On Tuesday, June 5, as I was lazily scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a very interesting post from one of my favorite musicians, one Mr. Questlove, uploaded to his page:
These are #NineGoodAlbums that “built” me •Average White Band-Person To Person •Rufus feat Chaka Khan-Ask Rufus •De La Soul- De La Soul Is Dead •Slum Village- Fan Tas Tic Vol 1 •The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds •Public Enemy- It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back •Prince- 1999 •Michael Jackson- Off The Wall •Miles Davis- Nefertiti Aight your turn: 9 photos of the 9 jawns you feel are flawless albums BEGINNING TO END what’s your #ninegoodalbums?
With the challenge posed, of course it was only natural that I’d want to foist my opinions on our readers here at “MACG Magazine.” Granted, these may not be my absolute all-time favorite albums (darn near close, though), nor are these nine the only ones I believe are perfect. But these are the first that absolutely leaped out and smacked me in the face when I saw Questlove’s list.
Obviously we can’t have a list without some guidelines.
Rule #1: No repeat artists. Which is absolutely painful for me. However, if given that much latitude, Stevie Wonder would be five of the nine albums on this list.
Rule #2: No single albums. I mean, what good is a list if I can just throw a jawn with one or two promo tracks on here, right?
Rule #3: The albums must have been listened to in full. That should be obvious, and I know there’s no way you can know if I’m blowing smoke. You’ll just have to trust that I wouldn’t lie to you. I know, a lot to ask of a complete stranger.
Rule #4: None of my albums can be from Questlove’s. Though there are few on there that I 752658 percent agree with, it’s best to keep the lists separate and spread more new music to the world, yes?
Now, in order of release year, I give you my #NineGoodAlbums that I believe, from start to finish, are absolutely perfect.
01 Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)
Though “Songs in the Key of Life” is my absolute all-time favorite album to ever exist, I will never be able to fully comprehend the power behind Stevie Wonder’s 1973 masterpiece “Innervisions.” From first note to last, the experimentation, the innovation …. Everything about this album evokes a sense of absolute splendor. Political. Artistic. Emotional. “Innervisions” was one of Wonder’s most powerful pieces of music in what has been heralded as his “Golden Era” between 1972 and 1979. I can honestly say the first time I heard “Visions,” “Golden Lady” and “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” I really couldn’t comprehend life before or after.
02 Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
Suffice it to say His Purple Paisley Majesty will forever live in the hearts of every music lover as one of the medium’s most important and iconic figures. Musically, he was miles above and beyond any of his peers, especially during what was arguably the peak of his creativity between the years of 1982 and 1991 — give or take a few albums here and there. While the “1999” album is undeniably one of the finest pieces of music in his repertoire, “Purple Rain” was a marvel of storytelling, craftsmanship and lyricism that continues to rattle my emotions from the first eerie notes of the organ in “Let’s Go Crazy” to the reverse backtracking of “Baby I’m a Star.”
And oh … Dear God in Heaven … “Darling. Nikki”!
03 Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)
*sigh* Every time I even hear this man’s name my heart begins to flutter and new cracks form over where I’d mended old ones. Jeff Buckley came to me by chance back in college. Long story short, as soon as I found his music I fell head over heels in love and drowned in what was one of the most powerful voices to ever come out of a human being. There was something magical, elegant about the man’s voice. Yet everything about him, his craft, his artistry was so natural, came from a place of deep and raw emotion. “Grace” would unfortunately be his only official release. A freak accident stole him from this earth long before he should’ve left us.
Within the 51 minutes and 43 seconds of that record, the soul is lifted, taken away from the body and sent sailing, swimming and dancing among the stars. It’s by far and away one of the most astounding works of art I’ve ever had the honor of listening to in my life.
It was almost impossible to choose just one video. So how about one of the best performances from the album’s title track?
04 Jamiroquai – Return of the Space Cowboy (1994)
There are few words I can say about Jamiroquai without becoming a fangirling mess. If Earth, Wind & Fire was the peak of funk and flavor of my father’s generation, that title surely belongs to Jamiroquai. In the early ’90s, a genre began to take shape in Great Britain. A mixture of ’70s rare grooves, funk, R&B and jazz called Acid Jazz. Jamiroquai and semi-rival band The Brand New Heavies are its most renowned proponents.
With the release of their sophomore effort, Jay Kay and his band of misfit musicians created sounds that were large, explosive yet incredibly organic. There was so much earthiness in the sound, so much power behind the lyrics and imagery in every track, that the album left a profound impact on me and cemented them as my favorite band of all time.
05 Björk – Homogenic (1997)
Queen Björk is another artist from whom it’s just too damn difficult to choose one video. So much of what makes her so iconic lay in her aesthetics and the visual renderings of her music. Her third album, “Homogenic,” was her most complete piece of work up to that point and really did more to set her apart musically from anyone creating art in the ’90s.
So, yes, this is a real dilemma. Should I go with the very obvious and utterly legendary “All Is Full of Love“? Should I go deeper into her lesser known tracks and choose something like “Unravel“? Or how about something sweeping and emotionally tense? “Jóga“? Or perhaps “Bachelorette“? Well, thanks to the marvels of modern technology (and WP’s ability to incorporate links easily into text), why don’t we just put all of them here, leaving the focus on …
06 Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope (1997)
Ms. Jackson is by far and away one of the most inspirational female artists to me. While her voice is not powerful by standards set by artists with names like Aretha or one of Jackson’s dearest friends, the late Whitney Houston, her strength manifests in the work she’s created over her extensive career.
Without a doubt, 1997’s “The Velvet Rope” is my favorite album from the legend. The emotional depth, raw humanism and deeper look into her sensuality fascinated me even at that age. While she’d certainly explored those same themes in her fifth studio album — 1993’s “janet.” — there was something so much more bare in the way she approached “The Velvet Rope.” The very title itself is indicative of that intimacy she was exposing to the world, and to this very day it holds a very deep part of my heart as both an amazing work of art and an album that defined so much of who I would become as a woman.
07 Concha Buika – Niña de Fuego (2008)
Full disclosure: I don’t know who I was before I heard Concha Buika. Quite frankly, whatever preceded my discovery of the Mallorcan songstress was clearly of very little consequence. As soon as I heard the first notes of that husky alto voice, laced with so much emotion and heartache, I was lost forever.
I’m very sure hearing her sing about a young girl named Lola who suffers the whims of her father changed something in me. It most definitely altered the way I understood music, because after hearing Buika for the first time my attention to the detail in a singer’s voice went from a fascination I’d had since childhood to being incapable of not noting every crack and warble of every artist I listened to thereafter.
“Niña de Fuego” was a piece of music that put you through your emotional paces. Even if you profess to have zero understanding of Spanish, you’re inevitably drawn into the power and purpose of Buika’s voice and the absolute emotion behind every single note.
08 SHINee – Odd (2015)
Tl; dr: “Odd” is one of the greatest K-pop albums ever conceived. Fight me if you wanna, but I guarantee you won’t win this battle.
I’d always been a great admirer of SHINee’s music. Though not all of it touched me or even impressed me in any way, there was always something in every single one of their albums that I was blown away with. After the Misconceptions series, I was left rather up and down about their work. While I applaud Misconceptions for being one of the most experimentally brazen pieces of K-pop I’d ever heard, I was left lukewarm as far as their musical depth.
But everything changed in 2015.
From the very first note of that damn album, I was in for something I’d never experienced with an idol group before. Say what you will, you’d be very hard-pressed to find an album that was more musically diverse, vocally intricate and lyrically sincere than “Odd.”
To be perfectly honest, I was tempted to put one of Jonghyun‘s albums on this list. But my entire notion of what a professed “idol” group was capable of shifted when I listened to “Odd” for the first time. So moved with some of the vocal work and composition on that piece, there were moments when I had to stop whatever I was doing, sit back and just laugh.
I’ll say it again: “Odd” is one of the single greatest K-pop albums ever released.
09 Crush – Interlude (2016)
Crush has one of the most shocking minds for music of any musician I’ve ever met or listened to. You can’t tell me a damn thing when it comes to this man. Never mind the voice, the songwriting. When this boy gets in his mind to compose something, best believe all that jazz knowledge and appreciation will be there to reach around and smack you in the face.
“Interlude” was a very singular album that came out in the summer of 2016. While everyone was in their summer feelings, releasing light and bubbly pop or some pseudo-aggressive R&B-laced pop, Crush was out here taking jazz, R&B and hip-hop and creating one of the most experimental albums of the year. This album’s so steeped in the conventions of the craft of making music, it’s like a 17 minute and sixteen second Master Class on music composition in your senior year at university.
Thus Crush cemented his position as my favorite R&B singer from Korea, and there’s very little that will ever change that.
This is a man whom you must experience live. So therefore, you get a live clip. Happy birthday!
Well, that’s it. These are the first nine albums that came to my mind when Questlove posed the initial challenge. As I said before, some of these may not exactly be my favorite, nor are these the only nine albums. But for now, these nine, from first note to last, are some of the most complete pieces of work I’ve ever heard.