THE 71 LANDMARK ALBUMS OF THE LAST 71 YEARS (1948 ~ 2018)

When the first long-playing record was introduced by Columbia Records at a press conference in New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 1948, it was considered primarily as a boon for selling classical music, whose long form had been ill-suited to the 78rpm format – the first ever long-player was a recording of a Mendelssohn concerto. However, it wasn’t long before more popular artists saw the potential of LPs. Bing Crosby, who was at the forefront of various 20th century music technologies, from the microphone to magnetic tape, was among the first artists to see his work appear on album format – Crosby Classics, a collection of his 30s recordings released by Columbia.
Frank Sinatra took it further, understanding the narrative potential of the LP on In The Wee Small Hours (1955). Its cover art, featuring a lonesome Sinatra on a street corner swathed in a blue half-light, could have appeared on the front of a paperback novel. Its songs are like chapters dealing with different themes concerning the downside of romance – no wonder it has been described as the first “concept” album.
Jazz, meanwhile, was undergoing its own postwar evolution, graduating in seriousness, no longer just the stuff of dancehall entertainment. Artists like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker demanded a new level of attentiveness. Miles Davis pulled together sessions from 1949 and 1950 into the retrospective statement of intent that was 1957’s The Birth Of The Cool. Two years later, he released Kind Of Blue, a masterpiece of modal jazz which demonstrates that the long-player wasn’t merely a matter of quantity; that it provided a cumulative experience greater than the sum of its tracks. Other artists such as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane would go on to be defined as much by their album releases as their playing.
By the 60s, rock’n’roll became less of a 45rpm jukebox experience thanks to the arrival of a new generation of visionary composers such as Lennon & McCartney, Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds marked the passage from surfer innocence to a more adult, introspective consciousness borne of experience. To play the album right through to closing track Caroline No and the mournful toll of the train bell at its fadeout, is to feel this [though controversially, it doesn’t actually make the final cut here – Ed]. The Beatles retreated to the studio, ostensibly because of the futility of playing live but also to mark their transition from pop sensations to artists, making the most of studio technology to expand their songwriting palette, offering a listening experience that was literary, formally adventurous and sonically colourised. Pink Floyd, The Who, and The Velvet Underground also made LPs informed by a conscious, art school sensibility.
By the 70s, soul artists, led by Marvin Gaye, were breaking away from the 60s hit factories. In the early 70s, Stevie Wonder made a series of synth-based albums whose innovation was foundational for future R&B. Progressive rock took the album format to the edge of pomposity, eschewing the pop single as puerile and ephemeral. Punk blasted that conceit: the terse, three-chord 7” had come to drive out the gatefold-sleeved double album. And yet post-punk made huge additions to the album canon, from PiL’s Metal Box to Wire’s 154, Joy Division’s Closer to The Human League’s Dare.
The arrival of CDs in the mid-80s was a mixed blessing: their smaller format meant a diminution of artwork if not of scope. Meanwhile, the 80-minute storage capacity allowed artists to get away with double-LP-style indulgences over a single disc. Reissues suddenly became encumbered with extras and outtakes, add-ons to the original, carefully-sequenced LP experience. However, they did benefit classical music artists such as Górecki, Tavener and Arvo Pärt, offering the possibility of extended, immersive experiences in the post-rave ambient era. MTV’s video culture making the single the event once more; the internet and its attendant capacity for streaming and cherry-picking playlists… For some years, it has been commonplace to declare that the LP is in decline, while these days albums are seemingly released to promote tours, rather than vice versa. Certainly, it’s unlikely that the album will ever regain its old primacy. The very idea of sitting down and listening to a long-playing record from beginning to end, giving its narrative arc your undivided attention, feels like a daunting feat of endurance in an era of multiple distractions. And yet the album remains resilient, precisely because none of the forces that have assailed it have been for the better; it has yet to be exceeded as a format for fully-realised creative expression. After 70 years, the long-player still has a long future.
And so to our 70 Landmark Albums list. What, you say, no Pink Floyd? The Who? Marvin Gaye? Edgar Broughton Band? Certainly, there are what seem like glaring omissions. No Pet Sounds, for example? Well, that’s partly to do with the criteria of the list. Firstly, we only permitted one album per artist, be they The Beatles or Burial (though some appear a second, even third, time in the “runners-up” lists under each entry – those runners-up should, together, provide a broader view of RC’s music tastes). So, no Sergeant Pepper’s; in our judgment, though important in its time, the debut Velvet Underground album, less recognised in its day, was worthier of inclusion for its longer-lasting reach and influence. Gaye’s What’s Going On gave way for Led Zeppelin IV while Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon had the misfortune of being released the same year as Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. The emphasis was on influence more than immediate impact, future significance rather than blockbuster sales, critical rather than commercial success – hence, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Kraftwerk’s Autobahn rather than, say, a Thriller, a Be Here Now or Brothers In Arms.
Still, no doubt you’ll find plenty to debate here, even as you luxuriate once more in the brilliance of these 70 classics….

1948: Stan Kenton And His Orchestra - A Presentation Of Progressive Jazz, 1949: Frankie Laine - Frankie Laine Favorites, 1950: Les Paul - The New Sound, 1951: Sister Rosetta - Tharpe Blessed Assurance, 1952: Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie - Bird & Diz, 1953: Peggy Lee - Black Coffee, 1954: Chet Baker - Chet Baker Sings, 1955: Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours, 1956: Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley, 1957: Little Richard - Here’s Little Richard, 1958: Nina Simone - Little Girl Blue, 1959: Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue, 1960: Muddy Waters - At Newport, 1961: Robert Johnson - King Of The Delta Blues Singers, 1962: Howlin’ Wolf - Howlin’ Wolf, 1963: James Brown - Live At The Apollo, 1964: The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones, 1965: Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited, 1966: The Beatles - Revolver, 1967: The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1968: THE Jimi Hendrix EXPERIENCE - Electric Ladyland, 1969: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica, 1970: Neil Young - After The Goldrush, 1971: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV, 1972: David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust, 1973: Stevie Wonder - Innervisions, 1974: Kraftwerk - Autobahn, 1975: Patti Smith - Horses, 1976: Ramones - Ramones, 1977: Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, 1978: Elvis Costello - This Year’s Model, 1979: Talking Heads - Fear Of Music, 1980: Joy Division - Closer, 1981: The Human League - Dare, 1982: ABC - The Lexicon Of Love, 1983: Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones, 1984: Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome, 1985: Kate Bush - The Hounds Of Love, 1986: The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead, 1987: Prince - Sign “O” The Times, 1988: My Bloody Valentine - Isn’t Anything, 1989: Beastie Boys - Paul’s Boutique, 1990: Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet, 1991: Nirvana - Nevermind, 1992: Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works, 1993: Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang, 1994: Portishead - Dummy, 1995: The Chemical Brothers - Exit Planet Dust, 1996: DJ Shadow - Endtroducing, 1997: Radiohead - OK Computer, 1998: Mercury Rev - Deserter’s Songs, 1999: Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin, 2000: OutKast - Stankonia, 2001: The Strokes - Is This It, 2002: The Streets - Original Pirate Material, 2003: Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner, 2004: Arcade Fire - Funeral, 2005: Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel The Illinoise, 2006: Amy Winehouse - Back To Black, 2007: LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver, 2008: Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes, 2009: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2010: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2011: PJ Harvey - Let England Shake, 2012: Frank Ocean - Channel Orange, 2013: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories, 2014: D'Angelo And The Vanguard - Black Messiah, 2015: Tame Impala - Currents, 2016: Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker, 2017: Kendrick Lamar - DAMN
-- VinylWorld.org

Stan Kenton And His Orchestra - A Presentation Of Progressive Jazz (1948)
While the bebop revolution, led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, was raging in New York at the end of World War II, in California bandleader and pianist, Stan Kenton, was also breaking new ground with what he called “progressive” jazz. Though the traditional big band swing sound was deemed passé and small groups seemed to represent the future of jazz, Kenton persisted with large ensembles. His concept, though, was radically different from the likes of Basie and Ellington, and he incorporated the advanced vocabulary of bebop with intricately-arranged Latin rhythms and avant-garde orchestration to create filmic soundscapes. But Kenton’s modernism didn’t appear to daunt the public and this 1948 LP, whose formal title suggested an academic dissertation, made No 1 in the US. Singer June Christy was spotlighted on some tracks (she contributes a spoken poetic narration on the compelling This Is My Theme), as well as Maynard Ferguson, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, and Art Pepper, all of whom would go on to be in the vanguard of west coast cool jazz and establish stellar solo careers. Kenton’s innovations would also be adopted by Hollywood film composers in the 50s, helping to create the noir jazz sound. Even today, the music sounds bold and daringly experimental. CW

Runners-up: Edith Piaf Chansons Des Café De Paris, Bing Crosby Merry Christmas.
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Frankie Laine - Frankie Laine Favorites (1949)
A big-voiced Italian-American performer from Chicago, Frankie Laine (whose nicknames ranged from “Old Leather Lungs” to “Mr Steel Tonsils”) emerged in the first wave of successful solo singers at the end of World War II. His popularity helped to oust the swing-oriented big bands that had held sway since the 30s and ushered in the age of the solo artist. Laine scored his debut hit, That’s My Desire, for Chicago’s then recently-founded Mercury label in 1947, when he was 34. Boasting a powerful declamatory delivery that was immediately recognisable, he lit up the charts, first in the US, and then later in the UK (where he racked up 33 chart entries between 1952 and 1961, including four No 1s). Significantly, he was one of the first performers to take advantage of the LP format when it was unveiled in 1948 and quickly became a pioneer of the new medium. His debut album, Frankie’s Favorites – which contained his earlier smash, That’s My Desire – was a prototypical greatest hits collection that found Laine wrapping his tonsils around standards like Georgia On My Mind, On The Sunny Side Of The Street and Shine, all delivered in his inimitable style. Laine’s influence was enormous – Tony Bennett and Tom Jones are his musical descendants – aiding the rise of the male crooner and helping to popularise the nascent album format. CW

Runners-up: Andres Segovia Guitar Solos, Frank Sinatra Frankly Sentimental.
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Les Paul - The New Sound (1950)
While electrified blues guitar had been pioneered by Lonnie Johnson, it was California-based Les Paul’s invention of his self-named solid body model that gave rock’n’roll its essential new tool, while his studio experiments brought overdubs, tape delay and other effects. Though built around standards such as Brazil, Caravan, The Man On The Flying Trapeze and By The Light of the Silvery Moon, The New Sound aptly described Paul’s then-startling multi-track pyramids, sneaky electronic tweaks and liquid virtuoso guitar flights. KN

Runners-up: Woody Guthrie Talking Dust Bowl, Charlie Parker Charlie Parker With Strings.
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Sister Rosetta - Tharpe Blessed Assurance (1951)
The most flamboyant of gospel performers, the mink fur-clad Sister Rosetta Tharpe, from Cotton Plant, Arkansas, was one of the first to take the electric guitar, the devil’s vessel, into the church and from that moment she became a catalyst for much of what has followed since. Her 1938 debut Rock Me lay the foundation for rock’n’roll, capturing her incendiary guitar playing with its inimitable grit and her mezzo soprano voice and its powerful tremor. The song also made her gospel music’s first crossover star. Such was her appeal that she was one of only two gospel acts asked to cut V-discs for overseas servicemen during World War II. She performed at Harlem’s Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall and singles such as 1939’s This Train, with its pop keen, and 1945’s Strange Things Happening Everyday, a mesh of blues and the sanctified, pushed the possibilities of gospel further towards rock and soul and lent her the sobriquet “original soul sister”. The latter was also the first gospel record to make Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade, later to become the “race” chart, then the R&B chart, peaking at No 2. In 1951 she went back to her roots on Blessed Assurance, a collection of hymns – Amazing Grace, What A Friend We Have In Jesus et al – on which her performance is terrifying in its commitment and feeling. Backed by NY harmony group The Rosettes, she delivers a landmark in gospel and female church vocals, capturing within her emotional expression everything that makes us human. LW

Runners-up: Hank Williams Hank Williams Sings, Duke Ellington Ellington Uptown, Thelonious Monk Genius Of Modern Music.
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Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie - Bird & Diz (1952)
Born from early 40s Harlem club jams, bebop’s punk-presaging earthquake set a blueprint for the future (incurring hostility from traditionalists) as jazz’s modernist superstars unleashed quicksilver horn dogfights over rapid-fire grooves. Inestimably influential alto genius Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s last joint session was June 1950, New York, when, with visionary shape-shifting pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Buddy Rich and bassist Curley Russell, they revisited recent material. Two 1949 Bird recordings completed the 10”. By this LP’s 1956 UK release, Bird was dead. KN

Runners-up: Various Artists Anthology Of American Folk Music, Billie Holiday Billie Holiday Sings.
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Peggy Lee - Black Coffee (1953)
This LPwas hugely influential in terms of helping to establish the themed concept album as a viable artistic statement. It also transformed a former big band singer from North Dakota, born Norma Dolores Egstrom, into a seductive, torch-song vamp. With its noir vibe and aura of smouldering eroticism, Lee perfected an intimate, caressing vocal style that was understated but instantly recognisable and much imitated. The album’s influence can be detected in the music of many subsequent female singers, from Joni Mitchell and Madonna to Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Rey. CW

Runners-up: Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins With The Modern Jazz Quartet, Moondog Moondog And His Friends.
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Chet Baker - Chet Baker Sings (1954)
A fluid, intuitive jazz trumpeter with Hollywood idol looks, Baker’s first vocal album (after five instrumental releases) proved he was also no slouch as a crooner. The original eight-song, 10” vinyl version included nuanced readings of standards by the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart and Sammy Cahn, its success spawning a 12” pressing with six additional tracks two years later. A belated award-winner, in 2001 the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, set up to honour recordings of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” TS

Runners-up: Sarah Vaughan Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra Songs For Young Lovers, Judy Garland A Star Is Born.
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Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours (1955)
This was Sinatra’s first bona fide masterpiece, coming at a time of a creative and commercial resurgence at Capitol after his career had dramatically dipped and reached a depressing nadir in the early 50s. Dumped by Columbia and shunned by Hollywood, Capitol took a chance on Sinatra and turned his bad luck into good. At his new label, the Hoboken singer thoroughly reinvented himself. He left behind his bobbysoxer teen idol years, transforming into a suited, trilby-wearing, saloon singer who could swing but also philosophise on love, fate, and life. In The Wee Small Hours is a concept album conceived as a song-cycle that focuses on the vicissitudes of romance, with themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and unrequited love. Its tone is mostly sombre and reflectedthe profound sense of loss that Sinatra felt having just broken up with tempestuous movie star Ava Gardner. The material, magnificently arranged by Nelson Riddle, includes fabulous readings of standards I Get Along Very Well Without You and DeepIn A Dream, and finds Sinatra showing a vulnerability that belied his tough guy image. Though his swing and swagger seemed to have evaporated here, the emphasis on slow ballads helped to make the album an enthralling, immersive experience.Capitol initially released the album in two parts, spread over a brace of 10” LPs before it came out as a 12”. As well as resurrecting Sinatra’s waning career, In The Wee Small Hours showed how an artist could use the long-playing record formatas a powerful tool to enhance his or her image and revolutionised the way that singers and musicians could present their music. CW

Runners-up: Bill Haley Rock Around The Clock, Hank Williams Ramblin’ Man, Julie London Julie Is Her Name, Fats Domino Rock And Rollin’.
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Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley (1956)
“A-one for the money.” Literally so, the LP that proved an album’s worth of pop music could sell by the million. Having just secured Presley’s services for the then-record sum of $40,000, RCA rushed out this hastily-assembled debut eager to recoup on their investment. As big a bang for teenage consumer capitalism as it was for rock’n’roll, while Presley would make better albums, as far as the history books are concerned this first cut, a cultural revolution at 33 1/3, will always be the deepest. SG

Runners-up: Frank Sinatra Songs For Swingin’ Lovers, Billie Holiday Lady Sings The Blues.
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Little Richard - Here’s Little Richard (1957)
Having notched up six Top 40 entries in 12 months, Richard’s debut album was a hits-packed affair, kicking off with what was his de facto signature tune, Tutti Frutti, and bolstered by the likes of Long Tall Sally, Ready Teddy and Rip It Up. In truth, the backbone of his musical style owed much to the New Orleans R&B of most of the previous decade, but the singer’s trademark howl makes the album a key text in the emergence of rock’n’roll. TS

Runners-up: Miles Davis Birth Of The Cool, Ray Charles Ray Charles, Chuck Berry After School Session, Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar, Sam Cooke Sam Cooke.
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Nina Simone - Little Girl Blue (1958)
Her exceptional debut, basically a live set recorded in a New York studio with bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Tootie Heath, fanfares the arrival of a singer, songwriter, interpreter and pianist, fully-formed on what would become her greatest hits: Love Me Or Leave Me, I Loves You Porgy, My Baby Just Cares For Me. With an approach bridging jazz and pop and nudging towards the yet-to-be-named soul, Simone stares down demons with a bluesy depth of feeling and a classically-trained precision. LW

Runners-up: Billie Holiday Lady In Satin, Buddy Holly Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis Jerry Lee Lewis.
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Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue (1959)
What began as a routine recording session and off-the-cuff experiment in modal jazz resulted in a game-changing LP that redefined the art of improvisation with its emphasis on playing in set scales over minimal, open-ended chord changes. Though it quickly became jazz’s biggest-selling LP of all time, its introspective tone and cool, melancholic aura has had deeper cultural ramifications over the ensuing years, impacting on art and film as well as pop and rock music. The enduring appeal of this album is the timelessness of its performances. CW

Runners-up: Ornette Coleman The Shape Of Jazz To Come, Ray Charles The Genius Of Ray Charles, Howlin’ Wolf Moanin’ In The Moonlight, Chuck Berry Chuck Berry Is On Top.
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Muddy Waters - At Newport (1960)
When Muddy Waters appeared at Newport Jazz Festival he had several US R&B hits to his name and had also performed in the UK. But in his native US, he was still more used to playing juke joints on Chicago’s south side than performing at festivals. Newport was important as it introduced him to a white home audience and the album captures the trepidation then excitement that came with that. A bragging Hoochie Coochie Man and swinging Baby Please Don’t Go work up the audience before Feel So Good and a two-part Got My Mojo Working has them screaming and dancing in the aisles as Waters’ soulful baritone, James Cotton’s wailing harmonica and Otis Spann’s pounding piano drive them into submission. At Newport is significant not just as a vital document of live Chicago electric blues but also for the effect it had on listeners, particularly in the UK where it was a catalyst for the creation of British blues. Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated covered his I Got My Brand On You and Tiger In Your Tank on R&B From The Marquee in 1962, generally regarded as the first British blues album. It was also the first album bought by one Mick Jagger. JH

Runners-up: Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain, John Coltrane Giant Steps, Joan Baez Joan Baez, Etta James At Last!, The Ventures Walk Don’t Run.
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Robert Johnson - King Of The Delta Blues Singers (1961)
Even Robert Johnson’s face was shrouded in myth when Columbia compiled these late 30s 78s at the dawn of the 60s. The painted sleeve views a hunched black man from above, photos being as unknown as clear facts about the supposedly taught-by-Satan player. This release was perfectly timed to become a touchstone of the R&B and blues-rock booms, not least in the idea of Johnson as a demon-dogged prototype for Keef. Maybe it shouldn’t matter that, as Marybeth Hamilton’s book In Search Of The Blues: Black Voices, White Visions (2007) uncomfortably explains, its attendant mythology of primal bluesmen arising from a swampy, Civil War-haunted Delta was invented by competing collectors around the time of the album’s release. They coined the phrases “country blues” and “Delta blues”, and, beginning in 1961, promoted obscure artists such as Johnson on Origins Jazz Library LPs. These convinced Columbia to release Johnson’s debut LP, the same year as that of the similarly myth-shrouded Bob Dylan. When a Johnson photo was finally published in 1986, the hip, white-shirted young man staring coolly at you (he was fatally poisoned at 26) was revealed to be a more modern, urbane figure. His youthful, keening voice, jolting, leaping guitar and richly resourceful songwriting should outlive the legends. NH

Runners-up: Bobby Bland Two Steps From The Blues, Roy Orbison Lonely And Blue, The Shadows The Shadows.
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Howlin’ Wolf - Howlin’ Wolf (1962)
Chester Burnett aka. Howlin’ Wolf’s roots were in the Delta, with Charley Patton a particular inspiration, but his second album, a collection of 1957-1961 single sides, is a pinnacle of post-war Chicago blues. Wolf’s growled vocals, eerie moans, raw guitar and occasional harmonica are joined on most tracks by his longterm side-man: the brilliant, fluid and original guitarist Hubert Sumlin, whose inventive, melodic guitar lines and hypnotic riffs are as influential as Wolf himself. His 1959 debut LP Moanin’ In The Moonlight was self-penned. Here, though, nine of the 12 tracks are from Chess Records’ musical director, bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon. Wolf sometimes resented Dixon, telling the author Peter Guralnick, “I can do my own songs better.” Fact is, many of Wolf’s best recordings resulted from their collaboration. Now blues standards, Dixon’s The Red Rooster, Spoonful, and Back Door Man were perfect vehicles for Wolf’s menacing, predatory persona while the blues stomper Wang Dang Doodle proved Wolf and his band could rock any party. The impact was immense: the Stones took The Red Rooster (as Little Red Rooster) to No 1 in 1964, and the Wolf appeared with them on Shindig! in 1965. Meanwhile, Cream covered Spoonful and The Doors tackled Back Door Man. JH

Runners-up: Ray Charles Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, Bob Dylan Bob Dylan, Booker T & The MGs Green Onions.
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James Brown - Live At The Apollo (1963)
His 1957 debut 45, Please Please Please, and 1959’s follow-up, Try Me, created soul prototypes with their achingly sublime pleading and fall-to-the-knees pathos. But no one was quite prepared for James Brown’s Live At The Apollo, which introduced the live recording as an exhilarating and innovative art form. The album almost didn’t happen: Brown’s label boss, Syd Nathan, thought the idea stank from the beginning but a determined Brown went ahead with his plan, funding it himself. Recorded on 24 October 1962 during a week-long residency at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and issued the following year, it gave Brown both his first million-selling album and his first hit LP, peaking at No 2 in the US pop chart and remaining on the Top 100 for 66 weeks. At just over half-an-hour long, it captures Brown at his peak, at a show that dripped sweaty excitement and thrills. First, there’s his voice: bluesy one minute, soulful the next, with a vocal delivery interjected with excitable yelps and screams. Then there are the eight songs, from I’ll Go Crazy to Night Train, taking in Try Me and Think, each one a future classic. Finally, there is the sheer physical agency of Brown’s performance, during which he pushes himself to his absolute limit. His Famous Flames (led by Bobby Byrd) and band (led by trumpeter Lewis Hamlin) are animated, too, matching Brown’s every move. Such was its huge success, Brown set the tapes rolling at the Apollo again in 1968 for Live At The Apollo Volume II and in 1971 for Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo Volume III. He would record his last live album there, too, in 1994: conceived as Volume IV, it was issued as Live At The Apollo 1995. LW

Runners-up: Bob Dylan The Freewheelin’, The Beatles Please Please Me, Charles Mingus The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady, The Beach Boys Surfer Girl.
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The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones (1964)
It was The Rolling Stones’ beloved Bo Diddley, via the words of fellow blues hero Willie Dixon, who famously decreed, You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover. But where the Stones’ debut was concerned, Diddley was wrong. Compare it to that of The Beatles, released 13 months earlier: four cheeky young chappies smiling down from above in broad daylight, their name on the cover beseeching Please Please Me. And then The Rolling Stones: five grimacing ne’er do wells in chilling chiaroscuro, untitled and anonymous, their sullen askance-to-camera glances making it very clear they’ve no intention of pleasing anyone but themselves. As a daringly text-free cover (save for the Decca logo), Nicholas Wright’s portrait told you everything you needed to know about young masters Jagger, Richards, Jones, Watts and Wyman before they’d even plugged in the Dansette. Popular music would never be the same again because – “lock up your daughters!” – the Bad Lads were here.Recorded in five days in a basement studio in London’s Denmark Street, aided by a chance visit from Phil Spector and Gene Pitney bearing a bottle of Napoleon brandy (which, once drained, was stuffed with a few coins and turned into a maraca), most of its dozen tracks were the devotional labours of obsessive suburban London R&B fanatics desperate to spread the then-largely-unknown gospels of their sacred Diddley, Dixon, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed and his holiness Chuck Berry. The 20-years-old Jagger and Richards, still in their songwriting infancy, stretched to using their “Nanker Phelge” pseudonym on two lesser fillers but were justly proud of the gorgeously simple Tell Me, the first Stones track to bear their soon-to-be imperial composer credit. No less groundbreaking were manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s sleevenotes: “The Rolling Stones are more than just a group – they are a way of life.” A glorious new age of pop pretension, propaganda and hype had arrived. SG

Runners-up: The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night, Bob Dylan Another Side Of Bob Dylan, The Kinks The Kinks.
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Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
It starts with Like A Rolling Stone and ends with Desolation Row. The compromise acoustic side of Dylan’s first 1965 classic, Bringing It All Back Home, has been jettisoned. Released in August, as he began the long war of his jeered electric world tour with The Hawks, rock music had arrived: the British Invasion brought back home, made folk-literate, and steeped in acid-surreal Americana. The record has a rangy, wide-open sound, riding on Al Kooper’s organ, and punched home by the relentless, rough-grained attack of Dylan’s voice – the most unapologetic, punk sound of the 60s. The emotional and actual fascism which haunt the lone acoustic epic, Desolation Row, would be pumped up by Elvis Costello a decade later, but its romantic yearning cuts Highway 61’s cocky assault with kindness. NH

Runners-up: John Coltrane A Love Supreme, The Beatles Rubber Soul, The Beach Boys Today!, Otis Redding Otis Blue, The Who My Generation, BB King Live At The Regal.
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The Beatles - Revolver (1966)
Nineteen sixty-six was the point at which rock transitioned from Innocence to Experience (Hendrix was fast approaching) and this was marked by The Beatles with Revolver. This was the album on which they were reborn as a studio entity (they’d retired as a live band) and on which they give full rein to their creative imaginations using all that technology (and pharmaceuticals) had to offer. The disparity is evident between McCartney’s superb facility for MOR (Eleanor Rigby, For No One) and Lennon’s more raw, serrated approach (I’m Only Sleeping), while Harrison emerges as a songwriting talent in his own right with I Want To Tell You and Taxman. DS

Runners-up: The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, Bob Dylan Blonde On Blonde, The Rolling Stones Aftermath, The Mothers Of Invention Freak Out!, The Byrds Fifth Dimension, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton, The Yardbirds Roger The Engineer.
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The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
While the world went Technicolor in 1967, The Velvet Underground released an album recorded nearly a year earlier which no record label would touch and spooked the one they landed. Barely recognised in their four-year lifetime, the album sent shockwaves that have resonated ever since. The year saw many albums that defined the countercultural mood, including the innovative retro of Sgt Pepper’s and monumental sets from Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Cream, Traffic, Love and more that captured the magical era. And yet, as Brian Eno declared, those few that were thrilled by TVU&N shaped rock’n’roll’s future (including early champion, David Bowie). Shunned at the time, TVU&N (like electronic punks Suicide’s debut 10 years later) was a blast from the city’s subterranean underbelly that, reflecting their charged-up idiosyncratic creators, painted vivid pictures that took years to hit home. No wonder the NYC mid-70s punk generation recognised them as sonic forebears. TVU&N (and 1968’s equally astonishing White Light White Heat) hasn’t lost its unique power or lyrical mystique. It catches this disparate ensemble in their first flush as Tin Pan Alley songwriter Lou Reed joined avant-classical electric viola-player John Cale to thrust minimalist punk attitude into rock’n’roll, bolstered by skin-tight guitarist Sterling Morrison and androgynous sticks-woman Maureen Tucker pounding her upturned bass drum with mallets, the band’s scabrous gutter groove bathed in the surreal, speed-driven excess of Warhol’s multi-media Exploding Plastic Inevitable onslaughts. Recorded in NYC’s decrepit Scepter Studios, then TTG in LA, with Dylan producer Tom Wilson, Warhol’s “production”, such as it was, was limited to insisting the band retain “dirty” words as they hammered junk-generation parables such as Heroin, I’m Waiting For The Man, Run Run Run, The Black Angel’s Death Song and European Son, all offset by Nico’s luminescent ballads I’ll Be Your Mirror, Femme Fatale and the booming All Tomorrow’s Parties. Worlds apart from the hippie culture they despised, TVU&N was wilder and more dangerous than anything in California or London. And Warhol’s banana sleeve helped the US first pressing become one of the world’s most desirable collectables. KN

Runners-up: The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s, The Who The Who Sell Out, Pink Floyd Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, The Doors The Doors, Love Forever Changes, Cream Disraeli Gears.
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THE Jimi Hendrix EXPERIENCE - Electric Ladyland (1968)
“I’m a million miles away, and at the same time I’m right here in your picture frame,” sings Jimi Hendrix on Voodoo Chile, the 15-minute jam as opposed to the more concise “slight return” of the hit single. Electric Ladyland is full of such contradictions and paradoxes. On the one hand, manager Chas Chandler bemoaned Hendrix’s perfectionism; on the other, New York’s Record Plant was chaotic, with Noel Redding describing crowds of hangers-on, making it more a party than a session. Even within its four sides, it lurches manically from extended, indulgent wig-outs to tight, taut, riff raffia. Yet its consummate command of both the lucid and the loose means it’s still breathtaking today. Hendrix’s final work with The Experience saw him fusing heavy rock, funk, psychedelia and proto-prog, pushing his vision to the limit and painting the colour-blind music he heard in his head. He rewrote the rules of the concept album, and with engineer Eddie Kramer experimenting with echo, flanging, backward tapes and more, took sound into new spaces while My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields was still a nipper. A generation of stoners got it, while the gateway drugs of Crosstown Traffic and All Along The Watchtower lure in newcomers evermore. CR

Runners-up: The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet, Van Morrison Astral Weeks, The Beatles The Beatles, The Small Faces Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, The Byrds Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, The Kinks Village Green, The Band Music From Big Pink, The Mothers Of Invention We’re Only In It For The Money, The Moody Blues In Search Of The Lost Chord, The Pretty Things SF Sorrow, The Zombies Odessey & Oracle, Aretha Franklin Lady Soul.
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Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica (1969)
Regarded by some critics as rock’s equivalent to James Joyce’s Ulysses in literature – an avant garde endurance test – Trout Mask Replica, produced by Frank Zappa, was certainly made in gruelling conditions for the musicians of Beefheart’s Magic Band. For all his Mad Hatter appearance and free-ranging eccentricity, Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, was a veritable Captain Bligh when it came to running a band. Rehearsals took place in a house in Woodlands Hills, Ensenada Drive, CA, and the players were restricted to quarters and systematically broken down by Beefheart as if kidnapped by a cult. All of this was designed to make them instruments of his will, though the sheer cruelty of the tactic, involving near-starvation and physical violence, remains troubling. The results, however, were as joyful as life was miserable for its makers, a completely new index of possibilities for off-kilter rock music-making, one which would go on to inspire a host of bands, from XTC to Pavement. A track like opener Frownland sounds like the chaos of a band tripping over and tumbling down wooden stairs until the polyrhythmic logic falls into place before your very ears. Styles referenced and turned inside-out include R&B, ancient blues (China Pig), free jazz (Beefheart honked on sax and clarinet like his hero Ornette Coleman), though no category could imprison the likes of Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish, which swims through like a mutant creature from a Bruegelian nightmare. Beefheart’s lyrics, meanwhile, hollered like a surrealist Howlin’ Wolf, are a clamour of hilarity, Lear-esque absurdism, impassioned rage (Dachau Blues) – a happy madness to defy the insanity of the “straight” world. And throughout Zoot Horn Rollo proves the most loyal and effective of wingmen, his mazy playing sliding up and down and every which way across the guitar, especially effective considering what he was forced to endure to achieve it. DS

Runners-up: The Beatles Abbey Road, King Crimson In The Court Of The Crimson King, Led Zeppelin II, Nick Drake Five Leaves Left, The Band The Band, Frank Zappa Hot Rats, Miles Davis In A Silent Way, The Stooges The Stooges, Dusty Springfield Dusty In Memphis, Sly & The Family Stone Stand!, Fairport Convention Liege & Lief, MC5 Kick Out The Jams, Tim Buckley Happy/Sad, Scott Walker Scott 4, Laura Nyro New York Tendaberry, Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered Soul, Leonard Cohen Songs From A Room.
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Neil Young - After The Goldrush (1970)
Given the current fragmentation of the media and music industry, it’s hard to imagine a present-day protest song being absorbed into popular culture as swiftly as Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s Ohio, which, in 1970, provided immediate commentary on the shooting of four unarmed students by national guardsmen during a protest at Kent State University on 4 May. The band cut the track on 21 May, and by August it had reached No 14 on the Billboard chart.Kent State came in the wake of the Altamont Festival in December 1969, at which Meredith Hunter was fatally stabbed during The Rolling Stones’ set, by a member of the Hells Angels hired to provide stage security. CSN&Y were on the bill earlier that day, Graham Nash among many commentators to characterise Altamont as delivering a terminal blow to the hopes of the counterculture. Though Neil Young’s third solo album, After The Gold Rush, released that September, took its title from an unfilmed screenplay by Dean Stockwell and Herb Bermann, it served as a pertinent metaphor for the downcast spirit of the times. Young initially attempted to make the record with Crazy Horse, augmented by a teenage Nils Lofgren on piano, but abandoned the idea after tracking Oh, Lonesome Me and I Believe In You, due to the debilitating effects of the heroin addiction which would eventually claim the life of guitarist Danny Whitten. Retaining Lofgren and drummer Ralph Molina, and adding CSN&Y bassist Greg Reeves and pianist Jack Nietzsche, Young completed the sessions in the basement of his California home. Whitten would later add his voice to the enveloping harmonies central to the album’s lasting charm.In contrast to the righteous anger and stark commentary of Ohio, …Gold Rush… was predominantly a warming blend of acoustic folk and country tones, overlaid lyrically with more ambiguous imagery which spoke to the mood of the moment and endures today. The world-weary perspective of Tell Me Why and Only Love Can Break Your Heart is balanced by upbeat groove-rocker When You Dance I Can Really Love and the understated power of Don’t Let It Bring You Down. The scathing Southern Man provided an atypical exception to the overall feel, its portrayal of Southerners as red-neck racists prompting an emphatic rebuttal from Lynyrd Skynrd via Sweet Home Alabama, one of the great “answer records” of all time. Derided by some critics on release, After The Gold Rush nevertheless struck a chord with Young’s fanbase, and with a wider audience receptive to the emergent singer-songwriter movement, ranked among his highest selling albums. It is widely considered to be an essential high watermark inhis extensive, wildly eclectic catalogue. RD

Runners-up: Black Sabbath Black Sabbath, Simon & Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water, Tim Buckley Starsailor, John Lennon John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Led Zeppelin III, George Harrison All Things Must Pass, The Stooges Fun House, Miles Davis Bitches Brew, The Beatles Let It Be, The Velvet Underground Loaded, Grateful Dead American Beauty, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Déjà Vu.
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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Hard to credit today, but in its time, IV (actually, its title comprises four symbols) was considered a “comeback” album for Zep, having released no material or gigged for a whole year. It was a stormer, however, raising the bar of 70s rock in terms of volume, density and epic scale. Stairway To Heaven, with its Tolkien-esque progression, is the obvious standout, but it has strong competition. Black Dog is a crashing opener, barrelling through the doors to show the emergent likes of Black Sabbath who the true Daddies of the riff are. The Battle Of Evermore plucks memorably at the pastoral string in Zeppelin’s bow, featuring Sandy Denny alongside Plant on vocals, while When The Levee Breaks, drawing from a 1929 Memphis Minnie blues record, shows that, while Zep devilishly stole from the blues, they also inflated it for modern times, invested it with thunder and lightning, a physicality unavailable to its originators, John Bonham sounding as though he’s drumming with tree trunks. DS

Runners-up: The Beach Boys Surf’s Up, The Doors LA Woman, Carole King Tapestry, David Bowie Hunky Dory, Marvin Gaye What’s Going On, Sly & The Family Stone There’s A Riot Going On, The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, The Who Who’s Next, Joni Mitchell Blue, Pink Floyd Meddle, Can Tago Mago, Yes Fragile, Nick Drake Bryter Layter, John Lennon Imagine, T. Rex Electric Warrior, Jethro Tull Aqualung, Funkadelic Maggot Brain, Serge Gainsbourg Histoire de Melody Nelson, Comus First Utterance. Faust Faust.
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David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust (1972)
Bowie’s breakthrough in the guise of an androgynous alien rock superstar was explicit in its posturing and implicit in its signposting of a new decade. Alluding to the deaths of 60s messiahs Hendrix, Morrison and Joplin, it did more than blow the bloody doors off, opening up pathways for the 70s, with sexuality and decadence given fresh fields to romp in at glam’s dawn. It remains quieter than its reputation: strongly-crafted songs beautifully performed. The melodrama of Five Years and Rock’n’Roll Suicide bookend a resonant rock opera which induced teenage dreamers to make love with their egos. CR

Runners-up: Neu! Neu!, Steely Dan Can’t Buy A Thrill, The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street, Todd Rundgren Something/Anything?, Yes Close To The Edge, Nick Drake Pink Moon, Lou Reed Transformer, Deep Purple Machine Head, Genesis Foxtrot, Big Star No 1 Record, Curtis Mayfield Superfly, Roxy Music Roxy Music.
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Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)
Wonder at the prolific peak of his early 70s powers, on a record whose social conscience was ripped straight from the headlines of the times, addressing drug abuse (Too High) and racial tension (Living For The City, Higher Ground), before closing with a barbed attack on recently re-elected President Nixon (He’s Misstra Know-It-All). Stevie plays every instrument on seven of its nine tracks, most significantly an ARP synthesizer, making him one of the first black artists to embrace new technology on a major scale. It remained on the Billboard charts for an unbroken run of two-and-a-half years. TS

Runners-up: Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon, Marvin Gaye Let’s Get It On, Neu! Neu! 2, Steely Dan Countdown To Ecstasy, David Bowie Aladdin Sane, Todd Rundgren A Wizard, A True Star, 10cc 10cc, The Stooges Raw Power, New York Dolls New York Dolls, Mike Oldfield Tubular Bells, Paul McCartney & Wings Band On the Run.
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Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)
The conventional wisdom that The Beatles were the most important band of all time is probably correct. However, argument that Kraftwerk sit just behind them in second place is strong indeed. Though relatively few suspected it at the time, this was the album (their fourth) with which they unveiled the freeway of the future. Kraftwerk are strangely coy about their pre-Autobahn history. In their live shows, they like to imply that they came trundling off their own conveyor belt, fully-formed and manufactured, with this album. However, they’d been growing towards it with their first three albums, on tracks like Tanzmusik from 1973’s Ralf And Florian. This, though, was their most conceptually precise and fully-realised work to date. Its centrepiece remains the 23-minute title track, which is, from the moment of its simulated key in the ignition, a sonic transcription of a car journey, using an electronic palette. We move through the gears, soon reaching the open, grey ribbon of the motorway, the verdant scenery gliding by as represented by Florian Schneider’s flute (the last time that instrument, once so central, was used on a Kraftwerk record), before we hit heavier traffic, whizzing by in the wing mirrors; finally, the long, curving road home as the evening draws in. By simple dint of being German, Kraftwerk were assumed to have Nazi leanings by some of the Basil Fawltys of the 70s music press, while others considered their bland celebration of the Autobahn to be somehow a hymn of praise to Nazi efficiency. In fact, the first stretch of Autobahn was built in the Weimar era, while Kraftwerk’s musical approach was based on the Bauhaus idea of art and everyday function melding as one. Hence, the deceptively serene celebration throughout their work of the thrumming, untroubled relationship between man and machine. Though always conscious of the past, of bygone artistic ideals, Kraftwerk regarded themselves as a musical component in their country’s spiritual postwar reconstruction. A new music, West German in origin rather than imitative of Anglo-American rock norms. This imperative for innovation duly led to the reconfiguration of pop along more electronic lines: from synthpop to techno, subsequent decades would owe a huge debt to Autobahn. DS

Runners-up: Big Star Radio City, 10cc Sheet Music, Neil Young On The Beach, Todd Rundgren Todd, Can Soon Over Babaluma, Steely Dan Pretzel Logic, Genesis The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, King Crimson Red, Supertramp Crime Of The Century, Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom, David Bowie Diamond Dogs, Queen Sheer Heart Attack, Joni Mitchell Court & Spark, Brian Eno Here Come The Warm Jets, Sparks Kimono My House, Gene Clark No Other, Gram Parsons Grievous Angel, Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard, Randy Newman Good Old Boys, Richard & Linda Thompson I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Bob Marley Natty Dread, Blue Öyster Cult Secret Treaties.
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Patti Smith - Horses (1975)
When Lenny Kaye first agreed to make guitar sounds behind Patti Smith at a poetry reading, he thought it’d make an interesting one-off event. Yet soon they were in Electric Lady in New York with John Cale producing, required to forge a debut album from their improvised mash-ups of punk, Beat poems and trance-like incantations. Smith wanted to make a record “that would make a certain type of person feel not alone… people who were like me, different…” With Smith and her dynamic band from her CBGB residency resisting Cale’s more experienced input, it’s fortuitous that he grasped the fire in their flaws, as Horses stands up as incomparably thrilling “three-chord rock merged with the power of the word”. Arguably the spark that lit punk, it also inspired generations of key female musicians. Beyond such accolades, it’s very much a living landmark, with Smith’s honesty and urgency driving in forceful tandem with the band’s organic momentum. She dives into a sea of possibility, her imagery tumbling and tripping, redrawing the map of what can be done with a woman’s voice. Land, the centrepiece, wills itself into becoming a Dionysiac whirlpool of music and energy. Horses, coming in from all directions… CR

Runners-up: 10cc The Original Soundtrack, Bruce Springsteen Born To Run, Spirit Spirit Of ’76, Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks, Little Feat Last Record Album, Joni Mitchell The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, David Bowie Young Americans, Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti, Queen A Night At The Opera, Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here, Neil Young Tonight’s The Night, Brian Eno Another Green World, Dion Born To Be With You.
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Ramones - Ramones (1976)
It’s impossible to overstate the shock value of Ramones’ first album, released in April 1976. On that iconic black-and-white cover, the four “brothers” looked like cartoon characters, striking a sullen pose against a wall in their ripped jeans and leather jackets. Their songs were cartoonish, too: fast and funny, short and simple, magnificently minimalist and heroically dumb. The moment you placed the needle on Side One it was like being given an electric shock with a cattle prod. Blitzkrieg Bop seemed louder, faster and shorter than anything you’d ever heard before. The album’s 14 tracks, half of them clocking in at under the two-minute mark, flew by in an unprecedented 29 minutes. Joey’s strangled vocals – what was he singing? – were like nothing else. The lyrics were just stupid slogans, rarely more than a few words long (“Beat on the brat with a baseball bat. Oh yeah”). Craig Leon’s production was a throwback to The Beatles – guitar and bass in separate speakers, drums and vocals in the middle. To this day, Ramones are the template for whatever you think of as “punk rock.” Their debut sold next to nothing and never got into a UK chart topped the week of its release by Brotherhood Of Man – but without them UK punk would never have happened and ripped jeans might never have come into fashion. TC

Runners-up: Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life, Bob Dylan Desire, David Bowie Station To Station, Dr Feelgood Stupidity, Steely Dan The Royal Scam, Joni Mitchell Hejira, The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers, Marvin Gaye I Want You, ABBA Arrival, Boston Boston, Eagles Hotel California, Todd Rundgren Faithful, Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene.
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Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)
Nineteen seventy-seven was, to misquote Sinatra, a ridiculously good year, with Marquee Moon, Saturday Night Fever, Trans Europe Express, Rumours, Low, Lust For Life, Chic’s debut and Suicide just some of the divergent fireworks inhabiting a reenergised medium. And debatably the Sex Pistols’ lone studio album was “just” a cobbled-together hotchpotch of hits and fillers from a band whose impact and aura weren’t primarily about music. Yet Never Mind The Bollocks… still frolics with rollicking raw power, its provocations leaping out and eyeballing you with spittle-flecked venom. Few records have so definitively caught a moment and era, and if we ever – in later years – got the feeling we’d been cheated, the sleight of hand was imperious. Frontman Johnny Rotten was gone within three months of its release, but he’d changed the game. Few rock legends have retained less mystique than Steve Jones, yet his wall of furies here are turbo-charged, boosted by Chris Thomas, one of music’s under-hailed heroes, who produced this between working with Roxy Music and Wings. Yes, they pissed on their legacy, but from the opening jackboots of Holidays In The Sun through the giddy rush of those great singles to the graphic imagery of Bodies, … Bollocks… is an animate milestone, a horror movie, a hoot. CR

Runners-up: Various Artists Saturday Night Fever, Fleetwood Mac Rumours, Television Marquee Moon, Iggy Pop The Idiot, Lust For Life, David Bowie Low, ‘Heroes’, Kraftwerk Trans Europe Express, Donna Summer Once Upon A Time, Brian Eno Before And After Science, Elvis Costello My Aim Is True, Ian Dury New Boots And Panties, The Clash The Clash, Suicide Suicide, Bob Marley Exodus, Steely Dan Aja, Wire Pink Flag, Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue, Culture Two Sevens Clash, Al Green The Belle Album, Spirit Future Games, ELO Out Of The Blue, Meat Loaf Bat Out Of Hell, UFO Lights Out.
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Elvis Costello - This Year’s Model (1978)
“There are going to be no fucking soloists in my band,” Costello told Melody Maker in 1977, after future members of Huey Lewis &The News had got him through My Aim Is True. That rule would bend, but recruiting The Attractions was his most crucial move. The greatest British songwriter of his era now had the greatest band, equal in power and resource to The Hawks backing Dylan in ’66. Live, they gave him the heavy artillery to pin back crowds not already cowed by the singer’s venomous sneer, yet could be as delicate and roughly danceable as Motown, and play ballads that ached. As much as Costello’s amphetamine-wiry, Buddy Holly-gone-bad look, their sound also helped turn punk into new wave, laying the US wide open to conquest as they followed the shattered Sex Pistols across the country in 1978. This Year’s Model set the template. Punk’s Year Zero was off, as the sound of the Stones’ Aftermath and early Kinks and Who was sought. This was maximum R&B for ’78, with organist Steve Nieve as Costello’s most faithful, Garth Hudson-like ace. Pump It Up’s thuggish pounding and languid twang was the singer’s self-loathing response to tour hedonism, while (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea, recorded the same afternoon, lanced fashion and out-of-reach women (“They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie…”). The Attractions’ expanded arsenal for Elvis’ still ruthlessly tight persona was further displayed in the country ballad Little Triggers, and, veering closest to punk’s verboten virtuosity, the Buddy Rich double-drum patterns, runaway pace then cruise of Lipstick Vogue, which raced towards a climactic explosion they left unplayed, like an unexploded bomb. In this perfect marriage, 1978 was their honeymoon year. NH

Runners-up: Bruce Springsteen Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The Jam All Mod Cons, Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings And Food, Pere Ubu The Modern Dance, Kraftwerk The Man Machine, XTC White Music, Magazine Real Life, Tom Waits Blue Valentine, Blondie Parallel Lines, Big Star 3rd.
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Talking Heads - Fear Of Music (1979)
Nineteen seventy-nine was the height of disco and post-punk, when musicians, black and white, UK and US, were taking bold strides, rhythmically and in terms of song structure. It was, as a result, a year of intense competition. Any number of albums could have filled this slot: PiL’s Metal Box, Chic’s Risque, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, London Calling by The Clash, Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks, Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Forces Of Victory, The Only Ones’ Even Serpents Shine… And yet, even amid such strong competition, Fear Of Music – NME’s album of that year – stands out. It remains indefinable 40 years on. It seems strange to think of Talking Heads as “punk” but they made their debut supporting Ramones at CBGBs in 1975, shared a similar DIY ethos – honed at art school in Rhode Island – and were signed to the same Sire label. Their third album bridges the two eras of the band as they transitioned from the quirky, jerky semi-acoustic outfit that brought us Psycho Killer to the funky big band that would make Once In A Lifetime. Produced, like its predecessor, with Brian Eno, Fear Of Music kicks off with the addictive Afro-funk of I Zimbra, all rattling percussion, slippery bass and garbled lyrics, aided by Robert Fripp on guitar (and Gene Wilder on congas!). The album’s hallmark is its perfectly defined sense of space, ideal for the sparse, innovative rhythms conjured by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz and Byrne’s existential lyrics filled with urban ennui. A series of songs with single-word titles (Mind, Drugs, Cities, Paper, Heaven, Air, Animals) mirror the minimalism at work, making these songs seem like artful sketches for the next album, 1980’s Remain In Light. Highlights are the appropriately divine Heaven (“a place where nothing ever happens”) and Life During Wartime (“This ain’t no party! This ain’t no disco!”) with its extraordinary video of a geeky-looking Byrne spasming like a demented academic with ants in his pants. The embossed ridges on the black LP cover were also ideal for removing seeds while the listener prepared him/herself for optimal listening conditions… TC

Runners-up: Joy Division Unknown Pleasures, Chic Risque, Michael Jackson Off The Wall, Earth Wind & Fire I Am, Gang Of Four Entertainment!, The Jam Setting Sons, Wire 154, PiL Metal Box, Elvis Costello Armed Forces, Neil Young Rust Never Sleeps, The Clash London Calling, The Specials The Specials, Pink Floyd The Wall, Fleetwood Mac Tusk, The Police Regatta De Blanc, The Pop Group Y, XTC Drums & Wires, The Slits Cut, The B52s The B52s, Sister Sledge We Are Family, Supertramp Breakfast In America.
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Joy Division - Closer (1980)
Recorded mere weeks before singer Ian Curtis committed suicide, and released just two months later, Joy Division’s second and final album is indelibly imbued with tragic connotations. But even without its attendant real-life psychodrama, Closer still radiates a chilly occult power that goes deeper than its prophetically macabre sleeve image of an Italian family tombstone, submitted by designer Peter Saville long before the band’s anguished frontman took his own life. Recorded at Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row studios with Factory’s legendary in-house producer Martin Hannett, Closer drew on wider cultural references beyond Joy Division’s immediate post-punk circles, from Frank Sinatra to Kraftwerk. Prefiguring the birth of New Order, heavily electronic tracks like Heart And Soul and the magisterial Decades mapped out the dawning techno-gothic 80s with their liturgical vocals, icy keyboard washes and quasi-classical textures. Almost 40 years later, Closer remains an epochal marker in alternative rock. As one door closed forever, many more swung open… SD

Runners-up: AC/DC Back In Black, Elvis Costello Get Happy!!, Magazine The Correct Use Of Soap, Dexys Midnight Runners Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads Remain In Light, Prince Dirty Mind, The Clash Sandinista!, Young Marble Giants Colossal Youth.
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The Human League - Dare (1981)
And so began the 80s, and the things that dreams are made of. Leading the synthpop charge (albeit behind Gary Numan and Ultravox), breaking out the “new pop” movement (as the US termed the second British Invasion when it put boots on the MTV ground) and helping to kick-start New Romanticism, Dare became a genre-defining moment almost by accident. The previously doggedly avant garde League had lost Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh to Heaven 17, whose equally forward-thinking but more earnest Penthouse And Pavement was released one month earlier. Yet it was Dare, Virgin’s first No 1 since Tubular Bells, which caught the imagination, with its knowing pop consciousness and so-dumb-they’re-genius hooks. Landing on the perfect midpoint between Abba, Suicide and Buzzcocks, aided and abetted by new boys Jo Callis (formerly of The Rezillos) and Ian Burden and promoted by the Woolworths chic of singer Phil Oakey and the girls, Joanne Catherall and Susan Anne Sulley, the songs and programming worked with, rather than against, each other, a trick which had thwarted many electronic triers. Once they’d moved from the Sheffield studio they still shared with Heaven 17 (tensions ran high) and reconvened in Reading with Martin Rushent (who’d started dabbling with his new equipment on Pete Shelley’s Homosapien single), Dare took flight, even if the long bus journeys for Joanne and Susan, then sitting school exams, were a hassle. The ensuing run of hits – The Sound Of The Crowd, Love Action, Open Your Heart and Christmas No 1 Don’t You Want Me – studded the year like staccato jewels, their self-mocking lyrical wit persuading pop pickers that these bold new sounds, previously thought scary, came offering friendship. Did Dare initiate The Death Of Rock? Well, Lester Bangs died of a drug overdose while listening to it. Then again, Oakey’s incantation of the Ramones’ names on the album opener The Things That Dreams Are Made Of suggested that Dare deemed itself part of a radical tradition, paring things down to their essence so they could be born again. CR

Runners-up: Heaven 17 Penthouse & Pavement, Grace Jones Nightclubbing, Kraftwerk Computer World, Elvis Costello Trust, Brian Eno/David Byrne My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Cabaret Voltaire Red Mecca, Echo & The Bunnymen Heaven Up Here, Black Flag Damaged, Foreigner 4, Suicide Suicide, Japan Tin Drum.
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ABC - The Lexicon Of Love (1982)
Nineteen-eighty-two represented a zenith for punk turned (new) pop: Simple Minds, Scritti Politti and Associates all made albums consciously reimagining pop as a utopian ideal rather than a commercial racket. Best of all was The Lexicon Of Love, an unabashed piece of epic pop artifice and the first flowering of Trevor Horn’s genius. He produced the album, while future Art Of Noise alumni like Anne Dudley assisted with its sonic architecture. In 1981, ABC had scored their first hit, Tears Are Not Enough, typical of the agitated white funk of the year. This track, however, had a complete makeover on the album, part of a sweeping, melancholic song-cycle in which singer Martin Fry lamented his failed search for true love. It’s an album that ascends, tumbles, ascends again as Fry, the lonely mountaineer of the heart, treks onward, downward, upward. An immaculately conceived piece of pop theatre, ABC never exceeded it, though Horn would go on to still bigger things. DS

Runners-up: Michael Jackson Thriller, Kid Creole & The Coconuts Tropical Gangsters, Associates Sulk, Orange Juice You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Simple Minds New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), Dexys Midnight Runners Too Rye Ay, Cabaret Voltaire 2 x 45, Soft Cell Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, Bruce Springsteen Nebraska, Scritti Politti Songs To Remember, Elvis Costello Imperial Bedroom, Prince 1999, 23 Skidoo Seven Songs, The Fall Hex Enduction Hour, Donald Fagen The Nightfly, Kate Bush The Dreaming, Toto IV, The dB’s Stands For Decibels, Fleetwood Mac Mirage, Iron Maiden The Number Of The Beast, The Cure Pornography.
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Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones (1983)
Tom Waits “put a stake through the heart of a lot of things” in 1983, his 70s musician Mike Melvoin told biographer Barney Hoskyns. The Heart of Saturday Night’s deadbeat Sinatra, like the Beat barfly persona whose clothes now clung uncomfortably close, would be buried. Loyal producer Bones Howe was also dismissed as, nine albums in, Waits took charge himself. His new wife Kathleen Brennan had strengthened his nerve and musical ambition, hipping him to Beefheart and the invented-instrument orchestras of deep bohemian Harry Partch. Waits was now on his way out of the Easy Listening racks where mystified record shops dumped him, and into the junkyard. In a decade which confused and computerised the muses of other veterans, Waits’ radical reinvention showed anything was still possible. He saw it as his last chance to matter. Compared to subsequent records, Swordfishtrombones wasn’t wholly divorced from the old, jazzbo Waits, or the balladeer who’d just released One From The Heart. Limpid piano miniature Johnsburg, Illinois was named after Brennan’s hometown, and paid tribute to her. Shore Leave, which helped convince his appalled label Asylum/Elektra to drop him (Island rescued the completed record), is Beat Waits in hyper-drive. Frank’s Wild Years distils his verbal facility still further, as hitching coughs punctuate his casually accelerated narration. The metallic-sounding marimbas of Victor Feldman – veteran of both Glenn Miller and Steely Dan – were not yet the full bone machine. Instead they make much of the music carnivalesque, equally capable of soundtracking Fellini or Eraserhead. The album’s transitional status in what became a sui generis career is shown by In the Neighbourhood. Though Waits adopts his new Beefheartian bark, it’s a last stroll on The Heart of Saturday Night’s avenue, bidding adieu to an LA where “the eggs chase the bacon round the frying pan”. A weirder world beckoned. NH

Runners-up: New Order Power Corruption & Lies, Altered Images Bite, Culture Club Colour By Numbers, Yello You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess, The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood, Aztec Camera High Land Hard Rain, R.E.M. Murmur, Def Leppard Pyromania, David Bowie Let’s Dance.
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Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984)
Pop conquest has rarely been so ecstatically total. Relax sold 13 million, and Two Tribes topped the charts for nine weeks, moving John Peel to joke that the June release might be the Christmas No 1. Actually, that was third single The Power Of Love. First brought to producer Trevor Horn’s attention by Yes’ Chris Squire, then tricked out in the ideological threads of their Minister Of Propaganda Paul Morley, Frankie provided the songs and Roman debauchery. With the miners on strike, and the band on Top Of The Pops wearing Frankie Say Arm The Unemployed T-shirts, the 80s’ radicalism, fearless post-modern pretension and Thatcherite consumption merged. If there had to be an album, it had to be a double. Horn used SARM West’s state of the digital art studio facilities to create a future symphony, turning the whole record into a flowing 12” mega-mix. It was a lavish pop banquet before the Pleasuredome burned down. NH

Runners-up: Art Of Noise Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?, Echo & The Bunnymen Ocean Rain, The Smiths The Smiths, Prince Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen Born In The USA, Cocteau Twins Treasure, Meat Puppets Meat Puppets II.
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Kate Bush - The Hounds Of Love (1985)
It’s forgotten now that Bush’s fifth album rebooted a career then in danger of sliding into the “wacky novelty” pile. Regarded as her masterpiece, it married an art-prog suite about sheep, witches, Tennyson and drowning (Side Two) with vivid, inventive singles like Running Up That Hill, the dizzy exhilaration of The Big Sky and the spooked grandeur of Cloudbusting (Side One). Having gone semi-recluse and built a studio in her barn, she fused everything from Fairlight synths and Georgian chorale to trad Celtic instruments on an opus which somehow exemplified 80s pop’s lofty ambitions while remaining the antithesis of every perceived 80s cliché. Bush has described this as two separate albums: one of them took Wilhelm Reich onto Top Of The Pops while the other was the weird one (and boldly formed the fulcrum of her live comeback in 2014). It knocked Madonna’s Like A Virgin off the top spot, selling a million. CR

Runners-up: Prefab Sprout Steve McQueen, New Order Low-life, Propaganda A Secret Wish, Scritti Politti Cupid & Psyche 85, Hüsker Dü New Day Rising, The Replacements Tim, The Fall This Nation’s Saving Grace, The Pogues Rum, Sodomy & The Lash, Dexys Midnight Runners Don’t Stand Me Down, Associates Perhaps, Marillion Misplaced Childhood.
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The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (1986)
Though arguably the great British alt.rock act of the 80s, The Smiths faltered under the weight of expectation with their over-produced debut LP and only began nudging up to greatness with 1985’s Meat Is Murder. Few, however, would quibble that their third, The Queen Is Dead, remains their apogee. Morrissey’s mordant, Wildean wit hits a series of glorious peaks, while the playing is faultless, with the unsung Andy Rourke/Mike Joyce rhythm section at their supple and inventive best and Johnny Marr’s exhilarating arrangements pushing way beyond the confines of jangly indie-pop. The driving, Stooges-esque title song and the lush, fatalistic There Is A Light That Never Goes Out generally cop the plaudits, but the Britpop-imagining Bigmouth Strikes Again and poignant I Know It’s Over are equally transcendent. Collectively, they show exactly why The Queen Is Dead still reigns supreme. TP

Runners-up: Slayer Reign In Blood, New Order Brotherhood, Janet Jackson Control, Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill, Throwing Muses Throwing Muses, Prince Parade, Metallica Master Of Puppets, Paul Simon Graceland, Run DMC Raising Hell, Elvis Costello King Of America, XTC Skylarking, Talk Talk The Colour Of Spring, Megadeth Peace Sells.
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Prince - Sign “O” The Times (1987)
Released in March 1987, Sign “O” The Times arguably represented the final moment when Prince stood atop of the world, marrying critical and commercial success. Distilled from at least three aborted albums (Dream Factory, Camille and Crystal Ball), Prince found it impossible to contain his creativity. The 16-track Sign “O” The Times was a proper, grown-up sprawling double. It gathered tunes that had been around for several years – Strange Relationship appeared as early as 1983 – and compiled them in a frankly delirious barrage of styles from jazz-rock (Play In The Sunshine) to rock (The Cross) and funk (Housequake). What underlines the album’s ongoing importance is its title track – not the first time Prince had dabbled in social commentary, but his most successful attempt by far, acting as a news report of the issues that dogged the world in the mid-80s (AIDS, drug abuse, military spending). After the lusty funk of the previous year’s Parade, here the skeletal tune over a drum machine pricked ears in a way a Prince record hadn’t before. A smorgasbord of eclectic delights. DE

Runners-up: Young Gods Young Gods, Happy Mondays Squirrel And G-Man 24 Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), R.E.M. Document, Dinosaur Jr You’re Living All Over Me, Hüsker Dü Warehouse Songs And Stories, Butthole Surfers Locust Abortion Technique, Big Black Songs About Fucking.
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My Bloody Valentine - Isn’t Anything (1988)
The metamorphosis of My Bloody Valentine from also-ran purveyors of small-scale, strawberry indie pop to torrential feedback merchants had been one of the huge surprises of 1987. In 1988, encouraged in this more experimental direction by Creation’s Alan McGee, they made Isn’t Anything, which revolved around the concussive, wavering, hurricane-like tunings of Kevin Shields’ guitars and vocalist Bilinda Butcher’s dazed, sleepless vocals, on tracks like Feed Me With Your Kiss and All I Need. The result is a wipeout, a storming of the senses, the epitome of 1988’s reflation of rock, which, along with Dinosaur Jr’s Freak Scene and others, predates 90s guitar-based movements like grunge and shoegaze, while exceeding anything ever achieved in those genres. It was perhaps no surprise that MBV only made one more album, 1991’s Loveless (at least, until 2013’s m b v). After all, how much further could they, or anyone else, go? To date, no one has answered that. DS

Runners-up: NWA Straight Outta Compton, Pixies Surfer Rosa, Happy Mondays Bummed, Sonic Youth Daydream Nation, Talk Talk Spirit Of Eden, Public Enemy It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man, Eric B & Rakim Follow The Leader, Metallica …And Justice For All, Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions.
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Beastie Boys - Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Widely dismissed as bratty one-hit-wonders following 1986 debut Licensed To Ill, NYC frat-rap brats Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch rebooted their reputation with this innovative, sample-saturated sequel. Recorded in LA with production crew The Dust Brothers, Paul’s Boutique is a super-dense, super-funky, rump-shaking mash-up of left-field soundbites, elastic grooves and retro-cool homages. Plus, crucially, three tirelessly inventive lyricists on peak sharp-witted form. Initially a sluggish seller, Paul’s Boutique was later hailed as a kaleidoscopic masterpiece, a hip-hop Sgt Pepper’s, no less. Indeed, The Beatles are among the 100-plus sample sources alongside Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash and more. According to pop folklore, these clips were never legally cleared. In truth, they were cleared at the modest rates agreed when sampling was in its infancy. A similar album would be impossibly expensive today. One more reason why this maximalist milestone in post-modern sonic collage remains an audacious one-off. SD

Runners-up: New Order Technique, Pixies Doolittle, The Stone Roses The Stone Roses, The Cure Disintegration, Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine, De La Soul 3 Feet High And Rising, Madonna Like A Prayer, The Blue Nile Hats, Nirvana Bleach.
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Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet (1990)
With their first two albums, 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show and 1988’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy, led by Chuck D, hadn’t just brought to African-American music an incendiary rage unmatched since the days of The Last Poets; they also twisted hip-hop into new, artful, noisier forms, on tracks like Rebel Without A Pause, courtesy of production team The Bomb Squad. Come 1990, and the band were mired in controversy. The group had already come under fire for misogyny and homophobia, but now rapper Professor Griff faced dismissal from the group following anti-Semitic remarks he made in an interview with The Washington Times, in which he said Jews were to blame for “the majority of the wickedness in the world”. Central to Public Enemy, however, was their “pro-black” stance, which on Fear Of A Black Planet amounted to a sort of Black Supremacy – at PE concerts, Chuck D would argue that white people were merely an offshoot of the original black race and were doomed to eventual extinction. For now, however, there was still much for black people to fight for and this album was intended to fuel the struggle, raise the temperature and volume. From the opening radio collage of Contract On The World Love Jam to the hammer and tongs Brothers Gonna Work It Out, followed by 911 Is A Joke, the pace, protest and race-rousing never lets up, culminating in Fight The Power, which recurs throughout Spike Lee’s film Do Tha Right Thing. This was peak PE: the 90s would see their militancy set aside as the likes of NWA and gangsta rap took centre-stage, in which, through beefs and East Coast/West Coast wars, hip-hop rage was, sadly, directed by rapper against rapper rather than against the establishment. DS

Runners-up: Saint Etienne Foxbase Alpha, Depeche Mode Violator, Prefab Sprout Jordan: The Comeback, Cocteau Twins Heaven Or Las Vegas, Ride Nowhere, Jane Addiction’s Ritual De Lo Habitual, The La’s The La’s, Happy Mondays Pills ’N ’Thrills & Bellyaches, The Breeders Pod, Lou Reed & John Cale Songs For Drella, Uncle Tupelo No Depression.
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Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
It was only a matter of time before the US underground exploded into the charts to wash away the horrors of hair metal and its associated sins. Butch Vig’s savvy production made Nevermind palatable for mainstream radio yet still raw enough for grimy rock clubs, thus securing near-universal appeal. Nevermind would be dismissed in hindsight as formulaic but dust it off and you’ll be thrilled once more by its diversity. Sing-along bubblegum grunge, uncompromising punk and depressive balladry are all on the menu. If that’s still too “pop” for you, there’s always the freestyle skronk of the raucous hidden track. JRM

Runners-up: Primal Scream Screamadelica, Teenage Fanclub Bandwagonesque, My Bloody Valentine Loveless, U2 Achtung Baby, Slint Spiderland, Metallica Metallica, A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory, Massive Attack Blue Lines, R.E.M. Out Of Time, Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and II, De La Soul Is Dead, Van Halen F U C K, The KLF The White Room.
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Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works (1992)
In 2018, we know Richard D James: Banksy pranks and snarky stunts lend his output a supercilious sneer. Twenty-six years ago, however, things were different. Culled from the cassette demos of his Cornish youth, fragile Eno-esque soundscapes sat alongside rolling electro, house and acid rhythms to create something astonishingly new. Just when you thought electronic music had nowhere left to go, here was a beautiful yet unsettling album that would influence electronica artists for years to come and effectively invent the (now-reviled) IDM genre. Is this where James’ rage and desire stem from? Possibly – and music thanks him for it. MG

Runners-up: Pavement Slanted And Enchanted, R.E.M. Automatic For The People, Dr Dre The Chronic, Spiritualized Laser Guided Melodies, Sugar Copper Blue, Tom Waits Bone Machine, The Lemonheads It’s A Shame About Ray, Lou Reed Magic And Loss, Gang Starr Daily Operation, Dream Theater Images And Words.
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Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (1993)
Momentarily, it looked like Staten Island’s finest would achieve total global domination and introduce a new world order based on Shaolin martial arts and weed. This landmark hip-hop moment spawned a slew of solo albums, affiliate projects, and collaborative ventures with everybody from Jim Jarmusch to Texas. Few of them surpassed that debut’s grandeur. RZA’s production was grittily minimalist; his sonic collages bristling with colourful use of soul samples and kung-fu movie snippets. Nor were lyrical ideas lacking, as you’d expect from a group with no fewer than nine members, who could all rap the hind legs off a killa bee. JRM

Runners-up: Suede Suede, Nirvana In Utero, Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, Björk Debut, Blur Modern Life Is Rubbish, Snoop Dogg Doggystyle, Liz Phair Exile In Guyville, PJ Harvey Rid Of Me, A Tribe Called Quest Midnight Marauders, Slowdive Souvlaki, Pearl Jam Vs.
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Portishead - Dummy (1994)
Moody Bristolians Portishead always resisted the “trip-hop” label which clung to their Mercury Prize-winning debut like a bad smell, aghast at its connotations of middlebrow good taste and lightly chilled dinner-party muzak. Indeed, they worked hard on later albums to tease out the darker, noisier, more abrasive elements of their sound. Listening back to Dummy decades later, it’s clear those horror-movie undercurrents were always part of the mix, from the super-heavy shudders and jarring bleeps of Strangers to the ghostly clanks and banshee howls of Numb. There are monsters lurking in this musical Twilight Zone. For much of the 90s, Portishead belonged to that loose movement of forward-thinking provincial outsider artists who provided an alluringly alien alternative to Britpop’s London-centric, guitar-heavy, retro-besotted narrative. They had their own nostalgic touchstones, of course, sampling Lalo Schifrin and Isaac Hayes. But their cinematic fusions of hip-hop, jazz, dub, soul, blues and electronica also felt fresh and futuristic, with Geoff Barrow reinventing the ancient science of turntable scratching while guitarist Adrian Utley added reverb-drenched twangs and sepia-tinted crackle. Meanwhile, their willowy frontwoman Beth Gibbons sobbed desolate torch songs of inconsolable heartbreak with just a hint of murderous menace. Listen to Sour Times or Glory Box in a darkened room and they acquire a heady aura of femme-fatale sorcery. If Dummy now sounds a little too firmly defined by its mid-90s aesthetic, that is partly because the downbeat sound pioneered by Portishead and their Bristol peers spawned countless inferior copycats worldwide. Inevitably, the trip-hop term became a reductive marketing label and creative cul-de-sac. But listen a little closer to these crepuscular chansons and you discover heart-piercing confessionals, transcendent sci-fi lullabies and embryonic hints of dubstep. Portishead endure largely because they were always more musically original, sonically complex and emotionally raw than their legions of imitators. SD

Runners-up: Oasis Definitely Maybe, Blur Parklife, Pulp His’N’Hers, Suede Dog Man Star, Jeff Buckley Grace, Nas Illmatic, Nirvana MTV Unplugged, Soundgarden Superunknown, Manic Street Preachers The Holy Bible, Palace Brothers Days In The Wake, Notorious BIG Ready To Die.
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The Chemical Brothers - Exit Planet Dust (1995)
The Chemicals launched their unique sound with Exit Planet Dust. Though Underworld and The Prodigy had already charted this territory, no one had brought such exaggerated beats and squeals; borrowing from rave with all its requisite drops and builds, paired with a huge overdrive of rock. The duo – Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands – had been mixing and playing under the name The Dust Brothers since the early 90s and set out to make music that reflected the boozy, hedonistic nights that they DJed. The party begins 36 seconds in when the big beats – their trademark that was to become a genre – swoop in on opening track Leave Home. Though bigger hits would come later, here they created a hyper-literate, psych-infused dance music that embraced the past while sounding like it had beamed down from another planet. DE

Runners-up: Oasis (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, Radiohead The Bends, Pulp Different Class, Tricky Maxinquaye, Mobb Deep The Infamous, The Flaming Lips Clouds Taste Metallic, GZA Liquid Swords, Elastica Elastica, D’Angelo Brown Sugar.
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DJ Shadow - Endtroducing (1996)
Josh Davies turned crate-digging into a haunted head-trip. Hip-hop records were the 24-year-old’s world when he released his first album as DJ Shadow, and Endtroducing… is introspective, full of recondite chambers, samples of strings, beats and atmospheres gaining classical cohesion, with sharper edges than the paranoid fug of trip-hop peers such as Tricky. Using little more than a turntable and samplers, Davies was a hip-hop fundamentalist, raging in interviews at what he saw as the form’s corruption by greedy, lazy rappers (the track Why Hip-Hop Sucks In ’96 answers its own question: “It’s the money”). Rather than compete with them, he lived up to his name, composing twilit inner-space visions from discarded vinyl. Four Tet’s 21st century transformation of vinyl micro-slivers into the deceptive, warm sound of played compositions shows the enduring influence of mixology’s messiah. NH

Runners-up: Spice Girls Spice, Beck Odelay, Wilco Being There, Fugees The Score, Tortoise Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
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Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
Throwing down a gauntlet to the nostalgia culture of Britpop, Radiohead’s third album sold over eight million copies and transformed the angsty Oxford quintet into global superstars. Marbled with images of travel sickness, technology and alienation, it crystallised an aura of pre-millennial tension into extraordinarily powerful music, from the Queen-sized avant-rock epic Paranoid Android to the sublimely creepy lullaby No Surprises. Inspiring acolytes and imitators across multiple genres, this envelope-pushing career milestone foreshadowed Radiohead’s future forays into artfully deconstructed jazztronica. In 2015, the US Library Of Congress inducted the album into its archive of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” recordings. SD

Runners-up: The Prodigy The Fat Of The Land, Daft Punk Homework, Bob Dylan Time Out Of Mind.
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Mercury Rev - Deserter’s Songs (1998)
The post-Britpop maximalism of ’97 – Radiohead, Spiritualized, The Verve – soon found its echo across the Atlantic. Mercury Rev were at a depressed nadir after a decade of obscurity, till they invited Catskills neighbours Garth Hudson and Levon Helm to play on new music bearing The Band’s influence. Dave Fridmann’s production encourages cinematic transcendence of the lyrics’ clearly felt dissipation. The strings-drenched climaxes are huge, the ambience one of Broadway, woodland fairy tales and old rock dreams remembered just in time. After the album’s UK success, US indie gained ornate delicacy and ambition, and Big Pink’s Woodstock basement had a new room. NH

Runners-up: Mansun Six, Neutral Milk Hotel In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Air Moon Safari, Boards Of Canada Music Has The Right To Children, Eels Electro-Shock Blues, Elliott Smith XO.
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Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin (1999)
The Soft Bulletin proved the turning-point for the acid-pop Oklahomans. Before it, they were known for a disorienting alt. rock style which sat somewhere between punk and psych. They’d performed with Texan noise-rock nutcases The Butthole Surfers where cymbals were set alight and scary projections employed to unsettle audiences. They also toyed with self-imposed sleep- and food-deprivation, and conducted bizarre audio experiments in parking lots. Indeed, their album prior to The Soft Bulletin was a 4CD set, 1997’s Zaireeka, its discs meant to be played simultaneously on multiple, separate stereo systems. A number of factors contributed to the band’s change in direction. Ronald Jones, the guitarist known for his blistering use of ambience-warping effects pedals and thick washes of feedback, had quit the band (never to be heard from again). His departure led to a much greater role for multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd who had originally joined as drummer. Events in the members’ personal lives had further impact. Drozd was addicted to heroin. Frontman Wayne Coyne’s father lost his battle with cancer. Bassist Michael Ivins was caught in a near-fatal car accident. Furthermore, Drozd nearly had to have an arm amputated after being bitten by a poisonous spider… or so he said. The truth was an abscess caused from injecting drugs with a dirty needle. These unfortunate occurrences compelled the Lips to dial down the irony, cease foolin’ around, and write with greater sincerity and thoughtfulness to explore themes including illness, death, and moral duty. Sonically, the hole left by Jones was filled by a fresh fascination with multi-tracking and the embracing of Pro Tools. Dense Pet Sounds-like orchestrations were created by layering on synthesised string sounds, while R&B super-producer Peter Mokran was enlisted to mix a handful of tracks. “I was more a reducer than a producer,” Mokran would later confess, on account of the band having such an abundance of ideas. The recipe spelled mainstream acceptance for the most unlikely and eccentric of American acts, one that has refused to rest on their laurels. Projects since have included covering classic albums like Dark Side Of The Moon and Sgt. Pepper’s in their entirety, filming an avant-garde Christmas movie set on Mars, and collaborating on a truly bug-eyed project with ex-Disney starlet Miley Cyrus. But this was the one that made them an unlikely mega-attraction and festival favourites, to the extent that, by their next album, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Flaming Lips were arguably the biggest cult/underground band on the planet. JRM

Runners-up: Moby Play, Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs, Eminem The Slim Shady LP, Beck Midnite Vultures, Bonnie “Prince” Billy I See A Darkness, Shack HMS Fable, Super Furry Animals Guerilla.
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OutKast - Stankonia (2000)
The flamboyant, Pushkin-reading Andre “Dre” Benjamin and self-styled “international playa/pimp/tycoon/baby-daddy” Big Boi were an odd couple whose breakthrough remodelled rap in the spirit of Parliament and Prince. Stankonia’s biggest hit, Ms Jackson, declared male fealty to a child’s mother, finding room for both a Little Richard shriek and the promise to “be present on the first day of school”. Its other hit, BOB, combined drum’n’bass with protest at Bill Clinton’s bombing of Baghdad. OutKast’s hip-hop nation was a psychedelic sexual utopia. They were Atlantans with half a foot in Atlantis, fomenting liquid love in the Dirty South. NH

Runners-up: Radiohead Kid A, Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP, The Avalanches Since I Left You, Queens Of The Stone Age Rated R, Lambchop Nixon, Erykah Badu Mama’s Gun, Smog Dongs Of Sevotion, Grandaddy The Sophtware Slump.
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The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
At first you couldn’t believe their nerve. New York’s new hopes sounded like a long-lost CBGBs house band ushering in a new century when rock would eat itself to survive. “We wanna sound like nothing that’s happening now,” singer Julian Casablancas told producer Gordon Raphael, at a time when rock was already considered dead in fashionable Manhattan. Rock’s gentrification may have been embodied by these beautiful young men from wealthy families, but their songs had romance and insouciance enough to make another generation fall hard for rock’n’roll, the momentum of which gave the likes of The White Stripes their time in the sun. NH

Runners-up: N.E.R.D. In Search Of…, Cannibal Ox The Cold Vein, Missy Elliott Miss E… So Addictive, Pernice Brothers The World Won’t End.
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The Streets - Original Pirate Material (2002)
Two thousand and two wasn’t the greatest year for British music. Will Young and Gareth Gates had the nation’s collective ear and Ms. Dynamite won the Mercury Music Prize to a collective “meh”. But another set of airwaves was being ruled outside the mainstream – pirate radio. True, UK garage had already broken through and So Solid Crew’s BRIT Award for 21 Seconds gave garage its populist anthem, but it was primarily all about the good times. Mike Skinner afforded the music a darker hue, evoking the anxiety of the nightbus, the inevitability of the comedown, and the threat of that hoodie following you. How did he sell this to the masses? Smartly. With lairy, everyman tales of PlayStation and Kronenbourg set to a two-step mash-up of skank, garage, rap and strings. Skinner’s late-night tales take place in homes and pubs not clubs, all front-room vignettes of late-night KFC and settee bust-ups that have as much to do with The Specials as they do the “UK Eminem” tag with which Skinner was briefly saddled. Two years later, he would nearly top it with A Grand Don’t Come for Free. However, in 2002, Original Pirate Material gave us the garage laureate of our dreams. MG

Runners-up: Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Beck Sea Change, The Roots Phrenology, Johnny Cash American IV, Common Electric Circus, Bruce Springsteen The Rising.
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Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner (2003)
East London MC Dylan “Dizzee Rascal” Mills was still a teenager when his 2003 debut made him the youngest ever Mercury (Music) Prize winner to date. Paving the way for Stormzy and Skepta, Boy In Da Corner blasted the nascent grime scene into the Top 30 with vivid snapshots of working-class, multicultural, 21st century London life including the teen-pregnancy electro-rap drama I Luv U and the booming, galvanising anthem Fix Up, Look Sharp. On later albums, Mills cemented his raps-to-riches rise with chart-topping crossover pop singles. But this undiluted debut still has a ferocious energy and a spring-heeled, high-tech, box-fresh sound that has barely dated. SD

Runners-up: OutKast Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Four Tet Rounds, Fleetwood Mac Say You Will, Radio Dept Lesser Matters, Rufus Wainwright Want One.
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Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
Art-rock from Montreal? Clinical and maths-y, surely? Arcade Fire’s debut set preconceptions ablaze with its ferociously emotional blend of indie and chamber-pop. Belying its morbid title (several relatives of band members had died that year), Funeral felt like a celebration of something fresh, fighting for a hard-earned feel-good factor while rock’s US-led garage revival was floundering. There was a naivety to its hope, drama and blasts of euphoria (not to mention its swirls of strings) which reminded us that striving for the epic could be healthily life-affirming. The cycle had turned: we believed music could be big again. CR

Runners-up: Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand, The Streets A Grand Don’t Come For Free, Scissor Sisters Scissor Sisters, Danger Mouse The Grey Album, Wilco A Ghost Is Born. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose.
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Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel The Illinoise (2005)
Stevens promoted his sequel to 2003’s Michigan with half-serious talk of a grand vision of records for every US state. This was rock’n’roll taking on the mantle of Roosevelt’s Depression-era American Guide books, which were intended as a vast self-portrait of the nation. Talk of further instalments petered out, though, leaving Illinois as the culmination of Stevens’ intensely regional and personal epic. Influenced by classical composers and intensive travel and research, this was still a new level of lightly worn, high art ambition, including hushed reveries on serial killer John Wayne Gacy and his victims, and a cancer ward crisis of faith. NH

Runners-up: My Morning Jacket Z, LCD Soundsystem LCD Soundsystem, Broken Social Scene Broken Social Scene, Bright Eyes Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, Sigur Ros Tak, Kate Bush Aerial.
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Amy Winehouse - Back To Black (2006)
'Back to Black' is the second studio album by English recording artist Amy Winehouse, released October 4, 2006 on Island Records. It incorporates 1960s soul music styles and modern R&B production, with subjective lyrics that concern relationships and reflect on Winehouse's experiences with drinking, sex, and drugs. The album produced several singles, including 'Rehab', 'You Know I'm No Good', 'Back to Black', 'Tears Dry on Their Own', and 'Love Is a Losing Game'. 'Back to Black' received positive reviews from most music critics, earning praise for its classicist soul influences, Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson's production, and Winehouse's songwriting and emotive singing style. At the 50th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, 'Back to Black' won five awards, tying the record (with Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé Knowles, Norah Jones, and Alison Krauss) for the second-most awards won by a female artist in a single ceremony. The album won Best Pop Vocal Album, while 'Rehab' won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year and Record of the Year with Amy Winehouse winning Best New Artist. The album was also nominated for Album of the Year. To date, 'Back to Black' has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
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LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (2007)
Led by James Murphy, New York’s LCD Soundsystem had already established themselves – with a string of singles and self-titled 2005 debut album – as a group melding seriously funky music with comic pastiche and hip smarts, particularly on Losing My Edge. LCD’s songs were full of references, explicit and implicit to pop history; they spoke drily to the ageing listener with large record collections and a store of pop-related memories and their best days behind them. However, the quality and immediacy of their output felt like a bonus thrill, cheekily seized from the jaws of postmodern despair. Sound Of Silver took up where its predecessor left off. North American Scum feels like a distant reworking of Pete Shelley’s Homosapien, but with various other filters and factors added in. All My Friends is like an oblique homage to Steve Reich but builds to so much more. This is more than mere playfulness and allusion – Someone Great, with its synths throbbing like the heart of a lovelorn robot, is clearly an homage to The Human League, yet it stands alone as a piece of tear-stricken synthpop for our own times. The work of latterday pop masters. DS

Runners-up: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Raising Sand, Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago, MGMT Oracular Spectacular, Panda Bear Person Pitch, Britney Spears Blackout, Battles Mirrored, Arcade Fire Neon Bible, MIA Kala.
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Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008)
Freak-folk had been flitting around the US mainstream since the early 00s, waiting for the edges to be smoothed off while upping the Walden-esque bucolic aspect – less Animal Collective, more Crosby, Stills & Nash. And that was what Seattle’s Fleet Foxes offered in spades: sing-song, campfire tunes with soaring homespun harmonies plus a classic West Coast lineage that took in The Beach Boys, Love and what sounded like 100 percent pure autumn sunshine. True, there was darkness, too (see Your Protector or Oliver James) but here was a fresh batch of American folk ready-baked for an Obama-led nation wanting to go back to the garden. MG

Runners-up: Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend, Kanye West 808s And Heartbreak, Lady Gaga The Fame, Empire Of The Sun Walking On A Dream, Deerhunter Microcastle.
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Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Animal Collective had been operating around the esoteric world of the freak-folk scene for a few years before their unusual range of influences and open-minded approach to music-making culminated in the dizzy heights of Merriweather Post Pavilion. With founder member Deakin on a sabbatical, Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist fully embraced the electronic means of crafting psychedelic pop. This adventurous and experimental material was also joyful and accessible, even securing daytime radio play via My Girls, from which Beyoncé would later borrow. Who’d have thought this ragtag bunch of neo-hippies had it in them? JRM

Runners-up: The XX xx, Grizzly Bear Veckatimest, Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca, The Horrors Primary Colours. Micachu & The Shapes Jewellery.
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Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Kanye’s best? We all thought so. Critics swooned, Grammys flowed, the public forgot about Taylor Swift stage invasions… Dripping with anthems and excess (Runaway, the King Crimson-sampling Power), West’s fifth album featured everyone from Bon Iver and Elton John to Nicki Minaj on that astonishing verse on Monster. Contrarily, these days West writes off …Fantasy as “an apology record”, preferring 2008’s visionary 808s & Heartbreak. Twisted modesty? A quest for perfection? Plain-assed wrong? In 2018, West still exhibits all those attributes, but 2010 would not see a better album. MG

Runners-up: Earl Sweatshirt Earl, Vampire Weekend Contra, Janelle Monáe The ArchAndroid, Caribou Swim, John Grant Queen Of Denmark, Ariel Pink Before Today, These New Puritans Hidden, Gil Scott Heron I’m New Here, Joanna Newsom Have One On Me, Florence + The Machine Lungs.
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PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (2011)
White Chalk (2007), its predecessor, was beautiful if harrowing fare, all haunted piano and self-exorcism. What we didn’t expect next was an album of autoharp-drenched anti-war reports, brimming with agitprop lyrics and national shame. Bold and tuneful yet often fragile and horrific, mainstream success came with a second Mercury (Music) Prize. A more representative TV appearance came 17 months earlier, when she performed the then-unreleased title track to former PM Gordon Brown on The Andrew Marr Show. “Let England shake/Weighted down with silent dead,” she sang, with remarkably measured fury. MG

Runners-up: The Weeknd House Of Balloons, James Blake James Blake, Death Grips Exmilitary, Metronomy The English Riviera, Kate Bush 50 Words For Snow, Danny Brown XXX, Kurt Vile Smoke Ring For My Halo, The War On Drugs Slave Ambient, Tom Waits Bad As Me, Destroyer Kaputt, Paul Simon So Beautiful Or So What.
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Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (2012)
After 2011’s nostalgia,ULTRA online-only mixtape, we expected more hip(ster) R&B. What we got was a psychedelic odyssey that would only deepen Ocean’s appeal. Falsetto neo-soul sat next to slowed funk jams and confessional croons, often in the same song. See Pyramids: 10 epic minutes of Euro synth-pulse and John Mayer guitar soloing while proggy tales of Cleopatra are transposed from ancient Egypt to a strip-joint called The Pyramid. Somewhere between Prince, Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd, Ocean’s star never shone brighter. Until 2016’s Blonde, that is. MG

Runners-up: Tame Impala Lonerism, Lana Del Ray Born To Die, Grimes Visions, Flying Lotus Until The Quiet Comes, Julia Holter Ekstasis, El-P Cancer For Cure.
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Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (2013)
Daft Punk had almost fallen into the “where are they now” bracket in the UK when they released the Nile Rodgers/Pharrell Williams-led Chic homage Get Lucky, the single that led the entire Random Access Memories campaign. It was not the case in the US, where their 2006 Coachella appearance lit the fuse for EDM over there, making them totemic figureheads (or at least, robot heads) for the movement. For their first new album since their Tron: Legacy soundtrack in 2010, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo dug deep into their influences. The album’s overarching celebration of disco was authenticated by the presence of Rodgers, who added his classic guitar parts to three of the tracks, and – providing one of the album’s many highlights – Giorgio Moroder, whose interview about his life acted as commentary for the nine-minute synthesiser-driven extravaganza, Giorgio By Moroder. The duo’s combination of synthetics with some of the world’s greatest session players makes for a captivating listen (Omar Hakim’s drumming on Contact; Paul Jackson Jr.’s guitar solo on Giorgio), creating a unique amalgam of west coast rock and groove – Steely Dance, anyone? Random Access Memories caught the mood – it garnered four Grammys, and Get Lucky sold 1.4 million singles in the UK alone. Time will tell if Random Access Memories will be seen as the towering record of the second decade of the 21st century, but as an example of how intelligent and fun pop can be, it is second to none. DE

Runners-up: David Bowie The Next Day, Run The Jewels Run The Jewels, Janelle Monáe The Electric Lady, Disclosure Settle, Black Sabbath 13, My Bloody Valentine m b v, Paul McCartney New.
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D'Angelo And The Vanguard - Black Messiah (2014)
Those who bemoan the lack of a Donny, Marvin or Sly in today’s music scene would do well to listen to Black Messiah. Coming 14 years after neo-soul star D’Angelo’s last full-length release, Voodoo, its blurred agit-funk connects directly with the analogue brews of the early 70s. D’Angelo’s anger at racial and social inequality spills out in the album’s lyrical and musical maze, creating a compelling work that effortlessly switches between the industrial groove of 1000 Deaths and Prince-like pop of The Charade. DE

Runners-up: The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream, St Vincent St Vincent, Flying Lotus You’re Dead!, Lana Del Ray Ultraviolence, Temples Sun Structures, Bruce Springsteen High Hopes, Sleaford Mods Divide & Exit.
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Tame Impala - Currents (2015)
Few foresaw the avalanche of acclaim Australian all-rounder Kevin Parker’s third album would cause. Its swirling soup of psychedelic pop, electronica and prog appealed across supposed barriers. In the age of streaming, perhaps that illustrated a serendipitous synergy with the evolution of listeners’ habits, Currents being therefore current. Its magic shone both as lush sonic wallpaper (with Parker moving away from guitars and towards the synthesised) and, under closer scrutiny, as a well of melody, arrangement and studio creativity. Its weightlessness wooed. It let it happen. CR

Runners-up: Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly, Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear, Sleater-Kinney No Cities To Love.
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Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker (2016)
Even in a year marked by the loss of so many music legends, Leonard Cohen’s death in November 2016 felt like the extinguishing of a towering, singular flame. But like David Bowie before him, the poet laureate of romantic desolation bowed out after a blazing autumnal resurgence, anticipating his own imminent demise on this sublime final album. Released just weeks before Cohen’s death at 82, You Want It Darker completed a glorious third-act comeback of chart-topping albums and arena-filling live shows. Forced out of semi-retirement by financial necessity, he played almost 400 marathon concerts over five years, which earned him rapturous reviews and unprecedented riches but left him with painful spine problems. He recorded the half-spoken, liturgical vocals for this hymnal swansong at his Hollywood home, with musical collaborators adding skeletally sparse arrangements later. Brimming with Biblical imagery and bone-dry wit, these nine pared-down tracks ruminate on past obsessions from the high vantage point of old age. Leaving The Table likens failing sexual powers to a played-out game of poker, and Treaty sifts for glowing embers of reconciliation in the ashes of a long-spent love. But the Grammy-winning title track is the real masterpiece here, Cohen weighing up a lifetime of spiritual and romantic questing in his sardonic sandpaper rasp, invoking Hebrew prayer with the haunting refrain: “Hineni, hineni /I’m ready, my lord.” Like Bowie before him, the Zen Master of song composed the soundtrack to his own death and died, as he lived, with enormous grace and humility. You Want It Darker was his Blackstar, his self-engraved headstone, his last hallelujah. SD

Runners-up: David Bowie Blackstar, Frank Ocean Blond, The Rolling Stones Blue & Lonesome, Skepta Konnichiwa.
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Kendrick Lamar - DAMN (2017)
The first ever non-jazz and non-classical album to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature, DAMN. is an object lesson in how to harness mainstream pop fame without sacrificing smart, adventurous, eclectic creativity. Building on the breakthrough success of his jazz-infused, autobiographical ghetto symphony To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), West Coast rap’s reigning prince reflects on his growing celebrity while enlarging his pan-dimensional 21st century vision of hip-hop to embrace trap rhythms, pumping EDM beats, luscious R&B ballads and superstar guests, including Rihanna and U2. A chart-topping, prize-winning, horizon-expanding blockbuster. SD

Runners-up: Lorde Melodrama, Sampha Process, Roger Waters Is This The Life We Really Want?, Tyler, The Creator Flower Boy.
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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.

Runners-up: Mitski - Be the Cowboy, Serpentwithfeet - Soil, Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour, Lucy Dacus - Historian, Robyn - Honey
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