Tyler Cowen's Thoughts on Music Web Page.
I will break this down by category.
In classical music, the immediate canon is Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart.
With Bach and Beethoven it is hard to go wrong. But my short list there would be Bach's B Minor Mass and St. Matthew's Passion, The Art of the Fugue, Well-Tempered Klavier, some of the organ music, the Brandenburgs, the Partitas, the Goldberg Variations, and the solo violin works.
For Beethoven it would be the late piano sonatas, the late string quartets, and the symphonies.
For Brahms I like best the chamber music, such as the sonatas for cello and piano, or for clarinet and piano, some of the piano music, and some of the songs, in addition to the German Requiem and the symphonies.
Mozart I like the operas best, definitely.
Other composers worth checking out:
Haydn (the string quartets, piano sonatas, the trios, The Creation, assorted symphonies)
some pieces by Schubert
Do not be duped into thinking that 20th century and contemporary musics are a wasteland (see my book *In Praise of Commercial Culture*, on this). I very much like:
Hindemith (Kammermusik, Das Marienleben, early version, Ludus Tonalis, Die Daemon, music for viola, viola and piano)
Assorted bits by Ives, such as The Unanswered Question, Central
Park in the Dark, Three Quarter-tone Pieces for Two Pianos
Robert Ashley (Perfect Lives, Improvement, Purposeful Lady/Slow Afternoon)
early Philip Glass (like Einstein on the Beach)
Morton Feldman (For John Cage)
Pierre Boulez (especially Pli Selon Pli)
Elliott Carter (Sonata for Cello and Piano, other works)
Rock and Roll
In rock and roll, in addition to the obvious classics (Chuck
Berry, Beatles, Rolling Stones, James Brown, Motown, and many
others, etc.) I recommend the following:
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds, 20//20, Friends, Sunflower, Love You
Byrds: Notorious Byrd Brothers, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Greatest
Hits, volume 1
Harry Nilsson, all, with Duit on Mon Dei as my favorite
Can - Soundtracks, Monster Movie, Future Days
Kraftwerk, early works
Led Zeppelin, I-IV
Brian Eno - Here Comes the Warm Jets, Before and After Science
Taking Tiger Mountain, Another Green World
Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks
Queen - A Night at the Opera, Sheer Heart Attack
Clash - The Clash, London Calling, Black Market Clash My Bloody Valentine - the album is called Loveless, maybe the best album since the Beatles
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation
Laibach - Let It Be, Opus Dei
Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Going On
Hole - Live Through This
Aphex Twin and Richard D. James (in general there is much good stuff in techno, jungle, drum&bass, but it is hard to find consistent artists)
If you think you know how good the Beatles were, you probably don't. Go back and listen to their best songs, including If I Fell, Please Please Me, Hard Day's Night, She's a Woman, You Won't See Me, Rain, Strawberry Fields Forever, For No One, A Day in the Life, Back in the USSR, and Hey Jude, among many others. There is also much of value in the Beatles's solo careers, albeit scattered. From Paul I recommend McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run, Flowers in the Dirt, Flaming Pie, and assorted singles and B-sides, like C Moon, or Daytime Nighttime Suffering. Lennon's best are Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, and Double Fantasy. By the way, Yoko is much underrated.
In jazz, I like best Sun Ra and Thelonious Monk, plus some swing, such as Benny Goodman.
In show tunes I give pride of place to Jerome Kern, with Showboat being a particular favorite.
In world music, I recommend the music of the Pygmies of Central Africa, most extant collections are good. The Pygmies are among the world's greatest and deepest musicians.
I also very much enjoy Indian music, gamelan music from Indonesian, and African popular music since the 1950s, from almost anywhere on that continent, with first place perhaps going to Zaire. The musics of Madagascar and the Cape Verde Islands are deserving of special attention. There is also Brazilian and Cuban music, or almost anything else African-derived. Untold riches there. Calypso from Trinidad deserves notice also, with Roaring Lion as a special figure of note.
From Jamaica, my favorite album is Buju Banton's *Til Shiloh*, I am also a big fan of Desmond Dekker, King Tubby, Lee Perry, Burning Spear, Luciano, and others. The book *Reggae on CD* gives an impeccable set of recommendations.
Country Western, Bluegrass
In country and western and bluegrass music (most of which I do not like), I recommend the following:
Louvin Brothers, especially Tragic Songs of Life
Flatt and Scruggs
Everly Brothers, Roots (yes, the Everly Brothers!)
Hank Williams, Sr.
Gram Parsons, Grievous Angel
Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin, Burrito Deluxe
"If you are looking to buy something contemporary, and extremely affordable, check out the works of Susan Dayal of Trinidad. She is fantastic. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org"