The 20 Albums Every Guy Should Own
Mr Randall Poster – music supervisor on films by Messrs Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and David Fincher – designs his essential record collection
Rockabilly singer Mr Eddie Cochran and his fiancée, songwriter Ms Sharon Sheeley, shop for records in LA, late 1950s Douglas Kirkland/ Corbis
I have never been an “either/ or” type of person. Particularly when it comes to the music I want to listen to. While I love reading critics and artists detail the promise and allure of a single desert island disc, I would be hard-pressed to settle on one compilation of songs.
As no man is himself an island, the notion of being left alone with 12 tracks for one’s remaining days seems a cruel and unusual punishment. Which is why I am happy to say that I have mercifully been asked to list 20 albums that I think essential for any gentleman’s collection.
The criteria for an essential record collection is pretty clear: albums you cannot live without, or wouldn’t want to live without. Recordings that mainline emotion and stand the test of the temporal. For me, the records below mark a passage through time, and connect me with significant moments and sentiments. They connect me with people I may have shared these songs with. And yet there is a solitary impetus to most of these choices. I have spent many days and nights alone with these records and they have abided. They connect me with who I was and how I felt when I first heard them.
There are undoubtedly some big records and artists missing from this list. Mr Lou Reed, REM, Mr Marvin Gaye, Mr Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, Ms Donna Summer, Mr Bobby Womack, Hüsker Dü, Blondie, Hot Tuna, Mr Bo Diddley, The Jam, Mr Loudon Wainwright, Mr Ike and Ms Tina Turner, the Beastie Boys. Records that provide countless moments of joy, solace and companionship. I leave it to you to mark my glaring omissions, but trust that each of these selections are worth your time and will reward you for your investment and contemplation.
If you are in a hurry – and would like to savour the insightful commentary later – you may skip to MR PORTER’s classic playlist here.
This arrived on the tail of Mr Morrison’s happiest and bestselling records Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir and Tupelo Honey. Mr Morrison, now based in the San Francisco Bay area, sings of displacement and transcendence. He is sure to groove you still, but there is a long note of contemplation that rattles. The record opens with uplift, the R & B ode “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” and closes with almost Joycean majesty, the epic “Almost Independence Day”. This is a record to feast on, and I have.
This record is 45 years old, but can still kick your a**. Rock opera: rock’n’roll. Mr Pete Townshend takes you on a trip to a scary place and changes you forever. The muscular bass playing of John “The Ox” Entwistle. Mr Keith Moon’s drumming. We all are that deaf, dumb and blind kid. We all can play a mean pinball (“Pinball Wizard” is one the album’s best tracks). Mr Roger Daltrey sings so great you don’t even mind that his shirt is unbuttoned.
This record works. It will actually make you happy. I dare the most down and depressed to not get some lift by the third or fourth song into it. And there are 20 songs. And it feels like each is better than the next! “The Imposter” or “I Stand Accused” or “Motel Matches”. I know all the words.
Messrs David Byrne and Brian Eno help create one of the most dynamic and invigorating song cycles ever. But the name of this band is Talking Heads and this is a group effort with Messrs Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison and Ms Tina Weymouth all making this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Afro grooves and the fattest beats imaginable. It’s a modern lesson in rhythm. It’s a magical gift box of mystical, mime tics. And the beat goes on.
Dr John pays tribute to his native New Orleans with a tangle of Crescent City classics that will have you looking for Professor Longhair videos late into the evening. This is the record that teaches you the words to Mardi Gras classic “Iko Iko”; that reveals the wonders of Mr Huey “Piano” Smith. Mr Mac Rebennack, inimitable Dr John, national treasure, emperor of the groove, always to be played.
This is my favourite Mr Dylan record. Broken-hearted. Spiteful. Needy. Pained. Mr Dylan spins tales dizzy with details about his unravelling marriage. Songs such as “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” will leave you with black and blue marks. Yet they’re also a place to find solace. A place to be angry and hurt. If he can say it, he can survive it. That kind of thing.
This record is a life lesson. Mr Morrison’s guide to the R & B galaxy. Live, with the Calendonia Soul Orchestra (yes, strings!) recorded in 1973. You got your Mr Bobby “Blue” Bland song, your Mr Ray Charles, your Mr Sam Cooke. You got your Mr Willie Dixon. Mr Muddy Waters! And yet it is all Mr Morrison at the height of his powers. He pays tribute to his forebears and kind of eats their lunch, too. No other record made me buy more records. This one belongs in everyone’s collection.
This movie made me want to put music in movies. This album is a ticket for time travel. Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, the Del-Vikings' “Come Go With Me”, The Skyliners' “Since I Don’t have You” One listen and you discover what it felt like to be 17 in 1962. The greatest history class you’ve ever taken.
This is a soundtrack I created. Mr Wes Anderson decides to use the film scores of Mr Satyajit Ray and an odyssey begins. So much emotion and exotic insinuation that you will very quickly fall under an ancient spell. Plus, three of the greatest Kinks songs and Peter Sarstedt’s sublime “Where Do You Go To My Lovely”.
I have been reading Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings and the great Mr Marley is central to the drama. This album was recorded in London after a failed assassination attempt. Mr Marley expands some of the boundaries of reggae and leaves us with a boundless musical landscape both personal and political. A classic.
Mr West defies expectations and precedents and captures the modern moment. An incredible variety of sounds and musical genres collide and unify under Mr West’s razor countenance. Dare I say – it’s a masterpiece. Form and content fuse, as Mr West pours forth with hard-hitting jabs and furious flow. This is not your father’s rap music.
Here are four sides of music that you’d be hard-pressed to match. Rock music with a moral compass. Riotous but righteous. Nobody ever crowed like Mr Joe Strummer and nobody ever will. This record joins us in citizenry. This record will help you check yourself. This record is forevs.
I have probably played this record more than any other in my collection. And while legend abounds regarding its beginnings, there is simply no better group of songs to jump-start the day or extend the night. While recorded largely in France by these ever-Englishmen, this noble rot of a record celebrates the strange American brew that is rock’n’roll. If you ever feel like putting your finger in a light socket, try this one for similar kicks.
The man knows how to write a song. And this is a record of impeccable ones. While mining the foul fissures that keep lovers apart, Mr Jackson Browne still manages to render the whispering winds that abide in us alone. He is complemented by the plaintive guitars of his cohort Mr David Lindley. They may have called this the California sound, but it’s much more than that. We are invited to watch the most intimate unravelling of love and are left to make sense of the remnants. Useful. Beautiful. Mr Martin Scorsese uses the title track to great effect in Taxi Driver, if you can believe it.
X kill me. From the first time I heard them and the first time I saw them, I was in awe. Somehow they managed to summon the likes of Messrs Raymond Chandler, James Dean and Jim Morrison all in one late-night ride across Hollywood Boulevard. The record, the band’s second, is a punch in the nose, a relentless bell ringer, a West Coast punk rock wake-up call.
Whether you “sleep with electric guitars” or Range Rover “with the cinema stars”, Pavement is the band for you. I kept this one on repeat for a decade and it kept the grey out of my hair. Mr Steve Malkmus and crew jam and jaw and remind us that fun is the best thing to have.
They came out of Boston with a singer named Mr Black Francis and a bass player called Mrs John Murphy. With songs such as “Gigantic” and “Where is My Mind?” they lent a surreal accent to post-adolescent trauma that united late 1980s wannabe misfits like few things. This record is still incendiary.
Never a more appropriate album title. While “genius” is often used, it is rarely earned. Mr Charles almost reinvents the term with this monster. True soul. Real cool. Measure anything against it. I take “Deed I Do” and “Just for a Thrill” for the win.
This is an essential even though I myself do not own it. You see I love the song “007” so much that I was always afraid that I would play it out if I had it to hand. That should not stop you. Not sure there is a better music movie than this one. And a soundtrack that took the world by demon storm. I give you Mr Johnny Nash. I give you Mr Desmond Dekker. Mr Jimmy Cliff. And, of course, “Pressure Drop”. (And “007”.)
Three guys from San Pedro, California create an epic collection of songs without any pretence and without a false spiritual note. In case you were wondering, Double Nickels on the Dime is American slang for the speed limit (55mph) on Interstate 10, ie the Dime (the major interstate that travels cross country from Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, California). While “History Lesson – Part II” may just be the sweetest and most candid telling of a band’s birth, songs such as “Jesus and Tequila”, “Corona”, and “Political Song for Michael Jackson” are as punk rock as anything ever. Forging musical motor from the ordinary, this 45-song gift basket is a testament to the creative rewards of true friendship and an enduring faith in hard work. We lost lead singer Mr D Boon too soon after this arrived, but his spirit is found in the grooves of these records and I urge you to seek him out.