Taking Requests: Top Five Albums

Over in the Taking Requests thread, anjin-san suggests:

More music posts. How about “your top 5 album picks”?

I like tough questions. This is a post that should probably be about agonizing choices and excruciating writing and re-writing. But because I have a baby and a Minecraft account, I don’t have time for that. So instead I grabbed a piece of paper and simply listed the first five albums that I love that I could think of. Here they are:

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

This is, hands down, my favorite album of all time. And I refuse to justify this decision. You either get it or you don’t. If you don’t, feh.

Favorite track: “Five Years”

The Honeydogs – 10,000 Years

I love concept albums, and this is one of the best in recent memory. I’m a huge fan of the Honeydogs, and the whole album hangs together really, really well.

Favorite track: “Panhandler’s Serenade”. Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of any track from the album. So just go buy it.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

My favorite Zeppelin album, even though none of my top five Zeppelin songs are in it. But damn if the whole album just doesn’t cohere. And while none of them are my favorite, they’re all good. I’m picky about music, so any album where every song is a winner is a keeper in my book.

Favorite track: “Ramble On”

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

When I was younger, I always heard everyone rave about how great this album was. My reaction action was always the same. “The Beach Boys? Seriously?” I was a fool in my youth, as my love of Ayn Rand and progressive rock demonstrated. These days, I can’t listen to Pet Sounds in the background. It demands to be listen to and savored. Seriously — put on headphones, turn out the lights, and just listen to “God Only Knows”!

They Might Be Giants – Science is Real

I can’t wait until my son is old enough for us to sing this entire album together.

Favorite track: “Science is Real”

And that’s my top five, anjin-san. At least, right this second. Off the top of my head.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. anjin-san says:

    In no particular order.

    The Gentle Side of John Coltrane.

    A compilation, but a brilliant one. Drawing from the “Ballads” album as well as from his work with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman. Sublime.


    Rubber Soul.

    The Beatles reach critical mass. John Lennon contributed 4 stone classics, and McCartney was not far behind. George’s beautiful “If I needed someone” marked his emergence as an important songwriter. At the time, no one had ever made a pop record even remotely this good. Its not hard to argue no one has since.


    Blood on the Tracks.

    I will never forget the first time I heard this record. It sounded as if Dylan had found a way to distill life’s elemental truths into song. Granted, some very good dope was involved, but with or without help this is a unique statement. Take away the music, and you have some of the greatest poetry of the 20th century.


    Whats going on.

    Marvin Gaye is widely recognized as one of the finest singers ever, but he had musical vision to match. He perfectly captures the tone of the times. Stunningly powerful, yet subtle and sweet. Notice there is no question mark in the title. He’s not asking what’s going on, he is telling us.


    No method, no guru, no teacher.

    Van Morrison has been making great records since the 60s. He simply never stopped, and has a catalog full of amazing stuff most people don’t know about. Astral Weeks, Moondance and Veedon Fleece are all so good as to defy description, but this is the work of a an older artist with a broader perspective. Like blood on the tracks, the entire album has an elemental ring of truth to it.


    Honorable Mention:

    Getz/Gilberto – three geniuses, one record. Beyond essential.


    Pretty hard to pick 5, there are so many great ones. I agree Led Zepplin II was the best hard rock record ever made. Pet Sounds is one of the greats, an artistic breakthrough.

  2. sam says:

    ‘When I was younger, I always heard everyone rave about how great this album was. My reaction action was always the same. “The Beach Boys? Seriously?” ‘

    Tsk. Tsk. Silly boy. The Beach Boys and the Beatles were the two most musically creative groups of the era. No Pet Sounds, no Sgt. Pepper.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Music tends to be very age-specific.

    For example, Billy Joel hasn’t aged for me nearly as well as Elton John.

    And many of the Hank Williams, Jr. hits that I loved 25 years ago seem cheesy and corny now whereas many of the bluesy album tracks that annoyed me back then now seem like his best work. I suspect part of it is that he was about the same age then that I am now.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Sam, quite true. Who would have thought a white surfer group would make Chuck Berry style guitar riffs acceptable to middle-class kids and their parents?

  5. Ernieyeball says:

    #1 Swiss Movement Les McCann, Eddie Harris Best Song (of all time) Compared to What!…#2 Led Zep II…#3 Forest Flower Chas Lloyd@Monterey…#4 Blind Faith…#5 Cream Any album with Crossroads on it.

  6. tom p says:

    Janis Joplin in Concert

    Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon

    Leo Kottke- Six and 12 String Guitar (the “Armadillo” Album

    Allman Brothers- Fillmore East

    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (and Mother Maybell Carter, Doc Watson, Vasser Clemens. etc etc) – Will the Circle be Unbroken

    HM: one that nobody here ever heard of because they were only a local band:

    Geyer Street Sheiks- Great Dream

  7. tom p says:
  8. Dodd says:

    r.e.m. – Life’s Rich Pageant
    Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
    Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon
    U2 – Unforgettable Fire
    Peter Gabriel – So

    Updated to add HM: Garbage v2.0

  9. c.red says:

    Five is a hard number to get down to, but I like a challenge I guess. I once read somewhere that musical tastes tend to fixate on whatever era you first become immersed in it – looking at the lists above it does seem to hold somewhat true…

    No particular order:

    Abbey Road – The Beatles – I could pretty much throw any Beatles album since Rubber Soul onto a list, but generally I’ll start here when looking for a fix.

    Relics – Pink Floyd – Again could easily throw out any number Pink Floyd albums on a list.

    Aqualung – Jethro Tull – British religious music.

    Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace – The Foo Fighters – Probably my next ten picks would come from the 90s American bands, but I didn’t really discover this album to until a few years ago and it has really grown on me.

    Sap – Alice in Chains – except for the last track of random crap. There is probably some artistic statement there but fortunately with modern technology I don’t have to listen to it. Anyway this is short, four songs (five with the one that I deleted), but they are all really good. Slower than their usual stuff.

    I’d probably have to throw out honorable mentions to Blues Traveller ‘Four’ and Dire Straights ‘Brother’s in Arms’

  10. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll echo Dark Side of the Moon. I saw them during the Dark Side era at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Here’s what’s kind of hard to believe: I don’t think I was stoned.

    Rancid — And Out Come The Wolves. Greatest punk album ever. Not a bad song here.

    A Rancid lead, Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards — Viking. Switchblade, Mainlining Murder, For You, My Life, nearly as great as Wolves.

    Eminem — The Eminem Show. Cleaning Out My Closet, Business, My Dad’s Gone Crazy, it’s Em at his crazy, sly, funny and obscene best.

    Green Day — Dookie. Billy Joe Armstrong is a song writer on a par with the best, and Tre Cool is the best drummer in the business.

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    1)Killers, Iron Maiden-Because I believe absolute perfection!!!!


    2) Dishwalla, Opaline- what can I say I like great singers, plus when I sent myself to rehab for 30 days in the middle of swamp in the middle of Florida for the 4th and my birthday. this and the bible got me on.


    3) Dance of Death, Iron Maiden- it don’t get much better then music for a thinking man:)


    4) Sum 41, All Killer No Filler- what can is except that I am still pseudo punk…..


    5) King Diamond, Them, because I am mental and dig the story line.


  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation:) cool put an “I say” for “is” in the number 3 comment. lol…..

    you guys dint ban the word Killer did you lol……….

    I once was legaly considered mental and rid the short bus if that is the problem. lol……

    do you think the ritalin had any effect on my becoming a drug addict? lol……….

  13. sam says:

    I’ve got so many albums bucketing around my brain, I dare not list the “top 5” and because immediately upon clicking Post, I think, “Ah, you dumb shit, how could you overlook…”.

    I can tell you one that would be on any list of five I could get my fractured personality to agree to:

    Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder.

    Check out the title cut: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf1Eo-6sDIE

  14. PD Shaw says:

    I think some of my picks are no doubt influenced by what I’ve read above, but:

    The Beatles, Rubber Soul
    David Bowie, Scary Monsters
    The Clash, The Clash (American)
    The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God
    Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta

  15. anjin-san says:


    Right there with you on Life’s Rich Pageant. A truly great band at it’s peak. Looking forward to the remaster/expanded edition. Unforgettable Fire was totally off the charts, a soulful masterpiece.

    Another Honorable Mention:

    Steve Earle – El Corazon. If you don’t know Earle’s work, do yourself a favor. A tremendous writer who can do folk, country or rock with equal brilliance.

  16. Brian says:

    You all have incredible taste in music. Seriously.

    I can’t do “best.” Here’s five I can think of right now that are truly great, IMHO:

    1. “Mama’s Gun” – Erykah Badu
    2. “Blind” – The Sundays
    3. “Bela Felck & The Flecktones” – duh
    4. “Physical Graffiti” – Led Zeppelin
    5. “Reckoning” – R.E.M.