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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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60. Greatest Hits – Sly and the Family Stone

Sly and the Family Stone created a musical utopia: an interracial group of men and women who blended funk, rock and positive vibes. Greatest Hits followed Stand!, a politicized album with songs such as “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” but Hits focused on gorgeous non-LP singles like “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Everybody Is a Star,” as well as rump shakers such as “Everyday People” and “Dance to the Music.” Sly Stone ultimately discovered that his utopia had a ghetto, and he brilliantly tore the whole thing down on There’s a Riot Goin’ On, which does not refute the joy of his earlier music.

59. Meet the Beatles – The Beatles

For Americans in the full grip of Beatlemania, this was the first album they could buy. Now out of print, Meet took the Fabs’ second British record, With the Beatles, dropped five covers and added three tracks, including the singles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” (This arguably made a hash of the Beatles’ artistic intentions yet made for a much better record.) Although a great number of songs in the Lennon-McCartney catalog aren’t collaborations, the two wrote “I Want to Hold Your Hand” together on a piano in the basement of Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s actress girlfriend ”” as John Lennon put it, “eyeball to eyeball.”

58. Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

On first listen, Trout Mask Replica sounds like raw Delta blues: Don Van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart) singing and ranting and reciting poetry over fractured guitar licks. But the seeming sonic chaos is an illusion ”” to construct the songs, the Magic Band rehearsed twelve hours a day for months on end in a house with the windows blacked out. (Producer Frank Zappa was then able to record most of the album in less than five hours.) Tracks such as “Ella Guru” and “My Human Gets Me Blues” are the direct predecessors of modern musical primitives such as Tom Waits and PJ Harvey.

57. Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones

“When we had been in the States between 1964 and ’66, I had gathered together this enormous collection of records, but I never had any time to listen to them,” Keith Richards recalled. “In late 1966 and ’67 I unwrapped them and actually played them.” After the failed psychedelia of Their Satanic Majesties Request, and with guitarist Brian Jones largely AWOL, Richards’ record collection led the Rolling Stones back to their version of America: country music on “Dear Doctor,” the blues on “Prodigal Son” and urban riots on “Street Fighting Man.” And “Sympathy for the Devil,” of course, is an anthem for the darkness in every human heart.

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56. Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder

Making this record, Wonder would often stay in the studio forty-eight hours straight, not eating or sleeping, while everyone around him struggled to keep up. “If my flow is goin’, I keep on until I peak,” he said. The flow went so well, Wonder released twenty-one songs, packaged as a double album and a bonus EP. The highlights are the joyful “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Sir Duke,” but Wonder also displays his effortless mastery of funk, jazz, balladry, Afrobeat and even a string-quartet minuet. Nineteen years later, Coolio turned the haunting groove of the quiet “Pastime Paradise” into the Number One single “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

55. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley

In November 1955, RCA Records bought Presley’s contract, singles and unreleased master tapes from Sun Records for $35,000. His first full-length album came out six months later, with tracks drawn from both the Sun sessions and from further recording at RCA’s studios in New York and Nashville. “There wasn’t any pressure,” guitarist Scotty Moore said of the first RCA sessions. “They were just bigger studios with different equipment. We basically just went in and did the same thing we always did.” On tracks such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” that meant revved-up country music with the most irresistibly sexy voice anyone had ever heard.

54. Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

“I’m getting myself personally together in the way of music,” Hendrix said on the release of his third album. “Some tracks are getting very long. That’s why you can only get about twenty tracks ”” our type of tracks, anyway ”” onto two records.” The longest track here, “Voodoo Chile,” lasts for more than fifteen minutes; with the interplay between Steve Winwood on organ and Hendrix on guitar, it’s also one of the best. Ladyland showcases Hendrix’s further explorations of the guitar, but two of the finest tracks are the most direct: the explosive “Crosstown Traffic” and the definitive version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

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53. The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic R&B – Ray Charles

Soul music, you may have heard, is a blend of the holy and the dirty: gospel and blues rubbing up against each other. What you may not have heard is that Charles was just about the first person to perfect that mix. Charles was knocking around Seattle when Atlantic bought out his contract in 1952. For the next eight years, he turned out brilliant singles such as “What’d I Say” and “I Got a Woman.” He was inventing the sound of ecstasy, three minutes at a time. Charles told Rolling Stone in 1973, “Anything I do, good or bad, it’s very, very natural.”

52. Greatest Hits – Al Green

The honey-voiced Green made some of the most visionary soul music of the Seventies at Hi studios. “In Memphis you just do as you feel,” he told Rolling Stone in 1972. “It’s not a modern, up-to-par, very glamorous, big-red-chairs-and-carpet-that-thick studio. It’s one of those places you can go into and stomp out a good soul jam.” This collection, with hits such as “Let’s Stay Together” and “Tired of Being Alone,” sums up an amazing six-album run in the early Seventies. That period ended in 1974 when a spurned woman threw a pot of hot grits on Green and then shot herself; soon after, Green bought a church in Memphis and became a minister.

51. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

On their fifth and final studio album, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were pulling away from each other: Simon assembled some of it while Garfunkel was in Mexico acting in the film Catch-22. Garfunkel vetoed Simon’s song “Cuba Si, Nixon No,” and Simon nixed Garfunkel’s idea for a Bach chorale. What remains is the partnership at its best: wry, wounded songs such as “The Boxer” with healing harmonies, though the gorgeous title track was sung by Garfunkel alone, despite his resistance. “He felt I should have done it,” Simon told Rolling Stone in 1972. “And many times I’m sorry I didn’t do it.” The show goes on forever.

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