Greatest Pop Albums [includes R & B/Soul] (in-progress)

Tags: 
  1. 9.5/10
  2. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)

  3. 9/10
  4. Forever Changes - Love (1967)

  5. 8.5/10
  6. What's Going On - Marvin Gaye (1971)

  7. 8/10
  8. Rumours - Fleetwood Mac (1976)
  9. If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle & Sebastian (1996)

  10. 7.5/10
  11. The Charm of the Highway Strip - Magnetic Fields (1998)
  12. Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy - Brian Eno (1974)
  13. Funeral - Arcade Fire (2004)
  14. Underwater Moonlight - Soft Boys (1980)
  15. Stands For Decibels - DB's (1981)
  16. They Might Be Giants - They Might Be Giants (1986)
  17. Return To Cookie Mountain - TV On The Radio (2006)
  18. Pet Sounds - Beach Boys (1966)
  19. Song Cycle - Van Dyke Parks (1967)
  20. Dusk at Cubist Castle - Olivia Tremor Control (1997)
  21. Graceland - Paul Simon (1986)
  22. Murmur - R.E.M (1983)
  23. This Year's Model - Elvis Costello (1978)
  24. Picaresque - Decemberists (2005)
  25. The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths (1986)
  26. Neon Bible - Arcade Fire (2007)
  27. Cardinal - Cardinal (1995)
  28. The Stone Roses-The Stone Roses (1989)

  29. 7/10
  30. Abbey Road-The Beatles (1969)
  31. Barrett-Syd Barrett (1970)
  32. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band-The Beatles (1967)
  33. Innervisions - Stevie Wonder (1973)
  34. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel (1969)
  35. Tapestry - Carole King (1971)
  36. Bee Thousand - Guided By Voices (1994)
  37. Dookie - Green Day (1994)
Author Comments: 

My criteria is basically: how emotionally powerful and/or compelling I consider the album to be from start to finish. By "emotionally" I mean any emotion/experience, from apathy to grief to anger to enthusiasm to spiritual enlightenment -- any emotional content. The rating is the degree in which I felt it was expressed powerfully/compellingly. For the overall rating, all songs/tracks are considered as a whole, for their cumulative impact (or lack thereof).

RATINGS SCALE:

5.0 - AVERAGE
6.0 - GOOD
7.0 - VERY GOOD
7.5 - AMAZING
8.0 - EXTRAORDINARILY AMAZING
8.5 - ASTONISHING
9.0 - ALL TIME MASTERPIECE
9.5 - SUPREME MASTERPIECE
10 - IMPOSSIBLE?

I try to consider my ratings carefully. The ratings are given relative to the greatest works of art in the history of mankind. I am comparing the works to an ideal. For instance, if I am claiming an album is a masterpiece or supreme masterpiece, I am claiming it is a singular, utterly extraordinary achievement in the history of art, as incredible as Beethoven's greatest works, not just a "collection of consistently good songs".

I'd recommend any one of R. Stevie Moore's albums. Start with Phonography.

Thanks! Keep 'em coming.

Personal favourite on Taking Tiger Mountain? For me it would have to be The Great Pretender, in my opinion a serious contender for greatest short track of the 70s. To me it seems like what would happen if you combined the Residents with Nine Inch Nails.

Yes, that's a great one. Possibly my favorite as well!

Very good list. If you haven't already heard "Odessey & Oracle" by The Zombies, check it out. It's a really fine 60's Pop Rock album, definitely better than both Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds.

Thanks, I have heard it a bunch of times but its been about 10 years -- it should probably be on here, but would have to re-listen to it first

The Velvet Underground? The Beatles? The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society?

Maybe the Kinks. There's many 7's to add. This isn't really a list I focus on filling out as there are few 7.5+ albums. I just sort of add to it on the side from time to time.

Nice to see Arcade Fire here. Have you heard 'The Suburbs' yet? Personally, I think it's their strongest record.

Nope, aside from some songs (I think) I haven't heard that one yet. Even better than Funeral?

'Funeral' is undoubtedly a force of nature, but I think, song for song, 'The Suburbs' is Arcade Fire's most consistently enjoyable (and most mature) record -- full of great pop melodies and focused songwriting.

I'd rank their albums something like this:

1. The Suburbs (A+)
2. Funeral (A)
3. Neon Bible (A-)
4. Reflektor (B+)

Thanks, Funeral is difficult to top for the type of music it is, but they're very consistent so far so it sounds like Suburbs has potential :)

Why are The Beatles underrated even in the "Pop" category? This list could use some explanation of what you think pop music should be. As it is, it gives the idea that you despise the genre (at least in its classical form) and that you can only accept pop music if it somehow negates or deviates from its principles (direct, simple, engaging, repetitive music). Only this can explain the inclusion of Neutral Milk Hotel's album. In what way is this a better pop album than Abbey Road? Why not put Trout Mask Replika as well if your going by the same criteria you apply in every other genre?
Having said that, your first place excepted, I don't really disagree with your choices (Taking Tiger Mountain is cool), just with their order and with the blatant omissions (Odessey and Oracle, Between the Buttons, With the Beatles, Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, The Who Sell Out, etc.).

With the Beatles? Really?

I don't find the Beatles very compelling or emotionally interesting -- though they made some excellent albums and several good songs. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of the most emotionally devastating and compelling albums ever created.

The albums on this list aren't rated on a curve of "how 'pop' the album is". They're rated by the same criteria as any of my other rock/jazz lists. Also, the definition of pop is stretched in some cases, such as Aeroplane (which is several other genres as well).

I wonder why you do not find the Beatles to be emotionally interesting. Do you think they're faking their emotions when they perform? Do you dislike their personalities?

I think Lennon is the most interesting, by far. He was the most dedicated to saying something new, towards creating transcendent music. The rest of them didn't go outside the box much.

I think they were often good, sometimes very good, and occasionally amazing -- Revolution 9, A Day in the Life, Tomorrow Never Knows, Strawberry Fields Forever ... but even these are far surpassed by greater, more extraordinary efforts by other artists, such as (off the top of my head): (Revolution 9) Faust I - Faust, (A Day in the Life) Parable of Arable Land - Red Crayola, (Tomorrow Never Knows) National Anthem - Radiohead, (Strawberry Fields Forever) In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel...

To be honest I don't see so much relation between the pairs you have compared (except for Faust and Revolution 9 both being collages). Speaking of collages, the White Album is one huge successful collage of a vast variety of musical styles. I've yet to hear another pop album that does it so perfectly or even comes close in terms of scope and creativity. From the melodic point of view, their music has always been transcendent. They just needed a double album with no concept or commercial direction or producer/manager supervision to let their collective talent fully blossom. The White Album is a timeless masterpiece. Can't say this about the rest of their albums though.

Strawberry Fields Forever is more connected to ITAOTS than R9 to Faust. I do agree with all you said about the White Album though.

RE: White Album ... I'm totally open to it being amazing -- the more the merrier ... but I remember it being consistently solid/entertaining/interesting as a series of mildly interesting diversions/novelties, and occasionally very good (such as Happiness is a Warm Gun), and one or two times very very very good (such as Revolution 9). Is it really that amazing next to something like, say, a 7.5/10 like Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle? And then, compared to a towering masterpiece like Carla Bley's Escalator Over the Hill?

I do agree that it is their least artificial album, where each of them seem to be expressing "themselves".

But yes, I'll give it another shot in the near future. It's been 5+ years so who knows what might happen...

George Harrison has some great moments too though. Whatever, just try the White Album again when you feel like it.

So why bother doing a list called "Greatest Pop Albums" if you don't care about pop music's characteristics? If the criteria is just "emotionality" what keeps you from adding Trout Mask Replica, The Doors or Velvet Undergroung?
I've listened to In the Aeroplane Over The Sea more times than it deserves, and I never found it that compelling. Apart from two beautiful songs (that I would hardly call "pop songs"), Two Headed Boy and the title track, the album lacks diversity and gets tedious very quickly.

Because these are pop albums to greater or lesser degree -- just not pure, standard barers of the genre like Britney Spears or N'Sync, et al. There's a small argument that The Doors debut is sort of a pop album, but The Velvet Underground and Capt Beefheart are pretty far removed (obviously you know that).

Re: "not caring" ... I care when it's done in an amazing/emotional/compelling way. This is not an objective list, it's my opinion. Re: you not finding In the Aeroplane Over the Sea compelling and it lacking diversity and becoming tedious... sounds like you have a different take on it than I do, which is fine. If you want to place The Beatles at the top of a pop albums list, and rate ITAOTS lowly, you should just make your own list (if you haven't already) or write an article of the Beatles merits and why they're so compelling/emotionally significant/influential (or whatever merits you look for).

These discussions always end silly ("you should do your own list", etc.). We've had it before on your paintings list but I can't seem to explain my point right. It's about your approach, which always seems too closed and too self-centered to me. You expect the artwork to amaze you by matching your criteria. This is a very dangerous attitude towards art if only because it can freeze your taste. It's always a one way street between you and the artwork - the artwork must satisfy you. What I argue is that even something as apparently simple as pop music has created over the years a number of characteristics and traditions that should be studied and considered. There are many interesting things to value in Beatles' music, many more in Beethoven's music, even more in Bach's music. Before judging them, maybe we should try to learn about them. And maybe direct emotionality isn't the most interesting criterium, nor the most edificating one. The years pass and only Scaruffi comes to mind when I check your lists (even though I enjoy them).

I have no idea how one could look at the resulting works on my lists and think my approach to be "closed", but, okay... Escalator Over the Hill or Vampire Rodents alone cover more types of music than the average music listener will hear in their entire lifetime ... And I have no clue why some people act like it's a flaw when someone judges something based on observation and opinion and doesn't attempt to judge something "objectively" (whatever the hell that even means. Are you in communication with God when you rank your choices?) or whatever agenda it is you're thinking with when you consider that I am somehow "wrong" for not ranking the Beatles highly on my personal, subjective list ... The interesting things I value in The Beatles music are represented here. A 7/10 is a very good/excellent score. It's not like they're Beethoven, Bach or Mozart or something...

Okay, I tried the White Album again and honestly feel it's below a 7.

It has some great peaks: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Revolution 9, some others ... and some songs were a little better than I remembered such as Back in the USSR (and how the airplane keeps landing during the chorus). Also, there is a certain charisma to each of them splitting their personalities and diversifying their sound. Plus, with the 2009 stereo remastered sound quality, it did bring out some nuances that I'd missed in previous years which improved the experience and gave their sound some added depth.

But when it comes down to it, there are plenty of sprawling, multi-faceted albums that I think are much more amazing, and in particular, do a better job of accumulating in impact and resonance as they expand. I recommend comparing it to Dusk at Cubist Castle for starters. And if you want to go straight for the jugular -- albeit completely unfair -- compare it to Escalator Over the Hill.

Well, I don't know...try it again I guess? I'd say you should pay attention to the more relaxed and sleepier parts of the album and their contrast to the explosive ones -- they're what truly represent the spirit of the album, e.g. USSR+Prudence, Julia+Birthday, Monkey+Sadie+Helter Skelter+Long Long Long. The Beatles is essentially a disconnected dream, where everything, including the nonsense, in contrast to the psychedelia of the year before, is more subtle and sincere, as if the band really believes in what they're talking about and somehow this dream is more real than real life itself. Another notable portion would be the last three tracks -- the tired Cry Baby Cry, with its underlying tension suddenly breaking out in R9, only to wind down with the soothing Good Night. I hope I'm making some sense here, sometimes I think I exaggerate its significance and depth myself but anyway, that's what I think at the moment.

Meanwhile, thanks for the recommendation, I should try Dusk at Cubist Castle soon.

Thanks, that's an interesting take on it. I'll see if that works better for me the next time I listen to it.

I'm going to take a middle ground between you two...

The White Album was made at a time when a lot of the key practitioners of psychedelic rock switched to a more rootsy style, (supposedly) more humble and less pretentious. To that end, the songs are a lot simpler and humbler and while there is some experimentation on the album, it's more of the home-made variety (a tradition going back to the early Fugs). Several of the songs, in the aim of not taking themselves so seriously, find them making fun of themselves and referencing their (and others) old material. Mostly, however, it's filled with some just-for-fun "genre exercises" in contemporary genres. They don't add anything significant to the canons of those genres nor are they deconstructions. They're just for fun.

Top moments:
"R9" does a brilliant job of sound sculpting by juxtaposing various types of sounds in changing ways (backwards, loops, backward loops, classical samples, sound effects, etc.), but sticks a little too close to its classical source material for me. "Helter Skelter" is one of many songs that year that inched the psychedelic blues-rock toward hard rock and/or heavy metal, but is edgy only in parts and comes across as a little disingenuous. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" is a genius Zappa-ish mini-suite. "While My Guitar Gentle Weeps" is one of the most emotionally devastating songs they ever did. "Cry Baby Cry" has some Syd Barrett qualities. "Piggies" cleverly arranges an old folk melody with classical touches and weird sound effects. "Wild Honey Pie" is a bunch of demented screams (not too far off the from the Pixies' cover). "Long Long Long" feels genuine.

Other curiousities:
"Buffalo Bill" is midly amusing in its eccentricity as is "Do It In the Road". "Me and My Monkey" brings some energetic quirkiness and "Rocky Racoon" is a good Dylan parody (John Wesley Harding). "Sexy Sadie" feels emotional.

The rest are those useless genre exercises (part of the second category can count as that too) and the problem is that they take up a whopping 53% of the length. They include some stabs at folk which I find shallow and some others that are, again, just for fun. In terms of structure, the 8 great ones mentioned above are placed well. 3 of the sides have them placed consecutively. Side 1 has 3 of them. They're almost always at or toward the end of the side (side two has only one of them and it's in the middle). So there is slight attempt at some sort of pattern when comparing the sides: lowkey--> more enegery--> the above 8 (except side 1 doesn't have that middle part of the pattern). However, the more banal songs don't give me the feeling of building anything up cumulatively (for the more accomplished songs to extinguish). Also the better songs don't match each other within or across sides.

I generally agree with your points, including which songs are the best on the album.

"The Beatles is essentially a disconnected dream... and somehow this dream is more real than real life itself" Couldn't have summarized the album better myself. The album is overflowing with emotions disguised as (all sorts of) "simple" songs. It's pop music at its purest and finest. It's easy to mistake the album as yet another fun collection of random songs by the Beatles (I used to think that for years) but the fact that Revolution 9 works so well as an avant-garde piece shows how powerful the band (including George Martin who deserves so much credit for this album) had become as composers, arrangers and performers at this point. They could do ANYTHING in their newfound free mindset, so they did it all. Excessive, yes, but so were Trout Mask Replica and Uncle Meat.

Odyssey & Oracle not a pop album either ;-)? Surely it's a 7.5 at least now you seem to be back in a pop album kind of mood. No rating Sgt Peppers' a 10 though, don't make me lose faith after you rated Dirty Beaches so high! :-)

Haha, thanks. Sgt Pepper a 10? Hmmmmmmmmmmm, maybe if I were being payed by Rolling Stone magazine... Don't know about Odyssey and Oracle -- its been too long since I listened to it but I'll try and give it a go soon.

You rated TMR a 9.5, Highway 61, VU & Nico and Doors 9....obviously you ARE being paid by Rolling Stone magazine.

And now, even more tellingly, Rolling Stones themselves are rising dramatically on my lists ;)

Carole King's Tapestry?

Thanks for the reminder, I haven't heard it in eons. I'll revisit it and get back to you.

This list is turning out pretty sweet. Your top 5 choices are specially very comprehensive and strong. I think Crazy Rhythms by the Feelies has a good shot at being included here. Also, Underwater Moonlight is one hell of an unassuming album. It took me so many listens to truly reveal its greatness.

I've only heard some of Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits (Tusk has always been a favorite). I'm gonna get Rumours and listen to the whole thing.

Thanks, surprisingly I've never heard Crazy Rhythms even though I've intended to several times.

Try Juliana Hatfield's Hey Babe.

Thanks for the reminder to revisit that one. It should probably be on here, but I'll listen to it again soon to be sure.

Another one: "Imperial f.f.r.r" by Unrest.

Thanks for the suggest, when I come back around to pop, I'll give it a spin.

Throwing some more stuff out there, maybe a bit of a stretch for some...

Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything?
Decemberists - Castaways And Cutouts
Counting Crows -August And Everything After
Feelies - Crazy Rhythms (echoing above statement)
Kinks - Something Else By The Kinks
Peter Gabriel - So
Byrds - Younger Than Yesterday
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill
Ultravox - Ultravox!
Buffalo Springfield - Buffalo Springfield Again
Sly And The Family Stone - There's A Riot Goin' On
Talking Heads - "More Songs" or "Remain In Light"
Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
* Gram Parsons -Sleepless Nights

* This is the Grievous Angel album under it's original title before Parson's wife had the cover photo changed and made sure to not include a few songs, both out jealousy over Emmylou Harris' inclusion. Let's presume that "Sleepless Nights" would have been included as track 1 (being the title-track) and that two other songs recorded but excluded would have been excluded anyway ("The Angels Rejoiced in Heaven Last Night" was explicitly rejected by Parsons and "Brand New Heartache" was the worst of 3 Felix/Bryant tunes, an excessive amount, the album being long enough ayway)

Thanks, I'm not sure about Remain in Light or There's a Riot Goin On being pop (though the funk/soul/R & B side of things might allow them on here), but like you said "a stretch". I need to revisit Rundgren, Counting Crows, Kinks, Byrds, Jefferson Airplane and the Gram Parsons. If Jagged Little Pill is "pop" than it already deserves to be added (probably 7.5). I'll revisit it to see whether it's pop or not. I don't think I've heard the rest so I'll check them out.

Yeah man. I guess Remain In Light is pop only in the "fun" sense. And if Jagged Little Pill counts than probably so should Liz Phair eh? Any more Jim Steinman stuff worth checking out? Bat Out Of Hell Part IV: Straight Outta Trenton, New Jersey? On a related note, I ended up rating Odelay much lower than I thought. Just a low 7. I think it's because the Dust Brothers-less stuff ruins the feel.

Updates: I don't quite consider Jagged Little Pill pop. I currently think it's between 7.4 - 7.6/10 though. Maybe if I stretched the definition enough I would (which one could argue I've already done with some other albums on here) ... Probably the same with Exile in Guyville -- though that one is a little bit closer call as a pop album imo. I'd probably rate it 7.3 or 7.4ish... Also I relistened to Younger than Yesterday and thought it might be a 7, but currently in the 6.5 range for me. I'll have to check out Odelay again. Been awhile on that one. I'd recommend Solex's Low Kick and Hard Bop, which seems influenced by it but is probably even better.

Also, to an earlier recommendation from some others, or maybe it was only cuki luvz u: I relistened to Odyssey and Oracle and found it to be probably under 7/10 -- probably in the 6/10 range for me.

Haha re: Steinman... Bat Out of Hell IV? Is Jay-Z featured? I thought 1 was enough. The first one is pretty awesome as far as Olympian/pop/rock/melodrama goes.

BOOH 4 - featuring cosmic sound effects representing the "whoosh" sound as Meatloaf enters and exits hell.

As burning doves flock from his sleeves :)

Re: Byrds ... btw, Love's Forever Changes, partially influenced by the Byrds, is far far far superior imo

I've got to admit it's getting better. A little better.

All the time (it can't get more worse) :)

It would've been a truly epic pun if I were listening to Getting Better while reading this

Still, The Who Sell Out has to be there.

Thanks, I don't doubt it re: The Who. I'll have to revisit it. This list is very much in-progress and wasn't meant to be a complete representation. It's more a matter of me listening (for the first time), or re-listening, to the albums. There's many Scaruffi 7's and 7.5's I haven't heard and there's a good chance they'd be represented here if they're pop, just based on the probability of me agreeing with him as I often do.

Listen to Goodbye Lullaby by Avril Lavigne? I could see you liking the song Goodbye actually, but mostly I just want to see you write a detailed pretentious essay on it.

Pretentious essay + Avril Lavigne sounds like an amazing combo indeed :-)

I listened to Goodbye + the first track and a half and, unless the album changes dramatically from there, it's just not my kind of music. As it isn't aligned with my criteria (and not even supposed to/trying to be), whatever I have to say about it would be inconsequential/worthless. She's pretty smokin' though is about all I have to say about it :-)

"She's pretty smokin' though" I'd have to politely disagree with you on that ;)

7.294/10

You now rate people too? :o

Mine is 6.155/10 :P

Yes, and her equivalent album is Exile in Guyville.

AfterHours,

You should check out XTC's 'Skylarking' at some point. It may well be the psychedelic pop masterpiece of the '80s.

Thanks I've intended to for years. Have no idea why not yet :)