I occasionally break out an album, listen to it and think: “This is one of my favorite albums of all time.” That leads me to think: “What actually is my favorite album of all time? What would happen if I ranked all of the albums I know?”
For years I have wondered, “How everything would shake out if I took the time to rank all of my albums?” so I finally sat down and did it.
I tried to keep this very simple and with as few rules as possible. So, the criteria for consideration is this: An album that I own.
Some singles I purchased back in the day slipped their way in even though it might be considered a single or an EP. Also, there are some albums my family loves but we stream them. Since I haven’t purchased the album, It wasn’t eligible for consideration.
I opened up my file explorer and went to my music directory and read through every folder. It is organized by artist name followed by albums in the sub-folders.
I looked at the title of the albums and thought, is this a great album and/or an album I loved? If so, I put the artist name and the album title into a spreadsheet.
While most of my music has been digitized at this point, there are a few vinyls I have not ripped to my computer so I went through that collection as well with the same mindset and added a few more titles to the spreadsheet.
Once that was completed I had a spreadsheet with 477 albums.
To narrow things down a little I read through the entire list of 477 albums and, if I thought an album could be considered one of the best of the best, I put an X in a new column. Once I completed that I sorted my spreadsheet and discovered that I had marked 152 albums. I quickly decided to delete two and have a top 150.
Once I had the top 150, I wanted to find a quick way to rank them without just “thinking about it” for a while so some web searching led me to the website https://challonge.com. That site allows you to create tournaments.
I batch added the 150 albums into a double elimination tournament. I went through each match-up in the winner’s bracket and thought, “Which album is better?” and selected that album as the winner. There were some fun match-ups (two live albums going head to head for example) but I was surprised at how little I had to deliberate. Having a double elimination tournament helped with this because I knew any album that lost initially would still receive another chance to win in the loser’s bracket.
Once I finished the winner’s bracket I completed the losers bracket and had a winner. The site ranks the top 5 finishers and then, due to math, has groups of ties for the rest. For the tie for fifth place, it was just two albums so I hand picked those. I did the same for the next few ties. Once I got to the tie for 17th place, which involved eight albums, I started running mini tournaments to sort out those ties.
Therefore, once you read the top 150 you will know that every album on that list was ranked through multiple tournaments.
For the remaining 327 albums I took a similar approach. The largest tournament you can hold on the site and have even brackets (my 150 album tournament was a little funky) is a tournament with 128 entrants. I decided to hold three more tournaments: Two with 128 entrants and one with the remaining 72.
Once I completed those I had three groups that had been ranked. Since this was getting a little out of hand (although it was quite an enjoyable process) I took the top 25 from each of those three categories and held another tournament so that the next 75 albums would be ranked as well. Once I reached that plateau I simply copied and pasted the remaining albums in the order provided from the tournament website with no further ranking or sorting.
I can imagine a few issues people might take with my rankings, my methodology, any omissions, etc. Let me address a few of those.
First of all, this is obviously just built on my experience and preference. I started learning to play guitar in the eighth grade and I noticed that albums I was listening to from that era (and figuring out how to play) somehow seemed to have received a subconscious and sentimental boost.
I know sometimes “Best of” albums are considered out of bounds for lists like this but I included them since my criteria was simply “albums that I own.” In addition, sometimes I will go through a phase where I know there is an artist beloved by many and I make an attempt to discover what the fuss is all about*. In my efforts to discover I will sometimes purchase what seems to be their most critically acclaimed album or I will purchase a best of if it contains a specific song I am seeking out.
Box sets and deluxe editions were included and occasionally that gave an album a boost. For example, when the deluxe edition adds a bonus live concert, that occasionally was a tiebreaker. Also, in this vein, when exploring certain artists I was able to purchase a set of “Five Essential” albums for the price of one slightly expensive album. In that case I counted them all as one entry since they were purchased as one entity.
Some albums have one of my favorite songs on the track-list but didn’t make the cut because that song is also the only song on the album I think is great.
You might read my entries and wonder why a certain album didn’t make the list. I don’t know! Probably I just don’t own it or I might not like it. I have listened to a ton of music but I haven’t explored every artist!
I have no goal for this. I’ve been wanting to make a list of my top albums and I did.
While I have no goals for this project I would hope that at least one person reads at least one entry and goes down a joyous musical rabbit hole much like the many I have been on that led to this list.
*Current quests: Why do people love Bruce Springsteen and what is so great about the Talking Heads? So far I have purchased “Born to Run” and two live shows (one from the 80s and one from 1979) to figure out Bruce Springsteen. For the Talking Heads I purchased “Remain in Light.” The jury, for me, is still out on both.