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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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150. Santana – Santana

The first two times Santana tried to record their debut, they scrapped the tapes. But the third time, they came up with Santana, which combined Latin rhythms with jazz-inspired improvisation, hard-rock guitar and lyrical, B.B. King-style blues ”” and even had a hit single, “Evil Ways.” Back then, a lot of Carlos Santana’s guitar playing was fueled by psychedelic drugs. “I don’t recommend it to anybody and everybody,” Santana told Rolling Stone in 2000. “Yet for me, I feel it did wonders. It made me aware of splendor and rapture.” For millions of people, Santana did the same thing.

149. Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin had stuck close to their core sound on earlier albums ”” supercharged blues, celestial folk ”” but on Houses of the Holy the band added a groove. “D’yer Mak’er” is their version of reggae, and “The Crunge” is inspired by James Brown. “We thought of putting steps on the cover to help you do the dance,” said Jimmy Page. With the ballad “Over the Hills and Far Away,” an FM staple, and “D’yer Mak’er” reaching the Top Twenty, Houses became Led Zeppelin’s third album to hit Number One. That summer, Zeppelin’s American tour broke box-office records established by the Beatles.

148. Deja Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Neil Young was just getting his solo career under way when he joined his old Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills, ex-Byrd David Crosby and former Hollie Graham Nash in the world’s first supergroup. Young’s vision and guitar transformed the earlier folk-rock CSN into a rock & roll powerhouse. This is the best of CSNY’s sadly few albums, a feast of sweet idealism (Nash’s “Teach Your Children”), militant blues (Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair”) and vocal-choir gallop (Stills’ “Carry On”), and “Helpless” and the explosive mini-opera “Country Girl” are prime early Young.

147. Dreams to Remember – The Otis Redding Anthology

In 1962, guitarist Johnny Jenkins went to the Stax studios in Memphis to cut a single for Atlantic. When the session didn’t go well, his twenty-one-year-old driver, Otis Redding, recorded a ballad he’d written, “These Arms of Mine.” It was the first of Redding’s Top Ten R&B hits, all of which are on this two-CD anthology. Dreams offers the full spectrum, from hard-driving soul stomps such as “I Can’t Turn You Loose” to heartache ballads including “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”; the gospel-ish “Chained and Bound” and Redding’s funk take on Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” sound just as essential.

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146. Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane

Psychedelic scholars have long tried to pin down just what the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia did on this album (he is credited as “musical and spiritual adviser”). But the real trip is the Airplane’s concise sorcery, a hallucinatory distillation of folk-blues vocals, garage-rock guitar and crisp pop songwriting. The effects were felt nationwide. Grace Slick’s vocal showcases, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” made Surrealistic Pillow a commercial smash during San Francisco’s Summer of Love, and Marty Balin’s spectral “Today” is still the greatest ballad of that city’s glory days.

145. Aja – Steely Dan

If you were an audiophile in the late Seventies, you owned Aja. Steely Dan’s sixth album is easy on the ears, thanks to both its meticulous production and its songs ”” this was Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s no-holds-barred stab at becoming a huge, mainstream jazz-pop success. And sure enough, thanks to sweet, slippery tracks such as “Deacon Blues” and “Peg,” this collegiate band with a name plucked from a William Burroughs novel and a songbook full of smart, cynical lyrics became bona fide superstars, shooting to the Top Five and selling platinum. And, yes, Aja even won a Grammy for Best Engineered album.

144. Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.

This was the start of gangsta rap, as well as the launching pad for the careers of Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. Public Enemy were the revolutionaries, but N.W.A were the group that got a menacing letter from the FBI. “Fuck Tha Police” tells a story of institutionalized racism and bottomless anger atop producer Dre’s equally bottomless beat. “There ain’t never gonna be peace,” said Ice Cube in 1989. N.W.A refused to offer anything like a positive message. “Do I look like a motherfucking role model?” asks Ice Cube on “Gangsta Gangsta.” “To a kid looking up to me, life ain’t nothing but bitches and money.”

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143. Gris-Gris – Dr. John

Mac Rebennack was a New Orleans piano player on songs for Professor Longhair and Frankie Ford who moved to L.A. in the Sixties, where he played on Phil Spector sessions and encountered California psychedelia. Rechristening himself Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper, he made this swamp-funk classic. Gris-Gris blends New Orleans R&B, voodoo chants and chemical inspiration. The groovy Afro-Caribbean percussion and creaky sound effects aren’t just otherworldly ”” they seem to come from several other worlds all at once. John’s secret: Even at his most Dr. Demento moments, he never lost sight of his hometown’s earthy funk.

142. A Christmas Gift for You – Phil Spector

Hands down, the best holiday album in the history of pop music. Originally issued in 1963 under the title A Christmas Gift for You From Philles Records, it wasn’t until the Beatles’ Apple label reissued it almost a decade later that these gritty girl-group versions of Yuletide classics were really appreciated. Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes melts “Frosty the Snowman” and takes the innocence out of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” The Crystals do the same with Rudolph’s red nose. It all comes in a vortex of crashing drums and Spector’s exhila-rating Wall of Sound production.

141. Live at the Regal – B.B. King

By the mid-sixties, King’s career appeared to be winding down, as black audiences began to turn their backs on the blues. But the British blues revival ”” which saw the Rolling Stones making a pilgrimage to Chicago’s Chess Studios ”” introduced the blues to young, white American rock fans. Live at the Regal, recorded in Chicago in 1964, paved the way for King’s appearances on the rock-concert circuit and FM radio. It remains his definitive live set. His guitar sound was precise and powerful, driving emotional versions of some of his most influential songs, including “Everyday (I Have the Blues)” and “How Blue Can You Get?”

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