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10 Albums I Listen to the Most
– Sept. 12, 2023

So the Vinyl Community on YouTube has a thread running — started by Chris on the Long Cut — that is the ten albums that they listen to the most. Not the ten favorite, not the ten best, and many comment on how they found it interesting that once they had a list it was not entirely their favorites or what they consider the best. I find these videos fascinating, have watched a number, and have already bought four albums based on the videos I have seen. (A little coincidence, as I found three of them at my favorite used store, but still.) I wanted to play along, but I do not have a YouTube channel so it's to the website. Nor do I have a vinyl collection, these are all CDs. I'm not sure if, in the end, that makes a difference as some people in the videos do fall back on CDs. Not everything can be had on vinyl, and the spirit of the game is really in what you listen to, not what you listen to it on. The only difference it will make is I will not much talk about the albums in terms of sides.

At first I held back because I thought it would be far too difficult an exercise. My CDs are in books (long ago I ran out of room to keep them in their cases), and, generally, if I open a book, I'll browse back and forth through it before I open another. So my listening habits are not jumping from book to book looking for specific albums. Plus, there is no way my poor memory would permit an exercise that went back too many years. But once I had a workable set of parameters, things suddenly became easy. Those parameters:

The albums listed will be:
(1) albums that, in browsing back and I forth, I always hit;
(2) albums that tend to get stuck in the CD player;
(3) limiting myself to the last three to five years.
People in the thread have to decide for themselves whether they will list ten most all time, or ten most in the last few years. I went with the latter.

With those parameters in hand I sat back and in no time had a list of six that I knew fit the mold. Then a sit down with my CDs and the list swelled to twenty-one; though, I knew I was intentionally being loose. It didn't take very much thought after that to have it ten. And once had, five — maybe six — of them I knew would probably be in the list were I to survey all of the last thirty years. I go back to them over and again. The other five — maybe four — are more time sensitive, either because I have only owned them the last couple of years, or if I go back in time there would be a different one by the same artist that would have been hogging the player.

All said, once I figured out what I was doing it was a short affair. But a fun one. It's worth the effort to see what you would come up with yourself. I recommend trying it.

Introduction done, here's the list, plus some honorable mentions. No order to them outside of that the first five (and possibly six) are those that would have been on the list since the 90s. (Album images from Wikipedia.)


Tom Waits. The Black Rider. 1993.

I became a major Tom Waits fan with Bone Machine. And it didn't take long for me to have much of his catalog on cassette. But then came The Black Rider. I do not remember when I bought that album, but it immediately became not only my favorite Tom Waits album, but one of my favorite albums ever. Though, I listen to it a little against the grain. The songs on the album were written by Waits and, with some lyrics, William S. Burroughs, for a stage play by the same name directed by Robert Wilson. (A performance exists on YouTube.) I, however, listen to the album as I came upon it: as a concept album accompanied by a text that gives the story being told through the songs. That is, as an album divorced from the stage play. As that, I consider The Black Rider to be not only one of my favorite albums, but one that would sit readily in a top ten best list. This may be Waits at his most experimental, musically, even considering Bone Machine. And you have to hear it as a concept album, with the story in mind. But an amazing album. Music as art.


Steely Dan. The Royal Scam. 1976.

I had all their albums on cassette (not the most recent) before I had them all on CD (not the most recent). And, truth be told, the one that got the most play time back then was probably the greatest hits, A Decade of Steely Dan. The CDs find their way into the player every pass through the Ss, and sometimes I will open the book just to play them. Over time, The Royal Scam became my favorite. "Kid Charlemagne" is probably my favorite Steely Dan song, and then on same side comes "Don't Take Me Alive," "Sign in Stranger," and "The Fez." Quite the side one, if I was spinning vinyl. I'm not saying this is Steely Dan's best; that still might be Aja, which came next. But this is my favorite; though, Gaucho gives it a run.


Alan Parsons Project. The Turn of a Friendly Card. 1980.

The Turn of a Friendly Card is Alan Parsons Project's fifth studio album, after Eve, which used to be the one I played the most. But I played Eve to death, back when, and because of it I tend not to play it now. Same with Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I think its arguable that those three albums are their best. (Yes, I knowingly leave out Eye in the Sky.) The last song of Eve, "If I Could Change Your Mind," sung by Lesley Duncan, is my favorite moment in all the Project's works (I haven't heard the last two albums). But The Turn of a Friendly Card is the album I want to listen to the most. The easiest to spontaneously come to mind. As soon as I start the album I am looking forward to the long amalgam of a title song that closes it. But at the same time, or maybe because of that, this album seems of theirs the most unified, the less a collection of songs.


Electric Light Orchestra. A New World Record. 1976.

Secret Messages I consider their best album, and it was the first album I had of theirs. Coming up in a tie for second are Time and A New World Record. Both Time and Secret Messages I played to death when I got them. But something about A New World Record has made it the one that continues to get played over and over, the one that I will go to ELO just to listen to. "Tightrope" may be my favorite ELO track. And "Mission (A World Record)" is a great middle of the album. The diminutive "Above the Clouds" might be my second favorite ELO track, and it is in the middle of a run that begins with the hits "So Fine" and "Living Thing" and ends with the power chords of "Do Ya" leading into the melancholy "Shangri-La." It is a great rock album, but it is also a great ELO album: varied, imaginative, wonderful lyrics. Everything you would expect, everything you could want. If you do not know this album you should.


Eurythmics. Touch. 1983.

My favorite Eurythmics album is Savage, which I think is also their best. Behind that are the early Touch and Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Those three have a haunting quality to them that I think is lacking to one degree or another in the other albums. (Their first album is very much a thing to itself.) That's my thought, at least. If you know the Eurythmics only from their singles, you should give these three albums a chance. They are great albums. For whatever reason, Touch is the album that sits in the player and just plays and plays. "Here Comes the Rain Again," "Cool Blue," "No Fear, No Pain, No Hate (No Broken Hearts)" and the seven minute long "Paint a Rumor" speak of their ability to make affecting music, without the poppiness that later crept into their albums. (I'll not listen to Be Yourself Tonight simply because I don't want to hear the Aretha Franklin duet "Sisters Are Doin' it for Themselves.") But those three albums, you cannot go wrong with them. Just lovely music. Haunting music.


David Bowie. Outside. 1995.

When Outside came out, as I remember it, it came out to mixed reviews. Generally, the music was liked; often, the concept part of the album not so much. I have read a couple of things recently that speak it may be more highly respected today. No, I do not consider it among his best. That would be the German albums, or Ziggy Stardust, or, even, the last two. (Dark Star is amazing.) And do I even have a "favorite" Bowie album? There is a point where the number of answers outweighs the question. But I do think Outside is one of his most interesting albums, with Bowie reuniting on it with Brian Eno. There's the more experimental songs, then the harder "Hello Spaceboy," and the bent "I'm Deranged," closing with the melodic "Thru' These Architect's Eyes" and "Strangers When We Meet."And the concept nature of the album is something that would naturally appeal to me. (See Black Rider, above.) But mostly I just put it on and let it play. In the past I'm not sure if a Bowie album would have made it to the top of any most listened to list because any one would get lost in the group. I can speak of when the German albums held momentary preference, or Hunky Dory, or Earthling. But always the others would call for their fair time. The last five years, however, Outside has stepped to the fore as genuinely an album I play all the time, above all others. Maybe my own estimation of the album is increasing as well.


R.E.M. New Adventures in Hi-Fi. 1996.

More than one person in these lists had Automatic for the People in their selection. And that is probably R.E.M.'s most popular album. Though I think Life's Rich Pageant is a better album. Maybe even Monster. For all its songs Automatic for the People is very much a pop album. But even Life's Rich Pageant is not as good as New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which is hands down their best. It's complex, full-blooded, varied yet unified. There are no bad songs on it. (Though, personally, I could do without the thundering bass on the opening track.) From the hit "E-bow the Letter" to "Binky the Doormat" to the long "Leave" to the wonderful close of "Electrolite," it is a statement album, a declaration of artistic merit set forward before the decline in the last five albums. R.E.M. were always willing to let albums be departures from what came previously, and to then depart again immediately afterward. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is such an album. It is their best album; it is my favorite album; it is the one I listen to the most.


Elton John. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. 1975.

This is, actually, a recent addition to my collection, just long enough ago to be included in this list. And that it has jumped to the most listened to list speaks much for it. I don't have many Elton John albums, and I'm not particularly interested in his later, poppy stuff. Madman Across the Water is excellent, though. And, of course, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is an impressive outing. It is the album of his that I have had the longest, and perhaps I have played that too much in my life. (It's coming back around.) Even for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Captain Fantastic is considered John's most artistic album. It is a concept album, telling the story of John and creative partner Bernie Taupin, which, you might guess by now, gives it points in my book. But it is also just an excellent listen. The album opens with the title track, a song that very much feels like the opening to a concept album. Its only single was "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," which is one of my favorite Elton John songs (I have many, though). And it closes with the wonderful doublet of "We All Fall in Love Sometimes" and "Curtains," indeed bringing the curtain down on the album. If you at all have a liking for early Elton John you should give it a try. It is well thought of by the critics and with reason.


Imogen Heap. Sparks. 2014.

Yes, something recent makes the list. I am a huge Imogen Heap fan, starting with her second album, Speak for Yourself, which I got into without the help of radio airplay. Every album of hers is better than the previous, and she is absolutely a person with whom every album is its own being. And, yet, every album is absolutely an Imogen Heap album. Sparks is the best. It is also her most experimental and her most creative. She traveled the world making the album and brought the world into the album. Her lyrics are as strong as ever, and every song scores — except for one moment on one song that I will quietly overlook. So it's not a 100% perfect album, but it is close enough. Wikipedia calls Sparks "primarily an electropop record." I'm not sure how you would call it pop. It is far too creative. I don't think you would hear a one of these songs on a top 40 station. But, then, maybe I don't grasp the idea of "electropop." Stream "Cycle Song" and "Climbing to Sakteng" and you have a taste from the extremes. But, just get this album. Again, music as art.


Pat Benatar. Innamorata. 1997.

The penultimate album by the singular voice that is Pat Benatar, and I think her best. There is very little pop here; it is a mature album that speaks the influence of having made both the jazz album, True Love, and the creative side step, Gravity's Rainbow. Another album that is a relatively recent acquisition but which immediately demanded attention. Benatar's albums have the feel that the farther along in her career, the better the albums — as albums — became. Perhaps the farther along in her career the more they — she and life and creative partner Neil Giraldo and company — felt free to make albums that were intended to be strong albums, not containers for popular hits. Not that they are complete breaks — well, True Love is no small break — in Innamorata you can still hear the same creative juices that gave us Tropico. But unlike earlier stuff the last three seem to have this strength of unity among the songs. And Innamorata is the best. If you are at all enjoy Benatar's music, you are missing out if you don't enter the world of her later albums, particularly this one. Since buying it, I go back to it time and again.


Honorable Mentions, or "Who am I kidding, I listen to these a lot" (because one can bullet list in text):

For the most part these are albums that I definitely hit every time I pass by them, but don't necessarily get stuck in the player (for whatever reason), or are disqualified because they are too new. In no order:


Bruce Springsteen. Darkness on the Edge of Town.

— I had this on cassette, and played it a lot. Then forgot all about it, and got confused about what I was listening to, until a Rolling Stones (I think) article clarified things and I bought it again. I have a terrible memory. And I'm an idiot.


Rolling Stones. Let it Bleed.

— Was but a moderate fan of the Rolling Stones before I heard this album.


Silversun Pickups. Carnavas.

— I came late to Silversun Pickups, but am all aboard now.


Iggy Pop. Lust for Life.

— Recently got this and The Idiot. Something about Berlin, I guess.


Coldplay. Viva la Vida.

— Except for their first album, I used to have little regard for Coldplay. I am changing my mind on them.


Dire Straights. Making Movies.

— a requisite to any collection


Liz Phair. Whipsmart.

— I could have chosen Soberish, or Whitechocolatespaceegg. Exile in Guyville is brilliant, one of the best ever, but for whatever reason I play it less.


Lana Del Rey. Ultraviolence.

— New to her. And here she is.


Cowboy Junkies. Lay it Down.

— From the beginning — from Trinity Sessions, though I also bought Whites Off Earth Now!! — it was whatever was their most recent album was getting the most play. Lay it Down became my favorite of all time and that streak ended. Many consider it their best.


Aimee Mann. The Magnolia Soundtrack.

— Five years from now Bachelor No. 2 might be among the most listened to.


Tears for Fears. Elemental.

— Check this album out if you don't know it. Creative stuff.