Decade By Decade: The Essentials

I've grown a bit dissatisfied with my ongoing Top 100 List. Sure, I enjoy all of the albums I listed, but there are plenty I could live without on a desert island - I probably shouldn't have included Badfinger, and that Rod Stewart album doesn't entirely live up to its reputation to my ears. However, I'm going to keep it exactly as it is, because it is an ongoing list that now has more text of additions beneath it than the list itself. The Top 100 List should be viewed as a kind of personal diary of my ongoing musical discoveries, and I expect the highlight of it to not be the original list but the timely additions beneath it. So, I decided to draw up yet another list, which I hope will be a bit more permanent as a reflection of my tastes. To narrow choices down, I've decided to center my decisions around the four decades of rock in which albums have grown to prominence (the 1950s don't count because that was a singles, not album era, and more to the point, I honestly don't have a substantial collection of '50s rock other than a few compilations of people like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry).

There is another major difference between these lists and my Top 100: these choices aren't entirely based on my personal tastes. I have also taken into consideration historical importance and the musical/cultural impact of the albums in question. I would say that a good 90% of my choices are personal favorites, but I have at least considered context a bit more. Mind you, that's still only 10% - I am not suggesting that these selections are the most representative or influential in rock; these are simply what I believe to be the finest, IMHO.

And oh, yes: no act gets repeated twice (which includes solo efforts by people whose bands are already on the list - that means John Lennon isn't eligible for the '70s, for example).


The 1960s

I used to suck up all the boomer propraganda about how the '60s were rock's golden age. Maybe in terms of sheer innovation and influence, but then that only makes sense because the decade that arrives first is naturally going to be more influential on the next three decades than the '70s-'90s are on the '60s. Nobody in the '90s is as influential as any number of '60s acts because we haven't even left the '90s yet, in other words. I was actually shocked at how few genuinely great albums released in the '60s. If you eliminate the Beatles, Dylan, the Kinks, and the Stones, who all released more than their fair share of great LPs, then you don't have much left. The '60s are deified because of the giants, but aside from the major acts, most bands couldn't get it together to release coherent and consistently enjoyable albums. In other words, for major acts of demi-godlike proportions, the '60s are the decade for you; for loads of great albums by more minor acts that might not have had more than one or three great LPs in them, proceed directly to the New Wave era.

1. Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (1965) - Dylan's first fully electric set, it brought beatnik poetry to rock, which brought the college kids to rock, and neither rock nor the campus have ever been the same.

2. The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (1966) - Artistic ambition in aural soundscaping is now an option. You don't have to play the same three chords when you can compose a symphony.

3. The Beatles: Revolver (1966) - Of course I have to include an album by the Fabs. Can I say anything someone else hasn't already said? No. Just go listen to it.

4. Love: Forever Changes (1967) - The best West Coast hippy album of the era, and it's not like they didn't have a lot of competition.

5. The Zombies: Odysey and Oracle (1968) - If they hadn't have broken up after only two albums, would they be as revered today as peers such as the Who? On the evidence here, possibly more. The greatest British Invasion band you don't realize you have seriously underrated for too many years - until you hear this.

6. The Kinks: The Village Green Preservation Society (1968) - My favorite band of all time, because Ray Davies is the greatest songwriter of the rock era, IMHO. An antidote to counterculture excesses, this is quiet, modest, charming, and rather conservative, like the small town you grew up in (if not, too bad for you).

7. The Rolling Stones: Beggars' Banquet (1968) - Nasty, sleazy, insincere, musically borderline incompetent half the time (admit it, folks), not terribly original compared to their peers because they're lazily content to just rework standard blues and country tropes, this is the world's most overrated band. However, that's not to say they aren't a great rock'n'roll band, and committing to memory a few dozen of their greatest songs is a requirement to understand this music called rock at all. Every album I've heard by them is inconsistent in terms of song quality, but not including something by the world's 10th or 12th greatest band of all time would be criminal.

8. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willie and the Poorboys (1969) - You keep your Byrds, Beach Boys, Velvet Undergrounds, and Doors to yourself. I like all of those bands (with serious reservations about the Velvets), but none of them are CCR, the greatest American band of the '60s. John Fogerty is the greatest populist songwriter since Guthrie's bootheels wandered out of the dustbowl, and maybe better.

9. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (1969) - Love them or hate them - and I do both - this album closed the '60s for good, and for better or for (much) worse, ushers in the '70s.

10. Various Artists: Nuggets (compiled 1972) - Contrary to what I said earlier, there were a lot of great non-major acts in the '60s - it's just that most of them didn't make albums, only singles. Garage rock, they call it, but that's way too limiting of a term for the mind-boggling array of styles found here. What it really sounds like is an oldies station that plays all hits you've never heard, but are as great as anything by Motown and the British Invasion. Seriously, "I Had To Much To Dream Tonight", "Talk Talk", "Don't Look Back," "You're Going To Miss Me", "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White", and many, far too many more are flat-out amazing slabs of teenage summertime blues, and more than hold their own against anything by the Stones, Who, Dylan, maybe even the Beatles.

On that note, I realize that I have not included a single classic soul album from the '60s. This is just plain wrong of me. Motown's overrated but still great, and along with the immortal Stax/Volt produced some of the most timeless music of the era. The problem is that R&B is a primarily singles medium - there wasn't a "concept" album until Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On. Also, my collection is a bit lacking in this area - all I have are extensive compilations, mainly of the double album Motown Anthology variety. To make amends, here's a Top 10 of R&B singles.

Otis Redding, "(Sittin' On the) Dock of the Bay"

Sam Cooke, "A Change is Gonna Come"

Aretha Franklin, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"

Sam & Dave, "Soul Man"

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage"

The Supremes, "Where Did Our Love Go?"

Wilson Pickett, "In the Midnight Hour"

Ben E. King, "Stand By Me"

Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Woman"

Clarence Carter, "Slip Away"


The 1970s

My feelings towards the '70s are the reverse of my feelings towards the '60s. I started out with an anti-'70s bias, due to the fact that the most popular musical acts of the time were revoltingly awful. Let's face it, collectively the '70s witnessed the biggest crimes against good taste the ignorant masses have ever perpetrated. Look, when Kiss is the biggest band in the world and Elton John and Barry Manilow are the songwriters of your generation, your generation is in serious trouble. The popular songs of the day are easily the worst of any decade in pop music - compared to the Carpenters and ABBA and any number of the smarmy make-out tunes they play endlessly on soft rock stations (sit through "Sometimes When We Touch" or "I'll Really Like To See You Tonight" without losing your faith in humanity), the '60s Monkees and '80s Duran Duran and '90s Alanis Morrisette are positively soulful. The hit songs of the 1970s are proof that consumers will consume anything you shove at them, even if it's Foghat.

However, there's another side. I was shocked to discover that the '70s produced more great albums than any other decade. How do I reconcile this? Simple: the 1970s was the decade in which great rock'n'roll began to be shoved to the margins, which means that an alarmingly high number of great bands from 1971 or so onward have been ignored by the public. Ask Big Star. By the end of the '70s, things had gotten so bad that the punk/new wave movement completely rewrote the rules: you didn't have to achieve commercial success to be the greatest band in the world, there was now an underground network to support the real rock'n'roll that was still being made by fresh voices. I'd hazard that 90% of the great rock made since 1977 has been made somewhere on the margins, with the mainstream gone kaput.

The sheer volume of great records produced in the '70s leaves me with a dilemma: I couldn't cut this list down to only 10. So I decided to draw up two separate lists. One list is of non-New Wave Albums. The other is of New Wave albums. If you don't know, New Wave and Post-Punk saved rock'n'roll in the late '70s (I'm not going to use the term Punk because to some people that implies mindless three-chord thrash, which is true of some of the '77-era bands, but not all, or maybe even most, of them).

Not New Wave

1. Neil Young: After the Goldrush (1970) - He's notoriously erratic, littering even his best albums with throwaways, but his sloppiness can be endearing when the material's there, and this is probably his most consistent set. Nearly all the songs are good, and he's never crafted better melodies.

2. The Who: Who's Next (1971) - The beginnings of arena rock: loud, bombastic, posturing, ocassionally overbearing, and a force of nature when it's cranked.

3. David Bowie: Hunky Dory (1971) - The first wholly successful album by the creature who in retrospect seems to be the most influential individual of the '70s - and I'm still not sure whether for better or worse.

4. Mott the Hoople: Mott (1973) - Their only consistently great album, it's also the greatest album the first half of the '70s produced. Hard rock that takes Highway 61 - a critics' wet dream.

5. Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1973) - The word genius gets bandied about way too casually, when it should be reserved for musicians of Wonder's stature.

6. Al Green: Call Me (1973) - No wonder Green's so religious: if God gave me a voice this heavenly, I'd get down on my knees and praise the Lord every waking hour, too. The classic sex vs. piety conundrum that makes soul music so interesting reaches a pinnacle.

7. Steely Dan: Countdown To Ecstasy (1973) - The title sums up the decade's decadence all too perfectly. Overly cynical collegiate smartasses who reveal a surprising amount of warmth and compassion when you catch them off guard - I can relate.

8. Big Star: Radio City (1974) - Ignored in their lifetime, revered today by every band with the least knowledge of music. The greatest album the Beatles never made - it's that good.

9. Roxy Music: Siren (1975) - The best band of the '70s? Certainly the most influential band to release its debut in the '70s - you want the future, then this jets rock into the modernist era. With a martini glance back to the '40s.

10. Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run (1975) - I have a confession to make: I hate Lynyrd Skynyrd not because of their music (some of which is good), but because of the dumbass rednecks I knew in highschool who worshipped them. For the same reason, I suspect similar reasons are why a lot of intelligent folk from the Northeast hate Springsteen. Bruce is the spokesman for the rednecks of that area of the country. I don't know how I'd feel about him if I grew up in New Jersey, but I've got enough cultural distance to listen to him as the great rock'n'roller he is. A lot of Northern critics drool over the Allman Brothers and Skynyrd; maybe someday I'll gain enough perspective to listen to those bands as music, not redneck mating calls.

New Wave/Punk/Post-Punk

1. The New York Dolls: The New York Dolls (1973) - The reason most punk sucks today is that 90% of modern punk bands sound like either the Buzzcocks (if they're poppy) or Minor Threat (if they're not). You hardly see any punk bands that sound like the Dolls today, which is too bad. One of the biggest Stones ripoffs of all time, somehow they made a record that contains more genuine excitement and great songs than any Stones LP. It's the sleaziest, sexiest, funniest and just plain fun record to ever call itself "punk".

2. Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power (1973) - Deranged, crazed, sometimes incomprehensible, Iggy Stooge unleashes some of the most genuinely terrifying music ever put to record. Not only does it make the Sex Pistols sound pop, it makes everyone else who's tried to replicate the effects sound sane, and too tame.

3. The Ramones: The Ramones (1976) - Maybe I ought to take that back about Roxy Music. This is the most influential record of the '70s - rock stripped back to the basics, the Beach Boys retooled for surfin' the subway.

4. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (1977) - Buddy Holly reincarnated as a very angry young nerd. I'm glad the former Declan MacManus didn't have to program computers for a living after this record came out, and not just because he's one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. It's also because he sounds like the type of pent-up nut who eventually can't take it anymore and goes postal.

5. Television: Marquee Moon (1977) - If only all "punk" rock were this original and interesting; perhaps the best album to come out of the entire CBGB's scene, which is saying a lot. It's also one of the few guitar solo albums that doesn't sound at all self-indulgent and wanky to me - Tom Verlain and Richard Lloyd's interweaving, snaky lines are too graceful, enrapturing, and transcendent. The sound of glistening skyscrapers arched against the Manhattan skyline, cold yet beautiful at night.

P.S. Very tough choice between Television and Wire's Pink Flag as the greatest post-punk album recorded before post-punk existed.

6. The Jam: All Mod Cons (1978) - The greatest British Invasion band since the Beatles broke up and the Who and Kinks stopped writing great songs, somehow they never cracked America, despite becoming the biggest band in England since the Beatles broke up. Almost makes me apply for British citizenship.

7. Blondie: Parallel Lines (1978) - Disco, punk, power-pop, avant-garde spaciness, Buddy Holly cover, what's the diff? The diff is the greatest album of potential Top 40 smashes - I mean every single note could have put a smile on Casey Kasem - ever constructed.

8. Graham Parker: Squeezing Out Sparks (1979) - Angry pushing-30 man squeezes out more hooks and energy than pushing-20 punks. The fieriest mainstream rock album they never play on classic rock radio.

9. The Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady (1979) - Okay, this is cheating a little, since this is a collection of singles, not an album per se. However, in Britain a lot of bands have this practice of not putting their best work on albums and releasing lots of non-album singles instead, so this goes in. Raging punk and charming, tuneful pop are not contradictions - in fact, they go very well together.

10. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (1979) - The problem with desert island disc lists is that while this is one of my favorite albums of all time, if I really were stranded on a desert island this is the last thing I'd want around. It might push me over the edge. Not the cheeriest album in the world, nevertheless it completely hypnotizes.


The 1980s

The '80s produced a lot bad music, but it wasn't all one-hit MTV wonders as some might believe. Nope, in the '80s the mainstream went kaput, but the underground was never stronger. The entire reason the term "alternative" was cooked up this decade was because nearly all the good stuff got shoved to the margins by asinine radio programmers and even more asinine record executives. A lot of great bands were lost in the flood, but a few poked out. Here's an illustration of just how narrow and conservative radio was back in the '80s: several of the world's biggest bands now weren't given any airplay in the '80s - R.E.M. and Metallica were darlings of the underground. I understand very well why people hate the '80s - hair metal and oversynthed bubble bounce. But there was much more to the decade than that.

1. The Clash: London Calling (1980) - For a few years, they really were the only band that mattered. Perhaps the greatest album of all time, and most certainly the greatest double LP ever.

2. The Pretenders: The Pretenders (1980) - When mainstream classic rock meets punk and power pop, this what you get. And believe me, it doesn't get any better than this.

3. X: Wild Gift (1981) - The rock'n'roll couple of the decade shop at thrift stores, pass out on the couch, read bible tracts, get drunk and make both the greatest punk and relationship album of the '80s.

4. R.E.M.: Murmur (1983) - Jingle jangle, can you hear my jingle jangle bootheels wanderin'? College rock as we know it begins here.

5. The Replacements: Let It Be (1984) - The greatest band of the decade and my favorite band of all time (it's very hard for me to decide between these drunks and the Kinks). Real rock and roll in the Chuck Berry tradition in all its sloppy, sodden, trashy, lyrical, and heart-rending glory.

6. Prince: Purple Rain (1984) - The most talented musician of his generation at his peak. Made him a superstar and directly instigated the PMRC.

7. Husker Du: New Day Rising (1985) - The loudest, most intense band of their era and very possibly any era craft songs of hummably sturdy melody and hookcraft, even slightly pastoral (!) in parts ("Celebrated Summer").

8. U2: The Joshua Tree (1987) - Ireland's greatest export since Gilbert O'Sullivan (nay, jest yankin' yer shamrock there). You probably already know this by heart if you grew up in the '80s - it was a requirement by federal law.

9. Guns'n'Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987) - Another one most '80s adolescents know by heart, even if they're slightly embarrassed about it now. Don't be - this is way un-PC and even makes me feel guilty for singing along at times, but who said rock'n'roll was supposed to be good for you? A hard rock landmark, and the only great album from the entire hair metal scene.

10. Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (1988) - Noise, strung out noise with bizarre tunings. I realize the VU invented this, but I like the Sonics loads better. Some boring parts drag, but if you haven't heard the amazing stuff like the trilogy at the end, you won't understand much of the music that has come out in the last 10 years.


The 1990s

The '90s keep getting better in retrospect. I used to believe that virtually no great music was created in this decade, but I was wrong. I just needed some distance. You see, music has to live with you for a while before you truly realize how good or ill it is, and you also have to wait around a few years before you can gauge how influential a band or LP might be. This is certainly going to be the least permanent of my lists; in a few years it might completely change, given a bit more chronological perspective. I still believe that most bands in the '90s are overly derivative, and I eagerly await the next great British Invasion or New Wave or Indie Rock flowering, all of which made the past three decades each great in separate ways. Nothing of that sort has happened yet in the '90s, but oh well. We're just going through a lull. Things will perk up sometime in the near future - they have to.

1. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet (1990) - Hands down, the greatest hip-hop group ever. They make every other rap group seem like the lazy samplers and ignorant poseurs most of them are. Even if you disagree with some of their loony politics (Louis Farrakhan is the black man's David Duke, a dangerous lunatic racist, and their militia posturings are even scarier post-Oklahoma City bombing), you have to respect the dense intelligence that fuels this record.

2. Nirvana: Nevermind (1991) - The St. George that slew the vile dragon of hair metal and cheesy synth-pop. Too bad it opened the floodgates for Bush and Silverchair and a hundred other worthless imitations.

3. The Pixies: Trompe Le Monde (1991) - Designer-style hard rock, Wire as surf-obsessed American culture junkies, multi-culturalism is an inevitability now that we've got Hispanic space aliens, the best band to operate under the Bush administration.

4. Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted (1992) - Radio static never sounded so musical. Slacker rock at its archest, and finest.

5. Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (1993) - This one's to blame for all those suburban girls complaining about their boyfriends on the airwaves. A great single album unfortunately expanded to a double, supposedly it's a song for song reply to Exile On Main Street, but I have a hard time hearing it (exception: "Flower" is blatantly "I Just Want To See His Face").

6. Blur: Modern Life is Rubbish (1993) - This one's to blame for Brit-Pop. It won't make me throw out my Kinks albums, but at least the English are producing good records again.

7. Sloan: Twice Removed (1994) - The critics are right: this is the greatest Canadian album of all time. Sorry, Neil. Best reason: how many bands boast four good songwriters?

8. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Her first album is more promising than fully realized. After all, she's only 21 (and I'm not going to excuse her offensive disses of Koreans. Considering their own history of racist opression, I find it disturbing and ironic that most of the open racism in American today stems from the black community. Listen to any random rap album and you'll find slurs against Jews, Hispanics, Koreans, in addition to WASPs who it's okay to hate because we all know they're not cool). This album is nothing more than the future of rap music, and the future of rap is this: going back to real musicians playing real instruments and writing real songs. Hip-hop might be the most popular music in America today (or so it's claimed; actually, if you look at the demographics, country music is what most contemporary Americans are listening to), but it by no means deserves to be: it hasn't evolved in any significant way in nearly a decade. Rappers are far too dependent on sampling, and by now it's clear that because their music relies almost entirely on borrowing from the past, rap has hit a dead end. Whenever a trend reaches such widespread popularity, one can be sure that in short time a backlash will occur, and in a few years rap will follow the path of disco and hair-metal: extinction. Lauryn Hill is no Stevie Wonder - at least not yet, we'll wait and see - but at least she's broken out of the stultifying conventions that make most rap sound all the same in such boring and predictable ways. She gives me hope that, once rap is dead and buried (for which I will not mourn), real soul music might make a comeback.

9. Guided By Voices: Bee Thousand (1994) - The best review of GBV I read said that no band has released more good songs in so little time, but that no other band has released more songs, period, in so little time. Every GBV album is wildly inconsistent, cramming at least 20 tiny tunes (some little more than riffs) that take a dozen listens to even figure out what's good and what's bad. Only hardcore fans can tell their numerous releases apart (they probably released three more last week), but this one's the CD that first got them attention, so I might as well pick it.

10. Pulp: Different Class (1995) - Jarvis Cocker is the best lyricist working right now, and the sharpest observer of the English class system since Ray Davies. If he possessed more melodic and musical ingenuity, he'd run for the best songwriter in the world. As is, the lyrics are enough to enthrall despite ocassionally uninspired musical backing, just like with Bob Dylan. The pinnacle of Brit-Pop.

P.S. - Or maybe this album was a fluke; everything else I've heard by Pulp, including their amazingly limp and weak followup This Is Hardcore is utterly dull and uninvolving. Still, great flukes are a grand rock tradition, and if Pulp are a one album wonder, then so be it.

Critics Agree!

10 each from the '60s, '80s, and '90s, and 20 from the '70s - adds up to a Top 50, doesn't it? Let's see how my selections compare to some other critics'.

Mark Fagel's 50 Greatest Rock & Roll Albums of All Time


1. The Clash: London Calling (#1)

2. R.E.M.: Murmur (#2)

3. Big Star: Radio City (#4)

4. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (#5)

5. Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted (#6)

6. The Kinks: Village Green Preservation Society (#21)

7. The Jam: All Mod Cons (#32)

8. Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (#37)

9. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (#47)

10. Wire: Pink Flag (#52) - Okay, so he snuck in an almost-ran

In actuality, my ratio of agreement with Fagel is much higher, but like me he limited himself to only one album per artist. Which means that he picked Ziggy Stardust instead of Hunky Dory, Quadrophenia instead of Who's Next, etc.

Wilson and Alroy Five-Star Records & Top 20 Lists

Like me, Wilson and Alroy have more than one list of their favorite records. To avoid confusion, I simply rolled them all into one by combing both their five-star picks and their individual Top 20 pages.

1.Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited

2.The Who: Who's Next

3.Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation

4.The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds

5.The Kinks: Village Green Preservation Society

6.Stevie Wonder: Innervisions

7.The Zombies: Odysey and Oracle

Hmmm. I expected the ratio to be higher. Note that except for Sonic Youth, all of these are '60s albums or made in the early '70s by acts that began in the '60s. If these guys kept more current, I'm certain I'd see a lot more agreement in my post-punk choices.

Robert Christgau's 200 Essential Albums

Christgau's the critic everyone of us rips off from, as he invented the brief capsule form of critique with assigned grades (ranging from A+ to E-) for rock albums back in the late '60s. This list comes from his two books covering the '70s and '80s, so it's not as up to date as the web site reviewers' lists.

1.Big Star: Radio City

2.Blondie: Parallel Lines

3.The Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady

4.The Clash: London Calling

5.Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willie & the Poorboys

6.Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited

7.Al Green: Call Me

8.Love: Forever Changes

9.The New York Dolls

10.The Ramones

11.The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet

12.Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstacsy

13.Wire: Pink Flag

14.Stevie Wonder: Innervisions

15.Neil Young: After the Goldrush

The ratio of agreement's quite high, because Christgau had more room: he picked 200 albums and didn't limit himself to one per artist. For example, he listed nearly every album Dylan and the Stones released in the '60s, which means John Wesley Harding and Aftermath show up, also.

The A.P. Press' 90 Best Albums of the '90s

1.Nirvana: Nevermind (#1)

2.Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral (#2)

3.Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (#11)

4.Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted (#22)

5.Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet (#24)

6.Guided By Voices: Bee Thousand (#63)

As you can probably see, I agreed with their list more than I thought I would. However, I should point out that of all the lists I made, the '90s is the one that least reflects personal favorites and most reflects what I feel is the zeitgeist - I agree that the A.P. Press' choices #1 and #2 are the most influential CDs of the decade, in that order, but you won't catch me singing along to Trent Reznor's sociopathic narcissism.

Spin's 25 Greatest Albums of All Time

1.The Replacements: Let It Be (#12)

Yes, that's right: I agree with one of Spin's selections. These folks certainly have the worst taste of any major rock mag I've encountered. I don't know why, maybe they just need to get rid of a few writers with overly smarmy and campy contrarian attitudes. How George Micheal, Depeche Mode, Big Daddy Kane, and Echo & the Bunnymen can be in anyone's top 10,000 list is beyond me, let alone a Top 25. #4 is the Smiths' The Queen is Dead - and I like the Smiths! #1? I have nothing against the man, but picking James Brown's Sex Machine as the greatest album of all time is nothing but perverse.

Let's look at Spin's Top 100 "alternative" (stupid term) albums of all time:

1.The Ramones (#1)

2.Nirvana: Nevermind (#5)

3.Big Star: Radio City (#7)

4.R.E.M.: Murmur (#8)

5.Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (#9)

6.X: Wild Gift (#10)

7.Wire: Pink Flag (#12)

8.Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted (#16)

9.The Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady(#17)

10.Blondie: Parallel Lines (#20)

11.The Replacements: Let It Be (#31)

12.Roxy Music: Siren (#46)

13.Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (#57)

14.Husker Du: New Day Rising (#64)

15.New York DollsM (#70)

A pretty high correlation, don't you think? Maybe those folks at Spin aren't so bad after all.

Wrong. Their Top 100 List is severely devalued due to many tone-deaf entries, including but not limited to: Abba: The Singles; Madonna: The Immaculate Collection (#11!?!); The Germs: GI, among other dubious choices. The whole concept of alternative is pretty dumb, anyway; I don't see how it's any different from regular old rock, especially since most '90s alternative bands have completely lost touch with their supposed punk and new wave roots. If Neil Young's alternative because he uses loud feedback and takes risks, then why not the Who? Seems silly to me.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years (1967-1987)

1.Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run (#8)

2.The Clash: London Calling (#14)

3.The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet (#15)

4.The Who: Who's Next (#22)

5.Elvis Costello: My Aim is True (#29)

6.Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willie & the Poorboys (#36)

7.Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (#37)

8.Prince: Purple Rain (#39)

9.The Pretenders: The Pretenders (#42)

10.Graham Parker: Squeezing Out Sparks (#45)

11.The New York Dolls (#55)

12.R.E.M.: Murmur (#58)

13.The Ramones (#69)

14.Neil Young: After the Goldrush (#71)

15.Al Green: Call Me (#75)

16.Roxy Music: Siren (#84)

17.Iggy & the Stooges: Raw Power (#88)

18.V/A: Nuggets (#90)

As you can see, the ratio between my choices and those at Rolling Stone in 1987 is fairly high. Actually, I think I'll go out on a limb and say that this list (follow the link) is the definitive rock album list. I disagree with the overly high placing of every LP in the Top 10 except for #6 (Bowie's Ziggy Stardust) and #9 (The Beatles' White Album) - get over Sgt. Pepper, it wasn't that great - but other than that, a pretty definitive overview of the greats of classic rock. You could do worse than buying every single album on that list. Major problem, though: too much "classic rock" and not enough post-boomer, post-punk LPs (R.E.M. is a highly noticable exception - so how come they didn't include U2?). Oh well, we all know Rolling Stone hasn't been in touch since hippies started working on Wall Street.

Let's look at Rolling Stone's Top 100 for the '80s, then:

1.The Clash: London Calling (#1)

2.Prince: Purple Rain (#2)

3.U2: The Joshua Tree (#3)

4.R.E.M.: Murmur (#8)

5.The Replacements: Let It Be (#15)

6.The Pretenders (#20)

7.Guns'n'Roses: Appetite for Destruction (#27)

8.Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (#45)

Hey, look'er there: almost ever single of my Top Ten picks for the '80s wound up on Rolling Stone's list. And it's almost perfect, because they chose Husker Du's Zen Arcade (#33) and X's Los Angeles (#24) instead of my other picks by those bands. Major problem (you knew there'd be one): Rolling Stone's simply way too conservative. They picked a lot of boring and overrated, but well-known acts instead of weirder or just more obscure, but better bands. Don't ever, I tell you kids, ever purchase a Jane's Addiction album. Or a Culture Club LP, either (I am serious - #97!?!).

Philip Martin's 100 Greatest Rock Albums

Phil Martin writes for the major paper in Arkansas, the Democrat-Gazette. He was nice enough to e-mail an old list of his he published a while back.

1.The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds

2.The Beatles: Revolver

3.Big Star: Radio City

4.The Clash: London Calling

5.Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True

6.Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited

7.Nirvana: Nevermind

8.The Pretenders

9.Prince: Purple Rain

10.Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet

11.R.E.M.: Murmur

12.The Replacements: Let It Be

13.Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation

14.The Who:Who's Next

15.Neil Young: After the Goldrush

Well, it looks like we Arkies agree on a few matters of importance. The ratio is actually higher, since Martin chose several other albums by my pick bands - Avalon instead of Siren, Something Else instead of V.G.P.S., etc. Of course, Martin seems to like country music a lot more than I do, which means Johnny Cash showed up on his list, too - but heck, Johnny's got more of a rock'n'roll attitude than most so-called rockers, and he's a cotton-picker from Kingsland, AR to boot, so I'm not disagreeing. Just for you census-takers, the other Arkie who showed up on Martin's list (and mine, also) was a man who preaches in West Memphis these days, the one and only Al Green.

Okay, that's enough. If you've had the patience to get to the end of this page, then several patterns of consensus ought to have emerged by now. Rush out and pick up Who's Next, London Calling, Murmur, and Radio City today if you don't have'em. Seems everybody agrees with me on those. In fact, every album I picked wound up on somebody's list - except for several from the '90s, which is explicable by the fact that we are still in the '90s and the lists of the greats from this decade (and believe it or not, there are a few) haven't been canonized yet.

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