The madness began when Spin magazine published its list of the 100 Greatest Albums produced between 1985 and 2005. The escalation of said madness occurred when Blogcritic and former Libertarian Senate candidate from Indiana Al Barger then published his own list.
But what got me off my proverbial ass and into my literal Captain’s Chair was Mr. Barger’s dismissal of bands like Rage Against the Machine and Pixies as “tuneless.”
Action had to be taken, and here you have it.
This is an insanely subjective list of my 100 favorite albums of the last 20 years, derived from my own personal experiences and tastes and biases. There are annotations for the first 50 with personal anecdotes and thoughts placed in italics from time-to-time.
I spent some time pondering inclusion of some bands, like Pavement, that I should be really into (as in, I thought, “I’m the type of person who should be into Pavement)… and I like Pavement, the stuff I’ve heard from them. But I just never, at some point, crossed over into becoming a person who happened to be a huge Pavement fan.
Then there’re bands that I’ve only been turned onto recently, like the brilliant Libertines. There’s that part of me that would like to rush a record or two onto the list to seem cutting edge… but who the hell would I really be kidding?
So I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m trying to be honest. Trying to keep it real. I honestly dig the hell out of bands like Rancid and Nirvana and REM, so you’ll see a good smattering of their respective albums on the list.
It turned out, for me at least, that it’s difficult to select an album simply on the basis of a good song or two. Mudhoney is a good example: I’m a fan of the band and even saw them live in San Francisco several years ago. But I just couldn’t find a Mudhoney album that was worthy of inclusion on this list (sorry fellas).
I’m personally surprised to see how many of these albums came out in the late 80s or early 90s, though I suppose I shouldn’t be – those were my high school years, a time when one's musical indoctrination takes root.
Finally, there’s an obvious bias on the list toward alternative rock, ska, and punk bands. My only defense is to say, “Hey baby, that’s where I live.”
Enjoy and please feel free to comment away on my mini-life’s work…
1. Nevermind - Nirvana
For a certain generation, Nirvana was the bloody Beatles. My Ed Sullivan moment happened one day in 1991 when I arrived home from high school and flipped on MTV. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blew my mind: an angst-ridden, almost vicious assault on what was then considered pop music, it literally wiped the remnants of hair spray-afflicted bands off the musical map. Nevermind reminds us that music matters, even when it hurts.
And it rocks.
I’ll also never forget the day I was lounging about a college dorm room in the spring of 1994. Someone raced in and told us the news. To paraphrase the liner notes from the soundtrack to Hype, the definitive documentary on the discovery and subsequent exploitation of the “grunge” movement:
We still miss you, Kurt.
2. Mellow Gold - Beck
Like many others, I dismissed Beck as the “Loser” guy… but not for very long. This is an astonishingly varied, inventive, and ironical listen. “Loser” actually falls far away from being the reason to check out Mellow Gold (I often skip it in favor of the rest of the album, in fact). What’s great about Beck – especially here – is that his music can be a definitive statement of some sort while alluding definition. Country, folk, rock, hip hop, electronica – all with tongue-in-cheek posturing and an eye toward keeping things loose. A perfect party album, a perfect road album.
Throw this on whilst hurtling down California’s Central Valley in the middle of the night, particularly “Fuckin’ With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock),” “Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat),” and “Beercan.”
3. Life's Rich Pageant - REM
A beautiful and compelling and hypnotic album, through and through. Some of the best lyrics to come out of rock music also lie on this masterpiece. “Fall on Me” resonates these years later (a song I actually list as my favorite of all time), while “Superman” comforted me during my (mostly) dateless teen years. Speaking of resonance: “Underneath the Bunker” may well be a soundtrack for our troubled times.
4. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
At a time when rap-metal fusion was thought a novelty, Rage unleashed a fury of snarling guitar mixed with exquisitely fine-tuned and heated rap from the diminutive mouth of Zach de la Rocha. There was method to the madness, too: an intensely political message matched the crunch-and-fire musical assault. Rage’s self-titled debut is a masterpiece of focused anger, a call-to-arms for the oppressed masses. It’s Led Zeppelin meets Run DMC meets Che Guevara-brand Marxism.
This is revolution music, 1990s style. And it’s revelatory.
5. Live From the Middle East - The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones
The Boss Tones finally and perfectly captured their chaotically hybrid “ska-core” sound on this live album from the Middle East, a small Boston-area club that the lads play for close friends and superfans every year. If you’ve never seen the Boss Tones live, this album will give you a glimpse of what all the fuss is about: energy, Energy, ENERGY!
Another mind-blowing event, if you’ll indulge me: Seeing the Boss Tones live in Albany, New York in early 1993. It was as though a wave of manic music had crashed over me. I didn’t know what “ska” was at the time and had only a vague notion of punk, but I was soon to delve headlong into both.
6. Surfer Rosa - Pixies
The Pixies put on a clinic – one that many bands learned from and learned well – of alternative rock perfection: quiet-loud dynamics (yes, kids, you can utilize dynamics in rock music!), harmonies range over discordant guitar riffs, oddball and cryptic lyrics make manic sense with repeat listens. Frank Black and Kim Deal mesh wonderfully throughout.
The older I get, the more I realize what a groundbreaking entity the Pixies were (are?).
7. Let's Go! - Rancid
A greater blast of pure and ebullient punk energy you will not find (post-1985 at least!). “Salvation” is a compulsive, churning, and hopped up power pop anthem, and the rest of the album isn’t very far behind. Its 23 tracks fly by and there’s not a second of wasted time.
If there’s a person more perfectly suited to belting, dribbling, drawling, and howling punk rock pleas than Tim Armstrong, I certainly have never heard him. Or her. His ex-wife, Brody Dalle, might be close. But that’s a different story.
I used to listen to this album during many an early morning jog in the small town of Rochester, about an hour outside of London. One icy day, just after dawn, I zipped around a corner onto my block and the home stretch. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a teenage girl walking toward the bus stop. As I whizzed by her, she screamed, “You fucking asshole!” So much for being the Non-Ugly American…
8. Energy - Operation Ivy
Speaking of Tim Armstrong, he was part of the granddaddy of the punk-ska movement, along with Matt Freeman and Jesse Michaels. It’s all showcased here, a compulsive yet raw blast of, well, Energy. Songs like “Knowledge” and “Sound System” were built to keep angst-ridden young punks from flying off the rails. “One of These Days” is just about as much fun as you can have with a cover song.
9. Paul’s Boutique - Beastie Boys
In certain ways the most inaccessible of the Boys’ albums, it’s an undeniable and funk-ridden masterpiece of hip hop, sampling, and overall goofy giddiness. Every inch of the Beastie Boys screams New York, and nowhere more so than on the second or third movement(?) of the twelve-minute plus “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” which blasts out a masterful sonic representation of late ‘80s New York from the trenches.
10. Kid A - Radiohead
Speaking of inaccessible, some people are going to “get” Radiohead, and some never will. I didn’t listen to Kid A for nearly two years after I bought it, but every since I gave it a chance, it’s been a mainstay of my musical sanity, or lack there of. Kid A is the peak of Himalayas, a heady trip, an aural rambling of the senses. It will take you to the otherworld… if you let it seep under your neural-core.
11. Battle Hymns - Suicide Machines
The perfect mix of ska and punk, anger and fun, message and goof. There are no edgy dance grooves that can match the likes of “High Society” and “Confused.” Suicide Machines take the formula of Operation Ivy and The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones and launch it into orbit.
12. Who Is, This Is? - Voodoo Glow Skulls
“Insubordination,” the opening track, kicks off with Cheech & Chong and evolves into a manic tribute to Ozzy Osbourne. The best way to describe the album is exquisitely controlled anarchy. A faster-paced, higher octane barrio ska-core masterpiece you will not mind.
13. Zucker - Fastbacks
If there was an entry in the dictionary for “power pop gem,” there’d be a picture of Zucker’s album cover next to it. And that’s what those crazy kids from Seattle pump out: album after album of power pop gems. And there’s nothing like the blissful pulsating breeze of Zucker. Sit back and count your riches.
14. Smell the Magic - L7
These ladies don’t mess around. Pure and unadulterated kick ass rock and roll is what L7 delivers, and never better than on Smell the Magic. “Get out of my way or I might shove!” I believe it.
15. Diesel and Dust - Midnight Oil
Great rock, great message from the politically conscious band from Down Under. That bald and tall lead singer Peter Garrett looks a lot like the creepy dude on the motorcycle in Weird Science only helps. But seriously, songs like “The Dead Heart” and “Sometimes” are those rarities that stick with you in the good way.
16. Downset - Downset
An intelligent, surgical hardcore-rap barrage that begins with the explanation of “Anger” (hostility toward the opposition) and hurtles forward into examinations into violence against women (“Ritual”) and the ineptitude of government. Downset saves most of its wad, however, for race relations in tense early 90s Los Angeles.
17. New Adventures in Hi-Fi - REM
An eclectic and moving masterpiece by a band at the top and possibly the peak of its game. Check out much more here.
18. Second Hand Smoke - Sublime
A loose collection of songs left over from the Sublime sessions, this album actually surpasses the famous self-titled LP in its range and musical muscle. The Uptown Dub mix of “Doin’ Time” introduces a reggae, hardcore, and sun-drenched SoCal party scene that ain’t always a happy place to be. “Badfish” might be Sublime’s definitive statement.
19. Definitely Maybe - Oasis
Whiny, arrogant, coke-fueled, and snotty? Yep. World-class, catchy, and muscular hooks matched by rousing melodies that dance in your head for weeks? You betcha. “Supersonic” alone makes the album worth a listen or three.
20. The Carnival - Wyclef Jean
A wonderfully inventive and eclectic foray into melodic hip hop, compulsive dance tracks, and Haitian rhythms. A hilariously bizarre storyline holds the album together nicely. There are at least half a dozen outstanding singles here, including “Apocalypse,” “Sang Fezi,” and a magical cover of “Staying Alive.” It’s too bad that Jean has not yet come close to replicating this effort.
21. Vivid - Living Colour
A great blast of rock, funk, metal, soul, and a myriad of other influences. “What’s Your Favorite Color” baby? That’s what I’m trying to say.
I still remember being a high school freshman, hearing “Cult of Personality” for the first time. My older sister’s boyfriend – now a professional musician – played bass with me in orchestra. He handed one ear bud that connected to a walkman and said, “Now, you’ve got to hear this. He was right.
22. MTV Unplugged in New York - Nirvana
As fine an acoustic live record as you’re likely ever to hear. Every track aches and soars and soothes. Beautiful and artful and sad and wonderful stuff. Great covers in here, too, by the likes of Meat Puppets and David Bowie. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” still haunts me.
23. @ The Horizontal Boogie Bar - Brother Meat
They brought the Monster Sound from Ithaca, New York to Rochester that night, and boy did they bring it. Songs like “House” and “You Got It” jam and swing like bar rockers should. And when The Brother gets out from behind his big old drum kick to belt out such covers as “Hot Rod Guy” and “Heartbreaker”? Then it’s really time to get it on.
24. Traveling Without Moving - Jamiroquai
Space-age jams and futuristic groove. Ethereal syncopation permeates this popping pop record.
This album was a mainstay on the portable CD player when I lived in the UK during 1996-1997. Britain is one phenomenal place to pub and club it up.
25. The Chronic - Dr. Dre
Whenever Dr. Dre announces that the “Ace is back,” you better believe him. There’s not a better hip hop producer out there, as this seminal gangster-funked out and cuss-laced explosion of a record proves. And when the good doc takes the mike, look out. Interestingly, Dr. Dre is at his very best when he teams up on tracks with his protégé, a young fellow by the unusual name of Snoop Dogg.
26. Tyrannosaurus Hives - The Hives
A glorious collection of catchy and up beat power pop insanity. Check out much more about it here.
27. Get Behind Me Satan - The White Stripes
I’m getting really really close to believing that Jack White and his ex-wife not-sister are putting together music that’s a perfect conjunction of the legacies of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and a wide-ranging array of gospel, folk, and blues legends. Is that too bold for you? Just listen to “The Nurse” and “The Denial Twist” and “Blue Orchid” and then come back. Oh, you’ll be back.
28. Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia - The Dandy Warhols
Nobody does slacker cool better. ‘Nuff said.
29. American Idiot - Green Day
Green Day keeps getting better and better, making major strides over each previous record. Which is a pretty great thing, isn’t it? American Idiot delivers, rewarding repeat listens with layers of rock poetry, gliding harmonies, and complex orchestrations of musical storytelling.
30. Original Pirate Material - The Streets
An extraordinary and oddball collage of garage, hip hop, dancehall, and Brit pop stylings. It’s lifestyles of the poor and potheaded and un-girlfriended UK (“…’round here we call them birds, not bitches), and it’s an insanely addictive listen.
31. The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones - Devil's Night Out
This is where all the madness began, a rough and tumble yet hyper and explosive feast of raging guitars and skanked up horns. “The band was so hot, the beer got warm.” For rock music, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
32. Weezer - Pinkerton
One of the first thoughts I had when I listened to Pinkerton was that it was a ballsy album. My opinion hasn’t changed: it’s an open and raw and emotional listen. And it manages to kick not just a little bit of ass.
33. Tenacious D - Tenacious D
They call themselves the “greatest band on Earth.” And they are so right on. If I were to ever up and leave my life to join a band on the road, this would be one of them. (Look for #2 below). There’s an acoustic-metal-comedy concoction here at work here that just rocks itself to its molten core. Did I mention that Jack Black is my write-in for Galactic Commandant?
My on-again, off-again spoken word/jazz/funk novelty act, The Nick Trampani Trio, paid unknowing homage to Rage Kage and Jables for many a year.
34. Blur - Blur
Damon Albarn and Co. get it just right on an alternative rock album that cherry picks perfectly from both UK and US influences. “Song 2” may have turned into a sports stadium cliché, but there’s a rich tapestry of song stylings at work here, worth many a repeat listen.
35. Odelay - Beck
There are many reasons to fall in love with this album. Like most Beck albums, it operates on several levels, opening new doors when you come back for more. While most casual listeners will applaud politely for the shuffle-rap of “Where It’s At,” electronica, blues, and hard rock slip through the album like what you want to have happen at the best party you’ve ever been to.
Odelay single-handedly turned me on to country music – Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and the like – through the sheer ironic-yet-sincere force of “Lord Only Knows” and “Sissyneck.”
36. Raising Hell - Run DMC
In my mostly white and Asian junior high school, every kid worth his salt in the schoolyard knew the words to this blistering and groundbreaking mesh of old school rap (which was kind of new school at the time, come to think of it) and good old fashioned rock and roll.
Raising Hell still sounds fresh as hell (1986 slang-wise and always-wise).
Somewhat embarrassing aside: I recall listening to Raising Hell on my duel-decked, orange Fisher Price tape deck on road trips with my parents way back in the day.
37. Sing Sing Death House - The Distillers
Lead singer Brody Dalle has the vocal and musical chops that leave Courtney Love awake at night, sweating. Sing Sing Death House lauches itself off the planet with its opening number, “Sick of It All,” as hard and manic yet compulsively listenable song as is possible to create. There are slower moments too, such as on “City of Angels,” where Brody dials it back and we get to revel in the croaky passion.
38. The Fury of the Aquabats! - Aquabats
If you let it, this album can change your life. For reals. A ska band that is actually a stalwart legion of undercover superheroes who, when not rocking their asses off whilst spreading pop-ska bliss, do battle with those who would set an army of two-headed cats upon the Earth? Sign me up. Literally. Dial this band as my #2 choice for bailing out on my life for Stardom (see: Tenacious D above).
39. Quality Control - Jurassic Five
This quintet has so much collective chops and flow and firepower, it’s nearly unfair. Lucky us, however, for having this masterpiece of chilled-out, LA-styled and funk-fueled hip hop prowess.
40. ...And Out Come the Wolves - Rancid
This album may be the quintessential moment when The Clash’s legacy (jealously guarded by Tim Armstrong) met 90s punk and ska-revival for a joyous and at times harrowing journey through the lives of young punks on the streets. The first five songs are as addictive a quintet of songs as I’ve ever heard.
41. Truth and Soul - Fishbone
Is there a better oddball rock band in the history of time than Fishbone? Musical influences and styles seem to pour out of them at such a rate that it at times doesn’t seem to make much sense. Truth and Soul puts it all together, though, on a mostly sun-shiny joyride through ska, rock, and funk.
It’s fun to play the “Freddy’s Dead” trilogy in a block: the original Curtis Mayfield version, Fishbone’s, and finally Master P’s somewhat brilliant and loopy version, “Kenny’s Dead,” which is on a South Park album.
”Ma and Pa” is one of my favorite all time addictive multiple listen songs, but I still like the cover version by my favorite college band, Soul Patch, out of Binghamton University.
42. If I Should Fall From Grace... - Pogues
When I get in a Pogues mood, this is often the album I’ll go for… and leave it on for days. “Bottle of Smoke” is a whipped up masterpiece of punk meeting a traditional Irish folk arrangement. Like all great bands, the Pogues always bring an astonishing versatility and range to bare.
43. Turn the Radio Off - Reel Big Fish
About as much fun you can have on a party album. However, there’s lots going on underneath the hood: highly polished licks, a simply fabulous horn section, and just about the perfect voice in Aaron Barrett for a ska band. There’s the now trademark snarky sense of humor and play here, such as on “Alternative Baby,” which simply tears apart the groupie chick who likes to act as though she knows what’s up.
44. Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy
When Public Enemy is on (and my lawd they are on here) they will raise the hair on the back of your head. A mix of styles and rhythms constantly keep you off balance but wanting more. Chuck D should run the You’ll Never Ever (Ever) Be Anywhere Near As Good As My Ass School of MC Arts.
I still want one of them Flavor Flav clock-necklaces.
45. The Three EPs - Beta Band
Just about the coolest, sweetest, most moving, and complexly layered record you’ll find (on this list, at any rate). As eclectic and transcendent a set of songs as exists. And it plays a role in High Fidelity, so that’s high praise indeed.
If you play “Dry the Rain” 600 times in a row as you sit in front of a computer, you will become a more productive worker bee.
46. Appetite For Destruction - Guns ‘n Roses
About as great and interesting a rock debut as they come. It’s amazing to look back and recall that (not so long ago) the Guns were the biggest and baddest band on the planet off the strength of “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child ‘o Mine.”
I shied away from this record in high school largely due to the fact that many people I deemed losers (we called ‘em dirtbags back in the day) were into them. It was some number of years before I discovered how great Appetite was, and is.
47. Kiss the Mammoth and Run - Perfect Thyroid
Skunk music at its finest: a massively wonderful combination of ska, latin, rock, and funk grooves.
True story: After a show in the summer of 1995, I returned to my dorm only to hear whispers that I perhaps had a “thyroid problem.” Indeed, I was so sweaty from skanking it at the show that people thought I had a medical condition…
47. The Best of Times - Murphy's Law
Insane tempo, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and a full blast of hardcore firepower. “Tight” sums it all up, while a hilariously drunken cover of “Ebony and Ivory” highlights their lighter side.
48. Sex Packets - Digital Underground
Beck once stated that he wished there were more bands out there like the Digital Underground. If you’re wondering why, this album will tell you.
49. Last Splash - Breeders
Quirky, bouncy, alternative rock dealt up super fine by Kim Deal and Co. “Cannonball,” anyone?
50. Bouncing Souls - Bouncing Souls
Once you begin to bounce with the Bouncing Souls, they stay with you for always. “Cracked” and “Say Anything” are fast paced punk gems while “The Toilet Song” is a delightfully melancholy anthem dedicated to the question, “Who’s gonna throw the toilet off the roof?”
51. Blind Melon - Blind Melon
52. Black Sunday - Cypress Hill
53. Check Your Head - Beastie Boys
54. I Heard They Suck Live - NOFX
55. Lock Jaw - Dance Hall Crashers
56. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magic
57. Losing Streak - Less Than Jake
58. The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion - The Black Crowes
59. Wildflowers - Tom Petty
60. The Eminem Show - Eminem
61. Foo Fighters - Foo Fighters
62. Rattle and Hum - U2
63. Pawn Shop Heart - The Von Bondies
64. Celebrity Skin - Hole
65. Time’s Up - Living Colour
66. Document - REM
67. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins
68. Highly Evolved - The Vines
69. Caution: Social Prescriptions May Cause Side Effects - Yolk
70. Against the Grain - Bad Religion
71. Are You Gonna Go My Way - Lenny Kravitz
72. Gorrilaz - Gorrilaz
73. La Mano Cornuda - Supersuckers
74. Super Natural - Bennett
75. Evil Empire - Rage Against the Machine
76. Whitey Ford Sings the Blues - Everlast
77. Mutations - Beck
78. White Blood Cells - The White Stripes
79. The Scofflaws - The Scofflaws
80. Nimrod - Green Day
81. Blue Sky Mining - Midnight Oil
82. In Utero - Nirvana
83. OK Computer - Radiohead
84. Life Won’t Wait - Rancid
85. Hungry For Stink - L7
86. Baile de los Locos - Voodoo Glow Skulls
87. Transplants - Transplants
88. 28 Teeth - Buck-o-Nine
89. Get Some Go Again - Rollins Band
90. American Thighs - Veruca Salt
91. Elastica - Elastica
92. Slippery When Wet - Bon Jovi
93. The Return of El Santo - King Chango
94. Dirt Track Date - Southern Culture on the Skids
95. Proxima Estacion: Esperanza - Manu Chao
96. Superunknown - Soundgarden
97. The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
98. Beautiful Freak - Eels
99. Four - Blues Traveler
100. Saturation - Urge Overkill