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.
The Yardbirds, 'Roger the Engineer (a.k.a. Over Under Sideways Down)'
Jeff Beck was in the Yardbirds only briefly, but here he pushed the Brit blues rockers in a more adventurous, psychedelic direction.
Muddy Waters, 'At Newport 1960'
A stomping live document of the period when Waters' Chicago blues started reaching a wider pop audience. Newport has his classics – "Hoochie Coochie Man," a torrid "Got My Mojo Working" – delivered by a tough, tight band anchored by harp genius James Cotton.
Pink Floyd, 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn'
"I'm full of dust and guitars," Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett said. Here's what that sounds like. The band's debut is all playful, psychedelic imagery and acid guitars – both poppy ("See Emily Play") and spaced-out freaky ("Interstellar Overdrive").
De La Soul, '3 Feet High and Rising'
Tommy Boy, 1989
At the end of the Eighties, De La declared a "D.A.I.S.Y. Age," which stood for "Da Inner Sound, Y'All." No gold chains, just samples, skits, jokes and beats, biting everyone from P-Funk to Hall and Oates and Johnny Cash.
Talking Heads, 'Stop Making Sense'
This soundtrack to Jonathan Demme's 1984 concert film functions as a great band history. It begins with a spare version of "Psycho Killer" and builds to an expansive "Take Me to the River," where the Heads are joined by Parliament great Bernie Worrell. Eighties art funk at its finest.
Lou Reed, 'Berlin'
Reed followed up his breakthrough album, Transformer, with "my version of Hamlet." A bleak song cycle about an abusive, drug-fueled relationship, it's hugely ambitious but also one of the darker records ever made – slow, druggy and heavily orchestrated by producer Bob Ezrin.
Meat Loaf, 'Bat Out of Hell'
Meat Loaf's megaselling, megabombastic mega-album was written by pianist Jim Steinman, who'd intended some of the material for a new Peter Pan. This is one of rock's most theatrical, grandiose records, yet Loaf brings real emotion to "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."
Depeche Mode, 'Violator'
For many Depeche Mode fans, Violator is the crowning glory of the boys' black-leather period. In "Sweetest Perfection," "Halo" and "World in My Eyes," they turn teen angst and sexual obsession into grand synth-pop melodrama, and their attempt at guitar rock resulted in a hit with "Personal Jesus."
Play was the techno album that proved a Mac could have a soul. Moby took ancient blues and gospel voices and layered them with dance grooves, on songs such as "Porcelain" and "Natural Blues." This was an album with a strange, haunting beauty – especially for advertisers, who mined Play for countless TV commercials
Black Flag, 'Damaged'
MCA Records refused to release this, denouncing it as "immoral" and "anti-parent." High praise, but Black Flag lived up to it, defining L.A. hardcore punk with violent guitar and the pissed-off scream of Henry Rollins, especially on "TV Party" and "Rise Above." Punks still listen to Damaged, and parents still hate it.
Tom Waits, 'The Heart of Saturday Night'
By the time Waits made his second album, he'd fully developed his talent for growling, jazzy beatnik gutter tales, and had largely dispensed with the love songs. He does it best on "Diamonds on My Windshield" and "The Ghosts of Saturday Night."
Big Brother and the Holding Company, 'Cheap Thrills'
These San Francisco acid rockers were the most simpatico band Janis Joplin ever had, especially when its rough racket backs her up on "Piece of My Heart," perhaps her greatest recording.
Jethro Tull, 'Aqualung'
Tull were hairy prog-rock philosophers who decried organized religion ("Hymn 43") and modern hypocrisy ("Aqualung") while incorporating flute solos. With several FM-radio hits, this record made Tull into a major arena band. The cover painting gave Seventies kids nightmares.
They were the Seattle punk scene's headbanging answer to Led Zeppelin II. But they became real songwriters on Superunknown, shaping their angst into grunge anthems like "Black Hole Sun." "[We] realized the importance of melody," said Chris Cornell. "Maybe we've been listening to Bryan Ferry."
Graham Parker, 'Squeezing Out Sparks'
An angry young crank in the mode of Elvis Costello, this former gas-station attendant rode the wave of U.K. punk. His fifth album combines bar-band rock with New Wave hooks, and his bitter paranoia shines through on every track.
X, 'Wild Gift'
John Doe and Exene Cervenka harmonize about doomed love over L.A. garage-rock thrash, changing the emotional language of punk. They were the White Stripes of their day, a young couple messing with country and blues in gems such as "Adult Books," "Beyond and Back" and "We're Desperate."
Richard and Linda Thompson, 'Shoot Out the Lights'
The British folk-rock duo's last album together is a harrowing portrait of a marriage gone bad, made as their marriage collapsed. The catchiest song: "Wall of Death." The scariest: "Walking on a Wire."
The Beatles, 'Help!'
The moptops' second movie was a Swinging London goof, but the soundtrack included the classics "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket to Ride," as well as the lovely "I've Just Seen a Face." Help! didn't break new ground, but it paved the way for the Beatles' next stop: Rubber Soul.
Neil Young, 'Tonight's the Night'
Young made his darkest, most emotionally frayed album as a tribute to two friends who died from drugs, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. Young sounds like he's on the edge of a breakdown in the mournful ballads "Tired Eyes" and "Speakin' Out," recorded with a world-weary looseness.
James Brown, 'In the Jungle Groove'
A compilation of Mr. Dynamite's singles from '69 to '70, including the endlessly sampled "Funky Drummer" and "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose," where Brown drops the heaviest funk of his – or anyone's – life.
Sonic Youth, 'Daydream Nation'
Sonic Youth have had a long, brilliant career making trippy art punk, and this is their triumph. Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's guitars are like antennae picking up otherworldly signals and channeling them into the scuzzy urban haze of "Teen Age Riot" and "Eric's Trip."
Liz Phair, 'Exile in Guyville'
A studio expansion of Phair's homemade Girlysound cassettes, Exile's frank sex talk caused a stir. But it's the lacerating honesty of tracks such as "Divorce Song" that sticks, and "Fuck and Run" is one of the saddest songs ever written about dreaming of romance and settling for less.
The Cure, 'Disintegration'
According to the kids on South Park, this is the best album ever made. According to many depressive Eighties-minded kids, it's the only album ever made – gloppy eyeliner at its grandest. On "Fascination Street," Robert Smith's voice shakes like milk as he makes adolescent angst sound so wonderfully, wonderfully pretty.