Monday, September 25, 2006

The best albums in the world... ever.

I can't remember how I ended up considering this the other day, but I found myself trying to decide what, in my opinion, was the best album released this decade. Then I found myself posing the same question with regard to the 90s, the 80s, the 70s and the 60s. I don't really have or listen to much music from the 50s or before, so I didn't go there.

So what albums would you pick?

Here are my (current) choices, my opinions will probably be different next week:

The best 60s album:
  • Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
    It was a tricky decision. Going for the Beatles would be the obvious choice for most folk, and I do like most of their later albums, but for sheer excellence I think you have to turn to the British blues boom of the mid-60s. In the end it came down to this or some of the early Fleetwood Mac recordings. Although EC had already made a name for himself in the Yardbirds by this time and greater things (in terms of fame and success) were yet to come with Cream, Derek & the Dominos and the solo career, this is possibly Claton's finest hour (only 35 minutes actually). Sheer brilliance. All John Mayall albums from this period are great, but the combination of Mayall and Clapton produced the finest British blues album ever, and (in my opinion) the best album of the 60s.
The best 70s album:
  • Queen II
    All the good music in the pre-punk 70s was predominantly blues-rock, prog-rock, glam-rock and early heavy metal. All of these come together brilliantly for Queen's second album. As a (literally) lifelong Queen fan (I can remember liking 'Killer Queen' when I was four!), I had to pick a Queen album for best of the 70s, and the obvious one is 'A night at the opera'. But although most critics rate that album as Queen's finest hour, I have always preferred 'A day at the races' (pretty much the same style and type of content as ANATO, but reaching a slightly higher level and consistently good; I feel ANATO is let down slightly by 'death on two legs', 'seaside rendezvous' and 'sweet lady') and 'Queen II' which is just perfect from beginning to end. Queen's first album was merely a collection of songs, but Queen II is an album which is so much greater than the sum of its parts. If I had a time machine, I'd go back to 1974 and catch Queen live while touring this album - that's how good it is.
The best 80s album:
  • Queen: The Works
    There were so many albums in the 80s which were great at the time, but haven't aged well. Almost all the pop-rock stuff that I loved at the time now seems really dated. But Queen's 'comeback' album still sounds fantastic. Sure, it has filler songs in there ('Man on the prowl' and 'Keep passing the open windows') and 'Machines' hasn't aged well, but everything else is brilliant: Radio ga-ga (one of the world's greatest stadium-rock anthems), Tear it up (pure Brian May), Its a hard life (pure Freddie), I want to break free (everyone in the world loves this, right?), Hammer to fall (the most rifftastic rock song of the 80s) and Is this the world we created? (acoustic perfection).
The best 90s album:
  • Spacehog: The Chinese Album
    This is the first of my choices which is possibly not generally considered a 'classic'. Certainly, I'm the only person I know who rates this album so highly. Rock music lost its direction and generally fell apart in the early 90s. Freddie died, Slash and Axl parted company, Curt Cobain killed metal and then himself and everyone (in the UK at least) abandonned rock and turned to guitar pop. The few rock bands who survived did so by reinventing themselves (see 'Brave' by Marillion, 'III sides to every story' by Extreme, the black Metallica album, etc.) but nothing new came along. OK, there was grunge which was great for a few years, and Garbage came up with something reasonably new and exciting for their debut album, but that was about it. Rock seemed dead. Then, just when I'd almost given up hope of new bands producing excellent rock albums, along came Spacehog. Their first album was great, but the second is a masterpiece. Like the best 70s Queen albums this album contains some great songs, but is so much greater than simply the sum of its parts. It takes the influences of Queen, Bowie, etc. and brings them up to date. Sheer musical excellence.
The best 00s album (so far):
  • Heart: Jupiter's Darling
    If you haven't heard this album, please abandon your anti-Heart prejudice now. Heart had a string of hits in the power-ballad, big-hair-rock days of the late 80s. Some of them were actually quite good, although its utterly uncool to admit as much today. Unfortunately they jumped on the power-ballad bandwagon and sold their souls to R.J. 'Mutt' Lange in 1990, resulting in 'All I wanna do is make love to you' and 'Will you be there in the morning'. Urgh. As far as most folk know (in the UK at least), that was Heart. But look a bit deeper and you find some really quality rock albums back in the 70s: 'Dreamboat Annie', 'Little Queen' and 'Dog and Butterfly' being the best three - these albums combined heavy rock and acoustic folk in a way only really matched by Led Zep, who were their primary influence. Now imagine that the band that produced those albums managed to skip the big-hair 80s entirely, landing back in Seattle during the grunge years - and produced an album full of 70s acoustic folk, 70s heavy metal and 90s grunge influences, updated for the new millenium. That album is Jupiter's Darling. 17 songs of brilliance. Nancy Wilson is possibly the best acoustic-rock guitarist out there and her sister Anne has the best set of lungs in rock, bar none. Listen without prejudice. And rock!
So what about you? What would you pick?



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