Okay, when Roy first posted this I was all "wow, great idea, I'll come up with my list and post it."
Then I discovered, it was really hard for me to make this list. 8 albums? What are my criteria? How diverse should it be? etc, etc. I don't think it's due to a general indecisiveness, either. I think the problem is that I'm too much a product of a generation that sees the album as an optional way to catalog music, not the only way. So my mind doesn't necessarily think of music in album terms. Or to put it another way, if you instead made the decision "You're getting stuck on a desert island with an MP3 player that has room for 80 songs. Construct a playlist for it," I would have come up with a list that would definitely not solely be the contents of these eight albums.
Ultimately, I decided to go the artists I really like, albums that do well for replay value, and to mix up the genres. Here is the list, in no particular order:
New Order - Substance 1987
Okay, kind of cheating here as it is a double album. But 99.9% of the reason I'm picking it is for the first disc. It's a showcase for the melodic, sonic, and songwriting brilliancy of New Order. All of these songs have lyrics that are accessible, catchy, yet have depth. It's also one of those albums where no matter how many times I listen to it, I never get tired of it.
Rush - Moving Pictures
I had to include a Rush album on this list, and I feel that this album was the perfect nexus of songwriting genius and accessibility. The concept albums of the 1970's, while great from a construct perspective, were a bit too bloated and heavy for a lot of repeat listening. Whereas, once they got into the late 1980's, it had become obvious that they had gone into the "we're making albums so we can launch another tour" mode that so many long-time artists fall into. Plus, being "thinking man's" rock, it can give me things to ponder while sitting on the beach.
Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf
Rock music often suffers from a paradox: Stray too far from the source, and you alienate audiences and often wander into territory that's just plain silly (see: late '90's rap metal). Stay too close to the source, and it becomes stale, predictable, or even worse, ends up worshiping a status quo that's antithetical to rock in the first place. This album successful nailed that perfect middle ground, delivering rock music that rocked while venturing into new territory. The sound is heavy metal crossed with psychedelic rock and a Hunter S. Thompson novel. Plus, it arrived at a time when rock sorely needed a kick in the pants to get out of the rut of unimaginative cookie cutter new metal and pretentious, pseudo-indie "The" bands of the late '90's and early aughts. Plus, if that wasn't enough, you got Dave Grohl on drums with solid, spunky beats. You could just hear how much fun he was having getting to drum on album again. I know this will piss off the fan boys and girls, but Grohl has proved to be the most talented member of Nirvana.
Ministry - Psalm 69
A classic of industrial metal, Ministry maintained a strict dedication to their sound over their nearly 30 year career. The sound and lyrics are relentless on this album; no where on this album is a single punch pulled. Drugs, Reagan/Bush era politics, religion, war; Al Jourgensen let you know exactly how he felt about them. The album pulls off a great dissident balance. The sound is both confrontational, yet you feel that there's no way you couldn't listen to it. Just check the video for "New World Order"
and see what I mean.
They Might Be Giants - Then: The Early Years
Once again, I'm cheating here; this is a double album, and it contains the entirety of both of the first two TMBG albums, plus a bunch of B side and rarity tracks. But it's simply too good. TMBG are one of the few bands that can be described as being a genre onto themselves. The quirky combination of off-kilter rhythms, a vast array of musical sounds, lyrics with an emphasis on geeky word play: "I love the world and if I have to sue for custody, I will sue for custody." I dare anyone to listen to "Ana Ng"
and not end up bouncing around the room, singing along.
KMFDM - Symbols
Much like Ministry, KMFDM are industrial legends, and this album had the just-right balance of electronic and distorted guitar. Melodic yet dissonant and dirty, and rhythms that are just as easy to dance to as they are to head-bang to. Lyrically, it was deliciously subversive and irreverent: "Nihilistic mystics, Apostolic Alcoholics. Messianic Manics ,Cataclysmic and Prolific. In the age of super-boredom, Hype and mediocrity. Celebrate relentlessness, Menace to society," or "I'm the illegitimate, son of God."
Dave Brubeck - Ken Burns JAZZ
I knew I needed some Jazz on this list, and this compilation of Brubeck is one of my favorites. He was part of a new, post-war movement that eclipsed Bebop with Cool Jazz. His sound push the limits of the genre, integrating traditional music forms and odd time signatures, without losing any musical quality. This collection has classics like "In Your Own Sweet Way," the subtely subversive "The Real Ambassador," "Take Five," and "Blue Rondo A La Turk," which I believe is the best composition of the 20th century.
Outkast - The Love Below & Speakerboxxx
Gah, for the third time, I'm skirting the rules by choosing a double album. But much like with Substance 1987
, this is only on here for the The Love Below
disc. This album proved that Andre 3000 is the Paul Simon of the group, and and Big Boi is the Garfunkel (technically, each disc of this album is a "solo album" from each of them). He integrated elements of funk, jazz, and rock into hip hop, pushing the boundaries of the genre sonically. Lyrically, he passes from playful to funny to sexy to dramatic without hesitation, often within one verse. I say this with no doubt, this is the best album of the aughts.
"Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" by Hayao Miyazaki
Is it impossible for me to not push the boundaries of the rules with this list? Technically, this is not a "book," but rather a graphic novel. It's also typically published in 3 or 4 volumes, but it's one narrative so I think that counts. I chose this "novel" for two reasons: One, this list precludes any sort of visual media, so I feel that the graphic novel format will satisfy that desire. Second, it is a story that has all my mind would want: great characters, a compelling storyline, and a subtext that aggressively disregards the hubris of man, to the point of sacrifice. It really opened my mind to how we, as a species, view ourselves and our relation to the world, and why the notion of "best interest" being limited to humanity is not a best interest at all.
My Framus Hollowbody guitar:
This one would be good for all-around playing; the hollowbody means it will project, but the low action and jazz strings don't limit me to just acoustic-y sounds.