While I prefer listening to live recordings, I thought you might be interested in what I think are the best studio albums.
In alphabetic order rather than in order of preference, here are the albums I think are essential. I’ve tried to avoid compilation albums except where bands had the habit of releasing singles that weren’t on albums or where there is an exceptional summary of an artist.
It’s a short list but then I do prefer live recordings and it gives you an idea where my musical centre is… i.e. I don’t seem to have one but it’s not heavy metal
- The Beat I Just Can’t Stop It
A terrific two-tone/ska revival band with a social conscience.
- The Beatles 1962 – 66
- The Beatles 1967 – 70
- The Beatles The White Album
- The Beatles Abbey Road (for the superb side two of the vinyl album)
There is no late period live album to challenge these in my collection. I love The Beatles but I think Revolver and Sergeant Pepper are overrated.
- Tommy Bolin Teaser
- Tommy Bolin Private Eyes
A strange choice for Deep Purple as replacement for Ritchie Blackmore but Bolin was a fine musician and I’m left wondering what might have been.
- David Bowie Hunky Dory
- David Bowie The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust
- David Bowie Station To Station
Possibly the man of the 1970s. The experiments didn’t always work but he was constantly innovating and you never knew what to expect next.
- Kate Bush Hounds Of Love
- Camel Mirage
A great symphonic prog rock album.
- City Boy (self titled debut album)
I really don’t understand why this band didn’t make it. Their other albums are consistently very good but this is the one I love.
- The Clash (self titled first album, American edition – I know but how can I moan about an album that adds White Man At Hammersmith Palais and Complete Control even if I’m greedy and I want the UK tracks too.
- The Clash London Calling
The finest punk rock band who were happy to show their influences. Great music and political commentary.
- Elvis Costello My Aim Is True
- Elvis Costello This Year’s Model
- Elvis Costello Armed Forces
Are these three albums by Costello the best first-three albums in rock history?
- Creedence Clearwater Chronicle Chronicle
A fine career summary that shows they have much more to offer than Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising.
- Deep Purple In Rock
- Deep Purple Machine Head
My favourite hard rock band but they frustrate me with their live albums because they didn’t vary their set lists enough.
- Derek & The Dominos Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
The finest blues rock studio album.
- Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited
- Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks
- Bob Dylan Desire
Desire was the first Dylan album I loved thanks to the story telling in Hurricane. That encouraged me to investigate his back catalogue. he’s done some great live albums and I love the way that he changes songs.
- Eddie & The Hot Rods Life On The Line
The link between pub rock and punk.
- Electric Light Orchestra A New World Record
So commercial but so appealing.
- Donald Fagen The Nightfly
A smooth album that, as far as I’m concerned beats much of Steely Dan.
- Funkadelic One Nation Under A Groove
Crazy but superb.
- Peter Gabriel Third Album
- Peter Gabriel So
Proof there is life after leaving a successful group.
- Marvin Gaye Let’s Get It On
The man is on heat and it spreads to anyone listening.
- Genesis Foxtrot
- Genesis Selling England By The Pound
- Genesis A Trick Of The Tail
I know they sold out for commercial success but they have some great songs in their early days and they did well immediately after Peter Gabriel left but struggled after guitarist Steve Hackett also left.
- Gravy Train (A Ballad Of) A Peaceful Man
Bluesy prog rock, stronger on feeling than complexity.
- Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?
The ultimate guitar hero was also an underrated singer and songwriter.
- Billie Holiday & Lester Young Lady Day & Prez 1937-1941
- Horslips The Book Of Invasions
Progressive Irish folk.
- Isley Brothers 3+3
Guitar solos in soul music? Well he was taught and inspired by Jimi Hendrix.
- The Jam All Mod Cons
- The Jam Setting Sons
A side step away from punk towards mod rock.
- King Crimson In The Court Of The Crimson King
You can keep Moonchild if I can have the rest.
- Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti
- Led Zeppelin Remasters
The stereotype of a rock band. Remasters picks the best tracks from the other, less consistent albums.
- Locanda Delle Fate – Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Piu
This is why I like Italian prog.
- Love Forever Changes
Lush. A critics favourite album that should be much better known.
- Bob Marley Legend
A big seller because it’s so good.
- Kate & Anna McGarrigle self titled debut album
- Van Morrison Astral Weeks
- Van Morrison Moondance
- Van Morrison St Dominic’s Preview
I get taken to another place when I listen to Van Morrison and no other artists does it in the same way. His live albums are excellent (but I want more) but I can’t imagine being without any of these three recordings.
- Graham Parker Heat Treatment
- Graham Parker Squeezing Out The Sparks
An angry young man when I was full of teenage angst.
- Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon
- Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
- Pink Floyd Animals
What a band! I wish they’d open up their archives to release more live recordings from the 1970s because I want Waters and Gilmour together.
- Prefab Sprout 38 Carat Collection
More consistent than the individual albums.
- Prince Purple Rain
- Prince Sign Of The Times
- Prince Hits Volumes 1 & 2
I’ve seen him live three times and each time was superb.
- Pulp Different Class
Inspired Brit pop.
- Queen Sheer Heart Attack
- Queen A Night At The Opera
They peaked early.
- Rainbow Rising
It was worth Blackmore leaving Deep Purple to get this great album.
- Robbie Robertson self titled debut
Captivating album about North America.
- R.E.M. Automatic For The People
Alternative rock grows up. Both Green and Out Of Time are very close to being included.
- The Rolling Stones Rolled Gold
- The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed
- The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers
- The Rolling Stones Exile On Main St
A band that moved from excellent to fantastic when Mick Taylor joined.
- Roxy Music Greatest Hits
No longer available but a great collection from For Your Pleasure through to Siren.
- Shack HMS Fable
The two other associated bands, Pale Fountains and Michael Head and the Strands are also well worth investigating.
- Spirit Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus
- Bruce Springsteen The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle
- Bruce Springsteen Born To Run
- Bruce Springsteen Darkness on The Edge Of Town
One, two, three knock out punches in a row.
- Steely Dan The Royal Scam
A series of excellent albums but this is the one I go back to most.
- Martin Stephenson & The Dainties – Boat To Bolivia
Lovely. I don’t understand why this singer songwriter isn’t much better known.
- The Stone Roses self titled debut album
Yes I know they sound retro but it’s great music.
- Suede Dog Man Star
- Suede Coming Up
The best Britpop band in the mid 1990s as far as I’m concerned.
- Supertramp Crime Of The Century
- Supertramp Crisis? What Crisis?
A band that isn’t given the credit they deserve. One of the first bands I saw live and they’ve even got a sax player.
- Television Marquee Moon
New wave art punk with guitar solos! Who would have thought it would work so effectively.
- U2 The Joshua Tree
- U2 Achtung Baby
A band that kept getting better throughout the 1980s.
- Van Der Graaf Generator Godbluff
Not for the faint hearted but a great album as despair turns to hope.
- The Who Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy
- The Who Who’s Next
- The Who Quadrophenia
- The Who By Numbers
The Who are possibly my favourite group but I don’t believe that we yet have the best live album by the band. Frustratingly, they didn’t change their set lists as much as I’d like.
- Wishbone Ash Argus
Duelling guitars in medieval rock.
- Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life
It seems I like really high class soppy music.
- World Party Goodbye Jumbo
A host of influences creates a lively album.
- Yes The Yes Album
- Yes Close To The Edge
- Yes Relayer
A trend setting prog rock band that thrived with three different keyboard players on these albums.
- Neil Young After The Goldrush
- Neil Young Decade
Excellent albums but he’s even better live.
Certain groups and artists are unlucky not to appear on the list but I feel their albums don’t quite measure up.
Roxy Music and Talking Heads both gave us their four first albums that are extremely good but I don’t feel any quite crossed the boundary to become exceptional. In contrast Steely Dan, R.E.M. and Shack/Pale Fountains/Michael Head manage to get one album each on the list but have others that are very close.