It’s a shame to start this section of the list off with this album. There are some real gems further down, so I’m not going to spend much time reviewing this complete disappointment of a project. Forever Changes was perhaps the most underwhelming set of songs I have listened to in this entire process. Not only did the album lack any serious emotion or compelling material, it merely whispered along for 42 minutes.
Forever Changes is what happens when a ‘60s band hears a few Simon and Garfunkel songs and thinks, “Hey, we can do that, but we’ll make it better by being out of our mind on psychedelics.” The problem with this logic is that eventually, they come down from this moment of divine inspiration to realize that the music they thought was brilliant is really quite awful.
Much like the offense that sent Love lead singer Arthur Lee to prison for 12 years, Forever Changes is a discharged handgun of an album: filled with potential that peters out in an embarrassing and underwhelming result.
39. The Beatles, Please Please Me
So. Goddamn. Mediocre. Please Please Me presents The Beatles at their most vanilla. No, vanilla is too high a compliment. Okay, this album is the Publix yellow sheet cake of their discography. No, still complimentary. Did you ever eat wide ruled notebook paper back in the first grade after that one weird kid told you it was okay? That’s what this album tastes like.
Anyone who listens to this album will soon recognize that they have heard nearly every song. Just because it is familiar, however, does not mean that this Beatles album is any good. Please Please Me has played an integral role in spreading The Beatles’ mythical persona. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” He was wrong. Songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Love Me Do” are the opiate of the masses. Being softly played out of the speakers at every single Kindergarten graduation and 75-year-old’s birthday party, these tracks have become unavoidable anthems of boredom and conformity. Also, these songs contain a creepy dialogue that deserves to be left in the ‘60s rather than celebrated as a top 40 album in musical history. From the opening line of “I Saw Her Standing There,” McCartney lays out a desire for a teenage girl that casts a rather dark shadow over their infamous image as pretty boys fleeing from throngs of female fanatics.
Given The Beatles’ uninspiring mediocrity, it makes sense that the best song on the album is a cover. Their rendition of “Twist and Shout” contains more energy and passion than their entire first three albums put together. Still, I must point out, their cover remains the second best rendition of this song, taking a close second place behind Chaka Demus and Pliers’ Caribbean cover. So, I guess the only thing Please Please Me should get credit for is for playing a supporting role in a great scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
38. Muddy Waters, The Anthology
Muddy Waters presents another difficult question of evaluating an album. On merit, this album truly is a compilation of the most significant songs in rock history. That being said, it’s not an album I’m throwing on any time I want to let off steam or to lay back and relax.
Each song on the compilation follows a simple formula of methodic strumming from a deep guitar backing Water’s melancholy lyrics. The tracks have potent themes of loss, redemption, and sorrow that grind into your ears in short bursts of two to three minutes.
The Anthology is a well-produced compilation album that presents the blues genre in a celebratory light. Not only does it emphasize the achievements of the genre but it reveals a blueprint used by admirers of Waters’ from Keith Richards to Bob Dylan to define their own stylings of rock ‘n’ roll.
37. The Eagles, Hotel California
Well, folks, here we are. The worst album on this entire list. Hotel California is the embodiment of everything wrong with America in the 1970s. The music on the record a tragic concoction of long hair and soft drugs performed by a group of Californians with a combined reading level so underdeveloped they couldn’t pass a seventh-grade standardized test.
The album plays out as a melody to their own greatness with each song devolving further into mediocrity. Following a similar pattern of musical evolution as Pink Floyd, The Eagles released this album – their supposed masterpiece – only a year before the Sex Pistols would tear down the billboards and urinate on this overproduced and underwhelming music that was flowing out of the laid back and indulgent studios from California to the South of France. The Eagles brand of lazy soft-rock poisoned the well for pop music in the ‘80s, detracting from the break off success of punk and forcing genuine musicians like Bruce Springsteen to ebb in and out of the mainstream to stay commercially relevant. Hotel California is a terrible album, “Hotel California” is the sinister torture cocktail at its dark, emotionless heart.
“Hotel California” simultaneously holds the award for the most overrated song ever written and the most terrible song ever written. This stumbling metaphor for… the passage of time (I think, honestly who the hell knows)… plays out in six minutes and thirty-one seconds of painful hyperbole and brain-drilling narration. If you disagree with me – first you should probably go to the emergency room to get your brain tumor removed – then just take a look at the lyrics.
For instance, when the story gets to, “I called up the Captain, / ‘Please bring me my wine' /
He said, 'we haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine.’” Ask yourself, have you ever heard a more pathetic attempt at rhyming a single syllable word? I know kindergartners who could write better lines than this if all you told them was, at some point, they have to sneak in the word “wine” and “nine.”
My personal favorite line has to be, “And in the master's chambers, / they gathered for the feast / They stab it with their steely knives, / But they just can't kill the beast.”
Yeah! Killing an unspecified pronoun “it” with knives that are oh-so “steely!” What poetry!
Of course, one has to mention the final proclamation of the song, “You can check out any time you like, / But you can never leave!'.” Is that Don Henley or Fyodor Dostoevsky? Damn!
Of course, music fans everywhere have taken the opportunity to overanalyze every millisecond of this song and proclaim it is a profound metaphor for everything from capitalism to the assassination of JFK. The only thing I learned from the song is that if the Hotel California is a place no one can escape from, why don’t The Eagles get a suite there for a couple nights and never come back.
Below is the far superior version of “Hotel California” performed in Spanish by the Gipsy Kings and featured most notably in The Big Lebowski.
36. Carole King, Tapestry
I’ll start by pointing out – this album is titled Tapestry. This is a joke, right? Tapestry? Arguably the most pretentious and condescending album cover on the list so far.
It makes sense, however, considering that the album itself is just as demeaning and overly hyped as its title. For some reason, the writers at Rolling Stone have a cult-like devotion to James Taylor and his soft-rock disciples. Maybe its because all of their writers are in their late ‘60s and are trying to anger as few people as possible, but they have repeatedly attempted to stuff this list with soft rock albums that stake no claim to greatness.
Such is the case with Tapestry. The album itself is nothing special, but it is not necessarily terrible either. Carole King has a good enough voice, and the songs she sings are mildly entertaining. For example, “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late” sound like groove filled Dusty Springfield covers only with less sincerity and hesitation beneath them. What I don’t understand, is how an album like Tapestry gets ranked so highly. Compared with any other record on this list, Tapestry appears the less creative project that had an equally uneventful impact on the culture of music. Tapestry is fine. Its position in this list is not.
35. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
More than any album on this list, I have been dreading writing about Ziggy Stardust the most. Rolling Stone included a single Bowie album in their top-100 list. To clarify, Rolling Stone included one album from one of the most intelligent, genre-bending, artistic, and successful solo artists in musical history. It may sound cliché, but it’s true: David Bowie was more than a musician. To be fair, his masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is the correct pick for his highest spot. That being said, his highest place should be within the top 5, not the top 35.
Ziggy Stardust paints a fantastical portrait of Bowie’s most iconic character, Ziggy, in eleven individually masterful and cohesively brilliant tracks. From the opening drum beat on “Five Years,” the album weaves a thread of tension and majesty through every single song. “Five Years” kicks off the album with a deep consideration on the threat of nuclear war and the constant pain of regret. “Moonage Daydream” arrives in a flurry of electricity and imagination. If you aren’t hooked by the time Bowie confesses, “I’m an alligator / I’m a mama-papa coming for you / I’m the space invader / I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you,” then I’m afraid you are a lost cause. “Lady Stardust” is a beautiful ode to the glamorous stardom of Bowie’s close friend Marc Bolan. Unlike Bolan, the song is a concise and collected combination of a persuasive piano and a sorrowful Bowie vocal. The product is genuinely epic. “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City” are two of the most classic rock songs of all time. Just as you think you are listening to an artistic Bowie creation, he pile drives the songs into your ears to remind you of his electric versatility. The final track of the album, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” is Bowie’s powerful rendition of Sinatra’s “My Way.” Rather than reminisce about his own legacy like Frank, however, Bowie turns his attention to the clock that “waits so patiently on your song.” Bowie’s reminiscence, therefore, centers around the potential failure of creativity and the tragedy of stardom. The track is a soaring masterpiece that will take up real estate in the soul of anyone who happens to listen to it.
“Starman” stands as the most celebrated track off of the album for its sheer spectacle and range of emotion. Following David Bowie’s death, however, the song shouldered the burden of Bowie’s indefinable legacy. Throughout his career, Bowie replicated the power of his alien alter ego, Ziggy. Through the energy and emotion of his music, Bowie allowed a generation of children from ages ten to seventy-five mature as characters in his songs. “Let the children lose it/ Let all the children boogie,” he proclaimed. There really is “a starman waiting in the sky,” and his name is David Bowie.
34. The Band, Music From the Big Pink
In the last set of reviews, another album from The Band, which was creatively titled The Band, was placed at number 45. I recommend revisiting that review to get my true feelings on the complete lack of enjoyment received from any of The Band’s ultimately disappointing projects. I did mention, however, that Music From the Big Pink was the superior project. Well, here we are.
Music from the Big Pink does not do much to repair the damage done to my ears by The Band. It does, however, include one song – one single track – that deserves special attention. That song is called “The Weight,” and it is brilliant. From the subtle rocking of the song’s percussion to the rich harmonies of these mustachioed musicians, “The Weight” is a testament to the potential possessed by this band. The lyrics of the song are equally inspiring as they take a sharp stab at the weight of responsibility and companionship.
The rest of the album is boring and dull in comparison. It would be a serious regret of mine, however, if I did not take a few seconds to mention how great of a song “The Weight” is.
33. Ramones, Ramones
The Ramones first album is a complete rejection of everything popular in music in 1976. Compared with the previous record from 1976 in this article, Hotel California, Ramones could not be more different. This 29 minute, power-chord fueled circus of an album is raw, thrilling, and completely unforgiving. From the opening tracks of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Judy is a Punk” the Ramones leave no doubt about who they are. They are punks, and the next 14 songs are going to tell you why.
Ramones is not the greatest punk album of all time. In the history of American music, however, there may not be a more significant contender. Compared with the British punk bands that would carry the torch for the next decade after Ramones was released, The Ramones resemble The Beatles to The Pistols and The Clash’s Rolling Stones. Their music is a bit more rudimentary, a bit less creative, and only makes an impression on the surface of your psyche. Ramones, however, was a refreshing dive back into the mind of popular culture. This album is entirely overrated by Rolling Stone Magazine. Come on, they put it ahead of Ziggy Stardust. Seriously guys? The lasting success of this album, however, proves that no matter how often bands like The Eagles churn out commercial gems manufactured for mass appeal, visceral artistic statements like Ramones will always reign supreme.
32. The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed
Let It Bleed is less of an album than it is a murderous, blues-filled, passion project on the cultural impact of the sixties. Death, love, money, lust, drugs, and morality are just a handful of the themes that spin throughout the record. I know that many of these “reviews” can get quite hyperbolic, but I want to be serious when I emphasize that Let It Bleed is a true masterpiece. The Rolling Stones last album of the sixties remains in contention for the greatest rock albums of all time. Zeppelin is great but they perform in their own genre, and The Beatles are an insufferable boy band who still get treated like gods 50 years after they split up. The Rolling Stones, however, are the greatest rock band of all time. Don’t believe me? Listen to Let It Bleed.
Let It Bleed teaches us all that – if you want to make a great album – it helps to open the project with the most excellent rock song ever produced. “Gimme Shelter” is the best four minutes and thirty-one seconds in music history. This satanic ode to the insanity of the era incapsulates the suffocating tension of violence, hatred, and frustration that had boiled under the surface of popular culture for the past decade. In 1969, the conflict in Vietnam raged towards an undefinable conclusion, Richard Nixon was sworn into office, and Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The Rolling Stones responded to an apocalyptic year with an equally doom-filled song.
The track also features one of the most magnificent vocal performance in rock history. Merry Clayton, called in to perform in the middle of the night, arrived at the studios in curlers. Her performance that night set the tone for the album and reflected the mental strain of an entire generation. In a defining year in American and world history, no song preserves a better snapshot.
The rest of the album follows the apocalyptic concerns of the initial track: the sexual weeping of Jagger on “Love in Vain”; the skin crawling creep of “Midnight Rambler”; the ironic howlings of Keith Richards’ savage guitar on “Monkey Man”; and the angelic and moral bar-room ballad of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
In 1969, The Beatles performed for their last time. In 1969, The Rolling Stones released an era-defining record containing some of the most blood curdling, hair raising songs in music history. Let It Bleed summarizes the genius and poignancy of The Rolling Stones cultural significance. To rank this album 32nd is insulting. This album deserves top 10 status at the very, very least.
31. Bob Dylan, Bringing It Back Home
Bringing It Back Home collided poetry with passion as he put down his capo and picked up an electric guitar. “Going electric” allowed Dylan to add another dimension to his music that revealed the depth of his genius. Though his acoustic, folk productions contain deeply motivated musings on politics and life, the electricity provided by Dylan’s new technology saw him shrug off this moodiness and unleash an entirely different beast.
The continuous elements of Dylan’s craft are his mastery of the English language and an unmistakable emotion that can make his raspy, croaking voice sound angelic. On Bringing It Back Home, Dylan maintains a firm grasp on his lyrics while boosting the backing music that remains so essential to his legend. Dylan has a strange quality to sound younger in each progressive album. Bringing it Back Home is the perfect demonstration of this phenomenon. Rather than sounding like a drunk Woody Guthrie imitator singing about changing times or war, he sounds like a kid, eager to tell the world how he feels. Songs like “Maggie’s Farm” and “On the Road Again” reinforce his departure from a past persona. No longer is he willing to sit around sulking with an acoustic guitar. Instead, he’s going to turn it to eleven and shout in your face.
Though Dylan releases a wave of energy throughout the first half of the album, he saves multiple tracks on the second side to provide him a familiar platform to ponder. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is less of a song than a speech. For seven and a half minutes, Dylan stumbles through a jungle of cautions and warnings as he attempts to reconcile with his past. Many pages could be published about this song alone. For now, I’ll concede that it is an enigmatic masterpiece that transcends my patience and understanding. Striking a more straightforward chord, “Mr. Tambourine Man” presents Dylan in his element as a sentimental folk figure that simultaneously reminisces about the past while regretting the actions that have led to a particular moment in time. It’s a sweet song and a deserving classic.
Bringing it Back Home showcased Dylan’s true mastery of music. Not only did he successfully vault into an electrical realm of his genre, but he opened the door to his inner frustrations and desires that he previously veiled with layers of metaphors and an open thesaurus. Once opened, this door allowed Dylan to reveal alternate stages of his emotion on future albums like Highway 61 Revisited and Blood on the Tracks.