My Five Favorite Albums Ever!

A few weeks ago, a very dear friend[1] and long-time blog reader asked me what were my five favorite albums. As I quickly rattled off 20, 30 and then 40 albums, it became apparent that this might be an impossible challenge. However, after many, many, late, and some very late listening sessions, I have settled on a definitive list of my five favorites.

First, let me be clear that “favorite” means just that. This is not a list of the “best” from my critical vantage point[2]. Nor is it a so-called Desert Island Disc list of albums I would want to have if stranded forever on a, uh, desert island. Although no Journey albums make my list of favorites, I could not bear being stranded on an island without ever being able to hear Steve Perry’s voice again. And if I were stranded, I’d also want Mariah Carey’s first album just for her picture on the album cover. Just sayin’ . . .

OK, Kieran – dim the lights! Here are my Favorite Five! (in no particular order, except for the first)

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade (New York Philharmonic Orchestra)

This is simply my favorite single piece of music ever. I can recall hearing my mom play it when I was four years old. It is a remarkable piece of classical music: passive and aggressive; dark and light; lyrical and bombastic. Did I mention dark? I like dark.
It is a story set to instrumental music: the classic Arabian folk tale One Thousand and One Nights and remarkably, you can hear the story being told by the music. I love this piece of music like no other.

Santana: Caravanserai

Clive Davis said that Carlos was ruining his commercial career with his fourth album, which was a major departure from the salsa/rock/jazz fusion that made him famous[3]. Except for three tracks, this album was made up of long, complex and contemplative instrumentals. While this album and several that followed were critically acclaimed, Clive was correct in terms of their lack of commercial appeal. But for me, this is my favorite album by my favorite band.

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

It is not only the best selling jazz album of all time, it is critically acclaimed as the best jazz album of all time, as well as one of the most influential albums of all time in any genre. Musicians, critics and teachers have spent the past 50 years dissecting the genius of the music theory behind this record but for me, Kind of Blue is about one thing – the magnificently mysterious Miles Davis tone: breathy, haunting, captivating and singularly distinctive.

Stevie Wonder: Talking Book

This was the album that completed the transition from Little Stevie Wonder to Legend Stevie Wonder[4]. The songs You Are the Sunshine of My Life­ and Superstition are the best known. But I love the crazy funky Maybe Your Baby and the ballad You and I even more. And the killer of them all is I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever). I can’t describe it – I just don’t have the words. Listen to it sometime in the dark with headphones. You will be a changed person forever.

Al DiMeola: Elegant Gypsy

When I first heard this a few years ago – OK, it was 1977 – I was like, “What is THIS?!? This is BEAUTIFUL! Elegant Gypsy is lightning fast guitar jazz/rock fusion intermingled with lyrical flamenco passages. The songs are mostly based on Latin music themes. I find it utterly compelling and remarkable. And Race with Devil on Spanish Highway is maybe the greatest song title ever.

Well, there it is. My five favorite albums. I think that people who read the blog are entitled to know what this self-important blogger actually finds important. I am struck by the fact that a guy who writes a blog on singing shows has always had instrumental music as his favorite – and the albums that didn’t make the top five are mostly jazz[5][6]. I am also struck by the fact that while I rattled off 30-40 “favorites” off the top of my head when asked, these five have been my favorites for a long time. I guess that’s why they’re my favorites.


[1] She and a friend took me to the Motown Museum for which I am forever in their debt.

[2] Yes, my legendary objectivity (except in the cases of My Girls) can separate “favorite” from “best”.

[3] Songs like Black Magic Woman and Evil Ways.

[4] The transition began with a little known album Where I’m Coming From and then a fabulous album Music of My Mind. They were the first albums where Stevie had complete artistic freedom and control. They were experimental and raw at times, but in them you can hear the sounds of genius – things that were unique and so far beyond what was happening in music in 1971-72.

[5] I will name them in a Part II of this series.

[6] About 345,682,197 country albums somehow didn’t manage to make the top five, either.

Explore posts in the same categories: Much ado about nothing

4 Comments on “My Five Favorite Albums Ever!”

  1. Jenny L Says:

    I am incredibly impressed that 4 of your top 5 were listed on my note from our dinner conversation, and you mentioned Scheherazade at the Metromover once the variety of genres was clarified. 🙂

    Your list inspires me to listen to the albums that I am very unfamiliar with (Santana and Al DiMeola). I’m seriously considering just buying the full albums from iTunes. Your list feels like a birthday present (although it’s not my birthday) so thank you!!

  2. Sherri B. Says:

    I value your expertise with music over anyone else’s, Ray – I look forward to checking out these albums. And yes, I’m a little embarrassed that I’m unfamiliar with all of them! (Obviously, I know of Stevie Wonder’s big hits, but I have not listened to this album you mention, nor have I heard Santana’s album you talk about.)

    I look forward to Part II! 🙂

  3. […] Ray's ruminations, rants and reflections on his American Idol addiction « My Five Favorite Albums Ever! […]

  4. Kind of Blue, haven’t listened to that in too long, thanks, Bro!]

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