Virginia Wine Notebook’s Top 100 Albums of All Time
As the blogmasters were DJs in a previous life, we met many winery owners in Virginia over the last ten years as we marketed our side business. So we thought now would be an appropriate time to mix tunes with grapes.
What are your top 100 albums? It’s a challenge for any music fanatic to list. We frequently read articles and watch programs on cable TV which count down the top 100 (or 500, or even 1000) Best Albums of the Rock Era. And usually, the same selections appear over and over, while some of our favorites are left off. So here is our opportunity to set the vinyl record straight. And suggest 100 favorite wines from 100 favorite Virginia wineries while we do it.
The album format is a relic in the age of iTunes, Pandora and satellite radio. And in our humble opinions, true music died in 1991, when Billboard Magazine changed the methodology it used to track the popular success of songs. This is around the same time AM and FM pop radio died. Music popularity was based on MTV rotation. Not DJ rotation.
These are the great albums that contain true music created by artists who got their breaks the old-fashioned way; that is to say, original, not overly slick compositions, containing melody and harmony, and created by and performed by artists who did not get their big break from a bad televised talent show (and we don't mean The Gong Show or Star Search.)
Here are the Notebook’s choices for the top 100 albums, xx years in the making. There will be a few glaring omissions for some (especially those who adore big band, jazz, punk and ‘90s grunge). The fact that the most recent album on our list is from 1996 pretty much sums it up. Great music, at least in our minds, has been dead for nearly 20 years. And if we sound like a couple of disgruntled dudes, we are when it comes to music. Although we are optimistic when many people under 30 are now collecting (almost obsessively collecting) vintage vinyl. A co-worker of David’s, 25 years old, has been treating his office’s corridor with Black Sabbath, The Eagles, Crosby Stills and Nash and Bob Seger...on vinyl. Maybe there is hope........
And we’ve suggested a bottle of Virginia wine to go with each album. And extra points to you if you play the album on a turntable (half a point for a CD), versus listening to the album via YouTube or some other streaming service.
The simple criteria here: These are works we still reach for. Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Nirvana—influential to be sure but we don’t find ourselves reaching for their CDs....
Part 1: 100 to 76
100. Who by Numbers /The Who (1975)
First things first…Who fanatics will be disappointed to read that this is the only Who album in the Top 100. Who’s next and Tommy? Overplayed and outdated, in our vinomusica opinions. The single “Squeeze Box” is still quirky and fun, the whole album remains fresh sounding, and is also a warm-up for Townshend’s solo career (he sings lead on several tracks, including the winery appropriate “However Much I Booze,” the sweet sounding but bitter “They Are All in Love,” and the beautiful ukulele number “Blue, Red and Grey.”) This is the album the Notebook reaches for the most...except, maybe, Quadrophenia...
Suggested wine pairing: Burnley Vineyards Rivanna White
99. Hawks/Hawks (1981)
Naming themselves “Hawks” (not “The Hawks”) sounds a bit like “Eagles” (which is actually the formal name of the more-famous band)….but their name is made up of the letters of the members’ last names. Listen to this album, currently not available on CD (legend has it the original masters were burned in a warehouse fire), and you’d swear they’re from the UK. The album smacks of solo McCartney, Badfinger, and the Kinks, in a very fine way. Only this band is from Iowa. The story goes, the band (members all devout ‘60s British invasion fanatics) played clubs all over Iowa in the late ‘70s, and on a whim, sent a cassette of material to Columbia Records. And then were signed to the label...without even showing up at the label’s office! Unfortunately, in the era of post-punk New Wave, skinny ties, and Valley Girls, the album went nowhere commercially, except in their native upper midwest (the band cut one more album before being dropped by the label). One listen and you will be hooked—guaranteed.
Suggested wine pairing: Flying Fox Vineyards Trio
98. Holland/Beach Boys (1973)
The Beach Boys’ albums following Pet Sounds (and the subsequent breakdown of Brian Wilson) were mainly unheralded in the U.S., and were quickly dismissed by even the diehard Beach Boys fans. Overseas, these albums and occasional singles were more successful, and today they are finally getting the recognition they deserve (the remastered CD and vinyl treatment, for starters). Holland spun off a minor hit single with “Sail On, Sailor,” which Elton John has called one of his favorite Beach Boys songs. The album is fluid from start to finish, and the side two opener “The Trader” is a Carl Wilson classic.
Suggested wine pairing: James River Cellars Hanover White
97. Fear of Music/Talking Heads (1979)
Arguably the best studio album by David Byrne and company, this one brims with New York industrial New Wave energy (“Cities,” “Life During Wartime,” “I Zimbra”), and the elegant “Heaven” has been covered by at least a hundred different artists, from Simply Red to kd lang to Eric Burdon.
Suggested wine pairing: First Colony Winery Vidal Blanc
96. Sweet Baby James/James Taylor (1970)
A tall, lanky, sensitive artist like James Taylor (who some even compared looks-wise to Jesus) would probably be deemed by women today as being “creepy,” but Taylor took the singer/songwriter mellowness of Simon and Garfunkel and fused it with the naked honesty of Bob Dylan. The result was a record that spoke to a generation of music fans. Heard today, it’s delicate as an early December snow and just as magical. And as he proves on the delta bluesy “Steamroller,” the guy can let his hair down and have fun too.
Suggested wine pairing: Narmada Winery Viognier
95. Tapestry/Carole King (1971)
Following in the footsteps of James Taylor came another album that was (and remains) adored by millions, particularly women, who adopted “I Feel the Earth Move” as their anthem for at least the first half of the ‘70s. The album is made up of newly penned King songs (most of which have become standards, like “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away”), and covers of her own songs, which were introduced to the world by other artists (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”). This one’s for you, Kate!
Suggested wine pairing: Marterella Winery Grace
94. Some Girls/Rolling Stones (1978)
The Stones’ New York album. If you listen carefully, you can even hear the hiss of cocaine caught in the grooves of this album. “Miss You” proved that even the rockers can disco out, and Rod Stewart, Kiss and the Electric Light Orchestra would soon churn out songs that joined “Miss You” amidst the strobe lights of Studio 54. The rest of the album is rude and raw, as only Mick and Keef can be….”When the Whip Comes Down,” “Shattered,” and the PC Alert title track. Radical Christian Televangelism gets the pie in the face treatment in “Far Away Eyes,” proving the Stones were not shy of political content: “I was driving home early Sunday morning through Bakersfield---Listening to Gospel music on the radio station---And the preacher said, ‘You know you always have the Lord by your side’. And I was so pleased to be informed of this that I ran twenty red lights in his honor. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Lord.”
Suggested wine pairing: Naked Mountain Petit Manseng
93. The Stranger/Billy Joel (1977)
The Piano Man’s commercial breakthrough, this album could almost be deemed an early greatest hits set. And the fact that it contains “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” makes it a natural fit for a wine and winery based top 100 album list. The album has been criticized as being overly slick by fans of his earlier work, but mainstream acceptance was what BJ was going for. And he got it in spades. Despite the cut that sounds like a bad song from a Rocky sequel, The Stranger hits all chords.
Suggested (bottle of red, bottle of white, or how about a rosé tonight?): Gadino Cellars Sunset
92. Saturday Night Fever/soundtrack (1977)
This soundtrack and the Bee Gees were the recipients of the one of the biggest backlashes in pop music history. It took over ten years for listeners to publicly listen to, and admire, the album again. It remains the definitive classic of the disco era, and not just for the Bee Gees tracks on side 1.
Suggested wine pairing: Casanel Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
91. Transformer/Lou Reed (1972)
That late, great king of New York fringe music, this one is by far Reed’s masterpiece. He took a cue from David Bowie (who joins him on “Satellite of Love”) and crafted an album that surpasses Bowie’s own work in many ways. This is attributed to Reed’s deadpan voice and sardonic pen. And “Make Up” earns the distinction as being one of the funniest songs in rock history.
Suggested wine pairing: Old House Winery. Walk on the Wild Side with their Wicked Bottom Chambourcin (ask them about how the wine got its name).
90. Meddle/Pink Floyd (1971)
The first side contains some of the Floyd’s strongest guitar-work (“One of These Days,” “Fearless”). We’ll even give a pass to the silly ditty with the dog, “Seamus.” What makes the album a classic is side 2, the magnum opus “Echoes.” Think Pink, indeed.
Suggested wine pairing: Tarara Winery Chardonnay
89. Duke/Genesis (1980)
Duke was the pinnacle work of the Collins/Banks/Rutherford incarnation of Genesis, before Collins and his solo career somewhat sidetracked their next four albums with more radio-friendly material. This album blends the artistic rock, keyboard-based tendencies of Tony Banks, the underrated guitar work of Mike Rutherford, and the songwriting craft of Phil Collins perfectly. And “Duchess,” the stand-out track here, contains lyrics that predicted the rise of the Diva in pop music, three years before Madonna and 25 years before Lady Gaga.
Suggested wine pairing: Gray Ghost Vineyards Gewürztraminer
88. Let it Be/Beatles (1970)
The Fab Four’s first appearance on this list is their loosest record. Made up primarily of outtakes from the White Album sessions, with symphonic production added by Phil Spector (to the dismay of Paul and delight of the others, especially George), the album combines beautiful ballads like “Across the Universe” and the title track with John-dominated heavy blues/rock tunes. And John’s between-song banter still brings smiles to listeners after all these years.
Suggested wine pairing: Barboursville Vineyards Barbera Reserve
87. Bringing it All Back Home/Bob Dylan (1965)
The album that made his fans “boo.” The first side is heavy duty electric, a sound that influenced artists from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix. The second side is the folksy acoustic numbers his fans adored. An undisputed masterpiece and the best of Dylan’s early records.
Suggested wine pairing: Linden Vineyards Claret
86. The Dream Weaver/Gary Wright (1976)
Gary Wright brought enchanting electric keyboard pop to the AM and FM airwaves in 1976 with “Dream Weaver” and “Love is Alive,” the number two singles from this album, but the rest of the record is stunningly fluid, incorporating the works of the two big Stevies: Wonder and Winwood. Wholly underappreciated — both the artist and the album.
Suggested wine pairing: Wolf Gap Winery Viognier-Traminette
85. In the Wake of the Flood/Grateful Dead (1973)
Although most wines we drink do not bear up to 30 years of aging, it seemed the legendary Grateful Dead became deeper & more complex in their sub rosa way every year from 1965 to 1995. However, you could have enjoyed them in any of their vintages to appreciate the many dimensions and joys they offered so many of us. "All the years combine, they melt into a dream."....begins a favorite from this album, "Stella Blue." But evanescence is a reality that any fine wine connoisseur will already understand. The album ends with the magum opus Let It Glow and we accept it as edict from on high: "That the work of his day measures more than the planting and growing - Let it grow Let grow, greatly yield.”
Suggested wine pairing: Sharp Rock Vineyards Old Rag Red
84. Good Old Boys/Randy Newman (1974)
Randy Newman is America’s critic in song. And on this album, he examines the American south, in a bold manner that hits the listener in the gut, and the funny bone, simultaneously (those only familiar with Newman from his Disney movie tunes will get a real taste of his acidic pen from the title track). A Louisianan, he retells the story of a New Orleans flood from 1927 that hit home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, proving that history does indeed repeat. Especially in the United States. He’s also capable of achingly honest love songs, as “Marie” proves. A masterpiece.
Suggested wine pairing: Breaux Vineyards Chère Marie
83. Blonde on Blonde/Bob Dylan (1966)
The second of three Dylan classics on our list; this album is arguably more revered that any of his others, although the harmonica on the side 1 tracks comes off a bit too strong on the recently remastered CD (the harmonica makes our cats scramble out of the room when we play it). Still, the effect this album had on musicians like John Lennon, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young cannot be overstated.
Suggested wine pairing: Chateau Morrisette Star Dog
82. Rio/Duran Duran (1982)
The early ‘80s British new wave scene produced only a handful of great albums (The Human League’s Dare, Tears for Fears’ The Hurting, Naked Eyes, the Thompson Twins’ Side Kicks). Rio is the one that made the list. It was the album they made before they became MTV pretty boys, who put the emphasis on their looks and videos over their songs. These songs were written and recorded before the videos were realized. The hits are there, of course (“Hungry Like the Wolf,” the title track, “Save a Prayer”), but the album really kicks in gear with the non-hits, dreamy tracks like “Lonely in Your Nightmare” and “The Chauffer.”
Suggested wine pairing: Williamsburg Winery Viognier
81. The Visitors/ABBA (1981)
Their last studio album of original material, this is ABBA’s finest record, which further improved on the production value of their previous two albums, the excellent Voulez-Vous and Super Trouper. ABBA wasn’t exactly on most people’s minds in late 1981, which is why singles like “When All is Said and Done” and “Slipping Through my Fingers” flopped, but the maturity in engineering and lyrical content shows how far the band has come since “Honey Honey” and “Mamma Mia.” Their sound is also quite theatrical on this record, a sign of things to come.
Suggested wine pairing: North Mountain Vineyards Mountain Midnight
80. Voices/Hall and Oates (1980)
Two early ‘80s nuggets deserve a third. The duo was frustrated with the lukewarm critical and commercial success of their albums released since “Rich Girls” topped the charts in early 1977. On top of that, their label, RCA, was threatening to drop them (which had already happened to the duo when Atlantic dropped them in the early ‘70s). So with nothing to lose (except their contract), H&O threw the ball of wax into their 1980 record, inexplicably not caring about radio airplay and chart success. The first two singles from Voices, “How Does it Feel to be Back” and “Big Kids,” didn’t make much of a dent in the charts, but their reluctant release of a cover tune, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” changed the tide. In a very big way. Then came two more singles from the album, “Kiss on My List” and the eternal favorite “You Make My Dreams.” Only to be followed by four more studio albums with RCA, which dominated the radio for the next five years.
Suggested wine pairing: Prince Michel Vineyards Rapidan River Dry Riesling
79. One of These Nights/Eagles (1975)
The Eagles wrote about Hall and Oates in their song “New Kid in Town.” But that’s from another Eagles record, one Hotel California, which we’ll get to later. One of These Nights was a transitional album for the SoCal band – moving from the country and western tinged vibe of their first three albums, to the Laurel Canyon darlings they became in the late ‘70s. And just to prove they were moving in a new direction, they opened the album with the title cut (one of their number one singles), which bordered disco with its tempo and Barry Gibb-like vocals. This was Bernie Leadon’s last album with the band; a founding member of the Eagles, he was responsible for the C&W flavor of their earlier albums. He bows out of the band gracefully with the beautiful ballad “I Wish You Peace,” which closes the album.
Suggested wine pairing: Mountain Cove Vineyards Tinto
78. Nothing Like the Sun/Sting (1987)
By far the best Sting solo album, the former Policeman infuriated many (fans and peers included) when he fired the session musicians from his first album (the “Blue Turtles” of the album’s title). But Sting was on another path for his second record, which traded in the pop/reggae sensibilities of his Police work and Dream of the Blue Turtles for more jazz-oriented introspection. Songs like “The Lazarus Heart,” “Be Still My Beating Heart” and “Fragile” are as personal as Sting ever wrote, and he still managed to be self-deprecating with “Englishman in New York” (which he retooled as “English Dude in New York” for his live shows in the U.S. in 1988).
Suggested wine pairing: Ox Eye Vineyards Lemberger
77. Back in the High Life/Steve Winwood (1986)
No Traffic albums made this list; as legendary as Winwood, Capaldi and company were, their albums are rooted deeply in the rock/blues format of the early ‘70s. This is not to say albums like John Barleycorn Must Die and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys are not classics; they are. But we simply don’t reach for them on a regular basis. Winwood’s solo breakthrough, on the other hand, is still fresh-sounding and fun, despite its slick mid ‘80s sheen. Contributions from Chaka Khan, James Taylor, and Joe Walsh injected Winwood’s previously quieter, Donald Fagen-esque material (“While You See a Chance,” “Arc of a Diver”) with soul, poignancy, and an edge, respectively. And “Higher Love” still gets people’s feet moving.
Suggested wine pairing: Ingleside Vineyards Virginia Brut
76. Excitable Boy/Warren Zevon (1978)
The late Warren Zevon had a cult following writing songs dripping with biting sarcasm that would make Steely Dan sound like John Denver in comparison. Best known for “Werewolves of London,” (a cut from this album), Excitable Boy is Zevon at his peak. The album is full of numbers with lyrics both hard-edged and cynical (“Lawyers, Guns, and Money”), quirky (“Night Time in the Switching Yard,” which offers a bonafide disco beat), and bizarre (the title track, with Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes singing in perfect harmony).
Suggested wine pairing: DelFosse Vineyards Malbec
..........75 through 51.............
50 through 26
25 through 1