. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman
32. My World – Ray Charles
33. Boys In The Trees – Carly Simon
34. Come Away With Me – Norah Jones
35. Organic – Joe Cocker
36. Breaking Silence – Janis Ian
37. At Home – Janis Seigal
38. Night Beat – Sam Cooke
39. Medusa – Annie Lennox
40. Blue – Joni Mitchell
41. Hits – Phil Collins
42. The Very Best Of – The Eagles
43. Actual Miles – Don Henley
44. Best of (Millennium Collection, Vol. 2) – Marvin Gaye
45. Forty Licks – The Rolling Stones
46. The Last Waltz – The Band
47. The Best of War and More – War
48. Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead
49. Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John
50. Tin Cup (soundtrack)
I’d love to see your list of favorites.
Rod Ebright is a marketing communications strategist and creative director who also conducts workshops and retreats on the creative process. You can connect with Rod at RodEbright.com and follow him on Twitter.
Copyright © 2013 Rod Ebright