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FACT Writers pick their top 10 albums of all time

Let’s face it, consensus is boring, and so are the majority of Greatest Albums Ever lists.

When FACT ran down its top albums of the 1980s and 1990s, we deliberately focused on our staff’s personal favourites rather than the canonical favourites of each decade, aiming for, as we put it at the time, “a list that above all reflects our preferences and our prejudices”. And sure, you can shout “what, no Talking Heads?” until you’re red in the face, but we’d rather dedicate time to a feature that turns people onto Main and Painkiller than one that simply reminds the world that OK Computer is good.

Take the NME‘s recent run-down of The 500 Greatest Albums Ever: it’s The Smiths, The Beatles and Bowie on the podium, again. Who’s learning anything from that? Where’s the excitement in simply reestablishing the fact that these acts are great? More interesting insights, we found, came in the individual writers’ selections. It got us thinking about our own writers – what albums would they pick if we put them under pressure? This week, we gave our contributors a deliberately tight deadline – we mailed them on Tuesday, and they had until Friday to submit – to pick their 10 time favourite records of all time, with a few sentences of explanation / justification accompanying their list. We didn’t want them to over-think their selection, we simply wanted it to reflect the albums they love most. And more than anything, the results reminded us why we love our writers.

Turn the pages for Tom Lea, Mr. Beatnick, Chal Ravens, Peter Nix, Alex Macpherson, Steve Shaw, Lauren Martin, Joseph Morpurgo, Joe Muggs, Laurent Fintoni, Simon Hampson, Ruaridh Law, Joe Moynihan, Angus Finlayson, Martin Clark, Antony Hill, Chris Kelly, John Twells, Maya Kalev, Dan Hancox and Brad Rose’s favourite records of all time. Bar, of course, The Best of The Beatles, there’s not a Beatles album in sight.

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Tom Lea

Blue Valentine’s my nailed on favourite album ever – never has one man sounded so fucking cool on one record, it’s devastating. Love of Life changed my life as a teen, and God knows when the last time I listened to Caught Up was but it kind of did too. jj will forever remind me of stoned summers in Seven Sisters – the garden, the parties, the break-ups – and At the Drive-in and Godspeed were such gateway drugs at school that I couldn’t not pick them. The others are just albums I love that I come back to a lot – on another day those slots would have gone to Aphex and Ariel Pink.

Tom Waits – Blue Valentine
Swans – Love of Life
Millie Jackson – Caught Up
jj – jj no.3
At the Drive-in – Relationship of Command
Godspeed You Black Emperor – Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
The-Dream – Love King
Slimzee / Dizzee / Wiley – Sidewinder CD
Madvillain – Madvillainy 
Geisha – Mondo Dell’Orrore


Mr. Beatnick

Choosing a list of all time top 10 favourite albums is obviously an impossible task, but I thought I’d try to keep it as honest and simple as possible. Tastes change, things get put away on the shelf – but here are 10 albums that I own on multiple formats, records that have seen me through the best years of my life, and led to me wearing down the vinyl and buying them over and over again. Timeless music that fills me with boundless joy, in no particular order – who needs a canon when you’ve got your own pair of ears to put to good use? I doubt I’d be buying, making or loving records now if I hadn’t bought some of these albums in my formative years.

Diamond D – Stunts, Blunts and Hip-hop
Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul  – Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul
Quasimoto – The Unseen
Andy Bey – Experience and Judgement
Sun Ra – Cosmos
Eddie Kendricks – People, Hold On.
The JBs – Pass The Peas
Rhythm & Sound – Rhythm & Sound
Don Blackman – Blackman
Slum Village – Fantastic Vol 2


Chal Ravens

A grisly teeth-pulling exercise, this, which has led to what seems to me a disappointingly canonical list (I suppose some albums must enter the canon for a reason). My picks made their way through a three-part interrogation, whittled down from an amorphous, uncountable longlist by working out what I’ve listened to the most (thousands upon thousands of combined plays), then which mean the most to me (as the soundtrack to friendship/love/calamity or just because of my uncanny sense of connection with the artist). Finally, they had to be bloody amazing records, although in several cases my picks stand as a synecdoche for the artist’s catalogue as a whole, while also being my personal favourite. Ask me again in a year, this was horrible.

Patti Smith – Horses
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid m.a.a.d City
The Stooges – Raw Power
Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
Mogwai – Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996–2003
William Basinski – Disintegration Loops
The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs


Peter Nix

No great internal debate or deliberation over these; each record chosen made a huge impact on me when I first heard it, changed the way I listened to or understood music, and acted as a gateway to deeper, more rarified discoveries later in life. No obscurities, no “midget gems”. Every album in the list is, for better or worse, a colossus; universally praised and probably available from HMV, if HMV still exists. They’re albums I listened to several thousand times, and know – or at least knew – inside out. They’re a bit like my parents: however embarrassing I might find them, they made me, and while I don’t often visit them, I always feel secure and happy in their company when I do. Until after lunch on the Sunday, anyway, when I just can’t wait to get back to London.

Slint – Spiderland
The Strands – The Magical World Of The Strands
The Strokes – Is This It
David Bowie – Low
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol.1
Massive Attack – Protection
Metro Area – Metro Area
Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…
Ricardo Villalobos – The Au Harem D’Archimede


Alex Macpherson

There’s no point drawing a distinction between one’s “favourite” albums and “the best” albums; they’re one and the same. The claims to objectivity of a zillion Best Albums Ever lists are a fraud and an indictment of the intelligence of a critical music press; the canon they have passed down is a toad squatting on the ears of music fans, croaking out (straight, white, male) orthodoxy as though it’s rigorously correct. Burn that shit down.

Lists aren’t worthless, though, because taste – an individual’s taste, shaped by who they are and where they came from and where they feel they’re at – is inherently interesting (unless you’re any of the current NME staff, clearly). My best albums ever are the ones that made me, and continue to make me.

Aaliyah – Aaliyah
Madonna – Erotica
Tori Amos – From The Choirgirl Hotel
Trina – Diamond Princess
Mariah Carey – Butterfly
Taylor Swift – Fearless
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
Björk – Homogenic
Britney Spears – Blackout
Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra Of Bubbles


Steve Shaw

I wouldn’t dare say that albums are ‘the best of all time’, so these are just the ten studio albums (i.e. not classical or live) that I discovered in my youth that I play in their entirety the most today. Each started me searching out other records and artists, but still sound solid today, be they in or out of fashion. (Substitute RHCP for Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain if you like.)

Daft Punk – Homework
Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle
Michael Jackson – Bad
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
The Fugees – The Score
Scientist – Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires
Autechre – Chiastic Slide
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew


Joe Muggs

This is not my ten favourite records. I utterly refute the hierarchies of all-time-greatest lists, and I refuse to tie myself up in knots comparing apples with galaxies. This is a list that took me five minutes: I just started thinking of albums arbitrarily, and each time I could answer “yes” to the questions “Did listening to this album change my world?” and “Do I still love this album unreservedly now?”, I added it to the list, until I had ten.

Therefore, don’t read too much into it. I’m sure there are hip hop albums, metal albums, house albums, (post) dubstep albums, jazz albums, noise albums, more recent etc etc etc that I get and have got easily as much pleasure from.  Looking back at the list now, every single one of them played a major part in my life between the ages of 13 and 21, so I guess all have that extra glow of nostalgia and adolescent intensity. Anway, whatever: they’re all near-perfect records and everyone should listen to them.

The KLF – Chill Out
Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
Paul Simon – Graceland
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 1985-92
Various – It All Started Here
Butthole Surfers – Hairway to Steven
The Specials – The Specials
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams
Various – Eurobeat 2000 Club Classics 1
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced

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Lauren Martin

In picking 10 albums, I thought about what various words like “top”, “favourite” and “best” meant: in terms of a list, what makes an album truly great to me, how falling in love with an album reflects back on me, and how much I’ve changed since first hearing most of these choices. Admittedly, this list looks like a veritable shit-storm of moods and tastes, but each directly reflects a moment in my life when I was besotted to the point where I could never imagine loving a sound more – and then suddenly, a sharp volte-face into new worlds that changed my perception of what great music was, or could be.

Sure, this list is by no means definitive. Picking ten can only touch on what I love, not explore it. Some of these albums I don’t even listen to that often now, and I find holes in them where there were once mountains, but whenever I try to think of how to describe a favourite album, I think of another favourite of mine, Kafka: “I am always trying to convey something that can’t be conveyed, to explain something which is inexplicable, to tell about something I have in my bones, something which can be expressed only in the bones.”

Cursed – One
Leftöver Crack – Mediocre Generica
Ceremony – Rohnert Park
Black Flag – Damaged
Prince – Sign O’ The Times
Arthur Russell – Another Thought
Cat Power – You Are Free
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – f#a#infinity
Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense   


Joseph Morpurgo

These sort of lists are always grand follies in my book, but I can at least look at the below without feeling a stomach ulcer blossom in the pit of my gut.

The Books – Lost And Safe
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
Madvillain – Madvillainy
John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves
Chris Morris – Blue Jam
Nas – Illmatic
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts
The Other People Place – Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe
Pixies – Doolittle
Various – Rough Trade Electronic 01


Laurent Fintoni

These ten albums all mean something to me. They have the kind of deeply personal meaning that all good art creates in its recipient, willingly or not. We have a history together. They are just ten of many, in no order, and with the only logic that they represent different stages of my life and relationship with music.

Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
New Forms – Reprazent
IAM – L’ecole du Micro d’Argent
Michael Jackson – Thriller
edIT – Crying Over Pros For No Reason
Cat Stevens – The Very Best Of
V.A – Headz vol.1
Kode 9 & The Spaceape – Memories of the Future
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
D-Styles – Phantazmagorea


Simon Hampson

I tried to pick those records that I couldn’t bear not to hear again. Without planning it this way, all the records on the list carry very strong memories of great times with friends and loved ones.

Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
DJ Target – Aim High Vol.2
Zen Baseballbat – I Am the Champion Concrete Mixer
Operation Ivy – Operation Ivy
Danielle Baldelli – Cosmic – the Original
Shellac – 1000 Hurts
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Talking Heads – Fear of Music
Land of Light – Land of Light
Michael Mayer – Fabric 13


Ruaridh Law

There’s something to be written at length about the current trend of male “growing up” stopping at about 23 – certainly the case for me and plenty of people I know, who still – despite all the trappings of adulthood – go out, spend their money on records or toys and cling to the formative influences of that time. A list like this, which I completed almost without thought before reassessing after, is by necessity music I was mostly listening to at that point, when I was at university, going out for the first time, getting excited about the myriad possibilities that built on the stuff (rooted in classic electronica) that I’d been into prior to that.

So there’s comedown music, after party music, music that my new peer group were introducing me to, with later albums (when they’re there at all) coming from artists i discovered at this time to start with. It’s a narrow list in that sense, but in terms of the importance to my naive impressionable mind, this is the stuff that counted.

Zoviet France – In Version
Surgeon – Force and Form
Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians
Labradford – A Stable Reference
Ultramagnetic MCs – Critical Beatdown
2562 – Aerial
The KLF – Chill Out
Coil – …And The Ambulance Died In His Arms
Radiohead – Kid A
Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die


Joe Moynihan

The albums I return to – and earnestly fucking love – the most are ones that upon listening manage to properly take you outside of your current situation and place you somewhere immeasurably more wicked. This could be a particularly vivid memory (coming home from skate missions listening to 36 Chambers and realising for the first time that some music is better listened to at night – oh hi, Burial – or sitting in my mum’s Ford Fiesta watching my sister whack the volume up during the quiet bit in The Prodigy’s ‘Break and Enter’ so that when the beat comes back we nearly crash and die), a mad imagined fantasy future world (cry-dancing in space discos to Discovery or coming out of my cryogenic coma to live in a dystopian hood where replicants bosh unsavoury quantities of coke and listen to Severant) or, better yet, some sort of mixture of the two (aside from essentially soundtracking my entire childhood, Yuzo Koshiro’s melodies continue to evoke dream worlds and feelings I’m consistently surprised my mind is capable of). So this list, in addition to being what I think are my most rinsed albums, is basically a list of my favourite places to go. No order of preference.

Yuzo Koshiro & Mieko Ishikawa – Music From Ys
Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
Daft Punk – Discovery
The Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Pamyu Pamyu Revolution
The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
Joe Hisaishi – Spirited Away OST
Portishead – Dummy
Kuedo – Severant
Burial – Untrue


Angus Finlayson

Obviously there are lots of amazing albums out there – certainly more than ten – and their value is often contingent on context and function. The below is best understood as the soundtrack to a notional ten hour whisky & blubbing session. This is music that reaches into my insides and prods them around a bit. In other words, mostly (though not entirely) pop music for self-pitying white males. In alphabetical order.

Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Miles Davis – In A Silent Way
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts
Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen
Scott Walker – Scott 3
Talk Talk – Spirit Of Eden
The Blue Nile – A Walk Across The Rooftops
Tom Waits – Small Change
Wild Beasts – Smother


Martin Clark

The first thing I noticed when trying to choose 10 albums from my life is that dance music is a 12″ dominated genre: too many of my heroes have never made a strong long-player but have changed my life. Second thing I noticed: it would make sense to have one album from each genre, rather than over represent a few. Same for decades: older albums are often held more fondly, but what about recent ones? Finally, there’s the personal connections. Two I had a hand in, some I saw from the ground up – all left their indelible mark on me. What else matters?

Dizzee Rascal – Boy in Da Corner
Horsepower Production – In Fine Style
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
Goldie – Timeless
Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
OST – Mughal-E-Azam
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4
LV & Joshua Idehen – Routes
LHF – Keepers of the Light


Antony Hill

Quite simply, these are the albums that had the biggest impact on me, helped shape my taste in music and the ones I have played the most over the years.

Kraftwerk – The Man Machine
New Order – Substance 1987
Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet
Derrick May – Innovator
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Primal Scream – Screamadelica
Global Communication – 76:14
Massive Attack – Blue Lines
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
Burial – Untrue


Chris Kelly

It’s very easy to choose ten Important and Influential albums that will impress your peers and establish your bona fides as a musical arbiter.

It’s more difficult to look back at the records that first inspired you, no matter how embarrassing. So here are the albums that defined my teenage years, arranged roughly by when I discovered them.

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream 
Black Star – Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
Piebald – We Are the Only Friends We Have
The Roots – Phrenology
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Tyranny of Distance
Pretty Girls Make Graves – Good Health
Q and Not U – No Kill No Beep Beep 
Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain
The Postal Service – Give Up


John Twells

I hate doing top 10 lists. Well, that’s a total lie, I actually think about top 10 lists way more than most sane humans should, but they never fail to make me want to tear my hair out. Best of ALL TIME? Well shit, I don’t listen to Fear Factory’s Demanufacture any more but at the time it was probably my favourite album – I literally didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t think it was totally amazing. Also ten spots? Whose idea was that? It’s not nearly enough. I can chomp through ten albums in a morning.

Still, Cocteau Twins are a constant – I’m always torn between Head Over Heels and Heaven Or Las Vegas and there’s little in it; Sonic Youth changed my teenage life (for the better?); Autechre made me want to give up making electronic music; Big L was my soundtrack to wandering through Walsall at 4am in the late 90s; Aaliyah was such a huge influence that I wrote a track dedicated to her the night she died; and the others should speak for themselves – I’ve written about ’em enough. Stop, I’m having second thoughts already, is there time to add Work and Non Work and Selling England By The Pound?

Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels
Kate Bush – The Hounds of Love
Sonic Youth – Sister
Popol Vuh – Affenstunde
Autechre – LP5
Big L – Lifestylez Ov Da Poor And Dangerous
Goblin – Suspiria
Shuttle358 – Frame
Aaliyah – Aaliyah
Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak


Maya Kalev

When FACT overlords Tom and Joseph got in touch to ask for a list of top 10 albums of all time, I flat-out refused. Asking me to choose between UGK 4 Life and Horse Rotorvator? Joanna Newsom’s Ys or Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun? What about Aesop Rock and Suicide and Nina Simone? No chance. Even picking a favourite Tom Waits album or choosing 36 Chambers over Wu-Tang Forever was painful, and I don’t want to talk about how it felt to excise Boy In Da Corner at the last minute.

But though it’s incomplete, I believe that every album on this list is a work of unmitigated genius. Each one has also had a serious personal effect on me, which makes choosing all the harder, but there’s something reassuring about how stressful I found narrowing these down. Making lists reminds me how many near-perfect albums there are out there, and how even though I listen to music all day, every day, I’m still preternaturally obsessed with it. And of course, making this kind of list means I get to revisit my favourites. New music might be exciting but it can wait: I have Pale Ravine to listen to for the millionth time, and it still sounds as good as the first.

Quasimoto – The Unseen
Tom Waits – Blue Valentine
Arthur Russell – World of Echo
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
J Dilla – Donuts
Outkast – ATLiens
Deaf Center – Pale Ravine
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Björk – Homogenic
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92


Dan Hancox

My first thought when FACT asked me to do this was obviously, “I think I’d have to say The Best of The Beatles“. Michael Hann is spot on – the only way to do this is favourites, not ‘best’. Bun yr canons! These are my favourites, sort of in order, but done with about 15 minutes thought, no more. As shifting as these lists are, over time, my top three feels sort of unchallengeable. Like nothing could ever test any of them, ever. I also want to issue the usual caveat that large swathes of my favourite music doesn’t work/excel/even bother with the album format – next week let’s do our top 10 greatest all time Limewire radio rips.

Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein
The Microphones – The Glow, Part 2
The-Dream – Love Vs Money
Burial – Untrue
Ruff Sqwad – Guns n Roses 1
Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner
Amerie – Because I love It
Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Omar S – Fabric 45


Brad Rose

Personal favourites over the course of a lifetime aren’t easy to quantify or even identify in some cases.  If you asked me for this list again in six months, it might look very different.  But without thinking too hard these are the ten albums, off the top of my head, that I would keep around after the flood (in no particular order).

Terry Riley – A Rainbow In Curved Air
Operation Ivy – Energy
Drexciya – Harnessed The Storm
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreaks
Goblin – Suspiria 
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Unrest – Imperial f.f.r.r.
Vangelis – Blade Runner OST
The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
Tortoise – TNT 

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