Top 477 Albums | An Overview

The Purpose

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.

The Criteria

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.

The Methodology

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.

The Criticism

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!

The Goal

I have no goal for this. I’ve been wanting to make a list of my top albums and I did.

The Hopes

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.

Top 12 Christmas Albums Part 4: The Top Four!

I took my 64 Christmas albums and separated them into the two categories of “This might be in my top 12” and “Nah” and then ranked them all.

Welcome to the top 4:

04-ShawnLee

#4

Artist: Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra

Album: A Very Ping Pong Christmas

I can’t remember how I came across this album but I know for a fact that it was the drums that initially drew me in. The percussion on this album is so strong not only in the groove but the tone.  Every song is essentially a break beat.

This album is all over the map but it remains cohesive and touches on so many elements that I can hardly resist when it comes to music: Funky bass, schloopy beats and even a vox-box solo.

I’m just going to lay out some highlights for this one:

  • The organ on “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
  • The horns throughout the album
  • The bass throughout the album
  • The sax meltdown at the end of “Do You Hear What I Hear”
  • The fuzzed out guitar solo on “Deck The Halls”
  • Guitar solo interplaying with the flute on “Carol of the Bells”
  • The staccato rhythm guitar on Silent Night pairs perfectly with the saxophone and evokes an old doo wop feel
  • The talk-box solo on “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
  • At the end of Carol of the Bells there is a guitar solo that for just a moment sounds like it’s going to reference the melody of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” but instead ascends into a complete psyc-out.

This instrumental album (except for a few vocals on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) sounds like a soundtrack to a movie. I say it would be a perfect soundtrack for every groovy moment you have this Christmas season.

3-VGTrio-Recovered

#3

Artist: Vince Guaraldi Trio

Album: A Charlie Brown Christmas

My parents have a Christmas decoration that is Snoopy and Woodstock with a little piano resting on some fake snow.  When you press a button it cycles through three short samples from this album. As soon as this decoration makes its appearance during the holidays it is irresistible to children. Every child that walks by has to press it until it plays “Linus and Lucy” and, once it starts, they spontaneously start laughing and dancing. I don’t know a better way to describe the timeless joy, energy, appeal and beauty of this album.

It has incredible nostalgia factor. It’s mostly peaceful, sit-in-front-of-the-Christmas-tree and enjoy life music with some upbeat tunes mixed in. The interplay between the trio is so dynamic.

Personal favorite track: “Skating.”

02-bad-religion

#2

Artist: Bad Religion

Album: Christmas Songs

Really the only downside to Christmas music is I like the majority of my music fast and heavy. Punk, metal, etc. Unfortunately those genres are simply anemic when it comes to holiday music.

Imagine my joy and surprise when Bad Religion released a Christmas album.

Things got even crazier when I bought it and realized 1. It’s completely un-ironic and 2. It has one of the highest Christ centered songs to “holiday” songs ratios of any of my Christmas albums. Literally every song is a carol except for their spin on the Ramones version of “White Christmas” and the last track, “American Jesus.”

This album has received the most play time of all Christmas albums in my home since it came out. If we get bored with a Christmas album, we switch to Bad Religion. If the music is too slow, we switch to Bad Religion.

Greg Graffin, one of the greatest voices in punk rock, starts the album with an a cappella chorus of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” the band rages in immediately after and the album never lets up. They stay faithful to the melodies but slip in some great guitar solos (see the end of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” for a blazing, to the point example).

In Ephesians 3:20 it says “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” and this album was literally something I could have never imagined would have happened but I’m so glad it did.

01-Sufjan-Combined#1

Artist: Sufjan Stevens

Album: Songs for Christmas, Silver & Gold

It was really close between Sufjan Stevens and Bad Religion but Sufjan wins due to sheer volume and variety. Each of these albums is a 5 EP box set that comes with scores of added goodies. Between the two sets you’ll find extras such as a fold-it-yourself paper star ornament, stickers, temporary tattoos, a poster, essays, a short story by Stevens, chord charts, lyrics, a comic strip, a family portrait poster, photos, and an animated video. “Songs for Christmas” has a 42-page booklet with an original Christmas essay by acclaimed American novelist Ricky Moody and “Silver & Gold” has an 80 page booklet.

Schizophrenically switching from stripped down, beautiful, delicate melodies and organic instrumentation to glitchy, electronic madness these albums genre bend and the listener is the winner.

Like a perfectly balanced mix-tape, the energy levels and instrumentation provide the listener with a holiday music roller coaster.

I love the variety of Christmas music that is out there from traditional to original tunes; from classic to modern arrangements and, I suppose, what makes these two albums top my list is that you can find all of that variety encapsulated in each one.

Happy listening and Merry Christmas!

All images from the Cover Art Archive except Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Christmas from Discogs.

Top 12 Christmas Albums Part 3: Eight Through Five

I took my 64 Christmas albums and separated them into the two categories of “This might be in my top 12” and “Nah” and then ranked them all. Seventeen made the cut. I ranked those 17 and came up with my top twelve. The last post started the top 12. Here are albums eight through five…

08-Crowder-Oh-For-Joy

#8

Artist: David Crowder Band

Album: Oh For Joy

I like the blend of musical genres including the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) country influence that you hear so strongly in Crowder’s solo work. This album is one that the whole family loves and it has a nice live version of a heavy “Carol of the Bells.” (Extra credit for their Nutcracker cover.)

07-brubeck-Christmas

#7

Artist: Dave Brubeck

Album: A Dave Brubeck Christmas

There was this strange period of time a few years back where I found out about Dave Brubeck and subsequently bought 7 of his albums over the course of about two weeks. I just couldn’t stop! (Now five of them came together in an excellent “Classic Albums” pack so don’t think I went too crazy.) I honestly can’t recall how I heard about him but I bought one album and loved it: the interplay between him and his band and their propensity towards odd time signatures. When I found out there was a Dave Brubeck Christmas album, that had to be bought as well. This album is just him solo and there is a certain peace and calm that comes with that. This album is perfect for sitting in front of the Christmas tree with only the Christmas lights on.

06-joy-electric

#6

Artist: Joy Electric

Album: The Magic of Christmas

I have never heard another band that sounds like Joy Electric. If there is 1. Tell me about them so I can buy all of their albums too and 2. I doubt the band you are mentioning played most of their shows opening for punk bands like Joy Electric did. (That’s another story… Explained in the documentary “The Joy Electric Picture Book.”)

This album is sweet. I was walking in Trader Joe’s the other day and remembering just how much freakin’ treats and candy they sell during this time of year. This album is, like, all of that sugar personified in song. But better. I love the version of “Winter Wonderland” and it’s also one of my favorite versions of “Frosty the Snowman” because this album really brings the thumpetity-thump-thump.

05-8bittylerlarson

#5

Artist: Tyler Larson

Album: The 8bit Hymnal 2 (Christmas)

This album is so fantastic. Larson did an amazing job programming these 8-bit songs. I love that he honored and kept the melody of the Christmas songs during all the choruses and verses but he slips in other melodies for the interludes. (Side note: Why do so many people insist on singing “Angels We Have Heard On High” and omitting the “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ria” part? I’m not a fan of that trend.) This album is so fun. The kids love it because they think it’s a Super Mario Christmas album.

The best thing is… This album is free. Head over to this page on  NoiseTrade and for giving them your email and zip code, it’s yours to download.

Coming up… The top four!

All album cover images from The Cover Art Archive except Tyler Larson from Noise Trade and David Crowder from Amazon| Featured Image includes Ornament Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash and 45-Record-Adapter by Sean Russell on flickr

Top 12 Christmas Albums Part 2: Twelve Through Nine

I took my 64 Christmas albums and separated them into the two categories of “This might be in my top 12” and “Nah” and then ranked them all. Seventeen made the cut. I ranked those 17 and came up with my top twelve. The last post was the “almost made it” albums but…

Now we are into the top 12! Here are albums 12-9!

12-beachboys

#12

Artist: The Beach Boys

Album: Christmas With The Beach Boys

Most of the time my opinion is: The less original content you put onto your Christmas album the more I like it. But this album is one of the exceptions. There are so many great original songs on this album. It starts off with an incredible strong streak of originals, many of which have become classics.

Right from the top with “Little Saint Nick” the harmonies are, as expected, so catchy and tight. We put this album on last week and my wife started singing the “Bop”s during “The Man With All The Toys” and she said, “I was waiting for that!” You know it’s something special when even the background vocals are something you look forward to.

Even one of my least favorite tracks (“Christmas Day”) has a redemptive & groovy organ solo.

11-family-force

#11

Artist: Family Force 5

Album: Christmas Pageant

This album has a great blending of newer production (read: autotune) and classic songs. It’s one of the albums that has something for the kids and the parents like it too.

10-Christmas-Cocktails

#10

Artist: Ultra Lounge (Various Artists)

Album: Christmas Cocktails

In the mid-nineties I picked up the album “Life” by the Cardigans. I had never heard songs like that before. It was touted as kind of a lounge-concept-album so I promptly went back to the record store and started buying “lounge” albums. When I saw there was a Christmas one, I had to go for it.

Track highlights for me include one of my favorite versions of “Winter Wonderland”, “Cha Cha all the Way” and the swinging version of “The Nutcracker Suite.” It feels like a hipper version of the classic Christmas tunes you hear during this time of year.

09-Christmas-Peace-Elvis

#9

Artist: Elvis Presley

Album: Christmas Peace

This specific album makes it on the list riding two great benefits: Sentiment & Value.

This album is sentimental as the vinyl copy of Elvis’ Christmas album was always resting right below my grandmother’s turntable. So it always got played during Thanksgiving and Christmas thus cementing its connection with family and the holidays.

While my grandmother had “It’s Christmas Time” I’m picking this specific album because of the value. Now that my grandmother is in a home and the holidays have become decentralized from her residence I had to get my own copy and I ended up buying Christmas Peace because you get one disc with every Elvis Christmas song (the “Christmas” disc) and you get a second disc with all of his gospel tunes (the “Peace” disc). So you can listen to “Blue Christmas” when it’s the holidays and then “Amazing Grace” the rest of the year.

Coming up, albums #8-5.

All album cover images from The Cover Art Archive except Family Force 5 from Amazon| Featured Image includes Ornament Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash and 45-Record-Adapter by Sean Russell on flickr