What ordinal number is your favorite band’s best album?

Is the first the best?

Bridge over Troubled WaterMy buddy Greg, whose various blogs I’ve been following only since about 2005, posed the question above. What ordinal number is your favorite band’s best album? He mandated that I do likewise.

So naturally, I misread this as a CARDINAL number and started musing about Led Zeppelin III, 4- Foreigner, and Chicago so many digits I’ve lost track. No. 

“I have a theory that bands release their best albums early in their careers. Bands tend to burn brightly but briefly…, and so they crank out great music early and, if they survive, begin to coast later in their careers. This isn’t a hard and fast rule…”

Maybe there is something to be said for this. I know the band Boston had at least four albums, but I must admit that I have just the first one. This doesn’t mean albums #2 and #3, both of which went to #1 on the album charts, aren’t as good…

It seemed, though, that a lot of my favorite albums of a group were their second outing. The Band’s eponymous album with the brown cover, Disraeli Gears by Cream, and Abraxas by Santana are among my favorite albums in my collection.

I have a good friend who is a big fan of Chicago Transit Authority, the band Chicago’s first album before they became very popular. Likewise, he only likes the first Blood, Sweat, and Tears album, Child Is Father to the Man, with Al Kooper, and hates the ones with David Clayton-Thomas on vocals. But I got the eponymous second albums – what is it with these self-titled sophomore albums? – first, and so favor them.


Conversely, there isn’t a major Motown artist whose first few albums I would peg as their best, except one.

Supremes: Beyond their hits, they were also putting out albums to show how diversified they were; A Bit of Liverpool; Sing Country, Western, and Pop; Sing Rodgers and Hart. My favorite is either The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. (about #11 of 24 with Diana Ross as lead vocalist), or maybe Love Child (#17).

Temptations: With A Lot O’ Soul #6 of 40-some, is a transitional one from being produced by Smokey Robinson to Norman Whitfield. Puzzle People (#14) is their second produced entirely by Whitfield after David Ruffin left the group and Dennis Edwards joined. (These numbers are approximate, counting the crossovers with the Supremes and a live album, but not a greatest hits collection.)

Stevie Wonder: He didn’t come into his own until the 1970s. Songs in the Key Of Life (#15 of 27) is considered the masterpiece, but the three albums before that, Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale are all excellent.

Marvin Gaye: As great as his singles were, he never had a great album before What’s Going On, #13 of 20-something. (Marvin was repackaged posthumously a lot.)

Jackson Five. Those first two albums, Diana Ross Presents and ABC, are arguably their best.

Other stars

Aretha Franklin: Well, not her early Columbia work, but I’d pick any of her early Atlantic albums. I’m partial to Lady Soul (#7 of about 40), but Amazing Grace (#16) is, well, amazing.

Simon and Garfunkel: I’m partial to their last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, which is their 5th, or 6th, if you count the soundtrack to The Graduate, which I don’t.

The Beatles: somewhere between Rubber Soul (#6) and the white album (#10), unless you’re counting the American albums

I could do others but won’t, for a few reasons. Some albums are universally acclaimed that they’re on EVERYBODY’S list. or should be, e.g., Peter Gabriel’s third album (Melt). Other artists, I just can’t really pick their best; Neil Young is a real peaks and valleys guy. Still, other artists, I didn’t come to chronologically, but rather scattershot: Weird Al Yankovic is a prime example.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “What ordinal number is your favorite band’s best album?”

  1. I don’t own much from the ’60s, but I would have avoided it even if I did, because the nature of albums changed so much with the Beatles in the mid- to late-’60s. So the early Motown stuff is hard to parse, because it seems like so much of it was geared toward singles (much like all early rock), so albums might not be great because they were just thrown together. That’s why most people don’t consider early Beatles the great albums, and I imagine it’s the same for Stevie Wonder or Aretha Franklin. I mean, I’m not sure the Supremes ever released a “great” album, even though I love the Supremes to death. Those are some good choices, though!

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