This album has achieved incredible staying power: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is the only album that’s been on the Billboards Top 200 Albums longer (another Top 100 Album selection).
What makes the album so good is that the songs themselves are so different even with the consistent reggae feel and rhythm. Put on any station dedicated to the genre and you will be lulled into lethargy as the monotonous sound waves melt into one another without distinction. Bob Marley and The Wailers, however, command your attention from start to finish with well-written songs, and this collection gives you the most powerful 15 examples of it.
I’m officially part of the movement to usurp Sgt. Pepper as the apex.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #3/100
Revolver is when things got “weird” for the Beatles. They sped recordings up, layered multiple tracks on top of one another, and hid secret messages that could only be discovered by playing the album backwards. It was also released under some tenuous circumstances, with John Lennon comparing the band to Jesus and some drug-referenced singles being withheld from the American release.
After their break up, many claimed that Sgt. Pepper was the pinnacle point of Beatles goodness. I am going to have to disagree; Revolver beats it out track for track, and if not for the drama, would clearly be cemented as the top work they ever did.
But I finally came to appreciate the down-tempo album and majestic voice of Arethra Franklin.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #83/100 My Rating:
I remember when I found out Prince died: I was at my house and saw it on facebook. I hadn’t listened to my regular music in years, preferring chill/new age stuff while writing, reading, or studying. The last year was nothing but school, so my Amazon Music Library was the equivalent of cobwebs. I pulled up his discography and immediately started crying. Each song reminded me of something.
I didn’t necessarily have the same relationship with Aretha, but her recent passing still had impact: songs that instantly transported me to another time. Memories. Experiences. I had just turned 21. Returning after drinking at a bar for the first time (legally, I should add), I listened to all of her greatest hits, soaking it up.
I’ve been listening to this album for weeks, way before news of her illness was made known. Her passing made it even more poignant. While I made my mind up about the rating and what songs to highlight a while ago, I was reminded that these greats won’t be around forever.
One of those rare albums where almost every track is a triumph of song writing perfection.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #67/100 Grammy: Song and Record of the Year for “Just the Way You Are.” My Rating:
Billy Joel intertwines with my coming of age. I found a 2-disc greatest hit collection in the streets of Richmond, VA when I just got my permit to drive — it didn’t leave my driving music rotation for years, and Goodnight Saigon become an anthem between my friends.
When I saw this track listing, I new most of the material with 6 out of the 9 songs being “Greatest Hits” material. Seeing the songs in their natural habitat on “The Stranger” along with the other solid material is almost unthinkable: how did someone come out with this much good material at once?
Little Richard screams, wails and whoops his way through this juke-box-jam of a debut album.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #50/100 My Rating:
I have no idea what the onomatopoeia should be for the Little Richard wail he does in every song. It deserves to have it’s own spelling — it’s infectious and oozes with energy. This whole album is rockin’, making you want to Bop and Jitterbug your night away.
A college apartment personified, Forever Changes is a collection of scattered furniture and decorative knickknacks that coalesce into an uneven presentation punctuated by occasional gem.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100 My Rating:
If you never knew what being a hippie was like, I’m assuming this is it: disjointed, psychedelic, sometimes smart, drug inspired, bizarre. If I have to give Love some credit, it would have to be in the style. It’s a unique mix of guitar riffs, mariachi horns and lyrical content that suites the hippie era.
While sometimes this all comes together to be brilliant (Such as in ‘Alone Again, Or’ and ‘A House is Not a Hotel’), more often than not I feel like I’m listening to the generic, hippie scrawl that regulates itself to weird background noise.
Tapestry, a sprawling epic including hit after hit, was a chance for Carol King to show off her own material.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #36 My Rating:
If you are over 50 or like any type of old music, you’ve heard Carol King’s work.
Between her writing career and people doing covers of her songs, King has given hit singles to several other well-known artists, including James Taylor, Quincy Jones, The Animals, The Drifters, Roberta Flack, and more. Known as a prolific song writer in the 60s with her then husband Gerry Goffin, King didn’t have any platform of her own as her pervious band “The City” was disbanded between label switches and her debut album “Writer” did not make much movement on the Billboard charts.
Then Tapestry released. Carol King was launched into another stratosphere as one of the most successful, solo-female acts.
An album that faithfully conveys the feelings and spirit of the never named Vietnam veteran returning home with a varied collection of soul, gospel, funk, R&B, and pop that can only be categorized as Marvin Gaye.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #6/100 My Rating:
Marvin Gaye had to fight for this one.
Tired of having Motown dictate his creative direction, Gaye wanted to create an album that was more personal and less hit-oriented. Barry Gordon wasn’t having it, but after threatening to never record again, Gordon allowed Gay to have full creative direction.
This is a masterpiece of an album: nine songs that freely float into one another, recall motifs of previous tracks, and the most interesting story arc in concept album story telling. Following an African-American, Vietnam veteran after his return from war, the subject matter risks being too preachy, but by having an actual character as the vessel to experience everything, the album becomes a prescient bit of social consciousness. Instead of being hung up on politics, we get to experience and FEEL this unnamed protagonist’s plight.
“Don’t punish me with brutality,
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on.”
Completely exposed, Joni Mitchell touches a nerve featuring all textures of a relationship. Her infatuation, longing, loneliness, and heartbreak is cracked open for all of us to see.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100 My Rating:
The first two CDs I ever owned were Lou Bega’s Mumbo Number 5 and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. What do you want — I was a weird kid. Riding around on bus #22, I jammed out to the folk goodness of Joni Mitchell as we caravanned down cow-covered patches in western Hanover in Virginia.
I shouldn’t say I owned it; I overheard it being played by my sister and my mother, and after one of them left it in the CD drive, I got in the habit of listening to it while playing some of my favorite browser-based games (Archmage or Sissyfight anyone?). As a 13 year old, I did not exactly catch what all the lyrics were about. I much more appreciated the solid tunes and the earthy tones of the singer-song writer genre that was pretty absent from my 90s music diet.
Listening to this as a thirty year old is quite a different experience — past people and places bubbling to the surface with each track.