In honor of Innocent Words Magazine’s 15th Anniversary, I will be blogging a new favorites list once a month for the rest of the year. This month I present to you, our faithful blog readers, my 15 Years of Innocent Words Favorite Albums Of All Time List (in alphabetical order).
Sometimes I try to grasp how many albums I’ve heard in my lifetime and it’s unfathomable. I started listening to records at six years old when I received Kiss’ ‘Love Gun’ and from there the ball kept rolling and getting bigger. Through a vinyl and cassette collection, then CDs, to working at a couple of record stores and being a music writer, I am guessing I’ve listen to hundreds of thousands of albums, if not more.
To break that down into my 15 favorite albums of all time is mind numbing, but I love lists and challenging my inner music nerd. I had a few rules when making this list: The records had to be studio albums, no live or best of/greatest hits collections, and they had to be strong from top to bottom (in other words, no filler). You may wonder why there are no albums by huge artists like Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, etc. I mostly have box sets, greatest hits, or live albums by those artists, not the original studio albums. That said, ask me again tomorrow, and this list might be different.
Not long after her departure from Throwing Muses, Tanya Donelly formed Belly and released their debut album, ‘Star.’ Belly’s sound was a bit more commercially available than Donelly’s work in Muses and fit right in to college radio boom of the 1990s. ‘Star’ is a masterpiece of the 1990s. All the songs were written by Donelly, except for “White Belly,” which was co-written with Fred Abong. With her sweet soaring vocal delivery, Donelly’s voice is the hallmark to every Belly song. Her down to earth personality bleeds over into the dream pop sound of the band. However, as a whole, Belly’s sound is filled with much more than one sub-genre of music. The songs are beautifully layered with pop hooks and the soaring harmonies are to die for. But don’t ever call Belly a “cute-as-a-button band,” I am looking at you Chicago Tribune. Dig deep into the lyrical content of ‘Star’ and you will find a juxtaposition of their sound. Donelly’s lyrics touch on much darker issues such as death and unfaithfulness. Personally, Belly’s ‘Star’ (and their follow up ‘King’) hold a special place in my swollen heart for 90s music.
The River and the Thread
(2014, Blue Note)
The newest album on this list of favorites is Rosanne Cash’s beloved 2014, multi-Grammy winning album ‘The River and the Thread.’ Only two years old, I’ve played this beautiful 14-track more times than I can even count since its release.
Not comparable to anything else on this list, ‘The River and the Thread’ is a comforting album for me, like an old leather-bound book full of short stories which keep you in suspense. Cash is one of the finest songwriters of the last few decades and you can’t help but fall in love with her stories of highway travel, love during the Civil War, and exploring one’s roots. Added to Cash’s fantastic songwriting is her husband and producer (not to mention fantastic guitarist), John Leventhal. His production ability is marvelous, but his guitar playing is otherworldly as he straddles the genres of blues, Americana, and pop. With Cash’s vocals sounding stronger and more confident than ever, ‘The River and the Thread’ is an album which I know I will be coming back to for years to come.
(1989, Beggars Banquet)
I was late getting into the Cult. It wasn’t until ‘Sonic Temple’ that I truly realized how amazing and versatile this band was. Though some might say their albums ‘Love’ or even ‘Electric’ are the best, ‘Sonic Temple’ is, in my opinion, the high point of their career. Front man Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy wrote some of the heaviest and most varied songs on the record like “Sun King;” “Fire Woman;” “Edie (Ciao Baby);” “Sweet Soul Sister;” and “Soul Asylum,” and from top to bottom, the album still holds up today for me.
‘Pyromania’ was the best album of my teen years, hands down. Seeing these guys in videos on MTV made me want to be a rock star. At the time the band recorded the album, original lead guitarist Pete Willis was kicked out of the band and Phil Collen was brought in to complement rhythm guitarist Steve Clark, and there wasn’t a better one two punch in rock & roll as far as I was concerned. With the heavy rotation of the singles “Photograph,” “Foolin’” and “Rock of Ages,” ‘Pyromania’ catapulted Def Leppard into rock & roll greatness and into the record books, making them one of the biggest bands of the 1980s.
(1995, Almo Sounds)
Back in the early 1990s, I had a music video channel called Much Music that was based out of Canada. They would play great music that MTV never did. On one occasion, they played this trippy band called Garbage. The song was called “Vow” and right away the opening guitar riff blew my mind. Then the lead singer, a hot redhead—I mean smokin’ hot—popped in, and she had a voice that carried the band, not to mention a no nonsense attitude about herself. I tried to find this album at the local record store I was working at the time but only the single had been released so far. But still, at least there was a single. I got the single and it only made me want more. The album came out and it lived up to all of my expectations. From top to bottom the dozen tracks were a thing of beautiful garbage.
Are You Experienced?
(1967, Track Records)
I started playing guitar because of Phil Collen and Steve Clark of Def Leppard and George Lynch of Dokken, but when I first heard Jimi Hendrix, everything changed. I couldn’t have imagined hearing songs like “Purple Haze;” “Manic Depression;” “Hey Joe;” and “Fire” in 1967 when the album came out. No wonder people thought he was from outer space. Eric Clapton said of his first hearing Hendrix live that he thought he’d be out of a job being a guitar player. Though Jimi earned all the praise and glory, his backing band of Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) was equally as talented, holding down the beat as Jimi went off on guitar. ‘Are You Experienced?’ is not only one of the best albums of all time, but one of the best debut albums of all time.
It was 1988 and I was still in high school. I watched more of MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” than I studied for school. One night the music channel played a video called “King” from King’s X’ debut album ‘Out of the Silent Planet.’ The three-piece band—Doug Pinnick (bass), Ty Tabor (guitar), and Jerry Gaskill (drums)—had a black, left-handed bassist wearing the coolest Mohawk I had ever seen and he was in a heavy metal band. That was something you didn’t see around the music scene, let alone on MTV. These guys were not just metal. They had some of the most beautiful, Beatles-esque harmonies since the Fab Four played the “Ed Sullivan Show.” They sounded like no other band out at the time. It was like someone put Black Sabbath, the Beatles, and Rush into a blender and made King’s X. Since that night, I’ve been a King’s X devotee.
With a catalog that features a dozen amazingly diverse and consistent studio albums, not to mention some spectacular live releases, it’s hard to pinpoint which is my favorite. But when it comes down to it, the album I continually go back to is their 1994 release, ‘Dogman.’ The Texas trio embraced the “grunge sound” of the time and added to it their own eclectic sound, giving them a heavier edge. The title track leads off the album and from the moment Pinnick rattles his bass, you know you are in for something special. The strong groove King’s X is known for is all over the album on tracks such as “Shoes,” “Pretend,” “Black the Sky,” and “Complain.” Gaskill is drumming his ass off while Tabor explores new sounds with his guitar. ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’ (1988) is looked upon as King’s X’ masterpiece, and it could very well be, but for me, ‘Dogman’ will always hold a special place in the King’s X catalog.
The greatest hard rock band of all time produced an amazing sophomore album in 1969. Where ‘Led Zeppelin I,’ released a mere 10 months prior, was a blues-inspired album, the follow up was full of legendary monstrous guitar riffs from guitarist Jimmy Page. John Bonham’s drumming was out of this world, especially on “Moby Dick.” Robert plant came into his own as one of the best singers of all time with his haunting wails and erotic screams, while john Paul Jones was the unsung hero of the album, providing perfect keyboard parts and intricate bass lines.
If you put ‘Led Zeppelin II’ on now for someone who didn’t know the history of Zeppelin’s back catalog, they might think it was a greatest hits record because all of the songs are that good. Not to mention that all the album’s songs are recognizable and have spent decades on the radio. Some say ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ is the band’s masterpiece, but for me, I think it is ‘Led Zeppelin II.’
Mother Love Bone
I had to combine Mother Love Bone’s EP and full length because you just can’t choose one. On the one hand, these albums are brilliant; I love everything about them from the song writing to the tone of the guitars. “Come Bite the Apple” is one of the best songs of the 1990s and it wasn’t even a single. On the other hand, it’s bittersweet because of what might have been. You are missed, Andrew Wood. These albums were rereleased in a one-disc package with a second disc of unreleased material, but it’s just not the same; you have to have the originals with the original art work.
I am sure most Pearl Jam fans would cite their debut album, ‘10,’ as the favorite, and although it’s a close second, ‘Yield’ is still my favorite album by these Seattle stalwarts. I will tell you why. ‘Yield,’ the band’s fifth album, shows a musical and personal growth for the band. They put aside any band infighting and frontman Eddie Vedder loosened the reigns, allowing each member to contribute to the song writing. From the fleshed-out punk of “Brain of J” and “Do the Evolution” to the melancholy of “Faithfull” and “Low Light,” ‘Yield’ straddles many genres and does it very well. Also, the album contains one of the band’s best songs they’ve ever recorded, “Given to Fly.”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Damn the Torpedoes
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were already radio staples with “Breakdown” and “American Girl” from their 1976 debut album and “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart” from the 1978 follow up ‘You’re Gonna Get It,’ but when ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ was released in 1979, it sent Petty and the Heartbreakers into a whole new stratosphere of music legacy.
From November 5, 1979, when the first single, “Don’t Do Me Like That,” debuted, Petty and the Heartbreakers had a hit record on their hands. Then came the second single, “Refugee,” on January 11, 1980, and the album kept selling. The third and final single, “Here Comes My Girl,” released April 7, 1980, had the album on its way to triple platinum status. What’s even more impressive is that the songs “Even the Losers,” “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid),” and “Louisiana Rain” (which were never released as singles) are just as well known and still played live nearly 40 years after ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ was released.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers—Petty (guitars, lead vocals, and harmonica); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (keyboards, vocals); Ron Blair (bass); and Stan Lynch (drums, vocals)—solidified themselves as a legendary rock band with ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ and haven’t let us down since.
(1989, Warner Bros.)
What a monumental soundtrack and film. Prince made his mark with “Purple Rain” and never looked back. Though some fans might have been turned off by his eccentric attitude and ego, there is no denying they loved this release. Hell, even the most casual of fans loved this record and movie. In a span of nine songs, Prince could rock you with the opener “Let’s Go Crazy,” get perverted with you on “Darlin’ Nikki,” have you shaking your ass to “I Would Die 4 U,” and bring you to tears with the title track.
Satchel is one of the best and most overlooked band to ever come out of Seattle. Sadly, they didn’t achieve the success their peers did, even though the quartet had far more talent than most. I think they suffered because it was hard to pin their sound to just one genre. You had a singer influenced by 60s and 70s soul and Prince, a drummer that is one of the best in the business, and a guitar player raised on hard rock and metal. Somehow it all worked, and I am better off for finding this band by accident and still play ‘EDC’ on a regular basis.
Grave Dancers Union
Like a couple of my other all-time favorite bands, I was late to the party when it came to Soul Asylum. Their 1988 single, “Cartoon,” from the album ‘Hang Time’ caught my attention when I saw the band on MTV’s “120 Minutes” (or something like that), but it was four years later with the band’s hugely successful ‘Grave Dancer’s Union’ that Soul Asylum rocketed to the top of my all-time favorite bands list. It wasn’t because of the massive hit single “Runaway Train,” which caught my attention like most in the mainstream. Actually, “Runaway Train” is my least favorite song, and it was their hard driving songs “Somebody to Shove,” 99%,” and “April Fool” that made me a true believer. Since discovering Soul Asylum I went back to buy anything I could get my hands on and loved everything they have put out in the past and since. Simply one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
Eight Arms To Hold You
Veruca Salt looked to become the new indie rock darlings after their mega hit “Seether” from their 1994 debut album ‘American Thighs,’ but Louise Post and Nina Gordon turned up their Superfuzz/Big Muff distortion pedals and became a hard rock band with their sophomore release ‘Eight Arms To Hold You.’ The album’s heavier sound shouldn’t come as a surprise if you heard the band’s 1996 hard-hitting stop gap EP ‘Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt.’ With Bob Rock in the production chair, Post and Gordon (guitar, vocals), along with Steve Lack (bass) and Jim Shapiro (drums, vocals), recorded what I consider to be the band’s masterpiece.
“Volcano Girls,” and its accompanying wild video, was the lead single and that was just the tip of the iceberg. The band kept coming at you for 14 tracks with its relentless wall of guitars, pounding drums, and thundering bass on tracks like “Straight;” “Don’t Make Me Prove It,” and “Stoneface.” If you dig deeper into ‘Eight Arms To Hold You’ you will find some of the best material the band has ever written with “Benjamin,” “Shutterbug,” and “Earthcrosser.”