Beefheart consumer guidance
1) Trout Mask Replica. Of course. The CD medium was very kind to this album. It's one where it's actually advantageous not to have to get up to change sides, and the smiling folks at Warners did a real fine job of transferring the album art (featuring the beautiful solarized photos) and helpful lyric sheet (not included with any copy of the LP I've ever owned) to the CD-slick format. And so what if it takes you a few years to crack this nut? It's one worth cracking. There are also vinyl reissues available for them what wants 'em.
2) The Spotlight Kid/Clear Spot. Another instance of the CD format serving Don's music well. Two of his most accessible (but not totally neutered) albums on one disc, with beautiful graphics.
3) Doc At the Radar Station. His second greatest album, IMO. You owe it to yourself.
4) Lick My Decals Off, Baby. My actual fave, totally unavailable on CD, but you can still find copies of the 2005 vinyl reish.
5) Safe As Milk. It seems to me like this'd sound a bit quaint to the younguns, but again, the '99 CD reish on Buddha (not Buddah -- confused?) has served it well, appending a bunch of the pre-phasing Strictly Personal tracks that were available ca. '95 as I May Be Hungry But I Sure Ain't Weird. The rest of 'em are on the '99 Buddha reish of The Mirror Man Sessions, which is an acquired taste but one which I recommend.
6) Ice Cream for Crow. Enervated and end-of-the-road sounding, this '82 swan song still ties up some loose ends dating as far back as '67, and has actually improved with age.
7) Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). A lot of people will tell you this is the one to get first. I am not one of 'em. Instead, if you can find it, try laying hands on Dust Sucker, an imperfect imagining of what the original unreleased '75 Bat Chain Puller would have sounded like (including toons that eventually appeared on Doc At the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow), plus some live stuff from '77 at the wrong speed. We'll never hear the rill thing until Gail Zappa gets up off it.
8) Grow Fins: Rarities 1965-1982. Forced Exposure is still listing this 5CD box on their website for $85; I'll believe it when I see it. Otherwise, it'll cost you two bills to get a sniff of it via Amazon ($45 and change for the MP3). Admittedly for completist/obsessives only; wish I hadn't sold my copy when I was hungry (but not weird), but I managed to snag a vinyl copy of the Trout Mask House Sessions when Xeric/Table of the Elements briefly released 'em a few years back. Worth the price of admission to hear the TMR songs sans vocals so you can really hear what those poor long-suffering cats were playing. Amazing stuff.
9) Merseytrout: Live In Liverpool 1980. There are lots of live bootleg Beefheart recordings out there. This one from near the end is the best, IMO. And that's all I have to say about it. Goodnight, sweet Captain.