I’m leading a discussion on the top 100 all-time greatest albums according to Rolling Stone magazines (2020). I’m going to use this thread to keep notes on the albums, musicians, and the process.
I’m leading a discussion on the top 100 all-time greatest albums according to Rolling Stone magazines (2020). I’m going to use this thread to keep notes on the albums, musicians, and the process.
75 thoughts on “Notes on Rolling Stone Magazine’s All-Time Greatest Albums”
I’ve been listening to albums #100-96–#100 Music from the Big Pink (1968)–The Band; #99 Red (2012) Taylor Swift; #98 Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998) Lucinda Williams; #97 Master of Puppets (1986) Metallica; #96 Automatic for the People (1992) R.E.M.–and while doing this, I thought of a framework for evaluating the albums. This framework relies on something I heard in the past about the biggest innovative rock musicians, specifically around the 60s and early 70s. I’m thinking of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and James Brown. In a way, we can see the music of every subsequent rock/pop musicians as falling into one or more of these categories these musicians represent. Here the (very broad) categories I have in mind, with a brief description of each:
I would reiterate that rock/pop music wouldn’t necessarily fall into only one of these categories. However, generally, my sense is that an album would lean more towards one of these categories. For example, Music from the Big Pink leans more towards poetic category, and I think it seen as party of the folk tradition. Something like Master of Puppets shouldn’t be evaluated in the same way. This isn’t to say the lyrics for the Metallica album aren’t important, or impactful. But I would argue it’s not as central to the music as the lyrics for The Band’s album…Not central in the way that lyrics seem to be central to folk and folk-based music….Or maybe I’m saying The Band’s music more closely related to the Folk tradition.
This is an interesting framework worth considering. I would say your thoughts on Master of Puppets are valid, but I also think people who follow this form of music would disagree about the lyrics. The lyrics are one of the big reasons you see Metallica on these lists (particularly this album, which is their best) and not other bands who play similar music. And if influence is a consideration, the lyrics are a large part of the wide- and long-reaching influence of this album. I would point specifically to the title track.
Red is my favorite Taylor Swift album by a mile, although in a few years I think her two recent albums will surpass it. How do you look at Red with this framework in mind?
I knew you would have a problem with my post–even if I qualified it with, “This isn’t to say the lyrics for the Metallica album aren’t important, or impactful.” I’m sure there are people who think the lyrics on Master of Puppets is the most important thing on that album. In no way am I trying to diminish that…If we’re talking about personal, subjective reaction, throw my framework out the window. Some people may love the rhythms on Music from the Big Pink far more than lyrics; they may love these rhythms more than something from James Brown. That’s a totally valid reaction–in terms of a personal response.
I guess what I’m offering is an intersubjective framework for evaluating the music. For example, if someone disliked MoP because of the lyrics, I think the framework I’m suggesting could help such a person. Or let’s take myself. I don’t normally enjoy the music that could be part of the the Dylan/Folk lineage. But this framework provides me a way of evaluating and even appreciating the music, even though it’s not generally the type of music that really grabs me. See what I’m saying?
The melodic/Beatles lineage.
I think what’s problematic, in my framework, is the distinction between The Beatles and James Brown lineages. The rhythms of the former and the melodies of the latter can be appealing as well. But I think this is a matter of priorities or what aspect of the music is closer to the essence of that lineage. With the James Brown lineage, I think the rhythms or groove. Basically, I think we’re mostly talking about black music–music like in the R&B, soul, and funk category. (Thought: Where would the blues–as in B.B. King–fit? I’m not sure. It seems like it’s a little bit of everyone of those categories, although maybe more The Beatles?)
But pop versions of R&B/soul/funk basically are children of The Beatles and James Brown. To be clear, there aren’t really clear demarcations.
By the way, if you asked me if there is one artist that comes closest to consistently blending all four–and does so in a highly skilled and artistic way–one musician/group comes immediately to mind (which implies I don’t think they are the only one). Do you know who I have in mind? Or is it obvious?
Here’s another interesting question: Where does Rap/Hip-hop fit into all this?
Off the top of my head, I think Rap/Hip-hop is the child of Dylan and James Brown. In a way, I think of it as Black Folk music. The lyrics seem slightly more important that the music/rhythms. There are artists who focus on politics and social commentary, similar to 60’s Folk musicians. Instead of acoustic guitars, you have R&B/funk samples. With Folk and Rap/Hip-hop, if you one says, “I think it’s bad because the music is uninteresting,” I feel like they’re missing the meat of the music. But if they said the same about the lyrics, well, that would be a more devastating critique (assuming the person has valid criticisms of the lyrics).
I just realized something else about the “Dylan” category. While I said lyrics–a more poetic lyrics–are a defining characteristic, I also think the music can have a connection to older folk melodies and forms, and maybe even instrumentation. For example, on Automatic for the People, some of the songs sound like Irish folk tunes (or at least that’s what comes to mind). It’s not just the lyrics that give that impression but the music and instruments as well.
Are there different types of musical or lyrical forms that are closely associate with American or Irish folk music that I should be mindful of? Also, would you say that telling stories is a prominent part of the folk tradition? Is there a particular style or theme that makes these stories part of the folk tradition? Can we say that rock/pop songs that tell stories basically have their roots in Folk music, even if the connection is slight? (Then again, early Blues music would also have this element, but early Blues songs are a form of folk music, but not necessarily Folk, as in the genre. Does that make sense?)
By the way, I’m asking this just to be better equip to understand and appreciate the music. Music, in this vein, is generally not something I would choose to listen to, except in the rare occasion when I’m in the mood for it. I think the music on Music from the Big Pink and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (I like that title) is good, if not more than good. But I think I would rarely find myself listening to it. It’s just not the type of music that I really enjoy. And I think it stems from the fact that I don’t derive a lot of pleasure (poetic) lyrics.
Maybe, but that might be a more scholarly approach to the lyrics than I’ve ever attempted. I don’t know a lot about musical forms, and my understanding of lyrical forms is limited to undergrad-level poetry.
Prominent for sure, but that’s true of most folk musics. Yes, ballads are a big part — such a big part of it that there are qualifiers for ballads. Like murder ballads in the bluegrass tradition. Which I love.
Maybe? But I’m not versed enough in folk music to know.
I’d say you could just erase “folk” from that sentence. Aren’t the earliest songs stories preserving people’s oral traditions? I don’t know — you may be trying to fit too broad a concept into too small a form. Because storytelling in music kind of predates music.
Yes, and this brings me to the one speed bump I’ve found in your establishing this framework. Naming them after Dylan, Hendrix, Brown, and the Beatles makes it extremely difficult to think about music predating these artists within the framework, since these artists all have common artistic lineages.
For example, where in this framework do you put Chuck Berry? Or going further back, Bo Diddly? Or (further back) Blind Willie Johnson? Although I guess since we’re talking about pop music, we wouldn’t use it for Blind Willie.
Whatever does it for you. If this opens up the music and helps you understand why people dig it, then great.
You may be putting (for a change) too much emphasis on lyrics. Sure, Dylan’s lyrics are great and they are my favorite thing about Dylan’s music, but they kind of suck on their own. One reason he should never have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. They work in the context of the music, sung through the channel of the singer and his voice. Or maybe that’s just me — you liked Moulin Rouge (the movie) and I didn’t. Song lyrics as spoken narrative just don’t work.
Perhaps a better approach (and I’m not suggesting you should start over from scratch) is just listen to the albums and decide what you like and don’t like. Then read what people (not just the Rolling Stone) have said about the songs and albums. Maybe that will connect you better to the music, or maybe it won’t. That’s all fine.
Another suggestion, if you’re listening to the albums in any kind of order, is to start with 1 and go down. The songs lower on the list (especially if the list goes to 500) are so far removed, quality-wise, from the songs at the top, if you’re scratching your head wondering what makes them great, you may have great difficulty since you don’t especially dig the genres.
But if you start with Led Zep IV and then Dark Side of the Moon and then Are You Experienced? in the top 25 (I’m making this up for the sake of illustration) then hit, say, Blow by Blow and 461 Ocean Boulevard at 75 and 80, the appeal of New Jersey and Badmotorfinger at 200 and 250 might make more sense.
Or maybe not! Another approach might be to just listen to the popular songs on each album, decide what you like, then go back and listen to the entire albums of the ones you like. Because the overwhelming majority of albums on any list are not solid from track 1 to track 9. I can think of only a handful of albums most people (that is, not the serious fans of specific artists) would consider solid from front to back.
REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity. That’s always my first example.
Or start with the artists you already kind of like (or liked at one time, like Kiss), then listen to everything on the list by those artists, and then the albums by adjacent artists. Like, if you once liked Kiss, maybe then all the glam and punk bands on the list. Alice Cooper, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Motley Crue. And go from there.
(Note: I just saw your post a few days ago. I accidentally shutdown my computer before I finished typing a response. Ugh.)
I want to address this, because I’ve done a poor job articulating my thoughts on this. Even when the lyrics are great, I think it’s rare when the music doesn’t matter–the lyrics work with the music. That’s part of the way the song is designed.
But I still think the lyrics are the star so to speak.
As for the music, in these type of songs, while they’re important, they’re not as interesting. If you played the music only, I’d guess the songs wouldn’t be that interesting. This is mostly relative to other types of music that has a lot going on from moment to moment. There can be a lot of interplay between the instruments and/or development in the music from one moment to the next, all the way until the end of the song. This type of music will reward listeners who pay close attention to it from beginning to the end. Music in the Dylan category generally don’t do that–at least I don’t think they do.
This is a great point. I gotta be honest and say that I was thinking of the framework in the context of music (albums) that came during or after those four artists.
I toyed with adding a fifth artist–the Rolling Stones to represent musicians that rock, but not as hard as Hendrix, but harder than the Beatles. Berry and Bo Diddly would probably fall under that category.
What’s your thought process on this? Are you thinking that the best albums will reveal connections and influences that manifest in the albums further on down the list?
I don’t think I’ve listened to the entire album. I’m putting this on my list.
What’s your rationale for suggesting this?
In the next discussion, we’ll be talking about Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and OutKast’s Aquemini. I’m a bit concerned because most of hte participants are close to their 70s, and they’re primarily fans of classic rock. I’m having trouble understanding some of the lyrics on these films, so I can imagine it might be tough for the participants.
I’m starting to do a little research on some of lyrics, and that’s helped, but I probably need to do a lot more.
Any help–insights and analysis of the music and lyrics–would help. Or if you guys know anyone who could help, let me know.
I’m much more inclined to liking Outkast than Jay-Z, but I’ve never given either of these albums a listen. I might, though, for sake of conversation. I just don’t care for Jay-Z’s style.
Man, you’re going to have to help me out here. Do you mean US when you’re talking about “close to their 70s?” And what’s the connection with film? I know their songs are used in film, but are you trying to talk about a cinematic style or somethings? Or, oh shoot: I suddenly think “films” is just the wrong word.
Are you tackling these albums in order? I haven’t looked at the list recently.
Initially, Jay-Z’s voice, music and lyrics did almost nothing for me. I found all three bland. As I read the lyrics along with the songs, I started noticing more clever use of language and humor. Some aspects of the riffs are growing on me, but that’s partly because I’ve been listening to multiple times. The music and style is just very different from other hip-hop I’m used to. (I really liked Eminen’s rapping–both his style and his lyrics.)
I should say that the slang, the backstory behind the songs, and also the who sub-culture Jay-Z comes from makes the music harder to appreciate.
Yeah, sorry–I meant “albums.” I’m also moderating a movie discussion and a book discussion, so I think that’s where the mix-up lies.
Yes, although we’re starting from #50 and working our way down to #1. (Note: This is the 2020 version of the top 500 albums.) By the way here are the first five albums we’ll be discussing this week:
50: The Blueprint (Jay-Z)
49: Aquemini (OutKast)
48: Legend: Bob Marley and the Wailers
47: Ramones self-titled 1976 album
46: Graceland (Paul Simon)
I’ve been thinking about two distinct frameworks for evaluating music where the lyrics matter–and, again, I can use the musicians as a shorthand representation of this–specifically, the Beatles and Dylan. The Beatles represents the clever and skillful use of language, but not in a way that one would describe as poetic. The skill could also manifest with the way the lyrics work with the music.
Here’s an example from chorus of Taylor Swift’s “Red:”
Later in the song Swift adds “burning red,” and I liked that variation.
The other type of lyrics–the one in the Dylan category–are what I think of as more poetic. Specifically, I’m thinking of poems with language that is more abstruse and not so direct, but when done well, effective and maybe more powerful than the former. (The Swift example above also has elements that we can call poetic, too–so maybe “poetic” is not a good way to distinguish the two.) In these songs, the music may not be strong as the music in the Beatles category. Indeed, musically the songs may be quite bland in comparison. But the power comes from the poetry of the lyrics. On the other hand, while the music may be as exceptional, for whatever reason, it can complement the lyrics quite effectively.
Here’s an example of the second type of lyrics, from the second verse and chorus from “The Boy in the Bubble” from Paul Simon’s Graceland:
I’m now getting a better idea of what the song is about, but I was pretty clueless about the meaning of most of these lyrics. Actually, it’s probably not a great example of effective poetry—although it is an example of abstruse lyrics.
Also, the example may not be apt, because I think the music is actually quite rich, particularly the accompaniment.
Maybe “In a Station” from The Band’s Music from the Big Pink is a better example:
I just realized that there is also another component under the Dylan framework. I’m thinking of the lyrics that have strong ties to traditional folk music. “The Long Black Veil” (which I first heard from Music from the Big Pink) might be a good example of this:
Lyrically and musically it has a very Folk feeling, almost like a children’s song, too. In this type of lyrics that I’m filing under the Dylan heading, the lyrics tell a story in way that may include poetic elements, but not so abstruse.
In conclusion, the point of all this is to have a way to evaluate the music on its own terms. A listener may not like the type of folk songs that tell a story, but if they know a song falls in that category, the listener can evaluate the success of telling a story in that style. The same can apply to the music that falls into the different frameworks I’ve discussed.
(Note: I will reiterate that the frameworks are not impermeable silos–they’re more like broad, permeable bubbles. My descriptions can create the impression that they’re like the former, but that’s because I’m emphasizing the distinguishing qualities of each category. In practice, I’d guess most of this music would be a blending of one or more frameworks.)
Your observation is sound, but your trying to describe it in terms of poetry is a bit misguided, as you seem to realize midway through this. Accessible vs. abstruse might be a better way to look at it. The same lenses can be used for other elements of pop music as well.
I mostly object because I find the Red lyrics much more poetic than the Boy in the Bubble lyrics. Poetry’s not about being difficult to penetrate, or about meaning that must be explicated. These are some of the things we do to understand poetry, but poetry is about the sound of the language. Sometimes it’s simple, straightforward, and accessible, and sometimes it’s esoteric and dense. As are music, paintings, sculptures, and dance.
The greatest rock and roll song of all time, Stairway to Heaven, is so mysterious nobody knows what it’s about, but it’s not more poetic than the songs of Rush, which are actual poems set to music.
I agree, and you’re right–my use of “poetry” to distinguish the different types of lyrics is probably a bad word choice. On the other hand, I don’t know if simply calling it abstruse or esoteric is sufficient, either. Maybe lyrics with poetic language, whose meaning is clear versus lyrics with poetic language, whose meaning is more abstruse and esoteric are better ways of distinguishing the two type s of lyrics I have in mind.
On a side note, I strongly associate poetry with language and content that is abstruse. Maybe it’s because this is the type of poems that attract me or that I tend to remember more. Also, I think more of the poems that I read are difficult to understand.
Maybe. Or maybe this is the way poetry is taught in literature classes our whole lives until we get to the upper division in undergrad English courses. I rebelled against this when I taught it to high schoolers. Stopped asking “What does it mean?” and asked “What sticks out?”
Also, it’s taken me this long to realize “I’m leading a discussion on…” referred to a discussion elsewhere. Ha. I thought you were simply announcing a new discussion in this space, which is what every post sort of is.
Ah, I guess I could have been a little clearer.
For me, I think I just read a lot of poems that are not straightforward. Even poems where I understand the gist, several lines may be unclear and difficult to understand.
Yes, but is this not true also of music, literature, and other arts? Poetry isn’t special this way. But it’s taught as if there’s (seemingly by definition) something esoteric and deep about it.
Off the top of my head, I’d say no, but I guess it depends on what type of music, literature, etc. we’re talking about. Most novels are pretty straight-forward. Generally, the same is true for music, although I guess it depends what we mean by “straightforward.” For something like paintings, it can depend. More realistic paintings are straightforward, whereas abstract paintings are not.
I suspect we’re not on the same wavelength. With poetry, the issue isn’t that it’s deep; the issue is that the language is abstruse, the meaning opaque…or at least the meanings aren’t easily understood. Nowadays, I enjoy poetry more for the sound of the language versus the meaning of the poem. The former is something that I can appreciate fairly quickly.
I’ve been listening to the Ramones self-titled 1976 album. What I’m hearing so far is a really good distillation of rock n’ roll–specifically, the part that involves aggression and rebellion. The music and lyrics are simple and primitive–primitive not just in terms of the music and song-writing, but also the content as well. “Beat on the Brat” is a good example:
But the primitiveness works well together in my view. The album is not something I would listen to a lot, but I like what it’s going for, and I think it largely succeeds in what it’s going for.
By the way, I see a connection between the Ramones and the Japanese noise-rock group, Mainliner. The latter just takes it a step (steps?) further.
I love the Ramones. Don’t remember if I’ve heard this album all the way through.
Tangent: Since we’re talking about the Rolling Stone, here’s a review I wrote of a documentary about the Chinese American music editor of the Stone, in the magazine’s early days.
I’m interested in seeing this film.
What exactly do you mean here:
I assume you’re talking about legal battles over the rights to use certain music and film footage in a movie, but are you saying the details of this battle give the film emotional heft? ?
I’m not talking about legal battles, just securing permission to use music and footage. It’s not always a battle, but sometimes it’s expensive or impossible. I’m saying the producers’ getting the rights to the music and footage provide the details that make the times, places, and people real.
You mean, because the producers were able to secure certain music and footage that lead to providing those details? (I promise I’m not trying to be difficult.)
I’m saying the music and footage are impressive and they provide specific details that really make this film effective. This is a little indie doc that took the producer 10 years to put together (people she interviewed for it, including Ray Manzarek, have died since she interviewed them), and I don’t imagine she had a ton of money. But whatever the cost or difficulty, it was worth it because it makes the film much better. They don’t necessarily provide specific details, as in “Fong-Torres wrote about a Grateful Dead show on January 12, 1969 and here’s footage from it,” but as in “Fong-Torres wrote about Grateful Dead shows and here’s some footage of him at a Grateful Dead show.”
OK, I got it now.
Mitchell (and Don),
I’m interested in hearing the way you listen to an appreciate lyrics. Do you usually enjoy and appreciate lyrics (assuming the lyrics are good) simply by listening to them, as opposed to listening to the music while reading the lyrics? And easy is appreciating the lyrics? To what extent does this involve gaining some meaning from the lyrics? For example, you might not fully understand the lyrics, but you enjoy the words, images, and maybe feelings that the lyrics conjure up.
Context: I’m been analyzing the lyrics for several albums, and I’m pretty burnt out. It’s not really an enjoyable way to listen to music for me. The experience of immersing myself in instrumental music (that I like) is far more pleasurable than immersing myself in musical lyrics (that I like).
I’m wondering if the issue is that I just don’t have the lyrics memorized. If I did, maybe the process would be way more enjoyable. Or maybe I just don’t enjoy lyrics as much as some other people.
It depends on who the artist is, honestly. I usually spin a new album just listening to it, because music is an aural medium. I know one musician who is very much against lyrics sheets, because if the lyrics are important enough for the listener to know exactly, they’ll be clear enough in the audio. She makes a strong point. Vocals on a Cocteau Twins album sound the way they sound for artistic reasons; if the group meant for you to know the lyrics for sure, they wouldn’t produce the music this way.
If it’s an artist whose lyrics are very important to me, after a few spins I’ll sit down with the lyrics sheet in front of me and I’ll listen in my headphones, as opposed to on a speaker or with earbuds, and I’ll listen to everything straight through with no going backward, although if I’m taking track-by-track notes, I’ll pause between songs to jot down my thoughts.
The most recent two albums I’ve done this with were Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You (2020) and Taylor Swift’s Evermore (2020). One of my favorite bands, The Choir, released an album this year and I still haven’t spun it because I’ve been waiting for a good time to give it the track-by-track treatment. Kind of annoying because I backed it on Kickstarter and got an advance copy before the release, and now it’s been more than half a year. Ugh.
Otherwise, I’ll just pick up the lyrics from repeated listens. It’s one reason I won’t write an album review until I’ve heard an album five times through from beginning to end.
If you’re looking for a blanket answer, I don’t think you’ll get one. Too many considerations varying from artist to artist, from album to album.
To a great extent, but those aren’t the only considerations. I’m listening right this moment to the new Kina Grannis album (an unannounced new album drop this morning!), an artist I’ve followed since she put out her first indie album after turning down a record label deal she won in a national contest (they aired part of her video during the Super Bowl — that was the other part of the prize and it’s how I discovered her). Kina’s writing is so personal and intimate, the appreciation comes from phrasing and imagery, but also from knowing the artist’s personal story. In this case, she’s having a baby any day now after going through infertility, IVF, and a miscarriage. Knowing all this lends more appreciation to the lyrics and probably doesn’t fall into the descriptors you list.
There are some meta considerations too. I know when Bruce Springsteen quotes himself in his lyrics (also in his music), and this adds to my appreciation.
And I know we’ve discussed this before, but cleverness and creativity in phrasing are huge, as in
Brilliant rhyming, phrasing, and imagery.
Yeah it sounds exhausting. But it doesn’t sound like you’re listening for the pleasure. From your descriptions, you’re studying the songs academically. Which is fine, but it’s not always enjoyable, especially if it’s an art form you don’t care for.
Well I think we’ve already established the latter. And yeah, for the former, familiarity does go a long way toward enjoyment. I love “Thunder Road” more now that I can sing along with it than I did when I just listened to it.
I don’t have time to respond to your post, but I want to ask a question before I forget it. If the lyrics are good, but the music (e.g., melody, rhythms, vocal timbres, singing quality, etc.) does little for you or even worse, to what degree will you like the music?
I think that might the main stumbling block for me. This might be the reason I’ve been getting burnt out. Certainly, with the Outkast and Jay-Z albums the music did very little for me. (Some of Jay-Z’s tunes are growing on me, but that’s largely because I’m becoming more familiar with them.) With The Band or Lucinda Williams, the musical elements may have been slightly more appealing, but still not enough to really grab me.
With music like Dylan’s, I assumed lyrics were the main reason fans loved his music, while they could take or leave the musical elements…Well, maybe that last part is too strong. (For what it’s worth, I could take or leave the lyrics of groups like Steely Dan and EWF.) Anyway, now I’m wondering if fans also really like the musical elements, whereas the musical elements of his music leaves me cold.
Can’t give a blanket statement here, but usually not much. I mean, take all the music out entirely so it’s just the spoken word version of the lyrics and I probably won’t listen, even if it’s Bob Dylan.
Which is not to say I won’t listen to a spoken word album. That’s just a different thing.
Too strong and way off. The lyrics are the first thing people point to because they are so much better than most songwriters’ lyrics, but we love the music. And really, a song with lyrics is music AND lyrics. It’s not music with lyrics or lyrics with music. “Tangled up in Blue” is a melody, some instrumentation, lyrics, a voice, rhythm, meter, and sound; it’s not any one of these things minus the others, or any handful of things minus the rest.
So in “Kid Charlemagne,” if the lyrics, instead of “get along, get along Kid Charlemagne” were something like “ride a bike, the sky is blue Alexander Payne” you’d like the song just as much? What about the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” or the national anthem? Do you like these songs without evaluation of the lyrics? Trying to get a handle on the degree to which song lyrics have little resonance with you.
Tangent: I don’t know why, but it still surprises me that Dylan’s “Hurricane” leaves you flat. Thought you’d like that one, but maybe you dislike Dylan’s voice? Or maybe the sneering presentation?
OK, that makes sense.
Right, but just to let you know where I’m coming from–Dylan’s music, generally speaking, is less interesting than, say, a lot of jazz that I like. In other words, my reaction is relative to the music I tend to like.
I guess if I could clearly understand the lyrics, that might put a damper on the song. Then again, maybe not–I like a lot of songs where I can’t make out the words of the lyrics.
No, the lyrics matter in those songs. And in every worship song, the lyrics matter a lot.
No, I like that one. And to be clear, I didn’t mean to imply that all of Dylan’s music leaves me cold. I was speaking more generally.
What about the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” or the national anthem? Do you like these songs without evaluation of the lyrics? Trying to get a handle on the degree to which song lyrics have little resonance with you.
Ultimately, though, it sounds like you either need to read the lyrics, or listen multiple times to really appreciate the lyrics. Or, is it not uncommon to really enjoy the good lyrics after only hearing a song one or two times.
(Actually, there are lyrics I can enjoy after only one or two hearings, but these lyrics are generally clear and easy to understand.)
I don’t think you can make a broad claim like this. Older recordings may not have good technology to capture the music properly. Also, some musicians just don’t enunciate their words clearly. Should we conclude that the words aren’t important enough to the musician? (This would apply to some of Dylan’s songs.) I’m skeptical of this position.
OK, that makes sense. I would assume, though, in these two examples, the meaning of the lyrics are fairly clear.
The thing is, if I did the same thing for instrumental music, or let’s say a film I had a hard time understanding, if the music or film is really good, I generally gain a greater appreciation and find the process rewarding. I don’t feel that way at all–although I think in this specific case, I didn’t really gain significantly greater level of appreciation.
Brief comments on…
#44 Illmatic (1994) Nas
This is more like it. Here, not only do the rhythm tracks groove, but the rapping grooves as well–at least for me. I was bobbing my head for a lot of the songs. That wasn’t the case for The Blueprint or Aquemini
With regard to those albums, my impression is that both take a significant leap away from rap/hip-hop (not to imply they were the first). I feel like they’re both shifting more focus on the lyrics and making the cadences and rhymes more complex. In turn the rhythmic backdrops are less complex or they’re not as toe-tapping. Actually the raps also don’t groove as well.
Or, I’m just not used to the music and rapping. I would guess that for a lot of fans, the rhythms are effective–effective in the sense of getting in their bodies and making them want to move. I wonder if I would feel that way if I listened more to the music.
#42 OK Computer (1997) Radiohead
I like the rocking quality of this, and even though I didn’t listen to them a lot during the 90s (or a lot of music like this), it kinda sounds like the music for Gen-Xers in their 20s, especially those “slacking” and trying to figure out what to do with their lives.
I recently listened to this while reading the lyrics. Here are some random notes I jotted down:
“Mood: rainy, grey place like Seattle or maybe London”
“Disaffected young man–>highly disturbed, mentally ill”
“arty, nerd rock version of punk, e.g., The Ramones”
“Yorke’s singing–almost impossible to understand the lyrics; wailing in pain”
Except for the aspects that make the person behind the lyrics seem mentally ill/unstable, I view the other comments in a positive light. Indeed, I like this album, and I think this might be my favorite of theirs, at least among the ones I’ve heard (which might only be three).
Oh, here’s an example of lyrics that made me think the person behind the lyrics was mentally unwell (“Paranoid Android”)
Overall, I think this might be my favorite of theirs because of the raw sounding, noise guitars and computers (?).
#45 Sign o’ the Times (1986) Prince
I think this is my favorite album by Prince. It’s either this or 1999. I like the music, but I think there are examples of kind of bad lyrics, at least in relation to the type of music that would fall into the Dylan category. For example, here are the lyrics for “Hot Thing:”
The lyrics pretty much go on like that for the rest of the song. In a way, the lyrics and the song remind me a little of James Brown’s lyrics, although the song isn’t as funky. Prince also carves some space for instrumental section, which is OK. I think the song works best in the overall context of the album’s music.
The larger point I’d like to make is that pop/lyrics often often not that critical to me, and I often if they were not about weighty matters or performed in an earnest way. Fun usually works best with pop and rock that is pop-like. (As I write this “U Got the Look” comes on. The content of the song is superficial, but it’s fun. So is the music. Good!)
#43 The Low End Theory (1991) A Tribe Called Quest
Of the four rap albums I’ve listened to so far, I might like this one the most, at least in terms of the groove. On the other hand, I think it terms of the lyrics, I think this might be the weakest of the four. A big part of this is that the rhymes stick to the standard rap rhyming structure far too often. From what I remember, most rap songs around this time, or earlier, did this. Nas’s Illmatic, and definitely the Outkast and Jay-Z albums moved away from this and added more variety to the rhyming structure(?).
But I still don’t really care for the grooves and overall music of Outkast and Jay-Z albums.
By the way, I wonder if the more complex and diverse rhyming structures interfere with toe-tapping quality of the music. (I’m a little skeptical of this, to be honest. I’m probably just not used the the styles of Jay-Z and Outkast.)
#39 Remain in Light (1980) The Talking Heads
Wow. Of the albums I’ve listened to so far, this one surprised me the most–in a good way; I really like it, especially the playing of the rhythm section. I generally don’t care for singers with Byrne’s sound, but I’m surprisingly OK with it.
On a sidenote, on one of the songs (the second on the album I think), I liked the buzzsaw like guitar. I couldn’t confirm who played that part, but when I looked at the personnel of the album, I’m pretty sure I know who it is. He’s the guy that whose singing I dislike, but whose guitar playing I really like.
Remain in Light.
Are you saying the other guitarist I couldn’t think of is Jerry Harrison? Man, I never would have gotten that. I didn’t even know he sang.
Did you also like the rhythm section in Tom Tom Club?
(Will correct the error. Thanks.)
No, I’m not saying the guitarist is Jerry Harrison. I’m assuming the person is a guest artist.
As for the Tom Tom Club, I’m only familiar with “Genius of Love,” and I like the groove on that. (I think that’s the name of the song.)
Did you mean Brian Eno?
Yes, Genius of Love. You probably also know Wordy Rappinghood and their cover of Under the Boardwalk. A good band.
No, I didn’t mean Brian Eno. Do you want me to reveal the guitarist?
Oh yeah, I think I know “Wordy Rappinghood,” and their cover of “Under the Board Walk.”
No, but just clarify whether or not when you said, “I couldn’t confirm who played that part, but when I looked at the personnel of the album, I’m pretty sure I know who it is. He’s the guy that whose singing I dislike, but whose guitar playing I really like” you were talking about that second guy whose identity I haven’t figured out yet.
I liked this Pitchfork review of the album, especially the insights below:
I also want to comment on some of quotes below:
“Straight-up African” goes too far for me. To me, afrobeat is basically an African (Nigerian or West African?) take on funk/soul/R&B/jazz of the late 60’s and 70s. If that’s accurate, I wouldn’t call that straight-up African. It’s like calling Euro-samba, “straight-up” European.
I find this reaction annoying, especially when it comes to the music on this album. For one thing, I never really thought of the music as afrobeat. Maybe I’m not discerning enough, but I never thought of afrobeat when I listened to the album. When I learned that music influenced the album, I can definitely hear this, but the final results are really different in my view. The music is stiff, mechanical and electronic, both in terms of the sound and rhythms–putting it outside of afrobeat for me. (At least that’s one thing that does so.)
And to be clear, that is a good thing! To me, I feel like the Talking Heads came up with something new, and I love that! By the way, if you guys know of other music that sounds like this, please let me know. I would love to find more music like this.
Oh, by the way, I listened to some of the Angelique Kidjo’s cover. I liked some of it (e.g., “Once in a Lifetime”), and it does sound more like afrobeat. But again, the fact that RiL doesn’t sound like authentic afrobeat, is a virtue not a drawback, in my opinion.
#37 The Chronic (1992) Dr. Dre
Around the time of this album came out, Wynton Marsalis and the jazz critic, Stanley Crouch, harshly criticized rap, particularly the vulgar language and content. I thought of those remarks while listening to this album, and strangely I didn’t think of it while listening to four the previous rap/hip-hop albums (although most were vulgar as well). For some reason, this one took it to another level.
I actually feel a bit disappointed in this because I really like Snoopy Dogg. I think he has a great voice, and I really like his style. On both counts, he would be among my favorite rappers. (By the way, that the album is credited to Dr. Dre seems a bit misleading to me, as Snoop is featured on most of the songs, and to me, he steals the show. For what it’s worth, Dre’s sound and rapping is just OK to me.
I would also add that I like the rhythm tracks on this, similar to the other two rap albums made in the early 90s, Illmatic and The Low End Theory. Musically, I might like The Chronic, the best.
The sad thing is that I may never listen to this album again because of the lyrics.
It’s a valid concern, and I once felt the same way about N.W.A. But I’ve seen Boyz n the Hood more than once and Taxi Driver more than once, and thinking about this changed the way I looked at this form of hip hop, not to mention a lot of reading the interviews with Ice-T, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre.
They’re playing characters. From somewhere I can’t relate to but can try to understand. It doesn’t necessarily make me like The Chronic any better, but it did turn me into an admirer of the first two N.W.A. albums.
Taxi Driver and Boyz in the Hood seem different to me. I don’t think I would describe either film as “vulgar” although there are scenes and aspects of it where that adjective might be appropriate. I wouldn’t use the word “crass,” either–and I think that word is apt when it comes to The Chronic. And it seems more egregiously crass and vulgar than the Jay-Z, OutKast, Nas albums.
If you can share any other thoughts that helped you appreciate music like this, I’d be interested in hearing them.
#40 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) David Bowie
Besides songs that made onto top 40 radio, I’m not really familiar with Bowie’s music. While his popular tunes were enjoyable, his voice and his persona was off-putting to me. He just seemed a bit weird for my tastes. That’s my attitude when I listened to this recording.
Here are some thoughts off the top of my head:
Bowie may still have a strange sound–not classically beautiful–but he’s a good singer with some range and also the ability to rock.
I would classify most of the tunes a rock n’ roll or a bit edgier rock at times–with a connection to earlier rock. There is some diversity within this style, though. For example, some of the guitar riffs and melodies push the music into a hard rock territory. Other songs have a very Elton John rock sound, with the pounding piano chords and back up singers (“La la la la”–like in “Crocodile Rock”).
The lyrics are confusing, aburdist at times. This is partly what makes the music a different type of rock n’ roll.
My favorite thing I ever heard about Bowie was by a local DJ many years ago after he played a song from a new Bowie album.
He said, “Whenever I hear a new David Bowie album I always don’t understand it and I seldom like it. Then I listen to it a few years later and it’s amazing and I love it.” His point was that Bowie’s always ahead of his time. I don’t know enough about his music to agree or disagree, but what a great thing for someone to say about your work if you’re that kind of artist.
(Note: I wish we had the old format in the right margin–because I want to write a lot of posts, and that’s going to mess up that area.)
#32 Lemonade (2016) Beyonce
Remain in Light really surprised me, in a good way. I thought hearing another album that surprised me in a similar or greater way would be highly unlikely. Well, the unlikely happened with this album! I don’t like is as much as Remain in Light, but it may be a better album. I should also mention that I had a very lukewarm opinion of Beyonce. To me, her singing is just OK, and her timbre and style of her singing seem fairly generic.
I don’t think this album changed those feelings, although she sings in different ways (which I guess was engineered for different effects?). But the singing isn’t as critical as the music and orchestration. Specifically, I want to mention the way the music develops. For a lot of rock/pop, the music doesn’t develop much through the course of a song, especially relative to jazz or classical music. On my initial listening, I felt like this music did actually develop in interesting ways. (Note: I only listened to it one time.) Part of this involves the orchestration in addition to the structure of the song.
I must also mention the lyrics. Again, I didn’t pay real close attention, but the album is almost like a movie or even a musical sermon on the struggle and resilience of strong African-American women specifically and maybe African-Americans more broadly. With this subject, there’s a danger of being too earnest, preachy, or cheesy, but my initial sense is that the album avoids all three.
I don’t care for a top 50 or 100 style of ranking. Instead I prefer a tier system. Right now, I’d say Lemonade is a first-tier candidate. (Remain in Light would probably be a second tier candidate.)
I haven’t heard this album but I guess I listened to a lot of podcasts hosted by twenty- and thirty-somethings when it came out because they were all talking about it. I hadn’t heard much about the larger picture of Black women making lemonade from lemons; most of the conversation was about Beyonce herself writing a confessional album. Did the personal themes stick with you much?
I would say the personal themes didn’t resonate with me on a personal level. I doubt this is an album I’ll seek out often, but I believe this was a significant artistic achievement. You know when you experience a work of art and come away feeling you’ve just witnessed a masterpiece? That was my first reaction to the film. And that’s where my enthusiasm lies.
(After hyping it up so much, I’m curious about my reaction on the next go around.)
Second go around.
I initially wrote that the album didn’t really resonate with me personally. And while that’s true the second time around, the music hit me on an emotional level (and I’m pretty sure I just forgot about this when writing my initial thoughts). I’m surprised that the album has this impact on me. Think of the feeling of a song like “I Will Survive.” That’s the vibe for a lot of these songs in my view.
I sort of meant resonance in Beyonce’s own personal expressions. You might be immune to this, but she’s looked up to by women all over, and many of them saw this album as about her and they responded to it on her behalf. Personal resonance as in your response I hadn’t even thought of, but there is that element too.
I think I understand this reaction (and I vaguely knew she was looked up to by other women). Indeed, I think I reacted in a similar way. That is, I responded emotionally to her personal expressions (as you mentioned.) I haven’t listened to her other albums, but this album feels like an apotheosis–her masterpiece.
(Note: This post might cause some confusion because I’m going to post comments on albums I forget to mention–#38, #36, and others that were later in the rankings than #32 Lemonade)
#38 Blonde on Blonde (1966) Bob Dylan
A blues/rock n’ roll album. I liked the lyrics on this (even though I didn’t always understand them), and some of the music. Here’s my current thought: I can’t get around Dylan’s singing–i.e., I can’t really enjoy the music even though the songs seem solid or more than solid.
On a side note, I asked my group how they liked Dylan’s harmonica playing in general. I think everyone said they liked it. Personally, I don’t care for it.
#36 Off the Wall (1980) Michael Jackson
I think you could make a case that this is the best or among the best R&B albums of all time. You could make a decent case that this has the best dance music (on one album).
To me, almost every song is solid (at least musically). My least favorite is “She’s Out of My Life.”
The rhythm section, grooves, and the orchestration (or production?) of the music is also really good. To me, Louis Johnson, the bassist from the Brothers Johnson, is a star on this.
This is probably my favorite Michael Jackson album. I prefer it over Thriller.
#35 Rubber Soul (1966) The Beatles
All of the songs and performances on this are good. How good? I’m not sure how to answer that. Part of the problem is that they seem very similar in quality–i.e., there aren’t a few that really stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. If I said the album is really good, I feel like I’m saying that just because I’m supposed to, since its the Beatles. On the other hand, the fact that the songs seem similar in quality may obscure how good they are. (I tend to not think this is the case.)
My current conclusion: An album of good, but not great songs.
Also, I really like Paul McCartney’s bass on this.
#29 The White Album (1968) The Beatles
A potpourri of songs that doesn’t really cohere into a unified album–at least that’s my sense.
I think I prefer the songs on Rubber Soul, overall, to this the songs on this.
One thing that’s kinda odd to me is the Beatle’s interest in silly, children-ish songs (e.g., Rocky Raccoon). They also have old-fashioned 1920’s type of songs and songs that have a showtunes quality. I can understand an interest in that, as I believe McCartney and maybe Lennon grew up listening to those type of songs in their house. But the sillier type of songs? I’m not sure.
A part of me feels like critics and fans give extra points for this album because it was eclectic.
Two other comments:
Of the albums I’ve heard (and I’m listening to Sgt. Pepper’s now, the bass playing stands out, and the guitar parts are kinda dull. Ringo’s drumming is more appealing to me than the guitar playing.)
Also, the albums reaffirm my feeling that Paul McCartney may have the best pop/rock voice.
#21 Born to Run (1975) Bruce Springsteen
I’m in the process of listening to this. Good rock n’ roll, but I’m going to need the lyrics to read and follow as I can’t understand 25% of the lyrics.
Mitchell, do you have any thoughts or insights that you’d like to share about this album?
From first track to last, it’s probably his best album. It has three songs that get regular airplay on classic rock radio, which I’m guessing is better than 90 percent of albums. Jungleland and Backstreets are fan favorites and concert staples.
Over the years there have been many Springsteen fanzines, but the one called Backstreets is the most well-known. Hardcore fans love this song, apparently.
Thunder Road is my favorite Springsteen song and one of my favorite songs. Whenever musicians on social media ask fans what song they’d like us to hear them cover, I always suggest Thunder Road. I just think there’s so much room for interpretation as a musician. Plus it’s some of his best lyrics, which you and I have discussed before.
Don’t run back inside, darling
You know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared, and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith: there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re all right
And that’s all right with me…
Thanks for the feedback, Mitchell. I still haven’t had time to listen to the music while following along with the lyrics, but I’ll do that soon.
Here some notes I had on the album:
More comments about lyrics
One of the biggest disappointments about this class I’ve been moderating is the lack of discussion about lyrics–and I’m mostly blaming myself. For some reason, talking about lyrics seems really difficult. Here are some thoughts about this, off the top of my head:
It’s possible I’m really the only one that’s bothered by this. The participants seem content, and maybe I should be, too.
#17 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) Kanye West
I listened to a lot of this once, although I didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics. This might my least favorite album of everything I’ve heard (I’m tempted to say this is the worst album I’ve heard so far.) Actually, my reaction to this is similar to my initial reaction to Jay-Z’s album. In terms of rapping or West’s voice, I’m left pretty cold. Same with the music. But again, this is based on one listen–and I wasn’t really paying attention to the lyrics.
Kanye’s a brilliant writer and producer, but he can’t really rap. I like “Touch the Sky” from the Late Registration album. Wish someone else rapped it though!
I’ll make an effort to focus on his lyrics, I assume you were referring to his lyrics, more than the music, when you mentioned “writer.”
As for producing, is producing different in a rap/hip-hop context than for other genres? I get the sense that it is. Producers seem to be a guide to a recording–helping with the song selection, maybe helping to create an overall sound or flavor of the album. Or someone like Quincy Jones seems to actually orchestrate and arrange the music–at least that’s my impression on the Michael Jackson albums. I could be wrong about that, though.
Is that the same with producers on rap/hip-hop albums?
In any event, I haven’t been impressed with the music overall–including the orchestration and arrangement. (That applies to the Jay-Z album as well.)
It’s reassuring to know it’s not just me.
#20 Kid A (2000) Radiohead
I liked this, but I think I prefer OK Computer; I also like the latter more than In Rainbows. I’m a bit surprised that I don’t dislike this music, especially Thom Yorke’s vocals.
#15 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) Public Enemy
I’ve liked Chuck D for a long time, but I think I’ve underappreciated Flavor Fav. Their styles work well together, in a yin and yang sort of way.
On a more critical note, I thought PE overused the horns and screeching sound. Additionally, while the lack of profanity and gangster themes was very refreshing, the depth of the social and political commentary seemed lacking to me.
Oh, and this was the highest rated rap/hip-hop album. Does it deserve to be? I want to say no, but I would have a hard time picking another album–although in terms of rapping, I think I prefer Snoop and Biggie.
Before I forget, here is the list of the top 50 albums from the 2020 version of the Rolling Stone magazine’s all-time greatest albums list. I’m interested in hearing recommendations of other albums that should have made it–especially in the top 10.
1. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
2. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
3. Joni Mitchell – Blue
4. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
5. The Beatles – Abbey Road
6. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
7. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
8. Prince – Purple Rain
9. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975)
10. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
11. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)
12. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
13. Aretha Franklin- I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
14. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.
15. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
16. The Clash – London Calling (1979)
17. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
18. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
19. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
20. Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
21. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
22. Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die
23. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
24. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
25. Carole King – Tapestry (1971)
26. Patti Smith – Horses (1975)
27. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
28. D’Angelo – Voodoo
29. The Beatles – The Beatles [White Album]
30. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)
31. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
32. Beyoncé – Lemonade
33. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
34. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
35. The Beatles – Rubber Soul
36. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall
37. Dr. Dre – the Chronic (1992)
38. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966)
39. Talking Heads – Remain in Light
40. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars
41. The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
42. Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
43. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)
44. Nas – Illmatic (1994)
45. Prince – Sign O’ the Times (1987)
46. Paul Simon – Graceland
47. Ramones- Ramones (1976)
48. Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend: The Best of Bob Marley
49. Outkast – Aquemini
50. Jay-Z – The Blueprint
For me, Aja and Dark Side of the Moon are two contenders I’d consider for the top 10. I think Off the Wall and Tapestry should probably get in there as well.
Here’s the rest of the albums from #51-500:
51. Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight
52. David Bowie – Station to Station (1976)
53. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)
54. James Brown- Star Time
55. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
56. Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville
57. The Band – The Band (1969)
58. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin [IV]
59. Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
60. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
61. Eric B. and Rakim- Paid in Full
62. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)
63. Steely Dan – Aja
64. Outkast – Stankonia
65. James Brown – Live at the Apollo
66. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
67. Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt
68. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985)
69. Alanis Morrisette – Jagged Little Pill (1995)
70. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
71. Bob Marley and the Wailers – Exodus
72. Neil Young – Harvest (1972)
73. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
74. Kanye West – The College Dropout
75. Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul (1968)
76. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly (1972)
77. Who’s Next
78. Elvis Presley – The Sun Sessions
79. Frank Ocean – Blonde
80. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)
81. Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013)
82. Sly & the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ on (1971)
83. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
84. AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)
85. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band
86. The Doors – The Doors (1967)
87. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
88. David Bowie – Hunky Dory (1971)
89. Erykah Badu – Baduizm (1997)
90. Neil Young – After the Gold Rush (1970)
91. Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town
92. Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold as Love
93. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott- Supa Dupa Fly
94. The Stooges – Fun House
95. Drake – Take Care (2011)
96. R.E.M. – Automatic for the People
97. Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
98. Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
99. Taylor Swift – Red
100. The Band – Music From Big Pink (1968)
101. Led Zeppelin
102. The Clash – The Clash
103. De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising
104. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
105. The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East (1971)
106. Hole – Live Through This
107. Television – Marquee Moon
108. Fiona Apple – When the Pawn
109. Lou Reed – Transformer
110. Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark (1974)
111. Janet Jackson – Control (1986)
112. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
113. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
114. The Strokes – Is This It
115. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
116. The Cure – Disintegration
117. Kanye West – Late Registration
118. Eagles – Hotel California
119. Sly & the Family Stone – Stand!
120. Van Morrison – Moondance
121. Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model
122. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
123. Led Zeppelin II
124. U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)
125. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
126. Mary J. Blige- My Life
127. Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)
128. Queen – A Night at the Opera
129. Pink Floyd – The Wall
130. Prince – 1999
131. Portishead – Dummy
132. Hank Williams – 40 Greatest Hits
133. Joni Mitchell – Hejira
134. Fugees – The Score
135. U2 – The Joshua Tree
136. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
137. Adele – 21
138. Madonna – The Immaculate Collection
139. Black Sabbath – Paranoid
140. Bob Marley and the Wailers – Catch a Fire
141. Pixies – Doolittle
142. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
143. The Velvet Underground
144. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
145. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
146. Blondie – Parallel Lines
147. Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)
148. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
149. John Prine – John Prine
150. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska (1982)
151. George Michael – Faith (1987)
152. Pretenders – Pretenders
153. PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
154. Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace
155. Jay-Z – The Black Album
156. The Replacements – Let It Be
157. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
158. Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun
159. The Police – Synchronicity
160. Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)
161. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash
162. Pulp – Different Class (1995)
163. Various Artists – Saturday Night Fever
164. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison
165. R.E.M.- Murmur
166. Buddy Holly – 20 Golden Greats
167. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
168. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill
169. Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977)
170. Cream – Disraeli Gears
171. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
172. Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
173. Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
174. The Harder They Come
175. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
176. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
177. Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story
178. Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
179. The Notorious B.I.G.- Life After Death
180. Love – Forever Changes (1967)
181. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
182. James Taylor- Sweet Baby James
183. D’Angelo – Brown Sugar
184. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
185. The Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet
186. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
187. Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Most Wanted
188. T. Rex – Electric Warrior
189. Sleater-Kinney- Dig Me Out
190. The Who – Tommy
191. Etta James – At Last! (1960)
192. Licensed to Ill
193. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys
194. Michael Jackson – Bad
195. Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
196. Robyn – Body Talk
197. The Beatles – Meet the Beatles!
198. The B52’s
199. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
200. Sade – Diamond Life
201. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
202. Björk – Homogenic (1997)
203. Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)
204. Kanye West – Graduation
205. Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
206. David Bowie – Low
208. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
209. Run DMC – Raising Hell
210. Ray Charles – The Birth of Soul
211. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
212. Nina Simone – Wild Is the Wind
213. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
214. Tom Petty- Wildflowers
215. Grateful Dead – American Beauty
216. Elliott Smith – Either/Or
217. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
218. TLC – Crazysexycool (1994)
219. Raekwon- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
220. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà Vu
221. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
222. Madonna – Ray of Light
223. John Lennon – Imagine
224. Dixie Chicks – Fly
225. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001)
226. Derek and the Dominos- Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
227. Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard
228. De La Soul – De La Soul Is Dead
229. Patsy Cline the Ultimate Collection
230. Rihanna – Anti
231. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes
232. John Coltrane – Giant Steps
233. Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
234. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
235. Metallica – Metallica
236. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
237. Willie Nelson- Red Headed Stranger
238. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
239. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded
240. Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963
241. Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991)
242. The Velvet Underground – Loaded
243. The Zombies -Odessey and Oracle
244. Kanye West – 808S and Heartbreak
245. Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
246. LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out
247. Sade-Love Deluxe
248. Green Day – American Idiot
249. Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston
250. Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1979)
251. Elton John- Honky Chateau
252. Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
253. Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
254. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
255. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
256. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman
257. Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors (1971)
258. Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns
259. Janis Joplin – Pearl
260. The Slits – Cut (1979)
261. Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
262. New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies
263. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
264. Wish You Were Here
265. Pavement – Wowee Zowee
266. The Beatles – Help!
267. Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime
268. Randy Newman – Sail Away
269. Kanye West – Yeezus (2013)
270. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
271. Mary J. Blige Whats the 411?
272. The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat
273. Gang of Four – Entertainment!
274. The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo
275. Curtis Mayfield – Curtis
276. Radiohead – The Bends (1995)
277. Alicia Keys the Diary of Alicia Keys
278. Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
279. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York
280. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’
281. Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
282. Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours (1955)
283. Donna Summer – Bad Girls
284. Merle Haggard- Down Every Road
285. Big Star – Third / Sister Lovers
286. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999)
287. The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
288. The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers
289. Björk – Post (1995)
290. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Outkast, 2003)
291. Destiny’s Child – The Writing’s on the Wall (1999)
292. Van Halen – Van Halen
293. The Breeders – Last Splash
294. Weezer – Weezer (Blue Album)
295. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
296. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps
297. Peter Gabriel So
298. Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever
299. B.B. King – Live at the Regal
300. Shania Twain – Come on Over (1997)
301. New York Dolls – New York Dolls
302. Neil Young- Tonight’s the Night
303. The Definitive Collection -ABBA 
304. Bill Withers – Just as I Am
305. Kiss – Alive! (1975)
306. Al Green- I’m Still in Love With You
307. Sam Cooke- Portait of a Legend
308. Eno – Here Comes the Warm Jets
309. Joy Division – Closer
310. Wire – Pink Flag
311. Neil Young – On the Beach (1974)
312. Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016)
313. PJ Harvey – Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
314. Aaliyah – One in a Million
315. Rosalia- El Mal Querer
316. The Who Sell Out (1967)
317. Billie Holiday – Lady in Satin
318. Janet Jackson- The Velvet Rope
319. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
320. X – Los Angeles (1980)
321. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
322. Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis (1969)
323. The Clash – Sandinista!
324. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
325. Jerry Lee Lewis- All Killer, No Filler
326. Prince – Dirty Mind (1980)
327. The Who – Live at Leeds
328. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
329. DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…..
330. The Rolling Stones- Aftermath
331. Madonna – Like a Prayer
332. Elvis Presley
333. Bill Withers – Still Bill
334. Santana – Abraxas
335. Bob Dylan and the Band- Basement Tapes
336. Roxy Music – Avalon
337. Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding
338. Brian Eno – Another Green World
339. Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
340. Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle
341. Siamese Dream – The Smashing Pumpkins
342. Let It Be
343. Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits
344. Toots & the Maytals – Funky Kingston
345. Bruce Springsteen- The Wild, the Innocent, and the E. Street Shuffle
346. Arctic Monkeys – AM
347. GZA – Liquid Swords
348. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
349. MC5 – Kick Out the Jams
350. Stevie Wonder – Music of My Mind
351. Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure
352. Eminem – The Slim Shady LP
353. The Cars – The Cars
354. Germfree Adolescents (X-Ray Spex)
355. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
356. Dr. John – Gris-Gris (1968)
357. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
358. Sonic Youth – Goo
359. Big Star – Radio City
360. Funkadelic- One Nation Under a Groove
361. My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
362. Luther Vandross – Never Too Much
363. Parliament – Mothership Connection
364. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
365. Madvillain – Madvillainy
366. Aerosmith – Rocks (1976)
367. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
368. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
369. Mobb Deep – The Infamous
370. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter II
371. The Temptations Anthology
372. Big Brother & the Holding Company – Cheap Thrills
373. Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
374. Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers
375. Green Day – Dookie
376. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
377. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
378. Run DMC- Run DMC
379. Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)
380. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (1959)
381. Lynyrd Skynyrd – (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘Nérd ‘Skin-‘Nérd)
382. Tame Impala – Currents
383. Massive Attack – Mezzanine (1998)
384. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
385. Ramones – Rocket to Russia
386. J Dilla – Donuts (2006)
387. Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
388. Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted & Black
389. Mariah Carey – The Emancipation of Mimi
390. Pixies – Surfer Rosa
392. Ike Turner & Tina Turner – Proud Mary: The Best Of..
393. 1989 – Taylor Swift
394. Diana Ross – Diana
395. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
396. Todd Rundgren- Something/Anything?
397. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
398. The Raincoats – The Raincoats
399. Brian Wilson – Smile
400. The Go-Go’s – Beauty and the Beat
402. Fela Kuti and Africa 70 – Expensive Shit
403. Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
404. Anita Baker – Rapture
405. Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968
406. The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
407. Neil Young With Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
408. Motörhead – Ace of Spades
409. The Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead
410. The Beach Boys – Wild Honey
411. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft
412. Going to a Go-Go- Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
413. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
414. Chic – Risqué (1979)
415. The Meters- Look-Ka Py Py
416. The Roots – Things Fall Apart
417. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
418. Dire Straits- Brothers in Arms
419. Eric Church – Chief
420. That’s the Way of the World – Earth, Wind & Fire
421. M.I.A. – Arular
422. Let’s Get It On
423. Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
424. Beck – Odelay
425. Paul Simon – Paul Simon
426. Lucinda Williams – Lucinda Williams
427. Al Green- Call Me
428. Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising
429. Four Tops – Reach Out
430. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True
431. Los Lobos – How Will the Wolf Survive?
432. Usher – Confessions
433. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
434. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
435. Actually – The Pet Shop Boys
436. All Eyez on Me
437. Primal Scream – Screamadelica
438. Blur – Parklife (1994)
439. James Brown- Sex Machine
440. Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn
441. Britney Spears – Blackout
442. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
443. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (David Bowie, 1980)
444. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
445. Yes – Close to the Edge (1972)
446. Journey in Satchidananda (Alice Coltrane, 1971)
447. Bad Bunny – X 100PRE
448. Otis Redding- Dictionary of Soul
449. The White Stripes – Elephant
450. Paul McCartney – RAM
451. Roberta Flack – First Take
452. Diana Ross and the Supremes Anthology
453. Pretty Hate Machine
454. Can – Ege Bamyasi
455. Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley
456. Al Green – Greatest Hits
457. Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
458. Jason Isbell- Southeastern
459. Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Days
460. Lorde – Melodrama (2017)
461. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
462. The Flying Burrito Bros – The Gilded Palace of Sin
463. Eli & the Thirteenth Confession
464. The Isley Brothers – 3+3
465. King Sunny Adé – The Best of the Classic Years (2003)
466. The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
467. Maxwell-Blacksummers’ Night
468. The Rolling Stones – Some Girls
469. Manu Chao – Clandestino
470. Juvenile – 400 Degreez
471. Surrealistic Pillow
472. Sza – Ctrl
473. Daddy Yankee – Barrio Fino
474. Big Star #1 Record
475. Sheryl Crow (Sheryl Crow, 1996)
476. Sparks – Kimono My House (1974)
477. Howlin’ Wolf- Moanin’ in the Moonlight
478. The Kinks – Something Else by the Kinks
479. Selena – Amor Prohibido
480. Miranda Lambert the Weight of These Wings
481. Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister
482. The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
483. Muddy Waters- The Anthology
484. Born This Way
485. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
486. John Mayer – Continuum
487. Black Flag – Damaged
488. The Stooges – The Stooges (1969)
489. Phil Spector (Various Artists) – Back to Mono
490. Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like a Wheel
491. Harry Styles – Fine Line
492. Nick of Time- Bonnie Raitt 
493. Marvin Gaye Here, My Dear
494. Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
495. Boyz II Men – II
496. Shakira – ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones?
497. Various Artists – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
498. Suicide – Suicide
499. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan – Ask Rufus
500. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)
I can’t really argue against the Ramones being at 47 while Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols isn’t on the list at all, but I’d put the Sex Pistols a bit higher and the Ramones probably wouldn’t make my 50.
The Rolling Stone has always adored Springsteen while thinking very little of Billy Joel, so Joel’s omission doesn’t surprise me either, but you know I’ve got a soft spot for him. Still, as I think about which album I would include, I realize his greatness is more a body of work than a single album.
I am surprised Dark Side of the Moon is not on here at all. Geez. And where is Elton John’s Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road?
I feel like a super-successful pop rock album with many top 40 hits should be on here too — a kind of greatness I don’t see represented here. Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, Men at Work’s Business as Usual, Huey Lewis and the News’s Sports.
And Led Zep IV should really be on here too. I realize I’m all kinds of biased toward rock, but I find it so difficult to believe any Kendrick Lamar or Drake album belongs here if Led Zep IV isn’t on here.
I think Graceland is the only 80s pop rock album on this list. Considering the impact of 80s pop rock and MTV on popular music in general, this just doesn’t seem right.
I’ve listened to Never Mind the Bollocks–in fact, I think I owned a copy of it–but I can barely remember it now. I think I preferred the Ramones album, though.
With regard to Billy Joel, I think I might choose The Stranger. I liked that one.
I think Dark Side of the Moon just missed the top 50. Same with Led Zep IV. I think I may prefer Physical Graffiti
I think I was a bit underwhelmed by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (although I love the titular song), but Elton John not being in the top 100 seems like an oversight.
Would you consider Prince’s Purple Rain and Sign o’ the Times, pop rock? What about Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller?
I liked Sports. Joshua Tree or Nothing Like the Sun are two other 80’s albums that come to mind.
#12 Thriller (1982) Michael Jackson
I listened to this with the expectation that Off the Wall was a better album–or at least one I liked more. After this recent listen, I feel like the albums are much closer–although I would still give a slight edge to OtW.
All the tracks on this are at least solid, in my view.
This would be a first tier album for me.
(Note: I recently commented on several of the top 20 albums in Listening to albums on Saturday/Sunday Morning and one in the 2020 Music thread.)
#3 Blue (1971) Joni Mitchell
The number 3 ranking seems too high–I haven’t listened to a lot of her albums in their entirety, but I’m wondering if this is even her best album. Having said that, of the singer-songwriter albums, this one was my favorite. To me, it’s the best marriage of lyrics and music. I also liked the cadence, rhythms, and timing of Mitchell’s singing. At times it remind me of jazz singers. Additionally, the music moved me, with “River” coming to mind, in a way that Dylan almost never does
Strangely, Mitchell’s vocal timbre is not generally my cup of tea. I especially don’t care for her singing strongly in the upper register. I do like when she sings in a more whispery way, though. But again, I do like her timing and rhythmic sense when she sings.