375. Jackson Browne, 'Late for the Sky'
On his dark third album, explored, in the words of one Rolling Stone reviewer, the "romantic possibility in the shadow of an apocalypse." There's an undercurrent of dread on , from "Before the Deluge" to "For a Dancer" – not to mention a lot of obvious songwriting genius.
Roxy Music, 'Siren'
"New customers are always welcome!" Bryan Ferry joked as "Love Is the Drug" became his band's first U.S. hit. This delicious LP of lounge-lizard ennui, inspired in part by Ferry's girlfriend Jerry Hall, draws upon 's arty roots even as it anticipates the more rarefied atmospheres of Avalon.
Jefferson Airplane, 'Volunteers'
RCA Victor, 1969
Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen called Paul Kantner's revolutionary cheerleading "naive," but that didn't prevent the band from delivering this album with sweeping fervor. Also here: the gorgeous "Wooden Ships" and "Eskimo Blue Day," where Grace Slick sings, "The human name doesn't mean shit to a tree."
The Police, 'Reggatta de Blanc'
may have been lumped in with U.K. punk, but said the mission was always to "sell great music to masses of people." They did that with , an album best known for "Message in a Bottle" but distinguished by the mutant reggae of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Walking on the Moon."
Arctic Monkeys, 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'
Domino USA, 2006
Scrappy, lager-fueled tunes about being young and bored in a bleak Northern England steel town. Even Yanks couldn't resist these raging Brit-pop-punk gems.
Mott the Hoople, 'Mott'
's "All The Young Dudes" had revived 's career, but Ian Hunter "wanted people to know that David didn't create this band." Producing themselves, they weathered skepticism and studio fistfights to record this examination of rock as "a loser's game." became their greatest success.
The Smiths, 'Louder Than Bombs'
Sire/Rough Trade, 1987
Designed to whet U.S. interest while the completed a new LP, this dazzling assortment of singles and album tracks became an unintended epitaph when the group dissolved. Its best songs are here, from "Sheila Take a Bow" to "Panic."
The Eagles, 'The Eagles'
This debut created a new template for laid-back L.A. country rock. Behind the band's mellow message – "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling" – was a relentless drive. "Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good and write good," Glenn Frey told Cameron Crowe in Rolling Stone.
Madonna, 'Ray of Light'
Maverick/Warner Bros., 1998
For her first disc as a mother, and producer William Orbit showed the world that electronica doesn't have to be cold. Songs like the title track and "Nothing Really Matters" are filled with warmth and wonder. also features her best singing ever.
Johnny Cash, 'American Recordings'
After years of neglect from the country establishment, returned with this stark acoustic album produced by Rick Rubin. It was a reminder that a giant still walked among us.
Rage Against the Machine, 'Rage Against the Machine'
Epic Associated, 1992
Singer Zack de la Rocha's radical politics found sympathetic muscle in Tom Morello's howling one-guitar army, making a furor unheard since the and .
The Doors, 'L.A. Woman'
Jim Morrison said the wanted to "get back to what we did originally: just be very primitive... very relaxed." Recorded in their rehearsal space with Morrison's mic set up in the bathroom, this was a bluesier, confident Doors. It was the last album Morrison recorded. He died soon after.
New Order, 'Substance'
This assemblage of 12-inch singles and remixes charts New Order's tranformation from gloom rockers to electro-disco pioneers. Club hits like "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" are full of bass melodies that beat-loving guitar bands are still trying to figure out.
The Smashing Pumpkins, 'Siamese Dream'
On their second disc, the pushed further from alt-rock to a grander, orchestrated sound with multiple guitar parts, strings and Mellotron. Siamese Dream is packed with hits ("Cherup Rock," "Today") and alt-rock followed its lead.
"We call it slumadelic," said Big Boi of 's far-reaching blend of hip-hop, funk, rock and otherworldly sounds. "Ms. Jackson" was something new for rap: an apology to the mother of an ex-girlfriend. And "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)" twitches to techno beats and screeching guitar.
Buzzcocks, 'Singles Going Steady'
collects eight British 45s into a perfect punk album. This Manchester group took the sound of the and made it jittery and even faster. Songs such as "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" define a world of permanently frustrated desire.
Elton John, 'Honky Chateau'
After a couple of weightier singer-songwriter outings, it was delightful to hear revel in the simple pop pleasures of "Honky Cat." Written in five days, and using his signature touring band for the first time, is a snapshot of an artist loosening up and coming into his full powers.
Miles Davis, 'Sketches of Spain'
This collaboration between Davis and arranger Gil Evans took 15 orchestral sessions to record and six months to assemble. It wasn't an attempt to play Spanish music but to suggest it; the album's muted beauty contains enormous passion. But is it jazz? Davis responded, "It's music, and I like it."
The Rolling Stones, 'Between the Buttons'
Andrew Loog Oldham called it their "most English" album. Music-hall piano abuts the psych-soul of "Ruby Tuesday"; the lovely "She Smiled Sweetly" offsets the great Chuck Berry rip, "Miss Amanda Jones."
Randy Newman, '12 Songs'
Newman's second disc was his artistic breakout, with Ry Cooder and a few of the Byrds contributing to the loose, confident sound. It's prime caustic, funny Newman – especially the piano rockers "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and "Have You Seen My Baby?" and the tormented "Suzanne."
The Yardbirds, 'Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds'
Freed from Eric Clapton's blues purism and spurred by Jeff Beck's reckless exhibitionism, the Yardbirds launched a noisy rock & roll avant-garde. This is the bridge between beat groups and psychedelia
Billy Joel, '52nd Street'
The heavy roadwork dictated by the success of The Stranger produced a leaner, rock-oriented follow-up. Like Elton John, Joel assimilated whatever styles (jazz, Latin rhythms) suited his purpose. "I don't want to limit my diet," he said, "sampling only one vegetable in the garden."
Kanye West, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'
Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella, 2010
Epic hip-hop as messily inspired as 's life, with pianos, vocoder freakouts, Bon Iver cameos and hilarious insights on Kanye's self-torpedoing genius.
Dire Straits, 'Brothers in Arms'
Warner Bros., 1985
Mark Knopfler started writing "Money for Nothing" when he overheard a New York appliance salesman's anti-rock-star, anti-MTV rant. The song, of course, became a huge MTV hit, and this album shows off Knopfler's incisive songwriting and lush guitar riffs on "Walk of Life" and "So Far Away."
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, 'Rust Never Sleeps'
This live Rust is essential Young, full of delicate acoustic songs and ragged Crazy Horse rampages. Highlights: "My My, Hey Hey" (a tribute to Johnny Rotten) and "Powderfinger," where Young's guitar hits the sky like never before.