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Stereophile 40 essential albums

The list was published in november 2002. It is split into three sections covering classical music, jazz and rock/pop. Around 100 more albums are given an honorary mention. Although it's not clearly stated, once you start reading album write-ups it's obvious there was a one-album-per-band rule.


Classical music:
Wagner "Der Rings des Nibelungen"
J. S. Bach "Goldberg Variations"
Beethoven "Symphonies 1-9"
Hildegard von Bingen "A Feather on the Breath of God"
Phillip Glass "Koyaanisqatsi"
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki "Symphony 3"
Handel "Messiah"
Schubert "Complete Songs"

The Beatles "The Beatles"
David Bowie "Ziggy Stardust"
Elvis Costello "My Aim Is True"
Bob Dylan "Blood on the Tracks"
Steve Earle "Guitar Town"
Funkadelic "One Nation Under a Groove"
Marvin Gaye "What's Going On"
The Grateful Dead "American Beauty"
Jimi Hendrix "The Jimi Hendrix Experience"
Michael Jackson "Thriller"
Elton John "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
Carole King "Tapestry"
Led Zeppelin "Led Zeppelin IV"
Bob Marley "Exodus"
Frank Zappa "Uncle Meat"
Willie Nelson "Stardust"
Nirvana "Nevermind"
N.W.A. "Straight Outta Compton"
Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon"
Radiohead "The Bends"
The Ramones "The Ramones"
Otis Redding "Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul"
R.E.M. "Document"
The Rolling Stones "Exile on Main Street"
Bruce Springsteen "Darkness at the Edge of Town"

Miles Davis "In a Silent Way"
Ornette Coleman "New York Is Now"
John Coltrane "Ascension"
Keith Jarrett "The Koln Concert"
John Lovano Quarter "Live at the Village Vanguard"
Lee Morgan "The Sidewinder"
Wayne Shorter "Speak No Evil"

Honorary mentions:
The Allman Bros. Band: At Fillmore East
Bad Brains: Rock for Light
Bad Company: Bad Company
The Band: Music from Big Pink
The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
Benson: Breezin'
Big Star: #1 Record
Art Blakey: Free for All
The Blasters: American Music
Blood, Sweat & Tears: Blood, Sweat & Tears
Boston: Boston
James Brown: Live at the Apollo
Jackson Browne: The Pretender
Tim Buckley: Happy Sad
Jimmy Buffet: Volcano
Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask Replica
The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo
The Carpenters: The Carpenters
James Carter: The Real Quietstorm
Johnny Cash: Live at Folsom Prison
Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
Clifton Chenier: Bogalusa Boogie
The Clash: London Calling
Albert Collins: Showdown!
Deep Purple: Machine Head
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch
The Doors: The Doors
Kenny Dorham: Trompeta Toccata
Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left
Bill Evans: Blue in Green
Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace
Al Green: Gets Next to You
Green Day: Dookie
Guns 'n' Roses: Appetite for Destruction
Herbie Hancock: Sextant
Tom Harrell: Stories
Emmylou Harris: Pieces of the Sky
Howlin' Wolf: Evil
George Jones: I Am What I Am
Janis Joplin: Pearl
Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures
B.B. King: Live at the Regal
KISS: Alive
King Crimson: Discipline
Kraftwerk: Autobahn
Lightnin' Hopkins: Texas Blues
Little Feat: Feats Don't Fail Me Now
Los Lobos: Kiko
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Second Helping
Madonna: Madonna
Magic Sam: Black Magic
Wynton Marsalis: Black Codes from the Underground
Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
The Neville Brothers: Fiyo on the Bayou
Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark
Van Morrison:Moondance
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless
Randy Newman: Good Old Boys
Gram Parsons: GP
The Pixies: Doolittle
Iggy Pop: Raw Power
Elvis Presley: From Elvis in Memphis
Prince: Purple Rain
Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta
The Ramones: The Ramones
Jimmy Reed: Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall
Replacements: Pleased to Meet Me
Sonny Rollins: The Bridge
Santana: Santana
The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks
Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Frank Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes is Back
Sly & The Family Stone: Stand!
The Smiths: "No Smiths!"— JA
Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation
Steely Dan: Can't Buy a Thrill
Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman
The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses
Sun Ra: Outer Spaceways Incorporated
Talking Heads: Fear of Music
Television: Marquee Moon
Three Dog Night: Seven Separate Fools
Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die
A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory
McCoy Tyner: Enlightenment
U2: Unforgettable Fire
Townes Van Zandt: The Late Great Townes Van Zandt
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Texas Flood
The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground and Nico
Muddy Waters: Hard Again
Ben Webster: See You at the Fair
The Who: Live At Leeds
Lucinda Williams: Lucinda Williams
Neil Young: After the Gold Rush

Thanks For Posting!

Nice to see the "Madonna" album get another citation. Dance-pop to follow really owes a debt there.

I was gettin' worried that Prince wasn't there, but Moonbeam can breathe a sigh of relief (even though it's not what he considers to be Prince's best album).

And, you're right- looks like there are no repeats in terms of acts mentioned.

And, yah for Tapestry. And nice one for The Carpenters.

Re: Stereophile 40 essential albums

I assume Jimi Hendrix "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" is Are You Experienced.

Frank Zappa "Uncle Meat"
Radiohead "The Bends"
R.E.M. "Document"
Bruce Springsteen "Darkness at the Edge of Town"

Very surprising.

Re: Stereophile 40 essential albums

Yes, the Jimi Hendrix album is "Are You Experienced". My mistake.

Purple Rain

Purple Rain is a great album, but I wouldn't even put it in the top 5 for Prince.

It is nice to see Madonna get some love. It's so much better than the more acclaimed (and deeply flawed) Like a Virgin.

Re: Stereophile 40 essential albums

Thanks Jacek!

The Smiths: "No Smiths!"— JA
Am I missing a joke here?

Re: Stereophile 40 essential albums

JA is not abbreviation for Jacek, if that's what you were thinking. It was this way on the original list, I just cut and paste it.

The "Madonna" Album...

it's definitely more of an influencer than Like a Virgin, so when speaking of most influential, I'd definitely cite it over Virgin, because it essentially set the pace for dance-pop since. Virgin, however, definitely was the star-mkaing album, the one that pronounced "I-will-rule-the-world," and made her the cutlural and musical force she became.

Despite Purple Rain not being your fave Prince album,Moon, do you agree that it's his most influential album? Or do you think it's another?

Most successful albums

Albums that prove most commercially viable aren't necessarily the best or the most influential.

Like a Virgin contains no less than 3 filler songs in its total of 9, while the entire Madonna album is solid. I'd rank Like a Virgin near the bottom of M's catalog, actually...

Purple Rain is a wonderful, wonderful album and it served as his breakthrough. But there would be no Purple Rain without 1999...

I'll post my reviews of the albums in question.

Madonna- Madonna

Madonna- Madonna
5 stars

Over two decades after this seminal release, it is hard to envision the world of music without Madonna. Her sphere of influence quickly enveloped the globe and she has remained a dominant force in the industry, both loved and hated. She gave way to a host of imitators and soundalikes, both successful and long forgotten. Her image and music have become so ingrained in the collective consciousness of numerous generations that it is hard to believe that her eponymous debut initially caused little more than a ripple in the mainstream pool. Nevertheless, Madonna is the machine that got the ball rolling and stands as one of her most consistently solid efforts.

Make no mistake about it- Madonna is a dance album. Critics of the time lambasted the release in the wake of the anti-disco movement. Regardless, no fewer than four of the eight tracks have become irrefutable 80s anthems. Despite its reliance on numerous synthesizers and drum machines, the music is still fresh. Successfully updating elements of disco and mixing in rock and an urban groove, the album found an audience in both clubs and the street (really!) before making waves on pop radio. From the opening whirring synth runs of "Lucky Star" through to the closing electro-glitz of "Everybody", Madonna weaves through assorted styles and rhythms, interjecting fun and attitude throughout.

The album is anchored by six- yes, six- singles aimed at different markets. Her earliest offerings immediately resonated within the club scene. "Everybody" with its rubbery synthesizers and simple drum machine was a call to arms of club-goers everywhere to "get up and do your thing". And did they ever. The cut rocketed its way to the top 3 in the club chart, a feat matched by the subsequent double A-side of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction". The latter of these is slithering synth seduction, while the former is just as evocative and suggestive as ever, with Madonna pleading, "do you wanna see me down on my knees, bending over backwards now would you be pleased?" Expertly blending rock and a funky synth bass with its frenetic club pulse, "Burning Up" offers a glimpse of her next conquests and stands as one of her greatest songs.

The next batch of singles- all classics, thank you- established a firm foothold in the mainstream never to be relinquished. The first of these, "Holiday" sways with a care-free groove augmented by a throbbing synth bass and funky guitar licks. Its sweeping appeal was so great that it lured both the urban and pop markets in addition to becoming her first number 1 club hit. The song lives on as a timeless call for celebration. "Lucky Star" and "Borderline" ushered in the era of The Madonna Video, providing perfect fodder for the burgeoning MTV. "Lucky Star" launched Madonna as the icon of jelly-bracelet glitzy style and attitude set to the appropriate edgy and visceral dance groove while "Borderline" showcased a more vulnerable heroine. Both would set off an amazing run of seventeen consecutive top 10 pop hits.

The other two tracks are less noteworthy solely for their lack of exposure. Both songs address romantic woes, "I Know It" effectively shuffling along to a poppy groove and "Think of Me" thumping its dissatisfaction. It is hard to envision these songs not having the same charming effect if they had been likewise released as singles as both are strong cuts.

With her first release, Madonna would seduce many different markets, setting the stage for her eventual mass takeover. Her voice is young and hungry, the beats are intoxicating and the melodies are unforgettable. What more can a dance album offer? While not as notorious as its successor Like a Virgin, Madonna is nevertheless a much more focused and thoroughly satisfying offering.

Madonna- Like a Virgin

Madonna- Like a Virgin
3.5 stars

Throughout 1983 and most of 1984, Madonna slowly gathered momentum with each successive single from her eponymous debut. The stage was set for a massive breakthrough, which was delivered with the blockbuster album Like a Virgin. Bolstered by some perfect pop singles that would become her anthems, Like a Virgin is a serviceable album typical of 80s pop artists: heavy on the hits and coated with filler.

To ascend to her throne, Madonna enlisted the help of a number of writers as well as super-producer Nile Rogers to polish her sound at the expense of the grit that gave her first album so much charm. Regardless, the formula worked, launching Madonna's career into the stratosphere on the heels of such monstrous hits as the title track and the bouncy "Material Girl". Already a multi-media juggernaut, Madonna's imprint on society was cemented in stone with the videos for these tracks, which feature our heroine frolicking seductively in a wedding dress and parading around in an homage to Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", respectively. The lesser known hits (but still hits, mind you), "Angel" and "Dress You Up" offer relentless melodies and pep and really shine.

The remainder of the album is a hit or miss affair. "Over and Over" leaps out as the album's most energetic and uplifting track, while a cover of "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" proves to be Madonna's first successful ballad. Unfortunately, the other tracks are much, much worse. "Shoo-Bee-Doo" is embarrassingly unforgivable saccharine and stands as one of her weakest efforts to date. "Pretender" and "Stay" are only marginally better, both vapid pop-by-numbers offerings that could have been sung by anyone. It is worth noting that the album would have greatly benefited from the inclusion of the B-side to "Angel", "Into the Groove", which sees Madonna revisit her affinity for club bangers. The track immediately received much more attention than its A-side and would easily tower over the entire album if present.

In effect, Like a Virgin works better as an era than an album, per se. It was monumentally successful in achieving its goal of mass appeal, selling over 10 million copies in the US alone and established Madonna as an icon of pop. The singles and videos are unforgettable, but ultimately the album does not hold together very well as a whole. Ever the chameleon, Madonna would soon completely transform both her image and her style to set even more trends with the subsequent album, the more mature True Blue. As a result, Like a Virgin looms large as the only document of her bubblegum megastardom.

Nice Reviews, Moon!

Although I'm in disgareement on two tracks- Love Don't Live Here Anymore, which I find to be a just an OK cover- she sounds decent in parts, but painfully awful near the end. And, Shoo Bee Do, which I find to be a charming slice of Motown. I like Stay well enough, too, and I'd label Pretender the most disposable of the album's tracks. And, remember that Into the Groove was tacked onto non-USA editions of the album (which could have been done with the 2001 U.S. remasters, but wasn't).

And, it's very true, that the most commercially viable aren't necessarily the best of most influential. Not just for albums, bu the acts themselves. Many of the most celebrated acclaimed artists weren't very commercially vialble (compared to others)- Dylan, Aretha, Hendrix, etc. never had the commercial success of Elvis, Beatles, Madonna, Michael J., Prince, Elton Johm, etc.