Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 490-481


Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Previous Posts:

Artist: Linda Rondstadt
AlbumHeart Like a Wheel
Year: 1975
Label: Capitol
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “You’re No Good”

Thoughts: This collection of countrified rock is entirely covers or compositions of songs by other artists so everything sounds familiar even if I hadn’t listened to this album before. “Willin’,” for example, I know from a cover by Richard Shindell.  The lead track “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Beloved” I remember being radio staples when I was a child in the 1970s but haven’t heard in decades so it made me a little nostalgic. On the other hand, this style of music doesn’t appeal to me much so I can’t imagine listening to this album again. 


Artist: Phil Spector and Various Artists
AlbumBack to Mono (1958-1969)
Year: 1991
Label: ABKCO
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Lots of them, yes.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Individual tracks and the Christmas album
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King
  • “Puddin’ N’ Tain” by The Alley Cats
  • “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” by The Crystals
  • “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes
  • “Baby, I Love You” by The Ronettes
  • “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up) by The Ronettes
  • “Walking in the Rain” by The Ronettes
  • “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” by The Righteous Brothers
  • “Born to be Together” by The Ronettes
  • “River Deep – Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner
  • “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday)” by Ike & Tina Turner
  • “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by The Ronettes
  • “Love Is All I Have to Give” by The Checkmates Ltd.
  • “Frosty the Snowman” by The Ronettes
  • “Sleigh Ride” by The Ronettes
  • “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
  • “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Bob B. Soxx, The Blue Jeans

Thoughts:

There are lots of things I can argue about regarding the Rolling Stone 500, but one thing I disagree with most is the inclusion of so many compilation albums. There are some possible exceptions such as soundtracks which can be unique multiple artists compilations, or something like The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. But I don’t think “greatest hits” compilations should count as great albums.

In this instance it appears that RS simply wanted to recognize influential producer Phil Spector’s work on the list even though he most predominantly did his work in producing singles rather than albums. And so RS included this box set released decades after Spector’s best work even though many of the songs are (deservedly) already on their greatest songs list. The fact that he’s a convicted murderer and abusive person makes me question whether he should be on the list at all, and perhaps we should be recognizing the talented artists on this compilation instead.

Ironically, a lot of my favorite songs from this collection were already on Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, which I listened to for the previous post. The box set also includes the 1963 holiday compilation A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector in its entirety. This Christmas album was previously included on previous iterations of the RS 500 and since it was intentionally designed to be an album, I believe it deserves a spot on the current list on its own.


Artist: The Stooges
Album: The Stooges
Year: 1969
Label: Elektra
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: I know the band
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Maybe
Favorite Tracks:

  • “1969”

Thoughts:

This album sounds a lot more recent than 1969. Perhaps because pop music of the 1960s tended to be sunnier, or at least earnest. This music seems to accurately reflect the mood and resignation that goes with a time of violence and strife that rivals our own. The Stooges are described as a proto-punk band, but I also hear a bluesy sound that’s proto-metal.


Artist: Black Flag
Album: Damaged
Year: 1981
Label: SST
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Surprisingly not.
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Rise Above”
  • “TV Party”
  • “No More”
  • “Padded Cell”
  • “Damaged I”

Thoughts: If anything good comes out of this Rolling Stone 500 experiment it will be things like filling in my punk rock deficiencies and finally listening to this Black Flag album.  This is supposed to be an album that parents hate, but I’m a parent and it’s really resonating with me right no.  So there. 


Artist: John Mayer
AlbumContinuum
Year: 2006
Label: Columbia
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Not really
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: None

Thoughts: I know John Mayer as the “Your Body is a Wonderland” guy and therefore the avatar of the generic dudebro pop music wave of the early 2000s.  I was not aware of the rest of his body of work and therefore surprised to see him on a “greatest of all time” list.  And after listening to the album, I’m even more surprised to see it on the list.  It’s soooooooooooooo boring!


Artist: Richard and Linda Thompson
Album: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Year: 1974
Label: Island
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Only by name & reputation.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “When I Get to the Border”
  • “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”
  • “Down Where the Drunkards Roll”
  • “We Sing Hallelujah”

Thoughts: As a folky, I’ve been remiss in not listening to this album before, even though I’ve known of its existence for decades. The music is drawn from the English folk revival of the 1960s & 70s, reminiscent of the music of The Revels, but with rock & roll flourishes. 


Artist: Lady Gaga
Album: Born This Way
Year: 2011
Label: Interscope
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Kind of impossible not to.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Probably not.
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Born This Way”

Thoughts: Lady Gaga was ubiquitous about a decade ago.  I guess she still is, with A Star is Born and performing at Biden’s inauguration. But other than the title track, I didn’t know any of these songs.  I guess all of her big songs are on another album. This is a fine collection of dance tracks, but I’m not likely to seek it out.


Artist: Muddy Waters
Album: The Anthology
Year: 2001
Label: MCA
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Gypsy Woman”
  • “I Can’t Be Satisfied”
  • “Rollin’ Stone”
  • “Walkin’ Blues”
  • “Country Boy”
  • “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”
  • “I Just Want to Make Love To You
  • “Mannish Boy”
  • “Forty Days and Forty Nights”
  • “Got My Mojo Working”
  • “You Shook Me”

Thoughts: I love the music of McKinley Morganfield and took great delight in listening to 50 of his songs back-to-back.  But I once again find it a copout to include a box set compilation, released two decades after Muddy Waters’ death, as a “greatest album.” Obviously the RS 500 editors want to recognize the importance of the great Chicago Blues man who did most of his best work on singles rather than albums. I wonder if they could’ve achieved this by nominating instead his musical crossover success of At Newport 1960, or even one of the compilations released by Chess records in the 50s and 60s. This would feel to me something more intentionally an album rather than a retrospective box set.


Artist: The Pharcyde
Album: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
Year: 1992
Label: Delicious Vinyl
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Not at all
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Officer”
  • “Passin’ Me By”
  • “Otha Fish”
  • “Pack the Pipe”

Thoughts: Apparently I was busy with something else when The Pharcyde had their moment in the early 90s, because they are the first band so far in this list that I’ve never heard before.  I was excited to see RS refer to them as “a little like a West Coast answer to De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest,” though. I do feel bad that I missed out on The Pharcyde because this is the type of hip hop with a sense of fun that I enjoyed before gangsta rappers began taking things (and themselves) too seriously.  The casual sexism in some of the lyrics make it less fun, though.


Artist: Belle and Sebastian
Album: If You’re Feeling Sinister
Year: 1996
Label: Jeepster
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Vague awareness of the band
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Me and the Major”
  • “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”
  • “If You’re Feeling Sinister”

Thoughts:

There are two things I know about Belle & Sebastian: 1) they were considered the epitome of twee back in the Oughts, and 2) they wrote a song about the New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza having to call a press conference regarding his sexuality.  I remember listening to one of their albums and not finding it much too interesting.  I didn’t realize that Belle & Sebastian were around as early as 1996, chipping away at the last days of grunge dominance. This a collection of finely-crafted folk rock tunes and I can’t say anything bad about, although it doesn’t really excite me either.  Nevertheless, I could see giving it another spin one day.


Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  • 498. Suicide, Suicide
  • 497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
  • 494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
  • 489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
  • 487. Black Flag, Damaged
  • 485, Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • 483, Muddy Waters, The Anthology
  • 482, The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
  • 481, Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister

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