My personal picks
Ben Folds Five - Whatever And Ever Amen (this could be replaced with the debut) - Ben Folds Five first two albums were my introduction towards album based music. It's the first album I enjoyed listening to from start to finish. During primary school I grew up playing the piano and then thinking that piano is a boring instrument and then seeing and hearing Ben Folds exciting Jerry Lee Lewis-esque aggression on the instrument and then seeing him slamming his piano stools or feet on the instrument changed my perception on the capability of the instrument.
Blur - Parklife - Not my favourite Blur album (probably Blur self titled) however I think this was the album that triggered my anglophilia taste in music. This was the album that made me explore other contemporary British artists and then made me explore the famous British invasion group ala Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who etc. For a large portion of my life my musical taste was very much British-supremacist and this album probably cemented this.
Radiohead - OK Computer - My introduction to art rock. I remember my reaction of OMG this song has multiple parts that sound completely different to each other. Wow the dense arrangement and atmosphere. However, stripping all the art rock elements you'll still have great songwriting. It also cemented the idea that the very best music merge solid songwriting with experimentation with the arrangement.
PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me - I suspect people who grew up in the 60's and 70's would have pick Plastic Ono Band by Lennon. However for me this was the stripped down, baring your emotions album. The song Legs with PJ Harvey wailing in emotional pain has changed my perception of what great singing is and made me appreciate that sometimes simple arrangement makes things more powerful.
Crowded House - Farewell To The World - The farewell concert was a huge occasion here in Australia. Watching the concert on VHS (borrowed from the library) hooked me on Crowded House and the career of Neil Finn and helped define what it means to write good melodies. Not only that this was the first live album/concert that really grabbed me. It made me learn that artists can elevate the song when performed live (most of the songs significantly improved over the studio album. Just listen to Fingers Of Love and compare it with the studio version) and this started my fascination with live albums and listening to bootlegs of my favourite artist.
The Beatles - Rubber Soul - I guess I initially thought of The Beatles (and actually every classic rock artist) as this influential historically significant group that you respect but not enjoy and sometimes I stupidly dismissed them as the boy band of the 60's when I was in primary school. Starting with Rubber Soul (and finishing with Abbey Road) immediately challenges that perception. This album started my love for classic rock and me exploring 60's and 70's rock music
The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies - I had a really hard time getting into Americana (blues/country/folk) and I had difficulty appreciating not just real americana but even British groups approaching that genre (ala classic Rolling Stones). However, listening to The Kinks merging Americana of blues/country/jazz with brit pop music hall influence opened that door (remember when I stated I was a british supremacist in terms of music). I couldn't appreciate classic Stones, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan without this album. I will also say from the content of the lyrics, it's probably the greatest album about mental illness and the ability to portray it in a comical but humanising way. It may well have influenced my own career choice.
Genesis - Selling England By The Pound - My introduction to progressive rock music which remains one of my favourite genres. However I will also mention that there are songs there that formed my perception on what makes a great melody - ie. Dancing With the moonlit knight which remains my pick for the greatest melody in rock music.
Midnight Oil - Head Injuries - For a very long time, I disowned my fellow Australian when it comes to rock music thinking of them as unsophisticated garage rock (by the way I consider Crowded House to be a New Zealand group). Head Injuries not only challenge that perspective it even transcends what a hard rock album is capable of and it is my pick for the greatest hard rock album ever written. I don't think there is another album that quite sounds like this. There is combining the post-punk jangly guitar playing, anti-guitar hero "guitar orchestra" sound of Johnny Marr, The Edge, Robert Smith, Peter Buck or dual guitarist of Television with kick arse head banging hard rock of AC/DC and then combining it with punk rock spirit of aggressive vocalist of Peter Garrett and his political sensibility. This album not only kicks ass but it also has an intricate arrangement with amazing interplay between the two guitarists. The song really just effortlessly transitions from headbanging hard rock to sophistocated layers of arpeggiated guitars akin to jangle pop and then back again.
Sparks - No. 1 in Heaven - Sparks may well be my all time favourite band (neck and neck with The Beatles) and I could have picked many other albums (ie Lil Beethoven or debut). However I think No. 1 in Heaven would be the most personally influential album because it challenges my "rockist" mentality to music. I always previously prefer real instruments to electronic instruments. However, hearing the synthesisers from Georgio Moroder performed with driving rock and roll rhythm opened the door to music that was predominantly electronic music. This album allows me to appreciate a lot of 80's pop music that I couldn't have done before.
Buddy Holly - The Chirping Crickets - The 50's rock music is all about singles and albums. Just ignore the albums and listen to the greatest hits/singles collection. Really 50's music is only important for historical reasons because the 60's rock retrospectively made it important by being influenced by this. Nope turns out that was wrong. The Chirping Crickets and the follow up self titled album are both magnificent collections of great pop songs. This paved my wave to exploring the discography of other 50's rockers.
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain - It only took time for people to point out my "british-supremacist" stance to music seems like a proxy for "white". It seems for a very long time that only Hendrix being the only African American artist that I like (Hendrix seems like the ultimate "I am not racist, I have black friend" artist). My pick for greatest funk song would be Can's Halleluhwah and Gentle Giant's Proclamation prior to exploring the career of P-Funk and this album started my exploration of funk and soul in general. I wouldn't become a fan of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Temptations if it wasn't for this album. It does help when the first song has very little to do with funk and is an amazing Hendrix-like soloing over Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" arpeggios and perhaps is one of the greatest guitar playing in rock music that helped me transition to this genre. However the rest of the album has some fascinating funk music that has enough changes in the arrangement, sometimes some counterpoint to avoid being overly repetitive (which was a barrier for funk music in the past). I think perhaps George Clinton being influenced by King Crimson allowed P-Funk to break through my personal barrier.
Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady - I found jazz very hard to get into especially when most of the recommendations were "classic" Miles Davis records. The usage of modes over major/minor, polytonality ( hence going away from traditional tonality) and lengthy improvising over static harmonies made it very very difficult to get into Jazz music. I don't know whether I am a jazz fan but I am absolutely a Charles Mingus fan. I guess its synthesis of classical music and is essentially a tone poem making this music has a sense of dramatic arc and have the playing actually represent emotional states and it changes was pure revelation for this genre of music. This finally allows me to connect soloing with emotion when prior to this album I just found the jazz-soloing rambling and unemotional.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Rap/Hip hop is the genre of music that is going to be the most difficult for me to get into. Simply because the basic foundation of my taste is whether the music is melodic. So a genre that de-emphasise melodies is going to be really hard for me to get into. Although the sample size of rap/hip hop albums I like is two (both by Kanye). If I ever branch out further in the hip hop genre in the future then this is the one that broke through for me. Kanye West does show the ability to write a tuneful chorus to balance the rapping in the verse. He also does some really good sampling to give a song a catchy melodic riff to grasp on during his rapping. So it is one of the most melodic rap albums I have heard. His production of the album is dense and gives the song a sense of dramatic arc of climax and resolution. Yes, the sampling of King Crimson and prog influence helps as well.
Mike Oldfield - Ommadawn - Example of the ultimate instrumental one-song albums. Before discovering albums like this, Tubular Bells and Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick. I used to say that people should make a one-song album in a sarcastic manner and didn't realise that people in the past alot of artist have already done this.
Harmonium - Les cinq saisons - Shows that you don't need to sing in English to be great. What a gorgeous, beautiful album.
Can - Tago Mago - Similarly discovered via the influence of Radiohead. If anything this album was a stepping stone that allowed me to appreciate groove based funk music like Funkadelic. By combining funk with art rock and having a really strong rhythm section and repeating groove but using art rock elements to vary the background atmosphere. You can have groove base music that is constantly changing and variable with a dramatic arc. I also state that even though this album's reputation is its avant-garde nature, I will say that I find Halleluhwah (what a catchy chorus) and Oh Yeah to be very melodic songs. It cemented the idea that experimental and accessible are not mutually exclusive.
Velvet Underground - White light/White Heat - My anti-influence album. THis is the album that showed me what music should not be about and that it is ok to hate an album that critical consensus says is great. Sister Ray is unlistenable. The Gift has me shouting at the band - if you are going to narrate a story over music then at least have the musician change the arrangement to reflect what the story is being told instead of just having repeating groove throughout the piece with no changes in arrangement and the music has no sense of dramatic arc at all. Why not have the band emulate for example a sheet metal cutter when it cuts through the box? God damn I hate that song.
Sparks - Music That You Can Dance To - OK I am cheating with another Sparks album. The album that showed that it's ok to love an album that everyone else in the world hates (this includes fans, the artist themselves, critics, general public, web reviewing community). It also shows that albums with really shockingly bad production/timbre (this is essentially 1986 production at worst) can still be enjoyable to listen to due to solid songwriting and interesting arrangement. The sounds of the instruments may sound awful but the notes they are playing are great and this itself can make the album great despite the shockingly obvious flaws.