My Top 15 Favourite Albums of All Time
I grew up on indie rock, grunge, and all things alternative. Bands like The Strokes, Nirvana, LCD Soundsystem, and Gorillaz made up the soundtrack to my childhood. By the time I was a teenager, I was introduced to hip hop, with groups like A Tribe Called Quest and MCs such as MF DOOM becoming my everyday listening. After that, over these past few years, I’ve explored so much music that it feels wrong to label myself a hip hop head or a rocker, because every genre has so much to offer. Of all the music I’ve come to love, in this article I’ll list the fifteen albums that have resonated with me most.
But before I get into my absolute favourites, I’ll list a handful of honourable mentions I love almost as much as the rest.
· A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders: the group’s third LP is another jazz rap masterpiece with an infectious summery sound and some of the best chemistry Phife and Q-Tip ever had.
· Gang Starr – Moment of Truth: with a solid case for the best-produced album in rap history, this record is DJ Premier’s hypnotic brand of boom bap perfected, with so many standout verses from Guru.
· LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver: an album I’ve known my whole life, James Murphy’s theatrical vocals work perfectly over this intricate blend of dance, punk, and rock aesthetics.
· Gorillaz – Plastic Beach: from the addictive electropop production to the diverse feature list, this is Gorillaz at their most creative and original, and will forever be the most nostalgic album for me.
· Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): there are amazing solo albums from each member of the Wu, but for me personally, the group are at their strongest working as a unit, and every MC has his moment to shine on 36 Chambers.
· Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein: perhaps the finest display of lyricism on any hip hop album, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega blow me away every time with their layers upon layers of metaphors, and the impeccable El-P production makes it even greater.
· Donuts by J Dilla, In a Silent Way by Miles Davis, Mercurial World by Magdalena Bay, RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé, Smiling with No Teeth by Genesis Owusu, and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic by King Crimson are just a few more that were close to making the list. If you would like my extended thoughts on any of them, feel free to contact me on my Twitter (@BowieDOOM) or Instagram (doombox_music). Without any further delay, here are my fifteen favourite albums of all time.
15. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion (2015) [Dance-Pop]
Carly Rae Jepsen’s popularity may have peaked with 2012’s “Call Me Maybe”, but her artistic peak didn’t come until 2015, when she released Emotion, one of the most consistently brilliant pop albums ever made. In every regard, Carly perfects the modern pop formula, with a crisp dance-pop sound borrowing the groove from ‘80s pop but with a modern flourish to keep its sound timeless. From the triumphant horns which open up the album on “Run Away With Me” to the hypnotic synth passages on “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”, the production is intricately layered while remaining undeniably catchy. Carly herself is a stellar vocalist whose strong, emotive voice rises above the dense production to deliver some of the most impassioned verses and addictive choruses in pop history. No album makes me feel as motivated and energetic as Emotion, a masterclass in pop that never sacrifices personality and substance to make a quick hit.
14. Converge – Jane Doe (2001) [Metalcore]
Although I grew up on rock music, I’ve always been a stranger to metal, and when it comes to harsh, screaming vocals, I usually try and avoid them. However, the first time I heard Jane Doe, I was entranced. The vocals are loud – screaming to the point that words mesh together into these wild, unintelligible wails of anguish – but they are the farthest thing from obnoxious. Instead of being loud for the sake of it, Jacob Bannon uses the raw strength of his voice to convey more heartache and pain than any words could. His despairing yells match perfectly to the roaring guitars and crunching drums which make up the unapologetically brutal soundscape of Jane Doe. There are no full lyrics to read, but the few verses that are available from the liner notes of the album display these delicate, poetic stanzas where Jacob explores the turmoil of a breakup. The cryptic poetry of the lyrics starkly contrast against the unhinged screaming from the vocalist, as if paralleling how one’s thoughts turn to speech, filtered through layers of rage, grief, and misery. The abrasive sound of Jane Doe may not be for everyone, but for me, it is a mesmerizingly beautiful record.
13. Nas – Illmatic (1994) [East Coast Hip Hop]
Often hailed as the best rap album of all time, Illmatic deserves every modicum of praise it receives. Nas showcases some of the most energetic flows and complex rhyme schemes I have ever heard, exuding such a confidence with every bar like he’s fully aware of his own brilliance. More than just an engaging rhymer, Nas’s vivid storytelling ability immerses me in the world of every tale, capturing the tension of an action film on “N.Y. State of Mind” where his detailed stories of the gritty streets of New York are told over some hard-hitting boom bap from DJ Premier. In ten tight tracks, Nas asserts himself as one of the best rappers to ever grace the microphone, perfectly balancing complex lyrical ability with straightforward rapping skill. With DJ Premier, Pete Rock and more on production, each song sounds unique, but the gritty essence of the East Coast permeates through every one thanks to Nas’s ferocious performance. In every regard – whether it be lyrics, flow, delivery, production – Illmatic is one of the best rap albums ever released.
12. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly (1972) [Chicago Soul]
An underappreciated legend of soul, Curtis Mayfield deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Stevie Wonder and James Brown. Superfly is the soundtrack to the film of the same name. With themes of crime, drugs, and poverty, Curtis takes components of the film’s messaging and injects some soul, allowing those ideas to fully blossom into these rich, warm, thematically tight songs which come together to form a cohesive masterpiece. The instrumentation of the album is magnificent, with the blaring horns, shimmering strings, and funky bass fusing into this grand, cinematic soundscape. There are moments of tension like on “Junkie Chase”, then bright, triumphant passages like on the title track, flowing as a film would while perfecting all the summery conventions of Chicago soul. Curtis’s voice is fantastic, providing these strong, tenor vocals and the occasional falsetto to harmonise with the intensity of the production. Immaculately produced and performed, Superfly is my favourite soundtrack of all time.
11. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) [Jazz Rap]
This album has been dissected to death, so there’s little I can say to praise To Pimp a Butterfly that hasn’t already been reiterated time and time again. The first time I heard it, I fell in love with its lush jazz soundscape and the variety of flows Kendrick provides, and with each subsequent listen, I adore it even more. Kendrick’s lyricism is some of the best I’ve heard in any music, using the intricate rhyming techniques that make hip hop special with a remarkable level of depth to every bar. In his storytelling, his critiques of society, his self-reflection – any theme Kendrick tackles, he explores in vivid detail, but the heavy subject matter never comes off as overwhelming thanks to the limitless different flows, cadences, and deliveries he provides. On some tracks he’ll make his voice higher, or raspier, or angrier, warping his tone to the point he sounds like a completely different rapper. In every respect, To Pimp a Butterfly is hip hop at its finest, and while I don’t revisit it often, I never forget its brilliance.
10. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973) [Jazz-Funk]
My favourite jazz album, in only four songs, Head Hunters is one of the most rewarding and awestriking listens I have ever had. The album opens up with “Chameleon”, and within the first second the listener is introduced to this irresistible bass-synth line. As the bassline repeats, layers of drums and hi-hats are sprinkled over it, the saxophone eases in after that, and then the whole thing breaks down to make way for an ever-evolving keyboard solo. Building up these rich walls of sound only to demolish them and build over the rubble is the essence of Head Hunters. Whether it be the fast-paced chaos of “Sly” or the languid flow of instrumentation on the closer “Vein Melter”, the band acts as one, with the drums always complementing the bass, the bass complementing the keys, and so on. Head Hunters is as packed with detail as any amazing jazz album, but the infectious funk sound laced into the jazz keeps me coming back more than any other record in the genre.
9. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001) [French House]
The album cover of Discovery perfectly encapsulates the record’s brilliance. It first appears to be no more than the band’s name in silver text, but with a closer look, one can see that there are infinite layers of chromatic colour hidden underneath. This acts as a metaphor for the songs on Discovery: with one listen, they merely sound like danceable house tracks, but buried under its catchy melodies and disco grooves are boundless layers of samples, amalgamated into a seamlessly flowing dance album. On a technical level, Discovery is among the most impressive albums ever, with sounds borrowed from hundreds of tracks, spliced together into detailed waves of electronica. Songs like “One More Time” and “Face to Face” are irresistible just from the vocals alone, but add the pulsing electronic production and myriad layers of sampling, and they make for some of the best house tracks ever made. Even the more ambient cuts are phenomenal, with the cold interlude “Nightvision” offering the listener a much-needed moment to breathe, cooling them down after the vibrancy of “Crescendolls” and preparing them for the unending shimmer of synths on “Superheroes”. From front to back, Discovery is among the catchiest albums I know, with addictive melodies to draw me in for a casual listen and an otherworldly level of detail that leaves me in awe every time.
8. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) [Glam Rock]
Ziggy Stardust is David Bowie at his most imaginative and passionate. The album follows the theatrical tale of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rockstar whose arrogance costs him his fame as the apocalypse draws near. Not every song ties directly into the concept of the record, but the glittering glam rock instrumentation and operatic performance from Bowie on each song sews the tracklist together into a cohesive masterpiece. “Five Years” is among my favourite rock songs ever – the gentle drums fade in, with swirls of guitar and strings slowly taking prominence until the track erupts into this glorious crescendo where Bowie’s euphoric chants of “Five years!” sound just as powerful as his instrumental backing. Masterful songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and “Moonage Daydream” are similarly grand, but even the less epic cuts such as “Lady Stardust” and “Hang on to Yourself” are fantastic, showcasing such densely layered instrumentation in every moment of the album. In just under forty minutes, Bowie captures all the vibrance, beauty, and detail that make glam rock so incredible, crafting one of the most cohesive and memorable concepts in music history.
7. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service (2016) [Jazz Rap]
For a long time, I considered We got it from Here my favourite album, and despite it moving down on my list, my love for the record has never changed. Considering all the troubles A Tribe Called Quest had in the making of this album, it should have ended up a disaster, but the result is a modern hip hop essential and a beautiful fusion of classic and contemporary rap music. Initially framed as a comeback eighteen years after The Love Movement, the album quickly changed course as co-frontman Phife Dawg passed away, turning We got it from Here into a hip hop memorial. Phife has verses here and there, bouncing off Q-Tip with the same joyful chemistry that made Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory so magical, but even when he’s absent, his importance is never forgotten. On “Black Spasmodic”, Q-Tip raps as if Phife’s spirit has possessed him, using the mic to let Tip know everything will be alright without him. On “Lost Somebody”, the band pays tribute to their fallen brother, reminiscing on poignant memories. Rapping with an arsenal of flexible flows and cadences, Q-Tip sounds more alive than ever, gliding over the gorgeous jazz rap beats that capture the same colour as Tribe’s classics. Guests from Kendrick Lamar to Busta Rhymes all deliver fantastic verses, with no feature unwarranted and no performance lacking. From its political messaging to the elegant tributes to Phife Dawg, We got it from Here is A Tribe Called Quest at their most emotionally potent and sonically stunning.
6. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life (1976) [Soul]
Words can’t do justice the brilliance of Songs in the Key of Life. Running at an almost two-hour runtime, the album is a nonstop barrage of soulful perfection, with every detail down to the last note executed flawlessly. Stevie, of course, is a fantastic vocalist – you can hear his smile as he belts his words, evoking so much happiness made even more effective by the summery instrumentation that swirls around his voice. The album opens with the meticulously crafted “Love’s In Need of Love Today”, capturing in just seven minutes what makes the entire ninety-five minute album so wonderful. His voice is so strong and emotive, heightened by the backing vocalists and slowly building funk production which rises into an uplifting climax. The first leg of the record is slow and patient, acting almost as a prelude to hook the listener in before the jazz-funk track “Contusion” transitions the listener into the upbeat heart of the soul masterpiece. Some complain that the album is somewhat drawn out and bloated, but personally, I think every minute is justified. With gorgeous production, remarkably consistent vocals and a tracklist that never loses steam, Songs in the Key of Life is the best soul album of all time.
5. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013) [Alternative Rock]
After frontman Josh Homme suffered surgery complications, he died on the operating table, but was brought back to life by his doctors. Cursed by a coma and bedbound for months, Josh was at his lowest point, and Like Clockwork is the product of that misery. Unlike some who would view their revival from death as a miracle, Josh uses Like Clockwork to reflect on his depressive thoughts, fearing what parts of himself he lost in his death and questioning his capability to fully live again. The album is the culmination of all Josh’s suffering, and the result is a despairing masterpiece. Matching his hopeless lyrics, the instrumentation is dark, full of revving guitar and explosive drums which harmonise with Homme’s despondent vocals. To point out any individual track to praise would be a pointless task because every song shares the same qualities. From beginning to end, Like Clockwork is an expertly written exploration of depression and death, with Homme’s powerful, dejected voice amplifying the emotion of each song. The production is equally grim, with those waning flashes of brightness in the tracklist as short-lived as they were for Homme as he lay in his bed, fully immersing the listener in a state of misery parallel to his.
4. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1973) [Glam Rock]
Aladdin Sane builds on the colourful glam rock that made Ziggy Stardust so brilliant, but instead of merely regurgitating the same ideas, this record is a warped, dark evolution of its predecessor. The guitars growl, the drums shatter, the piano screams with every note – Aladdin Sane is glam rock at its most unpredictable and hard, corrupted by Bowie’s growing despair as he was exposed to a world of hedonism on tour. Dropping the theatrics that made Ziggy Stardust a histrionic masterpiece, Aladdin Sane is raw, raunchy, and unapologetically loud, reflecting cynical themes of alienation, sex, and drugs. It may not be as cohesive as its predecessor, but the album’s highlights place it a rank above Ziggy Stardust, with the crazed piano solo on “Aladdin Sane” and the manic ripple of hard rock sounds on “Time” making for some of Bowie’s greatest moments. Building these thick, swirling storms of rock instrumentation, each song is dense in detail, but Bowie’s rabid vocals always rise to prominence. Starting off with the sparkling glamour of “Watch That Man” and ending with the ethereal beauty of “Lady Grinning Soul”, Bowie squeezes every idea out of glam rock, forging his most exciting and abrasive album.
3. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991) [Jazz Rap]
This is my favourite album of the ‘90s. A Tribe Called Quest had proven their skills on their rustic debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, but on The Low End Theory, they perfected jazz rap, encapsulating everything wonderful about hip hop. The production is timeless, with crisp jazz samples chopped up and glued together with punching boom bap drums. The bassline on “Excursions” hooks me into the record immediately, and the euphoric basslines persist throughout the whole album, with those on “Buggin’ Out”, “Rap Promoter” and “Butter” looping in my head for hours. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg have the best chemistry I’ve heard in any rap album, hyping one another up and swapping rhymes while levitating over the infectious, groovy beats. The lyrics are just as colourful as the production, bordering on nonsensical at some points and coming off as oddly profound at other moments. From the slick instrumentals to the carefree performances, every aspect of The Low End Theory is rap music at its most vibrant, fun, and cohesive. No album makes me smile like this one.
2. Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004) [Abstract Hip Hop]
When I first fell in love with hip hop, there were three artists I gravitated towards most: A Tribe Called Quest, Run the Jewels, and MF DOOM. The first time I heard the supervillain was in the song “November Has Come” by Gorillaz years prior, but the first time I went out of my way to listen to him was when I discovered Madvillainy. Years on from my initial listen, it still holds up as the greatest rap album I have ever heard. DOOM’s rapping ability entrances me like no other MC, stacking rhymes on top of rhymes to forge these tongue-twisting bars as rich in meaning as they are in double entendre. Packing every line full of multisyllabic rhymes, internal rhymes, double meanings, triple meanings – DOOM unlocked the full potential of lyricism on Madvillainy, delivering some of the greatest verses in rap history on almost every song. His hoarse, husky tone is such a contrast from the light-hearted delivery he offered on his previous works, but this darker style fits perfectly with the twisted, disjointed production from Madlib. The whole project sounds rustic and dirty, with a record store’s worth of samples chopped up, mixed together, and weaved into beats by the dusty percussion. There is no point in picking my favourites because every song is a favourite of mine. DOOM’s erudite technical skill coupled with Madlib’s magical ability to stitch together samples make for the perfect combination, embodying hip hop in its highest form.
1. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? (2020) [Dance-Pop]
I adored What’s Your Pleasure? from the moment I first heard it back in 2020, but it was only after seeing Jessie Ware perform the record live in 2022 that I realised it is my favourite album of all time. Borrowing elements from ‘80s popular music and modernising them, the album is a euphoric fusion of disco, dance, and pop, with the occasional R&B flourish. What’s Your Pleasure? revolves around themes of romance and seduction. Although the subject matter is nothing original for the genre, Jessie’s elegant sense of writing elevates those feelings of romance to new heights, articulating her love in such a poetic manner. Her commanding voice dominates the more theatrical cuts like the blossom of orchestral sounds on “Spotlight” and the uplifting closer “Remember Where You Are”, conveying an unparalleled level of passion. The remaining songs lean more into the realm of dance-pop, with an emphasis on rippling basslines, chirping synths and electric guitar. There are so many details in each instrumental, with elements ebbing and flowing in and out of earshot as Jessie’s intimate, alluring, half-whispered vocals take centre stage. The choruses throughout the record are hypnotic, and the verses maintain that sense of pop euphoria, with Jessie reciting poetic verses with a charm and finesse that hooks me on every word. Infectiously catchy and beautifully written, every song blows me away with Jessie’s seamless ability to balance irresistible pop catchiness with intricately detailed compositions. Capturing me like no album ever has, never ceasing to amaze me, I can confidently say that What’s Your Pleasure? is my favourite album of all time.
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