500 Greatest Albums
Here’s our list of seminal international albums including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones among others
110. The Bends – Radiohead
If the first half of the Nineties was shaped by Nirvana, the template for the second half was set by Radiohead. Though the 1993 smash “Creep,” from their debut, is itself indebted to Kurt Cobain, The Bends, their second album, is less angsty and more operatic, marrying a majestic and somber guitar sound to the virtuosic urgency of Thom Yorke’s vocals. Not yet shying away from guitar anthems, Radiohead draw on the grandeur of U2 and the melancholy of the Smiths and Jeff Buckley. “Fake Plastic Trees” was a radio hit, an introspective acoustic ballad of alienation. But elsewhere, the guitars roar and hiss, establishing Radiohead as the band to beat.
109. Loaded – The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground made their most commercially accessible album in 1970, during a summer of triumph and stress. They were playing their first New York shows in three years (at Max’s Kansas City) while slowly falling apart. Drummer Maureen Tucker was on maternity leave; singer-guitarist-songwriter Lou Reed quit in August before the record was done. But Reed left behind a pair of FM-airplay hits (“Sweet Jane,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll”), two of his finest ballads (“New Age,” “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'”) and a record that highlights the R&B/doo-wop roots and Sun Records crackle deep inside the Velvets’ noir-guitar maelstrom.
108. Aftermath – The Rolling Stones
Aftermath of what? of the whirlwind fame that had resulted from releasing five albums in two years, for one thing: “The lines around my eyes are protected by copyright law,” sings Mick Jagger in “Doncha Bother Me.” And of hypocritical women, as anyone can hear in the irritated kick of “Under My Thumb,” “Think” and “Stupid Girl.” This is the first Stones album totally written by Jagger-Richards, an expansive collection of tough riffs (“It’s Not Easy”) and tougher acoustic blues (“High and Dry”); of zooming psychedelia (“Paint It, Black”), baroque-folk gallantry (“I Am Waiting”) and epic groove (the eleven minutes of “Going Home”).
107. Hunky Dory – David Bowie
Bowie, then twenty-four, arrived at the Hunky Dory cover shoot with a Marlene Dietrich photo book: a perfect metaphor for this album’s visionary blend of gay camp, flashy rock guitar and saloon-piano balladry. Bowie marked the polar ends of his artistic ambitions in tribute songs to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol; in songs such as “Oh! You Pretty Things” and “Changes,” he shows that he is already his own man, with a new pop sound that seems just as modern today as it was then. On “Life on Mars?,” he sings to all the weirdos like himself who feel like aliens on Earth. Soon an army of kids would remake themselves in his spangled image, proving his point.
106. Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 – Sam Cooke
“Sam Cooke was the best singer who ever lived, no contest,” asserted Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler. Quite simply, Cooke invented soul music, and his gospel-rooted vocal style, with its swooping transitions from silk to sandpaper, is one of the most influential of the last half-century. He was also a gifted songwriter, penning hits as varied as 1957’s lighter-than-air “You Send Me” and the 1964 civil-rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.” This collection spans his career, from 1951 tracks with the Soul Stirrers to the 1964 single “Shake,” which was released shortly after Cooke was shot at an L.A. motel.
105. Rocket to Russia – Ramones
The Ramones wrote their third album on tour, as they took the gospel of three chords and ripped denim beyond New York’s five boroughs. Rocket to Russia was also their first true studio triumph, an exuberant, polished bottling of the CBGB-stage napalm of Ramones and Leave Home. Honed arrangements and a dash of gloss bring out the Top Forty classicism in “Rockaway Beach” and “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and the lonely-boy poignancy of Joey Ramone’s vocals in “I Don’t Care” and “I Wanna Be Well.” Rocket was also the last album made by the Ramones’ founding four: Drummer Tommy Ramone left to be a full-time producer.
104. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music – Ray Charles
Country and soul were deeply entangled traditions, and Charles was hardly the first to make the connection. But Modern Sounds extended his pop portfolio, which he’d perfected two years earlier with “Georgia on My Mind.” He covered three Hank Williams songs and recast Eddy Arnold’s lover’s lament “You Don’t Know Me” in the light of the civil-rights struggle. Full of lush string arrangements and gospel grit, Modern Sounds became the most popular album of Charles’ career: several months atop the charts and four hit singles, including “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Born to Lose.”
103. Sweet Baby James – James Taylor
Taylor’s second album landed him on the cover of Time magazine and secured his place as the patriarch of the 1970s singer-songwriter scene. But he went through a private hell on his way to success; the album’s Top Five hit “Fire and Rain” was inspired by Taylor’s stay in a psychiatric institution in the mid-1960s (he had committed himself) and the suicide of a fellow patient. Taylor set a new standard for confession in pop lyrics on “Fire and Rain.” But it is the quiet strength in his voice, framed by the skeletal grace of Peter Asher’s production, that still makes this album a model of folk-pop healing music.
102. Giant Steps – John Coltrane
With characteristic humility, Coltrane said the title of this album referred to the loping instrumental gait of his bassist, Paul Chambers. In fact, the LP was one of two giant steps Coltrane himself made in 1959: his playing on Miles Davis’ epochal Kind of Blue and the recording of this, Coltrane’s Atlantic debut. On seven originals, he played with a heated melodic enthusiasm ”” flying clusters of notes ”” that declared new possibilities for jazz improvisation and predicted the ferocious, harmonically open lyricism of his mid-Sixties records on Impulse. “Mr. P.C.,” another nod to Chambers, is now a stalwart of the contemporary jazz repertoire.
101. Fresh Cream – Cream
The instrumental pedigree of Eric Clapton (the Yardbirds, John Mayall), Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (both from the Graham Bond Organisation) did not prepare audiences for Fresh Cream’s inspired pop spin on the blues. In “I Feel Free” and “N.S.U.,” Clapton’s guitar work is taut and melodic; Bruce sings in a high torrid tenor, like a raving choirboy. The trio’s blues purism is here in covers of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and Skip James’ “I’m So Glad.” But these performances were only a blueprint of what was to come: Many of these tight numbers turned into quarter-hour jams when Cream hit the American acid-ballroom circuit.