Staff picks: CTR writers choose our 17 favorite albums

Phil Collins - October 12, 2014

How can a lifetime filled with music at every opportunity be boiled down to just 17 top albums? It was not easy, but targeting a number forces the writer to cut it off somewhere. Why 17? 17 is not really any more random than a nice round number like 10 or 20. For this list, I chose the albums that had a big influence on me that I still listen to today. In no particular order, here are my 17 picks:

1. Streetlight Manifesto - Everything Goes Numb (2003)

Ska is not typically known for its complexity. Streetlight Manifesto's debut album embraces the energy of third wave ska while lacing it with sophistication in the music and lyrics. I played this album into the ground during 2007, to the point that I couldn't listen to it for a while after that. Now I can listen to it without it becoming a full on relapse. Everything Goes Numb remains my favorite album by one of my favorite bands.

2. Andrew Jackson Jihad - People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World (2007)

Andrew Jackson Jihad gets a lot of attention on this blog. This album made two out of the three staff picks lists. I am into all the albums this band has released from the mostly acoustic first half of their discography through their transition to full band electric material that leans into indie rock. There is no doubt, however, that People That Can Eat People is the band's masterwork. It has a lot of their biggest hits, from "Brave as a Noun" to "People II: The Reckoning," but there is no filler on this album. Front to back, this is 25 minutes of folk punk at its best.

3. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (2010)

The fact that this album made two out of our three lists and is one of the few albums from this decade to earn a spot on any of our lists speaks to the quality of this work. Titus Andronicus' sophomore album is a masters class in writing. The combination of the Civil War concept material with the modern day sentiments of alienation is seamless. Narration from the words of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and Walt Whitman build on the album's themes. A gaggle of musicians and friends came together to record on this album, including members of The Hold Steady, Vivian Girls, Deer Tick, Wye Oak and more. Among the musicians and recording personnel credited in the album's liner notes, a librarian is listed. It is immediately apparent that a lot of work from a lot of people went into the making of The Monitor. The results: a full package that demands to be listened to in order and without pause.

4. NOFX- The War on Errorism (2003)

If someone asks me what my favorite NOFX album is, I usually say Punk in Drublic. Ultimately, however, no album from the weird Uncles of punk had a bigger influence on me than Errorism. It was my freshman year in college when Danny burned me a copy of this album. During high school, I mostly listened to classic rock and nu-metal. I must have heard at least a few punk albums, but nothing really got through to me. Something about The War on Errorism hit me in a way that punk had not managed to do yet. The political criticisms resonated with me. The hard driving guitar riffs got me going. "We Got Two Jealous Agains" is one of those music fan geek outs that speaks to the importance of music in our lives as a way for us to connect with each other. Yes, the album with "She's Nubs" on it made my top albums of all time list. Shut up.

5. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007)

Here it is, the first choice that falls completely outside the punk universe. Get ready for a few more later. Of Montreal started in the Elephant Six collective, a group of bands including Neutral Milk Hotel and Elf Power, that made music resembling the 60's folk pop aesthetic. The early years of the band's career produced catchy, sweet acoustic songs to happily while away an afternoon. After a few albums, Of Montreal started experimenting with different instruments, plots and asides in their albums. Hissing Fauna, Of Montreal's eighth studio album, completed their transformation into a funky electronic soul train. They continued on this path for the next few albums but never matched the manic elation of Hissing Fauna.

6. Metallica - Master of Puppets (1986)

When I was in grade school, my cousin made me a mixtape (the old-fashioned way) that included songs from Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Metallica and more. That mixtape spelled the end of my primarily listening to kids music and soundtracks. It was the beginning of my listening to rock music and discovering bands. Master of Puppets is one of the many CDs I ended up buying by bands that were on that mixtape. Metallica's first four albums are all classic albums. This is the one that hit me hardest. My hair still stands up when I hear the opening guitar riffs of the title track.

7. Beastie Boys - Hello Nasty (1998)

The Beastie Boys discography is so consistently stellar that my favorite album by the band has changed at least a couple times. I'm sure it was Licensed to Ill at some point. Now it is the hugely influential Paul's Boutique. During the late nineties and early 2000's, it was Hello Nasty. This was the first Beastie Boys album I purchased. It is likely still the one I have listened to the most times. It really only had one big single, the megahit "Intergalactic," but the album is solid front to back. I could have sat there in '98, listening to Hello Nasty and playing Tony Hawk forever.

8. Evil Empire - Does this Genocide Make Me Look Sexy? (2006)

This may be the perfect skacore album, and from a local band! Points all around! Read all about my feelings on Evil Empire here.

9. Weezer - Pinkerton (1996)

Say what you want about Weezer, but there was never any doubt that Pinkerton would make this list. After hitting it big on their first album with clean, poppy hooks, Weezer took some risks with their second album. The guitar parts got crunchier. The lyrics got awkwardly personal. It was not received well when it came out. The band went on hiatus after touring the album and would not release another album for five years (2001's ultra-poppy The Green Album.) Pinkerton, of course, came to be widely viewed as Weezer's most challenging and meaningful work. It may well have spawned the emo explosion in the early 2000's. I'll forgive it. That's how much I like this album.

10. The Beatles - The White Album (1968)

When I was young, all I heard of The Beatles were the boppy British Invasion tunes from their first few albums. They were catchy. I kind of got it. I did not get it. This was the best band of all time? She loves you? Yeah? Yeah? Yeah? When I heard The White Album, I got it. It is an odd album to listen to. The Beatles were growing apart creatively and it shows. This album is stylistically all over the place. The number of genres influenced by this album is staggering. "Revolution 9" surely influenced hip-hop. Hip-hop. There are so many ideas here that the band had to make it a double album. This is not one of those double albums that should have been pared down to the best tracks. The White Album truly deserves your time, in full.

11. Star Fucking Hipsters - Until We're Dead (2008)

Deciding which crack rock steady album should take this slot was not easy. This ultimately won over Leftover Crack's Fuck World Trade and Choking Victim's No Gods, No Managers. I got just as into Until We're Dead. The difference was really the timing. I was a latecomer to Choking Victim and Leftover Crack, but I got into Star Fucking Hipsters right away when they released their debut album. I saw them play at Reggies at the height of my enthusiasm for the band (around the time their second album came out.) Until We're Dead remains one of my go to albums when it's time to rock out.

12. Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)

Going back to double albums and the opposite of punk, The Wall has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It was the first concept album I ever heard. The political and social commentary struck a chord with me. The deranged artwork done for the album and the film probably had as big an influence on me as the music itself.

13. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

Public Enemy is a prime intersection of hip-hop and punk. The two genres are not similar musically, but groups like Public Enemy make it apparent that they have much in common ideologically. The juxtaposition of Chuck D's cerebral, political raps and Flava Flav's constant tomfoolery makes them endlessly entertaining to listen to. "Party For Your Right to Fight," the conclusion of It Takes a Nation of Millions, sees the two rapping the same lines simultaneously. After a full album of the back and forth of the straight man and the jester, the congruence of the two brings fresh satisfaction.

14. Bomb the Music Industry! - Album Minus Band (2005)

The idea of taking a DIY project to friends and working on it together until it turns into something awesome is something that resonates with many of us in this scene. Jeff Rosenstock and Bomb! carried that DIY ethos from day one. Album Minus Band remains my favorite release of theirs, although they went on to put out several great albums and EPs.

15. The Specials - The Specials (1979)

This might have been the first ska album I got into. It is emblematic of the second wave ska revival that happened primarily in the UK in the 70s and 80s. It plays like a greatest hits album. This record in particular was obviously a pretty big influence on many of the ska bands I listen to so much today. Since hearing this album, I have spent a lot of time in record stores looking for anything by The Special AKA (an alternate name they went by.) So far, I have tracked down The Special AKA Live! EP from 1980 as well as the very first 7-inch released on Two Tone Records. It has The Special AKA song "Gangsters" on the A side and a song by The Selecter on the B side.

16. Against Me! - Reinventing Axl Rose (2002)

This is the best album from a band that means a lot to me. The lyrics are powerful. The music is catchy. It packs a punch. Reinventing Axl Rose is an impressive display of everything that was going right for the band in the first part of their career. The biting roughness of this early material was missing from their major label albums. This was why people got so upset when the band went for a broader audience. I am thrilled that Against Me! is back to what they do best with their newest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

17. Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980)

Fresh Fruit is the classic punk album with Jello Biafra as the classic punk frontman. I was lucky enough to see Jello play some of these songs earlier this year with his new band and it felt like I had just crossed a huge item off my bucket list. This is one of the seminal albums of this genre. The influence Jello has had as one of the best performers in punk is evident. Many of the albums on this list would just not exist without Dead Kennedys leading the way.