My Favorite Albums by Year

  • 1955 - Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours
  • 1956 - Frank Sinatra - Songs for Swingin' Lovers
  • 1957 - Count Basie - The Complete Atomic Basie
  • 1958 - Buddy Holly - Buddy Holly
  • 1959 - Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
  • 1960 - Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
  • 1961 - Etta James - At Last!
  • 1962 - Ray Charles - Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
  • 1963 – Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady [James Brown - Live at the Apollo; Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan]
  • 1964 – Bob Dylan - Another Side of Bob Dylan
  • 1965 – Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited [Otis Redding - Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul; Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home]
  • 1966 – Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde [Beatles - Revolver]
  • 1967 – Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band [Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground and Nico]
  • 1968 – Beatles - The White Album [Frank Zappa - We're Only In It For the Money; Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison]
  • 1969 – Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica [Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground; Tim Buckley - Happy Sad]
  • 1970 – Van Morrison - Moondance [Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory]
  • 1971 – The Who - Who's Next [Led Zeppelin - IV; Joni Mitchell - Blue]
  • 1972 – Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street [Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything?; David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars]
  • 1973 – David Bowie - Aladdin Sane [Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy]
  • 1974 – Van Morrison - It's Too Late to Stop Now [Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark]
  • 1975 – Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run [Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks; Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti]
  • 1976 – Modern Lovers - Modern Lovers [David Bowie - Station to Station]
  • 1977 – Television – Marquee Moon [The Clash - The Clash]
  • 1978 – Funkadelic - One Nation Under a Groove [Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town]
  • 1979 – The Clash - London Calling [Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady; Graham Parker - Squeezing Out Sparks]
  • 1980 – Pretenders - Pretenders [Bruce Springsteen - The River; Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables]
  • 1981 – Elvis Costello - Trust
  • 1982 – Richard & Linda Thompson - Shoot Out the Lights [ABC - Lexicon of Love]
  • 1983 – REM - Murmur [Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones]
  • 1984 – Minutemen - Double Nickels on the Dime [Prince - Purple Rain]
  • 1985 – Tom Waits - Rain Dogs [The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash; Prefab Sprout - Two Wheels Good]
  • 1986 – The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead [XTC - Skylarking]
  • 1987 – U2 - The Joshua Tree [Sonic Youth - Sister; REM - Document]
  • 1988 – Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation [The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God; Pixies - Surfer Rosa]
  • 1989 – Pixies - Doolittle [The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses; They Might Be Giants - Lincoln]
  • 1990 – World Party – Goodbye Jumbo [They Might Be Giants - Flood]
  • 1991 – REM - Out of Time [Nirvana - Nevermind; U2 – Achtung Baby]
  • 1992 – REM - Automatic for the People [Adam Again – Dig; Mark Heard - Satellite Sky]
  • 1993 – Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville [Flaming Lips - Transmissions from the Satellite Heart; Dan Bern - Dan Bern]
  • 1994 – Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain [Blur - Parklife; They Might Be Giants - John Henry]
  • 1995 – Pulp - Different Class [Radiohead - The Bends; Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five]
  • 1996 – Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister [Super Furry Animals - Fuzzy Logic; Barenaked Ladies - Rock Spectacle]
  • 1997 – Ween - The Mollusk [Ben Folds Five - Whatever and Ever Amen; The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Let's Face It]
  • 1998 – Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Under the Sea [The Afghan Whigs - 1965; Barenaked Ladies - Stunt]
  • 1999 – XTC – Apple Venus, Pt. 1 [Apples in Stereo - Her Wallpaper Reverie; The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs]
  • 2000 – The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic [Outkast - Stankonia; Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica]
  • 2001 – The Strokes - Is This It? [White Stripes – White Blood Cells]
  • 2002 – Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; Spoon - Kill the Moonlight]
  • 2003 – White Stripes - Elephant [The Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Bark; The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow]
  • 2004 - Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat [Arcade Fire - Funeral; Nick Cave - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus]
  • 2005 - The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree [Sufjan Stevens - Come on Feel the Illinoise!]
  • 2006 - Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards [Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies]
  • 2007 - LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver [Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga]
  • 2008 - Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue [Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend]
  • 2009 - Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca [Todd Snider - The Excitement Plan]
  • 2010 - Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Arcade Fire - The Suburbs; Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid]
  • 2011 - tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l [Destroyer - Kaputt; Tom Waits - Bad As Me]
  • 2012 - Jack White - Blunderbuss [Frank Ocean - Channel Orange]
  • 2013 - Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City [Kanye West - Yeezus; Janelle Monae - Electric Lady]
  • 2014 - St. Vincent - St. Vincent [Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2]
Author Comments: 

NOTA BENE: Runners-up are in brackets. If I've included two runners-up, the second one is not quite as good as the first, but I like it so much that I couldn't not mention it. I am generally excluding compilations, except compilations where the vast majority of the material did not come from other albums by that one artist, such as Singles Going Steady (which was largely a collection of singles).

You will note that I have finally decided to compare classic rock music with my Holy Trinity of Weird Music (HTOWM): Weird Al Yankovic, Barenaked Ladies, and They Might Be Giants (and Ben Folds Five as a close fourth). In the past, I've been too chicken to do so. After all, take 1985, for example. How can I possibly compare Weird Al's Dare to Be Stupid with Prefab Sprout's Two Wheels Good? Dare to be Stupid has given me loads of glee at the parody humor from my childhood to my, er, teenhood. Two Wheels Good has just given me Faron Young four in the morning. But of course, the latter is certainly a better and more substantive album.

If there's an album on here and you're wondering about its placement, ask me. If there's an album you think I've heard and you're wondering about its absence, ask me. If there's an album you think I've haven't heard and you want to recommend it, feel free, but I'm going to ask that you do so here. Thanks. All other comments welcome too.

Ah, see? Pressure is good. It aids creativity;)

It is very late, and I am not thinking particularly straight at the moment, so I will only make a couple of comments for now. First of all, I can't believe you with your Singles Going Steady! I love, love, love that comp/album/whatever, but decided to exclude it (a decision which truly hurt). Well, I admire you for including it; I wish I had, but I was straightjacketed by my obsession for "rules," even if there is no real reason to exclude Singles.

Secondly, is At San Quentin your favorite Johnny Cash? How would you compare it to Folsom Prison? Maybe the year Folsom came out (67? 68?) there was a lot stronger competition?

More to come, but perhaps not until Saturday or Sunday. Spring Break is this coming week, and I will be making a way-too-long 12 1/2 hour drive back to Houston tomorrow. But at least my parents have internet access!

Johnny Waco (who ordered Blueberry Boat just tonight!)

You are dead-on with your comments about Johnny Cash. I like At Folsom Prison better, but that had to contend with my favorite Beatles album and my favorite Frank Zappa album. 1969, however, brought my favorite Velvet Underground album, but no really strong runner-up... well, I guess I could've gone with the Band, but I wanted to get the Man in Black up there somewhere. I do like At San Quentin a hell of a lot, though.

And I love, love, love Singles Going Steady too.

Good luck with Blueberry Boat! It's probably not for everyone, but I suspect you'll get a kick out of it.

OK, halfway across the country, rested, and time for some more observations/questions. I must have been loopy when I posted since I now see I asked you about two runners-up and not about any of your first choices!

You're obviously a big Springsteen fan; did Nebraska ever enter into consideration? I'm not as much into him, but Nebraska is definitely my favorite of his.

Does Zappa have any relationship to your HTOWM? Perhaps you could move backwards from a Christian/Trinity conception to a pagan/Pantheon set-up. Zappa could even be the Zeus to the others. How would you compare Freak Out! to We're Only in It for the Money?

I see you ran into the same problem with The Pixies' albums: always a bridesmaid, never a bride (sniff)...

And I've been on the ellipses bandwagon for a long time. When will the rest of the world wake up?

Johnny Waco...

I must confess, while I like Nebraska, I don't like it as much as a handful of other Springsteen albums. I like the epic, multi-layered, good old rock 'n' roll of Born to Run better than the ballads of Nebraska. Great songwriting, but I find the album harder to personally enjoy.

That surely makes this list an issue of "favorite" rather than "best" (I'm not sure if you make this distinction, but I do), so perhaps I will change it.

Zappa was certainly a tremendous influence on the HTOWM, but I didn't get into his music until a little later in life, when I started digging into classic rock, so I don't feel the same way towards him as I do towards the others. There was a certain point in my life when it was just Weird Al, TMBG, and BNL. I like Freak Out!, but I think sometimes it seems to be just scratching the surface of musical absurdity - bending the rules rather than all-out breaking them and then urinating on them, like WOIIFTM does.

It's a shame the Pixies released their best albums in years with such strong front-runners (granted, our front-runners are totally different). In fact, I also hated leaving off Come on Pilgrim - it is a very close fourth in 1987...

Thanks for your comments!

By the way, anyone have any recommendations for 1981?

Two words: Foreigner 4 !

If that doesn't work: Journey Escape !

A few more, if those masterpieces don't move ya :) :

The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
Steve Winwood - Arc of a Diver
Gun Club - Fire of Love
The dB's - Stands for Decibels
The Wipers - Youth of America
The Go-Go's - Beauty and the Beat
Squeeze - East Side Story
Rick Springfield - Working Class Dog (Duck!)

Naturally, Trust , but, ah, well.

You ask a difficult favor...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

What he said!

And a few more:

Wild Gift - X
Ghost In The Machine - The Police
Give The People What They Want - The Kinks
Damaged - Black Flag
Sandinista! - The Clash
Dare! - The Human League
Wha'ppen? - The English Beat
The Pretenders II - The Pretenders
The Blue Mask - Lou Reed
The Plimsouls - The Plimsouls

And if those don't hold up....

Paradise Theater - Styx

Imposter, rockin' the paradise tonight

How in the whole wide bleedin' world did I miss Dare! ?

I'm walking to the corner as I speak...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks guys! Dare! is already on my 50 albums to buy list. Maybe some others will find their way on there soon enough.

Ah, delicious list for such an early Friday morning!

I might have to add more than one runner-up for some years. I'm thrilled to find Who's Next at 71, and I'm so sad it barely didn't find a spot on my list (stupid Joni and Rod...).

If only The Who would have released its masterpieces in *bad* years. If I included comps, surely ol' Meaty could've found a spot.

I usually hate it when people settle for ties, but who in the world can throw a stone because of 1975? It is a shame to have to pick between Dylan and Springsteen at their finest.

I rather hope I've helped hook you on Adam Again and Mark Heard, and not on CCM in general. It is a genre largely full of dreck, despite the bright stars (who most CCM fans have never heard of!).

I'm especially glad to see Prefab on here. I think they were another victim of my "if I only put one more runner-up on that year" syndrome. (Stupid Waits and the Mary Chain...)

Mates of State? I see I still have much learning to do. I see a trip to Amazon in my near future; thanks!

I love this list! Thanks for caving to peer pressure!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Yeah, 1971 is such a strong year. I'm sad I had to exclude Blue. And Hunky Dory. And Sticky Fingers. And...

Ditto 1975. Both of those albums are so brilliant. And I had to leave off Horses too...

Yeah, it's just Adam Again and Mark Heard. I just liked the irony of me loving CCM. And I also like ending statements with ellipses...

If you like Team Boo, thank AAA, not me. He got me hooked on Mates of State a little while back. I think it's a fantastic album.

Thanks for the kind words!

Thanks for the list!

I will investigate Team Boo; if I dig it, I will thank the both of yas.

Ellipses are so cool. I'm leading them to a comeback in the English language...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

"This is the first time ever that I've bought my first album of the year before I've watched my first movie of the year. Not long ago, I would think that would be unheard-of." Really? January & February usually suck for movies. The last January or February wide release I really wanted to see was Shanghai Knights in 2003, which I knew wouldn't be a good movie anyway.

I agree, the early months do usually suck. But it's only recently that I started (1) avoiding dreck in the movie theaters and (2) getting into great contemporary music. Even given that #2 occurred before last year, in 2004 I waited until a little later to see which albums the critical acclaim was centering on. I didn't buy my first 2004 album until July 15th - and that shouldn't even count, since it was They Might Be Giants' latest effort. After that, I bought 2004 albums on July 24th, August 4th - and after that, not until October 26th.

Yay, the first"Best Rock Albums" list here to include Flood, I'ma lmost certain. Good on you! :)

Particularly agree with your 1980 through 1996 choices too, all good.

Thanks! Glad you agree with these great albums!

i'm glad you like the modern lovers so much!
(and, ya know, all of the other great music on this list...)

Did you include Dare! because it's the only one you've heard, or did you really love it? It's an album I've considered picking up for awhile, so I'm curious.

Johnny Waco

I don't really love it, but I do like it a lot, and to be fair, I have only listened to it once, so I should definitely give it another listen or two before I make any definitive statements. It's pretty expensive even if you order it online though, and I'm not sure if it's worth the price, but I do think it's worth picking up.

I recently posted the following statement in 2006 on this list: I changed my mind about this year; I don't really feel ready to make picks for it. I'm conflicted, not because I think it was a stellar year for music, but there are a lot of albums I like in approximately equal amounts, and for some reason the year is full of albums that are fairly new to me or ones that I just haven't listened to a whole lot. In the end, the choice will probably be some combination of: Decemberists - The Crane Wife, Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies, Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere, The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America, Joanna Newsom - Ys, TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain, and Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.

In the end, the winner was... none of them.

I listened to a lot of 2006 albums again, some multiple times, and ultimately every pick had some problem with it. It was either an album that clearly showed great artistry but didn't really hook me (Return to Cookie Mountain, Ys), or was uneven (The Crane Wife), or some combination of the two. I was prepared to pick whichever one suffered least from these problems, when I relistened to Tom Waits's Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards, and really fell in love with that album. It's a massive work, over three hours long, bursting with ideas, and while some songs are better than others, no song feels like just filler, amazingly enough. Waits proves he can still write catchy, passionate music, and the end result is the natural choice for my favorite album of 2006.

As for the runners-up, Destroyer's Rubies is a little distancing but grabs me more than most, and Boys and Girls in America is a little uneven but still has a higher overall quality than most.

All just my opinion, of course.