It’s 2020 and we’ve all got a lot of extra time on our hands. So if you’ve ever wanted to get back to the old days and listen to some albums in their entirety, why not now? Here’s our first list of ten albums that you really need to hear from beginning to end.
Only rules we used: No more than one album from any artist. No double albums. No live albums.
Bonus A Night at the Opera – Queen
OK, so we seriously couldn’t narrow the list down to just ten albums so we’ve given you a bonus. Queen‘s fourth studio album was reportedly the most expensive album ever produced at the time it was recorded in 1975. And, although it initially got lukewarm reviews, it has since been hailed as not only Queen’s best album, but one of the greatest albums in rock music history. And hey, it includes “Bohemian Rhapsody” so what’s not to love?
10 OK Computer – Radiohead
It’s a rare thing when critics, musicians and fans all give an album the same reviews. And this time, the consensus was that Radiohead had hit it out of the park and released one of the greatest albums of all time. In a major shift from their Britpop roots, the album featured Radiohead with a new atmospheric and moody sound, which was much compared to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon. Experimental and intelligent, the album was included in The National Recording Registry in 2014 by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
09 Idlewild South – The Allman Brothers Band
Idlewild South was the Allman Brothers Band‘s second studio album, and received only moderate attention when it was released. But it turned out to be a transformational record, creating a new sort of Southern Rock that was later imitated by pretty much every rock band to come out of the south. Much later, in 2014, Rolling Stone listed it among the most “groundbreaking” albums, saying the Allmans had created “an entirely new kind of Southern music.” It’s reported that the legendary “Midnight Rider” was mainly recorded in just over an hour at Idlewild South, a farmhouse the band had rented in Georgia for just $165 per month.
08 Graceland – Paul Simon
After his previous unsuccessful solo album and a divorce from his second wife, Carrie Fisher, Paul Simon suffered a depressive episode. During this time, he became entranced with a bootleg tape he’d gotten from South Africa. He and his producer travelled to Johannesburg and ended up recording there for two weeks. What this collaboration produced was an album that won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and sold 16 million copies worldwide, becoming Simon’s most successful solo album. It broke many barriers and raised the plight of South African musicians working under Apartheid.
07 Boston – Boston
Wait – this list doesn’t include Greatest Hits records, right? Well, it would be easy to think that this album was a greatest hits record, but it’s actually the debut album from Boston, the brainchild and creation of leader Tom Scholz. In what is described as “one of the most complex corporate capers in the history of the music business,” MIT grad Scholz conned his label into thinking he was producing the album at an LA studio, while he was actually reproducing the demos note by note at his small cramped basement studio at his home in Watertown. It turned into a blockbuster that sold 25 million copies and defined 70s rock. Every one of the eight songs on the album continues to be in heavy rotation at classic rock stations across the country.
06 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie
In 1972, David Bowie created an alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, and along with him a fictional universe to explore. The album delved into androgyny, science fiction, bisexuality and was years, if not decades, ahead of its time. The album became Bowie’s breakthrough record, catapulting him into stardom as a controversial figure. Perhaps the definition of “glam rock,” the album has been cited by many as a massive influence in their career. Bono has said, “The first time I saw him was singing ‘Starman’ on television. It was like a creature falling from the sky. Americans put a man on the moon. We had our own British guy from space – with an Irish mother.”
05 Nevermind – Nirvana
Nirvana singlehandedly changed the music industry in the early 90s, essentially killing the careers of many of the hair bands launched from the Sunset Strip, and elevating “grunge” to a new level. Rolling Stone said, “No album in recent history had such an overpowering impact on a generation—a nation of teens suddenly turned punk—and such a catastrophic effect on its main creator.” It’s true that leader Kurt Cobain struggled with his sudden overwhelming fame, and committed suicide just a short 2 1/2 years after Nevermind’s release. Nirvana was Cobain’s baby, and he wrote virtually all of the band’s songs and lyrics. Nevermind sold over 30 million copies worldwide, marking it as one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Sometimes painful, and sometimes beautiful, the album is worth another listen.
04 Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
Recorded in California in 1976, the Rumours sessions were fueled by cocaine and dysfunctional relationships, but somehow produced one of the most perfect records of all time. Selling over 40 million copies, its success afforded Fleetwood Mac the opportunity to continue as a unit for another decade despite their broken relationships. The powerful tracks from Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie (who wrote all the songs, with the exception of “The Chain” which was a collaboration between all the members) have lodged themselves in our collective brains. Take a listen and enjoy your trip back to the late 70s.
03 The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Pretty much a lock to be on every “Greatest of All-Time” list, this album by Pink Floyd set a record by remaining on the Billboard album chart for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. It has since reentered numerous times on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. It’s also sold about 45 million copies. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios and engineered by Alan Parsons (yes, of the Alan Parsons Project), the album was based on a concept by Roger Waters and was honed to perfection in live shows up to a year before its release. Each side of the album is a continuous piece of music, so it’s the perfect album to stream in its entirety.
02 Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Whether you call it “Led Zeppelin IV”, “The Fourth Album”, “Untitled”, “ZoSo” or some other name, Zeppelin’s fourth album is a masterpiece. Featuring perhaps the rock song of the 20th century, “Stairway To Heaven,” the album has sold over 37 million copies and their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography described the album as “a fully realized hybrid of the folk and hard-rock directions.” Dubbed “The Biggest Band In The World” in the early 70s, Led Zeppelin consistently broke audience attendance records and garnered massive payouts, due to their shrewd (some say “ruthless”) manager. Zeppelin was also well-known for their debauchery on tour, trashing hotel rooms and traveling privately on their jet called “the Starship”. In any event, they defined 70s rock due to their exemplary music.
01 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Innovative, groundbreaking and stunning are just a few descriptions of possibly the greatest album of all time. Hailed as one of the earliest rock concept albums, it was psychedelic, artsy, and drew inspiration from everything from Motown, the blues and Indian music. It’s been ranked as the #1 album ever on multiple lists, including Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” And forgotten trivia note, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were initially set to be included on this album but EMI persuaded the band to release the songs as a double A-side single instead. And, extra bonus if you have the actual vinyl album, as the cover is one of the greatest of all time and could keep you occupied for hours.