Download the new Indpendent Premium app Sharing the full story, not just the headlines Download now. Shape Created with Sketch. The 40 best albums to listen to before you die Show all Chris Harvey. When Jerry Wexler signed the daughter of a violent, philandering preacher to Atlantic records, he "took her to church, sat her down at the piano, and let her be herself". The Queen of Soul gave herself the same space. Helen Brown. Propulsive polyrhythms drive against the lyrical pleas for us to stop and take stock. Same as it ever was. The album that carried reggae music to the four corners of the Earth and made Bob Marley an international superstar also set the political tone for many artists to follow.
Released outside of Jamaica by Island Records with guitar overdubs and ornamentation, the original Jamaican version is a stripped-down masterpiece. An unprecedented hours of studio experimentation saw George Martin and The Beatles looping, speeding, slowing and spooling tapes backwards to create a terrifically trippy new sound.
The album was also about an artist taking control over her own narrative, after releasing records that asked the audience — and the press — to like her. Millennials coming at this album can end up feeling like the guy who saw Hamlet and complained it was all quotations. Oh no. Oh no no no no no, no one ever did teen heartbreak quite like the Shangri-Las. But the Shangri-Las sang with an ardour that was so streetwise, passionate and raw that it still reaches across more than half a century without losing any of its power. This compilation captures them at their early Sixties peak.
He may have come to rue his Ziggy Stardust character, but with it, Bowie transcended artists seeking authenticity via more mundane means. It was his most ambitious album — musically and thematically — that, like Prince, saw him unite his greatest strengths from previous works and pull off one of the great rock and roll albums without losing his sense of humour, or the wish to continue entertaining his fans. In their brief career, ended by the suicide of year-old singer Ian Curtis, Joy Division created two candidates for the best album by anyone ever.
Closer may be a final flowering, but Unknown Pleasures is more tonally consistent, utterly unlike anything before or since. The mood is an all-pervading ink-black darkness, but there is a spiritual force coming out of the grooves that is so far beyond pop or rock, it feels almost Dostoevskyan.
Though her album, Blue, is usually chosen for these kinds of lists, Mitchell surpassed its silvery, heartbroken folk five years later with a record that found her confidently questioning its culturally conditioned expectations of womanhood. The answer to whether Robyn could follow up the brilliance of her self-titled album came in a burst of releases in , the EPs Body Talk Pt 1, Pt 2 and Pt3, and this track effort, essentially a compilation album. Body Talk is simply jammed with great songs. Produced by Quincy Jones, the sophisticated disco funk nails the balance between tight, tendon-twanging grooves and liberated euphoria.
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Glitter ball magic. How good can rap get? This good. There are albums where the myth can transcend the music — not on Illmatic, where Nas vaulted himself into the ranks of the greatest MCs in , with an album that countless artists since have tried — and failed — to emulate. Nas used the sounds of the densely-populated New York streets he grew up on. This is the album that changes everything. All electronic dance music starts here. Kind of Blue is unrepeatably cool.
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Recorded in just two eight-hour sessions, in which Morrison first played the songs to the assembled musicians then told them to do their own thing, Astral Weeks still feels as if it was made yesterday. An unanswered prayer for a united and forgiving USA.
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It is the greatest articulation of his alchemic experiments with musical fusion — the sum of several projects Prince was working on during his most creatively fruitful year. Stitched together with the utmost care, as if he were writing a play with a beginning, a middle and an end, the album is a landmark in both pop and in art. Caught in the psychological undertow of family trauma and all those commercial surf songs, year-old Brian Wilson had a panic attack and retreated to the studio to write this dreamlike series of songs whose structural tides washed them way beyond the preppy formulas of drugstore jukeboxes.
Notes pinged from vibraphones and coke cans gleam in the strange, sad waves of bittersweet melody. Weave a circle round her thrice… Joanna Newsom is dismissed by some as kookily faux-naif, but her second album, before she trained out the childlike quality from her voice, may be the most enchanted record ever made.
Producer Hank Shocklee creates a hard-edged sound from samples that pay homage to soul greats such as James Brown and Isaac Hayes, and Flavor Flav gives it an unmistakeable zest. Play loud, alone and after dark.
Lauryn Hill raised the game for an entire genre with this immense and groundbreaking work. Its sonic appeal has a lot to do with the lo-fi production and warm instrumentation, often comprised of a low thrumming bass, tight snares and doo-wop harmonies. Why has it taken the world so long to appreciate her?
Let England Shake digs deep into the soil of the land, where buried plowshares lie waiting to be beaten into swords. Boy in da Corner goes heavy on cold, uncomfortably disjointed beats, synths that emulate arcade games and police sirens, and Dizzee himself delivering bars in his trademark, high-pitched squawk. The human vulnerability of her voice and traditional instruments are given an electrical charge by her pioneering use of synthesisers.
Thrilling and immersive.
Desert meets Delta Blues. It can be found in every song on this brilliant track compilation. All the irreplaceable soul voices, from Aretha Franklin to Bobby Womack, were steeped in gospel. This is a great place to hear where they came from. Companion album The Great Gospel Women is a marvel, too.
The horrors of drone warfare, paedophilia and global warming are held up to the bright lights in disconcertingly beautiful rage. Disheartened by the media obsession with his personal life and the fans clamouring for the same old shit, In Utero is pure, undiluted rage. Curtis Mayfield had been spinning golden soul music from doo-wop roots with The Impressions for more than a decade before releasing his first solo album, which contains some of his greatest songs. While some point to the Blaxploitation soundtrack Superfly as the definitive Mayfield album, Curtis is deeper and more joyous, its complex arrangements masterly.
To spend time with Curtis is to be in the presence of a beautiful soul. Before they went their own way, Fleetwood Mac decided to tell a story that would be the quintessential marker for American rock culture in the Seventies.
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At the time of its release, it was the fastest-selling LP of all time; its success turned Fleetwood Mac into a cultural phenomenon. A virtual unknown to rock fans just a year before — Hendrix used Are You Experienced? Few debuts have changed the course of rock music as Hendrix did with his. Sister Sledge gave Rodgers a chance to work with warmer, gutsier vocals than the cool voices he used to give Chic records such laid-back style and the result is a floor-filling dance party, punctuated by mellow ballads.
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Follow comments Enter your email to follow new comments on this article. Thanks for subscribing! Vote Are you sure you want to submit this vote? Submit vote Cancel. Find Wild About Books at your local library. Like most institutions, the library in this story has rules about a number of things but not about lions. It does, however, have rules about behavior and when the lion, who has jauntily sauntered in the front door to join story hour, roars in distress when the program is over, the head librarian, Miss Merriweather, turns stern. Those are the rules…. Find Library Lion at your local library.