Local radio station The Current (89.3 FM) is trying to compile a list of 893 essential albums and is asking people to nominate ten, admitting that choosing just ten is nearly impossible: http://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2016/03/23/893-essential-albums I decided not to try to choose my favorite ten or the "best" ten, but 10 albums that could cover nearly every facet of modern music. Their submission form doesn't let one justify their choices, so I decided to post my rationale here.
Blue Suede Shoes Smell Like Teen Spirit
As the name "Current" suggests, they keep trying to find new interesting music to play, to avoid becoming just college radio for aging hipsters; it was there that I first heard LCD Soundsystem, Gomez and Dr. Dog. Essential albums, however, take time to become fundamental, so I decided to choose albums from between 1954 and 1991. I also excluded classical and avant garde albums and those done in languages other than English.
The final 10
Bob Marley - "Legend." Every collection needs a reggae album, specifically, this one, a compilation of the most laid-back revolutionary music imaginable.
"Chicago/ The Blues/ Today! volume 3." Chicago blues led to much rock and roll, but how does one choose between Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Elmore James? This volume of this somewhat obscure series has the best performances of a very young Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and the best of the even better harp blower Big Walter Horton, neither of whom ever managed a great album on their own.
John Coltrane - "A Love Supreme." This is near the top of every list of must-own jazz albums. It's not my favorite jazz album - that would be Garner's "Concert By the Sea," followed by Ellington's "Blanton-Webster Band." It's not my favorite tenor sax record (Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus"). It's not even my favorite Coltrane ("Blue Trane"). But, if you're going to choose one artist, Coltrane edges Miles Davis and this album edges "My Favorite Things" as the one to own.
The Beatles - "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band." The most varied, yet most consistent, and also most influential album by the most popular band ever.
Tom Waits - "Rain Dogs." Between his troubadour lounge act years and his Cookie Monster as carnival barker years, Waits crafted this masterpiece, a perfectly balanced and realized poetic statement about the broken, tragic and ludicrous, "shining like a new dime" in a sea of "rag water, bitters and blue ruin."
Ry Cooder - "Paradise and Lunch." I needed something countryish, in this case by way of Texas and I needed a guitar hero (besides George Harrison). Virtuoso Cooder's ability to play anything has led to disjointed records - "now he's playing Hawaiian slack-string guitar!" - but this is consistently good, with interesting sidemen, like Harry Dean Stanton.
The Ramones - "The Ramones." The Clash may have been the only band that mattered for a while and the Sex Pistols grabbed the headlines, but for me, the Ramones were the ultimate punk band. I'm a punk at heart and could easily have picked nothing but records from 1977-78. "Rocket to Russia" is their most polished effort and has "I Wanna Be Sedated," but their first album is pure punk perfection.
Carole King - "Tapestry." By this time, you're wondering where the women are. King's songs span the girl group era, include a hit for Aretha Franklin and... oh, yeah, charted for 302 consecutive weeks (6 years!), 15 of them at #1.
"Nuggets." (1974) If you're under 70, whatever you might know about the Amboy Dukes, the 13th Floor Elevators or The Standells ultimately traces back to this two record album, long out of print. In the 1980's, Rhino Records stole the concept, the title and the tracks themselves, added material to expand to three records and then divided them so the psychedelia was all on one record, which I think spoiled it. This IS garage rock.
The Band - "The Last Waltz." To be complete, I needed something folk-tinged. I needed a live album. I needed a soundtrack. And what says overblown rock and roll excess like a three record album? This just happens to add Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Joni Mitchell.
So, how'd I do?
I expect 4 or 5 of my choices to make the final list. If I also cause people to seek out the albums they don't know, then I've done what the station does: introduce people to good music they might otherwise miss.