I've left them unnumbered, because many of them are so good and so close that I can't choose a favorite, but they are loosely arranged with the ones I like better nearer the top. Instead of interfiling Hawkwind albums, I've clustered them below. Also check out my Favorite Songs and Condensed Beatles.
Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Bob Dylan is my favorite male singer, and the most impressive thing about his voice is that almost anyone can imitate it and sound more interesting than with any vocal style they could come up with on their own. This album is a perfect conjunction of inspired songwriting, lyrical maturity, and edge of chaos performance. Not only does it have no duds, it doesn't even have any merely good songs. The worst song is a five way tie for a better song than most musicians can even dream of. I think the three great ones are Idiot Wind, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, and Buckets of Rain. My next favorite Dylan albums are Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and Desire.
Big Blood - Strange Maine 11.04.06 (2006) and Big Blood & The Wicked Hex (2011)
In their first two years Big Blood recorded enough great music to fill two albums that would crush everything on this list -- but it was spread out over nine albums! Strange Maine, their first, has the highest floor and is the only one I might listen to straight through, but Wicked Hex goes four for five with higher peaks. For much more, see my Big Blood page
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Hard rock after 1971 is just footnotes to this album. As much as I love it now, it's strange that I heard these songs on the radio as a teenager and was not impressed. It makes me wonder what else I've heard that I could potentially like a lot more. Stairway to Heaven is a long way from my favorite, but the cool thing is that if you make a chart of its musical intensity over time, it really does look like a stairway, with quick rises to increasingly high plateaus.
Camper Van Beethoven - Camper Van Beethoven (1986) and Key Lime Pie (1989)
Their self-titled third album was recorded very quickly not long after their second, apparently because they tapped into a creative force that they couldn't hold back. It's not all great, but it combines a ridiculous number of musical genres and it continues to sound better the more I listen. Their fifth album, Key Lime Pie, is much more serious and better produced, and the peaks are even higher thanks to guest fiddler Don Lax. This was the only time in my life that my favorite band's new album was better than I could have imagined.
R.E.M. - Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
It's no coincidence that their best album is the one they found most painful and difficult to make. This is their best collection of songs and their best consistent sonic texture. Compared to their previous two albums, the sound is still jangly but with more layers and more depth. The guitar has just enough fuzz to make this psychedelic folk. Green Grow The Rushes is dense and beautiful, Auctioneer has sharper edges than any of their later attempts to rock out, and the unearthly Wendell Gee is one of the best songs of all time.
Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)
It almost never happens that a great lyricist is also a great singer. With no training, Newsom puts an edge in her voice that is either unbearably irritating or unbearably beautiful, depending on your ears. I was so overwhelmed by "En Gallop" that it took me several listens to even notice the words. This is the only album where she does it -- on two early demos her voice is clumsy, and on her next album (Ys) the magic is gone. The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
Orphans & Vandals - I Am Alive and You Are Dead (2009)
This album has nine songs. Four of them are old-timey ballads that would not be out of place on an album by Tom Waits or Shane MacGowan-era Pogues. Two (Strays and Metropes) are powerful and interesting hard-rockers, and three (Mysterious Skin, Argyle Square, and Terra Firma) really did make me permanently more alive. The songs have complex, rambling structure like good prog rock, string arrangements like good chamber rock, and primal beats and chanting vocals like the Velvet Underground -- but nothing else that sounds like this can touch this.
Beat Happening - almost anything (1985-1992)
Their first two albums, Beat Happening and Jamboree, are the most alive and inspired. Black Candy is the most perfect, Dreamy has good stuff but sounds like self-parody, and You Turn Me On is the best produced and most beautiful.
Big Star - first three albums (1972-1974)
I can't think of any other band that got better too fast for listeners to keep up. Their first, #1 Record, was an impossible collection of top notch pop songs sabotaged by record company incompetence. On their second, Radio City, there was no way to match the songwriting, but they made up for it by adding depth and chaos to the music. When that also failed commercially, Alex Chilton said fuck it, let's really knock down the walls. Their third album is wild and raw on every level without being noisy. It's the sound of geniuses going mad, and Chilton is not the only genius -- check out Jody Stephens' drumming.
Rex Holman - Here In The Land Of Victory (1970)
Psychedelic folk is my favorite genre, and hearing something like this from 1970 is like a doom metal fan discovering Black Sabbath if they were almost unknown. Holman was an actor who made only one album, and not one critic gets it: he's not aiming for an easy listening sound, and he's not just Gordon Lightfoot with more vibrato -- he's pioneering a subtle and very powerful weirdness. You have to go to Nicholas Talbot in the next century to find something this good in this direction. But with the exception of "Come On Down", the songwriting is only average.
Pink Floyd - Meddle (1971)
Unlike the more famous Pink Floyd albums that followed it, this has no unifying theme or sound, but it's the best set of songs they ever put together. I even like "Seamus".
Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (1997)
A great band's best album, with nice sounds and great songwriting all the way through. My favorites are the super-catchy "Little Honda" and the super-trippy "Spec Bebop".
Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
Tom Waits has everything: lyrics, melodies, musical style, and endurance. Rain Dogs is his best album, although Bone Machine is not far behind, and most of his early albums have two or three great songs.
Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)
On marijuana this is the best jazz I've ever heard. It's a lot like Bitches Brew by Miles Davis: loosely structured, mostly improvised, and heavily overdubbed, but this was seven years sooner and much more raw (that's good). There are bits that sound like proto-metal, and when I mentioned that to Leigh Ann she said, "Charles Mingus invented heavy metal; Bob Dylan invented rap."
Electric Moon - any live album (2010-present)
This German trio can improvise top-notch stoner/psych/space rock that rewards close listening but demands nothing.
Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising (1985)
Somehow the two best screamers of the 1980's were in the same band. Grant Hart was a consistent great songwriter, and Bob Mould was a great stylist who peaked on this album. Their previous album, Zen Arcade, has more good songs on it, but New Day Rising has much more musical depth.
Mono - You Are There (2006)
From Japan, my favorite post-rock band. All their albums are recorded live in studio, and the others are almost this good. Mono plays the most civilized great music I've ever heard.
Rush - A Farewell To Kings (1977)
The guitar sound is better on Caress of Steel, 2112 is more iconic, and Moving Pictures is more respectable, but Rush's most inspired work is here, especially on the two epics, Xanadu and Cygnus X-1.
Violent Femmes - Hallowed Ground (1984)
Their second album matches their famous debut in the catchiness of the rhythms and melodies, and exceeds it in creativity and darkness.
Genesis - Selling England By The Pound (1973)
The peak of Peter Gabriel era Genesis. Gabriel himself peaked on their previous album Foxtrot, in the epic song "Supper's Ready". But he's still creative here, and the music is incredible. This album blows away all other instrumental prog rock, with Steve Hackett on guitar and Tony Banks on keyboard weaving together melodies. And it's hard to remember, after his long career as a pop star, but Phil Collins was a great drummer. The middle of the album has 15 minutes of crap.
Gordon Lightfoot - Sit Down Young Stranger a.k.a. If You Could Read My Mind (1970)
Gordon Lightfoot is a decent lyricist and a great songwriter and singer, and this is his best collection of songs other than greatest hits albums. If you get this plus Gord's Gold and Summertime Dream, you have only a handful of duds and only two songs of overlap. The CD version of Gord's Gold is missing "Affair on 8th Avenue", but there are vinyl rips online.
Galaxie 500 - anything (1988-1990)
Among their three studio albums, it's a tossup which one is best. Today has the most consistently good songwriting, On Fire has the most beautiful guitar playing, and This Is Our Music has the most variety.
The Ramones - Leave Home (1977)
This is their second album, not as lyrically inspired as their debut, but musically better in every way. Appropriately, it was later repackaged to include "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", the only other Ramones song that could hold its own here.
The Muffs - Blonder and Blonder (1995)
The best songs are on their self-titled first album, but this one, their second, is more uniformly great and musically skilled. I think Kim Shattuck is a superhero. As I overheard a fan say, in awe, after one of their shows: "She's angry and
Red House Painters - (rollercoaster) (1993)
Red House Painters have two self-titled albums, and the one you need has a roller-coaster on the cover. This is slow, sad music with several great tracks including Mark Kozelek's masterpiece, "Katy Song".
The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash (1985)
Easily the best Pogues album, but most Americans, even if they know the Pogues, have never heard it.
Bone Cellar - Now That It's All Over (1994)
Of all the Seattle bands of the early 90's, Bone Cellar was the most honest. They also had awesome guitar solos and played the best live show I ever saw. Their second album, Lost in the Light of Day, is almost as good.
The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)
Considered the worst Police album by almost everyone, and I agree that it has the lowest peaks, but I love the dark, echoey sound that fills the corners.
Dire Straits - Making Movies (1980)
Dire Straits is famous for radio hits on their first and last studio albums, but their middle albums are best: Communique, Making Movies, and Love Over Gold. Side two of this album is lame, but the three songs on side one are the peak of their career.
Queen II (1973)
Queen's best album is an early and successful exercise in combining hard rock and prog rock.
Sonic Youth - Sister (1987)
All Sonic Youth albums have good music. This one has the best songs, and sounds the most like ...
Hawkwind has been my favorite band on and off since I was 16. They formed in 1969 in west London, invented space rock, and over the years have had a ridiculous number of style changes, lineup changes, and album releases -- many of them unauthorized or barely authorized compilations. Dave Brock has always been the leader and the sole continuous member, but he doesn't like to take center stage, so this role has been filled by people as diverse as an exotic dancer, Lemmy, sci-fi author Michael Moorcock, and Arthur Brown Jr. ("I am the god of hellfire!") The BBC made a great Hawkwind documentary.
Everyone agrees that they peaked in the 1970's, but there is some disagreement about which albums are better. This is a list of important ones and personal favorites.
Two solid folk songs, "Hurry On Sundown" and "Mirror of Illusion", and some psychedelic rock with annoying vocals and great jams.
In Search Of Space, 1971
When I first heard this as a teenager it sounded like good songs with weird noise at the end. Now it sounds like great music with vocals to trick you into listening. Despite the title, the sound is merely cutting edge psych rock. Some fans like this album the best because of the more folky sound and complex drumming, but most people think the best was yet to come...
Doremi Fasol Latido, 1972
Hawkwind's revolution came from a synergy of two drugs: everyone else used LSD, and new member Ian Kilmister (a.k.a. Lemmy) used speed. His blistering bass lines drove long droning jams, and with Brock's increasing use of guitar phase effects, more skill by the two synth players, and consistent sci-fi lyrics, this was the birth of space rock. "Brainstorm" puts it all together, "Space is Deep" is their masterpiece, there's a nice Brock ballad (Down Through The Night) and a slow
Lemmy song (The Watcher). If "Time We Left This World Today" isn't a lengthy dud, this is their best album.
Space Ritual, 1973
Double live album, featuring all four giants of Hawkwind: Brock, Lemmy, sax player and number two songwriter Nik Turner, and lyricist Robert Calvert, plus drummer Simon King, who would play on all their great 70's albums. I think it would be their best album if you just removed Calvert's annoying vocal track, which repeatedly gets in the way of the crushing power of the music. "Space is Deep" is not nearly as good here as on Doremi, but "Lord of Light" is better.
The 1999 Party
Recorded in 1974, released in 1997, and titled "1999", this live album has a great collection of songs but the sound is too muddy.
Hall of the Mountain Grill, 1974
Easily Hawkwind's best produced album, with complex studio overdubs that sound better the closer you listen. Every song is good, and it has their best cover art, with a back cover
by famous space artist David A. Hardy. So it's generally considered their best work, though it lacks the raw beauty of their two previous releases. After many listens, my favorite song is the epic instrumental "Wind of Change".
Warrior On The Edge Of Time, 1975
Lemmy was "well out of favour" in his own words, and would soon be fired after being caught with amphetamines at the USA/Canada border. This album is a hodge-podge of embarrassing Michael Moorcock spoken word bits, clumsy experiments, and three or four great songs that make it essential for serious fans.
Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, 1976
Hawkwind switched labels from United Artists to Charisma, and totally changed their sound by installing longtime collaborator Robert Calvert as front man. Calvert was very smart and a great lyricist, with a singing style years ahead of his time. But he wasn't a good singer yet, and the band as a whole was stumbling. I only like one instrumental, "Chronoglide Skyway".
Quark, Strangeness, and Charm, 1977
Here the Brock/Calvert team hit its stride. Nik Turner and two other members were sacked, and the new tight lineup made a great album, featuring "Damnation Alley" and "Hassan I Sabha".
This was cobbled together from scraps in early 1978 and released more than a year later because the band temporarily fell apart. It could be their best album. It has their best punk song, "Death Trap", their catchiest song, "Jack of Shadows", the closest they've ever come to a love song, "Infinity", and three great Calvert songs, "Uncle Sam's On Mars", "High Rise", and "Robot".
Hawklords / 25 Years On, 1978
Recorded after PXR5 but released before it. Briefly, Hawkwind had to change their name to Hawklords for legal reasons. I only like one song, "The Only Ones".
Live Seventy Nine, 1980
Calvert left and original guitar player Huw Lloyd Langton returned, the last shot of life that Hawkwind would get. This is the only album with both Lloyd Langton and drummer Simon King, and it totally rocks! The highlight is an aggressive performance of the Calvert song "Spirit of the Age".
Legendary drummer Ginger Baker replaced King, and the band went into the studio to make a decent album, but I'd say it's unnecessary because the best bits are done better on Zones and Independent Days.
Sonic Attack, Church of Hawkwind, Choose Your Masques, 1981-1982
Three albums on RCA, mediocre.
A collection of scraps from the early 1980's. This was the first Hawkwind album I heard and it's still one of my favorites. On vinyl, side 1 is clean and light, with Ginger Baker on drums, unique airy keyboards by Keith Hale, Lloyd Langton's best guitar playing, and an exceptional live performance of "Motorway City". My new favorite is "Running Through The Back Brain", a challenging space jazz jam with vocals by Moorcock. Side 2 is dark and dirty live songs, and my favorite is "Social Alliance".
Independent Days volumes 1-2, 1995
Another solid compilation of stuff from the early 80's, including a tight new version of Lemmy's song "Motorhead". Also two songs from 1969 and an inspired remix of "Kings of Speed" from 1975.
Chronicle of the Black Sword, 1985
A concept album based on Moorcock's Elric novels, promising but not that good. I think "Zarozinia" was Hawkwind's last good song, and the latest CD version includes the entire Earth Ritual Preview EP, which was previously available only on vinyl, and contains the essential song "Green Finned Demon".
Nik Turner, Space Gypsy, 2013
Turner was a major contributor to the classic Hawkwind sound of 1972-74, and here he does a good job of bringing it back, but the songwriting is forgettable.
There are many, many more, but I haven't heard any others worth mentioning. For a more complete list, go to:
Top Ten in chronological order
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Hawkwind - Doremi Fasol Latido (1972)
Hawkwind - Hall of the Mountain Grill (1974)
Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Hawkwind - PXR5 (1979)
R.E.M. - Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
Camper Van Beethoven - Key Lime Pie (1989)
Big Blood - Strange Maine 11.04.06 (2006)
Orphans & Vandals - I Am Alive and You Are Dead (2009)
Big Blood and the Wicked Hex (2011)