Here are some GREAT recordings - good for use as reference recordings (depending on the type of music you care to reference). These are notable for being innovative, for being prime examples of great production and engineering. Some are genre bending, others create their own genres. Not a definitive list or anything like that, just some stuff that I pulled out of the cd rack - of course, there are records and tapes that I have that are not represented here. These are some of my favorites: incredible studio work, impressive arrangements, music that makes the brain work! These "set the bar" for me:
Alan Parsons Project - 1976 - Tales Of Mystery And Imagination
HEADPHONES. A superb "electronic"-sounding album, done before electronic instruments were common. Great mix of rock and orchestra, all under a common theme (Edgar Allan Poe). Also check out his albums "Pyramid", "Eve", "Turn Of A Friendly Card", and "Eye In The Sky".
Les Baxter - 1959 - African Jazz
Even though the "jazz" on here is as "African" as the cover model is, this is one fantastic album! This exotica gem showcases Baxter's terrific arrangements, odd instrumentation, and presents a sort of "Hollywood" version of percussive Africa.
Beach Boys - 1966 - Pet Sounds
Brian Wilson's masterpiece. How can an entire album be so good? Heartbreakingly beautiful. "God Only Knows" is Paul McCartney's favorite song of all time. And the stereo version (1996) only doubles the beauty of the original mono version.
The Beatles - 1966 - Revolver
"Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream" with this one. Top-notch writing. A wonderful mind trip. And no two songs sound alike. Also try "Rubber Soul", "Sgt Pepper", and "Abbey Road".
Adrian Belew - 1996 - Op Zop Too Wah
From King Crimson and David Bowie and Talking Heads and The Bears comes Adrian Belew. Whimsical and dark wordplay, beautiful melodies...this drummer won "Best guitarist of the year" for several years in a row - plus the guy recorded and played and sang the entire album himself!
Clockhammer - 1992 - Klinefelter
You never heard of them. From Nashville, this HEAVY rock group incorporated jazz and some wonderful lurching time signatures. Victims of the "Only Two Albums" curse.
Donald Fagen - 1982 - The Nightfly
HEADPHONES. The voice of Steely Dan. This album is a recording BENCHMARK. Absolutely impeccable recording work by Roger Nichols. Also try "Kamakiriad".
Stan Getz - 1965 - Mickey One OST
The follow-up to "Focus", this soundtrack album was also a Stan Getz/Eddie Sauter pairing. Eclectic tenor sax solos intertwined with thrilling small orchestra arrangements, this music jumps genres from track to track effortlessly.
Flaming Lips - 1997 - Zaireeka
A 4-cd set designed to be played on 4 different cd players at the same time. Wonderful conceptual audio art. Get this and have a Zaireeka party with friends. Simply beyond cool.
Flaming Lips - 1999 - The Soft Bulletin
HEADPHONES. Their "Sgt Pepper's", this album is full of lush fake orchestration, mind-blowing lyrics, possibly the best album of the '90's. Also try "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" and "At War With The Mystics".
Flat Earth Society - 2006 - Psycho Scout
You never heard of them. Oddness is king with these virtuosos. Rock with a full brass section, lots of dark humor...Zappa music from Belgium.
Bernard Herrmann - 1958 - The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad OST
This is a stereo bootleg of the complete score (only a re-recording of the score has been legitimately issued). Bennie was notoriously tough on his orchestras, and AM I GLAD HE WAS! All of the original Herrmann-directed orchestral recordings are spectacular, and put the re-recordings TO SHAME. There is passion and fury here that just doesn't come through on the later recordings. Good luck finding this one. Also try "Mysterious Island", "Sisters", "North By Northwest", "Journey To The Center Of The Earth", and "Taxi Driver".
Jellyfish - 1993 - Spilt Milk
HEADPHONES. Doesn't get better than this. Killer production, great songs. Beach Boys meet Queen meet Schoolhouse Rock. Whimsical pop, dark grown-up subjects wrapped in uber-catchy music. Victims of the "Only Two Albums" curse.
Michael Kamen - 1988 - The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen OST
HEADPHONES. Severely strange blackly comic full orchestra, to match the style and feel of the Terry Gilliam film. I especially love "The Torturer's Apprentice" piece, which is a song that the Sultan plays on his turture instrument. Each key he presses causes a different sort of pain in a different slave, and the entire song is a chorus of painful "ooh's", "yow's", and "ouches". Brilliant! Good luck finding this one.
King Crimson - 1993 - The Concise King Crimson
A career retrospective of this unbelievable band. Music that makes musicians go "Whoa!". Also try "In The Court Of The Crimson King", "Red", "Discipline", "Beat", "Three Of A Perfect Pair"
King's X - 1992 - King's X
A heavy metal/heavy rock band originally associated with Christian rock (but don't hold that against them), with lush Beatles-y vocals in their powerful pop songs. LOTS of music out of just three guys. They ought to be much more popular than they are. Also try "Gretchen Goes To Nebraska", "Faith Hope Love", "Mr Bulbous".
Pink Floyd -1973 - Dark Side Of the Moon
HEADPHONES. Goes without saying, top notch. Alan Parsons engineered this masterwork. On sixteen tracks (NOT twenty-four!). THE album on ALL the lists.
Shiina Ringo - 2007 - Japanese Manners
You never heard of her. Amazing, unusual, incredible vocalist with supremely strange arrangements. Her cunning wordplay works across the several languages she sings in. This album is very soundtrack-y, not as gimmick-y as her earlier work. Impressive. Also try "Lawsuit Winning Strip", "Lime, Semen, Chestnut Blossoms". Good luck finding them.
Raymond Scott - 1992 - Reckless Nights And Turkish Twilights
This is the guy who originally composed the music that you heard on those Bugs Bunny cartoons. Quirky pseudo-jazz from this musician who would not read or write music. He engineered his own recordings in his own recording studio: his music from the 1930's has the fidelity of the 1950's! Invented the electronium (automatic composing machine), the clavivox (keyboard theremin), and was the grandfather of electronica.
Steely Dan - 2000 - Two Against Nature
HEADPHONES. Simply gorgeous. Becker and Fagen and Nichols continue the spectacular sparkling Steely Dan stuff, after a twenty year break. Still more ugly underbelly lyrics attached to lush, sweet music. William Burroughs must have been proud that the pedantic pair pulled their band's name from his novel "Naked Lunch"... Also try "Katy Lied", "Gaucho", "Aja", "Royal Scam".
The Three Suns - 1961 - Fever And Smoke
"Quirky" doesn't quite sum this up. Maybe "goofy". Anyway, these fellows are phenomenal musicians with wicked chops playing the most unusual arrangements you've ever heard. Nothing but FUN! Innovative exotica well worth searching out.
The Tories - 2001 - Upside Of Down
HEADPHONES. I'm a sucker for well-done power-pop. This is just that. Every song here is a hit song. There is NO FILLER on this album. Victims of the "Only Two Albums" curse.
Trenchmouth - 1991 - Construction Of New Action
You never heard of them. Chicago punk band that KICKED my ear's ASS in the early '90's (thanks so much)! This cd is full of great unusual sounds, and the disc ends with some SPEAKER-DESTROYING sonics (no kidding - careful!). Watch for their drummer, Fred Armisen, on Saturday Night Live.
Vinyl Kings - 2002 - Time Machine
HEADPHONES. You never heard of them. Soulful pastiche of the Beatles/ Beach Boys/ Marvin Gaye. Eminently singable. You must go to CdBaby and buy it now. Victims of the "Only Two Albums" curse. Also try "A Little Trip".
Brian Wilson - 2004 - SMiLE
After following the dozens of iffy bootlegs of the great 1967 "lost album" by the Beach Boys, it was SUCH A JOY that this was finally released. How wonderful, too, that they didn't update or "improve" it, they simply re-recorded it, note-for-note, plus a few new bridges. Perfect.
XTC - 1989 - Oranges And Lemons
XTC has always been "quirky pop". Ugly and catchy all in the same breath. Another band that should have been much more popular than they were. With a bit of a nod to psychedelia and a winkwinknudgenudge of humor...beautiful. Also try "Skylarking", "Mummer", "Big Express", "Nonsuch".
XTC - 1999 - Apple Venus
HEADPHONES. After holding out for some seven years (due to a bad recording contract that Virgin refused to renegotiate), XTC comes back, BETTER THAN EVER. This album and it's follow-up "Wasp Star" each had an album's-worth of demos. XTC fans had four albums to listen to almost all at once.
Yes - 1983 - 90125
HEADPHONES. No apologies - I adore this album. Great tunes, something like SIX hit songs. Wonderful production by Trevor (Buggles) Horn. Just get over the sound of the eighties (which this album helped CREATE), and enjoy the sound of the great music. Also try "Drama".
Frank Zappa - 1975 - One Size Fits All
HEADPHONES. Engineered by Kerry McNab. Astounding musicianship, mind-blowing compositions. Progressive rock that ROCKS. This album voted most popular by Zappa fans. There is so much going on, so much to listen to, so much conceptual continuity...thirty years, and I'm still trying to digest it all. Audio utopia.
Frank Zappa - 1984 - Them Or Us
HEADPHONES. Engineered by Mark Pinske and Bob Stone. Full and crisp, this album takes you from '50's doowop to backwards masking to frighteningly good guitar shreds to comedy to the Allman Brothers "Whippin' Post" (Zappa's version beats the original, without a doubt). Also features some "xenochrony", dropping a guitar solo into a song from a completely different one: different keys, different tempos, but it works (!).
And a note about my comment "You never heard of them." - Maybe you did. Then you are much cooler than those others who didn't.