Mike's List of the Best Albums Ever

 

This is my list of the best albums ever made, in my not-so-humble opinion. These are only the albums that I would say changed my life or touched me to the point I have found myself listening to it more than 15 times a week. I may not always be able to say exactly what it is about a particular album that makes it great, it's such an intangible thing dontchaknow. But you can tell a lot about people by their favorite music so maybe this will say something about me. Who knows.

After the albums, I'll put down a few songs that are great for whatever reasons, even if the whole album isn't quite up to the "listen to it until the CD wears out" level.


The Albums

Jon Anderson Olias of Sunhillow
I have come to decide that Jon Anderson is possibly the best vocalist in the world. Don't get me wrong, I like some other singers almost as much (Kate Bush for example) but Jon's special. I know of nobody else that's explored the use of their voice as he has... what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar, Jon has done for vocalization. I have ben lucky enough to meet him briefly once after a mind-blowing Yes concert and he's a very warm, friendly guy to boot, even if he is "out there"! Olias, his first solo album apart from Yes, is truly a concept album, and thre is just something magical about it that sets it apart from his other excellent (and widely different) works. A mystical story of a man's journey in a fantastical world, this story may almost have come out of one of the more serious passages in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Jon's incredible vocal talents in conjunction with his usual lyrical abstraction may leave you feeling like you can't quite grasp the full meaning of this work... yet you still feel like you understand just through the feeling of the music and the bits that are clear. That sounds strange perhaps, but amazingly it works well. The songs focus on atmospheres and textures as much as on the melodies and they all blend into a single, flowing stream of music... it's a stream that you do not just listen to, rather you are absorbed into it.
Alan Parsons Project On Air
If you've been on ths site for more than twenty seconds, you see how much I love aviation, and how much I love music. 'tis a rare thing indeed to fuse the two sucessfully at all. Well folks, On Air is absolutely the pinnacle of all aviation music. There likely will never ever be another album that matches it. It's completely about flight, in all its many forms from Icarus to DaVinci's sketches to sky surfing through the Challenger disaster. But what vaults it into the ionosphere is the fact that if it was about pig farming, it would still be on this list. From the heartfelt, simple opening vocal of Blue Blue Sky to the Euro-techno audio montage of Apollo, this album musically contains all that is right with The Project and in my opinion, is possibly the perfect album. IF YOU LIKE AIRPLANES, YOU MUST ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY OWN THIS ALBUM. It's quite literally as close as you'll get to flight itself through music.
Alan Parsons Project I Robot
This one is another favorite from APP. The more I listen the more neat little syncopations I find. If you like the Parsons thing, this one's among the best. At first it sounds a little 70s-ish... then you'll realize that this is what should have happened back then. It wasn't the sound itself, it was the stupid songs that made us come to gag at the sound! Well anyway, there will be no gagging here. Great songs, a cool robot theme that pre-dates Mr. Roboto, and just generally great music.
Marillion Misplaced Childhood
For many years, I considered this the best album ever. For those who don't know, Marillion took up when Genesis and Yes turned towards pop in the mid 1980s. They carried on in that direction for many years until lead singer Fish left, yet they never got stuck with the curse of rehashing that which had been done already. Misplaced Childhood, a continuous and nearly perfectly constructed theme album, is perhaps best described as a cleaner and more modern progressive progeny of The Wall and Going For The One with a little of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway thrown in... even if only in spirit and not so much in sound. The live version found on The Theiving Magpie double album is quite good as well, but this is the original.
Fish Raingods With Zippos
Fish, the former lead singer of Marillion, has done as well after the band as in it. This is a great album. The Epic track Plague of Ghosts is with little doubt (in my mind at least) the best prog-rock work from anyone in the past 5 years. Fish has taken progressive rock to new heights with this one, incorporating new technologies and sounds while obviously still remembering what it is about prog that makes it so great. Delicately brutal and simply complex, yet starkly sublime.
Camel (music inspired by) The Snow Goose
This instrumental tour-de-force tells the story of the life and times of a Canadian snow goose named Rhyader. Yes, you can follow the story just fine without words, quite a feat! Camel, an relatively unknown band except in prog circles, absorbs a lot of great ideas from other bands and puts it all together in ways that maximize the effect. They aren't copycats, they just know how to grab onto a lot of great stuff that works and add a lot of their own innovations. The result is DAMNED impressive, not to mention well-rounded. This is one of the more satisfying albums around, if you can find it.
Chris Squire Fish Out Of Water
Yes bassist Chris Squire, who single-handedly vaulted the bass into being a lead instrument, released a single solo album in the mid 1970s. This is on my list of the top 4 or 5 prog albums ever. If you ever heard Chris' backing vocals in Yes and thought it sounded cool, well... he really does sound cool! More jazzy and downright funky than most albums, this one has a sort of controlled syncopated tension to it that is truly unique and unfortunately rather hard to describe. Like Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunihillow, Fish Out Of Water has a unique energy and groove to it that feeds off of Chris's unusual voice and his unique songwriting. Amazingly, there is little in-your-face bass playing on this record!
Tony Banks A Curious Feeling
What is it about first solo albums anyway? Tony Banks, Genesis keyboardist and the guy responsible for much of their best stuff, has produced a dark album that, needless to say, greatly expands upon the capabilities of his keyboards. Highly textured is perhaps the best way to describe it, as well as dark and rather haunting. If you think Genesis is cool because of the synths, if you liked The Lady Lies and such, then you'll eat this one up. If you think "Old Genesis" means Land of Confusion, then you may not be quite ready for this one!
Kate Bush The Kick Inside
I first heard Kate Bush singing backup in Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up. So when I ran across a Kate Bush video one day in Blockbuster, I thought what the hell, maybe it will be interesting. I tell you what... despite the talented but really silly looking dancers with huge afros that she performed with (she doesn't just sing, she's an extremely talented dancer as well and her one tour was as much theatrical as musical), I fell in love that very night with the woman who will someday have my love chile. Combine one of the most beautiful voices on earth with aggressively progressive music that was so intense it required (in essence) The Alan Parsons Project to be her backing band, and you have a prog-head's dream come true. Kind of a fusion of prog, theater, and a little of everything else, without succumbing to the cheese factor that makes me hate that kind of music. The Lionheart album is virtually tied with Kick for this spot.
Steve Hackett Till We Have Faces
Forget that Steve is a former Genesis guitarist, it goes way beyond another guitar album. Steve is one of the few artists that never covers the same ground twice, even covers of older songs end up completely different! All original stuff on this one though, Faces was recorded in Brazil with lots of local street musicians and then finished back in England. The result is in some ways a cross between Paul Simon's Graceland and perhaps some older Van Halen!! One of the more enjoyable and strongest albums you're likely to find, it's not too weird, it's not boring, often funny and always excellent.
Genesis Foxtrot
The epitome of older prog-rock albums, this quirky record contains the 23-minute long Supper's Ready. Any band that can put The Book of Revelations into music in a gazillion different and unrelated pieces and actually pull it off just has to be reckoned with. Any band that would make you want to have said album along on a desert island is amazing. Personally, my favorite song here is probably Can-Utility and the Coastliners... what can I say, I just like that dark haunting mellotron thing! :)
Genesis A Trick of the Tail
Simply put, this might be the absolute best album ever made, period. I can't explain why, other than it's from Genesis when everything went right and they were at their finest hour. Mad Man Moon is a real highlight, although all the songs here are excellent. If you don't like this record, you probably REALLY hate Genesis!
Genesis And Then There Were Three
This is amongst my favorite Genesis albums even though many people didn't like it. I think that Burning Rope is up there with Mad Man Moon in the race for the most incredible song ever recorded. This is a heavily keyboard-textured album, in a way the last of the great ones from "middle" Genesis.
Yes The Yes Album
Yes fans can debate whether this album or Fragile was better, but I think that I'll give it to this one (albeit by a narrow margin!) Not quite an experimental as Fragile, perhaps, but this one just seems more together in a way. It's almost like the energy that was spent on Fragile's five solo pieces was instead poured back into the group collaborations on this one and they got that much more intense. And by the way, despite the record company's 30+ year history of keeping up the joke by mis-printing every single album, single, CD and tape jacket since 1971, the second song is really named just plain "Clap", not "THE Clap" - so don't get any funny ideas about it!
Yes Close To The Edge
Three songs... the title track, And You And I, and Siberian Khatru. Obviously they're all long songs!! This was the peak of the early part of Yes's career... they developed it all as far as it could go before starting to decline somewhat for a little while. All the performers were at their best here... and that's as good as it can get!
Yes Going For The One
This album was fun for them to make, and that shows up on the music. It's got some of their most inspired moments. Wonderous Stories has always seemed magical to me, and hearing Awaken loudly is a religious experience!! This is perhaps the best Yes album to get if you haven't heard much of their stuff besides the stuff on the radio.
Rush Signals
I like themed albums, and this is one of the best ones out there on the rockier end of the scale. It's got everything I love... strong keyboards, kick-ass bass, quirky drums, intelligent lyrics, syncopation, and well hey, it's Rush!
Supertramp Even In The Quietest Moments
An album about love and relationships. Actually, the whole album qualifies as excellent, but what puts it on this list is the title track. EITQM is the most moving love song ever written, I think... there's just something about the combination of the lyrics, music, and the emotion of that track that really adds up and makes it immensely powerful. I actually found out about this song from a friend of mine from school that I was very much in love with, at least at the time. I discovered that she liked that song so I went out and bought the album to see what it was like. She has long since disappeared off my radar scope but if nothing else, at least she lead me to this album!
Jars of Clay Jars of Clay
Acoustically-oriented music often walks a fine line whereby it can turn mushy and lose it's appeal pretty easily. This album certainly does anything but! It's not totally acoustic, mind you, but doesn't hinge upon eletric guitar either. There is a looooong hidden track and a ton of incredibly boring near-silence at the end that's completely useless, but hey, the rest of the album makes up for it (and you can skip that bit... they oughta re-release it without all that or something...) I would bet that there are many who liked hearing "Flood" (produced by Adrian Belew, a truly amazing musician in his own right) on the radio but then didn't buy the album because they heard they were a Christian band and were afraid of having a Bible thumped at them or something. Well if you're one of those people, get over it already, this one's too good to miss for a silly reason like that. This is a wonderful album that is a lot deeper than that. Yep, the message is there, but it's autobiographical storytelling, not obnoxious. The song Boy On A String is the true highlight of the album. And for you non-Christians out there, I promise not to tell any of your friends if you get it. :)

 


The Songs

And now for the specific songs... I'm not going to list songs that are included on albums I've already listed above, just the stragglers.

Camel Lunar Sea (from Moonmadness)
This instrumental keyboard-heavy extravaganza is one of the coolest ones ever put on tape... I think "syncopated" was invented to describe stuff like this.
Phil Collins All Of My Life (from But Seriously)
A reflective love song... quite emotional and sort of sad. Great song though. There is a joke among Genesis and Phil fans that he never wrote a song without the phrase "all of my life" in the lyrics.
Genesis The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging (From The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway)
Starts slow, builds up to chaos... way cool.
Genesis You Might Recall (From 3 Sides Live or Genesis Archive #2)
A great song about losing love... a great example of the musical vision that makes the big G so amazing.
Beatles Sun King / Mean Mr. Mustard / Polythene Pam / She Came In Through The Bathroom Window (from Abbey Road)
You probably know these. Mr. Mustard is the best bit but the whole suite is just really really awesome.
Emerson Lake & Palmer Tarkus (from Tarkus)
One of ELP's best exhibitions of what they do, and one of the coolest prog tracks ever. Yes, it's quite weird!
Peter Gabriel / Robert Fripp Flood (from Fripp's Exposure album)
This version of Flood, released by Fripp on a "bits and pieces" album, is slower and simpler than Peter's album version, and features a stark vocal with a lot less in the background than appears on Peter's album. As a result, this track is much more powerful. There are some other great moments on this album too from various artists, it's worth looking for.
Yes Tempus Fugit (from Drama)
This Trevor Horn-era Yestrack is absolutely electrified, and is built upon one of the neatest bass lines ever used in a rock song.
Pink Floyd Pigs (Three Different Ones) (from Animals)
Hard to describe. Just really darkly infectiously catchy.



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