They say that art is subjective and there’s no way for you to rank the absolute best in anything. But I must’ve not gotten that memo, so here are my top ten favorite music albums of all time! (Or until I hear another really good one that I can’t justify not including.)
These are all albums that mean a lot to me from some of my favorite artists. There were many of my actual favorite songs from these artists not on these albums, but I wanted to rank these based on the albums as a whole rather than individual songs. Enjoy!
Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too (New Radicals)
New Radicals was one of those ‘one-hit-wonders’ that seemed to be all too prevalent in the ’90s. The band’s lead singer Gregg Alexander was inspired heavily by music of the 70s and 80s to create an album that fused elements from that time period with the grunge-rock of the ’90s. But after their lead single You Only Get what you Give hit the top of the charts, Gregg decided to call it a day and left the band to focus on producing. Perhaps the wise move given the way the music industry tended to shift from one popular artist to another around that time.
Still, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too is one album that I love listening to from start to finish. From the rocking start of Mother, We Just Can’t Get Enough to the final rock ballad Crying Like a Church on Monday, this album has so much going on in it. Every song feels different while still maintaining the rebellious spirit of the 90s grunge rockers. While they may not have continued off this success, the one album they have certainly made a name for themselves in my book at least!
Songs for Silverman (Ben Folds)
When Ben Folds Five broke up and went their separate ways, Ben himself had a bit of a rocky start launching his solo career. His first album Rocking the Suburbs in 2001 was brilliant and took everything great about the music of Ben Folds Five while giving it an updated and modern production sound that made for a great launch album. Unfortunately, the album dropped on the morning of 9-11-2001. After only a few hours of promotion, the album was forgotten amongst the other unforgettable event of the day. It was probably the worst timing an album could have.
After this, Ben Folds never became as big a name as he was before, but he still maintained a cult following and his second solo album ‘Songs for Silverman’ at least gave him another relatively successful song with ‘Landed’.
But aside from that song, the entirety of Songs for Silverman is great. The first track Bastard has a bumpy baseline that fits perfectly with Ben’s piano playing. On top of this, every song has the kind of deeply thought-out lyrics that make Ben Folds one of the best singer/songwriters in obscurity.
Honky Chateau (Elton John)
It’s no small secret that I love the music of Elton John. I got to go see him earlier this year with my brother when he came by North Dakota on his farewell tour. To my pleasant surprise, he’s still got much of what made his performances appealing in the 70s and 80s.
One of my favorite albums from Elton’s extensive catalog has to be Honky Chateau. It was the first album where he recorded with the same band he played with live, and a lot of that comes through in the music. Something I love about Elton’s music is how many details I still notice even after listening to it dozens of times, and this album is no exception. From the tap-dancing percussion in I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself to the famous gliding electric guitar part in Rocket Man, this album is one I can always throw on to get myself in a good mood.
John Henry (They Might be Giants)
There were a lot of They Might Be Giants albums I had to consider for this list. My mom was a big fan of TMBG in the 90s and passed on that love to me. Something about the corny lyrics combined with the talent they had for catchy melodies hooked me as a young pre-teen, and that love has only intensified as I’ve discovered exactly what they’ve been referencing in their songs.
Take for instance the song ‘I Should Be Allowed to Think’ in this album. The line “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical” is catchy in the song and I thought nothing of it until I discovered it was a literal line out of the Poem ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg, an American poet and counter-cultural figure in the 1900s.
TMBG has a ton of references to these kinds of political and philosophical ideologues in their songs, but that’s not really what makes them great. What makes them great, is that their music is super catchy and my favorite stuff to sing along to and occasionally quote randomly, which I’m sure makes me super relatable.
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (Ben Folds Five)
By the year 1999, Ben Folds Five had pretty much reached its peak. Their album Whatever and Ever Amen was a smash hit, but the days of grunge-rock and imperfect recordings were over. This combined with the poor handling of their singles surrounding this album made The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner an unfortunate flop and the end of Ben Folds Five as a prominent band.
Nonetheless, the sales don’t really reflect just how good of an album this is. It may not have any hard hitters like Song for the Dumped, or One Angry Dwarf but it has some of Ben Folds Five’s most technically well-written songs from the beautiful waltz Narcolepsy to the upbeat horn section of Army, this is, in my opinion, Ben Folds Five in their prime.
Also, my two-year-old sings along to Narcolepsy, and nothing is cuter than hearing a child that can barely use words properly belt out “I’m not tired!” in perfect pitch and timing.
No Jacket Required (Phil Collins)
Phil Collins is amazing. Despite him not having any real formal musical training, his time with Genesis has clearly turned him into a musical genius in his own right. When he created the song In the Air Tonight he didn’t have any plan to release it. After all, Genesis was a Prog rock band, and this was something else entirely. But after he released it as the lead single to his first solo album it became abundantly clear that the world loved the sound of Phil Collins.
However, I feel that Phil didn’t come into his own of musical style until the album No Jacket Required. Featuring songs like Sussudio, Don’t lose my number, and others, No Jacket Required may not have the best songs that Phil has ever done, but it is the most consistently good album that he’s ever done. Unless you count the soundtrack for Tarzan of course…
Paul Simon (Paul Simon)
I’ve been a Paul Simon fan since I could first start forming long-term memories. As a child, I loved the song Loves me Like a Rock. I couldn’t tell you what it or any of Paul Simon’s other songs were about, but that didn’t matter. Paul Simon’s music was catchy and poetically written. I still sometimes can’t believe how well many of his songs were written.
Many people argue about whether the talent brought into Simon and Garfunkel was from Paul or Art, but I feel that Paul Simon’s first solo album at least definitely shows he was bringing a lot to the table. Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan are especially brilliant, but the whole album holds up incredibly well. If you’ve never listened to a Paul Simon song, this album is a great place to start.
Tumbleweed Connection (Elton John)
Between his first successful album and the album that brought us Tiny Dancer, Elton John had a little detour into the genre of Americana creating one of his most unique and well-done albums of that time period. Tumbleweed Connection may not be what most people think of when they think of Elton, but it’s nonetheless one of my favorite albums of all time.
None of the songs on this album have the same popular appeal as Rocket Man or Tiny Dancer, but songs like Amoreena, Burn Down the Mission, and My Father’s Gun make this album a wonderful listen from start to finish.
Flood (They Might be Giants)
There are very few albums that are quite as near and dear to me as They Might be Giants’ 1990 masterpiece ‘Flood’. The absolute banger that is the opening of Birdhouse in Your Soul would be enough to make this album worth a listen, but there are also 18 other tracks–some of which are perhaps disappointingly short but having sweet, short bites of sound kind of became a major part of TMBG.
It’s very hard to explain to people who aren’t in the know just how great a band TMBG is, but I think Flood is the perfect album to listen to if you’re trying to get into them. The album encapsulates everything that makes TMBG a fantastic band. Or perhaps I’m just blinded by it being the first album I ever bought… who knows.
Despite Genesis not being my favorite band, I don’t feel like I can justify putting anything on the top of my list of the best albums aside from Duke. Prog Rock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that Genesis is the perfect mix of quirky unique sound and dulcid pop tones the whole family can enjoy.
Ever since Phil Collins took over as the frontman of Genesis, the band went on to produce some of the best music of the 80s. I personally feel that Duke struck the perfect balance between the quirky music and the songs that brought them into the mainstream during the 80s. It’s an album that encapsulates everything I love about music from the 80s and Prog Rock.
So there you have it, those are my top ten favorite albums of all time! I’m sure I’ll look back and think that it should’ve been ordered differently or included different albums, but I still think I’d recommend anyone with any kind of appreciation for good music to check these albums out!