What is Recorded Music’s Greatest Year?

Thursday 8th of December 2016

So the last few months in store has involved some heated debate brought about by listening to Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. It’s taken us a long while but we’ve been counting them each down from 500 to 1 and we’re now nearing the end. The list is heavily biased towards the glory years of American popular music, featuring pretty much every Bruce Springsteen album, a lot of records made by late 60’s Bay Area bands and plenty of Geffen West Coast AOR. There’s a lot of highly deserving omissions from the list particularly from artists outside the magazine’s homeland, but with 500 albums in total, there’s also a hell of a lot of integral listening.

Lists like this are highly subjective and when it comes down to it quite trivial, but listening to it has never the less sparked plenty of conversation about a wide range of different things. It also got us thinking about what was music’s greatest year for album releases? So we decided to put together our take on music’s 20 greatest years for album releases. Time generally works favorably for albums importance so don’t let the omission of any year in the last 10 seem like a reflection that music is in a downward spiral. There’s plenty of years here that probably wouldn’t have been considered as integral a few years after they took place but as music evolves, records from these years have found their place in musical history and have been given time to develop a legacy. It’s crazy to look at some of the years and the amount of now iconic albums that we’re released in a 12 month period.

So let’s have a look back on the history of recorded music and ask the question; What is music’s greatest year?

The 80’s was a decade not looked upon overly favourably when it comes to music but in the decades last year there were some albums released that both stamped a template for the years to come as well as culminated the decade before. We saw the debut releases for two of the 90’s most iconic artists in Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, two of the most seminal records from hip-hop’s golden age with Beastie Boys ‘Pauls Boutique’ and De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High and Rising’, The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’ and The Pixies ‘Doolittle’ which are often considered the two crowning achievements of two of the 80’s most important artists and across the pond we saw the debut album from Manchester’s Stone Roses.
Notable Albums: The Pixies – Doolittle // The Cure – Disintegration // Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique // De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising // Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever // Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine // Stone Roses – Stone Roses // Nirvana – Bleach // Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mothers Milk

As important as punk was, it’s initial phase was very short lived and by 1979 what was being called post-punk was already in full swing. But as well as releases by Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, Gang of Four, Swell Maps, Wire and XTC we also saw one of punk’s most important bands release their most loved album with The Clash’s London Calling and albums from Michael Jackson and Tom Petty gave us two of their most popular albums.
Notable Albums: The Clash – London Calling // Michael Jackson – Off The Wall // Gang of Four – Entertainment // Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures // Tom Petty – Damn The Torpedoes // PIL – Metal Box // Fleetwood Mac – Tusk // Elvis Costello – Armed Forces // Pink Floyd – The Wall //

As the millennium started to get into swing, we saw some of the forthcoming decades most important albums as well as the beginnings of some of it’s most important artists.
Notable Albums: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot // Beck – Sea Change // Queens of the Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf // Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights // Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People // And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Source Tags & Codes // The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots // The Roots – Phrenology // Spoon – Kill The Moonlight // Sonic Youth – Murray Street // The Libertines – Up The Bracket // Sigur Ros – () // Boards of Canada – Geogaddi // Bright Eyes – Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground // The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas // The Vines – Highly Evolved


Huge year for Jazz including the genre’s best selling album of all time and landmark albums from not only artists such as Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane but Modal Jazz, Free Jazz and Post-Bop in general. Notable albums: Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz To Come //Miles Davis – Kind of Blue //  Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um // John Coltrane – Giant Steps // Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out // Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles // Howlin’ Wolf – Moanin In The Moonlight // John Fahey – Blind Joe Death // Bo Diddley – Go Bo Diddley

Peak Dylan. ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ in the space of 6 months. The Beatles put out ‘Help!’ and ‘Rubber Soul’, Coltrane put out arguably the greatest ever Jazz recording with ‘A Love Supreme’, Sinatra put out arguably his best with ‘The September Of My Years’ and big albums from Otis Redding and The Who made for a hell of a year.
Notable Albums: Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited // John Coltrane – A Love Supreme // Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home // The Beatles – Rubber Soul // The Beatles – Help! // Otis Redding – Otis Blue // Frank Sinatra – The September of My Years // The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics // The Who – My Generation

Huge year for beginnings with debut albums from two artists who would go on to be the biggest in their respective fields in Kanye West and Arcade Fire. Madlib and MF Doom dropped one of the decades most acclaimed hip-hop releases with their Madvillain collaboration , Wilco won a grammy for A Ghost is Born, Brian Wilson released Smile 37 years after he started it with Van Dyke Parks and we also saw landmark or debut albums from some of the decades most individual artists in Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, TV On The Radio and The Fiery Furnaces. The fact that Modest Mouse and The Walkmen released albums with their biggest tracks on there didn’t hurt either.
Notable Albums: Arcade Fire – Funeral // Kanye West – The College Dropout // Madvillain – Madvillainy // Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender // Wilco – A Ghost Is Born // The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free // Brian Wilson Presents Smile // Animal Collective – Sung Tongs // Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News // Bjork – Medulla // The Fiery Furnaces – Blueberry Boat // The Walkmen – Bows + Arrows // The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike // TV On The Radio – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes // Air – Talkie Walkie // Green Day – American Idiot

Big albums from some of the 60’s biggest names. The Band, Van Morrison, The Zombies and Aretha Franklin all release their most iconic albums this year.
Notable Albums: The Beatles – White Album // Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet // Van Morrison – Astral Weeks // The Band – Music From Big Pink // Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul // The Zombies – Odyssey and Oracle // The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat // The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society // Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland // Johnny Cash – Live at Folsom Prison // Dr John – Gris Gris // Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends // The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only In It For The Money // Cream – Wheels of Fire // Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes // The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Huge year for albums that while critically praised at the time, have only grown in importance and widespread acclaim with time. From hip-hop to lo-fi folk to psych and punk, 1998 saw some hugely influential releases. Also has easily Madonna’s best album.
Notable Albums: Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea // Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right For Children // Elliott Smith – XO // Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill // Air – Moon Safari // Outkast – Aquemini // Silver Jews – American Water // Cat Power – Moon Pix // Refused – The Shape of Punk To Come // Mercury Rev – Deserters Songs // Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way Baby // Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels On A Gravel Road // Massive Attack – Mezzanine // Eels – Electro Shock Blues // Dirty Three – Ocean Songs // Madonna – Ray of Light // Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty // Beck – Mutations // The Living End – The Living End // Powderfinger – Internationalist // The Beta Band – The Three EP’s // Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Ave // Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing // Tortoise – TNT // Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap

A pivotal year for hugely influential records. Sonic Youth released ‘Daydream Nation’, Public Enemy released ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back’, The Pixies released ‘Surfer Rosa’ and Talk Talk released ‘Spirit of Eden’. Music was never the same.
Notable Albums: Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation // Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back // Pixies – Surfer Rosa // Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden // NWA – Straight Outta Compton // The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane // REM – Green // Janes Addiction – Nothings Shocking // Metallica – …And Justice For All

Y2K started the new millennium off with trepidation but the music world brought their A game as we saw genre defying and game changing albums released.
Notable Albums: Radiohead – Kid A // The Avalanches – Since I Left You // Outkast – Stankonia // Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica // PJ Harvey – Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea // At The Drive In – Relationship Of Command // The Microphones – It Was Hot So We Stayed In The Water // Deftones – White Pony // Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R // D’Angelo – Voodoo // The Dandy Warhols – 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia // Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Your Fists Like Skinny Antennas To The Sky // Elliott Smith – Figure 8 // Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump // Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out // Lambchop – Nixon

The year that brought us Woodstock was also a big year for album releases. Not only were there the first two Zeppelin records and debut releases from King Crimson, Nick Drake, The Stooges and The MC5 but ’69 also featured ‘Dusty In Memphis’, ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Tommy’, ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Trout Mask Replica’.
Notable Albums: Captain Beefheart – Trout Mast Replica // The Kinks – Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of The British Empire) // Led Zeppelin – I // King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King // Led Zeppelin – II // The Who – Tommy // Dusty Springfield – Dusty In Memphis // The Beatles – Abbey Road // Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left // Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed // Leonard Cohen – Songs From a Room // Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere // MC5 – Kick Out The Jams // The Stooges – The Stooges // Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline // Miles Davis – In A Silent Way

Post Rock hit new heights this year through Mogwai’s ‘Young Team’ and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s ‘F# A# Infinity’ while we also some of the decades seminal albums in ‘Ok Computer’, ‘Homogenic’ and ‘Homework’.
Notable Albums: Radiohead – Ok Computer // Bjork – Homogenic // Daft Punk – Homework // Mogwai – Young Team // Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West // Sleater Kinney – Dig Me Out // Godspeed You! Black Emperor – F# A# Infinity // Foo Fighters – The Color and The Shape // The Verve – Urban Hymns // Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One // Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space // Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call // The Notorious B.I.G – Life After Death // The Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land // Elliott Smith – XO // Built To Spill – Perfect From Now On

What a year. Some of the decades most important artists release some landmark albums while punk is beginning to find its feet in New York City, London and Australia.
Notable Albums: Patti Smith – Horses // Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks // Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night // Queen – A Night At The Opera // Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti // Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run // Neu! – Neu! 75 // Brian Eno – Another Green World // Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here 

The year that saw Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption and Quiz Show for best picture at the Oscars also saw Melissa Ethridge and Tony Bennett win Grammy’s over well… all of the below. Nas turned the rap world on it’s head with Illmatic, Portishead brought the sound of Bristol to the world with Dummy, Guided By Voices released their lo-fi opus Bee Thousand as well as debuts from Weezer, Oasis and Jeff Buckley and landmark albums from Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Pavement, Blur and The Offpsring.
Notable Albums: Nas – Illmatic // Portishead – Dummy // Blur – Parklife // Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand // Weezer – Blue Album // Green Day – Dookie // Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain // Oasis – Definitely Maybe // Nick Cave – Let Love In // Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral // The Offspring – Smash // Beastie Boys – Ill Communication // Jeff Buckley – Grace // Tortoise – Tortoise // Soundgarden – Superunknown // Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary

Easily the most top heavy year in the list but if you consider the fact it has 3 albums that are almost always regarded in the top 10 of all time, it’s a hard year not to think of in extremely high regard. Revolver, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde broke open a lot of doors from both musical, sonic and lyrical standpoint and have continued to influence songwriters and recording engineers to this day.
Notable Albums: The Beatles – Revolver // The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds // Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde // The Mothers Of Invention – Freak Out! // The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators // The Kinks – Face to Face // Rolling Stones – Aftermath // Simon & Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme // Cream – Fresh Cream

When you consider that The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and David Bowie all released their most iconic albums this year, 1972 is a pretty special year on that alone. But it runs a lot deeper and broader than that. Glam’s in full swing with T-Rex and Lou Reed, as is Krautrock with Can and Neu! and ’72 saw two releases that would go onto find huge acclaim in the decades to come in Big Star’s debut ‘#1 Record’ and Nick Drakes final album ‘Pink Moon’.
Notable Albums: David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars // Neil Young – Harvest // The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street // Lou Reed – Transformer // Big Star – #1 Record // Curtis Mayfield – Superfly // Can – Ege Bamyasi // Elton John – Honky Chateau // Stevie Wonder – Talking Book // T Rex – The Slider // Nick Drake – Pink Moon // Deep Purple Machine Head // Neu! – Neu! // Randy Newman – Sail Away // Black Sabbath – Vol. 4 // Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything

Like 1969, this year is a big year culturally. Bowie and Iggy head for Berlin and release a couple of landmark albums each, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Suicide introduce themselves to the world with their debuts, Television change guitar bands forever with ‘Marquee Moon’ and punk is in full swing across the globe with huge releases from The Clash, The Ramones, Wire and The Sex Pistols. Star Wars, Annie Hall and Eraserhead also come out this year. Not too bad at all.
Notable Albums: Television – Marquee Moon // Fleetwood Mac – Rumours // David Bowie – Low // The Ramones – Rocket To Russia // Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols // Wire – Pink Flag // Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express // Steely Dan – Aja // Bob Marley and The Wailers – Exodus // Pink Floyd – Animals // Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True // Talking Heads – Talking Heads:77 // Iggy Pop – Lust For Life // Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue // The Clash – The Clash // Suicide – Suicide

It’s amazing to think how many iconic 90’s albums came out within this 12 month period. We’ve never seen a year like it since.
Notable Albums: Nirvana – Nevermind // My Bloody Valentine – Loveless // Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magick // A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory // Slint – Spiderland // Metallica – The Black Album // Pearl Jam – Ten // U2 – Achtung Baby // Primal Scream – Screamadelica // REM – Out of Time // Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque // Talk Talk – Laughing Stock // Smashing Pumpkins – Gish // Massive Attack – Blue Lines // Crowded House – Woodface // Michael Jackson – Dangerous

This year runs deep. Maybe deeper than any year in history and in such a wide array of music. Everything from French pop to Krautrock, classic rock, funk, soul, R&B, folk, psychadelic rock, avant jazz and early metal. It’s an incredible list and would have been a great time to be alive.
Notable Albums: The Who – Who’s Next? // Led Zeppelin – IV // Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? // The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers // Sly and The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Going On // David Bowie – Hunky Dory // Black Sabbath – Master of Reality // Joni Mitchell – Blue // The Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies // Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate // Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire De Melody Nelson // John Lennon – Imagine // Beach Boys – Surfs Up // Can – Tago Mago // Funkadelic – Maggot Brain // Pink Floyd – Meddle // The Doors – LA Woman // Carol King – Tapestry // Janis Joplin – Pearl // T-Rex – Electric Warrior // Jethro Tull – Aqualung // Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda // Judee Sill – Judee Sill // Faust – Faust // Gil Scot-Heron – Pieces of a Man

Like ’66, this year is top heavy with some regular top 10 all timers but ’67 runs really deep. Debuts from The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen as well as some of the 60’s most highly regarded albums with Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, ‘Something Else by The Kinks’, ‘The Who Sell Out’ and Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ and also two albums that have had more influence on music thereafter than almost any other with ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’. 1967 was an incredible year.
Notable Albums: The Beatles – Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band // The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico // The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced? // Love – Forever Changes // The Doors – The Doors // Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold As Love // Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow // Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen // The Kinks – Somthing Else by The Kinks // The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Second Request // The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour // Pink Floyd – Piper At The Gates of Dawn // Cream – Disraeli Gears // The Who – The Who Sell Out // Nico – Chelsea Girl // Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding

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