Recently, I wrote about the songs in my iTunes Top 25, so I decided to challenge myself and create a music list. This was a pretty daunting task, once I thought about it. At this point in my life, here are my all-time top 20 albums. These are liable to change in a year or two…or in a week or two… I simply based the greatness of the album as a whole, and I’ve included iTunes links, where available; I’ve also tried to write in just a sentence or two why each album is great. And, since I like countdowns, I’m starting with number 20…here goes!
20. Big Town, Ashley Cleveland (1991) I was blown away the first time I heard her voice. This is still an amazing set of Christian-influenced rock songs; I only wish it had had more success at the time. And I wish it weren’t out of print…
19. Albertine, Brooke Fraser (2006) This one is too new to me to be any higher, but ask me again in a couple of years, and I guarantee it will be Top 10. If it’s possible to have a crush on songs, I do with these.
18. Age To Age, Amy Grant (1982) One of my first Christian all-album experiences was this one. It sounds a little dated now, but for me, it’s a pure nostalgia trip.
17. Les Miserables: The Complete Symphonic Recording (1990) Far from perfect, but as far as I know it’s the only place to get the complete show in one recording.
16. Brothers & Sisters, The Allman Brothers Band (1973) Some may argue that Eat A Peach is better, but this is the one I cut my teeth on. Southern rock at its finest.
15. United We Stand, Hillsong United (2006) Hillsong United has created most of my favorite modern worship music, and this is possibly the best cohesive collection of worship songs.
14. Apollo 13, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1995) A perfect companion to my all-time favorite movie, containing my favorite film score ever along with terrific period music.
13. Good Dog Bad Dog: The Home Recordings, Over The Rhine (1996) OTR responded to getting dropped by their record label with a heartbreaking, beautiful, mostly acoustic collection of sparse songs. Takes my breath away every time.
12. Unguarded, Amy Grant (1985) Wow! Christian Rock’s finest 80’s moment, and it paved the way for DC Talk, Switchfoot, and…don’t forget…”Baby Baby.” This record ensured my crush on Amy for years to come.
11. If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, The Mamas & The Papas (1966) My other 60’s obsession, complete with killer harmonies and irresistable songs. This one doesn’t have all their big hits, but it’s a good one.
10. Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975 and Greatest Hits, Volume 2 , The Eagles (1976/1982) I know, I know; greatest hits collections are cheating, but that’s how I got to know The Eagles, and I’d wager that most people in my generation got to know them the same way. That’s why I included both collections in one entry…
9. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (1967) It’s weird, trippy, and artsy (often to a pretentious fault), but nobody can deny it’s power and influence. And it’s infinitely listenable; I can’t help but listen in rapt attention to “A Day In The Life” every time I hear it.
8. Back To Black, Amy Winehouse (2007) Amy Winehouse turned a lot of heads with her US debut, and despite the fact that she’s turning into a tragic figure, Back To Black packs a punch. Like a lost 60’s soul classic (albeit with rougher language), Amy shows her affinity for organic instrumentation, classic harmonies, and heartbreaking content on this record that’s hard to top.
7. Ohio, Over The Rhine (2003) A double album with a few misfires of its own, Ohio is quirky, but mostly beautiful. This one would be Top 20 even if “B.P.D.” and “Hometown Boy” were the only decent songs on it. Despite its imperfections, this is a compelling listen.
6. The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, Explosions In The Sky (2003) Generally, I’m not much of a fan of instrumental music, but Explosions In The Sky create the most incredible pieces, especially on this double album. The songs almost have plots and take on a life of their own. I defy you not to be overcome with emotion when listening to this one!
5. Back Home Again, John Denver (1974) This one takes me back. John Denver was the first concert I attended, and I practically wore this record out as a child. But it’s more than nostalgic; Back Home Again still holds up today as a beautiful melding of country, folk, and pop, and while each song practically serves as its own self-contained short story, the album as a whole is cohesive.
4. You Gotta Sin To Get Saved, Maria McKee (1993) I don’t even know where to begin except to say that this record is possibly the most underrated album of all time. Lovingly crafted, cohesive, and well-produced, Maria McKee put together a collection of originals and covers that fills the spectrum from rock to country to soul to jazz and that feels old-school and fresh at the same time. (And for those who are concerned about the content, the title song is a tongue-in-cheek, fun romp; Maria McKee is a believer…)
3. Lead Me On, Amy Grand (1988) I’ve written about this one recently, and I have to say that, two decades later, it’s still probably the most influential album to me personally.
2. Moondance, Van Morrison (1970) Van Morrison is the master of sweet, blue-eyed folk/soul, and Moondance is the finest example of it. This is a collection of songs that stand as well on their own as they do as a whole, and there’s no filler material to be found. “Into The Mystic” alone is worth its weight in gold.
1. Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969) What other artist would rate two albums in the Top 10? All The Beatles’ records have their devotees, but for me, Abbey Road is the best album they released. The album is nearly devoid of the artistic experimentation that characterize the Fab Four’s later years; instead Abbey Road is full of fascinating, innovative songs and (on Side 2) medleys of otherwise unfinished songs. The last full album The Beatles recorded (though not the last they released) is their finest work…and, in my opinion, the finest album of all time.