The top 10 or so are more or less my favorites, while the rest are somewhat random.
The 13th Floor Elevators – Easter Everywhere embodies the best the first wave of psychedelic rock had to offer, ambitious, transcendent, somewhat goofy but always earnest. As a displaced Texan, it has a special place in my heart. Love – Forever Changes is cut through with more sinister undertones but equally beautiful.
The Stooges – Fun House is the greatest rock album of all time, but Funkadelic – Maggot Brain isn’t far behind it—heavy and psychedelic and funky.
Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club is an incredible document of America toward the tail end of legalized segregation, a window into how the most mainstream of soul singers performed when unconstrained by buttoned-up white audiences.
Manuel Gottsching – Inventions for Electric Guitar is one of many 70s guitar psych masterpieces and my personal favorite for the way it stretches what a guitar can sound like.
Reigning Sound – Too Much Guitar and Hot Snakes – Audit in Progress are two of my favorite rock records of the current millennium: the former for how Greg Cartwright is able to make his encyclopedic knowledge of decades of rock, country, and r&b sound so deeply personal, and the latter for its ruthless efficiency. No band wastes less time or fewer notes.
Circuit des Yeux – Overdue is a brilliant, brooding experimental folk record. I don’t know what Haley Fohr was going through when she made this album, but it came out when I was upending my life to move across the country, and her music has been a constant in my life since.
Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime is a personal moral compass, an album that stretches the boundaries of punk and ranges in subject matter from straightforward polemic to childish humor to abstract stream of consciousness without ever straying from its beliefs in justice, solidarity, and friendship.
Thoughts on a few other albums:
Cold Sun – Dark Shadows is the bizarro Easter Everywhere, a dark, paranoid bad trip from a lesser known Texas group that counters the Elevators transcendental hallucinations. The best use of autoharp in rock music that I know of.
Rosali – Trouble Anyway is sort of my personal follow-up to Overdue in that it was the soundtrack to my second big move, this time across the entire length of the country from North Carolina to Northern California. I listened to it and thought a lot about getting older.
Cave – Neverendless is one of the best of modern kraut-influenced rock and has been the soundtrack to hundreds of miles of running over the years. There are other records on this list I love more, but few I’ve listened to more times.
The Young – Voyagers of Legend, Marked Men – Fix My Brain, and The Dicks – Kill from the Heart are more records that I take great pride in being made by Texans. The Dicks, in particular, are personal heroes for having been proudly leftist and fronted by one of the first openly gay men in hardcore in Reagan-era America. While I’m from Texas, Archers of Loaf – Vee Vee is the album I hold most dear from my adopted home of North Carolina.
The Bags – All Bagged Up is sort of cheating because the group never released an album. The live stuff here is pretty good but mostly I wanted to include the few studio recordings, some of the best and most ferocious punk ever recorded.
Satwa – Satwa is one of my favorite psychedelic folk records from anywhere in the world, in this case the Recife scene in Brazil. A beautiful combination of sitar and 12-string guitar.
The Horrors – The Horrors (Iowa, 2000, not to be confused with the 2000s British post-punk band) is an unheralded masterpiece of barebones noisy blues garage. Like if Pussy Galore was slower and less artsy, or if the White Stripes had twice as many guitars and a tenth as much talent. Some of the solos on this record are basically just static. It’s perfect.
Obnox – Templo del Sonido is the most complete realization to date of Bim Thomas’s fusion of punk, blues, jazz, and noise (there’s less rap influence here than on other records). On that note, I’m mostly a dummy when it comes to jazz, but I like the stuff made by people who waded into fusion or psychedelia, or just played straight up furious rhythms, so Larry Young – Lawrence of Newark, Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda, and Max Roach – Percussion Bitter Sweet are favorites.