There are a lot of great albums. But perfect? That’s a far more select group.
How I judge perfect is – do I ever want to skip tracks? Not because I’m not in the mood for a particular song, but because a track is weak. There are a lot of albums with only one or two weak tracks. But these are albums where every track is strong.
I picked these as much for their range of styles as anything. But there are more perfect albums, some of which I may add later.
Obviously, this is very personal and opinionated, but that’s the fun in it.
|1. WHAT'S GOING ON – Marvin Gaye
Also my vote for the best album ever made. I could add the I WANT YOU album to this list too. I never get tired of listening to these albums, although I am grateful that Motown put out the “alternative mix” versions, to hear different arrangements of these classic jams.
|2. PURPLE RAIN – Prince
Sure it’s the obvious choice, but sometimes that’s the only way to go. Much respect to 1999, PARADE and SIGN OF THE TIMES, just to name a few. Why, oh why won’t they release a version with all the long versions of the songs, and all the B sides like “God” “17 Days” and “Erotic City”?
|3. IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK – Public Enemy
1987 was the best year in hip hop. Eric B. and Rakim, De La Soul and this.
|4. CLIFFORD BROWN WITH STRINGS
I first heard this at dinner over Eddie Murphy’s house. It was so achingly beautiful I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
|5. I AM SHELBY LYNNE
I didn’t buy this album, it showed up at my wife’s (then girlfriend) apartment by mistake. But we listened and loved it. I’m not a country fan, but this album and Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits is mighty good music to me.
|6. I WISH IT WOULD RAIN – The Temptations
In the beginning, Motown was more known for its singles than its albums, but this early collaboration of The Temps and Norman Whitfield is track after track of well written songs, several of them classics. The sound of the production is epic without calling attention to itself.
|7. MR. GONE – Weather Report
This was first jazz album that I could really get deep into like a P.Funk record. And it still holds up well.
|8. ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINKS – Raekwon
There are so many great Wu Tang albums, from their debut RETURN TO THE 36 CHAMBERS, the first Ol’ Dirty Bastard album, GZA’s album LIQUID SWORDS, Ghostface’s PRETTY TONEY album. So why this album? ‘Cause it’s just that damn good.
|9. HIGH LIFE – Wayne Shorter
Here’s the co-founder of Weather Report years later, produced by Marcus Miller, who besides being a bad ass bass playing mug himself, produced everyone from Miles Davis to Luther Vandross, make a very deep yet funky album. When I first bought it, I didn’t get it. Then I played it everyday for a year.
|10. BROWN SUGAR – D'Angelo
This album has stayed in my CD player since it came out. Everybody loves Marvin Gaye, but D’Angelo is the only guy who recreated that seamless groove that Marvin does.
|11. BAND OF GYPSIES – Jimi Hendrix
Inspired by the Black Panthers, Jimi assembles an all-black trio of him, drummer/singer Buddy Miles and an old army buddy Tony Cox on bass (don’t sleep, he kills it on the album’s standout track, “Who Knows”). Calling him the Greatest Guitarist Ever is still not giving him enough props, and this is his greatest album. Nuff Said.
|12. HOT HOUSE FLOWERS – Wynton Marsalis
While I disagree with some (okay, most) of Wynton’s pronouncements about pop music, I have to admit he kills some standards on this album. A very different feel than Clifford Brown, but kinda that same vibe. Nice, real nice.
|13. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR – Original Movie Soundtrack
I went to Catholic School most of my life, but this album taught me more about the Gospels than years of religion class ever did. Great music, clever lyrics and the best showcase of the late great Carl Anderson, who was so brilliant as Judas I didn’t mind that they cast Judas as a black man.
|14. MAIDEN VOYAGE (AND MORE) – Ramsey Lewis
This is really two albums combined onto one CD, but they mesh perfectly. Ramsey is produced here by Charles Stephney, probably the most underrated producer in pop music. He defined the Earth, Wind and Fire sound, and discovered a singer named Minnie Riperton (yeah, “Lovin’ You”). Anyway, the strings, soul and swing on this CD blows people away today when they hear it. So you gotta hear it.
|15. AFRICA – Miriam Makeba
This is another compilation CD, but this one features Miriam Makeba, a South African singer discovered by Harry Belafonte. She delivers Aretha Franklin-level soul power that will make every part of you tingle, dance, scream and fall in love.
|16. FRESH – Sly & the Family Stone
This whole period of Sly, from RIOT GOIN’ ON through FRESH and SMALL TALK..all genius music, not unlike that WHAT’S GOING ON/LET’S GET IT ON/I WANT YOU period of Marvin Gaye or Stevie’s six album run. A master at the peak of his powers.
|17. ODELAY – Beck
Beck is a bad boy. This album makes me want to dance and laugh at the same time. He’s the Talking Heads for the next generation, and that’s a wonderful thing.
|18. THE CHARLIE BROWN SUITE AND OTHER FAVORITES – Vince Guaraldi
A beautifully recorded live album that takes some of the most treasured music from our childhoods and expands on it. The string arrangements are beautiful.
|19. FULFILLINGNESS FIRST FINALE – Stevie Wonder
Stevie’s stunning run that started with WHERE I’M COMING FROM through MUSIC OF MY MIND, TALKING BOOK, INNERVISIONS and finally peaking with SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS and HOTTER THAN JULY is one of the most brilliant creative stretches in music history. I know I’m being a heretic by not picking SONG IN THE KEY OF LIFE, but as towering an achievement as that album is, the tightness of the FULFINGNESS set gives it the edge here.
|20. HELLO NASTY – Beastie Boys
Hip hop is still pretty much a singles medium, but certain artists really put the work in and make a broader statement. HEY NASTY not only holds up to me, but actually has grown in my estimation over time. It’s a more ambitious album than the lauded PAUL’S BOUTIQUE and pulls off everything it attempts.
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