10. LED ZEPPELIN- PHYSICAL GRAFFITI (1975)
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By Led Zeppelin had released five near perfect albums and were the biggest rock band in the world. So the only thing they could do to top themselves is to throw all of their excess creativity into one sprawling double albums featuring multiple 1o + minute length jams and tapping into every different side of the band imaginable. “Physical Graffiti” set the template for hard rock bands for the mid-career bloated double album, but the funny thing is that “Graffiti” really doesn’t have much bloat. Every song on it is either a monster or a curiosity showing Zep’s incredible range. There isn’t a single cut that I don’t enjoy though certainly some tracks tower over the others in quality. “Physical Graffiti” to me really cemented Zeppelin status as one of the very best rock bands of all time and it’s still among my very favorites of all their releases. The first disc is nearly perfect starting with the one-two punch of “Custard Pie”, and “The Rover”, one of my personal favorite Zep tunes. Next is 11 minute delta blues work out “In My Time of Dying”. The 2nd side opens with classic rock radio staple “Houses of the Holy”, followed by extended funk work out “Trampled Under Foot” (a much better track than “The Crunge” from the previous album), with the far east influenced dinosaur stomp “Kashmir” closing it out. The second disc is more diverse and even more fun. Three of the best tracks are the slow burning opener “In the Light”, the epic “Ten Years Gone” and the beautiful country-esque ballad “Down by the Seaside”, and the quirkier “Wanton Song”, “Boogie with Stu”, and “Black Country Woman” showing the band at their loosest and lightest. Zeppelin may have blown their wad after “Graffiti”. They would only release two more albums before breaking up after drummer John Bonham’s unfortunate death in 1980. Both “Presence” and “In Through the Out Door” had great moments but neither measure up to the greatness of their first six albums. Outside of maybe “The White Album”, “Physical Graffiti” may just be the best double album ever made.
Buy The Rover – Physical Graffiti (Remastered)
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Buy Ten Years Gone – Physical Graffiti (Remastered)
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9. TELEVISION- MARQUEE MOON (1977)
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“I remember when the darkness doubled. I remembered when lightning struck itself.” And so begins the most epic punk rock song ever made. It’s almost 11 minutes of beauty and ferocious guitar interplay between dueling guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd; it has more in common with Neil Young & Crazyhorse than the Sex Pistols or the Ramones. They are far too weird and arty for classic rock, but their sound was rooted in angular, long intense jamming. It wasn’t funky and danceable like fellow CBGB’s art-punk band the Talking Heads. Though Television was and remains a huge critical fave, they are still an underground phenomenon- one of those bands who are loved and discovered by small cults of music lovers of every generation. Television may have only been together for 2 albums, but no one really sounds like them. I had never heard the band before arriving to New York City in 1994. And it, more than any other album, defines living in the East Village to me. I still remember the track “Marquee Moon” constantly blaring out of jukeboxes long after midnight. To this day it’s probably one of my favorite songs of all time. And the rest of the album is great too- particularly “Venus”, “See No Evil”, “Friction” and “Elevation”. Though Television was present at the beginning of the CBGB’s punk scene they probably did more for post-punk music than actual punk rock. The playing on the album is very anti-punk- it’s stretched out rather than fast and aggressive, but it does have a twitchy tension. The lyrics are intellectual and abstract. The bass playing was completely monotone with no groove or swing, which focuses your attention on the amazing guitar work. It gave bands that came after them the freedom to move away from the standard groove of punk while keeping the attitude and DIY ethics of it. Television’s next record “Adventure” though good, in my opinion didn’t come close to matching the brilliance of the debut. “Marquee Moon” remains one of the classic punk/alternative albums ever made.
Buy Marquee Moon – Marquee Moon
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Buy See No Evil – Marquee Moon
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8. PINK FLOYD- DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1973)
Buy The Dark Side of the Moon (Deluxe Experience Version) [Remastered] – Pink Floyd
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After losing their band leader Syd Barrett during the recording of their second album “Saucerful of Secrets” in 1968, Pink Floyd released several more tripped out psychedelic albums, included a few movie soundtracks, and then gathered more focus for 1971’s “Meddle” which garnered them more success than they had seen since Barrett’s departure. “Meddle” was more song oriented than their other albums for sure, but it is still pretty out there and the album even closed out with a 20 + minute song suite called “Echoes”. Despite “Meddle’s” trend toward more accessible music, Floyd’s next album“Dark Side of the Moon” was a quantum leap in comparison. “Dark Side” is just as sonically experimental as “Meddle” but the production on “Dark Side” is state of the art with well-placed bugged out sound effects, soulful female blues howling and splices of spoken words taken from interviews which adds to the overall weirdness. It was a engineering feat which moved the needle for the entire recording industry. Floyd did a much better job editing their long, instrumental passages- honing their jams so that they resembled actual songs. None of the songs on the album were made to cater to radio but amazingly enough practically the entire album plays on classic rock radio today. “Money” is the only track that actually charted as a single but even it is over 6 minutes long. “Dark Side’s” subject matter is concerned with the big philosophical questions in life- Birth, death, religion “Time”, “Money”- all of the deep philosophical questions. It’s an extremely heavy album that has given birth to millions of bong hits. “Dark Side” catapulted Floyd to worldwide fame and probably made them only 2nd to Zeppelin among the seventies most popular rock bands. “Dark Side” still holds the record for longest album to stay on the charts- 741 weeks (from 1973-1988).
Buy Speak to Me – The Dark Side of the Moon (Remastered)Breathe (In the Air) – The Dark Side of the Moon (Deluxe Experience Version) [Remastered] Buy Speak To Me (2011 – Remaster)/Breathe (In The Air) [2011 – Remaster]Amazon
Buy Time – The Dark Side of the Moon (Deluxe Experience Version) [Remastered]
Buy Time (2011 – Remaster)Amazon
7. THE WHO- WHO’S NEXT (1971)
Buy Who’s Next (Remastered) – The Who
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Pete Townsend is a man with seemingly limitless ambition. After the huge success of the double album/rock opera “Tommy” in 1969 and the great “Live at Leeds” the following year, Townsend was poised to do another double album- this one a sci-fi double album rock opera called “Lifehouse”. He was forced to abandon the project due to having a mental breakdown, but the collection of songs left on the cutting room floor was staggering. The 9 songs that make up what was left of the Lifehouse project was made into an album called “Who’s Next”, which is I think far and away the best album the Who ever released. All 9 songs are great, most of them classics and 3 of them are signature Who songs. Album opener “Baba O’Reilly”, known to some as “Teenage Wasteland” has lost none of its power over the ages, and “Behind Blue Eyes” may even be a notch better. Album closer, the 8 ½ minute “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, is simply one of the best rock songs ever recorded. It’s the Who at their smartest, most inventive and loudest. Daltrey’s scream at the end does any metal singer proud. Aside from those three are Pete’s love letter to his wife “Bargain”, bassist John Entwistle’s humorous “My Wife”, the beautiful “The Song is Over”, the hippie ode to the road “Goin’ Mobile” and the underrated gems “Love Ain’t for Keeping” and “Getting’ in Tune”. Most of these songs would be recognizable to anyone who listened to classic rock radio in the 80’s or 90’s- nowadays with the streamlined playlists maybe not. One thing is for sure, “Who’s Next” is an essential rock record- as essential as “Led Zeppelin IV”. It’s a right of passage. Anyone who likes loud, righteous rock music must have it.
Buy Won’t Get Fooled Again – Who’s Next (Remastered)
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Buy Behind Blue Eyes – Who’s Next (Remastered)
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6. GANG OF FOUR- ENTERTAINMENT! (1979)
Buy Entertainment! (Remastered) – Gang of Four
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“Entertainment” is still relatively unknown outside of critic/hipster/musician circles, but its influence is massive- on post-punk, punk-funk bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and Fishbone, post-hardcore of Fugazi and Jawbox and on the entire dance-punk movement at the beginning of the oughts. The band plays extremely aggressive, nervy punk but with an incessantly danceable rhythm- credit to both the lightning quick staccato guitar riffs and the ridiculous swing of both the GOF drummer Hugo Burnham and their phenomenal bassist Dave Allen. The singer, Jon King, sing-shouts leftist manifestos, attacking the greedy and the powerful and Capitalism in general- anyone who exploit the masses or the weak. The lyrics are not only angry, but intellectually sound and thought provoking. There isn’t a bum track on the album, but the true classics are “Anthrax”, “Not Great Men”, “I Found that Essence Rare”, “At Home He’s A Tourist” and “Natural’s Not In It”. Gang Of Four was together for more than a decade after the release of “Entertainment!”, with many major lineup changes. They were never able to equal the brilliance of their debut, but did release several very good albums in the early 80’s with “Solid Gold” and “Songs Of the Free” before petering out and becoming a shell of their former selves. If you haven’t heard this album and like any of the bands mentioned above or Interpol or the Rapture or Franz Ferdinand etc… you must check this album out.
Buy I Found That Essence Rare – Entertainment! (Remastered)
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Buy At Home He’s a Tourist – Entertainment! (Remastered)
Buy At Home He’s A Tourist (Remastered Album Version)Amazon
5. THE MODERN LOVERS- THE MODERN LOVERS (1976)
Buy The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers
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I totally missed out on this band through high school and in college. I remember them being propped in 1995’s Spin Alternative Music Guide (AKA the bible of my early 20’s), but I didn’t hear them until my wonderful future wife, not coincidentally from Boston (same as the Lovers), introduced me to them shortly after meeting her in the spring of 1996. Certain band/albums take awhile to warm up to. I was floored with the Modern Lovers from the first note. Their sound is pure driving rock n’ roll- pro-Velvet Underground, anti-hippie. By the time of the 1976 release of their debut, the Modern Lovers had already morphed into something else. Richman had ditched his former bandmates and was now playing quiet, acoustic child-like music. Richman remains a cult hero today and releases worthwhile albums every few years or so but nothing for me touches their debut. The album was actually compiled of demos produced by ex-Velvet John Cale in 1973, making them along with the New York Dolls and other than the Stooges, the first punk rockers. The music is minimal and pounding like the Velvets but with a wide-eyed sentiment that is the Velvets’ complete opposite. Richman is mopey and gawky, but also completely sincere and optimistic- trying to cut through the cynicism & depravity of the world and find what truly matters. He is opinionated and unbending in his values. A dork role model. He believes in the salvation of rock n’ roll as much as Bruce Springsteen. Outside of the Modern Lovers heavy influence on punk, they would be an even greater influence on nerd-rock bands like the Violent Femmes, the Feelies, They Might Be Giants & Jens Lekman. Richman is a wonder on guitar as well and is ably backed by Boston scenester Ernie Brooks on bass, future Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison on organ and future Cars drummer David Robinson. Every track on the debut is amazing, starting with the classic road anthem “Roadrunner”, “I’m Straight” and “Pablo Picasso. But the heartbreaking “Hospital”, the dream love fantasy “Astral Plane”, “Old World”, which tussles between nostalgia for bygone eras vs. loving the present time, are all nearly as good. No weak links. One of my favorite albums of all time.
Buy Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers
Buy I’m Straight – The Modern Lovers
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4. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND- BORN TO RUN (1975)
Buy Born to Run (30th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] – Bruce Springsteen
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I go back and forth with “Born to Run” as to whether or not it’s actually my favorite Springsteen album. Sometimes “Greetings from Asbury Park” just hits my right in the sweet spot and I think ‘it’s the one!’, but then I realize that’s just due to my over-familiarity with “Born to Run”. When I first got really into music, around 8th grade, I was not a Springsteen fan. “Born in the U.S.A.” was uber-popular and I didn’t dig it then (I was wrong). “U.S.A.” turned me off to him for years, but gradually I succumbed after hearing some of his earlier songs on classic rock radio and then eventually to practically his whole catalog. Now he’s one of my favorite artists. Several years into high school I finally got “Born to Run”. It is flat out amazing. It rocks, it swings, it plays out like a movie, the lyrics are poetic and tell a story. I played “Born to Run” incessantly. It was tough to escape the title track, “Jungleland”, “Thunder Road”, “Tenth-Avenue Freeze Out” and even “She’s the One” back then on the radio too. These songs and the whole album are now as ingrained in me as “Back in Black” or Led Zep II. After Springsteen’s first two Columbia albums were huge flops, he buckled down in the studio for months and ditched the majority of his backing band for new players. He knew the “Born to Run” album would be his last shot with his record label- they would drop him if this one flopped as well. And his perfectionism paid off as “Born to Run” was a huge hit, both the song and the album, making him a household name among rock fans. He was so big in 1975 that he simultaneously graced both the covers of Time and Newsweek. “Born to Run”, “Thunder Road” & “Jungleland” are probably 3 out of 5 of his most beloved tracks. They all represent escape- from a dead end job or a one horse town before you’re too old and it’s too late. The longest, most epic songs on the album- “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” close each side. The hits- “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” open each side. In between you have the block party horn workout “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and the moody “Night” on side 1, and the yearning “She’s the One” into the jazzy, paranoid “Meeting Across the River” on side 2 which segues seemlessly into “Jungleland”. The production, the musicianship, the writing and the attention to detail everywhere on “Born to Run” is unbelievable. It’s a true masterpiece.
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3. THE ROLLING STONES- EXILE ON MAIN STREET (1972)
Buy Exile On Main St. (Deluxe Version) [Remastered] – The Rolling Stones
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Coming at the end of an incredible four album run starting with 1968’s “Beggar’s Banquet”, “Exile On Main Street” marks the end of the Rolling Stones best period. Though it was not well thought of upon its release due at least in some way to its murky sound quality and didn’t have much in the way of hit singles- only minor hits with the amazingly great “Tumbling Dice” and the Keith Richard’s sung “Happy”, the album has worn exceptionally well. It’s often called the band’s pinnacle. I’ve gone back & forth with several of their albums as to which is my favorite but at this point in my life I’m going with “Exile”. Recorded in a mansion in the south of France and under the heavy influence of drugs, “Exile” is the Stones their deepest album, with songs, lyrics and riffs that only reveal themselves after many plays. Similar to Led Zep’s “Physical Graffiti” it likely won’t be your starting point with the Stones but it’s where you’ll end up once you totally fall in love with them. And the big hit singles on so many other Stones albums may be absent but there are plenty of classic here- besides the aforementioned “Dice” and “Happy”, there is song opener “Rocks Off”, my personal favorite “Rip This Joint”- the closest they ever came to punk rock, the straight up country-rock of “Sweet Virginia”, “Shine A Light”, “Loving Cup” and “All Down the Line”. The mood of the album is dark, drugged out and decadent. The Stones never sounded looser or more freewheeling. They try their hand at Delta Blues, Country, Soul & Gospel and unlike past tracks like “Country Honk” or “You Gotta Move”, they don’t sound like their taking the piss out of the genres. This album is the real deal, just don’t give up after only a couple of tries. The more you play it the better it gets.
Buy Rip This Joint – Exile On Main St. (Deluxe Version) [Remastered]
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Buy Tumbling Dice – Exile On Main St. (Deluxe Version) [Remastered]
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2. LED ZEPPELIN- IV (AKA ZOSO) (1971)
Buy Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered) – Led Zeppelin
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Led Zeppelin IV is so difficult to even rank. They are so much a part of my teenage years. I know every lyric, every guitar riff. Each song Zep IV was a classic rock radio staple and half of them are known to people who barely follow music. The only track on the album I don’t consider a classic is “Four Sticks” and even it is pretty damn good. Due to its over saturation, IV may not be the Zeppelin album I return to the most often, but I have to say that it’s still the best. Opening tracks “Black Dog” into “Rock and Roll” practically define hard rock in the 70’s and have some of the most recognizable riffs in the history of rock. The beautiful folk ballad “Battle of Evermore” comes next where Zep switch gears and Page plays mandolin while Robert Plant duets with British folk hero Sandy Denny. And then the most requested rock song of all time “Stairway to Heaven” closes side 1. What more is there to say about “Stairway”. Everyone’s heard it a million times but to me still packs a punch and is so perfect it sounds like the band was possessed while making it. Guarantee that we’ll be listening to that song 100 years from now. Side 2 starts out with the pounding hippie anthem “Misty Mountain Hop”. Next is “Four Sticks”, and then another beautiful acoustic ballad “Going to California”. “When the Levee Breaks”, possibly my favorite Zeppelin tune closes things out with what may be the heaviest drum beats and coolest warped harmonica playing that I’ve ever heard. As great as Zeppelin whole catalog is, Zep IV, is what really gave them their mystique and mythology. It’s why the band has become a right of passage for every hard rockin’ teenage kid. It’s why we still get the Led out on all every classic rock station around the United States. It’s why Zeppelin are legendary rather than just one of the greats.
Buy When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered)
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Buy Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered)
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1. THE CLASH- LONDON CALLING (1979)
Buy London Calling (30th Anniversary Edition) – The Clash
Buy London Calling: 30th Anniversary Deluxe EditionAmazon
“London Calling” is not a perfect album. Zeppelin IV, “The Modern Lovers”, “Who’s Next”, even the Cars debut are more perfect, but there’s something about “London Calling” that’s so ambitious, so sprawling that I had give it first place on this list. It’s still rooted in punk rock and is the perfect explanation point to end that era, but it also point the way to so much of the great music we heard in the 80’s and later. After following up their amazing debut with the relatively disappointing “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”, the Clash truly went for it with “London Calling”. With Led Zeppelin dying out, the Clash was ready to claim the title of not only best punk band but best rock band period. “London Calling” is punk rock, rockabilly, ska, roots reggae, hard rock, old school R&B, jazz and with the single “Train in Vain”- absolutely perfect pop. “London Calling” foreshadowed the blending of so many different genres that we see happen all the time today. The Clash were huge music fans, and like the Beastie Boys, oftentimes the biggest music fans make the most interesting and diverse music. Like I said before not every track is a masterpiece- “The Right Profile”, “Koka Kola” and “the Card Cheat” are all very minor Clash songs. But this album has as many truly great songs as any album I can name outside of maybe the Beatles The monumental title track, which has now become a radio staple, “Train in Vain”, which was an actual pop hit, the Paul Simonon sung “Guns of Brixton”, the workers’ lament “Clampdown”. “Rudie Can’t Fail”, “Last in the Supermarket”, “Spanish Bombs”, Death or Glory”, “Hateful”- one brilliant song after another. A year later the Clash would go even more ambitious with the triple album “Sandanista”. Though it had a few great moments it was mostly a big mess. Two years later they successfully crossed over to pop radio with “Combat Rock” and then co-leader Mick Jones left the band and they recorded one more forgettable album “Cut the Crap”, the “Caddyshack II” of Clash releases. That said “London Calling” more than cemented the Clash’s legacy as one of the best and important bands ever. They may not be my all-time favorite band but when I’m listening to them sometimes I think they actually are.
Buy London Calling – London Calling
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Buy Clampdown – London Calling
Great choice for #1 – flawed but fantastic indeed.