The Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer
The fact that their album before this (both chronologically, according to their American discography, and as it appears on this countdown) are so close together goes to show just how golden this period was for them. This is some time after Clapton had moved on and Jeff Beck stepped in as their guitar player. Immediately he becomes the star of the show. You hear it in “Jeff’s Boogie” as well as the solo in “Rack My Mind”. This album feels like something we would’ve played at Cold Stone for ambiance.
Highlights: Over Under Sideways Down, The Nazz Are Blue, Rack My Mind
- Jay-Z – The Black Album
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love it when I come across albums on this list that I’ve heard of/listened to/loved before the list. The Black Album fits in this category. When this album dropped, the singles were larger than life. Aside from being a solid album of its own, this was Jay’s retirement album. It’s the air sets the atmosphere (“If you can’t respect that your whole perspective is whack, maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black”, “I’m supposed to be number one on everyone’s list, we’ll see what happens when I no longer exist”). This is a legend bowing out. It’s Kobe dropping 60 points in his last game. Why did Jay-Z retire, again? Well, it seems a mixture of him being at the height of his career and underappreciated for what he does. Of course, he wouldn’t stay away, but I personally am glad he didn’t. When this album isn’t not smooth, it’s gritty (“Threat”, “A Moment of Clarity”).
Highlights: December 4th, Encore, Change Clothes, Dirt Off Your Shoulders,
- Muddy Waters – At Newport
Oh man, he had me “Got My Brand on You”. While I do recall my Godfather listening to “Hoochie Coochie Man” on our drives to school, I think my grandfather showed me Muddy Waters. You know what this album reminds me of? That part in That Thing You Do where Guy Patterson is in the nightclub, drunk, and absolutely in awe of seeing his hero Del Paxton perform. Muddy Waters is just that good. My man was killing the show so much, he sang the same song twice.
Highlights: Got My Brand on You, I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Tiger in Your Tank.
- Pink Floyd – The Piper At the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd’s first album. Every bit as theatrical as you can imagine from these guys. Both psychedelic and, harmonic. You can hear who they would eventually become in “Interstellar Overdrive.” The real trip comes from listening to headphones and having the audio shift from one ear to the other, fading in and fading out. But this album showed me where bands like Between the Buried and Me got their tricks from.
Highlights: Astronomy Domine, Matilda Mother, The Gnome
- De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising
Does it get it get anymore iconic than this in terms of ‘80s hip-hop trios than this? Just bars upon bars and luscious samples upon luscious beats. And yet for all its good natured rhymes, they still have a way of conveying the struggle of life in the ghetto and the plight of people in the hood.
Highlights: Magic Number, Ghetto Thang, Say No Go, Me Myself and I
- Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
We might have done it, people. We might’ve finally found a Talking heads project I like. After my experience with the last Talking Heads record (and ‘80s new wave in general), I came into this album skeptical. I was prepared not to like it. Two songs in, I couldn’t help but think it was actually really amazing. I kept waiting for there to be a song that I didn’t like or a moment where I got sick of it, but it never came. These guys put one heck of a show. Their energy and quirkiness isn’t something just fabricated on record. It’s amplified here. Between the funk that is “Slippery People” and the line “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”, I will definitely have to revisit this project.
Highlights: Heaven, Slippery People, What A Day That Was, This Must Be the Place
- Lou Reed – Berlin
Stripped down and melancholy. There are drugs, abuse, prostitution all over the place. Lou Reed doesn’t even sing as much as it seems he’s talking to you. Even with the tragedy all over the place, there’s beauty in it. Take the opening track for example. Even horns couldn’t make this album sound any more optimistic.
Highlights: Berlin, Oh Jim, Caroline Says II, The Kids, Sad Song
- Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell
As silly as the name is, you can’t rip the musical talent. The man practically gave us a rock opera. “Bat Out of Hell” is a ten-minute epic that almost sounds like Bruce Springteen’s “Thunder Road”. I wouldn’t be surprised if this artist, album was a major influence for Tenacious D. There are horns, amazing guitar solos. It’s another one of those albums that just command your attention from start to finish.
Highlights: Bat Out of Hell, All Revved Up With No Place to Go, For Crying Out Loud
- Depeche Mode – Violator
I think I might’ve tried listening to this album once but didn’t make it that far. Of course, “Personal Jesus” is famous, but aside from that I don’t know how much else I’ve listened to these guys. Even though it’s more ‘80s pop, new-wave, I found that I didn’t mind it as much. In fact, “Policy of Truth” was surprisingly good. There’s something seductive in the music and the vocals.
Highlights: World in My Eyes, Personal Jesus, Halo, Enjoy The Silence, Policy of Truth
- Moby – Play
Before this, my familiarity level with Moby was practically nonexistent. All I knew was what Eminem said about Moby: “nobody listens to techno.” Yet, apparently, that’s not true as it’s here. “Honey” shows us why, it’s a crazy remix of a song. In some ways, you almost want to call it trip-hop but it’s not quite. There’s the sound of it being DJ’ed but there’s no rapping and oddly enough, it’s more enjoyable for that reason. Once again, I surprisingly liked this one.
Highlights: Honey, Porcelain, South Side, Weakness