If you’re new to this, you might want to go press the ‘What is this?’ button at the top for more details. Can’t be bothered? Fair enough, it's probably a bit late for you to do that, because this is the final installment.
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've listened to 475 of them already, and this is the final leg of the challenge.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry….
25 James Brown – Live At The Apollo: While the memories of the multi-disc James Brown retrospective still burn like fire ants in my mind I am nothing if not a professional, damn it, and so I approach this with the open mindedness that has been my watchword throughout this challenge. Thankfully this is no eternal nightmare of unending funk, but a mercifully brief and rather excellent live album from back in the time before funk, when Mr Please Please Make It Stop could actually sing and peddled a good line in R&B and soul. Not too shabby.
24 Stevie Wonder – Innervisions: This is brilliant. I love Stevie’s voice, and the sounds he wrestles out of his early-electro studio is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. He don’t half love Jesus though. Higher Ground is worth the price of admission alone, while Living for the City is somehow both bleak and uplifting at the same time. Not quite sure how he pulls that off, other than he’s Stevie Fucking Wonder and he can do what the hell he likes. Until the 1980’s got him, obviously.
23 John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band: If ever there were a testament to how death inflates legend, it’s the absurd placement of this album. It’s fine and all, a lo-fi collection of somewhat indulgent pop rock, but it’s nowhere near the standard of The Beatles at their peak. Paul must look at lists like this and wonder what a guy has to do to get a break, with nothing of his own even troubling the top half of the list. Sorry Macca, you should’ve died mate.
22 Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings: Well. What can you say about this other than it’s completely astounding? One man, one guitar, one microphone. Complete and utter perfection. It’s the lowest of the lo-fi, modern music stripped right back to the bone and nerves and sinewy muscle. It’s haunting, mesmerizing, and kind of makes you wonder if the entire musical output that was birthed directly from it was really worth the bother.
21 Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight: Ah, here we go. We now bring you the latest installment of the regularly running feature ‘Paul gets unnecessarily angry at the inclusion of compilations’. It’s just not an album. A compilation of 28 tracks doth not an ‘album’ make. For the first 14 or so tracks I was absolutely loving this, because who the hell doesn’t like Chuck Berry? (Aside from the American justice system, obviously) But then the lack of variation, the short burst tracks and the unchanging rhythm conspire to become like little sonic knife attacks, jabbing and stabbing me in the brain until I’m bloody and exhausted, begging it to just end.
20 Michael Jackson – Thriller: Wow, look, two accused child abusers in a row, how lucky are we? Anyway, this was one of the first CD’s we ever owned in our house when I was growing up, and I still recall with tremendous fondness being scared utterly shitless by the video. It is, let’s face it, a damn fine pop album, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Also, I have a very good friend who still worships Jacko because he’s basically a man-child, and the whole time this album played I had a mental image of him drunk dancing to it, and that cheered me up quite a lot, and helped me ignore that the lyrics for Pretty Young Thing are intensely creepy.
19 Van Morrison – Astral Weeks: Look, I think we can all agree that now we’re in the top 20 albums (OF ALL TIME, lest we forget) the odds of any of these albums being a bucket of warm piss are fairly remote, right? This is gorgeous, and an album that I was completely oblivious to previously. I knew of it, and knew lots of Van stuff, but there’s nothing on this I’d heard before, which meant it was a gloriously laid back folky surprise, akin to laying down in a meadow in the sunshine, except without having to think about how many bugs are instantly surrounding you, because eww, bugs.
18 Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run: Springsteen has won me over quite a lot over the course of this challenge, with his earnest blue collar rawk, while at the same time Bono has made me want to burn the world with his earnest blue collar rawk, which shows just what a contrarian wanker I am. I’m also right though, because this is great, and U2 aren’t. Look at that for some insightful analysis right there.
17 Nirvana – Nevermind: Another one of those personal milestones which I couldn’t even begin to analyse objectively, so why bother? It’s also the highest ranking ‘heavy’ album on the list, which leads me to again question the sanity of the men and women who made this list. It’s not even the best Nirvana album, and I challenge you to find me a still-functioning fan who would tell you that it is. Go on. I CHALLENGE THEE.
16 Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks: This is a slightly odd one. It’s a grand old album, of course, and as somewhat of a fan of The Bobster I’m certainly not averse to spending its running time in its company, but I’ve never really got why Blood on the Tracks is so well thought of. I get that it’s confessional and personal and all that, but it’s a bit inconsequential and wispy to me. But then again, what the fudge do I know? I’m mainly just trying to hide my excitement at having the finishing line in sight.
15 The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced: Have you ever been experienced? I have. Or at least, I have been experienced in the quality output of Mr Hendrix. If I were to take Jimi’s meaning of experience then no, I really haven’t. Jimi always sounds like some eternal deity who dropped to earth for the briefest of times to drop some insane, evolution inspiring madness. His whole life is there on the wax, which makes listening to this feel like one of the most satisfying acts of voyeurism ever.
14 The Beatles – Abbey Road: I know this might come across as something of a controversial opinion here, but I think Abbey Road is quite a good album. I know, ‘woah there Nelly’ you might well be saying, ‘easy on the controversy cannon,’ but it’s true. So there. I’m a musical Katie Hopkins. I’m the Richard Littlejohn of musical analysis. I’m the Piers Morgan of… actually scratch that last one, a man needs to retain some standards.
13 The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico: There’s something rather enjoyable about something so ramshackle being so high up this list. It’s brilliant, of course, and compelling, but it’s also oddly naive for an album and a band so sure of themselves. It’s perhaps one of those albums more to be endured than enjoyed, but that makes it no less enthralling to listen to.
12 Miles Davis – Kind of Blue: Jazz has gotten fairly short shrift on this list, given that it’s a genre that stands completely alone from the world of pop and rock, but completely influenced the development of both. One of my main takeaways from this whole exercise is that I really should listen to a lot more jazz, because I really do like it. This, the highest jazz album, is utterly spellbinding, and cooler than an ice moon.
11 Elvis Presley – The Sun Sessions: Finally, it’s the last of the compilations, and what better way to go out than with a collection that thoroughly proves my point. Elvis’ self-titled album was an urgent, frantic kick in the balls to musical convention. This is a bloated, rambling mess of overly repetitive songs that are presented in rough chronological order and it's broadly as enticing as quinoa.
10 The Beatles – The Beatles: This is such a confusing album; on the one hand it is more bloated than I am, and has some dreadful bilge like Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da on it. On the other, it’s dazzlingly brilliant, especially over the course of sides three and four, right up to Revolution No9 of course, which is tedious beyond words. Still, the plethora of utterly magical songs here makes it all worthwhile, and the diversity of musical styles and sheer invention outweighs every possible negative you can say about it.
9 Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde: This was the first Dylan album I ever owned, purchased because that’s what I thought music fans were supposed to do. I was right, too. You should buy this, if you haven’t already, because it’s bloody brilliant.
8 The Clash – London Calling: Right, fine. I was wrong. The Clash are brilliant. Happy now? I don’t know why I’ve never actually given this a proper good go but I am officially an idiot for not doing so. Everything that I actually love about that first blush of punk, married to musical invention, feelgood summery pop and some cracking tunes.
7 The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street: Oddly, this had no impact on me at all. I didn’t hate it like I did so many of their lower ranked albums, but neither did I enjoy it like I did some of their others. It was just there, existing, taking up the same plane of existence as me without causing any discernible impact on me. Like Jason Manford. This album is just like Jason Manford, which may be just about the faintest praise I’ve ever used to damn something.
6 Marvin Gaye – What's Going On: Another confusing album. It’s excellent, for the most part, and Gaye’s voice soars. The instrumentation is inventive, and it’s dripping with soul. Not only that, but it’s an album, as in a proper, thought out, a-z album. On the other hand, some of the songs are just a bit dull, and for every inspired lyric in the title track, there’s another in ‘Save the Children’ which makes me want to go back and kill my great-grandparents just to be completely sure I won’t have to live to hear how cringe-worthy they are. A mixed bag, then.
5 The Beatles – Rubber Soul: I think this would be the appropriate moment to discuss just how stupid it is that half of the top six are Beatles albums. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Beatles, and I agree that their albums are both important and very, very good, but when you have the entire musical output of ALL TIME at your disposal and you choose 40% of your top ten from one band, that basically says that you can’t be arsed. It’s intellectual paucity, a lack of imagination and just basic wrongness. It’s having the world’s best deli under your house and choosing a ham salad sandwich every day. It might be a great sandwich, but there’s other fillings, dude. That said, this is very good, obviously.
4 Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited: To be fair, I could make the same argument about the amount of Dylan on this list, but this opens with Like a Rolling Stone, and closes with the astoundingly epic Desolation Row, so all arguments are rendered invalid.
3 The Beatles – Revolver: I could just refer the right honourable reader to the answer I gave a few moments ago, but seeing as we’re down as far as number three on the list I guess I can’t get away with that kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-shit any more, right? This is a very strong album, full of pop hits the likes of which…yada yada yada. Too much Beatles. Sorry.
2 The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds: This is more like it. Even more than the album we’ll get to in just a minute, this is one of those perfect crystallisations of a time, and a sound, and a genius mind. The sheer number of stunning songs on here, the harmonies, the wall of sound production, there really is nothing quite like Pet Sounds. It’s also all summery and breezy, but with that wonderfully downbeat lead vocal peppered throughout, and HOLY SHIT I'M NEARLY THERE PEOPLE. TWO AND A HALF YEARS! OVER TWO BASTARD YEARS IT’S TAKEN ME!
1 The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Holy crap. Well that only took me two and a half years. Here we are at the pinnacle, and I could have been given a lot worse albums to end with. Imagine if it had been Bono; that would have been like finishing a marathon and being given a cup of eels in slurry to refresh yourself.
It would be extremely churlish of me to argue against the position of this album, even if it is the least controversial choice of all time. It’s a classic; a perfect album with nary a dud in sight, tremendous production, and ‘that’ second half leading up to A Day in the Life, which is, it has to be said, boss good. It's wildly inventive given the staggering levels of pressure for commercialism that John, Paul, George and Ringo must have been under at the time.
Of all The Beatles albums I've encountered on this list, it’s certainly the most accomplished, and you can see why they struggled to top it. If you’re going to argue they’re the most important band in history (yes, yes, you can easily argue they’re not, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they are) then you can’t really begrudge their finest hour its place of honour at the top of this list, if this list has to exist. Something needs to take the top spot, and it might as well be this.
But enough about all that. I'm done. Stick a fork in me, you’ll find the juices run clear. I can choose what I listen to now. I have deleted the Spotify playlist named ‘RS500’, with the slightest hint of moisture around the edge of my eyes, because I've done it. It might not have been worth doing, and I’ll probably come back to think about that in the coming weeks, but for now, like every good marathon runner, I just want to crumple into a heap, and not think how much it’s going to hurt tomorrow.
Thank you to everyone who followed along with all this, to all those who humoured me along the way, and those who argued with me about the (roughly 500) occasions when I got it wildly wrong.
For the last time, I’m very, very sorry.