Sunday, May 28, 2006
500 CDs You Must Own: Classic Rock
Via Blender (April 2003), comes this list of 500 CDs that are all must owns, and theoretically make for a starter collection.
Inexcusably, the editors/pinheads/losers at Blender somehow overlook both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, blaming a recent blunt head trauma for their omission . . .
But for that purposeful act of wanton idiocy, its not a bad list.
Full list after the jump
500 CDs You Must Own: Classic Rock
Blender, April 2003
Highway to Hell
The album that firmly cemented AC/DC’s trademark sound — grooving backbeats topped with heavy, play-in-a-day riffs — and original singer Bon Scott’s nihilism. Six months after its release, the frontman would be found dead in a car in London following a booze bender.
Standout track: “Highway to Hell”
Alt-country motormouth Adams surprised many with his first solo album after the demise of Whiskeytown. Where that group’s records had been rough and rowdy, here was a relaxed, soothing beauty that melted hearts with its smoky, lovesick charms.
Standout track: “Come Pick Me Up”
Toys in the Attic
Although they copped their share of Rolling Stones licks (not to mention Rolling Stones attitude), Aerosmith also had a jones for James Brown, and it was their sly sense of funk — particularly in “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” — that kept these Toys in play.
Standout track: “Walk This Way”
A tough, arrogant follow-up to Toys in the Attic, Rocks is a tasty, nasty set of fuck-me riffs and fuck-you swagger, combining Aerosmith’s coarse blend of maximum R&B/blues metal and perfecting prototypical 1970s American hard rock in the process.
Standout track: “Back in the Saddle”
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND
Live at the Fillmore East
An example of great musicians stretching out and simply flowing. Even though producer Tom Dowd skillfully edited some of the jams, we’re still talking 10 minutes–plus on three tracks.
Standout track: “Statesboro Blues”
The Best of the Animals
Led by Eric Burdon and masterful organist Alan Price, the Animals leavened their R&B grit with English pop hooks. This compilation of pre-’66 hits captures their early peak, from British Invasion staples to the obligatory blues covers.
Standout track: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”
Music From Big Pink
Their landmark debut: The oracular lyrics and the music’s subdued desperation form a meditation on social turbulence, while their rootsy approach proved surprisingly visionary. Steeped in history and myth, the album’s mystique hasn’t diminished.
Standout track: “The Weight”
Like Italians reinventing the Western, these Canadians envisioned a hillbilly funk and melancholic grandeur that Americans hadn’t recognized in themselves. Here, Robbie Robertson comes into his own, writing or cowriting every tune.
Standout track: “Up On Cripple Creek”
Little Deuce Coupe/All Summer Long
Brian Wilson at his early peak (1963 and ’64), before the demons took over. Embellishing the myth of good-time California, the Boys celebrate cars and surf with thrilling harmonies. An exhilarating mix of nerdiness and swagger.
Standout track: “I Get Around”
Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
Following his 1964 breakdown, Brian Wilson fled the road to concentrate on studio work. This pairing of the band’s two 1965 albums spotlights the more mature and complex music that resulted.
Standout track: “Help Me, Rhonda”
Ignoring ’60s pop conventions, Brian Wilson turned the noises in his head into a musical universe. Heavenly arrangements punctuate an emotionally wrenching song cycle bursting with youthful hope, longing and doubt. This is why Brian Wilson is a genius.
Standout track: “God Only Knows”
The Great Twenty-Eight
Quintessential rock & roll, the trunk of rock’s family tree. Berry’s iconic guitar licks and his sly poetry provide ruminations on love, school and cars. This ideal introduction is packed with addictive music that bows to no one.
Standout track: “Johnny B. Goode”
Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath (1970–1978)
RHINO/WARNER BROS., 2002
Ozzy Osbourne’s astonishing howl and Tony Iommi’s sludge-filled riffs were the definition of metal and created some of the most dense, dark noise ever recorded.
Standout track: “Paranoid”
Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield
Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay kept it together for two years and three albums, blueprinting the ’70s L.A. sound. Always diverse, often brilliant.
Standout track: “For What It’s Worth”
Sweetheart of the Rodeo
When David Crosby left the Byrds, Gram Parsons entered and transformed the folk-rock trailblazers. In contrast to leader Jim “Roger” McGuinn’s eclectic irony, Parsons displayed a deep feeling for old-fashioned roots music that still rings true today.
Standout track: “Hickory Wind”
Greatest Hits (Expanded Edition)
Roger McGuinn and company invented folk-rock by making the music of Bob Dylan safe for mass consumption. But these West Coasters’ true brilliance lay in their dirty-Beatles and space-pop originals.
Standout track: “Eight Miles High”
Chapman has yet to better this powerful and socially conscious debut. The rootsy arrangements are masterpieces of understatement, focusing attention on the sincerity of Chapman’s world-worn voice and her confessional, storytelling lyrics.
Standout track: “Fast Car”
Live at Budokan
They previously underachieved everywhere except the far East, but this live set made these Midwestern ne’er-do-wells heroes at home. Full of distorted Beatles hooks in an arena of screaming teens — there’s no finer distillation of pop charm and heavy-rock thrills.
Standout track: “I Want You to Want Me”
The Cream of Clapton
Honors both the chart-friendly, easier-listening, late-’70s Clapton and the whirling dervish of years earlier, scaling his creative peaks with Cream and keeping Jimi Hendrix from snapping at his heels. His vocals aren’t bad either.
Standout track: “Layla”
The Best of Alice Cooper: Mascara & Monsters
In his pomp, the man formerly known as Vincent Furnier produced a fistful of classic, glam-tinged rock anthems. Twenty-two remasters of the Alice band’s finest moments on one CD give you everything you need.
Standout track: “Under My Wheels”
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL
Creedence suffused sturdy songwriting with socially conscious, visionary Americana. John Fogerty’s plain-spoken lyrics were as indelible as his hooks, while the band’s elemental swamp-rock swung mightily.
Standout track: “Fortunate Son”
The Very Best of the Doors
Transcendental, pervy pop-rock, often imitated but rarely bettered. This double-disc compilation gathers the radio hits (“Hello, I Love You”), the lengthy wig-outs (“The End,” “Riders On the Storm”) and fan-friendly rarities. Best skip the organ solos, though.
Standout track: “Break On Through”
Bringing It All Back Home
A year after the British Invasion had trained our attention on the other side of the Atlantic, Dylan brought it all back home with an album that electrified both folk music and the rock audience. Suddenly, the music’s possibilities seemed endless.
Standout track: “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Highway 61 Revisited
Dylan flips the bird at the naysayers with his first (almost) entirely electric set. It featured the rant “Like a Rolling Stone” and the twisted mythology of the title track, remaining defiantly “plugged” until the acoustic 11-minute closer, “Desolation Row.”
Standout track: “Like a Rolling Stone”
Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert
Official release of the legendary bootleg. Its acoustic half finds Dylan hushed and stoned, while during the electric segment, his hardcore audience is effectively at war. The word compelling scarcely suffices.
Standout track: “Ballad of a Thin Man”
Blonde On Blonde
An album that could confirm Dylan’s genius on its own. Arrogant at times, Beatles-influenced, thoroughly in love with pop music, full of delicate instrumental detail and yet epic in scale. More evidence that 1966 was the best year of the last century.
Standout track: “Just Like a Woman”
John Wesley Harding
John Wesley Harding goes for country over folk, despite using what are seemingly folk tales to couch its cryptic political allegory. The sound is straightforward, paving the way for country-rockers, but the words are knottier than ever.
Standout track: “All Along the Watchtower”
BOB DYLAN & THE BAND
The Basement Tapes
These homemade demos are quintessential Dylan performances, gritty and spontaneous. Recorded in 1967 with his new group, the Band, they easily outshine many of the tracks on his official albums.
Standout track: “This Wheel’s On Fire”
Blood On the Tracks
In 1975, Dylan was in the throes of divorce. His best album since Blonde On Blonde was the result. Its intimate ambience and gorgeously warm production still make many acolytes claim that it’s the finest album he’s ever made.
Standout track: “Tangled Up in Blue”
Love and Theft
Released on September 11, Dylan’s best album in a decade was downright prophetic. A recording steeped in borrowed blues perfect for verses riddled with apocalyptic revelations and other things “too terrible to be true.” Unnerving.
Standout track: “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum”
Balmy West Coast country-rock at its chilling best. Don’t let familiarity breed contempt: “Hotel California” remains a benchmark song, and the rest of this album, although dwarfed by the title track, is a soft-rock masterpiece. And that’s something you don’t hear too often.
Standout track: “Hotel California”
Their Greatest Hits (1971–1976)
They liked Gram Parsons, drugs, rock & roll and money, but they sounded smooth as platinum, with harmonies that made the Beach Boys seem like pigs. The Eagles had hits like teens have acne: everywhere and all the time.
Standout track: “Take It to the Limit”
ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra
Part British whimsy, part faux classical, but mostly a better-produced Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra were the sound of the mid-’70s for a bespectacled generation.
Standout track: “Livin’ Thing”
All-Time Original Hits
A huge influence on the Beatles, the ever-squabbling Don and Phil Everly were energetic, country-influenced rock & rollers who proved even before the Fabs did that pop could motor and that tunes were no enemy to rocking.
Standout track: “Cathy’s Clown”
On which an ailing Brit-blues band is transformed into megaplatinum superstars by the arrival of brilliant songwriter-guitarist-producer Lindsey Buckingham and his hippie-chick partner, Stevie Nicks. A benchmark for aspiring AOR tunesmiths.
Standout track: “Rhiannon”
WARNER BROS., 1977
The culmination of F-Mac’s transformation from British blues icons to masters of California pop, Rumours spent an astonishing 31 weeks at number 1. Feather-light harmonies and deep, dark soap-opera emotions give it real bite.
Standout track: “Go Your Own Way”
THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS
Sin City: The Very Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers
Piloted by ex-Byrds Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, the classic Burritos lineup lasted for two albums, but it alchemized the monster known as country-rock.
Standout track: “Hot Burrito #2”
Peter Gabriel (3)
Acknowledged as the former Genesis man’s best solo effort. Paranoia and navel gazing has never sounded so captivating; the production is beautifully sympathetic; and with songs as extraordinary as “Games Without Frontiers,” there are no defects.
Standout track: “Games Without Frontiers”
WARNER BROS., 1970
Temporarily putting aside their long space jams and LSD-inspired studio games, the Dead mined Hank Williams, Robert Johnson and Buck Owens for this album full of working-class blues.
Standout track: “Uncle John’s Band”
WARNER BROS., 1970
The Dead’s second great country-rock album is a masterpiece of cosmic American songwriting, mostly acoustic arrangements and angelic vocal harmonies. You’ll hardly notice the absence of guitar solos.
Standout track: “Box of Rain”
Two From the Vault
GRATEFUL DEAD, 1992
Although they still relied on keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s R&B growl for their power, this set finds the Dead beginning the transition from LSD-soaked folk-blues act to psychedelic, genre-destroying rock explorers.
Standout track: “Dark Star”
JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
Are You Experienced?
The most thrilling electric guitar playing ever recorded. The ejaculatory spurts of “Foxey Lady” seemed to catch even Hendrix marveling at his own genius. The reissue also offers singles “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze.” Lucky you.
Standout track: “Foxey Lady”
JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
The guitar genius’s third and most ambitious album is a sprawling, eclectic masterpiece, taking in jazzy extended jams, concise riff-pop, psychedelic reveries, cosmic dashiki soul and fevered blues deconstructions.
Standout track: “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
The Buddy Holly Collection
The Beatles got the inspiration for their name from Holly’s backing band, the Crickets. Had he lived, Holly might have been their competitor. The first wise white rock & roll songwriter, Holly remolded the primal beat and made eyeglasses cool.
Standout track: “Not Fade Away”
Fit to Be Tied: Great Hits
Starting in 1981, when Jett and her bad reputation split from the all-girl, sexploitative Runaways, she rocked harder and more consistently than anyone without a dick, inspiring a generation of riot-grrrl stepdaughters.
Standout track: “I Love Rock & Roll”
The Essential Janis Joplin
Joplin could belt out basic blues, but her electrifying performances prefigured female rockers as disparate as Bonnie Raitt and Courtney Love. But her early years with acid-tinged Big Brother & the Holding Company are the most rewarding listening here.
Standout track: “Piece of My Heart”
Greatest Hits Vol. 1
The crowning glory of garage rock, courtesy of Dave Davies’s blitzkrieg solo on “You Really Got Me.” Brother Ray was already a master of the wry and bittersweet, and this collection of 18 early singles doesn’t even get up to 1967’s “Waterloo Sunset.”
Standout track: “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”
The Kink Kronikles
The Kinks’ glorious 1966–’70 era documents not only a vanishing England, but endearing melancholy. Magical songwriting and stoic ensemble work make a first-rate introduction to this influential but still underheralded band.
Standout track: “Waterloo Sunset”
Kiss’s hits underscored their status as a first-class heavy-metal pop band. Thumping good tunes and Spinal Tap–like lyrics (Paul Stanley’s “Love Gun,” Gene Simmons’s “God of Thunder”) reign supreme. Alas, Double Platinum predates their disco phase.
Standout track: “Detroit Rock City”
Guitarist Jimmy Page’s panoramic vision and heavy metal’s very existence begin here. Strap yourself in as folk, ’60s pop and blues meet electricity and singer Robert Plant emerges, grunting and victorious, like prehistoric man discovering fire.
Standout track: “Communication Breakdown”
Led Zeppelin II
If their debut suggested that Page’s talents were flowering spectacularly, six months later Led Zeppelin delivered a thrilling ensemble piece. John Bonham’s brutal genius is showcased on “Moby Dick,” but it’s Plant who truly thrusts himself to center stage.
Standout track: “Whole Lotta Love”
Led Zeppelin IV
Formerly known as Four Symbols, this combines heavy metal (“Rock and Roll”) with densely arranged blues, heady English folk and a touching British hanker for the moist pleasures of California. You’ve heard “Stairway to Heaven”? Page plays God.
Standout track: “Stairway to Heaven”
A double album of immense scope that demonstrates why Zep were much more than a lumpen rock band. Sometimes funky (“Trampled Underfoot”) or countryish (“Down by the Seaside”), by today’s standards this isn’t very heavy. But its power remains undimmed.
Standout track: “Kashmir”
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
With the simplest musical backing, the former Beatle invents angst-rock with primal-scream howls about the perils of fame, the illusions of the ’60s, the British class system and the nonexistence of God, arriving finally at a brave conclusion: “The dream is over.”
Standout track: “God”
Worldly, romantic and spiteful, Imagine is easily Lennon’s most cohesive and fully realized solo album. He mercilessly lambastes everyone from Richard Nixon to Paul McCartney, but as usual, he sings most of the best tunes in the direction of Yoko Ono.
Standout track: “Imagine”
JERRY LEE LEWIS
All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology
The wildest of the first rock & rollers, Jerry Lee lived how he sang: slightly crazed, on the edge of something dark and inspired. Note, too, that he’s canny enough to have become a great survivor.
Standout track: “Great Balls of Fire”
Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd
Skynyrd’s debut is remarkable for its sheer songwriting confidence and Ronnie Van Zant’s flawless vocal performances. The man sings his heart out throughout, while “Free Bird” proves that dueling guitars do have their place.
Standout track: “Free Bird”
If you think teary-eyed rockers treasure Street Survivors simply because it appeared mere days before the plane crash that killed much of the band, think again. Tight but loose, raw but relaxed, this is effortlessly righteous material from a band at its zenith.
Standout track: “That Smell”
PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS
Wingspan: Hits & History
Dismissed as too sweet, Macca’s best moments (“Jet,” “Maybe I’m Amazed”) take on the intelligence and peerless songcraft of his Beatles work. This collection insists he’s equal parts experimenter and commercial artist.
Standout track: “Jet”
Bat Out of Hell
If Bruce Springsteen had written a Broadway musical, this would’ve been it. No one could write for Meat Loaf but genius Jim Steinman, and no one could sing Steinman except “The Loaf.” More than any other record, this is all of rock in one album.
Standout track: “For Cryin’ Out Loud”
Master of Puppets
Having revitalized metal in the early ’80s, these San Franciscans smartly refined the most distinctive elements of their first two albums for this perfectly crafted creative high. For many, it remains the greatest metal album ever.
Standout track: “Master of Puppets”
The album that moved thrash-metal onto a whole new plane. This is the sound of Metallica growing up, spreading out and making music that’s always heavy in intent but also shaded with subtlety and grace. Astonishingly, even the ballads manage to work.
Standout track: “Enter Sandman”
THE STEVE MILLER BAND
Greatest Hits 1974–78
This is all you really need to enjoy the airless pleasures of Miller’s ’70s FM rock. Just three albums are plundered for this best-of set, but it’s still a damn-near-perfect aid to growing your hair and, hey, rolling with it.
Standout track: “Take the Money and Run”
“The bed’s too big/The frying pan’s too wide.” You know the feeling. Mitchell’s acoustic confessionals of freewheeling love and fuckups among the L.A. hipperati touch everyone. Blue’s open-hearted beauty inspired Annie Lennox, Alanis Morissette . . . and Led Zeppelin.
Standout track: “Carey”
Court and Spark
Rarely has romantic longing been so poetically documented. Mitchell circles the singles scene (“People’s Parties”), yearns for a lover (“Car On a Hill”) and still finds time to tear strips out of a cynical music industry in the David Geffen–inspired “Free Man in Paris.”
Standout track: “Free Man in Paris”
WARNER BROS., 1968
Take a white thug-hippie from Belfast who sings like Ray Charles, drop some acid and give him a great jazz band. Bliss. This cryptic dreamscape features some of the most beautiful singing on record and some of the most gently erotic music.
Standout track: “Madame George”
WARNER BROS., 1970
Romantic, sensual, finger-clicking, free as a bird: The belligerent Belfast cowboy never sounded happier or more effortlessly in touch with his muse. Is it rock? Jazz? Folk-poetry? Rhythm & blues? Morrison takes what he loves and makes it his own.
Standout track: “Into the Mystic”
No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith
Road dogs Motörhead were a barnacle on the ass of British rock for most of the late ’70s. Then came this pivotal live album, which kicked their amphetamine-fueled din out of the Hell’s Angels social club and onto the U.K. album charts.
Standout track: “Ace of Spades”
MOTT THE HOOPLE
The Ballad of Mott: A Retrospective
The British pop-rockers managed a short string of chart hits in the early ’70s before imploding. This grab bag of singles and album cuts salutes their legacy of Bowie-style glam-metal.
Standout track: “All the Young Dudes”
After the glossy wide-screen sonics of his debut, Newman pares back his sound and vastly improves it. His shrewish cynicism begins to leak out here and there, but the tunes and spirit are so engaging, you may not notice the vitriol.
Standout track: “Old Kentucky Home”
Good Old Boys
Few subjects have seemed so suited to Newman’s prickly satire as the deep South. He concentrates on the region’s more malign aspects, but his drunks, losers and bigots come with an affecting empathy. His best-realized album, without question.
Standout track: “Louisiana 1927”
For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits
No compilation covers all of Orbison’s 30-year career, but this best anthologizes his peak, when his mind-boggling vocals gave rock & roll an almost operatic aspect. When he collides with riff-based raunch on “Oh, Pretty Woman,” it’s a joy.
Standout track: “Only the Lonely”
Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology
With a mournful voice and a new outlook, Parsons began the country-rock revolution. Others plugged into the fuzzbox; he dabbled with the pedal steel.
Standout track: “Hot Burrito #1”
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
Outwardly dealing in feel-good harmonies, inwardly Tom Petty crafts the best cynical pop songs in the world. A fat-free collection that in one manageable fix condenses 17 years of Petty’s forte: air-punching hard rock with a nasty black heart.
Standout track: “Free Fallin’”
Live Phish, Vol. 11: 11.17.97
A definitive point in a collection of 16 live albums released in 2001 and 2002 from a band never designed to do things by halves. This is the pick; they move from density to space, going ethereal and funky where they once noodled out.
Standout track: “Ghost”
Dark Side of the Moon
Rock doesn’t get any more classic than this perfect song cycle recorded after the trippier Meddle. Demo your stereo with this hybrid of Wagnerian guitar, transporting soundscapes, manic-depressive lyrics and studio mind-fuckery.
Standout track: “Us & Them”
Wish You Were Here
Dark Side of the Moon boosted Floyd planet-wide; this saw them embracing their past for cathartic inspiration. Huge and eerie in sound, but anguished in mood: They made it in memory of cofounder and acid casualty Syd Barrett.
Standout track: “Wish You Were Here”
Rarely has a rock star gazed so fixedly at his own navel as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters does here. Miraculously, it works, making this bleak fable of alienation and despair the kind of thing that could give concept double albums a good name.
Standout track: “Comfortably Numb”
Collecting all of young Elvis’s world-changing Sun recordings, these two discs chronicle the invention of rock & roll. Attacking country and R&B hits of the ’40s and ’50s with raw energy, he sounded playful, arrogant, nervous and transcendentally sexy.
Standout track: “That’s All Right”
From Elvis in Memphis
“Elvis died the day he went in the army,” said John Lennon. He was wrong, and here’s why. This terribly masterful blend of gospel, soul and R&B could have been made only in Tennessee. The King was back in rude health.
Standout track: “Only the Strong Survive”
30 #1 Hits
He sold millions years before million-sellers were the norm and topped the charts long after his contemporaries had shuffled into obscurity. A quarter-century has passed since his untimely death, and his greatest haven’t lost their kick.
Standout track: “Suspicious Minds”
Capitol Collectors Series
Too early for the power-pop revival, Ohio’s retro-rockers in suits should have rivaled Elton John in the early ’70s. The Beatles, the Who and the Beach Boys all inspired the Raspberries’ sound. Why didn’t the world listen?
Standout track: “Go All the Way”
The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt
She captured hearts and minds in the ’70s by roller-skating on an album sleeve and singing so well, you couldn’t help be moved. How so? As pretty as she was, she could make you believe in “When Will I Be Loved?”
Standout track: “You’re No Good”
The Very Best of Todd Rundgren
Rundgren’s career is almost impossible to compile, but this set is rewarding. Marvel at a host of beautifully executed styles, from Beatlesque pop to jazz-rock, and this CD becomes your gate to whole new worlds.
Standout track: “I Saw the Light”
BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND
With a voice that growls and groans but still manages to move, Seger turns the Midwest into a landscape for everyday heroes. And there’s nothing cloying about it, which makes even “Against the Wind” work.
Standout track: “Night Moves”
The Paul Simon Collection: On My Way, Don’t Know Where I’m Goin’
WARNER BROS, 2002
Including a couple of S&G oldies rewarmed live 30 years on, this is a 24-track solo career survey. Sixteen are gems of wistful, literate street-corner pop with a tropical tang.
Standout track: “Kodachrome”
SIMON & GARFUNKEL
The Best of Simon & Garfunkel
They didn’t dress well or look cool, but they did make timeless rainy-day dorm-room music. Simon’s meticulous, topical folk-pop brimmed with melancholy and had harmonies that could part clouds.
Standout track: “The Boxer”
Born to Run
Where the Boss was really born. Big songs with a big sound to match, and an absolute lyrical extravaganza, as Springsteen paints a powerful picture of American suburban street life. The title track’s chorus demands to be sung loudly when drunk.
Standout track:“Born to Run”
Darkness On the Edge of Town
After a three-year court-enforced silence, the Boss risked all on 10 songs about life’s losers with only the narrowest horizon between hope and despair. His fans rose to the challenge, and his career restarted the first time around.
Standout track: “Prove It All Night”
Born in the U.S.A.
A message not fully received back in ’84, when the angst and anger of the title track’s Vietnam vet found itself coopted into a Ronald Reagan campaign anthem. This is stadium rock with a concealed dark side.
Standout track: “Born in the U.S.A.”
Can’t Buy a Thrill
Seventies FM rock with a flinty heart. As debuts go, this is remarkably sophisticated: Surreal lyrics blend with music that appears instantly commercial yet gradually reveals a weird undertow of jazz. “Reelin’ in the Years” is just too good to be true.
Standout track: “Reelin’ in the Years”
Countdown to Ecstasy
Buoyed by the reception to Can’t Buy a Thrill, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen added jazz, black humor and rock dynamics. Impeccably played, steeped in learning but full of hooks and hits, this confirmed them as the most unlikely of superstars.
Stoner-rock with a Master’s degree. Becker and Fagen’s third album splices their lissome jazz and blues with a side order of corrosive wit and sparks of guitar feedback. It’s smart-ass pop without a doubt, but the prickly duo’s intelligence never eclipses the tunes.
Standout track: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”
Cementing the commercial breakthrough conferred by Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied gave Steely Dan’s blues-dipped jazz-rock another lap of honor, while easing up — just a little — on the biting wit. It remains the last word in precision-built, supersmart ’70s rock & roll.
Standout track: “Doctor Wu”
Ignoring punk, the impeccable jazz-rock ironists take an album off from messing with people’s heads to deliver chocolatey grooves, manly soloing and the oft-sampled “Peg.” Mellow to the point of catatonia, for when you really need that kind of thing.
Standout track: “Deacon Blues”
Remember: The Ultimate Collection
Twenty-four songs from a man who later changed his name and religion, but not his nature. Stevens had shown love and humanity all along, with an easy voice destined to sing these beautiful songs with effortless grace.
Standout track: “Matthew & Son”
Storyteller (Box Set)
WARNER BROS., 1989
Four CDs that trace Stewart’s 30-year passage from the London blues scene to transatlantic soft-rock behemoth. The best stuff, inevitably, is his early- to mid-’70s material, in which the music coheres with that remarkable voice to irresistible effect.
Standout track: “You Wear It Well”
WARNER BROS., 1976
Taylor was as emblematic of the ’70s as Kurt Cobain would be to the ’90s. As a sensitive troubadour who suffered and took drugs for his art, he defined the singer-songwriter archetype. This collection, devoted to his early work, is a poignant, heart-wrenching marvel.
Standout track: “Fire and Rain”
RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON
Shoot Out the Lights
There’s nothing less likely to save a failing marriage than recording an album of painfully honest songs about it. Shoot Out the Lights is uncomfortable but compulsive. Folk rock is far too feeble a term.
Standout track: “Wall of Death”
20th Century Boy: The Ultimate Collection
Fusing the dumbness of early rock & roll with ’70s glam, Marc Bolan managed to make Chuck Berry riffs and nonsensical lyrics sound fantastic. Albums were never his forte: This is all you need.
Standout track: “20th Century Boy”
Best of the Troggs
Seemingly a bunch of bickering simpletons who influenced Spinal Tap, England’s Troggs were much more — and they gave us “Wild Thing,” the nastiest, most perfect piece of fuzzed-out guitar filth known to man. And “Love Is All Around.”
Standout track: “Wild Thing”
Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy
The first (and best) Who compilation collects revelatory ’60s singles that act out insecurity and frustration with frenzied intensity in blazes of guitar feedback and drum mayhem. This is rock played with unequaled musicianship, style and abandon.
Standout track: “I Can See for Miles”
They were once too steeped in English eccentricity to appeal to everyday Americans, but Who’s Next made the Who a global concern. Here, angry rhetoric and Pete Townshend’s spiritualism were smuggled inside riffs that could fell a man from 20 paces.
Standout track: “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
By this point, Pete Townshend thought that 12-song albums were for losers. So he came up with an opus about the Who’s original audience: London’s mods. The concept aside, Quadrophenia contains enough of his band’s potent rock to ensure it was a winner.
Standout track: “5:15”
The notorious perfectionist needed only 40 minutes to demonstrate everything good that contemporary “roots music” had to offer. Practically all Southern genres are combined in these yearning, gritty, drawling songs.
Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
For Williams, quality matters more than quantity — so in the first 20 years of her career, she delivered just five albums, and this was the best. Simple truths, real situations and honest feelings beautifully sung. Who needs more?
Standout track: “Drunken Angel”
Eric Clapton’s presence ensured that these Brit-blues pioneers would create a cult that survives to this day. The later recruitment of both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page made them legendary. As this two-CD set proves, the music backs up the myth.
Standout track: “Shapes of Things”
After the Gold Rush
A classic collection of mainly intimate reflections (“Southern Man” is the notable exception), this is where Young sealed his reputation while also introducing the remarkable talents of 17-year-old guitarist Nils Lofgren.
Standout track: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
Tunes ache and hearts break in a nasal country croon sung to a lonesome guitar (with a side order of patched-denim rock and symphony orchestra) in that endless soul search. After all, a singer-songwriter’s gotta do what a singer-songwriter’s gotta do.
Standout track: “Heart of Gold”
Tonight’s the Night
A memorial to Crazy Horse’s guitarist Danny Whitten, a heroin victim, this finds a potent mixture of grief and tequila taking Young and his associates perilously close to the edge. Harrowing and ragged, but magnificent.
Standout track: “Tonight’s the Night”
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
Rust Never Sleeps
Half electric, half acoustic, all amazing. This collection of new songs, some recorded on Young’s 1978 tour, was imbued with his ever-peculiar mix of beguiling sentimentality, cussedness, bravery and willful conservatism.
Standout track: “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)”
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
Grandpa Grunge in all his ragged glory. Young’s third live set was packed with sonic slop and rough edges, providing a template for future alt-rockers the world over. The sound of metal on metal, delivered with punch-drunk swagger.
Standout track: “Powderfinger”
FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION
We’re Only in It for the Money
Zappa’s skewed, salacious worldview floods the Mothers’ second album, offset by instrumental showmanship and his growing skill as a writer.
Standout track: “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body”
Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon
The Chicagoan’s imminent demise has served to remind what a talent the world is about to lose. Zevon’s humor was black, but he was always as likely to cheerily lacerate himself as others.
Standout track: “Werewolves of London”
WARNER BROS., 1992
The best of Phase Two ZZ Top, where an ’80s modernizing of the Texas trio’s boogie sound yielded such monster hits as “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” They also threw in a few reminders of their former lo-fi choogle — “Tush,” “La Grange” — just for good measure.
Standout track: “Legs”
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