The 1000 Best Albums of All Time
The 1000 Best Albums of All Time was a spinoff of our 666 Best Songs list. It was a daily feature here for over a year, but it stalled out at #456 and probably won’t be continued beyond there. Many of the links here are dead. To keep them up to date requires more time and energy than we have. Sorry. Why did we even bother doing this at all?
For people who like to download music; for people who troll junk shops and used vinyl stores in search of buried treasure; for anyone who’s on the prowl for good songs and artists who’ve gone unnoticed; for anyone who ever bookmarked this blog and visited every day. Because our 666 Best Songs list was such a hit, we stuck with the same guiding principles: A) to focus on albums that may be undeservedly obscure, underrated or forgotten, B) to give props to our hometown, NYC, and, C) to be counterintuitive.
These albums are listed in completely random order, since trying to figure out which of these classics rates higher – Never Mind the Bollocks? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back? – is a colossal waste of time. And unlike our 666 Best Songs, we did this one by the seat of our pants, a day at a time. We also tried hard to avoid replicating either the Rolling Stone 500 best albums list, or the “1001 albums to hear before you die” list, both of which are at Steve Parker’s excellent music list blog.
It’s also worth considering that recorded music has only been available on a mass scale to a western audience for about a century – and for about half that time in the third world. If you consider the entirety of human history, virtually all great musicians, songwriters and composers never had the opportunity to record since they didn’t have the technology. Also keep in mind that even during the last century, the great bands and musicians who never made an album vastly outnumber those who did – and those numbers will only increase as the digital divide between rich and poor grows wider and wider. So if you don’t see your favorite artist here, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t any good: it might just be that a single, classic album of their work that stands up alongside everything else on this list simply was never made, for reasons most likely beyond their control.
This was also an attempt not to get cute. For example, you won’t see any mixtapes we received (or made) as birthday presents, nor any prized bootlegs that we and we alone know exist because we made them and we’ve been hoarding them. Remember, this list is about fun – there have been so many albums issued over the last century that no individual or organization, no matter how far-flung, could ever be aware of more than a tiny fraction of them. You could create your own list without including a single album on this one and it might be just as good. This is just one more opportunity for us to get the word out about some of the great music out there that you’ll never hear about in the corporate media or from their imitators at the indie blogs.
This page begins with the obvious choices: consider this our bona fides, our stake to some credibility. Torrents for everything on this page are easy to find: just search “album title” + “torrent,” “rapidshare” or “mediafire” and you’ll find what you’re looking for. If our commentary anywhere on this list leads you to believe that there are no torrents available – or if you find a dead link, which is bound to happen as time passes – you should look around anyway if you want the album: people are posting new files all the time. Captain Crawl is a good place to start.
Albums #800-899 continue here.
Albums #700-799 continue here.
Albums #600-699 continue here.
Albums #500-599 continue here.
Albums #400-499 continue here.
1000. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper
999. Love – Forever Changes
998. Curtis Mayfield – Greatest Hits (Rhino)
997. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks
996. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
995. Ray Brown, John Clayton and Christian McBride – SuperBass 2
994. The Beatles – Yesterday and Today
993. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
992. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
991. Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers. Vol. 1
990. Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Fifty Golden Records
991. The Clash – London Calling
990. Hank Williams – Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits
989. Bob Marley – Exodus
988. Bob Marley – Uprising
987. Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey
986. Toots & the Maytals – Funky Kingston
985. James Brown – Greatest Hits
984. Johnny Cash – Live at San Quentin
983. Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
982. Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits
981. Patsy Cline – Greatest Hits
980. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
979. Pink Floyd – Animals
978. Pink Floyd – The Wall
977. Bill Monroe – Greatest Hits
976. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
975. NWA – Straight Outta Compton
974. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded
973. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
972. Black Sabbath – Paranoid
971. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True
970. Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model
969. Elvis Costello – Armed Forces
968. Elvis Costello – Get Happy
967. Elvis Costello – Taking Liberties
966. Charles Mingus – Tonight at Noon
965. Charles Mingus – Epitaph – Gunther Schuller, Conductor
964. John Coltrane – Giant Steps
963. David Bowie – Scary Monsters
962. Wilson Pickett – Greatest Hits
960. The Supremes – 20 Greatest Hits
959. B.B. King – Live at Cook County Jail
958. Muddy Waters – Folk Singer
957. Midnight Oil – Diesel & Dust
956. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
955. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
954. Jimmie Rodgers – The Singing Brakeman
953. The Harder They Come – Original Soundtrack
952. Grateful Dead – American Beauty
951. Lee Scratch Perry – Super Ape
950. Nick Drake – Pink Moon
949. The Doors – first album
948. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
947. The Skatalites – Greatest Hits
946. Rachmaninoff – Symphony #2 – Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Yevgeny Svetlanov
945. Rachmaninoff – Second Piano Concerto – Oslo Symphony Orchestra/Kjell Baekkelund
944. Mendelssohn – The Complete Organ Sonatas – John Scott
943. Dvorak – New World Symphony – NY Philharmonic/Arturo Toscanini
942. Bach’s Greatest Hits – E. Power Biggs
941. The Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat
940. Joy Division – Closer
939. Cypress Hill – first album
938. Joni Mitchell – Mingus
937. The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing
936. X – More Fun in the New World
935. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
934. Billie Holiday – Best of (Columbia 3-album set)
933. Lennie Tristano – The New Tristano
932. Leonard Cohen – The Future
931. Redman – Dare Iz a Darkside
930. EPMD – Business As Usual
929. Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot out the Lights
928. Bill Frisell – History/Mystery
927. Elmore James – Dust My Broom
928. John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band
927. REM – Reckoning
926. Twin Peaks – Original Soundtrack
925. Roxy Music – Avalon
924. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
923. Public Image Ltd. – Second Edition
922. Jethro Tull – Aqualung
921. The Byrds Play Dylan
920. The Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady
919. The New York Dolls – first album
918. The Specials – first album
917. This Is Spinal Tap – Original Soundtrack
916. Neko Case – Blacklisted
915. Morphine – The Night
914. Al Green – Greatest Hits
913. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
We should have included this amongst the obvious choices to begin with – this is a real iconic one. Originally recorded for RCA in 1978, the band and label had a falling out, the band finally forced to delay releasing it for a year until they (with some help from future Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson) could afford to buy back their master tapes. It was worth it. The prototypical goth band mix it up here: the majestic anthem New Dawn Fades, the fiery dirge Day of the Lords, the skittish punk fury of Interzone and the manic depressive stomp of Shadowplay mingle amongst eerie minimalist sketches like Candidate, Wilderness and Insight. The 2007 cd reissue includes a bonus cd with a surprisingly good quality recording of the famous Russell Club concert from July of 1979 featuring especially choice live takes of Dead Souls and Shadowplay. There are several torrents out there for this one; vinyl copies, on the other hand, tend to be expensive, especially on the Factory label.
912. The Mofos – Supercharged on Alcohol
Guitarist Gary Siperko (now with the Whiskey Daredevils) fronted this snarling, amphetamine noir surf band circa 2002. Their lone cd is simply one of the most exhilarating albums ever made, a blend of reverb-drenched horror surf, noir soundtrack and Link Wray-style stomps. Siperko is a master of vicious, macabre chromatic surf guitar, all reverb-drenched intensity. The textures here are to die for – layers and layers and layers of distortion and twang and blazing fury – and the tunes are worthy of Big Lazy or Friends of Dean Martinez. Adrenaline usually gets the upper hand here, as on the aptly titled Satan A-Go-Go or the surprisingly poignant, funereal Drag City. The offhandedly titled Dune Buggy War at Pismo Beach is a masterpiece of wild guitar fury; there’s also a punk spaghetti western number, a punk flamenco song and the vicious, chromatically-charged Fuck Art, Let’s Make Money. No song has ever been more ironically titled. And 2 Minutes to Live is one of the few songs we blinked on when we did our Best 666 songs of All Time list – it’s a virtual line of cocaine, one that won’t kill you. These guys probably never made a dime from this but their brilliance will last forever. The album is still available at cdbaby.
911. Sylvia Rexach – 20 Canciones Inolvidables
Sylvia Rexach was sort of the Puerto Rican Edith Piaf, a doomed bolero songwriter who drank herself to death at 39 in 1961. The sadness in her voice is visceral: fifty years later, she still has a cult following among latin music fans. Much of what’s here is just voice and acoustic guitar (she was a fluent player, also adept at piano and saxophone) with hits from the fifties including Alma Adentro (Soul Inside), Di Corazon (Tell Me, Sweetheart), Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sand) and Nave Sin Rumbo (Rudderless Ship). Unlike Piaf, Rexach’s lyrics (she was also a highly regarded poet) employ simple, metaphorically charged imagery; the resignation in her vocals can be chilling. She partied hard, and it doesn’t seem that anyone was particularly surprised that she died so young. Original copies of her singles (she released many, including her biggest early hits, Alma Adentro and Di Corazon, before any of them were put on album) are collectors items. This collection has some filler (a couple of pointless instrumental versions), and obviously the sonics don’t come close to the warmth of the original vinyl. But all that stuff has been out of print for decades, at least stateside. Here’s a random torrent.
910. Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town
Quietly and methodically, Austin songwriter Jenifer Jackson has built an eclectic and pantheonic catalog of songs. She started out as a teenager in Boston playing loud guitar rock, moved to New York and released the classic 1999 album Slowly Bright, a masterpiece of bossa nova tinged, Beatlesque psychedelia. Birds, in 2001 followed, stark and Americana-inflected, followed by Together in Time, a collaboration with her jazz singer father; a prized limited edition album of Brazilian and latin covers; the psychedelic pop of 2004′s So High, and then her greatest one so far, The Outskirts of a Giant Town (reviewed here in 2007). Jackson’s gentle yet worldly, wounded voice, her gemlike lyrics and an even broader mix of styles take centerstage here: the wrenching Beatlesque ballad Saturday, the jaunty tropicalia of Suddenly Unexpectedly, the Philly-style soul of I Want to Start Something, the bitter noir Americana of Dreamland and the shapeshifting garage rock of For You. And from the look of the material she’s been working up live over the past year, the follow-up to this one promises to be every bit as diverse and enchanting.
909. Nina Nastasia – The Blackened Air
This album was recorded before 9/11, but released shortly thereafter, it made a potent soundtrack for a city, and an era, reeling from the impact and braced for the worst. Conventional wisdom is that Nastasia’s classic album is her 2000 debut, Dogs, and while its songs are wrenchingly vivid, this one’s the counterintuitive choice. Nastasia’s lyrics on Dogs were like a Weegee lens, sardonic portraits of dissolution, disillusion and sometimes despair, perfectly suited to her matter-of-factly plaintive, sometimes biting vocals. Here they tend to observe from a few hundred feet, often achieving a towering angst equal to Pink Floyd or the other great art-rockers. Backed by a brilliant band including Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard on guitar, Dylan Willemsa on viola, Stephen Day on cello, Joshua Carlebach on accordion and Jay Bellerose on drums, Nastasia alternates between starkly bucolic minimalism, eerie miniatures and hypnotic pitchblende atmospherics. She’s never made a bad record: her other albums Run to Ruin and You Follow Me (a 2007 collaboration with Jim White of the Dirty Three) are closer to the vibe of Dogs and very much worth getting to know – ideally with the lights out.
908. Ween – 12 Golden Country Greats
Making fun of the excesses of country music is even more popular than heavy metal spoofs (we’re waiting for The Rough Guide to Country Music Parody). But nobody’s ever done it funnier than Ween. Their 1996 masterpiece features Gene and Dean backed by a hall of fame cast of 1960s/70s country sidemen : Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, Charlie McCoy on a bunch of instruments and even the venerable Jordanaires when necessary, on ten period-perfect C&W songs (the album title is a joke). The lyrics range from sophomoric (Japanese Cowboy) to sick (the gay-baiting, faux-countrypolitan Mr. Richard Smoker: “You’re a chicken choker”) to the sad tale of Fluffy, the badly toilet-trained dog, to arguably the most hilarious kiss-off-song ever written, Piss Up a Rope. Here’s a random torrent.
A popular country singer whose cult audience lives on six years after her death, Skeeter Davis first hit the country charts in 1953 as one of the (unrelated) Davis Sisters with I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know. Years ahead of her time, Davis wrote her own material and grew from chirpy, starstruck Nashville ingenue into the prototypical David Lynch girl, best exemplified on the haunting 1964 noir pop smash It’s the End of the World. Nuance was everything for her: even on her most upbeat songs, there’s a restraint, a frequently wounded resignation and a style that’s every bit as sophisticated as Patsy Cline. As with virtually all the country artists from that era, her many albums are riddled with both gems and duds (for one, the label had to get the album out there quick to ride the success of the hit single) – this one, a 1996 compilation, is a particularly well-chosen collection including both I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know and It’s the End of the World along with the proto-Amy Allison The One You Slip Around With, the bouncy Gonna Get Along Without You Now, the lushly noir-tinged Optimistic, and Mine Is a Lonely Life. Here’s a random download – it’s also streaming at the link above if you want to check it out first (keep your finger on the mute button for the annoying commercials after every three songs).
906. Fairport Convention – What We Did on Our Holidays
This was a tough call: the best of the Britfolk bands, Richard Thompson’s first group, had a great run from the late 60s through the early 70s, with one great album after another. This one, their second, from 1969, was Sandy Denny’s debut recording (she’d previously done an wonderful chamber-pop album with the Strawbs that only saw a release in the 90s). We’ve decided to give it top billing over the band’s wonderfully jangly, psychedelic 1968 debut (with Judy Dyble handling the majority of the vocals) and their most expansive early album, Unhalfbricking: even though that one’s got Who Knows Where the Time Goes, it’s also got three C-list Dylan covers. This one is practically perfect top to bottom: bassist Tyger Hutchings’ scorching Mr. Lacey; the acoustic Saxon gothic of The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place and an equally severe if rousing version of the traditional Nottamun Town; the gorgeously expressive Sandy Denny vocal showcase of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine, and Thompson’s most haunting, death-obsessed early anthem, Meet on the Ledge. Here’s a random torrent.
905. Los Destellos – Constelacion
In putting this list together, we went searching for the best available albums from a number of artists. Initially, a greatest-hits compilation for Los Destellos – the Peruvian psychedelic surf rock pioneers who basically invented the chicha genre – was the best we could find. But Secret Stash Records has reissued the band’s classic 1971 Constelacion album, available for the first time outside the band’s native country – on limited edition purple vinyl! Bandleader Enrique Delgado’s guitar shoots off trails of sparks over the bouncy cumbia beat on classics like A Patricia (which first reached a mainstream Anglophone audience on Barbes Records’ first Roots of Chicha compilation); Senorita, like the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run done Peruvian style; the slinky title track; the wah-wah/fuzztone stoner suite Honsta La Yerbita; and the moodily scurrying Pasion Oriental. There’s also a rare vocal number, Otro Ano; La Cancion de Lily, which sounds like Buck Owens stoned on Peruvian weed; the trippy flamenco-flavored Pachanga Espanola; the gorgeously pensive, bossa-flavored Azuquita; the dueling guitars of La Aranita; and the hilarious El Corneta, a mockery of a silly trumpet tune. A must-hear for surf music fans (Los Destellos are in Peru what the Ventures are in the US) and for anyone who likes psychedelic guitar music with an unexpected sense of humor.
904. The Bonzo Dog Band – The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse
Verrrrrry British stoner humor from 1968. This album gets the nod over the others in the Bonzos’ frequently hilarious catalog, as it’s more song-oriented than skit-oriented – which ironically means that there are more jokes here. They’re also especially biting, even for these guys, right down to the album title (“granny’s greenhouse” is 60s-era British slang for “outhouse”). It doesn’t have anything as hysterically funny as The Intro and the Outro (that one’s on their first album, Gorilla, from 1967), but it’s solid all the way through. It’s also their hardest-rocking album: Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and the rest of the crew are quick to lampoon anything and everything, especially 60s psychedelic rock excess, with the distorto organ rocker We Are Normal (which nicks an Arthur Lee trope), Beautiful Zelda and 11 Mustachioed Daughters. The snide Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? throws a jab in the direction of Cream; Rockaliser Baby mixes woozy, smoky one-liners into what sounds like a parody of the Move. The satire turns absolutely caustic on Trouser Press, a spoof of dance-craze songs introduced by a creepy Misterogers-type emcee. The jokes run the gamut from completely over-the-top – Stanshall mixing a drink and then slurping it on the intro to the phony ragtime ballad Hello Mabel – to clever and deadpan, best exemplified by the status-grubbing neighbors of My Pink Half of the Drainpipe. Pretty much everything the Bonzos did is worth owning; here’s a random torrent.
903. Ernest Ranglin – Wranglin’
The preeminent Jamaican guitarist, Ernest Ranglin had led probably hundreds if not thousands of calypso and ska sessions by the time he recorded this album, only the second where he’d been credited as a bandleader. The original 1964 Island Records lp did not sell well and has been out of print for decades, but is happily still available as a bootleg, if a somewhat dodgy sounding one. Ranglin’s career began almost fifty years ago, during the age of calypso yard sessions (and the birth of what would become hip-hop twenty-five years later). He was probably in the studio, maybe playing, when Lloyd Knibb of the Skatalites invented the one-drop, which would transform ska into rocksteady and then into reggae. Ranglin served as Jimmy Cliff’s musical director throughout his 70s heyday, then mined a frequently transcendent reggae-jazz collaboration with pianist Monty Alexander in the 80s and 90s. Now almost eighty, he retains the vigor and vitality of a player fifty years younger. This album shows how developed his jazzy, Les Paul-influenced style had become by the early sixties, replete with whispery, lightning-fast filigrees that switch in a split-second into frenetic tremolo chords and then back again. Here he sticks with a straight-up 4/4 beat, taking British bassist Malcolm Cecil and drummer Alan Ganley into the Caribbean sun for a characteristically warm, expansive jaunt through a mix of originals and old mento standards like Linstead Market and Angelina. You can download it here.
902. Dickie Goodman – Greatest Fables
Dickie Goodman invented sampling. Along with his partner Bill Buchanan, Goodman enjoyed a string of comedy hits in the mid-1950s that worked a bizarrely funny call-and-response between an announcer (usually the fictitious, bewildered reporter “John Cameron Cameron”) and snippets of the pop hits of the day, the first and most famous of these being The Flying Saucer, a War of the Worlds parody. In shades of what the RIAA would do to unsuspecting downloaders fifty years later, the recording industry sued them for copyright infringement. Buchanan and Goodman responded that their creations were parodies and therefore exempt from prosection – and won the case. And responded with the even funnier Buchanan and Goodman On Trial. Goodman resurfaced, solo, in the 70s with the topical Energy Crisis, the blaxploitation soundtrack parody Superfly Meets Shaft and then his only platinum single, Mr. Jaws, in 1975.
Goodman: “And what did you say when the shark touched you?
Olivia Newton-John: “Please, mister, please.”
And so on. This 1998 compilation has all the Buchanan and Goodman hits, including The Touchables (a spoof of late 50s tv detective shows) along with all of his solo singles including the very funny King Kong, from 1978, and an updated version of Flying Saucer by Goodman’s son Jon, utilizing more contemporary song samples. Dickie Goodman committed suicide in 1989. There are several torrents for this out there: here’s a random one.
901. The Lounge Lizards’ first album
Corrosive punk jazz from 1981. Bracingly assaultive for a few minutes, viscerally painful to listen to for much longer, especially at high volume, it’s the high moment in the history of the brief No Wave movement in New York. Other than a more-or-less steady beat and bassist Steve Piccolo walking a new scale with every measure, loud and growling, the tracks here don’t have much structure. Alto saxophonist John Lurie, his brother Evan on keys and the actually quite talented Anton Fier on drums blast away, with former DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay adding an ominous undercurrent of distorted, atonal chicken-scratch skronk. Other than the originals, there’s a warped version of Harlem Nocturne and even less recognizable ones of a couple of Monk tunes. Easy listening? Hardly, but great fun for fans of angry, noisy music. One suspects that the Luries were more talented than they let on here, especially considering how diversely melodic later incarnations of the Lizards would be. Many of their other albums are worth owning: the ROIR collection of live takes from 1979 through 1981 has a similar gritty savagery; their Live in Tokyo album, from 1986 mines a vastly more suave, somewhat noir vibe, albeit with an almost completely different cast of players. Out of print for years, the debut album is extremely hard to find – most recently, there was a torrent for several dozen Tzadik albums that doesn’t seem to be working anymore. If you find one let us know!
900. Laika & the Cosmonauts – Laika Sex Machine Live
Incredibly eclectic surf and instrumental rock from Finland, 1999. These guys did it all: pounding Dick Dale chromatic stomps, spacy sci-fi themes, rapidfire chase scenes, twangy bucolic vignettes and dozens of catchy, two-and-a-half minute hits that are every bit as iconic in Europe as the Ventures are here. Laika & the Cosmonauts’ sound frequently uses keyboards as well as guitars, often in the same song, further diversifying their textures. This is a greatest-hits album of sorts recorded before ecstatic crowds in Germany and Finland: happily, we don’t have to suffer through any of their applause until the very end. As with so many of the great surf bands to come out of the Nordic regions, the band uses a lot of moody minor-key and chromatic passages, sometimes bordering on the macabre. Several others are satirical and quite funny. This collection includes the late 60s psychedelia of The Hypno-Wheel; the utterly gorgeous Turquoise; Disconnected, a surfy spoof of disco music, the bitter chromatics of Sycophant and Boris the Conductor (a bombastic sendup of Boris Yeltsin) as well as the themes from the Avengers, Get Carter and a pastiche of the Psycho and Vertigo themes. 26 songs in all, a terrific representation of one of the world’s great instrumental bands, one that literally never made a bad album. Their surprisingly traditional sounding first album, C’Mon Do the Laika and the psychedelically-tinged tour de force Absurdistan are especially worth seeking out. Be careful looking for torrents for this one: because of the title, attack sites disguised as porn have it listed, as do several dubious-looking sites located in Russia (where surf music is as huge as it is in the US).
Albums #800-899 continue here.
Albums #700-799 continue here.
Albums #600-699 continue here.
Albums #500-599 continue here.
Albums #400-499 continue here.