Swinging Modern Sounds #92: Perfection


The listing impulse in music criticism is, well, hard to like. Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity, ruined it, perhaps, at a time when it was going to be ruined anyway by reason of overuse. The self-evident conclusion about listing as a trope is that it belies the role of subjectivity in these matters of taste. Every top-ten list I have ever made is equally invalid, and almost all of them could easily have been changed the next day, if not within hours. The dwelling-within of subjectivity, the welcoming of error, the tolerance for whim and passing fancy, the labile tendency that inheres in critical pronouncements, these are all concealed in the list, by and large, as practiced so voluminously elsewhere.

Finding a way to include the faultiness of the list, however, to make a list that is self-evidently a failure, and invites amendment, might get you to a better and more genuine place. It was in this spirit that I recently tried, in a certain social media website context, to assemble with a passel of friends a list of “perfect albums.” It should be obvious, first, that “perfect” is a loaded word, and very hard one to lay claim to. Every perfect album has its sort of bad track (“The Way Young Lovers Do” on Astral Weeks, arguably, or “The Overload” on Remain in Light) and my idea of an execrable album (U2, The Unforgettable Fire) is someone else’s idea of an absolute masterpiece. But in attempting to compile this list I simply asked people to indulge in their wildest most irrational and partisan thoughts. We could err, I wanted to say, we could start to see perfection everywhere, instead of, in an era of trolls, always tearing stuff down, we could see the flaw as the flaw that proves the perfection of creation, we could see the wabi sabi of it all, another aspect of perfect artistic practice, we could try to believe instead of trying not to believe, and then failing we could try again.

The list sort of took off as a thread, and like many things on social media, it became unwieldy and impossible to follow, people kept not reading the thread and then putting Joni Mitchell on there again (usually Blue or Court and Spark, but not exclusively), and then after I felt like it was done, people kept adding things, for a good ten days more, so that the list is sort of a thing that will never end, or will, as all lists should, continue to change and morph. I had a friend attempt to type it up, and because it kept changing, this was sort of an impossible task, and, of course, I decided it had horrible omissions, and added a few more albums. You will now find some version of the list below. It is imperfect. You should add some more.


10cc, Sheet Music

Gregg Allman, Laid Back

The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East

Oren Ambarchi, Grapes of the Estate

American Music Club, California

Amon Düül II, Yeti

Louis Armstrong, Hot Fives and Sevens

The Beach Boys, Endless Summer

The Beach Boys, Friends

The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds

The Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

The Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique

The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night

The Beatles, Abbey Road

The Beatles, Beatles for Sale

The Beatles, Revolver

The Beatles, Rubber Soul

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles, The White Album

Beck, Midnight Vultures

Beck, Morning Phase

Belle and Sebastian, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

Belle and Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap

Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit

Belle and Sebastian, Tigermilk

Bent, Programmed to Love

Beyoncé, Lemonade

Big Star, Radio City

Blondie, Parallel Lines

Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Green Onions

David Bowie, Hunky Dory

David Bowie, Low

David Bowie, Scary Monsters

David Bowie, Station to Station

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Glenn Branca, Symphony #3 (Gloria)

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars

James Brown, Live at the Apollo

James Brown, Sex Machine

Dave Brubeck, Time Out

Jack Bruce, Harmony Row

Built to Spill, Perfect from Now On

Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady

The Byrds, Farther Along

The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds, The Notorious Byrd Brothers

David Byrne and Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

David Byrne, The Catherine Wheel

John Cale, Paris 1919

Can, Ege Bamyasi

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica

Caravan, In the Land of Grey and Pink

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman

Ray Charles, The Genius of Ray Charles

The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin

The Church, Starfish

The Clash, London Calling

Cocteau Twins, Echoes in a Shallow Bay/Tiny Dynamite

Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas

Cocteau Twins, The Pink Opaque

Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen

Judy Collins, In My Life

John Coltrane, Giant Steps

John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs

Shawn Colvin, Fat City

Shawn Colvin, Steady On

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom

Elvis Costello, Almost Blue

Elvis Costello, Armed Forces

Elvis Costello, Blood and Chocolate

Elvis Costello, King of America

Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model

Crazy Horse and Neil Young, Zuma

Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw

Bill Crofut, Child’s Song

The Cure, Disintegration

The Cure, The Head on the Door

D’Angelo, Voodoo

Erik Darling, True Religion

Miles Davis, In a Silent Way

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

Miles Davis, Porgy and Bess

Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain

The dB’s, Stands for Decibels

The dB’s, The Sound of Music

Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism

Depeche Mode, Black Celebration

Derek and the Dominos, Layla

Digable Planets, Blowout Comb

Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch!

The Doors, The Doors

Nick Drake, Pink Moon

Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde

Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks

Bob Dylan, Desire

Bob Dylan, Oh Mercy

Duke Ellington, Far East Suite

Duke Ellington, Jazz Party

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Trilogy

Brian Eno, Another Green World

Brian Eno, Discreet Music

Brian Eno, Music for Airports

Brian Eno, On Land

Brian Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

Brian Eno, Thursday Afternoon

Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief

The Fall, The Wonderful & Frightening World of the Fall

The Feelies, The Good Earth

Ella Fitzgerald, Best of Ella Fitzgerald

The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin

Steve Forbert, Alive on Arrival

Aretha Franklin, The Atlantic Singles Collection

Aretha Franklin, The Best of Aretha Franklin

Fripp & Eno, (No Pussyfooting)

Bill Frisell, Gone, Just Like a Train

Edith Frost, Calling Over Time

Funkadelic, Hardcore Jollies

Funkadelic, Maggot Brain

Warren G, Regulate… G Funk Era

Galaxie 500, On Fire

Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get It On

Marvin Gaye, Midnight Love

Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On

Genesis, Foxtrot

Gentle Giant, Free Hand

Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar, Passages

Glenn Gould, The Goldberg Variations

The Grateful Dead, American Beauty

Macy Gray, On How Life Is

Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes

GusGus, Arabian Horse

Buddy Guy, A Man and the Blues

Frederic George Handel, Solomon

Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

PJ Harvey, Dry

Hatfield and the North, The Rotters’ Club

Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Billie Holiday, Lady in Satin

Billie Holiday, Songs for Distingué Lovers

Billie Holiday, The Ultimate Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, The Early Years

Husker Du, Zen Arcade

Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm

Max Indian, You Can Go Anywhere, Do Anything

The Jackson Five, Dancing Machine

The Jackson Five, ABC

Michael Jackson, Thriller

Michael Jackson, Off the Wall

The Jam, Snap!

James, Laid

The Jayhawks, Tomorrow the Green Grass

Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow

Elton John, Honkey Chateau

Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection

Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates

King Crimson, Three of a Perfect Pair

King Crimson, Lark’s Tongue in Aspic

Carol King, Tapestry

The Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Rahsaan Roland Kirk, The Inflated Tear

Fela Kuti and Egypt 80, Original Suffer Head/I.T.T.

Lothar and the Hand People, Presenting… Lothar and the Hand People

The Lounge Lizards, Voice of Chunk

Love, Forever Changes

Galt MacDermot, Hair

Madonna, Like a Prayer

Madonna, Ray of Light

The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs

Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus

Ingram Marshall, Fog Tropes

Massive Attack, Blue Lines

Carmen McRae, Carmen Sings Monk

The Mekons, Rock and Roll

Charles Mingus, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um

The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime

Mission of Burma, Signals, Calls and Marches

Joni Mitchell, Blue

Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark

Joni Mitchell, For the Roses

Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns

Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon

The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers

Meredith Monk, Dolmen Music

Thelonious Monk, Criss-Cross

Morcheeba, Big Calm

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks

Van Morrison, Veedon Fleece

Nas, Illmatic

Meshell Ndegeocello, Bitter

The Necks, Aether

Willie Nelson, Stardust

Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

New Order, Movement

New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies

Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender

Nirvana, In Utero

Nirvana, Nevermind

Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken

NWA, Straight Outta Compton

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Graham Parker and the Rumour, Squeezing Out Sparks

Arvo Pärt, Tabula Rasa

Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted

Pearl Jam, Ten

Pere Ubu, Dub Housing

Tom Petty, Wildflowers

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

Liz Phair, Whitechocolatespaceegg

The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II

Astor Piazzolla, Nuevo Tango: Hora Zero

Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother

Pink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd, The Wall

The Pixies, Doolittle

The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God

The Police, Regatta De Blanc

The Police, Synchronicity

Cat Power, The Greatest

Elvis Presley, The Sun Sessions

The Pretenders, Pretenders

The Pretty Things, S.F. Sorrow

Prince, 1999

Prince, Purple Rain

Procol Harum, A Salty Dog

Procol Harum, Home

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta

Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

Public Image Limited, Metal Box

Queen, A Night at the Opera

Eliane Radigue, Trilogie de la Morte

Radiohead, The Bends

Radiohead, In Rainbows

Radiohead, OK Computer

Bonnie Raitt, Home Plate

R.E.M., Chronic Town

R.E.M., Document

R.E.M., Murmur

R.E.M., Reckoning

Otis Redding, Live in London and Paris

Otis Redding, Love Man

Joshua Redman, Passage of Time

Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians

The Replacements, Let It Be

Return to Forever, Where Have I Known You Best

Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights

Terry Riley, Rainbow in Curved Air

The Rolling Stones, Beggar’s Banquet

The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street

The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed

The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus

The Roots, Phrenology

Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure

Rufus, Rags to Rufus

Todd Rundgren, A Wizard, A True Star

Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything

Rush, Moving Pictures

Sam & Dave, Soul Men

The Sea and Cake, The Sea and the Cake

The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols

Howard Shore, Philadelphia (Soundtrack)

Judee Sill, Judee Sill

Silver Apples, Silver Apples

Paul Simon, Graceland

Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends

Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

Nina Simone, Forbidden Fruit

Simple Minds, Sparkle in the Rain

Frank Sinatra, Sinatra in Concert ‘57

Skylab, #1

Sly & the Family Stone, Stand!

Elliot Smith, From a Basement on the Hill

Elliot Smith, Either/Or

Harry Smith, Anthology of American Folk Songs

Patti Smith, Horses

Soft Machine, Turns on – Volume Two

Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation

Spacemen 3, A Perfect Prescription

Sparks, Kimono My House

Phil Spector, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

U. Srinivas, Rama Sreerama

Steely Dan, Aja

Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill

The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

Carl Stone, Mom’s

The Stooges, Funhouse

Sun City Girls, Torch of the Mystics

Sun Ra & His Myth Science Orchestra, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy

Son Volt, Trace

The Supremes, The Ultimate Collection

T. Rex, Electric Warrior

Taj Mahal, The Real Thing

Talking Heads, Fear of Music

Talking Heads, More Songs about Buildings and Food

Talking Heads, Remain in Light

Television, Marquee Moon

They Might Be Giants, Flood

This Mortal Coil, It’ll End in Tears

Thunderclap Newman, Hollywood Dream

Steve Tibbets, Northern Song

Toots and the Maytals, Funky Kingston

Ali Farka Toure, The River

Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, In the Heart of the Moon

Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die

The Tragically Hip, Road Apples

Jethro Tull, Minstrel in the Gallery

Tunng, Good Arrows

KT Tunstall, Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon

U2, Achtung Baby

U2, The Joshua Tree

U2, War

Sarah Vaughan, Swingin’ Easy

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico

The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground, Loaded

The Verve, Lady in Autumn

Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes

Tom Waits, Rain Dogs

Tom Waits, Small Change

Dionne Warwick, Make Way for Dionne Warwick

Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The Who, The Who Sell Out

The Who, Who’s Next

Wilco, Being There

Wilco, Kicking Television, Live in Chicago

Wilco, Summerteeth

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

Wire, Chairs Missing

Wire, Pink Flag

Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life

World Party, Goodbye Jumbo

Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang

XTC, Skylarking

Yes, Close to the Edge

Yo La Tengo, Fakebook

Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth

La Monte Young, The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line

Neil Young, After the Gold Rush

Neil Young, On the Beach

Neil Young, Tonight’s the Night

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Uncle Meat

Frank Zappa, Hot Rats

Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade

Zero 7, Simple Things

The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle


Feature image © Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 ImageCreator.

Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →