In my recent quest to rank my definitive favourite albums of all time, I might have gone a bit nuts! I concocted many schemes to try and evaluate how albums can be considered great, including a very embarrassingly complicated Dr. Loser metrics that in the end got me no closer to the truth than just pure subjective listening.
What ended up happening was almost divinely inspired. As I had names and pictures of dozens of albums plastered on my wall that I used to try and unlock this personal riddle, I soon discovered that it was all miraculously right there! Not 30 albums… but my 60 favourite albums ever… and not in random order at all but in fact inexplicably ranked coherently and blocked out by a particular theme. I’m not even going to bother giving you the top 30 at this point, since 31-60 is way more interesting! So today I’m going to present my top 60-51 albums of all time, which just so happen to also be the 10 best summer albums ever.
The Dr. Loser Completely Subjective Theory on What Makes a Good Album:
At first I believed there was a formula that could determine this objectively, but just like my old equation for guaranteeing Sunday NFL picks, that system didn’t work. I’d assigned points to certain songs, and even measured the upward trajectory on albums that would get progressively better as they went on, but these strategies just made me more confused.
So I figured out, what the hell, I love these albums, let me just listen to them again and see what happens. I closed my eyes, shuffled some things around, and viola – I now know what makes a good album better than just a great song:
Opening – No album opens weak, it may start slow but not weak. I don’t think any album has ever has put it’s worst song first, and therefore the strength of that opening, whether it be one song or a series of songs, is important in that it shouldn’t overshadow the rest of the album but must get you excited about listening to more.
Diversity – This does not necessarily mean genre hopping but a good album should have a sense of variety. I’m not talking about just switching from up-tempo tracks to slow jams though, that’s something but not necessarily anything. I guess a good example of this (if you know it) would be ‘… And Then There Was X’ by DMX, not a prolific guy by any means but an album that is rarely dull because somehow he makes each song feel slightly different despite all being produced in his own style of pop-rap, in contrast, something like the self-titled debut by ‘The Music’ is a good album but suffers overall in my opinion by putting together songs that generally all sound the same.
Main Event – The part of the album where the biggest and best song or songs emerge. Sometimes this is the hit single off the album, other times is just the best overall song, but this is the point on the album where the two biggest stars are fighting for the world championship. It’s gotta be better than the Opening and somehow sandwiched between a diverse collection of songs… and unlike before I don’t think it needs to come at the very end of the album or even build up off of some kind of narrative climax.
All that being said, this entire theory can pretty much be applied to all pro-wrestling pay-per-view events as well, so if you know how much I love wrestling than you can see where I’m coming from when I’m evaluating all these awesome albums.
Like I said, this is very subjective, and really comes from a place of love more than anything, as I’m sure no one will agree with my list and will have their own opinions, and so they should. That’s what I love about the world!
When you live in places like Seoul, South Korea or Brampton, Ontario, Canada, you’ve suffered through many, many humid summers. The gross, sweaty, heavy air that just lays on top of you during these tough months is hard to escape. While grappling with life during these times there are some albums that remind me of what it’s like to be in that type of climate. Many people might instantly think that a great summer album is supposed to be about partying and festivals and sports, but I’m not about this stuff at all, this is more like what a guy with a Walkman listens to as he’s dripping heart-shaped stains into the front of his t-shirt while waiting for the bus inside a giant microwave.
10. Van Halen
… however, the first Van Halen album would have to be the one thing I’d want playing if I did own a pair of shorts and somehow found myself eating hot dogs and throwing a frisbee at a family reunion barbecue where I invited all my best friends along as well… and their dogs …or kids, I guess.
9. Less than Jake – Borders and Boundaries
I’m sure there are lots of bands these days that will remind people of a summer music festival they went to, and this is the album that does it for me, as I remember going to a Warped Tour at the Docks in Toronto to see Less Than Jake the summer they were promoting ‘Border and Boundaries’, not caring about any of the other acts and then leaving once they were done (to see the WWF live at the Skydome nonetheless). The weather was deadly that day, until Less than Jake hit the stage and then all of a sudden a mini-wind storm hit that blew down their banners and knocked over their stuff. Of course, they never stopped playing for a moment!
8. Lost Boyz – Legal Drug Money
Speaking of watching live performances in the summer, there was nothing quiet like seeing the Lost Boyz perform songs from this album on the second stage of a Lollapalooza on the perfectly flat scenic Mountain View stadium set-up in Northern California in the dry desert heat under a paint can clear blue sky. Gotta be the ultimate summer hip-hop album for mixing New York storytelling with catchy radio friendly summer jams, and listening to it always reminds me of that time I saw them having what seemed like the best time of their lives performing together at that show.
7. The Roots – Phrenology
A perfect album to illustrate the Dr. Loser Completely Subjective Theory on What Makes a Good Album:
Opening – The official lead in anchor song “Rock You” is just fun enough to get you pumped for the album without being too flashy or attention-stealing.
Diversity – The Roots were always a unique band, and just by blending hip-hop with live instruments they were destined to make albums different than anyone else in rap. However, outside of a live album (and theirs was surprisingly just okay) they were never really able to capture the variety of their live shows on an original album until ‘Phrenology‘. Whereas their previous albums always sounded like they were trying to prove their legitimacy to the pre-backpacker hip-hop audience, after cashing in with the big pop hit “You Got Me” from their last album, this one takes away all the industry pressure and lets them make the album they always wanted to, with “organic” hip-hop mixed with party songs, ballads, boasting raps, instrumental funk and even prog rock:
Main Event – The triple threat in the middle of the album, from the quirky rap song that displays the fantastic skills of frontman Black Thought in “Thought @ Work” that bleeds directly into the funk-rock classic “The Seed (2.0)” and then cools down with “Break You Off” is easily the greatest work ever done by The Roots outside of those old live shows.
6. Bad Brains
Maybe it’s just the blazing destructive yellow cover, or the opening song ‘Sailin’ On’, but something about the greatest punk album of all time just screams summer to me.
5. Metallica – … And Justice For All
That true greatness of the last Metallica thrash album is it’s really just a touching tribute to the anger caused by wearing a black shirt on a blisteringly humid summer day.
4. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin
While not a summer release, this album just reminds me so much of my first summer in the brain melting heat of Seoul. I was burning up that year, and I don’t know if it was all that walking around in a sweaty haze or just sympathy gunshot wounds for how many times Fiddy talks so playfully about getting shot or shooting someone. Not the first or last time this topic would dominate a rap album, but definitely the most fun.
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
As natives of California, it seemed like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were always attempting to find the right way to capture what it’s like to grow up white in the 80s in the year-round summer of beachy California, but it wasn’t until the 90s that they truly perfected it with this, the most straight-up summer album on my list.
2. GWAR – America Must Be Destroyed
For me personally, summer means bike rides to the comic book shop, horror movies and heavy metal… and well, there are few albums better than ‘America Must Be Destroyed’ for combining comics, horror and metal… ‘nuff said!
1. Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill
I feel the Beastie Boys are the quintessential summer band. A lot of their imagery has always been very summery, particularly the stuff surrounding this album, as they toured the country with one of the most ridiculous summer party concerts, featuring girls in bikinis in cages, beer being poured all over people, and giant fake penises… it was like a touring Spring Break! Of course, I wasn’t going near a scene like at the time since I was only in elementary school but this was the album that had the most prominent and lasting effect on me from back then. Rewinding “Paul Revere” over and over again on my Walkman as I looked for excuses that summer just to go outside and walk around could be one of the fundamental building blocks of my entire personality.
Opening: “Rhymin’ and Stealing” – “The New Style” are just the most kick ass summer 1-2 punch in album history.
Diversity: While they rarely sway too far of the path of fun guys having fun, and the music isn’t particularly genre-bending, as it incorporated the signature drum-machine and metal guitars of that early Rick Rubin inspired pop hip-hop sound, somehow no two songs sound alike… I can’t explain it.
Main Event: The 3-song swing from “(You Gotta) Fight for your Right” – “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – and the ever rewindable “Paul Revere”
So there you go, the best summer albums according to Dr. Loser. Sorry if I left out your favourites, like Lou Bega, Len or Sisqo, but like I said, these were great summer albums not just songs! Stay tuned for the winter albums coming next!