My 15 Favorite Albums

Last week, my friend Steven Rubio wrote about his 15 favorite albums on his blog. I couldn’t stop thinking about what my own list would contain. Like one of his other readers, the number 15 made it interesting for me. So did the “favorite” adjective rather than the worn-out “best.”

I actually started typing out my list as a comment to his post twice and then deleted it. What I discovered is that I think I needed some imaginary context to do it right. Were these the only 15 albums I could have if I were trapped on a deserted island? (With a solar-powered CD player, of course.) Were these my favorites based on my life? Were these my current favorites?

I decided to plunk down my list here (sorry Steven) so that I could share with a little more detail. This is my list of “My 15 Favorite Albums” or “The 15 Albums I Rarely Grow Tired of Listening To.”

I should add that this has been the case for each of these albums for a substantial period during my adult life and that there’s a healthy bit of nostalgia behind each choice. For example, one of the albums meant a lot to me for a period in life but today I rarely listen to it. At the same time this nostalgia is only for when I thought of myself as “grown up.” When I was 13 I could listen to Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” for days on end. It, however, never threatened to make the list.

Presented in a largely random order…

1. Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley As Recorded at Madison Square Garden. One of the things I love about Elvis is the brilliance mixed with the tragedy. His ’68 “comeback special” might be one of the best nights of recorded music I have ever enjoyed, but its him at a peak. His ’72 performances at the Garden reveal a King in full control of his performance abilities yet, at the same time, he is starting to give them to us in a poster board cut-out version of himself. I love the transition; plus, it’s the year I was born.

2. Albert King: Wednesday Night in San Francisco. This choice probably says a lot about how I approached this list. This is a posthumous album of left overs from a 1968 stint at SF’s Filmore where the best stuff was released as Live Wire/Blues Power. Even I wouldn’t say it’s his best live album. But I love it more than all the others.

3. The Who: Who’s Next. Massive love for the sound and the intensity, it contains my most favorite song by them.

4. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue. This album is like a good book to me. I discover things in it every time I listen. It places me in a time I never lived in but know from my work.

5. Sting: Soul Cages. This is a pensive and emotional work of art that hit me at a point in life where I was trying to be artistic and was successfully very pensive and emotional.

6. The Beatles: Abbey Road. You can tell my love for the tragic by my belief that this is their best album. Rationally, I think it might be really George Martin’s best.

7. Van Morrison: The Best of Van Morrison. I have a fondness for this collection that is specific to my life, which makes me pick it over the more critically established Astral Weeks. I will say I love his earlier stuff and even his adult contemporary later stuff enough that makes this a better album for me.

8. Tom Waits: Bone Machine. If this list were in order of preference, this might be at the very top. His lyrics and his music are at one of their many peaks in this recording. I came to love music the way that I do thanks, in some large part, to this man and this album.

9. Al Green: I’m Still in Love With You. Smooth and sexually potent.

10. Big Mama Thorton: Jail. I love her live stuff best, and her later voice most. This satisfies me on both counts.

11. Derek and the Dominos: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Only one album from this super group and it is a guitar gem. I love the hybridity of blues and rock.

12. B.B. King: Live at the Regal. It features B.B. King. Live. At the Regal.

13. Bob Marley: Legend. The greatest hits album to end all greatest hits albums, some of his best songs–better than 99% of all recorded music–still don’t make the cut for this collection.

14. Jeff Buckley: Grace. When I hear it I feel like I am breathing in the 1990s.

15. Sam Cooke: Portrait of a Legend. This album is too useful, for whatever your emotional state or condition, for me not to include. He is my favorite soul performer of the pre-1970s. One of the greatest voices who ever lived.

3 thoughts on “My 15 Favorite Albums

  1. I love these lists! Glad to see Al Green on there. Live at the Regal used to make my lists a long time ago, and I still love it when I hear it. Perhaps the most interesting to me is your Albert King selection. I’m a Blues Power guy myself. But what comes through clearly in the above is how the personal affects your choices, as it should. Which probably explains why, if I was going to put a Buckley album on my list, it would be Goodbye and Hello … when I hear it, I’m breathing in the 1960s. (Or maybe something by Lord Buckley.)

  2. It’s crazy how much our musical tastes intersect considering we are both able-bodied representatives (nostalgists?) of our respective generations. Come to think of it, my list might make me more of a generational violator than you. 10 of my albums are of music released before I was in kindergarten. Two more are greatest hits made up largely of music from that period.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I hear you. One fun thing to do with friends’ lists is to count the number of items you would never, ever choose. For one thing, you might decide to reconsider, and thus discover what is for you a lost treasure. I don’t usually tell people when we disagree like that, though … well, I’ve been known to start fights when people choose Revolver, but even a hardened early-Beatles-is-best guy like me can’t disagree about Abbey Road.

    In this case, there are only two that I’d omit, and in both cases, it’s as much because of my lack of knowledge. I don’t know the Sting album because I never much liked what I heard of his solo work. And I don’t know the Big Mama album because her stuff runs together in my mind … if I heard Jail right now, I’m sure I’d like it.

    As for the respective generations thing, someone I don’t know made a comment during a SongPop game we were playing on Facebook. I was winning by a fairly substantial margin. She seems to have a specific area of expertise, mostly 70s/80s classic rock. So when I get to choose the category, I often pick the 1950s on one end, or modern rap on the other end. She asked me, “How old to you have to be to know all this stuff?” I said, “59. Old enough to remember the 50s, and to have kids from the hip-hop era.”

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