Favorite Albums

plus guide to Hawkwind

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. The list is slow in reflecting my shifting interest away from conventional songs and toward instrumental jams. The year is the release year unless I'm sure that the recording year is earlier. Instead of interfiling Hawkwind albums, I've clustered them below. Also check out my Favorite Songs and Condensed Beatles.

Big Blood - Big Blood and the Wicked Hex (2011)
Big Blood are my favorite band by a wide margin. They record at a blistering pace with incredible creativity that is so experimental that it often sounds bad even to me, so most of their albums have only one or two songs that I love, but this album goes four for five. Unlikely Mothers is also solid, and Sew Your Wild Days Tour Vol 1 has three of my favorites. Many fans like Dark Country Magic the best, probably because it has the least weirdness in the longer tracks. For more, see my songs page, or send me an email because I'd love to talk with someone else who gets this band. Most of their music is shared free here.
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 are so alive that I must have been dead before I heard them. 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.
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 all these songs on the radio as a teenager and was not impressed (except Stairway To Heaven, which bores me now). Since then I've developed an ear for vocal timbre, which Robert Plant revolutionized, and an ear for how well different instruments work together, something nobody did better than Led Zeppelin.
Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)
It almost never happens that a great lyricist is also a great singer. As a lifelong musician Newsom nails the notes, and I think without knowing how, she adds micro-modulations that make her voice either unbearably irritating or unbearably beautiful, depending on your ears. I was so overwhelmed by her voice on "En Gallop" that it took me several listens to even notice the words. Tragically, she lost it. This is her first album not counting two early demos, and already on her second album (Ys) the magic is gone. (Colleen Kinsella of Big Blood sings better and is still going, but Newsom has the best lyrics.)
Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks (1974)
A singer's job is to hit the notes and make their voice sound like a unique instrument. Bob Dylan is my favorite male singer, and this album is perfect. The worst song is better than the best song on almost any other album. My next favorite Dylan albums are Blonde on Blonde, Desire, and Highway 61 Revisited.
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.
Camper Van Beethoven - Key Lime Pie (1989)
I was obsessed with this for two years after it came out. Traveling in Europe, I went a week without speaking any English except singing CVB to myself, and I started to develop David Lowery's California accent. Their third, self-titled album is more uneven than this one but more alive.
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".
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 you can contact me for a vinyl rip.
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.
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.
Violent Femmes - Hallowed Ground (1984)
Massively underrated, their second album matches their famous debut in the catchiness of the rhythms and melodies, and greatly exceeds it in creativity and darkness.
Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising (1984)
Somehow the two best raw emotional 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, was more influential and has more good songs on it, but New Day Rising just sounds better. Someone could make a whole career out of the sound that Mould came up with on "Perfect Example" and "Powerline".
R.E.M. - Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
Reckoning and Automatic For The People are R.E.M.'s best albums by any reasonable standard, but this one is my favorite. I like its old-fashioned aura and its jangly pretty songs. (But I hate "Can't Get There From Here".)
Big Star - #1 Record / Radio City (1971-73)
You won't find these albums sold separately. "In The Street" became Big Star's most famous song when it was picked as the opening for That 70's Show -- even though it was nowhere near a 70's radio hit. That was a Chris Bell song, which are impressive, but the Alex Chilton songs are even better. #1 Record has more great songs, but Radio City has deeper, stronger music.
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.
Pink Floyd - Meddle (1971)
Unlike the more famous Pink Floyd albums that followed it, this has no unifying theme, but it's the best set of songs they ever put together.
Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
Tom Waits has everything: lyrics, melodies, musical style, and endurance. Rain Dogs is clearly his best album, although Bone Machine is not far behind, and most of his early albums have two or three great songs.
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 (1976)
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 against this bunch.
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Stoned and Dethroned (1993)
I'm not a fan of this band. Most of their albums have only one or two good songs, Darklands is pretty good, and even this album does not have any great stand-alone songs. But I just love the way it sounds and feels.
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 happy!"
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 songs.
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, and it's strangely hard to find here.
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.
Peter Gabriel - (car) (1977)
Peter Gabriel has three self-titled albums. This is his first solo album, the one with Peter through a car windshield on the cover. Featuring "Solsbury Hill" and "Here Comes The Flood".
Rush - A Farewell To Kings (1977)
The guitar sound is better on Caress of Steel, and Moving Pictures is more respectable, but Rush's most inspired work is here, especially on the two epics, Xanadu and Cygnus X-1.
The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)
Considered the worst Police album by almost everyone, and I agree that it has the lowest ceiling, 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 is sort of my favorite band. 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 exotic dancers, Lemmy, sci-fi author Michael Moorcock, and Arthur Brown Jr. ("I am the god of hellfire!")

Everyone agrees that they peaked in the 1970's, but there is some disagreement about which of their albums were better. This is a list of important ones and personal favorites.

Hawkwind, 1970
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 noise at the end. Now it sounds like great music with vocals to trick you into listening. The sound is not that different from their next album, but it still sounds more like 60's psych rock than space rock, probably because it's missing some guitar effects and Lemmy's heavy bass lines. "We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago" is like practice for "Space is Deep".
Doremi Fasol Latido, 1972
The beginning of Hawkwind's peak years, not coincidentally the same years that the band included Ian Kilmister, a.k.a. Lemmy. Here they find their sound: Long droning jams, phase guitars, soaring spacy keyboards, and sci-fi lyrics. "Brainstorm" puts it all together, "Space is Deep" is their masterpiece, there's a great Brock ballad (Down Through The Night) and a slow Lemmy song (The Watcher). If "Time We Left This World Today" isn't so long and boring, this is their best album.
Space Ritual, 1973
Double live album, featuring all four giants of Hawkwind: Brock, Lemmy, crazy sax player 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, half-assed 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 that anticipated (or influenced) British new wave. 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 was sacked for poor musical discipline, and the bass player and second drummer were sacked for sounding too funky. The new tight lineup made one of their best albums, featuring "Damnation Alley" and "Hassan I Sabha".
PXR5, 1979
Some of the greatest albums are cobbled together from scraps. This contains Hawkwind's best punk song, "Death Trap", their best social protest song, "High Rise", their catchiest song, "Jack of Shadows", and the closest they've ever come to a love song, "Infinity". It was recorded in early 1978 but the release was delayed because of internal turmoil.
Hawklords / 25 Years On, 1978
Recorded after PXR5 but released before it. Briefly, Hawkwind had to change their name to Hawklords for legal reasons, maybe because Dave Brock was the only original member. 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".
Levitation, 1980
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.
Zones, 1983
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, 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 briefly reuniting with Lemmy to cover the Motorhead 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.
other albums
There are many, many more, but I haven't heard any others worth mentioning. For a more complete list, go to:
http://home.clara.net/adawson/ or