200 Favorite Albums – Author, James Campion’s list.

200 FAVORITE ALBUMS
(no live, best of…, or soundtracks included)

During a symposium for music journalists sponsored by public radio, jc was asked to list his 50 favorite albums of the rock-n-roll era, complete with mini-reviews for the Top Ten. Taken from the original notes rendered in the winter of 1998, jc told jamescampion.com that he reserves the right to update it at anytime, to which he then perused and changed considerably adding 50 more titles in the winter of 2002 and yet another update in the spring of 2009. The most recent of these updates was in the winter of 2022, when it expanded to 200. Nevertheless the list is fairly concrete, and, as usual, open for healthy debate.

Last Updated 2/22

1. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (1975) Captain Fantastic
The ultimate collection from all-time song-writing team, Bernie Taupin and Elton John performed as a trip down English memory lane with one of the most underrated rock bands of the era. Killer opening tune, (title track) and dramatic closer (“Curtains”). A champion of melodies and musicianship, it combines the pomp of 70s’ pop with poetic angst. A flawless effort from artists in their prime.
Highlights: “Bitter Fingers”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Writing”.

2. Quadrophenia – The Who (1973)Quadrophenia
An evolved rock ensemble tackling the essence of its author, Pete Townshend to perfection. The best concept/opera ever set to tape with an anger and sensitivity rarely displayed by artists of this genre. Defines the frustration of youth and its warped dreams of coming to age while offering a tapestry of powerful release and somber beauty.
Highlights: “The Real Me”, “5:15”, “Love Reign O’er Me

3. Exile On Main St. – The Rolling Stones (1972)        Exile on Main St.
The greatest rock-n-roll band in the world at the height of its powers, cranking out musical inspiration with nasty delight. Recorded in a castle basement with the grit of high flying junkie hipsters, it is everything the Stones did well in every stage of its existence: country, blues, gospel, boogie, and barroom rockabilly.
Highlights: “Tumbling Dice”, “Loving Cup”, “Let It Loose”.

    4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The musical centerpiece for an affluent postwar generation, it heralded the age of Aquarius, issued in the era of the album as an art form, and reinvented the most famous pop band on the planet. Lyrically effusive, musically colorful, and eminently entertaining; the history of rock-n-roll is split by its presence.
Highlights: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mister Kite”, “A Day In The Life”.

5. The Joshua Tree – U2 (1987)The Joshua Tree
Documenting the most fertile period of one of the 80s’ most important bands, it is a musical journey both spiritual and cathartic. One of the finest opening songs (“Where The Streets Have No Name”) sets the stage for this brilliant array of folk/rock songs displaying the apex of U2’s unique sound and fury. It’s overall lyrical vision of earth, fire and water set to infectious melodies and dark images cut deep. Highlights: “With Or Without You”, “Bullet The Blue Sky”, “Running To Stand Still”.

6. Sign ‘O’ The Times – Prince (1987)Sign O' The Times
A mad genius caught in the infinite groove and the wild abandon of his mystical world, this is the quintessential collection of muses by any artist attempting to use popular music as a single career statement. Eschewing collaboration for the myopic vision, this is Prince Rogers Nelson as funk Gershwin setting impossible standards of creativity. Highlights: “Play In The Sunshine”, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, “Adore”.

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got7. I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
The most honest account of a woman artist exorcising spiritual demons, rendered with raw passion and infinite grace. Before O’Connor’s public furor and marketing defiance loomed over the work, it is a sweet and horrific demonstration of what a songwriter can do when facing the mirror and describing the view. Highlights: “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”, “Three Babies”, “Last Day Of Our Acquaintance”.

8. Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan (1974)Blood On The Tracks
The best example of what an important social icon is capable of when turning his caustic, probing guns inward for a biographical purging. Spinning ballads and literal tales of the infamous lonely minstrel; this is Dylan on the psyche couch spitting out personal questions about the age of loss.
Highlights: “Tangled Up In Blue”, “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Shelter From The Storm”.

New American Language9. New American Language – Dan Bern (2002)
It’s pop, it’s folk, it’s rock, it’s country, but mostly it’s melodiously infectious and begs the listener to actually listen. One of the best new albums of the new century’s opening decade from a man fast becoming a musical chronicler of our bizarre times, and besides being as funny as hell, a damn good songwriter. Highlights: “Sweetness”, “God Said No”, “Albuquerque Lullaby”.

10. Living With Ghosts – Patty Griffith (1992)Living With Ghosts
Elegant melodies and provocative lyrics bloom from the pure grit of a distinctly pristine voice and come to life in these quaintly stripped down compositions. Originally recorded for a demo, it is a startling debut from a signature songwriter of her time poised to unleash the deepest fears and soul aspirations onto tape. Highlights: “Moses”, “Poor Man’s House”, “Forgiveness”.

11. Good Old Boys – Randy Newman (1974)Good Old Boys
The master of mordant metaphor and biting satire doled out in two minute ditties of twisted wit and wisdom offers up a smorgasbord of haughty characters born from the bowels of crazed self-loathing. Only a songwriting genius such as Newman could conjure such manic diversity delivered in goose-bump inducing melodies and striking orchestration. From the opening lines of “Rednecks”, this one hits hard. Highlights: “Birmingham”, “Louisiana 1927”, “A Wedding In Cherokee County”.

12. Tommy – The Who (1969)Tommy
Expanding the mind, cleansing the soul and satirizing the whole damn world. Pete Townshend’s initial foray into the Rock Opera yields a rough and tumble unit’s cerebral side. Ardent imagery and bizarre glimpses into a metaphysical era, while impaling the various modes of culture, this is a special place where philosophy meets tonality with a vengeance. Highlights: “Overture”, Pinball Wizard”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

13. Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon (1970)Plastic Ono Band
One man bellowing from the inside out for the whole wide world to hear. It is a stripped-down raw-wound collection of painful songs beautifully presented under the guise of healing. A signature effort from one of the most influential voices of a generation at the crossroads of a life three-quarters complete.
Highlights: “Mother”, “Isolation”, “God”.

14. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)Pet Sounds
Precursor for the age of studio chaos and experimentation. Gorgeous tunes with omniscient orchestration written and presented in glorious splendor by the genre’s resident ingenious broken spirit, Brian Wilson. Sweet harmonies and dreamy arrangements set in the backdrop of childlike fantasy.
Highlights: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “You Still Believe In Me”, “God Only Knows”.

15. Destroyer – Kiss (1976) Destroyer
A wonderfully noisy postcard from the ostentatiously loud and dynamic 70s’ pap/metal/fantasy troubadours. Hits the traditional highs of great albums with a rollicking opener, “Detroit Rock City” and closes with the ethereal sex rant, “Do You Love Me?”, not to mention an orchestral bombast, rousing choir and the genre’s first ballad. As good as hard rock gets.
Highlights: “God Of Thunder”, Shout It Out Loud”, “Beth”.

Night At The Opera16. A Night at the Opera – Queen (1975)
A fitting title for an eclectic collection of electric arias of rhythmic playfulness, this breakout siren from one of the virtuoso bands of the period unloads the full repertoire of tricks from down-and-dirty rock, bouncy ragtime, operatic swooning and one of the finest pop songs of the 70s’ in “You’re My Best Friend” and its most outlandishly tasty bombast, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Highlights: “Death On Two Legs”, “’39, “Love Of My Life”.

Not A Pretty Girl17. Not a Pretty Girl – Ani DiFranco – (1995)
The ultimate screaming, pompous, angry, curiously romantic serenade from an incredibly diverse poet, musician, and folk singer in the zone. The evolving momentum of her work leads to this seminal musical moment and launches several more levels of creative explosions worthy of the great composers of 20th century passions. Highlights: “Worthy”, “Hour Follows Hour”, 32 Flavors”.

18. The Wall – Pink Floyd (1979) The Wall
The only accomplished “audio film,” it is the signature 60s/70s art band’s final stab at bassist and songwriter, Roger Waters’ career-long fascination with the artistic seduction of madness. Beautifully produced and presented in a tour de force of sound, fury and virtuosity, a well of infinite sadness resonates with every note. Highlights: “Mother”, “Nobody Home”, Comfortably Numb”.

19. Hunky Dory – David Bowie (1972)Hunky Dory
No better slice of the musical chameleon at the height of his songwriting, singing, and poetic powers. It is the framework for an an entire movement of 70s’ folk/glam/storytelling albums with a central figure speaking through the schizophrenic prisms of boundless imagination. The glaring example of Bowie’s engaging duality is on display with the opening strains of the positively charged “Changes” to the final note of the disturbingly somber “The Bewlay Brothers”. Highlights: “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Life On Mars?”, Quicksand”.

20. King of America – Elvis Costello (1985)King Of America
Everything Costello has given to the pantheon of modern songwriting and performing is evident in this masterpiece of lyric and melody. Arguably the finest collection of songs presented in the post-Beatles/Dylan period of balladeers with a few properly placed chords wrapped around a heavy bushel of irony, Costello’s distinct voicing and unnerving timbre is chillingly powerful throughout.
Highlights: “Brilliant Mistake”, “Indoor Fireworks”, “Poisoned Rose”.

21. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (1986)

22. August & Everything After – Counting Crows (1993)

23. Modern Happiness – Eric Hutchinson & The Believers (2018)

24. Ram – Paul and Linda McCartney (1971) 

25. Around the World in a Day – Prince and the Revolution (1985)

26. Warren Zevon – Warren Zevon (1976)

27. Blue – Joni Mitchell (1971)

28. Sail Away – Randy Newman (1971)

29. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones (1969)

30. Welcome Interstate Managers – Fountains of Wayne (2003)

31. Moondance – Van Morrison (1971)

32. Girlfriend – Matthew Sweet (1990)

33. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos (1991)

34. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette (1995)

35. The Sunset Tree – The Mountain Goats (2005)

36. Look Sharp – Joe Jackson (1979)

37. sincerely e – Elizabeth & The Catapult (2021)

38. Purple Rain – Prince & The Revolution (1984)

39. Armed Forces – Elvis Costello (1978)

40. Sprained Ankle – Julien Baker (2015)

41. Document – R.E.M. (1987)

42. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971)

43. This Desert Life – Counting Crows (1999)

44. Rocket To Russia – Ramones (1977)

45. The White Album – The Beatles (1968)

46. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill (1998)

47. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You – Aretha Franklin (1967)

48. Hi, How Are You? – Daniel Johnston (1983)

49. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon (1978)

50. Cissy – Seán Barna (2018)

51. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel (1968)

52. Maybe Tomorrow – Jackson Five (1971)

53. Tapestry – Carole King (1971)

54. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? – Billie Eilish (2019) 

55. Welcome to My Nightmare – Alice Cooper (1975)

56. Paul’s Boutique – Bestie Boys (1989)

57. Fleeting Days – Dan Bern (2003)

58. Dookie – Green Day (1994)

59. Thousand Dollar Dinners – Matt Sucich (2019)

60. Soviet Kitsch – Regina Spektor (2003)

61. The Doors – The Doors (1967)

62. Yolk in the Fur – Wild Pink (2018)

63. Jazz – Queen (1978)

64. The La’s – The La’s (1990)

65. The Sun Sessions – Elvis Presley (1976)

66. Tidal – Fiona Apple (1996)

67. Hard Candy – Counting Crows (2002)

68. Uh-Huh – John Cougar Mellencamp (1984)

69. Nilsson Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson (1971)

70. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan (1965)

71. Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

72. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder (1973)

73. Berlin – Lou Reed (1973)

74. Southern Accents – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1985)

75. Pure Fiction – Eric Hutchinson (2004)

76. Small Change – Tom Waits (1976)

77. 1999 – Prince (1982)

78. Revolver – The Beatles (1966)

79. Drifter – Dan Bern (2012)

80. Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper (1973)

81. Out of Time – R.E.M. (1991)

82. Yip Jump Music – Daniel Johnston (1983)

83. Let There Be Rock – AC/DC (1977)

84. Outlandos D’Amour – The Police (1979)

85. Rites Of Passage – Indigo Girls (1992)

86. Norman Fucking Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey (2019)

87. Central Reservation – Beth Orton (1999)

88. Nothing’s Shocking – Jane’s Addiction (1988)

89. Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones (1979)

90. Joshua, Judges, Ruth – Lyle Lovett (1992)

91. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen (1982)

92. The Dream of the Blue Turtles – Sting (1985)

93. Recovering The Satellites – Counting Crows (1996)

94. Toys in the Attic – Aerosmith  (1975)

95. Ten – Pearl Jam (1991)

96. Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie (1972)

97. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)

98. The Cars – The Cars (1978)

99. Business As Usual – Men At Work (1982)

100. Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart (1971)

101. Band on the Run – Paul McCartney & Wings

102. Trouble in Paradise – Randy Newman (1982)

103. Graceland – Paul Simon (1985)

104. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)

105. The Velvet Underground & Nico – Velvet Underground (1967)

106. Freewheelin’ – Bob Dylan (1963)

107. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983)

108. School’s Out – Alice Cooper (1972)

109. Misplaced Childhood – Marillion (1985)

110. Objects in the Mirror – Stephen Kellogg (2018)

111. Who’s Next – The Who (1971)

112. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones (1978)

113. The Wind – Warren Zevon (2003)

114. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (1968)

115. Talking Book – Stevie Wonder (1972)

116. Damn the Torpedoes – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1979)

117. The Rainbow Children – Prince (2001)

118. Nothing is Wrong – Dawes (2011)

119. Rubber Soul – The Beatles (1966)

120. Exodus – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1977) 

121. Remain in Light – Talking Heads (1980)

122. Back in Black – AC/DC (1980)

123. Ghost in the Machine – The Police (1981)

124. Azure Ray – Azure Ray (2001) 

125. Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan (1966)

126. Ringo – Ringo Starr (1973) 

127. Parade – Prince & the Revolution (1986)

128. Bryter Layter – Nick Drake (1971)

129. Transformer – Lou Reed (1972) 

130. Dilate – Ani DiFranco (1994)

131. Magic Gone – Pedal (2018) 

132. Madonna – Madonna (1983)

133. Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones (1968)

134. Sentimental Hygiene – Warren Zevon (1987)

135. Dirty Mind – Prince (1980)

136. The Barbara Streisand Album – Barbara Streisand (1963) 

137. Universal Mother – Sinead O’Connor (1994)

138. God Bless Tiny Tim – Tiny Tim (1967)

139. Under Rug Swept – Alanis Morrisette (2002)

140. No Need to Argue – The Cranberries (1994)

141. Illinois  – Sufjan Stevens (2005)

142. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – Counting Crows (2008)

143. Rumors – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

144. My Aim is True – Elvis Costello (1977)

145. 1,000 Kisses – Patty Griffin (2002)

146. Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)

147. Music From Big Pink – The Band (1968)

148. Habitual Eater – Van Goose (2019)

149. The Ramones – The Ramones (1976)

150. Hot Buttered Soul – Isaac Hayes (1969)

151. Private Revolution – World Party (1986)

152. What’s Goin’ On – Marvin Gaye (1971)

153. Trouble –  Ray LaMontagne (2004)

154. Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player – Elton John (1973)

155. L.A. Woman – The Doors (1970)

156. Jungle Groove – James Brown (1986)

157. By Numbers – The Who (1975)

158. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen (1973)

159. Mule Variations – Tom Waits (1999)

160. Loaded – Velvet Underground (1970)

161. Black & Blue – The Rolling Stones (1976)

162. Parallel Lines – Blondie (1978) 

163. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams (1998)

164. So Tonight that I Might See – Mazzy Star (1993)

165. Like a Virgin – Madonna (1984) 

166. Simple Dreams – Linda Ronstadt (1977)

167. All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes – Pete Townshend (1982)

168. This is Big Audio Dynamite – Big Audio Dynamite (1985)

169. Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin (1968)

170. We Started Nothing – The Ting Tings (2008)

171. Songs – Regina Spektor (2002)

172. Move It On Over – George Thorogood & the Destroyers (1978)

173. Ani DiFranco – Ani DiFranco (1990)

174. Voices of Freedom – Little Steven & Disciples of Soul (1984)

175. Fair Warning – Van Halen (1981)

176. Nothing Like the Sun – Sting (1987)

177. Horses – Patti Smith (1975)

178. #1 Record – Big Star (1972)

179. Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1970)

180. Never Mind the Bullocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols (1977)

181. Daddy’s Home – St. Vincent (2021)

182. Court and Spark – Joni Mitchell (1974)

183. Abandoned Luncheonette – Hall & Oats (1973) 

184. Mothership Connection – Parliament (1975)

185. London Calling – The Clash (1979)

186. Rocks – Aerosmith (1976) 

187. Honky Chateau – Elton John (1972)

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

189. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)

190. Bat Out of Hell – Meatloaf (1977)

191. There Goes Rhymin’ Simon – Paul Simon (1973)

192. The Pretender – Jackson Browne (1976)

193. Psychoderelict- Pete Townshend (1994) 

194. War – U2 (1983)

195. The Stranger – Billy Joel (1977)

196. Making Movies – Dire Straits (1980)

197. License to Ill – Beastie Boys (1986)

198. Imagination – Gladys Knight & the Pips  (1973)

199. News of the World – Queen (1977)

200. OK Computer – Radiohead (1997) 

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