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 year is the release year unless I'm sure that the recording year is earlier. And of course there aren't exactly 25. Instead of interfiling Hawkwind albums, I've clustered them below. Also check out my Top 150 Songs and Condensed Beatles.
Orphans & Vandals, I Am Alive and You Are Dead (2009)
This album has nine songs, and four of them are old-timey ballads that would hold their own if they'd been recorded by Tom Waits or by the Pogues in the Shane MacGowan era. These are the duds. The other five (Strays, Mysterious Skin, Argyle Square, Metropes, and Terra Firma) stand on a new level of music. The style includes 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. The quality is so dense that I had to listen to it several times before my brain could unpack it. Probably the best thing is Al Joshua's ineffable voice, which makes me feel like the album's title is true.
Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie (1989)
Key Lime Pie is an album of the highest quality in every way. I was obsessed with it 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 arguably better, more uneven than this one but more but alive.
Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks (1974)
I'm not sure which song is the worst, but it's better than the best song on almost any other album. The only thing you might call a flaw is that "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" doesn't really fit with the others, even though it might be the best. My next favorite Bob Dylan albums are Blonde on Blonde, Desire, and Highway 61 Revisited.
Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)
It almost never happens that a great lyricist is also a great singer. This album has some of the best lyrics I've ever heard, and easily the best singing. As a lifelong musician Newsom nails the right 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. Sadly, like most untrained singers, she lost it. This is her first album not counting two early demos, and already on her second album (Ys) the magic is gone. The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
Gordon Lightfoot, Sit Down Young Stranger a.k.a. If You Could Read My Mind (1970)
Gordon Lightfoot is not as good a lyricist as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, but he's a better 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, Black Candy (1989)
Beat Happening's previous album, Jamboree, is the most alive, and their final album, You Turn Me On, is the most beautiful. But Black Candy is both inspired and consistently great. If the test of a song is how good it sounds played by terrible musicians, then Calvin Johnson is the best songwriter of my generation.
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. My top songs page includes all five songs from side one!
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 slow pretty songs. (But I hate "Can't Get There From Here".)
Big Star, #1 Record / Radio City (1971-73)
You probably won't find these albums any other way than sold together on one CD. "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)
Easily 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. Sadly, 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.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea (1997)
Sounds like a lost tribe of genius hillbillies playing a punked-up version of a 70's art rock album with instruments they found in a shed. Their other album, On Avery Island, is almost as good.
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.
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. I also love Painful, which is pure shoegaze.
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
Galaxie 500, ? (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.
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 brilliant 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 peaks, but I can also hear more depth. 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)
No hits, and generally considered too self-indulgent, but I love it!
(various post-rock albums)
At the moment my favorite bands are Mono, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and The American Dollar.
Sonic Youth, Sister (1987)
All Sonic Youth albums have great 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.
Two great folk songs, "Hurry On Sundown" and "Mirror of Illusion", and some interesting drug-music instrumentals. This and the next are total hippie albums.
In Search Of Space, 1971
Some good songs here -- I like "We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago". The lyrics are still more metaphysical than sci-fi, and the music more psychedelic than space rock.
Doremi Fasol Latido, 1972
The beginning of Hawkwind's peak years, not coincidentally the same years that the band included Ian Kilmister, better known as Lemmy. Here they find their sound: Long droning jams, flange 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, sax and woodwind 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 overwhelming 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 is is not larger than life like Space Ritual but still sounds great.
Hall of the Mountain Grill, 1974
Of all Hawkwind albums, this is the best produced, the most consistently good, and has the 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 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, mediocre songs, 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 a mad genius, the best science fiction lyricist in the English language, 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".
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".
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. The first seven tracks are as good as Hawkwind has ever been. The highlight is a beautiful live performance of "Motorway City".
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 rides the timewinds to bring 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: