I figured I needed a new page to revamp my site a bit so I thought I would add a list, this one being my most important considering these albums are some of the main reasons I got into music in the first place. Each of these records either already are or are yet to go down in history as the most cohesive, culturally-important, impactful, potent and innovative releases in music. As for me, I enjoyed them enough to call them some of my favorites, and that’s just what they are and what they should be. I could call these the “best” albums ever, but that’s a really conceited outlook for me to have, especially given how my infatuation with music has morphed my image into a very pretentious one. So, again, these are just favorites, although critics seem to enjoy them as well.
First, some contenders that I could someday enjoy enough to include on this list:
“OK Computer”-Radiohead (1997)
“Donuts”-J Dilla (2006)
“Black Messiah”-D’Angelo (2014)
“Good Kid, m.A.A.d City”-Kendrick Lamar (2012)
“Immunity”-Jon Hopkins (2013)
“Carrie and Lowell”-Sufjan Stevens (2015)
Now here’s the top 10:
#10: “Funeral”-Arcade Fire
Very few albums, in my opinion, offer such a nuanced perspective on the societal paradigms associated with the transition from adolescence to early adulthood. This album is as if the film “Boyhood” had an equally brilliant sequel made and resurrected in the form of an alternative folk album. Arcade Fire delivers an unbelievably beautiful compilation of instrumentations, kicking it off with “Neighborhood 1: Tunnels,” a track which I would call one of the best openers to any album ever. There are few flaws with this album, if any, and well deserving of a spot on my top-10 favorites list.
#9: “Abbey Road”-The Beatles
This is my favorite Beatles album. As for the quality of the music, this is Abbey Road by the Beatles. There isn’t much more I need to say about it. This album is a classic and for good reason.
#8: “A Love Supreme”-John Coltrane
Being an atheist does force me to observe and comment on a lot of hypocrisies pertaining to religion (although it’s true that there are several associated with atheism as well). But from time to time, we see musical artists use their medium and the word of god to find a sense of closure and satisfaction, and A Love Supreme is one of the best examples of that. Because it’s completely improvised, the listener is aware of the fact that John Coltrane and his quartet are laser-focused on the music. The best evidence of that is on “Part 3: Pursuance,” when every band member is playing and exhausting every extent of their musical abilities. I love how even while almost completely improvised, the album has a unique structure that continually builds until track four, “Psalm,” where the listener is drawn into the gradual conclusion of the album.
I really don’t need to say much about this other than that this album should definitely overtake Wu-Tang Clan in the rankings for best rap albums. Nas is one of the earliest examples of rappers not only boasting their admirable strides in their genre but also shining light on institutional racism, gang violence, and other corrupt paradigms associated with the contemporary Black-American experience.
#6: “To Pimp A Butterfly”-Kendrick Lamar
Of all the albums on this list, this one most closely resembles an elaborate stage show, next to Madvillainy (mostly because of how Kendrick’s last album was structured as a story/”short film”). It starts with him talking about using his fame only or personal gain, transitions into his recurring feeling of being institutionalized by America and Sex, finally breaking down in a hotel room, going back to compton where light is shined on issues he had completely ignored in his pursuance of a record deal, and then he finally conquers that previous person he was and brings back great music. But what I love is that this album prioritizes confrontation over temporary avoidance. You can drink and smoke all you want to get a sense of ephemeral relief, but you may only be left screaming in a hotel room at the end of it. Instead, Kendrick goes through a process that changes his outlook on different issues and his stylistic preferences. And while I am edging on a perfect score for this album, I think that production and lyrics could be better in only a couple places, and those places are still tough to identify.
I’ve never been a huge fan of much abstract rap but that might be because most of it isn’t collaborative efforts of DOOM and Madlib. Madvillainy is hands down one of the best rap albums of all time because of how Madlib’s stellar production works perfectly with the melancholic sounding grimy voice of MF DOOM. As for the concept of this album, it covers so much. It makes listeners sympathize with humanized villains, understand societal hypocrisies, wrap their minds around the concept of time, and think about the last time we thought our significant other was cheating. All of this comes together perfectly to paint the story of two dastardly villains wrecking havoc on anyone who opposes them.
#4: “Led Zeppelin IV”-Led Zeppelin
I think it’s safe to say that this record is what defined early Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Rock bands in the early 70’s were already experimenting with harder, grittier instrumentations but none were as impactful and well-structured as “Led Zeppelin IV.” There’s so many good things about this record. The fact that the band’s most popular song is on here (along with several other highly-notable singles), the unique transitions between hard rock and folk-inspired slow dances, and especially the album cover that represents the dichotomies of the music on the record. While the framed painting displays a simple countryman, it is situated in a torn-down, rugged english flat. It represents the importance of the role early folk had in shaping what is now known as Hard Rock.
See my extended review of Led Zeppelin IV here: https://kendrickmadvillain.com/2017/01/15/classic-album-review-led-zeppelin-iv-led-zeppelin-1971/
#3: “Dark Side of the Moon”-Pink Floyd
First thing’s first. This is by far the greatest album cover of all time, no questions asked. It isn’t Nevermind or Abbey Road or The Velvet Underground. It has to be this one. As for the actual musical content, this is also by far the greatest progressive rock album. It isn’t In the Court of the Crimson King or Moving Pictures or Future Days. What this album has going is its unbelievable accessibility. You listen to it and you realize that nothing is missing. It has everything. Every sound variation, every drum beat, every echo of David Gilmour’s soothing baritone; it all makes this record feel complete. So complete that it is impossible to listen to any tracks individually. It’s impossible to break this album up, so I can imagine the pain one feels when switching to side b using their vinyl player.
You listen to the first track and once you get started, you can’t stop listening. You’re hooked like an avid reader who unknowingly picked up and started reading the best book of their life. And once you make it through this record-at once hard and fast-paced, and then hypnotic and psychedelic-you get this supreme feeling of satisfaction that very few albums deliver. Then you remove the headphones and you realize that this was made in 1973. By people! Real fucking people! This is a musical experience unlike any other, and it’s why I cannot point to a favorite song. The album flows like a motion picture soundtrack. (Also, “motion picture soundtrack” is foreshadowing, by the way).
#2: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”-Kanye West
I can’t argue against making this my number two choice. I remember that this was my middle school album and continued to be my favorite for years afterwards. It’s unbelievable how an album can have so much irrefutably epic and innovative production and an incredibly layered and personal lyrics to top it off. I don’t care about Kanye’s personality and how it may affect his music because this is one of the best examples of pure brilliance when it comes to modern music and rap.
And now, here’s number one
#1: “Kid A”-Radiohead
There are little words to describe how intimate the experience this album provides is. We start with a complete mental breakdown after which Thom Yorke goes through a stage of emotional denial, followed by a pursuance of societal hypocrisies and finally a beautiful suicide or rebirth (still on the fence about the ending). I’m still baffled by how this album still captivates me to such an extent. This is one of the most unbelievably structured concept albums I’ve listened to in my life and I can’t get over it’s greatness. And yes, Radiohead is my favorite band as well. I feel no shame whatsoever in saying that.
To see my extended review of Kid A, read it here: https://kendrickmadvillain.com/2016/11/01/kid-a-radiohead-review/