i'm not really a list freak, but this one is more interesting
than usual... could be because over half of the first 10
are in my own collection, and they certainly changed me...
The 50 albums that changed music
1 The Velvet Underground and Nico
The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
Though it sold poorly on its initial release, this has since become
arguably the most influential rock album of all time.
The first art-rock album, it merges dreamy, druggy balladry ('Sunday Morning') with raw and uncompromising sonic experimentation ('Venus in Furs'), and is famously clothed in that Andy Warhol-designed 'banana' sleeve. Lou Reed's lyrics depicted a Warholian New York demi-monde where hard drugs and sexual experimentation held sway. Shocking then, and still utterly transfixing.
Without this, there'd be no ... Bowie, Roxy Music, Siouxsie
and the Banshees and the Jesus and Mary Chain, among many others.
2 The Beatles
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
There are those who rate Revolver (1966) or 'the White Album' (1968) higher. But Sgt Pepper's made the watertight case for pop music as an art form in itself; until then, it was thought the silly, transient stuff of teenagers.
At a time when all pop music was stringently manufactured, these Paul McCartney-driven melodies and George Martin-produced whorls of sound proved that untried ground was not only the most fertile stuff, but also the most viable commercially. It defined the Sixties and - for good and ill - gave white rock all its airs and graces.
Without this ... pop would be a very different beast.
Trans-Europe Express (1977)
Released at the height of punk, this sleek, urbane, synthesised, intellectual work shared little ground with its contemporaries. Not that it wanted to. Kraftwerk operated from within a bubble of equipment and ideas which owed more to science and philosophy than mere entertainment. Still, this paean to the beauty of mechanised movement and European civilisation was a moving and exquisite album in itself. And, through a sample on Afrika Bambaataa's seminal 'Planet Rock', the German eggheads joined the dots with black American electro, giving rise to entire new genres.
Without this... no techno, no house, no Pet Shop Boys. The list is endless.
Straight Outta Compton (1989)
Like a darker, more vengeful Public Enemy, NWA (Niggaz With Attitude) exposed the vicious realities of the West Coast gang culture on their lurid, fluent debut. Part aural reportage (sirens, gunshots, police radio), part thuggish swagger, Compton laid the blueprint for the most successful musical genre of the last 20 years, gangsta rap. It gave the world a new production mogul in Dr Dre, and gave voice to the frustrations that flared up into the LA riots in 1992. As befits an album boasting a song called 'Fuck tha Police', attention from the FBI, the Parents' Music Resource Centre and our own Metropolitan Police's Obscene Publications Squad sealed its notoriety.
Without this ... no Eminem, no 50 Cent, no Dizzee Rascal.
5 Robert Johnson
King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961)
Described by Eric Clapton as 'the most important blues singer that ever lived', Johnson was an intensely private man, whose short life and mysterious death created an enduring mythology. He was said to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi in exchange for his finger-picking prowess. Johnson recorded a mere 29 songs, chief among them 'Hellhound on My Trail', but when it was finally issued, King of the Delta Blues Singers became one of the touchstones of the British blues scene.
Without this ... no Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin.
6 Marvin Gaye
What's Going On (1971)
Gaye's career as tuxedo-clad heart-throb gave no hint he would cut a concept album dealing with civil rights, the Vietnam war and ghetto life. Equally startling was the music, softening and double-tracking Gaye's falsetto against a wash of bubbling percussion, swaying strings and chattering guitars. Motown boss Berry Gordy hated it but its disillusioned nobility caught the public mood. Led by the oft-covered 'Inner City Blues', it ushered in an era of socially aware soul.
Without this ... no Innervisions (Stevie Wonder) or Superfly (Curtis Mayfield).
7 Patti Smith
Who would have thought punk rock was, in part, kickstarted by a girl?
Poet, misfit and New York ligger, Patti channelled the spirits of Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and Rimbaud into female form, and onto an album whose febrile energy and Dionysian spirit helped light the touchpaper for New York punk. The Robert Mapplethorpe-shot cover, in which a hungry, mannish Patti stares down the viewer, defiantly broke with the music industry's treatment of women artists (sexy or girl-next-door) and still startles today.
Without this ... no REM, PJ Harvey, Razorlight. And no
powerful female pop icons like Madonna.
8 Bob Dylan
Bringing it All Back Home (1965)
The first folk-rock album? Maybe. Certainly the first augury of what was to come with the momentous 'Like a Rolling Stone'. Released in one of pop's pivotal years, Bringing it All Back Home fused hallucinatory lyricism and, on half of its tracks, a raw, ragged rock'n'roll thrust. On the opening song, 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', Dylan manages to pay homage to the Beats and Chuck Berry, while anticipating the surreal wordplay of rap.
Without this ... put simply, on this album and the follow-up, Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan invented modern rock music.
9 Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley (1956)
The King's first album was also the first example of how to cash in on a teenage craze. With Presleymania at full tilt, RCA simultaneously released a single, a four-track EP and an album, all with the same cover of Elvis in full, demented cry. They got their first million dollar album, the fans got a mix of rock-outs like 'Blue Suede Shoes', lascivious R&B and syrupy ballads.
Without this ... no King, no rock and roll madness, no Beatles first album, no pop sex symbols.
10 The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds (1966)
Of late, Pet Sounds has replaced Sgt Pepper's as the critics' choice of Greatest Album of All Time. Composed by the increasingly reclusive Brian Wilson while the rest of the group were touring, it might well have been a solo album. The beauty resides not just in its compositional genius and instrumental invention, but in the elaborate vocal harmonies that imbue these sad songs with an almost heartbreaking grandeur.
Without this ... where to start? The Beatles acknowledged its influence; Dylan said of Brian Wilson, 'That ear! I mean, Jesus, he's got to will
that to the Smithsonian.'
... for 40 more musical keystones, as heard by the Observer.
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The 50 albums that changed music | Music | The Observer