If you’re new to this, you might want to go visit the ‘What is this?’ tab at the top for more details. Can’t be bothered? Fair enough. The short version is that I'm listening to all the albums of the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list, for reasons surpassing understanding at this point. I'm now 300 albums into the challenge, and here are numbers 200-176.
200 AC/DC – Highway to Hell: Let’s face it, if you want good, old fashioned bar-room-brawling, beer-soaked rock and roll, you don’t need to look any further than AC/DC’s Bon Scott era, of which this is probably the most focused and polished example. Also, in If you want blood…you got it, it has probably one of the greatest rock songs of all time, and that even outweighs every lazy use of the title track in cinema history.
199 The Strokes – Is This It: From the most exciting rock band on the planet to the most tepid. So laid back and cool that it’s practically asleep, it drags its skinny jeaned backside along and shakes its hipster fringe in your general direction, then saunters off to go and speak to someone cooler than you, leaving you wishing you were still listening to Highway to Hell.
198 Little Walter – The Best of Little Walter: Yet more old school rhythm and blues, this time of the harmonica variety. I’m starting to realise that while old school blues of this type is unlikely to have me standing on the tables like Dean Moriarty shouting at Sal Paradise, it’s always a pleasure to listen to. Given that there’s been a lot of blues on this list, it’s not a sound I’ve tired of at all. This is another excellent retrospective, smoky and loose and bloody good.
197 R.E.M. – Murmur: I can feel my fingers turning into plaid flannel as I listen to this. As much as I quite like R.E.M. I do find their early stuff to be a bit weedy and uninteresting, which is how I remember feeling about it back when I first heard one of their big albums and went back to discover their back catalogue. So at least I’m consistent, I guess.
196 Various Artists – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968: This is interesting, a collection of once forgotten hits from the mid-late sixties from American psychedelic rock bands that were probably otherwise consigned to the dustbin of history. It shows what a bloody good scene it was, even when you scratch below the surface of the bands you’d now associate with that era. Some cracking songs, and despite being another one of those interminably long affairs, never outstays its welcome
195 John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Blues Breakers: Looking on Wikipedia I can see that this is a collaboration between John Mayall and Eric Clapton, alongside the future Mac of Fleetwood Mac, and is a mix of Mayall originals and blues standards. I can also see that it’s known as the Beano album, because Clapton is reading a copy of the comic on the cover. I can also tell by the amount of time I spent reading the Wikipedia article about this album that it was properly fucking boring to listen to.
194 Lou Reed – Transformer: If you really want a giggle, have a look at the album that’s ranked immediately after this album. Anyway, this is a stone cold classic, Reed’s deadpan delivery and brilliantly evocative lyrics working perfectly against the slightly shambolic music.
193 Green Day – Dookie: I may have been a bit harsh on Green Day for American Idiot, but that’s because it is a terrible, terrible album. This, their entry into the mainstream, is a far more focused affair, but while it remains a reasonably enjoyable listen twenty years on, to claim it as any kind of masterpiece is delusional, more so when you’re going to rank it higher than one of Lou Reed’s best works.
192 The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace Of Sin: Great band name, but unfortunately that’s about as much as I can say about this turgid slab of proto country rock, which is as leaden as a toddler full of porridge.
191 The Stooges – Fun House: This is more like it; dirty snarly proto punk from future car insurance salesman Iggy Pop and the other ones in the band. This is grimy and grim in all the right ways, and will eventually try and sell you car insurance.
190 Elvis Presley – From Elvis In Memphis: Somewhere between the defining-all-popular-music and bloated-dead-on-a-toilet phases, this has its moments but is mostly just that weirdly unengaging big band Vegas style stuff that he seemed so fond of once he stopped playing Rock and Roll.
189 Quicksilver Messenger Service – Happy Trails: This is insanely hard work. Another so-called masterpiece of the hippie era, this is non-stop guitar noodling with nary a melody in sight, let along anything approaching a hook. It wouldn’t be so bad if half the guitar noodling didn’t sound like a cat trying to escape from inside a guitar.
188 Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield Again: I was looking forward to this since it relates to one of the few interesting bits in Neil Young’s turgid autobiography, but it’s fantastically dull. Duller than a blank page. Duller than the dullest knife. Duller than a Conservative party conference. Duller than watching Robson Green fishing. Duller than listening to old punks harping on about the late 70’s.
187 Peter Gabriel – So: Despite it being more 80’s than Philip Schofield working with his hand up a puppet this is actually pretty bloody good, unlike the entire 80’s output of every other Genesis member, or the band themselves come to think about it. From Sledgehammer to In Your Eyes this is earnest but fun pop with flights of invention and much pushing of boundaries.
186 Sly & The Family Stone – FRESH: Can’t say I was expecting much from this but what a cracking album. I was listening at my desk at 9am on a Monday morning and it actually made me feel like life was briefly worth living, which is some achievement for that time of day. Honestly I even nearly cracked a smile. Funky soul pop of the highest calibre.
185 The Stooges – The Stooges: A second burst of The Stooges, every bit as enjoyable as Fun House. Grimy, dirty rock and roll that takes the laid back drone of the Velvet Underground and adds a bit of menace. Thoroughly excellent.
184 Madonna – The Immaculate Collection: This really was quite a lot of Madonna songs to have to listen to just to get to Justify My Love at the end. You can’t really question the utter pop genius of these early Madge songs, and having them collected together in one convenient best of really showcases how good she was for a while, but still, there’s so much bad 80’s aesthetic here that I just started to chew my own hands off at one point after one too many reverbed electric snare hit. Still, Justify My Love makes me weak at the knees even after all these years.
183 Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger: If this challenge has done anything, it’s caused me to have deep distrust of any old school country music that crosses my path, prompting an almost Pavlovian reaction that mainly consists of me staring into space for the duration trying to work out if I can telepathically wipe my own brain clean. This is much better than all that though, with a somehow enchanting bar room vibe to the whole thing. It’s laid back and cheesy as hell, but better than the razorblade inducing likes of Merle Haggard, probably because Willie sounds like he's high the entire time.
182 Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac: This has Landslide on it, which quite frankly is good enough a sing to justify any album’s existence. The rest of the album veers between enjoyable enough bluesy pop rock romp and vomit-in-the-mouth AOR ballads. It’s ok.
181 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Natty Dread: This has a much grittier sound than you might expect if, like me, most of your Marley knowledge comes from that best of that seemed to be everywhere in the 90’s. It’s brilliant, urgent, honest and shows enough of a pop sensibility to show how Marley managed to drag reggae into the mainstream.
180 The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones, Now!: I’m sure this was revolutionary at the time but in hindsight it sounds exactly like what it is; a bunch of middle class white British teenagers playing at being like their American blues heroes and completely losing the essence of the thing in the translation. Take away the acclaim, the cultural significance and the cool and you’ve basically got a 1960’s Mumford and Sons.
179 ABBA – The Definitive Collection: Ah, there you are, nadir. This leg has taken me weeks, because of this, my white whale. I hate ABBA. I’ve always struggled to articulate why but now, after seemingly endless reams of chirpy euro pop, I’ve discovered why. It’s the vocal delivery. It’s completely devoid of any emotion, at all, like it’s been delivered by a dead shark, or by a serial killer as he guts you in an alleyway. He slowly sinks his knife into your stomach, whispering the lyrics to Knowing Me, Knowing You into your ear, before calmly wiping the blade on his sleeve and going back to his car. He starts the engine, and ABBA – The Definitive Collection issues from the stereo at a sensible volume as he pulls his anonymous station wagon into the street and away from the onrushing police sirens, thinking how much all the songs really speak to him. That’s who ABBA are to me.
178 Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions – The Anthology 1961-1977: I know I’ve railed against the myriad multi-disc compilations masquerading as albums on this list, but I’ll let this one go on the grounds that it’s brilliant. Taking in Mayfield’s total transformation from soul pop darling to Blaxploitation-sound-tracking political funk God, both ends of the spectrum are fantastically listenable, although I’d maybe have leaned harder on the later political stuff, which is tremendous. Mayfield has a wonderful voice, and this is an excellent snapshot of the development of a true artist.
177 Funkadelic – One Nation Under A Groove: Having listened to this I think that I might now actually be one nation, under a groove.
176 Aerosmith – Rocks: I’m a bit of an Aerosmith apologist, having spent so much of my teenage years watching Alicia Silverstone being amazing in their 90’s music videos and listening to Pump and Get a Grip repeatedly at ridiculous volumes while my parents rolled their eyes at my ‘rebellion’. Once a band gets into your DNA like that it’s pretty hard to tell whether they’re actually any good. I don’t care, I bloody love this.
So there you go. Only 175 albums left on the list, and the next instalment veers between Master of Puppets and The Carpenters. See you then.