101 Albums

Somebody asked me for 10 albums, so here are 101:

Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
Zola Jesus: The Spoils
Nicolas Jaar: Space is Only Noise
James Blake: James Blake
Drake: Take Care
Zomby: Dedication
Mark McGuire: Living with Yourself
Demdike Stare: Tryptych
Kendrick Lamar: Section.80
Inga Copeland and Dean Blunt: Black is Beautiful

Four Tet: There Is Love in You
Christian Fennesz: Endless Summer
Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto: Summvs
Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages
Archie Shepp: Blasé
Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid
Material: Memory Serves
Robert Wyatt: For the Ghosts Within
Smog: A River Ain’t Too Much to Love
Iron & Wine / Calexico: In the Reins

Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers
Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago
INXS: Kick
Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill
Prince: Purple Rain
Michael Jackson: Off the Wall
George Michael: Faith
Run-D.M.C.: Tougher than Leather
John Fahey: America
John Prine: Sweet Revenge

Delbert McClinton: Love Rustler
Neil Young: Zuma
Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run
Mercury Rev: Boces
Pixies: Surfer Rosa
Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes
A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory
Nirvana: Bleach
Dinosaur Jr.: Without a Sound
Mudhoney: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

Lemonheads: It’s a Shame about Ray
Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Velocity Girl: Simpatico
The Fucking Champs: IV
Trans Am: Red Line
The KLF: White Room
Pan Sonic: A
Brian Eno: Music for Airports
Pussy Galore: Corpse Love
Thee Headcoatees: Ballad of The Insolent Pup

Come: 11:11
The Flaming Lips: Clouds Taste Metallic
Combustible Edison: I, Swinger
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange
R.L. Burnside: Ass Pocket of Whiskey
Tom Waits: Rain Dogs
Serge Gainsbourg: Historie de Melody Nelson
Paolo Conte: Un Gelato al Limon
Jacques Thollot: Quand Le Son Devient Aigu, Jeter La Girafe À La Mer.
Beck: Midnight Vultures

Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen
Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica
Arab Strap: Monday at the Hug & Pint
Belle and Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs
The Yardbirds: Having a Rave Up
The Zombies: Odessey and Oracle
Mogwai: The Hawk is Howling
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Nocturama
Stevie Wonder: Talking Book

Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters
Henry Fiol: Fe, Esperanza, y Caridad
Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino: Concepts in Unity
Orchesta La Conspiracion: Ernie’s Conspiracy
Robert Roena y Su Apollo Sound: Lucky 7
Willie Colon: La Gran Fuga
Ruben Blades: Siembra
Markolino Dimond: Brujeria
Kip Hanrahan: Coup de Tete
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks

Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact
Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
Pete Swanson: Man with Potential
Rene Hell: The Terminal Symphony
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres
Andy Stott: Passed Me By
The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond this World
Eric Chenaux: Guitar & Voice
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

Santana: Santana
The Doors: An American Prayer
Mal Waldron: The Quest
Albert Ayler: Spiritual Unity
Cat Power: Jukebox
Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come
John Cage and David Tudor: Indeterminancy
Erik Satie: Piano Works (Selection) performed by Klara Kormendi
Sonic Youth: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
Rolling Stones: Aftermath

The Multi-Purpose Solution: the mps

When I started this list, I had every intention to stop after just 10 albums, but stopping at 10 felt unfair to so many other great albums, unfair to so many people, places, times, and parts of myself. So I expanded the list to 15, then to 20, then to 25, and, before I knew it, I had reached 60 albums. And why stop there? Honestly, even 101 albums feels unnecessarily abridged.

But I limited myself to those albums that are especially important to me. Reading the list from beginning to end is like mapping a timeline of musical discovery: I begin randomly, with the first record that came to my mind. I have no idea why that record would be Oneohtrix Point Never’s Returnal. It’s likely that I discovered Zola Jesus right around the same time that I first listened to OPN. From there, I list a few albums that are currently important to me. The album that I’m most excited about right now is Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black is Beautiful, but records from Nicolas Jaar and James Blake continue to compel.

From there, my mind turned to those albums that were influential to my earliest days as an audiophile: A River Ain’t too Much to Love and In the Reins were among the very first albums I listened to on my very first hi-fi setup—an Arcam Solo and DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 loudspeakers. The sound was awesome.

Then I turn to a few albums that I remember from childhood: My mom got me into Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson; the very first albums I ever purchased on my own were INXS’s Kick and the Beastie’s Ill Communication; and I can clearly remember the Purple Rain poster hanging on my Uncle Isaac’s bedroom wall.

The Violent Femmes, Pixies, Pavement, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Mercury Rev, and others all came into my life at the same time, during one wonderful trip to Puerto Rico, when I was 17 years old.

Then I turn to college: Michelle got me into Thee Headcoatees (and a bunch of other stuff on Get Hip Records) and Todd got me into Brian Eno, The KLF, and Pan Sonic. I think Michelle and I discovered Jon Spencer together. Jon Spencer, of course, led me to Pussy Galore and R.L. Burnside; R.L. Burnside sent me deeper into the blues, led me to John Fahey and all kinds of weird Americana.

There was a time after college, during the band’s most productive period, when I started exploring more music on my own—stuff like Arab Strap, Leonard Cohen, Paulo Conte, Serge Gainsbourg, and Jacques Thollot—all influenced by a trip I’d taken to Paris.

I come back to some titles that are important to my work at Stereophile: Mogwai’s The Hawk Is Howling was my first “Recording of the Month.” My interview with Henry Fiol was very exciting and complemented a time in my life that had sent me exploring salsa. Kind of Blue was a gift from John Atkinson; An American Prayer was a gift from Jon Iverson; The Quest was a gift from Michael Lavorgna. And, finally, I end with a few albums that seem to transcend all parts of my life, highlighted by the mps, the first album released by my old band.

It’s fun to think that if my DNA could somehow be transformed into 101 albums, they’d look a lot like these 101 albums—these are the albums of my life, my memories, my blood, bones, and skin. It’s similarly fun to think that if the first 100 albums on my list could somehow be mashed together into a single album, it would sound a lot like the mps.

I wonder.

How many of these albums are similarly important to you? What albums make up the soundtrack to your life?

Got any problems with my list? I do. Where the hell is Nashville Skyline or Rubber Soul or even Dookie?

Devil Doc's picture

I remember the first time I heard that album. My friend had just gotten back from Viet-Nam and I was on my way. He invited me over to his house, "You've got to come over before you leave, you ain't going to believe this record." He was right. My jaw dropped when I heard it.  We spent a couple hours together drinking beer and other things. I left a few days later. Funny thing is, I ain't seen him since.


roscoeiii's picture

Fun list to look through. A lot of overlap with what I have on LP.

18 of those albums I own and there are 17 artists that I have other LPs of than the ones listed here.

Good to see such a diverse and wide-ranging list. That's my listening style too.

dalethorn's picture

Great depth there. I've discovered several of those through audio forums.

HalSF's picture

I give this list a 43% approval rating, based on a complex formula involving the number of albums here that I own/know/love, minus the albums mentioned that I actively dislike, processed through a discounted formula for the number of records I don't know and feel that I should check out

I was particularly happy with this list, Stephen, because I often feel that the music you namecheck is skewed overwhelmingly toward a kind of imaginary V.I.P. listening room at a Pitchfork-sponsored party devoted to obscurantism and the aggressively cultish and/or willfully subpopular. While there's still too much of that shinola in your list, the amount of stuff that I consider great and essential and familiar cheers me up.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Stephen, because I often feel that the music you namecheck is skewed overwhelmingly toward a kind of imaginary V.I.P. listening room at a Pitchfork-sponsored party devoted to obscurantism and the aggressively cultish and/or willfully subpopular.

I realize that some people feel this way about my taste in music, but I really don't understand it. I visit Pitchfork every now and then, but Pitchfork has extremely little to do with my taste in music. I've been very open about my sources for new music. My sources are: Forced Exposure, Other Music, Boomkat, Bleep, The Wire, The Fader, and a few good friends.

Euphony's picture


Just some suggestions, based on your interests.

If you like Smog, you should hear Red Apple Falls or The Doctor Came at Dawn. Unbelievable, esp on vinyl.

Neil Young: After the Gold Rush and Tonight's the Night?

Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, Another Green World  (his "glam" albums, but still unforgettable sounds and clever lyrics. Rivals Bowie's best)

PanSonic, A: Yes, amazing!

Magnetic Fields: The album Get Lost set the mold for Merritt's output from "'69" on.

Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones and Frank's Wild Years.

And if you like releases form the Constellation label (Chenaux, Roberts, etc.), check out Frankie Sparo (one of top 5 lyricists of the 20th century, IMO), Do Make Say Think (phenomenal, unbelievable live performances), and anything by Sandro Perri (including his techno alter ego Polmo Polpo.  Of course, that whole catalog is worth exploring, but there is an incredible respect for sound and recording on Constellation that you seldom find elsewhere. More music and sound lovers need to know this.


Thank for the suggestions of the ones I don't know!


downunderman's picture

A wonderfully diverse list.

One of the traps of getting older is to get stuck on what you liked as a youngster.  A time when the brain is much more plastic and capable of absorbing the new and challenging material.

The challenge is to keep challenging your musical horizons as you age.  In my experience there is nothing more wonderful than trying the unfamilliar and with a bit of persistance finally 'getting it'.

For fossicking around the wonderful world of musical possibilities I would also add the Allmusic and Discog sites - both deep in content/opinions and varied in genres.

Keep on truckin  


skcochran's picture

George Michael.


Stephen Mejias's picture

Another of my mom's favorites. I think I can sing every word to every song on Faith.

eegreg's picture

Thanks, Stephen.  My sound track keeps truckin' along because of recommendations from many trusted and valued sources, including those from you and your colleague, Mr. Baird.

My plug: Jessie Scott and musicfog.com.  She is dedicated to exposing new music and is a tireless cheerleader for those artists who have devoted the major chunk of their lives necessary to make the music we want in our lives.

Please keep it going.


Blu's picture

So much new music for me to investigate, I much appreciate lists of music people love, as it provides a path to follow in discovering music you would have missed.

I much appreciate you also sharing your thoughts and feelings with us, as you learn more about hifi, music and life, especially how you express these things, I like your style.

Thanks from far away Australia

Anton's picture

For ownership, we have about a 33% overlap.

For my 101, well, I gotta think on it.

I love John Cage.

We played Indeterminancy (especially Indeterminancy 4,) Concert for Piano  and Orchestra,  and 4'33 at the Hi FI show this year...not much of a reception, but it's a start.