During a quick internet search I figured out there is a little over 14 million tracks available for sale on iTunes. Now, of course iTunes doesn’t have nearly all of the songs ever distributed for sale so if we assume that’s only half of all the songs ever sold, and there’s approximately eleven songs on each album, it gives us a loosy-goosy number of approximately 2.55 million albums sold around the world.
I’m going to guess that number is low considering we’re not even taking into account self-produced music, but imagine my frustration with having to short-list just thirty of the top albums that every man should listen to.
Obviously, I can’t listen to every album ever made – and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to – but, what made my job even more difficult is that I’m not exactly the typical music fan in my thirties. While most of my friends are listening to hip hop, R&B, rock and the top 40, I really only listen to a few genres of music, which include jazz, opera, classical, doo-wop and swing. And the occasional Willie Dixon blues. This unfortunately made my job even harder. After all, not many people will agree with me that Perry Como’s “So Smooth” is a top pick. Well, aside from maybe my grandmother.
So I began to wonder, how on earth am I going to short list just thirty albums, from a variety of genres, that can justifiably be considered, even by the most discerning critic, to be worthy of being called one of the thirty best albums ever made.
Here’s how I did it…
First, I went to the number one source in music: Billboard. Then, I searched every possible music database I could find and that friends of mine knew. I placed a phone call to Rolling Stone (it would have been nice if they answered) and I even called a few contacts at some of the major record labels. Unfortunately, none of them were of great help. If I was going to rely on the advice of the “experts” this list would be packed full of Taylor Swift, One Direction, Justin Bieber and maybe the Rolling Stones for good measure.
Music just sells differently today than it did in the past. I mean, today kids can download an entire album in seconds. They don’t have to convince their parents to take them to the mall so they can hit up a record store and buy an album the store may or may not have in stock. Music is easy to buy and it’s even easier to download for free.
So then I had to take a long, hard look at what criteria I was going to use in order to judge albums. There are plenty of bands and artists that had one or two great songs. Heck, some of the most popular songs in history were one-hit-wonders. But, does that really qualify the album they’re on to be considered one of the 30 best albums ever made? No. It doesn’t. So the first factor that I needed to take into account was to rule out any album that wasn’t consistently popular and well produced. Well, that narrowed it down by a few million.
The second step was to consider our readership. Now obviously I couldn’t consider everyone and many of us have some unique tastes in music, ranging from the obscure to foreign songs that haven’t hit the charts in any English speaking country.
That was the next factor. The music had to be globally popular. Simply going with a great Italian or German singer who America and Britain never heard of just wasn’t going to cut it.
Next, I cut out some genres – or at least limited them. While some of our readers I’m sure love it, I had to assume that the vast majority of men that regularly peruse Gentleman’s Gazette are not Eminem and Kanye West fans. Granted, I didn’t mind Kanye’s new song with Paul McCartney.
So that was the next factor I considered. It needed to be a fairly, or at least somewhat popular genre; not just for people under 35, but for people of all ages.
The list was getting smaller, but it wasn’t anywhere close to where I needed it to be. After, much deliberation – it actually kept me up most of last night – I came to the realization that, heck, I’m a writer. I can write whatever I want and some people might agree with it and others won’t, but at least it will hopefully get people discussing it. Not to mention I could throw out the standard writer’s argument of free speech and yada-yada-yada…
So that’s how I came up with my short list of the thirty best albums that every man should listen to. It’s a list based on what I think should be popular and what’s proven to sell well and hit the top of the charts, year after year, decade after decade.
You may not agree with all of the choices. You may completely disagree. But, I’m hoping that at the very least, I might introduce you to at least one new song or artist you’ll enjoy. In my defense – half of the albums listed in this article aren’t ones I personally enjoy either.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Thirty Albums Every Man Should Listen To (at least once…)
Bear in mind: This is a subjective list, and if you disagree, we would love to learn about your suggestions in the comments, thanks!
Well it was obvious that the Beatles deserved a high spot on the list. They have so many popular albums from the White Album to Abbey Road, but I wanted to pick one that was still at the top of the charts, but not as publicly well known as the others. That’s why I picked Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This is one dynamic and funky album. You can find it here.
Okay, so this album I actually love. In fact, it’s playing as I write this article. Miles Davis is arguably the greatest jazz musician ever. Some feel he was overrated but other’s think he’s a genius. In some of his other albums, he took some risks to say the least, but this record is sublime in every sense of the word. His rendition of Blue in Green is one of the best ever made. Get it here.
Another classic jazz album is John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. He recorded it in studio in December 1964 and since the day it was released it’s remained at the top of the charts. It’s influenced many a musician and is one I thoroughly enjoy. Find the album here.
No list would be complete without Michael Jackson and Thriller was probably his biggest hit. The album is quintessential MJ and it’s one that fans have danced to for years. If you’re needing a pick-me-up and some music to take you back to the 80’s, this is the one to get. You can find many versions of it here.
Bono is a legend in his own right, but U2 is the band that gave him his name. For those who are fans of this rock and roll group, this is and has always been the album to get. The Joshua Tree is one of the highest rated albums in both popularity and sales and one that more kids should be listening to. Back then, they actually knew how to write songs and they sang them without auto-tune. Buy it here.
Anyone over the age of 25 knows the song “I Wanna Be Sedated”. The Ramones were one of the biggest bands of their time and to this day still get a ton of radio play. This may not be the most “gentlemanly” album out there but men around the world have made this album a chart-topper and it’s still considered one of the top 100 albums by Rolling Stone magazine’s team of critics. More here.
Hotel California was the runner up in 1976 for album of the year, but lost out to Fleetwood Mac’s album “Rumours”. The Eagles were an unstoppable rock band and this is their top selling album with a record of 32 million sold worldwide and 16 million in the United States alone. Two songs on it won Grammy Awards including the namesake “Hotel California” as well as “New Kid in Town”. It’s also their last album with original bassist Randy Meisner, which in the world of rock and roll, is apparently a pretty big deal. Find it here.
It seems like the 70’s were a big deal for the rock genre and English band Pink Floyd sure capitalized on it. Their eighth studio album, The Dark Side of the Moon is, today, considered to be one of the most progressive and conflicting albums ever produced. It’s based on a theme of greed, conflict, time and of course the mental deterioration of founding member, Syd Barrett. Like poetry, this is one album that will go down in the history of time. Purchase the music here.
Bob Marley – Legend
Bob Marley is arguably the most famous and inspirational reggae artist in history and his double sided record “Legend” is very suitably named. This is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking albums on the list as prior to Marley, reggae wasn’t a mainstream genre and didn’t fair well on the charts as some other styles. When Marley worked with the Wailers on the album in 84’, one can only guess he never anticipated the sales and popularity it would achieve. In 2003, it was ranked in the top 50 albums ever made by Rolling Stone and by the end of 2014, it spent a total of 342 nonconsecutive weeks on the Billboard album chart, making it the fourth longest run in history. Whether you’re groovin’ in the Bahamas or on a patio at home, this is one album that can make the party. More here.
A three-disc album released in 1991 “The Birth of Soul” was said to “track the progress of a figure who profoundly changed what was possible in American music” by Peter Watrous of The New York Times. A top ranking album, Ray Charles is said to have been at his best during the recording of its songs. It truly is a masterpiece of rock and roll soul. If you’re interested in this music, click here.
Perhaps one of the manliest albums ever recorded, Cash is said to have wanted to perform at the prison after writing its namesake song. Then, after recovering from drug addiction, he got his chance, and on January 13, 1968, Cash performed two shows at Folsom State Prison in California resulting in this live album being produced. In 2003, it was certified three times Platinum and has exceeded $3,000,000 in US sales. I like to think I have a small hand in that. I’m not a big Johnny Cash fan, but I do own two copies of this righteous record. More about Johnny cash. More of Johnny cash here.
Straight from the boss, Born in the U.S.A. was released in 1984 and was an immediate triumph. A stark contrast to his previous album Nebraska which was gloomy, the new album stood out with signs of hope that made the everyman re-believe in the American Dream. Get Born in the U.S.A. here.
Despite receiving mixed reviews, Bitches Brew turned out to be Davis’ first gold record. It was a loose experimentation with electric instruments as Davis rejected traditional jazz in favor of more complex, sometimes deranged rhythms that were rock-centric and completely improvisational. It’s one of the more challenging jazz albums to listen to, but also one of the most madly brilliant and artsy albums ever made. Ready for Miles Davis, click here.
Chet Baker is one of my favorite singers of all time. It’s a voice recognizable anywhere with an unusually soothing characteristic. Embraceable You wasn’t his best selling album, but is easily one of the most romantic, especially for a man who spent so many years battling demons as he drifted in and out of jail. Panned by critics, many of them argued there was a reason the songs deserved to remain in hiding as they did for 40 years before it was released. However, AllMusic said it was “a fascinating example of why Chet Baker’s tragic spirit remains as attractive today as it was in his lifetime”. Fancy Chet Baker? click here.
Not quite as popular as Imagine, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was Lennon’s debut solo album and according to the critics, his finest solo album full of honest and artistic integrity. It’s raw and emotional and offers the listener a glimpse into his soul. It’s an exceptional album and one that should be in the library of every true music fan. Do you like Lennon, click here.
Ah, Tony Bennett. I grew up listening to him and to this day, he has remained one of my favorite singers. He’s had so much success and so many albums, both solo and duets with other artists. However, The Classics, in my opinion at least, is one of those albums that belongs on your shelf in the same stack or row as Sinatra. It’s just an album you need to have and if you only own one album by Tony Bennett – this is the one it should be. Ready for The Classics? Click here.
You may remember Nick Waterhouse from an in-depth feature we did on him a number of months ago. If you’re not already a fan of his work, after listening to Time’s All Gone you will be. When it comes to modern music, Waterhouse is a force and brings the age-old swing back to us in a new and thriving way. His music is unlike any other and his style, his appeal, his rhythm… is captivating.
Chee-Yun traveled from Korea to the Juilliard School where she won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 1989 which led to her New York City recital debut at Carnegie Hall. For those who enjoy classical music as much as I do, Chee-Yun is one of the best violinists alive today. While most focus on technical playing, Chee-Yun has an edgy, emotional way of breaking into your heart with her songs. Violin Essentials is a good blend of the classics with the raw emotion of Chee-Yun.
If Frank Sinatra ever produced a bad album, I haven’t heard it. Picking his best was a challenge though as so many of them have been masterful. When it came down to it, I had to pick The Capitol Years. Why? That’s simple. Because, it’s a 21-box set. It has every song he was ever famous for and plenty of others. If you’re a true Sinatra fan, this one box of albums is sure to make you very happy. Listen to The Capitol Years here.
Time Out is one of those albums on my own personal top 10 lists. A perfect blend of cool and West Coast jazz, the album is based on the use of time signatures that were highly unusual for jazz. Peaking at number two on the Billboard, it’s the first jazz album ever to be certified Platinum. Get Time Out here.
Another brilliant jazz album that sits in my own top 10 list, Sonny Rollins song “St. Thomas” is one of my favorite songs ever written. It’s cool, jazzy and takes me back to a better time when the sun is hot, the palm trees are swaying and there’s a cool drink in my hand. A time when living was easy. It’s a superb album and one you should get your hands on if you don’t own it already. Want to listen to Sonny Rollins? Click here.
Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
This was the first album ever released by Verve Records and Fitzgerald’s work with the label resulted in an album that showed the very peak of her range and vocal prowess. It’s an incredible album and one that belongs in any jazz lovers collection. It’s an inductee of the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2003, was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Get it here.
Young and fresh to the world of professional music, Christian Scott has taken the music industry by storm. Often referred to as a “young Miles Davis”, Scott’s album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow is one that cannot be missed. If you love jazz as much as I do, this guy is someone to pay attention to. It’s his unique sound and talent that put him in this list.
It goes without saying that Maria Callas is one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century. Her vocal range as a soprano was inspirational and her bel canto technique let her take on everything from the works of Rossini and Puccini to Wagner. She was hailed as La Divina and, in my opinion, this is her best album ever recorded because it shows her range and her dramatic gifts. Here you can get The Very Vest of Maria Callas.
If Maria Callas is one of the most influential sopranos, than Plácido Domingo is one of the great tenors and a conductor known for his ringing and dramatic tone, strength and versatility. One of the original Three Tenors, he is currently the director of the Los Angeles Opera in California. He has released many great works, but Verdi is quite possibly the one he’s known best for. It was released by Sony Classics and is actually relatively new, coming out in 2013. He was 72 years old when it was produced and will go down in history as one of the greatest arias ever recorded by a tenor this century. Listen to him here.
There’s possibly no band that is more American than the Beach Boys. When Pet Sounds was released in 1966, it was received with mixed reviews. However, it managed to obtain incredible success overseas and has since been named “the most progressive pop album ever” made. Since that time, it’s gone on to be one of the most influential albums ever recorded in the history of music.
The Rolling Stones, next to maybe the Beatles are widely considered the most popular musical group in history. Released in 1972, Exile on Main St. is a culmination of classic rock and roll, blues, soul, country, and gospel music. Another album that was initially met with mixed reviews, it has since gone down in history being called one of the greatest albums of all time. Get Exile on Main St. here.
Elvis Presley – Sun Sessions
In the 1950s and 60s there wasn’t anyone more worshipped and idolized than Elvis Presley. For decades, he’s been known as the King of Rock and Roll. Sun Sessions is the one record of his that takes all of his first, and most important songs and packs them into one album. It’s received critical acclaim and is absolutely worthy of being considered one of the top thirty albums on our list. Listen to the King here.
Back in 1966, Jimi Hendrix was trying to find his voice, and it’s this album that thrust him into the spotlight. Considered one of the greatest guitar players of all time, this album was home to four songs that made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Rueben Jackson of the Smithsonian Institution wrote: “it’s still a landmark recording because it is of the rock, R&B, blues … musical tradition. It altered the syntax of the music … in a way I compare to James Joyce’s Ulysses.” Are You Experienced?
The fifth and final album by American folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is considered their most ambitious and exemplary recording ever produced by the duo. The album hit the top of the charts in more than ten countries around the world, receiving two Grammy Awards for the album, plus four more for the title song. I highly recommend this album if you haven’t heard it before. Do you like Simon & Garfunkel? click here.
When it comes to music we all have strong feelings. It’s often a love / hate relationship and we can’t all be expected to like the same songs. I hope, at the very least, you’ve enjoyed reading this article and that you have a chance to introduce yourself to at least one album mentioned here. More so, I would love to hear about your favorite albums so please post them in the comment section below. Even if it’s not my cup of tea, I’m certain another reader will happily agree with you. And getting together is kind of what music is all about.