I’m currently in the process of completing 4 unique quests as part of a personal spiral into oblivion following my complete collapse of faith in the universe due to failing my PhD after 8 years of depressingly difficult toil and struggle. These epic quests include physically training to complete a montage video of physically training, somehow and someway getting the highest score on earth for at least one Angry Birds Star Wars level, watching so much television that my eyes actually start to bleed, and what I’m going to talk about today: the ranking and reasoning behind a definitive list for my favourite music albums of all time.
Top 30 albums to be exact. Why 30? Simple, because 10 is either too exclusive or makes you look like a jerk who just threw this thing together. Having 30 albums instead of 20, yet not as many as a Top 40 or 50, is the perfect balance; a trilogy of Top 10s stacked up like an aural pyramid of the sounds in my brain.
– The Top 10 is the Elite Level, the specifically chosen albums that combine make up your core personality. Potential examples for me include: GWAR ‘Scumdogs of the Universe’, Beastie Boys ‘Check Your Head’
– Next is what I call the Fine Level, this is for the albums that don’t make the cut for your Top 10 yet you consider them to be historically some of the greatest music produced. Potential examples for me include: Led Zeppelin II, Notorious B.I.G. ‘Ready to Die’
– And the final group is the Deep Level, this is where you put the albums that normal folks wouldn’t even think of, the ones that mean more to you than just memories or historical significance, the stuff you like for intangible selfish reasons. Potential examples for me include: John Frusciante ‘Shadows Collide With People’, A Tribe Called Quest ‘The Love Movement’
Why is this then so important to me to go through this process, document it and make you all to read it?
Because there is a greater force at work here – it may be all the late nights, instant coffee and my new scraggly beard talking but I swear I can feel it in my bones – I will discover something profound about the universe with all this effort!
Everyday I work on completing these quests I am simultaneously racing towards human destitution: personal bankruptcy, homelessness, hospitalisation – all of these things are serious possibilities for me in the months to come, and yet I’m compelled to push through. Like Kiefer Sutherland medically inducing his own death in Flatliners in order to learn even a speck of truth about the afterlife, I’m stepping on the very edge of the sane universe as we know it and trying to peer into the sparkling abyss on the other side. What may seem like simply a self indulgent internet trolling list of favourites is more of a clue for my readers to solve a greater mystery of the mundane. Failure, emptiness, heartache, love, achievement, happiness: sight, sound, body, mind – an interlocking puzzle of me that can be put together to show you something about you!
Oh… and… I dropped a cookie on my floor yesterday that shattered into hundreds of crumbs. I’m gonna need someone to clean that up for me soon, thanks.
Now, onto the quest to find the greatest 30 Albums of All-Time!
Step 1 – My Cannon
Everyone has it inside them. Without ever really writing it down, inside our heads exists a list of albums that determine the kinds of music we like: memorable stuff from our childhood, music we love that others hate, and the traditional canonical albums that you’ve gravitated towards. This list is unique to you but also ties you to a culture.
So the first thing I did on this quest was sit down and put together the most thorough list of my canon that I could think of and I came up with around 45 albums; everything from Bobby Brown’s ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’, Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ to Digital Underground’s ‘Sons of the P’.
Step 2 – Annual ‘Best of’ List Top Albums
Since 1998 I’ve been keeping lists of my favourite albums of the year and my next step was to get those lists and pull out all the past #1s:
I’m not saying that any of these will necessarily make my Top 30, or that I would even put them as the best album of that year in retrospect, but it gave me some historical perspective.
Then I went through the full lists and isolated any albums that I felt needed to be re-listened to for this quest, possibly due to being ranked incorrectly at the time or just being in a particularly strong year. Some of those albums include Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s ‘Nigga Please’ (1999), The White Stripes’s ‘Icky Thump’ (2007), and The Evens’s ‘The Odds’ (2012).
Step 3 – Start Listening
After putting these preliminary notes together, the one band I knew I had to start listening to first was the metal mayhem monster act GWAR! They are without a doubt my favourite group of all time and I consider the 13 albums that make up their discography to be full of incredible stuff. I listened to them all and then put them in order from favourite to least favourite. I believe that most likely one of their albums will take the top spot on my final list. Not sure how that’s going to expose anything about the universe but we shall see.
After that I went on a rock ranking binge, starting with the 3 Jimi Hendrix Experience albums, then 4 from Funkadelic, the first 4 Metallica, all 6 from The Mars Volta, all 4 from Tool, the 3 Nirvana albums and even 2 from Marilyn Manson.
And this is where I started to run into the first of what I anticipate will be many problems.
Step 4 – Rules & Ranking Systems
I re-listened to all the Jimi Hendrix Experience albums as a warm up to my favourite Jimi Hendrix album: Band of Gypsys. The problem is that this is a live album. Does it count?
In my opinion, I consider an album to be a traditional and original recording. This is the only common denominator that can make a list of various genres valid, the format in which it was produced. It doesn’t have to be done all at once or use the same kind of technology, but I think there is a very clear distinction between a studio recording and a live concert.
Even though Band of Gypsys is a live album of only original songs not previously recorded in a studio, it still feels like a problem to me.
My decision: No live albums will be taken into consideration. This leaves out Band of Gypsys of course, as well as stuff like James Brown Live at the Apollo, Kiss Alive, Frampton Comes Alive, and Nirvana Unplugged.
Then I came to Metallica. Their first 4 albums are all classics and could justifiably show up in my Top 30, along with 2008’s Death Magnetic. Yet, the one album of theirs that I arguably like the most is Garage Inc. the double album collection of cover songs for the artists that influenced them in the past. These include even some re-issued or remastered versions of rare covers they’d recorded in their early days. Should this album count?
I believe that an album should be mostly original songs. They don’t have to be written by the performers and could even be unique interpretations of other work, but a blatant collection of songs performed popularly by other acts doesn’t really make for a true album, it’s more of a tribute to another original album. This would be like including a photograph of a mountain on a list of the world’s greatest mountains.
My decision: No compilation albums of any kind. This also means no “Best of” albums either, soundtracks (so no Shaft, Lost Highway, Streets of Fire), mix tapes (Funk Master Flex series, you’re out), or box sets (James Brown Star Time, AC/DC Bonfire, sad to see you go).
But Metallica provided another huge problem. If these are all great albums, how do you determine which one ranks higher than another. I anticipate this will be a problem with certain groups like Led Zeppelin or Eric B and Rakim, but I was really stuck when it came to Metallica’s Master of Puppets and … And Justice For All. Which one do I really like better?
In order to scientifically figure this one out, I created this point system that will help me to determine difficult rankings.
Most of these albums should include Great (or better) songs since I’m not using this system to score just any old albums. That’s why I’ve included -1 in the case of any shit songs that appear on a great album (unlikely). These points should help me level out the songs on an album and determine just which one might be a fraction better than another. Due to these specific albums, I also decided to make two top categories that may or may not be relevant to all albums. The Greatest Song score of 15 is what I would give to the one song that I believe is that artist’s best of all time, while the 10 points for Best Biggest Song is for those more well known songs in a artist’s catalogue but not just the biggest pop hit they ever had (for Metallica that would be ‘Enter Sandman’ but that won’t be a factor on these lists). Here’s how it all boiled down:
So Master of Puppets earns the slightly higher score with one less song, and thus therefore it must be ranked higher than … And Justice For All. It’s now a proven fact.
Think I’m crazy yet? Well, I’m just getting warmed up!