“You should check out every record that I recommend, I’m not telling you, I’m begging you.” — Henry Rollins
The chances of ever breaking eye contact with former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins are pretty slim. The singer, actor and all-around lover of the arts, Rollins has found fame for being one of the most intense people on the planet. It is both a blessing and a curse, and has seen Rollins caught on the wrong side of life on more than one occasion. However, where the singer’s passion really comes in handy is when he is recommending seven albums that simply everyone must hear.
In truth, album recommendations can often feel a little forced. Gathering up a list of your favourite records is a pretty pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but then trying to force those choices on somebody else can and usually will fall flat. However, when Rollins recommends seven albums that will enrich and embolden your life, then you best pay attention, as he’s not only got the passion for sharing his love for the records, but he’s got a career to back up his selections with some sincere authority.
The list of recommendations comes from 2017 when Rollins worked alongside Sound of Vinyl to declare his love for seven albums and recommend them to his audience. The project was a recommendation service that offered up choice pieces of vinyl for the purchaser’s consideration. Rollins is a known audiophile and clearly holds a special love of vinyl, speaking about the size of his collection with Relix, the singer revealed: “I don’t know the exact number. I know that it’s several feet—it’s like walls of vinyl. Two large walls of LPs and a wall of boxes—audiophile, acid-free boxes of singles. And then there’s boxes of records in different rooms. I have six stereos.”
But out of those hundreds and hundreds of records, there are seven which he took the time to share his thoughts on through a series of online videos. He passionately shares his love for the albums within those videos and implores you to go and buy them yourself. First up for consideration, Joy Division’s brilliant debut Unknown Pleasures: “When they finally write the real book on rock and roll, when all the dust settles, and the truth is finally told, and they get it right. One of the bands at the top of the mountain along with the David Bowies and The Rolling Stones will be Joy Division because they are easily as great as any band that has ever existed.”
He continues, “Their first album Unknown Pleasures is an absolute masterpiece.” Rollins to Joy Division is a connection one can easily make but it would seem he also has a lot of love for another debut, picking out Jimi Hendrix and The Experience landmark debut Are You Experienced?.
After explaining that he was raised by his mother in some not so desirable locations, Rollins shares that it was his mother who gave him his insatiable appetite for music, “My mom played one record after another, she was incredibly eclectic […] My mom loved Jimi Hendrix and this record was huge for me, this album, the first album, Are You Experienced?— it changed my mind as to what a guitar could do, how crazy a song could be and how cool a singer could be in a band. Jimi Hendrix, when I was like seven or eight years old, was the coolest singer because it sounded like he didn’t care if he sang or not. Like he could take it or leave it. That to me is a punk rock attitude.”
Speaking about his vocal performance and Hendrix’s lack of love for it, Rollins says “he was wrong,” confirming: “He was a great singer because he was honest, he was singing from his bone marrow and he proved what a young genius he was on Are You Experienced?“.
From one genius to another as Rollins also shares that his love of music isn’t confined to rock, picking out John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. After calling Coltrane “pure” and “directly connected to the source of music”, Rollins goes on to suggest that Coltrane was “incapable of making any mistakes.” He challenges the audience to “find the bad John Coltrane record,” before revealing, “It does not exist.” About the album, Rollins says “it was a record that made me understand the possibility of music.”
There is, of course, a dark side to Rollins and much of that can be garnered from his love of Black Sabbath. Picking out their album Master of Reality, the singer said: “Just my opinion, but the Black Sabbath catalogue is essential listening. One record from said catalogue really changed my mind on what arrangement meant in songs,” he continued, adding: “The Black Sabbath album that means the most to me is their third album Master of Reality.” He follows up the recommendation with a simple message: “It is the first Black Sabbath album to get, then go from there.”
Equally dark, but perhaps not in the same way, is Suicide’s self-titled record which Rollins picked up in the bargain bin because “it said Suicide on the front and had a lot of blood.” Of course, soon enough, Rollins would be swept away by the album’s intensity. “The single most intense song I’ve ever heard in my life is contained on this record and it’s called ‘Frankie Teardrop’, try it. It is easily the most intense song you’ll ever hear.”
“It blew our young minds,” confirmed the singer, noting that he and his friends had to retreat from the album because it was so soul-shakingly different. Eventually, Rollins returned to the album and “it became one of the most important albums of my life.”
I’m Stranded by The Saints is also included as one of Rollins’ essential albums. “Many years ago, in the early days of punk rock,” begins the singer, adding: “We would go into record stores and look for any record that even hinted at being punk rock.” One album that caught their attention, relegated to the bargain bin almost on entry from Oz, was the aforementioned Saints LP. “We put it on our turntables and it blew our mind,” continues Rollins, providing perhaps the most worthy recommendation on this list by saying: “It is one of the hardest rocking, incendiary, original rock albums ever recorded.”
Of course, no list would be complete without “the only band that matters”, The Clash and their seminal self-titled debut. After sharing that a friend named Burt would be his “punk rock trail guide” lending him records overnight for them to be returned the next day, Rollins says The Clash debut was the only LP he didn’t want to give back. “One of the best records I have ever heard. It made me realise that authority was to be questioned, and I can thank Joe Strummer for giving me that attitude.” It’s clear that the album meant a great deal to Rollins as he explains, “Soon after hearing the first Clash album — February 15th 1979 — I saw The Clash play. It blew my mind and changed my life. The first album by The Clash is a game-changer and a pitch-perfect rock album.”
There you have it, seven glowing endorsements from one of rock’s greatest frontmen of all time. Henry Rollins may well be an intense man but his [passion for music is clear and we thought we’d jump on board by creating you a perfect playlist of the mentioned albums as well as providing the Sound of Vinyl presentations below.
So, if the next time you lock eyes with Henry Rollins, and his burning stare threatens to engulf your very soul in flames, and you’ve not listened to these albums, then you’re on your own.
Henry Rollins’ favourite albums:
- Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
- Are You Experienced? – Jimi Hendrix
- A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
- Master of Reality – Black Sabbath
- Suicide – Suicide
- I’m Stranded – The Saints
- The Clash – The Clash