500 Greatest Albums | Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The RS 500 was assembled by the editors of Rolling Stone, based on the results of two extensive polls. In 2003, Rolling Stone asked a panel of 271 artists, producers, industry executives and journalists to pick the greatest albums of all time. In 2009, we asked a similar group of 100 experts to pick the best albums of the 2000s. From those results, Rolling Stone created this new list of the greatest albums of all time.
Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" magazine cover "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" is a 2003 special issue of American biweekly magazine Rolling Stone, and a related book published in 2005.[1] The lists presented were compiled based on votes from selected rock musicians, critics, and industry figures. The lists predominantly feature American and British music from the 1960s and the 1970s, topped by The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with a top 10 that featured four entries from The Beatles (#1, 3, 5 and 10), two from Bob Dylan (#4 and 9), and one each from The Beach Boys (#2), Marvin Gaye (#6), The Rolling Stones (#7) and The Clash (#8).
In 2012, Rolling Stone published a revised edition of the list drawing on the original and a later survey of albums up until the early 2000s.[2] It was made available in "bookazine" format on newsstands in the US from April 27 to July 25. The new list contained 38 albums not present in the previous one, 16 of them released after 2003.

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Capitol, 1967
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time. From the title song’s regal blasts of brass and fuzz guitar to the orchestral seizure and long, dying piano chord at the end of “A Day in the Life,” the 13 tracks on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are the pinnacle of the Beatles’ eight years as recording artists. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were never more fearless and unified in their pursuit of magic and transcendence.
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The Beach Boys Pet Sounds
Capitol, 1966
"Who's gonna hear this shit?" Beach Boys singer Mike Love asked the band's resident genius, Brian Wilson, in 1966, as Wilson played him the new songs he was working on. "The ears of a dog?" But Love's contempt proved oddly useful: "Ironically," Wilson observed, "Mike's barb inspired the album's title." Barking dogs – Wilson's dog Banana among them, in fact – are prominent among the found sounds on the album. The Beatles made a point of echoing them on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – an acknowledgment that Pet Sounds was the inspiration for the Beatles' masterpiece. That gesture actually completed a circle of influence: Wilson initially conceived of Pet Sounds as an effort to top the Beatles' Rubber Soul.
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The Beatles Revolver
Capitol, 1966
"I don't see too much difference between Revolver and Rubber Soul," George Harrison once said. "To me, they could be Volume One and Volume Two." Revolver extends the more adventurous aspects of its predecessor – its introspection, its nascent psychedelia, its fascination with studio artistry – into a dramatic statement of generational possibility.
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Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited
Columbia, 1965
Bruce Springsteen described the beginning of "Like a Rolling Stone," the opening song on Highway 61 Revisited, as the "snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." Folk singer Phil Ochs was even more rhapsodic about the LP: "It's impossibly good… How can a human mind do this?"
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The Beatles Rubber Soul
Capitol, 1965
In 1965, radios were abuzz with such groundbreaking singles as "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Like a Rolling Stone." That December, the Beatles met their peers' challenge head-on with Rubber Soul, a stunning collection that preserved the taut pop focus of the band's earlier LPs while introducing newfound sophistication and depth. Producer George Martin described Rubber Soul as "the first album to present a new, growing Beatles to the world," and so it was.
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Marvin Gaye What's Going On
Motown, 1971
"In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say," Marvin Gaye said. "I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world." The masterpiece that followed Gaye's awakening revolutionized black music. From its rich, string-suffused grooves to its boundless sense of possibility, What's Going On is the Sgt. Pepper of soul.
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Rolling Stones* Exile On Main St.
Rolling Stones Records, 1972
A dirty whirl of blues and boogie, the Rolling Stones' 1972 double LP "was the first grunge record," guitarist Keith Richards crowed proudly in a 2002 interview. But inside the deliberately dense squall – Richards' and Mick Taylor's dogfight riffing, the lusty jump of the Bill Wyman-Charlie Watts rhythm engine, Mick Jagger's caged-­animal bark and burned-soul croon – is the Stones' greatest album and Jagger and Richards' definitive songwriting statement of outlaw pride and dedication to grit. In the existential shuffle "Tumbling Dice," the exhausted country beauty "Torn and Frayed" and the whiskey-soaked uplift of "Shine a Light," you literally hear the Stones in exile: working at Richards' villa in the South of France, and on the run from media censure, Br
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The Clash London Calling
Epic, 1980
Recorded in 1979 in London, which was then wrenched by surging unemployment and drug addiction, and released in America in January 1980, the dawn of an uncertain decade, London Calling is 19 songs of apocalypse, fueled by an unbending faith in rock & roll to beat back the darkness. Produced with no-surrender energy by legendary Seventies studio madman Guy Stevens, the Clash's third album skids from bleak punk ("London Calling") to rampaging ska ("Wrong 'Em Boyo") and disco resignation ("Lost in the Supermarket"). The album was made in dire straits too. The band was heavily in debt and openly at war with its record company. Singer-guitarists Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote together in Jones' grandmother's flat. "Joe, once he learned how to type, would bang the lyrics out," J
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Bob Dylan Blonde On Blonde
Columbia, 1966
Released on May 16th, 1966, rock's first studio double LP by a major artist was, as Dylan declared in 1978, "the closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind… that thin, that wild-mercury sound." There is no better description of the album's manic brilliance. After several false-start sessions in New York in the fall of 1965 and January 1966 with his killer road band the Hawks – "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" was the only keeper – Dylan blazed through the rest of Blonde on Blonde's 14 tracks in one four-day run and one three-day run at Columbia's Nashville studios in February and March 1966.
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The Beatles The Beatles
Capitol, 1968
They wrote the songs while on retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, taking a break from the celebrity whirl. As John Lennon later said, "We sat in the mountains eating lousy vegetarian food and writing all these songs." They came back with more great tunes than they could fit on a single LP, and competed fiercely during the sessions. "I remember having three studios operating at the same time," George Harrison recalled. "Paul was doing some overdubs in one, John was in another, and I was recording some horns or something in a third." The sessions became so tense that Ringo Starr quit the band in frustration for two weeks. Yet the creative tension resulted in one of the most intense and adventurous rock albums ever made. Lennon pursued his hard-edged vision into
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Elvis Presley The Elvis Presley Sun Collection
RCA, 1999
Many believe rock & roll was born on July 5th, 1954, at Sun Studio in Memphis. Elvis Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were horsing around with "That's All Right, Mama," a tune by bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, when producer Sam Phillips stopped them and asked, "What are you doing?" "We don't know," they said. Phillips told them to "back up and do it again." The A side of Presley's first single (backed with a version of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky"), "That's All Right" was issued by Sun on July 19th. It may or may not be the first rock & roll record. But the man who would be King was officially on wax. Bridging black and white, country and blues, his sound was playful and revolutionary, charged by a spontaneity and freedom that changed the worl
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Miles Davis Kind Of Blue
Columbia, 1959
This painterly masterpiece would become one of the most important, influential and popular albums in jazz. But at the time it was made, Kind of Blue was a revolution all its own, a radical break from everything going on. Turning his back on standard chord progressions, trumpeter Miles Davis used modal scales as a starting point for composition and improvisation – breaking new ground with warmth, subtlety and understatement in the thick of hard bop. Davis and his peerless band – bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianist Bill Evans, and the titanic sax team of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley – soloed in uncluttered settings, typified by "melodic rather than harmonic variation," as Davis put it. Two numbers, "All Blues" and "Freddie Freeloader" (the latter fea
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The Velvet Underground & Nico (3) The Velvet Underground & Nico
Verve, 1967
"We were trying to do a Phil Spector thing with as few instruments as possible," John Cale, the classically trained pianist and viola player of the Velvet Underground, said of this record. It was no idle boast. Much of what we take for granted in rock would not exist without this New York band or its seminal debut: the androgynous sexuality of glitter; punk's raw noir; the blackened-riff howl of grunge and noise rock; goth's imperious gloom. Recorded dirt-cheap at a studio that was literally falling apart, it is a record of fearless breadth and lyric depth. Singer-songwriter Lou Reed documented carnal desire and drug addiction, decadence and redemption, with a pop wisdom he learned as a song-factory composer for Pickwick Records. Cale introduced the power of pulse and drone
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The Beatles Abbey Road
Capitol, 1969
"It was a very happy record," said producer George Martin. "I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last." Abbey Road – recorded mostly in two months during the summer of 1969 – almost never got made at all. That January, the Beatles were on the verge of a breakup, exhausted and angry with one another after the disastrous sessions for the aborted Get Back LP, later salvaged as Let It Be [see No. 392]. Determined to go out with a sense of recaptured glory, the group reconvened at EMI's Abbey Road Studios to make its most polished album: a collection of superb songs cut with an attention to refined detail, then segued together (especially on Side Two) with conceptual force. There was no thematic link, other than the Beatles' unique genius. John
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The Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced
Reprise, 1967
This is what Britain sounded like in late 1966 and early 1967: ablaze with rainbow blues, orchestral guitar feedback and the personal cosmic vision of black American émigré Jimi Hendrix. Rescued from dead-end gigs in New York by ex-Animal Chas Chandler, Hendrix arrived in London in September 1966, quickly formed the Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell and in a matter of weeks was recording the songs that comprised his epochal debut – which stands four and a half decades later as rock's most innovative and expressive guitar record. Hendrix's incendiary playing was historic in itself, the luminescent sum of his chitlin-circuit labors in the early Sixties with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers and his melodic exploitation of amp howl. But it wa
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Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks
Columbia, 1975
Bob Dylan once introduced this album's opening song, "Tangled Up in Blue," onstage as taking him 10 years to live and two years to write. It was, for him, a pointed reference to the personal crisis – the collapse of his marriage to Sara Lowndes – that at least partly inspired this album, Dyl­an's best of the 1970s. In fact, he wrote all of these lyrically piercing, gingerly majestic songs in two months, in mid-1974. He was so proud of them that he privately auditioned almost all of the album, from start to finish, for pals and peers including Mike Bloomfield, David Crosby and Graham Nash before cutting them in September – in just a week, with members of the bluegrass band Deliverance. But in December, Dylan played the record for his brother David in Minneapolis, who sugge
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Nirvana Nevermind
Geffen, 1991
The overnight-success story of the 1990s, Nirvana's second album and its totemic first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," shot up from the nascent grunge scene in Seattle to kick Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard album chart and blow hair metal off the map. No album in recent history had such an overpowering impact on a generation – a nation of teens suddenly turned punk – and such a catastrophic effect on its main creator. The weight of fame led already troubled singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain to take his own life in 1994. But his slashing riffs, corrosive singing and deviously oblique writing, rammed home by the Pixies-via-Zeppelin might of bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, put the warrior purity back in rock & roll. Lyrically, Cobain raged in code –
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Bruce Springsteen Born To Run
Columbia, 1975
Bruce Springsteen spent everything he had – patience, energy, studio time, the physical endurance of his E Street Band – to make his masterpiece. There are a dozen guitar overdubs on the title track alone. "The album became a monster," Springsteen recalled. But in making his third album, he was living out the central drama in its gun-the-engine rock & roll: the fight to reconcile big dreams with crushing reality. He found it so hard to re-create the sound in his head – the Jersey-bar dynamite of his live gigs, Phil Spector's grandeur, Roy Orbison's melodrama – that he nearly gave up and put out a live album. But his attention to detail produced a timeless record about the labors and glories of aspiring to greatness.
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Van Morrison Astral Weeks
Warner Bros., 1968
Van Morrison never sounded more warm and ecstatic, more sensual and vulnerable, than on his enigmatically beautiful solo debut. Fresh off the success of "Brown Eyed Girl" and newly signed to artist­friendly Warner Bros., he explored the physical and dramatic range of his voice during extended poetic-scat singing, and set hallucinatory reveries on his native Belfast to wandering Celtic-R&B melodies. The crowning touch was the superior jazz quintet convened by producer Lewis Merenstein to color the mists and shadows. Bassist Richard Davis later said that Morrison never told the musicians what he wanted from them or what the lyrics meant. Maybe he didn't know how to. He was going deep inside himself, without a net or fear.
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Michael Jackson Thriller
Epic, 1982
Michael Jackson towered over the 1980s the way Elvis Presley dominated the 1950s, and here's why. On Thriller, the child R&B star ripened into a Technicolor soulman: a singer, dancer and songwriter with incomparable crossover instincts. He and producer Quincy Jones established the something-for-everyone template with 1979's Off the Wall, a crisp fusion of pop hooks and dance beats. On Thriller, the pair heighten the sheen ("The Girl Is Mine"), pump up the theater ("Thriller") and deepen the funk. But the most thrilling thing was the autobiography busting through the gloss: the hiss of denial on "Billie Jean"; the to-hell-with-haters strut of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." Jackson was at the peak of his art and adulthood.
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Chuck Berry The Great Twenty Eight
Chess, 1982
In the latter half of the Fifties, Chuck Berry released a string of singles that defined the sound and spirit of rock & roll. "Maybellene," a fast, countryish rocker about a race between a Ford and a Cadillac, kicked it all off in 1955, and one classic hit followed another, each powered by Berry's staccato country-blues-guitar gunfire: "Roll Over Bee­thoven," "School Days," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," "Back in the USA." What was Berry's secret? In the maestro's own words, "The nature and backbone of my beat is boogie, and the muscle of my music is melodies that are simple." This collection culls the best of that magic from 1955 to 1965.
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Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings
Columbia, 1990
"You want to know how good the blues can get?" Keith Richards asked. "Well, this is it." The bluesman in question was Robert Johnson, who lived from 1911 to 1938 in the Mississippi Delta, and whose guitar prowess was so great, it inspired stories that he had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his amazing gift. In his only two recording sessions, Johnson cut just 29 songs, but their evanescent passion has resonated through the decades, crucial inspiration for everyone from Chicago blues originator Elmore James to British blues inheritors like the Stones and Eric Clapton. Every one of his songs (along with 12 alternate takes) is included here – a holy grail of the blues.
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John Lennon Plastic Ono Band* John Lennon Plastic Ono Band
Capitol, 1970
Also known as the "primal scream" album, referring to the painful therapy that gave rise to its songs, Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon's first proper solo album and rock & roll's most self-revelatory recording. Lennon attacks and ­denies idols and icons, including his own former band ("I don't believe in Beatles," he sings in "God"), to hit a pure, raw core of confession that, in its echo-drenched, garage-rock crudity, is years ahead of punk. He deals with childhood loss in "Mother" and skirts blasphemy in "Working Class Hero": "You're still fucking peasants as far as I can see." But consigning Sixties dreams to the rubbish bin, there's also room for a fragile sense of possibility (see "Hold On"). Plastic Ono Band is the sound of Year Zero.
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Stevie Wonder Innervisions
Tamala, 1973
Stevie Wonder's high-flying musical experimentation and penetrating lyrical insight made Innervisions a textured, but never self-indulgent, work of soulful self-discovery. Fusing social realism with spiritual idealism, he brings expressive color and irresistible funk to his keyboards on "Too High" (a cautionary anti-drug song) and "Higher Ground" (which echoes Martin Luther King Jr.'s message of transcendence). The album's centerpiece is "Living for the City," a cinematic depiction of exploitation and injustice. He brought his most innovative music to life in the nick of time: Three days after Innervisions was released, Wonder was put into a four-day coma after the car he was traveling in collided with a logging truck.
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James Brown James Brown Live At The Apollo
King, 1963
Perhaps the greatest live album ever recorded. From the breathless buildup of the spoken intro through terse, sweat-soaked early hits such as "Try Me" and "Think" into 11 minutes of the raw ballad "Lost Someone," climaxing with a frenzied nine-song medley and ending with "Night Train," Live at the Apollo is pure, uncut soul. And it almost didn't happen. James Brown defied King Records label boss Syd Nathan's opposition to a live album by arranging to record a show himself – on October 24th, 1962, the last date in a run at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater. His intuition proved correct: Live at the Apollo – the first of four albums Brown recorded there – charted for 66 weeks.
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Fleetwood Mac Rumours
Warner Bros., 1977
On Rumours, Fleetwood Mac turned private turmoil into gleaming, melodic public art. The band's two couples – bassist John and singer-keyboard player Christine McVie, who were married; guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks, who were not – were in the midst of breakups during the album's protracted sessions. This lent a highly charged, confessional aura to songs like Buckingham's "Go Your Own Way," Nicks' "Dreams," Christine's "Don't Stop" and the group-composed anthem to betrayal, "The Chain." The Mac's catchy exposés, produced with California-sunshine polish, touched a nerve: Rumours became the gold standard of late-Seventies FM radio and the seventh-bestselling studio album of all time.
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U2 The Joshua Tree
Island, 1987
"America's the promised land to a lot of Irish people," Bono told Rolling Stone. "I'm one in a long line of Irishmen who made the trip." On U2's fifth studio album, the band immersed itself in the mythology of the United States, while the Edge exploited the poetic echo of digital delay, drowning his trademark arpeggios in rippling tremolo. One of the most moving songs is "Running to Stand Still," a stripped-down slide-guitar ballad about heroin addiction, but for the most part this is an album that turns spiritual quests and political struggles into uplifting stadium singalongs: See hits like "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," a rock anthem with a gospel soul.
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The Who Who's Next
Decca, 1971
Pete Townshend said he suffered a nervous breakdown when his planned follow-up to the rock opera Tommy, the ambitious, theatrical Lifehouse, fell apart. But he was left with an extraordinary cache of songs that the Who honed for what became their best studio album, Who's Next. "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Bargain" and "Baba O'Riley" (named in tribute to avant-garde composer Terry Riley and Townshend's spiritual guru Meher Baba) all beam with epic majesty, often spiked with synthesizers. "I like synthesizers," Townshend said, "because they bring into my hands things that aren't in my hands: the sound of the orchestra, French horns, strings… You press a switch and it plays it back at double speed."
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Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin
Atlantic, 1969
On their first album, Led Zeppelin were still in the process of inventing their own sound, moving on from the heavy rave-ups of guitarist Jimmy Page's previous band, the Yardbirds. But from the beginning, Zeppelin had the astonishing fusion of Page's lyrical guitar-playing, Robert Plant's paint-peeling love-hound yowl, and John Paul Jones and John Bonham's avalanche boogie. "We were learning what got us off most and what got people off most," said Plant. Yet the template for everything Zeppelin achieved in the 1970s is here: brutal rock ("Communication Breakdown"), thundering power balladry ("Your Time Is Gonna Come"), acid-flavored folk blues ("Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"). Heavy metal still lives in its shadow.
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Joni Mitchell Blue
Reprise, 1971
"The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals," Joni Mitchell told Rolling Stone in 1979. "At that period of my life, I had no persona defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world, and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy." With song after song of regrets and sorrow, this may be the ultimate breakup album. Its whispery minimalism is also Mitchell's greatest musical achievement. Stephen Stills and James Taylor lend an occasional hand, but in "California," "Carey," "This Flight Tonight" and the devastating title track, Mitchell sounds utterly alone in her melancholy, turning the sadness into tender, universally powerful art.
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Bob Dylan Bringing It All Back Home
Columbia, 1965
"It's very complicated to play with electricity," Bob Dylan said in the summer of 1965. "You're dealing with other people… Most people who don't like rock & roll can't relate to other people." But on Side One of this pioneering album, Dylan amplifies his cryptic, confrontational songwriting with guitar lightning and galloping drums. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm" are loud, caustic and funny as hell. Dylan returns to solo acoustic guitar on the four superb songs on Side Two, including the scabrous "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and the closing ballad, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," arguably his finest, most affectionate song of dismissal.
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Rolling Stones* Let It Bleed
London, 1969
The Rolling Stones' final record of the Sixties kicks off with the terrifying "Gimme Shelter," the song that came to symbolize not only the catastrophe of the Stones' free show at Altamont but the death of the decade's utopian spirit. And the entire album burns with apocalyptic cohesion: the sex-mad desperation of "Live With Me"; the murderous blues of "Midnight Rambler"; Keith Richards' lethal, biting guitar on "Monkey Man"; the epic moralism, with honky-tonk piano and massed vocal chorus, of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which Mick Jagger wrote on acoustic guitar in his bedroom. "Somebody said that we could get the London Bach Choir," Jagger recalled years later, "and we said, 'That will be a laugh.'"
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Ramones Ramones
Sire, 1976
"Our early songs came out of our real feelings of alienation, isolation, frustration – the feelings every­body feels between 17 and 75," said singer Joey Ramone. Clocking in at just over 28 minutes, Ramones is a complete rejection of the spangled artifice of 1970s rock. The songs are fast and anti-social, just like the band: "Beat on the Brat," "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." Guitarist Johnny Ramone refused to play solos – his jackhammer chords became the lingua franca of punk – and the whole thing was recorded for just over $6,000. Yet amid the buoyantly nihilist fury, Joey Ramone's leather-tender plea "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" showed that even punks need love.
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The Band Music From Big Pink
Capitol, 1968
"Big Pink" was a pink house in Woodstock, New York, where the Band – Bob Dylan's '65-'66 backup band on tour – moved to be near Dylan after his motorcycle accident. While he recuperated, the Band backed him on the demos later known as The Basement Tapes [see No. 292] and made their own debut. Dylan offered to play on the album; the Band said no thanks. "We didn't want to just ride his shirttail," drummer Levon Helm said. Dylan contributed "I Shall Be Released" and co-wrote two other tunes. But it was the rustic beauty of the Band's music and the drama of their own reflections on family and obligations, on songs such as "The Weight," that made Big Pink an instant homespun classic.
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David Bowie The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
RCA, 1972
This album documents one of the most elaborate self-mythologizing schemes in rock, as David Bowie created the glittery, messianic alter ego Ziggy Stardust ("well-hung and snow-white tan"). The glam rock Bowie made with guitarist Mick Ronson on tracks like "Hang on to Yourself" and "Suffragette City" is an irresistible blend of sexy, campy pop and blues power. The anthem "Ziggy Stardust" is one of rock's earliest, and best, power ballads. "I consider myself responsible for a whole new school of pretensions," Bowie said at the time. "They know who they are. Don't you, Elton? Just kidding. No, I'm not."
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Carole King Tapestry
Ode, 1971
For nearly a decade, Carole King wrote Brill Building pop with her then-husband, Gerry Goffin: hits such as Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" (Eva Boyd was the couple's baby sitter) and the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday." Then King's friend James Taylor encouraged her to sing her own tunes. She slowed down "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (originally a hit for the Shirelles in 1960), heightening the melancholy inside, while her warm, earnest singing brought out the sadness in "So Far Away" and "It's Too Late" and the earthy joy on "I Feel the Earth Move." On Tapestry, King remade herself as an artist and created the reigning model for the 1970s female singer-songwriter – not to mention a blockbuster pop record of enduring artistic quality.
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Eagles Hotel California
Asylum, 1976
In pursuit of note-perfect Hollywood-cowboy ennui, the Eagles spent eight months in the studio polishing take after take after take. As Don Henley recalled, "We just locked ourselves in. We had a refrigerator, a ping-pong table, roller skates and a couple of cots. We would go in and stay for two or three days at a time." With guitarist Joe Walsh replacing Bernie Leadon, the band backed off from straight country rock in favor of the harder sound of "Life in the Fast Lane." The somber "New Kid in Town" ponders the fleeting nature of fame, and the title track is a monument to the rock-aristocrat decadence of the day and a feast of triple-guitar interplay. "Every band has their peak," Henley said. "That was ours."
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Muddy Waters The Anthology (1947 1972)
Chess/MCA, 2001
McKinley Morganfield – a.k.a. Muddy Waters – started out playing acoustic Delta blues in Mississippi. But when he moved to Chicago in 1943, he needed an electric guitar to be heard over the tumult of South Side clubs. The sound he developed was the foundation of Chicago blues – and rock & roll; the thick, bleeding tones of his slide work anticipated rock-guitar distortion by nearly two decades. Jimi Hendrix adapted Waters' "Rollin' Stone" for "Voodoo Chile," Bob Dylan found inspiration in it for "Like a Rolling Stone," and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took their band's name from it. The 50 cuts on these two CDs run from guitar-and-stand-up-bass duets to full-band romps – and they only scratch the surface of Waters' legacy.
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The Beatles Please Please Me
Parlophone, 1963
The Beatles recorded 10 of the 14 songs on their debut album at EMI's Abbey Road studio in just over 12 hours on February 11th, 1963. For productivity alone, it's one of the greatest first albums in rock. The Beatles had already invented a bracing new sound for a rock band – an assault of thrumming energy and impeccable vocal harmonies – and they nailed it using the covers and originals in their live repertoire: the Shirelles' "Boys" and Arthur Alexander's "Anna"; the Lennon–McCartney burners "There's a Place" and "I Saw Her Standing There." Fittingly, John Lennon finished the epochal all-day session shirtless and shredding what was left of his vocal cords on two takes of "Twist and Shout."
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Love Forever Changes
Elektra, 1967
"When I did that album," singer Arthur Lee said, "I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words." Lee, who died of cancer in 2006, was still performing this album live well into the '00s. And for good reason: The third record by his biracial L.A. band is wild and funny and totally pioneering: folk rock turned into elegant Armageddon with the symphonic sweep and mariachi-brass drama of "Alone Again Or" and "You Set the Scene." In the late Nineties, Lee served time in prison. After his release, he brought extra pathos to "Live and Let Live" when he sang, "Served my time, served it well."
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Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
Warner Bros., 1977
"If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlistenable for most people," Johnny Rotten said. "If you want people to listen, you’re going to have to compromise." But few heard it that way at the time. The Pistols' only studio album sounds like a rejection of everything rock & roll had to offer. True, the music was less shocking than Rotten himself, who snarled about abortions, anarchy and hatred. But Never Mind. . . is the Sermon on the Mount of U.K. punk – and its echoes are everywhere.
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The Doors The Doors
Elektra, 1967
After blowing minds as the house band at L.A.'s Whisky-a-Go-Go, where they got fired for playing the Oedipal drama "The End," the Doors were ready to unleash their organ-driven rock on the world. "On each song we had tried every possible arrangement," drummer John Densmore said, "so we felt the whole album was tight." The Blakean pop art on their debut was beyond Top 40 attention spans. But they hit pay dirt by editing down one of their jams: "Light My Fire," written by guitarist Robbie Krieger when Jim Morrison told everybody in the band to write a song with universal imagery.
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Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon
EMI, 1973
"I think every album was a step toward Dark Side of the Moon," keyboardist Rick Wright said. "We were learning all the time; the techniques of the recording and our writing was getting better." As a culmination of their inner-space explorations of the early 1970s, the Floyd toured the bulk of Dark Side in Britain for months prior to recording. But in the studio, the band articulated bassist Roger Waters' reveries on the madness of everyday life with melodic precision ("Breathe," "Us and Them") and cinematic luster (Clare Torry's guest-vocal aria, "The Great Gig in the Sky"). It's one of the best-produced rock albums ever, and "Money" may be the only Top 20 hit in 7/4 time.
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Patti Smith Horses
Arista, 1975
From its first defiant line, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," the opening shot in a bold reinvention of Van Morrison's Sixties garage-rock classic "Gloria," Patti Smith's debut album was a declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll. Horses made her the queen of punk before it even really existed, but Smith cared more for the poetry in rock. She sought the visions and passions that connected Keith Richards and Rimbaud – and found them, with the intuitive assistance of a killing band (pianist Richard Sohl, guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Ivan Kral and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty) and her friend Robert Mapplethorpe, who shot the stark, beautiful cover portrait.
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The Band The Band
Capitol, 1969
The Band were four-fifths Canadian – drummer Levon Helm was from Arkansas – but their second album is all American. Guitarist Robbie Robertson's songs vividly evoke the country's pioneer age ("Across the Great Divide") and the Civil War ("The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"), while reflecting the fractured state of the nation in the 1960s. The Band's long life on the road resonates in the brawn of Garth Hudson's keyboards and Helm's juke-joint attack. But Robertson's stories truly live in Helm's growl, Rick Danko's high tenor and Richard Manuel's spectral croon. "Somebody once said he had a tear in his voice," Helm said of Manuel. "Richard had one of the richest-textured voices I'd ever heard."
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Bob Marley & The Wailers Legend (The Best Of Bob Marley And The Wailers)
Island, 1984
Bob Marley said, "Reggae music is too simple for [American musicians]. You must be inside of it, know what's happening, and why you want to play this music. You don't just run and go play this music because you think you can make a million off it." Ironically, this set of the late reggae idol's greatest hits has sold in the millions worldwide. In a single disc, it captures everything that made him an international icon: his nuanced songcraft, his political message (and savvy), and – of course – the universal soul he brought to Jamaican rhythm and Rastafarian spirituality in the gunfighter ballad "I Shot the Sheriff," the comforting swing of "No Woman, No Cry" and the holy promise of "Redemption Song."
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John Coltrane A Love Supreme
Impulse, 1964
Two important things happened to John Coltrane in 1957: The saxophonist left Miles Davis' employ to join Thelonious Monk's band and hit new heights in extended, ecstatic soloing. Coltrane also kicked heroin addiction, a vital step in a spiritual awakening that climaxed with this legendary album-long hymn of praise – transcendent music perfect for the high point of the civil rights movement. The indelible four-note theme of the first piece, "Acknowledgment," is the humble foundation of the suite. But Coltrane's majestic, often violent blowing (famously described as "sheets of sound") is never self-aggrandizing. His playing soars with nothing but gratitude and joy. You can't help but go with him.
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Public Enemy It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Def Jam, 1988
Loud, obnoxious, funky, avant-garde, political, hilarious – Public Enemy's brilliant second album is all of these things, all at once. Chuck D booms intricate rhymes with a delivery inspired by sportscaster Marv Albert; sidekick Flavor Flav raps comic relief; and production team the Bomb Squad builds mesmerizing, multilayered jams, pierced with shrieking sirens. The title and roiling force of "Bring the Noise" is truth in advertising. "If they're callin' my music 'noise,'" said Chuck D, "if they're saying that I'm really getting out of character being a black person in America, then fine – I'm bringin' more noise."
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The Allman Brothers Band The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East
Mercury, 1971
Rock's greatest live double LP is an unbeatable testimony to the Allman Brothers' improvisational skills, as well as evidence of how they connected with audiences to make jamming feel communal. "The audience would kind of play along with us," singer­organist Gregg Allman said of the March 1971 shows documented here. "They were right on top of every single vibration coming from the stage." The dazzling guitar team of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts was at its peak, seamlessly fusing blues and jazz in "Whipping Post" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." But their telepathy was interrupted: Just three months after the album's release, Duane died in a motorcycle accident.
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Little Richard Here's Little Richard
Specialty, 1957
"I came from a family where my people didn't like rhythm & blues," Little Richard told Rolling Stone in 1970. "Bing Crosby, 'Pennies From Heaven,' Ella Fitzgerald was all I heard. And I knew there was something that could be louder than that, but didn't know where to find it. And I found it was me." Richard's raucous 1957 debut album collected singles such as "Rip It Up" and "Long Tall Sally," in which his rollicking boogie-­woogie piano and falsetto scream ignited the unfettered possibilities of rock & roll. "Tutti Frutti" still contains what has to be considered the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded: "A wop bop alu bop, a wop bam boom!"
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Simon And Garfunkel* Bridge Over Troubled Water
Columbia, 1970
On their fifth and final studio album, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were pulling away from each other: Simon assembled some of it while Garfunkel was in Mexico starting his acting career with a part in the film version of Catch-22. Garfunkel vetoed Simon's "Cuba Sí, Nixon No," and Simon nixed Garfunkel's idea for a Bach chorale. But what remains is the partnership at its best: wry, wounded songs with healing harmonies such as "The Boxer," though the gorgeous title track was sung by Garfunkel alone, despite his resistance. "He felt I should have done it," Simon told Rolling Stone in 1972. "And many times I'm sorry I didn't do it."
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Al Green Greatest Hits
Hi, 1975
Al Green made some of the most visionary soul music of the Seventies, in Memphis with producer Willie Mitchell. "In Memphis, you just do as you feel," he told Rolling Stone in 1972. "It's not a modern, up-to-par, very glamorous, big-red-chairs-and-carpet-that-thick studio. It's one of those places you can go into and stomp out a good soul jam." In collaboration with Mitchell and subtly responsive musicians like drummer Al Jackson Jr., Green was a natural album artist, making love-and-pain classics such as 1973's Call Me. But this collection makes for a unified album in itself, compiling hits like "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love With You" and "Tired of Being Alone" into a flawless 10-song suite.
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The Beatles Meet The Beatles!
Capitol, 1964
For Americans in the full grip of Beatlemania, this was the first album they could buy. Meet took the Fab Four's second British record, With the Beatles, dropped five covers and added three tracks, including the singles "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There." (This may have made a hash of the Beatles' artistic intentions, but it made for a much better record.) John Lennon and Paul McCartney were on a songwriting roll that would be unmatched in rock history, and at this point they were still a real team. They wrote "I Want to Hold Your Hand" together on a piano in the basement of Jane Asher, McCartney's actress girlfriend – as Lennon put it, "eyeball to eyeball."
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Ray Charles The Birth Of Soul The Complete Atlantic Rhythm & Blues Recordings 1952 1959
Atlantic, 1991
Soul music is a blend of the holy and the filthy: gospel and blues rubbing up against each other. And Ray Charles was just about the first person to perfect that mix. Charles was knocking around Seattle when Atlantic bought out his contract in 1952. For the next seven years, he turned out brilliant singles such as "What'd I Say" and "I Got a Woman," which was a takeoff on a gospel tune, "It Must Be Jesus." He was inventing the sound of ecstasy, three minutes at a time. This box collects every R&B side he cut for Atlantic, though his swinging take on "My Bonnie" will have you thinking it covers his Atlantic jazz output as well.
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The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland
Reprise, 1968
Hendrix's third album was the first he produced himself, a fever dream of underwater electric soul cut in round-the-clock sessions at the Record Plant in New York. Hendrix would leave the Record Plant to jam at a club around the corner, the Scene, and "Voodoo Chile" – 15 minutes of live in-the-studio blues exploration with Steve Winwood on organ and Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady on bass – reflects those excursions. In addition to psychedelic Delta blues, there was the precision snap of "Crosstown Traffic" and a cover of "All Along the Watchtower" that took Bob Dylan into outer space before touching down with a final burst of spectral fury.
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Elvis Presley Elvis Presley
RCA, 1956
In November 1955, RCA Records bought Presley's contract, singles and unreleased master tapes from Sun Records. His first full-length album came out six months later, with tracks drawn from both the Sun sessions and further recordings at RCA's studios in New York and Nashville. It became the first rock & roll album to make it to Number One on the Billboard charts. "There wasn't any pressure," guitarist Scotty Moore said of the first RCA sessions. "They were just bigger studios with different equipment. We basically just went in and did the same thing we always did." On tracks such as "Blue Suede Shoes," that meant revved-up country music with the sexiest voice anyone had ever heard.
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Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life
Motown/Universal, 1976
Making this record, Stevie Wonder would often stay in the studio 48 hours straight, not eating or sleeping, while everyone around him struggled to keep up. "If my flow is goin', I keep on until I peak," he said. The flow went so well, Wonder released 21 songs, packaged as a double album and a bonus EP. The highlights are the joyful "Isn't She Lovely" and "Sir Duke," but Wonder also displays his mastery of funk, jazz, Afrobeat and even a string-quartet minuet. Nineteen years later, Coolio turned the haunting groove of "Pastime Paradise" into the Number One single "Gang­sta's Paradise," just one example of Life's vast influence on decades of pop.
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The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet
ABKCO, 1968
"When we had been in the States between 1964 and '66, I had gathered together this enormous collection of records, but I never had any time to listen to them," Keith Richards recalled. "In late 1966 and '67, I unwrapped them and actually played them." After the wayward psychedelia of 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, and with guitarist Brian Jones largely AWOL, Richards' record collection led the Rolling Stones back to their version of America: country music on "Dear Doctor," the blues on "Prodigal Son" and urban riots on "Street Fighting Man." And "Sympathy for the Devil" is an anthem for the darkness in every human heart – in other words, just one more example of the Stones getting back to basics.
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Creedence Clearwater Revival Featuring John Fogerty Chronicle (The 20 Greatest Hits)
Fantasy, 1976
Between 1968 and early 1972, CCR rolled out 13 Top 40 songs, which still stand as the most impressive run of hits made by an American band. Former Army reservist and Little Richard fan John Fogerty was the dance-band populist on the San Francisco ballroom scene, writing concise, catchy songs like "Down on the Corner" and "Proud Mary" that fused R&B boogie with longhaired West Coast chooglin'. He also tapped into the spirit of the times, tackling the Vietnam War on "Who'll Stop the Rain" and class politics on "Fortunate Son." This compilation demonstrates over and over how much American possibility you can pack into two-minute blasts of car-radio heaven.
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Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band* Trout Mask Replica
Straight, 1969
On first listen, Trout Mask Replica sounds like a wild, incomprehensible rampage through the blues. Don Van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart) growls, rants and recites poetry over chaotic guitar licks. But every note was precisely planned in advance – to construct the songs, the Magic Band rehearsed 12 hours a day for months on end in a house with the windows blacked out. (Producer and longtime friend Frank Zappa was then able to record most of the album in less than five hours.) The avant-garde howl of tracks such as "Ella Guru" and "My Human Gets Me Blues" have inspired modern primitives from Tom Waits to PJ Harvey.
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Sly & The Family Stone Greatest Hits
Epic, 1970
Sly and the Family Stone created a musical utopia: an interracial group of men and women who blended funk, rock and positive vibes. Sly Stone, the Family mastermind, was one of the Sixties' most ambitious artists, mixing up the hardest funk beats with hippie psychedelia in hits such as "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." Greatest Hits ranges from gospel-style ballads ("Everybody Is a Star") to rump shakers ("Everyday People") to soulful bubblegum ("Hot Fun in the Summertime"). Stone discovered his utopia had a ghetto, and he brilliantly tore the whole thing down on 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On [see No. 99]. But nothing can negate the joy of this music.
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Guns N' Roses Appetite For Destruction
Geffen, 1987
The biggest-selling debut album of all time, Appetite for Destruction, features a lot more than the yowl of Indiana-bred W. Axl Rose, the only member still in Guns N' Roses. Guitarist Slash gave the band blues emotion and punk energy, while the rhythm section brought the funk on hits such as "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Mr. Brownstone." When all the elements came together, as in the final two minutes of "Paradise City," G N' R left all other Eighties metal bands looking like poodle-haired pretenders, and they knew it, too. "A lot of rock bands are too fucking wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion," Rose said. "Unless they're in pain."
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U2 Achtung Baby
Island, 1991
After fostering a solemn public image for years, U2 loosened up on Achtung Baby, a prescient mix of sleek rock and pulsing Euro grooves recorded in Berlin and Dublin with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. They no longer sounded like young men sure of the answers; now they were full of doubt and longing. "It's a con, in a way," Bono told Rolling Stone about the album in 1992. "We call it Achtung Baby, grinning up our sleeves in all the photography. But it's probably the heaviest record we've ever made." "One" may be their most gorgeous song, but it's a dark ballad about a relationship in peril and the struggle to keep it together. Yet the emotional turmoil made U2 sound more human than ever.
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The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers
Rolling Stones Records, 1971
Drummer Charlie Watts remembered the origin of Sticky Fingers as the songs Mick Jagger wrote while filming the movie Ned Kelly in Australia. "Mick started playing the guitar a lot," Watts said. "He plays very strange rhythm guitar… very much how Bra­zilian guitarists play, on the upbeat. It is very much like the guitar on a James Brown track – for a drummer, it's great to play with." New guitarist Mick Taylor stretched out the Stones' sound in "Sway," "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "Moonlight Mile." But "Brown Sugar" is a classic Stones stomp, and two of the best cuts are country songs: one forlorn ("Wild Hor­ses") and one funny ("Dead Flowers").
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Phil Spector Back To Mono (1958 1969)
ABKCO, 1991
When the Righteous Brothers' Bobby Hatfield first heard their "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," with partner Bill Medley's extended solo, he asked, "But what do I do while he's singing the whole first verse?" Producer Phil Spector replied, "You can go directly to the bank!" Spector invented the idea of the rock producer as artist. He built his Wall of Sound out of hand claps, strings, massive overdubs and mountains of percussion, making some of the most frenzied, dramatic teenage-lust pop ever heard. This box has hits such as the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," Darlene Love's "A Fine, Fine Boy" and the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron," one of Spector's "little symphonies for the kids."
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Van Morrison Moondance
Warner Bros., 1970
"That was the type of band I dig," Van Morrison said of the Moondance sessions. "Two horns and a rhythm section – they're the type of bands that I like best." Morrison took that soul-band lineup and ­blended it with jazz, blues, poetry and vivid memories of his Irish childhood, until songs such as "And It Stoned Me," "Crazy Love" and "Caravan" felt like lucid dreams – it's some of the most romantic music ever made. In the lushly swinging title hit, Morrison turns the words over and over in his mouth, not scatting so much as searching for a new language of desire. The title of the album's transporting centerpiece, "Into the Mystic," serves as an apt summary: This is an album of late-night revelry and ecstatic visions.
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Radiohead Kid A
Capitol, 2000
"Kid A is like getting a massive eraser out and starting again," Thom Yorke said in October 2000, the week this album became the British band's first Number One record in America. "I find it difficult to think of the path we've chosen as 'rock music.'" In fact, Kid A remains the most groundbreaking rock album of the '00s – Radiohead rebuilt, with a new set of bsaics and a bleak but potent humanity. Just when the Nineties alt-rock heroes seemed destined to become the next U2, they made a fractured, twitchy anti-opus. Despite esoteric nods to electronica ("Idioteque") and free jazz ("The National Anthem"), they morphed alien sounds into a surprisingly accessible elegy to tenderness – and had a hit anyway.
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Michael Jackson Off The Wall
Epic, 1979
"The ballads were what made Off the Wall a Michael Jackson album," Jackson remembered of his big solo splash, which spun off four Top 10 hits and eclipsed the success of the Jackson 5. "I'd done ballads with [my] brothers, but they had never been too enthusiastic about them and did them more as a concession to me than anything else." In "She's Out of My Life," you can hear Jackson actually break down and cry in the studio. But the unstoppable dance tracks on Off the Wall – sculpted by Jackson and producer Quincy Jones – remain more or less perfect examples of why disco didn't suck. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Rock With You" and "Burn This Disco Out" still get the party started today.
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Led Zeppelin Untitled
Atlantic, 1971
"I put a lot of work into my lyrics," Robert Plant told Rolling Stone in 1975. "Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized, though. Things like 'Black Dog' are blatant let's-do-it-in-the-bath-type things, but they make their point just the same." On their towering fourth album, Led Zeppelin match the raunch of "Black Dog" with Plant's most poetic lyrics for the inescapable epic ballad "Stairway to Heaven," while guitarist Jimmy Page veers from the blues apocalypse of "When the Levee Breaks" to the torrid Little Richard tribute "Rock & Roll" to the mandolin-driven "Battle of Evermore." ("It sounded like a dance-around-the-maypole number," Page later confessed.) Maypole or no, IV was the peak of Seventies hard rock.
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Billy Joel The Stranger
Columbia, 1977
Billy Joel had been on the verge throughout the mid-Seventies. But his fifth album had the recipe for success: a bottle of red, a bottle of white and a sharp eye for the local color of New York street life. The piano man hones his storytelling gifts with a Scorsese-style sense of humor and compassion, whether he's singing about a down-and-out Little Italy hustler in "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," the femme fatale in "She's Always a Woman to Me" or the doomed Long Island greaser couple Brenda and Eddie in "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant." Meanwhile, he hit the pop charts with the Grammy-winning "Just the Way You Are" (written for his first wife and manager, Elizabeth), which became a wedding-band standard.
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Paul Simon Graceland
Warner Bros., 1986
Frustrated by the experience of writing good songs that didn't come to life in the studio, Paul Simon set out "to make really good tracks," as he later put it. "I thought, 'I have enough songwriting technique that I can reverse this process and write the song after the tracks are made.'" Simon risked severe criticism by going to South Africa (then under apartheid) and working with the best musicians from the black townships. With the fluid energy and expertise of guitarist Ray Phiri and the vocal troupe Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon created an album about isolation and redemption that transcended "world music" to become the whole world's soundtrack. The bright grooves backed some of the sharpest, funniest lyrics of his career.
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Curtis Mayfield Super Fly (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Curtom, 1972
Isaac Hayes' Shaft came first – but that rec­ord had one great single and a lot of instrumental filler. It was Curtis Mayfield who made a blaxploitation-soundtrack album that packed more drama than the movie it accompanied. Musically, Superfly is astonishing, marrying lush string parts to deep bass grooves, with lots of wah-wah guitar. On top, Mayfield sings in his worldly-wise falsetto, narrating the bleak ghetto tales of "Pusherman" and "Freddie's Dead," telling hard truths about the drug trade and black life in the 1970s; it was Marvin Gaye's What's Going On at street level. "I don't take credit for everything I write," Mayfield said. "I only look upon my writings as interpretations of how the majority of people around me feel."
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Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti
Swan Song, 1975
"Let's put it this way: I had a sitar before George Harrison," said Jimmy Page, explaining his longtime love for Indian music. Zep's frontman shared that affinity: In 1972, Robert Plant and Page journeyed to Bombay to make experimental recordings with Indian studio musicians and perform in an underground disco. Physical Graffiti is the ultimate in Led Zeppelin's attempts to fuse East and West, exploring the Arabic and Indian sonorities of "Kashmir" and "In the Light." It's Zeppelin's most eclectic album, featuring down-and-dirty blues ("Black Country Woman," "Boogie With Stu"), pop balladry ("Down by the Seaside") and the 11-minute "In My Time of Dying." An excessive album from the group that all but invented excess.
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Neil Young After The Gold Rush
Reprise, 1970
For his third album, Neil Young fired Crazy Horse (the first of many times he would do so), picked up an acoustic guitar and headed to his basement. He installed recording equipment in the cellar of his Topanga Canyon home in Los Angeles, leaving room for only three or four people. There, Young made an album of heartbreaking ballads such as "Tell Me Why" and "Don't Let It Bring You Down." The music is gentle, but never smooth (check the bracing "Southern Man"). Nils Lofgren, then a 17-year-old hotshot guitarist, squeezed into the sessions, but Young assigned him to the piano, an instrument he had never played in his life; it was a characteristically contrary move that worked out beautifully.
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James Brown Star Time
Polydor, 1991
So great is James Brown's impact that even the four-CD Star Time isn't quite comprehensive – between 1956 and 1988, Brown placed an astounding 100 singles on the R&B Top 40 charts. But every phase of his career is well represented here: the pleading, straight-up soul of "Please, Please, Please"; his instantaneous reinvention of R&B with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," where the rhythm takes over and melody is subsumed within the groove; his spokesmanship for the civil rights movement in "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud (Pt. 1)"; his founding document of Seventies funk, "Get Up (I Feel Like Sex Being a) Sex Machine"; and his blueprint for hip-hop in "Funky Drummer." At 71 tracks, it never gets close to running out of soul power.
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Prince And The Revolution Purple Rain
Warner Bros., 1984
The blockbuster soundtrack to Prince's semiautobiographical movie was raunchy enough to inspire the formation of the censorship watchdog group Parents' Music Resource Center. It also show­cased Prince's abilities as a guitarist, especially on "Let's Go Crazy." But at heart, Purple Rain is defined by its brilliant idiosyncrasies. Its breakthrough hit, "When Doves Cry," has no bass track (looking for a different sound, Prince removed it). According to keyboardist Dr. Fink, the title track was inspired by Bob Seger – when Prince was touring behind 1999 [see No. 163], Seger was playing many of the same markets. Prince didn't understand his appeal but decided to try a ballad in the Seger mode.
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AC DC Back In Black
Atlantic, 1980
In the middle of album rehearsals, singer Bon Scott went on a drinking spree; he choked on his own vomit and was found dead in the back seat of a car. After two days of mourning, guitarist Malcolm Young thought, "Well, fuck this, I'm not gonna sit around mopin' all fuckin' year." He called his brother, guitarist Angus Young, and they went back to work with replacement vocalist Brian Johnson and savvy producer Mutt Lange. The resulting album has the relentless logic of a sledgehammer. Back in Black might be the purest distillation of hard rock ever: The title track, "Hells Bells" and the primo dance-metal banger "You Shook Me All Night Long" have all become enduring anthems of strutting blues-based guitar heat
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Otis Redding Otis Blue Otis Redding Sings Soul
Volt, 1965
Otis Redding's third album includes covers of three songs by Sam Cooke, Redding's idol, who had died the previous December. Their styles were different: Cooke, smooth and sure; Redding, raw and pleading. But Redding's versions of "Shake" and "A Change Is Gonna Come" show how Cooke's sound and message helped shape Redding's Southern soul, heard here in his originals "Respect" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and in a cover of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which was itself inspired by the Stax/Volt sound. "I use a lot of words different than the Stones' version," Redding noted. "That's because I made them up." Two years later, his life would also be tragically cut short.
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Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin II
Atlantic, 1969
This album – recorded on the fly while the band was touring – opens with one of the most exhilarating guitar riffs in rock & roll: Jimmy Page's searing stutter in "Whole Lotta Love." As Page told Rolling Stone, "On the second LP, you can hear the real group identity coming together," by which he meant the unified might of his own white-blues devilry, John Bonham's hands-of-God drumming, Robert Plant's misty-mountain howl and John Paul Jones' firm bass and keyboard colors. Other great reasons to bang your head: "The Lemon Song," "Heart­breaker" and "Ramble On," where Plant meets a girl in the darkest depths of Mordor and single­handedly engenders a sales spike for J.R.R. Tolkien books.
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John Lennon Imagine
Apple, 1971
After the primal-scream therapy of Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon softened up and opened up on his second solo album. There is still the stinging "Gimme Some Truth" and Lennon's evisceration of Paul McCartney, "How Do You Sleep?" – both featuring George Harrison on guitar. But there is also the aching soul of "Jealous Guy" and the irresistible vulnerability of "Oh Yoko!" Imagine is self-consciously luminescent, pointedly embraceable, the sound of cynicism melting. Lennon said of the title track, "Anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti­conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted… Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey."
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The Clash The Clash
Epic, 1979
"I haven't got any illusions about anything," Joe Strummer said. "Having said that, I still want to try to change things." That youthful ambition bursts through the Clash's debut, a machine-gun blast of songs about unemployment ("Career Opportunities"), race ("White Riot"), the Clash themselves ("Clash City Rockers") and the sick English music industry ("[White Man] In Hammersmith Palais"). Most of the guitar was played by Mick Jones, because Strummer considered studio technique insufficiently punk. The American release was delayed two years and replaced some of the U.K. tracks with recent singles, including "Complete Control" – a complaint about exactly that sort of record-company shenanigans.
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Neil Young Harvest
Reprise, 1972
Harvest yielded Neil Young's only Number One hit, "Heart of Gold," and helped set the stage for the Seventies soft-rock explosion – both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sing on the album. Along with Young, they were in Nashville to appear on Johnny Cash's ABC-TV variety show the first weekend that Harvest was being cut with an odd group of accomplished session musicians that included bassist Tim Drummond, who had played with James Brown (Young's bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash also appeared on the album). The sound, on tracks like "Old Man" and "The Needle and the Damage Done," was Americana (steel guitar, slide guitar, banjo) stripped down and rebuilt with every jagged edge exposed.
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The Jimi Hendrix Experience Axis: Bold As Love
Reprise, 1968
Jimi Hendrix's first album remade rock & roll with guitar magic that no one had ever dreamed of; his second album had even more sorcery. It started with some musings on extraterrestrial life, then got really far-out: jazzy drumming, funky balladry, liquid guitar solos, dragon­fly heavy metal and the immortal stoner's maxim from "If 6 Was 9": "I'm the one who's gonna have to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to." All over the album, Hendrix was inventing new ways to make the electric guitar roar, sing, talk, shriek, flutter and fly. And with the delicate "Little Wing," he delivered one of rock's most cryptic and bewitching love songs.
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Aretha Franklin I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
Atlantic, 1967
Aretha Franklin's Atlantic debut is the place where gospel collided with R&B and rock & roll to make soul music as we know it today. The Detroit­born preacher's daughter was about $80,000 in debt to her previous label, Columbia – where she had recorded a series of somewhat tame early-Sixties albums – when Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler signed her in 1966. "I took her to church," Wexler said, "sat her down at the piano, and let her be herself." She immediately cut the album's title hit, a slow fire of ferocious sexuality, while her storefront­church cover of Otis Redding's "Respect" – Franklin's first Number One pop single – became the marching song for the women's and civil rights movements.
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Aretha Franklin Lady Soul
Atlantic, 1968
Aretha Franklin's third Atlantic album in less than two years is another classic, with "(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman," "Ain't No Way" and a slinky version of the Rascals' "Groovin'." It was released in a year of triumph and turbulence for Franklin: Although she made the cover of Time, the magazine reported details of her rocky marriage to Ted White, then her manager. But Franklin channeled that frenzy into performances of funky pride and magisterial hurt. Among the best: the grand-prayer treatment of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," the revved-up longing of "Since You've Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby)" and her explosive anguish on the hit cover of Don Covay's "Chain of Fools."
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Bruce Springsteen Born In The U.S.A.
Columbia, 1984
Bruce Springsteen wrote many of these songs in a fit of inspiration that also gave birth to the harrowing Nebraska [see No. 226]. "Particularly on the first side, [Born] is actually written very much like Nebraska," he said. "The characters and the stories, the style of writing – except it's just in the rock-band setting." It was a crucial difference: The E Street Band put so much punch into the ironic title song that millions misheard it as mere flag-waving instead (conservative pundit George Will wrote a rhapsodic column titled "A Yankee Doodle Springsteen"). The immortal force of the album is in Springsteen's frank mix of soaring optimism and the feeling of, as he put it, being "handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper's Ford."
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Pink Floyd The Wall
Columbia, 1979
Pink Floyd's most elaborately theatrical album was inspired by their own success: the alienating enormity of their tours after The Dark Side of the Moon [see No. 43]. As the band played arenas in 1977, bassist­lyricist Roger Waters first hit upon the wall as a metaphor for isolation and rebellion. He finished a demo of the work by July 1978; the double album then took the band a year to make. Rock's ultimate self-pity opera, The Wall is also hypnotic in its indulgence: the totalitarian thunder of "In the Flesh?," the suicidal languor of "Comfortably Numb," the Brechtian drama of "The Trial" and the anti-institutional spleen of the album's unshakable disco hit, "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2." Rock-star hubris has never been more electrifying.
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Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison
Columbia, 1968
By the late Sixties, Johnny Cash was ignored by country radio and struggling for a comeback. At Folsom Prison was the gold-selling shot in the arm that revived his career. A year later, he was writing liner notes for Bob Dylan's countrified Nashville Skyline and logging four weeks at Number One with his second prison album, At San Quentin. But At Folsom Prison is essential Cash. Backed by his tough touring band, including fellow Sun Records alum Carl Perkins on guitar, Cash guffaws his way through "Cocaine Blues," "25 Minutes to Go" (a countdown to an execution) and "Folsom Prison Blues," with its line about shooting a man just to watch him die. The 2,000 inmates in attendance roar their approval.
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Dusty Springfield Dusty In Memphis
Atlantic, 1969
London-born Dusty Springfield was a great soul singer hidden inside a white British pop queen – racking up Motown-style hits such as "I Only Want to Be With You" – when Atlantic producer Jerry ­Wexler brought her way down South, to Memphis, to make this album. She was so intimidated by the idea of recording with session guys from her favorite Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett hits that she never actually managed to sing a note there ("I always wanted to be Aretha," she recalled years after). Her vocals were overdubbed later, when the sessions moved to New York. But the result was blazing soul and sexual honesty ("Breakfast in Bed," "Son of a Preacher Man") that transcended both race and geography.
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Stevie Wonder Talking Book
Tamla, 1972
"I don't think you know where I'm coming from," Stevie Wonder warned Motown executives in 1971. "I don't think you can understand it." Indeed, the two albums Wonder released in 1972 – Music of My Mind and Talking Book – rewrote the rules of the Motown hit factory. Talking Book was full of introspection and social commentary, with Wonder producing, writing and playing most of the instruments himself. But it's still radiant pop. "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" were Number One singles; "Big Brother" is political consciousness draped in a light melody: "You've killed all our leaders/I don't even have to do nothin' to you/You'll cause your own country to fall."
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Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
MCA, 1973
Elton John compared this double album to the Beatles' White Album, and why not? By this point he was the most consistent hitmaker since the Fab Four, and soon enough he would be recording with John Lennon. Everything about Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is supersonically huge, from the Wagnerian-operalike combo of "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding" to the electric boots and mohair suit of "Bennie and the Jets." "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is strutting rock & roll, "Candle in the Wind" pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and the title track harnesses the fantastic imagery of glam to a Gershwin-sweet melody.
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Buddy Holly The Crickets (2) 20 Golden Greats
MCA, 1978
The country-weened Texan put his trademark hiccup on springy rockabilly, tight rave-ups and orchestral ballads – an eclecticism that had a huge impact on the future Beatles. "Rave On," "Peggy Sue" and "Not Fade Away" made Holly one of rock's first great singer-songwriters.
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Prince Sign "O" The Times
Paisley Park, 1987
The most expansive R&B record of the Eighties is best known for the apocalyptic title track, the funk banger "Housequake" and the gorgeous "If I Was Your Girlfriend." Yet the simplest moments are unforgettable: the guitar plea "The Cross" and the Stax revamp on "Slow Love."
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Hank Williams Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits
Polydor, 1978
When he died on New Year's Day 1953, at age 29, in the back of a Cadillac, Williams was the biggest star in country music. His vocal twang, lovesick ballads and long-gone-daddy romps left their stamp on decades of rock & roll – from Elvis to Dylan to the Replacements to Beck.
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Miles Davis Bitches Brew
Columbia, 1970
Davis wanted to connect his music to the audience of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. The result was this double album of jazz-rock fusion, cut with an electric orchestra that included saxophonist Wayne Shorter and guitarist John McLaughlin. It’s full of visceral thrills and the brooding darkness Davis brought to everything he touched.
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The Who Tommy
Decca, 1969
"Rock opera" is one way to describe this exploration of childhood trauma, sexual abuse, repression and spiritual release. Here's another way: the slash and thunder of "My Generation" blown wide open. Driven by Keith Moon's hellbent drumming, the Who surge and shine, igniting the drama in Pete Townshend's melodies.
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Bob Dylan The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Columbia, 1963
On Dylan's second album, the poetry and articulate fury of his lyrics and the simple, compelling melodies in songs like "Masters of War" and "Blowin' in the Wind" transformed American songwriting. Not bad for a guy who had just turned 22.
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Elvis Costello & The Attractions This Year's Model
Columbia, 1978
Costello's second album, and his first with the Attractions, is his most "punk" – not in any I-hate-the-cops sense but in his emotionally explosive writing and his backing band's vicious gallop. "Radio, Radio," the broadside against vanilla-pop broadcasting, distills his righteous indignation: Elvis versus the world. And Elvis wins.
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Sly & The Family Stone There's A Riot Goin' On
Epic, 1971
Sly's 1969 album Stand! burst with optimism. But he met the Seventies with implosive, numbing, darkly self-referential funk that was deeply compelling in its anguish over dreams deferred.
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The Zombies Odessey And Oracle
Columbia, 1969
Odessey and Oracle wasn't released in the U.S. until 1969 – two years after it was recorded and the Zombies had broken up. But its baroque psychedelic-pop arrangements still felt fresh – combining the adventure of Sgt. Pepper with the concision of British Invasion pop. And "Time of the Season" went on to become a Number Three hit.
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Frank Sinatra In The Wee Small Hours
Captiol, 1955
The first set of songs Sinatra recorded specifically for an LP sustains a midnight mood of loneliness and lost love – it’s a prototypical concept album. Listen close and you'll hear the soft intake of his breath.
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Cream (2) Fresh Cream
ATCO, 1966
Bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton – rock's first supergroup – put a psychedelic pop spin on the blues. Their debut is tight and concise, a blueprint for the band’s onstage jams, where they stretched these tunes into quarter-hour improvisations.
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John Coltrane Giant Steps
Atlantic, 1960
Coltrane made two giant steps in 1959: playing on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and recording his first classic. He played flying clusters of notes that declared new possibilities for jazz improvisation and predicted the ferocious, harmonically open lyricism of his mid-Sixties albums.
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James Taylor (2) Sweet Baby James
Warner Bros., 1970
Taylor went through a private hell on the way to recording his hugely successful second album – including two stays in a psychiatric institution (a fellow patient's suicide inspired "Fire and Rain"). But the confessional lyrics, spare melodicism and quiet strength in his voice made the album a model of Seventies folk-pop healing.
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Ray Charles Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music
ABC-Paramount, 1962
Charles' biggest-selling record was the audacious racial-boundary-smasher its title promised, applying gospel grit and luscious soul-pop strings to standards by Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold.
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Ramones Rocket To Russia
Sire, 1977
The Ramones' third album took the gospel of three chords, a jackhammer beat and ripped denim beyond New York. Rocket to Russia was a polished bottling of the quartet's CBGB-stage napalm, bursting with Top 40 classicism and deepened by the lonely-boy poignancy of Joey Ramone's vocals.
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Sam Cooke Portrait Of A Legend 1951 1964
ABKCO, 2003
Cooke was a gospel star who crossed over to rock & roll, helping to invent soul music. This career-spanning collection peaks with the civil rights anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come," a posthumous hit after he was shot to death at an L.A. motel in 1964.
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David Bowie Hunky Dory
RCA, 1971
Recorded when he was 24, Bowie's first great album was a visionary blend of gay camp, flashy rock guitar and saloon-piano balladry. Bowie marked the polar ends of his artistic ambitions with tribute songs to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol while inventing – and perfecting – a new style of rock & roll glamour.
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The Rolling Stones Aftermath
London, 1966
The first Stones album completely written by Jagger–Richards was full of bad-boy songs about Swinging London's overnight stars, groupies, hustlers and parasites. It's got tough riffs ("It's Not Easy"), girls seeking kicks ("Under My Thumb"), zooming psychedelia ("Paint It Black") and baroque-folk gallantry ("I Am Waiting").
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The Velvet Underground Loaded
Cotillion, 1970
Lou Reed quit the Velvets just before their fourth album was finished. But he left behind two perfect hits ("Sweet Jane," "Rock & Roll") and a record that highlights the doo-wop roots and Sun Records crackle buried in VU's noir-guitar maelstrom.
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Radiohead The Bends
Capitol, 1995
The first half of Nineties rock was shaped by Nirvana, and the second half was dominated by Radiohead. Their second album married a majestic and somber guitar sound to Thom Yorke's anguished-choirboy vocals, drawing on the epic grandeur of U2 and the melancholy of the Smiths.
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The Mama's And The Papa's* If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears
MCA, 1966
The First Family of Cali-folk rode their gorgeous four-part harmonies to pop stardom – but Papa John Phillips' sunny melodies had a seductively dark undercurrent.
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Joni Mitchell Court And Spark
Asylum, 1974
Smooth and straight-ahead, Court and Spark is the biggest record of Mitchell's career. Working with saxophonist Tom Scott's fusion group, L.A. Express, Mitchell settles into a folk-pop-jazz groove that remains a landmark of breezy sophistication, particularly on the Top 10 single "Help Me."
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Cream (2) Disraeli Gears
ATCO, 1967
Cream's sharpest, most linear album focused its instrumental explorations into colorful pop songs: "Strange Brew" (slinky funk), "Dance the Night Away" (trippy jangle), "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (a wah-wah freakout) and the hit "Sunshine of Your Love," driven by Ginger Baker's relentless Native American tribal beat.
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The Who The Who Sell Out
Decca, 1968
The Who's first concept album was a tribute to the U.K.'s offshore pirate-radio stations – strung together with mock commercials ("Heinz Baked Beans") and genuine radio jingles. It's their funniest record, and the mini rock opera, "Rael," gave a hint of epic things to come.
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The Rolling Stones Out Of Our Heads
ABKCO, 1965
Here's where the Stones started to leave the R&B and blues covers behind. Their fourth album in America featured three defining Jagger–Richards originals, each a masterpiece of libidinal menace: "The Last Time," the gently vicious "Play With Fire" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," a song that is the very definition of riff.
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Derek And The Dominos* Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
ATCO, 1970
Deeply in love with his best friend George Harrison's wife, Eric Clapton came up with an album of love-tortured blues that gets a kick from guest Duane Allman, the rare guitarist who could challenge him.
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Kanye West Late Registration
Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2005
Here, Kanye really started showing off. Ranging from triumphal autobiography ("Touch the Sky") to witty club pop ("Gold Digger"), James Bond themes to Houston hip-hop, his second disc remade the musical landscape in his own oddball image
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Etta James At Last!
Argo, 1961
1955's "Roll With Me, Henry" made this self-described "juvenile delinquent" a sexually precocious teenage star. Six years later, Etta James bloomed into a fiery interpreter on this spellbinding LP. Hitting the pop and R&B charts, she created a new vocal model: the crossover diva.
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The Byrds Sweetheart Of The Rodeo
Columbia, 1968
Driven by new member Gram Parsons, the Byrds nailed a bold Nashville classicism, dressing Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard songs in steel guitar and rock & roll drive. The results set the stage for country rock.
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Sly & The Family Stone Stand!
Epic, 1969
Funk-rock-soul party politics at its most inclusive and exciting – Sly Stone rides the bonfire momentum of the civil rights movement in "Stand!" and "You Can Make It If You Try" without denying the intrinsic divisions that threatened civil war (see "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey").
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Various The Harder They Come (Original Soundtrack Recording)
Mango, 1973
This album took reggae worldwide. The film's star, Jimmy Cliff, sings four songs, including the hymn "Many Rivers to Cross," and greats like Desmond Dekker, the Melodians, and Toots and the Maytals showed the richness of the new beat.
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Run DMC* Raising Hell
Arista, 1986
Working with producer Rick Rubin, the Queens crew made an undeniable album that forced the mainstream to cross over to hip-hop. Run and DMC talked trash over Jam Master Jay's killer mixology, and they bum-rushed MTV with a vandalistic cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.
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Moby Grape Moby Grape
Columbia, 1967
San Francisco rock at its '67 peak, this is genuine hippie power pop. Moby Grape sang like demons and wrote crisp songs packed with lysergic country-blues excitement, while the band's three guitarists – Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence – created a network of lightning.
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Janis Joplin Pearl
Columbia, 1971
On Pearl, Joplin made a solo album worthy of her Texas blues-mama wail. Whether singing hippie gospel or country soul, she never sounded more intimate and assured. "Me and Bobby McGee" was a Number One single, but Joplin didn’t get to enjoy her triumph. She died of a drug overdose before the album was finished.
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The Wailers Catch A Fire
Island, 1973
Marley's major-label debut expanded his audience beyond Jamaica without diluting his bedrock reggae power. Producer and label boss Chris Blackwell remixed the original Jamaican sessions for international ears, but the Wailers' ghetto rage comes across uncut.
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The Byrds Younger Than Yesterday
Columbia, 1967
Amid internal strife, the former Next Beatles made their first mature album, a blend of space-flight twang and electric hoedown infused with the glow of 1967 yet cut with realism.
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Iggy And The Stooges* Raw Power
Columbia, 1973
Iggy Pop had dyed silver hair and a hard-drug habit when David Bowie helped get the rudderless Stooges a deal with Columbia. Pop and new guitarist James Williamson responded with hellbent ferocity on punk eruptions like "Search and Destroy" and "Gimme Danger."
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Talking Heads Remain In Light
Sire, 1980
On this New Wave watershed, the avant-punk avatars became polyrhythmic pop magicians. David Byrne and Co. combined the thrust of P-Funk, the kinky grooves of Afropop and the studied adventurousness of producer Brian Eno – and they still had a pop hit with "Once in a Lifetime."
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Television Marquee Moon
Elektra, 1977
Television were the guitar mystics on the CBGB scene, mixing the howl of the Velvet Underground, the epic song lengths of Yes and the double-helix guitar sculpture of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Their debut was as exhilarating in its lyrical ambitions as the Ramones' first album was in its brutal simplicity.
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Black Sabbath Paranoid
Warner Bros., 1970
Sabbath ruled for bummed-out Seventies kids, and nearly every metal and extreme rock band of the past four decades owes a debt to Tony Iommi's granite-fuzz guitar, the Visigoth rhythm machine of Bill Ward and Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne's agonized bray in "Paranoid," "Iron Man" and "War Pigs."
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Various Saturday Night Fever (The Original Movie Sound Track)
RSO, 1977
Disco at its megaplatinum apex: The Bee Gees' silvery-helium harmonies melt into creamily syncopated grooves, and the Trammps' hot-funk assault "Disco Inferno" and Tavares' yearning "More Than a Woman" affirm disco's black-R&B roots.
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Bruce Springsteen The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle
Columbia, 1973
Springsteen's second album shook the "New Dylan" tag and applied his Jersey-bar-band skills to some of the loosest, jazziest, funniest songs he'd ever write – such as "Rosalita" and "Kitty's Back."
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The Notorious B.I.G.* Ready To Die
Bad Boy, 1994
B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) took the gritty life experience of his hard-knock Brooklyn youth and crammed it into Ready to Die, hip-hop's greatest debut. "Big Poppa" is the hit sex jam, "Juicy" made you laugh as you danced, and on "Things Done Changed" and "Everyday Struggle," he relates gangsta tales in a voice as thick as his waistline.
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Pavement Slanted And Enchanted
Matador, 1992
The quintessential American indie-rock album. The playing is relaxed, the production primitive, the lyrics quirky, the melodies seductive. But the noise-streaked sound is intense, even as Stephen Malkmus displays his love of Seventies-AM pop.
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Elton John Greatest Hits
MCA, 1974
This single-disc collection – released during John's creative and commercial peak – includes nearly every Top 10 single he had during that era, from "Your Song" to "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." It documents why the piano man was one of the biggest-selling pop stars of the Seventies.
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The Replacements Tim
Sire, 1985
On the Mats' major-label debut, singer-guitarist Paul Westerberg segues brilliantly from heroic power-chord swagger ("Bastards of Young") to shabby contemplation ("Here Comes a Regular"). No pre­Nirvana band did it better.
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Dr. Dre The Chronic
Death Row, 1992
Dr. Dre had already taken gangsta rap mainstream with N.W.A. On The Chronic, he funked up the rhymes even further with samples of old George Clinton hits, a smooth bass-heavy production and the laid-back delivery of then-unknown rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg.
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The Meters Rejuvenation
Reprise, 1974
New Orleans producer Allen Toussaint built hit records with a taut Morse-code style of rhythm guitar rooted in the marching-band and party beats of the Crescent City. That funky discipline defines this LP; the Meters perfect a balance of funk, rock and Dixie R&B on gems such as "People Say" and "Hey Pocky A-Way."
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Blondie Parallel Lines
Chrysalis, 1978
New Wave's big pop breakthrough, Parallel Lines is a perfect synthesis of raw punk edge, Sixties-pop smarts and downtown-New York glamour. Debbie Harry created a new kind of rock & roll sex appeal that brought New York demimonde style to the mainstream. Madonna was surely watching.
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B.B. King Live At The Regal
ABC, 1965
Recorded in Chicago in 1964, as a new audience of white rock fans was discovering the blues, Live at the Regal is B.B. King's definitive live set. His guitar sound is precise and powerful, driving emotional versions of some of his most influential songs, including "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "How Blue Can You Get."
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Various A Christmas Gift For You
Philles, 1963
The best holiday album in pop-music history. Ronnie Spector melts "Frosty the Snowman" and takes the innocence out of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." And it all comes in a vortex of Spector's exhilarating Wall of Sound production.
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Dr. John, The Night Tripper* Gris Gris
ATCO, 1968
In the Sixties, New Orleans piano player Mac Rebennack moved to L.A., encountered California psychedelia, rechristened himself Dr. John, the Night Tripper, and made this swamp-funk classic. GRIS-Gris blends New Orleans R&B, voodoo chants and chemical inspiration.
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N.W.A* Straight Outta Compton
Ruthless, 1998
"Do I look like a motherfucking role model?" Ice Cube asks on "Gangsta Gangsta": You do not, sir! Cube's rage, Eazy-E's thug nasty and Dr. Dre's police-siren beats slammed America into a new hip-hop era.
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Steely Dan Aja
ABC, 1977
Steely Dan's meticulously crafted sixth album was Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's stab at becoming mainstream jazz-pop superstars. And thanks to sweet, smart, slippery tracks like "Deacon Blues" and "Peg," they did just that – and won a Grammy for Best Engineered album too.
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Jefferson Airplane Surrealistic Pillow
RCA, 1967
The Airplane's heady debut is a hallucinatory distillation of folk-blues vocals, garage-­rock guitar and crisp pop songwriting. Grace Slick's vocal showcases, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," were Summer of Love smash hits, and Marty Balin's spectral "Today" is still the greatest ballad of San Francisco's glory days.
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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Déjà Vu
Atlantic, 1970
Neil Young transformed the folk-rock CSN into a powerhouse – offering pop idealism (Graham Nash's "Teach Your Children"), militant blues (David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair") and vocal-choir gallop (Stephen Stills' "Carry On"). The achingly plaintive "Helpless" is prime early Young.
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Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy
Atlantic, 1973
On Album Five, Zeppelin got into a groove. "D'yer Mak'er" is their version of reggae, and "The Crunge" is a tribute to James Brown. The band also indulged its cosmic side with "The Rain Song" (featuring one of Robert Plant's most amazing vocals) and the Viking death chant "No Quarter."
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Santana Santana
Columbia, 1969
This debut unveiled Carlos Santana's singular mix of Latin rhythms, rock guitar and lyrical blues. The 22-year-old's guitar work was fueled by psychedelics. "[Drugs] made me aware of splendor and rapture," he said. Santana did the same thing for fans.
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Bruce Springsteen Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Columbia, 1978
This was the sound of Springsteen's hard-won realism breaking through, chronicling working-class dreams and despair on cuts like "The Promised Land" and "Racing in the Street," his greatest-ever car song.
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Arcade Fire Funeral
Merge, 2004
Love, loss, forced coming-of-age and fragile hope: The debut from this seven-­member band touched on these themes as it defined indie music of the 2000s. It's surging orchestral rock that actually rocked – and found solace, and purpose, in communal celebration.
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The B 52's The B 52's
Warner Bros., 1979
The B-52's sounds like high school friends cramming their in-jokes, wacky sounds and private nicknames into a New Wave LP. Nobody could resist the campy, arty funk. And with the toy instruments and bouffant hair, the B-52's' thrift-store image was as colorful as their music – which, given "Rock Lobster," was pretty colorful.
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A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory
Jive, 1991
Many connected the dots between hip-hop and jazz, but this LP drew the whole picture. As legendary stand-up bassist Ron Carter gets dope, Tribe discourse on everything from music biz to sexual politics – and the groove keeps getting deeper.
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Howlin' Wolf Moanin' In The Moonlight
Chess, 1959
Wolf's sound – a fierce growl mixed with explosive playing by guitar geniuses Willie Johnson and Hubert Sumlin – was huge and eerie, and this compilation taught the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the rest of England the ways of the blues.
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Pretenders* Pretenders
Sire, 1980
After years of writing record reviews and hanging with the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde put together a band as tough as she was. Pretenders is filled with no-nonsense rock like "Brass in Pocket," a meditation on ambition and seduction that stands as one of New Wave's greatest radio moments.
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Beastie Boys Paul's Boutique
Capitol, 1989
For their second album, the Beasties hired the Dust Brothers, a production team that provided some of the best samples ever on wax – from the Ramones to the Funky 4+1. The title is a goof on Abbey Road, which was Paul McCartney's boutique; like that LP, it stitches together song fragments in a way rarely seen before or since.
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Joy Division Closer
Factory, 1981
This is one of the most chilling albums ever made, with droning guitars, icy bass lines and stentorian vocals. And that's not even considering the lyrics, about singer Ian Curtis' epilepsy and failing marriage. When Curtis hanged himself at age 23 on May 18th, 1980, Closer officially became the stuff of rock legend.
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Elton John Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
MCA, 1975
This self-mythologizing spectacle about John and lyricist Bernie Taupin features "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" – from the time Taupin talked John out of suicide.
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Kiss Alive!
Casablanca, 1975
A double live LP, cut largely in Detroit (plus studio overdubs), Alive! was Kiss' breakthrough, with hot versions of "Strutter" and "Rock and Roll All Nite." "I really enjoy myself onstage: prancing around, shaking my ass," said singer Paul Stanley. "I am entertaining myself up there."
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T. Rex Electric Warrior
Reprise, 1971
Marc Bolan cast a spell over all of England with this album, giving his Tolkienesque hippie music a glammed-out update. This was rock that thrusted, quivered and recklessly employed metaphors equating cars with sex ("You got a hubcap diamond star halo").
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Otis Redding The Dock Of The Bay
Atlantic, 1968
Redding recorded his Monterey Pop-inspired "soul-folk" experiment "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" four days before he died in a plane crash. The posthumous album guitarist Steve Cropper compiled out of unreleased sessions is essential soul.
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Radiohead OK Computer
Capitol, 1997
OK is where Radiohead began pulling at their sound like taffy, not worrying if it was still "rock." The result is a slow, haunting album with unforgettable tracks such as "Karma Police" and "Paranoid Android." Guitarist Jonny Greenwood arranged white-noise strings, and Thom Yorke made alienation feel alluring.
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Prince 1999
Warner Bros., 1982
"I didn't want to do a double album," Prince said, "but I just kept on writing. Of course, I'm not one for editing." The second half of 1999 is exceptional sex-obsessed dance music; the first half is the best fusion of rock and funk anyone had achieved to that date, and it lays out the blueprint for Prince's next decade.
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Linda Ronstadt The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt
Rhino, 2002
So very SoCal (her band became the ­Eagles), Ronstadt was more empathetic interpreter than songwriter. But she could knock out a pop song – check "Long Long Time," where she sounds like a girl next door with a voice that can peel chrome.
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Marvin Gaye Let's Get It On
Motown, 1973
On this album, Gaye meditated on the gap between sex and love and how to reconcile them – an adult version of the Motown tunes he had built his career on. It’s some of the most gorgeous music he ever made, resplendent with sweet strings and his clear-throated crooning.
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Elvis Costello And The Attractions* IbMePdErRoIoAmL (Imperial Bedroom)
Chess, 1982
Costello wanted his music to be as complex as his lyrics (which increasingly documented marital tension). So for his seventh album he and Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick experimented with an adult sonic palette (accordions, Mellotron, horns) that highlighted grown-up stress and sorrow.
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Metallica Master Of Puppets
Elektra, 1986
Metallica's third album has a lyrical theme: manipulation. "Drugs controlling you," singer-guitarist James Hetfield said. It also has a sonic theme: really loud guitars, played at warhead speed. When the band slows down on "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," it just emphasizes the unrelenting nature of the rest of the songs.
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Elvis Costello My Aim Is True
Columbia, 1977
Costello obsessively listened to The Clash while recording his debut. And though the songs are more pub rock than punk, they're full of punk's verbal bite; the murder mystery "Watching the Detectives" and the poisoned-valentine ballad "Alison" established Costello as one of the sharpest and nastiest lyricists of his generation.
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Bob Marley & The Wailers Exodus
Island, 1977
As the title suggests, this album wasn't recorded in Jamaica; after Marley took a bullet in a 1976 assassination attempt, he relocated the Wailers to London. But tracks such as "Jamming" and "Three Little Birds" are still suffused with the deep essence of reggae and life at home.
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The Who Live At Leeds
Decca, 1970
Faced with the task of following up Tommy [see No. 96], the Who just cranked up their amps and blasted. There's no finesse, just the pure power of a band able to play as loud as it wants. When the Who blew up Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" to Godzilla-like proportions, they invented Seventies arena rock.
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The Byrds The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Columbia, 1968
The horse on the cover (reportedly) replaced David Crosby, who'd just been fired. But despite the internal drama, the Byrds made a warm, gentle comedown album for Sixties children waking up to the morning after the Summer of Love.
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Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells A Story
Mercury, 1971
Stewart's best disc is loose and warm, rocking hard with mostly acoustic instruments. "Mandolin Wind" is the moving ballad; the title tune is a boozy romp; "Maggie May" went Number One.
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Todd Rundgren Something Anything?
Bearsville, 1972
On this tour-de-force double album, Rundgren demonstrates his command of the studio, unfurling his falsetto over a kaleidoscope of rock genres – including the white pop-soul of "Hello It's Me."
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Bob Dylan Desire
Columbia, 1976
In typical Dylan style, the follow-up to Blood on the Tracks was mostly bashed out in one all-night New York session, fueled by tequila. "Sara," his account of his crumbling marriage, and the politically charged "Hurricane" highlight the last great album he'd make for many years
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Carpenters Close To You
A&M, 1970
With their lush music and thoroughly wholesome image, Richard and Karen Carpenter epitomized the early-Seventies mainstream. Years later, as soft rock became a hipster touchstone, the chaste elegance of ballads like "Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun" influenced many cooler, scruffier indie bands.
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Aerosmith Rocks
Columbia, 1976
After Toys in the Attic proved that Aerosmith were more than a Stones caricature, the band flexed its muscles on the boastfully (and aptly) named Rocks, a buffalo stampede of rave-ups and boogies. In an era of arena bombast, songs like "Back in the Saddle" and "Last Child" kept it low to the ground and swinging.
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Funkadelic One Nation Under A Groove
Warner Bros., 1978
Funkadelic's first million-seller perfectly distills George Clinton's gospel of mind-altering groove music – from the monster title track to the cosmic make-out soul of "Into You" and the scatological philosophizing of "The Doo Doo Chasers."
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Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions The Anthology 1961 1977
MCA, 1992
Mayfield taught sociocultural awareness while dispensing fine ballads ("Gypsy Woman"), inspirational anthems ("People Get Ready," "Move On Up") and edgy street narratives ("Superfly").
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ABBA The Definitive Collection
Universal, 2001
These Swedish pop stars became the world's biggest group in the Seventies. Global hits like the double-divorce drama "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and the war-torn "Fernando" undercut sparkly melodies with Nordic despair.
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The Rolling Stones The Rolling Stones, Now!
London, 1965
A charming exuberance pervades the Stones' third U.S. release, with its hot-rod takes on Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. And their "Heart of Stone" introduces a crucial Stones element into the mix: menace.
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Bob Marley & The Wailers Natty Dread
Island, 1974
The first Wailers album to give Marley top billing was multifaceted rebel music – from the call-to-arms opening, "Lively Up Yourself" (about dancing or revolution or both), to the gospel-flavored "No Woman, No Cry," an anthem of struggle and hope.
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Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac
Reprise, 1975
Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and his missis Christine's first album with California couple Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks generated big radio songs such as "Say You Love Me" and "Rhiannon" and patterned the rich harmonies and sheer melodies they'd perfect on Rumours.
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Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger
Columbia, 1975
This trailblazing concept album became one of Nelson's biggest hits – a lyrically ambitious, musically stripped-down, riveting and heartfelt tale of murder and infidelity.
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Madonna The Immaculate Collection
Sire/Warner Bros., 1990
A perfect Madonna CD: You get timeless pop such as "Holiday," provocations like "Papa Don't Preach," dance classics like "Into the Groove" and a then-new Lenny Kravitz-produced sex jam, "Justify My Love," which samples Public Enemy.
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The Stooges The Stooges
Elektra, 1969
Fueled by "a little marijuana and a lotta alienation," Michigan's Stooges savagely gave the lie to hippie idealism. Ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale produced a primitive debut wherein Iggy Stooge (né James Osterberg) snarled seminal punk classics such as "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun" and "1969."
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Sly & The Family Stone Fresh
Epic, 1973
As the Seventies unfurled, Stone became progressively dissolute. But he had one more ace up his sleeve: the intoxicating "If You Want Me to Stay," surrounded here by idiosyncratic gestures like a ragged take on Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera."
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Peter Gabriel So
Geffen, 1986
Gabriel got funky on the 1982 single "Shock the Monkey." It took him four years to follow up, but So delivered with the visceral "Sledgehammer," the upbeat "Big Time," the gothic love ballad "In Your Eyes" and the inspirational "Don't Give Up," a duet with Brit art thrush Kate Bush.
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Buffalo Springfield Buffalo Springfield Again
ATCO, 1967
Their second record has masterful L.A. folk rock from Stephen Stills, pioneering country rock from Richie Furay and two Neil Young gems: the raw "Mr. Soul" and the suitelike "Broken Arrow."
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Quicksilver Messenger Service Happy Trails
Capitol, 1969
The definitive live recording of the late-Sixties ballroom experience: This San Francisco acid-blues band's second album captures its twin guitarists in bright flight, and composed intricacies like the studio epic "Calvary" prove that psychedelia was about more than just tripping out.
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Elvis Presley From Elvis In Memphis
RCA Victor, 1969
"I had to leave town for a little while," Presley sings in the first track. This record announced he was back. With a crack crew of Memphis musicians, Presley masterfully tackles country, gospel, soul, pop and – on "In the Ghetto" – message songs.
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The Stooges Fun House
Elektra, 1970
With garage-savvy ex-Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci producing their second album, the Stooges' relentless "troglodyte groove" was allowed to run psychotically rampant. "I stick it deep inside," Iggy Pop growls on "Loose." And the punk torpedoes like "T.V. Eye" make good on that promise.
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The Flying Burrito Bros The Gilded Palace Of Sin
A&M, 1969
A hugely influential country-rock statement – concocted by ex-Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman – of L.A. hillbilly anthems, God-fearing hippie soul and achingly beautiful two-part harmonies.
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Green Day Dookie
Reprise, 1994
The album that jump-started the Nineties punk-pop revival. Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong boiled suburban boredom into airtight, three-minute shots like "Welcome to Paradise," "Basket Case" and the infectious smash "Longview" – which Armstrong described as "cheap self-therapy from watching too much TV."
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Lou Reed Transformer
RCA, 1972
David Bowie counted the former Velvet Underground leader as a major inspiration – and paid Reed back by producing his biggest album. Transformer had glam flash courtesy of guitarist Mick Ronson, and "Walk on the Wild Side" brought drag queens and hustlers into the Top 20.
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John Mayall With Eric Clapton Blues Breakers
London, 1966
Ex-Yardbird Eric Clapton's solos here inspired his "Clapton Is God" cult. The band expertly covers Robert Johnson and Freddie King, and blows up Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" with a long drum solo that predicts Cream.
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Various Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965 1968
Elektra, 1972
This 27-song collection of short, fun brutally simple Sixties garage rock, compiled by critic Lenny Kaye, was proto-punk manna in the prog-clogged Seventies.
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R.E.M. Murmur
I.R.S., 1983
The founding document of alternative rock, released just as Gen X was heading off to college. Though “technically limited,” according to co-producer Don Dixon, R.E.M. packed their songs with cathartic mystery. Peter Buck’s guitar chimes and Michael Stipe unspools his low-talker lyrics like they constitute a new language.
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Little Walter The Best Of Little Walter
Chess, 1957
This Muddy Waters sideman attacked the harmonica with the authority of the bop sax players he loved, bringing a dynamic new sound to Chicago blues. In 1952, his own "Juke" topped the R&B charts. But he had no control of his personal life; he died at 37 after being injured in a street fight.
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The Strokes Is This It
RCA, 2001
The debut from these mod ragamuffins was a blast of guitar-combo racket that made New York's shadows sound vicious and exciting again. Is This It mixed Velvet Underground grime and skinny-tie New Wave jangle with Julian Casablancas' Lower East Side dispatches – sometimes acidic, always full of great melody.
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AC DC Highway To Hell
Atlantic, 1979
Bon Scott was a bourbon-swilling force of nature, and by AC/DC's fourth LP, he and guitarist Angus Young had become a one-two punch with killer songs (like the bulldozing title track) to match. Scott's wicked ways caught up with him, however: He was dead six months after Highway hit shelves.
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Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral
Nothing/Interscope, 1994
Holing up in the one-time home of Manson-family victim Sharon Tate, Trent Reznor made an overpowering meditation on NIN's central theme: control.
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Simon & Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme
Columbia, 1966
The duo's third album yielded uptempo hits like "The 59th Street Bridge Song" and the fine English-major folk of "For Emily" and "The Dangling Conversation."
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Michael Jackson Bad
Epic, 1987
The feverishly anticipated follow-up to Thriller added more hits to Jackson's collection: "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Man in the Mirror." He also began venting some of his darker emotions in the violent fantasies of "Smooth Criminal" and the paranoia of "Dirty Diana."
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Bob Dylan Modern Times
Columbia, 2006
This is history repeating itself – in Dylan's specific echoes of Slim Harpo and Memphis Minnie, and in his refusal to bend even in the harshest winds. "Heart burnin', still yearnin'," he sings in "Ain't Talkin'," the album's last song, a proud walk through a scorched Earth that Woody Guthrie would have recognized in an instant.
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Cream (2) Wheels Of Fire
Polydor, 1968
Half studio album, half live album, Wheels of Fire not only has the definitive Cream tune – "White Room" – but it is also incontrovertible proof of Eric Clapton's interpretive mastery. "Crossroads," a live reworking of Robert Johnson's haunted blues classic, features one of the most blazing guitar solos ever recorded.
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Prince Dirty Mind
Warner Bros., 1980
A mix of slinky funk, synth-driven rock, jittery pop and sexual innuendo, Dirty Mind is a New Wave R&B masterwork. It includes the world's merriest done-me-wrong song, "When You Were Mine," and the incest ditty "Sister." "I wasn't being deliberately provocative," Prince said. "I was being deliberately me."
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Santana Abraxas
Columbia, 1970
"Black Magic Woman," the Top Five hit from Abraxas, is definitive Santana: Afro-Latin grooves and piercing lyrical psychedelic blues guitar. It was a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song written by one of Carlos Santana's guitar heroes, Peter Green. The album's other hit was also a cover: Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."
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Cat Stevens Tea For The Tillerman
A&M, 1970
Chamber-pop arrangements made this the British folkie's most ambitious album. And his toughest: "Wild World" and "Hard-Headed Woman" find Stevens condemning his ex, Patti D'Arbanville – who later shacked up with Mick Jagger.
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Pearl Jam Ten
Epic, 1991
When their debut came out, Pearl Jam were competing with Nirvana in a grunge popularity contest they were bound to lose. Yet Ten was just as key in reshaping hard rock: Eddie Vedder's shaky, agonized growl and Mike McCready's wailing guitar solos on "Alive" and "Jeremy" push both songs to the brink and back again.
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Neil Young & Crazy Horse Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Reprise, 1969
Young and Crazy Horse had been together for only a couple of months when they cut Nowhere – and the jammy outing sounds that way, in the best sense possible.
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Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
Columbia, 1975
The follow-up to The Dark Side of the Moon was another essay on everyday lunacy – capped by the liquid-rock suite "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," a poignant allusion to errant ex-member Syd Barrett.
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Pavement Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Matador, 1994
Pavement's second album was about love and rock & roll, with bouncy pop, stretches of lyrical noise and "Range Life," which slagged the Smashing Pumpkins while searching for the right way to settle down.
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The Rolling Stones Tattoo You
Virgin, 1981
Tattoo You was lean, tough and bluesy – the Stones relying on their strengths, as if they'd matured into the kind of surefire bluesmen they'd idolized as kids. It spent nine weeks at Number One on the strength of "Start Me Up," in which Mick Jagger snuck the line "You make a dead man come" onto the radio.
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Ike & Tina Turner Proud Mary: The Best Of Ike And Tina Turner
EMI, 1991
On early singles like "A Fool in Love," Tina Turner has wild power and raw vulnerability. Then come the rock & roll covers, the Seventies funk and "River Deep, Mountain High." Amazing.
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New York Dolls New York Dolls
Mercury, 1973
"Could you make it with Frankenstein?" they asked, not kidding. Glammed-out punkers the New York Dolls snatched riffs from Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and fattened them with loads of attitude and reverb. Produced by Todd Rundgren, songs like "Personality Crisis" and "Bad Girl" drip with sleaze and style.
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Bo Diddley Go Bo Diddley
MCA, 1990
Diddley's influence is inestimable, from the off-kilter thump of "Pretty Thing" to his revved-up blues singing. This album – a repackaging of his first two records – has many of his best singles, including "I'm a Man" and "Who Do You Love?"
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Bobby Bland Two Steps From The Blues
Duke, 1961
Bland's stirring, guttural howl is epitomized by "Little Boy Blue" and "Cry, Cry, Cry," which erase any distinction between blues and soul. "I Pity the Fool" and "Lead Me On" may just be some of the purest, most heartbroken singing you'll ever hear.
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The Smiths The Queen Is Dead
Sire/Rough Trade, 1986
The original kings of British mope rock could have earned that title on the basis of this album alone. The Smiths' most tuneful record is full of emulsifying rage ("The Queen Is Dead"), epic sadness ("There Is a Light That Never Goes Out") and strummy social commentary ("Frankly, Mr. Shankly").
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Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill
Def Jam, 1986
Recorded when the New York rap trio were barely out of high school, Licensed to Ill remains a revolutionary combination of hip-hop beats, metal riffs and some of the most exuberant, unapologetic smart-aleck rhymes ever made. It became the bestselling rap album of the Eighties.
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The Meters Look Ka Py Py
Josie, 1970
The New Orleans rhythm killers' second album exemplifies their foundational groove. These instrumentals – sampled by rappers including Nas and N.W.A – are funk of the gods, with George Porter Jr.'s monster bass and the incredible off-the-beat drumming of Ziggy Modeliste.
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My Bloody Valentine Loveless
Sire, 1991
A shoegazer masterpiece, the fourth MBV album reportedly cost £250,000 to make. It was worth every penny, expanding the possibilities of noise-as-melody by combining dizzying guitar drone and Bilinda Butcher’s ethereal vocals.
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Professor Longhair New Orleans Piano
Atlantic, 1972
There may never have been a funnier, sunnier piano player. His rolling, rumba-tinged style, yodeling vocals and whistling make tracks such as "Tipitina" swinging blasts of joy. New Orleans Piano collects Atlantic singles from 1949 to 1953, including the ultimate party anthem, "Mardi Gras in New Orleans."
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U2 War
Island, 1983
U2 were on the cusp of becoming one of the Eighties' most important groups when their third album came out. It's the band's most overtly political album, with songs about Poland's Solidarity movement ("New Year's Day") and Irish unrest ("Sunday Bloody Sunday") charged with explosive, passionate guitar rock.
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Neil Diamond The Neil Diamond Collection
MCA, 1999
This pop-rock star's melodramatic delivery is a guilty pleasure that never gets less pleasurable – or less guilty – than when he's belting "Sweet Caroline," "Cherry, Cherry" or "I Am … I Said."
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Green Day American Idiot
Reprise, 2004
The Nineties' irrepressible punk brats grew up with a bang, proving they could take on the kind of gargantuan old-school concept album that nobody else seemed to have the guts to try anymore. Billie Joe Armstrong raged against the political complacency of Bush-era America with ferocity and a Who-size sense of grandeur.
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Bruce Springsteen Nebraska
Columbia, 1982
Recorded on a four-track in Springsteen's bedroom, the songs on Nebraska were stark, spooky acoustic demos that he decided to release "bare." Packed with shadowy hard-luck tales of underdogs, it ends with "Reason to Believe," one of those songs where Springsteen's search for faith inspires faith itself.
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Pixies Doolittle
4AD/Elektra, 1989
Kurt Cobain himself acknowledged the Pixies' influence on the soft/loud dynamic that powered "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Doolittle is a mix of the band's earlier hardcore storms, Black Francis' self­described "stream of unconsciousness" rants, and the strange melodicism and surf-metal guitar that defined its creepy magic.
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Eric B. & Rakim Paid In Full
4th and Broadway/Island, 1987
Laid-back, diamond-sharp: Old-school titan Rakim may still lead the race for Best Rapper Ever, and this album is a big reason why. Paid in Full was one of the first hip-hop records to fully embrace Seventies funk samples on stone classics such as "I Know You Got Soul" and the title track.
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Aerosmith Toys In The Attic
Columbia, 1975
This is where Aerosmith perfected their raunchy blues-rock sound, with guitarist Joe Perry laying down some of the Seventies' most indelible riffs on "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion," and Steven Tyler stepping up with scads of dirtbag swagger and unforgettable songs about his favorite topic: sex.
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Bonnie Raitt Nick Of Time
Captiol, 1989
After being dumped by her previous label, veteran blues rocker Raitt exacted revenge with this multiplatinum Grammy-award winner. Producer Don Was helped her sharpen the songs without sacrificing any of her slide-guitar fire. And as Raitt herself pointed out, her 10th try was "my first sober album."
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Queen A Night At The Opera
Elektra, 1975
Freddie Mercury wanted Queen to be "the Cecil B. DeMille of rock," and this is where the band let its over-the-top tendencies loose – especially on "Bohemian Rhapsody," the most operatic rock song ever.
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The Kinks The Kink Kronikles
Reprise, 1972
Covering 1966 to 1970, this double-disc set anthologizes the second act in the Kinks' venerable career. Observational narratives such as "Waterloo Sunset" reveal Ray Davies to be a master miniaturist.
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The Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man
Columbia, 1965
"Wow, man, you can even dance to that!" said Bob Dylan on hearing the Byrds' harmonized electric-12-string treatments of his material. This debut defined folk rock with L.A. studio savvy and ringing guitars.
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Simon & Garfunkel Bookends
Columbia, 1968
Paul Simon called this "the quintessential Simon and Garfunkel album." It is certainly far-ranging – a mostly dark, beautifully written voyage that includes both the epic "America" and the Graduate theme, "Mrs. Robinson." The duo produced the rec­ord themselves, with brilliant restraint.
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Patsy Cline The Ultimate Collection
UTV, 2000
She died in a plane crash at 30, but Cline made her mark as one of country's great singers. "Walkin' After Midnight" and "I Fall to Pieces" also made the pop charts, and her version of "Crazy" was a godsend to struggling writer Willie Nelson.
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Jackie Wilson The Classic Jackie Wilson
Rhino, 1992
Wilson was a knockout live performer who made R&B that rocked and sang ballads with a voice, said arranger Dick Jacobs, "like honey on moonbeams." The highlight of this three-disc set – which spans from the Fifties to the Seventies – is the endless build of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."
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The Who My Generation
Decca, 1966
The Who debuted in maximum R&B mode: power-chorded reductions of James Brown ballads. When a manager badgered Pete Townshend into beefing up his laid-back demo of "My Generation," the resulting explosion knocked a hole in the future.
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Howlin' Wolf Howlin' Wolf
Chess, 1962
Chicago blues at its raunchy best, "The Rocking Chair Album" features an outrageous set of sex songs written by Willie Dixon, including "Shake for Me," "The Red Rooster" and "Back Door Man." In 1971, on The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, Wolf finally taught an enraptured Eric Clapton how to play "The Red Rooster."
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Madonna Like A Prayer
Sire, 1989
"I like the challenge of merging art and commerce," Madonna said. She won artistic recognition with her most personal set of songs, including "Till Death Do Us Part" and "Oh Father"; commerce with "Express Yourself" and the title track, whose video had the Vatican talking about blasphemy.
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Steely Dan Can't Buy A Thrill
MCA, 1972
Working as hired songwriters by day, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker rehearsed this debut in executives' offices by night. "We play rock & roll, but we swing," said Becker. For proof, check the cool lounge-jazz rhythms of "Do It Again" and the hot guitar of "Reelin' in the Years."
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The Replacements Let It Be
Twin/Tone, 1984
Copping a Beatles title was cheeky; attaching it to a post-punk masterpiece was a sign of maturity. Songs like "I Will Dare" sizzle with ambition. Mixing punk and country with wry lyrics, "Unsatisfied" sounds like Paul Westerberg demanding more of himself and of his band. He got it.
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Run D.M.C.* Run D.M.C.
Profile, 1984
"It's good to be raw," said Run, and the metallic guitar powering "Rock Box" proved it. Run-D.M.C.'s debut ditches early rap's party rhymes to codify B-boy style and make history, from the way they dress to their hard beats to the everyday subject matter of "It's Like That."
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Black Sabbath Black Sabbath
Warner Bros., 1970
Recorded in a single 12-hour blurt by a hippie-leaning former blues band, this lumbering debut conjured up a new, sludgy sound: the birth pains of heavy metal. The slide guitar on "The Wizard" and the grungy boogie of "Wicked World" would influence not only future metal spawn but even the sound of Nirvana.
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Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP
Aftermath, 2000
Before his second major-label LP, Eminem was a shock rapper with a sense of humor; after Mathers, he was the voice of a generation. Songs like "The Real Slim Shady" created a vast, pissed-off audience. And no one could deny the narrative heft of "Stan."
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Jerry Lee Lewis The Jerry Lee Lewis Anthology All Killer No Filler!
Rhino, 1993
Lewis is famous for his frenzied, piano-pumping Sun sides of the late Fifties, yet his career as a country hitmaker lasted decades. Listen to "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)," and you might agree with the Killer that "Elvis was the greatest, but I'm the best."
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The Mothers Of Invention* Freak Out!
Verve, 1966
A master guitarist and provocateur, Frank Zappa made more than 60 albums, but the first was perhaps the most groundbreaking. The double disc declared the arrival of a visionary weirdo who dabbled in doo-wop, pop-song parody, protest tunes, art rock and avant-garde classical.
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The Grateful Dead Live Dead
Warner Bros., 1969
After two expensive studio albums put them $100,000 in debt, this live set was more than just cheap, it was pivotal. For the Dead, the magic happened onstage, as demonstrated by the glorious 23-­minute jam-outs on "Dark Star" and a raging, 15-minute cover of Bobby Bland's "(Turn On Your) Love Light."
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Ornette Coleman The Shape Of Jazz To Come
Atlantic, 1959
Coleman's sound was so out-there, one audience at an early gig threw his sax over a cliff. He pioneered free jazz: no chords, no harmony, any player can take the lead – music as lyrical as it is demanding, particularly on "Lonely Woman."
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R.E.M. Automatic For The People
Warner Bros., 1992
"It doesn't sound a whole lot like us," warned guitarist Peter Buck, but that was the point of R.E.M.'s eighth album. Largely acoustic, and with string parts arranged by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, this musical left turn finds a haunted beauty.
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Jay Z Reasonable Doubt
Roc-A-Fella, 1996
"The studio was like a psychiatrist's couch for me," Jay-Z told Rolling Stone, and his debut is full of a hustler's dreams and laments. It established Jay as the premier freestyle rapper of his generation and includes a filthy guest appearance from a 16-year-old Foxy Brown on "Ain't No Nigga."
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David Bowie Low
RCA, 1977
Moving to West Berlin to kick cocaine, Bowie hooked up with producer Brian Eno. Low was the first of the trilogy of albums they made, full of electronic instrumentals and quirky funk like "Sound and Vision." During this time, Bowie also produced Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and The Idiot, the high point of Iggy's solo career.
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Jay Z The Blueprint
If Frank Sinatra had been born a Brooklyn rapper, The Blueprint is the album he would have made. It's all flash and bravado, with Jay-Z dissing rivals, talking smack about his troubles with the cops and flossing hard with ladies all around the world.
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Bruce Springsteen The River
Columbia, 1980
Springsteen said it took him five albums to begin writing about real relationships, "people tryin' to find some sort of consolation in each other." The River balances those stories with E Street romps through bar-band R&B, rockabilly and epic rock.
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Otis Redding The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul Complete & Unbelievable
Volt, 1966
"Try a Little Tenderness" was a Bing Crosby tune from the Thirties until Redding turned it into pure Memphis soul. On Dictionary, he does the same with "Tennessee Waltz" and the Beatles' "Day Tripper," as well as his own ballads "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "My Lover's Prayer."
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Metallica Metallica
Elektra, 1991
One of the bestselling metal albums ever, created with Bon Jovi producer Bob Rock and led by "Enter Sandman" and the ballad "Nothing Else Matters." "It's scary to look out and see couples hugging during that song," frontman James Hetfield said. "'Oh, fuck, I thought this was a Metallica show.'"
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Kraftwerk Trans Europa Express
Capitol, 1977
This German group's robotic synthesizer grooves influenced electro-disco hitmakers, experimentalists such as Brian Eno and rappers including Afrika Bambaataa, who lifted the title track for "Planet Rock."
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Whitney Houston Whitney Houston
Arista, 1985
She had been a model and a nightclub singer when she cut this smooth R&B debut. Her vocal gifts and technique are astounding; even slick tracks such as "Greatest Love of All" stick. Best song: "How Will I Know," perky synth funk evoking Houston's family friend Aretha Franklin.
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The Kinks The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
Reprise, 1968
Having shed their early garage-rock grit in favor of more baroque arrangements, the Kinks made one of their loveliest albums, Ray Davies' nostalgic ode to British pastoral life. The sound is delicate, like a picture of a small town vanishing before your eyes.
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Janet* The Velvet Rope
Virgin, 1997
Janet Jackson left behind her girl-next-door image forever with The Velvet Rope, an album of sexy, confessional, freewheeling hip-hop soul. She pairs Joni Mitchell and Q-Tip in "Got 'Til It's Gone" and does house music on "Together Again," but the shocker is her girl-girl version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night."
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Willie Nelson Stardust
Columbia, 1978
Stardust is Nelson's love song to old-time American music: At the height of his country popularity, the crooner digs up his favorite Tin Pan Alley standards – "Georgia on My Mind," "Unchained Melody," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" – making yesterday's hits swing as if he had just come up with them in his La-Z-Boy.
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Grateful Dead* American Beauty
Warner Bros., 1970
The Dead were never better in the studio than on the down-home stoner country of American Beauty. Released just six months after the folky classic Workingman's Dead [see No. 264], it has some of the band's most beloved songs, including "Box of Rain" and "Friend of the Devil."
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Crosby, Stills & Nash Crosby, Stills & Nash
Atlantic, 1969
Jimi Hendrix called CSN "groovy, Western-sky music." The trio first combined their golden-hippie harmonies on this debut, featuring "Marrakesh Express" and the seven-minute "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."
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Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman
Elektra, 1988
Somehow, this young folk singer caught everyone's ear in the hair-metal late Eighties. Chapman had spent time strumming her acoustic guitar for spare change on the streets around Boston, and her gritty voice and storytelling made "Fast Car" hit home.
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The Grateful Dead Workingman's Dead
Warner Bros., 1970
The Dead strip down for eight spooky country and folk tunes that rival the best of Bob Dylan, especially on the morbid "Black Peter" and "Dire Wolf."
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Ray Charles The Genius Of Ray Charles
Atlantic, 1959
Charles spent the Fifties working hard to pioneer his own sound: fusing jazz, gospel and the blues into the new soul style that reshaped American music. But on Genius he relaxes for some easy-swinging pop, with big-band arrangements.
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Blood, Sweat And Tears Child Is Father To The Man
Columbia, 1968
Organist Al Kooper formed this eclectic rock-jazz collective, putting horns up front with the guitars. On Tim Buckley and Randy Newman covers, and the hard-bitten original "I Can't Quit Her," it worked.
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The Who Quadrophenia
MCA, 1973
The album that brought back Vespa scooters, parkas and uppers: Pete Townshend drew on the Who's roots in the London mod scene of the early Sixties and composed this expansive, messy rock opera about a lonely teenage boy looking for love in the city. It gets even better when you check out the movie.
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Paul Simon Paul Simon
Columbia, 1972
Simon's first album after the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel was a tour de force of songcraft, storytelling, virtuosic guitar picking and upper-register vocal dazzle. It also forecast the fluid internationalism of Graceland with the reggae of "Mother and Child Reunion" and the samba-inflected "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."
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The Jesus And Mary Chain Psychocandy
Reprise, 1985
Pretty Scottish boys surfing a wave of doom and gloom and enjoying every moment of it. The Jesus and Mary Chain's debut is a decadent alt-rock masterpiece of bubblegum pop – with "Just Like Honey," "My Little Underground" and "Never Understand" – drowned in feedback.
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The Rolling Stones Some Girls
Rolling Stones, 1978
"Keith fuckin' gets busted every year," Mick Jagger fumed. Keith Richards was in drug hell, and the Stones were verging on destruction, but they bounced back with "Miss You," the sleazy "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down." Richards does his best song, "Before They Make Me Run."
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The Beach Boys The Beach Boys Today!
Capitol, 1965
The Beach Boys were still into cars, girls and surfboards, but Brian Wilson was already a genius. He writes sweet California tunes here, and the haunting "She Knows Me Too Well" hits Pet Sounds-deep.
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Sleater Kinney Dig Me Out
Kill Rock Stars, 1997
When drummer Janet Weiss joined singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein on the group's third LP, a riot-grrrl force of nature became one of the world's most potent rock bands. Tucker's indelible vibrato takes off with avenging-angel feminine ferocity.
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Smokey Robinson And The Miracles Going To A Go Go
Tamla, 1965
Motown at its most debonair and sexy. Robinson works his sweeping soul falsetto over unbelievably sad ballads, including "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Ooh Baby Baby," as the Miracles sob along.
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LaBelle Nightbirds
Epic, 1974
"Lady Marmalade" has one of the funkiest chants in Seventies disco: "Hey, sister, go sister, soul sister, go sister!" Nobody did the disco girl-group thing quite like the ladies of Labelle: They were Funkadelic-meets-the-Supremes, complete with platform heels, silver-lamé spacesuits and songs about New Orleans prostitutes.
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Eminem The Slim Shady LP
Aftermath, 1999
Here's where Eminem introduced himself as a crazy white geek, the "class-clown freshman/Dressed like Les Nessman." Hip-hop had never heard anything like Em's brain-damaged rhymes on this Dr. Dre-produced album, which earned him respect, fortune, fame and a lawsuit from his mom.
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Parliament Mothership Connection
Casablanca, 1975
George Clinton leads his Detroit crew of extraterrestrial brothers through a visionary album of science-fiction funk on jams such as "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" and "Give Up the Funk."
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Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation 1814
A&M, 1989
Jackson bought a military suit and ruled the radio for two years with this album. Along with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she fashions a grand pop statement with hip-hop funk, slow jams and even hair metal.
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Harry Smith Anthology Of American Folk Music
Folkways, 1952
This influential compilation inspired folkies like Pete Seeger and the early Bob Dylan, and it rekindled interest in the blues. Jerry Garcia cut his turntable speed in half in order to master the solos.
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David Bowie Aladdin Sane
RCA, 1973
"I think Aladdin was much more in the area of 'Ziggy goes to America,'" Bowie remarked of the Ziggy sequel written largely during his first extensive U.S. tour. "Time" bridges the two albums, but "The Jean Genie" and a raunchy cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together" show a louder, harder, sexier Bowie.
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U2 All That You Can't Leave Behind
Interscope, 2000
"Our best work has been in our thirties," Bono said in 2000. U2's 10th album brought things back to the essentials to grapple with mortality – particularly the gospel-soul ballad "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of."
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Mary J. Blige My Life
MCA, 1994
Graced by soulful samples and revisions of classic R&B, this Puff Daddy-helmed second album is Blige's most autobiographical. Upbeat jams like "Be Happy" were created during her struggle with substance abuse and a tumultuous relationship. "There's a real bad suicide spirit on there," she admitted.
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Muddy Waters Folk Singer
Chess, 1964
Worried that the folk-music fad was luring listeners away from the blues, Chess Records directed Waters to record with acoustic instruments. These sessions – by Waters, Willie Dixon and a young Buddy Guy – went astonishingly well, and this pioneering "unplugged" set is beloved by blues and folk fans alike.
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Barry White Can't Get Enough
20th Century, 1974
In 1974, White had three albums on the charts simultaneously, all containing orchestrated hits that fanned the flames of disco fever. But the newly married maestro was also a master balladeer, and "I Can't Believe You Love Me" keeps the boudoir drama coming for 10-plus minutes.
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The Cars The Cars
Elektra, 1978
"We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars' Greatest Hits," said guitarist Elliot Easton. Their debut was arty and punchy enough to be part of Boston's New Wave scene, yet so catchy that nearly every track ("Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl") landed on the radio.
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Stevie Wonder Music Of My Mind
Tamla, 1972
Recording after an onerous contract with Motown had expired, a newly empowered Wonder flexed his artistic control, making a relaxed, love-smitten warm-up for the blockbusters to come and playing nearly every funky note on classics such as "Love Having You Around."
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Al Green I'm Still In Love With You
Hi, 1972
After topping the charts with Let's Stay Together, Green released his second LP of 1972 – an even more sensual experience. "Love and Happiness" is a slow-building masterpiece: His band puts down a subtle groove, and Green adds a mountain of soul.
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X (5) Los Angeles
Slash, 1980
The quintessential L.A. punk band made the first great West Coast punk album with its debut. Los Angeles is best known for its city-defining anthem and the torrid "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene." Produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, it also proved that punk and classic rock could hang out together.
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The Grateful Dead Anthem Of The Sun
Warner Bros., 1968
The Dead's second album was built from multiple live performances and studio takes, which were faded in and out of each track to re-create the alchemy of the band's shows. Jerry Garcia said, "We really mixed [the album] for the hallucinations, you know?"
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The Kinks Something Else By The Kinks
Reprise, 1968
The Kinks' most tuneful, reflective album is anchored by two of their greatest songs: "Waterloo Sunset" and "Death of a Clown." The album tanked in the U.S., but it set the table for their pastoral masterpiece, The Village Green Preservation Society.
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Al Green Call Me
Hi, 1973
By the time they recorded the graceful, almost perfectly rendered Call Me, Green and producer Willie Mitchell could do little wrong. To hammer that home, Green showed he could rival Ray Charles as an interpreter of country songs on the killer downtempo cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
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Talking Heads Talking Heads: 77
Sire, 1977
The Heads wore button-down shirts and embraced a tightly wound normality as rebellion. "For a long time, I felt, 'Well, fuck everybody,'" David Byrne told Punk magazine in 1976. "Well, now I want to be accepted." The result was the tense, ingeniously constricted sound of their debut – geek-chic with hooks and charm.
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Bob Dylan & The Band The Basement Tapes
Columbia, 1975
A folk-rock free-for-all recorded in 1967 at the Band's house near Woodstock, New York. The much-bootlegged sessions were finally released eight years later.
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The Velvet Underground White Light White Heat
Verve, 1968
Drowning their songs in guitar fuzz and drone, VU made the most extreme disc in their extreme catalog. "Sister Ray" is 17 minutes of amplifiers screaming.
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MC5 Kick Out The Jams
Elektra, 1969
It's the ultimate rock salute: "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" Recorded live in Detroit by Rob Tyner and his anarchist crew, Kick Out the Jams writhes and hollers with the belief in rock & roll as civil disobedience. The proof: It was banned by a Michigan department store.
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Leonard Cohen Songs Of Love And Hate
Columbia, 1971
The Montreal poet-turned-songwriter's most intense album. Cohen strums an acoustic guitar and murmurs about the destructive powers of love, and his tender croak of a voice gives every song an air of hushed drama.
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The Smiths Meat Is Murder
Sire, 1985
Inspired by Can riffs and bookended by lengthy, brutal songs about corporal punishment and the horrors of the cattle industry, Murder is the darkest entry in the U.K. group's catalog. On "How Soon Is Now?" Morrissey sums up with great pathos and hilarity what a drag it is to be shy. More pathos would come.
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The Mothers Of Invention* We're Only In It For The Money
Verve, 1968
A milestone of studio mischief and a merciless satire of anything that pissed Frank Zappa off in flower power's heyday – drippy hippies, the Establishment, whatever.
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Kanye West The College Dropout
Roc-A-Fella, 2004
On his debut, the self-proclaimed "first [rapper] with a Benz and a backpack" beat the producer-tries-to-rap jinx and broke boundaries others wouldn't acknowledge – from the gospel riot "Jesus Walks" to the Luther Vandross tribute "Slow Jamz."
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Weezer Weezer
DGC, 1994
When it came out, Weezer's debut was merely a cool, quirky power-pop album with a couple of hit singles – "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)." But Rivers Cuomo's band influenced a legion of sad-sack punkers. Today, they stand just a step below Nirvana in the alt-rock canon.
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Black Sabbath Master Of Reality
Warner Bros., 1971
The greatest sludge-metal band of them all in its prime. Paranoid may have bigger hits, but Master of Reality, released a mere six months later, is heavier. The highlight is "Sweet Leaf," a droning love song to marijuana. But the vibe is perfectly summed up by the final track, "Into the Void."
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Dolly Parton Coat Of Many Colors
RCA Victor, 1971
Parton's starkest, most affecting album. The title track is about wearing rags but staying proud; on "Traveling Man," Parton's mom runs off with her man; on "If I Lose My Mind," her boyfriend has sex with another woman in front of her.
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Public Enemy Fear Of A Black Planet
Def Jam, 1990
Public Enemy expanded their widescreen vision of hip-hop on their third album, which included the righteous noise of "Fight the Power," the uplifting sentiment of "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" and the agit-funk of "911 Is a Joke."
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Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding
Columbia, 1967
Recovering from his 1966 motorcycle crash, Dylan took a left turn into country music and ascetic mysticism, connecting to Nashville through a host of characters from the Bible and America’s rugged history. It’s his most ominous album.
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Jeff Buckley Grace
Columbia, 1994
Buckley had a voice like an oversexed angel, and the songs here shimmer and twist. The fierce rocker "Eternal Life" upends Led Zeppelin's take on the blues while honoring it: Instead of a hellhound on his trail, Buckley, who drowned in 1997, evokes immortality bearing down on him.
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Lucinda Williams Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
Mercury, 1998
It took three torturous years to finish this alt-country masterwork, but it was worth it. Williams writes songs that explore the rootlessness of American life, with vivid imagery and gravel-guitar beauty.
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Beck!* Odelay
DGC, 1996
Burrowing into the studio with sampledelic producers the Dust Brothers, Beck came back with a Technicolor version of his Woody Guthrie-meets-Grandmaster Flash vision, demonstrating to his rock peers that turntables had a brighter future than refried grunge.
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The Beatles A Hard Day's Night
Parlophone, 1964
The Richard Lester film showed the Beatles' charm. The soundtrack deepened listeners' sense of their musical genius in the off-kilter beauty of John Lennon's "If I Fell," the rockabilly bounce of Paul McCartney's "Can't Buy Me Love," and the great leap forward of George Harrison's guitar work on the 12-string Rickenbacker.
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Frank Sinatra Songs For Swingin' Lovers
Capitol, 1956
An album that meant to deny the rock & roll that was then changing America – and succeeded. The songs were standards, most 10 or 20 years old, but Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle showed how timeless jazzy, hip sophistication can be.
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Creedence Clearwater Revival Willy And The Poor Boys
Fantasy, 1969
The best of the six albums CCR released between 1968 and 1970; John Fogerty is your chooglin' buddy, even when he's raining down fire and doom on "Effigy."
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Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Warner Bros., 1991
The Peppers' high point – with John Frusciante's energizing, soulful guitar riffs, a huge assist from producer Rick Rubin and the surprise hit ballad "Under the Bridge."
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Various The Sun Records Collection
Rhino/RCA, 1994
Blues without polish, country without corn, and rockabilly played with brainless abandon from Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash – as well as obscure gems like Bill Justis' aptly named "Raunchy."
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Jane's Addiction Nothing's Shocking
Warner Bros., 1988
They thought Led Zeppelin were a funk band, and when they learned this was not true, they carried on anyway. On tracks like "Mountain Song," Jane's major-label debut rewrites pre-Nirvana rock history, reconciling punk and metal with shredding riffs on oceanic songs. And they even had a hit ballad with "Jane Says."
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Nirvana MTV Unplugged In New York
Geffen, 1994
Nirvana shine brightly on this striking live set because the volume is turned down just low enough to let Kurt Cobain's tortured vulnerability glow. The powerful, reverent covers of Lead Belly, David Bowie and (three) Meat Puppets songs sum up Nirvana as a haunted, theatrical and, ultimately, truly raw band.
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Lauryn Hill The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Ruffhouse, 1998
Hill took Seventies soul and made it boom and signify to the hip-hop generation on her solo debut. The production was subtle and glorious on heartbreakers such as "Ex-Factor" and the swinging sermon "Doo Wop (That Thing)."
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Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Damn The Torpedoes
Backstreet, 1979
With hair like Mick Jagger's and a voice like Bob Dylan's in tune, Petty and his bar band de-frilled classic rock: In 1979, "Here Comes My Girl" seemed to keep the promises Jagger et al. forgot they'd made.
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The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground
MGM, 1969
The album that turned folk music inside out. VU began as a black-booted antidote to flower power, so the quiet disillusion, exhaustion and ache here is as explosive as their first album's forbidding howl.
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Pixies Surfer Rosa
4AD/Elektra, 1988
Smack in between hardcore punk and alternative, it was difficult to make sense of the Pixies' ferocious noise. Their secret weapon was leaping from sweet to screaming, pensive to pummeling: On "Gigantic," Kim Deal sings like Peppermint Patty as the band drives a spike into Eighties rock.
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O'Jays* Back Stabbers
Philadelphia International, 1972
After Vietnam and Watergate, soul music slipped into darkness in the early Seventies. The title track of this Philly-soul album was the writing on the wall: funky and paranoid, much like the times.
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The Wailers Burnin'
Island, 1973
Righteous and seriously in the pocket, this is the last Wailers album with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Bob Marley's soulful cry is rivaled by the sticky organ riffs and fat-bottom beats, and their original version of "I Shot the Sheriff" is far more desperate than Eric Clapton's hit cover.
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Radiohead Amnesiac
Capitol, 2001
The greatest sequel since The Godfather: Part II. The second half of the one-two punch Radiohead began with Kid A was smoother on the surface yet just as disorienting underneath, bringing more of the rock guitars that its predecessor held back, but in all kinds of mutated forms.
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Nick Drake Pink Moon
Island, 1972
Drake recorded his last album in a couple of nights, delivered the tapes to Island Records and checked himself into a psychiatric ward. If the music were as dark as the lyrics, it might be unlistenable. But Drake's soothing vocals and unadorned acoustic picking make Moon unfold with supernatural tenderness.
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Randy Newman Sail Away
Reprise, 1972
Producer Lenny Waronker called him the King of the Suburban Blues Singers. This is Newman's quiet masterpiece, less rock than fuck-you cabaret. Even now, "Political Science" ("Let's drop the big one/And see what happens") is relevant; either Newman is brilliant or we haven't come a long way, baby.
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The Police Ghost In The Machine
A&M, 1981
Here, the previously punkish trio added synth strings and politics, and blew up even further. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is a pop smart bomb, and "Invisible Sun," about the violence in Northern Ireland, is genuinely moving.
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David Bowie Station To Station
RCA, 1976
The Kraut-disco title track is where Bowie proclaims himself the Thin White Duke. Thin he was: Station to Station was recorded in a blizzard of cocaine in Los Angeles. "TVC 15" is New Orleans R&B as robotic funk; "Golden Years" is James Brown from outer space, with Bowie's amazing falsetto.
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Eric Clapton Slowhand
RSO, 1977
"Slowhand" was the nickname given to Clapton by the Yardbirds' manager. On this quintessential album, he mixes candlelit love songs and guitar-hero riffs; "Cocaine" and "Wonderful Tonight" are the hits, but don't overlook "Next Time You See Her," a gentle melody loaded with a death threat to a lover's suitor.
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The Cure Disintegration
Elektra, 1989
According to the kids on South Park, this is the best album ever made. According to many depressive Eighties-minded kids, it's the only album ever made – gloppy eyeliner at its grandest. On "Fascination Street," Robert Smith's voice shakes like milk as he makes adolescent angst sound so wonderfully, wonderfully pretty.
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Liz Phair Exile In Guyville
Matador, 1993
A studio expansion of Phair's homemade Girlysound cassettes, Exile's frank sex talk caused a stir. But it's the lacerating honesty of tracks such as "Divorce Song" that sticks, and "Fuck and Run" is one of the saddest songs ever written about dreaming of romance and settling for less.
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Sonic Youth Daydream Nation
Enigma, 1988
Sonic Youth have had a long, brilliant career making trippy art punk, and this is their triumph. Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's guitars are like antennae picking up otherworldly signals and channeling them into the scuzzy urban haze of "Teen Age Riot" and "Eric's Trip."
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James Brown In The Jungle Groove
Polydor, 1986
A compilation of Mr. Dynamite's singles from '69 to '70, including the endlessly sampled "Funky Drummer" and "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose," where Brown drops the heaviest funk of his – or anyone's – life.
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Neil Young Tonight's The Night
Reprise, 1975
Young made his darkest, most emotionally frayed album as a tribute to two friends who died from drugs, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. Young sounds like he's on the edge of a breakdown in the mournful ballads "Tired Eyes" and "Speakin' Out," recorded with a world-weary looseness.
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The Beatles Help!
Capitol, 1965
The moptops' second movie was a Swinging London goof, but the soundtrack included the classics "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket to Ride," as well as the lovely "I've Just Seen a Face." Help! didn't break new ground, but it paved the way for the Beatles' next stop: Rubber Soul.
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Richard & Linda Thompson Shoot Out The Lights
Hannibal, 1982
The British folk-rock duo's last album together is a harrowing portrait of a marriage gone bad, made as their marriage collapsed. The catchiest song: "Wall of Death." The scariest: "Walking on a Wire."
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X (5) Wild Gift
Slash, 1981
John Doe and Exene Cervenka harmonize about doomed love over L.A. garage-rock thrash, changing the emotional language of punk. They were the White Stripes of their day, a young couple messing with country and blues in gems such as "Adult Books," "Beyond and Back" and "We're Desperate."
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Graham Parker & The Rumour* Squeezing Out Sparks
Arista, 1979
An angry young crank in the mode of Elvis Costello, this former gas-station attendant rode the wave of U.K. punk. His fifth album combines bar-band rock with New Wave hooks, and his bitter paranoia shines through on every track.
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Soundgarden Superunknown
A&M, 1994
They were the Seattle punk scene's headbanging answer to Led Zeppelin II. But they became real songwriters on Superunknown, shaping their angst into grunge anthems like "Black Hole Sun." "[We] realized the importance of melody," said Chris Cornell. "Maybe we've been listening to Bryan Ferry."
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Radiohead In Rainbows
Self-released, 2007
After the pay-what-you-like release hoopla died down, what were fans left with? How 'bout the most intense love songs Thom Yorke has ever sung, and a warm live-percussion feel that gives the whole album the vibe of a hippie jam session. One that's taking place at the end of the world, of course.
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Jethro Tull Aqualung
Chrysalis, 1971
Tull were hairy prog-rock philosophers who decried organized religion ("Hymn 43") and modern hypocrisy ("Aqualung") while incorporating flute solos. With several FM-radio hits, this record made Tull into a major arena band. The cover painting gave Seventies kids nightmares.
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Big Brother & The Holding Company Cheap Thrills
CBS, 1968
These San Francisco acid rockers were the most simpatico band Janis Joplin ever had, especially when its rough racket backs her up on "Piece of My Heart," perhaps her greatest recording.
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Tom Waits The Heart Of Saturday Night
Asylum, 1974
By the time Waits made his second album, he'd fully developed his talent for growling, jazzy beatnik gutter tales, and had largely dispensed with the love songs. He does it best on "Diamonds on My Windshield" and "The Ghosts of Saturday Night."
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Black Flag Damaged
SST, 1981
MCA Records refused to release this, denouncing it as "immoral" and "anti-parent." High praise, but Black Flag lived up to it, defining L.A. hardcore punk with violent guitar and the pissed-off scream of Henry Rollins, especially on "TV Party" and "Rise Above." Punks still listen to Damaged, and parents still hate it.
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Moby Play
V2, 1999
Play was the techno album that proved a Mac could have a soul. Moby took ancient blues and gospel voices and layered them with dance grooves, on songs such as "Porcelain" and "Natural Blues." This was an album with a strange, haunting beauty – especially for advertisers, who mined Play for countless TV commercials
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Depeche Mode Violator
Sire, 1990
For many Depeche Mode fans, Violator is the crowning glory of the boys' black-leather period. In "Sweetest Perfection," "Halo" and "World in My Eyes," they turn teen angst and sexual obsession into grand synth-pop melodrama, and their attempt at guitar rock resulted in a hit with "Personal Jesus."
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Meat Loaf Bat Out Of Hell
Epic, 1977
Meat Loaf's megaselling, megabombastic mega-album was written by pianist Jim Steinman, who'd intended some of the material for a new Peter Pan. This is one of rock's most theatrical, grandiose records, yet Loaf brings real emotion to "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."
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Lou Reed Berlin
RCA, 1973
Reed followed up his breakthrough album, Transformer, with "my version of Hamlet." A bleak song cycle about an abusive, drug-fueled relationship, it's hugely ambitious but also one of the darker records ever made – slow, druggy and heavily orchestrated by producer Bob Ezrin.
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Talking Heads Stop Making Sense
Sire, 1984
This soundtrack to Jonathan Demme's 1984 concert film functions as a great band history. It begins with a spare version of "Psycho Killer" and builds to an expansive "Take Me to the River," where the Heads are joined by Parliament great Bernie Worrell. Eighties art funk at its finest.
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De La Soul 3 Feet High And Rising
Tommy Boy, 1989
At the end of the Eighties, De La declared a "D.A.I.S.Y. Age," which stood for "Da Inner Sound, Y'All." No gold chains, just samples, skits, jokes and beats, biting everyone from P-Funk to Hall and Oates and Johnny Cash.
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Pink Floyd The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Tower, 1967
"I'm full of dust and guitars," Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett said. Here's what that sounds like. The band's debut is all playful, psychedelic imagery and acid guitars – both poppy ("See Emily Play") and spaced-out freaky ("Interstellar Overdrive").
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Muddy Waters Muddy Waters At Newport 1960
Chess, 1960
A stomping live document of the period when Waters' Chicago blues started reaching a wider pop audience. Newport has his classics – "Hoochie Coochie Man," a torrid "Got My Mojo Working" – delivered by a tough, tight band anchored by harp genius James Cotton.
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Jay Z The Black Album
Roc-A-Fella, 2003
Jay-Z's "farewell record" proves once again that he's "pound for pound . . . the best to ever come around." Hova recounts his mythic rise ("From bricks to billboards, from grams to Grammys") and body-slams his enemies in the walloping rap-rock assault "99 Problems."
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Yardbirds* Yardbirds
Epic, 1966
Jeff Beck was in the Yardbirds only briefly, but here he pushed the Brit blues rockers in a more adventurous, psychedelic direction.
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Neil Young & Crazy Horse Rust Never Sleeps
Reprise, 1979
This live Rust is essential Young, full of delicate acoustic songs and ragged Crazy Horse rampages. Highlights: "My My, Hey Hey" (a tribute to Johnny Rotten) and "Powderfinger," where Young's guitar hits the sky like never before.
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Dire Straits Brothers In Arms
Warner Bros., 1985
Mark Knopfler started writing "Money for Nothing" when he overheard a New York appliance salesman's anti-rock-star, anti-MTV rant. The song, of course, became a huge MTV hit, and this album shows off Knopfler's incisive songwriting and lush guitar riffs on "Walk of Life" and "So Far Away."
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Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella, 2010
Epic hip-hop as messily inspired as Kanye's life, with Elton John pianos, vocoder freakouts, Bon Iver cameos and hilarious insights on Kanye's self-torpedoing genius.
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Billy Joel 52nd Street
Columbia, 1978
The heavy roadwork dictated by the success of The Stranger produced a leaner, rock-oriented follow-up. Like Elton John, Joel assimilated whatever styles (jazz, Latin rhythms) suited his purpose. "I don't want to limit my diet," he said, "sampling only one vegetable in the garden."
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The Yardbirds Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds
Epic, 1965
Freed from Eric Clapton's blues purism and spurred by Jeff Beck's reckless exhibitionism, the Yardbirds launched a noisy rock & roll avant-garde. This is the bridge between beat groups and psychedelia.
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Randy Newman 12 Songs
Reprise, 1970
Newman's second disc was his artistic breakout, with Ry Cooder and a few of the Byrds contributing to the loose, confident sound. It's prime caustic, funny Newman – especially the piano rockers "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and "Have You Seen My Baby?" and the tormented "Suzanne."
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The Rolling Stones Between The Buttons
London, 1967
Andrew Loog Oldham called it their "most English" album. Music-hall piano abuts the psych-soul of "Ruby Tuesday"; the lovely "She Smiled Sweetly" offsets the great Chuck Berry rip, "Miss Amanda Jones."
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Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain
Columbia, 1960
This collaboration between Davis and ­arranger Gil Evans took 15 orchestral sessions to record and six months to assemble. It wasn't an attempt to play Spanish music but to suggest it; the album's muted beauty contains enormous passion. But is it jazz? Davis responded, "It's music, and I like it."
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Elton John Honky Château
Uni, 1972
After a couple of weightier singer-songwriter outings, it was delightful to hear John revel in the simple pop pleasures of "Honky Cat." Written in five days, and using his signature touring band for the first time, Honky Château is a snapshot of an artist loosening up and coming into his full powers.
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Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady
I.R.S., 1979
Singles collects eight British 45s into a perfect punk album. This Manchester group took the sound of the Ramones and made it jittery and even faster. Songs such as "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" define a world of permanently frustrated desire.
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OutKast Stankonia
LaFace, 2000
"We call it slumadelic," said Big Boi of OutKast's far-reaching blend of hip-hop, funk, rock and otherworldly sounds. "Ms. Jackson" was something new for rap: an apology to the mother of an ex-girlfriend. And "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)" twitches to techno beats and screeching guitar.
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Smashing Pumpkins* Siamese Dream
Virgin, 1993
On their second disc, the Pumpkins pushed further from alt-rock to a grander, orchestrated sound with multiple guitar parts, strings and Mellotron. Siamese Dream is packed with hits ("Cherup Rock," "Today") and alt-rock followed its lead.
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New Order Substance
Qwest, 1987
This assemblage of 12-inch singles and remixes charts New Order's tranformation from gloom rockers to electro-disco pioneers. Club hits like "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" are full of bass melodies that beat-loving guitar bands are still trying to figure out.
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The Doors L.A. Woman
Elektra, 1971
Jim Morrison said the Doors wanted to "get back to what we did originally: just be very primitive… very relaxed." Recorded in their rehearsal space with Morrison's mic set up in the bathroom, this was a bluesier, confident Doors. It was the last album Morrison recorded. He died soon after.
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Rage Against The Machine Rage Against The Machine
Epic Associated, 1992
Singer Zack de la Rocha's radical politics found sympathetic muscle in Tom Morello's howling one-guitar army, making a furor unheard since the MC5 and the Clash.
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Johnny Cash American Recordings
American, 1994
After years of neglect from the country establishment, Cash returned with this stark acoustic album produced by Rick Rubin. It was a reminder that a giant still walked among us.
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Madonna Ray Of Light
Maverick/Warner Bros., 1998
For her first disc as a mother, Madonna and producer William Orbit showed the world that electronica doesn't have to be cold. Songs like the title track and "Nothing Really Matters" are filled with warmth and wonder. Ray also features her best singing ever.
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Eagles Eagles
Asylum, 1972
This debut created a new template for laid-back L.A. country rock. Behind the band's mellow message – "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling" – was a relentless drive. "Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good and write good," Glenn Frey told Cameron Crowe in Rolling Stone.
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The Smiths Louder Than Bombs
Sire/Rough Trade, 1987
Designed to whet U.S. interest while the Smiths completed a new LP, this dazzling assortment of singles and album tracks became an unintended epitaph when the group dissolved. Its best songs are here, from "Sheila Take a Bow" to "Panic."
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Mott The Hoople Mott
Columbia, 1973
David Bowie's "All The Young Dudes" had revived Mott's career, but Ian Hunter "wanted people to know that David didn't create this band." Producing themselves, they weathered skepticism and studio fistfights to record this examination of rock as "a loser's game." Mott became their greatest success.
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Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Domino USA, 2006
Scrappy, lager-fueled tunes about being young and bored in a bleak Northern England steel town. Even Yanks couldn't resist these raging Brit-pop-punk gems.
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The Police Reggatta De Blanc
A&M, 1979
The Police may have been lumped in with U.K. punk, but Sting said the mission was always to "sell great music to masses of people." They did that with Reggatta, an album best known for "Message in a Bottle" but distinguished by the mutant reggae of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Walking on the Moon."
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Jefferson Airplane Volunteers
RCA Victor, 1969
Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen called Paul Kantner's revolutionary cheerleading "naive," but that didn't prevent the band from delivering this album with sweeping fervor. Also here: the gorgeous "Wooden Ships" and "Eskimo Blue Day," where Grace Slick sings, "The human name doesn't mean shit to a tree."
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Roxy Music Siren
ATCO, 1975
"New customers are always welcome!" Bryan Ferry joked as "Love Is the Drug" became his band's first U.S. hit. This delicious LP of lounge-lizard ennui, inspired in part by Ferry's girlfriend Jerry Hall, draws upon Roxy's arty roots even as it anticipates the more rarefied atmospheres of Avalon.
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Jackson Browne Late For The Sky
Asylum, 1974
On his dark third album, Browne explored, in the words of one Rolling Stone reviewer, the "romantic possibility in the shadow of an apocalypse." There's an undercurrent of dread on Late for the Sky, from "Before the Deluge" to "For a Dancer" – not to mention a lot of obvious songwriting genius.
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Björk Post
Elektra, 1995
"I have to recreate the universe every morning when I wake up," Björk said, explaining her second solo album's utter lack of musical inhibition. Post bounces from big-band jazz ("It's Oh So Quiet") to trip-hop. Fun fact: For her vocals, Björk extended her mic cord to a beach so she could sing to the sea.
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John Lee Hooker The Ultimate Collection: 1948 1990
Rhino, 1991
"Boogie Chillen" was Hooker's first hit and one of the last songs he ever played. In between that was a lifetime of pure mojo. Collection houses that historic song, plus "Boom Boom" and a voice Bonnie Raitt said could "tap into all the pain he'd ever felt."
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Oasis (2) (What's The Story) Morning Glory?
Epic, 1995
With their second album, the fighting Gallagher brothers embraced the Stones and Beatles comparisons and established themselves as a force in their own right, especially on the majestic "Wonderwall."
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TLC CrazySexyCool
Things were not well with TLC during the making of CrazySexyCool: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was lighting literal fires, and the trio would soon be filing for bankruptcy. But they emerged with the most effervescent and soulful girl-group R&B anyone had seen since the Supremes.
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Toots & The Maytals Funky Kingston
Island, 1975
Loose, funky, exuberant, Kingston is the quintessential document of Jamaica's greatest act after Bob Marley. Showcasing some of the Maytals' best songs ("Pressure Drop" and borrowing from soul, pop and gospel, the album introduced the world to the great Toots Hibbert.
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The Beach Boys Smile
Capitol, 2011
The five-disc director's cut of the Greatest Pop Album Never Made is an unfinished symphony of exquisite ping-ponging harmonies and psychedelicized Cali-surf soul. The included demos and fragments show Brian Wilson painting his masterpiece.
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The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers
Beserkly, 1976
Jonathan Richman moved from Boston to New York in the hopes of sleeping on Lou Reed's couch. That influence shows on the two-chord anthem "Roadrunner." Recorded in 1972 but not released until 1976, Lovers hot-wired the Velvets' tough sounds to odes of suburban romanticism.
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Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings And Food
Sire, 1978
The Heads' second album weaved funk and gospel (including a cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River") into their twitchy, Spartan sound, announcing themselves as the newest of the New Wave bands.
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The Who A Quick One
MCA, 1966
The Who were in the middle of an experimental phase, and the results were fascinatingly quirky. "Boris the Spider" is a basso-profundo jape, and the miniopera title track foreshadows Pete Townshend's songwriting ambition.
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Bob Dylan "Love And Theft"
Columbia, 2001
Blood, desperation and wicked gallows humor are in the air as Dylan and his road band provide a raucous tour of 20th-century musical America via jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads and country swing. "Summer Days" sounds like the exact moment when R&B morphed into rock & roll.
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Steely Dan Pretzel Logic
ABC, 1974
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker make their love of jazz explicit, covering Duke Ellington and copping the intro of "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" from hard-bop pianist Horace Silver. The guitars on their third LP are dialed back for a sound that's slick and airtight without being cold. The lyrics? As twisted as ever.
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Wu Tang Clan Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
Loud/RCA, 1993
East Coast hip-hop came back in 1993, thanks to a nine-man troupe of Staten Island MCs with a fascination for Hong Kong martial-arts mythology and producer RZA's love of menacing atmospherics. Hip-hop had rarely been this dirty.
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Various The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto
Shanachia, 1985
The best album ever tagged as "world music," this compilation of South African pop is still fresh – full of funky, loping beats and gruff vocals, with a sweet track by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who soon appeared on Graceland.
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Don Henley The End Of The Innocence
Geffen, 1989
Returning to the theme of "Desperado," the former Eagle hitched some of his finest melodies (especially on the gentle title track) to sharply focused lyrical studies of men in troubled transition – from youth to adulthood, innocence to responsibility.
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The White Stripes Elephant
V2, 2003
Jack and Meg White proved their minimalist garage rock had more depth and power than anyone expected. On tracks like the slow-burning "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button," Jack's songwriting finally matches his blues-fanboy, art-school shtick.
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Jackson Browne The Pretender
Asylum, 1976
Laid-back Southern California folk rock took on new weight with Browne's fourth album. His first wife committed suicide while he was writing these songs, and they became hard-bitten. "Say a prayer for the pretender," he sings, "who started out so young and strong, only to surrender."
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The Beatles Let It Be
Apple, 1970
The sound of the world's greatest pop group at war with itself. John Lennon is at his most acidic; George Harrison's "I Me Mine" is about the sin of pride, sung with plaintive exhaustion; Paul McCartney's title track is like a survival mantra. Phil Spector pieced it all into a sad swan song.
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MIA* Kala
Interscope, 2007
The London-via-Sri Lanka art-punk funkateer came on like she knew she was kind of a big deal, and backed up her bravado. M.I.A.'s second album restyled hip-hop as one big international block party, mixing up beatbox riddims, playground rhymes, left-field samples and gunshots. It's a dance-off in a combat zone.
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Randy Newman Good Old Boys
Reprise, 1974
Newman draws on his roots in the blues and New Orleans boogie to uncorck this blistering portrait of the American South. He shows that he was pop's most cutting satirist on "Rednecks" – a song that doesn't spare Northern or Southern racism; Newman once said he still gets nervous playing it in some cities.
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LCD Soundsystem Sound Of Silver
DFA/Capitol, 2007
New York electro-punk kingpin James Murphy makes his masterpiece: Every track sounds like a different band's greatest hit, from the political punk goof "North American Scum" to the elegiac synth-pop breakup lament "Someone Great."
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Roxy Music For Your Pleasure
Warner Bros., 1973
Keyboardist Brian Eno's last album with Roxy Music is the pop equivalent of Ultra-suede: highly stylish, abstract-leaning art rock. The collision of Eno's experimentalism and singer Bryan Ferry's romanticism gives Pleasure a wild, tense charm – especially on the driving "Editions of You" and "Do the Strand."
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Massive Attack Blue Lines
Virgin, 1991
One of the most influential records of the Nineties, Lines was perhaps the first post-hip-hop classic: a combination of rap, dub and soul that gave birth to what used to be called trip-hop. "What's important to us is the pace," said the band's 3D, "the weight of the bass and the mood."
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ZZ Top Eliminator
Warner Bros., 1983
Pure Americana: This song cycle about burning rubber, high heels and adrenaline took fuzzed-out Texas blues guitar and lashed it around rollicking boogie. ZZ Top's megaplatinum album also had a high-gloss Eighties sheen and singles like "Sharp Dressed Man" that would help it sell some 10 million copies.
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Tom Waits Rain Dogs
Island, 1985
"I like that weird, ludicrous things," Waits once said. That understatement plays out most clearly on Rain Dogs, his finest portrait of the tragic kingdom of the streets. Waits abandons his grungy minimalism on the gorgeous "Downtown Train" and gets backing by Keith Richards on "Big Black Mariah."
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The Temptations Anthology
Motown, 1995
Indisputably the greatest black vocal group of the modern era, this quintet created masterpiece after masterpiece of chugging, gospel-tinged soul. Anthology captures a slice of the Temps' prime, including "My Girl," "I Can't Get Next to You" and "I Wish It Would Rain."
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Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication
Warner Bros., 1999
Turning their focus to songs instead of jams, the Chilis steered frontman Anthony Kiedis' voice into a radio-friendlier wail, and the reappearance of guitarist John Frusciante helped form beautifully composed songs such as "Scar Tissue."
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Nas Illmatic
Columbia, 1994
Other rappers were harder and better-armed, but nobody captured the creeping menace of life on the streets quite like this 20-year-old from New York's Queensbridge projects. With lines like "I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death," Nas showed more poetic style than any MC since Rakim.
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Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced 'Lĕh 'nérd 'Skin 'nérd)
MCA, 1973
From the git-go, these Southern rockers played hard, lived hard and shot from the hip (with three guitars!). Discovered and produced by Al Kooper, Skynyrd offered taut rockers including "Poison Whiskey" and the ultimate anthem, "Freebird."
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Dr. John Dr. John's Gumbo
ATCO, 1972
After a series of eerie, voodoo-stoked records, pianist Mac Rebennack – a.k.a. Dr. John – returned to his New Orleans roots with spirited covers of classics such as "Iko Iko" and "Junko Partner." With his rolling piano figures and gritty vocals, he rekindled interest in the Crescent City sound.
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Big Star Radio City
Ardent, 1974
As with the Velvet Underground, Big Star's influence far outstripped their commercial success. On this lean, guitar-driven LP, they come up with a new, upside-down pop sound, filtering their love of the Beatles through their Memphis-soul roots. Towering achievement: the blissful, sad "September Gurls."
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P J Harvey* Rid Of Me
Island, 1993
Like Patti Smith, she wanted to be Bob Dylan. Unlike Patti Smith, she played guitar very, very loud. Polly Jean Harvey's second album, recorded with Steve Albini, is charged with aggressive eroticism and rock fury (check the scalding title track). Rid of Me slams from blues to goth to grunge, often in the space of a single song.
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The Clash Sandinista!
Epic, 1980
The Clash's ballooning ambition peaked with this three-album set, named after the Nicaraguan revolutionary movement. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones reached beyond punk and reggae into dub, R&B, calypso, gospel and even a kids' chorus on "Career Opportunities."
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Sinéad O'Connor I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
Chrysalis, 1990
O'Connor's second LP delivers true originality and range, from "Nothing Compares 2 U" to the maternal warmth of "Three Babies" to the fiddle and beatbox of "I Am Stretched on Your Grave."
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The Doors Strange Days
Elektra, 1967
The Doors set out into darker territory on their second album. The catchy single "Love Me Two Times" is overshadowed by a mood of foreboding and alienation, especially on "People Are Strange" and "When the Music's Over," which demands, "We want the world, and we want it now!"
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Bob Dylan Time Out Of Mind
Columbia, 1997
The first of Dylan's three late-career triumphs. Producer Daniel Lanois' dark, atmospheric settings envelop Dylan in a sonic fog appropriate to the isolation and distance he sings of in a ravaged, weary voice. The songs – especially "Love Sick" and "Not Dark Yet" – are ghostly but forceful.
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Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard
RSO, 1974
Clapton returned from heroin addiction with a disc of mellow, springy grooves minus guitar histrionics. He paid tribute to Robert Johnson and Elmore James, but his cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" became his first Number One hit.
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Wire Pink Flag
Harvest, 1977
This first-generation U.K. punk band made sparse tunes that erupted in combustible snippets on its 21-track debut album. The curt mania of "12XU" had a massive influence on hardcore punk, and bands like Sonic Youth and R.E.M. took to the arty blurt of songs like "Strange" and "Ex Lion Tamer."
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Minutemen Double Nickels On The Dime
SST, 1984
"Our band could be your life," sing the Minutemen, perfectly articulating punk's Everyman ideal. Guitarist D. Boon and bassist Mike Watt push each other to fast, funny and agitated heights on this 45-song opus.
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Go Go's Beauty And The Beat
I.R.S., 1981
The most popular girl group of the New Wave surfed to the top of the charts with "We Got the Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed." And its entire debut welded punkish spirit to party-minded pop.
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Van Halen Van Halen
Warner Bros., 1978
This debut gave the world a new guitar hero (Eddie Van Halen) and charismatic frontman (David Lee Roth). Tunes such as "Runnin' With the Devil" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" put the swagger back in hard rock, and Eddie's jaw-dropping technique, particularly on "Eruption," raised the bar for rock guitar.
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Tom Waits Mule Variations
Anti-/Epitaph, 1999
After five silent years, Variations was the victorious return of Waits' rawboned, bluesy art rock. Using found instruments for rhythm and Smokey Hormel's angular guitar for color, Waits careers from carnival baker to croaky balladeer. The highlights: the sad but sweet "Hold On" and "House Where Nobody Lives."
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U2 Boy
Island, 1980
Too ingenuous for punk, too unironic for New Wave, U2 arrived on Boy as big-time dreamers with the ambition to back it up. The Dublin foursome boasted Bono's arena-ready voice and the Edge's echoey, effects-laden guitar, as well as anthemic songs such as the club favorite "I Will Follow."
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Paul McCartney And Wings* Band On The Run
Apple, 1973
Wings trekked to Lagos, Nigeria, for seven stressful weeks to make Band, regarded by many as McCartney's finest post-Beatles hour. Opening with the one-two punch of "Band on the Run" and "Jet," it proved that McCartney still knew how to rock.
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Portishead Dummy
Go! Discs, 1994
Portishead uses some of the same building blocks as fellow Bristol, England trip-hoppers Massive Attack – woozy break beats, jazzy samples, live guitar, girl-singer/guy-programmer dynamic – but Beth Gibbons' brooding, pop-cabaret vocals showed to the world that you could feel real pain over a trip-hop groove.
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The Crickets (2) The "Chirping" Crickets
Brunswick, 1957
Holly was only 21 when he cut these tracks, some on an Oklahoma Air Force base. "That'll Be the Day," "Oh Boy!" and "Not Fade Away" fused country, rockabilly and R&B into epochal rock & roll.
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Various The Best Of The Girl Groups Volume 1
Rhino, 1990
In the lean years between Elvis and the Beatles, girl groups like the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las kept the spirit of rock & roll alive. This series has the classics.
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The Ronettes ...Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica
Philles, 1964
The Ronettes were pop goddesses dressed as Catholic schoolgirls gone to hell and back, with Ronnie Bennett belting out hits like "Be My Baby" over future husband Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.
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Diana Ross & The Supremes* Anthology
Motown, 1973
In the heyday of Motown, the Supremes were their own hit factory, all glamour and heartbreak. Diana Ross high points like "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Where Did Our Love Go" are still spine-tingling.
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Bruce Springsteen The Rising
Columbia, 2002
Springsteen's response to 9/11 was an extraordinary 15-song requiem that searched for meaning in the inexplicable tragedy while saluting the grace and courage of the dead and those who mourn them. The first E Street Band album since the Eighties, it kicked off Springsteen's creative resurgence.
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Gram Parsons Grievous Angel
Reprise, 1974
Parsons helped invent country rock with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and he deepened it here. Emmylou Harris was his ideal singing partner, and their voices blend in the high-lonesome wail of "Brass Buttons" and "$1,000 Wedding." Weeks after finishing the album, Parsons was dead at 26.
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Cheap Trick Cheap Trick At Budokan
Epic, 1979
After three studio albums, Cheap Trick were bigger in Japan than in America. But this record of a live Tokyo gig became their first U.S. hit. The Japanese schoolgirls are practically the lead instrument here, screaming their lungs out to "Surrender" and "I Want You to Want Me."
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Peter Wolf Sleepless
Artemis, 2002
Wolf accomplishes a rare feat on this modern blues album: He sings about adult roance without sounding jaded. The former J. Geils Band singer testifies about true love in his soulful growl, with help from friends like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
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The Police Outlandos D'Amour
A&M, 1978
The Police got bigger but they never sounded fresher, absorbing reggae into the spare, bouncy sound of their debut album. "Roxanne" and "Next to You" prove Sting was already a top-notch songwriter.
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Eno* Another Green World
Island, 1975
After years as a rock eccentric, Eno said goodbye to pop-song form with this album of pure synthetic beauty, mixing lush electronics ("Becalmed") with acoustic intruments ("Everything Merges With the Night") to cast a truly hypnotic spell.
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Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
XL, 2009
Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University displaying an affinity for boat shoes and African guitar music. Their debut was full of suavely seductive indie-pop songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies are as refined as his education.
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P J Harvey* Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea
Island, 2000
Polly Harvey, happy? It was a surprise: But album number five found her in New York and in love. The result was lusher than anything she had recorded but also vibrant and surprisingly catchy.
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Eno* Here Come The Warm Jets
Island, 1975
Eno's first solo album pioneered a new kind of glammy art rock: jagged, free-form and dreamy. "Baby's on Fire" and "Needles in the Camel's Eye" are vicious rockers with detached vocals, and Robert Fripp's warped guitars swarm and stutter.
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George Harrison All Things Must Pass
Apple, 1970
Harrison had almost enough songs stored up from his Beatles days for a triple LP – the gas starts to run out during the jams on Side Six. But spiritual guitar quests like "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life" became classics.
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Big Star #1 Record
Ardent/Stax, 1972
Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were the Memphis whiz kids at the heart of Big Star. They mixed British-pop finesse with all-American hard rock, from the surging "Feel" to the acoustic "Thirteen." Big Star didn't sell many records, but the Eighties explosion of poppy garage bands would've been unimaginable without them.
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Nirvana In Utero
Geffen, 1993
Nirvana hired hard-nosed Steve Albini to record the follow-up to Nevermind. Geffen asked them to clean up some of the results, and you can hear the tension in white-noise ruckus like "Serve the Servants." But the only thing that can explain the scalding "Rape Me" is inner pain.
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Beck Sea Change
DGC, 2002
Breakup records are rarely this lovely. Sea Change is the pristine sound of everything falling apart, a glossy take on a bummed-out Sixties folk sound. The music seems to be floating up from the bottom of the ocean; the words were straight from Beck's broken heart.
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Lil Wayne Tha Carter III
Cash Money/Universal Motown, 2008
"I am so far from the others," Wayne rapped. "I can eat them for supper/Get in my spaceship and hover." And the N'awlins-bred genius made good on that boast on a weird, luscious pop-rap odyssey.
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The Cure Boys Don't Cry
PVC, 1980
Before they became a goth-punk group, the Cure were a minimalist, inventive post-punk power trio. Boys is all hummable hooks, choppy guitars and mopey vocals. "10:15 Saturday Night" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train" are ingenious: You wait for a guitar solo and get a club-footed bass line instead.
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Sam Cooke Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963
RCA, 1985
Cooke was elegance personified, but he works this Florida club until it's hotter than hell, while sounding like he never breaks a sweat. He croons "For Sentimental Reasons" like a superlover, and when the crowd sings along with him, it's magic.
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The Pogues Rum Sodomy & The Lash
MCA, 1985
With a voice like an ashtray, Shane MacGowan led this fabulous disaster of an Irish folk-punk band. Produced by Elvis Costello (who married bassist Cait O'Riordan), Rum careens between the maudlin and the explosive.
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Suicide Suicide
Red Star, 1977
These New York synth punks evoke everything from the Velvet Underground to rockabilly. Martin Rev's low-budget electronics are violent and hypnotic; Alan Vega screams as a rhythmic device. Late-night listening to "Frankie Teardrop," a 10-minute-plus tale of a multiple murder, is not recommended.
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Devo Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
Warner Bros., 1978
They came from Akron, Ohio, wore matching jumpsuits and had a sinister theory of devolution. Their debut album runs on rubber-punk guitars and even more sinister mechanized New Wave beats.
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Cheap Trick In Color
Epic, 1977
They were down-home Midwestern boys from Rockford, Illinois, but Cheap Trick had a rock & roll approach as twisted as guitarist Rick Nielsen's bow ties. With blond pinup boy Robin Zander on vocals, the Trick rocked Beatles-style melodies such as "Oh Caroline," "Downed" and "Come On, Come On."
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War The World Is A Ghetto
United Artists, 1972
A badass Latin-funk band doing a song about a Latino TV show from the Fifities – that song was "The Cisco Kid," and the band was War, L.A.'s answer to P-Funk. But War were serious: The title song is a smoldering reflection on inner-city life.
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Steve Miller Band Fly Like An Eagle
Capitol, 1976
After a 1972 car accident sidelined him for nearly a year, Miller returned with a pop-rock sound that dominated Seventies radio: slick guitar boogie as catchy as Abba and as danceable as disco. "Rock 'n Me" and "Take the Money and Run" kept Eagle on the charts for nearly two years.
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MC5 Back In The USA
Atlantic, 1970
In the late Sixties, the Motor City Five were the house band for the White Panther Party, devoted to "dope, guns and fucking in the streets." But on their second album, they channel their ferocious sound and politics into the concise, Chuck Berry-like riffs of "The American Ruse," "Looking at You" and "Shaking Street."
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Stan Getz Joao Gilberto* Featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim Getz Gilberto
Verve, 1964
Brazilian bossa nova met American jazz, as saxman Getz teamed up with guitarist-singer Gilberto and pianist-composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Gilberto's wife, Astrud, became a star herself with a sensual guest vocal on "The Girl From Ipanema."
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The Police Synchronicity
A&M, 1983
"I do my best work when I'm in pain and turmoil," Sting told Rolling Stone. And indeed, the dissolution of his first marriage produced some of his best work yet, including "King of Pain" and the stalker's anthem "Every Breath You Take." There was pain and turmoil in the band, too – it would be the Police's last album.
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Big Star 3rd
PVC, 1978
Big Star recorded their third and final album in 1974, but it didn't get released until 1978, in part because singer Alex Chilton sounds like he's having a nervous breakdown. It's a record of gorgeous, disjointed heartbreak ballads.
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Jackson Browne For Everyman
Asylum, 1973
On his second album, Browne emerged as the J.D. Salinger of the L.A. singer-songwriters; songs like "These Days" (first recorded by Velvet Underground singer Nico) capture the shift from the idealistic Sixties to the disillusioned Seventies.
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Amy Winehouse Back To Black
Universal, 2007
It's sad to think back on how fresh this record sounded at the time – funny and hip, revivalist but forward-looking. Winehouse, a tatted 23-year-old with a beehive crown, matched the spirit of her R&B heroes, cussing, cracking wise and casually breaking your heart. She triggered a new era for brilliantly weird women in pop.
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John Prine John Prine
Atlantic, 1971
Prine was a mailman-turned-folk-singer, and his debut is unique in how it views American life with generosity, tolerance and wit. Prine sang about smoking dope ("Illegal Smile"), but his empathy for the old folks with "Hello in There" made most hippie songwriters sound smug.
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EPMD Strictly Business
Priority, 1988
In the summer of '88, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, a.k.a. EPMD (Erick and Parrish Making Dollars), rolled out of Long Island with a new style of slow-grooving hip-hop funk. Cut in the era before artists cleared their samples, the title jam even pilfers "I Shot the Sheriff."
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Alice Cooper Love It To Death
Warner Bros., 1971
Onstage, Cooper was the shock-rock king who decapitated baby dolls, but his early studio albums are smart, razor-sharp attacks of Detroit rock. On Love It to Death, producer Bob Ezrin joins him for the twisted kicks of "Hallowed Be My Name" and the teen-spirit anthem "I'm Eighteen."
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Los Lobos How Will The Wolf Survive?
Slash/Warner Bros., 1984
"We were kids with long hair and plaid shirts playing Mexican folk instruments," said Los Lobos' Louie Perez. But the band from East L.A. was a surprise success, mixing traditional Mexican sounds with blues and rockabilly for rough roots rock.
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Marvin Gaye Here, My Dear
Motown, 1978
It's one of the weirdest Motown records ever. Gaye's divorce settlement required him to make a new album and pay the royalties to his ex-wife – the sister of Motown boss Berry Gordy. So Gaye made this bitterly funny double LP of breakup songs, including "You Can Leave, But It's Going to Cost You."
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My Morning Jacket Z
RCA, 2005
These Kentucky boys took a giant leap forward on their fourth album – giant enough to take them from a jammy Americana band to awe-inspiring purveyors of interstellar art rock. My Morning Jacket infused Z with both Eno-esque keyboards and sculpted guitars, but also Skynyrd-style riffs and bar-band grooves.
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Elton John Tumbleweed Connection
John has always had a jones for the myth of the American West. Along with lyricist Bernie Taupin, he fully indulges those cowboy fantasies here. "Amoreena" plays unforgettably in the opening scene of the Al Pacino film Dog Day Afternoon.
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The Drifters The Drifters' Golden Hits
Atlantic, 1968
By the early 1960s, the Drifters had evolved into the most suave soul group on the block. Even after Ben E. King went solo (scoring with "Stand By Me"), producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and the Drifters kept coming up with timeless odes to urban romance such as "Up on the Roof" and "Under the Boardwalk."
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Hole (2) Live Through This
DGC, 1994
On Hole's breakthrough album, Courtney Love wants to be "the girl with the most cake," and she spends the whole album paying for it, in the melodic punk-rock anguish of "Miss World," "Softer, Softest" and "Doll Parts." Her husband Kurt Cobain's body was found just days before the album was released.
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PiL* Metal Box
Virgin, 1979
After the Sex Pistols imploded, Johnny Rotten reclaimed his real name  – John Lydon – and started a bold new band. PiL played eerie art punk with dub bass and slashing guitar. Metal Box (retitled Second Edition in the U.S.) originally came as three vinyl discs in a metal film canister.
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R.E.M. Document
I.R.S., 1987
R.E.M. were trying something new with each album in the Eighties, but this straight-ahead rock move was the one that made them mainstream stars. "The One I Love" was a hit, but the fan favorite is the manic "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)."
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Echo And The Bunnymen* Heaven Up Here
Sire, 1981
The Bunnymen refresh psychedelia for the New Wave era with an arena of foggy guitars and doomy drums, while Ian McCulloch updates the aura of Jim Morrison. Melody meets melodrama on the title track and on "A Promise," where McCulloch sing-sobs a story of love gone wrong.
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Def Leppard Hysteria
Mercury, 1987
Def Leppard had a run of bad luck in the Eighties, especially when drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in a car crash on New Year's Eve 1984. But the lads admirably stuck by their old mate, who learned to play drums using his feet. The band was vindicated when Hysteria and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" became a smash.
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The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs
Merge, 1999
The title says it all: three discs of brilliantly turned tunes about pop's signature emotion. Stephin Merritt lived out a Tin Pan Alley fantasy as he spooled his droll bass over synth pop, bubblegum, Afropop, show tunes, country and more. It's irony on steroids, but try to get through "Papa Was a Rodeo" without shedding a tear.
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Coldplay A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Capitol, 2002
Coldplay churn out bighearted British guitar rock on their second album – what Chris Martin aptly called "emotion that can make you feel sad while you're moving your legs."
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Bruce Springsteen Tunnel Of Love
Columbia, 1987
After the big-scale Born in the U.S.A., this came as a shock – an album of stark, intimate, mostly acoustic confessionals. The newly wed superstar gets personal on adult love songs such as "One Step Up" and "Walk Like a Man." The marriage didn't last – but the music does.
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The Paul Butterfield Blues Band The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Elektra, 1965
Where American white kids got the notion they could play the blues. This band had two kiler guitarists: Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop.
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Fugees The Score
Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996
Led by Wyclef Jean, the Fugees created eclectic, politically aware R&B hip-hop, but the breakout was a cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song," highlighting Lauryn Hill's amazing pipes.
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L.L. Cool J* Radio
Def Jam, 1985
L.L. Cool J was only 16 when he released his first single, "I Need a Beat." A year later, he had the first hit on the fledgling Def Jam label. The sound he and Rick Rubin found on "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" was harder and leaner than hip-hop had ever been.
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George Michael Faith
Island, 1974
Richard played guitar like a Sufi-mystic Neil Young; wife Linda had the voice of a Celtic Emmylou Harris. This is their great statement of folk-rock dread.
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Richard & Linda Thompson I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
Columbia, 1987
When Michael left Wham!, he signified his new maturity by not shaving. Thankfully, his music was still tasty pop candy – six of these songs hit the Top Five on the singles charts. "I Want Your Sex" is one of the decade's finest Prince imitations, and the best ballad is the spooky, soulful "Father Figure."
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The Smiths The Smiths
Sire, 1984
"I recognize that mystical air/It means I'd like to seize your underwear," Morrissey moans, and rock music was never the same. The Smiths' debut is a showcase for Morrissey's morose wit and Johnny Marr's guitar chime, trudging through England's cheerless marshes in "Still Ill" and "This Charming Man."
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Manu Chao Próxima Estación... Esperanza
Virgin, 2001
Globally, Chao had long been a Marley-size figure. But this gem gave Americans a taste of his wild-ass greatness. Chao rocks an acoustic guitar over horns and beat­boxes while rambling multi­lingually about crucial topics from politics to pot.
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Elvis Costello And The Attractions* Armed Forces
Columbia, 1979
Costello's third album is all tightly wound paranoia. The concept is personal politics; the original title was Emotional Fascism, and one song is called "Two Little Hitlers." The keyboard-driven sound of "Accidents Will Happen" helped define New Wave.
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The Notorious B.I.G.* Life After Death
Bad Boy, 1997
Released less than a month after Biggie's murder, the prophetic Life After Death is two CDs of humor and bravado, no filler at all, as he tops himself in "Mo Money Mo Problems" and"#!*@ You Tonight."
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Merle Haggard Down Every Road (1962 1994)
Capitol, 1996
Haggard's tough country sound was born in Bakersfield, California, a.k.a. Nashville West. His songs are full of drifters, fugitives and rogues, and this four-disc set – culled from his seminal recordings for Capitol as well as MCA and Epic – is the ultimate collection from one of country's finest singers.
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Loretta Lynn All Time Greatest Hits
MCA Nashville, 2002
Anyone who thinks a woman singing country music is cute should listen to "Fist City," where Lynn threatens to beat down a woman if she doesn't lay off her man. Seventies greats like "Rated 'X'" and "The Pill" brought feminism to the honky-tonks.
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Funkadelic Maggot Brain
Westbound, 1971
"Play like your mama just died," George Clinton told guitarist Eddie Hazel. The result was "Maggot Brain," 10 minutes of Hendrix-style guitar anguish. This is the heaviest rock album the P-Funk ever created, but it also made room for the acoustic-guitar funk of "Can You Get to That."
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Chef Raekwon* Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Loud, 1995
The best Wu-Tang solo joint is a study in understated cool and densely woven verses. Over RZA's hypnotically stark beats, Raekwon crafts breathtaking drug-rap narratives; it's a rap album that rivals the mob movies hip-hop celebrates.
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D'Angelo Voodoo
Virgin, 2000
D'Angelo recorded his second album at Electric Lady, the Manhattan studio built by Jimi Hendrix. There he studied bootleg videos of Sixties and Seventies soul singers and cooked up an album heavy on bass and drenched in a post-coital haze. The single "Untitled (How Does It Feel?)" sounds like a great lost Prince song.
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Steve Earle Guitar Town
MCA, 1986
"I got a two-pack habit and a motel tan," Earle sings on the title track. By the time he released his debut at 31, he had done two stints in Nashville as a songwriter and he wanted something else. Guitar Town is the rocker's version of country, packed with songs about hard living in the Reagan Eighties.
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Gang Of Four Entertainment!
Warner Bros., 1979
Formed in 1977, Gang of Four combined Marxist politics with punk rock. They played staccato guitar-driven funk, and the stiff, jerky aggression of songs such as "Damaged Goods" and "I Found That Essence Rare" invented a new style that influenced bands from the Minutemen to LCD Soundsystem.
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Mott The Hoople All The Young Dudes
Columbia, 1972
Mott were a hard-rock band with a Dylan fixation until David Bowie got ahold of them. He penned the androgyne title track and had them cover Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." Mott would sound more soulful but never more sexy or glittery.
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Pearl Jam Vitalogy
Epic, 1994
Their previous album, Vs., made Pearl Jam the most successful band in the world. They celebrated by suing Ticketmaster and making Vitalogy, where their mastery of rock's past and future became complete. Soulful ballads like "Nothingman" are matched by hardcore-influenced rockers such as "Spin the Black Circle."
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Earth, Wind & Fire That's The Way Of The World
Columbia, 1975
Before he got into African thumb pianos and otherworldly philosophizing, EWF founder Maurice White was a session drummer at Chess Studios. EWF's sixth album is make-out music of the gods.
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Cyndi Lauper She's So Unusual
Portrait, 1983
Lauper's first band had broken up and she was singing in a Japanese restaurant. Then this solo debut album of razor-sharp dance pop became the first by a female performer to score four Top Five hits, including "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time."
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Hüsker Dü New Day Rising
SST, 1985
These three Minneapolis dudes played savagely emotional hardcore punk that became a big influence on Nirvana, among others. The Hüskers created a rorar like garbage trucks trying to sing Beach Boys songs, especially on the anthems "Celebrated Summer" and "Perfect Example."
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Kiss Destroyer
Casablanca, 1976
By their fifth album, Kiss were the most popular band in America, with sold-out stadium tours and eventually their own pinball machine, makeup line and a TV movie. Built around the proto power ballad "Beth," this is a ridiculously over-the-top party-rock album that just gets better with age.
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ZZ Top Tres Hombres
London, 1973
A decade before the Texas blues trio became MTV stars, ZZ Top got their first taste of national fame with this disc, which features one of their biggest hits, the John Lee Hooker-style boogie "La Grange," as well as the boozy rocker "Jesus Just Left Chicago" and the concert anthem "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers."
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Albert King Born Under A Bad Sign
Stax, 1967
King's first album for the Stax label combines his hard, unflashy guitar playing with the sleek sound of the label's house band, Booker T. and the MG's. Hits such as "Crosscut Saw" and "Laundromat Blues" earned King a new rock & roll audience.
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Eurythmics Touch
RCA, 1984
Annie Lennox looked like a gender-bending cybor, but she sang with soul; producer Dave Stewart hid behind his beard and masterminded the sound. Together they made divine synth pop, especially "Who's That Girl?," a tale of kinked-up sexual obsession, and their massive hit "Here Comes the Rain Again."
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Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Nonesuch, 2002
Wilco's great leap forward was a mix of rock tradition, electronics, oddball rhythms and experimental gestures. Jeff Tweedy's lyrics pitted hope against doubt, with all bets off.
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MGMT Oracular Spectacular
Columbia, 2008
Two hipster geeks get some rad vintage keyboards and compose a suite of synthesized heartache. You don't have to figure out a word of "Kids" to feel the poignant kick of that massive keyboard hook.
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Bonnie Raitt Give It Up
Warner Bros., 1972
California darling Raitt headed to Woodstock to cut her second LP – only to face near-monsoon weather. "My house had sand and salamanders," Raitt said. She took refuge in the studio and churned out gorgeous folksy blues, including a cover of Jackson Browne's "Under the Falling Sky."
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Boz Scaggs Boz Scaggs
Atlantic, 1969
The stone-solid grooves on this underrated gem come courtesy of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section; the soulful guitar comes courtesy of Scaggs and guest Duane Allman. Together, they made "Loan Me a Dime" an FM-radio classic – more than 10 minutes of knockout blues pleading and wailing.
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The White Stripes White Blood Cells
Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001
The third album by Jack and Meg White was the right dynamite for a mainstream breakthrough. Jack's Delta-roadhouse fantasies, Detroit-garage-rock razzle and busted-love lyricism, as well as Meg's toy-thunder drumming all peaked at once.
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The Stone Roses The Stone Roses
Silvertone, 1989
For a few glorious moments, the Stone Roses looked like they might lead another British Invasion. Instead, they fell apart – but first they made this incredible album, highlighted by the ecstatic eight-minute-long "I Am the Resurrection." It single-handedly launched Nineties Brit pop.
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B.B. King Live In Cook County Jail
ABC, 1971
King was enjoying a career renaissance when he played this Chicago jail in 1970. He won over the hostile prisoners with definitive versions of his blues standards and his crossover hit "The Thrill Is Gone."
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OutKast Aquemini
LaFace, 1998
At a time when formulaic albums by Master P and Puff Daddy topped the charts, OutKast unleashed an explosive hip-hop that deployed live musicians, social commentary and a heavy dose of deep funk. Hits like "Rosa Parks" put the duo's hometown "Hotlanta" on the rap map.
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Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer
Ever the innovator, Janelle Monáe has crafted a singular, youthful pop record that is the culmination of years of silence and deflection in order to one day be free.
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