I could listen to each one of these albums a million times and never get tired. There’s not a single song on any of these albums that I ever skip over. (That’s the main requirement I considered when making this list—if there’s even a single song on the album that I skip over when listening to it, then the album got the boot.) (None of the following albums have any songs that I skip over, hence I think they’re pretty perfect.) (And this list isn’t definitive by any means, I’m sure there are a few more “perfect 10” albums in my collection, these are just the first fifteen I thought of.) (And I realize there are no Beatles Albums listed, but that’s because I decided I couldn’t list more than one album by the same artist and then I couldn’t decide which Beatles album is my favorite):
(in no particular order)
1. August and Everything After by the Counting Crows
It’s not hip to like the Counting Crows, but that’s cool because I don’t think you can actually “like” the Counting Crows—you can only love them or hate them. People who love the Counting Crows don’t always talk about their love for the Counting Crows, though, because they know it isn’t hip and they don’t want to feel the scorn. (I think Paul Rudd’s character in Clueless calls them “whiney college rock,” which is obviously what the “hate them” camp believes, but all of you haters out there just don’t get it.) (Oh god, I just got so distracted thinking about Paul Rudd.) (Yum.) (I remember, when I finally started coming out of the closet, I was walking down Vermont in Los Feliz with a friend and this really hot guy walked by us and I said “yum” and I remember thinking “I just said ‘yum’ out loud and I wasn’t talking about food, I am officially, undeniably, with-a-capital-g Gay,” and it made me really happy to be so self-actualized.) Anyway, back to the Counting Crows (who don’t have a “the” in the front of their name, but I still feel compelled to write “the” before every mention of their name), I’m obviously in the “love them” camp, and it’s always nice to find someone else who’s in the “love them” camp because Counting Crows fans (hey, I didn’t feel compelled to put the “the” there that time!) are a fierce group. (Right, Lanie?)
I remember back in college, those first few weeks in the dorm, when everyone was still getting to know each other, I don’t know how many times I would be hanging out in someone’s dorm room for the first time and I’d casually look inside their cd player to see what cd they’d last listened to and it would be August and Everything After and then it’d be like “oh my god, you and I are gonna be friends forever.” (One of the sad things about the ipod age is that we can’t sneak peeks into our friends’ cd players anymore, hoping to find that little clue that might help us figure out what makes them tick.) I remember, in high school, this kid Ryan Simpkins (who I tried to re-befriend on MySpace about a year ago and he denied my request) (what’s more insane, the fact that he denied my request or the fact that, a year later, I still remember that he denied my request?) (okay, no, obviously the craziest thing isn’t either of those things [too much usage of the word “thing,” Erik]) (no, the craziest thing is that I wrote Ryan’s full name just now, hoping that one of these days he might self-google and read this and be like, “whoops, I didn’t mean to deny Erik’s friend request” and then request to be my MySpace friend) (I can be a neurotic ass sometimes) (sorry) (but anyway, this one time in high school, Ryan Simpkins) borrowed my Counting Crows t-shirt—the one I’d gotten at my first Counting Crows concert—and he kept it for a year because he was also a huge Counting Crows fan and I think he was secretly hoping that I would forget that he had it and go off to college and he would get to keep the shirt forever, BUT I NEVER FORGOT and I finally got the shirt back and even though it’s all tattered and not really wearable anymore, I STILL HAVE IT, and that’s the kind of Counting Crows fan I am.
I think I’ve seen them in concert seven or eight times, which might not grant me super-fan status, but it’s more than I’ve seen any other band—and the thing about seeing the Counting Crows live is, well, I can’t even describe it. They’re better live. And that’s not me trying to justify them to the haters. If you hate the Counting Crows, then seeing them live probably isn’t going to change your mind—but if you love them, then seeing them live is going to make you love them sooooo much more. Because they simply are better live. My favorite Counting Crows show was at the John Anson Ford Theater, my freshman year of college, with Tina Poppy. We managed to get up to the front of the pit area and we were literally standing against the stage, underneath Adam Duritz, looking up at him the entire time, and it was the first time they had played any of the music from their second album for a crowd—they basically debuted the entire album for us. When they played “A Long December” for the first time, Adam dedicated the song to his friend Samantha Mathis (who was standing directly behind us and who cried during the song) (I think I cried during the song too and it wasn’t even dedicated to me) (or about me), and when they played “Recovering the Satellites” for the first time, they filmed it, and all of the footage they used was in their “Recovering the Satellites” video, so if you watch that video (and look very VERY carefully, and maybe freeze-frame) you can see the back of my head. Anyway, blah blah I like the Counting Crows blah blah, and this, their first album, gets me every time.
Favorite tracks: “Anna Begins,” “Perfect Blue Buildings,” “A Murder of One.”
2. Automatic For the People by REM
I’ve met Michael Stipe twice, both times very very briefly. The first time was at a book signing he did at UCI. He had written the forward for this book on some new new-agey medicine theories, and he gave a little speech in support of the book and then he signed copies (I had to buy the book to get Stipe’s autograph, but I never read the book, and it’s currently in storage, and for the life of me I cannot remember what the book was about) (but I was just there for Stipe’s autograph anyway) (this was also my freshman year of college) and as I was approaching Michael Stipe, as the young woman in front of me in line was getting her book signed, this young woman told him “I tried to kill myself about a year ago and when they brought me back from the hospital, I went into my bedroom and turned on the radio and ‘Everybody Hurts’ was playing and I took it as a sign, so thank you for saving my life,” and those book signings are a well-oiled machine—they really do a good job of keeping them moving—so you only end up having a few seconds to talk to whoever’s signing your book, and Michael Stipe looked up at this young woman and he just said “are you okay now?” and she said “yes,” and then he told her to “hang in there and get some help” and then she was ushered forward by one of the people whose job it is to make sure that the line is continuously moving forward, and then I was ushered forward and I handed Michael Stipe my copy of the book to sign and whatever I had been planning to say had obviously been trumped by the “you saved my life” that this woman had just thrown down, so I just kinda looked at Stipe like, “dur.” And then he asked me, “Are you okay?” And I was like, “yeah.” And that was my first encounter with Michael Stipe.
And then the second time I met him was at the Golden Globes in 1999, I was with my friend Wendy who had also crashed, and we noticed that Michael Stipe was just standing there, alone, looking bored, and we were both fans so we decided to go talk to him, and so then we approached him and started talking and he was talking to us but he wasn’t looking at us, and it was a kind of weird, awkward conversation, until suddenly Wendy and I both realized that Michael Stipe was wearing some sort of earpiece and he wasn’t talking to us, he was talking to someone on his cellphone. (This was before those earpieces were very common, I think it was actually the first time I’d ever seen one.) And when Wendy and I both realized we were having a conversation with someone who was actually completely ignoring us and talking to someone else, well, we felt really awkward and weird and we just kept standing there because we felt like we had to somehow salvage the moment, but the longer we stood there the more awkward it felt, and, well, it never got unawkard.
Favorite tracks: “Nightswimming,” “Find the River,” “Drive.”
3. Come on Feel the Lemonheads by The Lemonheads
The Lemonheads make me happy. Happier than chocolate makes me. And chocolate makes me really happy. I seriously think that there’s something about the Lemonheads that affects the chemistry of my brain. I hate cleaning, I simply hate it, I don’t really feel that pleasurable feeling that people talk about when they’ve finished doing the dishes or the laundry or the vacuuming or whatever, that “sense of accomplishment” feeling (I feel a “sense of accomplishment” when I finish a lot of other things, just not cleaning), but the one thing in the entire world that can get me pumped up about cleaning the house is The Lemonheads. I don’t know what that is, but The Lemonheads make me want to clean and they make me enjoy it.
When I was in college, my stereo was stolen. It was super stupid. I had gone to take a shower and left my door open (because everyone left their doors open, we were carefree) and when I came back to my room I didn’t notice it at first, but I’m pretty sure that’s when it happened—when I had gone to take a shower—and then later, I noticed: um, no stereo. But the thing that really upset me about having my stereo stolen wasn’t losing my stereo, it was the fact that my favorite Lemonheads cd had been in the stereo at the time and had thus also been stolen. I put fliers up all over campus that read (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t have a copy of the flier anymore, but this is about what it said): “To whomever stole a stereo out of Room 110 in Haines the other day, you can totally keep and enjoy my stereo. It’s fine, I don’t care about the stereo. What I care about is the fact that you also inadvertently stole my Lemonheads cd and that’s just not cool. And since I realize that you weren’t after the cd in the first place, would you please do me the favor of anonymously returning the cd? My mailbox is #653. Thank you and enjoy the stereo. Just don’t enjoy the Lemonheads. Because they’re mine. I’m serious. Please return the cd. Thank you.” I never saw my cd again. A couple of weeks later, I caved and bought a new copy.
Favorite tracks: “Big Gay Heart,” “It’s About Time,” “Being Around.”
4. Grace by Jeff Buckley
I kinda think this is the most beautiful album ever and it makes me so sad that Buckley isn’t around anymore.
Favorite tracks: “Hallelujah,” “Lilac Wine,” “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.”
5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch soundtrack, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask
It upsets me that I’ve never seen Hedwig live. I have a Hedwig tattoo for crying out loud. Why have I never seen Hedwig live? It’s an outrage.
My introduction to Hedwig was through the movie, but I don’t think that’s why I prefer the film soundtrack to the stage soundtrack—I think the film soundtrack is just a little bit better. (And I say “just a little bit” because the stage soundtrack is already great, but the film soundtrack has a little more edge to it, and I respond to that.)
“Origin of Love” is the best creation story ever told. Can you imagine what the world would be like if all of our religions were based on the story told in “Origin of Love”? It’s not any more outrageous than the idea of an immaculate conception, and it’s a story that includes everyone. Can you imagine what this country would be like if this song was our National Anthem, instead of “the bombs bursting in air”? A song about love and hope? What a crazy idea.
If you don’t know the song, check the lyrics out HERE.
Favorite tracks: “Origin of Love,” “Midnight Radio,” “Tear Me Down.”
6. Horses by Patti Smith
This album is crazy. Spiritual. Ungodly. Epic.
So fucking good.
If I ever decide to just take off in my car and drive off towards destinations unknown, this is the album I will crank from my car speakers, the windows rolled down, wind in my air.
I think the centerpiece track on the album, “Land: Horses/Land of A Thousand Dances/La Mer,” is really sexy. Like, sure I love me some Justin Timberlake and he makes me wanna move, but even though singers like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce might be sexy, they’re still trying to be sexy, so there’s something orchestrated about it, while this song by Smith…it isn’t trying to be anything, least of all sexy. And as a result, it’s like the song isn’t merely sexy, it is sex. That sounds stupid, but I’m not going to use my delete button, because it’s hard to describe why this song is so powerful. Okay, wait, no—it feels like she’s possessed, that’s what it is. Like she isn’t singing the song, the song’s coming through her. Yes, that’s what it is. That’s what I feel when I listen to this song.
Favorite tracks: “Land,” “Gloria,” “Birdland.
7. OK Computer by Radiohead
This album is already regarded as one of the greatest albums ever by lots of people who make lists of greatest albums ever, and there isn’t anything new I can really say about it, and I don’t even have any personal stories about how this album fits into my life, but whenever I listen to this album it takes me away like a great album should, so it’s on my list.
Favorite tracks: “Airbag,” “Kharma Police,” “Exit Music (For A Film)”
8. Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack, music and lyrics by Paul Williams
I watched this movie for the first time with my friend Carie Yonekawa and we both freaked out over it. (I would go so far as to say it’s DePalma’s best film) (and I like DePalma) (but pound for pound, this movie rocks his other movies outta the park) (“rocks his other movies outta the park”?) (mixed metaphors much?) A couple of birthdays ago, my friend Aimie gave me a copy of the Paradise dvd signed by one of the actors who played one of the Juicy Fruits, which is definitely a prized possession of mine. Paul Williams has written a million amazing songs, so it’s no surprise that all of the music in Paradise is great, but what I love about this album is that every single song is *this close* to being really cheesy…but there’s too much heart in the music for it to fall off that cliff into real cheesiness (“fall off that cliff”?) (seriously, erik, what’s with the bad metaphors?)
Favorite tracks: “Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye,” “Special To Me,” “One Love.”
9. Remy Zero by Remy Zero
Remy Zero opened up for the Counting Crows at the John Anson Ford show that I mentioned above in my Counting Crows post. That was the first time I heard them perform. My friend Tina and I used to drive around Los Angeles, aimlessly, late at night, and we would listen to this album, over and over again. It felt like our own private soundtrack. The weird thing is, I think a lot of people who have this album feel like it’s their own personal soundtrack, because songs from this album are allllllways showing up in movies, and every time I hear a Remy Zero song in a movie I get kinda mad because I feel like my own private personal soundtrack is being raped and pillaged.
Favorite tracks: “Descent,” “Twister,” “Shadowcasting.”
10. Rilo Kiley by Rilo Kiley
When my brother Josh was fifteen (so, um, six years ago), I took him to see Weezer and it was the first time in my life that I ever felt “old.” Of course I realize that I wasn’t “old” at the time—I mean, hell, I was only 23—but I was one of the few non-fifteen-year-olds at the show and it made me feel like a geezer. The weird thing, though, was that I was a huge fan of Weezer when I was fifteen, and then I moved on to other things, and going to this Weezer show made me realize that Weezer must have a lock on that age group. They keep moving on to the next album and then the next, but their fan base stays fifteen.
Um, I know you’re like “why are you talking about Weezer, Erik,” but it’s because I discovered Rilo Kiley for the first time because they were opening for Weezer that night. And none of the fifteen-year-olds in that room could have given a shit. I remember all of the kids were just standing there, sending off aggressive “we want Weezer” vibes, while Jenny Lewis and the rest of the Rilo Kiley gang were performing their hearts out and putting on one of the best fucking shows I’d seen in a long time. I fell in love, instantly, and after their set ended I went to their little cd stand and bought both of the albums they were selling and for the rest of the month I would listen to this cd every night as I was falling asleep.
Now, Rilo Kiley’s definitely more well-known now than they were in 2000, but I don’t understand why they aren’t even bigger than they are. (Are they even still together? I haven’t heard of them in a while. And Jenny Lewis had that solo album with the Watson Twins. Hmmmm.) I love how poppy the song “Frug” is—it opens up with this happy clapping, and then she starts singing, and at first you think the song is just this little ditty about dances that are hard to do, but then she throws in that she “cannot fall in love,” and it becomes the happiest sad song ever, if that makes any sense.
I’ll often listen to “Teenage Love Song” on repeat on my ipod, which is about first love, 50’s style, and I know that Jenny Lewis was in a movie with Fred Savage (not just “a” movie, but that road trip movie about three kids trying to get across the country so they could compete in a Super Mario Bros. tournament) (I was twelve when that movie came out—it was called The Wizard—and I FUCKING LOVED THAT MOVIE as a twelve-year-old) (when I realized that the reason I recognized Jenny Lewis was because she played the girl in The Wizard, she suddenly became even cooler) (god, I can be such a fanboy sometimes) (The Wizard was directed by Todd Holland, who has the amazing distinction of having directed two episodes of Twin Peaks AND two episode of My So-Called Life, so I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he’s The Coolest Man in Hollywood) (one of the Twin Peaks episodes he directed was the one where we found out that Harold Smith had Laura’s secret diary) (I loved the Harold Smith storyline and I think that everyone who says that Twin Peaks was only good in its first season is crazy and wrong) (and one of the My So-Called Life episodes that Todd Holland directed was “Life of Brian,” a.k.a. the World Happiness Dance episode, which has some of the best moments in the whole series: Ricky’s dance, that moment with Angela and Jordan outside by the fence when Jordan says “why are you like this?” and Angela asks him “like what?” and Jordan says “like how you are” and Angela says “how am I?” and then Jordan goes off with his friends and Angela asks him again, hopeless, “how am I???”, and all of the heartbreaking ways everyone sabotages their own happiness at the World Happiness Dance) (oh god, and it also has that one moment when Brian Krakow is helping Delia Fisher look at cells through a microscope and Delia Fisher touches Krakow’s hand and in his voice over we hear him say “finally! an erection from actual, physical contact,” which is just such a funny and brilliant moment) (the first time I ever got an erection from actual, physical contact was during my freshman year of high school—I remember this moment sooooo clearly—I had been cast as the understudy for ALL of the male actors in our high school production of Children of a Lesser God, and so I went to every rehearsal and basically acted as the director’s assistant, taking notes for her, etc., and there was this one rehearsal that was just for the two leads, John and Bronwen, going over several of their scenes. And, I forget why, but Bronwen had to leave rehearsal an hour early, but instead of just calling it quits for the evening, the director decided to continue running scenes with just John, and she had me stand in for Bronwen, and we started freaking rehearsing, like, these scenes that were basically courtship scenes. And I had watched them rehearse the scenes a bunch of times and I knew the blocking and so I was doing what Bronwen always did, and there was this one moment when she put her finger to John’s lips to shut him up, and so when we got to that moment I put my finger up to his lips and I swear to you I can still remember the feeling of his lips on my finger, and suddenly it was like, “um, hello, erection,” except I wasn’t excited about it like Brian Krakow’s voice over because, “um, hello, boy”) (wow, it’s been a really long time since I started the thought about Fred Savage, I bet you don’t even remember I was talking about him in the first place, but what I was about to say, before Todd Holland got me on all of those tangents, was that I know that Jenny Lewis was in a movie with Fred Savage) and while I don’t think that Teenage Love Song is about him, I like to think that it’s about him. I don’t know why that is. But whenever I listen to this song, images of a young Fred Savage breaking a young Jenny Lewis’ heart run through my head.
Favorite tracks: “Frug,” “Papillon,” “Always.”
11. Scissor Sisters by Scissor Sisters
The first time I heard this album in its entirety was on a road trip to Las Vegas and that seems completely appropriate because the album is filthy and gorgeous and dirty. I know that they’re gay and all, but I still don’t understand why songs from this album never got any radio play here in the states. Star 98.7 has been playing “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” from their second album, but there are so many songs on their debut album that are just begging to be played on the radio. I mean, yes they’re filthy fuckers, but they could (and should) also be pretty mainstream, if they were allowed to be. I mean, hello: “Take Your Mama Out” should be playing on every turn of the dial.
Favorite tracks: “Comfortably Numb,” “Mary,” “Laura.”
12. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner by Ben Folds Five
This album reminds me of Glendale, and eating Top Ramen, and waiting in fast food drive-through lines, and wanting to be somewhere you’re not. Nothing against Glendale, I enjoyed living there, especially because I loved living with my roommates at the time, Aimie and Sharia, but I was a senior in college and anxious to get my life in motion. And all of the songs on this album have that feel to them. (And I don’t mean to imply that this album is depressing—it’s actually a quite moving album—but it’s not, like, “rousing.”)
Favorite tracks: “Mess,” “Magic,” “Lullaby.”
13. Vespertine by Bjork
It’s well documented (by me) that I’m a big Bjork fan. I love all of her albums, but I think this one is the most perfect through and through. She conceived of the album as a series of lullabies and that’s exactly what it feels like—there’s definitely something very motherly about it. Something warm, something safe.
Favorite tracks: “Cocoon,” “Heirloom,” “Pagan Poetry.”
14. Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes
“I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record…” Come on: awesomeness.
I just found out that Gordan Gano wrote most of the songs on the Femmes’ debut album while he was still in high school and that makes so much sense because every single song on this album is raw with that kind of fucked-up, my body is out of whack and the world is a screwy place, and why the hell are you looking at me energy that’s so typical of high school.
Whenever I karaoke (and I don’t karaoke as much as I used to) (which is sad), one of my favorite songs to karaoke is “Kiss Off.” The build in that countdown, as you get closer and closer to shouting out that “ten is for everything, everything, EVERYTHING.” It’s such a release. And it feels so damned good. Seriously, next time you find yourself at a karaoke establishment, sing “Kiss Off.” You will feel so high afterwards, you’ll thank me.
Listening to the Femmes brings back so many high school memories (even though I still listen to them, they just evoke that time), but one of my favorite Femmes-inspired memories is going to visit Jesse when I was a junior in high school and he was a freshman at San Diego State, we got slightly drunk (“slightly” might be an understatement) and at one point in the evening I serenaded some girl by singing the Femmes’ song “Gimme the Car” to her, and for years after that I was known by Jesse’s San Diego friends as “that freaky kid who wouldn’t stop singing ‘Gimme the Car’ that one time.”
Favorite tracks: “Blister in the Sun,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Gimme the Car.”
15. When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He'll Win The Whole Thing Fore He Enters The Ring There's No Body To Batter When Your Mind is Your Might So When You Go Solo. You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand. Then You'll Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You Know That You're Right by Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple took a lot of hits for the ridiculousness of the title of this album (and rightfully so), but if you stayed away from this album because you were annoyed by Fiona Apple’s preciousness or stuck-upness, or whatever you might have been annoyed by, you should really give this album another chance, because the most ridiculous thing about this album is how good it is. Some of the most quiet, poetic rage. And “Paper Bag” is one of my favorite love songs.
Favorite tracks: “Fast As You Can,” “Get Gone,” “I Know.”
--the photo of the crow is by tarotastic
--the photo of the nightswimmer is by jeverwolf
--the photo of Evan Dando singing is by jer
--the photo of patti smith is by iguana jo
--the photo of jake shears is by darwin bell
--the photo of glendale sign by 7-how7
--the photo of violent femmes lyrics by mandydale
--the photo of fiona apple by otterfreak