[SIZE=12][color=blue]Pitchforkmedia's top 100 albums of the 70's [/SIZE][/color]
Top 100 Albums of the 1970s
As the psychedelic 60s gave way to hippie backlash and high ambitions, one thing was clear: There was something damn funny about peace, love and understanding. Shaking off naturalism, daisy chains and acid tabs came easier than expected, and what resulted was a paradox of both striking diversity and remarkable coherence: From high-concept prog-nerds and high-octane guitar solo to high-heeled glam-rockers and high-ass punks, the 70s saw the rise and dominance of the album-as-unified-statement. Over three days, Pitchfork now takes the opportunity to present this list of its favorite albums of that decade.
Today, we're offering the last of three installments of our Top 100 Albums of the 1970s, showcasing our top 20 favorites. It's been a fascinating three days-- particularly for our staff, who, with the exception of the records they were assigned to write about, were kept entirely in the dark about the results of the list. Of course, at the end of it all, the task of choosing just 100 records to represent the entire decade has meant that there was just not enough room for all of the wonderful (and arguably deserving) albums and bands we'd like to have listed.
Among the casualties this time out were: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Patti Smith, Sticky Fingers, Ornette Coleman, Pere Ubu, Van Morrison, Black Sabbath, "Heroes", Chic, Queen, Nina Simone, New York Dolls, The Jam, Frank Zappa, Transformer, Curtis Mayfield, The Police, The Damned, Aretha Franklin, Tonight's the Night, The Kinks, Tom Waits, Elton John, Yes, Janis Joplin, Station to Station, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Alice Coltrane, Paris 1919, The Upsetters, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cecil Taylor, Amon Düül II, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Augustus Pablo, Human League, Chi-Lites, Captain Beefheart, No New York, Magazine, The Slits, The B-52's, Durutti Column, Burning Spear, Tangerine Dream, Gene Clark, Françoise Hardy, Magma, Kimono My House, The Adverts, Manuel Göttsching and/or Ash Ra Tempel, Lee Hazlewood, and all of Brazil, including Caetano Veloso.
1 David Bowie Low 1977
2 Clash London calling 1979
3 Television Marquee moon 1977
4 Sly and the family Stone There's a riot goin' on 1971
5 Bob Dylan Blood on the tracks 1974
6 Kraftwerk Trans Europe Express 1977
7 Led zeppelin Led zeppelin 4 1971
8 Gang of four Entertainment! 1979
9 Joy division Unknown pleasures 1979
10 Brian Eno Another green world 1975
11 Rolling stones Exile on Main street 1972
12 Stooges Fun house 1970
13 Nick Drake Pink moon 1972
14 Velvet underground Loaded 1970
15 Who Who's next 1971
16 Buzzcocks Singles going steady 1979
17 Funkadelic Maggot brain 1971
18 Miles Davis Bitches brew 1970
19 Can Ege bamyasi 1972
20 T. Rex Electric warrior 1971
31 Talking heads Fear of music 1979
32 Pink floyd The wall 1979
33 Wire Chairs missing 1978
34 #s Saturday night fever (soundtrack) 1977
35 Popgroup Y 1979
36 Pink floyd Wish you were here 1975
37 Elvis Costello My aim is true 1977
38 XTC Drums and wires 1979
39 Suicide Suicide 1977
40 Modern lovers The Modern lovers 1976
41 Fleetwood mac Rumours 1977
42 Specials The Specials 1979
43 Michael Jackson Off the wall 1979
44 Clash The Clash 1977
45 Talking heads More songs about buildings and food 1978
46 Congos Heart of the Congos 1977
47 Al Green Call me 1973
48 Miles Davis Live evil 1972
49 Marvin Gaye What's going on 1971
50 Tim Buckley Starsailor 1970
51 Sex pistols Never mind the bollocks, here's the Sex pistols 1977
52 Elvis Costello This year's model 1978
53 Steve Reich Music for 18 musicians 1978
54 Creedence clearwater revival Cosmo's factory 1970
55 Nick Drake Bryter layter 1970
56 Can Future days 1973
57 Paul Simon Paul Simon 1972
58 Miles Davis A tribute to Jack Johnson 1970
59 Ramones Rocket to Russia 1977
60 John Lennon John Lennon/Plastic Ono band 1970
61 Beach boys Surf's up 1971
62 Cars The Cars 1978
63 Cluster Zuckerzeit 1974
64 Iggy Pop Lust for life 1977
65 Neil Young On the beach 1974
66 Big star The third album/Sister lovers 1978
67 Pink floyd Meddle 1971
68 Herbie Hancock Headhunters 1973
69 Faust Faust IV 1973
70 Pink floyd Dark side of the moon 1973
71 James Brown The payback 1974
72 King Crimson Red 1974
73 Van Halen Van Halen 1978
74 Leonard Cohen Songs of love and hate 1971
75 Led zeppelin Houses of the holy 1973
76 Blondie Parallel lines 1978
77 David Bowie Aladdin sane 1973
78 Anikulapo Kuti & Africa '70 Expensive shit 1975
79 Randy Newman Sail away 1972
80 David Bowie Hunky dory 1971
81 David Bowie The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars 1972
82 George Harrison All things must pass 1970
83 Iggy Pop & the Stooges Raw power 1973
84 Nilsson Nilsson Schmilsson 1971
85 Wire 154 1979
86 Joni Mitchell Blue 1971
87 Roxy music For your pleasure 1973
88 Giorgio Moroder From here to eternity 1977
89 Devo Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo! 1978
90 Anikulapo Kuti & Africa '70 Zombie 1977
91 Throbbing gristle 20 jazz funk greats 1979
92 Kraftwerk The man machine 1978
93 Jimi Hendrix Band of gypsies 1970
94 King Crimson Starless and bible black 1974
95 Led zeppelin Physical graffiti 1975
96 Iggy Pop The idiot 1977
97 #s The harder they come (soundtrack) 1972
98 Robert Wyatt Rock bottom 1974
99 Neil Young After the goldrush 1970
100 Brian Eno Before and after science 1977
1 David Bowie
Released in January 1977, Low was the most potent and encompassing hybridization of pop music's many modes to that point, an album that continues to resonate as a syncretic masterpiece three decades later.
Still fascinated with the urban funk rhythms he'd employed less subtly for Young Americans and Station to Station, Bowie was increasingly drawn to the synthetic novelties Can, Neu!, and Eno were positing, particularly Eno's Discreet Music, which informs most of Low's second side. This gorgeous quartet of dramatic instrumental pieces started out as the soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth, an 1975 film by Nicholas Roeg starring Bowie, at the apex of his cocaine addiction, as an extraterrestrial Übermensch. Unbelievably, Bowie's compositions were rejected; brought through to Low, they provide a grave emotional counterpoint to the record's self-exploratory A-side, proof positive that Bowie really was out to wipe the mirror clean in Berlin.
The kaleidoscopic opening salvo "Speed of Life" tests our willingness to come along, staring out like Johnny Rotten, but-- crucially-- not caring if anyone follows. "Sound + Vision" and "Breaking Glass" are our most immediate rewards, more familiar in their funk stutter-steps and sultry crooning. The latter owes everything to guitarist Carlos Alomar in the left channel, who delivers the lead with a swagger to rival Mick Ronson and T.Rex. Obstinate, rueful and reckless, the album's first side is a collection of seven short "fragments," whose brevity is at once a knee-jerk reaction to the meandering Station to Station and the end result of a bad case of writer's block.
To correct an injurious and carelessly repeated claim, Brian Eno did not produce Low (or "Heroes" or Lodger). While his presence and influence are uncontestable-- especially in the aching instrumental "A New Career in a New Town"-- producer Tony Visconti and Bowie shaped the analog onslaught heard here. For their fine ears, there's also a principal debt to the Eventide H910 Harmonizer, the first commercially available pitch-shifter, which through doubling lends Low its signature distorted snare drum, one of the most ingenious production advances you can point to in the 1970s, and a sound producers still reach for today.
Politically, Low is a singular and brutal indictment of the only thing Bowie's native England cared about in January 1977: punk rock. To a man who lived through Iggy and-- let's be honest-- designed Johnny Rotten, punk's brief lifespan and predominantly societal (rather than musical) impact were foregone conclusions. That Bowie could see past the flames to paint this horizon is irrefutable evidence of his solipsistic genius. Balancing process art, experimentalism and rock 'n' roll tradition, Low is Bowie unrefined, the most captivating effort from the decade's most-watched man. --Chris Ott
2 The Clash
London Calling (1979)
In a 2000 interview with George Plimpton for The Paris Review, gonzo overlord Hunter S. Thompson explained: "An outlaw can be defined as somebody who lives outside the law, beyond the law and not necessarily against it." William Faulkner, in an interview with the same magazine conducted nearly a half-century earlier, offered this: "The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life... and hold it fixed so that 100 years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again."
Deeply and fervently preoccupied with revolutionizing both the political and artistic standards of their time, The Clash opted to dedicate themselves to cross-breeding an entirely new kind of artist-outlaw, as violent as it was cerebral. 1979's London Calling became the ultimate expression of that collective fascination, a double album both intensely unsettling and undeniably clever, full of mouthy indictments and unbridled celebrations. That most contemporary "punk" music actually sounds nothing like The Clash is not surprising; by the late 1970s, principle songwriters Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had been mining musical traditions (reggae, dub, rockabilly, roots) so diverse that to recreate The Clash's specific recipe circa London Calling has become nearly impossible. 25 years later, the record still moves-- an astoundingly diverse, ambitious and inspired bit of politically-charged punk rock, as relevant and revolutionary today as it was in 1979. --Amanda Petrusich
Marquee Moon (1977)
Its title track is over 10 minutes long. Its lengthy and numerous guitar solos are individually credited in its liner notes. But at its core, Television's Marquee Moon is shockingly economical-- a tightly wound web of simple guitar parts wrapped around Tom Verlaine's straightforward and impressionistic songwriting. Taken out of context, the guitar solos on Marquee Moon aren't just unimpressive; they're downright illogical. Everyone who plays guitar will, at some point, learn the solo from "Stairway to Heaven", but it's practically impossible to sit down and actually play anything from Marquee Moon. Like The Velvet Underground before them, Television's songs focus on interplay and exploration, rather than individual melodies and chord progressions.
This, of course, is just icing on what is unquestionably the finest release from one of the most talented bands to be nurtured by the scum-soaked floors and paint-chipped walls of 1970s CBGB's. The subtle buildup of "Marquee Moon", the nervous energy of "See No Evil", and the melodic tension of "Guiding Light" are all songwriting masterstrokes, articulated perfectly by able and adventurous players. The punk scene from which Television emerged is often cited as discarding the concept of musicianship entirely. And in a sense, this is exactly what Television did with Marquee Moon, recasting virtuosity as a function of the brain, not the fingers. --Matt LeMay
4 Sly and the Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin' On (1971)
Taken along with the quick mudslide from Woodstock to Altamont, the drug deaths of Janis, Jim and Jimi, and the piling bodies in Vietnam, Sly & The Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On is a telling indication that the utopian 1960s were really a bad trip. After four albums of uplift party plans on which Sly sang, "You can make it if you try," his sing-alongs now went: "Look at you fooling you." Sly and his rainbow-coalition band crumbled during these recordings, leaving him and a few of his drug buddies to lay tracks to a tape made thin from constant erasing and re-recording (the story going that Sly would lay groupies to tape, then lay the groupies, erasing their voices afterward). No one who was there quite remembers who played what, and to even further muddy the mud, it was wrapped up in a warped, alien American flag (what sort of stars are those?) and a messy photo collage of faces, bereft of credits.
All of There's a Riot's pleasure centers and nerve endings are frayed from coke, dope, flesh, flash and, above all, disillusionment. Every single sound is weary, wasted, creaking, cracked and sleep-deprived, like a somnambulant zombie stumbling through the graveyard of ideals on the pavement of good intentions. The singles ("Family Affair", "Running Away") exude a façade of empty positivity, a bitter resignation to the darker forces bubbling underneath. Chicken-scratch guitars claw at caskets, human drummers meld with undead drum machines, and frightened voices fissure with the crisp horn lines, yet it all sounds incredible, prescient. Listen to the paradoxical 0:00 of the title track, to how hip-hop took that stripped drum sound and furthered Sly's bleak music, to how Miles got his groovebox back, to how the wasted Brits-- from Primal Scream to Julian Cope-- copped their dope from the grooves. Listen close, because there's no way in hell a major label will ever again let out this much horrible truth. --Andy Beta
5 Bob Dylan
Blood on the Tracks (1975)
Plenty of critics and fans blame the relative lifelessness of Bob Dylan's early 70s work for the quasi-religious codification of 1966's Blonde on Blonde, which, by 1975, was widely considered to be the last of Dylan's "great records"-- the massive and untouchable creative apex of a career presumably destined for prompt disintegration. It's possible to argue that all of Dylan's post-Blonde records had the exact same mystifying effect on Blood on the Tracks-- namely, allowing Dylan to stage his next reinvention, and to glibly position himself as the much-anticipated "next Dylan." Blood on the Tracks is arguably Bob Dylan's most personal record: less surreal and more self-conscious than anything he'd ever done, emotionally charged, and impeccably sung.
Blood on the Tracks was famously re-recorded in two deviant sessions-- first in New York, and then in Minneapolis. The New York sessions (widely available as the Blood on the Tapes bootleg) saw Dylan acting especially protective of his new material, refusing to explain his unusual open-tunings to Deliverance, his backing band. Deliverance guitarist/banjoist Eric Weissberg later noted that Dylan was not particularly concerned with "correcting obvious mistakes" (check Dylan's fingernails and coat buttons scraping against his guitar strings on both New York versions of "Tangled Up in Blue"), and plainly admitted that "if it was anybody else," he "would have walked out." Unsurprisingly, Deliverance can only be heard, in their entirety, on "Meet Me in the Morning."
Three months later, Dylan opted to re-record a handful of cuts at Studio 80 in Minneapolis. Deliberately thwarting the stark intimacy and sparser instrumentation of the New York versions, the Minneapolis sessions saw questionable lineup changes (an entirely new band, culled from local players) and considerable lyric revision, with Dylan seizing his last chance to retract, fudging the original lyrics to pad his songs with trademark detachment. The resulting record is stunning in its diversity: sentimental but clever, impressionistic but specific, confessional but confounding-- and unbearably easy to love. --Amanda Petrusich
Trans-Europe Express (1977)
The day will soon come, if it hasn't already, that Trans-Europe Express joins the ranks of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Exile on Main Street as a record that simply cannot be written about. Like those two, Kraftwerk's masterpiece not only represents a high point of its era-- delivering on pop promises years in the making and establishing a voice theretofore unheard-- but contributes to an archetype informing almost anything released afterwards. It quickly became impossible to ignore what the German quartet had accomplished, in both artistic and technical terms. That its breakthroughs actually managed to filter into the popular music arena relatively quickly was a rare bonus.
Twenty-seven years later, we're given the task of explaining what's so great about a record that, by most accounts, is not only a primary color for pop producers and electronic musicians, but somehow still seems ahead of the curve. When in doubt, fall back on the music: The cold, sleek synth textures and disaffected vocals might seem robotic (and of course, Kraftwerk nurtured that image), but they are also perfect realizations of the same minimal, streamlined tension that colored punk and new-wave. The spacious motorik of "Europe Endless" and stark, industrial funk of "Metal on Metal" both reveal a band perfectly at home in the 21st Century decades before it began, and serve notice to anyone within earshot that the Digital Age was upon us. And it would be fantastic. --Dominique Leone
7 Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin [IV] (1971)
We must be lying to ourselves: There is no way this album should not be #1. If my fellow PFM writers could go to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's memory-erasure clinic and wipe out everything related to this record and band-- the radio overplay, the Spinal Tap jokes, Robert Plant asking, "Does anybody remember laughter?"-- and hear IV again for the first time, it would be at the very top of this list. Because when the riff from "Black Dog" hits you for the first time, you come face to face with God. Nothing is bigger than Led Zeppelin IV. It tears your skin and grinds away your doubt and self-hatred, freeing the rage and lust and anger of cockblocked adolescence. Listening to this album is like fucking the Grand Canyon.
Some people call "When the Levee Breaks" the album's true epic, because it sounds like the blues while "Stairway to Heaven" sounds like druids. But that was the fucking point. Zeppelin understood that you spend your days under the weight of shit, so they show you the way out with a moronized stewpot of myth, Tolkien and California daydreaming, a place where you can pray for greatness from battles you'll never fight. Zeppelin spanned it all, because they knew sometimes you wield the Hammer of the Gods and sometimes you just get the shaft. --Chris Dahlen
8 Gang of Four
The first time I heard was Gang of Four was in high school when I purchased their reunion travesty Mall for 99¢. I listened to it and filed it away, writing the band off as just another overrated hype. But even with "Colour from the Tube" and "Don't Fix What Ain't Broke" swept into forsaken corners of my memory, something about the band pulled me back to them, and eventually the gravity of fate forced me to blindly shell out for an import copy of Entertainment!. And there, in the musty air of the old hotel I called home, it became clear there were hundreds of musical possibilities that had never crossed my mind.
Entertainment! may have been a sarcastic title, but it wasn't inaccurate. The album is caustic and bursting with disgust for unethical capitalism, opportunist politicians and consumer society, among other things, but it's also crafted with amazing pop sensibility-- and is, of course, remarkably danceable. Dave Allen's wild bassline on "Damaged Goods" spills over with hooks; "I Found That Essence Rare" subversively lays lines like, "See the girl on the TV dressed in a bikini/ She doesn't think so, but she's dressed for the H-bomb," into an insanely catchy melody barked by a manic Jon King over Andy Gill's airless guitar and Hugo Burnham's frenzied drumming. Like any defining record, Entertainment! seems doomed to be the source of an unceasing stream of copies and copies of copies, but even as the pale imitations pile up, Gang of Four's debut remains singular, a powerful call to arms and out of apathy. --Joe Tangari
9 Joy Division
Unknown Pleasures (1979)
One of the best-- and worst-- aspects of Catcher in the Rye is that so many people feel they can relate to Holden Caulfield. J.D. Salinger created a character who found himself at odds with the values of the world-- problems so germane to everyday life that empathy seems the natural reaction. Because people gravitate toward reflections of their own distress, this empathy somehow lightens our burden, but to reduce someone's troubles to a known quantity and equate them to our own also cheapens them, doesn't it?
Decades after Ian Curtis' suicide, he's frequently discussed as barely more than a caricature of depression and death. He has made a transformation from a real person to a Caulfield-esque everyman. Curtis' work with Joy Division is the catharsis that lets his pain become our pain, and we relate. Or we think we can. It's unfair, both to him and his music. Many, including myself, have written about Curtis' songs in the context of his own tribulations as a tool to leverage some kind of insight. For once, I had hoped to write about Joy Division from a different place, but I can't. To do so feels negligent.
I will say this: Unknown Pleasures was the second CD I owned, having been improbably drawn in by only the bandname and cover. I feel fortunate to have experienced the urgency, foreboding and perfection of this album-- from the distance of Martin Hannett's production, to the driving smack of Stephen Morris' snares, to the grim pulse of Peter Hook's bass, to Bernard Sumner's brittle guitar-- having never seen the name "Ian Curtis" outside of the liners. All I knew was that his alienation seemed impossibly close and more earnest than any music I had ever heard. And, yeah, I-- like so many others-- felt I could relate. --Eric Carr
10 Brian Eno
Another Green World (1975)
After taking two strides away from Roxy Music with Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Eno finally created an album that crystallized his delicately subversive relationship to pop music. As Chris Ott put it in his recent review of the remastered edition of this album, "Eno ripped rock and roll apart, never losing sight of its precepts. No one could mistake Another Green World for anything other than a pop album, but at the same time, it is unrecognizable as such."
This paradox is a very real one, and as listeners, we feel the intensity with which Eno combines his potent pop sensibilities with their very deconstructions. Obviously standout tracks "Sky Saw", "St. Elmo's Fire", and "I'll Come Running" take part in this paradox to a degree, but the essential Eno character lies most in the album's unassuming (but very human) sinews. When these pockets of vulnerability are forced to bubble over-- as does the almost sheepishly virtuoso guitar work on "Golden Hours", or the warm washes of beautiful synthesizer melody on "Becalmed", or the swaying guitar line that grows in confidence with repetition at the end of "The Big Ship"-- it's hard to imagine moments in pop music so authentically real, and so simultaneously spiritual. --Nick Sylvester
11 The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main Street (1972)
Released in the 1970s amidst post-Beatles uncertainty, post-Altamont rage, and the beginning stages of bloated arena rock, Exile on Main Street probably saved the soul of rock and roll. With this seemingly accidental masterpiece, the gritty country blues the Stones tested on earlier records is perfected but not polished, coherent but far from sober, aspiring but hardly blessed. In its broad thematic scope and timeless instrumental arrangements, the album doesn't so much break new ground as utterly embody a classic rock ideal: It's the great American album, shockingly consummated by ballsy British louts.
Stylistically speaking, Main Street runs the gamut from Gram Parsons' cosmic honkytonk to Muddy Waters' lush, booze-drenched symphonies. They'd always been some of the greatest interpreters of American music; Exile on Main Street is the paean to their influences. There's a beatific, run-down acceptance in the gospel blues of "Let It Loose", the barroom sing-along "Sweet Virginia", and the worksong-like "Sweet Black Angel", but these are mere mile markers on a sprawling scenic route through consistently powerful songwriting and apt production. Good ol' boy anthems like "Rocks Off" and "Loving Cup" never made it to radio, yet stand as some of the Rolling Stones' most enduring and soulful work. Treading confidently into alt-country's fresh terrain and the dense and muddled mist of modern rock, Exile stands proudly as the most influential album by one of rock 'n' roll's most effortlessly innovative bands. --Jonathan Zwickel
12 The Stooges
Fun House (1970)
It's fitting that there's only one degree of separation between Funhouse and "Louie Louie". That degree is producer Don Gallucci, who played keyboards for The Kingsmen on the slapdash Richard Berry cover that unwittingly became the nexus point for punk's sloppy abandon more than a decade after its 1962 release. When Gallucci assumed control of the boards in 1970, he immediately realized what John Cale, who produced their debut the year before, hadn't-- that The Stooges' primal energy and snarling attitude needed a bare-bones casting to be at its most effective.
Gallucci captures the raw intensity of the band's live show with next to no embellishment-- Steve Mackay's guest sax contributions simply bleed into the album's molten texture, mingling with Ron Asheton's chaotic, wah-drenched guitar in a dance of fire-breathing monsters. Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander pummel harder than Daley's riot squads in '68, and there, simultaneously towering over and drowning within the vortex is Iggy, ranting in the tortured shouts of a man who knows he might not be around much longer if he keeps living this way. If you set your TV eye on the album art, you're met with the contours of Pop's skin-and-bones physique as he struts through what might be Hell, microphone held high overhead-- the cover promises Iggy in the maelstrom, and that's exactly what Funhouse delivers. --Joe Tangari
13 Nick Drake
Pink Moon (1972)
During full lunar eclipses, the earth's shadow may cause a reddish light to drop across the moon's surface, sullying its face with a dull, bloody cast. Most ancient mythologies agree that a pink moon should almost always be understood as an omen of impending strife (if not apocalypse) and taken as a generous signal to pause and prepare for trouble.
Recorded in just two days, Nick Drake's 1972 swan-song was a quick and somber departure from his previous effort, the buoyant, heavily orchestrated Bryter Layter. Unfortunately, Drake's sudden stylistic shift has made it even easier to twist the spotlight of martyrdom directly onto Pink Moon's 11 tracks: The songs on Pink Moon are almost always eclipsed by the circumstances of Drake's (presumed) suicide two years later. Impending mortality-- regardless of whether it's been posthumously applied or not-- drips from every sharp strum and breathless whisper, coating the album's 26 minutes in a wash of disembodied melancholy. The cumulative effect feels both eerily preemptive and genuinely touching; everything about Pink Moon seems to point down, from the descending piano of the title track to Drake's flat, eerily prophetic promise, "Take a look/ You may see me in the dirt." Ultimately, Pink Moon's beauty is as terrible as it is touching-- a harsh, gray tribute to the inevitability of big lunar promises. --Amanda Petrusich
14 The Velvet Underground
Though Lou Reed might be more widely remembered for some of the most provocative and contentious experimental rock of the 20th century, his influence stretches equally far within the rock 'n' roll mainstream. A spot-on portent of Reed's vibrant solo career, Loaded witnesses The Velvet Underground emerging from the druggy maw of their late-60s work to pen some of the best vanilla rock anthems of the era, with the typically reticent Doug Yule assuming a more conspicuous role. The album is staggering not for its consistency, diversity, or technical proficiency-- something the band came to stylize-- but for the ardor and joie de vivre with which it explores the capacious boundaries of its form.
Sadly, Loaded often comes recommended with one glaring stipulation: "It's a good starting point, if you're looking to get into them." But the album is too good to be relegated to sub-intellectual standing; from the dripping tongue-in-cheek melancholy of "Who Loves the Sun", to the sultry narrative swagger of "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll", to the maudlin-but-oh-so-irresistible "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'", Loaded proves the Velvets top-shelf geniuses with a vocabulary fit for the hoi polloi. It's here that they finally chose to break the din of their histrionic, often difficult 60s triumvirate, striking the hot iron of rock in a transitory period-- and what a way to do it. --Sam Ubl
15 The Who
Who's Next (1971)
Are The Who the godfathers of synth-pop? They're remembered for begetting the rock opera, the windmill strum, and the sadly ironic hope-they-die-before-they-grow-mold reunion tour, but Who's Next makes a case for Pete Townshend & Co. as the ideological forefathers of the 1980s keyboard revolution as well. Certainly, synth-pop as we know it today doesn't typically come Marshall-stacked with battering-ram barre chords and towering, megalomaniacal drum fills, but Townshend's fascination with his fancy new ARP led to the first truly popular album predominantly based on the instrument-- from the hyper gobble-loop at the start of "Baba O'Riley" through the extended laser-show breakdown of "Won't Get Fooled Again".
For an album that brought the banner instrument of anti-rockists into public consciousness, Who's Next is paradoxically also the first record on which an arena-rock band sounds downright Wembley Stadium-large. Producer Glyn Johns removed the thin sound of The Who's early days, and the result was Roger Daltrey's voice finally filling out the fringe-jacket, Keith Moon clattering away with greater clarity than ever, and John Entwistle contributing the only listenable song of his writing career. The pretentious arrangements and sloganeering of Who's Next may have solidified the band as one of the decade's most imposing dinosaurs but by retaining that mod vs. rocker edge underneath the pomp and mysticism, The Who were the one thunder lizard set up to survive the oncoming punk asteroid. --Rob Mitchum
Singles Going Steady (1979) [Compilation]
Many of the more glaring or contentious omissions from this list are from genres typically considered to be "singles-oriented": among them, disco, funk, soul, pop, reggae... and punk. In Britain, the roughly two years between the November and December 1976 releases of "New Rose" and "Anarchy in the UK" and the dissolution of The Sex Pistols was a fertile, feverish time, fueled by a string of crucial seven-inch records from artists who, for the most part, aren't reflected in this (or most any) favorite albums list. (Stand up for your token bow, The Subway Sect, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Damned, The Only Ones, X-Ray Spex, The Adverts, The Vibrators, The Undertones, Siouxsie, etc.)
So, Singles Going Steady is our lone homage to the glorious, usually chaotic, often homemade punk single. Like most of their best contemporaries, The Buzzcocks articulated the quotidian anxiety and social fears of young Britain, but did so armed with intensely infectious melodies and hooks. Romantics at heart, the band are burned by misplaced affections, led astray by broken promises, and even driven to obsessive self-love. Were the Howard Devoto-era Spiral Scratch EP included, the album could be bettered, but as it stands, Singles Going Steady is a breathless document and one of most fantastic marriages of pure pop sensibilities and aimless ennui. --Scott Plagenhoef
Maggot Brain (1971)
It's not enough that Funkadelic's third album contains the greatest opening line of the 70s: "Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y'all have knocked her up." The album then proceeds to blow the doors of perception right off their hinges with the greatest studio guitar solo ever recorded, courtesy of Eddie Hazel, whose impetus was George Clinton telling him to play "as if your momma just died." He unleashes 10 minutes of soul-searing six-string napalm, both killing and birthing millions before your ears while Clinton cuts the backing band away.
So, how could that tripping Motor City collective-- much less anyone else-- follow that up? Funkadelic do it with echoplexed gospel, fried Sly Stone slink, stoned blaxploitation strut, near-heavy metal shredding, proto-dub drum flange, and ticklish other unmentionables. In short, they turn all that heaviness into a mind-altering block party for all the folks. It all comes to a head with another lengthy track, a hallucinatory slab of audio collage that mixes more incendiary Hazel guitar with cuckoo clocks, cowbells, vibraslaps, hash-sticky band jams, airplane departures, crying babies, crowd chants for "More pussy to the power/ More pussy to the people," and a frenzied rave that cannot be brought to a halt. Maggot Brain proves that Funkadelic's rock-based sound was digging other worlds way before Parliament's mothership ever landed. --Andy Beta
18 Miles Davis
Bitches Brew (1970)
In February 1969, Miles Davis weighed 135 pounds. He told reporters: "I figure if horses can eat green shit and be strong and run like motherfuckers, why shouldn't I?" Boxing coach Bobby Allah, who had been training Davis since the mid-60s, told Newsweek in 1970: "Even at 43 he acts like 25." The previous December, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Davis had explained: "Playing trumpet is hard work. You have to feel strong... It's not the note you play, it's what you do with it. And it takes strength to bend notes and to keep from breaking phrases in fast tempos."
That Miles Davis had to relinquish meat, chew on wheat germ and bits of fruit, and study boxing in order to train his body to perform the songs on 1970's Bitches Brew is not a particularly surprising revelation. One of the most revolutionary jazz records of all time, Bitches Brew is also a phenomenal act of physical prowess (see "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down", especially), hinged almost exclusively on the thick call-and-response tension established by the frontman and his players, the dark space between Davis' huge, meandering trumpet huffs, and his ensemble's collective sputters. Mixing big rock beats with abstract jazz noodles, splicing together bits of improvisation and ominous incantations, Davis used Bitches Brew to lay the creepy foundation for a genre that would later be watered down from cathartic to stupidly harmless-- but here, at the birth of fusion, Miles Davis proved that soldering elements of rock to jazz could be a wholly transformative, bone-breaking pursuit. --Amanda Petrusich
Ege Bamyasi (1972)
Can's various accolades have been well documented over the years, especially in light of hundreds of indie, electronic and post-rock bands only too proud to flaunt their appreciation of the German outfit. If you consider their hallmarks as precise, metronomic funk, lean group improvisation, and a keen sense of how the avant-garde could be integrated into popular music, then logically (or mathematically, as Jaki Liebezeit might have it), 1972's Ege Bamyasi was their crowning achievement. The beats were tighter, the excursions more abrupt and on point, the songs compacted, and the mood a focused paranoia fit for astronauts and acidheads alike. Damo Suzuki screams, "Hey you! You're losing, you're losing, you're losing, you're losing your vitamin C!" as if fully aware of the dark, radioactive pit surrounding him, yet he is also typically cathartic in the face of overwhelming restraint and efficiency.
Ege Bamyasi proved that Terry Riley, La Monte Young and The Velvet Underground were not only revolutionary in their own rights, but could inspire music equally as unprecedented and alluring. It showed that there really was a place to go beyond rock while retaining its power and thrust. Years after the fact, the exact details about what went down in Cologne during the album sessions are hazy, but this album's sharp detail and droning stare reveal everything you need to know. --Dominique Leone
20 T. Rex
Electric Warrior (1971)
Appropriately, Marc Bolan began his ill-fated career as a well-kempt model for John Temple suits. His body was grafted onto cardboard placards and hung in department store windows. On Electric Warrior, not much changed. He's the cut-out embodiment of a shallow, smutty pulp culture reared on Elvis' hips and Mick's lips. Except Bolan knows it, and every line is delivered as archly and ironically as possible: "I danced myself right out the womb," or, in a sort of ultra-Zeppelin aria, "You're built like a car/ You got a hubcap." Bolan's guitar trembles with dark angst and pop perversion, as well as traces of psychedelic folk. Vocally, the most frequent sound is some sort of neon yawn-hum, halfway between an injured coyote and a 60s girl group.
But more fundamentally, Electric Warrior served as the blueprint for glam and-- filtered through the filth of New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols-- the genesis of punk's attitude, if not its sound. Essential to T.Rex's junkie-vaudeville was producer Tony Visconti (also a key contributor to Bowie's Young Americans and Berlin Trilogy). Every noise-- from the symphony of "Cosmic Dancer" to the grimy warbling of "Lean Woman Blues"-- is lobbed out of some dank echo chamber where hobos and supermodels unite for the sake of their zombie heroin. And whether or not you buy into T.Rex's brand of fashionable sleaze, they are directly responsible for Ziggy Stardust, Mott the Hoople, and-- for better or really, really worse-- Poison, Whitesnake, and L.A. Guns. --Alex Linhardt
21 Serge Gainsbourg
Histoire de Melody Nelson (1971)
Histoire de Melody Nelson feels like some sort of ridiculous culmination of popular music, the moment the world had dreaded: a grooving rock-opera paean to statutory rape. The charming fable begins with Serge orchestrating a collision between his 260-horsepower Rolls and a cooing nymphet's bicycle. Gainsbourg's voice smacks of ennui and seduction; he sounds like either a middle-school principal or a whore. While he's humming along over stalking, gangly basslines and purring guitars, Jane Birkin (Gainsbourg's real-life lover) is so coy in the titular role that she can barely sing her Lolita-like name without breaking into tears-- until she begins howling orgiastic tickle-squeals.
For some, Histoire's delirious provocation is the definition of 1970s excess and execration. For others, it redefined the role of pop orchestration, swelling with the sparkling flares of a showtune and turning the most surreally lascivious lyric into a sophisticated epic. And despite the obvious shock value, the album flirts with enough pathos to go through mournful, self-despising moments that challenge the album's perverse glory. Everyone who listened to The Velvet Underground may have started a band; everyone who listened to Histoire started a Pedophiles Anonymous chapter. --Alex Linhardt
Pink Flag (1977)
Pink Flag is one of the strangest British punk albums, a mantle that Wire seem to have willfully embraced. The Sex Pistols embodied the controversy of punk rock; The Damned were the fuck-all abandon; The Clash were righteousness incarnate. But in that rarified pantheon, only Wire truly embodied the brilliant, fiery economy of music and language. On Pink Flag, not a single guttural bark is wasted; not one jagged chord is played in excess when less will suffice. Even when Wire's blistering anthems are tempered into languid, pop/punk trysts, each track flashes a startling singularity of purpose; every song is a mission, a lone idea to be fully expressed. Wire breathlessly tear through songs as infectious as they are simplistic, aggressive and focused, taking the "cartoon simple" aesthetic of the Ramones to a louder, nastier extreme. Such economy is impressive in theory but on Pink Flag, it's even more stunning in its execution. I could go on, but it'd be a waste; the album speaks-- just enough-- for itself. --Eric Carr
If you want to understand how important this album was in 1976, pull out The Clash's debut and listen to their Junior Murvin cover, "Police and Thieves". The first words Joe Strummer sings are, "They're goin' through a tight wind," from "Blitzkrieg Bop".
Most know by now that The Ramones was the guidebook for punk rock-- the bible U.K. punks bought on import-- but Seymour Stein, the man who signed the Ramones to Sire, had them clocked from day one, likening them to the Beach Boys at 45RPM. Stein would reap commercial rewards as the band tightened up-- check the ripping '79 concert LP It's Alive!, a perfect end to their decade-- but The Ramones' debut is often more adorable than energizing, especially on the tender "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" (to say nothing of "Beat on the Brat", which somehow balances humor and glamour without succumbing to either). Rock 'n' roll excess and political protest weren't anything new, but the basement tape production and barking choruses of "53rd and 3rd" and "Havana Affair" were shock treatment in the mid-70s. The Ramones rescued rock from stasis by mining its roots, invoking the sock-hop classic "Let's Dance" and ordering us back out onto the floor with the timeless call to arms, "Hey-ho, let's go." --Chris Ott
24 Brian Eno
Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)
Clearly, the 70s was Eno's decade. With at least four jaw-dropping albums in just a 10-year span, his records split votes faster than Ralph Nader. Don't be fooled by that "#24" you see up there-- Here Come the Warm Jets is his mesmerizing solo debut, a landmark in his career, and arguably his greatest album. Out from under Bryan Ferry's chart-seeking shackles, Eno-- here joined by the rest of Roxy Music and guitar-wizard Robert Fripp-- celebrates his departure with all the joy and irreverence of a newly freed man. A master sound manipulator, he indulges all of his just-skewed pop theories and techniques, creating not only vibrant, unique songs, but some beautiful sounds besides. His methods and results are more polished elsewhere, but with Eno's biting wit and singular innovation at an all-time high, this album is simply too purely enjoyable to ignore. --Eric Carr
It's always worth the double-take to remember that Neu! founders Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger were early fixtures of Kraftwerk. What Kraftwerk lost with the duo's departure was a nebulous but undeniably deep emotional core, however much Neu! initially shared in their drone-heavy compositional style. Here, Rother and Dinger-- both rhythm instrumentalists by trade-- were heavy on the groove and light on the melody, which is instantly made clear on opening track "Hallo Gallo": With grand, trance-friendly synth figures and an Autobahn rhythmic pulse that doesn't give up, the song established a distinctly Kraut, distinctly Neu! sound. The rest of the debut follows course with equal success, later turning its focus to ambitious experiments in ambient noise. There's a curious delicacy with which these experiments are arranged, a disarming, intangible quality at work-- I don't know what it is exactly, but to this day it has guarded Neu!'s debut album remarkably well against the perils of time and countless acts of feckless mimicry. --Nick Sylvester
26 Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder sounds like an innocent. We know he's not, but how else do you face evil and so passionately forgive it? How do you delve so vividly into racial hatred and the failure of brother to live peacefully alongside brother, yet not give in to anger? When he persuades us so sweetly, "Don't you worry 'bout a thing," is he as much a huckster as the Richard Nixon that he pseudonymously lampoons? Is the joke on us that a blind man not only romps through visual metaphors, but makes an album more colorful than anything your eyes will get you-- funk, soul and Latin rhythms dancing with keyboards that are so bright and intense they'll never sound dated? Wonder's almost too good to be true here, but the love in his vocals won't lie: He cut a lot of classic albums in the '70s, but none hits as persuasively as Innervisions. --Chris Dahlen
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Ever since Coda plodded onto American shores, Led Zeppelin have been forcibly reduced to the sum of their merch: More an archetype (see the scrawny white kid kicking dirt off the high school steps, sporting black sneakers, black jeans, a three-hair mustache, and a faded Led Zeppelin t-shirt) than an entity, Led Zeppelin were quickly swallowed up by their own dark mythology. Which makes the quiet grace of 1970's III all the more touching. Largely acoustic and presumably inspired by British folk contemporaries, III sees Led Zeppelin channeling their snarled, black-magic ferocity into sweet, vaguely melancholic bits. Without penning maudlin power ballads or mimicking folk sentimentality, III proved that Led Zeppelin were capable of far more than just their then-trademark raucous reinterpretation of American blues. --Amanda Petrusich
28 The Beatles
Let It Be (1970)
Often overlooked among the rest of the The Beatles discography, Let It Be rings with more than a handful of truly charming, memorable moments. Though recorded prior to Abbey Road, it was released a year later and could be considered a more fitting coda to The Beatles' long, winding road. Even as John and Paul were reportedly at each other's wing-collared throats during the recording sessions, they manage to sound positively infatuated on the tender, Dylan-esque "Two of Us" and the gutsy blues-rocker "I've Got a Feeling". But even though they're still jointly credited, it's their solo contributions that most stand out-- John's glistening, Eastern-accented "Across the Universe" and Paul's anthemic title track burned themselves into the collective unconscious on sheer songwriting muscle. Outside influences probably played a factor, but by the time Let It Be hit the racks, the Fab Four had little collective patience left. With their demise, the world lamented the true "end of the 60s," and Let It Be became a mantra for moving on. --Jonathan Zwickel
Tago Mago (1971)
On the surface, Malcolm Mooney's departure from Can and return home to the States may have looked like a devastating blow, but when the band's remaining members found Damo Suzuki bussing tables at a restaurant and decided to make him their vocalist, it became a blessing. Suzuki jerked through the band's open-ended arrangements and lockstep grooves with manic intensity, and it didn't matter that you couldn't understand a thing he said (that is, when he was saying anything at all). Suzuki sounds like he's singing backwards on much of "Oh Yeah", as drummer Jaki Liebezeit pounds out a hypnotic groove and Michael Karoli flirts with blues-rock in his guitar interjections-- even as the torrid texture around him rejects it. Can were as much an expression of collective energy as a rock band, and the energy they released on Tago Mago was like no other-- simultaneously primal and intellectual, and utterly crucial. --Joe Tangari
30 Miles Davis
On the Corner (1972)
On the Corner is the sound of icy hot heroin coursing through the veins. Or so I've always imagined-- I've never sampled the stuff, but if I did, I'd want Miles' most controversial record spinning on the hi-fi. A more dense, hypnotic, surprising, sensual, down album I've yet to hear. They say Miles was looking to connect with kids on the streets. On the Corner blows past the kids and the streets-- this is the sound of longing, passion and rage milked from the primal source and heading into the dark beyond.
Of course, the band is incredible: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea on keys, John MacLaughlin on guitar, and Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Billy Hart and Mtumbe on drums and percussion. But one listen and you understand individual names aren't important-- song titles and run times seem irrelevant as well. An admittedly demanding listen, these 50 minutes of collective madness here are so unified and driven even the dude playing sleigh bells rocks as hard and heavy as Miles on diffused trumpet. It sounds impossible but it's absolutely true-- that's the ecstatic intensity captured on this session. --Jonathan Zwickel
31 Talking Heads
Fear of Music (1979)
We're in a funny position," David Byrne told Rolling Stone upon Fear of Music's release. "It wouldn't please us to make music that's impossible to listen to, but we don't want to compromise for the sake of popularity." Yet in 1979, Talking Heads were more popular than they'd ever been, as Fear of Music became the first album of what would become known as "new-wave" to break Billboard's top 25.
So it's odd that, with the exception of the politically charged "Life During Wartime", Fear of Music is remarkably free of the kind of radio-friendly unit-shifters that marked their previous releases. Instead, Talking Heads' nervous pop began to turn darker and more exploratory: Tracks like "I Zimbra" and "Animals" toyed with the African polyrhythms that came to full fruition on the band's definitive statement, 1980's Remain in Light, while the highly experimental "Electric Guitar" marched to an erratic, misshapen melody and producer Brian Eno's alien effects. And yet, for every "Drugs"-- whose minimalist creep was taken by an imposing stillness and suspended reverb-- the album played host to a handful of brighter, more conventional pop tracks ("Cities", "Paper"), including one of the group's few ballads (the serene "Heaven"). Talking Heads' most successful album, 1983's Speaking in Tongues, was still four years ahead of them, but here, Byrne seems more keenly aware of the balance between the difficult and the approachable than anywhere else in their discography. --Ryan Schreiber
32 Pink Floyd
The Wall (1979)
As the individual writers' lists at the end of this feature will show, I consider Pink Floyd's The Wall the best album of the 1970s. I'll concede that the album enjoys an unfair temporal advantage, having been released at the very end of a decade many were eager to put past them, but I'd also argue that Pink Floyd ceased to be aware of anything going on outside the studio sometime in 1975. At once the most ambitious and indulgent record of its day, The Wall is opera, heavy metal, folk, and disco; it is a worthy update of the White Album, an instant milestone in rock 'n' roll. It is her prodigal son.
Rather than focus, Roger Waters explores every aspect of his anxiety and depression, orphaned first by war, next by schizophrenia, and finally by the world he was forced to take on in Syd Barrett's stead. He lashes out most vocally at Britain's by-then comical institutionalism, and the crippling alienation it infected its children with-- as in the smash hit "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2"-- but he's also clearly jealous of youth, and not above condescension during the salacious "Run Like Hell" and "Young Lust". Weaving back and forth between childhood nostalgia, anti-rock rage, and the paralyzing effects of stardom, The Wall is a man against himself, a 90-minute tantrum revealing terrifying depths of misery ("Goodbye Cruel World"), regret ("Mother", "One of My Turns") and contempt, prefaced perfectly by the monumental "In the Flesh?". --Chris Ott
Chairs Missing (1978)
Trailing their landmark debut, Pink Flag, by only eight months, Wire's Chairs Missing was a shock to the punk community that first embraced them. In a scene where "progressive" was a four-letter word, and keyboards and effects were weapons of the enemy, Wire bravely shrugged off their rudimentary roots and quested for something more. Critics and fans responded badly, and that Wire shared a label with Pink Floyd only added to their infamy.
With 25 years of hindsight, Chairs Missing is the most punk record they could have made, taking the scene's ethics of defiance, disregard and contempt to the greatest possible extreme. Though by no means a prog-rock opus, the album indulges in pedals, loops, and yes, keyboards and synths, to brilliant effect, while retaining all of the pop immediacy, compositional integrity and acute lyricism of its predecessor. Equal credit is due to producer Mike Thorne, who was responsible for squeezing these sounds of primitive machines, and Wire themselves, whose impatience and high standards pushed him to perfect the sounds they imagined. Hilariously, tying this into the whole of the list, Thorne recalls in an article on his website that "Wire said I should play synthesizers on the next album. I said, 'I can't move my fingers fast enough.' They said, 'If you don't do it, we'll get that Brian Eno in.'" This is one rare instance in which I can honestly say that would have been a huge mistake: He'd have killed all the joyous impulsiveness that makes this album one of the most charismatic, unpretentious experimental records the 70s ever produced. --Ryan Schreiber
34 Various Artists - Film Soundtracks 1975-79
Saturday Night Fever (1977) [Compilation]
If disco had a Beatles it was certainly The Bee Gees, although they never should have tried to make it official by raiding the wardrobe of a certain lonely hearts club band. The Bee Gees and The Beatles overlapped for a while in the late 1960s and early 70s, anyway, but who knew then that Maurice and the Brothers Gibb were busting with dance beats? Maximum R&B, indeed. The first five songs on this double LP could be considered the greatest album side of all time-- or at least, the public thought so, sending four singles to #1. At this point, The Bee Gees were hitting home runs every time they stepped to the plate (they have six dingers here) and there are enough good songs by other artists to make you forget the fluffy zeitgeist bombs that are David Shire's instrumentals. In the record-as-cultural-event sweepstakes, no subsequent release has topped Saturday Night Fever. --Mark Richardson
The Pop Group
25 years after their untimely implosion, The Pop Group's lacerated funk has begun to make a noticeable dent in the indie strata. Y, the Bristol post-punk band's trainwrecked opus, has been co-opted and realigned by the more nefarious members of the disco-punk revival-- most notably Liars on 2001's They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Yet, neither Liars nor any of their contemporaries have come close to matching the effectiveness of Y's arid doomsaying. Unlike most of the late-70s' no-wave types (and perennial imitators), The Pop Group were less concerned with eschewing convention than with vehemently eviscerating it. Listen to how they tear apart a boxy, reverb-laden surf riff on "We Are Time" with Dadaist malice and contempt. It's impossible to ignore Mark Stewart's incessant Thatcher-bashing, but Y is so convincing in its hectoring that one can easily imagine it arising from even more amicable circumstances. This is a record of dire necessity, armed for combat against a long litany of ills-- none more than typicality. --Sam Ubl
36 Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here (1975)
Flush and exhausted from the unexpected success of Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd resolved to shake things up a bit. For the follow-up, they entered the studio with no conventional instruments, intent on recording a new record comprised entirely of ostensibly normal songs composed on common household objects. Thankfully, they realized after a couple of weeks that it wasn't working out. One of their experiments with wine glasses is audible under the initial surge from Rick Wright's magisterial synthesizer, but the rest of the album finds the band spinning road-tested material into studio magic. They bookended three of their finest songs with an epic tribute to Syd Barrett, who himself made a tragically confused appearance at the studio during the sessions. Despite its cinematic sweep and cosmic jamming, Wish You Were Here is ultimately the sound of four men caught in the grinding of a wheel much larger than themselves and striving to understand it, only to find that they know its machinations all too well. --Joe Tangari
My Aim Is True (1977)
If substance always won out over style, the world would endure fewer arguments about the significance of this album, held by many as the most impressive debut in pop music history. Though Costello had spent years honing his craft-- stealing early-70s off-hours from his day job and family life and later working as a roadie for Nick Lowe's band-- My Aim Is True is so far beyond clichés like "arrives fully formed" and "hits the ground running" that it's agonizing to hear them used. Costello enjoyed the prevailing punk prototypes-- he listening to The Clash constantly while recording My Aim Is True-- but stuck to his folk and blues roots, slashing through 13 heartbroken rock 'n' roll rants in just over half an hour.
Made a star by the AOR vibes ballad "Alison", the song's dolled-up presentation can't even dent the resilience of Costello's stunning narrative gift (made clearer in menacing solo performances). Even at this early stage, Costello rivals Bob Dylan in his poetics and damning insight, delivered in alternately seething and sorrowful tones ("revenge and regret" were his exact words regarding inspiration). From its hilarious alarm clock opening ("Welcome to the Working Week") to the dub-doting send-off "Watching the Detectives", there's just one song on My Aim Is True anyone could say a bad word about ("I'm Not Angry"). In every other regard, this album's title is deadly accurate. --Chris Ott
Drums and Wires (1979)
The method is there in the title: By ditching their keyboardist and adding a second guitarist, XTC defined themselves by propeller-armed drums and a skin-cutting guitar sound. It's pure pop disguised as jittery post-punk, all played with teeth-chattering intensity. The aesthetic is so tight that even the forgettable tracks serve it, but the album also boasts some of the band's strongest early material. Colin Moulding's biggest single ("Making Plans for Nigel") serves as the commercial front for outro, neo-political epics on which Partridge wrings his vocals like laundry and spits out vowels like golf balls. Here, XTC also defined their version of a love song: Stuttering boys are so staggered by the sight of spectacular girls that their feet don't touch the ground. Dozens of other contemporary bands were more extreme in every way-- angrier, more danceable, more adventurous or primitive or whatever-- but this triple-jointed sock hop out-charms them all. --Chris Dahlen
Nothing about Suicide made sense. Nihilist electro-rockabilly? In 1977? And what was up with the sunglasses? We've all heard what a glorious shithole New York City was in the 70s, and Suicide's highly theatrical project wallowed in the filth. The blood-curdling screams in the 10-minute murder fantasy "Frankie Teardrop" (aka Taxi Driver: The Musical) get most of the ink, but the pretty stalker anthem/prom night bloodbath theme "Cheree" is just as disturbing. Most of the above comes courtesy of Alan Vega's expressionist vocal performance, but Martin Rev's churning electronics were of equal importance. His unusual keyboard tone referenced the sound of 50s rock 'n' roll in a brilliantly subliminal way while the cheap drum loops pointed to a future of relentless, trance-inducing repetition. Suicide have been called the American Kraftwerk but every one of their highways led to a dead-end piled high with twisted metal and charred bodies. --Mark Richardson
The Modern Lovers
The Modern Lovers (1976)
If there's one thing this world will always need, it's a late-night driving anthem, and Modern Lovers features one of the best. Two chords are enough gasoline for "Roadrunner" to soundtrack any expedition and reaffirm a weary traveler's will to push ahead. Although Jonathan Richman is somethi