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. 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.
Here we are, at the penultimate installment. I'm getting a little teary....
50 Little Richard – Here's Little Richard: Clocking in at just under half an hour, this debut album by one of rock and roll’s true pioneers is one of the most punk rock things I’ve ever heard. Just shy of sixty years later I can practically hear the tables of musical convention overturning as this flamboyant, bizarre man howls and screams and yells over pop music so urgent and vital sounding that it makes me want to jump onto my desk and howl along with it. Genuinely brilliant.
49 The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East: For the first five minutes of this noodle-tastic southern rock live album I was mentally composing an excoriating review (because that would sure show them) but then it started to win me round, with its twenty plus minute long meandering songs, audacious slide guitar solos and undeniable energy. By the end I was blasting it in my car at volumes guaranteed to wreck my speakers, windows down, appearing every inch the sad middle class white man I am.
48 Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back: Speaking of my middle class whiteness, the general selection of hip hop on this list has been very much in keeping with what you’d imagine on a list largely composed by white guys. But in this case, with the highest placement they deigned to bestow on the lowly genre of hip hop, they at least got it right. This album is both a technical wonder; a total sound-clash wall of noise that somehow coalesces into something astounding; and a political statement unlike almost any other in music. If you say there’s a better polemicist in music than Chuck D, you’re a filthy rotten liar.
47 John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: I was listening to this while I was driving my family somewhere, and my long-suffering partner declared that there was probably nothing worse to listen to in a car, the spasming, urgent jazz adding a quite unnecessary level of tension to the crapshoot that is getting in a car with me in the first place. I disagreed, mainly because I am a contrarian bastard who enjoys torturing his family with THINGS THEY SHOULD LIKE, but also because I was enjoying listening to it so much. I need to listen to more jazz.
46 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Legend: This went down much better with my family, although it did cause my daughter to start adopting a quite patently racist cod-Jamaican accent, which was worrying. This is a fantastic collection of reggae barnstormers, but too many of these songs have been burnt into my brain by dint of my over-exposure to them.
45 The Band – The Band: This is fine. What? You want more than that? Would you like a pound of flesh with that? It’s not bad. It’s adequately entertaining. It has passed an hour or so of my life in quite a pleasant but unremarkable way. Will that do?
44 Patti Smith – Horses: Ah, sweet sorrow, how I love thee. Never listened to this one before, and it’s so gloriously miserable that I nearly paint my nails black and run naked into the sea weeping ecstatically. I don’t do that, obviously, because I was listening to it in my car and I am a responsible driver.
43 Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon: I don’t know if you’ve heard of this great new band called Pink Floyd? They’ve got this album, right, called The Dark Side of the Moon, right, and it’s really good. It’s all, like, epic, and stuff.
42 The Doors – The Doors: I don’t know if you’ve heard of this great new band called The Doors? They’ve got this album, right, called The Doors, right, and it’s really good. It’s all, like, epic, and stuff. Okay but seriously, folks, this is brooding and brilliant. Considering how much every other band that makes it this high up the list has been aped and copied ad nauseum, there really isn’t anyone out there who sounds like Jimmy Morrisons and the Junkie Bunch. Plenty have tried, but there’s something magical about this particular chemical composition of people. Which is probably how they’ve managed to make it so high up the list, come to think of it.
41 Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols: I’ve mentioned before that the old school, class of ’77 punk generally leaves me cold, especially that of ‘The Pistols’, the legend and legacy of whom I believe to be one of the least aligned to actual musical output. So colour me pleasantly surprised to find I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. It’s as dumb as a carthorse eating its own dung, but it’s a lot of fun, and fizzes along at a fair old pace.
40 Love – Forever Changes: What can I say about this? More generically inoffensive 70’s pop gubbins that is quite nice. I will almost certainly never listen to it again, and doubt I’d recognise it if I did.
39 The Beatles – Please Please Me: I think it was really rather rude of John and Paul to basically run around in the aftermath of pop’s invention and lock down all the best melodies. How the hell was anyone else supposed to compete when they’d already bagged all the best songs, like beach towels at a Mediterranean hotel? Between them and The Beach Boys there’s not much left, which would go a long way to explain why pop music has been such a torrent of excrement ever since.
38 Muddy Waters – The Anthology: 1947-1972: I’m pretty sure that this is the last of the mega-compilations on this list, which of itself means I bloody love it. If I never see a four disc retrospective again in my life it’ll be too soon. In this case it’s brilliant, if you don’t try and listen to it all in one chunk, which is of course exactly what I did.
37 Eagles – Hotel California: Maybe this challenge has actually turned me into an old man with a sensitive disposition, but this isn’t actually as bad as I thought it would be. Yep, just checked the mirror, I have just developed wrinkles. Now get off my porch, ya damn hoodlums.
36 Carole King – Tapestry: A woman stands at a party, her billowing dress and Farrah hair dancing on the breeze of a summer cocktail party, the buzz from her G&T not taking much off the anxiousness she feels as she waits for the keys to be drawn from the bowl. She watches to see if Janet from 37 picks out her husband’s keys like she always manages to. She hopes nobody draws out the key of Dan the chiropodist’s battered Camaro. The only one of these men worth a damn. She looks over at her husband, making flirty eyes at Janet, she includes him in that declaration. The stereo hides the bustle of anticipation around the room, the nervous glances signalling the evening’s impending climax. ‘One of us is changing,’ Carole King croons, and the woman looks over at her husband, ‘or maybe we just stopped trying.’ She tries to fight back the tears, takes another sip, and plasters on her bravest smile. It’s too late, baby. It’s too late.
35 David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: I can only imagine what it must have been like back when this was released to have an album blow up the conventions of pop so thoroughly. I can only imagine because I wasn’t alive at the time, and knowing me I would have hated Bowie for not being Sabbath or Zeppelin, and (as I think we’ve established by now) I am an idiot. This is excellent, obviously.
34 The Band – Music From Big Pink: This is markedly better than the last Band album from earlier in the list, or, quite possibly, I’m just in a more receptive mood to take in its low key Americana. Either way, it’s nice.
33 Ramones – Ramones: The appearance of The Ramones on the list seems to have nicely coincided with the sudden removal of the ashen grey slate that usually covers Great Britain, replaced by some kind of giant glowing sphere that emits heat and light. I don’t think it’ll catch on, but while it’s there you can’t really go wrong with the proto-punk of Joey et al as a soundtrack to it.
32 The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed: May all the assorted deities of this accursed planet strike me down, but I’m actually beginning to enjoy The Rolling Stones. How the hell did that happen? McJagger’s voice no longer seems to grate on me like some kind of giant grater, and the shambolic ‘almost playing their instruments’ style of playing seems to have coalesced into something approaching musicality. Blow me down with a feather.
31 Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home: Bit of advice for all you aspiring musicians: I’d say that if you can open your album with Subterranean Homesick Blues, then that’s going to dramatically improve the chances of your album being a solid gold classic. I realise that’s not going to be very helpful advice, since you really do need to be Bob Dylan to pull it off, and I don’t think he needs much help, but it’s the best I can manage.
30 Joni Mitchell – Blue: Phone the RSPB, I think a bird just died in my Spotify. Send help.
29 Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin: This album still pretty much rocks, like Wayne and Garth on a manufactured version of Wayne’s sofa, aware of its own pomposity and unapologetic for it. I love it every bit as much as I did when it was blasted at me in my formative years, which is saying something, really.
28 The Who – Who's Next: I think at this point that I’m unlikely to be won over by The Who (much like their recent Glastonbury audience, if the BBC coverage was anything to go by) but there’s some good tunes here. There’s Behind Blue Eyes, too. I don’t know what it is that stops me from being won over by them but hey, that’s life. Live to fight another day. Cest la vie. Carpe diem. Get to the chopper. Stick around. If it bleeds, we can kill it. You're not sending ME to the COOLER! Okay, so the last few of those are just Arnie quotes. I accept that. But you try thinking of something new to say about 500 different albums. Go on, I dare you. Don't though, it's a stupid thing to do.
27 U2 – The Joshua Tree: Hey, at least it’s the last U2 album. No more Bono. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all say the same? Imagine there’s no Bono. I’d take that above most of John Lennon’s wish-list. No religion, or no Bono? I’d go for the latter. Maybe Bono is actually the cause of all those world ills, like a kind of musical Tony Blair, and like the erstwhile warmonger we keep sending him out to tackle the problems he has created, flinging him at world poverty oblivious to the fact that he is singlehandedly responsible for all of it. It’s unlikely, I grant you, but halfway through this turgid blancmange of earnestness it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch. I’ve also mentioned Ireland’s biggest tax dodger four times in this review, so I need to avoid mentioning him any more lest he appears behind me at the mirror.
26 Fleetwood Mac – Rumours: Maybe it’s the juxtaposition against the album preceding, maybe it’s the fact this brings my penultimate leg of this challenge to a close, maybe it’s a random flood of endorphins kick-started by the way I happen to be sitting, or maybe it’s just because it’s a damn good album, but I loved this. I was completely expecting to hate it, for reasons that I can’t quite formulate, but it is magnificent. Solid pop, great folk, amazing guitar work, great vocals, this is a complete gem. And Go Your Own Way is fantastic.
So, that brings an unexpectedly cheery end to the penultimate leg, and I find myself unexpectedly getting emotional about bringing to a close a journey that really only has any relevance for me. Twenty five albums left to go, and I think it’s a pretty safe bet that most of them will probably be halfway towards decent. And, the best news is that there’s no Morrissey, there’s no Stone Roses, and thank the deity or non-deity of your choice, no Bono.
Oh god. What have I done?
Break all the mirrors, quick!
It’s too late….