Depeche Mode – Violator (1990): A perfect album. This is the culmination of everything DM had done up to this point, as well as the blueprint for everything they would do after. You’ve got the super hits (Personal Jesus, Enjoy the Silence) but you’ve also got seamless album cuts (Halo, Clean), creating a suite of songs that flow in and out of each other like a dark tide. Sexy, cool, elegant and beautiful, I promise you girls got pregnant to this album.
The Doors – Strange Days (1967): Fifteen or twenty years ago I’d have told you the debut all day long, and while the mega hits the Doors are most known for are found there, the key here is album tracks. Cut for cut, tune for tune, they’re just better. You’ve got the best of their straight rock (My Eyes Have Seen You), psychedelic crooning (You’re Lost Little Girl) and Morrison's poetic antics (Horse Latitudes), plus the hits (Love Me Two Times, etc) are easily as good, just not as infamous today. Oh, and you want to argue about The End? Well, I give you When the Music’s Over…talk about an apocalypse now.
Duran Duran – Rio (1982): I’ve spoken to this album before, and some days I may pick the debut as far as mood preference, but if you could only have the one, best stick with Rio. The most enduring of the hits are here (Rio, Hungry like the Wolf) plus a load of album tracks that are a perfect synthesis of post punk attitude and the New Romantic style and cheek. This is the New Wave Bible, easily the best album of the genre, maybe of the “80s” as we know them from MTV and public nostalgia.
The Go Betweens – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986): This was a tough call for me. I know this is in general a fan favorite, and to be sure it’s worthy of such. I still prefer Before Hollywood or Spring Hill Fair, but I think what makes LBatBDE the one to want is that it’s the middle point in the GoB’s road from angular, post punk art pop to the more elegant, streamlined and la-la-lovely pop that should have later made them world famous. With feet in both worlds, you get the crux along with the cream, and both are super sweet.
PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000): While not my favorite PJ album, it’s admittedly the most accessible. A perfect coupling of excellent song writing and full band attitude, it’s not as crunchy (ok, grungy) as Dry or as murk-heavy as To Bring You My Love or as haunting as White Chalk, and while the dark and seedy imagery is there in full, the indie pop bounce lifts things up to more population friendly altitudes. But really, what makes it a must have is getting the full range of her majestic voice, from low mumblings to full on banshee wails, it’s everything she’s capable of doing on one disc and done to perfection.