The 100 Best Rock Albums, 2002 Edition (81-90)
- 81. The Who Sells Out - The Who : Forget Tommy. Keep you Quadraphenia. This is the Who concept album that worked, with the central idea being loose enough to allow each song room to breathe. Replicating (and somewhat spoofing) the sound of 60s pirate radio stations, The Who also wrote one of their very best batch of tunes and played them with the appropriate amount of fury or beauty. I Can See for Miles obliterates most rock singles, and the fake commercials are a hoot. You've probably spun Who's Next to death; try this under-sung classic.
- 82. Doo Wop Box - Various Artists : You’ve heard most of these songs before, no doubt. They get constant airplay on oldies stations nationwide. If you are anything like me, you didn’t really care for them. Want to know a (not too well kept) secret? There’s a reason for that. Nine out of ten times, you are hearing a horrid remake of a terrific original. Pop radio was quite segregated when many of these singles were pressed, and the common practice was to take a hot single doing well on “black radio,” cut a tamer remake with a lamer group, and watch the song sail up the charts in its new, “whiter” incarnation. That limp remake is very often the one you still hear today on the radio. This box is a marvel, wonderfully compiled and lovingly remastered for unbelievable sound, especially given the pre-60s, at times pre-50s vintage of this material. In fact, it is the only box I know of to take an entire genre and damn near cover it completely and definitively over the course of a few CDs. Sure, four discs are a lot to work through, but start with the third platter and I promise, it won’t seem like work at all. In fact, you’ll be sixth row and center for a near-religious revelation. Just listen to those voices and groove to those rhythms.
- 83. Dirty Mind - Prince : Dirty Mind strikes the first-time listener as the wild work of a perverted maniac locked inside a studio for a month without stimulation, or, at least, what that work might sound like if said maniac was an absolute genius on par with any R&B artist of the 80s. Or is it R&B? Impossible to tell, since with this album, Prince defiantly tore down any label we may try to paste over him. He injects funk with rock, slick R&B with filthy dance beats, and soul with new wave, creating a massive, new style of pop music in the process. Dirty Mind indeed, but also gifted beyond words.
- 84. Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966 - Royal Albert Concert - Bob Dylan : After spending decades as a bootleg, this album finally saw the light of day a few years ago. For fans who had never heard it, it was a revelation. Split into an acoustic and electric side, Dylan plays a well-chosen set of his classics with a passion missing from every other live album he ever released. Dylan was at the peak of his powers, and the crack set of musicians playing behind him on the second disc would eventually be known simply as The Band. During the initial disc, the crowd sits quietly through brilliant versions of Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row, and Dylan's best-ever performance of It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. As soon as the second disc begins, however, the crowd, mostly folk fans who felt betrayed by Dylan's decision to plug in, explodes, and the previously polite audience does its best to stop the show. Dylan absorbs the obnoxious clapping, the heckles, and the slurs and flings it all back at the crowd inside his songs. The incident at the album's close is now legend, and Dylan delivers a blaring, blazing version of Like a Rolling Stones with more venom than anyone knew even he had. Make no mistake; this is one of the greatest live albums in rock history.
- 85. Substance - New Order : After the death of Joy Division's lead man, Ian Curtis, no one expected the rest of the band to carry on. Surely no one expected them not only to survive, but also to blaze a new trail combining post-punk sensibilities with the pulses of dance music. On Substance, a collection of New Order's greatest songs and remixes, you can hear four Brits rise to smash expectations, creating some of the best pop songs of the 80s in the process.
- 86. Marquee Moon - Television : Geek post punk, perhaps, but astounding and vital as well. This album may not knock the listener over the head, but Tom Verlaine and company pull off enough visionary music and inspired songcraft to render the listener dazed all the same. The band proves incredibly sensitive to Verlaine’s songs, intuitively knowing when to wind a song tight and compact and when to build a song over slowly building cycles of riffs, such as on the killer title track (on CD, finally at its full 10 minute plus length). Beautiful, jarring, challenging, and indispensable.
- 87. The Joshua Tree - U2 : The Joshua Tree is a haunting album that still managed to rock. Thanks to Eno and Lanois' visionary production, The Edge's innovative guitar work, and Bono's sterling, searching, personal, and political set of songs, this album managed to capture critics and the world at once, and alternative music was forever changed. They may have topped this album in the years since, but this disc is where the obviously talented post punk band begins to morph into the world's largest alternative band, and that creative sense of exploration can still be heard today. Rarely have commercial and artistic success met as blissfully as this.
- 88. Rain Dogs - Tom Waits : Rain Dogs is the sound of sad, drunk ghosts crashing through bedrooms in the dead of night. Waits was able to focus his writing and songs like never before, and the eclectic instumentation fills the spaces left by his cracking voice with exotic, foreign mystery. He has made several excellent albums before and since, but he has never equaled the spooky power of this unique vision.
- 89. Talking Book - Stevie Wonder : For most artists’ work, you take the band and musicians out of the music, you take out its heart. Stevie Wonder stole away from session musicians and the Motown crew to create and to play this album by himself, and the results are the warmest songs he had recorded yet. That’s the secret behind much of Wonder’s genius. For several years, he was able to experiment with technology and song structures in daring ways for contemporary pop, much less, soul music, but through it all, he never forgot that songs must move as much as impress to work magic on listeners. Not only was his lonely work successful, it also spawned huge, gorgeous hits, including You Are the Sunshine of My Life, the incredibly funky Superstition, and I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever), one of the most beautiful closings for an album ever.
- 90. Nevermind - Nirvana : It wasn't the punk-influenced roar that shot this one to the top; it was their hidden weapon. Cobain could write pop songs like nobody's business. Once these classic tunes were melding to that riot music, the world woke up. Radio stations dumped their Poison, Warrant, and Motley Crue albums to join the movement. How could this have been a bad thing? We needed this music, and we were lucky that, for a short time, Cobain delivered.
Influence and historical importance mean nothing here. Each and every album is ranked based solely on its own artistic merits. All official releases are fair game; only bootlegs are not considered. This is it - the best rock albums ever.
I will be adding entries as time allows. The list is complete, but I wish to write a bit about each album, so it may be a week or two until all albums are listed. I hope to add at least two or three entries each weekday and more if I have the chance.
Creating this list hurt. Great albums were left on the cutting room floor, and sadly, I fear albums near the bottom of the list may be looked down upon. Make no mistake - any album on this list is a fantastic work well worth your time. The difference between closely ranked albums was microscopic at best.
To prevent this list's size from becoming prohibitive, I am breaking the hundred entries into blocks of ten.