… That I Own
Are you tired of millennium lists yet? Of course not. So, I have compiled here the best albums of the 20th Century that I happen to own.
Now, don’t think you’re getting a bad deal here. This is a listing of the best albums of this century that I have collected and we’re not talking about a listing of Doobie Brothers records.
I’m making this specification because I think it’s hard to make such a definitive list under such a broad umbrella as “pop music.” Depending on the people involved, what they listen to and like, you’re always going to leave someone out. There’s always a blues great, reggae masterpiece or brilliant singer/songwriter that is being overlooked. No matter how varied a musical spectrum the compilers want these lists to represent, they always end up stamped by someone’s opinion. So it might as well be mine.
In addition, I recognize the fact that in focusing on the albums, I might unintentionally exclude a number of artists that pre-date the release of albums. I’m keeping to that because it is the format in the middle to latter part of the century where by most music artists released songs.
Also, I obviously haven’t listened to all the albums of the 20th Century yet.
The important rules here are:
- No greatest hits albums or compilations.
Rolling Stone magazine did that a couple of years ago and I just don’t think it’s a fair comparison. It’s cheating. Although, by excluding greatest hits packages, you leave out a number of artists like Robert Johnson, Tom Petty, Motown, Creedence Clearwater Revival and dozens of others, a bunch of great singles isn’t an album.
- I have to own the album
The album has to be in my possession at the time of writing.
Anyone who disagrees with my list or would like to mention an album(s) that I missed, can e-mail me.
The List: (In no particular order)
- The Beatles “Rubber Soul”
- The Beatles “Revolver”
- The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
- The Beatles “The Beatles” (The White Album)
- The Beatles “Let It Be”
- The Beatles “Abbey Road”
How can we exclude The Beatles? From bubble gum pop to free love, the Beatles’ music seemed to parallel a generation’s awakening in the 1960s.
Though certainly the pre- “Sgt. Pepper” albums demonstrated the group was evolving as songwriters, for me, the feel is still mostly “hit song” oriented.
I’ve also felt that “Sgt. Pepper” was never the ultimate album that it was lauded as being. What was important about it was two things: First, the sound. The instrumentation and the approach of not creating hit songs were critical points for rock music. It was a move toward artistic fulfillment of a vision, as opposed to fulfillment of selling so many records.
“Sgt. Pepper” was also crucial in that it validated what was going on in London, San Francisco and the counterculture movement. These young people were not so bizarre because the Beatles were in on flower power too.
The group’s best work is on the so-called “White Album,” “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road.” The songs are more vaguely personal, stinging and expressive. Though they showed their influences, its sometimes difficult to pin down where the songs come from.
- The Rolling Stones “Beggars Banquet”
- The Rolling Stones “Let It Bleed”
- The Rolling Stones “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out”
- The Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers”
- The Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street”
- The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”
Though the Rolling Stones had a series of great singles that aren’t present on these albums, by the time the 1970s rolled around, the group had really hit their stride. Like the Beatles, their gifts grew with age, or at least into the early ’70s.
The songs here, “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Dead Flowers,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Sister Morphine” and dozens of others, take healthy portions from American music: the blues, country and rockabilly. Though other British groups relied on American music, none explored the music with such dedication, nor came up with such successful results.
- Cream “Disraeli Gears”
- Blind Faith “Blind Faith”
- Derek And The Dominoes “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs”
Although he was never much of a songwriter or originator, Eric Clapton is a great guitar player. His playing altered the sound and refined the role of the guitar in rock music.
He also blew through a number of groups while he was in his prime in the late ’60s/early ’70s .
Though a good Cream greatest hits would be the most bang for the buck, “Disraeli Gears” will do just fine. With every “Badge” or “White Room” that’s sadly missing here, there’s a “Tale Of Brave Ulysses” or the classic “Sunshine Of Your Love” to make up for it.
With Blind Faith, he hooked up with Steve Winwood to create a handful of spectacular, if underrated tunes. With “Layla,” Clapton’s musical voice came closer to being his own, though he still relied heavily on the Dominoes for musical muscle. The guitar sparring that goes on here between Clapton and slide playing Allman Brother Duane is a shining counterpoint to Clapton’s straight-ahead approach.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced?”
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Electric Ladyland”
- Jimi Hendrix “Band Of Gypsys”
As Lou Reed once said, Jimi Hendrix’s full talents as a songwriter, arranger and even lyricist will never be appreciated because he was such a “bitchin’ guitar player.” It is those abilities — and his guitar playing — that really make his music so potent and contemporary sounding even today.
In the course of these albums, all released in a span of less than five years, you can see the creative leaps Hendrix made. While “Are You Experienced?” is sparse and riff-heavy, “Electric Ladyland” is highly orchestrated and eclectic.
His last release during his life was the live album “Band of Gypsys.” Recorded with old friend and bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles, the songs are free-floating, funky improvisations.
- Bob Dylan “Bringing It All Back Home”
- Bob Dylan “Highway 61 Revisited”
- Bob Dylan “Blonde On Blonde”
- Bob Dylan “The Basement Tapes”
- Bob Dylan “John Wesley Harding”
- Bob Dylan “Blood On The Tracks”
- Bob Dylan “Time Out Of Mind”
- Bob Dylan “Live 1966: ‘The Royal Albert Hall Concert’ – The Bootleg Series Vol. 4”Bob Dylan = genius. Enough said.
- The Band “Music From Big Pink”
- The Band “The Band” (The Brown Album)
- Though the group had already floored the Beatles and the Stones when they backed Bob Dylan in 1965-1966, these two records knocked the music world on its collective ear in a whole new way.Stepping out of Dylan’s shadow, the albums “Big Pink” and “The Band” proved they had a distinct and unique voice (actually, three of them). The group’s three-part vocal harmony, combined with understated, spooky music that encapsulated the blues, country, soul, early rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, folk and R&B, set the Band apart from its psychedelic brethren.Guitarist Robbie Robertson’s lyrics — equal parts folklore and historical narrative — dealt with rural life, individual yearnings, loneliness and redemption.
- The Velvet Underground “Velvet Underground & Nico” (The Banana Album)
- The Velvet Underground “White Light, White Heat”
- The Velvet Underground “Velvet Underground”
- The Velvet Underground “Loaded”
- It doesn’t matter that none of the Velvets’ records sold anything. Looking at their catalog, they deserve to be in the running for rock’s greatest band.Leader Lou Reed gets acclaim for being the first rock poet to delve into the “wild side,” but the music he and the band made wasn’t that far behind the lyrics. Despite their experimental nature and the label of being “avant garde,” the group really had great pop sensibilities.And musically, they really got around. The so-called “The Banana Album” is a sinister but enticing marvel. Multi-instrumentalist John Cale’s droning viola gives the music an eerie feel.On “White Light/White Heat,” they turned the volume up. By contrast, “The Velvet Underground” was a quiet selection of lonesome love songs. “Loaded,” their final album, contained their biggest quasi-hits “Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Sweet Jane.”
- Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”
- Grateful Dead “American Beauty”
- Three years after the “Summer of Love,” and four albums of psychedelic noodling, the Dead came back to earth in 1970. Taking a page from the Band and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the group revisited its folk and country roots. As a result, lyricist Robert Hunter and guitarist Jerry Garcia came up with two albums of great songs that were predominately acoustic and vocally-oriented.Though the group would release other albums and tour for the next 25 years, these two albums would be the cornerstone of their shows (though these stripped-down songs would also mutate, falling vicitim to jamming) and the pinnacle of their career in the studio.
- Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”
- Van Morrison “Moondance”
- Though he made his name early on as a raging R&B singer from Belfast, Morrison’s songwriting talent and soulful croon first proved extraordinary on “Astral Weeks” and “Moondance.” Sprawling, sparse and stunning, the songs on “Astral Weeks” swing because of the jazz session musicians that play on it, while Van’s fluctuating vocals keep everybody on their toes. Listening to “Astral Weeks,” it is almost a collection of short stories.More condensed and livelier, “Moondance” seems much more personal. “And It Stoned Me,” “Moondance” and “Caravan” are conversations between the singer and his love, or between the singer and himself. On “Moondance,” Morrison is more restrained and reserves the full power of his wail for key moments in certain songs.
- John Coltrane “Giant Steps”
- The genius of jazz proves that he is.
- Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
- Miles Davis “Bitches Brew”
- Expanding on jazz’s known horizons on “Kind Of Blue” later gave way to Davis? desire to push things as far as he did on “Bitches Brew.” On it, he embraced rock ‘n’ roll and created a new and much-maligned genre: fusion.
- Black Sabbath “Paranoid”
- The mother of metal.
- Johnny Cash “At Folsom Prison”
- Even when he was young, Cash had the sound of a man who’d been around. It should be included just for the line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”
- The Byrds “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”
- Despite a slew of Top Ten singles, this was the Byrds only great album. Along with the usual Dylan covers, this album has the group trying on country music for a change. It fit.
- Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention “Freak Out!”
- What’s really interesting about this album is where Zappa found like-minded musicians to follow him along.What musicians would willingly accompany anyone from the doomsday menace of “Who Are The Brain Police?” to the doo-wop vibe on “Go Cry On Someone Else’s Shoulder” to the psychedelic sing-along feel of “Motherly Love”?
- Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band “Trout Mask Replica”
- Beefheat was Zappa’s childhood pal and though they sometimes viewed each other as rivals, their “hot and cold” friendship spanned three decades.So when the Captain was endlessly rehearsing material with his band in a California house in 1969, Zappa signed him to his own label and volunteered to produce an album.What they got was a double-album of rock-tilted free jazz with obscure poetics sung in Beefheart’s signature growl. The album first comes off as an array of musical scribbles. But that’s only until it sinks in and you get used to the polyrhythmic feel and scattered melodies.
- Love “Forever Changes”
- Recorded in 1967, both Love and their best album is pretty much unknown nowadays despite such high profile fans as Robert Plant, Jim Morrison and Neil Young (Young was originally set to produce “Forever Changes,” but only helped arrange a song).The group emerged from the L.A. rock underground around the time the Byrds and the Doors began attracting attention. Maybe it was combative nature of the group’s resident mastermind Arthur Lee or the musical combination of proto-punk rock and orchestral interludes, but the group never really achieved anything but cult band status.”Forever Change” sounds sometimes like the best example of a ’60s psychedelic album and other times like a junkie Johnny Mathis fronting a Vegas lounge orchestra. Each song is a greater departure than the last. A song where flamenco guitars interweave with dreamy horn lines, is followed by a tune with a dancing harpsichord melody and then, a freight train of a song with a trilling guitar-bass lick.And out front is Lee’s malleable vocals which sometimes contrast the lush beauty of the music. The twisted lyrical imagery is sometimes the vivid journal of paranoid addict and other times, the stories that nightmares are made of.
- Pink Floyd “Dark Side Of The Moon”
- Sometimes the ethereal feel of Pink Floyd?s music gives me a headache. This one doesn?t as much.
- Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin I”
- Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin II”
- Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin III”
- Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin IV”
- Led Zeppelin “House of the Holy”
- Somewhere between the frothing of anti-metal crowds and the fervent acolytes, there is the real Led Zeppelin.You’ll never appreciate what a great singer Robert Plant is until you try to sing along. Yes, the lyrics are pretty silly sometimes but you shouldn’t focus on negatives here.Jimmy Page, rock’s man of a thousand riffs, is also to be credited as the one who really sculpted the band’s sound. With all the guitar and other instrument parts that he heaped on their studio songs, each one added an element that complimented the song. It was always more than zombie riffing.The group’s secret weapons was its rhythm section. Listen to the way John Bonham plays what seems like an endless series of drums during the chorus of “Whole Lotta Love.” Bassist John Paul Jones was the utility man. He tied the music together and was the reliable supporting character to the band’s melodic side.
- Santana “Abraxas”
- Before there were 10 Grammys for his 1999 star-studded album “Supernatural,” Carlos Santana and company brought the first taste of Latin rhythms into the rock universe. Santana loved the blues, and for a time, became fixated with jazz-fusion — “Abraxas” is the ideal synthesis.
- The Flying Burrito Brothers “The Gilded Palace Of Sin”
- The country-rock prototype.
- Bob Marley and the Wailers “Burnin'”
- Bob Marley and the Wailers “Live”
- The music of Bob Marley is so mesmerizing that you’d almost miss its highly political nature. While Peter Tosh was confrontational, Marley’s message was not all that different from John Lennon.Recorded before the departure of Tosh and Bunny Wailer from the band, “Burnin?” was the Wailers at a precarious peak.”Live,” which was recorded on the road shortly after, has spirited reworkings of older material. It is also the first album where Marley is really the unrivaled centerpiece. His message could now be expressed without compromise.
- David Bowie “The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”
- I admit I don’t know all of Bowie’s albums. I don’t even know most of them. I do know I like this one.
- Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”
- With the two couples in the group on the outs (and Mick Fleetwood along for the ride), these songs have a slightly sinister hue despite the album’s huge success. Their feelings of bitterness, sorrow and love were hammered into something delicate and accessible. Now everyone forgets this band’s international reputation was built on being a strict blues cover band.
- Bruce Springsteen “Born To Run”
- Bruce Springsteen “Born In The U.S.A.”
- I was tempted to include “Greetings From Asbury Park,” but I held off. What makes these two albums truly special is not only the quality of the material Springsteen and the E Street Band had to work with, but also the focus and devotion that Springsteen gives each song.
- The Ramones “The Ramones”
- Simple, catchy and deranged, the Ramones cut through everything. Their debut helped kick the door open for punk rock. Over subsequent albums, the band got older, but they never really matured.
- The Sex Pistols “Forget The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”
- The album that broke punk rock into the mainstream. Through all of the buzz saw-like melodies, Johnny Rotten?s manic voice and nasty demeanor dance slyly through each song.
- The Clash “The Clash”
- The Clash “London Calling”
- Almost the exact opposite of the monotony of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, you could barely keep the Clash musically still.While the tracks on “The Clash” are all birds of a feather, cuts like “I?m So Bored With The U.S.A” hinted that there was more to them than class warfare set to music.”London Calling” was the group?s double-album opus. Though there was plenty of angst in the music, there were departures like “Lost In The Supermarket,” which sounded like New Wave even before there was such a thing.
- Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures”
- This album — with Ian Curtis’ booming voice and the shuttering, atmospheric music — made Joy Division the founding fathers of goth.
- X “Los Angeles”
- Overlooked and underestimated.
- AC/DC “Back In Black”
- Mindless rocking never sounded so good. The thunderous guitars and shrill vocals in “Hells Bells” or “Back In Black” create a rhythm that?s almost irresistible to headbanging.We can thank AC/DC for all those horrible ?80s bands, but nobody?s perfect.
- Prince “1999”
- Prince “Purple Rain”
- These two albums captured Prince at his early zenith. Both records showed an artist struggling with his love of funk, soul and Hendrix while wrestling with being washed out by New Wave synthesizers.
- Michael Jackson “Thriller”
- For being his biggest album ever, this isn?t the most danceable record that Michael Jackson ever did, at least to me. Except for “Billie Jean,” imagine trying to dance along to “Beat It” or “Thriller” minus a crowd of dancers behind you aping your every move.
- R.E.M. “Out of Time”
- R.E.M. “Automatic For The People”
- “Out Of Time” is a colorful album. Maybe it’s the sprite-ly feeling conjured by Peter Buck?s mandolin playing on each song.Darker, introspective and more symphonic, “Automatic For The People” is their best album. Hearing the sweeping electric guitar lick come in during “Drive” still gives me chillls.
- Public Enemy “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”
- Public Enemy “Fear of a Black Planet”
- In 1988 and 1990, Public Enemy gave a brutal one-two punch to hip-hop and pop music in general.Vicious, infinitely complex and rhythmically bone-shattering, these albums are every bit as cantankerous as punk rock, if both more eclectic and politically astute (The Clash is an exception).Without them, hip-hop artists would not be as daring in their subject matter, nor would there be a Nine Inch Nails.
- N.W.A. “Straight Outta Compton”
- Ice Cube “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”
- Dr. Dre “The Chronic”
- After putting L.A. on the hip-hop map with “Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.?s rappers moved from looping samples, to extended jams filled with flutes and funk.
- Counting Crows “August and Everything After”
- Forget about the whining sound of Adam Duritz’s voice, this is great songwriting. Somber, lonely, wishful and filled with inventive wordplay, these mostly acoustic songs are compelling.What makes it so is Duritz’s voice. He’s believable. His voice isn’t pretty, but it is emotive and true. The band’s accompaniment is well-suited for the songs and they push his voice into the foreground.
- Morphine “Cure For Pain”
- Morphine was a trio: a drummer, lead singer Mark Sandman (who recently died) playing a two-string bass guitar with a slide and a horn player who played two saxophones at the same time. A dark, dreamy masterpiece.
- Soundgarden “Superunknown”
- The best album that ever came out of Seattle.
- Nine Inch Nails “Broken”
- Nine Inch Nails “The Downward Spiral”
- Trent Reznor’s an angry camper on these two. As imaginative as he is musically, his lyrics are startlingly plain and simple — showing that he’s twisted and angry.
- Nirvana “Nevermind”
- These songs sound like Kurt Cobain’s inner monologue. Why didn’t he speak more often?
- Beastie Boys “Ill Communication”
- Another artist that I don’t know all that well, but this one won’t let go.
- P.J. Harvey “Rid Of Me”
- P.J. Harvey is:A) Daring.B) Neurotic-sounding.C) The creator of an album of the century.
D) All of the above.
- Radiohead “OK Computer”
- I sort of don’t understand this album yet. I’m going to stick with it.
- Matthew Sweet “Girlfriend”
- Finding “Girlfriend” was like discovering the last living dinosaur: a pop album with crunching guitars. It’s lush, beautiful and enticing.
- Rage Against The Machine “Rage Against The Machine”
- Like the Clash or Public Enemy before them, Rage?s music doesn?t shy away from political sloganeering.What the Clash or PE never had was guitarist Tom Morello’s collection of the most pulverizing riffs since the ’70s.
- U2 “Achtung Baby”
- Now you’re probably wondering where “The Joshua Tree” is? In a controversial move, it is not here. Yes, I know you think it’s a classic. Yes, I know you’re thinking I’ve made a mistake. But I disagree.”The Joshua Tree” was the flowering of the group’s progression. It was culmination that sort of bores me, though. Aren’t you sick of “Pride”? It’s a bit too bombastic for me. Because it also harkens back to the music of the ’60s and beyond, it was also quickly embraced by classic rock stations. I didn’t like that.Now “Achtung Baby,” that came out of nowhere. In one of the most stunning metamorphoses in pop music, the group shed their wide brimmed hats and Quaker suit coats for wet leather pants, hair gel and dance club gear.Distorted, mutated and sometimes industrial-tinged, the music’s contemporary sound was the “Joshua Tree” band’s alter ego. This was an album that looks forward musically.
But what the group couldn’t dissolve with all the mechanics was its soul. It shines through the fuzzed-out vocals and scattered melodies.
This album and the leap the band took in recording and releasing it, dwarfs “The Joshua Tree” and leaves it pale by comparison.
(To read the second part of the list, click here.)
Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.
©Copyright 1999 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.