There are some albums that are so great and profound that they seem to transcend music history. They have touched the lives of generations past and will influence generations yet to come, and music today as we know it would not be the same without these giants. You don’t have to be a fan of jazz to understand or appreciate the impact of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
Here are a few albums essential to your music collection. I must add, these are not necessarily my favorite albums of all time. Some of my favorites are Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell and The Beatles’ Revolver, neither of which are on this list. There are some albums that deserve our appreciation, regardless of our tastes.
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (1967)
You know how there is pre- and post- Shakespeare in literary history? Sgt. Pepper’s is kind of like that. This was a declarative album for The Beatles, noting both their artistry and maturation as a group. McCartney said in an interview years later about Sgt. Pepper’s, “We were not boys, we were men.” In 1962 The Beatles were writing pop hits like “Love Me Do.” Five years later they were writing dramatic and heart wrenching songs such as “She’s Leaving Home.”
2. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan (1966)
Personally, I am a huge Dylan fan. Lyrics to songs such as “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” make me understand why he won the Nobel Prize, and I think there are few songs about bad relationships as good as “Just Like a Woman.” Blonde on Blonde is truly a quintessential Dylan album that is all political, romantic, truthful, and lyrically sophisticated.
3. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis (1959)
What kind of music list would this be without a jazz album? Well, Kind of Blue is arguably the greatest jazz album of all time and no true collection would be complete without it on its shelf. Duane Allman and Richard Wright consider this album to be one of their greatest influencers, and Rolling Stone Magazine named Kind of Blue the 12th greatest album of all time. This album is not solely for jazz fans, but for anyone who is a music lover because guess what? Music truly would not be the same without it.
4. Exile on Main St., The Rolling Stones (1972)
Mick Jagger considered this a very experimental album for the band, calling it the first grunge album. It included so many different sounds from country to boogie. Keith Richards attributed the different sounds to everything they were picking up in the various touring cities. If you say you’re a Rolling Stones fan, you better know every song on this album.
5. Thriller, Michael Jackson (1982)
Thriller genuinely allows Jackson to be dubbed the King of Pop. This is truly the first multimedia album. Can you imagine if Instagram was around in 1982? Between the songs, music videos, choreography, and Jackson’s overall persona, Thriller utilized every media outlet of the day. Just as iconic as the songs “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” and “Beat It” are, so too are their music videos and Jackson’s dancing.
6. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin (1975)
“When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.”
Well, Mark Ratner didn’t get a chance to play Led Zeppelin IV. Instead he played “Kashmir” from side two of Physical Graffiti.
“Kashmir,” “Trampled Underfoot,” and “Houses of the Holy.” Enough said.
7. Nevermind, Nirvana (1991)
When someone talks about 90’s music, nothing comes to mind faster than “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Nirvana’s album truly captures the soul of 90’s rock in songs like “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” and “In Bloom.” Released only 6 years after a film like The Breakfast Club, the album hints towards a more truthful, grungier version of American suburban culture.
8. Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971)
Blue is arguably the greatest women’s album of all time. Without a note out of place, Mitchell sings nakedly of her experiences traveling, growing, being in love, falling out of love, depression, and even giving a child up for adoption. Blue should be listened to from start to finish, acting almost as an opera. We meet her flooded with wanderlust and travel with her throughout Europe and back to America again, ultimately winding up in a seedy bar with Richard.
“Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling, and I would still be on my feet.”
Sara Bareilles, Annie Lennox, Donna Summer, and Jewel are just a few artists who claim to have gained significant influence from Mitchell. This is truly an album worth a spot in your collection.
9. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971)
Originally rejected by Motown, What’s Going On is considered one of the greatest albums of all time that covered major issues of the day when it was released. Gaye was protesting Vietnam, police brutality, and even sang about the environment. This is a watershed album for music as protest as it was really the first for Motown. Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were writing protest music prior to 1971, but this was a completely different genre.
10. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac (1977)
One of the greatest albums of all time, Rumours was the creative result of collective heartbreak in the group. John and Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks all broke up at the same time. No wonder why some of the greatest songs on the album such as “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams” are about relationships. Rumours is still one of the top-selling albums of all time.
So, what do you all think? I’d love to hear your opinion!