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100 Greatest American Albums of All Time

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From Blender, 2002

We Americans have the best music in the world.

That’s not just patriotism talking. Jazz, blues, rock & roll, soul, country and hip-hop — they all started in the U.S.A. From the backwoods Georgia soul of Otis Redding to the New York sophistication of the Velvet Underground to the California decadence of the Eagles, American music is as broad and diverse as the nation itself.

Blender pays tribute to these united states of musical grace by presenting the 100 Greatest American Albums of All Time. Feel free to salute.

By John Aizlewood, Johnny Black, Ben Brandt, Clark Collis, J.D. Considine, Paul Du Noyer, John Harris, Erik Himmelsbach, Rupert Howe, Peter Kane, Michael Leonard, Steve Lowe, Ben Mitchell, Alex Pappademas, David Peisner, John Perry, David Quantick, Kieran Scott, Phil Sutcliffe, Rob Tannenbaum, Frank Tope and Carlo Twist
People who added this item 290 Average listal rating (179 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 0
Is there anything better? Is there anything more American?
Yes, she’s a colossal star, one who has been both mall icon and cultural radical for almost two decades. But the real reason Madonna’s Immaculate Collection — a flawless hits package spanning the first 10 years of her career — tops this list is that it’s everything a great album ought to be: whip-smart, megasexy, covertly dangerous and heart-stoppingly, ass-shakingly, world-shapingly fun. Why The Immaculate Collection? It’s the pleasure, stupid.

Just as Bob Dylan’s insurgent braininess embodied the boundary-stretching ’60s, Madonna epitomized the ’80s, from the coy consumerism of “Material Girl” to the stylish hedonism of “Vogue.” She was a change-agent of Hollywood-blockbuster proportions, embodying womanhood’s power while simultaneously upending musty notions of femininity.

But she never lost her knack for the flirty and frivolous, either, and Immaculate gets at the heart of American desire as brazenly as any twentieth-century book or film. And, since this is above all expertly built, wonderfully sung music, the songcraft lets listeners ignore all of the above and just dance. Whether she’s extolling escapism (“Holiday”), wrestling with heartbreak (“Live to Tell”), personalizing big issues (“Papa Don’t Preach”) or just breathing heavily (“Justify My Love”), each listen shows that Madonna’s unerring musical instincts — let’s go ahead and call it genius — were as formidable as her more famous ambition.

Even its creator still plays it.

“Quite recently, as a matter of fact,” Madonna tells Blender.

The collection deftly traces her path from disco queen to pop singer to cultural lightning rod (the video for “Justify My Love,” rejected by MTV, landed her in the hot seat on ABC’s Nightline). But there’s no whiff of the time capsule here, no sense of neatly summing up a moment. “I never thought of the album as the end of anything,” she says.

Indeed, her career has lost little momentum in the 12 years since. Commercially and creatively, Madonna is still taking the competition to school. As a fellow blond pop star, No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, puts it: “She’s been able to keep everyone’s attention, to mature and grow older in front of the world. It’s not easy to do. And she just keeps on being good.”

No wonder Madonna laughs upon being told that The Immaculate Collection has been named Blender’s number 1. “What about Greatest Hits Volume 2?” she teases. “Get into the twenty-first century!”
— John Aizlewood
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Licensed to Ill - Beastie Boys
A revolution starts with one joke
Licensed to Ill was a swift kick in the nuts to the staid 1980s. With snotty rhymes, loud guitars, cool samples and badass grooves, in one fell swoop it ripped down the walls between hip-hop and rock, the city and the suburbs, the art house and the frat house. It spent seven weeks at number 1.
Standout tracks: “She’s Crafty,” “Fight For Your Right (to Party)”
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People who added this item 311 Average listal rating (207 ratings) 8.5 IMDB Rating 0
Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan invents folk music from the future
Dylan didn’t abandon folk music; he just hauled it forward a few centuries. Out went acoustic hymns of protest, in came a whirlwind of images — mad, random, yet cruelly precise. This was big-city stuff, all psychic chaos and information overload. A loud bastard, and a Top 5 hit.
Standout tracks: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Desolation Row”
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Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
The boy genius comes of age
“Higher Ground,” “Living for the City” and “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” were the hits, but the other six tracks were equally sublime. Wonder — the preeminent artist of his era — had mastered angry, socially conscious, ingenious music that remained danceable.
Standout tracks: “Living for the City,” “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”
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People who added this item 259 Average listal rating (192 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 0
Appetite for Destruction - Guns N' Roses
They were rabble. But they rocked
A typically L.A. blend of surface glamour and nasty underbelly, Appetite tossed the psychological car crash in Axl Rose’s head atop the hardest-rocking outfit since Aerosmith. Result? Megafame, breakdown and decline. But for a brief moment, this was the shit.
Standout tracks: “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
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Ramones - Ramones
Prog rock, prepare to die
“Rock & roll had got bloated and lost its spirit,” said Joey Ramone. The solution? A 14-track riot of ripped denim, dumb lyrics and fuzz-toned guitars. Ramones was released in the summer of ’76; within 12 months, thousands picked up guitars, and punk rock grabbed headlines. Job done!
Standout tracks: “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”
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Parallel Lines - Blondie
Downtown art-punk goes pop
Blondie were too smart and sexy to be genuine punks, and their third album proved it. With pop chops, disco grooves and enough cooing harmonies to pass for low-rent Ronettes, the million-selling Parallel Lines transcended new wave, winning over Middle America.
Standout tracks: “Hanging on the Telephone,” “Heart of Glass”
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The Great Twenty-Eight - Chuck Berry
Classics from rock’s founding father
Twenty-eight tracks (spanning 1957 to 1963) aren’t all that’s great by Berry. But marvel at his wondrous storytelling and Johnny Johnson’s piano finesse, and then have fun spotting which of Berry’s classic guitar licks later appeared on hits by the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Beatles and others.
Standout tracks: “Maybelline,” “Roll Over Beethoven”
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Nevermind - Nirvana
The punk revolution, part two
One of the most overanalyzed albums in history, Nevermind is best appreciated for its simpler charms — scattershot rage wrapped in punk fury and crisp pop melodicism. Weirdly, it made listeners feel thoroughly alive. Kurt Cobain loathed it, but it’s often better to trust the art rather than the artist.
Standout tracks: “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Lithium”
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Blue - Joni Mitchell
Tales of love and loss. But mostly loss
“Write about what you know” is advice few have followed as thoroughly as Mitchell did on this set of laments, in which she ruminated on affairs with James Taylor and Graham Nash. Kris Kristofferson, hearing these songs, pleaded, “Joni, save something for yourself.” It was advice she chose to ignore.
Standout tracks: “Carey,” “The Last Time I Saw Richard”
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Believe the hype
Welding Chuck D’s hectoring black-power agenda to the equally militant sound of the Bomb Squad’s apocalyptic sample barrage, the fierce Nation made traditional rock & roll posturing seem museum-bound.
Standout tracks: “Rebel Without a Pause,” “Bring the Noise”
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People who added this item 766 Average listal rating (624 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 0
Metallica - Metallica
None more black
“Enter Sandman” and “Sad but True” packed massive riffs, but the hardcore gagged at Metallica’s blatant commercialism. The “Nothing Else Matters” video was extra jaw-dropping, showing the lads being (gasp!) sensitive in the studio. Still, the band’s newly pared-down assault converted millions, making thrash seem almost mainstream.
Standout tracks: “Enter Sandman,” “Sad but True”
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Off the Wall - Michael Jackson
Michael, all grown up
He looks great on the sleeve, at ease with himself despite the formalwear. Chic attire aside, this was the first suggestion that disco need not be tacky. These immaculately produced, pre-Thriller tracks are now too familiar to shock, but in 1979, they were revolutionary. Perfection, however, is timeless.
Standout tracks: “Off the Wall,” “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”
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Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys
Brian Wilson’s finest hour
Effectively a Brian Wilson solo album, Pet Sounds so appalled Capitol the label rush-released a best-of to shore up the band’s career (though Pet Sounds hit number 10). The Beatles, disagreeing, later cited this orchestral song cycle as the inspiration behind a little record called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Standout tracks: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows”
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Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye
What’s Goin’ On may be more socially conscious, but Let’s Get It On is more love conscious. My aunt and uncle would play it, and they’d act like I didn’t know what was goin’ on. But they’d start dancin’ real close. You knew what that meant.
— Pharrell Williams, the Neptunes
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Soul grits and country gravy
Not content with inventing modern soul, Ray Charles couldn’t resist a crack at country, too. Extravagant arrangements and high-octane vocals confirmed the method in Charles’s country madness.
Standout tracks: “Worried Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You”
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The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground, Nico
Chapter one of alternative rock
Today, rock is commonly about S&M, heroin and death. In 1967, it wasn’t — not until this lot turned up. Adored by the artsy (Andy Warhol was the band’s sponsor), the Velvets made rock & roll a dangerous place.
Standout tracks: “Heroin,” “I’m Waiting for the Man”
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Music from the Motion Picture "Purple Rain" - Prince & the Revolution, Prince
A prince becomes a king
Prince had been building a mythology for five albums before hitting the jackpot with this autobiographical movie and soundtrack. Purple Rain sold 13 million, inspired Tipper Gore to start her album-stickering crusade and briefly made Minneapolis the musical capital of the United States.
Standout tracks: “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry”
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Rust Never Sleeps - Neil Young, Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Young invents grunge
It was fitting that Kurt Cobain quoted “Hey Hey, My My” in his suicide note, for half of Rust Never Sleeps boasts the grungiest guitar ever. Elsewhere, Young featured a clutch of brilliant but subdued country-rockers. A serious meditation on aging, it paradoxically made Young appear younger.
Standout tracks: “Pocahontas,” “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”
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Sex Machine - James Brown
A shift in funk’s foundations
Brown recorded most of this “live” album onstage in Augusta, Georgia, in 1969. Then his band quit. He recorded four songs with a scrappy new lineup, featuring future P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins, added taped applause and put the whole messy thing out. Both lineups smoked.
Standout tracks: “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine,” “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose”
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Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan
Everybody must get . . . this album!
Routinely booed by folk fans feeling betrayed by their erstwhile idol’s embrace of electric instruments, Dylan enraged them even more by decamping to Nashville, leaving coffee bars behind forever with a sprawling, Robbie Robertson?abetted set which began to bring country into rock & roll.
Standout tracks: “Just Like a Woman,” “Visions of Johanna”
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King Of The Delta Blues Singers - Robert Johnson_III
Where it all starts
Before his early death in 1938, Robert Johnson virtually defined the blues. Whether the devil made him do it or not, these songs (recorded in 1936 and 1937) certainly hit otherworldly extremes. On first hearing this music, Keith Richards assumed Johnson had two guitars.
Standout tracks: “Cross Road Blues,” “Walking Blues”
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Murmur - R.E.M.
A great American musical journey begins
Nailing R.E.M.’s debut was hardly a breeze — during initial sessions, they attempted no fewer than 40 takes of “Catapult” — but they eventually pulled off a peerless meeting of intelligence and power. It marked the point at which the punk legacy made peace with rock history, and a new U.S. folk music was born.
Standout tracks: “Radio Free Europe,” “Talk About the Passion”
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Mothership Connection - Parliament
When funk was the bomb
George Clinton cast funk as religion, himself as prophet and a band of acid-gobbling James Brown castoffs as apostles. Beyond the spaceship and bizarre costumes, the grooves his collective uncorked were as deep as anything Brown cut in the mid-’70s.
Standout tracks: “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)”
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Life After Death - The Notorious B.I.G.
The storyteller who defined East Coast gangsta
Before he became a gun-culture martyr and folk hero, the former Christopher Wallace was a rapper, and a great one. Piloted by Sean “Puffy” Combs, this quadruple-platinum double CD infused routine gangsta fare with charisma, detail and wit.
Standout tracks: “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “Hypnotize”
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Van Halen - Van Halen
The ultimate party band’s ultimate party record
Van Halen’s debut, like frontmuffin David Lee Roth’s trousers, was tight in the right places, but comfortably loose where it counted. Eddie Van Halen wowed ’em with his revolutionary guitar technique, but it was Diamond Dave’s roguish, knockabout delivery that gave Van Halen their sleazy charm.
Standout tracks: “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin’ ”
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Call Me - Al Green_II
The reinvention of Memphis soul
His third classic set in just 18 months, the Top 10 Call Me marked Green’s creative and commercial peak. His awesome voice soared, soothed and seduced, and Willie Mitchell’s production chugged smoothly, while covers of Hank Williams and Willie Nelson made country and soul bewitching bedfellows.
Standout tracks: “Call Me,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”
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Rocks - Aerosmith
The toxic twins’ ultimate high
Pile-drivin’, funked-up blues brimming with sassy, salacious swagger, Rocks was Aerosmith’s greatest buzz. The potent combo of Joe Perry’s chug-a-lug riffs and Steven Tyler’s lecherous wail would never again sound as lethal. Perfect for shaking ass while juggling a bottle of Jack in one hand and a big doobie in the other.
Standout tracks: “Back in the Saddle,” “Last Child”
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Odelay - Beck
A freewheeling collision of styles
Beck Hansen’s father hung out with Yoko Ono, and Beck enjoyed similar attention from the artsy. Mellow Gold in 1994 put him on the map commercially, but his second major-label album cemented his status as a ’90s icon. Mixing blues, country and hip-hop, the double-platinum Odelay swiftly acquired classic status.
Standout tracks: “Devil’s Haircut,” “Where It’s At”
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Grooviest 17 Original Hits! - Little Richard
Wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!
His career was over by 1959, for Richard Penniman had denounced rock & roll as the devil’s work. But he had time to add a fistful of songs to his existing greatest hits. He sounded possessed (evil was actually the word he used), but Jesus! — he knew how to thrill.
Standout tracks: “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly”
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Jazz starts here
Between 1925 and 1929, Armstrong invented scat singing, defined swing and introduced the jazz solo. He laid the foundations for America’s first indigenous art form — and had a ball doing it. No wonder he was our first global pop star.
Standout tracks: “Heebie Jeebies,” “West End Blues”
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Super Fly - Curtis Mayfield
Blaxploitation’s finest 40 minutes
The movie was no Oscar winner, but the ex-Impression’s gold soundtrack was a milestone. It also won over white rock fans who wanted a little ghetto funkiness. Inventively atmospheric, with Mayfield’s edgy guitar and whispery falsetto ratcheting up the tension, its message was crystal clear: Drugs are bad, sucker.
Standout tracks: “Freddie’s Dead,” “Pusherman”
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40 Greatest Hits - Hank Williams
Lonesome and blues were his favorite words
Williams lived fast and worked fast, too, recording relentlessly from 1947 until his alcohol-related death in 1953. This compilation shows how craft transcended the demon booze. Of these 40 hits, more than a quarter topped the country charts.
Standout tracks: “Lovesick Blues,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart”
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Katy Lied - Steely Dan
Sex, jazz and rock & roll
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had ditched their band by their fourth album. Accompanied by their favorite session players, they fashioned a world of gimlet-eyed sophistication that, for all its suavity, dealt with drug dealers (“Doctor Wu”) and enticing teenage girls to watch porn (“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies”).
Standout tracks: “Black Friday,” “Doctor Wu”
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The B-52's - The B-52's
They were campy, amateurish and outrageously good
In the slipstream of punk rock, ’70s new wave was melded to ’50s trash-rock, thanks to a gang of southerners with a significant following in New York. To call the B-52’s’ resulting sound unique — it was bolstered by a mess of smoke alarms, walkie-talkies and toy pianos — would be a considerable understatement.
Standout tracks: “Rock Lobster,” “Planet Claire”
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Risque - Chic
Good times and classic bass lines
Chic started out as a rock trio but couldn’t crack the music industry’s color barrier. So they went disco, and for a while ruled the charts. This million-selling third album was their acme, and the smooth, bass-driven “Good Times” (as later appropriated by the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”) became a hip-hop cornerstone.
Standout tracks: “Good Times,” “My Feet Keep Dancing”
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Paul's Boutique - Beastie Boys
Rump-shaking. Mind-boggling
Cut in Hollywood but quintessentially New York, the Beastie Boys’ second album baffled fans primed for a party-hearty Licensed to Ill sequel (it peaked at number 14). But the crafty rhyming — abetted by dizzying Dust Brothers production — helped the Beasties shake off their novelty-act rep.
Standout tracks: “Hey Ladies,” “Shake Your Rump”
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The queen of soul finds her voice
Under the tutelage of Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, this album saw Franklin become the soul diva of her generation. From “Respect” to “Do Right Woman?Do Right Man,” this was a plea for love and dignity no listener couldn’t be moved by.
Standout tracks: “Do Right Woman?Do Right Man,” “Respect”
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The Sun Sessions - Elvis Presley
The days the planets aligned
Between 1953 and 1955, Elvis Presley’s first recordings captured a force of nature: untutored, unsophisticated, but somehow brilliant. These spartan takes on (primarily) blues songs, recorded at Memphis’s Sun Studios, are the sound of rock music being invented, however unwittingly.
Standout tracks: “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train”
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Grunge’s drama queen makes good
Before Courtney Love became a Hollywood sideshow, her band made one of the most potent albums of the post-punk era. Released on the heels of hubby Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the music’s fury smelled eerily like teen spirit, but ultimately it was Miss World herself who sold the guitar-fueled drama.
Standout tracks: “Violet,” “Doll Parts”
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Electric Ladyland - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Guitar innovator enters studio, leaves galaxy
To create this psychedelic landmark (his final studio recording with the Experience, and his only number 1), Hendrix camped out at New York’s Record Plant for months, filtering the blues through effects-drenched arrangements and turning studio science into science fiction.
Standout tracks: “Gypsy Eyes,” “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
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Horses - Patti Smith
Rimbaud with punk guitars
Patti Smith’s vision of extremist poetry and rock music, filtered through sex, the Beats and horses, was best realized on her Lenny Kaye? produced debut, on which ’60s garage covers melded with rude remarks about Jesus to produce the best punk-rock Bob Dylan album ever made. Not a hit (it peaked at number 47), but clearly a landmark.
Standout tracks: “Gloria,” “Redondo Beach”
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There's a Riot Goin' On - Sly & the Family Stone
Civil disobedience never sounded like so much fun
Riot is one of the great radical albums, and definitely the funkiest. Stone was teetering on the brink of self-destruction, but his music never sounded more eclectic and expressive. Every subsequent beat revolutionary, from De La Soul to Beck, owes him.
Standout tracks: “Family Affair,” “Smilin’”
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The Chronic - Dr. Dre
Nuthin’ but a “G” thang
After helping write the book on gangsta rap with N.W.A, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young started a smokin’ new chapter with his triple-platinum solo debut. With Snoop Doggy Dogg as his vocal foil and beats influenced by George Clinton’s ’70s P-Funk, The Chronic managed to be both dangerous and addictive at once.
Standout tracks: “Let Me Ride,” “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”
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Vs. - Pearl Jam
Supergrowly grunge deluxe
Initially the flannel-shirted bridesmaid to Nirvana’s bride, Pearl Jam emerged from that shadow with this superb, roiling, emotional collection. Eddie Vedder never managed that blend of menace and sympathy quite as well again, and the band’s notorious battles with fame and Ticketmaster would soon sap its energies.
Standout tracks: “Daughter,” “Rearviewmirror”
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Raising Hell - Run-D.M.C.
Where rock and rap first said “I do”
After 1984’s “Rock Box” brought guitar noise to hip-hop, the trio that invented hardcore rap sealed the deal by inviting Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to retool “Walk This Way.” Rap-metal was born; “My Adidas” birthed the hip-hop/fashion axis. In Florida, a light bulb flashed over young Fred Durst’s head.
Standout tracks: “Walk This Way,” “You Be Illin’ ”
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Back to Mono (1958-1969) - Phil Spector,The Ronettes,The Crystals,Darlene Love,The Righteous Brothers,Ike & Tina Turner,Bob B.
Monomaniacally massive, magical and mysterious
Spector’s “wall of sound” was a huge, Wagnerian slab of instruments that made even the most pedestrian teen pop seem mythic. For a time (the early ’60s), his minions — Darlene Love, the Crystals, the Ronettes — ruled the charts. These are their hits.
Standout tracks: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”; the Crystals, “Da Doo Ron Ron”
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Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
Taking jazz way beyond cool
Davis was already a major star by the late ’50s, and this album reinforced his rep as a trendsetter and innovator. His approach to blues and improvisation here was revolutionary, but it was the tuneful grace of his sextet — a group including legends-in-the-making John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley — that made this a classic.
Standout tracks: “So What,” “All Blues”
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People who added this item 333 Average listal rating (202 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 0
Slim Shady? His name is trouble!
A snarky white kid from Motor City spinning lurid rhymes about self-abuse, prescription painkillers and offing his wife? The Moral Majority recoiled, but there was no stopping this debut. Powered by Dr. Dre’s beats, Slim Shady sold 4 million, making Marshall Mathers the world’s most notorious rapper.
Standout tracks: “My Name Is,” “Guilty Conscience”
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People who added this item 104 Average listal rating (79 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 0
Destroyer - Kiss_II,Bob Ezrin
Uncle Gene wants you
With a fistful of fully erect anthems commingling with boys’ choirs, drippping strings and classic American cheese (“Beth”), Kiss built on the success of 1975’s Alive! Though true believers yelled “Sellout!” upon its release, Destroyer (Kiss’s first million-seller) sounds positively heartfelt 25 years on.
Standout tracks: “Beth,” “Detroit Rock City”
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