NPR logo Five Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Five Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Let's say you've got 24 hours to live. Forget all your unfulfilled dreams, the countries you haven't visited, the people you haven't seen. We're going to use these precious few hours left to listen to some music. So close the bedroom door, put on your headphones and grab the five CDs you simply must hear. What will you choose?

Music reviewer and author Tom Moon took on this challenge (though he gave himself a lot more wiggle room) for his new book, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List. After four years of writing and researching and digging through countless albums, Tom produced an impressive tome — nearly 900 pages of artists, LPs and songs, as well as a detailed explanation of how each of them wound up on the list.

The book showcases a lot of the albums you'd expect to see: Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde or Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, for example. But unless you're a music scholar, you probably haven't listened to — or even heard of — the vast majority of them.

On our latest episode of All Songs Considered, we talk with Tom about his book and listen to some of the amazing music he selected. You can also tell us your must-hear albums. You're more than welcome to give us a thousand, but I thought we'd keep it simple and ask for five. Be sure to tell us a little bit about why you picked them and include a recommended track.

A few things to keep in mind while making your picks: These aren't necessarily your all-time favorite albums. And they don't have to represent a broad range of genres or eras. These are just five albums you love and think people need to hear.

Here's one take on it (alphabetically):

Vic Chesnutt: West of Rome
Yeah, yeah, I mention Vic all the time. But, really, this is a rare album, and if you don't have it, you should get it. West of Rome is everything music should be: surprising, artful, beautiful, ugly, joyful, sad and entirely original. Listen to the title track.

Five Eight: The Good Nurse
This band struggled for many years to have a hit record. When its members finally gave up trying and decided to just do what they wanted, they came up with this little masterpiece. The Good Nurse is a concept album. Its songs take on many unpredictable forms; they're inspired and, at times, heartwrenching. If you're not teary-eyed by the end of the last song, singer Mike Mantione's elegy to a dying grandmother, check to make sure you have a pulse. "Off Season" or "Florence" are both good starting points.

Tim Hecker: Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again
I can imagine spending my last hour on earth listening to this one. Tim Hecker makes instrumental music that's incredibly three-dimensional, with the strangest, richest textures you can imagine. Put on your headphones and get lost in the opening track, "Music For Tundra Pt. 1."

Billie Holiday: The Complete Decca Recordings
I've told friends that I think this compilation represents the pinnacle of Western civilization. It's an exaggeration, of course. But then again... Holiday recorded for Decca from the mid-'40s until about 1950, which was when she was at the height of both her popularity and her gifts as a singer; this collection contains her finest recordings. Holiday often recorded her songs in a single take, and this collection includes a few incredible and rare moments in which she stops the performance, chats with the band about what went wrong, and starts again. My favorite track is "Sweet Hunk of Trash," with Louis Armstrong.

Jay-Z and DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album
I was going through my iTunes library, and it seemed criminal not to include a Beatles record, and there were a number of amazing hip-hop albums that popped up as candidates. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone. Besides, this really is a mind-blowing, brilliant mashup of two incredible albums. I still can't believe how well they work together. Listen to "99 Problems" mixed with "Helter Skelter." (You'll have to search for a copy online somewhere, since it was never released because of obvious legal conflicts.)