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Question of the Week: Do you believe there are perfect albums, and if so, which ones would you list?

It’s been a while since I had a Question of the Week, but life just gets in the way sometimes, people! I don’t know if I’m back, but I’m back for today!

I’ve often thought of the concept of a “perfect album” since I read something many years ago on a blog, where the writer was pondering it. I mentioned it at the old blog and got a ton of responses, but it’s an intriguing (to me) Question, so I thought I’d ask it more formally … and set out some of my own ground rules. Yours may be different!

To me, a “perfect album” might not be my favorite album of all time (in my case, it is, but bear with me!). You can have a brilliant album and it might have a clunker on it, so it’s not perfect. To me, a perfect album means that you would not change a single thing. Not a note, not a lyric, not even the order of the songs. In this day and age, we listen to everything on our phones, and we have curated playlists or just shuffle (which is how I listen to my phone), but I still like putting a CD on in my car and listening to the entire thing, and song order matters to a degree. “Afterglow” by Genesis is a perfect album-ending song, so I’m glad it’s the final song on Wind & Wuthering, because it simply wouldn’t work as well earlier. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would be great anywhere, but it has extra juice because it kicks off Nevermind. So, with perfect albums, order matters. It’s not the most important thing, but it’s a consideration.

Some of my favorite albums aren’t perfect (again, my favorite album is, but I have others high in the hierarchy!). Nothing’s Shocking is a great album, but if we lost “Up the Beach” (an instrumental, true, but still) or “Idiots Rule,” I don’t think it would be a great tragedy. I love Mother Love Bone’s Apple, but the world is not clamoring for “Man of Golden Words.” One of my favorite recent albums, Fever Dream by Of Monsters and Men, is brilliant for the first nine songs … unfortunately, the album has 11, and while the final song is just fine, nobody would miss “Under the Dome.” My point is that the best albums might have a bad song here and there, so they’re not perfect. For me, a perfect album might not have the greatest songs in the world (although, obviously, they should be better than just “good”), but it definitely can’t have any mediocre or even bad songs. Who’s Next is a classic, with some of the greatest songs of the era, if not of all time – “Baba O’Riley,” “Love Ain’t For Keeping,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – but they let Entwistle sneak in “My Wife,” and man, that docks it pretty heavily. This is all my definition, of course – yours certainly may vary.

If you’ve read my work for any appreciable amount of time, you know that my favorite album EVAH is Misplaced Childhood by Marillion, and it’s also, to me, a perfect album. I wouldn’t change anything about it, and I still love putting the CD in and listening to the entire thing (the songs are all linked, so each side has no break in the music). The music is amazing, Fish’s lyrics have never been better, before or since, and the story of the album (it’s a concept album, because of course it is) is keen. “Kayleigh” is a marvelous, bittersweet love song, and it’s the big hit from the album, but my favorite song is probably “Childhoods End,” the penultimate song on the album. But, because it’s “perfect,” there’s not a bad moment on it! I’ve gone on about this album before, so I’ll shut up now.

I was going to say that Misplaced Childhood is my only “perfect album,” but I don’t think that’s true. I’ve thought about it, and I think have a few others. There might be more, but I can’t think of them right now. First up (chronologically) is Led Zeppelin IV. I know it’s a cliché, but man, what are you getting rid of from that album? Maybe “The Battle of Evermore”? I don’t agree, but that’s the only song on the album that could be considered less than great, and it’s still dang good. Much to my wife’s chagrin (if she never hears “Stairway to Heaven” again it will be too soon, not because she hates it, but because it was so overplayed in her youth), I think “Zoso” is a perfect album. Next up is, maybe, a bit of a surprise: The Grand Illusion by Styx. Is this the greatest album ever? No, but there’s not a bad song on it, and you can make a case that 6 of the 8 songs (really 7, as the 8th is a brief coda at the end) are stone cold classics. Only “Superstars” doesn’t reach those heights, but it’s still very good, and when DeYoung starts his little sing-talky thing in the middle, it’s chilling (in a good way). You might think “Come Sail Away” is not where it should be – at the end – but in the middle (it’s the final track on Side 1) works, I think, because of the vague concept of the album, given that it seems to be hopeful (and naïve, maybe), but then we come crashing back down to earth with the nasty “Miss America.” I wouldn’t drop anything from that album, nor would I change the order of the songs. Last, but not least, I think we have to consider Purple Rain. Interestingly, in the original version, Prince didn’t put the title track at the end, which would have been a mistake, I think – it, like “Afterglow,” is a perfect album-ender. Again, a bunch of classics – I’m particularly partial to “The Beautiful Ones” and “Baby I’m a Star” and only one song that is just good (“Computer Blue,” I’m looking at you). It’s a classic album, sure, but more importantly – no dead weight. You’ll notice that these albums, with the exception of Misplaced Childhood (which has a few shorter songs), all contain 8 songs only, and while that’s just a coincidence, I do think if you’re going to nail a perfect album, you need to think about cutting some songs. If you start messing around and making your album 10, 11, 12 songs or more, there’s just a bigger chance that you’re going to screw up and throw on a lousy or mediocre one! Keep it tight, performers!!!!

What are your “perfect albums”? Do you even think any are? Will Eric break the comment section listing all the ones he thinks are? Let me know, people!

16 Comments

  1. I disagree about My Wife from Who’s Next because it needs that break.

    Purple Rain – sure
    Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
    John Barleycorn Must Die – Traffic
    the British A Hard Day’s Night
    That’s A Plenty – Pointer Sisters; a more eclectic album I’ve seldom heard

    But my #1 is Peter Gabriel’s 3rd album (Melt). I’ve loved it since my first hearing. I have it in German and English.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Sure, no problem – get rid of “Going Mobile” instead! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I own zero Gabriel albums (which is odd because I liked Genesis when he sang for them and I liked his songs, I just haven’t gotten the album), but that third album is pretty darned good.

  2. Eric van Schaik

    “Will Eric break the comment section listing all the ones he thinks are?”
    But of course Greg. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    A lot of my “perfect albums” are live recordings but they are also kind of best off albums. Unleashed in the East by Judas Priest, Kiss Alive and On your feet or on your knees by Blue Oyster Cult are the first that come to mind. Albums that never played in another order.

    Tinderbox by Siouxsie was the first CD I ever bought and an perfect album IMO. Starting strongly wit Candyman, and ending the first half (as an LP) with the single Cities in Dust. 92ยบ flowing into Lands End is the perfect ending. This is an album I have to listen twice every time I put it in the cd player.

    And Also The Trees have some really great albums but Green is the sea is another perfect album. Red Valentino always suckes me right into it and when it ends with Jacob Fleet it has given me a great feeling.

    Blonde Redhead’s Misery is a butterfly is another example. I heard the first song Elephant Woman on a local dutch alternative music station and was blown away. All the other songs are great also. I heared another version of Messenger sung by David Sylvian but I’m glad the version by Amedeo Pace is on the album. I’ll see them later this year when they come to Holland to promote a new album.

    Maybe even you Greg are familiar with Violater by Depeche Mode. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Starting with one of my all time greatest songs World in my eyes. Songs like Personal Jesus, Halo, Enjoy the silence and Policy of truth are placed perfect on the album with Clean being another example of the best way to end an album.

    Leprous latest album Aphelion is also perfect. We’ve seen them life 5 times within the last 12 months so you know I really dig them. They have other great albums but every one has a songs that could have been cut off, but not with this one. It’s the album with most songs making me very emotional, specialy Out of here, On Hold and Nighttime Disguise. Why that is I don’t know but it happens every time. I’m a big old softy. ๐Ÿ™‚ Also a band we’ll see again. Just after my 60th birthday. A late birthday present so to speak. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Radiohead’s OK Computer. Do I really need to explain this one? I guess some of you are familiar with this perfect album.

    The Whirlwind by Transatlantic is basically one song divided in 12 parts that scores as an perfect album in my book.

    Dutchman Arjen Lucassen’s side project The Guilt Machine has the word perfect even as part of the album (On this perfect day). His Ayreon stuff is amazing but this is just prefect the way it is.

    Canadian trash/prog band’s first outing War and pain is the last one I’ll mention. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s starts brutal with Voivod and never lets you go. I still have the LP and that ended with the title track. Blower brings you right back into action and Nuclear war an epic ending.

    Because of me you bought the very first album of Gazpacho and you didn’t like it that much, and thats ok. You should have bought Night Greg. Starting with 17 minutes of beauty called Dream of stone, followed by Chequered light buildings, Upside down and Valerie’s friend before ending with Massive Illusion.

    In all cases YMMV. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Greg Burgas

      Man, I can’t even keep up with you! I will say that Violator is a very good choice; I’d probably ditch “Blue Dress,” but it’s not a horrible song.

  3. conrad1970

    For me the most perfect album has got to be โ€˜Is This Itโ€™ by The Strokes.
    Julian Casablancas growling his way through 11 songs of pure brilliance thatโ€™s over in just 35 minutes.
    You just canโ€™t beat it.

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, I don’t agree about Who’s Next; I think that may very well be the perfect Who album.
    As for Grand Illusion, well, back when I was a big Styx fan (that would have been the late ’70s through the early ’80s), I probably would have agreed with you. Now, though, when I even think about Styx I’d say Equinox is their best album – although I don’t think I’d characterize any of their albums as perfect.

    Anyway, my criteria for perfect album are similar to yours, although I think I would define it more simply as an album that never makes you want to skip over any tracks. So, my picks:

    Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet (this may not count because it’s a compilation album, but damn, every track is just so good and they all fit together so perfectly)
    Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
    Beatles – Rubber Soul
    Santana – Abraxas
    Santana – Zebop!
    Yes – The Yes Album
    Yes – Fragile (also their best album and probably the best prog rock album ever)
    Curtis Mayfield – SuperFly (also the best soundtrack ever)
    Rolling Stones – Some Girls
    Television – Marquee Moon
    Buzzcocks – A Different Kind of Tension
    Joan Armatrading – The Key
    Crazy 8s – Law & Order
    Robbie Robertson (his eponymous first album; RIP by the way)
    Robbie Robertson – Contact from the Underworld of Redboy

    Some honorable mentions as ‘almost perfect’:
    Beatles – Revolver
    Pretty much every one of original six Doors albums.
    Missing Persons – Spring Session M
    …and tons more but that’s just off the top of my head…

    1. Greg Burgas

      I like Equinox, but like a lot of early Styx, DeYoung gets a bit obnoxious occasionally. I know he and Shaw didn’t get along for long (if ever!), but it seemed like Shaw was able to rein him in just a bit, which made the band tighter. You may disagree!

      Man, it’s tough to choose between Fragile and The Yes Album, even though we’re not actually, you know, choosing! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Yeah, I’m not so sure I’d consider the Grand Illusion an instance of DeYoung being reined in; I’d say that it’s the band’s first concept album, a tendency that would become even more pronounced later (and epitomized by the – in my opinion – disastrous Kilroy Was Here).

        1. Greg Burgas

          Sure, Grand Illusion is a bit bombastic, but DeYoung doesn’t seem to go too far into the weird, and I don’t know if it’s just him or Shaw’s influence. Contrast “Father OSA” (which I love) with, say, “Man in the Wilderness,” and it seems he’s toned it down a bit. I could be wrong.

          Man, I love Kilroy Was Here. A mess, sure, but I love it! ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Edo Bosnar

            Well, glad you like it, but Kilroy basically killed my Styx fandom. Like I said, before that I was a pretty big fan, had all of their albums, even those obscure pre-Equinox releases, in one form or another (The Grand Illusion on an 8-track hand-me-down from my older sister) and listened to them quite a bit. I think I listened to Kilroy all the way through once, set it aside and then pretty much stopped listening to any of their music for a long time after that. I only get back into it in a limited way about 10 years ago, occasionally running albums or individual songs on YouTube.

  5. fit2print

    Boston, self-titled debut album, released 47 years ago this week. Not a dud on itโ€ฆ

    Side one
    1. “More Than a Feeling”
    2. “Peace of Mind”
    3. “Foreplay/Long Time”

    Side two
    4. “Rock & Roll Band”
    5. “Smokin’โ€
    6. “Hitch a Ride”
    7. “Something About Youโ€
    8. “Let Me Take You Home Tonightโ€

  6. John King

    I love music and have loads of albums
    the ones that to me qualify as “perfect” (or close enough)

    Genesis – Foxtrot
    Genesis – Duke (a trick of the tail comes close but not quite)
    Gerry Rafferty – Night Owl
    Rainbow – Down to Earth
    Sad Cafe – Ole
    They Might be Giants -Flood
    Thomas Dolby – the Golden Age of Wireless (1983 version)

    1. Greg Burgas

      Duke is the best Collins Genesis album, so I don’t disagree with you, although I don’t think it’s quite perfect, as “Man of Our Times” gums up the joint a bit. I go back and forth on the best Gabriel album between Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme – usually I think Nursery Cryme is better, because Foxtrot is so dominated by “Supper’s Ready,” but dang, Genesis went into the stratosphere when Collins and Hackett joined – they released four classics in a row over four years; that’s a good track record!

  7. Andrew Collins

    Agreed on Misplaced Childhood, ZOSO, and Purple Rain being about as close to “perfect” as an album can get.

    Albums I’d add to the list that I think just work so well from beginning to end:
    Cure- Disintegration

    Chameleons- Strange Times

    Miles Davis- Kind Of Blue

    Weezer- Weezer (The Blue Album)

    Weezer- Pinkerton

    Type O Negative- October Rust (okay, I’d remove the dumb jokey intro, but the SONGS are fantastic from start to finish…)

    Blue Oyster Cult- Fire Of Unknown Origin

    Afghan Whigs- Gentlemen

    Genesis- Invisible Touch

    Japan- Tin Drum

    Talk Talk- Spirit Of Eden

    Dead Can Dance- Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun

    Camel- The Snowgoose

    Radiohead- OK Computer

    Peter Murphy- Cascade

    Duran Duran- Rio

    Sisters Of Mercy- Floodland

    The Cars- The Cars

    Human League- Dare

    ABC- Lexicon Of Love

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