1. The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
I’ve probably listened to this album more than any other in my life. I’m not sure what keeps bringing me back to it, but I will say that the entire album has a distinct aura about it, one I can’t exactly place. “Time” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” are the soul and centerpiece. “Money” is, well, “Money,” and “Us and Them” is the strongest political statement they would make until Animals. “Any Colour You Like” and “On the Run” are two always enjoyable instrumentals, and the ending two songs, with their striking all-inclusiveness, remind me of the Abbey Road medley. Every Floyd album until Dark Side had been a crescendo up to this culminating moment. After this, they would still be great, but just that much different.
2. Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin
Some critics call this a “novelty album,” which may be true, but they then have the audacity to rate this album lower because of its experimentation. True, I can’t stand “D’yer Mak’er,” I think it’s an abominable blight on their discography, but the rest of the songs are great. “The Song Remains the Same” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” are two standards anchoring the first half. The rest swing between contrasts, from the ballad “The Rain Song” to the crunchy funk of “The Crunge.” “No Quarter” is a haunting, atmospheric track, and “The Ocean” is a memorable ending. If you can get past the off-putting cover, you’ll find here an actually quite worthy successor to IV.
3. Countdown to Ecstasy – Steely Dan
There aren’t any hits here, only slick rhythms and laconic lyrics lamenting West Coast excesses and problems of social class. “Bodhisattva” and “Your Gold Teeth” give the band a chance to stretch out and fill in some long grooves. “Razor Boy” is delightfully fresh and laid back. “The Boston Rag” and “Show-Biz Kids” feature a harder edge, the former a gritty guitar solo. “My Old School,” one of my favorites from the band, effortlessly blends guitar, piano, and horn sections. With this album, Steely Dan took the opportunity to solidify their lineup and begin perfecting their style.
4. Band on the Run – Wings w/Paul McCartney
McCartney, out of all the ex-Beatles, found the most success in the 70s, and this effort nearly reaches his 60s quality of output. The title track was a hit for a reason–it’s practically three songs put in one, each bridged by seamless transitions. “Let Me Roll It,” which sounds strangely like a Lennon song, has a memorable guitar part, and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” is an odd piano-driven number. “Jet” and “Mrs. Vanderbilt” are both more straightforward rock songs, and “Bluebird” is a nice sentimental touch to the set.
5. Quadrophenia – The Who
The Who’s second stab at a rock opera double album has a much more believable premise: a teen becomes disillusioned with the 60s mod culture of London and takes a trip to Brighton, where he contemplates suicide. True, there aren’t as many memorable repeated themes as on Tommy, and there are still a couple half-hearted instrumentals to fill out the running time. But the band had had four more years to become better musicians and songwriters. “The Real Me” has one of John Entwistle’s greatest bass parts. “I’m One,” probably the album’s best song, is a gripping, sincere anthem. Plenty of other tracks here, like “The Punk and the Godfather,” “I’ve Had Enough,” and “Sea and Sand” are also great. And, of course, “Love Reign O’er Me” demonstrates Roger Daltrey’s vocal prowess.
6. Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks
The first time I listened to this album, I listened to it three times in a row in one sitting–it’s that good. And yet, this album is not on Spotify, it’s never been officially released on CD. This one-off by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, before they joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, has a minimalist approach that at least appeals to me. None of the songs here are particularly famous (“Crystal” was rerecorded for FM’s 1975 eponymous album), but does that really matter? “Without a Leg to Stand On,” “Long Distance Winner,” and “Don’t Let Me Down Again” are all standout contributions that could easily have become hit singles on a FM album.
7. Time Fades Away – Neil Young
Only Neil Young would go on tour after Harvest‘s massive success to play a group of brand-new songs to his waiting audience. Even after the album achieved a cult following, he refused to rerelease it until 2014 because he didn’t think it was good enough, and almost never played any songs from it again. Yes, the songs don’t have the cleanest production, but that adds to their appeal. The title song and “Journey Through The Past” are typical introspective Young material. “Yonder Stands The Sinner” and “L.A.” are social critiques, and “Don’t Be Denied” is a heartfelt autobiography.
8. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
Innervisions is my favorite Stevie Wonder album for many reasons. Every one of the songs here, even the slower ones, carry the same energy that Wonder was carefully cultivating since 1971. “Higher Ground” is, if possible, an even funkier “Superstition.” “Too High” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” are two more standout numbers, the latter indulging in Latinesque rhythms. A couple songs like “Jesus Children of America” engage in social critique, as does “Living for the City,” a seven-minute odyssey. It’s not at all surprising that this album won the Grammy for best of the year.
9. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
I normally find that Elton John’s albums have too much filler. That’s not to say the man doesn’t have a million good singles, but Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the only album of his I usually listen to all the way through, and I still have to skip “Social Disease.” The first four songs are all great, the title track especially. “Bennie and the Jets” is one of the most well-known songs of its time, and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” fortunately doesn’t get old. “Grey Seal” and “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” are two of the album’s hidden gems, as is the ending song “Harmony.”
10. The Wild, The Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen’s second album is surprisingly good, and oddly unlike everything else that would follow. To begin with, four of the tracks here are seven minutes long, and of the other three, only “4th of July, Asbury Park” sounds anything like Born to Run. And yet, it still manages to embrace the hard-luck atmosphere of New York. “Incident on 57th Street” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” are two sweeping tales. “Kitty’s Back” is maybe the finest song of Springsteen’s early career.
Honorable Mentions: Goats Head Soup – The Rolling Stones, Aladdin Sane – David Bowie, Brothers and Sisters – The Allman Brothers Band
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