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.)
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.)
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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