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The Essential Rock Albums (In My Opinion)

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I’m a black guy who listens to rock music. That’s really weird, seeing as rock is a predominantly white genre and all black guys are “supposed to” listen to hip hop. But let’s face it–rocking out is awesome. Thrash is amazing. Grunge kicks ass. Alternative rock is a killer. I have never met the guy who stopped listening to rock. Ever. Even some staunch Christians listen to rock, albeit in a different form known as Christian rock. I mean, the sound of drums in your chest, beating alongside your heart–that feeling is close to heaven. With that being said, let us look at the essential albums that have come to define the genre and all its offshoots. Every week, I will discuss 10 albums, one from each genre. The list will finally be rounded off by a Top 50

10. PJ Harvey – Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea
Stories From The City, Stories From The SeaThis is my all-time favorite album, and yes, all bias aside, it rightfully belongs on the list. Why? For one, it sums up alternative rock in one awesome package. There are greater albums, but this is an essential listen for anyone who is an alternative rock fan. Plus, it helps to have won the Mercury Prize twice.

09. Nirvana – Nevermind
NevermindSure, Rolling Stone has a hard-on for these guys. Sure, Kurt Cobain wasn’t all that legendary, as many detractors like to say. But let’s face it, this album rocked the world. Everyone was selling out (even Metallica sold out), but these three ordinary guys created the most enduring piece of grunge ever made. Don’t believe me?  Listen to “Smells like Teen Spirit” one more time.

08. Tool – Ænima
AenimaThey have a disgusting name, no doubt, but play awesome music all the way. This neo-prog album stands head and shoulders above any other in the genre. With philosophical discussions throughout and a nod to controversial comedian Bill Hicks, this is the thinking man’s metal album.

07. Metallica – Master Of Puppets
Master Of PuppetsThrash at its finest hour. This album is the reason Metallica is the #1 thrash band in all the world. Fast, aggresive and mindbending, this is the Thriller of thrash. And be it twenty years from now, this album will remain an undisputed classic.

06. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against The MachineThe fathers of rap metal! This album is an audiophile’s heaven, a young rebel’s best friend and a politician’s hell at the same time. How they managed to pull it off remains out of grasp. Bass lines: majestic. Drums: wicked. Rapping: Awesome. But the ultimate clincher here is Tom Morello’s disturbingly cool guitar playing. No one is allowed to be that good with a guitar–no one. All in all, this was the ultimate height of the marriage of rap and metal.

05. Nick Drake – Bryter Layter
Bryter LayterFolk rock never had a better album. The depressing Nick Drake creates a masterpiece from the ashes of his failed first album. There is enough melancholy to make it a Drake record, but compared to Pink Moon, this is really upbeat. Highway 61 Revisited was close, but in an essentials list, the title goes to Nick Drake.

04. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks
Never Mind The BollocksReally, who had a better punk album than this? …. I thought so too. Noisy, intense and angry, Rotten’s “bad” singing on this album carried it to the heights of punk respect. It is an essential album for every punk fan. Nuff said.

03. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club BandOn this list for critical acclaim as much as musicianship, The Beatles outdid themselves on this masterpiece. But still, #1 in the world may be a teeny weeny bit overdoing it. All that said, this record is essential because it simply is a masterpiece in art. Pet Sounds is actually close, if not the more creative album. But then again, any rock fan, no matter the genre, who has never heard this album, is still an incomplete fan.

02. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
RumoursWhen bands fight like these guys, they do not create music, much less classic relationship albums. This is the ultimate relationship rock album, and all things notwithstanding, a fine, fine work of art. Don’t believe me?  Listen to track two, “Dreams,” and soak it all in.

01. Led Zeppelin – IV
Led Zeppelin - IVThe album is the masterpiece of an era, a majestic work of art. “Stairway to Heaven,” although overexplained, cannot be called anything but majestic. And the predecessors to heavy metal laid down one of the blueprints, the other being Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut, a masterpiece and an essential record in its own right.

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About Tolu Awobusuyi

  • Arthur

    I’ll give you a better punk album than the Sex Pistols (which was a rip-off of the New York Dolls’ sound, albeit a good rip-off): _Young, Loud and Snotty_ by the Dead Boys. “Sonic Reducer” is the greatest “punk” single of all time. A bunch of real working class scumbags from Ohio, the Dead Boys were the real thing that the Pistols only pretended to be.

  • Tolu

    Good album, but this is not a “best of” list. This is an “essential album” list. No one can doubt the importance of Never Mind The Bollocks

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Sorry,but, the “I’m a black guy who listens to rock music. That’s really weird, seeing as rock is a predominantly white genre and all black guys are “supposed to” listen to hip hop.” statement is tired & a cop out. Rock music was essentially founded by black people but,even more so, played by black people. Ever hear of Chuck Berry,Jimi Hendrix,Stevie Wonder,Living Colour,Lenny Kravitz,Byron Davis – Just to name a few.

    As for your list, I would say it wasn’t that hard to put together. Maybe popular,quite possibly MTV history(Everyone was selling out?!),but, not essential listening for Rock.

  • Tolu

    Brian, the comment shows one fact: an overwhelming majority of people who listen to rock are white. Yes, ROCK N’ ROLL was dominated by blacks, but since 1970, other than Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, there has been a near absence of black musicians and fans in the core rock community. As to the comment on the authencity on the list, proper research will show the timeless impact of each of these albums, regardless of MTV popularity, which is quite amusing. The term “essential” implies the credibility of each album and it’s importance to a certain genre

  • Tolu

    The last statement should read “its importance” not “it’s importance”. Sorry for the error

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    The term “essential” implies the credibility of each album and it’s importance to a certain genre.”

    And,yet,that term only applies if the genre is accurately represented which has an affect on the credibility of said album. Case in point, Alice in Chains were considered “Grunge”, yet, they were distinctly Hard Rock / Metal. So, when “historians” claim that Nirvana killed Metal, it is purely based on a Mainstream point of view, in regards to sales and ignorant to integrity, which was mainly purported by MTV and a preconceived notion that Grunge was an actual genre.

    Nirvana, in fact, was a Punk band. And, when you look at them in that light, “Nevermind” doesn’t hold up very well. Again, it only retains its value due to a hyped history supported by its mainstream success. If any of the real “essential” albums in Rock / Metal were held to this standard then you’d miss out on the most important bands out of any genre.

    Honestly, I’d say Fugazi “Repeater” did more for “Grunge” than anything Nirvana ever did…

  • Jordan Richardson

    You could easily categorize the grunge bands as other genre bands because grunge was more of a hodgepodge than a distinct genre. It took from metal, punk, rock, and hardcore and rejected things like “image” and so forth – all while creating an image.

    Nirvana wasn’t just a punk band; they may have taken elements of punk, but Nevermind also carries touches of pure pop, classic rock and even post-punk and noise rock. And Cobain’s guitar playing was couched in the blues, like real dirty blues.

    So I wouldn’t argue that Nevermind fails to hold up. And I would certainly argue Nirvana’s value as an important band in rock music history, especially if we’re taking the concept of “importance” to mean something of great significance. Denying that Nirvana had said significance is, I think, pretty stubborn.

    I would agree that grunge wasn’t a genre, but I think it was an aesthetic and a pretty damn important one.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    Not sure I understand how you can even disagree with the “Nirvana killed metal” assessment? Do you not remember the glam metal balladeers that radio stations and MYV were subjecting people to in the late ’80s/ early ’90s like Motley Crue, Poison, and one-hit wonders White Lion and Mr. Big?

    Alternative was on the rise because of a whole host of bands that paved the way and Nirvana was the crest of that wave that washed those “metal” guys out, sending A&R guys out trying to find bands that sounded like the new “new thing”. Plus, SoundScan was introduced in 1991 and more accurately told where artists ranked on the charts.

    Dismiss it all you like, but Nevermind retains its value because of what it meant then and still means to people now. You and the 28 other guys who bought Fugazi’s “Repeater” might think that’s a better album, but that’s not how the score is kept.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “especially if we’re taking the concept of “importance” to mean something of great significance.”

    Again, outside of the realm of mainstream success, I don’t believe “Nevermind” was really that “important”. And, it definitely didn’t do anything for music on a musician’s level. In fact, it was just the opposite. I agree that “Grunge” played an aesthetic role in music history,but, I believe it was mainly for the people who didn’t have a mind of their own. The people who were stymied by the Glam Rock of the late 80s because they didn’t know where to look for other genres of music.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Well, Brian, I think you’re moving the goalposts and redefining what “important” means.

    I would also quibble with the notion that it didn’t do anything “on a musician’s level.” I think there are plenty of musicians who would disagree with you.

    I also disagree with your characterization and generalization that “it was mainly for people who didn’t have a mind of their own.”

    These are unquantifiable, unprovable statements based on your own worldview, not on any meaningful spectrum of importance or significance.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “Well, Brian, I think you’re moving the goalposts and redefining what “important” means.”

    How so??

    “I think there are plenty of musicians who would disagree with you.”

    Jordan,I think you’re moving the goalposts and redefining what “Musician” means.

    “I also disagree with your characterization and generalization that “it was mainly for people who didn’t have a mind of their own.”

    That’s fine,but, it was still MTV who led the so-called revolution and it was only in North America. So, yea, pretty much the people whose musical tastes were defined by the media. Honestly, you mean to tell me that from 1986 to 1991 no one in Mainstream media could find something different than Glam Rock. You mean something different that would sell. Youth angst with a hook?! Gimme a freaking break!

    “These are unquantifiable, unprovable statements based on your own worldview, not on any meaningful spectrum of importance or significance.”

    Just because a lot of people liked Nirvana doesn’t mean that the popular belief is any more meaningful. Hell, a lot of people liked Hitler… Still, I find it hysterical that just because you fall in line with the sheeple, that my questioning is out of bounds. Sorry dude,but I remember that decade vividly and its easy to grasp onto Nirvana when it had very little else to offer for the mainstream fans. As for me (and the other 28 guys), the 90s were a huge time for Metal – unless you were still a Metallica fan.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    I guess I’m old – I would never have included some of the newer bands here. I would have included The Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced, for one. And Chicago Transit Authority for another. And then there’s almost anything by the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, Eric Clapton, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doobie Brothers…

    …oh, man, the list can go on for years.

    My brother’s been a DJ since the mid-60’s – he’s currently DJ’ing five different stations (from the same building) in MS, and is certainly the only middle-aged white guy DJ’ing a rap/hip-hop station. In his opinion, the 1960’s were the most influential decade in musical history bar none, and the 1970’s had the best music in history. I pretty much agree with him.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Brian, you appear to see things in a very black and white way.

    You’re moving the goalposts in suggesting that Nirvana had no to little significance “outside of the mainstream.” The point is that the album is seen as important along the historical timeline, but you appear to want to redefine the conception (or at least fragment it) into an avenue that fits your understanding as opposed to a historical one.

    Nevermind IS an important album in music history.

    I think you’re moving the goalposts and redefining what “Musician” means.

    Because I stated the FACT that Nirvana influenced musicians on a musical level? You’re going to have to go an awful long way to claim that one, Brian.

    That’s fine….Gimme a freaking break!

    Again, you have little to offer here besides characterizations and generalizations. Your claim that musical tastes were “defined by the media” needs a little evidence to support it. And even then, you’re being incredibly presumptuous and silly.

    Maybe people liked Nirvana because something in the music, something in the apathetic underpinnings or in Kurt’s feminism and refusal to be an Alpha male or whatever.

    And maybe MTV responded not because they wanted to influence the tastes of the masses but because they wanted in on what the Seattle movement was already putting down with bands like The Jesus Lizard, Fastbacks, 10 Minute Warning, and anyone on the Deep Six compilation. Maybe MTV was ready to put fuel to something that wasn’t couched in either New York or Los Angeles? Maybe they keyed in on what was going on at Sub Pop and wanted to make money from the movement that was already erupting in Northeastern bands like Sonic Youth and Pixies?

    Maybe angst needs a hook?

    There are dozens of explanations, Brian, but they don’t fit your narrative so you won’t give them the time of day.

    Just because a lot of people liked Nirvana doesn’t mean that the popular belief is any more meaningful.

    This argument means nothing. Just because something is rare or unheard or hip to a handful or underground or REAL METAL RAWR doesn’t mean that that belief is any more meaningful.

    And who says your questioning is “out of bounds?” Where are you getting that from? I just think you’re wrong.

    You’re not the only one to remember the decade “vividly,” either.

    Amazingly enough, Brian, people can and do listen to more than one style of music – 90s or otherwise. Nirvana meant something to me as a dorky little Canadian (without MTV on the dial, btw) heading into high school. And Nirvana means something to me as a thirtysomething heading into another phase of life. MTV, mass marketing and popularity had nothing to do with what I got out of the music.

    Sorry to not fit your rather narrow worldview, “dude.”

  • Tolu

    The list is not yet done. Each genre will be represented, so this is one in a series of six to ten. My basis for the inclusion of ‘Nevermind’ was its significance to the genres of alt rock and grunge (if, quite correctly, grunge can be called a genre). Mind you, this is not a compete list as of yet

  • Tolu

    Glenn, your brother is SOMEWHAT right, but all decades have put forth significant works that define their respective genres e.g Metalica’s Master of Puppets.n Jimi Hendrix, what a guy…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “Brian, you appear to see things in a very black and white way.”

    Nope, I was just one of the few that saw a decline in music when Nirvana became famous. I was also one of the few that thought the Glam Rock that was famous at the time shouldn’t be perceived as Metal.

    “The point is that the album is seen as important along the historical timeline…”

    A history that was determined by MTV, VH1 & the Music Industry.

    Jordan, these are my beliefs because I was there as well. You’re the one who is on the attack because of your love of Nirvana. You’re the one who insists that what I say is “unquantifiable, unprovable statements based on your own worldview, not on any meaningful spectrum of importance or significance.” Yet, you state that “Just because something is rare or unheard or hip to a handful or underground or REAL METAL RAWR doesn’t mean that that belief is any more meaningful.” which is rather funny because the underground is usually responsible for anything that becomes a sensation. I believe Sub Pop would feel the same way. So, in essence, my world view can be all those things that you said it couldn’t be. Just not for you because you are biased.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Brian, I don’t even like Nirvana that much, so there’s another one of your mischaracterizations. I do think Nevermind is an important album in rock history, however.

    You’re missing the point, too. When I stated the “Just because…” line, it was in response to your similar line about mainstream acceptance. You’re of the typical view that something that’s of the so-called “mainstream” must suck.

    The rest of what you’ve said about history being “determined” by blah blah blah honestly makes no sense from that lens, especially considering your last pair of lines. You’re absolutely right: Sub Pop would “feel the same way.” That’s exactly my point in #13.

  • zingzing

    brian, unless you’ve forgotten about canada or hell (wherever bieber was spawned) and american idol, i don’t know that you can say “the underground is usually responsible for anything that becomes a sensation” these days.

    your taste does not change history. yes, fugazi is better than nirvana. but more important to grunge (feh)? nope.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “your taste does not change history.”

    zing,I’m not looking to change history, I just don’t believe it is accurate. Kinda like Columbus discovering America…

    Just like I never agreed with the bastardization of the slang “Grunge(y)” and its use as a genre.

    “Brian, I don’t even like Nirvana that much, so there’s another one of your mischaracterizations.”

    “Nirvana meant something to me as a dorky little Canadian (without MTV on the dial, btw) heading into high school.”

    Really, Jordan?! Usually when something “means” something to somebody, especially at such a significant time in their life, that usually equates to a fondness. So, I wouldn’t say that I mischaracterized anything. But, I’m sure you’ll point out how that statement is a generalization and holds no real importance or value, right??