The 25 “Essential” Albums of All-Time, Generically Speaking

Rob O'Connor
List Of The Day (NEW)

Having seen that controversial Facebook app of "The 100 Most Influential Albums," I set out to capitalize and create the correct list upon which men could measure their manhood and women could be reassured that it's a man's man's man's white man's world out there. Magazines and websites have been doing this kind of thing forever with the exact same results and my entire existence depends upon making these meaningless lists. So humor me.

First thing I did was get rid of that awful "Influential" word and go for the less controversial "essential," where no one has to be influenced by anything. Unfortunately, upon doing the preliminary work, I ended up wasting four hours compiling a list of albums that turned into the 125 Most Essential Albums of 1964-1980. I wasn't putting down the albums I liked best but the ones that seemed like other people thought were pretty important, since they show up on other lists. I would've started the post-1980 list but things gets so esoteric it's impossible to determine which subgenres things need be divided into.

While I decide what to do with all that information, I did grab all the most obvious choices, added a few things post-1980 that were more obvious than obvious and took out the soul singers, nearly all the women and threw the Kinks out for being too obscure and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue out for being too jazz (and because I ran out of room) and before I knew it I had the "Generic 25 Essential Albums of All-Time List" that shows I can do monochromatic, tokenism type stuff just like everybody else! Just as my picture tells you I'm a useless white male! This list confirms it! Though don't blame me! I'm just repeating received and repeated wisdom. If it were up to me, American Music Club's Everclear and Mercury would be battling it out, The Apartments, Colin Blunstone, Ida, The Jam, Mia Doi Todd, Swearing At Motorists and The Fall would be part of "the conversation" and Arthurs Alexander and Lee would have a seat at the table next to Monster Magnet, Curtis Mayfield, Ruby and the Romantics and more women!

Even if you dislike this list as much as I do, you have to admit, I sure can read! (And you probably should own most of these. Just not so obviously.)

25) Elvis Presley -- Elvis Presley (1956): Before Elvis Presley there was no music. There were no teenagers. No one had sex. People came back from wars and settled into new subdivisions where they commuted to work and were glad they were no longer at war. With this album, the 1950s are covered. (Note: some lists cheat and put the 1977 album The Sun Sessions on their list. It is better, but it was an album put out after the fact, a compilation.)

24) Bob Dylan -- Highway 61 Revisited (1965): Before Bob Dylan no one ever wrote a song with meaningful lyrics. All songs rhymed moon and spoon and June and singers sang the words in polite ways that were pleasant to listen to. Bob Dylan hadn't been modestly popular more than a few years with his folky guitar before he found an electric one and successfully made acoustic music obsolete. (Bob Dylan, first boomer to show brains. Interesting how quickly we move away from the visceral, rhythmic base towards music upper-middle class kids in grad school might like.)

23) The Beach Boys -- Pet Sounds (1966): The Beach Boys invented sunshine and southern California, though that's a bit chicken or the egg. British magazines, in particular, choose this as the best album of all-time, likely because California is not part of England. Yet. (U.K. critics favorite.)

22) The Beatles -- Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): The Beatles quickly assimilated into U.S. pop charts and within just a few years created the entire 'drug culture' that led to kids dying and turning away from Jesus to worship John Lennon. No one still thinks this album is their best, but it's the one that made it obvious to anyone who wasn't paying attention that the album format was an official format and that people who bought singles were simpletons. (Not true, but this entire list is about generalizing incorrectly.) It's fitting in a way that the most famous rock album isn't the greatest.

21) The Velvet Underground -- The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967): This is underground music. It says so in the title. Remember the talking point: everybody who bought a copy of this album went out and formed a band. (Ooh, underground edgy artist.)

20) The Jimi Hendrix Experience -- Are You Experienced? (1967): Just ask a music magazine editor what Jimi Hendrix means. Jimi's death guaranteed he'd never record the crap albums that every artist who lives long enough makes. (Those left behind would release crap albums for him.) His level of distortion makes him sound less ancient to modern ears than, say, Link Wray. (I think Hendrix was black, but like Stephen Colbert, I don't see race.)

19) The Doors -- The Doors (1967): The Doors have managed to out-promote their competition even with their singer being dead. Actually, that helped their cause. Had the Kinks lost Ray Davies, I don't think they'd be as savvy at keeping whatever myth there was going three-four decades later. I guess it depends on who they had opening their fan mail. In any case, this album invented darkness. (1960s band who worked the publicity machine better than The Grass Roots.)

18) Van Morrison -- Astral Weeks (1968): No hit singles. No electric guitars. Stand-up bass. Hardly any drums. Songs go on forever. Definitely not NASCAR-compatible. Unclassifiable non-rock album listed as rock. (Many publications would insist on Marvin Gaye's What's Going On or Stevie Wonder's Innervisions instead, though I'm not sure why.)

17) James Brown -- Live At The Apollo, Vol. II (1968): Rock 'n' roll in one sense was typical boomerism. The music didn't exist until they (white teenagers) discovered it. With that thinking, maybe James Brown should be listed as an "influence" on the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Grateful Dead? The Doobie Brothers got funky, huh? "If you want to hear how it's done, you come here." Think of it as a field trip!

16) The Who -- Who's Next (1971): Hardcore Who fans bristle at the idea of this one being singled out. Too obvious. "It portends classic rock radio." Yeah well, that's the way it is. The Who Sell Out might mean more to some people's adolescence, but Who's Next got played on the radio! And in car commercials! And at the beginning of TV shows…note: "Who Are You?" is not on this one.

15) Led Zeppelin -- IV (1971): Presidentially approved. It has "Stairway to Heaven" and "Rock and Roll." You know that song about Rock 'n' Roll? Yeah, just look for the album with the old man carrying a bunch of sticks or something.

14) The Rolling Stones -- Exile On Main Street (1972): Double album with fewer hits than most of their albums. But hardcore Stones fans like it because it takes time to sink in. Casual fans should probably buy one of their 23 'Greatest Hits' albums. Casual fans should probably buy everyone's 'Greatest Hits' album.

13) Pink Floyd -- Dark Side of the Moon (1973): You probably should have the Super-Duper-Mega-Deluxe-40th-Anniversary-Box for this, which has the same remixes as the Super-Mega-Deluxe Box, but with an extra bag of marbles, playing cards and a few outtakes of the drummer tinkering on the synthesizer. This album was on the charts the entire time I was in high school and I went to high school in the 1980s. Consider it your sacred duty to purchase at least one copy in your lifetime. (Prog-rock album that's not really prog.)

12) Bruce Springsteen -- Born To Run (1975): Rock star-qua-Rock Star we got here! Yes! The iconic album cover! Ebony and Ivory! Fans of vintage rock who always wished there were more words to those old songs get their wish fulfilled by 'The Boss' who really likes words! Why isn't there a Chuck Berry album on this list? Wasn't Buddy Holly important? Phil Spector? Shut up, kids! That stuff's old music! This stuff here isn't even 40 years old yet!! (Every 40-something+ white male critic's wet dream. Let me tell you how I brought my son to see Bruce and had my belief in rock 'n' roll restored…zzzz)

11) Patti Smith -- Horses (1975): You can really tell that 'rock critics' started shaping lists in the 1970s. Nobody bought this album when it first came out. In fact, Patti never sold many records. Sheer persistence made her famous. This is the Velvet Underground Railroad in full-effect. Lookout! (Besides, there had to be a token woman on the list and it couldn't be the Runaways!) (The year of the woman. Women in Rock! That's March, baby!)

10) The Ramones -- Ramones (1976): Everyone owns the T-shirt! Probably a CBGBs T-shirt, too! (That's where they played and we all saw them, of course.) When I finally decide to go into investment banking, I'm going to live on the Lower East Side of New York's City and I'm going to blast this album from my Mercedes on the way to work every morning! (American Punk Rock.)

9) The Sex Pistols -- Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (1977): The Sex Pistols invented British accents. They heard what the Ramones were doing and figured they'd do it, too. For the album, their manager and producer made sure they made a real loud record unlike all the crap punk bands around them who thought they were part of a movement. (English Punk rock album.)

8) Bob Marley & the Wailers -- Exodus: Reggae music has roughly seven or eight musicians acknowledged as existing. Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Black Uhuru, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and maybe those guys who Keith Richards produced. Lee "Scratch" Perry is for advanced levels. This album is usually handed out in college at Freshman Orientation. (Reggae, mon.)

7) The Clash -- London Calling (1980): The 'Elvis Presley' styled lettering pretty much declared they were here to sum up rock 'n' roll for those ready to exit and do something else with their time. 'The Only Band That Matters,' so you don't have to worry about anything else. For those of us compiling cheap, neat, concise, condensed, superficial histories of rock 'n' roll, you know, lists!, nothing comes in handy like this album. It's a double, too! It has punk rock connotations, but you listen to it and it's pretty easy listening by today's standards! (Accessible near-punk album with critical huzzahs and liberal sentiments, since Elvis would've wanted it this way?)

6) Michael Jackson -- Thriller (1982): Granted, this is not a 'rock' album, but then neither was the Bob Marley album. What's important here is that this album sold 25 million copies and Michael Jackson is not the Eagles. Where the 1960s and 1970s were usually critics choosing albums of some assumed artistic merit, by the 1980s it's about making sure you're current and, therefore, relevant, and picking things everyone's already bought. (Top-selling pop album.)

5) U2 -- The Joshua Tree (1987): It's pretty appropriate in that homogenous, racist way that these lists are often compiled by the big boys of industry that I had to kick Prince off the list to make room for U2. Bono is his own brand and bland enough and reverential enough to belong here (he's saving the world, you know?), which means nothing really, except that when you're doing a 'generic' list of the best albums of all-time, you keep it generic and stay away from anyone too, ahem, "controversial" and besides I left off The Allman Brothers, too. (1980s mainstream rock album.)

4) Guns N' Roses -- Appetite For Destruction (1987): No New York Dolls on the list. No heavy metal for that matter. Not yet anyway. Until now. Funny what millions in sales will do to people with safe, mainstream tastes. Heavy metal? I love heavy metal. Welcome to the Jungle, indeed! Lock the car door, honey. (Hard rock finally exists! To be fair, had this been a list of 50, Motorhead likely would've made the cut.)

3) Nirvana -- Nevermind (1991): In the 1980s there were this thing called college radio that R.E.M. invented. All of the bands on it didn't want to be seen as wanting to be too successful, which wasn't a problem, since commercial radio played classic rock and kids in the 1980s followed the Grateful Dead. Nirvana broke through and anyone who'd ever been involved in college radio and the alternative scene was suddenly asked their opinion. We won! (Alternative rock album.)

2) Metallica -- Metallica (1991): Everyone needs a heavy metal album in their collection. The weekend needs a soundtrack. You could go back to Black Sabbath, but that stuff's too slow and depressing. No, it has to be Metallica! Their music even gets played at baseball games. (Heavy metal act for non-metal dudes.)

1) Radiohead -- OK Computer (1997): The rock critics' (slight return). Time will tell if this album is still on lists for years to come. It's in the most precarious spot. It's only 16 years old this year and it may get decided that this MOMA-approved band is just jive and that maybe Wilco, a band that stands for traditional values with an "edge" will bump them off with a little Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Or maybe, listmakers will go in the other direction and go Kanye! Look on the bright side. Someday we'll all be dead and new people -- your children, actually -- will argue about something else. Cheers! (Modern 'art' approved album to show we've evolved as people and no longer sit behind Dairyland drinking.)