Time magazine last week rattled off it’s list of the top 100 albums of all time. Whenever magazines launch into something like this, it’s just going to spark debate and show glaring weaknesses into their tastes.
This list looks like it was created by committee, including the obvious — Sgt. Pepper, Zep's untitled masterpiece — and the unworthy — Hole — and some token references to bands sneered at by critics — AC/DC and Black Sabbath — included probably to head off an onslaught of metalheads.
But if I was reading the list correctly, Time put a Hank Williams greatest hits package in the No. 1 slot, and that’s just wrong for so many reasons. For one thing, adding greatest hits issues is just cheating. It’s like naming an all-time team when someone asks which Mets team is your favorite.
So I had to take things into my own hands. Rather than go to all 100, here’s my Top 15 CDs of all time. I have them numbered, but that’s not necessarily a ranking. These are all special to me for one reason or another.
I included one CD per artist to spread the love around a little.
1) Moving Pictures, Rush (1981)
This was essentially the soundtrack for my high school years. I even used lyrics from "Tom Sawyer" in my campaign posters for a run at student government treasurer. I came in second, but ended up serving for half the year -- a long story -- and worked with Alec Baldwin’s sister, who was very nice. This album is darn near perfect right down to the cover, and even has song about the homeland to push it right over the top. Rush’s next bad album would be its first, and several others should probably appear on this list. Best cut you know: "Tom Sawyer." Best cut you don’t know: "Witch Hunt."
2) Underdog, Audio Adrenaline (1999)
All Audio A albums are good, this one is phenomenal. It’s essentially a greatest hits album, with four songs that are a live staples — "Mighty Good Leader," "Underdog," "Get Down" and "Hands and Feet," which I told you last week is a song that has inspired me trough years of church work. Best cut you know: "Hands and Feet." Best cut you don’t know: "Jesus Movement."
3) Our Time in Eden, 10,000 Maniacs (1992)
I accepted a rotating assignment in our Lansing Bureau in the fall of 1992, and chose to commute an hour each way to be with my family rather than live in the company’s apartment above the office. It was a long, bland drive and our car had a radio but not a tape player. So I propped my boom box in the front seat and had plenty of time to study and enjoy "Our Time in Eden." The Maniacs were my favorite band at the time and this is their best effort track for track. Best cut you know: "These Are Days." Best cut you don’t know: "Eden"
4) Thrive, Newsboys (2002)
This CD has been out for nearly four years, and two cuts are in the top 15 on my iPod’s play count. The band works from worship and praise to pop to straight rockers, all of which are excellent. The title cut is moving — "When you lift me up tender care, when you wash me clean with the palms of your hands, Lord hold me close so I can thrive, when you touch me, that’s when I know I’m alive." — but there’s not a lackluster song on the entire disc. Best cut you know: "It Is You." Best cut you don’t know: "Giving it Over."
5) Glass Houses, Billy Joel (1980)
The fact that the Time list doesn’t include a single Billy Joel record makes it immediately suspect. Joel’s a good Long Islander. He’s less of a piano man and more of a rocker on Glass Houses, but it’s a classic. I waited with my friends Jeff and Craig all day at the Nassau Coliseum to get tickets for this tour. Later, were recounting our adventure at a church youth group meeting, and the leader asked if we would spend the same eight hours waiting to get into a church service. We said "Yes," which was the answer they were hoping for. No one believed us, but lightening did not strike. It should have. Best cut you know: "Sometimes a Fantasy." Best cut you don’t know: "Sleeping With the Television On."
6) Alive! Kiss, (1975)
Greatest live rock album. Ever. I was 11 when this bad boy was released and it was one of the first albums I owned, which means I played it endlessly. And since I tended to crank the volume, I’m sure the rest of my family also can recite Paul Stanley’s between song banter from memory. "Awww hey! So let’s rock and roll all NIGHT and party EV-ERY DAY!" These are the definitive versions of the early Kiss classics, louder, harder and faster than the studio tracks. Best cut you know: "Rock and Roll All Nite." Best cut you don’t know: "Cold Gin"
7) Mmhmm, Relient K (2004)
This Christian punk-pop band gets better with each release. Sometimes the message is subtle and sometimes it’s not there at all, but it’s never objectionable. Seven of the songs on Mmhmm are absolute classics and could be heard in places Christian music typically doesn’t get a spin. A follow-up EP intended to compliment Mmhmm wasn’t as balanced, but acoustic versions of "By My Escape" and "Over Thinking" are alone worth the price of admission. Best cut you know: "Be My Escape." Best cut you don’t know: "The One I’m Waiting For."
8) Before These Crowded Streets, Dave Matthews Band (1998)
This CD is like a gift that keeps giving. I was so hooked by three tracks — "Don’t Drink the Water," "Crush" and "Stay" — that I didn’t play a lot of attention to the others. But as DMB started rolling out the live CDs, and there are many, I started liking different songs and traced them back to the studio. Low and behold, they keep coming from Crowded Streets. Matthews is in some ways the anti-Ramone, in that he never says in 3 minutes what he can say in 8. But when the band gets jamming, it’s typically all good. Best song you know: "Crush." Best song you don’t know: "Pig."
9) Loco Live, The Ramones (1991)
I was familiar with some Ramones songs and even saw them in a mismatched bill with the B-52s at Hofstra University, but didn’t pledge allegiance until my buddy Rich brought me to see them at Toads, a club in New Haven, Conn. It was small, crowded and sweaty — the proper environment to see the pride of Forest Hills, Queens. We went back to see them every time they appeared for the next several years. I like the band’s credo: Say it loudly, say it simply and get the heck out of there. The band’s studio albums are excellent, but I like Loco Live because it’s reminds me of those nights at Toads. And only the Ramones can fit 32 cuts on one disc. Best song you know: "Teenage Lobotomy." Best song you don’t know: "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down."
10 ) Under the Blade, Twisted Sister (1982)
The drinking age in New York was 18 when I was growing up, and I couldn’t wait for that milestone birthday. Not because I was a drinker — I was the designated driver even then — but because it meant we could finally get in to Hammerheads to see Twisted Sister. The boys were playing the Long Island bars for years before they finally got signed to a British label. Under the Blade is mostly songs we had been hearing on WBAB and WLIR concert simulcasts for years. I wrote a review of the disc for my college paper, and asked the guys to sign it when they appeared at a local record store. Dee Snider read it and said I was "astute," which sent me on walking on air for a long time. The late-1990s reissue is the one to own because it adds "I’ll Never Grow Up, Now," a single the band released on its own. Best song you know: Unless you’re a former Long Island metal head, you might not know any of these pre-Stay Hungry songs. Best song you don’t know: "What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)"
11) Scarecrow, John Mellencamp (1985)
I didn’t fully appreciate Mellencamp until I moved to the Midwest in 1990. My wife grew up in a small Illinois town, and after spending time there I could finally recognize the people and places Mellencamp was signing about. I like that he has a story to tell, and Scarecrow is best at introducing characters that you want to hear more about, be they the family losing the farm in the title track or the wise old passenger on the bus in "Minutes to Memories." Mellencamp’s 2001 Cutting Heads is more autobiographical and is just as strong and woefully underrated. Best song you know: "Lonely Ol’ Night." Best song you don’t know: "Minutes to Memories."
12) Welcome to Diverse City, tobyMac (2004)
Christian rocker-rapper Toby McKeehan makes a dcTalk reunion less likely with each stellar disc. You won’t go wrong with either Momentum or Diverse City. The former is heavier and has more borrowing from older songs, and the later disc is more of a melting pot of styles. "The Slam" was in several promo trailers and television ads for action movies this year, and I wonder if the Hollywood types ever listened to the lyrics. Toby’s guest list is a who’s who Christian musicians from T-Bone to Grits to Superchic(k). We’re bringing the youth group to see the band next weekend, and Toby’s right on target musically and inspirationally. Best song you know: "Gone." Best song you don’t know: "Hey Now."
13) I’ve Got the Rocks n Rolls Again, Joe Perry Project (1981)
The Aerosmith guitarist’s solo career was brief but memorable. My friends and I loved his solo stuff, and we went to see him several times at a little dinner theater in Glen Cove that was trying to convert into a concert venue. Since the newspaper office at Nassau Community College was right next to the Concerts Committee office, the high school friends thought I had something to do with Joe appearing there. I didn’t, but jumped at the chance to interview Joe before the gig. Joe was physically in the room, but seemed to be somewhat self-medicated. OK, a lot self-medicated. But I was so star-struck that my questions probably didn’t make much sense anyway. The fact that Joe was playing Nassau Community College instead of Nassau Coliseum was probably adding to his discontent. That doesn’t take away from this disc, his second as a solo artist. It’s raw and sounds like it was recorded live. Best cut you (might) know: "East Coast, West Coast." Best cut you don’t know: "No Substitute for Arrogance."
14) Coming Up to Breathe, MercyMe (2006)
I’ve been a MercyMe fan since we caught them at Festival con Dios in 2001. If the band has a pattern, it’s that it starts each disc rocking then slows into piano-driven praise songs that I don’t enjoy as much as the rockers. But the band kept the mellow to a minimum and turned up the volume for their latest release, and it’s simply brilliant. "No More, No Less" jumped into the top two on my iPod play count after just a couple months after it was released. And seeing them in concert this year taught me a valuable lesson about singing at the foot of the stage. Best song you know: "So Long, Self." Best song you don’t know: "No More, No Less."
15) The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (2002)
I’m not a huge Springsteen guy by any stretch, but this release struck home with its stories about the suffering, the anger and the hope for resurrection following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I get choked up listening to it. Other artists, from the Cranberries to dcTalk, have offered outstanding songs about the day or the aftermath. While not all of the songs on The Rising relate directly to the tragedies, most invoke a story or a feeling of people lost on that day. Springsteen nails it. Not bad for a Jersey guy. Best song you know: "The Rising." Best song you don’t know: "Into the Fire."
Honorable mentions: Kutless, Kutless; Strangers in the Night, UFO; Good Monsters, Jars of Clay; Jesus Freak, dcTalk.
There you go! I’d sure like to hear about some of your favorites.