“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.”
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995)
Readers who have enjoyed our interviews from time to time know that we typically ask artists to share their five favorite albums of all time at the end of our conversations with them. No matter who the artist is, it’s always fascinating to discover which long players have impacted their personal and professional lives. A few of our interview subjects have even scoffed at the standard five album limit, rattling off upwards of a dozen or so titles and second-guessing if they’ve made the right choices.
Today, we’re excited to feature our writers’ respective lists of their 10 favorite albums, an exercise that proved agonizing for a few of us, even prompting a few rage-filled messages to be sent to our editor-in-chief who came up with the nutty idea. We all reserve the right to change our minds about these choices in the future, but for now, here are the indispensable albums that we can’t live without.
Check out Grant Walters' picks below, click the “Next” button at bottom to browse the lists, or click here to return to the main index.
Bee Gees | Main Course | 1975 | Buy | Main Course is the perfect intersection of the Bee Gees’ flair for dramatic melancholy and their undying affection for R&B and soul. Almost any one of their studio albums could fall into my top ten depending on the day, but this is probably their most consistently brilliant from start to finish, and the one that I return to most often. I personally think “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” is one of their most overlooked singles—they harmonized so seamlessly and with such effortless complexity, and it breaks my heart when I eventually remember the three of them won’t ever be able to create that sound together again.
Tracy Chapman | Tracy Chapman | 1988 | Buy | I wrote about this album in our “100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made” feature last fall, so I’ll invite you to read that for a fuller analysis. But I’ll reiterate here that Tracy Chapman changed the way I thought about pop music as an art form and as a vehicle for more salient subject matter than teenage dreams. “Fast Car” is so beautifully sad, and still so relevant to those who are hurting, struggling, fighting, and holding out hope for something better than their current reality.
Corey Hart | Boy In the Box | 1985 | Buy | If you grew up in Canada in the ‘80s, you absolutely owned this album. I always thought of Corey as our generation’s rebel, or at least a rebel compared to my own suburban prairie upbringing. But as I’ve had the privilege of interacting with him in recent years, he’s, in actuality, the most sincere and humble person and musician. “Eurasian Eyes” and “Waiting for You” are my favorite kind of pop songs: big choruses and bold bridges with precisely-constructed melodies.
Chris Isaak | San Francisco Days | 1993 | Buy | I spent most of my twenties living on the West Coast, and Isaak’s seaside-kissed reflections on this record almost perfectly sum up my best memories of that life chapter. Everyone swooned over his 1989 breakthrough “Wicked Game,” which is brilliant, but I’ve never understood how the smoldering beauty of “Can’t Do a Thing (To Stop Me)” didn’t ignite in some significant way.
Michael Jackson | Thriller | 1982 | Buy | It feels practically redundant to write anything about this set of songs because I assume most people just inherently understand why this album is great. However, I may be one of the few who’d say I prefer the moonlit whisper of “Human Nature” over the searing bravado of “Beat it”, and while I get the appeal of the title track, I think “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is far more fun. But “Billie Jean” is goddamned genius.
Jimmy Eat World | Integrity Blues | 2016 | Buy | I happened to be working just a short distance away from the band’s hometown of Mesa, Arizona the month this album was released, and I picked up a copy at an impromptu afternoon acoustic gig they did at Zia Records. These songs just became synonymous with all the feelings I had living (temporarily) in the desert—feeling simultaneously at and far away from home the entire time. I’ve always loved Jim Adkins’ voice, though—it’s so amazingly emotional and expressive.
Billy Joel | An Innocent Man | 1983 | Buy | I will fully admit I love this album for the reasons others might prefer The Stranger or Turnstiles—it’s unflinchingly nostalgic and completely contented with being a playful pop record. Not all music from 1983 feels this fun and fresh to listen to in 2018, but Joel brilliantly captured a bygone era and gave it ageless appeal and relevance. I think the autobiographical trip “Keeping the Faith” is a great single, for what it’s worth.
Simon & Garfunkel | Bridge Over Troubled Water | 1970 | Buy | It’s strange to think that an album so revered as soul-soothing and inspirational was a song-by-song depiction of Simon & Garfunkel’s personal and creative relationship painfully unraveling. “The Only Living Boy in New York” is one of my favorite songs, period, and I don’t know how if I’ve heard much more beautiful vocal work than the faux-cathedral choir bridges that you swear couldn’t possibly be multi-tracked studio trickery.
Toad the Wet Sprocket | Dulcinea | 1994 | Buy | Glen Phillips’ voice has always enchanted me because of its earnestness and accessibility, and I do love that Toad’s songs are often these neat little contradictions of pop jangle and soulful sadness. The melodic ballad “Crowing” is probably my favorite out of this mix, but hearing the slightly dark urgency of “Something’s Always Wrong” on the radio sent me straight to the record store to pick up this gem that I still listen to quite often today.
U2 | Achtung Baby | 1991 | Buy | Most of us didn’t really know what to think of Achtung Baby when it was released, except that it wasn’t The Joshua Tree. But it didn’t take me much time at all to fall in love with the distorted wah-wah on the opening guitar lick of “Mysterious Ways,” and I still love how the almost too-loud bass line buzzes in my earphones. And twenty-five years later, I’ve still never quite been able to shake the ‘baby, baby, baby’ chorus of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).”