1. The Dark Side Of The Moon
One of the most famous albums of all time, Dark Side of the Moon sold 25 million copies in its first 25 years of release. Dark Side of the Moon was the first album that Pink Floyd decided to break in live before attempting to record, with the debut performance of what they then called Eclipse just over a year before the final release date. When they finally retired to Abbey Road Studios with top sound engineer Alan Parsons, state-of-the-art 16-track recording equipment and the new Dolby technology to hand, it was to produce one of the great pieces of studio art. Covering a range of styles, this was the last album (prior to Roger Waters’ departure in the early 1980s) to whose writing the other members of Pink Floyd contributed significantly.
Nevertheless, it remains a stunningly coherent package, bound together by surreal fragments of speech (mostly gleaned from asking questions of the doorman at the studio) and Waters’ bold and bleak lyrics. Often reputed to be about former member Syd Barrett’s decline into schizophrenia, in fact Waters has said the lyrics “were a lot about ordinariness” and dealt with people’s responses to the increasing insanity of the pressures of everyday life. Some of the extraordinary sound effects used came from the most unlikely sources–the coins at the start of “Money” from Waters tossing handfuls of change into an industrial food-mixer that his wife, a potter, used to mix clay. Whatever the medium, a new standard for attention to detail and production values had been set and the world of studio recording would never be the same again. –James Swift
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was a benchmark record. It turned the musical world on its ear with a hitherto unseen combination of sounds, and changed things considerably for Pink Floyd. For this project, Pink Floyd resurrected older and unfinished numbers, some of which came from the multitude of soundtracks the band members had previously worked on. The film ZABRISKIE POINT, a study of American materialism from a foreigner’s perspective, provided “Us And Them” (originally titled “The Violence Sequence”). Waters rewrote “Breathe” after its appearance on his and avant-garde composer Ron Geesin’s score for THE BODY, a surreal medical documentary.
Floyd and their long-time engineer, Alan Parsons, used a multitude of sound effects–from stereophonically projected footsteps and planes flying overhead (“On The Run”) to a roomful of ringing clocks (“Time”). Further adding to the record’s mystique, barely audible spoken passages were sprinkled throughout—a result of hours interviewing random Abbey Road occupants about their views on insanity, violence, and death. Floyd must have struck a nerve: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON remained on Billboard’s albums chart for an astounding 14 years. It made Pink Floyd a household name, elevating them to the level of the Rolling Stones and The Who in the rock pantheon.
2. Dead Set
No review 🙂
3. Exile On Coldharbour Lane
They’re not from Alabama, and there’s many, many more than three of them. In fact, Exile On Coldharbour Lane is the product of a warped gang of Scottish DJs, reformed junkies and sideshow entertainers. Don’t be cynical, though–they’ve had a calling; the Alabama 3 gospel embraces Deep Southern Christian fundamentalism, revolutionary Marxism, serious drug abuse and the loved-up embrace of acid house music. Exile On Coldharbour Lane, however artificial, is a thoroughly enjoyable cabaret record. With titles like “Bourgeoisie Blues”, “Mao Tse Tung Said” and let’s not forget “Hypo Full Of Love (The 12 Step Plan)”, Alabama 3 have created a peculiar fusion of country, techno, and hip-hop, and somehow made it funny. There’s even time to fit in “Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness”–a traditional American folk number, performed with po-faced aplomb. You’ll consider converting. –Louis Pattison
It’s seldom that a band’s sixth album is their best, but Exterminator is nothing less than a radical new dawn. Only a few years before, Primal Scream seemed spent–a smack-addled joke, numbing the pain with the idle comfort of rock & roll cliché. Exterminator is the Scream’s baptism of fire–an album with a righteous social conscience, it rages against apathy and injustice with all the funk-fuelled indignation of Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On. Musically, too, Exterminator is shackled together with a coherence that’s eluded them since 1991. From the tense industrial trance of “Swastika Eyes”, to the scurvy-thin hip-hop of “Pills” and the exultant Krautrock of “Shoot Speed Kill Light”, one minute the ‘Scream are diseased and desperate, the next they’re basking in glorious, righteous euphoria. Thank the guests, certainly–the Chemical Brothers, New Order’s Bernard Sumner, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields–but when you hear Bobby Gillespie screaming “from here to where?”, on the hyper-distorted pedal-to-the-metal drag-race of “Accelerator”, you’ll know he’s the one with the road map to a terrific rock & roll future. –Louis Pattison
5. Physical Grafitti
This 1975 release came smack in the middle of a long and nearly mythic career. Physical Graffiti is the last great Led Zeppelin title, recorded before the influences of the day (synthesizers, disco) ended Zeppelin’s reign as the kings of loud and sexy blues-metal. Playfully experimenting with new sounds, the band blended Middle Eastern rhythms, folk-stylings, heavy blues, and deeply impassioned rock riffs into a two-disc set that sounded as if they were still enjoying their place in the rock pantheon. As sprawling and adventurous as this collection is, there are some tracks so tightly focused–so ultra-Zeppelinesque–that it’s tempting to name this as a number one or number two must-have. “Trampled Underfoot” and “Custard Pie” alone are almost worth the double-disc price tag. –Lorry Fleming
After a two-year recording gap (the longest in their recording career up to that point), Led Zeppelin followed the rampant eclecticism of HOUSES OF THE HOLY with the embarrassmentof riches that is PHYSICAL GRAFFITI. One could be forgiven for thinking of this expansive double-length set as Zeppelin’s WHITE ALBUM. It’s a great schizophrenic beast, the first side containing the most concentrated dose of pure hard-rockenergy the band had delivered since their first two albums,and the second showing off the more subtle nuances of theirtalent.
This is really Jimmy Page’s album, from the masterfully moody Eastern setting of “Kashmir” to the poignant liquidity of “Down by the Seaside” and the furious riffing of”Trampled Under Foot”. The 1950s-style rocker “Boogie with Stu” (featuring Stones pianist Ian Stewart) and the rural romp “Bron-Yr-Aur” add yet more colours to the spectrum of what may be the most emotionally satisfying album in the Led Zeppelin canon.
Rolling Stone Review
Synchronicity is a work of dazzling surfaces and glacial shadows. Sunny pop melodies echo with ominous sound effects. Pithy verses deal with doomsday. A battery of rhythms — pop, reggae and African — lead a safari into a physical and spiritual desert, to “Tea in the Sahara.” Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and finest album, is about things ending — the world in peril, the failure of personal relationships and marriage, the death of God.
Throughout the LP, these ideas reflect upon one another in echoing, overlapping voices and instrumentation as the safari shifts between England’s industrial flatlands and Africa. “If we share this nightmare/ Then we can dream,” Sting announces in the title cut, a jangling collage of metallic guitar, percussion and voices that artfully conjures the clamor of the world.
Though the Police started out as straightforward pop-reggae enthusiasts, they have by now so thoroughly assimilated the latter that all that remains are different varieties of reggae-style syncopation. The Police and coproducer Hugh Padgham have transformed the ethereal sounds of Jamaican dub into shivering, self-contained atmospheres. Even more than on the hauntingly ambient Ghost in the Machine, each cut on Synchronicity is not simply a song but a miniature, discrete soundtrack.
Synchronicity‘s big surprise, however, is the explosive and bitter passion of Sting’s newest songs. Before this LP, his global pessimism was countered by a streak of pop romanticism. Such songs as “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” stood out like glowing gems, safely sealed off from Sting’s darker reflections. On Synchronicity, vestiges of that romanticism remain, but only in the melodies. In the lyrics, paranoia, cynicism and excruciating loneliness run rampant.
The cuts on Synchronicity are sequenced like Chinese boxes, the focus narrowing from the global to the local to the personal. But every box contains the ashes of betrayal. “Walking in Your Footsteps,” a children’s tune sung in a third-world accent and brightly illustrated with African percussion and flute, contemplates nothing less than humanity’s nuclear suicide. “Hey Mr. Dinosaur, you really couldn’t ask for more/You were god’s favorite creature but you didn’t have a future,” Sting calls out before adding, “[We’re] walking in your footsteps.”
In “O My God,” Sting drops his third-world mannerisms to voice a desperate, anguished plea for help to a distant deity: “Take the space between us, and fill it up, fill it up, fill it up!” This “space” is evoked in an eerie, sprinting dub-rock style, with Sting addressing not only God but also a woman and the people of the world, begging for what he clearly feels is an impossible reconciliation.
The mood of cosmic anxiety is interrupted by two songs written by other members of the band. Guitarist Andy Summers’ corrosively funny “Mother” inverts John Lennon’s romantic maternal attachment into a grim dadaist joke. Stewart Copeland’s “Miss Gradenko,” a novelty about secretarial paranoia in the Kremlin, is memorable mainly for Summers’ modal twanging between the verses.
The rest of the album belongs to Sting. “Synchronicity II” refracts the clanging chaos of “Synchronicity I” into a brutal slice of industrial-suburban life, intercut with images of the Loch Ness monster rising from the slime like an avenging demon. But as the focus narrows from the global to the personal on side two, the music becomes more delicate — even as the mood turns from suspicion to desperation to cynicism in “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain” and “Wrapped around Your Finger,” a triptych of songs about the end of a marriage, presumably Sting’s own. As the narrator of “Every Breath You Take” tracks his lover’s tiniest movements like a detective, then breaks down and pleads for love, the light pop rhythm becomes an obsessive marking of time. Few contemporary pop songs have described the nuances of sexual jealousy so chillingly.
The rejected narrator in “King of Pain” sees his abandonment as a kind of eternal damnation in which the soul becomes “a fossil that’s trapped in a high cliff wall/ … A dead salmon frozen in a waterfall.” “Wrapped around Your Finger” takes a longer, colder view of the institution of marriage. Its Turkish-inflected reggae sound underscores a lyric that portrays marriage as an ancient, ritualistic hex conniving to seduce the innocent and the curious into a kind of slavery.
“Tea in the Sahara,” Synchronicity‘s moodiest, most tantalizing song, is an aural mirage that brings back the birdcalls and jungle sounds of earlier songs as whispering, ghostly instrumental voices. In this haunting parable of endless, unappeasable desire, Sting tells the story, inspired by the Paul Bowles novel The Sheltering Sky, of a brother and two sisters who develop an insatiable craving for tea in the desert. After sealing a bargain with a mysterious young man, they wait on a dune for his return, but he never appears. The song suggests many interpretations: England dreaming of its lost empire, mankind longing for God, and Sting himself pining for an oasis of romantic peace.
And that is where this bleak, brilliant safari into Sting’s heart and soul finally deposits us — at the edge of a desert, searching skyward, our cups full of sand.
Tommy had the dubious distinction of being the first-ever rock opera; however, it’s none the worse for that, Ken Russell’s adaptation notwithstanding. Due largely to Pete Townshend’s skill as a songwriter and composer, Tommy tells a coherent story and includes quality rock and roll at the same time, an impressive feat by itself. While surprisingly more linear than the later Quadrophenia, Tommy boasts several songs that stand up well on their own, including the classic “Pinball Wizard”, “The Acid Queen”, “I’m Free”, and “Sally Simpson”. Much of the rest doesn’t make much sense lyrically unless you listen to the entire album, but you’ll probably want to do that anyway, preferably with the lights low and the stereo cranked. –Genevieve Williams
The definitive rock opera, TOMMY liberated the Who from a “singles band” stigma, marking them as a substantial artisticforce. Composer Pete Townshend had flirted with the conceptual format on two previous releases, but here his vision is spread over two ambitious records that play to the Who’s main strengths. Anthems such as the raucous “Pinball Wizard” and the surprisingly serene “I’m Free” emphasise the kinetic power of the band, while Townshend’s cast of characters (the perverted Uncle Ernie, the inscrutable Tommy) reveals a wildand unconventional imagination. Townshend even incorporatesSonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind” as part of his fable about the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid”, making a successful reference to the past in what is an undeniably groundbreaking and forward-looking achievement.
8. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Before Sgt. Pepper’s, no one seriously thought of rock music as actual art. That all changed in 1967, though, when John, Paul, George and Ringo (with “A Little Help” from their friend, producer George Martin) created an undeniable work of art which remains, after 3-plus decades, one of the most influential albums of all time. From Lennon’s evocative word/sound pictures (the trippy “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, the carnival-like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) and McCartney’s music hall-styled “When I’m 64”, to Harrison’s Eastern-leaning “Within You Without You”, and the avant-garde mini-suite, “A Day in the Life”, Sgt. Pepper’s was a milestone for both 1960s music and popular culture in general. –Billy Altman
One of the most famous albums in the world and definitely the most famous album sleeve, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ ushered in the psychedelic era and the ‘Summer of Love’ and remains the pinnacle of British psychedelia. From the whimsy of ‘When I’m 64’ to the stunning orchestration of ‘A Day In The Life’, the melancholia of ‘She’s Leaving Home’to Ringo’s solo spot ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ the album is a true pop masterpiece.
9. Exile On Main Street
Before Keith Richards’ bad habits took over for a time in the mid-’70s, his work ethic was quite high. Stories abound of the long, if somewhat off-schedule, hours he spent working on this classic album in the basement of his home in France. Hanging together as much because of great songwriting (“Rocks Off,” “Soul Survivor”) as its fabled grungy atmosphere, Exile caps the Stones’ great 1968-’72 run with a force that belies their supposed spiritual tiredness. What some of these songs are about is anybody’s guess–Keith claims “Ventilator Blues” was inspired by a grate, while the song plays like an ode to a pistol–but that’s just part of this album’s hazy game. –Rickey Wright
Still inspired by their STICKY FINGERS recording sessions in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, EXILE ON MAIN STREET found the Rolling Stones sounding more like a Southern fried juke-joint band than ever before. That EXILE was recorded in a basement is no surprise, either–much of it sounds as if it was recorded live at a gospel revival, with a final mix that gives nohierarchy to specific instruments. The result is a swampy, most exhilarating chunk of rock & roll euphoria.
EXILE sharpens the country, blues, and gospel tendencies the Stones began exploring in the late ’60s on albums like BEGGAR’S BANQUET. Here, armed with an assortment of backing musicians and vocalists, the band virtually inhabits the spirit of each style, distilling the whole to a ragged, soulful perfection.From the escalating, horn-driven vamps of “Rocks Off” through the back porch singalong “Sweet Virginia” to the mean blues stomp of “Ventilator Blues” and the church-like strains of “Shine a Light”, EXILE’s double-album length plays like a weary, boozed-up sermon on the very meaning of rock music. This is the closest the band ever came to religion, and it still has the power to convert.
10. The Joshua Tree
The stakes are enormous, and U2 knows it. Its last album, The Unforgettable Fire, contained “Pride (In the Name of Love),” its biggest-selling single ever, and last year the band was the musical heart of Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope tour. Now, it seems, U2 is poised to rise from the level of mere platinum groups to the more rarefied air above. For a band that’s always specialized in inspirational, larger-than-life gestures — a band utterly determined to be Important — The Joshua Tree could be the big one, and that’s precisely what it sounds like.
That’s not to say that this record is either a flagrantly commercial move or another Born in the U.S.A. The Joshua Tree is U2’s most varied, subtle and accessible album, although it doesn’t contain any sure-fire smash hits. But in its musical toughness and strong-willed spirituality, the album lives up to its namesake: a hardy, twisted tree that grows in the rocky deserts of the American Southwest. A Mormon legend claims that their early settlers called the Joshua tree “the praying plant” and thought its gnarled branches suggested the Old Testament prophet Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land. The title befits a record that concerns itself with resilience in the face of utter social and political desolation, a record steeped in religious imagery.
Since U2 emerged from Dublin in 1980 with a bracing brand of hard, emotional, guitar-oriented rock, its albums have followed a pattern. The first and third (Boy and War) were muscular and assertive, full of, respectively, youthful bravado and angry social awareness; the second and fourth studio albums (October and The Unforgettable Fire) were moody and meandering and sometimes longer on ideas than on full-fledged songs.
But The Joshua Tree isn’t an outright return to the fire of War. The band ruled that out years ago: Songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” hit with driving force on the 1983 album and subsequent tour. But U2 saw itself in danger of becoming just another sloganeering arena-rock band, so the group closed that chapter with a live record and video. The band swapped longtime producer Steve Lillywhite for Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois and, with The Unforgettable Fire, declared its intention to no longer be as relentlessly heroic.
On the new album, U2 retains Eno and Lanois, brings back Lillywhite to mix four songs and weds the diverse textures of The Unforgettable Fire to fully formed songs, many of them as aggressive as the hits on War. U2’s sonic trademarks are here: the monumental angst of Bono’s voice, the driving pulse of Adam Clayton’s bass and Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums and the careening wail of the Edge’s guitar. But for every predictably roaring anthem there’s a spare, inventively arranged tune, such as “With or Without You,” a rock & roll bolero that builds from a soothing beginning to a resounding climax.
The band still falls into some old traps: Bono’s perpetually choked-up voice can sound overwrought and self-important; some of the images (fire and rain, say) start to lose their resonance after a dozen or so uses; and “Exit,” a recited psychodrama about a killer, is awkward enough to remind you that not even Patti Smith could regularly pull off this sort of thing.
More than any other U2 album, though, The Joshua Tree has the power and allure to seduce and capture a mass audience on its own terms. Without making a show of its eclecticism, it features assertive rock (“Where the Streets Have No Name”), raw frenzy (“Bullet the Blue Sky”), delicacy (“One Tree Hill”), chugging rhythms (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) and even acoustic bluesiness (“Running to Stand Still”) — all of it unmistakably U2.
But if this is a breakthrough, it’s a grim, dark-hued one. At first, refreshingly honest, romantic declarations alternate with unsettling religious imagery. Then things get blacker. The raging, melodramatic “Bullet the Blue Sky” ties Biblical fire and brimstone with American violence overseas and at home. In the stomping, harmonicaspiked rocker “Trip Through Your Wires,” what looks like salvation could easily be evil seduction; “One Tree Hill” is a soft, haunting benediction on a U2 crew member who died in a motorcycle accident; and “Red Hill Mining Town” echoes Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” in its unsparing look at personal relationships savaged by economic hardship — here, the aftermath of the largely unsuccessful British miners’ strike of 1984.
But for all its gloom, the album is never a heavy-handed diatribe. After the first few times through “Running to Stand Still,” for instance, you notice the remarkable music: the wholly unexpected blues slide guitar, the soft, Nebraska-style yelps, the ghostly harmonica. It sounds like a lovely, peaceful reverie — except that this is a junkie’s reverie, and when that realization hits home, the gentle acoustic lullaby acquires a corrosive power that recalls “Bad,” from the last LP.
The Joshua Tree is an appropriate response to these times, and a picture bleaker than any U2 has ever painted: a vision of blasted hopes, pointless violence and anguish. But this is not a band to surrender to defeatism. Its last album ended with a gorgeous elegy to Martin Luther King Jr.; The Joshua Tree closes with a haunting ode to other victims. “Mothers of the Disappeared” is built around desolate images of loss, but the setting is soothing and restorative — music of great sadness but also of unutterable compassion, acceptance and calm. The Unforgettable Chill, you might call this album, and unforgettable is certainly the right word. (Rolling Stone review 1987)