0019: The 100 Best Rock Albums (41-50)
- 41. London Calling - The Clash: Nobody expects variety from a punk band. In fact, in the late 70s, nobody wanted variety from a punk band. The Clash, of course, was never just a punk band, and the hints of various influences spread across their early albums were blown up large on this ambitious double album set. The punk spirit is still here, but the music is more likely to resemble rockabilly, reggae, folk, or jazz than any of the simple fury that made their debut album a punk masterpiece. Although they glide between styles effortlessly, this disc never sounds diffuse or scattered. It sounds united and triumphant, drawing strength from various genres and working the styles through the band's own unique musical sensibilities. This may well be the point where post punk and alternative rock blur together, and this mighty album is a tribute and an excellent highwater mark to both genres.
- 42. Kalhoun - da: Few bands create their greatest album decades after they are formed, but da is like very few bands. For a band that began in the 70s combining the country-rock of the Eagles with the space operas of Pink Floyd, entered the 80s as a new wave band a la Talking Heads and Costello, made a primitve synth pop album, and ended the decade with odd pop confections always threatening to spin into etheral streaks of strangeness, nothing is really expected. Kalhoun was odd in that it sounds pretty much like a regular rock album. Maybe forcing themselves to work inside a more conventional framework forced the band to focus their energies elsewhere, but the songs on this disc are flat-out stunning. These songs gleefully skewer subjects from imperialism to televangelists with novel twists and an engaging compassion while finding room for the odd love song or two and more. This band has never sounded so tight, inspired, or capable of taking over the rock world. Of course, hardly anybody heard this album, but that doesn't detract one bit from this glorious masterwork.
- 43. The Man & His Music - Sam Cooke: Cooke is a forgotten pioneer of rock music. Listening to this superior (but sadly out-of-print) collection, a new fan is usually shocked to discover how many great, famous songs he wrote, but his legacy is more than just that. His voice became the model for many soul singers who followed (Otis Redding, Al Green), mastering both gospel, soul, and pop, and his productions were highly influential on Phil Spector and, therefore, on much of the music of the 60s. If he wasn't the first, he was certainly almost the first artist to believe that gospel and pop music could be combined into a wonderfully emotional, kinetic force that could storm the airwaves. This music became soul, and this disc is one of the best examples of this man's innovations and talent. He was also one of the greatest songwriters and singers of all time.
- 44. Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs - Derek & the Dominos: If it wasn't for this album, Eric Clapton may well have gone down in rock history as the most ill-used talent ever. While he can certainly play a guitar, his songs are usually quite weak, and the few great tunes he has penned are strewn throughout his wildly erratic body of work. With this disc, however, he finally pulled it all together. Drafting in Duane Allman to play slide guitar was the best idea he ever had, as his new partnership, along with longed-for love, seems to have caused Clapton to explode. Passion is slung out all over this album, and rather than sounding stiff or like a talented copycat, Clapton for once tears out with a unique, flaming style all his own. He never sounded this connected to an album before or since, but he at least he left us one great work while he still burned out of control.
- 45. Armed Forces - Elvis Costello & the Attractions: Elvis got sneaky with this release. After unleashing the scathing, wired rock of This Year's Model onto the world, he crept back into the studio to add a polished sheen to his next recordings. His plan worked; radio stations actually played his razor-sharp songs over the airwaves, and Armed Forces quickly became a best-selling album. Instead of watering down his compositions, the added production actually increases their complexity, and even though the songs played more like pop, the band could still rock out with songs such as Goon Squad. The variety is almost as remarkable as the songs, and the Rykodisc reissue receives a special kudo for adding many excellent B-sides and out-takes to the new disc, including the intriguing My Funny Valentine, Tiny Steps, Clean Money, and Talking in the Dark; it also added the famous non-album single, (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding. Now, a great album is even better.
- 46. The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground: Rock was an experiment gone wild. When Elvis and Chuck Berry first concocted the formula for this new music, no one would have dreamed it would soon sweep the world. By 1967, that formula was well in place, and few were noodling with the successful ingredients. Then Lou Reed, John Cale, and company arrived on the scene. They took the basic blues backbone of rock and twisted it out of shape. Pianos banged, cellos whined, drums suffered arhythmia, and after all the tinkering was through, the final creature was actually able to walk. While Heroin, with its music echoing the rush and ebb of chemical euphoria, is rightly praised as a standout, the band also managed to churn out some achingly beautiful pop songs (I'll Be Your Mirror, for example) at the same time. While few have followed the Velvet Underground's adventurous tinkerings, it doesn't matter. Few could probably do this much this well anyway.
- 47. Revolver - The Beatles: Rubber Soul bent the rules; Revolver ignored them. A kaleidoscope of new styles, new sounds, even new insturments, Revolver burst forth onto the world and announced the split of rock from rock 'n' roll. She Said She Said managed to graft psychedelic influences onto a pop song, but the genre-shattering Tomorrow Never Knows didn't hardly bother to be straddle by pop at all. The dizzying whirl of music may keep this album from ever really finding a form, but the songs are some of the best 3 minute slices of rock ever created.
- 48. The Best of Van Morrison [Mercury] - Van Morrison: Few artists have continued to create excellent music over the course of decades, but Morrison's marvelous muse spreads over enough time to make this compilation necessary. From his early rock / R&B singles such as Baby Please Don't Go, to the strange, lovely Sweet Thing, to his smooth, jazzy standard Moondance, this CD provides ample proof of Van the Man's mastery of odd pop singles that only grow greater with time. Mysterious, moody, and at times joyous beyond belief, these songs should make a fan out of any listener. Now give this man a boxed set already!
- 49. The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths: The Smiths always delivered innovative and vital singles, but this album is their finest monument. While maintaining their novel approach to song arrangement and insturmental work, The Smiths managed to vary the tempo and tone on The Queen Is Dead, creating an eclectic yet cohesive album that sums up all their past strengths and conquers new territory. Morrissey's lyrics have grown more subversive and sharper, and Marr nearly rewrites the book on rock guitar, creating power pop out minor chords, adding energetic buzz to ballads, and fashioning some fantastic hooks out of the strangest notes. The Smiths kickstarted British alternative pop in much the same way REM did for American alternative, and this album shows the talent and skill that pulled this feat off.
- 50. MTV Unplugged in New York - Nirvana: Nevermind might have shook the world, but this intimate, live album toppled souls. Stripped to their essentials, their original songs reveal the layers of skill that went into them like never before, and the band even recasts several songs by other artists to make them extremely personal, individual statements. Most of the songs rise to the level of legend here, and the band has never sounded as great as in these performances. A live album full of old and borrowed songs is usually a formula for boredom. Nirvana managed to use it to create their masterpiece, a work whose reputation will only rise with passing years. They may have lit the fuse to grunge, but they obviously had even greater fire inside them, and one can only dream of what may have been waiting for the future.
Influence and historical importance mean nothing here. Each and every album is ranked based solely on its own artistic merits. All official releases are fair game; only bootlegs are not considered. This is it - the best rock albums ever.
I will be adding entries as time allows. The list is complete, but I wish to write a bit about each album, so it may be a week or two until all albums are listed. I hope to add at least two or three entries each weekday and more if I have the chance.
Creating this list hurt. Great albums were left on the cutting room floor, and sadly, I fear albums near the bottom of the list may be looked down upon. Make no mistake - any album on this list is a fantastic work well worth your time. The difference between closely ranked albums was microscopic at best.
To prevent this list's size from becoming prohibitive, I am breaking the hundred entries into blocks of ten.