500 Greatest Albums
Here’s our list of seminal international albums including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones among others
70. Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin
This last great Led Zeppelin album, is ”” like most double LPs of the era ”” a bloated beast. But its self-indulgent swagger is the very thing that makes it so much fun ”” and one of the heaviest records of the 1970s. Powered by John Paul Jones’ jittery clavinet, “Trampled Under Foot” is viking funk; “In My Time of Dying” is eleven minutes of slow-blues lava. The sprawl of Graffiti also let Jimmy Page and Robert Plant bring Zeppelin’s less obvious gifts ”” English folk and hillbilly romp ”” out from behind the wall of amps. Plant would later cite the mighty Arab-influenced march “Kashmir” as one of Zeppelin’s greatest achievements.
69. Superfly – Curtis Mayfield
In the blaxploitation-soundtrack derby, Isaac Hayes’ Shaft came first ”” but that record had one great single and a lot of instrumental filler. Mayfield’s soundtrack to Superfly is an astonishing album, marrying lush string parts to funky bass grooves and lots of wah-wah guitar. On top is Mayfield’s knowing falsetto. Tracks such as “Pusherman” and “Freddie’s Dead” are almost unremittingly bleak, commenting on the movie’s glamorization of the drug-trade action and forecasting its inevitable results. “I don’t take credit for everything I write,” Mayfield said. “I only look upon my writings as interpretations of how the majority of people around me feel.”
68. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson
“The ballads were what made Off the Wall a Michael Jackson album,” Jackson remembered of his big solo splash. “I’d done ballads with [my] brothers, but they had never been too enthusiastic about them and did them more as a concession to me than anything else.” The heartbreaker here is “She’s Out of My Life,” where Jackson actually broke down and cried at the end of a take, feeling like one of the loneliest people in the world. But the record also features undeniable up-tempo tracks such as “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” ”” state-of-the-art dance music in 1979, now a poignant snapshot of a time before Jackson was a national punch line.
67. The Stranger – Billy Joel
Before The Stranger, Joel’s albums had always sounded a bit thin sonically ”” which was part of the reason he had trouble establishing a reputation as a rocker. But this record marked the beginning of a fruitful decade-long collaboration with producer Phil Ramone, who put some much-needed muscle behind Joel’s carefully crafted songs. “Just the Way You Are” became the wedding-band standard, but the real pleasure here is the specificity of the lyrics in the rock songs located in New York, such as “Mister Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street,” in “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” or the saga of Brenda and Eddie in “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.”
66. Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
“I put a lot of work into my lyrics,” Robert Plant told Rolling Stone in 1975. “Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized, though. Things like ‘Black Dog’ are blatant let’s-do-it-in-the-bath-type things, but they make their point just the same.” On their towering fourth, rune-titled album, Led Zeppelin match the raunch of “Black Dog” with Plant’s most scrutinized lyrics ever for the epic ballad “Stairway to Heaven,” while guitarist Jimmy Page leads Zeppelin from the extreme heaviness of “When the Levee Breaks” to the mandolin-driven “Battle of Evermore.” (“It sounded like a dance-around-the-maypole number,” Page later confessed.)
65. Moondance – Van Morrison
“That was the type of band I dig,” Morrison said of the Moondance sessions. “Two horns and a rhythm section ”” they’re the type of bands that I like best.” Morrison took that soul-band lineup and blended it with jazz, blues, poetry and vivid memories of his Irish childhood, until songs such as the title track, “And It Stoned Me” and “Caravan” felt like a lucid dream. On the sprightly “Everyone,” Morrison turns the title over and over in his mouth, not scatting so much as searching for the sound of magic. One song, “Into the Mystic,” serves as an apt summary: To listen to the album is to get your passport stamped for Morrison’s world of ecstatic visions.
64. Back to Mono (1958-1969) – Phil Spector
When the Righteous Brothers’ Bobby Hatfield first heard “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” with partner Bill Medley’s extended solo, he asked, “But what do I do while he’s singing the whole first verse?” Producer Phil Spector replied, “You can go directly to the bank!” Spector described his Wall of Sound as “a Wagnerian approach for rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids.” With a string of exuberant singles ”” full of hand claps, massive overdubs and orchestras of percussion ”” Spector produced hits for acts such as the Crystals, the Ronettes and Darlene Love. Mostly about teenage love, they were as intense and fleeting as their subject.
63. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones
Drummer Charlie Watts remembered the origin of Sticky Fingers as being Mick Jagger and the songs he wrote while filming a movie in Australia. “Mick started playing the guitar a lot,” Watts said. “He plays very strange rhythm guitar . . . very much how Brazilian guitarists play, on the upbeat. It is very much like the guitar on a James Brown track ”” for a drummer it’s great to play with.” The album has tough, straight-up rock, such as “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch,” but also finds the Stones expanding their sound with strings on the lovely “Moonlight Mile.” Two of the best cuts are the two country songs: one forlorn (“Wild Horses”) and one funny (“Dead Flowers”).
62. Achtung Baby – U2
After fostering a dour public image for years, U2 visibly loosened up on Achtung Baby, cracking jokes and even letting themselves be photographed in color. “It’s a con, in a way,” Bono admitted to Rolling Stone in 1992. “We call it Achtung Baby, grinning up our sleeves in all the photography. But it’s probably the heaviest record we’ve ever made.” Recorded in Berlin with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, the album has lots of uncertainty, irony and distortion. It also has one of the most beautiful songs U2 ever recorded: “One,” a ballad in which Bono wonders whether individuality also means eternal loneliness and comes down on the side of hope.
61. Appetite for Destruction – Guns n’ Roses
The biggest-selling debut album of the Eighties, Appetite features a lot more than the yowl of Indiana-bred W. Axl Rose, the only thing still remaining of the original G n’ R. Some of the band’s assets were in fact subtle, such as drummer Steven Adler, who brought swing and disco breakdowns to the band’s mighty metal. And while songs such as “Welcome to the Jungle” are all about urban pain, others, including “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City,” have sweet, yearning lyrics that put the band’s musical ferocity in even higher relief. “A lot of rock bands are too fucking wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion,” Rose said, “unless they’re in pain.”