The Most Essential Albums In Music (Pt. 1)
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
In each entry of this series, I will go through ten albums which I deem to be some of the most essential for any music listener. Therefore, if there is an album here you have not heard, you are certainly missing out on some phenomenal music. These are not necessarily the ten most essential ever; this is merely a fraction of them. In no particular order, here are the first ten albums I would recommend to any fan of music.
1. Daft Punk - Discovery
This could be argued to be the best album in house music. Discovery falls into the sub-genre of 'French house', meaning that it combines elements of house, disco, and funk. The result is one of the most colourful and immersive albums I have ever heard, with dense electronic production combining a range of samples into such smooth and memorable sounds. It's extremely catchy, and with so much detail that fans are still discovering new samples to this day.
2. Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
This classic album is an era-defining masterpiece in psychedelic rock. With engaging lead vocals and catchy guitar work, it's an accessible entry point into rock music, but its instrumentation is far from ordinary. Jimi is an excellent guitarist, showcasing his skills with long and intricate solos across this album. With iconic tracks like 'Voodoo Chile' and the cover of 'All Along the Watchtower', it's an undeniable classic which had such a huge impact on music culture.
3. Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger on McNichols
I don't want this list to consist only of the obvious classics, so I feel it necessary to mention some essential contemporary releases. A great example is Manger on McNichols, a boundary-pushing hip hop album which took over a decade's work to create. The production is grand and theatrical, incorporating such dramatic and layered jazz instrumentation. Boldy's writing is so personal and tragic, and never fails to keep the listener engaged.
4. Michael Jackson - Off the Wall
Michael Jackson is arguably the most iconic figure in music history, and he has his fair share of classic albums. While some may point to Thriller or Bad as his most memorable and hard-hitting releases, Off the Wall is on the same level. The disco production is so intricate and layered, but does not distract from the smooth and soulful vocals from Michael which give the album such a fiery energy. This album encapsulates such a warm and lively atmosphere; it's disco at its finest, and expertly produced.
5. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Illinois is an incredible folk album in which each song describes stories or events relating to the different places or people of Illinois. As a whole, it forms such a satisfying and cohesive experience, but each song individually is just as strong. The production is lavish and summery, with beautiful guitar work and backing vocals which add so much power to Sufjan's words. The bright production is gorgeous, complimented by the soft and elegant vocals from Sufjan.
6. Björk - Vespertine
Vespertine is such a dense and unpredictable experience. There are dark moments with glitchy electronic production, contrasted by uplifting pop tracks where Björk's vocals truly shine. There is such a captivating dichotomy between songs in this album, keeping the listener engaged and immersed in the whimsical atmosphere Björk creates. Björk captures such a creative sound, with moments of serenity followed by passages of distorted production and impassioned vocals.
7. Miles Davis - In a Silent Way
Miles Davis has a range of jazz albums that could be called his best, and a catalogue with more classics than almost any other musician. In a Silent Way is just one of his many masterpieces. Split into two lengthy tracks, the first establishes such a spacious and dark atmosphere like the depths of a cave. The second track is far more lively and emphasises the more wild and experimental elements of jazz fusion that Miles embraced at the time. It's vibrant, atmospheric, and flawless.
8. Curtis Mayfield - Superfly
For fans of Stevie Wonder and Chicago soul, I could not recommend this album more. Superfly combines the funk and groovy elements of Curtis's debut with a more dramatic sound full with swelling strings and blaring horns. This more cinematic approach to production is because Superfly is the soundtrack for a film of the same name. Furthermore, Curtis borrows themes of crime, drug use and freedom from the film in this album, creating such a captivating and cohesive project.
9. Talking Heads - Remain In Light
This is an era-defining punk album full of character and energy. The production is skittish and quick, matching David Byrne's unpredictable energy. The first half of the record is explosive, with track after track being some of punk music's greatest songs. The second half loses this fire in place of a more sombre and dark tone. While the former half is abrasive and loud, the latter half is ambient and slow. This strange dichotomy makes it such an exciting and dynamic listening experience.
10. Nina Simone - Pastel Blues
What I appreciate most about Nina's music is her voice: she has such a unique tone and articulation to her words that sets her apart from any other singer, giving her music so much personality. Pastel Blues is crossover between jazz and soul, with raw soulful vocals over lively jazz production. The two go hand in hand perfectly, with the clear highlight of this record being the epic closer, 'Sinnerman'. It's a jazz and soul classic as stellar as any other. Its short length makes it so enticing to play the whole thing over again once it's finished.