33 Albums You Should Listen to Before You Die

Music you don’t have on your iPod … yet. Steve Jaeger’s got bold taste in movies, and albums, too.

Editor’s Note: This is the list of albums Steve Jaeger would bring with him if he were somehow stranded on a desert island with electricity, a record player, and these 33 albums. Don’t wait for disaster to strike to start listening.

  1. Beggar’s Banquet, The Rolling Stones, 1968—I still think this is the greatest rock album ever made. It was recorded just as rock n roll was splitting off into many divergent paths. It has country, blues, folk and fist pumping rock. The single from this album was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which never even made it onto the LP. The original cover art, a photo snapped in a gas station bathroom, was considered too offensive for the American release. It was used for the CD cover art. The follow up album “Let It Bleed” is a close second in my mind.
  2. Neil Young, 1968—Young’s first solo album after leaving the Buffalo Springfield and in my opinion still his very best.
  3. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, 1965—This is a very close toss up with Bringing It All Back Home. Both were Dylan’s first forays into electric music and it caused real controversy with the folk purists who felt Dylan had sold out. I don’t know how anyone could listen to Like A Rolling Stone and say he’d sold out.
  4. The Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969—I still remember the first time I sat and listened to Abbey Road all the way through. I was blown away and I had been listening to the Fab Four from the very beginning. I just don’t think that too much music reaches those heights anymore.
  5. Bonnie Raitt, Give It Up, 1972—This was Bonnie’s third release and it is as strong an effort as any. The title track still gives me the shivers.
  6. Randy Newman, Good Old Boys, 1974—Randy Newman’s ode to and scathing commentary of the old South.
  7. Brian Eno, Here Come the Warm Jets, 1973—Eno is the godfather of Glam Rock but he had moved on to other things by the time the record took hold. The guitar solo by Robert Fripp on the track, “Baby’s on Fire,” is probably the greatest guitar solo ever.
  8. Jimi Hendrix, Axis Bold as Love, 1967—Speaking of guitar players, Jimi Hendrix is still the greatest. I have a very soft spot for this record as it was the first album I ever listened to in stereo with headphones on. The worm turned that day.
  9. Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free, 1967—I don’t think anyone would dispute that Frank Zappa was a genius, especially after listening to this album. He fused rock, jazz, electronic and doo wop into one crazy and wonderful stew.
  10. The Pretenders, 1980—Chrissie Hynde moved from Cleveland to London because all her heroes were British Invasion bands. She put together an incredibly tight band and put out one of the strongest first releases ever.
  11. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, 1973—If you haven’t already heard this record, you’re the one on a desert island. One word: Brilliant.
  12. Stevie Wonder, Talking Book, 1972—This is the album that introduced Stevie Wonder to the wider world. It was a staple of college stations and remains in the rotation of many different radio formats to this day.
  13. O Lucky Man, soundtrack, 1974—Alan Price of The Animals did the music for this film and the album has never been out of print.
  14. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, 1998—Lucinda Williams had been kicking around the recording industry for twenty years with only modest success until she released this record. Then her career took off like a rocket. Alt country at its best.
  15. The Stooges, 1969—There probably wasn’t a punk band around in the late ’70s who hadn’t been influenced by this album. It also introduced Iggy Pop to the world.
  16. The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, 2000—I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t still listen to music from this album.
  17. Louis Armstrong, Hot Five and Hot Seven Sessions, 1925—1927—The Hot Jazz of the 1920s is one of my favorite genres of music and there was no one better than Louis Armstrong. You cannot listen to this music without shaking some part of your body.
  18. Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings, 1938—One of the great things about the CD revolution was the incredible volume of music from years gone by that was re-released. To call Robert Johnson’s music seminal is an understatement. His music influenced everyone from Muddy Waters to the Rolling Stones to Fleetwood Mac.
  19. Muddy Waters, The Chess Sessions, 1947-1953—One of the many Muddy Waters compilations out there. His early work at Chess Records was raw and powerful, and influenced an entire generation of musicians in the 1960s.
  20. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, 1966—Every time Brian Wilson would hear a new Beatles song he would try and outdo it, and many times, he did. This was the album where the Beach Boys began to move away from surf music and Wilson’s genius began to shine through. His band mates were not all that eager to follow along, which eventually led to Wilson’s breakdown.
  21. Hank Williams, The Health and Happiness Shows, 1949—Hank Williams did these eight radio shows in Nashville in the fall of 1949 and covers just about every hit he ever recorded. From “Wedding Bells” to “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” His career was incredibly brief and his output was amazing.
  22. The Ramones, Rocket to Russia, 1977—This was The Ramones’ third album and I’ve always had a very soft spot for it over their other early work because of the song, “Rockaway Beach,” which I visited a few times in my youth. And who wouldn’t love “Teenage Lobotomy”?
  23. Joni Mitchell, Blue, 1971—I was a big fan of Joni Mitchell’s back in her early years which I think were her best. “Blue” was her crowning glory of those years and the song “River” has been covered about a million times but none ever come close to the original.
  24. Leo Kottke, 6 and 12 String Guitar, 1974—Commonly known as the Armadillo Album, Leo Kottke was simply the best finger picker around back then.
  25. Fleetwood Mac in Chicago, 1968—The original Fleetwood Mac was a pure blues band. Jeremy Spencer was a fantastic slide guitarist, heavily influenced by Elmore James, and Peter Green had a voice made to sing blues. The band recoded the double albums at Chess Records and some of the greatest bluesmen of the 40s and 50s sat in, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, and Otis Spann among them.
  26. The Pogues, Rum Sodomy and the Lash, 1985—The Pogues were a punk band doing traditional Irish music, and were fronted by Shane McGowan, who sang like an angel and drank like a demon. They introduced many people to traditional Irish music, who only knew songs like “The Unicorn.”
  27. Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out, 2005—Vocalist Petra Haden covers the entire seminal Who album using only her voice to mimic all the instruments. Amazing.
  28. The Velvet Underground, Loaded, 1970—It’s difficult to pick one Velvet Underground LP over another but this one, their last, is very polished and very strong from beginning to end.
  29. The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour, 1968—I know it’s heretical but I prefer MMT to “Sgt Pepper.” “Strawberry Fields” is my favorite Beatles song of all time.
  30. Cheap Thrills, Big Brother and the Holding Company, 1968—This is a pretty good album but it’s got the greatest cover art ever.
  31. O Brother Where Art Thou?, soundtrack, 2000—The movie, with it’s excellent soundtrack of hillbilly and blues, helped bring traditional music back into popularity. Ralph Stanley’s “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” became a world-wide hit.
  32. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Howl, 2005—Peter Hayes left the Brian Jonestown Massacre to form BRMC and combines the psychedelic influences of the BJM with folk and grunge. Howl is their third release and the strongest by far.
  33. X, Under the Big Black Sun, 1980—X, the seminal punk/new wave band from Los Angeles had two previous albums that were both highly praised by critics but found little commercial success. “Under The Big Black Sun,” their third LP, was a much more successful record and was voted one of the greatest albums of the 1980s.


Read Steve Jaeger’s 50 Movies You Should See Before You Die and 50 More Must-See Films.

Feature image credit: Lisa Padilla/Flickr

About Steve Jaeger

Steve Jaeger grew up in suburban New York but has lived in the Washington, DC area since his teens. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and worked as a chef for more than thirty years. He is an avid baseball fan, history buff and never misses Curb Your Enthusiasm. He lives in Arlington, VA with three children and a cat.


  1. I understand that we all have different tastes, and mine certainly tend to verge on the strange, but gosh there is nothing in this list that I would consider bold. There is literally a whole world out there filled with incredibly wonderful music (both contemporary and aged) that is every bit as good and as worthy of the veneration that these “Old Guard” albums regularly get.

    No Tom Waits? Modern Lovers? The Clash? Isaac Hayes? James Brown? This is me being conservative and trying to maintain a vernacular of similar sounds. I won’t bemoan the list, I but I certainly call shenanigans on the Title.

  2. Where’s Johnny Cash?

    • Steve Jaeger says:

      With the exception of Django Reinhart I don’t own albums by any of those artists. Not my cup of tea. You should put your own list together, these are my essential,albums

    • steve jaeger says:

      Steve – I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to say it, Johnny Cash passed away a couple of years ago, sorry.

  3. No Miles Davis album, seriously!??

    Kind of Blue!!!!!!!!!!

    • steve jaeger says:

      Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of modern jazz.

      • not only modern jazz, on this list there’s no jazz artist at all ( well only Louis Armstrong ). Almost all album here are rock and roll albums. Although I like Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Bob Dylan, you missing many many many great instrumental Jazz albums, from great musicians like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt, Pat Metheny, and many others.

  4. I won’t dispute the usefulness of critical lists. In my punk rock days I wasn’t ashamed to consult them and plunk down actual cash for a physical, analog disk based on their recommendations. That’s how I found about the VU (and Loaded is kind of a Velvets fan’s guilty pleasure, ’cause you’re supposed to be all into the first two albums with their droning violas and drugs and feedback ‘n’ shit, but not the doowoppy pop Loaded). And Pet Sounds.

    A philosophical quibble: Can we retire this “before you die” business? If you were to take “before you die” literally you would squander your life chasing canonical taste that may not agree with you (plenty of people don’t like Faulkner or Mendelssohn, in spite of the artists’ greatness). Turning life into a pattern of goal setting crowds out the little graces of friends’ word of mouth and accidental discoveries.

    • steve jaeger says:

      Actually the title I submitted was “My Desert Island Discs” The editors changed the title

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        I”m not the ed that changed the title (and had no say on it), but “My Desert Island Discs”, while a great title, reminds me of a list like Bob Marley, The Beach Boys, and Don Ho.

        Sadly, most people are even LESS clever than me! 😉

        • Steve Jaeger says:

          Joanna – there was actually a syndicated radio show followed by a series of books called Desert Island Discs, that’s where it came from

  5. Great list, Steve. I only agree with a third of it, which I think is a huge accomplishment….Velvets, Stooges, Zappa, X, Kottke, Hank, Armstrong, Muddy, RJ, Eno and Hendrix are spot on. At least in a 99 album list. Beggar’s Banquet also happens to be my favorite Stones album, by far. Way to take a stand!

  6. Jonathan G says:

    Egad, as an inveterate procrastinator, my only hope is that something like cancer or congestive heart failure gets me, rather than something sudden like cardiac arrest or a bus, because I’ll have 48 movies to watch and 27 albums to listen to before I die. What’s the penalty if I kick the bucket before I get through these lists? Will it go on my permanent record?

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