In celebration of Rolling Stone's 40th Anniversary, we've handpicked the 40 albums they got wrong. Each and every one of these gems deserved their greatest praise: 5 Stars.
To avoid confusion, here are a few pointers:
1) Some albums were not evaluated in initial Rolling Stone issues.
2) Some albums were not given Star scale ratings (pre-1980s usually).
3) Many albums' initial reviews were changed (usually for a higher score) for the Rolling Stone Album Guide (abbreviated 'AG' below).
4) The most recent albums are not in the AG.
The third point is perhaps the most important, because what many of these albums prove is that Rolling Stone got it really wrong the first time around and, in some cases, corrected their mistake (and in some cases, didn't).
The real hinge upon which this article rotates is this: When a supposed beacon of music criticism gives 5 Stars to Mick Jagger's Goddess in the Doorway, but not to the 40 albums listed below, can we really trust them anymore?
40. Built to Spill – Keep It Like a Secret - 3.5 Stars; Changed to 4 in AG
Idaho’s Built to Spill sort of invented the term 'indie' in the 1990s with their homemade releases and distinctive sound, spearheaded by frontman Doug Martsch. In short, BTS keeps it ultra-real and this is their hallmark.
39. De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising – 3 Stars; Changed to 5 in AG
Michael Azerrad in 1989: "One of the most original rap records ever to come down the pike, the inventive, playful 3 Feet High and Rising stands staid rap conventions on their def ear." No respect for the rap, RS! How can this be 'one of the most original rap records ever' and get the same rating as the latest Ricky Martin record? Gimme a break.
Here's a poignant example of Rolling Stone's inability to judge music in a contemporary manner. It takes them at least a few years to appreciate an album's magnitude. Why not now? Why can't there be some objectivity? Just listen to the goddamn music.
A sprawling opus of post-rock, Happy Songs gets everything right, all the time. It's Mogwai at the top of their game and an album that defines what other bands like Godspeed and Explosions in the Sky aspire to create.
Frank Rose's 1977 review ends, "Animals is Floyd's attempt to deal with the realization that spacing out isn't the answer either. There's no exit; you get high, you come down again. That's what Pink Floyd has done, with a thud." See, now, this is mind-boggling. Of course Rolling Stone gives props to The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, but Animals, a negative review back in the day and two stars in the Album Guide??? One of the best albums of the 70s for sure.
35. Jay-Z - The Blueprint - 3.5 Stars; 5 in AG
Another crystal clear example of RS missing the boat and then trying to make up for it later (5 Stars given in the Album Guide...). For a magazine that neglected much of the foundation of rap in the 1980s, it seems they'd want to make up for it by giving great rap albums their due credit. Guess not!
34. The Grateful Dead – Europe '72 – No initial rating; 3 Stars in AG
This album may just be the best recording that has ever been done on the road. I'm not saying that the band played better than anyone on the road ever (although a case for that can be made…), what I am saying is that the actual recording -- the actual level adjustment, editing, and so forth -- is up there for the best, ever.
33. Joanna Newsom – Ys - 2 Stars
Christian Hoard's entire 2006 review: "Newsom is a classically trained harpist and singer who made a very good 2004 record, but this EP is hard to stomach: Five tracks, four of them more than nine minutes and one ("Only Skin") sixteen-plus, with meandering strings-and-things accompaniment and indulgent vocal quirks that make Bjork sound like Kelly Clarkson." EP? I don’t even know if Hoard listened to this album more than once, if it all. Simple as that…
32. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms – No initial rating; 4.5 in AG
Debby Bull writes in her 1985 review, "The lyrics are literate, but the scenarios aren't as interesting as they used to be on records like Making Movies, still the band's most solid LP." Um…no. This record is the definition of solid from front to back (I still remember cruising around Italy with my father some years ago with a handful of tapes – this being one – and not being able to contemplate how good Brothers was).
31. Black Flag – Damaged - Not initially reviewed; 4.5 Stars in AG
Like a kick to the teeth, Henry Rollins and Co. came straight out of D.C./SoCal (weird combo?) with a rough sound and more attitude than most mere mortals could/can handle. And, oh yeah, they kept a sense of humor about it all.
30. The Strokes – Is This It? – 4 Stars; 5 in AG
4 Stars? Is this it? Another stab to the throat of post-1970s rock and from a magazine that slobbers all over The Strokes today. 5 star album.
29. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – 4 Stars; Changed to 5 in AG
Perhaps better than their random jumble of a debut, Slanted and Enchanted, Crooked Rain is grunge/garage rock/music at its best. Stephen Malkmus and the fellas masterfully jump from the soft to the hardcore and back again.
28. Bob Marley – Exodus – No initial rating; 4 in AG
From Greil Marcus' 1977 review: "The more I listen to this album, the more I am seduced by the playing of the band; at the same time, the connection I want to make with the music is subverted by overly familiar lyric themes unredeemed by wit or color, and by the absence of emotion in Marley's voice. There are some well-crafted lines here, but given Marley's singing, they don't come across. The precise intelligence one hears in every note of music cannot make up for its lack of drama, and that lack is Marley's."
Really, Greil Marcus? Reallllly?
You'd think that, at least, in retrospect, Rolling Stone would award an album like Exodus five stars. You would, of course, be dead wrong.
27. Arcade Fire - Funeral - 4 Stars
Rolling Stone editor's meeting: "Is Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger in this band? No? Four stars."
Don’t even get me started about how much I love this record. Best movie clip samples ever…
25. Elliott Smith – Either/Or – Not initially reviewed; 3.5 in AG
Going out on a limb, perhaps, but this is Smith's finest album. Cohesive, cogent, and consummate -- simple, amazing...simply amazing.
Now, I know this is sort of a greatest hits (it’s a collection of their singles from 1979 to 1985), but, come on, this record is great. Listen and learn.
23. Gang Starr – Daily Operation – 4 Stars; Changed to 5 in AG
No goddamn respect for rap.
22. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Déjà Vu – 4 Stars in both
Rolling Stone sticks it to this classic foursome by not heralding their all-time great LP. Kickass from start to finish.
21. Beck – Odelay - 4 Stars; Changed to 5 in AG
Beck's innovative second album, released in 1996, is nothing short of pure genius. He went even further than his work on his debut, Mellow Gold, and employed the Dust Brothers for its funky sounds and styles.
20. Cocteau Twins – Treasure - Not initially reviewed; 3.5 in AG
Scotland's Cocteau Twins unleashed a maelstrom of dreams via music during their fifteen-year career. 1984’s Treasure captures more strangely and beautifully what it feels like to be unconscious.
Seriously Rolling Stone? Not going with 5 on this one? Jazz classic.
18. Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die – 4 Stars; 5 in AG; 5 in 2005 issue
Why does it take them ten years to figure it out? Why can't they do it right, the first time?
Ouch. Downgrade in the Album Guide? Why’s that? Was the music too ethereal, too relevant?
16. Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo – Not initially reviewed; 4 Stars in AG
For those who only know Devo for "Whip It" and their goofy outfits, just listen to their 1978 New Wave masterpiece – and debut - produced by Brian Eno.
One of the definitive lo-fi albums of all time, Robert Pollard and his Dayton crew laid down some of the weirdest, wildest tunes in town. Yeesh, this album still makes me scratch my head and say, "Wow."
14. White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan – 4.5 Stars
White Stripes albums keep getting better and better and the latest was their best yet (yes, better than White Blood Cells, better than Elephant). Give it another listen.
Michael Azerrad writes in his 1989 review, "Even if his work no longer packs the shock value it once did, Smith has finally gotten things unequivocally, utterly and completely right." Yeah, um, that means 5 Stars, good sir.
12. The Replacements – Tim – Not initially reviewed; 4.5 in AG
For my money, this is the best Replacements album. I'm not going to get a lot of agreement on this, what with Let It Be's critical acclaim and all (RS only gave that one 4 initially, by the way), but this is a 5 Star LP. No question about it.
Ohhhhhh…4.5…so close! Almost there, but not quite, right music critics of high importance? Hmmm, how can I retort?
Refusing to give this album 5 stars is fucking stupid. There.
10. Nirvana – Catalog
Alright, so 3 stars for Nevermind, 4.5 for In Utero, and no review for Unplugged? Way to go, Rolling Stone.
9. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang – 4 Stars; 5 in AG
Monumental. Classic. All of those, ya know, "5 Star descriptors."
8. Flaming Lips – Soft Bulletin – 3 Stars; Changed to 5 in AG
- Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – 4 Stars in both
I can’t think of another band that staged such a fantastic career resurrection with a one-two punch that the Lips did. Both of these albums are great in their own ways, from the individual songs on Bulletin to the conceptual grandiosity of Yoshimi – they both deserve a great deal of respect.
7. Pixies – Doolittle – 3.5 Stars; 4.5 in AG;5 in 2002 issue
Nice try, RS. We all know you gave this monumental disc 3.5 stars in 1989. For shame, trying to hide behind a 5 star review given in 2002…should’ve gotten it right the first time.
Rolling Stone famously panned heavy metal and hard rock albums early on, especially those by Zep. Bad move, hotshots.
Ben Ratliff glanced over Aeroplane in 1998, writing it off as nothing more than a groaning singer with a lack of melody.
Too high on the list you say? Check out my screenname.
4. Pearl Jam – Ten – 4 in both
Underrated even now, this grunge masterpiece stands right next to Nevermind on the altar of early garage rock.
The Heads were drastically underappreciated by RS, garnering more positive reviews only in retrospect. 77 (3.5 in AG), More Songs About People and Food (4.5 in AG), Fear of Music (4.5 in AG), The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (4), Speaking in Tongues (4), and Stop Making Sense (2.5) are all 5 Star LPs. 'Nuff said.
2. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – 4 Stars; 5 in AG
Rolling Stone just gave 4 Stars to Sky Blue Sky for Christ's sake. YHF is one of the finest albums ever made. Not giving this 5 Stars cemented their obliviousness.
1. Radiohead - Catalog
Read 'em and weep:
The Bends - 4 Stars, 5 in AG
OK Computer - 4 Stars, 5 in AG
Kid A - 4 Stars, 5 in AG
Amnesiac - 3.5 Stars, 4.5 in AG
Hail to the Thief - 4 Stars, 5 in AG
The unwillingness to give Radiohead a 5 Star review upon initial listen is so wildly out-of-touch and insane, I can't even comprehend it.
Get a grip, Rolling Stone, and give the artists their due, the first time around, when they deserve it. (By the way, Amnesiac kicks ass).