This Week’s Top Five: Favorite Albums

In disbelief of the post our own Mariela wrote about the frightful discovery that the album might be dead as we know it; in honor of the continued efforts of music journalist Sasha Frere-Jones whose recent article sent her on said warpath; and to the band whom we can’t imagine never producing another (Radiohead), we present one of the most absurdly difficult “Top 5” lists to date: Top 5 Favorite Albums. 



1. U2 “War”

Anthemic songs of revolution and love and an album cover that speaks in volume–what else is there?  A litmus test for all the young folks who thought the early 80s was anything but a time for political protest. From Larry Mullins Jr. first drum beats on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday,’ to the perfectly syncopated dub of the ‘Airborne Rangers’ theme song used within ‘Seconds,’ to ‘Two Hearts Beat as One’ and ‘Red Light’ as lovely little love letters; we get a band at their height. I think The Edge’s guitar leads and his sound are the things of legendary declarations. 

2. The Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds”

You’ve heard it, right? The layering! The pop! The bicycle bells! The pure harmonies! The joy even while sad! “Sloop John B” is a staple on most of my mix CDs. It was the call and response years between The Beatles and The Beach Boys: “Rubber Soul” then “Pet Sounds” then “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Thank god for that friendly fire over the big pond because it reminds me of one very emotional Brooklyn summer. 

3. The Beatles “Let it Be”

My stepmother sat me down when I was 12 or 13 and we listened to her Beatles vinyl. All of it. So I have nothing to say here. How could you possibly expect me to say that this album, their penultimate, is any better than any other of their fucking amazing albums: “Revolver” or “Sgt. Pepper’s” or the “White Album” or “Abbey Road” or “Hard Day’s Night?” You’re sick for even making me try–I mean, how could you? It might be my favorite or their best, maybe it isn’t. Maybe tonight I’ll wake up with night sweats for my lack of foresight or longevity and shudder to think that I didn’t include songs like “Norwegian Wood,” “I’m Looking Through You,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life,” or “Dear Prudence,” possibly one of my favorite Beatles songs ever. But HEY! It’s got “Two of Us,” “I Me Mine,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Maggie Mae,” “Let it Be” and “Get Back,” so what are you even complaining about? Just get off my back about this. You don’t know how tough this process is. I challenge you to try it (preferably in our comments section, thanks!).

4. The Clash “London Calling”

‘London Calling’ alone could lead me to call this a classic and this feels like super cheating: a double album with hits like ‘Rudy Can’t Fail,’ ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and ‘Spanish Bombs’ and that’s only the first album. This album has international appeal and I’ve never traveled to a place where it isn’t loved.  I’ve always said that my most major crush of all times would have been Joe Strummer circa 1977 and I’m sticking to it. 

5. R.E.M.”Murmur”

I think I only know one song title on this album: “Radio Free Europe,” but oh man, is it so good. This album, their first LP release, is one where I know every guitar and melody change but I only know maybe 10% of the lyrics which is so bizarre, considering that that my other top 4 records hinge a whole bunch on lyrical meaning and import. It’s just like The Sundays, all mood and pace and space–sometimes I don’t need to be so literal. R.E.M. is something my husband and I share; it’s as if we co-own the band. 



1. Pulp, “Different Class”
Because I love Jarvis’ keenly detailed writing that takes me places I have never been and yet experience as profoundly familiar. Because the album defined, reflected, and formed a time of my life.

2. New Order, “Low-Life”

Because with Low-Life, New Order found its own voice, distinct from Joy Division: still brutal but poppier. 

3. Fleetwood Mac, “Rumours”

Because it contains one of my favorite songs of all time. Because Fleetwood Mac with its chorus of voices allows for sweeping mood changes in one album. 

4. Brian Eno, “Here Come the Warm Jets”

Because it is just a masterpiece. Beautifully composed, wonderous and magical, even in its silences, and then in its nicely-put vulgarities.

5. Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

Because a debut album never sounded so good, so full of itself, so powerful and so fragile. Because music needs more albums like this one, and more women talking to women like this album. Lauryn Hill…Lauryn Hill…



1. Radiohead, “OK Computer”

Start to finish, this album is spectacular. It sets a mood and sticks with it. It rocks when it must (“Electioneering”) and quiets down (“Exit Music for a Film”) to make a point, and its “Fitter, Happier” interlude could be annoying in any other context but instead is fitting — necessary, even — and cranks up the paranoia factor to the nth degree. It’s a perfect melding of past and future Radiohead.

2. Built to Spill, “Keep it Like a Secret”

I agonized over this one the most because it could have been any one of three BTS albums for me.  In the end, I went with Secret because it contains my favorite track of all, “You Were Right.”  This album is a big, beating, broken heart of indie rock goodness.

 3. U2, “The Joshua Tree”

 I’ve written before about how The Joshua Tree was the album that made me love music.  It is atmospheric, catchy and important, while still exuding a pop mentality.  This is the sort of album you fall in love to.

4. Pixies, “Doolittle”

 Here, the Pixies screech (“Debaser”) and flirt (“La La Love”) their way to the top.  I love that Doolittle has rhythm and humor.   When Frank Black’s voice lowers to the depths of range in “I Bleed” (“nobody knows”), you can picture him doing it with a smirk and on a challenge.  “I’ll show you how low I can go,” he’d think.  And the fact they end the album with one of my favorites, “Gouge Away,” shows just how superior it is.

 5. Beastie Boys, “Paul’s Boutique”

 I went through a period of absolute obsession with this album, memorizing every single lyric.  And there are A LOT of lyrics!  I love that Paul’s Boutique casts the Boys as protagonists on the run — throwing eggs, macking on the ladies, bonding with homeless dudes. It is dense, quick and incredibly infectious.  I dare anyone to listen to this album without a smile on their face.



1. Jay-Z “Unplugged, Jay-Z (with The Roots and Mary J. Blige)”

Combines the best of all the albums that came before (Reasonable Doubt, both Blueprints) and proves he doesn’t need any fancy sound wizardry to rock a solid rap album. While it’s not freestyle by any means, he brings in The Roots and Mary J… and banters with the live studio audience in a way that melts my heart a little. 

2. Oasis,  “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory

This album came out just when I was at the age of locking myself in my room and listening to a single song on repeat. This album at least allowed me to listen to the whole thing on repeat–good from start to finish.

3. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Californication”

Maybe not as integral in Red Hot Chili Peppers history as Blood Sugar Sex Magik, but this album came out at a much more timely period in my life. Also saw them live for the first time touring this album.

4. Guns ‘n’ Roses, “Appetite For Destruction”

Debut studio album for the group. And it still rocks today. 

5. Coldplay “A Rush of Cold to the Head”

I didnt know Coldplay at all when “Parachutes” came out. The first time I heard them was live, touring this album a few weeks before it came out. Didn’t know a single song before the concert. By the end, they were all my favorite and I didn’t stop listening to it for months. It’s one of the albums that is a soundtrack to a period of my life. 



1.  Archers of Loaf, “Icky Mettle”

I’m sure I’m surprising all of you with this as my number one choice but when I heard what the topic for the “Top Five” was this week this album instantly popped in my head.  The first time I heard this album I was in high school and working at a record store.  One of my co-workers (the cool, older girl with tons of indie knowledge) put it on and compared its brutal lyrics with Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville.”  I just sat there watching her air guitar the entire album while I sat around trying to figure out what the lyrics to “Web in Front” even meant.

This album never fails me.  I put it on, and I am instantly filled with the need to dance, and possibly smash something.  It is put together perfectly, each song complementing the next.  This album also never fails in that it still holds up over time.  Released in 1993, Icky Mettle is still better than anything the indie crowd can put together these days.  Unfortunately, this album may be too perfect.  I’ve never been able to listen to other Archers of Loaf albums.  In the back of my head, I just don’t see how they could compete with this one.

2.  The Wedding Present, “Watusi”

So many memories and so many good times go with this album.  Each song is a pop infused gift to my ears.  David Gedge is a master lyric writer.  I wish my life was filled with even half of the love, heartbreak, three-ways, and other indiscretions he sings about.

3.  Built to Spill, “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love”

Almost every Built to Spill song makes me want to fall in love.  They are the soundtrack to my life.  I, too, wanna see movies of my dreams.  

4.  PJ Harvey, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”

The album that brought PJ Harvey back into my life.  

5.   Pulp, “His n’ Hers”

The combination of ridiculous lyrics and Brit pop beats is an unstoppable force.

What are your Top 5?


16 responses to “This Week’s Top Five: Favorite Albums

  1. this was fun and mindblowingly hard. my runner ups were: pet sounds, nevermind, appetite for destruction, stone roses, london calling…and then some double ups on bands (BTS could have been There’s Nothing Wrong or Perfect from Now On).

    wendy, can you burn me that archers of loaf and wedding present cd.

    in a top 5 list of album covers, war would win.

  2. Consider it done, Mariela.

  3. you ladies are brave and patient and brave. i thought about this for five minutes and got pissed and had a beer. one missing tho=sundays “reading, writing and arithmetic”. i know, i know…i’m a dude. but ladies, this is an amazing album! you want a novel? this is not a collection of short stories…:)

  4. Actually, I would like to change mine. Take out Pulp, and put in Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures at #1.

    Can’t believe I blanked on that one. I just got done reading that book Mariela gave me for my birthday. I failed.

  5. in my musings i also wanted to put in paul’s boutique and london calling, but blanked when i sent in my 5. i must admit i am not good at this 5 business, the number or the order, but i walk the line for you ladies.

  6. 1. High Llamas – Cold and Bouncy
    2. Coldcut & DJ Food – Stoned…Chilled…Groove
    3. The Police – Synchronicity
    4. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (Good choice Mariela!)
    5. Julian Lennon – The Secret Value of Daydreaming (yeah, you read that right)

  7. 1. The Stone Roses (debut)
    2. Grace Jones – Nightclubbing
    3. Gorillaz – Demon Days
    4. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
    5. Scott Walker – Boy Child

    i also salute Stoned…Chilled…Groove. there is a time and place for this one… and some Willie Nelson classics!

  8. Thanks Tim & Matt. I am on a mission today to find those albums on your lists that I don’t know, and listen to them!

  9. Interesting lists with great justification. I’ll have to keep reading your blog for these kind of events. My list looks something like this:

    1. OK Computer by Radiohead
    2. Surfer Rosa by Pixies
    3. Weezer (Blue) by Weezer
    4. The Moon and Antarctica by Modest Mouse
    5. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

  10. Weezer (Blue), Surfer Rosa, Kind of Blue, YES! Those were all on the back burner along with The Cars/The Cars, John Coltrane’s Love Supreme, The Cure’s Faith, Deja Vu by CSN&Y, This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello, Harvest by Neil Young, Sprinsteen’s Nebraska, Fugazi’s Repeater + 3 and Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell.

    Whew, that felt good after all that restraint!

  11. And Joy Division. Of course.

  12. This was tough! I’ve already changed the order of my list several times. I think I’ve got it right now…

    1. Built to Spill- There’s Nothing Wrong With Love

    Wendy, Built to Spill is the soundtrack to MY life, too! How can this be? This is part of the reason why I love BTS so much. Their songs have universal appeal and mean something different to me than I’m sure they do to you. This album is my favorite because it makes me feel like a carefree kid every time I play it. Doug’s guitar is not as developed here as in later albums, but his vocals (especially in “Big Dipper,” “Car,” and “Twin Falls”) have an innocent quality that bring me back to my childhood.

    2. Sinead O’Connor- I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

    This choice may call for a major deduction in cool kid points, but I’m already on the left side of the numberline! It was the first CD I ever bought and it will always have a special place in my heart. I was in middle school when this album came out and the narrative songs allowed me to escape, to imagine a life that looked nothing like my own. Songs like “Feel So Different,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “Black Boys on Mopeds” fueled my burgeoning curiosities about identity, politics, love, and death. I also thought it was pretty cool that Sinead shaved her head.

    3. The Cure- Disintegration

    Another musical discovery launched in the throes of adolescence. I had a crush on Grant. Grant had a crush on Morgan. Morgan LOVED The Cure and wore several Cure concert t-shirts to prove it. I consulted my BFF at the time, Heather, and she let me borrow her Disintegration CD so I could see what all the fuss was about. I fell in love with Robert Smith, forgot all about Grant, and thanked Morgan for sparking my interest in what would become one of my favorite bands. One could argue that any of the earlier albums are musically superior, but Disintegration is my favorite because it was my introduction to The Cure and I still can’t get enough of “Pictures of You,” “Lullaby,” and “Lovesong”.

    4. Beastie Boys- Paul’s Boutique

    I concur with Mariela and Tim on this one. This album is just plain fun. It makes me laugh, makes me want to dance and the songs are incredibly infectious. Unlike Mariela, I could never memorize all of the lyrics, but I sure tried. I still hear something new every time I listen to it.

    5. Tori Amos- Little Earthquakes

    I used to think I was going to be a singer one day. I loved singing along to every song on this album…over and over and over again, VERY loudly. I have never been able to get into any of her later albums, but I still drag this one out when in need of a cathartic release.

  13. Autumn, I almost listed Harvest. My dad used to listen to that one a lot. This was fun AND torturous!

  14. jenmae: this was TOTAL torture. i stayed up sunday night until 2:30 am chugging beers to ease my pain of leaving so many of my loves behind. thanks so much for your earnest responses. we love this kind of feedback.

  15. matt, we are music mates. we should pinkie swear on this!

  16. Jenmae – you are so correct in your justification on BTS. That album always makes me feel about 10 yrs younger and wistful of more innocent times.

    ..and I love that Cure album too! It was hard not including them on my list.

    For me, I just went for what first popped into my head. I didn’t even try to go through all my albums and make the really hard choices. I probably should have seeing as how I left so many amazing albums out, but I guess you are bound to do that when you can only pick 5.

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