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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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160. Electric Warrior – T. Rex

“A successful hit rock & roll record is a spell,” T. Rex leader Marc Bolan told Rolling Stone. Muttering eye of Bowie, toe of Slade, Bolan cast a spell over all of England. He took his Tolkienesque hippie music and gave it a glammed-out Chuck Berry update on sexy singles such as “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”; this was rock that thrusted, quivered and recklessly employed metaphors equating cars with sex (“You got a hubcap diamond star halo”). He outdid himself with “Jeepster,” an entire song on the topic, vibrating with lust, a shuffling beat, lots of guitar and the sound of Bolan stomping on the studio floor.

159. Alive – KISS

“We wanted to put out a souvenir, almost like when you go to the circus,” said KISS lead singer Paul Stanley. “I really enjoy myself onstage, prancing around, shaking my ass, shaking my head, playing the guitar between my legs. I enjoy it as much as the audience. Basically, I am entertaining myself up there.” This double live album, recorded largely in Detroit (with some bonus material from Iowa, New Jersey and Ohio, plus a whole bunch of studio overdubs), was the breakthrough record for KISS, with exuberant versions of “Strutter” and “Rock & Roll All Nite,” plus a classic litany of alcohol choices in the intro to “Cold Gin.”

158. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John

Bernie Taupin, John’s lyricist, wanted to make a self-mythologizing album about his and John’s rise to fame. The ballad “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” for example, was about a night when Taupin stopped John from committing suicide with a gas oven. While Taupin sweated over every line, John dashed off the music on a luxury ocean liner. “I’d tried to book the ship’s music room, but an opera singer had it for the whole five days,” John said. “The only time she wasn’t there was when she scoffed her lunch for two hours. So every lunchtime I’d nip in there and grab the piano.”

157. Closer – Joy Division

One of the most depressing albums ever made, with droning guitars and synthesizers, chilly bass lines, stentorian vocals and drums that sound as if they’re steadily beating out the rhythm of doom. And that’s not even considering the lyrics, which are about singer Ian Curtis’ failing marriage and how he suffered from epilepsy. (Curtis hanged himself on May 18th, 1980, at the age of twenty-three ”” the rest of the band regrouped as New Order; see No. 361.) Though Joy Division fully earned their reputation as England’s most harrowing punk band, they weren’t always gloomy; on trips from Manchester to London, they’d pass the time by mooning other cars.

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156. Paul’s Boutique – The Beastie Boys

“I went to this party in Los Angeles,” recalled Adam Horovitz, “and they were playing this music, like . . . four breakbeat records playing at the same time.” The party soundtrack consisted of tracks by the Dust Brothers, who ended up co-producing this entire second record from the Beasties, providing the rap trio with some of the best samples ever put on wax, including the Ramones, Mountain and the Funky 4+1. Paul’s Boutique is also an extended goof on Abbey Road [see No. 14], which was Paul McCartney’s boutique ”” and like that record, it ambitiously stitches together song fragments in a way rarely seen before or since.

155. Pretenders – The Pretenders

After years of knocking around Ohio and England, writing record reviews and hanging with the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde put together a band as tough as her attitude. The Pretenders’ debut is filled with no-nonsense New Wave rock such as “Mystery Achievement” ”” plus a cover of “Stop Your Sobbing,” by the Kinks’ Ray Davies (three years later, the father of Hynde’s child). The biggest hit was “Brass in Pocket,” a song of ambition and seduction. Hynde, however, wasn’t so sure about the song’s success. “I was embarrassed by it,” she remembered. “I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworth’s and they started playing it, I’d have to run out of the store.”

154. The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest

Other people connected the dots between hip-hop and jazz ”” both were revolutionary forms of black music based in improvisation and flow ”” but A Tribe Called Quest’s second album drew the entire picture. The sound is dominated by the low end of the title ”” they even recruited legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter (who’d worked with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis). Meanwhile, the Tribe discourse on matters ranging from the music industry (“Show Business”) to sexual politics (“The Infamous Date Rape”). Each time Q-Tip rhymes over Carter’s bass lines, the groove just gets deeper.

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153. Moanin in the Moonlight – Howlin’ Wolf

Wolf was a big man ”” six feet three and 300 pounds of heavenly joy, as he put it in one song. His huge, eerie sound centered around his commanding growl and the explosive playing of two blues-guitar geniuses: Willie Johnson and Hubert Sumlin. This enormously influential collection of singles for Chess instructed the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and the rest of England in the ways of the blues. It includes Wolf compositions that became standards, such as “Smokestack Lightnin’ ” and “I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline),” and it starts with “Moanin’ at Midnight,” from his first recording session ever ”” at age forty-one.

152. The B-52’s – The B-52’s

The B-52’s’ debut sounds like a bunch of high school friends cramming all their running jokes, goofy sounds and private nicknames into a New Wave record. “We never thought it would get past our circle of friends in Athens [Georgia],” vocalist Fred Schneider told Rolling Stone. It turned out that nobody could resist the band’s campy, arty funk, or the eccentric squeals and bouffant hairdos of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. (Playing organ, Pierson also defined the band’s sound.) They played toy instruments, and their thrift-store image was as inventive and colorful as their music ””which, with “Rock Lobster,” was pretty inventive and colorful.

151. Darkness on the Edge of Town – Bruce Springsteen

“When I was making this particular album, I just had a specific thing in mind,” Springsteen told Rolling Stone. “It had to be just a relentless . . . just a barrage of that particular thing.” That obsession was the aftermath of the epic romanticism of his first three records: songs about people struggling with collapsed dreams. This was tough music, inspired by tough movies by Sergio Leone and John Ford. Recorded after a long absence from the studio (due to a lawsuit against his former manager), Springsteen and the E Street Band played rockers such as “Badlands” and “Promised Land” with barely contained passion.

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