The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has annunced The Definitive 200, their list of 200 albums they claim are essential for every music lover.
See who made the cut after the jump…
1. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967
Before Sgt. Pepper, 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 30-plus years, 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 was a milestone for both ’60s music and popular culture.
7. Carole King – Tapestry – 1971
Carole King was famous as a writer of girl-group hits in the ’60s. In 1971, she became more famous. That’s the year Tapestry became one of the biggest-selling LPs of all time. It’s easy to hear why–the music is loose, earthy, L.A. session-pop. King is casual, intimate, and tough; she covers all the emotional ground of the post-liberated woman with ease. She brings adult nuance to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and comes up with hits (“It’s Too Late,” “I Feel the Earth Move”) whose white-soul realism and maturity put pop hits to shame.
8. Bob Dylan – Highway ’61 Revisited – 1965
Dylan was virtually gushing great songs when this masterpiece arrived in the summer of 1965. From the epochal opening of “Like a Rolling Stone” through the absurdly apocalyptic closer, “Desolation Row,” his command of surrealistic language was daring and amazing. As a vocalist, he was rewriting the rules of the game. Jimi Hendrix made note of Mr. Z’s technically suspect pitch and decided that he too was a singer. And the backing, though ragged, is precisely right. Is this the essential Dylan album? It’s certainly one of them.
12. The Beatles – Abbey Road – 1969
The Beatles’ last days as a band were as productive as any major pop phenomenon that was about to split. After recording the ragged-but-right Let It Be, the group held on for this ambitious effort, an album that was to become their best-selling. Though all four contribute to the first side’s writing, John Lennon’s hard-rocking, “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” make the strongest impression. A series of song fragments edited together in suite form dominates side two; its portentous, touching, official close (“Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight”/”The End”) is nicely undercut, in typical Beatles fashion, by Paul McCartney’s cheeky “Her Majesty,” which follows.
35. Eagles – Hotel California – 1976
It’s no accident that The Eagles Greatest Hits might one day pass Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best-selling album of all time– the Eagles made great singles. By contrast, their albums could be spotty and strained by self-conscious artistry. Hotel California was arguably the band’s best single album–it was certainly the Eagles’ biggest original disc– and it also underscored the band’s need to make a big statement. The title tune reflected the album’s theme of paradise lost in California, painting this picture with a musical arrangement that punctuated strumming guitars with dramatic drums, and perhaps the band’s most famous lyric: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” “New Kid in Town” was an equally fine albeit much more traditional Eagles ballad. “Life in the Fast Lane” aspired to hard rock but largely gunned its engine without taking off. The rest is okay, but nothing more than secondary Eagles songs that happened to be nestled into the album that came to define the `70s supergroup.
39. The Beatles – The Beatles [aka The White Album] – 1968
Better known as the “White Album,” this was meant to be the record that brought them back to earth after three years of studio experimentation. Instead, it took them all over the place, continuing to burst the envelope of pop music. Lennon and McCartney were still at the height of their powers, with Lennon in particular growing into one of rock’s towering figures. But even McCartney could still rock, and the amazement on “Helter Skelter” was that he had vocal cords at the end. From Beach Boys knock-offs to reggae and to the unknown (“Revolution #9”), this has it all. Some records have legend written all over them; this is one.
42. The Beatles – Revolver – 1966
Revolver wouldn’t remain the Beatles’ most ambitious LP for long, but many fans–including this one–remember it as their best. An object lesson in fitting great songwriting into experimental production and genre play, this is also a record whose influence extends far beyond mere they-was-the-greatest cheerleading. Putting McCartney’s more traditionally melodic “Here, There and Everywhere” and “For No One” alongside Lennon’s direct-hit sneering (“Dr. Robert”) and dreamscapes (“I’m Only Sleeping,” “Tomorrow Never Knows”) and Harrison’s peaking wit (“Taxman”) was as conceptually brilliant as anything Sgt. Pepper attempted, and more subtly fulfilling. A must.
52. Joni Mitchell – Blue – 1971
Joni Mitchell would go on from this ’71 recording to make more popular, more ambitious, and more challenging albums, but she’s never made a better one. Working with minimal accompaniment (Stephen Stills and James Taylor are two of the four sidemen), the Canadian thrush summoned an involving song cycle of romance found and lost. Though Blue is an uncommonly intimate representation, it’s also astonishingly open and gracious. Songs such as “All I Want,” “Carey,” “California,” and “A Case of You” work equally well as poetry and pop music.
69. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass – 1970
On the heels of “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” George Harrison must have felt he had little to prove as a songwriter. But unfortunately for him, those stellar efforts were in service of a band whose main songwriters were named Lennon and McCartney. But when the Beatles partnership dissolved in 1970, Harrison wasted little time in showcasing the body of work he’d accumulated the previous two years–or in trying to take Abbey Road’s lavish production ethos to its next logical plateau. The resulting late-1970 double-album (originally released with a third bonus disc of instrumental “Apple Jams,” which are still included here) was perhaps the most Beatles-sounding post-Fabs effort, a far cry from the two quirky solo efforts he’d undertaken while still in the band (the authentically Indian Wonderwall Music and the Moog wank-fest Electronic Sounds). Tracks like “Beware of Darkness,” “All Things Must Pass,” “The Art of Dying,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” and the hit “My Sweet Lord” gave the album a strong spiritual center, balanced by the light-hearted “Apple Scruffs,” “If Not For You,” and the Bob Dylan collaboration “I’d Have You Anytime.” Phil Spector’s mammoth, orchestrally laced production took his trademark “wall of sound” to impressive new levels, all the more remarkable in light of the biting, minimalist work he was collaborating with John Lennon on, virtually simultaneously. Far and away Harrison’s masterpiece; he’d have been wise to have saved a few of these songs for a rainy day.
– Jerry McCulley
71. Eagles – Hell Freezes Over – 1994
Indeed, there were many who thought that it would take an event as cataclysmic as the one described in the album title to get these seminal ’70s soft-rockers back together. But here they are, revisiting some of their most beloved tunes as well as four new ones, on this mostly live, largely acoustic disc. Frey, Henley, Walsh, Schmit, and Felder tackle iconic Eagles standards like “Hotel California,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Take It Easy,” “Desperado,” and “Life in the Fast Lane” and new tunes like “Get Over It” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive” with the smoothly cocky assurance that originally made them icons.
72. Van Morrison – Moondance – 1970
Van Morrison went a long way towards defining his wild Irish heart with his first two classic albums: the brooding, introspective Astral Weeks (1968), and the expansive, swinging Moondance. If the first was the work of a poet, its sequel was the statement of a musician and bandleader. Moondance is that rare rock album where the band has buffed the arrangements to perfection, and where the sax solos instead of the guitar. The band puts out a jazzy shuffle on “Moondance” and plays it soulful on “These Dreams of You.” The album includes both Morrison’s most romantic ballad (“Crazy Love”) and his most haunting (“Into the Mystic”). “And It Stoned Me” rolled off Morrison’s tongue like a favorite fable, while “Caravan” told a tale full of emotional intrigue. Moondance stood out in the rock world of 1970 like a grownup in a kiddie matinee.
83. Paul Simon – Graceland – 1986
The melding of South African styles and Simon’s trademark sensibility made for one of the most intriguing albums–not to mention commercial hits–of the ’80s. At once lively, thoughtful, gorgeous, and tough, Graceland acknowledges splits both in South Africa’s social fabric and in Simon’s personal life (the title track is a clear descendant of the earlier “Hearts and Bones,” a song about the singer-songwriter’s brief marriage to Carrie Fisher). Humor is hardly absent from the mix, though; witness the addled “I Know What I Know” and the fable-like “You Can Call Me Al.”
98. Neil Young – Harvest – 1972
Proclaiming his intentions with “Are You Ready for the Country?” Young detoured briefly to the Nashville mainstream. On this No. 1 1972 album, even the singer’s acquired-taste voice comes across smooth and beautiful–the smash “Heart of Gold,” with steel guitars and Linda Ronstadt’s backup vocals, is by far Young’s most commercial-sounding song. His usual dissonant touches, like the otherworldly guitar in “Out on the Weekend,” are less spooky in this new context. The last two tracks, the deceptively gentle “The Needle and the Damage Done” and the hypnotic rocker “Words (Between the Lines of Age),” predict “Tonight’s the Night,” Young’s haunted 1975 classic.
104. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – 1970
Less than a year after the release of CSN’s groundbreaking debut, the group returned with Stephen Stills’s former Buffalo Springfield cohort/rival Neil Young augmenting the threesome. The result is a less concentrated but more kinetic creation; Young swims through the celestial harmonies of rock’s best barbershop trio like a fly in consommé. While somewhat dated (“Almost Cut My Hair”? Wait a while, David, it’ll fall out), Deju Vu is teeming with early ’70s FM staples, including “Helpless,” “Teach Your Children,” and “Our House.”
110. The Beatles – Rubber Soul – 1965
Rank ’em how you like, Rubber Soul is an undeniable pivot point in the Fab Four’s varied discography no matter where, or how, you first heard it. The album was softened up in its original 12-song American edition to jibe with the Dylan/Byrds folk-rock sound, as well as squeeze money from the Parlophone catalog. The 14-song U.K. edition–the version now available on compact disc–is a different, more dynamic, and ultimately more accomplished achievement. So many classics: “Drive My Car” and “Nowhere Man” (both omitted from the U.S. edition) merge the early combustible Beatifics to a burgeoning studio consciousness; “The Word” can be read as a pre-psych warning shot; the sitar-laden “Norwegian Wood” and the evocative “Girl” (the latter written on the last night of the sessions) stand as turning points in John Lennon’s oeuvre. George finally emerges too, with the McGuinn-ish “If I Needed Someone.”
112. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Trouble Water – 1970
No one can say Simon & Garfunkel went out with a whimper. The popular duo’s 1970 swan song produced four hit singles and won six Grammy awards, including Record, Album, and Song of the Year. An involving mix of sweeping epics (“The Boxer,” the title track) and breezy throwaways (a live cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” the rock & roll trifle “Baby Driver”), Bridge was one of the most popular albums of its era. What’s particularly striking about this collection is how brightly lesser-acclaimed songs like “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright” and the gorgeous “The Only Living Boy in New York” shine. (The 2001 reissue adds a pair of demos to the original work, including the traditional “Feuilles-O.”)
134. Footloose original soundtrack – 1984
There’s a popular movie trivia game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” whose rough hypothesis is that the actor is somehow the center of the cinematic universe. One doesn’t get very far into the game without encountering “Footloose.” The film that seems destined to become an 80’s camp classic (repressed Midwestern youth bravely fighting for their right to dance) was also a notable trailblazer in the pop song soundtrack marketing scam, i.e. line up a bunch of contemporary hit makers and have them cut a batch of songs that might not be germaine to the film’s plot but will sell oodles of units. But damned if Footloose isn’t a classic slice–for better or worse–of mid-’80s, album-oriented rock. This kind of instant era-compilation must make the folks at K-Tel very nervous.
137. Bonnie Raitt – Nick of Time – 1989
Nick of Time is the watershed moment in Bonnie Raitt’s recording career, the sound of a survivor finding new focus and purpose in her art after nearly 20 years of generally superb, commercially underachieving recordings. An exquisite interpretive singer and formidable guitarist who’d long ago honed her bluesy chops, Raitt raised the stakes by mixing the usual gourmet spread of smart cover choices with her own candid songs–and she knocked one over the fence with the opening track, the album’s title song and a moving confession of a boomer’s anxieties about age, death, and the impermanence of love. “Nick of Time” catapulted a feisty rock tomboy into a new station that made her as admired by female fans as the stage door johnnies who’d long loved her rock technique, and she covered the bet with other outside songs from John Hiatt (“Thing Called Love”), Bonnie Hayes (“Love Letter,” “Have a Heart”), and Jerry L. Williams (“Real Man”) that resonated with her persona as a tough, smart, but ultimately tender woman.
144. John Lennon – Imagine – 1971
Compared to the ferocious, liberating cry of John Lennon’s first solo album, 1970’s Plastic Ono Band, the following year’s Imagine comes a lot closer in sound to what you’d expect from a former Beatle. Gorgeous love ballads like “Jealous Guy” and “Oh My Love” confound the notion that Paul had all the tender melodies (and “How Do You Sleep?” makes it clear what John thinks of his former partner’s music). Elsewhere, Lennon ties together songs, from the folksy “Crippled Inside” to the edgy rock of “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die,” with a humanism heard most notably on this album’s title track.
148. Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman – 1970
Cat Stevens tends to be lumped in with the early-’70s singer-songwriter school led by James Taylor and Carole King, but he actually fits in rather neatly with such wistful English contemporaries as Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, and Donovan. Tea for the Tillerman’s “Wild World,” “Into White,” and “Longer Boats” indicate that he may have been a more gifted tunesmith than the lot of them. As with the best of the Brit folk-rockers, Stevens mixed melancholy with whimsy. Yes, he was prone to airy platitudes, but when he harnessed his eccentricities, as he did throughout this 1970 masterwork, you had something truly distinctive. Stevens’s greatest drawback was that he was a natural cult artist, à la Tim Buckley and Leonard Cohen. But that’s a tough role to play when you’re selling 25 million records, as Stevens did before he changed his name to Yusef Islam, established an Islamic school, and raised a ruckus by supporting Ayatollah Khomeini’s death decree against author Salman Rushdie. But that’s another story.
157. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks – 1975
Inevitably, when critics praise a new Dylan album, they label it the “best since Blood on the Tracks,” and with good reason. Inspired by a crumbled marriage, and recorded after a tour with The Band had apparently re-ignited his creativity, Blood is among Dylan’s masterpieces. The album’s epic songs are well known, but its real high points are the shorter numbers–“You’re a Big Girl Now,” the flawless blues “Meet Me in the Morning,” and the sweetly devastating “Buckets of Rain.” These are songs of “images and distorted facts,” each expressed through tangled points of view, and all of them blue.
182. Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run – 1973
If Paul will be remembered for anything post-Beatles, it’s this album. Even though he had to go all over creation to record it, the trip was obviously worthwhile, bringing forth gems like “Helen Wheels,” “Jet,” and the title track. Everything was in place, the melodies, the pop smarts, and a real studio production. The amazement was that Wings actually consisted of Paul and Linda with guitarist Denny Laine; Paul played most everything on the record. Regardless, it was his return–finally–to greatness.
195. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home – 1965
You sound like you’re having a good old time, a purist Dylan fan is spotted telling the artist in the documentary “Don’t Look Back” just after the release of this, his first (half-) electric album. He certainly does. Updating Chicago blues forms with hilarious, tough lyrics–in fact, all but stealing the meter of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”–on one side, dropping some of his most devastating solo acoustic science (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Mr. Tambourine Man”) on the other, the first of Dylan’s two 1965 long-players broke it right down with style, substance, and elegance.
See The Definitive 200 official site for the complete list.