It has been my honor to provide 42Fifty with my hot takes on the most exceptional classic albums in music history. Now that the long school year is almost over, I’ve decided to do something special.
Since the 1960s, artists have traditionally organized their music into collections known as albums. These albums usually hold similar themes, sounds, or can be an experimental collection of randomness. Each decade has its fair share of absolute classic albums that have changed the landscape for music in general.
In this special edition of “Charlie’s Classic Album Corner,” I will be going through the three essential and groundbreaking records of each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. I will also provide a little explanation as to why these records matter in the context of music history, and the highlights according to their tracklistings.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” -The Beatles (1967)
Easily the best album of this decade for experimental-rock during a mainstream time period, this album is where The Beatles really proved to the world that they were much more than what they once were. They went from creating some cheesy and poppy love songs with little substance to creating some of the most ambitious rock music of the time. Songs such as “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” have in time become rock and roll staples. To add, the closing track “A Day In The Life” might just be one of the greatest songs of all time with its shifting structure and incredible production. Being a mixture of a McCartney and Lennon song, “A Day In The Life” has two different distinct styles that switch between each other, which was something mainstream rock bands at the time weren’t doing. No wonder why Rolling Stone voted this the greatest album of all time.
“Pet Sounds” -The Beach Boys (1966)
As a matter of fact, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” would not have even existed had it not been preceded by this Beach Boys classic. Paul McCartney, bassist and co-lead songwriter with John Lennon for The Beatles, has noted multiple times that “Pet Sounds” was the main influence on the creation of “Sgt. Pepper.” The Beach Boys hit their creative peak with this record, creating some of the greatest pop music of all time. Brian Wilson, frontman of The Beach Boys, created some of the most beautifully produced songs along with some beautiful vocal harmony parts. To add, the whole album plays a lot like an orchestra instead of a band, using a choir of vocal tracks and very classical instruments such as horns and harpsichords to create a truly unique sound. Just listen to songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Pet Sounds”, and notice how the instrumentation and overall production is way ahead of its time and truly creative. To add, “God Only Knows” still stands the test of time as the greatest song ever written with its beautiful melody and reverb doused production.
“The Velvet Underground & Nico” -The Velvet Underground (1967)
Being a part of the underground and experimental scene at the time of their creation, The Velvet Underground’s debut album is a masterpiece on a more subtle scale. As experimental and challenging as it is, it is way less accessible than most albums of the time. However, this does not take away from the genius and coolness of the album itself. Lou Reed’s crooning and spoken-word vocals give every song this chill vibe that carries on consistently throughout. “I’m Waiting For The Man,” the second track on the album, has become another rock staple, with artists such as David Bowie even covering it. To add, the album uses collaborative singer Nico on songs such as “Femme Fatale,” which give the album even more attitude and slyness. Although this album did not do well in sales, its influence is hard to ignore. You take a look at bands such as Talking Heads, R.E.M., and even Pixies, and you will notice how much they take from not only this debut but also The Velvet Underground’s entire discography. Pixies’ general discography takes so much influence from this Velvet Underground album, using explosive dynamics as well as strange and unique lyrical themes in almost every song. “Everyone who bought [‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’] went out and started a band,” Reed recalled.
“The Dark Side Of The Moon” -Pink Floyd (1973)
It is no surprise that this psychedelic rock epic is the No. 26 best selling album of all time, according to Digital Music News. You can ask anybody who grew up in the ‘70s if they had a copy of this album, and nine times out of 10 they will respond with a resounding yes. “Money,” “Time” and “The Great Gig In The Sky” have all become these godlike tunes for their complicated themes, expansive structures, and unique instrumentation. This album came out at the right time, as this album converted Pink Floyd into absolute superstars. All in all, “Dark Side Of The Moon” will forever be displayed on the Mount Rushmore of music due to its revolutionary sales and incredibly innovative songs.
“Led Zeppelin IV” -Led Zeppelin (1971)
After Led Zeppelin’s disappointing “Led Zeppelin III,” the band came back with a bang with its fourth self-titled album. This album also holds one of the most impressive and hit-worthy tracklistings of any album I’ve ever heard. “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Misty Mountain Hop” have been being played on rock radio stations since their release back in 1971. However, the album’s epic “Stairway to Heaven” is considered by many to be the greatest rock song of all time, and for a good reason. It is a seven-minute rock epic with changing structures, moods, and even instrumentation throughout, always keeping the song interesting from beginning to end. “Every musician wants to do something that will hold up for a long time, and I guess we did it with ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” guitarist Jimmy Page states.
“The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” -David Bowie (1972)
After legendary rock star David Bowie, released his 1971 album “Hunky Dory,” Bowie knew he needed to go even further in his creativity to stay the legend he was. “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” was released a year later, becoming one of rock’s most ambitious concept albums. Songs such as the hauntingly beautiful “Starman” and the emotional heavyweight “Ziggy Stardust” have become some of rock’s most recognizable anthems. To add, this album’s grunge-like sound and Bowie’s unique vocals really made this album way ahead of its time. Let’s hope that Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars keep rising for the rest of time.
“Doolittle” -Pixies (1989)
Just like what The Velvet Underground accomplished with its debut album, the Pixies’ sophomore effort, “Doolittle,” proved to the world just how influential their music could be. Bands such as Radiohead, Weezer, and even Nirvana have expressed love for this weird Boston band and how much their music is influenced by them. “Doolittle” itself, on the other hand, has provided the rock-scene with some of the best pop/grunge-rock the world has ever seen. Songs such as “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” are strange, weird, but unbelievably catchy to an amazingly high standard. Their use of a more grunge-like sound on songs like “Gouge Away,” could have been the root of the revolutionary change of hair-metal to a more angry and heavy scene taking the masses by storm.
“The River” -Bruce Springsteen (1980)
How can I do a special on the best albums of each decade and not mention the boss!? After the highly successful 1975 “Born To Run” album, Springsteen really needed to make an album that would still show that himself and his E-Street Band still have it. Thankfully, “The River” was a huge success critically and among Springsteen fans. Pop ballads such as “Sherry Darling” and “Two Hearts” set the tone of the record as a light-hearted and almost optimistic look at human nature. The title track ends the first disc of this double album, and this is where the tone changes from optimistic, to full-on depression. Just listen to the song and read the lyrics here, and you will start having an existential breakdown. The rest of the album after the drastic change of pace at the end of the first disc takes on that depressing tone and makes it sadder and sadder as the album goes on. All in all, this album is and will forever be one of the best emotionally manipulative experiences anyone can experience.
“Appetite For Destruction” -Guns N’ Roses (1987)
One of, if not the best, debut album of all time, Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite For Destruction” proved that popular rock didn’t need to be cheesy or ballad-like to be popular. For a debut album to have this many hits on it is nothing short of pure magic. “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and “Paradise City” is only the top of the barrel when it comes to hit-worthy tracks this record provides. This album is dark, brooding, heavy, and fun all at once, proving sex, drugs, and rock and roll can still appeal to the masses. This album was so influential, that revolver magazine issued a top 10 list on the reasons why it was THIS big of a deal.
“OK Computer” -Radiohead (1997)
This is the album that exploded the world, just like The Beatles did when they reached their creative peak after 1965. Radiohead’s “OK Computer” shows how bands need time to breathe and develop to truly come into their own. After creating a factory and dated ‘90s Brit-pop on its last two albums, Radiohead’s third try was a grand slam, providing some of the most unique and challenging music of the modern world. With the electrifying live shows on this album’s tour and the unstoppable positive critical reception of this album, this era truly made Radiohead one of the biggest bands in the world. Songs such as “Karma Police,” “Paranoid Android,” and “No Surprises” provided to be some of the most strange and unique music coming out of everybody’s radio at the time. This album is a true example of creativity and brilliance, and I do not think it will lose relevance and timeliness at any point in the future.
“Ten” -Pearl Jam (1991)
Remember when I said “Appetite For Destruction” was the best debut album of all time? Well, I lied, because Pearl Jam’s debut is even better! This is yet another debut where almost every song on the track-list is a hit. “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and “Jeremy” all had radio time and have all become iconic, along with other gems off of the album. The song “Jeremy,” in particular, was noticeably ahead of the times in terms of its disturbing subject material. This album embodies everything from teenage angst, standing up to the people who make you mad, and all in all, rock and roll fun. To add, for a grunge album, this album has some incredibly progressive and complicated musicianship and structures.
This is the album that started off the grunge scene once and for all! Once the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” dropped as this album’s lead single, music would never be the same again. With its distorted guitars, sad lyrics, and angry attitude, grunge was in full swing, making the youth of the world more rebellious and creative than ever. This wasn’t just your everyday rock album, it was a revolution of sound. Other hits such as “Come As You Are” were very catchy, however, they were more moody and angry than any other rock-music that anyone has heard. In general terms, it was a refreshing change of pace from all of the cheesy, poppy, and ballad-like trash coming out of hair-metal bands coming out of the 80s. To add, one cannot talk about Nirvana without mentioning their drummer, Dave Grohl, and Kurt Cobain’s unbelievable songwriting. Dave’s melodic drum parts mixed with Cobain’s rage-induced guitar and vocals make something truly unbelievable. Rolling Stone ended up voting this the best album of the ‘90s, and I don’t think anyone could argue against that at all.
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” -Wilco (2002)
After this Chicago band’s first three alt./pop/country records, Wilco decided to make a 180-degree turn and create a purely experimental and art-rock with “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s frontman, shows love, loss, and especially pain all throughout this tracklist in some of the most hauntingly beautiful ways imaginable. “Ashes of American Flags,” Tweedy’s ode to depression, stands out as one of the band’s best songs ever with its touching melody and interesting soundscape. The album’s closing track, “Reservations,” and the power-pop classic, “Heavy metal drummer” both stand out as some other highlights on the albums. There are only two words to describe an album like this: Modern Classic.
“Toxicity” -System of a Down (2001)
Never has there ever been a more politically charged metal album than System of a Down’s timeless classic, “Toxicity.” The band touches on subjects with some grim imagery, talking about kids being pushed around by machine guns on the song “Deer Dance,” being a commentary on police brutality. To add, some of the commentaries on religion found on the song “Forest” is nothing short of beautifully done. The song “Chop Suey!”, the bands most recognizable song uses tongue-in-cheek lyrics to disguise its themes of suicide and other grim subjects. Heavy, fun, dark, and ridiculous, “Toxicity” is something to behold.
“Songs For The Deaf” -Queens of the Stone Age (2002)
Queens of the Stone Age really proved to be one of the greatest and most recognizable rock bands of all time from this album alone. Not quite grunge, not quite classic rock, and not quite metal, “Songs For The Deaf” really stands out as its own specimen. The mixture of Josh Homme’s crooning vocals and heavy guitars along with Dave Grohl’s melodic drum playing all mix together with pure bliss on this record. “No One Knows” and “Go With The Flow” were the two songs that turned this band into the superstars they are today, implementing them into some of rock and roll’s most recognizable tracks. Bringing Nirvana’s Grohl to play on this album turned out to be successful, as the song “Song For The Dead” is one of the greatest drum songs to ever be recorded since John Bonham’s work in Led Zeppelin. All in all, one of rock’s most ambitious and unique records.
There you have it, folks! Those were the best and most essential records from each decade from the ‘60s to the 2000s. The world needs more albums that can change the world like these more often, as albums can change music, and unite people together better than any form of media. Maybe next year, I will look back on this decade alone, and discuss which popular albums deserve the title of “classic.” Hopefully, my reviews have exposed you to some new music and I thank you all for reading. Until next year, “Charlie’s Classic Album Corner” is out for the summer!