As we inch closer to the top of my list, we have covered 440 terrific albums. Many of my favorite albums will not be found on many lists of the greatest albums of all time. And, I really don’t care. Music is an objective activity, so someone’s cup of tea will not be shared by too many others. As you may have noticed, I really don’t have what I would call a country music artist on this list. The reason is simple, I really don’t care for the genre. I will acknowledge its huge impact on rock music in general and on a favorite genre like Americana. But, generally speaking, most of it sounds like nails going down a chalkboard, though, and I’m being totally honest, I really do prefer the nail sound on a chalkboard since I do occasionally get goosebumps from it.
I have to admit that it is odd for someone who grew up in a rural area surrounded by many who loved country music, but I have always been drawn to the artier side of music and the whole soul/R&B/funk/hip hop sound of the inner city. I may have been a jazz-loving beatnik in a former life, who knows? All I know is that I separate music into good and bad, and it just so happens that many country songs find its way in the latter category. That is especially true for some of the newer artists who, in the words of Tom Petty, “sound like a band 80s band with a fiddle.” How can you argue with Tom?
Here’s the last of my favorite albums that did not make my Top 50.
60. The Band – The Band (1969). This nearly perfect album is my second favorite by The Band (after The Last Waltz). I love how these four Canadians and one Yankee got to the heart of rural America. And they did it set to some of the greatest playing ever put to vinyl. This album is stuffed of classics, though “Up on Cripple Creek” was The Band’s only Top 40 hit, believe it or not.
59. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). The Velvet Underground were the antithesis of the prevailing groovy winds during the Summer of Love. Instead of flower power, peace & love, we got the gritty tales of a morally bankrupt and dying NYC and a cast of misfits trying to live in an apocalyptic vision come to life. Lou Reed’s songs were beautiful in their journalistic distance without any kind of moral teachings coming from him. Despite the support of pop culture gadfly Andy Warhol, the album sold barely any copies. Yet, like Big Star who followed a scant five years later, The Underground inspired every one of those who purchased a copy to start a band. They are the godfathers of the punk and post punk movements.
58. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1972). This Zep album stands out from the rest as most songs are acoustically-based, as if they were gearing up for a session on MTV’s Unplugged, even though that show was 20 years in the future. Still, they did give us one helluva rocker in the “Immigrant Song.” Plus, the original cover is fun for a teen to spin around to see which pics would show up in the windows. One of the first truly interactive covers.
57. Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999). I remember people my age and older just shaking in revulsion to the name of Eminem. To hell with them! They were missing one of the greatest, funniest and most inciteful voices at the turn of the century. Sure, Em got his beats from Dr. Dre, but he gave those menacing sounds a psychotic voice that put the whole package over the top. Plus, Em was no Vanilla Ice. He was the real deal, praised by many of the past, present and future MCs in the hip hop world. “Hey kids! Do you like Primus?” What a way to introduce yourself!
56. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006). What a magnificent album by a once-in-a-lifetime talent! Amy Winehouse was the real deal, a white Jewish girl from England who sang like the black jazz greats of the 40s, 50s and 60s. But, Amy did not live in the past. She and producer Mark Ronson and others helped her solidify her vision of marrying the past with the present to create a sound that singers continue to try to catch up with. It’s such a shame that an artist as talented as Ms. Winehouse left us so early in her life. Adele has tried to fill her void, but not as satisfyingly as the real thing.
55. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965). With the crack of the drum at the beginning of “Like a Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan was signifying that rock music had arrived. With that one sound, Dylan shed the trappings of his folkie background while taking rock music into a whole new area of discovery. It sounds like hyperbole, but all of the previous rules for rock music were jettisoned at the moment with a whole new canvas on which to create.
54. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). As Kanye drifted off into his mental illness, the hip hop torch was passed back to the West Coast to yet another Dr. Dre acolyte Kendrick Lamar. Hip hop immediately went back to the street poets and truth tellers with Lamar coming into his own as a rapper and visionary. This is a magical mystery tour of the streets.
53. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). Is this album THE hip hop masterpiece of all time? If it isn’t, it’s definitely a Top Five album. On this album, Slim Shady cuts loose with all his pent-up venom and sarcasm in some of the greatest rhymes set to the most menacing beats ever. Of course, “Stan” is just a brilliant song.
52. Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011). No, no, no, hell no! Lady Gaga is NO Madonna wannabe as many thought. Nope! This young lady was a tour de force unto herself. She did an 80s music tribute update on this album, and it is simply fantastic. Born This Way was packed with radio-friendly hits, yet it continues to age well. Her musical vision only begins at the point in which Queen, Bowie and Madonna intersect. But the music journey she is taking us on is completely her own.
51. D’Angelo – Voodoo (2000). D’Angelo really is a hip hop era Prince. Seriously. Except this man works meticulously, explaining why he has released so few albums over his 25-year career. At the time, I believe their was no singer as sexy to women as D’Angelo. And this album was a tour de force of hip hop, soul & rock. Since Prince had a difficult time incorporating hip hop in his sound, D’Angelo is there to be the bridge that Prince desperately wanted to cross but couldn’t. It’s a shame that the two men didn’t collaborate. Of course, who would have been the alpha?
Next time, we will enter the Top 50. Peace.