Wow so I haven’t even thought about writing on here for a while, so I figured I’d do a quick list to get me back in the swing of things. I’ve just been so laser-focused on recording music that it didn’t occur to me to stop and pursue some of my other passions (aka writing) as well. Like I said this is more about easing back into the groove of writing than it is about having anything meaningful to say; lists are good for that kind of thing. But hopefully once I get my feet wet I’ll be able to do some political writing.
So here they are, a snapshot of an always in-flux list that I keep in my head. My 5 favorite albums of all time and why they sit where they sit:
5.) Live From Chicago by Steve Miller Band
Rarely do I find a live album that is more influential in my life than studio albums, but this is an absolute masterpiece capped off with the perfection of the 14 minute and 41 second jam fest that is “Fly Like an Eagle.” I was lucky enough to see the Steve Miller Band a few weeks ago in Nashville, TN in the famous Ryman Auditorium, former home of The Grand Ole Opry. First of all, the opening band, Marty Smith and the Superlatives were some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen, but then Steve Miller came on and managed to top that performance. Hit after hit, jam after jam, joker after midnight toker, it was easily one of the top 5 concerts I’ve ever seen (that’s out of at least 30 mind you). This album captures everything that made that night so special, and since Miller doesn’t change his set much, the show I saw bore a kean resemblance to Live From Chicago. The biggest differences are that “Fly Like an Eagle” is actually better on this album, containing a more blistering guitar solo, and incredible freestyle-feel rap verse; and that “The Joker” was better in person because he brought out Marty Smith and the Superlatives to play it with him. Overall this is just a fantastic album that shows a criminally underrated artist at his pique.
4.) American Beauty/American Psycho by Fall Out Boy
While I’m not thrilled by the title or the title track because of the careless use of the word “psycho,” this is, though not an easy choice, my favorite Fall Out Boy album, and so one of my favorite albums. If you had told me at the beginning of their infamous hiatus that they would not only come back, but come back arguably better than before, I would have cussed you out and asked why you’re trying to make me miserable. If you had told me after Save Rock and Roll that their next album would top that one, I would tell you I’d have to hear it to believe it. And I did hear it, and damned if I don’t believe it. Much like with MCR, I love all of Fall Out Boy’s albums. Folie a Deux is a special piece of nostalgia, and at the time of its release was my favorite album of all time. Cork Tree and Infinity are both modern classics that each molded the genre of Pop-punk by their sheer magnitude. Save Rock and Roll sees a departure in style, but features some of their best all-around songwriting, and Take This to Your Grave will always be one of the great albums to come out of that first wave of pop-punk. But Beauty is my personal favorite, if only because of how jam-packed it is with near-perfect songs. “Jet Pack Blues” is an artistic creation that I think many don’t think them capable of; “Fourth of July” is an excellently penned and produced emotional anthem; “Novacane” is a down and dirty howler; “Twin Skeletons” might be their most ambitious work to date. The only song I give under 4 out of 5 stars to is the title track, which is a little messy and mashed up, but even then as the weak point of the album it’s an incredibly strong weak point, earning about a 3 stars from me. This is the album that can do no wrong. I don’t know if there were songs left on the cutting room floor or not, but they packed this with their best material and left no room for filler. It still amazes me how many of my favorite Fall Out Boy songs are on this album.
3.) Wild World by Bastille
When I started getting really into Bastille beyond just “Pompeii,” after I saw them live at Summerfest, I was absolutely amazed by the quality of songwriting on Bad Blood. Dan Smith is absolutely a once in a generation songwriter, with incredible skills at vocals, production, and composition to go along with it. Before I could elevate them to the pantheon of my favorite bands, however, I needed to see if they could do it again. Dear God did they ever. They not only repeated the artistic success of their debut album, they did what I thought was impossible and surpassed it. Wild World feels like a concept album, with themes of the chaos of politics and social injustice running throughout it. While it’s an electronic album to be sure, boasting tons of fat synth pads and leads, it’s also an incredibly organic album. It works because it reflects some of our biggest fears in life. For me personally, it touches on many: “Snakes” artfully discusses anxiety and self-medication, “Power” speaks to the very nature of vulnerability and relationships, “The Currents” is a say-what-we’re-all-thinking anthem about politics in the time of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, and “Good Grief” is almost maddeningly eloquent in its dissection of loss and grief. There may be albums ahead of this one on my list, but I would say that this album easily contains some of the best songwriting I’ve ever heard in my life. As a musician, the completeness of Bastille’s songwriting prowess is absolutely inspiring. This is an album for the ages.
2.) Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix
My appreciation for the fullness of Hendrix’s work is relatively new but it is profound. How to pick one album out of a legacy of greatness the likes of which I firmly believe no other artist has surpassed or can surpass. Hendrix released three studio albums while he was alive and they were each all time greats. His greatest hits albums are masterpieces in their own right. Live at Berkeley showcases the dynamic force he was on stage, and his virtuosic improvisational skills. Woodstock is rock history in album form like nothing else. Are You Experienced? is one of the greatest debut albums of all time. And the list goes on. No other artist even comes close to the spectacular collection of post-career (and in Hendrix’s case, unfortunately, posthumous) releases that Hendrix’s library boasts. But I settled on Electric Ladyland because of a riff in little old song called “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” Even before I came to really understand the perfection of Hendrix’s work and presence, before I was inspired by him as a performer and musician, I was inspired by the intro riff to “Voodoo Chile.” It’s one of those riffs like “Back in Black” that drove me (in part) to want to play guitar in the first place. I was always in awe of the seemingly effortless guitar work in “Voodoo Chile,” and it is still something of a holy grail of songs to me. Combine that with the fact that this album also boasts one of my all time favorite songs in “All Along the Watchtower,” plus a bevy of hits from “Crosstown Traffic” to “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” to the soulful brilliance of “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” and you’ve got possibly the best album ever created. This album does more than showcase Hendrix’s brilliance, it embodies it. Hendrix fills up this album in a way only he could, and you feel like he’s transmitting a bit of his soul to you with every track. Absolutely fantastic album.
1.) Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance
Danger Days has been my absolute favorite album since I first heard it, Christmas Day of 2010 upon receiving it as a gift. I love all MCR’s albums, but this one is just an absolute standout to me. I really credit it for changing my life in a way. Before this album I listened to a lot of really dark music that cemented me in the dark places I was, because whenever I heard happy music it made me want to throw up. This was the first album I had ever heard that inspired something positive in me and still felt real and gritty and emotional. I started writing a trilogy of books inspired by this album in the week following. That was a project that I worked on for about 4 years, completing two of the three books, and getting about 50 pages into the third (about 400 8.5″ x 11″ pages single spaced, all in all). While I never was able to bring it all home and finish the third book, the creative process of writing it was something that will always stay with me, and I’m still proud of the work I did on that project, even though it will likely never see the light of day. Danger Days inspired all of that. It inspired some of the best creative writing I have ever done in my life. I would listen through this album while writing to keep the creativity coming and it always delivered. There’s just something at its core that reaches me in a way that no other album ever has, and I doubt any other album will. It’s hard to tangibly describe why this album means so much to me, but there has never been a moment since I heard it that it’s come even close to being surpassed as my favorite album of all time.