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500 Greatest Albums

Here’s our list of seminal international albums including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones among others

Rolling Stone India May 19, 2011
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170. Live at Leeds – The Who

Faced with the impossible task of following up the grand statement of Tommy [see No. 96], the Who just cranked up their amps. Rather than wade through eighty hours of American shows for a live album, Pete Townshend claimed he burned those tapes “in a huge bonfire” and selected a concert at Leeds University in England. Leeds is a warts-and-all live album, including an accidental clunking sound on “My Generation.” There’s no finesse, just the pure power of a band able to play as loud as it wants to. When the Who blew up Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” to Godzilla-like proportions, they invented Seventies arena rock.

169. Exodus – Bob Marley and the Wailers

As the title suggests, this album wasn’t recorded in Jamaica; after Marley took a bullet in a 1976 assassination attempt, he relocated the Wailers to London. But tracks such as “Jammin'” are still suffused with the deep essence of reggae and life at home. “Three Little Birds,” for example, had been written on the back step of Marley’s home in Kingston, where he would sit and smoke herb. Each time Marley rolled a spliff, he would discard the seeds ”” the birds of the song’s title would pick them up. “The music have a purpose,” Marley said, and his spiritual intent was never clearer than on the anthem “One Love.”

168. My Aim is True – Elvis Costello

Costello on the fuel for his debut: “I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album [see No. 77], listening to it over and over.” The music doesn’t have the savage attack of the Clash; after all, Costello’s backing band was Clover, which would later evolve into Huey Lewis and the News. But songs such as “Mystery Dance” and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” have plenty of verbal bite, and the ballad “Alison” is a poisoned valentine. Beginning with the line, “Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired,” My Aim quickly establishes Costello as one of the best lyricists of his generation.

167. Master of Puppets – Metallica

Metallica’s third album has a lyrical theme: manipulation. “It deals pretty much with drugs,” singer-guitarist James Hetfield said. “Instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing, it’s drugs controlling you.” It also has a sonic theme: really loud guitars, played fast, with no regard for the hair metal on the airwaves. When the band slows down on “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” it just emphasizes the unrelenting nature of the rest of the songs. Recorded during three months in Copenhagen, this was bassist Cliff Burton’s last album with Metallica; he died in September 1986, when the band’s bus crashed.

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166. Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello and the Attractions

“I was trying to think or feel my way out of a defeated and exhausted frame of mind to something more glorious,” Costello said of his seventh album. With his lyrics about marital stress growing more complex, he decided that their sound should reflect that same ambition. So he enlisted producer Geoff Emerick ”” the engineer on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ”” and experimented with what was his idea of an adult sonic palette: accordions, Mellotrons, horns and whatever else struck his fancy. Not all of the songs reveal their charms quickly, but “Man Out of Time” is immediately soaring and sorrowful.

165. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

“I mumble things into the microphone,” Gaye said. “I don’t even know what I’m saying, and I don’t even try to figure it out. If I try, it doesn’t work. If I relax, those mumbles will finally turn into words. It’s a slow, evolving process, something like the way a flower grows.” On this album, those words turn into meditations on the gap between sex and love and how to reconcile them ”” an adult version of the Motown tunes Gaye had built his career on. Songs such as “Just to Keep You Satisfied” and “You Sure Love to Ball” are some of the most gorgeous music of Gaye’s career, resplendent with sweet strings and his clear-throated, non-mumbled crooning.

164. Heart Like a Wheel – Linda Ronstadt

“There’s no way that I can be objective and say one album is better than another,” Ronstadt told Rolling Stone in 1978. “I never listen to them anyway.” But millions of other people did, especially to this record, where she displays her vocal flexibility and rock grit on “You’re No Good” and a country twang on a cover of Hank Williams Sr.’s “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You).” Collaborating with producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt blends quality oldies (the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved?”) and hip songwriters of her era (Lowell George, Anna McGarrigle), gracing each composition with her golden voice.

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163. 1999 – Prince

“I didn’t want to do a double album, Prince said, “but I just kept on writing. Of course, I’m not one for editing.” The second half of 1999 is just exceptional sex-obsessed dance music; the first half is the best fusion of rock and funk achieved to that date, and it lays out the blueprint for Prince’s next decade. Except for a few background hand claps and vocals, Prince plays most every instrument himself and creates a relentless, irresistible musical sequence of apocalypse (“1999”) and the raunchy sex that he proposes as the only possible response ”” “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “Delirious” and, well, just about every other song on the album.

162. OK Computer – Radiohead

Radiohead recorded their third album in the mansion of actress Jane Seymour while she was filming Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. OK is where the band began pulling at its sound like taffy, seeing what happened, not worrying if it was still “rock.” What results is a slow, haunting album with unforgettable tracks such as “Karma Police.” Said guitarist Jonny Greenwood, “I got very excited at the prospect of doing string parts that didn’t sound like ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ which is what all string parts have sounded like for the past thirty years. . . . We used violins to make frightening white-noise stuff, like the last chord of ‘Climbing Up the Walls.'”

161. The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding

On December 6th, 1967, Redding recorded “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” an experiment in “soul folk” influenced by the enthusiastic reception he’d gotten from the rock audience at the Monterey Pop Festival the previous June. Four days later, he was dead, when a plane he’d chartered went down in a Wisconsin lake. “Dock of the Bay” went on to become his biggest hit, a pop and R&B Number One. Guitarist Steve Cropper assembled this collection using unreleased sessions. So strong was Redding’s output that both Dock of the Bay and the latter posthumous set The Immortal Otis Redding rank as essential soul albums.

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