Greatest Albums of All Time (Reviewed)

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  • 1. THE BLACK SAINT & THE SINNER LADY-CHARLES MINGUS (1963)


  • 2. TROUT MASK REPLICA-CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND (1969)


  • 3. A LOVE SUPREME-JOHN COLTRANE (1964)


  • 4. ROCK BOTTOM-ROBERT WYATT (1974)


  • 5. FAUST-FAUST (1971)


  • 6. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO-THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (1967)


  • 7. THE DOORS-THE DOORS (1967)


  • 8. ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL-CARLA BLEY (1971)


  • 9. LORCA-TIM BUCKLEY (1970)


  • 10. TWIN INFINITIVES-ROYAL TRUX (1990)


  • 11. DESERTSHORE-NICO (1970)


  • 12. THE JAZZ COMPOSER'S ORCHESTRA-MICHAEL MANTLER (1968)


  • 13. PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND-THE RED CRAYOLA (1967)


  • 14. THE MODERN DANCE-PERE UBU (1978)


  • 15. Y-THE POP GROUP (1979)
  • The Pop Group's Y is set against a shapeshifting, claustrophic skeleton of instrumental breakdowns, sudden catastrophies, splintering notes free-falling and arising in constantly unpredictable forms. Singer Mark Stewart unleashes sustained, emphatically drawn-out militant screams, calls for help, calls to action, calls to himself, with brutal force and urgency. Monstrous dub lines and the proceeding instrumental assaults collapse and arrange at a blistering, unpredictable pace, forming the sweltering jungles, the rampant neurosis and the omni-present dangers of Vietnam. Y was not merely a punk album against the Establishment; it was much more serious an art than that. Herein lies a palpable sense of the psychological impact of war, the real and the delusional, the helpless sense of entrapment while overwhelming forces emerge from all directions, fraught with the despairing feeling of losing ones grip on asserting the enemy from the protagonist, and hell from reality.


  • 16. UNIT STRUCTURES-CECIL TAYLOR (1966)


  • 17. HOSIANNA MANTRA-POPOL VUH (1973)
  • An extraordinarily beautiful album, Hosianna Mantra merged Eastern and Western world music into a miraculous and free flowing spiritual soundpainting. Due to its almost complete lack of forced, conventional rhythms, the work defied gravity, billowing like the wind, and growing like untouched forces of nature, with Djong Yun's distinctly featherweight, celestial voice generating ghostly cries from the other side of the world. This was a panoramic, pan-determined, and emotionally conscious form of prayer, becoming a timeless, majestic call towards a higher form of spiritual awareness towards the entire human race.


  • 18. ASCENSION-JOHN COLTRANE (1965)


  • 19. FARE FORWARD VOYAGERS-JOHN FAHEY (1973)


  • 20. SPIRITUAL UNITY-ALBERT AYLER (1964)
  • Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity begins with a warm, folkish melody before frantically deconstructing itself into the world of haunted spirits. Employing tremendous, vibrating phrases that encapsulate not only a tumultuous, playful spirit, but a squirming, strangled animal, Ayler's reckless, smothering "techinique" opened the door for a style that would later be partially adopted by such legendary figures as Anthony Braxton. Throughout, Ayler plays with a childish naivette, as if discovering the saxophone for the very first time. These are not passages filled with jaw-dropping skill and astounding technical gifts. These are immediate and playful, at times even blood curdling, exuding the loss, the earnestness, the dumbfoundedness of a child spirit searching for home in the life he left behind too soon.


  • 21. FOR ALTO-ANTHONY BRAXTON (1968)


  • 22. IRRLICHT-KLAUS SCHULZE (1972)


  • 23. DOLMEN MUSIC-MEREDITH MONK (1981)


  • 24. NEU!-NEU! (1972)
  • Sleek, beautiful, mechanical and a religious experience all the same, Neu! was a completely revolutionary work in rock history. Using iterative patterns to produce songs--not proper songs--but blueprints, skeletons, organisms; as if the essence was all that was left, Neu! crafted some of the most potent and miraculous music of the 70's with their debut. In this strange, simple, singular approach, sublime power was magnified by simply repeating and continuing to emphasize the key strands of DNA within the musical forms, and what results is a reversed dimension of emotional outpouring: Neu! had much more to say by saying less. Sometimes, this is the deepest kind of poetry.

  • 25. ASTRAL WEEKS-VAN MORRISON (1968)
  • Astral Weeks marked not only a quantum leap in quality for the Irish singer, but for folk music in general. It bridged the gap between jazz, soul and folk and established a new plateau for the folk vocalist with intensely profound, stream-of-conscious passages of hypnotic, dreamy beauty. The album is a thematic masterwork as well, drifting, grasping, clamouring through a series of affectingly personal songs seemingly nostalgic about Morrison's youth and upbringing, the devastation of lost love and lost dreams, while often flooding into the present with emphatic, passionate emotions surfacing. Morrison attacks these subjects and moments with a religious devotion and intensity bordering on self-fladgellation. With Astral Weeks, the trauma and romanticism of love seamlessly merged to create an unforgettable, timeless and overwhelming emotional experience.


  • 26. THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME-ORNETTE COLEMAN (1959)
  • An extremely important album, as it basically marks the birth of the avant-garde in jazz, freeing it from its trappings of the previous decades to become a much more profound, emotionally convictive art, The Shape of Jazz To Come is a true watershed. Coleman composes pieces here that are still awkward and confounding to this day. Despite having an easy to grasp melodic and structural foundation, each takes off on multiple flights of fancy that seems baffling and illogical. There is a created on the fly freedom here, a profound passion and intensity, a sense of joy and wonder at what comes next, and all of the players exude this charm that makes this work so lively and infinitely compelling. The title is completely accurate. Here lies the first significant signs of fully realized compositional freedom in jazz.


  • 27. SUICIDE-SUICIDE (1977)
  • Without question Suicide's debut is among the most harrowing and revolutionary albums ever made, inventing "psychobilly" from a rockabilly beat by way of minimalist electronics replacing the usual drums and lead instrument of the modern rock band. Throughout, its characters suffer their most personal demons and severe neurosis in lonely, cavernous atmospheres, suggesting a cold, dimming, crude world. Its pummeling, relentless rhythms personify a persistent, throbbing heartbeat, creating a sense of restless suspense, impending doom and hopeless desperation, as claustrophobia, weightless determination and brooding intensity pervade the work, leading to a horrific, shocking and depressingly bleak climax.


  • 28. LULLABY LAND-VAMPIRE RODENTS (1993)
  • A tour de force of extreme fits of embattled neurosis and complex, unpredictable, shape-shifting compostional maneuvers, Lullaby Land took its maniacal craft to the breaking point. In this frenzied hurricane of multiple personalities contained an extraordinary spectrum of characters, covering a massive body of psychological dilemmas and genres of music. The songs are forced to life by sudden outbursting, gleeful, cartoonish tack-ons, changes in orchestration and startling compositional makeovers. These elements cause an atmosphere parading itself in a non-stop circus of teasing fits of interjection, forcing the listener into an anxious state of perpetual anticipation, enforced to become a willing observer of freakshow nightmares.


  • 29. THE GOOD SON-NICK CAVE (1990)


  • 30. BITCHES BREW-MILES DAVIS (1969)
  • A momentous work, making jazz-rock a worldwide revolution, Bitches Brew was a huge, spacious double album of massive, endless jams. With Davis as the primary composer, the pieces were geared towards build ups that were intense and episodic, usually snowballing into explosive crescendos of great energy and emotional release. There is an infectious synergy displayed by the band which not only points to the composers' indisputable talent, but makes it all the more unbelievable that these aren't the original pieces: they were stitched together by attentive production and engineered to sound like the forces they are. It ranks among the greatest, most seamless editing jobs in music history.


  • 31. BLONDE ON BLONDE-BOB DYLAN (1966)
  • A sprawling stomp though raucous, richly layered compositions, Blonde On Blonde is an epic, tour de force of folk rock and blues, which marked the most clearcut break for rock as a significant and serious art form. By employing a multitude of bright textural instrumentation working together with great synergy, Dylan was able to create a more expansive, layered sound than had ever been achieved before in rock. This new, more complete compositional aesthetic created the essence of the rock sound well into the decade and proved to be massively influential upon future musicians. It reached its peak with two incredible masterpieces: the winding streaming passages of Visions of Johanna and Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands opened up a whole new world of possibilities with their seemingly endless in-depth endeavors towards greater expression through an intelligent and profound surrealism. Blonde On Blonde is the point where rock, as I know it, was born.


  • 32. EVEN THE SOUNDS SHINE-MYRA MELFORD (1994)


  • 33. NOT AVAILABLE-RESIDENTS (1978)
  • Not Available is a startling, singular achievment. An operatic, cyclical work that is both comical and touching. An overblown, crazed frenzy building towards some strange and demented cosmic euphoria while frequently sabotaging its momentum with unpredictable fits of clumsy melodrama. It exists in a colorful, multi-faceted, fantastical world struck by systematic, universal chaos and characters fraught with illusionary hopes and dreams, playing out its fevered, disorienting tragicomedy, where its ill-timed bouts of wide-eyed emotions inhabit puzzling, shape shifting structures, conveying an exotic, yearning, awkwardly beautiful rendering of the human condition.


  • 34. FREE JAZZ-ORNETTE COLEMAN (1960)
  • Taking the rules and confines of jazz form and not just twisting or turning them, but annihilating them, Coleman created a storm of controversy with this huge leap forward. The soloists play with an extraordinary flair, seemingly battling eachother for space. Melodies twist and jump and squirm their way in and out of the mix, all of them jubilantly kissing and dancing and diving off and onto eachother. Free Jazz is an epochal, monumental and staggeringly influential work, virtually inventing an entire portion of jazz history. At the time there was little, if anything, to compare to the flat out soaring energy and emotion of the 37 continuous, exhilerating minutes found here.


  • 35. THE MAGIC CITY-SUN RA (1965)


  • 36. WELL OILED-HASH JAR TEMPO (1997)
  • Hash Jar Tempo took the guitar jam to perhaps its ultimate aesthetic with Well Oiled, a mind-blowing odyssey of massive walls of sustained noise, droning, free-for-all jams, and overwhelming feedback and cacophony. With this masterwork of extraordinary technique and endurance, the dueling guitars forged a sound that gave new life and meaning for the instrument and its sound. Through almost mystical forces, these journeys became the entry point to a new spiritual realm of existence. Herein, the secrets of the universe seemed, if not captured, at the very least observed.


  • 37. THIRD-SOFT MACHINE (1970)
  • Soft Machine's Third is an album of stunning, vast scope, encompassing many different rhythm changes while leading us through detours and surging, relentless percussion and assaulting big band climaxes, each with great synergy and purpose. Third combines the minimalist, electronic purity of Terry Riley's Rainbow In Curved Air, the spaciousness and jazz-rock fusion aesthetic of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew with occasional streams of climactic rushes as in Charles Mingus' The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady. It peaks with Robert Wyatt's astonishing, mercurial epic Moon In June before wallowing in a sea of hypnotic reflection by the conclusion of closer Out-Bloody-Rageous.


  • 38. EPITAPH-CHARLES MINGUS (1962)


  • 39. YERSELF IS STEAM-MERCURY REV (1991)
  • Epic and personal, Yerself Is Steam depicts a maddening dash through an emotionally unstable mind while growing in increasingly overwhelming, more grandiose forms. In doing this, Mercury Rev prove relentlessly experimental, and as if by insatiable fetish in a state of perpetual insomnia, unleash a multitiude of instrumental forces, coalescing into massive odysseys of sound, the result being an exploding variety of nuance and combusting compositional prowess of monolithic proportions.


  • 40. ZEN ARCADE-HUSKER DU (1984)


  • 41. KICK OUT THE JAMS-MC5 (1969)


  • 42. THE ASCENSION-GLENN BRANCA (1981)
  • Devastatingly powerful, Branca's The Ascension transformed the no wave sound into an overwhelming, symphonic aesthetic on par with the mammoth works of Beethoven in sheer force of magnitude, and did this by employing an army of ultra-talented guitar players. Their combined, unified sound conjured massive, thick walls of noise, that were not only cold, harsh, abrasive and terrifying, but also transcendant, awe-inspiring and heavenly.


  • 43. SAXOPHONE IMPROVISATIONS, SERIES F-ANTHONY BRAXTON (1972)
  • Extraordinarily profound, endlessly fascinating, almost unbearably dry, desolate and freakishly otherworldly, Saxophone Improvisations Series F is an introverted, astonishing performance from the great Anthony Braxton. Across a vast scope of compositions, Braxton produces improvised, mathematically formed and rigidly calculated structures that demonstrate an almost insatiable addiction to seemingly evolve meanings from strict changes of rhythms and actions, the pieces coming off as if the maddening production of scientific experiments. Throughout, he concocts hypnotic soundscapes of the utmost solemnity with breathtakingly protruding soloing that borders on and surpasses the most extreme emotional limits, becoming something alien, something shocking and occasionally obscene. On the second side especially, he devolves into mostly science, as intensely thoughtful complications arise while a quiet desperation and near emotionless trauma overtake the work. A truly herculean effort, and a worthy successor to his epochal For Alto four years earlier.


  • 44. GEEK THE GIRL-LISA GERMANO (1994)


  • 45. MU-DON CHERRY (1969)


  • 46. ATLANTIS-SUN RA (1967)


  • 47. PITHECANTHROPUS ERECTUS-CHARLES MINGUS (1956)


  • 48. UNCLE MEAT-FRANK ZAPPA (1969)


  • 49. IMPROVISIE-PAUL BLEY (1971)


  • 50. DOUBLE NICKELS ON THE DIME-MINUTEMEN (1984)


  • 51. STREAMS-SAM RIVERS (1973)


  • 52. SPIDERLAND-SLINT (1991)
  • With Spiderland, Slint combined deliberate, jazzy rhythms and pacing with sudden, harsh climaxes to create an atmosphere of desperation and unnerving suspense. As they gradually progress from cathartic, ferociously hard rock to more spacious, deep-seated and haunting songs, the tone becomes bleaker and darker. Spiderland effortlessly morphs into a lived-in experience, a full-fledged horror film hopelessly lost and lonely in its hushed poetry readings and brooding, nocturnal soundscapes, eventually leading to a breathtaking, shockingly real and overwhelmingly tragic conclusion.


  • 53. NEW YORK, NEW YORK-GEORGE RUSSELL (1959)


  • 54. LOVELESS-MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1991)
  • Simultaneously redefining and putting a virtual end to shoegaze, Loveless combined floating, majestic harmonies amidst massive walls of sound to create a marriage between two parallel universes, both melody and caucophony, heaven and hell. These two worlds merged into a hypnotic, mesmerizing wormhole of dreams and nightmares, beauty and catastrophe, colliding to beckon an entrance to a new dimension, a vaccuum withholding, but never quite concealing, infinity.


  • 55. CITY OF GLASS-STAN KENTON (1951)


Author Comments: 

ALBUM RATINGS SCALE
0.0-4.5 NOT WORTH LISTENING TO AT ALL
5.0 MEDIOCRE
5.5 ABOVE AVERAGE
6.0 GOOD
6.5 QUITE GOOD
7.0 VERY GOOD
7.5 EXCELLENT
8.0 OUTSTANDING
8.5 AMAZING
9.0 MASTERPIECE
9.5 SUPREME MASTERPIECE
10 ULTIMATE MASTERPIECE

Albums are rated as follows:

Songs are each rated individually on a scale from 0.0-10.0. The album is then rated on overall strength within each of the following 4 categories (in order of importance):

1. Profundity
2. Expansion of Content
3. Ingenuity
4. Continuity

These categories combine to represent the albums' overall depth and, when accurately rated, will always (from my listening experience) show how well an album will stand the test of time and prove a masterpiece for the long haul (not just a "temporary jolt").

As of tonight (or this morning depending on where you live), I've removed Novus Magnificat from the list. An amazing album but not quite a masterpiece in my opinion, which is why it will now be rated in the 8.5-8.9 "amazing" range (probably 8.6).

Tonight, Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk and Survivor's Suite by Keith Jarrett have been removed from the list, both now just below masterpiece level at 8.8/10.

Basically what has been happening is that my standards keep going higher and higher the more I listen and fall in love with albums like Trout Mask Replica and other higher ranked ones, such as Desertshore, Y, etc...

This causes a shift in viewpoint on what makes a masterpiece for me, and often certain albums, while still friggin' amazing will no longer seem to be quite on that level anymore. Such is the fate of the two amazing albums by Talk Talk and Keith Jarrett...

Over the next couple weeks I am going through each album listed, from bottom to top on a very good sound system, in a room with excellent acoustics, and newly re-rating each album, one after the other with my up-to-date standards in mind. So, there is a good chance that there will be some changes forthcoming.

A Rainbow in Curved Air, Les Stances A Sophie, White Light/White Heat, and Remnants of a Deeper Purity have all been "demoted" despite how incredible they each are.

My artistic aesthetic is still very different from yours, and hence I would produce very different rankings, but I must say that I always like reading your reviews, and I find your track ratings very interesting. Plus there are plenty of albums I like here; in fact, I'm listening to Geek the Girl right now. What are your masterpiece tracks from that album - or are you going to hold me in suspense until you actually put up the review? Also, does your copy of Yerself Is Steam have "Car Wash Hair" tacked onto the end, and if so, what do you think of that song?

Yes, my Yerself Is Steam copy does have Car Wash Hair, but it is a bonus track and not part of the proper album, so it isn't included as part of the album rating. I do think it is an amazing song, probably 8.5/10.

I need to get back around to it to be sure but, Geek The Girl has 4 masterpieces by my last count, and one of them is even a supreme masterpiece (9.5+). I rate tracks, 1, 2, 6 and 11 as masterpieces, 6 being the supreme masterpiece--one of the most devastating and harrowingly powerful "rock" songs ever.

The songs I rate the highest and find the most astonishing are those which are the most intensely emotional/awe-inspiring/powerful to me.

If you haven't already, I would highly suggest listening to Yerself Is Steam (as well as all the other albums on this list) on a powerful CD system (350 watts is optimum, but 250+ should do). This will bring out the full force of it, especially the masterpieces I've rated.

How have you faired with Irrlicht?

Any luck with Astral Weeks?

Hmm, I'm glad you think so highly of "Car Wash Hair," even if you don't consider it a masterpiece; I love the song, but I was afraid it wouldn't be your cup of tea as it's probably the most catchy, least feedback-y track on the disc.

Yeah, "...A Psychopath" is a masterful song; "harrowingly powerful" is a great way to describe it. I also love the title track; the way Germano croons "oh, oh, I'm not too cool" has been ringing in my head all day.

I'm not exactly sure what my CD player's wattage is, but I'll keep that in mind.

I think I've listened to Irrlicht enough to appreciate it as much as I can. I've kept in mind the emotional journeys you and lukeprog described, and I'm pretty sure I get what the music is communicating for the most part. I like the album a lot, but when I say that, keep in mind that it's not on my favorite albums list and I doubt it ever will be. I admire it more than I actually enjoy listening to it. I think that speaks to the difference in our artistic aesthetics that I talked about earlier.

Tell ya what. If they ever release a remastered Astral Weeks that really brings the music to life, I promise I'll pick it up and try again. I do after all love the version of "Cyprus Avenue" on the live album It's Too Late to Stop Now. Granted, the energy of Van Morrison's live performance will do more to liven up the songs than a better mastering job, but the latter would certainly improve matters.

As a side note, lately I've been checking out Scaruffi's list of the "best pop (melodic) albums of all times [sic]," the only list on that site that Pet Sounds and Abbey Road appear on. I'm kind of amused at the idea of Scaruffi making a list of the best pop music, and I like seeing the obscurity of some of the albums he puts on there. I wonder what it would be like to explore the list and try to analyze what Scaruffi's taste in pop music exactly encompasses, as I tend to think of his taste as the exact antithesis to pop music. There are also some terrific names on that list that are new on me (Throw That Beat in the Garbagecan!, The Sneetches, an album called Green Eggs and Crack, a band called LMNOP that made an album called the Elemen Opee Elpee, etc.).

Re: Car Wash Hair. I find it intoxicatingly melodic, not to mention its masterful orchestration and nuance. I am a huge fan of melody when it is supported by great emotional conviction, such as The Doors, Geek the Girl, or Kind of Blue.

Re: the title track to Geek the Girl...a truly amazing song...the cutting swipes of guitar that interrupt during the gradual build up of the song just before it breaks into an insistent beat, are bone-chilling.

Re: Irrlicht. I understand what you mean. I hope someday it becomes a more personally enjoyable experience for you.

Re: Astral Weeks. I effing hear ya. Dammitt if that album doesn't need to be remastered more than any other. Aside from the horrible treatment of Starsailor by Tim Buckley, Astral Weeks needs to be taken care of ahead of all else. It's ridiculous and quite a travesty, considering how monumental an achievement it is and how legendary a recording...aargghh.

Scaruffi's pop music list is an interesting one. The #1 choice is a great album...though I'd personally choose In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by NMH. Scaruffi doesn't change his modus operandi no matter the genre. He is basically looking for ingenuity and emotion, so his picks should file in from those two combined angles, just as his others do.

Fill me in on how those obscure ones turn out if you ever get around to them, as you are likely to beat me to the punch.

I do find it very confusing that Astral Weeks and Moondance have been virtually ignored by the gods of remastering, while albums generally considered Van's lesser works like Tupelo Honey or St. Dominic's Preview have great remasters that sound awesome. Hopefully we'll hear good news about the earlier solo works at some point.

I actually checked out the pop list wondering if Cyclops Nuclear Submarine Captain was on it, as I find it infectiously catchy and melodic. It's actually not on there, despite the fact that he gives it an 8.5/10 while The Charm of the Highway Strip gets a 8/10. Perhaps the list is just outdated, but the album's absence is what really got me wondering about Scaruffi's pop M.O., as you put it. Not to mention, I think the Doors' self-titled album, Moondance, and a number of Dylan albums could count as pop albums as well, but they're not on the list either. That's what made me think there may be more at play here than just ingenuity and emotion. Either that, or maybe Scaruffi loves these albums too much to acknowledge they could be considered pop - in which case he's somewhat evaluating pop albums by their absence of ingenuity and emotion. It's an intriguing list, but somewhat confusing, I think.

Yea, I think all of his genre lists are confusing to greater or lesser degree. I've never asked him but I think he may place albums on there based not only on rating, but also based on how well they represent the particular genre. This could explain how certain albums rank below others despite having a higher score. Factor in the probability that they probably haven't been newly updated and you have our confusion.

I removed all of the ratings of the songs, continuity, ingenuity, etc., and decided to go with this simpler format. In listening to Rock Bottom and Faust tonight, as well as Trout Mask Replica yesterday afternoon, I was left with the realization that I was going to have to go back and change a bunch of song ratings and expansion of content ratings throughout the list, causing the entire list to shift down about a point per album especially 9.3 and lower (meaning 9.3's were going to drop to 9.2's and so forth). The idea of this task made my head spin. I am a very busy guy and I don't have much time to spend on the internet and it was just too much work to keep all these ratings in line, so here are the albums rated in a much more simplified format. I apologize to anyone who enjoyed the extensive content of ratings I had posted. Hopefully it gave some insight into the absurd "science" I try to use to get these albums rated and ordered as precisely as possible.

See my "Greatest Albums of All Time (Rated)" list for ratings. This one is just for reviews now.

So they are in no particular order? I think it would help if you posted that before starting the reviews.

No, they're in order, top to bottom.

Actually, the order has slightly changed. See my Greatest Albums of All Time (Rated) for the up to date order. This one is a few weeks behind. I'll update it soon.

It's updated now

I'd nearly forgotten about Nico until I started reading your lists; The Marble Index was a favorite for a long time. On your recommendation I've picked up Desertshore though I haven't had time to listen to it properly yet. Looking forward to it.

To me it is incredible. If you enjoy original, otherworldly, emotional music than you'll probably like it a lot. Though I love Marble Index I find Desertshore vastly superior. Good luck with it. I'd love to hear what you think, especially once you've listened to it 6 or 7 times.

Do you like Sigur Ros? I think Agaetis Byrjun should be up there, perhaps it's not as innovating as some of their techniques had been used before but they are just ethereal