Now it’s time to wrap things up. We started at 101 and here it is, the top 10. These albums made me who I am, and twists and turns aside, I’ve enjoyed this road trip through the soundtrack of my life.
What will the king of my music list be? Keep reading to find out!
10. Metallica – Kill Em All (1982)
This one’s for you Cliff Burton! My first Metallica album and definitely my favourite. I played this album so much that I wore my tape out. Killer riffs with enjoyable lyrics and a fanatic tempo. Rough, raw, and energetic.
‘Seek And Destroy’ was the first song I learned to play and I loved to jam this one with friends. If there is one Metallica album that offers slightly easier songs to learn on guitar, then this would be it. Want to know more about how I feel about Metallica? Then check out my post on the top 20 Metallica songs of all time.
9. J Mascis and The Fog – Free So Free (2002)
Written as a protest album in response to the American invasion of Iraq (2003), this album is probably J Mascis’s most poignant and for me the most inspiring. There are at least four songs on this album that I had to learn on the acoustic guitar. I was always amazed at how Mascis comes up with such wonderful arrangements and interesting lyrics.
On a personal note, this album got me through a tough time. I had broken up with my girlfriend and wandered aimlessly (almost homeless) whilst living in Brisbane in 2003. I used to listen to the CD on the bus to work every day and always felt in some strange way each song offered me some form of solace. J Mascis always has a unique way of connecting you to the pain, anxiety, or frustration of whatever it was he was singing about.
Musically this album is genius. The album was recorded at “Bob’s House” (named after J Mascis’ bulldog) which is a fancy name for J’s home studio. As expected, J Mascis wrote all the songs and was responsible for vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, and even the mellotron.
The highlight was seeing Mascis play “That’s How it’s Gotta Be” and “Set us Free” acoustically and I have since recorded my own versions of these songs.
8. Tool – Aenima (1996)
“A good band is a band that unleashes your imagination”.
This powerhouse second studio album from the band Tool changed the way I played the guitar and looked at music more generally. With an array of various time signatures, rhythms, and beats, this album is progressive metal with an alternative edge and is sure to inspire bedroom guitarists. The genius of Tool is everyone plays their solo at once. The complexity of their work is undeniable. It’s not just music: it’s art, creativity, and psychology. Most importantly, no other band makes songs like this.
Fun fact. Guitarist Adam Jones started his career in movie effects working with the special effects team on Predator and Alien. The story goes he played a demo tape to a colleague of his new band Tool who instantly suggested that Adam should quit his job and go be a musician. Since then Adam has not only been a formidable guitar player but has used his extraordinary graphic design skills to illustrate the band’s album artworks and music videos.
In terms of the lyrical themes the band dedicated this album to the late Bill Hicks, who happens to be one of my favourite American Comedians. Musically the album provides 80 minutes of sonic bliss. The longer tracks are connected by various segues which are interesting. The greatest thing about Tool is if you follow their albums chronologically you can feel them starting from a dark place and gradually evolve spiritually every album thereafter.
Stinkfist was the first song I heard from this album and there’s not a speaker in the world that can play this song as loud as I want it to. However, the best riff of all time in my humble opinion is Forty Six & Two. This song is well covered by kids from the O’Keefe Music Foundation:
The very talented Danny Carey is an extraordinary drummer and I suspect a lot of Jones’ riffs would have derived from Carey’s unusual time signatures. Of course, every great band must have an even greater frontman. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan writes unusual lyrics that stem from his inner fears as a child, religious fundamentalism, ritual magic, ketamine and other psychotropic drugs and/or dissociative experiences. I have always enjoyed listening to whatever he is singing about and choose not to think too deeply into the meaning of his lyrics.
I did see this band at a Big Day Out (2000) and I clearly remember my brother leaning over to me after the first song and saying, “gee I wonder what pub these guys exploded out of”. In retrospect, I think he was as surprised as I was at their sound and it is hard to imagine this band playing in any venue other than a stadium.
In a nutshell, there are rock bands and then there is Tool.
7. Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)
A strange album indeed. And the only album recorded by Jeff Buckley before his untimely death from a tragic drowning accident on May 29, 1997. It took some time before Grace was able to impress audiences having poor sales and mixed reviews upon its release in 1994.
However, the album has since been regarded by critics as one of the most influential of all time and become a pop-cultural icon. Drawing inspiration from jazz singers, heavy-metal guitar heroes, poets, punks, and Middle Eastern vocalists this album has its influential roots branching into alternative, folk, and jazz-rock.
Jeff Buckley is of course front and centre of this album with his unique style and sound emanating from his technical virtuosity and soaring multi-octave vocal range. From a guitar perspective, I admire his variety of arrangements and voicings.
His choice of chords is certainly unique and trying to learn any of his songs will indubitably stretch those fingers. The placement of notes in his chord structure is not only a finger bender but a total mind-bender.
In 2004 it was announced Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” would be inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry and remains one of Buckley’s most well-known and critically acclaimed recordings. It has featured in many U.S. television series and films, including The West Wing, The O.C., House M.D., Without a Trace, One Tree Hill, The Edukators, Lord of War and Longmire. To be honest, this is not even close to my favourite song on this album.
Fun fact. Both of Jeff Buckley’s parents were musicians. His mom was a classically trained musician and his father (Tim Buckley) was a rock and folk musician who died at 28 from a heroin overdose. Jeff sadly never knew his father however, grew up playing piano and guitar and singing from a young age. That’s why he has such an amazing voice and why he has such a huge range. So let’s dive in, shall we? Sorry, bad joke.
The opening track Mojo Pin sets the hallowed scene for this album which is then followed by the title track Grace. The opening riff is guaranteed to frustrate guitarists alike, nevertheless, Buckley’s unusual style draws you in immediately. If I had to guess Buckley was most likely humming this tune well before he wrote the album. The third track, ‘Last Goodbye’, was the second single released from the album, after the title song, and was Buckley’s most commercially successful song in the US, earning him a belated alternative hit in early 1995.
It took me a while to warm to the soft touch of ‘Lilac Wine’ but like all great wines, it has matured with age. When I bought the Grace Album Guitar Tab the first song I learned was ‘So Real’. The opening riff and chord voicings not only intrigued me but compelled me to play this song over and over again. Good luck singing this little ditty though!
‘Lover Should’ve Come Over‘ was my next guitar project. I had a friend who happened to join us on the beach of Port Douglas one night. He had his guitar with him and asked if he could play a song. Of course, he played this track and sang like he had written the song himself. The rest was history.
The last song I will mention is ‘Dream Brother’. It didn’t hit me how good this song is until I saw the live video. Sure Jeff Buckley is gifted and talented but so was his band. I highly recommend listening to this album with a nice bottle of Margaret River Shiraz and a cheese platter on a mild Spring evening.
6. Blind Melon – Soup (1995)
What do you get when you mix alternative rock with folk, grunge, and neo-psychedelic? Soup. At least that’s what Blind Melon must have thought when they wrote this album. Sadly, the album was released eight weeks before vocalist Shannon Hoon’s fatal drug overdose, making it his final album with the band. Ironically the album reflects a more dark, sombre mood towards Shannon’s drug use and subsequent detoxification. Almost as if they all knew what was coming.
Christopher Thorn explains there was a variety of instruments that went into making this album (hence the name Soup) one of which included him playing the banjo. Thorn explains, “I bought a banjo, so I wrote ‘Skinned’ just for fun. I never imagined Shannon would choose to write lyrics over that music. It was odd and really just so I could learn how to play the banjo.”
The song Walk is a favourite of mine and I love playing this song on acoustic. A folk sounding Am, C. G, F chord progression with groovy lead and harmonica. Hoon wrote this song about his addiction to amphetamines (was there anything this guy wasn’t addicted to?) Nevertheless, it is catchy.
The psychedelic-sounding Toes Across The Floor is another gem with great guitar riffs and lyrics that prove Shannon meant every word, not just on that song but the entire album. But just like the nooks and crannies of Hoon’s idiocentric mind, Mouthful Of Cavities invites us to feel as Hoon did and will continue to haunt me every time I listen to it.
This album didn’t sell as many units as their self-titled debut album, but that said, was far more critically acclaimed. Soup has since become one of the “Top 10 Underrated 90’s Alternative Rock Albums” of all time. And for those who know this band will continue to love them. Those who dare to listen won’t be disappointed.
As Shannon sings in the song 2×4, “Needle, fetal, someone’s pouring warm gravy all over me”. Don’t tell anyone… but I borrowed the main riff from this song and used it on one of my own recordings. Thanks, Blind Melon for the inspiration.
In defence of Shannon, and I know I have made him sound like a drug addict, he was purportedly the first 14-year-old to get a black belt in karate. He was certainly talented in more ways than one. That said, I watch the music clip (Toes Across The Floor) and can’t help but think if only I could go back in time I would hug that scared little boy and tell him it’s going to be alright.
Fun fact. Shannon Hoon did the backup vocal to Don’t Cry (Guns and Roses) and can be spotted in the official music clip.
5. Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)
“All I really believe in is this fu%$ing moment, like right now. And that, actually, is what the whole album talks about.”
Ten is the debut studio album by American rock band Pearl Jam and was the quintessential Grunge album. Although slightly more akin to classic rock riffs and solos when compared to its contemporaries this album exploded onto the world stage and became an inspiration to guitarists and vocalists alike. You knew what you were going to get from the opening track ‘Once‘.
The album took a little time to reach mainstream audiences but by the end of 1992 was a huge success producing three hit singles ‘Alive’, ‘Even Flow’, and the aptly named ‘Jeremy’. I am proud to say I was flogging this album before anyone had heard of them.
That said, the first track I connected with was the dropped D, turbo-charged riff of Even Flow. There was something about the energy of this song that (no pun intended) flowed through the entirety of the album. I often watch the official music clip and wonder if Josh (referenced by Eddie to “turn these lights out”) realizes he’s forever memorialized in one of the most popular rock videos of the 90s? And that his job has meaning. Either way, it was a glorious time. No smartphones in the pit, no plastic audience – just pure emotions! Of similar nature was also the powerhouse song ‘Why Go Home’. Check out Dave (Abbruzzese) drumming on the live clip.
Then there were the uplifting, instrumentals and the big chorus of the anthemic song Alive. Vedder will keep you guessing until the cows come home in terms of lyrical content, but to be honest it is a personal interpretation. He always sounded passionate no matter what his grunts and groans were referring to. Although, it has been revealed the song does tell the semi-autobiographical tale of a son discovering that his father is actually his stepfather.
For me, it is all about Mike McCreedy’s guitar solo. He claims to have ripped off Angus Young but who cares right? Black was the ballad that started slow and built up to a crescendo of emotion. Beautiful lyrics and a well-written song at that. I had to learn it! This song has such soul. His voice is coming from another place that is now lost…a moment that he lived that I am certain scarred his heart. True love.
From start to finish this album ticks all the boxes. You could almost say faultless. If you ever get a chance to see the band perform live, take it. You’re mad if you don’t.
4. Dinosaur Jr – Green Mind (1991)
There are two types of people in this world. Those who get J Mascis… and those who don’t.
Green Mind is the fourth studio album by alternative rock band Dinosaur Jr. By this time original bassist Lou Barlow had left Dinosaur Jr and J Mascis and drummer Murph had to record the album without him. J Mascis ended up playing most of the instruments on Green Mind so you could safely say it was his solo album. J’s ability to play the guitar and the way he plays the drums have always intrigued me.
Ever since I first listened to the band in the early 90s I’ve admired his innate ability to turn a usually boring C, D, G chord progression into something rhythmic and interesting.
The elephant in the room is his vocal style. J Mascis once joked during a rare interview “have you heard me sing?”. His voice is certainly different and far removed from anything that resembles mainstream. His lyrics are mostly nonsensical, once described as a stake in the heart-type love song. But that’s what I like about him.
As a guitarist, I rate J Mascis highly. I am a huge fan of his Fender sound, choppy guitar rhythms and blistering lead solos. His acoustic guitar playing is just as good if not better. You could describe J Mascis as a Country & Western style songwriter gone alternative.
Not renowned for his interviews J Mascis is a man of few words but when he speaks, people listen. In 2013 J Mascis appeared on Rockwiz and was asked how he felt about being voted 5th Greatest Guitarist Of All Time by Spin? He replied, “I guess it’s an honour. But any list that doesn’t have Hendrix as number one is kind of suspect.” He was also asked, “Why didn’t you join Nirvana when Kurt Cobain asked you to on two separate occasions?” He shrugged, “I’m not sure.”
Green Mind was the first album I purchased and in my humble opinion, it is J’s masterpiece. That’s not to say his other albums aren’t as good, I just feel more connected to this album. The first few tracks set the tempo with the bashing of a well-tuned drum kit.
J’s ability to form riffs over unusual drum beats is what makes him such a pioneer of alternative music. Songs such as ‘The Wagon’, ‘Puke and Cry’, and ‘Blowing It’ shows what is possible when you play a D chord as a C shape. As the album progresses, so do the songs. ‘Water’, ‘Thumb’, and ‘Green Mind‘ are all great tracks to finish this great album. I also thoroughly recommend listening to “Ear Bleeding Country” (a best-of compilation that includes: ‘Get Me’, ‘Repulsion’, and ‘Feel the Pain’).
I have to finish by reflecting on J Mascis as a live performer. I have seen him perform several times in various bands and in a more intimate setting, as a solo (acoustic) artist. I have never been disappointed. A stand-out concert was the reformation of Dinosaur Jr in 2009. I saw them play both nights at the Metro Hotel, Melbourne. It was a thrill to be standing 2 meters directly in front of Lou Barlow (bassist) and to see Murph in his finest form on the drums. Another standout was when I saw J play a solo gig at the Ding Dong Bar, Melbourne.
I was there to see Sonic Youth (2005) so you can imagine my surprise when I caught the flyer that afternoon. Loud or acoustic…band or solo… I guarantee J Mascis will ‘Get You’.
3. The Tea Party – Splendor Solis (1993)
This album draws heavily on the rock and blues of the 1970s, as well as having a mix of psychedelic tendencies and classical guitar arrangements. This resulted in numerous comparisons to Led Zeppelin, (Jeff Martin was certainly influenced by his friend Jimmy Page).
Then there’s The Doors thing. Not only did Jeff Martin look like Jim Morrison but sounded just like him with many of the album’s lyrics written in the style of The Doors. Let it be known, Jeff Martin is referred to as a rock baritone with perfect pitch and a prodigy of music.
The album for me was a revelation in guitar playing. Something refreshing to nash your teeth into with open chord tunings (predominately in C). This certainly offered me a new way of looking at chord voicings and arrangements. I particularly enjoyed playing ‘Winter Solstice’ which pairs nicely with ‘Sister Awake‘ (From the Edges of Twilight). It took me about 6 months to learn both of these songs.
To be honest, either album could be in this top ten position but I thought for the sake of diversity I will refer to just one Tea Party album. The opening track, ‘The River‘ is a must-learn for any guitarist. Especially the heavy rock riff leading into the instrumental. ‘Midsummer Day’ is a slight juxtaposition in terms of sound and style but nevertheless, is a beautifully written ballad. A good song to play to your sweetheart. The third track, ‘A Certain Slant of Light’ was picked up by Triple J and helped propel the band’s popularity in Australia, almost as much as in their home country of Canada.
‘Sun Going Down’ showcases Jeff’s bluesy roots, whilst ‘Raven Skies’ is a pure alternative, psychedelic rock. The last track is my favourite. ‘The Majestic Song’. I have been wanting to learn to play this song since I first heard the album. I just can’t figure out his open tuning on this one… “Doh! Why you little!”
I will finish by saying this album will stand the test of time. I recommend going on the journey as intended by the band, and listening to the album in its entirety. Jeff Martin is also an unbelievable live performer. Whether you see him solo or as The Tea Party, he will be certain to ask you, “How do you want your eggs? Soft or Hard?” My advice… Go Hard!
2. Faith No More – Angel Dust (1992)
Angel Dust is the fourth studio album and was so far ahead of its time that many people in the States just didn’t get it. It was the much-anticipated follow-up to 1989’s highly successful The Real Thing and I was at the music store counter when the shop assistant was just pulling it out of the box. I didn’t know at the time but it was to be the band’s final album to feature founding member and guitarist Jim Martin but certainly the start of their true legacy. The band had already written The Real Thing when lead singer Mike Patton had joined. Mike always claimed he was hired to ‘fill the role’ left behind by former singer Chuck Mosely. Despite its massive commercial success, Patton did not have any substantial influence on that record.
Still fresh from recording his debut album with college band Mr Bungle, Patton was determined to go into the studio this time with total creative freedom. The band had unanimously decided to move away from their funk metal style and radically change their musical direction with more of a theatrical sound and ultimately dare Patton to screamo. I just love how Mike Patton can seamlessly switch between opera and demented screaming.
Fun fact. When FNM had finished recording Angel Dust they were told by management from their record label, “I hope you guys didn’t buy houses”. Obviously, management wasn’t impressed by the variety of styles but what would they know right? The band wasn’t trying to write another ‘Epic’ single but instead was intent on exploring their total creative freedom which resulted in setting in stone their musical influence for generations to come.
The album name makes me grin. It is a double entendre that could be interpreted as being something beautiful yet grotesque. Roddy Bottom states that “It’s a really beautiful name for a really hideous drug and that should make people think.” This coincides with the split personality of the album, therefore, the title is rather befitting.
Lyrically, the album is pure genius. Patton sourced his inspiration from fortune cookies, late-night television, role plays, sleep deprivation, and observations from the ghetto. Musically the album pushes the boundaries and tugs at the core of metal and alternative. This album is a wall of sound fusing different styles, rhythms, and samples. Billy Gould is one of my favourite bassists and it all begins with his thumping bass lines.
Backed up by Mike Bordin’s African jungle beats, the tracks were ready for Roddy to add his classical finesse, particularly evident in the song RV. Jim Martin plays his best chord progressions, arrangements, and solos on this album and to this day I am so impressed at the decisions he made whilst recording. Songs such as Caffeine, Kindergarten, Everything’s Ruined, and Be Aggressive would have left me scratching my head at where to start on the guitar. Somehow Jim churned out guitar riffs that sound even heavier live and to this day continue to inspire metal guitarists alike.
Malpractice is an unusual song, I can’t describe it in words. It was one of the few songs written entirely by Patton and features all kinds of weird sound samples (stampeding elephants, a clock ticking, xylophone). You could say this song is art-damaged, apocalyptic death metal and it typifies the band’s intention to free themselves from any particular style or commercial interest. Much of this first half of the song is in 7 and 5 which makes that middle section (standard 4/4 signature) seem that much more peaceful. Fun Fact. The violin section in the background is a sample taken from the second movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet. If you watch the making of Angel Dust MTV interviews on YouTube you see Patton discussing how he wrote this song in a state of complete sleep-deprived delirium. He deliberately stayed awake for several days to see what would happen. I love this guy!
Finally, the Commodore’s song Easy was added later and I suspect was recorded as being a bit of a piss-take. Although Patton has remarked in interviews about the need for slower songs in a setlist. “It’s a tide in, tide out thing.”
Angel Dust remains the band’s best-selling album and has sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide. It’s regarded as “the most influential album of all time” by Kerrang.
1. Guns N Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
5 parts Jack Daniels
2 parts Gibson guitars
Mix with attitude
Garnish with Tattoos, bandana or American flag (optional)
Okay so, my obsession with this band began in 1988 when someone gave me a bootleg of Appetite. The opening track ‘Welcome to the Jungle‘ literally pulled me out of my chair and shook me like a Martini. I remember thinking who the heck are these guys?
Music at that time had become stale and mediocre. Glam Metal bands featured long-haired dudes, pouting cherry flavoured lip gloss, and singing about girls, girls, girls, and more girls. It was uninspiring, to say the least. So you can imagine my surprise listening to Guns N’ Roses for the first time. Finally a band you could relate to. A modern-day Led Zeppelin crossed with some ACDC and a dash of punk for good measure.
The story I like best, however, was when David Geffen rang MTV and persuaded them to play ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Up until that point the album had only sold 250 thousand units so when the song finally aired at 3 am Sunday morning (or late Saturday night depending on your point of view) the MTV switchboard literally blew up from all the requests to play “That cool song” again. The album went on to sell 30 million worldwide, is one of the best-selling records of all time, and is the best-selling debut album of all time.
In terms of the music, it’s just pure Blues Heavy Rock. Slash’s solos are not only genius, but they’re also memorable and the guitar arrangements are enjoyable to play. Lyrically, Axl backs it up with life experience, offensive language, and interesting innuendos. In terms of their live performances, they were polished, raw, and engaging. In particular, the 6-foot red-headed frontman, Axl, was an enigma as he stomped around the stage with his off-the-cuff rants.
Then there was Live at the Ritz. This greatest pub gig of all time perfectly encapsulates the chaos of their early club years. I watched it so many times my damn VCR wore the tape out. Which was a bummer because that was well before the internet. Lucky we can watch this gig now on YouTube.
I did get to see the band play live. Twice in fact. Melbourne Calder Park Raceway (1992), and Adelaide Oval (2017). Both shows were unbelievable but the second show was definitely my most memorable. Not because of an overweight, middle-aged Axl Rose, but because I was close enough to the stage to see their tattoos fade in real-time.
The album’s original cover art, based on Robert Williams’ painting Appetite for Destruction, depicted a robotic rapist about to be punished by a metal avenger. It was quite controversial at the time so Geffen made the sensible decision to put it on the inside cover. I don’t know why I find this interesting but fun fact nevertheless!
So, what do you think? Is Guns N Roses the best album of all time? Or would you have chosen something different? Let me know in the comments section below.
This little Minion, when not binge-ing on TV series, loves to fill in his time by moonlighting as a freelance blogger and writing the occasional opinion piece for his best friend Lace.