Top 100 Albums of the 1970s
Wed: 06-23-04

Top 100 Albums of the 1970s

Staff List by Admin

As the psychedelic 60s gave way to hippie backlash and high ambitions, one thing was clear: There was something damn funny about peace, love and understanding. Shaking off naturalism, daisy chains and acid tabs came easier than expected, and what resulted was a paradox of both striking diversity and remarkable coherence: From high-concept prog-nerds and high-octane guitar solo to high-heeled glam-rockers and high-ass punks, the 70s saw the rise and dominance of the album-as-unified-statement. Pitchfork now takes the opportunity to present this list of its favorite albums of that decade.

Of course, at the end of it all, the task of choosing just 100 records to represent the entire decade has meant that there was just not enough room for all of the wonderful (and arguably deserving) albums and bands we'd like to have listed.

Among the casualties this time out were: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Patti Smith, Sticky Fingers, Ornette Coleman, Pere Ubu, Van Morrison, Black Sabbath, "Heroes", Chic, Queen, Nina Simone, New York Dolls, The Jam, Frank Zappa, Transformer, Curtis Mayfield, The Police, The Damned, Aretha Franklin, Tonight's the Night, The Kinks, Tom Waits, Elton John, Yes, Janis Joplin, Station to Station, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Alice Coltrane, Paris 1919, The Upsetters, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cecil Taylor, Amon Düül II, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Augustus Pablo, Human League, Chi-Lites, Captain Beefheart, No New York, Magazine, The Slits, The B-52's, Durutti Column, Burning Spear, Tangerine Dream, Gene Clark, Françoise Hardy, Magma, Kimono My House, The Adverts, Manuel Göttsching and/or Ash Ra Tempel, Lee Hazlewood, and all of Brazil, including Caetano Veloso.

To view individual lists from each writer involved in the making of this list, click here.

 

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100: Brian Eno
Before and After Science
[Island; 1977]

There's no more appropriate way to kick this list off than with a record from Brian Eno, an artist within only a couple of degrees of separation from upwards of one-quarter of this list. Before and After Science, however, could be seen as an odd choice: Not formally groundbreaking, it's frequently overlooked when discussing great albums from an era that's romanticized as placing premiums on progression and innovation-- and particularly in the context of Eno's career, which is so full of both. But it's a lovely, charming album from the dadaist jaunt of "Backwater" to its tranquil second side, whose mood and texture seems to tear a page from Eno's 1977-78 David Bowie Album Construction Playbook, yet rectifies the divide between his pop and ambient impulses. --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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099: Neil Young
After the Gold Rush
[Reprise; 1970]

After the gold rush of 1960s California rock, most of its main players spent the 70s slowly hippie-twirling towards irrelevance and rehab resorts. Not so for Mr. Young, who was just hitting his stride as the decade turned over, kicking off a run of 11 great albums in 10 years with After the Gold Rush. One of his few efforts that can't be considered either the product of Crazy Horse feedback Neil or sensitive-hayseed Neil, Gold Rush is also one of Young's most consistent records. Holed up in his Topanga Canyon home writing a soundtrack for a never-made Dean Stockwell-scripted film, Young invited his friends to join him on alien-abduction ballads, preachy Skynyrd-provoking jams and lovesick nocturnal country-blues. Unlike so many of his sun-dazed contemporaries, Young had the right kind of eyes to see the high-water mark, and After the Gold Rush is the departure point on his essential decade-long journey away from the fallout of the 1960s. --Rob Mitchum

 

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098: Robert Wyatt
Rock Bottom
[Virgin; 1974]

Rock Bottom was in the planning stages when Robert Wyatt survived a fall from a fourth-floor window, a tumble that left him confined to a wheelchair and ended his career as British art-rock's most endearingly maverick drummer. It's impossible not to hear the stretched-out time of convalescence in its drones and long melodies as Wyatt devotes himself to keyboards, whittling at his synths as quizzically as he hones his lyrics, which gnarl with surreal wordplay but temper the brilliantly grounded wit that flashed across his earlier work.

With no need to keep up a working band, Wyatt surrounds himself with his best Canterbury colleagues-- there are cameos by Fred Frith and Mike Oldfield, as well as regular support from fellow Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper-- and, bound to the studio, he invented the next phase of his career. The melancholy that buoys his classic "Sea Song" doesn't block the exquisite melody, which assuages regrets before they can even creep in, and as Wyatt croaks his fascination for the strange real-life lover that he was about to marry, he settles for tapping the beat on a single, handheld drum. --Chris Dahlen

 

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097: Various Artists
The Harder They Come
[Mango; 1972]

I never bought Jimmy Cliff's optimism in the face of adversity. If Horatio Alger was a ridiculous longshot in the United States, imagine the odds for someone coming from a Jamaican slum. Statistically speaking, that which the people from ghettoized Kingston really want, they never get-- no matter how much they try and try. This is political music before reggae artists commonly named names; as in the blues, the only relief from suffering comes when the heart stops beating. In this situation, life without belief would be unbearable. You can hear the weariness even on the party tracks, making The Harder They Come one of the saddest albums of the decade. --Mark Richardson

 

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096: Iggy Pop
The Idiot
[RCA; 1977]

After the release of the Stooges' final album, 1973's Raw Power, Iggy Pop bottomed out. It would take four years, several jailings, and countless beatings before he would get back on his feet to launch his solo career. After a self-imposed exile in a West Coast mental institution, Pop put in a call to David Bowie, as the two had been intending to hook up for years, and a few days later, they'd boarded a plane to Paris, and then to romantic Berlin where they would finish work on The Idiot.

The Idiot presents what is probably Iggy Pop's darkest release, and rightfully so, given the period of his life during which it was recorded. Set to music written primarily by Bowie during the Station to Station sessions, Pop's lyrics are often reflective and sentimental-- "Dum Dum Boys" pines for his Stooges bandmates, while "Tiny Girls" and "Mass Production" lament stupid love-- and when they're not, they're bitter and scathingly sarcastic ("Nightclubbing", "Funtime"). Against minimal, mechanical instrumentation, Pop's delivery is suitably passionless, as he dryly sing/speaks in a deep, unfeeling croak. Musically, it formed the foundation for Joy Division's cold, caustic creepiness, at times echoing their sound so strikingly it could be mistaken for Unknown Pleasures. In the throes of a crippling bout with depression, it's clear what was on Ian Curtis' mind in his final hours. --Ryan Schreiber

 

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095: Led Zeppelin
Physical Graffiti
[Swan Song; 1975]

Physical Graffiti is not the hardest or most influential Zeppelin album. It's not even their best. But it's arguably the most essential. At 80 minutes, it's as insurmountable, grimy, intimidating and flat-out awesome as the monolithic tenement building on its cover. And it's about to collapse on all your friends. The tracklist is like the Ten Commandments of hard rock, wielding "Custard Pie", "The Wanton Song", "Trampled Under Foot", "Ten Years Gone" and "Kashmir". Some of the most popular bands of the 1980s and 90s did nothing but rip off those five songs over and over again.

Graffiti is also the pinnacle of Zeppelin's mythology: It contains all the requisite gnomes, swashbuckling fools and garbled Paradise Lost-garden-car-incest-pie euphemisms. Jimmy Page's broiling and obstinate riffs flatten the songs' images of Middle Eastern mountains and pristine country landscapes. Robert Plant's lungs have been seemingly saturated in tar and moonshine. If you must know what John Bonham's thunderous drums are like, cover your head in cement and run into a tsunami. Bizarrely then, the rest of Graffiti is overwhelmed by Page's country and blues fixations. "In My Time of Dying"'s hurling slide-guitar and Plant's entirely blasphemous Christ-lust blast out of a South Carolina shack. The bagpipe-harmonica synths on "In the Light" are sheltered by serenely droning strings. Graffiti proves that not only was Zeppelin powerful enough to sustain a double-album; they were powerful enough to sustain every metal band that came after them. --Alex Linhardt

 

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094: King Crimson
Starless and Bible Black
[Atlantic; 1974]

Experimental bands are always awarded points for making fragmented albums that actually hold together. The mid-70s Crimson line-up stood for taste and efficiency with a dry, dark wit, and Starless and Bible Black epitomized those qualities. John Wetton's tersely macho posture suits the lyrics of Richard Palmer-James, who matches the album's opening squall with the rude awakening of, "Health food faggot." Even "The Night Watch" skips the mawkishness of other Crimson ballads. The live tracks are mostly improvised, which is one reason Bill Bruford renamed the album "Braless and Slightly Slack". But the pieces are mostly chafe-free, cropped down to spiky instrumentals that highlight the Robert Fripp-David Cross frontline of sharp guitar and under-the-breath violin and mellotron, all gnashed against Bruford's clatterwork. And if you can get over how much "Fracture" now sounds like The Simpsons theme song, it's an aggressively brilliant through-composed set piece, as methodical as it is nasty. --Chris Dahlen

 

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093: Jimi Hendrix
Band of Gypsys
[Capitol; 1970]

Although they were together for less than a year, the Band of Gypsys provided the springboard for some of Hendrix's most soulful, enduring music. The Experience's psychedelic maelstrom encouraged Hendrix's attention-grabbing antics, but Buddy Miles and Billy Cox supplied the funky, backbeat-driven rhythm section he sought at the turn of the decade. "Who Knows", "Power of Soul" and "Message to Love" blister with the deep funk rock sound Hendrix was turning towards.

And then there's "Machine Gun". Quite possibly the most wildly explosive and painfully vivid musical statement ever caught live on tape, Hendrix's 12-minute psychedelic soul mindbender surged from the tragic violence at Altamont to the chaos and devastation of Vietnam. In this one song, he pioneered the simultaneous use of four different effects pedals and cemented his reputation as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Talk about shock and awe: If it sounds that insane on the album, imagine what the Fillmore East crowd was feeling that New Year's Eve. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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092: Kraftwerk
The Man-Machine
[Capitol; 1978]

Despite what their song titles suggest, Kraftwerk have never sounded like trains, planes or automobiles. They sure as hell don't sound like mannequins or bicycles. They just sound like robots. The Man-Machine remains the most obvious Kraftwerk record: robots making music about robots making music. If 1974's Autobahn embodied naïve euphoria and 1977's Trans-Europe Express was thumping desolation, Man-Machine is completely neutral. While the fast-paced world of Ralf Hütter quotes knows no limits of pretension, this is the only album that conceivably expresses his ideal music: No emotions, no philosophies, no performances, and virtually no humor. It is pure technology: the whistles and surging circuitry of unmanned factories; twinkling hydraulic tubes; flaring odometers and cogs; and pre-Pong claw-claps.

For the first half of the album, the only remotely human touch is the rolled "r" when Ralf robo-sings, "We are the robots." But the inhumanity is suddenly broken towards the end with the wry, pop-art commentary of "The Model" and the enrapturing pulsations and wavering reflections of "Neon Lights", which contain enormously melancholy lines fragile enough to collapse or evaporate under the slightest drum machine. The title track, however, is pure solidification: the sound of amassing troops, pinpointed trajectories and speaker-box opiates of the masses. --Alex Linhardt

 

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091: Throbbing Gristle
20 Jazz Funk Greats
[Industrial; 1979]

20 Jazz Funk Greats' most impressive trait isn't the pulverizing factory machinations of Genesis P-Orridge's blasted allegories-- "Pain is the stimulus of pain"; "I've got a little biscuit tin/ To keep your panties in/ Soiled panties, white panties, school panties, Y-Front panties"-- or its winking pastoral cover art, or those crazy-ass bird calls, sleazy ambient pulsations and homemade electro-pop grooves. No, 20 Jazz Funk Greats' most impressive trait is its timelessness. As proven by the recent TG remix project, you don't need to touch these soundtracks with your grubby synthesizers-- you'll just stain the magic with the ones and zeros of digital cliché. Left to simmer in its own juices, the band's 1979 masterstroke exhibits no dust crackle or incense-soaked hokum. And outside the sexed-up dance-of-death hooks-- "Hot on the Heels of Love" should by now be a matrimonial favorite-- songsmiths without a compelling raison d’être would do themselves well to mainline as much William S. Burroughs, Marquis de Sade, Aleister Crowley, Fluxism and Vienna Actionism as this smarty-pants quartet. --Brandon Stosuy

 

<!--pagebreak-->090: Fela Anikulapo Kuti & Africa '70
Zombie
[Celluloid/MIL; 1977]

While Bob Marley was railing against "War" in the Western Hemisphere, Fela Kuti was fighting his own battles for the dispossessed on the other side of the world. An anti-militarization anthem, "Zombie" grabbed the African continent's collective imagination with its lyrical urgency and relentless rhythm. Perhaps Fela's most effective fusion of funk and politics, it confronted Nigeria's increasingly corrupt, detached government head-on, and in doing so both united the public and incensed the ruling party.

The monstrous line that comes crashing through the title track a few minutes in is one of the most recognizable in afrobeat, led by Lekan Animashaun's heaving, incessant baritone sax. Amidst the sinuous roar of drums, bass and brass, Fela's commanding vocals drive the song like a drill sergeant, and his massive chorus of background singers keeps time with the chant of "Zombie!" to his every command. The original album is backed by a couple of lesser-known singles; MCA included the title track on a Fela compilation. Whichever version you come across, "Zombie" is a must-have for anyone ready to climb the pinnacle of afrobeat. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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089: Devo
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!
[Warner Bros; 1978]

Q: Were all those plastic helmets and black one-piece leotards just a glib, giggly extension of Devo's high-art image game, or a deliberate ploy to figure themselves as inanimate and unthinking as the toasters and toys featured on their records? What about when they suggested that mankind had actually evolved from mutant, brain-eating apes-- were they just being funny? Is all that cold, synthy new-wave supposed to represent the slow retardation of the human spirit? Is everything in Akron this subversive? What did Brian Eno think? What is the uncontrollable urge? Why did Rolling Stone call them fascists? Is it because they covered "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"? Do they actually sleep inside sealed plastic pods? A: They are Devo. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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088: Giorgio Moroder
From Here to Eternity
[Casablanca; 1977]

Italian-born producer Giorgio Moroder built Musicland Studio in Munich in 1969 and, with partner Pete Bellotte, proceeded to invent electronic dance music. Not only did he revolutionize the budding disco movement with his digitally powered "four-on-the-floor" bass drum pulse, but also more than any other 70s artist, he was responsible for contributing to the birth of house and techno. His productions for Donna Summer are perhaps his greatest achievements in the decade, but the apex of his solo work is 1977's From Here to Eternity. This brilliant record glides by with the ebb and flow of a modern DJ mix, sparkling with audiophile-precise sound and arguably the finest vocoder vocals in history. The entire first side of the original LP contains five songs morphed together into one mega-mixed suite of hedonistic minimalism; when he croons, "Baby gives sweet loving, leaves me meaning nothing," he intones the gospel for disco nymphs and club culture forever more. --Dominique Leone

 

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087: Roxy Music
For Your Pleasure
[Warner Bros; 1973]

Morrissey recently told The Observer Music Monthly that he could "only think of one truly great British album": Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure. Well, conservatively, I can think of at least three great Roxy Music albums (one of which, Country Life, had the misfortune of landing at #101 on our list), though he's right that For Your Pleasure is the best of them. More ambitious, enigmatic and expansive that their self-titled debut, Roxy Music's second album (and last with Brian Eno) perfectly captures the balance and tension between the keyboardist and leader Bryan Ferry.

Roxy's penchant for continental decadence, off-kilter romanticism and melomania is the perfect foil for Ferry's vocal affectations and singular quiver. But here-- with Eno still on board-- the band's tendency to drift into atmospherics is often tethered by some driving hooks. That's one of many surface contradictions on an album which features both fictional dance crazes and love poems to blow-up dolls, sounds laboriously crafted but reeks of restless excess, and is fronted by a man who delights in skewering upper-class conventions but seems to want nothing more than to join the jetset. --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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086: Joni Mitchell
Blue
[Reprise; 1971]

There are two ways to hear Blue. The first is as a historical document. If you are white, middle-class and liberal-- and, especially, if the spirit of the feminist movement had touched someone in your family-- then Blue encapsulates your mindset in the 70s. Kids who grew up on Sesame Street with Free to Be You and Me on the hi-fi heard Blue wafting upstairs when Mom and Dad had friends over and the living room started to reek of that funny smoke. This was the perfect hippie comedown record for those young adults with families who wanted to move on to more serene and comfortable bohemianism. But aside from its historical markers, Blue is a fine stripped-down record with extremely solid songwriting-- despite the occasionally cringe-worthy lyric. In this way, Blue is like a companion to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks-- a confessional album very much of its time that endures on the strength of fantastic melodies and musical simplicity. --Mark Richardson

 

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085: Wire
154
[Warner Bros; 1979]

By their third album, Wire scarcely resembled the band that a few years earlier had released Pink Flag. They had lost much of their rawness, but none of their edge, pushing into clanging, even chilling, electronic textures and oddly moving their catchiest melodies to the front of the mix, conceding to pop convention even as they perverted it. Of course, pop success was about the furthest thing from their minds, as evidenced by the sonic apocalypse of "A Touching Display" and the fractured synth chords of "On Returning", and the fact that they titled the album's lead single and most accessible song "Map Ref. 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees W". Incredibly, after the restless creativity that culminated in 154, the group claimed that they were fresh out of ideas and disbanded (albeit temporarily), ending one of the greatest three-year runs in rock history. --Joe Tangari

 

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084: Nilsson
Nilsson Schmilsson
[RCA; 1971]

A quirky day-in-the-life snapshot, Nilsson Schmilsson catches singer, songwriter and Beatle heir apparent Harry Nilsson in playful mid-life catharsis. That notorious, grainy cover perfectly preserves Harry's cheerful dejection re: quaint, bygone days of dancing "until a quarter to 10" and blue-collar early morning drudgery. Tempered hope and humor steal every priceless tune, but also, it was 1971, and things were getting pretty weird. On Schmilsson, reticent urbanites go nowhere fast; car pedals and flower petals merge; bits of crap and moonbeams mingle in a woozy Brian Wilson daydream.

Throughout the album, producer Richard Perry's earthy tone befits the album's post-Revolver heritage; likewise, Harry's tropical hangover goof-off "Coconut" rivals the Fab Four's inspired wackiness. Nilsson's crystalline whisper and wail translate Badfinger's stilted "Without You" into a glorious, wrenching suicide note set to humble strings and brass. And finally, the underrated closing couplets: "Jump into the Fire"'s motorik and tribal insistence that "we can make each other happy!" simply won't age, while the eclectic banjo, piano and ensemble on "I'll Never Leave You" lushly and gently ease into calm goodnight. Thanks, Harry: I can't live if living is without Schmilsson. --Judson Picco

 

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083: Iggy & The Stooges
Raw Power
[Columbia; 1973]

If Jesus Christ ever comes down to separate the sinners and saints, the wheat from the chaff and the Iggy Pops from the Kenny Gs, he'll be in a judgin' mood, and it might just be Raw Power roaring out of his iPod. Heck, JC'll probably have a chorus of angels wailing on axes, churning out its maniacal, nitro-fueled riffs as his theme song while he sends us all on the short bus to Hell-- 'cause rock and roll's a sin, friends. And if anyone asks why we're all going to sleep with Kurt Cobain, Eric Carr, Chuck Berry and the rest of a laundry list of rock casualties but it's somehow all right for him to be listening to "Search and Destroy", we'll be enlightened and know that the Big Guy saved a special place for Pop. Why? 'Cause no one sings and screeches the wrath of God quite like Iggy Stooge. 'Cause he's the father of punk, and we're a little better off for him passing through. 'Cause the Ramones were just a gleam in Iggy's eye until they were conceived by Raw Power. 'Cause War, Famine, Pestilence and Death have nothing on the apocalyptic soul and fire the Stooges bring to bear on this album. 'Cause Iggy might not have died for our sins, but he did the next best thing-- he rolled around in peanut butter for rock and roll. Amen? --Eric Carr

 

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082: George Harrison
All Things Must Pass
[Apple; 1970]

With Lennon/McCartney standing on the garden hose of George Harrison's songwriting career throughout most of Beatlemania, the guitarist celebrated his former band's demise with a triple-LP deluge. While nothing on All Things Must Pass touches the garment-hem of "Something" or "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", clearly there was a great deal of quality inventory to unload-- the "unintentional plagiarism" of "My Sweet Lord" aside-- and the first two-thirds of the album (nobody ever listens to that awful jammy third platter) overcomes its dated mysticism. George was self-critical enough to know that his thin voice couldn't carry a set this ambitious, and so recruited sonic drywall installer Phil Spector to liberally drip syrup all over the album's dark-tinged Krishna folk-rock. Nevertheless, even recent remasterings make Spector's echo-drenched symphonics sound endearingly bleached-out, a technical shortcoming that no doubt influenced the many lo-fi orchestras that have riddled the indiescape. George Harrison will forever be the patron saint of rock 'n' roll underdogs, and All Things Must Pass is his Confessions. --Rob Mitchum

 

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081: David Bowie
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars
[RCA; 1972]

Bowie would eventually live to rue his Ziggy Stardust character to some degree, but the icon remains his gender-bent guitar-rock po-mo Hamlet. In its church of man, squawking pink monkey birds give the alien writer's block until Mick Ronson freaks out; epic dead-father daydreams portend Earth's five-year expiration date; "Lady Stardust" is just a dolled-up Marc Bolan, but count the entendres when Bowie demands he "Get some pussy now..." All told, it's a disfigured sci-fi autobiography strewn with decadent ego-victims and brilliant tracks that don't fit the plot-- all held together by hook after indelible Bowie hook. The Spiders from Mars played a gripping hard-rock/doo-wop amalgam, as retro-theatrical as the then-fresh Grease, yet progressively festooned with grandiose raygun strings and metallic crunch chords. It's only too fitting that the Sex Pistols would one day cop to ripping Ronson's riffs. --Judson Picco

<!--pagebreak-->080: David Bowie
Hunky Dory
[RCA; 1971]

With the androgyny-charged hard-rock of The Man Who Sold the World behind him, Bowie retreated to his singer/songwriter roots and came into his own. Hunky Dory marked the true start of what would be one of the most successful careers in rock music, spawning millions of scarily obsessive fans. Here, he delves into Dylan-inspired folk ("Eight Line Poem", "Quicksand", and tellingly, "Song for Bob Dylan"), bombastic piano ballads ("Life on Mars?"), and primitive twee-pop ("Kooks", "Fill Your Heart"). "Oh! You Pretty Things" seamlessly merges science fiction and cabaret; "The Bewlay Brothers" is one of his most musically ambitious closers, despite its nonsensical lyrics; and you can count on one hand the number of songs in Bowie's catalog quite as awe-inducing as "Life on Mars?", whose descending piano and grandiose, climactic chorus are delivered with an intense and contagious longing as its character seeks refuge from the disappointment of life. Hunky Dory is by no means his most cohesive release, but it remains one of his most charming, and unquestionably, one of his best. --Ryan Schreiber

 

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079: Randy Newman
Sail Away
[Reprise; 1972]

What a curmudgeonly old man Randy Newman has become. The Southerner-by-proxy has long since alienated his hipper associates, and these days gets by with the occasional smarmy remark at the Oscars and reel after reel of finely crafted yet rote Disney soundtracks. It's almost difficult to remember what a fantastic, optimistically wry young composer he was in the early 70s. The sentiments of Sail Away-- his third studio record-- range from the title track's beaming indictment of the hypocrisy of the American Dream via a slave trader's sales pitch, to the definitive account of the half-assed dad in "Memo to My Son", to the acidic environmental satire of "Burn On". He even turns the smoking gun on himself and his "fame" on "Lonely at the Top". Yet, that he could still deliver lines like, "Let's sing a song of long ago/ When things could grow and days flowed quietly," without a hint of irony reveals the hopeful, sentimental heart buried in this record. Maybe a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down: Newman's humble, humane critiques never tasted sweeter or more genuine. --Dominique Leone

 

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078: Anikulapo Kuti & Africa '70
Expensive Shit
[Editions Makossa; 1975]

It's that guitar vamp and the onslaught of percussion, the horns that sound like pure joy, and the fury and humor of a man caught in the crosshairs of a corrupt government. Fela Kuti's afrobeat is both protest and celebration. It's kinetic, complex and infectious, the sound of Africa awakening from its colonial nightmare full of righteousness and rage. In 1975, Fela's anger with the Nigerian government brought him face-to-face with its corruption, as police raided his residential compound (The Kalakuta Republic, he called it), equipped with marijuana they planned to plant on him. But Fela was a quick thinker, and he swallowed the supply with which they had intended to frame him. Swapping excrement with a fellow prisoner at the jail, he produced untainted shit for the police, who were forced to let him go or admit their own corruption. Fela turned the whole surreal incident into this absolutely epochal slab of epic funk. Fuck the "world music" tag-- this is punk in the purest sense. --Joe Tangari

 

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077: David Bowie
Aladdin Sane
[RCA; 1973]

In 1972, Ziggy Stardust made David Bowie a star on both sides of the Atlantic; in 1973, Aladdin Sane made him, well, one album removed from the album that made him a star. Given the mammoth footsteps of Ziggy's glam-rock futureworld-- and Hunky Dory's equally impressive array of lushly styled pop-- it's not surprising that Aladdin Sane was largely unheralded. Its relative anonymity, however, is undeserved.

Tiring of glam's cliches and having just penned the album that was arguably the genre's magnum opus, Bowie found himself between styles at a time when he most needed to capitalize on his nascent superstardom. Rather than release a transparent Stardust Redux, a desperation to build upon his reputation for the avant-garde led Bowie to strike out-- seemingly at random-- in search of newer, more fertile ground. Jazz, rock, lounge, glam, cabaret, pop and anything else Bowie and the Spiders could bring to the table is incorporated here. Bowie revels, if only briefly, in the freedom afforded him by forsaking any overarching contemporary style. Aladdin Sane's only defining characteristic is its carelessly brilliant, gleefully schizophrenic style-hopping. Many artists wallow in limbo for a time, only to have that period rightfully forgotten-- but few have ever made artistic purgatory sound this good. --Eric Carr

 

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076: Blondie
Parallel Lines
[Chrysalis; 1978]

The funny thing about roots is that you only see the twisted, dirty, ugly things if you dig them up. And so, although Blondie-- CBGB's most successful alumni-- got their start in that club's dirty stalls and nascent punk scene, it would take a hard, reactionary heart to grumble at the sweet pop fruit of Parallel Lines. The album's duochromatic cover is appropriate for a fence-straddling group that both supported Iggy Pop on his comeback tour and deservedly enjoyed four #1 singles.

It was with thanks to this record that the band swiftly moved from subway to taxi to limo. From Buddy Holly to Brill Building to burgeoning new-wave, Blondie filtered a quarter-century of American pop into sharp songs about curfew breaking and unrequited love. Some credit for the record's success is down to ex-glam producer Mike Chapman, who reigned in the nonchalance and occasional sloppiness of Blondie's first two albums and helped transform "Heart of Glass" from cheeky minimal motorik into a pulsing and sensual dancefloor anthem. An assist also goes to ex-Nerve Jack Lee, who provides two songs, including the opener "Hanging on the Telephone", which kicks off with the familiar coo of its titular object, a prescient touch for a record that would eventually communicate so much to so many people. --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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075: Led Zeppelin
Houses of the Holy
[Atlantic; 1973]

More playful than IV but still bubbling with the arcane Middle-Earth folklore that irritated critics, Houses of the Holy is both artistically sophisticated and cloyingly juvenile. It's the soundtrack to my senior/stoner year of high school, and still reeks of cheap weed and cheaper incense, a swirl of overblown, overwhelming psychedelia in the best possible way.

In my mind "No Quarter" and Vivek Patel's Spencer Gifts-equipped walk-in closet-- aglow under velvet-flocked neon posters and a totally rad black light-- are one and the same, both hugely significant moments in my musical development. From swaying along with the epic "Rain Song" at a house party by the airport, to air-shredding "The Ocean"'s ecstatic finale in the Lazerium, to a backseat makeout session inspired by the teenage yearn of "D'yer Maker", almost every song on the album holds the key to some formative memory. And beyond that, they're some truly original, incomparable compositions, spanning the full breadth of rock's vast potential. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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074: Leonard Cohen
Songs of Love and Hate
[Columbia; 1971]

Leonard Cohen will not likely be remembered for his voice, reedy and nasal as it is, and musically, the unspoken directive behind his haunting, sparse acoustic compositions has always seemed to be "stay out of the way." For these reasons, discussion of Cohen's work always focuses on his words-- which, invariably dwarfed by the monstrous poetry of his lyrics, almost seems an insult. Songs of Love and Hate delivers exactly what its title promises-- though the emotions are often so closely intertwined that one is virtually indistinguishable from the other-- and does so with all the beauty, scorn, venom, and sorrow that has secured his place among the greatest lyricists, living or otherwise.

In Cohen's world of victims, love takes many forms-- those willing to love another are damned as frequently as they are redeemed, and the truest hate springs unfailingly from those unlucky souls. Though arguably not as inspired as his first two albums in lyrical character, he makes up for it with unflinchingly raw pathos, for what may be his most emotionally wrenching album; given Cohen's catalog, that's no easy task. --Eric Carr

 

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073: Van Halen
Van Halen
[Warner Bros; 1978]

It's amazing that the Sammy Hagar v. Diamond Dave debates even take place. Perhaps the David Lee Roth haters are motivated by poor Dave's more recent car-wreck public appearances or an inability to see the worth in aerobic kicks and bare-chested catsuits, but one look at Van Hagar's idiotic robotic choreographed strut or the band lounging poolside at Cabo Wabo should settle the argument once and for all. Besides, it's a bit off the mark to criticize Roth for a lack of earnestness; when his tongue wasn't in the mouth of a groupie, it was usually in his cheek.

That big-grinned spirit infused the best of Van Halen's music, a time when Dave would use "rock and roll" as an adjective and it all still seemed somehow engaging and mythical. Eddie Van Halen did more than his share to prop up the myth, of course, making "Eruption" the amateur axeman's white whale and becoming the closest thing that my generation had to a guitar god. Never mind punk-- here's "Atomic Punk". And "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". And "Jaime's Cryin'". And "Runnin' with the Devil"... --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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072: King Crimson
Red
[Atlantic; 1974]

Since their inception, King Crimson had been an unstable element, both musically unpredictable and prone to fall apart and reconstitute with little fanfare. True to form, violinist David Cross departed the band midway through the Red sessions, but not without leaving his arcing, piercing mark on the cathartic improvisation "Providence". For a band that was very obviously about to splinter, King Crimson's music sounds remarkably of a single mind. On Red, they achieved a remarkable balance between bone-crushing brutality and cerebral complexity. Aptly, the epic closer "Starless" feels like a summation of all King Crimson had accomplished to that point. Through its strictly controlled verses, hackle-raising crescendo and wild freak-out coda, the band wrings moments of startling beauty and exuberant energy from the dread and dissonance at the song's core. Crimson would rise again in the 1980s, but that was a different band with different aims. Red is a fitting swan song for the original, unstable version. --Joe Tangari

 

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071: James Brown
The Payback
[Polydor; 1973]

Many consider The Payback to be the James Brown swan song. Following its release, the Godfather of Soul struggled to overcome both the disco bug eating away his audience, and the even-then-legendary funk sound that he was all but forced to recycle with hardly the same passion or unintelligibly yelping innovation. It's a point for discussion, but regardless, this double-LP is unusually consistent for Brown-- especially given the conditions of its release: The Payback was assembled from scattered recording sessions during line-up shake-ups, Brown's soundtrack work, heavy American and European touring, and some serious personal and familial trauma. It's amazing how well Brown galvanizes his rhythmic bomb-on-the-one reputation on the fiery title track here, and the recourse to recoil that propels the other epic funk numbers here, none of them dropping below eight minutes in length. More than any of his previous funk albums, The Payback displays Brown and company at their most musically precise and restrained. It's a sort of confidence that doesn't say it loud so much as its speaks softly and carries a big licking stick. --Nick Sylvester

<!--pagebreak-->070: Pink Floyd
Dark Side of the Moon
[Harvest; 1973]

It supplants your beating heart, then tells you to "Breathe". It made Pink Floyd rich, and made us all sick of "Money". "The Great Gig in the Sky" is gospel's soul-wail but when the lunatic on the grass shouts, no one seems to hear. This singularity of irony was also Floyd's commercial and collaborative supernova; on the follow-up, Wish You Were Here, the band they were in started playing different tunes. How could they not? Dark Side of the Moon confronts only One Word Subjects-- Time, Madness, War, Religion ("softly spoken magic spells")-- while redefining British psychedelia, space-rock and the concept album concept itself. A great and terrible rainbow of blackness behind the curtain of prog, Dark Side of the Moon blots out the Big Lamp, but puts everything under the sun into tune. The best thing about synching Dark Side with The Wizard of Oz: "Eclipse" bookends the record with rhythmic cardiac pulses just as director Victor Fleming's camera tracks slowly up a rusted woodsman's hollow metal body. Thus Dark Side awards its listener their very own heart of sound: "I hear a beat/ Thump, thump/ How sweet..." --Judson Picco

 

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069: Faust
IV
[Virgin; 1973]

IV is perhaps Faust's most accessible record-- especially in contrast to the brute force sound scrappery of The Faust Tapes, which saw release the same year-- but its accessibility doesn't come without a turbulent and absolutely stunning struggle in the beginning. The heavy-heaving locomotive churns that run a relentless 12-minute course in the fittingly titled "Krautrock" provides a curious balance for IV's seven other decidedly more traditional, shorter rock tracks. The rest of these tracks all follow their own distinct traditions, riding off-kilter melodic variations, electronic embellishments, and typically Faustian musical humor. The streamline polish and self-control that separates IV from the band's earlier recordings seems particularly appropriate for what would be Faust's final musical statement, a self-eulogy of sorts that would be unfortunately tarnished by the group's return to the studio in 1995. --Nick Sylvester

 

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068: Herbie Hancock
Head Hunters
[Columbia; 1973]

For the segment of the jazz audience that thought modality, free jazz, and Blue Note funk was all rubbish, Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters was complete fucking anathema. The pianist had truly sold out, forgoing even the old-style-vs.-new-styles compromises he made on Sextant and with the Mwandishi ensemble, jumping headlong into the treasure troves of slick, sexy commercial funk. The sentiment is half-justified: Head Hunters was immediately popular, and in fact, held the record for Best-Selling Jazz Album of All Time until that long-faced, curl-haired rat bastard Kenny G topped it in the 80s.

However, that Head Hunters was simply an accessible commercial success discounts Hancock's own growth as a musician, not to mention the entire shift toward groove-centered jazz composition that Head Hunters would anticipate. For one, Hancock's keyboard solo in the second half of many-faced opener "Chameleon" is among the most passionate in his decades-long career, and his minimalist, almost purely percussive approach to electric synthesizer works to perfect effect here when contrasted against his screaming solos that pop out throughout the disc. The rhythm section is a similarly grand story: Hancock actually cut loose his entire band (save Benny Maupin) to hire the funk-friendly bassist Paul Jackson, percussionist Bill Summers, and drummer Harvey Mason. Together, the section managed the delicate restraint that, coupled with Hancock's bright melodies, teases out the balls-out funk grooves on Head Hunters that the cutesy phrase "jazz-funk" criminally misrepresents. --Nick Sylvester

 

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067: Pink Floyd
Meddle
[Harvest; 1971]

The critics who fault Pink Floyd for making intricately engineered albums as an end in themselves have rarely turned their guns on Meddle. More cohesive than the experiments and soundtracks that preceded it, yet less showy and plastic than the hits that followed, Meddle is an enigma. Its atmosphere-- windy and overcast like a restless twilight, sometimes dark or even hostile-- ties the album together, making the first part as organic as the side-long "Echoes" and preventing the country and blues nods from sounding trite or out of place. The jumps in scale and attitude fit into a kind of arc-- even though the record's handful of lyrics fail to give you a narrative (why do they want to cut you into little pieces?)-- and the sound effects and disembodied voices establish that the band, rather than making soundtracks for movies that don't exist, crafted albums that were movies.

But beyond the technical successes, Meddle is striking because it is without ego. David Gilmour sings lead like a back-up vocalist, they play a side-long piece without a single flashy solo, and the most compelling motif is a single, sonar-like note on the piano. Other art-rock bands would have littered it with armadillo tanks or starship troopers; the Floyd refrained, leaving us to imagine what's lurking in the fog. --Chris Dahlen

 

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066: Big Star
Third/Sister Lovers
[PVC; 1978]

Years of rubberneckers have treated this as a document of Alex Chilton's professional breakdown, with substance abuse compounding professional failure to break his voice and hunch him to a fragile state. The bleak core of the album, "Holocaust" and "Kangaroo"-- which, crassly, are its most covered songs-- capture a darker hour than most would care to eavesdrop on. But the album would be tedious if Chilton didn't put up a fight: All three Big Star albums mixed pure honey power-pop with melancholy reflection. If this record's frustrations skew it toward darkness, they also yield wild give-a-shit piano solos and unrepeatable squalls, as well as sterling melodies and the pure bliss of "Stroke It Noel". Third/Sister Lovers's many imitators only want to be gawked at; the record works because Chilton lets us in and allows us to grasp his experience. --Chris Dahlen

 

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065: Neil Young
On the Beach
[Warner Bros; 1974]

For decades, Neil Young refused to release On the Beach (along with a handful of other, equally noteworthy 1970s albums) in digital format, citing what he considered to be the questionable integrity of 1s and 0s. Warner Brothers finally "convinced" Young to drop his objection, and On the Beach's first compact disc plopped onto a conveyor belt just last year, forever rescuing it from the distracting buzz of (what had long been considered mandatory!) crackles and spits. Ragged, contradictory and oddly poignant, On the Beach is a hazy swirl of steel guitar, dobro, Wurlitzer, slide and Young's high, lonesome whine. All of Young's trademark ugly solos, self-implicating lyrics and cantankerous charm remain intact, but the songwriting here is vaguely softer, an almost apologetic (and certainly dissatisfied) homage to nasty, mid-70s America. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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064: Iggy Pop
Lust for Life
[RCA; 1977]

Iggy Pop was all the young dudes' hero, the self-destructive template for rock 'n' roll as willful confrontation. But in the 1970s, no matter how you look at it, he was also David Bowie's boy; by 1976, determined to get back on track after years of his own unsustainable self-abuse, Bowie brought the equally damaged Pop to Paris, where the duo started work on The Idiot. Dominated by Bowie's hand, The Idiot was the first album on which Iggy Pop had appeared to chart in either the UK (where it reached #32) or U.S. (#72).

Flush with this renown, Pop reclaimed the reigns for Lust for Life, and though Bowie's presence is still unmistakable-- particularly during the "Tonight"/"Success" midsection-- the booming, raw production, blues scales and writhing vocals heard in highlights "Neighborhood Threat", "Some Weird Sin" and the incomparable carnival ride "The Passenger" outshine the best Stooges tracks. Famous first and foremost for its enduring title track smash, Lust for Life is so much more: Beneath the toothy, cleaned-up cover is the sound of an artistic resurrection, the justification of Iggy Pop's iconic status alongside Bowie-- the man who most believed in him-- and quite possibly, Iggy's biggest inspiration, Lou Reed. --Chris Ott

 

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063: Cluster
Zuckerzeit
[Spalax; 1974]

Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius had only recently begun experimenting with pop structures on 1974's Zuckerzeit. Their previous albums as Cluster (and the trio of releases with Conrad Schnitzler as Kluster) were spacy exercises in cosmic ambience, often with dark undertones and spooky, unidentifiable sound effects. However, by this point, they had settled into concise tablets of electronic pop, using primitive drum machines and analog synthesizers to create pastel-colored robo-pop a sight more "human" than that of their Düsseldorf peers in Kraftwerk. Zuckerzeit lurches along with the unbalanced gait of a homemade music machine, yet is ever peaceful, perhaps curious about its own piecemeal construction. As their percolating parts rattle with analog grins, songs like "Marzipan" and "Heiße Lippen" seem perfectly content to drift by in effortless propulsion. Brian Eno (among others) picked up on the earthbound ambience at the heart of this music, but Zuckerzeit's voice can also be followed through to Cologne and Kompakt, much of IDM and any other atmospheric dance music you care to name. --Dominique Leone

 

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062: The Cars
The Cars
[Elektra; 1978]

When Fountains of Wayne topped the charts last year with "Stacy's Mom", Ric Ocasek could have sued for custody. The Cars' debut record provided a template for effortlessly catchy, hook-filled and radio-friendly rock that has proven every bit as effective now as it was then. While songs like "Stacy's Mom" use limp verses to justify exuberant choruses, The Cars still stands as an album that never sacrifices its momentum for cheap thrills. From the immortal synthline of "Just What I Needed" to the playful guitar of "My Best Friend's Girl", nothing is taken for granted here. And though The Cars has become one of the definitive archetypes for pop music, it's a record that still has yet to be bested on its own terms. --Matt LeMay

 

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061: Beach Boys
Surf's Up
[Brother; 1971]

Where were the Beach Boys in 1971? Years after both their fun-in-the-sun heyday of the early 60s and their masterpiece, Pet Sounds-- and one album removed from Brian Wilson's first "return" (the erratic Sunflower)-- the band appeared to be at a crossroads. Mike Love had yet to grab hold of the group's reins, but was exerting a much greater influence on their public persona via message songs like "Don't Go Near the Water" and the grating "Student Demonstration Time". Furthermore, the band's most ambitious music was being resuscitated from the five year-old Smile sessions. Yet, Surf's Up practically defines flawed greatness, via Carl Wilson's introspective, exotic folk-pop, manager Jack Rieley's devastating vocal on Brian's "A Day in the Life of a Tree", and Brian's own gorgeous "'Til I Die"-- which might very well go down as his last truly great production. Today, the eclectic, relaxed sound of this album is reflected in the work of Super Furry Animals, Stereolab and Sufjan Stevens, but its power comes from the shy passion and sincere, spiritual convictions of its creators. --Dominique Leone

<!--pagebreak-->060: John Lennon
Plastic Ono Band
[Apple; 1970]

Rock stars are, almost innately, liars. They lie about their incomes, lovers and histories. When The Beatles broke up in 1970, John Lennon was as recognizable as Mao or Nixon. With a few lies, he could have conquered entire hemispheres . Instead, he sat in a small room and yelled. Plastic Ono Band, for all its structured simplicity and pretension, is the most sincere album you will ever hear. Lennon had been practicing primal scream therapy, and the way he bares himself is gripping, often profound, and probably indecent. Even the sarcastic weariness of "I Found Out" and the decrepit self-deception of "Working Class Hero" sound eminently pure and honest.

Although the album's emotional core has somewhat diminished under the weight of innumerable Lennon imitators, the sequences of throttling, atomic screams at the end of "Mother" and "Well, Well, Well" are as horrifying as they ever were, a wall-of-sound of hate and despair. It's a noise you never hear on an album; it belongs in an emergency room or a church. These are simple songs, composed of two or three easy chords on a lonely piano or grizzled guitar, but even the flotsam is memorable: the clanging bells that start the album, the infamous "Cookie!", the implosion at the end of "Remember", the litany of disbeliefs on "God". They are iconic effects that transform the most personal pop confessional into grand, social myths. Ever the dreamweaver, Lennon would refine his image on Imagine, but Plastic Ono Band still stands as the least expected and most rewarding album an ex-Beatle would ever release. --Alex Linhardt

 

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059: Ramones
Rocket to Russia
[Sire; 1977]

Some revisionist (they'd say "realist") historians would, in the revealing light of our refined, modern sensibilities, have you believe that "all the Ramones songs sound (whisper now) pretty much the same," as if that isn't what made the Ramones famous in the first place. The Ramones made music safe for anyone who could yank two chords-- three, in a pinch-- out of a guitar at warp-speed and whose lyrical aspirations didn't go too far beyond the wide world of inhalants. Mindless, directionless enthusiasm can go a long, long way, so long as you have a sense of humor about it.

As the first band to be officially slapped with the "punk" tag, the Ramones had built their fake-family name on 1960s power-pop dreams rooted in a foundation of distilled, high-octane rock 'n' roll. The thing is, you can only bang on a guitar for so long before you start to pick up a few things, and by the time of Rocket to Russia-- the Ramones' third album-- you could almost call them musicians. They even slowed down a couple of songs long enough to show off their newfound chops. Hooks, structure and some power ballads round out their most fully realized album-- all without losing one ounce of their flamethrowing aggression. --Eric Carr

 

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058: Miles Davis
A Tribute to Jack Johnson
[Columbia; 1971]

At least in attitude, Miles Davis's A Tribute to Jack Johnson is something of a bitter bastard child. The soundtrack to the William Clayton film of the same name never received the initial marketing push from Columbia that the record company gave to At Fillmore, and after just a year of shelf time, the jazz-rock masterpiece fell into relative obscurity. The film is about the rise to fame of turn-of-the-century heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson: Both the trials of racism Johnson faced throughout his career and the lavish standard of living with which Johnson reacted to these trials were points of inspiration and sympathy for Davis, and the music here mirrors this iconoclastic spirit.

With Jack Johnson, the confrontational Davis intended to make a rock 'n' roll album better than any other white musician's, and some might say he succeeded. The passion informing the album finds counterpart in the mythical story of its spontaneity: In the studio, guitarist John McLaughlin had stumbled into a simple blues-rock groove that drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Michael Henderson soon picked up on, and Miles, who had stepped out from the studio at the moment, suddenly rushed back and belted out perhaps the most clear-throated and magical solo of his entire career. --Nick Sylvester

 

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057: Paul Simon
Paul Simon
[CBS; 1972]

In a folk-rock genre that ostensibly valued authenticity over chart success, Simon & Garfunkel were sometimes accused of being too calculated, too polished, if only in reaction to their unprecedented commercial success. Paul Simon's songwriting contributions to the group were praised, but his pop roots and staid compositions frequently gave the impression that they'd been intensely labored over, as if focus-grouped to appeal to audiences. After their eventual split, without the collaborative influence of the man he had worked with for half his life, Simon was finally able to flourish as a songwriter. Simon's commercial sensibilities were as strong as ever before, but by shedding the more conservative demeanor of Simon & Garfunkel and becoming one of the earliest folk musicians to embrace the sounds and rhythms of Jamaica, South America, and Africa, what once sounded forced began to take on new life. His self-titled debut is a masterpiece of breezy eclecticism, pop hooks, and at times, paradoxically in its seeming effortlessness, a greater emotional resonance than almost any of his previous work. --Eric Carr

 

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056: Can
Future Days
[United Artists; 1973]

The judgment for "Caldron"-- the I Ching hexagram that appears in the middle of the royal purple cover for Can's fifth album, Future Days-- reads: "Supreme good fortune. Success. Thus the superior man consolidates his fate by making his position correct." That man is Japanese busker-turned-singer Damo Suzuki, who on this album makes his final appearance with the German group.

On Future Days, Suzuki's once-prominent role as band catalyst dissolves in the ambient washes (think In A Silent Way), and gurgling polyrhythms (think Bitches Brew), his voice wafting through like phantom transmissions. It is the correct posture, and the scarce vocal appearances throughout make it feel all the more human. Can's least schizophrenic album, it's also their most satisfying as a whole, as well as their most gorgeous and blissed-out. Bassist/producer Holger Czukay speeds or splices tape, pushes Jaki Liebezeit's percolations to the fore, and mixes in field recordings to further the pastoral feel. As the side-long closer "Bel Air" suggests, it's all effervescence, transcendence, pleasure. It's a hell of a make-out record. --Andy Beta

 

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055: Nick Drake
Bryter Layter
[Island; 1970]

Consciously or not, Nick Drake was slowly ripping himself apart. After debuting with one of the most fully realized folk albums of its time (1969's Five Leaves Left), Drake spent his remaining years honing in on two distinct elements of his sound. Bryter Later shows an emboldened, perhaps unwillingly extroverted Drake, one who is less intimate but no less essential. With help from folk-rock icons Fairport Convention, the album reiterates the ornate arrangements of Five Leaves Left while blunting Drake's potent emotional edge by downplaying his devastating voice.

Featuring a handful of almost too-placid instrumentals, the album is perhaps some of the classiest easy listening ever penned. Though Drake's ingratiating personality was somewhat lost amidst the ostentatious orchestral jags and blindingly gilt sax jams, Bryter Layter can't help but foreshadow some of the hissing analog rawness of Pink Moon. Slicked-back tunes such as "Poor Boy" and the title track may be sedative, but the unchained, Morricone-esque guitar playing on "Hazey Jane I", the perfectly maudlin "Fly", and the bucolic, city-weary "Northern Sky" all show Drake in the messianic mold into which he's been deservedly lionized. --Sam Ubl

 

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054: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Cosmo's Factory
[Fantasy; 1970]

Released two years before the brittle rockabilly of pub-rock and seven years before the succinct fury of punk, Creedence's last great album was a climactic bid to reinvigorate the smoldering, dour dust-ups of 1950s rock. By 1970, rock and pop were becoming ever more electronic or fixated on progression. In stark contrast, Creedence felt timeless; they could have been Andrew Jackson's house band or funded by the Works Progress Administration. John Fogerty's perpetually doomed histrionics and ragged blues were played at the speed of ignorant, adolescent rage and at the depth of a dying man's last words. It's a critic's wet dream: an existential Eddie Cochran filtered through a deep knowledge of everything from Delta jug bands to Stax Records. Fogerty is conceivably the only singer that could have injected panicked dread into both Sun Records party-thumpers and wistful soul jams.

Although no one listens to Creedence for diversity, Cosmo's Factory -- with the blustering, Sabbath stairmaster riffs of "Ramble Tamble" and the voodoo handclaps of "Run Through the Jungle"-- is as "experimental" as the band ever got. And the 11-minute "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is simultaneously Creedence's most menacing, torrid, soulful, and yes, monotonous song. Finally, "Lookin' Out My Back Door" features one of the best single rock verse since Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man", lyrics drowning in hermetic blues, teeny-bopping idiocy, psychedelic sophistication and self-reflexive nostalgia: "There's a giant doing cartwheels/ A statue wearin' high heels/ Look at all the happy creatures dancin' on the lawn/ A dinosaur Victrola listenin' to Buck Owens/ Doo, doo, doo." --Alex Linhardt

 

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053: Steve Reich
Music for 18 Musicians
[ECM; 1978]

At some point in the past three decades, Steve Reich's most famous composition was heralded as a subdued, relaxing proto-trance piece. This is patently absurd: 18 Musicians brims with vitality and diversity, a wild shimmer of voices and genres after Reich's infamous minimalist works. Although he based the piece's mingled group dynamic on African rituals and Javan Gamelan, 18 Musicians also manages to delve into somber sea shanties, daydreaming folk strains, and prismatic jazz interludes. Lowing clarinets and flitting xylophones spin around in some sort of tropospheric frenzy. Blinking melodies emerge precipitately and almost accidentally, churned by sweltering marimbas and chilled vibraphones. Here, Reich uses some of the most ancient rhythms to produce huge, thrusting propellers that chart whirlwind histories and humid reposes. After 30 years, this album's influence has inevitably spread from Philip Glass to DJ Shadow, but it remains one of the most unique compositions in Western music, an effortlessly accessible introduction to global vibrations, visionary repetitions and our own internal patterns. --Alex Linhardt

 

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052: Elvis Costello
This Year's Model
[Columbia; 1978]

While in his late-70s prime, Elvis Costello was one of pop's most winning characters: Ever dejected yet stubbornly undeterred, the unobtrusive troubadour turned his calamities of love into ingratiating melodies. One of his most deceptive rock records, This Year's Model avoids the oft-cloying bitterness of emotional politics by erecting an unflappable façade of proto-punk virtuosity. Unless you're listening carefully, it"s difficult to recognize the venom behind the limpid cadence of "Hand in Hand" or the deconstructed balladry of "Little Triggers". But at this album's core are lyrics sharper than an Iggy Pop needle. Costello always got the last word, and This Year's Model features some of his most searing (and underhanded) indictments. --Sam Ubl

 

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051: Sex Pistols
Never Mind the Bollocks
[Warner Bros; 1977]

A gorgeously packaged catchall, Never Mind the Bollocks documents the most infamous gang of teenage nihilists to ever pick up a guitar. Built around three culture-shock top 10 singles and the Sex Pistols' glorious top 40 debut "Anarchy in the U.K.", the November 1977 release of Never Mind the Bollocks was actually derided as a greatest hits cash-in by many critics ("Anarchy" was a year old, "God Save the Queen" more than six months). Still, fans couldn't buy it fast enough-- especially in America, where Bollocks was the first widely available piece of Pistols product, and prefaced an infamous U.S. tour. The album is more easily interpreted as a fait accompli in the UK, where Bollocks shouldered a spurious banning lawsuit, Sid and Nancy's bloody hotel bust-up, and the Who Killed Bambi? film disaster.

But Never Mind the Bollocks was recorded long before the band devolved into such fame games and ego wars, and though it wants for Glen Matlock's deft playing (Steve Jones laid all the bass tracks), this is the Sex Pistols as they should be remembered, as pretty and vacant as it got. Sparked by the arrival of Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten's delivery is markedly more confident, and it goes a long way to sell the overproduced Alice Cooper effrontery of "Bodies", the fetid, asinine "New York", and "EMI", the last good Sex Pistols song. Though infected with the vainglorious self-righteousness that destroyed the band, Never Mind the Bollocks has all the hit singles, the joyous glam throwback "Seventeen" (aka "Lazy Sod") and "Submission", the only evidence of musical growth in the Sex Pistols' two years together. --Chris Ott

<!--pagebreak-->050: Tim Buckley
Starsailor
[Warner Bros; 1970]

What exactly is the legacy of Starsailor? Beyond the fact that no other music sounds much like Tim Buckley's abstract expressionist, jazz-laced folk, I'd be hard-pressed to name many artists before or since that are capable of his conceptual range, much less are in a position to be influenced by him. Starsailor is a masterpiece in every sense. It captured its maker at his freest and most willing to throw caution and sales to the wind, while simultaneously at his most creative and most capable of pulling off songs and moods that, from practically anyone else, would sound cartoonish, clumsy and confused.

Buckley's sixth album (in four years) soars from the guttural, wildly romantic force of his singing and the exploratory nature of his band (led by guitarist Lee Underwood). If you need a legacy, search for it in the damaged nightmare-collage of the title track or the furious, desperately emotional performances throughout. As an artistic document, Starsailor stands virtually alone. --Dominique Leone

 

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049: Marvin Gaye
What's Going On
[Motown; 1971]

Marvin Gaye wasn't asking a question with title of his 1971 masterpiece; he was making a declaration. The record marked the apotheosis of the Motown sound, and Gaye's treatise on poverty, war, pollution and civil strife brims with passion and soul. If it were up to Berry Gordy, Gaye would have cut a few more clones of "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and called it a day, but the singer saw so much tragedy and injustice in Nixon's America (and LBJ's, for that matter) that he felt must be addressed.

Gaye felt so strongly, in fact, that he refused to record anything else until Motown released the masterful protesting title track, with its incidental saxophone magic (a grafted snippet rescued from the cutting room floor) and jaw-dropping vocal performance. "What's Happening Brother"-- Gaye's triumphantly melancholy tribute to his brother's readjustment to civilian life-- is leant a second melody by the fretwork of James Jamerson and the veteran genius of the Funk Brothers, who rose to the challenge of its complex, fluid arrangements. It's telling that Gaye never attempted to make another record like What's Going On-- it was too perfect a statement to be equaled. --Joe Tangari

 

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048: Miles Davis
Live-Evil
[Columbia; 1972]

From the first snare roll and Mike Henderson's stone-fucked bassline, it was clear Live-Evil wasn't just your everyday live Miles set. Released in the wake of Bitches' Brew and Tribute to Jack Johnson, listeners might have been expected to be ready for the muscular, chaotic force of Davis and his band. However, rather than present a straight live document of the December 1970 performances, Davis issued cut-up sections and fragments, augmenting them with enigmatic studio tracks featuring a completely different line-up of musicians. The end result was that Live-Evil stood up next to any of the trumpeter's great fusion-era works as a recklessly inspired testament to his genius and the interplay of his musicians. Better yet, it absolutely destroys: Any randomly chosen moment during "Sivad" or "What I Say" returns blistered, runaway impressions of horsemen tearing through a fertile landscape without remorse, evaporating anything in their paths with the hooves and fiery breath of their steeds. Live evil? We love Miles. --Dominique Leone

 

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047: Al Green
Call Me
[Hi; 1973]

Greatest Hits is the only Al Green album most people own (including me for a long time), but the songs on Call Me live up to the standard set by his run of classic singles, even though only a few of them were released as 45's. Green's voice is a wonder, sure, but what kills me about Call Me is the overall sound. The presence on this record is as intimate as the contents of a bedside table drawer: It's about sex and the bible. Even when the tempo picks up, everything feels personal and close. At his peak, Green was an excellent argument against musical diversity. Call Me-- like most of his music at this time-- is remarkably uniform in vibe and overall sound. Green recorded a range of covers during this period (including country and rock 'n' roll standards-- Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is represented here) but they all sounded like Green originals by the time he was through. Green and Mitchell found R&B perfection and strove to pour the rest of pop music into their pristine mold. --Mark Richardson

 

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046: The Congos
Heart of The Congos
[Black Art; 1977]

In 1962, Jamaican independence speeded the process of urbanizing the island nation's social fabric and music. Fifteen years later, producer Lee Perry reinjected pastoral sounds and a rural spirit into Jamaican music via Heart of The Congos. It was just one of many chances Perry took at his Black Ark studio, where he combated his financial limitations with a spirit of invention and, sometimes, an impatience and/or lack of quality control.

Heart of The Congos is arguably the only Black Ark album on which only the positive results of Perry's methodology are manifest. Collaborating with The Congos-- one of that era's greatest harmony groups-- Perry dodges cow patties and muddy, dubby pools as Cedric Myton's falsetto and Roydel Johnson's rich tenor contemplate spiritual awakening, cultural pride and human weakness. Perry practices a sort of addition by subtraction-- refraining from some of his often superfluous ambient noises or sometimes overly whimsical sounds effects-- as the vocalists keep on knocking, burning, fishing and crying. The important thing is that they keep on keeping on-- until they "reach a higher ground." --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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045: Talking Heads
More Songs About Buildings and Food
[Sire; 1978]

More Songs About Buildings and Food transformed the Talking Heads from a quirky CBGB spectacle to a quirky near-unanimously regarded "it" band. New producer Brian Eno can take his due credit for the album's success, smartly tightening up the rhythm section's energy for more dance-oriented beats and a more prominent role in general, though without taking the limelight off head Head David Byrne's nervous sputters. Byrne's own songwriting was, as the album titled suggested, in the same quotidian vein as '77, though perhaps Buildings and Food has slightly more vitriol, especially on album closer, "The Big Country", Byrne's indictment of the South. More Songs About Buildings and Food probably could have survived as a cult album by a cult band, but what really opened up the Talking Heads for a national audience was the band's slinky cover of Al Green's famous "Take Me to the River", which put them on the top 30 singles charts for the first time. --Nick Sylvester

 

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044: The Clash
The Clash
[CBS; 1977]

Eternally contrasted with the Pistols, The Clash rose from the same chaos but never set out to profit by it, instead banking on rock 'n' roll as a career opportunity. As Joe Strummer often put it, The Clash rebuilt everything the Pistols tore down, empathizing with audiences rather than shaming them by chic example. Aesthetic differences aside, The Clash is easily the superior article when compared to Bollocks, more daring in its diversity and tolerance for tradition. While there's no question the Pistols inspired Strummer, Jones and Simonon to take up arms (see "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A.", a nod to "Pretty Vacant"), The Clash were far more humanitarian and realistic, a breath of fresh (rather than rotten) air.

"No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones/ It's 1977," was the rallying cry, putting heroes who'd slid into self-absorbed idiocy up against the wall. The endlessly contested U.S. reissue from 1979 offered killer (if more commercial) cuts from that year's Cost of Living EP-- including The Clash's immortal version of The Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought the Law"-- but the original 1977 release, deemed "unlistenable" by CBS, is far more indicative of U.K. punk's formative days, still hungover from the wonky pub-rock of Strummer's 101ers on "Cheat" (enough flange!) and "Protex Blue". Feigning with relatively melodic openers "Janie Jones" and "Remote Control", The Clash swings for the fences on "White Riot", "Hate and War" and "London's Burning", every one a commanding political statement to undercut the Pistols" sloganeering. --Chris Ott

 

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043: Michael Jackson
Off the Wall
[Epic; 1979]

Wherein Michael ducks into Quincy Jones' closet to shed his boy-suit and emerges as a superhero. His special powers must come from the optic white socks that inexplicably glow beneath the LP fold. Apparently when he wears these radioactive cotton tubes, he writes the best melodies of his career and sings them with a gripping tick-laden vocalese which was still two albums away from annoying. When Michael wants us to dance, we are powerless; "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" could coax a quadriplegic out of his wheelchair. When he wants us to cry on "She's Out of My Life", we do so because of deal-closing vocal salesmanship and the song's understated sentiment. Of course, now we feel even more sadness because Michael has for so long been incapable of anything approaching direct human expression. Off the Wall sounds so good, but it's hard not to go back to that cover: The handsome face smiling at us at a time when a quick and blurry snapshot in an alley was good enough. --Mark Richardson

 

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042: The Specials
The Specials
[2-Tone; 1979]

Second-wave ska is perhaps the one instance when a pop/rock revival bested the original-- in large part thanks to The Specials. While The Clash were chomping at the bit for a "White Riot" in London, Coventry's multicultural The Specials were finding plenty of things wrong with contemporary England regardless of one's race. Two years after their formation, The Specials articulated their disenchantment, uncertainty and ennui on their debut album. Dressed in their distinguished two-tone color scheme and featuring the iconic Walt Jabsco, The Specials recycled the jaunty, staccato rhythms and horns of ska (Prince Buster, in particular) but juxtaposed that upbeat sound with biting, sometimes polemical, examinations of race, class and small-town life. It was a unique approach at a time when being British and looking toward Jamaica meant the dubby death rattles of PiL, This Heat, The Slits, and The Pop Group; and, through bandleader Jerry Dammers' 2-Tone label, it sparked a cottage industry and an unforgettable string of records. --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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041: Fleetwood Mac
Rumours
[Reprise; 1977]

Many an artist has bled off some pain by writing a breakup album, but few have the guts to chart out their anguish and anger and then draft their ex to sing backup. Yet that is what happens when When Band Relationships Go Bad, and Rumours will forever be the pace car for such artistic ten-vehicle collisions, a musical interpretation of those late-night emails you immediately regret sending. Whether cruelly harmonizing or addressing one another with low-pH valentines, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks circle each other like boxers chained together at the wrist. [LB:] "Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do (jab!)." [SN:] "Listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness/ Like a heartbeat drives you mad (uppercut!)." Meanwhile, Christine McVie tries to play optimist/referee ("Hey guys, you make loving fun!") and Fleetwood and Mac try to forget they were once some kind of wanky blues band. Like a David Lynch L.A., Rumours is all bright treble sing-alongs, bowling lane-slick production, and campaign theme songs on the surface, but foreboding bass, cocaine hangovers and bitter, broken love underneath. --Rob Mitchum

<!--pagebreak-->040: The Modern Lovers
The Modern Lovers
[Beserkley; 1977]

If there's one thing this world will always need, it's a late-night driving anthem, and Modern Lovers features one of the best. Two chords are enough gasoline for "Roadrunner" to soundtrack any expedition and reaffirm a weary traveler's will to push ahead. Although Jonathan Richman is something of a weary traveler himself, his knack for extracting love and humor from portraits of mundane Americana and teenage disarray goes unmatched. Patched together from various sessions with John Cale in 1973, The Modern Lovers were defunct by the time their self-titled record had its belated release three years later, but its emotional honesty and musical prescience hadn't (and hasn't) waned.

Richman laid the pretext for the wry, self-deprecating indie icons of the 1980s and early 90s; he was the first to stiff-arm rejection, exalt the suburbs and topple rock stardom's lofty pedestal of unattainable coolness. It's difficult to listen to Slanted & Enchanted without feeling Richman's shockwaves in Stephen Malkmus' beer-slackened laments, or appreciate Spoon without hearing the honky-tonk piano pop of "Hospital" or the hand-clapped hustle and bustle of "Someone I Care About". Collegiate and consciously sophomoric, there are few rock albums today so refreshingly unalloyed or innocently timeless. --Sam Ubl

 

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039: Suicide
Suicide
[Red Star; 1977]

Nothing about Suicide made sense. Nihilist electro-rockabilly? In 1977? And what was up with the sunglasses? We've all heard what a glorious shithole New York City was in the 70s, and Suicide's highly theatrical project wallowed in the filth. The blood-curdling screams in the 10-minute murder fantasy "Frankie Teardrop" (aka Taxi Driver: The Musical) get most of the ink, but the pretty stalker anthem/prom night bloodbath theme "Cheree" is just as disturbing. Most of the above comes courtesy of Alan Vega's expressionist vocal performance, but Martin Rev's churning electronics were of equal importance. His unusual keyboard tone referenced the sound of 50s rock 'n' roll in a brilliantly subliminal way while the cheap drum loops pointed to a future of relentless, trance-inducing repetition. Suicide have been called the American Kraftwerk but every one of their highways led to a dead-end piled high with twisted metal and charred bodies. --Mark Richardson

 

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038: XTC
Drums and Wires
[Virgin; 1979]

The method is there in the title: By ditching their keyboardist and adding a second guitarist, XTC defined themselves by propeller-armed drums and a skin-cutting guitar sound. It's pure pop disguised as jittery post-punk, all played with teeth-chattering intensity. The aesthetic is so tight that even the forgettable tracks serve it, but the album also boasts some of the band's strongest early material. Colin Moulding's biggest single ("Making Plans for Nigel") serves as the commercial front for outro, neo-political epics on which Partridge wrings his vocals like laundry and spits out vowels like golf balls. Here, XTC also defined their version of a love song: Stuttering boys are so staggered by the sight of spectacular girls that their feet don't touch the ground. Dozens of other contemporary bands were more extreme in every way-- angrier, more danceable, more adventurous or primitive or whatever-- but this triple-jointed sock hop out-charms them all. --Chris Dahlen

 

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037: Elvis Costello
My Aim Is True
[Columbia; 1977]

If substance always won out over style, the world would endure fewer arguments about the significance of this album, held by many as the most impressive debut in pop music history. Though Costello had spent years honing his craft-- stealing early-70s off-hours from his day job and family life and later working as a roadie for Nick Lowe's band-- My Aim Is True is so far beyond clichés like "arrives fully formed" and "hits the ground running" that it's agonizing to hear them used. Costello enjoyed the prevailing punk prototypes-- he listening to The Clash constantly while recording My Aim Is True-- but stuck to his folk and blues roots, slashing through 13 heartbroken rock 'n' roll rants in just over half an hour.

Made a star by the AOR vibes ballad "Alison", the song's dolled-up presentation can't even dent the resilience of Costello's stunning narrative gift (made clearer in menacing solo performances). Even at this early stage, Costello rivals Bob Dylan in his poetics and damning insight, delivered in alternately seething and sorrowful tones ("revenge and regret" were his exact words regarding inspiration). From its hilarious alarm clock opening ("Welcome to the Working Week") to the dub-doting send-off "Watching the Detectives", there's just one song on My Aim Is True anyone could say a bad word about ("I'm Not Angry"). In every other regard, this album's title is deadly accurate. --Chris Ott

 

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036: Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here
[Columbia; 1975]

Flush and exhausted from the unexpected success of Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd resolved to shake things up a bit. For the follow-up, they entered the studio with no conventional instruments, intent on recording a new record comprised entirely of ostensibly normal songs composed on common household objects. Thankfully, they realized after a couple of weeks that it wasn't working out. One of their experiments with wine glasses is audible under the initial surge from Rick Wright's magisterial synthesizer, but the rest of the album finds the band spinning road-tested material into studio magic. They bookended three of their finest songs with an epic tribute to Syd Barrett, who himself made a tragically confused appearance at the studio during the sessions. Despite its cinematic sweep and cosmic jamming, Wish You Were Here is ultimately the sound of four men caught in the grinding of a wheel much larger than themselves and striving to understand it, only to find that they know its machinations all too well. --Joe Tangari

 

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035: The Pop Group
Y
[Radar; 1979]

25 years after their untimely implosion, The Pop Group's lacerated funk has begun to make a noticeable dent in the indie strata. Y, the Bristol post-punk band's trainwrecked opus, has been co-opted and realigned by the more nefarious members of the disco-punk revival-- most notably Liars on 2001's They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Yet, neither Liars nor any of their contemporaries have come close to matching the effectiveness of Y's arid doomsaying. Unlike most of the late-70s' no-wave types (and perennial imitators), The Pop Group were less concerned with eschewing convention than with vehemently eviscerating it. Listen to how they tear apart a boxy, reverb-laden surf riff on "We Are Time" with Dadaist malice and contempt. It's impossible to ignore Mark Stewart's incessant Thatcher-bashing, but Y is so convincing in its hectoring that one can easily imagine it arising from even more amicable circumstances. This is a record of dire necessity, armed for combat against a long litany of ills-- none more than typicality. --Sam Ubl

 

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034: Various Artists
Saturday Night Fever
[Polydor; 1978]

If disco had a Beatles it was certainly The Bee Gees, although they never should have tried to make it official by raiding the wardrobe of a certain lonely hearts club band. The Bee Gees and The Beatles overlapped for a while in the late 1960s and early 70s, anyway, but who knew then that Maurice and the Brothers Gibb were busting with dance beats? Maximum R&B, indeed. The first five songs on this double LP could be considered the greatest album side of all time-- or at least, the public thought so, sending four singles to #1. At this point, The Bee Gees were hitting home runs every time they stepped to the plate (they have six dingers here) and there are enough good songs by other artists to make you forget the fluffy zeitgeist bombs that are David Shire's instrumentals. In the record-as-cultural-event sweepstakes, no subsequent release has topped Saturday Night Fever. --Mark Richardson

 

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033: Wire
Chairs Missing
[Harvest; 1978]

Trailing their landmark debut, Pink Flag, by only eight months, Wire's Chairs Missing was a shock to the punk community that first embraced them. In a scene where "progressive" was a four-letter word, and keyboards and effects were weapons of the enemy, Wire bravely shrugged off their rudimentary roots and quested for something more. Critics and fans responded badly, and that Wire shared a label with Pink Floyd only added to their infamy.

With 25 years of hindsight, Chairs Missing is the most punk record they could have made, taking the scene's ethics of defiance, disregard and contempt to the greatest possible extreme. Though by no means a prog-rock opus, the album indulges in pedals, loops, and yes, keyboards and synths, to brilliant effect, while retaining all of the pop immediacy, compositional integrity and acute lyricism of its predecessor. Equal credit is due to producer Mike Thorne, who was responsible for squeezing these sounds of primitive machines, and Wire themselves, whose impatience and high standards pushed him to perfect the sounds they imagined. Hilariously, tying this into the whole of the list, Thorne recalls in an article on his website that "Wire said I should play synthesizers on the next album. I said, 'I can't move my fingers fast enough.' They said, 'If you don't do it, we'll get that Brian Eno in.'" This is one rare instance in which I can honestly say that would have been a huge mistake: He'd have killed all the joyous impulsiveness that makes this album one of the most charismatic, unpretentious experimental records the 70s ever produced. --Ryan Schreiber

 

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032: Pink Floyd
The Wall
[Columbia; 1979]

As the individual writers' lists at the end of this feature will show, I consider Pink Floyd's The Wall the best album of the 1970s. I'll concede that the album enjoys an unfair temporal advantage, having been released at the very end of a decade many were eager to put past them, but I'd also argue that Pink Floyd ceased to be aware of anything going on outside the studio sometime in 1975. At once the most ambitious and indulgent record of its day, The Wall is opera, heavy metal, folk, and disco; it is a worthy update of the White Album, an instant milestone in rock 'n' roll. It is her prodigal son.

Rather than focus, Roger Waters explores every aspect of his anxiety and depression, orphaned first by war, next by schizophrenia, and finally by the world he was forced to take on in Syd Barrett's stead. He lashes out most vocally at Britain's by-then comical institutionalism, and the crippling alienation it infected its children with-- as in the smash hit "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2"-- but he's also clearly jealous of youth, and not above condescension during the salacious "Run Like Hell" and "Young Lust". Weaving back and forth between childhood nostalgia, anti-rock rage, and the paralyzing effects of stardom, The Wall is a man against himself, a 90-minute tantrum revealing terrifying depths of misery ("Goodbye Cruel World"), regret ("Mother", "One of My Turns") and contempt, prefaced perfectly by the monumental "In the Flesh?". --Chris Ott

 

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031: Talking Heads
Fear of Music
[Sire; 1979]

"We're in a funny position," David Byrne told Rolling Stone upon Fear of Music's release. "It wouldn't please us to make music that's impossible to listen to, but we don't want to compromise for the sake of popularity." Yet in 1979, Talking Heads were more popular than they'd ever been, as Fear of Music became the first album of what would become known as "new-wave" to break Billboard's top 25.

So it's odd that, with the exception of the politically charged "Life During Wartime", Fear of Music is remarkably free of the kind of radio-friendly unit-shifters that marked their previous releases. Instead, Talking Heads' nervous pop began to turn darker and more exploratory: Tracks like "I Zimbra" and "Animals" toyed with the African polyrhythms that came to full fruition on the band's definitive statement, 1980's Remain in Light, while the highly experimental "Electric Guitar" marched to an erratic, misshapen melody and producer Brian Eno's alien effects. And yet, for every "Drugs"-- whose minimalist creep was taken by an imposing stillness and suspended reverb-- the album played host to a handful of brighter, more conventional pop tracks ("Cities", "Paper"), including one of the group's few ballads (the serene "Heaven"). Talking Heads' most successful album, 1983's Speaking in Tongues, was still four years ahead of them, but here, Byrne seems more keenly aware of the balance between the difficult and the approachable than anywhere else in their discography. --Ryan Schreiber

<!--pagebreak-->030: Miles Davis
On the Corner
[Columbia; 1972]

On the Corner is the sound of icy hot heroin coursing through the veins. Or so I've always imagined-- I've never sampled the stuff, but if I did, I'd want Miles' most controversial record spinning on the hi-fi. A more dense, hypnotic, surprising, sensual, down album I've yet to hear. They say Miles was looking to connect with kids on the streets. On the Corner blows past the kids and the streets-- this is the sound of longing, passion and rage milked from the primal source and heading into the dark beyond.

Of course, the band is incredible: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea on keys, John MacLaughlin on guitar, and Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Billy Hart and Mtumbe on drums and percussion. But one listen and you understand individual names aren't important-- song titles and run times seem irrelevant as well. An admittedly demanding listen, these 50 minutes of collective madness here are so unified and driven even the dude playing sleigh bells rocks as hard and heavy as Miles on diffused trumpet. It sounds impossible but it's absolutely true-- that's the ecstatic intensity captured on this session. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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029: Can
Tago Mago
[United Artists; 1971]

On the surface, Malcolm Mooney's departure from Can and return home to the States may have looked like a devastating blow, but when the band's remaining members found Damo Suzuki bussing tables at a restaurant and decided to make him their vocalist, it became a blessing. Suzuki jerked through the band's open-ended arrangements and lockstep grooves with manic intensity, and it didn't matter that you couldn't understand a thing he said (that is, when he was saying anything at all). Suzuki sounds like he's singing backwards on much of "Oh Yeah", as drummer Jaki Liebezeit pounds out a hypnotic groove and Michael Karoli flirts with blues-rock in his guitar interjections-- even as the torrid texture around him rejects it. Can were as much an expression of collective energy as a rock band, and the energy they released on Tago Mago was like no other-- simultaneously primal and intellectual, and utterly crucial. --Joe Tangari

 

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028: The Beatles
Let It Be
[Apple; 1970]

Often overlooked among the rest of the The Beatles discography, Let It Be rings with more than a handful of truly charming, memorable moments. Though recorded prior to Abbey Road, it was released a year later and could be considered a more fitting coda to The Beatles' long, winding road. Even as John and Paul were reportedly at each other's wing-collared throats during the recording sessions, they manage to sound positively infatuated on the tender, Dylan-esque "Two of Us" and the gutsy blues-rocker "I've Got a Feeling". But even though they're still jointly credited, it's their solo contributions that most stand out-- John's glistening, Eastern-accented "Across the Universe" and Paul's anthemic title track burned themselves into the collective unconscious on sheer songwriting muscle. Outside influences probably played a factor, but by the time Let It Be hit the racks, the Fab Four had little collective patience left. With their demise, the world lamented the true "end of the 60s," and Let It Be became a mantra for moving on. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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027: Led Zeppelin
III
[Atlantic; 1970]

Ever since Coda plodded onto American shores, Led Zeppelin have been forcibly reduced to the sum of their merch: More an archetype (see the scrawny white kid kicking dirt off the high school steps, sporting black sneakers, black jeans, a three-hair mustache, and a faded Led Zeppelin t-shirt) than an entity, Led Zeppelin were quickly swallowed up by their own dark mythology. Which makes the quiet grace of 1970's III all the more touching. Largely acoustic and presumably inspired by British folk contemporaries, III sees Led Zeppelin channeling their snarled, black-magic ferocity into sweet, vaguely melancholic bits. Without penning maudlin power ballads or mimicking folk sentimentality, III proved that Led Zeppelin were capable of far more than just their then-trademark raucous reinterpretation of American blues. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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026: Stevie Wonder
Innervisions
[Tamla/Motown; 1973]

Stevie Wonder sounds like an innocent. We know he's not, but how else do you face evil and so passionately forgive it? How do you delve so vividly into racial hatred and the failure of brother to live peacefully alongside brother, yet not give in to anger? When he persuades us so sweetly, "Don't you worry 'bout a thing," is he as much a huckster as the Richard Nixon that he pseudonymously lampoons? Is the joke on us that a blind man not only romps through visual metaphors, but makes an album more colorful than anything your eyes will get you-- funk, soul and Latin rhythms dancing with keyboards that are so bright and intense they'll never sound dated? Wonder's almost too good to be true here, but the love in his vocals won't lie: He cut a lot of classic albums in the '70s, but none hits as persuasively as Innervisions. --Chris Dahlen

 

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025: Neu!
Neu!
[Brain; 1972]

It's always worth the double-take to remember that Neu! founders Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger were early fixtures of Kraftwerk. What Kraftwerk lost with the duo's departure was a nebulous but undeniably deep emotional core, however much Neu! initially shared in their drone-heavy compositional style. Here, Rother and Dinger-- both rhythm instrumentalists by trade-- were heavy on the groove and light on the melody, which is instantly made clear on opening track "Hallo Gallo": With grand, trance-friendly synth figures and an Autobahn rhythmic pulse that doesn't give up, the song established a distinctly Kraut, distinctly Neu! sound. The rest of the debut follows course with equal success, later turning its focus to ambitious experiments in ambient noise. There's a curious delicacy with which these experiments are arranged, a disarming, intangible quality at work-- I don't know what it is exactly, but to this day it has guarded Neu!'s debut album remarkably well against the perils of time and countless acts of feckless mimicry. --Nick Sylvester

 

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024: Brian Eno
Here Come the Warm Jets
[Island; 1974]

Clearly, the 70s was Eno's decade. With at least four jaw-dropping albums in just a 10-year span, his records split votes faster than Ralph Nader. Don't be fooled by that "#24" you see up there-- Here Come the Warm Jets is his mesmerizing solo debut, a landmark in his career, and arguably his greatest album. Out from under Bryan Ferry's chart-seeking shackles, Eno-- here joined by the rest of Roxy Music and guitar-wizard Robert Fripp-- celebrates his departure with all the joy and irreverence of a newly freed man. A master sound manipulator, he indulges all of his just-skewed pop theories and techniques, creating not only vibrant, unique songs, but some beautiful sounds besides. His methods and results are more polished elsewhere, but with Eno's biting wit and singular innovation at an all-time high, this album is simply too purely enjoyable to ignore. --Eric Carr

 

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023: Ramones
Ramones
[Sire; 1976]

If you want to understand how important this album was in 1976, pull out The Clash's debut and listen to their Junior Murvin cover, "Police and Thieves". The first words Joe Strummer sings are, "They're goin' through a tight wind," from "Blitzkrieg Bop".

Most know by now that The Ramones was the guidebook for punk rock-- the bible U.K. punks bought on import-- but Seymour Stein, the man who signed the Ramones to Sire, had them clocked from day one, likening them to the Beach Boys at 45RPM. Stein would reap commercial rewards as the band tightened up-- check the ripping '79 concert LP It's Alive!, a perfect end to their decade-- but The Ramones' debut is often more adorable than energizing, especially on the tender "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" (to say nothing of "Beat on the Brat", which somehow balances humor and glamour without succumbing to either). Rock 'n' roll excess and political protest weren't anything new, but the basement tape production and barking choruses of "53rd and 3rd" and "Havana Affair" were shock treatment in the mid-70s. The Ramones rescued rock from stasis by mining its roots, invoking the sock-hop classic "Let's Dance" and ordering us back out onto the floor with the timeless call to arms, "Hey-ho, let's go." --Chris Ott

 

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022: Wire
Pink Flag
[Harvest; 1977]

Pink Flag is one of the strangest British punk albums, a mantle that Wire seem to have willfully embraced. The Sex Pistols embodied the controversy of punk rock; The Damned were the fuck-all abandon; The Clash were righteousness incarnate. But in that rarified pantheon, only Wire truly embodied the brilliant, fiery economy of music and language. On Pink Flag, not a single guttural bark is wasted; not one jagged chord is played in excess when less will suffice. Even when Wire's blistering anthems are tempered into languid, pop/punk trysts, each track flashes a startling singularity of purpose; every song is a mission, a lone idea to be fully expressed. Wire breathlessly tear through songs as infectious as they are simplistic, aggressive and focused, taking the "cartoon simple" aesthetic of the Ramones to a louder, nastier extreme. Such economy is impressive in theory but on Pink Flag, it's even more stunning in its execution. I could go on, but it'd be a waste; the album speaks-- just enough-- for itself. --Eric Carr

 

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021: Serge Gainsbourg
Histoire de Melody Nelson
[Philips; 1971]

Histoire de Melody Nelson feels like some sort of ridiculous culmination of popular music, the moment the world had dreaded: a grooving rock-opera paean to statutory rape. The charming fable begins with Serge orchestrating a collision between his 260-horsepower Rolls and a cooing nymphet's bicycle. Gainsbourg's voice smacks of ennui and seduction; he sounds like either a middle-school principal or a whore. While he's humming along over stalking, gangly basslines and purring guitars, Jane Birkin (Gainsbourg's real-life lover) is so coy in the titular role that she can barely sing her Lolita-like name without breaking into tears-- until she begins howling orgiastic tickle-squeals.

For some, Histoire's delirious provocation is the definition of 1970s excess and execration. For others, it redefined the role of pop orchestration, swelling with the sparkling flares of a showtune and turning the most surreally lascivious lyric into a sophisticated epic. And despite the obvious shock value, the album flirts with enough pathos to go through mournful, self-despising moments that challenge the album's perverse glory. Everyone who listened to The Velvet Underground may have started a band; everyone who listened to Histoire started a Pedophiles Anonymous chapter. --Alex Linhardt

<!--pagebreak-->020: T.Rex
Electric Warrior
[Reprise; 1971]

Appropriately, Marc Bolan began his ill-fated career as a well-kempt model for John Temple suits. His body was grafted onto cardboard placards and hung in department store windows. On Electric Warrior, not much changed. He's the cut-out embodiment of a shallow, smutty pulp culture reared on Elvis' hips and Mick's lips. Except Bolan knows it, and every line is delivered as archly and ironically as possible: "I danced myself right out the womb," or, in a sort of ultra-Zeppelin aria, "You're built like a car/ You got a hubcap." Bolan's guitar trembles with dark angst and pop perversion, as well as traces of psychedelic folk. Vocally, the most frequent sound is some sort of neon yawn-hum, halfway between an injured coyote and a 60s girl group.

But more fundamentally, Electric Warrior served as the blueprint for glam and-- filtered through the filth of New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols-- the genesis of punk's attitude, if not its sound. Essential to T.Rex's junkie-vaudeville was producer Tony Visconti (also a key contributor to Bowie's Young Americans and Berlin Trilogy). Every noise-- from the symphony of "Cosmic Dancer" to the grimy warbling of "Lean Woman Blues"-- is lobbed out of some dank echo chamber where hobos and supermodels unite for the sake of their zombie heroin. And whether or not you buy into T.Rex's brand of fashionable sleaze, they are directly responsible for Ziggy Stardust, Mott the Hoople, and-- for better or really, really worse-- Poison, Whitesnake, and L.A. Guns. --Alex Linhardt

 

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019: Can
Ege Bamyasi
[United Artists; 1972]

Can's various accolades have been well documented over the years, especially in light of hundreds of indie, electronic and post-rock bands only too proud to flaunt their appreciation of the German outfit. If you consider their hallmarks as precise, metronomic funk, lean group improvisation, and a keen sense of how the avant-garde could be integrated into popular music, then logically (or mathematically, as Jaki Liebezeit might have it), 1972's Ege Bamyasi was their crowning achievement. The beats were tighter, the excursions more abrupt and on point, the songs compacted, and the mood a focused paranoia fit for astronauts and acidheads alike. Damo Suzuki screams, "Hey you! You're losing, you're losing, you're losing, you're losing your vitamin C!" as if fully aware of the dark, radioactive pit surrounding him, yet he is also typically cathartic in the face of overwhelming restraint and efficiency.

Ege Bamyasi proved that Terry Riley, La Monte Young and The Velvet Underground were not only revolutionary in their own rights, but could inspire music equally as unprecedented and alluring. It showed that there really was a place to go beyond rock while retaining its power and thrust. Years after the fact, the exact details about what went down in Cologne during the album sessions are hazy, but this album's sharp detail and droning stare reveal everything you need to know. --Dominique Leone

 

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018: Miles Davis
Bitches Brew
[Columbia; 1970]

In February 1969, Miles Davis weighed 135 pounds. He told reporters: "I figure if horses can eat green shit and be strong and run like motherfuckers, why shouldn't I?" Boxing coach Bobby Allah, who had been training Davis since the mid-60s, told Newsweek in 1970: "Even at 43 he acts like 25." The previous December, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Davis had explained: "Playing trumpet is hard work. You have to feel strong... It's not the note you play, it's what you do with it. And it takes strength to bend notes and to keep from breaking phrases in fast tempos."

That Miles Davis had to relinquish meat, chew on wheat germ and bits of fruit, and study boxing in order to train his body to perform the songs on 1970's Bitches Brew is not a particularly surprising revelation. One of the most revolutionary jazz records of all time, Bitches Brew is also a phenomenal act of physical prowess (see "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down", especially), hinged almost exclusively on the thick call-and-response tension established by the frontman and his players, the dark space between Davis' huge, meandering trumpet huffs, and his ensemble's collective sputters. Mixing big rock beats with abstract jazz noodles, splicing together bits of improvisation and ominous incantations, Davis used Bitches Brew to lay the creepy foundation for a genre that would later be watered down from cathartic to stupidly harmless-- but here, at the birth of fusion, Miles Davis proved that soldering elements of rock to jazz could be a wholly transformative, bone-breaking pursuit. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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017: Funkadelic
Maggot Brain
[Westbound; 1971]

It's not enough that Funkadelic's third album contains the greatest opening line of the 70s: "Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y'all have knocked her up." The album then proceeds to blow the doors of perception right off their hinges with the greatest studio guitar solo ever recorded, courtesy of Eddie Hazel, whose impetus was George Clinton telling him to play "as if your momma just died." He unleashes 10 minutes of soul-searing six-string napalm, both killing and birthing millions before your ears while Clinton cuts the backing band away.

So, how could that tripping Motor City collective-- much less anyone else-- follow that up? Funkadelic do it with echoplexed gospel, fried Sly Stone slink, stoned blaxploitation strut, near-heavy metal shredding, proto-dub drum flange, and ticklish other unmentionables. In short, they turn all that heaviness into a mind-altering block party for all the folks. It all comes to a head with another lengthy track, a hallucinatory slab of audio collage that mixes more incendiary Hazel guitar with cuckoo clocks, cowbells, vibraslaps, hash-sticky band jams, airplane departures, crying babies, crowd chants for "More pussy to the power/ More pussy to the people," and a frenzied rave that cannot be brought to a halt. Maggot Brain proves that Funkadelic's rock-based sound was digging other worlds way before Parliament's mothership ever landed. --Andy Beta

 

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016: Buzzcocks
Singles Going Steady
[IRS; 1979]

Many of the more glaring or contentious omissions from this list are from genres typically considered to be "singles-oriented": among them, disco, funk, soul, pop, reggae... and punk. In Britain, the roughly two years between the November and December 1976 releases of "New Rose" and "Anarchy in the UK" and the dissolution of The Sex Pistols was a fertile, feverish time, fueled by a string of crucial seven-inch records from artists who, for the most part, aren't reflected in this (or most any) favorite albums list. (Stand up for your token bow, The Subway Sect, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Damned, The Only Ones, X-Ray Spex, The Adverts, The Vibrators, The Undertones, Siouxsie, etc.)

So, Singles Going Steady is our lone homage to the glorious, usually chaotic, often homemade punk single. Like most of their best contemporaries, The Buzzcocks articulated the quotidian anxiety and social fears of young Britain, but did so armed with intensely infectious melodies and hooks. Romantics at heart, the band are burned by misplaced affections, led astray by broken promises, and even driven to obsessive self-love. Were the Howard Devoto-era Spiral Scratch EP included, the album could be bettered, but as it stands, Singles Going Steady is a breathless document and one of most fantastic marriages of pure pop sensibilities and aimless ennui. --Scott Plagenhoef

 

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015: The Who
Who's Next
[Decca; 1971]

Are The Who the godfathers of synth-pop? They're remembered for begetting the rock opera, the windmill strum, and the sadly ironic hope-they-die-before-they-grow-mold reunion tour, but Who's Next makes a case for Pete Townshend & Co. as the ideological forefathers of the 1980s keyboard revolution as well. Certainly, synth-pop as we know it today doesn't typically come Marshall-stacked with battering-ram barre chords and towering, megalomaniacal drum fills, but Townshend's fascination with his fancy new ARP led to the first truly popular album predominantly based on the instrument-- from the hyper gobble-loop at the start of "Baba O'Riley" through the extended laser-show breakdown of "Won't Get Fooled Again".

For an album that brought the banner instrument of anti-rockists into public consciousness, Who's Next is paradoxically also the first record on which an arena-rock band sounds downright Wembley Stadium-large. Producer Glyn Johns removed the thin sound of The Who's early days, and the result was Roger Daltrey's voice finally filling out the fringe-jacket, Keith Moon clattering away with greater clarity than ever, and John Entwistle contributing the only listenable song of his writing career. The pretentious arrangements and sloganeering of Who's Next may have solidified the band as one of the decade's most imposing dinosaurs but by retaining that mod vs. rocker edge underneath the pomp and mysticism, The Who were the one thunder lizard set up to survive the oncoming punk asteroid. --Rob Mitchum

 

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014: The Velvet Underground
Loaded
[Cotillion/Atlantic; 1971]

Though Lou Reed might be more widely remembered for some of the most provocative and contentious experimental rock of the 20th century, his influence stretches equally far within the rock 'n' roll mainstream. A spot-on portent of Reed's vibrant solo career, Loaded witnesses The Velvet Underground emerging from the druggy maw of their late-60s work to pen some of the best vanilla rock anthems of the era, with the typically reticent Doug Yule assuming a more conspicuous role. The album is staggering not for its consistency, diversity, or technical proficiency-- something the band came to stylize-- but for the ardor and joie de vivre with which it explores the capacious boundaries of its form.

Sadly, Loaded often comes recommended with one glaring stipulation: "It's a good starting point, if you're looking to get into them." But the album is too good to be relegated to sub-intellectual standing; from the dripping tongue-in-cheek melancholy of "Who Loves the Sun", to the sultry narrative swagger of "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll", to the maudlin-but-oh-so-irresistible "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'", Loaded proves the Velvets top-shelf geniuses with a vocabulary fit for the hoi polloi. It's here that they finally chose to break the din of their histrionic, often difficult 60s triumvirate, striking the hot iron of rock in a transitory period-- and what a way to do it. --Sam Ubl

 

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013: Nick Drake
Pink Moon
[Island; 1972]

During full lunar eclipses, the earth's shadow may cause a reddish light to drop across the moon's surface, sullying its face with a dull, bloody cast. Most ancient mythologies agree that a pink moon should almost always be understood as an omen of impending strife (if not apocalypse) and taken as a generous signal to pause and prepare for trouble.

Recorded in just two days, Nick Drake's 1972 swan-song was a quick and somber departure from his previous effort, the buoyant, heavily orchestrated Bryter Layter. Unfortunately, Drake's sudden stylistic shift has made it even easier to twist the spotlight of martyrdom directly onto Pink Moon's 11 tracks: The songs on Pink Moon are almost always eclipsed by the circumstances of Drake's (presumed) suicide two years later. Impending mortality-- regardless of whether it's been posthumously applied or not-- drips from every sharp strum and breathless whisper, coating the album's 26 minutes in a wash of disembodied melancholy. The cumulative effect feels both eerily preemptive and genuinely touching; everything about Pink Moon seems to point down, from the descending piano of the title track to Drake's flat, eerily prophetic promise, "Take a look/ You may see me in the dirt." Ultimately, Pink Moon's beauty is as terrible as it is touching-- a harsh, gray tribute to the inevitability of big lunar promises. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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012: The Stooges
Funhouse
[Elektra; 1970]

It's fitting that there's only one degree of separation between Funhouse and "Louie Louie". That degree is producer Don Gallucci, who played keyboards for The Kingsmen on the slapdash Richard Berry cover that unwittingly became the nexus point for punk's sloppy abandon more than a decade after its 1962 release. When Gallucci assumed control of the boards in 1970, he immediately realized what John Cale, who produced their debut the year before, hadn't-- that The Stooges' primal energy and snarling attitude needed a bare-bones casting to be at its most effective.

Gallucci captures the raw intensity of the band's live show with next to no embellishment-- Steve Mackay's guest sax contributions simply bleed into the album's molten texture, mingling with Ron Asheton's chaotic, wah-drenched guitar in a dance of fire-breathing monsters. Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander pummel harder than Daley's riot squads in '68, and there, simultaneously towering over and drowning within the vortex is Iggy, ranting in the tortured shouts of a man who knows he might not be around much longer if he keeps living this way. If you set your TV eye on the album art, you're met with the contours of Pop's skin-and-bones physique as he struts through what might be Hell, microphone held high overhead-- the cover promises Iggy in the maelstrom, and that's exactly what Funhouse delivers. --Joe Tangari

 

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011: Rolling Stones
Exile on Main Street
[Rolling Stones; 1972]

Released in the 1970s amidst post-Beatles uncertainty, post-Altamont rage, and the beginning stages of bloated arena rock, Exile on Main Street probably saved the soul of rock and roll. With this seemingly accidental masterpiece, the gritty country blues the Stones tested on earlier records is perfected but not polished, coherent but far from sober, aspiring but hardly blessed. In its broad thematic scope and timeless instrumental arrangements, the album doesn't so much break new ground as utterly embody a classic rock ideal: It's the great American album, shockingly consummated by ballsy British louts.

Stylistically speaking, Main Street runs the gamut from Gram Parsons' cosmic honkytonk to Muddy Waters' lush, booze-drenched symphonies. They'd always been some of the greatest interpreters of American music; Exile on Main Street is the paean to their influences. There's a beatific, run-down acceptance in the gospel blues of "Let It Loose", the barroom sing-along "Sweet Virginia", and the worksong-like "Sweet Black Angel", but these are mere mile markers on a sprawling scenic route through consistently powerful songwriting and apt production. Good ol' boy anthems like "Rocks Off" and "Loving Cup" never made it to radio, yet stand as some of the Rolling Stones' most enduring and soulful work. Treading confidently into alt-country's fresh terrain and the dense and muddled mist of modern rock, Exile stands proudly as the most influential album by one of rock 'n' roll's most effortlessly innovative bands. --Jonathan Zwickel

<!--pagebreak-->010: Brian Eno
Another Green World
[Island; 1975]

After taking two strides away from Roxy Music with Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Eno finally created an album that crystallized his delicately subversive relationship to pop music. As Chris Ott put it in his recent review of the remastered edition of this album, "Eno ripped rock and roll apart, never losing sight of its precepts. No one could mistake Another Green World for anything other than a pop album, but at the same time, it is unrecognizable as such."

This paradox is a very real one, and as listeners, we feel the intensity with which Eno combines his potent pop sensibilities with their very deconstructions. Obviously standout tracks "Sky Saw", "St. Elmo's Fire", and "I'll Come Running" take part in this paradox to a degree, but the essential Eno character lies most in the album's unassuming (but very human) sinews. When these pockets of vulnerability are forced to bubble over-- as does the almost sheepishly virtuoso guitar work on "Golden Hours", or the warm washes of beautiful synthesizer melody on "Becalmed", or the swaying guitar line that grows in confidence with repetition at the end of "The Big Ship"-- it's hard to imagine moments in pop music so authentically real, and so simultaneously spiritual. --Nick Sylvester

 

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009: Joy Division
Unknown Pleasures
[Factory; 1979]

One of the best-- and worst-- aspects of Catcher in the Rye is that so many people feel they can relate to Holden Caulfield. J.D. Salinger created a character who found himself at odds with the values of the world-- problems so germane to everyday life that empathy seems the natural reaction. Because people gravitate toward reflections of their own distress, this empathy somehow lightens our burden, but to reduce someone's troubles to a known quantity and equate them to our own also cheapens them, doesn't it?

Decades after Ian Curtis' suicide, he's frequently discussed as barely more than a caricature of depression and death. He has made a transformation from a real person to a Caulfield-esque everyman. Curtis' work with Joy Division is the catharsis that lets his pain become our pain, and we relate. Or we think we can. It's unfair, both to him and his music. Many, including myself, have written about Curtis' songs in the context of his own tribulations as a tool to leverage some kind of insight. For once, I had hoped to write about Joy Division from a different place, but I can't. To do so feels negligent.

I will say this: Unknown Pleasures was the second CD I owned, having been improbably drawn in by only the bandname and cover. I feel fortunate to have experienced the urgency, foreboding and perfection of this album-- from the distance of Martin Hannett's production, to the driving smack of Stephen Morris' snares, to the grim pulse of Peter Hook's bass, to Bernard Sumner's brittle guitar-- having never seen the name "Ian Curtis" outside of the liners. All I knew was that his alienation seemed impossibly close and more earnest than any music I had ever heard. And, yeah, I-- like so many others-- felt I could relate. --Eric Carr

 

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008: Gang of Four
Entertainment!
[Warner Bros; 1979]

The first time I heard was Gang of Four was in high school when I purchased their reunion travesty Mall for 99¢. I listened to it and filed it away, writing the band off as just another overrated hype. But even with "Colour from the Tube" and "Don't Fix What Ain't Broke" swept into forsaken corners of my memory, something about the band pulled me back to them, and eventually the gravity of fate forced me to blindly shell out for an import copy of Entertainment!. And there, in the musty air of the old hotel I called home, it became clear there were hundreds of musical possibilities that had never crossed my mind.

Entertainment! may have been a sarcastic title, but it wasn't inaccurate. The album is caustic and bursting with disgust for unethical capitalism, opportunist politicians and consumer society, among other things, but it's also crafted with amazing pop sensibility-- and is, of course, remarkably danceable. Dave Allen's wild bassline on "Damaged Goods" spills over with hooks; "I Found That Essence Rare" subversively lays lines like, "See the girl on the TV dressed in a bikini/ She doesn't think so, but she's dressed for the H-bomb," into an insanely catchy melody barked by a manic Jon King over Andy Gill's airless guitar and Hugo Burnham's frenzied drumming. Like any defining record, Entertainment! seems doomed to be the source of an unceasing stream of copies and copies of copies, but even as the pale imitations pile up, Gang of Four's debut remains singular, a powerful call to arms and out of apathy. --Joe Tangari

 

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007: Led Zeppelin
IV
[Atlantic; 1971]

We must be lying to ourselves: There is no way this album should not be #1. If my fellow PFM writers could go to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's memory-erasure clinic and wipe out everything related to this record and band-- the radio overplay, the Spinal Tap jokes, Robert Plant asking, "Does anybody remember laughter?"-- and hear IV again for the first time, it would be at the very top of this list. Because when the riff from "Black Dog" hits you for the first time, you come face to face with God. Nothing is bigger than Led Zeppelin IV. It tears your skin and grinds away your doubt and self-hatred, freeing the rage and lust and anger of cockblocked adolescence. Listening to this album is like fucking the Grand Canyon.

Some people call "When the Levee Breaks" the album's true epic, because it sounds like the blues while "Stairway to Heaven" sounds like druids. But that was the fucking point. Zeppelin understood that you spend your days under the weight of shit, so they show you the way out with a moronized stewpot of myth, Tolkien and California daydreaming, a place where you can pray for greatness from battles you'll never fight. Zeppelin spanned it all, because they knew sometimes you wield the Hammer of the Gods and sometimes you just get the shaft. --Chris Dahlen

 

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006: Kraftwerk
Trans-Europe Express
[Capitol; 1977]

The day will soon come, if it hasn't already, that Trans-Europe Express joins the ranks of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Exile on Main Street as a record that simply cannot be written about. Like those two, Kraftwerk's masterpiece not only represents a high point of its era-- delivering on pop promises years in the making and establishing a voice theretofore unheard-- but contributes to an archetype informing almost anything released afterwards. It quickly became impossible to ignore what the German quartet had accomplished, in both artistic and technical terms. That its breakthroughs actually managed to filter into the popular music arena relatively quickly was a rare bonus.

Twenty-seven years later, we're given the task of explaining what's so great about a record that, by most accounts, is not only a primary color for pop producers and electronic musicians, but somehow still seems ahead of the curve. When in doubt, fall back on the music: The cold, sleek synth textures and disaffected vocals might seem robotic (and of course, Kraftwerk nurtured that image), but they are also perfect realizations of the same minimal, streamlined tension that colored punk and new-wave. The spacious motorik of "Europe Endless" and stark, industrial funk of "Metal on Metal" both reveal a band perfectly at home in the 21st Century decades before it began, and serve notice to anyone within earshot that the Digital Age was upon us. And it would be fantastic. --Dominique Leone

 

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005: Bob Dylan
Blood on the Tracks
[Columbia; 1975]

Plenty of critics and fans blame the relative lifelessness of Bob Dylan's early 70s work for the quasi-religious codification of 1966's Blonde on Blonde, which, by 1975, was widely considered to be the last of Dylan's "great records"-- the massive and untouchable creative apex of a career presumably destined for prompt disintegration. It's possible to argue that all of Dylan's post-Blonde records had the exact same mystifying effect on Blood on the Tracks-- namely, allowing Dylan to stage his next reinvention, and to glibly position himself as the much-anticipated "next Dylan." Blood on the Tracks is arguably Bob Dylan's most personal record: less surreal and more self-conscious than anything he'd ever done, emotionally charged, and impeccably sung.

Blood on the Tracks was famously re-recorded in two deviant sessions-- first in New York, and then in Minneapolis. The New York sessions (widely available as the Blood on the Tapes bootleg) saw Dylan acting especially protective of his new material, refusing to explain his unusual open-tunings to Deliverance, his backing band. Deliverance guitarist/banjoist Eric Weissberg later noted that Dylan was not particularly concerned with "correcting obvious mistakes" (check Dylan's fingernails and coat buttons scraping against his guitar strings on both New York versions of "Tangled Up in Blue"), and plainly admitted that "if it was anybody else," he "would have walked out." Unsurprisingly, Deliverance can only be heard, in their entirety, on "Meet Me in the Morning."

Three months later, Dylan opted to re-record a handful of cuts at Studio 80 in Minneapolis. Deliberately thwarting the stark intimacy and sparser instrumentation of the New York versions, the Minneapolis sessions saw questionable lineup changes (an entirely new band, culled from local players) and considerable lyric revision, with Dylan seizing his last chance to retract, fudging the original lyrics to pad his songs with trademark detachment. The resulting record is stunning in its diversity: sentimental but clever, impressionistic but specific, confessional but confounding-- and unbearably easy to love. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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004: Sly & The Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin' On
[Epic; 1971]

Taken along with the quick mudslide from Woodstock to Altamont, the drug deaths of Janis, Jim and Jimi, and the piling bodies in Vietnam, Sly & The Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On is a telling indication that the utopian 1960s were really a bad trip. After four albums of uplift party plans on which Sly sang, "You can make it if you try," his sing-alongs now went: "Look at you fooling you." Sly and his rainbow-coalition band crumbled during these recordings, leaving him and a few of his drug buddies to lay tracks to a tape made thin from constant erasing and re-recording (the story going that Sly would lay groupies to tape, then lay the groupies, erasing their voices afterward). No one who was there quite remembers who played what, and to even further muddy the mud, it was wrapped up in a warped, alien American flag (what sort of stars are those?) and a messy photo collage of faces, bereft of credits.

All of There's a Riot's pleasure centers and nerve endings are frayed from coke, dope, flesh, flash and, above all, disillusionment. Every single sound is weary, wasted, creaking, cracked and sleep-deprived, like a somnambulant zombie stumbling through the graveyard of ideals on the pavement of good intentions. The singles ("Family Affair", "Running Away") exude a façade of empty positivity, a bitter resignation to the darker forces bubbling underneath. Chicken-scratch guitars claw at caskets, human drummers meld with undead drum machines, and frightened voices fissure with the crisp horn lines, yet it all sounds incredible, prescient. Listen to the paradoxical 0:00 of the title track, to how hip-hop took that stripped drum sound and furthered Sly's bleak music, to how Miles got his groovebox back, to how the wasted Brits-- from Primal Scream to Julian Cope-- copped their dope from the grooves. Listen close, because there's no way in hell a major label will ever again let out this much horrible truth. --Andy Beta

 

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003: Television
Marquee Moon
[Elektra; 1977]

Its title track is over 10 minutes long. Its lengthy and numerous guitar solos are individually credited in its liner notes. But at its core, Television's Marquee Moon is shockingly economical-- a tightly wound web of simple guitar parts wrapped around Tom Verlaine's straightforward and impressionistic songwriting. Taken out of context, the guitar solos on Marquee Moon aren't just unimpressive; they're downright illogical. Everyone who plays guitar will, at some point, learn the solo from "Stairway to Heaven", but it's practically impossible to sit down and actually play anything from Marquee Moon. Like The Velvet Underground before them, Television's songs focus on interplay and exploration, rather than individual melodies and chord progressions.

This, of course, is just icing on what is unquestionably the finest release from one of the most talented bands to be nurtured by the scum-soaked floors and paint-chipped walls of 1970s CBGB's. The subtle buildup of "Marquee Moon", the nervous energy of "See No Evil", and the melodic tension of "Guiding Light" are all songwriting masterstrokes, articulated perfectly by able and adventurous players. The punk scene from which Television emerged is often cited as discarding the concept of musicianship entirely. And in a sense, this is exactly what Television did with Marquee Moon, recasting virtuosity as a function of the brain, not the fingers. --Matt LeMay

 

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002: The Clash
London Calling
[CBS; 1979]

In a 2000 interview with George Plimpton for The Paris Review, gonzo overlord Hunter S. Thompson explained: "An outlaw can be defined as somebody who lives outside the law, beyond the law and not necessarily against it." William Faulkner, in an interview with the same magazine conducted nearly a half-century earlier, offered this: "The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life... and hold it fixed so that 100 years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again."

Deeply and fervently preoccupied with revolutionizing both the political and artistic standards of their time, The Clash opted to dedicate themselves to cross-breeding an entirely new kind of artist-outlaw, as violent as it was cerebral. 1979's London Calling became the ultimate expression of that collective fascination, a double album both intensely unsettling and undeniably clever, full of mouthy indictments and unbridled celebrations. That most contemporary "punk" music actually sounds nothing like The Clash is not surprising; by the late 1970s, principle songwriters Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had been mining musical traditions (reggae, dub, rockabilly, roots) so diverse that to recreate The Clash's specific recipe circa London Calling has become nearly impossible. 25 years later, the record still moves-- an astoundingly diverse, ambitious and inspired bit of politically-charged punk rock, as relevant and revolutionary today as it was in 1979. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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001: David Bowie
Low
[RCA; 1977]

Released in January 1977, Low was the most potent and encompassing hybridization of pop music's many modes to that point, an album that continues to resonate as a syncretic masterpiece three decades later.

Still fascinated with the urban funk rhythms he'd employed less subtly for Young Americans and Station to Station, Bowie was increasingly drawn to the synthetic novelties Can, Neu!, and Eno were positing, particularly Eno's Discreet Music, which informs most of Low's second side. This gorgeous quartet of dramatic instrumental pieces started out as the soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth, an 1975 film by Nicholas Roeg starring Bowie, at the apex of his cocaine addiction, as an extraterrestrial Übermensch. Unbelievably, Bowie's compositions were rejected; brought through to Low, they provide a grave emotional counterpoint to the record's self-exploratory A-side, proof positive that Bowie really was out to wipe the mirror clean in Berlin.

The kaleidoscopic opening salvo "Speed of Life" tests our willingness to come along, staring out like Johnny Rotten, but-- crucially-- not caring if anyone follows. "Sound + Vision" and "Breaking Glass" are our most immediate rewards, more familiar in their funk stutter-steps and sultry crooning. The latter owes everything to guitarist Carlos Alomar in the left channel, who delivers the lead with a swagger to rival Mick Ronson and T.Rex. Obstinate, rueful and reckless, the album's first side is a collection of seven short "fragments," whose brevity is at once a knee-jerk reaction to the meandering Station to Station and the end result of a bad case of writer's block.

To correct an injurious and carelessly repeated claim, Brian Eno did not produce Low (or "Heroes" or Lodger). While his presence and influence are uncontestable-- especially in the aching instrumental "A New Career in a New Town"-- producer Tony Visconti and Bowie shaped the analog onslaught heard here. For their fine ears, there's also a principal debt to the Eventide H910 Harmonizer, the first commercially available pitch-shifter, which through doubling lends Low its signature distorted snare drum, one of the most ingenious production advances you can point to in the 1970s, and a sound producers still reach for today.

Politically, Low is a singular and brutal indictment of the only thing Bowie's native England cared about in January 1977: punk rock. To a man who lived through Iggy and-- let's be honest-- designed Johnny Rotten, punk's brief lifespan and predominantly societal (rather than musical) impact were foregone conclusions. That Bowie could see past the flames to paint this horizon is irrefutable evidence of his solipsistic genius. Balancing process art, experimentalism and rock 'n' roll tradition, Low is Bowie unrefined, the most captivating effort from the decade's most-watched man. --Chris Ott