TOP 10 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME
- 10. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band-The Beatles (1967)--As the record that ushered in the album era, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band gets more than enough attention based on its merits in regards to influence and importance. While that's interesting, important to note and, admittedly limits objectifying judgement of this landmark album, Sgt. Pepper is far more than that. Sure, there's funny little touches, bells and whistles and some odds and ends here, but there's a truck load of great songs for your listening pleasure. The album opens excitedly with the infectious and lively performance of the title track, with the Beatles careening off the walls as they deliriously announce they're "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!!!" And the horns come blowing through triumphantly! And it never lets up from here on. There's an immense display of diversity throughout Sgt. Pepper. "With A Little Help From My Friends" a consummate show-stopper, that is as silly as it is wonderful to the ears. The drugged-out magical world of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" with a shout aloud chorus to wake you up. The sly undercurrent of pathos in "Getting Better" as the boys sarcastically play the song in overt happiness when the lyrics call for an angry, grunge-driven performance. Further along the way, we find a touching "with-strings-attached" ballad in "She's Leaving Home" and get to join the circus with the strange "For The Benefit of Mr. Kite". Before we're through we are offered a chance to save ourselves and the world on "Within You Without You" and we get to blow it up again in the stunning, climactic finale with "A Day In The Life", one of the most powerful songs ever recorded. I can't think of any other single track in the course of musical history that so completely changes an album and its mood from happy, exuberant, inspired and exhilerated to detached, apathetic and pointless. Such is the power of "A Day In The Life" that it can make the listener completely forget what the previous 12 tracks concocted and plants a far more morbid touch on an already brilliantly concieved masterpiece of invention.
- 9. The Velvet Underground & Nico-The Velvet Underground (1967)--Among the most influential albums of any era, The Velvet Underground & Nico represents the birth of grunge as we know it. It is haunting, poetic, gross, pathetic, nervous and experimental. It's an amazing accomplishment, especially considering the time and form it was created in. Opening softly and delicately with the stunning "Sunday Morning", lead singer Lou Reed forces us to forget about the outside, drop everything and slowly lures us into his world from his viewpoint, totally unapologetically. Next we are nervously confronted with the driving, pulsating rhythm of "I'm Waiting For The Man", the ambitous and slutty "Femme Fatale", and the amazingly forbidden "Venus In Furs". You have to here these songs to believe that they were allowed for release in 1967! That's probably why Andy Warhol was their only willing record producer. The album climaxes at mid-point with the hypnotic "All Tommorrow's Parties" and the life-shattering "Heroin". Indeed, this is among the most heart-stopping songs this listeners ever heard. The entire song is a reflection on Reed's drug problems that seems to lend him powerless to his addiction, as he rambles about his messy convictions and considerations. About 4 1/2 minutes in, Reed finally arrives at the chorus, longingly and sympathetically giving way, singing "Herrrooooiiinnn..." You can almost see him fall to his knees as he flawlessly portrays the hurt derived from his pain, drawing an intense connection with whoever will listen. In conclusion, The Velvet Underground & Nico garners the momentum to lose you, take your breath away and kick your head in. It takes you on a journey through New York alleys, bars and let's you in on the booze, the hookers and the pool halls. It brings you through Reed's life, as the days go by, on into Sunday Morning, which will never feel the same again.
- 8. Blonde On Blonde-Bob Dylan (1966)--Blonde On Blonde is perhaps the most inscrutable album I know of. It has few boundaries, few peers and lots and lots of unforgettable moments. But it's so poetic that, at least for me, I can usually best remember the feeling that came from it. The rhythm it pulsates, the spell it holds. Of course, it has plenty of wonderful lines and great remarks, but this album is a great, big enigma of modern music. You may find yourself asking "How did Dylan come up with this? What sort of plan did he have? How can he take these chances, be such a genius and so faultless?" I think many people get many different things from it and thats part of what makes it so extroardinary. I liken Blonde On Blonde to Beethoven's "String Quartet No. 14 in C" one of the supreme masterworks in all of western culture, but equally inscrutable. Each work is based very prominently upon feel, rhythm and the aesthetics of communication, having little to do with what instrument is being played or what words are being heard. There are many masterpieces on Blonde On Blonde, from "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35", which starts everything off rather oddly and unfashionable, but this is the purpose of that particular communication. There's "Visions of Johanna" and "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", two of Dylan's greatest works. And the beautiful, eccentric "Just Like A Woman" is a wonderful, sensually sympathetic approach from the master of verse. The album closes with the miraculous "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" a remarkeable work that has certainly withstood the test of time in Dylan's catalogue. Blonde On Blonde is a mesmerizing, stirring experience-Dylan's most tender, soulful work.
- 7. The Exile On Main Street-The Rolling Stones (1972)--The Exile On Main Street is a dense, murky jam session from the depths of R & B, jazz, rock n' roll, soul and anything else the band can get their fingers on. It slowly opens itself up as a relentless masterpiece the more one listens to it as The Stones completely come into their own as a band, reaching the pinnacle of them being themselves. Exile opens with one of the greatest seven track sets in rock history, beginning with "Rocks Off", a perfect start and onto "Rip This Joint" where the band can hardly keep their pants on, as the song nearly falls completely off the rails in its crazed glorified riffage. "Shake Your Hips" calms things down a bit with some rhytmic blues and "Casino Boogie" picks things up again boogying all night long, baby! And then, perhaps the most unforgettable track on the entire album swoops in with guttural background choruses and one of Jagger's finest performances of his career. This, of course being the Stones masterpiece "Tumbling Dice", followed by the country/folk touch of the superb "Sweet Virginia". Things don't let up for a second with yet another great song in "Torn And Frayed". And that's how Exile On Main Street runs: masterpiece of rock n' roll followed by masterpiece of rock n' roll, followed by another masterpiece of rock n' roll. It's a bit overwhelming at first, but once the songs build clarification and understanding upon repeated plays one develops a supreme appreciation for the stylized murky production quality. If someone asked me where to start their album collection, I might say "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", yet if someone asked me for the defining moment of pure rock n' roll, I couldn't help but recommend "Exile On Main Street" whole-heartedly.
- 6. Forever Changes-Love (1967)--One of the most often overlooked giants of rock music, Forever Changes is among the foremost innovations in music. Combining folk-rock psychadelia with orchestrated backdrops and tender, lush acoustics and loving melodies, a little-known band from the Sunset Strip in L.A. achieved rare greatness with this masterpiece of an album. Beginning with the timeless "Alone Again Or", with it's penetrating rhythm and chorus of contradiction and denouncement before unexpectedly tripping into an epic flamenco horn solo that is sure to sweep any listener of their feet and into Love (pun intended). Next is the methodically driven "A House Is Not A Motel" where lead singer Arthur Lee sounds like he's stuck in hell or Earth (same thing to him) as he drones unforgettably: "By the time that I'm through singing, the bells from the school of war will be ringing. More confusions, blood transfusions, the news today will be the movies for tomorrow. And the water's turned into blood, and if you don't think so, go turn on your tub" And onto "Andmoreagain", one of the most moving tracks Love ever produced, as Arthur yearns towards comfort singing, "You don't know how much I love you..." followed by rythmic thrusts of sunny acoustic guitar chords, the track is undoubtedly flushed in romanticism, as is it's counterpart, "Old Man", a painstakingly beautiful and gentle relief, giving us little preparation for the storm ahead in "The Red Telephone". From that track on, the rest of the songs seem interconnected by a singular thrust towards the attainment of momentum as lead singer Lee takes you straight down into the depths of his demented soul, ceremoniously closing with the 11th and final track, the awesome "You Set The Scene". Forever Changes has long been almost solely dependant upon much favorable critical acclaim to keep its legacy alive, as it has yet to even sell a million copies despite its release date of 35 years ago. I strongly recommend that, if you don't own it, go out and buy it right now and tell a friend. This truly is a masterpiece you don't want to miss. One of rocks few flawless albums. A perfectly flowing examination of paranoia-Forever Changes is the key 60's album.
- 5. Highway 61 Revisited-Bob Dylan (1965)--Perhaps the greatest folk album ever produced, Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited is gripping from start to finish, as he lashes out at virtually everyone imaginable. Rock music truly grew up with Highway 61, and neither Dylan or his fans would ever be the same again as he practically reinvented how albums were written with this record. Starting off with the classic "Like A Rolling Stone", Dylan prepares us by first examining the human condition as an exhaustive attempt toward degradation. He generalizes it before concentrating more descriptively on himself as effect to the world around him in "Tombstone Blues". This theme of getting ones teeth kicked in by the world around him flows through the entire album; it would be quite depressing if it weren't for Dylan's ingenius comedic and sarcastic touches that help give the listener just enough room for distancing himself from the character described in his stories. Further masterpieces are "Ballad Of A Thin Man", an exhaustive search within the protagonist and his confusion of those around him. "Queen Jane Approxiamately" is a touching take on someone Dylan loves, but can't quite get her near him. And, of course "Desolation Row", among the supreme achievements in all of rock n' roll and one of the very best album closers I know.
- 4. What's Going On-Marvin Gaye (1971)--A remarkable achievement from Marvin Gaye, What's Going On is a watershed in Motown history. It creatively employs songs genuinely concerned about the world at large, thoughtfully coordinated as a whole concept; each song is connected to one another via instrumental arrangement or by continuation of theme or vocals. It creates quite an experience in what is quite easily the greatest R & B album of all time. Of course, the album takes off with the timeless classic "What's Going On", quite an achievement in itself. But this is just a device to set the scene and draw one in to the sounds of the album. Next comes "Whats Happening Brother", a direct continuance and further inquiry of the previous track, only it's deeper and concerns the return of a veteran of Vietnam. These two songs together provide the emotional center or axis of which the rest of the album turns and relies on for motivation. "Flying High In The Friendly Sky" is beautiful stuff. Right here Gaye whips out a stirring medley of continuous tracks: "Save The Children", "God Is Love" and "Mercy, Mercy Me" one of Marvin's most infamous songs and the best one concerning the ecology I know of. The album closes in grand beauty, with the wonderful Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), yet as the intrumentals fade out an attentive listener will come to realize that the album has come full circle and could start again at the beginning. This is fitting and makes Gaye look like a genius (which he was) for much of the overriding theme of the work is based on the world and love and other timelessly circular themes. So, what Gaye seems to be doing is providing a thoughtful message of hope and world peace, delivered expertly and with superb craftsmenship, made all the more prominent by the necessities of today. What's Going On grows stronger with the passage of time.
- 3. Astral Weeks-Van Morrison (1968)--Ahhhhh.....! Astral Weeks! Further proof that I must be nearing the top of this list! Astral Weeks is an album that defies easy description, for no matter what I say, I don't think I could possibly communicate with total accuracy the wonder that can be discovered by listening to it. One of the truly miraculous albums in rock history, Astral Weeks was recorded in a matter of hours over the span of a mere 2 days, and by musicians who didn't even know one another. It has so many magical, enchanting moments: moments where you'll want to cry, moments where you'll smile, moments where you'll reflect on your life, past loves and mistakes. Astral Weeks has a way of physically changing the environment around oneself. Of making it all appear meaningful; suddenly flowers flow more beautifully, relationships seem stronger, wine tastes better. All the songs are the works of a master; they are stupendous achievements in soul and unpredictability,irish melody, poetic rhythms and construction. Van Morrison at his very best. One in particular stands slightly above the rest, and that is "Madame George", the crowning achievement of Van Morrison's career. This is among the most moving pieces of music ever made, especially interesting given the fact it's about a male transvestite who suddenly has to leave his/her childhood behind, due to some altercation with the cops. Morrison soulfully throws himself overtly upon the lyrics, putting so much into each aching note that I'll be damned if your heart doesn't melt for the poor "Madame George" as well. Over time I have fallen in love with Astral Weeks, its characters, their lives, my own life. I recommend it so strongly its hard to describe. The same goes for the following two albums:
- 2. Revolver-The Beatles (1966)--Probably the single most exhilirating album ever made! Revolver is so thoroughly entertaining and exciting its hard to stop oneself from playing it over and over again continuously one time right after the other. The Beatles effortlessly deliver pop music in its entirety through 14 tracks in 35 minutes. Almost all of them are absolute masterpieces. "Taxman" ingeniously starts off with the jumping guitar chords, timed so well by Harrison. Before you know it, in comes the beautiful "Eleanor Rigby". Then there's "I'm Only Sleeping", "Here, There And Everywhere", "Yellow Submarine" and then "She Said She Said" to "Good Day Sunshine" to "And Your Bird Can Sing"-perhaps the most exciting three song set in pop history. There are few songs to match the delicate, pop beauty of "For No One", it's certainly among Paul's greatest achievements. Of course there's also "Got To Get You Into My Life" and the mesmerizing trance "Tommorrow Never Knows" to cap things off. All said, Revolver is inspired, relentless, fun, passionate, immediate. If you don't own it already, do yourself a huge favor and purchase this, promptly. You'll wonder why you missed out on all the fun the last 36 years its been released.
- 1. Pet Sounds-The Beach Boys (1966)--Angelic, achingly beautiful, perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect. Words do not justify description of this album. Listening to it is a religious experience. It is an event, something to be cherished. It feels important. Pet Sounds is just that amazing. That's why it's number one. It's sheer perfection.
Top ten in no particular order:
There's a Riot Goin' On-Sly and the Family Stone
Its Only Life-Feelies
Attack of the Grey Lantern-Mansun
Selling England by the Pound-Genesis
Unknown Pleasures-Joy Division
Rid of Me-PJ Harvey