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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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90. Talking Book – Stevie Wonder

“I don’t think you know where I’m coming from,” Wonder warned Motown executives in 1971. “I don’t think you can understand it.” Indeed, the two albums Wonder released in 1972 ̬ Music of My Mind and Talking Book ”” rewrote the rules of the Motown hit factory. Talking Book was full of introspection and social commentary, with Wonder producing, writing and playing most of the instruments himself. “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” were Number One singles; “Big Brother” is political consciousness draped in a light melody: “You’ve killed all our leaders/I don’t even have to do nothin’ to you/You’ll cause your own country to fall.”

89. Dusty in Memphis – Dusty Springfield

Born in London, Springfield was a great soul singer hidden inside a white British pop queen ”” racking up Motown-style hits such as “I Only Want to Be With You” ”” when Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler brought her way down South, to Memphis, to make this album. She was so intimidated by the idea of recording with session guys from her favorite Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding hits that she never sang a note there. Her vocals were overdubbed in New York. But the result was blazing soul and sexual honesty (“Breakfast in Bed,” “Son of a Preacher Man”) that transcended both race and geography.

88. At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash

By the late sixties, Cash was ignored by country radio and struggling for a comeback. At Folsom Prison was a million-seller that reignited his career. A year later, he was writing liner notes for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and logging four weeks at Number One with his second prison album, At San Quentin. But At Folsom Prison is essential Cash. Backed by a tough touring band, including fellow Sun Records alum Carl Perkins on guitar, Cash guffaws his way through “Cocaine Blues,” “25 Minutes to Go” (a countdown to an execution), “I Got Stripes” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” The 2,000 inmates roar their approval.

87. The Wall – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd’s most elaborately theatrical album was inspired by their own success: the alienating enormity of their tours after The Dark Side of the Moon, which was when bassist-lyricist Roger Waters first hit upon the wall as a metaphor for isolation and rebellion. He finished a demo of the work by July 1978; the double album then took the band a year to make. Rock’s ultimate self-pity opera, The Wall is also hypnotic in its indulgence: the totalitarian thunder of “In the Flesh?” the suicidal languor of “Comfortably Numb,” the Brechtian drama of “The Trial.” Rock-star hubris has never been more electrifying.

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86. Let It Be – The Beatles

“Let It Be” is the sound of the world’s biggest pop group at war with itself. John Lennon is at his most acidic; George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” is about the sin of pride, sung with plaintive exhaustion. Only Paul McCartney sounds focused, as if the title song were his personal survival mantra. The original concept was a bad idea ”” a live-in-the-studio album and film, begun in January 1969 ”” that left the Beatles so weary they abandoned the project to make Abbey Road. But despite later oversweetening by Phil Spector, the Beatles’ final studio release features some of the strongest rockers (“Get Back”) and most poignant ballads (“Across the Universe”) in their entire canon.

85. Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen wrote most of these songs in a fit of inspiration that also gave birth to the harrowing Nebraska. “Particularly on the first side, it’s actually written very much like Nebraska,” he said. “The characters and the stories, the style of writing ”” except it’s just in the rock-band setting.” It was a crucial difference: The E Street Band put so much punch into the title song that millions misheard its questioning allegiance as mere flag-waving. The immortal force of the album is in Springsteen’s frank mix of soaring optimism and the feeling of, he said, being “handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford.”

84. Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin

Franklin’s third Atlantic album in less than two years is another classic, from “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)” and “Ain’t No Way” to the slinky version of the Rascals’ “Groovin’.” It was a year of triumph and turbulence for Franklin: Although she made the cover of Time, the magazine reported rocky details of her marriage to Ted White, then her manager. But Franklin channeled that frenzy into performances of funky pride and magisterial hurt. Among the best: the grand-prayer treatment of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and her explosive anguish on the hit cover of Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools.”

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83. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin

Franklin’s Atlantic debut is the place where gospel music collided with R&B and rock & roll and became soul. The Detroit-born preacher’s daughter was about $80,000 in debt to her previous label, Columbia, when Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler signed her in 1966. “I took her to church,” Wexler said, “sat her down at the piano and let her be herself.” She immediately cut the album’s title hit, a slow fire of ferocious sexuality, while her storefront-church cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” ”” Franklin’s first Number One pop single ”” became the marching song for the women’s and civil-rights movements.

82. Axis: Bold As Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Some of the studio effects on Hendrix’s second album have not aged well, and the mix on Side One was redone in a single night because he left the original masters in a taxi. But Axis is a leisurely, bluesy jewel; Hendrix slowed down on “Little Wing” and “If 6 Was 9″ to allow his guitar space to breathe as well as burn. ” ‘Little Wing’ is like one of these beautiful girls that come around sometimes,” he said. “They might be spaced, they might be kinda strung out. But everybody has a right to . . . their beliefs, if they want to believe that a star is purple, or whatever.” Like Hendrix, Axis was cryptic and bewitching.

81. Graceland – Paul Simon

Frustrated by the experience of writing good songs that didn’t come to life in the studio, Simon set out “to make really good tracks,” as he later put it. “I thought, ‘I have enough songwriting technique that I can reverse this process and write this song after the tracks are made.’ ” Simon risked severe criticism by going to South Africa (then under apartheid) and working with the best musicians from the black townships. With the fluid energy and expertise of guitarist Ray Phiri and the vocal troupe Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon created an album about isolation and redemption that transcended “world music” to become the whole world’s soundtrack.

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