This album is simultaneously the most pretentious and perfect album The Beatles ever created. Look, I'm not a Beatles fan. I think they are the most overrated band of all time. That being said, The White Album contains moments of pure brilliance that reveals the true potential of this super group.
Though other reviews will waste your time telling you about how inspired George Harrison and John Lennon were by their travels to India, I'm going to tell you to forget all of that BS. Just because an album's creators went on a field trip and took some drugs along the way does not make every other thing they do an act of divine genius. Let's get to the music.
"Back in the USSR" is a real rock anthem delivered with equal parts humor and energy to create an exciting turn on the conventions of the era. Opening the album with the track reveals the band's intention on the album. This is not going to be normal, and we aren't going to miss any chance to remind you of that. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a quirky track that grooves and funks its way across three minutes of horns, laughter, and a jiving piano. My best memories of The Beatles are of listening to this song in the car with my parents when I was six or seven. Even back then, however, part of me knew that what I was listening to was not normal but an anomaly of brilliance. "Blackbird" is a song that equally fills the canon of my younger years. Perhaps because the song sounds like such a sweet, swooping lullaby, it has been almost removed from The Beatles catalog and placed in a category outside of rock. Though "Helter Skelter" was perfected in U2's cover for Rattle and Hum, the song is a seismic rupture of bone-chilling energy that perfectly caps the album's equally sporadic construction.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is my favorite song by The Beatles. Written by George Harrison, the song whirls around a single instrument in subject and construction. Harrison's guitar thumps throughout the song until suddenly tearing into an ear-ripping solo that displays the full potential of the band – a potential they never reached. On an album filled with useless fodder and annoying indulgences from John and Paul, George takes a song of his own and absolutely nails it. Admit it, this would be a better James Bond song than "Live and Let Die," or anything Sam Smith or Adele could churn out.
The rest of the album is filled with sitar fueled drivel and annoying double recordings of songs no one really cares about. I applaud The Beatles, however, for having the guts to say "F--- It," and releasing this album in its bloated, unnecessary capacity.
9. Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
Blonde on Blonde is a true masterpiece of which only Bob Dylan could create. Though Blood on the Tracks carries more emotional energy and Highway 61: Revisited contains more celebrated individual songs, neither album includes the scale of production and depth of Blonde on Blonde. Coming in at an hour and twelve minutes, Blonde on Blonde is a seriously deep dive into Dylan's creative imagination.
Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde in a blaze of inspiration over a few weeks in Nashville, Tennessee. Assisted by veteran studio musicians, used to churning out episodic country ballads, Dylan had every element at his whim to fool around with each individual track. He also had the help of Smokey Robinson's influence to create a Motown flair throughout the entire album. The tracks have unique choruses and elaborate opening segments that had not featured on Dylan's previous albums.
Dylan unleashes his masterfully unique voice to its full effect on "Visions of Johanna" and "I Want You." Though both songs take different angles of emotion, each reveals another layer of Dylan's ordinary consciousness. The upbeat romp of "I Want You" is an earnest pledge while "Visions of Johanna" allows Dylan to sit with his words and slowly deliver his message piece by piece.
Bob Dylan did not let Blonde on Blonde be released without a natural infusion of his iconic, slightly off-putting quirkiness. "Fourth Time Around" was Dylan's strange and almost exact parody of John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood." Dylan's decision to stoop to this level reveals either an intense momentary fascination with The Beatles or his complete disregard for anyone else's opinion. "Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" is not nearly as strange as "Fourth Time Around," however it contains Dylan's similar disregard for convention. In "Memphis Blues Again," Dylan throws the formula against the wall and belts out a seven-minute track filled with energy, emotion, humor, and funk. His erratic lyrics play over an improvising synth and rattling drum kit that sounds like they are desperately trying to keep up with Dylan's rapid flow of inspiration. Unlike "Fourth Time Around," the final result is a slice of pure brilliance deserving of a spot on any Dylan greatest hits album.
Blonde on Blonde may not be Dylan's most excellent album – it certainly isn't mine – but it is so damn… Dylan. Perhaps no other record captures the man at his most free, quirky, and excited state. Blonde on Blonde would be better suited to the top 25 of this list, but I'm not throwing a fit about its presence inside the top 10.
8. The Clash, London Calling
In my opinion, London Calling is the greatest album on this list and therefore the greatest album of all time. This is not a punk album. This is not a reggae fusion album. This is a true rock album filled with momentary musical brilliance, genre shifts within songs, and enough passion and energy to start a war. For a band who hired their bass player for how he looked – completely disregarding the fact that he could barely strum his instrument – The Clash produced an authentic piece of artistic brilliance with London Calling.
The genius of Strummer, Jones, Headon, and Simonon is revealed by the sheer scope of the genres with which they bend throughout the album. Though billed as a punk classic, London Calling is anything but. Songs like "Lost in the Supermarket" and "Train in Vain" are classic love songs of loss, confusion, despair, and longing. Each track is delivered with clean, quick, percussive backing to emphasize the earnest message of the band. Though they wore mohawks and spray painted jackets, both of these songs reveal the soft side of a group who, just like the rest of us, wanted to find comfort in the arms of fellow human beings amongst the confusion and torment of the era.
"The Right Profile," "Jimmy Jazz," and "The Card Cheat" are half skits and half songs. These numbers sway between drunken storytelling and melancholic admiration for the characters at their heart. The cop-avoiding Jimmy Jazz who is loved by his wasted friends, the badass Montgomery Cliff (is he alright?!), and the card cheat who won't be alive for long – a character perfected in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
"Clampdown," "The Guns of Brixton," and "Spanish Bombs" spin out of the speakers like neighborhood anthems written for the teenage hooligans who are either going off to war, working for the clampdown, or getting their doors kicked in by the authorities. Yet again, these tracks combine pure versatility with intriguing stories and engaging characters.
"Wrong 'em Boyo" shows The Beatles the proper way to impersonate another band. The song begins with an accordion and horn backed ballad before the track cuts and the producer yells, "Start all over again!" Immediately, Topper Headon sends the song into a jumping, reggae, fueled melody. The horns reboot to follow the drums in a methodical step. The song is now an interrogating series of commands from Strummer as he professes about cheating and manipulation over a beat that sounds stripped from a Sunday morning cartoon introduction. It's perfect.
I could spend hours writing about each of these songs. The sweaty eagerness of "Hateful," the Big Audio Dynamite foreshadowing "Koka Kola," and the never give up spirit of "I'm Not Down" are all high points. But the pure brilliance of this album comes directly from its title track. "London Calling" is a haunting, bass-driven ride through the London Underground in a world where battle is a commonplace and the apocalypse has been forecasted in the newspaper's latest weather report. Headon's drums, Simonon's bass, and Mick Jones guitar combine perfectly to create a sense of doom and despair that the following eighteen tracks will try their best to reverse. Strummer, in his element, uses accents and sarcasm to emphasize his disregard for Wheaties and the nuclear era as he stares out of his window at the rising tide of the River Thames.
London Calling is an hour and five minutes of perfection. From start to finish, this album changes shape, sways from side to side, and pounds forward with the force of a bulldog. This is the greatest album of all time. I will not hear otherwise.
7. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
Rolling Stones Records, 1972
Exile on Main Street is the most beautiful buzz in music. In true Rolling Stones fashion, this album sounds like it was recorded in an 85-degree studio with sweat dripping from the walls, flies buzzing all over the place, Keith Richards struggling to stand in the corner, and Mick Jagger singing to himself in the mirror. It's phenomenal. For as grimy, sweaty, and uncomfortable as this album sounds, not for a second do the band seem to be having a bad time. This is when the Stones are at their peak - when they sink into the fumes and excesses of their craft.
The first third of the record busts down the door with one thrilling, chorus backed anthem after another. "Rocks Off" stutter to a start with a howling "Oh Yeaaaaah" as Jagger goes into a feverish depiction of a dream-like state in which he ca n's speak and hears voices on the street. "Tumbling Dice" follows the lead of the opening track with a phenomenal number that combines rock and gospel to create three minutes and forty-six seconds of perfection. Keith Richards rough guitar grounds the project in the dirt as the track spins off about fate and trust.
The second half of the album takes a different approach to the Rolling Stones much-documented exile to France to avoid the manipulative taxes and encroachments of the British government. "Let It Loose," "Shine a Light," and "I Just Want to See His Face" each attempt to tackle questions of redemption and guilt. This iconic band, known as much for their music as their members, is taking a minute to look back on their attitude of disregard for their country, their roots, and their own health. Jagger leads the charge here, opening up a genuinely reflective tone throughout the album. In this method, the band combines consideration with excitement to create an epic combination of motivations and emotions.
"Sweet Virginia" bridges these emotions as a distant Mick Jagger issues thank yous and apologies as he urges everyone to "come on down" and listen to some damn good music. Exile on Main Street should forever be celebrated for its creativity and raw excitement. Few albums on this list contain the emotion, energy, and joy possessed by Exile on Main Street. I'm glad this album finally got the credit it deserves with its placement on this list.
6. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
At the tail end of 1971, Motown was spiraling down from the peak of its commercial success. Their seemingly unending talent pool that churned out hit after hit had clogged its drain and was failing to produce the same silky talents as it once had. As Motown struggled to create its new identity for the '70s, they had one artist demanding a record of his own. Marvin Gaye, a man who began as a studio musician for the label before blossoming into a pop singer of his own, wanted to reinvent himself once again. Marvin Gaye did not want to be the greatest singer of his genre, he wanted to be a modern day Nat King Cole, who would determine the culture for the next five decades. With What's Going On, Gaye succeeded in producing a phenomenal album and solidifying himself as a constant reference for musicians and fans of any genre.
What's Going On bridges, the gap between the fast-paced pop hits of Motown in the '60s and the methodical, thought-provoking, and socially commentating new wave of the '70s. From the album's title track, Gaye's focus is apparent. This album will reevaluate every problem and success within the culture, blending the nuances of modern America into an all-encompassing tribute to the era.
Every element of Gaye's personality rubs off on this record. "What's Going On" must be considered as one of the greatest songs of all time. The echoing smoothness of horns and sound effects sets up Gaye to knock the track out of the park. His urgent, sweet voice pounds the song with energy and vigor that such a song deserves. His confusion with solving serious issues comes through on his depictions of picket lines and brutality. Ultimately, however, Gaye understands it takes a collective effort to make such changes. This song is a unique cut into an artist's real thoughts on what it is they are discussing. In 1971, Gaye took a leap of faith with this track. It's fair to say it paid off. "Save the Children" blends admiration for his nation with a supernatural desire to end despair, hunger, and suffering. This melancholic fascination with world peace is an enduring piece of dialogue in the daily rhetoric of politicians, musicians, and everybody in between.
Gaye created a true classic deserving of respect from this list. His voice, swagger, and personal touch encapsulate the brilliance of the era that was to follow this record. One must consider that this album was a pop success at its time along with receiving praise as a unique social commentary. What Gaye achieved on the record reveals the massive divide between the artistic prowess of the '70s and the subsequent commercialization of pop in the '80s and beyond. "Mercy Mercy Me," "things ain't what they used to be."
5. The Beatles, Rubber Soul
I've written enough about the goddamn Beatles in this article, and I've got to write about them even more in a bit, so I'm going to keep this one short. Rubber Soul is perhaps the most overrated of all of The Beatles' albums on this list. Look, Revolver and The White Album have no business being in the top ten but, even as someone who dislikes the band, I can appreciate the impact and skill conveyed on the album. Put them in the 50-60 range where they would not have to disappoint any new listeners who run to these albums thinking they are some of the greatest of all time. Rubber Soul, on the other hand, may have no place at all in the top 100.
It may sound harsh but just look at the track list. Would any of these songs make it onto any of The Beatles other albums in the top ten? "Norwegian Wood" and "In My Life" would be the only contenders. "Norwegian Wood" only receives attention because Lennon broke out the sitar even though no one asked him to. "In My Life" sounds like a band with real talent trying to make a hippie anthem. And they succeeded.
Rubber Soul is a dull placeholder for a more deserving album. This is a case of the Rolling Stone writers finishing the list and then realizing they completely left off Rubber Soul and then sticking it in at number five on the merit of the band that created it. Absolutely atrocious.
4. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
It all starts with "Like a Rolling Stone." The most excellent song from this entire list comes from perhaps Dylan's greatest most critical album of his career. Following the success of Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan knew it was time for him to evolve. The folk singer had to squeeze beyond the confines of a harmonica and acoustic guitar and into the elements of the mainstream. Every aspect of Dylan's progression is contained in the six minutes of "Like a Rolling Stone." The lightly strumming electric guitar, the screeching harmonica, the hopping piano, the echoing synth, and even some hammering drums create an orchestral tunnel of sound. The track warps around the inside of your head, building into ever "how does it feel" with maximum tension followed by maximum relief. "Like a Rolling Stone" is without question the greatest song on this list and it required a divine moment of inspiration from Dylan to produce this masterpiece.
Dylan set out to create Highway 61 as a career changer. The crisp, electric feel of the album couples with his iconic, free-flowing poetry to soar past the pop icons like The Beatles and Elvis and into something altogether otherworldly. Dylan's themes of spite, humor, anger, and attitude tear the album from any conventional standards.
Highway 61: Revisited is a true epic from a pure genius. Dylan's brilliance comes through on every track of the album, revealing why no musician or group has ever been able to replicate his iconic sound or immense impact. When the album was released, Bob Dylan was not even 25 years old. The scope of his unrelenting creativity courses through each of the album's nine tracks to create a complete understanding and reveal of his pure genius. This album is a genuine contender for number one on this list. Unfortunately, the Rolling Stone writers are too concerned with protecting those four overrated guys from Liverpool.
3. The Beatles, Revolver
What an absolutely insulting and disgraceful waste of a pick. Not only is Revolver not The Beatles' greatest album but it is not even slightly good. The entire project has one song of note, and that song is ruined by The Beatles insistence on producing all of their songs as terribly as they possibly could. What am I referring to, you ask? Plug in some headphones and listen to "Eleanor Rigby." "Eleanor Rigby" is a great song, I'm not arguing otherwise. The message is unique and powerful, and the strings are incredibly impactful. BUT. Listen with headphones, and you will soon realize that every verse plays out of the right speaker. Though the chorus and intro vocals play through both headphones, the verse only plays out of one side. This is a weak gimmick that they use throughout their albums that I will undoubtedly bring up again in this set of reviews. I don't want to sound like I'm being petty, but how can you place an album with such an obvious flaw in the third spot. It makes no sense.
As for the rest of the album, the tracks are irresistibly unnecessary in their format and subject matter. Take "Love You To," for example. This track gives the listener the unique experience of listening to John Lennon learn how to play the sitar for nearly forty seconds before the track begins. The resulting product is a woeful song that is as obnoxious as it is pointless.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that "Hotel California" is the worst song of all time. Well, folks, we may have a new contender. "Yellow Submarine" is an idiotic and unimaginative trip through the dull minds of four men who think they are creative geniuses for stealing other musicians music. I do not care about the land of submarines. I do not care about this hippie community of white twenty-somethings who go around hugging one another. Just because they use sound effects on this song, Rolling Stone and other publications will praise this song for its innovation. They are wrong. This song sounds like it was plagiarized from a goddamn kindergarten student who ran out of crayons and had to use yellow to color in their submarine. What an awful song.
This album has no right to be so high up the list. Take a revolver and point it at the Rolling Stone writers.
2. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
In the words of Noel Gallagher, there are only two reasons why people claim to like The Beach Boys. First, they come directly before The Beatles in alphabetical order on the shelves of every record store in the world. Second, one time in the '70s Paul McCartney mentioned that he liked some of their harmonies. That's it. If you think you've got a third reason like, "but they are good," then I'm afraid you should see a doctor.
For all of the stick I've given The Beatles in these reviews, Pet Sounds is the most overrated album on this entire list. Sure, some of the songs follow a pattern of rich, barbershop quartet orchestration that makes these five boy scouts sound somewhat bearable, but that does not make their music any good. The last band of this genre (annoying white guys squealing about a girl over bells and chimes) was Odyssey and Oracle back at the very bottom of this list. There is a reason why there has been nothing in between. If you remember, I was fond of that album, not only because it contained some solid tracks, but because it surpassed my exceedingly low expectations. Pet Sounds gave me the exact opposite experience. I had massive expectations for the album. It completely sunk my trust in music and music journalism.
Think to yourself if you can actually name more than two songs on this album. Yeah, you know "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice," but that's only because Love Actually and every Adam Sandler movie uses one of these songs in their credits. That's not a good sign!
The songs on this album follow a painful formula: fade in, whine about some darlin' who left you, sing to yourself about it for a verse, have the two worst singer sing "ba da ba da" in the background, and fade out.
This album is not good. Stop giving it the credit it does not deserve. Just look at this top ten, do you honestly think Pet Sounds – an album called PET SOUNDS – is better than two Dylan albums, Exile on Main Street, and London Calling. If you do, I recommend making toast the next time you take a bath.
"Wouldn't It Be Nice" if Rolling Stone gave credit to a deserving band?
1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Well, we've done it. At last, we have made it to the greatest album of all time. Or so I wish I could write. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a pompous, self-referential ode from The Beatles to The Beatles.
"But hey! They dressed up as another band, get it?! That makes them 'Artists.'" I'm afraid not.
See, The Beatles are a talented group. There is no questioning the strength of their musicians and their ability to so consistently morph into some other stage of hippie. This trend, however, just reveals their role as the first true pop band. Early in their career, they gained a massive following with some catchy songs. As they grew older and began to get bored, they tried new things, experimented with drugs, and told everyone about it. Though their music never got better, their fans stuck by them and proclaimed John Lennon as the most excellent musician of all time and Paul McCartney as the second coming of Jesus Christ. As they aged out, albums like Revolver and Rubber Soul with only one or two good songs between them became heralded as masterpieces.
As the Rolling Stones developed into a band with perhaps the greatest set of unique characters and began to create genre-bending, heart-pounding music, The Beatles were busy fiddling around with violins and distortion pedals at Abbey Road. In this history of rock, if you are finding it challenging to figure out which band is superior, choose the one that did more heroin. In this case, disregarding their superior music, lasting influence, and better performers, The Rolling Stones are hands down the better band.
One reason for Sgt. Peppers disappointment is its incredibly high expectations. Billed as the most excellent album by The Beatles as well as the greatest album of all time, this thing is supposed to be a wall to wall banger. But who comes away from listening to this supposed classic thinking that they have heard more than three great songs. I certainly don't.
Look, there are some good songs on this album. And there should be. "Lovely Rita" is a sweet rock ballad that sets up McCartney for an excellent performance on a decent track. It still has that classic Beatles whine that they seem unable to escape. Also, it has a segment where some unacknowledged person starts breathing into the microphone like a dog out of breath that is truly woeful. But I guess it's okay. "With a Little Help From My Friends" is yet another Beatles song that does really well in kindergarten classrooms. It's a decent little number, but put it up against a song like "London Calling," "Gimme Shelter," or "Like a Rolling Stone" and you'll be digging this song's grave after ten seconds. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is a drastically overrated song. Not only do I not care about John and Paul's acid trip, but I don't need them to walk it back for me step by step.
"A Day In The Life" was awarded the title of greatest Beatles song of all time, and therefore greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine a few years back. Not only is this simply not the case, but it shows the ability for these writers and fans to be swayed by mediocrity in favor of supporting a lie that they have been supporting all these years. If you want to see the true legacy, put on "A Day In The Life" with headphones, and you will soon realize that the vocal tracks from Paul and John play out of different speakers. Now, before you scream, "but that's artistic," understand what you are saying. Rap groups don't use different speakers when their members sing, and I don't remember a single musician from Michael Jackson to Madonna utilizing this tactic in the past forty years. It's annoying and unnecessary. Speaking of annoying and useless, how about the last minute and a half of this song which consists of an orchestra building up various instruments before fading out for a minute and then coming back in with a bunch of random sounds and effects. It is exceptionally unnecessary and ruins any work they did in the first three minutes to establish the song. Gimmicks such as this remove any ability for me to take this band seriously. Their music, while not terrible, is extremely overrated, leading to inevitable disappointment whenever I decide to give them another try. If these reviews have convinced me of anything, it's this: when entering a debate that The Beatles is better than another band, side with the other band, they won't let you down.
Thanks for reading along to the driveling opinions of one music fan. It's been a cathartic experience.