1 Miles Davis – Milestones
This 1958 classic from Miles Davis creeps in slowly but will take over your senses and really knock your socks off once the whole band gets jamming and Philly Joe Jones really starts pummeling those drums. It’s a great showcase of Davis being ahead of his time, too, as the band seems to shirk phrasings and typical note intervals with a reckless abandon, something more common in later free jazz of the ’60s.
2 The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground
To be honest, it had almost been a foregone conclusion that I’d get The Velvet Underground & Nico for my first Velvets selection. Just as I was sitting down to order these suckers, though, it hit me: I HAVE to hear “What Goes on” on analog. Sure enough, it’s the absolute pinnacle of rock and roll, and the spare, majestically simple production on this album helps showcase Reed’s spiritual revelations like “Jesus” and “I’m Set Free”; songs which, mind you, always seem to tote enough ominous, noir swagger, true to Velvets form, to play like singular creations.
3 Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
It’s kind of hard to pick a sure-fire favorite Zeppelin album, although, admittedly, if not for the “overplayed” factor, the no-brainer would probably be the fourth album. I went with II and really have not been disappointed at all as even in the heavy metal moments like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker”; the mix still seems to retain the hippy-ish vibe, or the sense that this is in some way rebel music, and music to run around naked to, together, on drugs. The pristine perfection of “Thank You” and the visceral, rhythmic assault of “Moby Dick” surely don’t hurt, either.
4 Big Star – #1 Record
For the life of me I have no idea what people see in that Third/Sister Lovers album — the first two Big Star records will always be the only ones I need, ranging from riffy classic rock (“Feel”/“When My Baby’s beside Me”) to fragile, aching ballad (“Give Me Another Chance”/“Watch the Sunrise”) and back, with the whole thing, of course, refreshingly feeling like it dissolve at any time. This is spontaneous, original rock and roll from America’s heartland, or “graceland,” if you prefer.
5 Frank Zappa – Apostrophe (‘)
This one was a no-brainer purchase and one of the first three records I nabbed, along with Rust Never Sleeps and Ekstasis. Most of it plays like oblong, bizarre comedy-rock, sure, not unlike “Joe’s Garage”; with the title track here galloping in analogous to that album’s “On the Bus” of blistering, mind-bending guitar shredding. Classically, then, this track leads into “Uncle Remus”; one of Zappa’s finest songwriting submissions of his career, then to “Stink-Foot” for more virtuosic guitar mania. It’s identity crisis at its most fun and canonical.
6 Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps
My favorite STONED listen in my vinyl collection (shh… I don’t really do that, I promise…), Rust Never Sleeps similarly takes a very dynamic range, issuing five excellent acoustic numbers before exploding into a jam session with Crazy Horse which surely made strides in cementing Young as the “godfather of grunge.” It’s ironic, too, as Young has been one of the main figures to denounce this recent vinyl craze as a hoax — barely anyone sounds better on analog and the warmth and intimacy of the songwriting, along with the simple production, make Young like a gravy to this format’s potatoes.
7 War – The World is a Ghetto
If we’re really laying down the law, I had hopes for The Best of War and its unmatched arsenal of “Low Rider”; “Spill the Wine”; “Me and Baby Brother” and “Summer”; but this one will do — a little “jammier” and, most of all, uniquely, cathartically melancholy on the title track and “Four Cornered Room.” This is patient, dark and genuine American funk rock to keep you company on a rainy day, a turn toward the painstaking and emotionally heavy from the band’s former fun-in-the-sun regimen.
8 Jethro Tull – Living in the Past
I kind of rebelled against this one for a while since it’s not a traditional “album” — it’s got cuts from This Was and Stand up, their first two albums, along with mostly unreleased material and a “live album” companion piece. It’s a great beginner’s Jethro Tull album, though, with the title track unfurling as one of the finer moments in all of classic rock and “Christmas Song” and “Sweet Dream” further instilling our sense of this band as masters of melody and rock and roll glory.
9 Seals & Crofts – Greatest Hits
All the way through, this one is a gratifying, wild ride of eclectic classic rock and approachable, hummable tunes. And yeah, around this time bands had a weird habit of putting their mega-hit toward the end, with “Summer Breeze” here the third track on side B, but this only makes for a more rewarding scavenger hunt to get to it.
10 Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat
Cat Stevens’ musical career alone is pretty much impossible to keep up with, let alone his spiritual life. This fifth album from 1971 seems as good of place to start as any, though, with “Morning Has Broken” and “Peace Train” forming the LP’s commercially sound artistic core, along with opener “The Wind”; which imbues more of a pastoral, casual vibe, and even graced the Rushmore soundtrack.
11 The Beach Boys – Fun, Fun, Fun
The name says it all — this record is loaded with classic songs like “The Warmth of the Sun”; “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”; as well as a spirited take on “Louie Louie” and of course the youthful oblivion of the title track, an inclusion which likely spawned the frosty reception on the part of my record store clerk but still packs enough hooks and structural turns to keep your head nodding.
12 Jerry Lee Lewis – Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think about it Darlin’)
The elephant in the room here would be, of course, that this guy didn’t actually WRITE any of these songs. It does play as founding rock and roll, though, delivered with energy and gusto, and at least he doesn’t hide behind an “outlaw” persona or take himself too seriously. Everything remains streamlined and breezy on these rockabilly standards.
13 Carole King – Tapestry
This is one of those albums that I like more and more every time I listen to it — my right brain likes it more than my left, in other words, with its undeniable, jazz-tinged originality and plurality of bona fide humanistic messages. It plays like a head trip, too, with the duality of the lounge-y, almost hippy-ish numbers like “It’s Too Late” and “You’ve Got a Friend” juxtaposed with “I Feel the Earth Move” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” more like ubiquitous Motown numbers.
14 Gordon Lightfoot – Dream Street Rose
This year we certainly lost one of the foremost songwriters in Canada’s history in Gordon Lightfoot. Seeming to produce alchemy with just an acoustic guitar and his voice, he bestows to us here another undeniable and gripping voyage of texture and melody, all of it exuding supreme purpose like the work of someone for whom music is the most important thing in the world.
15 Julia Holter – Ekstasis
Whoa, this is only 15? Well, one thing that pi**es me off about my vinyl copy of this otherwise pliable, golden-delicious foray in indie pop is that it’s two albums, and it’s only like 50 minutes. You’re literally getting up and flipping the album over after 10 minutes, in some instances. Take away that snag and add in the factor of how good it is to listen to stoned, and this LP emerges as absolutely elite, the Annie-Lennox-informed pop perfection of “Fur Felix” and “Goddess Eyes II” grafting new ground on the indie scene.
16 The Marshall Tucker Band – Greatest Hits
To this day, the worst song I’ve heard by this band is probably “Heard it in a Love Song.” You really can’t go wrong with any of their first three albums and Greatest Hits equally makes for a consistent, stalwart listen, with guitarist Toy Caldwell shredding all over such gems as “Can’t You See”; “Ramblin’” and “This Ol’ Cowboy.”
17 John Fogerty – Centerfield
Easily Fogerty’s highest-profile solo effort what with “The Old Man down the Road”; “Rock and Roll Girls” and of course the ubiquitous title track, Centerfield packs a punch from start to finish with some “old time rock and roll” and lyrical variety in the age of tortured squares and overdressed idiot savants.
18 The Big Chill (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Along with all of the classic Motown selections, there’s something just so pure about observing Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” on this record — it seems like its natural habitat, lodged right there at the end of side A and cackling maniacally into the night. And of course, I’ll never complain about any collection with “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on it.
19 Steve Winwood – Arc of a Diver
Light, pliable ’80s pop here is the name of the game from a guy who had already released a hit single under four different acts (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, solo), and so had kind of paid his dues and earned the right to float along on this ethereal plane of half-formed thoughts and emotions. “Spanish Dancer” graces Winwood’s four-disc boxed set and more or less forms the centerpiece here.
20 The Strokes – Is This it
You might think it’s puzzling that I would have purchased this record and then ranked it so lowly within my collection. Truth be told, given the right production, it would probably rival Big Star for the fourth spot, but, lo and behold, Gordon Raphael slanged this sucker out on Pro Tools, which, honestly, makes for a clean, organized digital listen, but doesn’t do much for us vinyl freaks. No thanks to Rough Trade for positioning this selection as “essential,” then, as it were.
21 Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now
Following a trip to Jamaica, Johnny Nash came back to the States and wrote this sucker, initiating the operation with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir it up” and thereafter maintaining a level head of jaunty, optimistic pop tunes. The positioning of the title track at a random spot on side B makes this a bit awkward, I think, but still, on the whole, very original and certainly worth a listen.
22 Hank Williams – Movin’ on-Luke Drifter (Songs by Hank Williams)
I guess I’m not being very moral or “purist” on this list since I ranked Jerry Lee Lewis, who doesn’t write his own songs, ahead of this “legend” — anyway, this is definitely a listenable LP with some good ol’ Southern heartbreak infusing its austere, bare instrumentations and scores.
23 The Rolling Stones – ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s out’
Now, I am a big Stones fan — in fact, in a scam, I ordered one of those full-catalogue boxed sets for $35, and then of course didn’t get it. Sticky Fingers is on my bucket list whereas this live album plays as pretty much disposable, issuing a passable version of “Midnight Rambler” but unfortunately also featuring some pretty lewd stage banter from Mick Jagger. Someone throw a bottle at this dude.
24 The Guitar Greats (Glen Campbell, Mason Williams, Joe Maphis, James McGuinn, Billy Strange)
If you like pointless hillbilly guitar doodling by a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of, you came to the right place. Break out your spitter and let’s boogie!
25 Jethro Tull – A Passion Play
For some reason, I remember liking this album at one point in the distant past — it’s not Ian Anderson’s most approachable effort, probably, with an endless string of obtuse, nonsensical intervals and song structures informing no particularly memorable riffs or statements. It’s an effort in music theory, nonetheless, and if this is the way Jethro Tull misses, it’s at least more entertaining than Voodoo Lounge.
26 Humble Pie – Rockin’ the Fillmore
Proviso of blues-rock etudes which act as a blueprint for messy, aimless grunge, this Humble Pie record is worth the listen just to hear how the Cream/Led Zeppelin conduit takes on its rudiments.
27 Spencer Davis – Mousetrap
According to legend, the Spencer Davis Group was so named on account of Spencer Davis, the guitarist, being the only one willing to answer interview questions. With these golden-boy, simplistic jams of manufactured joy, you can easily trace his DNA as a spotlight-hunter.
28 Percy Faith and His Orchestra – Hollywood’s Great Themes
Hollywood doesn’t belong in classic rock and this record is proof. The only thing more preternaturally boring than watching West Side Story is listening to a chunk of its soundtrack out of context.
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