I Could Never Pick My Top 5 Albums, So Here Are My Top 15

It's very hard to choose such things.
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Publish date:
June 6, 2016
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music, albums, Top Lists, Favorite Albums

I have a hard time picking a favorite anything. I don't have a favorite color. I have five favorite bands. I can't even pick a favorite food. I just like a lot of things a lot, so the idea of picking just one and forsaking all others really stresses me out.

If you were to ask me "Claire, what is your favorite song?" I would frown, think, and not be able to come up with anything, because there is no one perfect song that I want to here at any given moment. These things change with mood. These things change with context. I don't even know that I could make a "Top 100" songs of all time, because there are just too many good songs out there.

Picking favorite albums is a bit easier, because a good album has to be listenable from start to finish, rather than the duration of a single song, which is usually around two to three minutes, five if you're ambitious, eleven if you're a jam band of some kind. Not only does a good album have to have a body of good songs — at least three of which should be fantastic — but they have to flow in a way that doesn't jolt the listener from the album listening experience.

I have tried and tried making a "Top 5" album list, similar to those they make in the book/movie High Fidelity, but I could barely fit two of my favorite bands in there. Then I tried increasing it to "Top 10," and even that was fraught. So I added five more, and I will share it with you now. It's worth noting that these are my "favorite" albums, meaning "the ones I enjoy the most." There may be "technically better" albums out there, but these are the ones I couldn't live without, and the ones I could listen to for the rest of my life.

In no particular order, my Top 15 Albums of All Time Are:69 Love Songs — The Magnetic Fields

69 Love Songs is a freaking masterpiece. Out of the 69 songs, about five are terrible, but they are intentionally terrible, and that's what makes this album so interesting. These aren't really songs about love, but about love songs, and love cliches. It could easily pass for a mere song writing exercise, except for the fact that about 92% of the songs are good, and at least 50% (over 30 songs) are amazing.

Charm of the Highway Strip — The Magnetic Fields

The first Magnetic Fields song I ever heard ("Born on a Train") was off of this album, and it was a revelation to me. It's almost a country album. It has the romantically sad feel of a country album. It has the lyrical sensibility of a (classic) country album. It just also has a lot of synthesizer.

Exile on Main Street — The Rolling Stones

It almost feels like a cop out, to pick this as one of my favorite albums of all time, but it's critically acclaimed for a reason. From the opening guitar licks of "Rocks Off" to the gospel-like "Shine a Light" and frantically pleading "Stop Breaking Down," Exile never falters. Oddly, only one song from the record ever became a "hit" ("Tumbling Dice"), and it is the eighth best song on the album.

Sticky Fingers — The Rolling Stones

This album ushered in the Mick Taylor era, which is my favorite Stones era, and has the honored distinction of containing one of the few guitar solos I've ever cared about (it's the one on "Bitch"). It also boasts my absolute favorite Stones "country" song ("Dead Flowers") and two of my favorite ballads ("I've Got the Blues" and "Moonlight Mile.") "Sway" is kick ass as well.

Alligator — The National

Though Boxer is arguably more polished, Alligator has a raw, angry energy that I sometimes feel is missing in later National albums. Both "Karen" and "Mr. November" have aggressive, desperate lyrics that kind of make me want to walk through a wall. (But in like, a really good way.)

Boxer — Then National

This album followed Alligator, and is sadder and prettier than its predecessor. "Fake Empire" was the first National song I ever heard, and I had a hard time listening to anything else for about a year. It also contains my favorite misheard lyric ever; for the longest time, I thought Matt was singing "Your mind is racing like a pronoun."

If You're Feeling Sinister — Belle & Sebastian

This is a perfect album. Besides Exile on Main Street, I don't know that an album has ever had a better opening track (though you are welcome to disagree in the comments) and I don't think an album has ever ended on a better note than "Judy and the Dream of Horses." Stuart Murdoch has stated that this is probably his best collection of songs, and I wonder if that frustrates him. The odd thing is that my favorite B&S songs aren't even on this album — save for maybe "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying — but there's not an unenjoyable song on the whole record, and the flow of it is just dreamy.

Tigermilk — Belle & Sebastian

Though it doesn't flow as well as Sinister, which I blame primarily on "Electronic Renaissance," but it flows well enough, and it is heartbreakingly earnest.

Tusk — Fleetwood Mac

This double-LP does not have a single bad song on it. Lindsay Buckingham wanted it to be nothing like Rumours and — while I'm not sure that was accomplished — I am sure that Buckingham, Christine McVie, and Stevie Nicks outdid themselves on nearly every song. It also contains within it the two most relatable songs about lopsided relationships ever written, which are "Think About Me," and "What Makes You Think You're the One."

Closing Time — Tom Waits

I love Tom Waits the growly monster, but my favorite album of his is his first, which feels like it was meant to be performed in a dingy, cigarette smoke-filled piano bar. (Looking at the album art, I think this was the intention.) If I ever have two daughters, I'll probably name them "Martha" and "Rosie," after my two favorite tracks.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars — David Bowie

This might be a bit of an obvious choice, but I'm kind of an obvious person. Ziggy Stardust kicks off with "Five Years," which I can actually say is one of my favorite songs ever written, and rollicks along flawlessly until "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." It also contains "Suffragette City," which gets me to a very amped and excited place.

Speaking in Tongues — The Talking Heads

The first time I heard The Talking Heads, I was very confused and slightly put off (I was also seven) but I was intrigued. Many years later, I bought this album on clear, blue vinyl at the urging of my friend, Josh, and I put it on at least once a week. The opening track — "Burning Down the House" — never fails to give me chills, and the closing track — "This Must Be The Place" — never fails to bring tears to my eyes (sometimes happy, sometimes not so happy).

You Can't Hide Your Love Forever — Orange Juice

I know I mention the post-punk band Orange Juice at least once a week, and I'm just going to keep doing so until everyone has heard the good word about Orange Juice. Edwyn Collins is a treasure, and this debut is impressive for a lot of reasons, most notably "Untitled Melody" and "Consolation Prize."

Music From Big Pink — The Band

"Big Pink" was the house that was shared by the members of The Band before they were technically "The Band," and I kind of wish they had stayed in that house forever. With three talented vocalists, and four amazing songwriters (including Bob Dylan), The Band released some of their best work on their very first album, even though it didn't sell that well at the time. Besides popular songs like "The Weight" and "I Shall Be Released," Music From Big Pink contains one of the best songs about depression ever written, "Lonesome Susie," penned by Richard Manuel.

The Band — The Band

I always have a hard time choosing between this album and the above, so I decided to include them both. Though there are a couple of missteps on this one (tracks 6 and 7), there are some absolute triumphs, and Manuel, Danko, and Helm all do some of their best vocal work on this album. ("Jawbone," "The Unfaithful Servant," and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," respectively.)

That was tough, and I feel pretty badly about some of the records that didn't make the cut, but lines have to be drawn somewhere.

Now I want to here your top 5, 10, or 15 albums. How did you choose them? Have they changed over the years or have they always been the same. I'd also be very impressed if you have a "Top 10 Songs" list, because I don't know how anyone could ever choose just ten songs.