How to compile your own greatest 100 rock/pop albums list

In many ways compiling any kind of Best Of list is a silly and ultimately pointless thing to do since it all comes down to subjective responses in the end. Even authoritative Greatest Albums polls such as those found regularly in respected magazines such as Rolling Stone and Mojo are fraught with selections or omissions that frustrate even the casual music listener. Certainly I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to strangle the collective staff of Rolling Stone for leaving out some favourite Kinks album (or including only a greatest hits package of their stuff) or for including the wrong Byrds album. No doubt we’ve all torn our hair out over such lists. The list included here, my own idea of a Greatest 100 Rock/Pop Albums list, will probably have the same effect, but I include it to illustrate how anyone who cares enough about rock (and pop) music to do such a silly, pretentious and pointless thing might go about doing it.

Firstly be aware that any such list of this type must include a fair smattering of albums by certain artists. These include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and The Byrds. If you don’t include them the entire staffs of Rolling Stone and Mojo will come to your door and beat you to a pulp, and no one will take you seriously ever again. And it doesn’t even matter if you don’t own them, or if you haven’t even heard them in their entirety. You must put them in! See, I told you this was pretentious…

With this in mind, there are a number of albums, widely regarded as their best works, that these artists produced that it doesn’t hurt to know about and to include in your list. For example, anything by The Beatles from say, Rubber Soul to Abbey Road is a fair bet; the same with the Rolling Stones from Beggar’s Banquet to Exile On Mainstreet; and you can’t go wrong if you choose anything by Bob Dylan from Bring It On Home to John Wesley Harding (or jump to Blood On The Tracks).

Next, make sure that you include a lot of albums from around the mid to late Sixties to the early Seventies. This is because it is generally accepted that rock music really had its finest flowering around this period. Back then it was still young enough to retain some kind of youthful vitality, but it was also old enough to start experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what it could do before it became formulaic.

Having said that, don’t be afraid to include artists and albums that are not generally considered to be cool to like or think highly of. Part of the fun of doing a list like this is to piss off all them Rolling Stones and Mojo so-called ‘aficionados’ who think they have their fingers on the pulse, man, by proudly proclaiming that you think Seventh Sojourn by The Moody Blues is a pretty fine record, and that they’re a pretty cool band after all. By the way, I’d list all the Moody’s early albums from In Search Of The Lost Chord to Seventh Sojourn as ‘seminal texts’. But please note, I resisted the temptation to include all of them in my list. That’s because I limited myself to no more than two albums from any artist. That helps keep self-indulgence to a minimum – and hey, let’s just say it reflects life, which is full of limitations.

Often albums are included not so much because of their merit but because of their significance in heralding or embodying a new style or genre. Examples would be The Bee Gee’s Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which signaled disco’s popularity, and The Sex PistolsNever Mind The Bollocks, which some say started punk music. On balance, I’d say this is a pretty legitimate thing to do. However, I didn’t do it with my chart – I included Never Mind The Bullocks simply because I reckon it really kicks arse!

Also, there’s a tendency in these lists for compilers to want to include something from every genre just for the sake of not leaving anything out. So, amongst the standard rock stuff you get a reggae album, a heavy metal album, a soul album, a disco, a rap, etc. Again, on balance, I’d have to say this is legit too. One of the great things about rock is that it does encompass so many different and varied styles – and I have to admit that, to some degree, I did it too. But I wouldn’t call it tokenism. It’s not too hard to know which are the outstanding artists in other genres. I mean, for example, I’m only just beginning to love reggae and dub, and I know very little about it; but I do know Bob Marley is The Man when it comes to reggae. So, although my reggae scholarship is lamentably lacking, including a Marley album, in this case the Roots Of A Legend double pack (his earlier stuff with the Wailers, in my opinion, being superior to the later stuff), a Best Of, was a pretty safe bet.

Which brings me to the phenomenon of including compilation albums in these lists. Purists would say it’s not done, a best of is not a proper album; it’s cheating. And I’d agree. However, there are some artists like the Hollies, The Monkees, the Sweet, Queen, etc, who simply didn’t make great albums (yes, you may argue about Queen’s A Night At The Opera); but they made lots of fantastic singles, and so I’d include them. The same can be said for most of the big early rockers. You know who they are, so include a compilation or two of their’s. No one will argue with you about their inclusion.

To me one of the most interesting aspects of rock music has been its ‘independent’ or ‘alternative’ scene. Some might say it originated with the punk and ‘new wave’ movements of the late Seventies, but I would say it’s always been there. Right back to the Fifties with rockabilly and the Sixties with all them great garage bands, there’s been an ‘alternative’ scene. It has produced many brilliant artists, some of whom have gone on to crack the ‘mainstream’ of top 40 radio, and some who never have or will (or want to), but often deserved to. Check them out if you haven’t, and definitely include some on the list.

Probably the hardest part about doing a list like this is including albums that are recent. Don’t albums and artists need the perspective of years before they can be given the requisite critical appraisal? Maybe it helps. But a more important issue is the fact that the music industry has changed considerably over the last twenty or thirty years. The explosion of independent artists that have come out of the internet age has created a whole new paradigm for the way music is made and absorbed. I know I, for one, can’t keep up with it. For example, I’m only confident about my album selections here up to about the end of the last century; after that, it’s all guess work. I could say I think Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues is, in my opinion, the first great album of the 2010s, but would that mean anything? I’ve tried to pinpoint other important albums and artists post 2000, like Radiohead, Goldfrapp and Kings of Leon (remember them?) but I’m aware my noughties musical scholarship is sorely lacking. Maybe the best thing is to leave the older stuff to old farts like me, and leave the newer stuff to all the young turks out there.

Finally, the reader will notice a lot of white, male, ‘mainstream’ guitar-orientated rock artists from Britain and the US in my list. I could say, in my defense, that rock has always had a majority of such artists. But, instead, I’ll just say that’s what I like most. And anyway, I’ll probably change my mind about what’s in this list in another month or so.

So, sample the best that’s out there, be adventurous and try different genres, check out the ‘alternative’ stuff, but in the end go with your own personal taste.

Here’s the list. Where’s yours?

  • #1 Record – Big Star
  • 16 Lover’s Lane – Go Betweens
  • 20 Greatest Hits – Aretha Franklin
  • Abba, The Album – Abba
  • Abbey Road – The Beatles
  • All Mod Cons – The Jam
  • All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
  • Among My Swan – Mazzy Star
  • Arthur – The Kinks
  • Automatic For The People – REM
  • B52’s – B52’s
  • Ballroom Blitz – The Sweet
  • Band On The Run – Paul McCartney and Wings
  • Because of the Times – Kings of Leon
  • Beggar’s Banquet – Rolling Stones
  • Black Sabbath Four – Black Sabbath
  • Blonde On Blonde – Bob Dylan
  • Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan
  • Born Sandy Devotional – The Triffids
  • Bryter Later – Nick Drake
  • Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams
  • Chemical Chords – Stereolab
  • Cimarron – Emmylou Harris
  • Clear Spot – Captain Beefheart
  • Close To The Edge – Yes
  • Cosmo’s Factory – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Court And Spark – Joni Mitchell
  • Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd
  • Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Bruce Springsteen
  • Doolittle – The Pixies
  • Doughboy Hollow – Died Pretty
  • Dream It Down – Underground Lovers
  • Dusty In Memphis – Dusty Springfield
  • English Settlement – XTC
  • Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark – Dillard and Clark
  • Felt Mountain – Goldfrapp
  • Forever Changes – Love
  • From Elvis In Memphis – Elvis Presley
  • Frosting On The Beater – The Posies
  • Gilded Palace Of Sin – Flying Burrito Brothers
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
  • Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons
  • Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
  • History Of The Hollies – The Hollies
  • Horses – Patti Smith
  • Hounds of Love – Kate Bush
  • In Rainbows – Radiohead
  • In Utero – Nirvana
  • Jailbreak – Thin Lizzy
  • Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominoes
  • Life’s Rich Pageant – REM
  • London Calling – The Clash
  • Mars Audiac Quintet – Stereolab
  • Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Moondance – Van Morrison
  • Multiplies – Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Never Mind The Bollocks – Sex Pistols
  • Park Life – Blur
  • Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys
  • Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
  • Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin
  • Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon
  • Queen’s Greatest Hits – Queen
  • Raw Like Sushi – Neneh Cherry
  • Raw Power – Iggy and The Stooges
  • Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – The Sundays
  • Revolver – The Beatles
  • Roots Of A Legend – Bob Marley and the Wailers
  • Roxy Music – Roxy Music
  • Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young
  • Seventh Sojourn – The Moody Blues
  • Solid Gold Easy Action – T Rex
  • Songs From Northern Britain – Teenage Fanclub
  • Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder
  • Static And Silence  – The Sundays
  • Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout
  • Sticky Fingers – Rolling Stones
  • Straight Shooter – Bad Company
  • Tea For The Tillerman – Cat Stevens
  • The Band – The Band
  • The Heart of Everything – Within Temptation
  • The Joshua Tree – U2
  • The Kick Inside – Kate Bush
  • The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – Genesis
  • The Last Embrace – Spirit Caravan
  • The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers
  • The Monkees Collection – The Monkees
  • The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
  • The Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground
  • The Velvet Underground And Nico – Velvet Underground
  • The Very Best of Steely Dan – Steely Dan
  • The World Won’t Listen – The Smiths
  • Third Reich And Roll – The Residents
  • To Our Children’s, Children’s, Children – The Moody Blues
  • Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart
  • Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
  • Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks
  • Walk Right Back With The Everlys – Everly Brothers
  • Who’s Next – The Who
  • Wrecking Ball – Emmylou Harris
  • Younger Than Yesterday – The Byrds
  • Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie