Adele – 21
With the incredible 21, Adele suddenly became the most important woman in music. It would take me several paragraphs to list all the accolades and records it has broken. It has already become one of the best selling albums of all time and the singles ‘Rolling in the Deep’, ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ and ‘Someone Like You’ became worldwide number one hits.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
After being one of the first bands to come to fame via the internet, they released the fastest ever selling debut album and soon became heralded as the greatest British band of the generations. Several albums down the line they went one better and combined their trademark Sheffield wit, slick Californian production and a newfound confidence to create their greatest album yet.
Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
Following her tragic death, Winehouse became the latest addition to the infamous 27 club. Her short lived, but hugely influential, music career has had a profound and lasting effect on modern music. Her final swansong Back To Black has already become a classic and features the singles ‘Rehab’ and ‘Tears Dry on Their Own’.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Canadian band Arcade Fire have crafted what may be the finest album of the 21st century thus far. The band’s bittersweet letter from the suburbs is grand and complex but still pulls you in with the warmth and familiarity of home. A compelling tale of life on the edge, searching for hope; it is pure, ambitious and simply magnificent.
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
Few bands in history can claim to be as influential as The Smiths. Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar tones and Morrissey’s dark but beautiful lyrics have influenced nearly every British rock band since, and provided a template for Indie and Britpop. The Queen is Dead is considered the peak of the band’s short life and features one of their most well known songs “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”.
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
As well as having one of the most iconic album covers in history, Unknown Pleasures was way ahead of it’s time. It remains one of the most critically acclaimed albums ever released despite releasing no singles and failing to chart. The tragic suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis shortly before the release of their second album made this his lasting legacy, and the remaining members continued on as New Order.
Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden
Feeling that their earlier new wave albums didn’t reflect the music they wanted to create, Talk Talk decided to experiment. After an intense and often improvised recording process they released an album with hints of jazz and classical music. Spirit of Eden was about as far from a commercial success as you can get, but it paved the way for other bands such as Radiohead to break the mould.
The Fall – Hex Induction Hour
Essentially the solo project of Mark E Smith, The Fall are one of the most influential cult bands in history. They have had a lasting impact on everyone from Sonic Youth to the Arctic Monkeys. John Peel, the most famous radio DJ in history and champion of new music, has often cited them as his favourite band. Hex Induction Hour was the first time in the bands long history that they made it into the albums charts.
Deep Purple – In Rock
One of the founding bands of hard rock and heavy metal, Deep Purple went through a lot of personnel changes. In Rock saw the first incarnation of the classic Mark II line-up which gave the band the majority of their best known hits. The band really hit their stride here and came out with classics like ‘Speed King’ and ‘Child in Time’.
AC/DC – Back in Black
The band had just released their breakthrough album Highway to Hell when lead singer Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning. Most bands wouldn’t have survived such an ordeal, but with new singer Brian Johnson on board they bounced back with the best album of their career, including the hits ‘Shoot to Thrill’, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ and the title track ‘Back in Black’.
Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic
By their third album Aerosmith had secured a place as one of America’s greatest rock bands, thanks to Steven Tyler’s wild vocals and Joe Perry’s killer riffs. Thanks to hits such as ‘Walk This Way’ and ‘Sweet Emotion’ it remains the band’s best selling studio album.
Van Halen – Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen was a revolutionary guitarist. The short instrumental ‘Eruption’ introduced the world to a new rapid and intricate way of playing which was quickly adopted throughout the world of rock and metal. The band’s landmark eponymous debut featured the songs ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’, ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ and their cover of the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’.
Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite for Destruction
Whilst GNR’s debut originally had a lukewarm reception, it is now held as high point of the genre by the archetypal hard rock band. It is an unapologetically wild snapshot of the band at their best. Although they could never match their debut it did spawn some of their biggest hits such as ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’.
The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!
Music began to break the mould in the late sixties. But before Sgt Pepper and Are You Experienced?, Frank Zappa released Freak Out! It was one of the first concept albums, one of the first double albums and brought avant garde music to a world that hadn’t known anything like it before.
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Known for the ridiculous spectacle of their live performances, the Lips’ albums are equally bizarre. The psychedelic electronica of Yoshimi, as well as telling the story of a Japanese girl fighting off killer robots, deals with some hefty topics like our apparent insignificance in the universe.
The Velvet Underground and Nico – The Velvet Underground and Nico
This album was destined from the outset to make waves. From the involvement of unorthodox artist Andy Warhol, to Lou Reed’s out of the box avant garde ideas to the controversial lyrics which discussed drug abuse and BDSM. Understandably it was a commercial flop, but it was one of the most influential albums of the time.
Primal Scream – Screamadelica
Not content with being a conventional rock band, Primal Scream mixed their sound with the electronic dance music that was popular in clubs at the time. This incredibly unconventional combination was a critical and commercial success and earned them the first ever Mercury Music Prize.
Dream Theater – Scenes From a Memory
One of the best modern concept albums from perhaps the most famous prog metal band. It follows a man named Nicholas using hypnotherapy to find the truth about his past life as a girl named Victoria and trying to solve the mystery of her murder. This album, as well as the great storytelling, shows a virtuoso level of musicianship that most can only dream of.
Porcupine Tree – Deadwing
While most would consider their breakout album ‘In Absentia’ to be their finest work, I would argue the point for ‘Deadwing’. I find it to be both more musically diverse and more consistently high quality. It features some of the band’s finest moments, from the radio friendly piano driven ‘Lazarus’, to the heavy riffage of ‘Shallow’ to the intricate shifting time signature of ‘Start of Something Beautiful’.
Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
One of the all time greatest concept albums and quite possibly the greatest piece of musical storytelling. It follows a drug addict who joins a revolutionary group to help overthrow the corrupt society he lives in. The group’s leader Dr. X uses brainwashing and mind control to turn the protagonist into his own personal assassin.
Tool – Lateralus
The musical equivalent of the world’s most intense acid trip. It’s the high point of a band that is dark, brooding, bewildering and unlike anything that came before it. It is intricate and otherworldly, most of all on the title track whose lyrics and complex time signatures follow the Fibonacci sequence.
Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
Despite only releasing one studio album, the Sex Pistols are one of the most influential and controversial acts in music history. So much so they were fired from 2 record labels, banned from performing in most venues, banned from radio airplay and Bollocks was not stocked in record stores. This only fanned the flames and made them the most famous punk band in the world.
The Clash – London Calling
The thinking man’s punk band. On London Calling The Clash broadened their horizons and included a range of styles including ska and R&B. Instead of raw indirect anger, they focused their rage about things that truly mattered to them, such as unemployment, drugs, the responsibilities of adulthood and life on the streets of London.
The Ramones – Ramones
The Punk movement was like most punk songs; loud and short lived. The band most widely credited with defining the punk sound and influencing the other major bands is the Ramones. Perhaps unsurprisingly their debut was commercially unsuccessful but it sparked one of the most important and divisive movements in rock history.
Death – For the Whole World to See
The original punk band was a band called Death. They started recording what would be their debut album but were dropped from the label for refusing to change the name of their band to something more friendly. The surviving tracks were later released as a testament to the band that created punk several years before the movement kicked off.
R.E.M – Automatic for the People
After the band’s breakthrough album ‘Out of Time’ launched them straight into the public eye, the band decided to make their next release bigger and better. Their plan to make a heavy rock album didn’t get off the ground, but thankfully instead they created this melancholic masterpiece. It is about as haunting and beautiful as music gets and is one of the greatest albums of the 90s. It’s also thought to be the last album that Kurt Cobain ever listened to.
Radiohead – OK Computer
Even though their previous two releases were hardly what you’d call conventional, OK Computer is when Radiohead really started to experiment. Fiercely political and anti-capitalist, the dark dystopian tone was well received. It has been compared to Sgt. Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon for it’s dense layering and sonic innovation. It’s hailed as one of the greatest, most influential and most important albums ever made.
The White Stripes – Elephant
The White Stripes were the pinnacle of rock music in the noughties. The bare-bones approach, the furious blend of blues and punk, and their striking and mysterious aesthetic all added up to them being one of the last great rock bands and influencing all Garage bands that followed. Elephant is the band at their creative peak, featuring ‘Ball and Biscuit’, ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ and of course ‘Seven Nation Army’.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
This album was the one that both defined RHCP and brought them into the mainstream. It drew together all their now famous traits; the funky bass, the psychedelic guitar, sex, drugs and plenty of tongue in cheek lyrics. The band blossomed into unique and energizing force in music, most notably in the hit singles ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Give it Away’.
Nirvana – Nevermind
With new drummer Dave Grohl in tow, Nirvana released Nevermind and went from being young upstarts in an underground scene to being the biggest band in the world. With songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come As You Are” and “Lithium”, the band was at their most inviting and radio friendly. This is the album that made Kurt Cobain a larger-than-life figure and the voice of a generation.
Pearl Jam – Ten
Pearl Jam were the most commercial and mainstream band in Grunge, but the duelling guitar interplay between Mike McCready and Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder’s deep powerful voice silenced any doubt that they were the real deal. Their debut album Ten has remained their most loved and successful album, featuring the hit tracks “Alive”, “Black”, “Jeremy” and “Even Flow”.
Alice In Chains – Dirt
It’s a miracle that Dirt was even made what with all the drugs. Unsurprisingly the band’s music had become darker, focussing on depression, addiction and death. The hit songs “Would?”, “Rooster” and “Down In A Hole” showcase the band at their very best. Tragically frontman Layne Staley would later die from a heroin overdose, but he left a lasting impression with this incredible album.
Soundgarden – Superunknown
Following the success of their previous album Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden sought to experiment and explore a wider range of influences. Superunknown features alternate tunings, odd time signatures and Eastern tinges that took Grunge to new places. It’s perhaps most evident in their biggest hit, the surreal “Black Hole Sun”.
The Stones Roses – The Stone Roses
At the heart of the ‘Madchester’ scene, which fused together pop, psychedelic rock and dance music, this landmark album was born. The Stone Roses produced one of the finest debuts in music history, featuring ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and ‘I Am The Resurrection’. Sadly they couldn’t replicate the magic but this album would go on to spark the Britpop movement and revitalise rock music in the UK… “I Am The Resurrection’ indeed!
Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
Although their debut ‘Definitely Maybe’ receives a lot of praise, Morning Glory is undoubtedly their finest work. It is quite simply hit after hit: ‘Roll With It’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, ‘She’s Electric’ etc. Each with a bigger chorus than the last, simply irresistible to sing along to. Shockingly the album was harshly reviewed by critics when it was first released, but it has since become the definitive British album of the 90s.
Blur – Parklife
After disappointing sales for their previous album, ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, Blur hit back with ‘Parklife’. It put them at the heart of the Britpop movement and started a bitter rivalry with Oasis. Whilst many of the prominent Britpop bands originated from the North of England, Blur were the voice of the South and imparticular the Voice of London. In fact the album itself was originally going to be called ‘London’!
Pulp – Different Class
Jarvis Cocker, as well as being one of the most charismatic frontmen of the 90s, was the most successful lyricist of the Cool Britannia movement. The other bands wrote sing along anthems that were somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Jarvis did this as well as (if not better than) his contemporaries but also simultaneously talked about real topics like the class divide and worries about the future on the hits ‘Common People’ and ‘Disco 2000’.
Ocean Colour Scene – Moseley Shoals
Thanks to constant plugging from TFI Friday, ‘Moseley Shoals’ became OCS’s most successful album which contained their most successful singles. It followed the Britpop ideal of emulating the best that British music had to offer. ‘The Riverboat Song’ was influenced by Led Zeppelin’s ‘Four Sticks’ and the lyrics to ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ were influenced by The Who’s classic concept album ‘Quadrophenia’.
King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King
King Crimson’s debut is considered by many to be the first true prog album. Instead of following the blues influences of more mainstream rock bands they looked instead to classical and jazz for inspiration. The result is the frantic maddening bursts of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ and the mellow ‘I Talk to the Wind’. The band’s ever changing line-up would go on to produce even more complex epics but Crimson King was the album that started it all.
Rush – 2112
Whilst 1982’s ‘Moving Pictures’ is the band’s most successful album, it was 2112 that made Rush who they are. Ditching their blues origins and gaining drumming god Neil Peart they pursued more and more intricate songs. Their early efforts had met with little commercial success and their label pressured them to tone things down. Instead they created a masterful dystopian epic about a world without music which granted them a massive cult audience which has grown over the band’s 40 year long life.
Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick
Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull found unexpected success with their previous album Aqualung. After facing nonstop questions about whether it was a concept album and speculating what the unifying concept might be, with the next album he gave the fans what they were looking for. A single, massive 44 minute track spanning the whole album, complete with flute solos, bright sparkling folk, raging rock guitar and an album cover which formed a complete (fake) newspaper that somewhat described the crazy complex theme behind it all.
Yes – Close to the Edge
The last great album by the most quintessential prog band. It has everything you’d expect, sprawling expansive tracks taking up whole sides, unfathomably intricate keyboard solos over ever changing time signatures and incomprehensible lyrics. The plain green sleeve, devoid of Rodger Dean’s iconic artwork, was a major statement: “We are putting everything into the music”. This was the band’s creative peak.
Genesis – Selling England By the Pound
Genesis have had a difficult life, facing criticism as both a Peter Gabriel fronted prog band and as a Phil Collins fronted mainstream rock band. This is the closest thing they have to a mid point. It contained their first attempts at radio friendly singles and also featured some of their best epics including ‘Firth of Fifth’ and ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’. Gabriel’s fanciful Alice in Wonderland like characters and narratives create a mental picture every bit as wild and colourful as the music.