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
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
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
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
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