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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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40. Forever Changes – Love

“When I did that album,” singer Arthur Lee said, “I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words.” Lee is still alive ”” and currently playing this entire record live, with strings and horns. It’s about time: Love’s third record is his crowning achievement. A biracial cult band from L.A. that rarely gigged out of town in its 1960s heyday, Love were Lee’s vehicle for a pioneering folk-rock ”” paranoid, punky, like the Byrds morphing into the Doors ”” turned into elegant armageddon with the symphonic sweep and mariachi-brass drama of “Alone Again Or,” “Andmoreagain” and “You Set the Scene.” And Lee ”” recently released from prison ”” now brings extra pathos to “The Red Telephone” onstage when he sings “Served my time, served it well.”

39. Please Please Me – The Beatles

The Beatles recorded ten of the fourteen songs on their British debut album at EMI’s Abbey Road studio in just over twelve hours (10 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.) on February 11th, 1963. For productivity alone, it is one of the greatest first albums in rock. But even at this early stage, the Beatles had invented a bracing new sound for a rock band ”” an assault of thrumming energy and impeccable vocal harmonies ”” and they nailed it here, just by running through the covers and originals in their live repertoire: the Shirelles’ “Boys” and Arthur Alexander’s “Anna”; the Lennon-McCartney burners “There’s a Place” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” John Lennon appropriately finished the sessions by shredding what was left of his vocal cords on two takes of “Twist and Shout.”

38. The Anthology – Muddy Waters

Waters started out playing acoustic guitar in Mississippi, but when he moved to Chicago in 1943, he needed an electric instrument to be heard over the tumult of South Side clubs. The sound he developed was the foundation of Chicago blues, and rock & roll. The thick, bleeding tones of his slide work anticipated rock-guitar distortion by nearly two decades. Jimi Hendrix adapted Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone” for “Voodoo Chile,” Bob Dylan found inspiration in it for “Like a Rolling Stone,” and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took their band’s name from it. The fifty essential cuts on these two CDs run from guitar-and-standup-bass duets to full-band romps ”” and they still just manage to scratch the surface of Waters’ legacy.

37. Hotel California – The Eagles

In pursuit of note-perfect Hollywood-cowboy ennui, the Eagles spent eight months in the studio making Hotel California, polishing the vocals and guitars in take after take after take. As Don Henley recalled, “We just locked ourselves in. We had a refrigerator, a pingpong table, roller skates and a couple of cots. We would go in and stay for two or three days at a time.” With guitarist Joe Walsh replacing Bernie Leadon, the band backed off from straight country-rock (glorious exception: “New Kid in Town”) in favor of the harder sound of “Life in the Fast Lane.” The highlight is the title track, a monument to the rock-aristocrat decadence of the day and a feast of triple-guitar interplay. “Every band has their peak,” Henley said. “That was ours.”

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36. Tapestry – Carole King

For a decade, King wrote pop songs with her then-husband, Gerry Goffin: hits such as Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” (Eva Boyd was the couple’s baby sitter) and the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Then King’s friend James Taylor encouraged her to sing her own tunes. “We would record my songs, and then we would go to another studio where James was recording his album,” King said of making Tapestry. She slowed down “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (originally a hit for the Shirelles in 1961), heightening the melancholy inside, while her warm, earnest singing brought out the sadness in “It’s Too Late” and the earthy joy on “I Feel the Earth Move.” On Tapestry, King remade herself as an artist and created the reigning model for the 1970s female singer-songwriter.

35. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardst and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie

This album documents one of the most elaborate self-mythologizing schemes in rock, as Bowie created the glittery, messianic alter ego Ziggy Stardust (“well-hung and snow-white tan”). The bouncy glam-rock Bowie made with guitarist Mick Ronson is an irresistible blend of sexy, campy pop and blues rock, with enduring tracks such as “Hang On to Yourself” and “Suffragette City.” The anthem “Ziggy Stardust” was one of rock’s earliest, and best, power ballads. “I consider myself responsible for a whole new school of pretensions,” Bowie said. “They know who they are. Don’t you, Elton? Just kidding. No, I’m not.”

34. Music From Big Pink – The Band

“Big Pink” was a garishly pink house in Woodstock, New York, where the Band ”” Dylan’s ’65-66 backup band on tour ”” moved to be near Dylan after his motorcycle accident. While he recuperated, the Band backed him on the demos later known as The Basement Tapes [see No. 291] and made its own debut. Dylan offered to play on the album; the Band said no thanks. “We didn’t want to just ride his shirttail all the time,” drummer Levon Helm said. Dylan contributed “I Shall Be Released” and co-wrote two other tunes. But it was the rustic beauty of the Band’s music and the incisive drama of its own reflections on family and obligations, such as “The Weight,” that made Big Pink an instant homespun classic.

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33. Ramones – Ramones

“Our early songs came out of our real feelings of alienation, isolation, frustration ”” the feelings everybody feels between seventeen and seventy-five,” said singer Joey Ramone. Clocking in at just under twenty-nine minutes, Ramones is an intense blast of guitar power, rhythmic simplicity and ferocious brevity, a complete rejection of the spangled artifice and hollow, artsy pretensions of 1970s rock. The songs were fast and anti-social, just like the band: “Beat on the Brat,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” Guitarist Johnny Ramone refused to play solos ”” his jackhammer chords became the lingua franca of punk ”” and the whole record cost just over $600 to make. But Joey’s leather-tender plea “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” showed that even punks need love.

32. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones

The record kicks off with the terrifying “Gimme Shelter,” the song that came to symbolize not only the catastrophe of the Stones’ free show at Altamont but the death of the utopian spirit of the 1960s. But the entire album, although a motley compound of country, blues and gospel fire, rattles and burns with apocalyptic cohesion: the sex-mad desperation of “Live With Me”; the murderous blues of “Midnight Rambler”; Keith Richards’ lethal, biting guitar on “Monkey Man”; the epic moralism, with honky-tonk piano and massed vocal chorus, of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which Mick Jagger wrote on acoustic guitar in his bedroom. “Somebody said that we could get the London Bach Choir,” Jagger recalled, “and we said, ‘That will be a laugh.'”

31. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan

It’s very complicated to play with electricity,” Dylan said in the summer of 1965. “You’re dealing with other people. . . . Most people who don’t like rock & roll can’t relate to other people.” But on Side One of this pioneering album, Dylan amplifies his cryptic, confrontational songwriting with guitar lightning and galloping drums. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Maggie’s Farm” are loud, caustic and funny as hell. Dylan returns to solo acoustic guitar on the four superb songs on Side Two, including the scabrous “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and the closing ballad, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” arguably his finest, most affectionate song of dismissal.

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