Time for part 2 of my 40 for 40 series and this was the most difficult of the lists for me to put together. To be honest, if I redid it tomorrow, I might come up with one that is much different than the one below. However, I decided to not over-think the list and just go with my gut.
This obsession of mine started with the first album I ever bought, Beastie Boys “Licensed To Ill”. When I bought the tape, the cover art still had the plane going into the side of mountain, not the edited version that all the 80’s moms demanded. My second album was Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” and I didn’t get that reference at all in 1986.
Remember the hard plastic cover on tapes (yes kids, tapes) and the black writing on both sides listing the tracks? Those are artifacts in a museum now. These early albums for me had songs that said “fuck” and talked about sex and partying hard. In 1986, as a 9 year old who was clueless to most of things mentioned, I thought I had found the yellow brick road to what was about to happen to me in life.
From age 9 until streaming music services became available, nearly every spare dollar or gift certificate I received went towards the purchasing of music albums or concert tickets. I complied over 300 tapes before CDs were invented and there would be over 400 of those before the MP3 came around. I never had to worry about scratching my favorite album or having the tape player chew up my musical escape after the magic of the iPod was found.. The more music became available to me, the more my ears have drank it up. I guarded my collection of tapes and CDs like they were state secrets, keeping them alphabetized and away from anyone who might want to borrow them. Now they are in a box in my in-laws house doing nothing.
As a typical kid of the 1990’s, I was drawn to the types of music that painted my emotions out sonically. In high school, I was constantly looking for an escape. My mom and dad got divorced. My dad moved away to New York and then back to New England. My mom got remarried and brought 2 infant children into my high school life.
Most days, all I wanted was to get out of my head.
Music was my high school passport out of the constant stress, anger, and frustration that hit me first thing in the morning and didn’t let up until I fell asleep at night, often with headphones on. I would sit in front of my locker every weekday morning, hat pulled down over my eyes, headphones blasting with my eyes closed pretending that I wasn’t in high school but rather as far away from Andover, Massachusetts as I could get. Later in life, I succeeded in doing just that.
While I did try my fair share of drugs before the age of 25, there wasn’t a drug that could transport me the way an amazing song was able to do. I think the 13 year old version of me would be proud to know the fact that music wasn’t a fad or a phase for me. It continues to be a massive part of who I am.
For this list, the only criteria I used was: Will I still be listening to these albums in another 40 years?”. If I answered yes – they were considered but this was not easy and I’ve second guessed throughout this list.
Part 2: My Favorite Albums
40. 1989 – Taylor Swift
I drove from Boston to Houston with my little sister when this album first came out. We listened to it at least 30 times over the course of a 4-day trip. In fact, you can see the video we made of the trip here. I took my sister to see Taylor in the pouring rain at Gillette with front row seats, a concert that Taylor says was her favorite ever to perform. This album will always be special to me.
39. Licensed To Ill – Beastie Boys
I hadn’t heard sexually explicit content until I got these guys in my ears. This is a amazing album and still gets played 30 years later.
38. August and Everything After – Counting Crows
I first heard the song “Omaha” and thought “where is that?!” . I was in high school, at a friends house, when I fell in love with this album. This is the first example of a timeless album to me.
37. Self Titled – 311
Speaking of Omaha (a town I spent 5 years living in), how about their most famous band? In terms of mixing genres, this band was exactly what I was looking for in the late 90’s. Rap, rock, reggae, drugs, metal, moshing … amazing music and awesome shows. I will never forget coming back from Worcester one night while in college with a mix of college and high school friends and getting pulled over. If the cops had checked the truck …. us teenagers would have been in a lot of alcohol trouble :). I picked this album because it was the first one I fell in love with from them but their whole catalog until like 2005 is amazing.
36. Not A Pretty Girl – Ani Difranco
For me, finding the music of Ani Difranco was a really big deal. In college, my roommates used to tease me because I did a segment on my radio show called “Ani on the Hour” where I played an Ani song at the top of each hour. I don’t think anyone in radio was doing that in the country or has done it since lol. I loved it, which is all that mattered. This was the first album that I heard from her but after 20 others and tens of shows – I don’t go one day without hearing an Ani song. “Every girl harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room”. Took me a while to figure out how correct that line was.
35. My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Kanye is a mess of a person but this his masterpiece IMO.
34. December – George Winston
My mom walked down the aisle to “Pachabel’s Canon in D” and I thought it was a special song to just her and my step-dad. Whoops. It’s pretty much THE wedding song, so what they hell do I know (lol). George Winton’s version of the song is my favorite however. This is the album I play it ever Christmas season. It pretty much IS Christmas to me.
33. And Justice For All – Metallica
Best metal album of my life and the first time I owned it, a friend of mine stole it for me from a Strawberries Music because he thought it was insane that I did not have my own copy. That’s a friend I tell ya lol.
32. No Need to Argue – The Cranberries
Who skipped their senior prom to see this band? Yup, I did. There is something magical about the sound this album has running throughout it. I can remember exact places I was when I was listening to it. It’s pretty amazing. How many break-ups did this song get played after? 4? 14? who knows lol.
31. I And Love And You – The Avett Brothers
Americana music became very important to me in my 30’s. This band was the first to introduce to the genre and soon others like Mumford followed. Just a tremendous debut album from these guys from NC.
30. Question The Answers – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Boston. Ska. Horns. Moshing. Anger, body piercings … yup. The Bosstones were the perfect band for me for many, many years. I’ve seen them more times than I can count. I’ve listened to them for more hours than I know. “Hell of Hat” man …
29. Self Titled – Temple of the Dog
I wanted to do my favorite 40 songs but that was too fucking hard. So, I will just tell you that this is my favorite song ever and would have been Number 1. Historic super group that I still love today. The fact that this band toured and I didn’t see them is KILLING me.
28. Self Titled – The Head and the Heart
This album was released on the legendary Sub Pop label in 2011 and quickly became a staple in my rotation. It didn’t sell extremely well at first but slowly, the band gained a following and their constant touring also helped to expose their sound to music lovers across the country. Boston has been a huge market for these guys, often selling out multiple nights when they tour.
27. Self Titled – Cracker
This was the first band I ever saw live as Cracker toured to support this album. David Lowery has such an amazing sound and I loved this debut release. I didn’t know about Camper Van Beethoven until I saw them at The Avalon Ballroom in Boston way back in 1992 but as what happened a lot to me in high school, other fans educated me about the full history of the band. The next 3 albums from the band were very strong as well.
26. Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars – Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
Oh the 1980’s. Jean jackets and perms. This album was given to me by my mom and became an album I would play for friends in high school for years. I would ask people if they knew of Edie Brickell and if they didn’t, I’d make them a mixtape with songs from her on it. I don’t know what it is about Edie’s voice but I don’t go more than a few months between listening to this album. It’s 2017 … nearly 30 years since it came out. That’s a good example of why I’m doing this list.
25. Core – Stone Temple Pilots
Grunge music became a gigantic part of my life but it was hard for STP to break through the PJ, Nirvana, AIC tri-fecta for me. I really, really like this album and it features a few of the best rock songs of the 90’s. “Creep” “Crackerman” and “Sex Type Thing” are songs that you instantly know after two or three cords.
24. The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby and The Range
The piano is one of my favorite musical instruments and this album started my love of it being played by bands. The title track, “The Way It Is”, still has lyrics that are meaningful today. This album was the reason this band won the Grammy for best new artist.
23. Under The Table and Dreaming – Dave Matthews Band
I’ve never understood the anger that some people have towards Dave Matthews. He is an amazingly talented guy, who’s music has been the theme songs for so many college kids in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. His concerts are so much fun. His albums are always interesting and his backing back is tremendous. This is his best album start to finish but his catalog is one of the best of my lifetime.
22. Self Titled – Foo Fighters
1995 … The year I graduated high school and these fuckers blasted on to the scene with one of the best rock albums ever. God Dang this album was amazing. It just rips through you. So much fun.
21. Self Titled – Garbage
This is one of the albums I have gone away from and come back to over the past 30 years. There is just something about Garbage’s debut album that is perfection. The sound could actually fit in right now with today’s music.
20. Cure for Pain – Morphine
The only thing I need to have you watch to understand the amazing talent that this Boston band had – simply watch this: The Mark Sandman Story Trailer. I freaking love this band still so so much. SUCKS that Mark’s life was cut short.
19. What’s the Story Morning Glory – Oasis
Brit music became a passion in the early 90’s and Oasis became more than just a passing band with this album. I’ll talk more about their debut album later on the list but this album took them from stars to global super stars.
18. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie
My wife hates this band. I love them. That’s enough to have them on the list and I’m seeing them here in Vegas next week.
17. Everything’s Different Now – Til Tuesday
Ah more 80’s … The 1988 hair, the awful clothes … Aimee Mann is an amazing singer/songwriter that I continue to listen to this day. This is the 3rd and final album for this 80’s band and it’s their best with songs like “J for Jules”, “Lucky” and “The other end”. Just a awesome ride from start to finish. This is my go-to “80’s music” album. Honorable mention to “Voices Carry”, the album with song like“Voices Carry”, “Love in an vacuum” and “Winning the war”.
16. Hot Fuss – The Killers
I drove from Huntsville, AL to Omaha, NE for a new job listening to nothing but this album over and over. I listened to this album for the better part of the first year of living in Omaha as well. I live in Vegas now, which is funny because that’s where The Killers are from, and this album will always be special to me. It’s a perfect album. I can’t say one thing I don’t like about it. Now, going forward, the band has yet to reach this level again unfortunately.
15. Green – REM
This album was the soundtrack my “coming of age” time. “Pop Song 89″, “Stand” and “Orange Crush”. It’s a classic and in the conversation for the best album of the 80’s.
14. I Don’t Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor
Sinead has one of the most powerful voices and beautiful voices of the last 40 years. Sure, she is a little nuts and had her moments of going off the deep end but this album was special.
13. 21 – Adele
Speaking of powerful voices, Adele’s is the best pop voice I’ve ever heard. This deeply autobiographical album showed the world that she was a rare, rare talent. It was a monster seller. The tour was a monster success and her career hasn’t stopped growing since its release.
12. Self Titled – Bon Iver
I’m not a good enough writer to explain my emotions when I listen to this album. Peace. Serenity. Sorrow. It’s a long list of powerful feelings that hit me every single time I sit and go through this record. It’s a masterpiece of sound.
11. Joshua Tree – U2
We are now onto the part of the list where I don’t need to write a lot about each album. You know them and what they are all about. I’m going to England in July to see U2 play this album start to finish.
10. Blood Sugar Sex Magic – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Is there a better west coast album in the 1990’s than this one? I don’t think so.
9. Little Plastic Castle – Ani Difranco
To give you an idea of how important this album has been to me … I’ve based my entire radio career on a lyric from this song: “They can call me crazy if I fail, all the chance that I need, is one in a million and they can call me brilliant if I succeed.”
8. Out of Time – REM
Michael Stipe and REM’s best album is an album full of memories for me. I have a list of bands that I have to see live and REM is the number 1 band I haven’t seen. It’s actually a pretty big deal to me so getting them back together is something I really hope happens.
7. It’s a Shame About Ray – The Lemonheads
Evan Dando’s sound is perfect Boston rock and I was lucky enough to grow up in Boston listening to this band. “Rudderless”, “My Drug Buddy” “Bit Part” ... all of it … so so amazing.
6. Definitely Maybe – Oasis
I remember listening to this is album every morning for my junior year in high school. I saw this band for the first time in fall of 1994 and it started a lifelong love of their music. Sure, the Gallagher brothers were dicks and they acted like they were The Beatles but damn, this record is good.
5. Nevermind – Nirvana
Do I need to explain this? No? Good.
4. Hopes and Fears – Keane
Here’s the piano again. Keane’s debut album is heartfelt, soulful, and beautiful. It’s a sound that is simply timeless. There is no doubt that this album will be important to me when I’m 80, as it is as I turn 40.
3. Versus – Pearl Jam
The second album from the best band from Seattle (sorry Nirvana) was a foundation building album for my musical tastes. It showed me that a band could produce an album as good as their debut, if they were truly talented as musicians. Eddie Vedder went from a great frontman to a god to me when this album came out. The speed and anger of “Rearview Mirror” to the gut-wrenching lyrics of “Indifference”, I love this record.
2. Ten – Pearl Jam
I was in home room in during the fall of my freshmen year in high school when a very nice young woman named Katheline was banging her head away, listening to her Walkman. As I sat next to her, I realized the sound I was hearing bleed out of her headphones was one that hadn’t heard of before and I asked her what she was listening to. She said ‘here’, handing me the headphones to hear “Once” for the first time. What happened next will never be recreated in my life. I heard pure sonic joy. I was never the same after that moment. I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. From that moment on, I was hooked for life on grunge music and the Seattle sound of the 90’s. Pearl Jam’s debut album is the strongest debut record of my life.
1. Achtung Baby – U2
1991 was a big year for me musically. Like I said before, I found Pearl Jam that year but before that, I was a huge U2 fan after my Uncle introduced me to them. I loved everything U2 had done up to that point but then came this… this … turn. U2 seventh studio album was nothing like anything they had produced before and it was nothing like I had ever expected from them. Bono had a new persona as “The Fly”, the album was produced by Brian Eno and it was recorded in Germany and Ireland. It just felt so so different.
I hated it. I couldn’t stand it. I was so angry that U2 had destroyed everything that I loved about them.
But then something wild happened … I listened to it. I almost forced myself to play it because it was U2. This was my band. After about 1 year of hating it, something flipped it. All of a sudden … I got it. I figured it out. I fell for it. I understood the switch. I understood the turn and the result was “WOW”.
This is my favorite album of my first 40 years. There is no album I have listened to more than this one. Start to finish – this is my favorite ever.
Next: 40 for 40 Bucket List Items