20-1

It’s finally here! Shockingly, this project has actually managed to stay relatively close to “on track.” The votes have been tabulated (which wasn’t that hard, as I was the only voter), and your official Cory-Graham.com Top 20 Albums Of All Time are ready!

Click here!

Thank you United States Air Force Band for that incredibly long drum solo without a big splash at the end (you’d be amazed to learn how difficult it is to find a drum solo on short notice)! Now, the records!

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20. U2 – The Joshua Tree

The first three songs on this album are three of the best songs of the entire decade, possibly ever. There was a time when Bono was a rock star 1st, activist 2nd (or at least 1-B), and during that time U2 created the best music of their career. The Joshua Tree is a bona fide classic in every regard, one of those records that everyone owns or has owned at one point or another. Whether you picked it up on the day of its initial release or downloaded it from Itunes yesterday, it’s a timeless classic from an era when nearly every record sounds dated and “good for its time.” The Joshua Tree was good for its time, but even if it was released today I doubt that the impact would be even slightly different. Battling over 80’s band supremacy is silly, even though I’ve engaged in it as recently as this very countdown. No matter who you are, you either do or should love this album.

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name

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19. Oasis – Definitely Maybe

Very few bands get to claim to have changed the world… ok, many get to claim it, but very few can back it up. Britain was changing in 1994, Thatcherism (and to a lesser degree, Majorism) was breathing its last breath. The working class were rising up, carrying a young man named Tony Blair on their shoulders, all inspired and soundtracked by five lads from Manchester. The boring, antequated ideas of the 1980’s had left “Cool Brittania” in ruin, stripping London of the snarl that once made it the envy of the world. Rock and roll had left town, replaced by cheesy synth-trash and generic dance music. The people wanted revolution in every sort, and the release of Definitely Maybe was a forceful declaration to the powers that be. From that moment forth, Oasis became the biggest band in the world, Tony Blair ushered in a new era of British politics (enough good to forgive the bad) and American kids asked their barber for “Oasis Haircuts.” Cool Brittania had come home to roost… at least for a few years.

Oasis – Rock & Roll Star

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18. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols

The elephant in the room when discussing The Sex Pistols is always their origin. Essentially, they were a boy band. Malcom McLaren took a trip to the United States, checking out the latest trends and culture in the great cultural hub, New York City. He quickly noticed a rising phenomenon in the streets, “punk” culture. A few gigs later, McLaren had a hell of an idea. He returned to London, gathered together a band of miscreants and formed The Sex Pistols… acting as their manager. Despite their “less than punk” roots, The Pistols may have actually embodied the spirit of the music more perfectly than any of their American counterparts. The mystique surrounding the band grew larger than the music itself. Did Sid actually kill Nancy? Was their equipment actually stolen from Bob Marley’s backup band? Did they even know how to play their instruments? At the end of the day, none of it really mattered. In one album, The Sex Pistols set the bar for punk music to come with all of the snarl and spit in London left lying on a bloody stage… smashed to pieces.

The Sex Pistols – Anarchy In The UK

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17. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?

Having a social conscience was all the rage in 1971, and Marvin Gaye was never one to let a trend pass him by. However, as Gaye took a look around the world he knew and the world in which he grew up, he saw more than just revolution. The hopelessness and sadness captured in this album rivals any great work of literature. The optimism-from-the-ashes gave strength to an entire generation, calling for each one of us to change our ways. While other artists made the establishment react angrily to their demands for change, Marvin actually made them feel ashamed. Here was an artist that many in power could relate to, someone that they no doubt had in their own record collection. Now he was making statements that were coated less with anger, but with genuine disappointment. He was certainly angry, but more than that, he was introspective. What’s Going On is a time capsule, a way of giving a soul to a time that may have otherwise only been words on a page.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

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16. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

In 1987, American rock & roll wasn’t much to speak of. Hair metal had taken over, leaving only the scarce Rick Astley ballad as a counter measure. While countless acts pranced about wearing more makeup than even Bob Mackie would prescibe, something began to brew in Los Angeles. Rock had become a characature of itself, hemmhoraging credibility like Malcom McDowell in the final scene of Caligula. Then, there was something different. The crackling opening notes of Welcome To The Jungle were electric, detonating in Los Angeles and sending shockwaves around the world. For the next hour or so, Guns N’ Roses proceeded to dig a deep hole, toss in nearly every current “rock” band and fill it with jagged rocks and whiskey bottles. Before Nirvana “changed” music, there was G N’ F’n R, laying the groundwork for such a change. Appetite For Destruction was an ice cold shower, pulling America out of their Top 40 hangover… then pouring half a bottle of Jim Beam down their throat.

Guns N’ Roses – Paradise City

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15. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

“Gangsta Rap” hasn’t always been a household phrase. In fact, before the release of Straight Outta Compton, most people were largely only familiar with the antics of The Fat Boys, those nice guys in Run DMC (they did that cool song with Aerosmith, right?) and the occasional commerical or episode of Alf. It was around that time that hip hop exploded in Los Angeles, giving rise to a grittier, street wise sound. Rap wasn’t just for parties anymore, rap could actually mean something. Funded by crack money, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella put together an angry, powerful album filled with tales of their day to day life and experiences. Not surprisingly, mainstream America wasn’t too eager to hear, especially to have their children hear, of what was going on in Compton. For those of us lucky enough to slip a copy by the parents, Straight Outta Compton was an eye opening and life changing experience.

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

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14. Pulp – Different Class

One review of this album, written with the benefit of hindsight, said: In 1996, the question on everyone’s lips was “Blur or Oasis,” the answer was “Pulp.” It wasn’t until 1998 that I was introduced to this record, causing me to curse the last two, Pulpless years of my life. For a band that has a habit of being great, Different Class stands out as their absolute moment of brilliance. The sneer of Jarvis Cocker’s vocals has never been more sharp, cutting through convention, class, status and society like a razor blade. Each song features addictive, jubliant and often sexy musical composition, flanked by Cocker’s occasionally “laugh out loud” lyrics. It’s a sterling example of dry, “British” humor mixed with some of the finest examples of Brit-Pop ever recorded. It’s anthemic, it’s wry, it’s the embodiment of the feeling of Thatcher/Blair transitionism… without the snarl of Oasis or the looney spectacle of Blur.

Pulp – Common People

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13. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

In the most recent installment of this list, I’m showing you albums that I feel walk the line between rock music and high art. With Daydream Nation, I honestly feel that there is no difference. Sonic Youth’s 1988 release gave the world more than guitars and drums should actually be capable of doing. This album is an honest-to-God work of art, notes crafted into a beautiful tapestry of drums and guitars. The opening track, Teenage Riot, works on levels far greater than nearly any song that had come before. It’s catchy, a pleasant pop-rock song that, while being a revolutionary masterpiece, never worked to alienate listeners. Of the myriad compliments bestowed up on this band throughout their career, “catchy” and “accessible” are rarely thrown out there. However, Daydream Nation is both of those things. It is one of history’s true musical achievements, and the indisputable defining record of an entire generation of would-be rock stars (and hipsters).

Sonic Youth – Teenage Riot

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12. R.E.M. – Document

Document was more of a moment in time than actually a record. Indie darlings, R.E.M., were growing up and edging closer to the mainstream with each passing day. It only took one listen to The One I Love to see that. The song raced up the charts, quickly followed by what may be R.E.M.’s most universally beloved song, It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). From that moment on, R.E.M. wasn’t your little secret, they were popular… really popular… and getting more popular. For many bands, that’s the end of the line, however, R.E.M. used their rising popularity to craft some of the greatest works of their career. On Document, the band is focused, the songwriting is tight and Michael Stipe seems to have perfectly defined his Micahel Stipeness. While the two aforementioned tracks are the most easily recognizable on the record, Document is filled with fantastic, often political music that set it apart from the pack when it amazingly reached #10 on the Billboard Chart.

R.E.M. – Finest Worksong

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11. Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Hip hop has always had its fair share of militant revolutionary types. Whether it was KRS One or even Gil Scott Heron (before it was even called hip hop), anger and social outrage goes hand in hand with the artform. However, no one may have ever been as angry as Chuck D., and that doesn’t just go for music, there may never have actually been a recorded incident of anger quite on par with Chuck D. at any point in his day. I’d imagine that Chuck is more angry right now that you’ve been in your entire life, maybe over a cup of coffee or traffic. His anger aside, Public Enemy wrote the book on how to construct a deep, intelligent hip hop record with relentless intensity. Even if you strip down the vocals, leaving only the beats on the record, the message still comes through loud and clear.

Public Enemy – Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos

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10. Grateful Dead – American Beauty

Being the type of guy that positively detests hippie jam-bands, it took some soul-searching and some deep inner turmoil to finally come around to The Grateful Dead. I adored them in high school, mostly because they’re the perfect soundtrack to a ride through the mountains on a warm Summer day. However, upon reaching college, I was inundated with throngs of smelly hippies in “Dead” t-shirts… enough to turn off the even the most hardcore fan of anything. Years later I picked up my old copy of American Beauty and fell in love all over again. I’ll never call myself a “Deadhead,” no matter how many bootlegs or weird imports I may own… I don’t care if I have an entire 80gb Ipod filled with nothing but their music. However, labels and hippies aside, they make timeless records that are the musical equivalent of comfort food. In their day, The Grateful Dead were cool. When disco balls threatened music in general, The Grateful Dead were cool. When cheesy synthesizers were all the rage, The Grateful Dead were cool. Now, when mass-produced, focus group bands rule the airwaves, The Grateful Dead are cooler than ever.

The Grateful Dead – Sugar Magnolia

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9. The Beatles – The Beatles

Even Beatles detractors have a hard time arguing against the brilliance of “The White Album.” As a Beatles detractor, I can assure you of that first hand. It’s one of the very few double albums that doesn’t seem ridiculously inflated, as each song seems to be as necessary as the one before. Granted, not every song is perfect, but even removing the few smudges on this shiny new penny would still yield enough music to warrant a 2nd disc, so no fault to be found there. The Beatles offers something different with every turn, spinning songs that can fit perfectly into any mood or setting. Need a soundtrack to a nice, chemical euphoria? Try Happiness Is A Warm Gun! Need something loud to spice up a long drive? Try Helter Skelter! Is romance on your mind? Then lay your lady down to the sweet sounds of Why Don’t We Do It In The Road! Whether you worship at the altar of Lennon/McCartney or find The Beatles to be the most overrated band in history, it’s hard to deny the power of this album. After all, even I’m in its corner.

The Beatles – Helter Skelter

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8. Weezer – Pinkerton

Like every other nerd in America, I eagerly gobbled up Weezer’s eponymous debut, sitting on the edge of my seat in breathless anticipation for another record. With a band like Weezer, you almost expect to see the “sophomore slump” put on display like never before. The recipe for disaster was there, but amazingly it never came to pass. On Pinkerton, Weezer took an extremely bold step in a brand new direction, keeping the things that made them great close to their heart, while expanding their sound and influences in dozens of directions. When a band is known for nerdy pop songs, often referencing Dungeons and Dragons, The X-Men and Mary Tyler Moore, hearing that the band in question has undertaken a concept album based around Madame Butterfly should clearly give listeners pause. Remarkably, they pulled it off. In fact, they pulled it off so incredibly well, that my only real question was whether or not the number eight spot on this list was high enough.

Weezer – The Good Life

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7. Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge Of Town

There are very few things in this world better than a good Bruce Springsteen record. When The Boss is at his best, no one in his genre, or really any genre, can compare. With Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen managed to capture nearly everything that there is to love about Bruce Springsteen. From the explosive opening track to the stunning piano ballad, Racing In The Streets, Bruce has never been better. He explores working life in Factory, he trashes man’s inherent desire for MORE in The Promised Land and the double shot of Streets Of Fire/Prove It All Night may be the best 1-2 punch on any Springsteen album. Nobody seems to understand life outside of celebrity insulation quite like Bruce Springsteen. Many artists get their start as a man/woman of the people, only to find themselves corrupted by the circus of wealth and privilege that comes with fame and celebrity status. However, despite being the biggest rock star in the world, Bruce still understands what life is like on the other side of the gated community. That’s why we love him, and that’s why we always will.

Bruce Springsteen – Badlands

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6. Radiohead – Ok Computer

We all knew that Ok Computer was the best album of 1997, some bold critics even proclaimed it the best album of the decade. However, it took a few years, a few more spins and some comparisons to established classic works to realize the important, underlying truth… Ok Computer was one of the best albums ever made. To suggest that it didn’t sound much like anything else is akin to saying, “they didn’t really play Venus In Furs on the radio all that much.” The amazing thing about a great record is its ability to completely derail the popular culture train in such a short period of time. Social revolutions take years, if not decades. There are marches, protests, elected officials are voted out and a new guard is put in place. However, in just over 53 minutes, Radiohead changed the world. Everyone wanted to be them, everyone wanted to touch them, their name became the ultimate name-drop in the summer of ’97. Their subsequent releases saw a band reach immeasurable heights, occasionally falling flat on their face. But at one moment, absolutely everything was right and perfect… thank God someone decided to record it.

Radiohead – No Surprises

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5. Tom Waits – Small Change

Simply put, every hole-in-the-wall bar in America should immediately remove their jukebox, replacing it exclusively with this album. The sounds of lost love, strip clubs, booze-fueled nights in American cities and the one that got away have never been more elegantly (and brutally) crafted. Small Change features none of the Tom Waits experimentation that we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years. Although experimental in its own right, the presence of trash cans and dead instruments doesn’t factor in, replaced with a soulful piano and heartbreaking voice. From time to time, Waits’ throat full of gravel can sound contrived, almost like a put-on to further push his post-modern take on the traditional ballad. In Small Change, it’s perfectly pitched and incredibly appropriate. The album is every sad story you’ve ever heard, as told by every drunk person you’ve ever met. It’s wishing for something better, but settling for what you have. The combination of the two makes for one of the most moving records I’ve ever heard.

Tom Waits – I Wish I Was In New Orleans (In The Ninth Ward)

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4. Primal Scream – Screamadelica

While the musical output of our neighbors across the pond was largely unimpressive throughout the 1980’s and very early 90’s, Screamadelica (along with the debut from The Stone Roses) served to alert the world that something was coming. Screamadelica is, in my opinion, a flawless record overflowing with youthful exuberance and self-assured swagger. It’s church, with considerably more drugs and dancing. It’s drugs, with soul and purpose. It’s dancing to a hymn in an open field under a starry sky in an altered state of consciousness. If an album can simultaneously induce a religious experience, with or without drugs, then surely it has done something special. Screamadelica has been called everything from a rock record to a dance record, even occasionally being referred to as a jazz record. It has been praised (in parts) by both secular and non-secular communities, and 16 years after its birth, it continues to puzzle and inspire listeners. I recently had the pleasure of introducing this album to a younger cat, a gentleman who’d never heard of the band itself, much less the album. His reaction? “People used to make this kind of music?” Fortunately they did, unfortunately they don’t anymore.

Primal Scream – Come Together

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3. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die

As I’ve proclaimed on numerous occasions, Biggie is the Bob Dylan of hip hop. In 1994, everyone was rhyming about hard times and the world around them. The idea was bordering on stale, when suddenly a rather large force erupted from Brooklyn, taking the world by storm and redefining what it meant to be an MC. The Notorious B.I.G. didn’t just tell you about life in the streets, he did so with a smooth, rich flow that seemed nearly effortless. Whether talking about parties, his youth or the fame that he expected to come, Biggie never faltered and never slipped. Ready To Die defined what it was to be a hip hop classic, offering the rap world something that it has been sorely missing, a cross-over, mainstream masterpiece to rival the greatest works of all time. His debut album solidified hip hop’s place in the hierarchy of popular music, causing even the few critics that remained skeptical of the genre to finally jump on board. Not only was Ready To Die a landmark achievement for its creator, it was truly an unforgettable milestone, defining a moment in time in an upstart genre.

The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy

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2. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico

There may be no greater work of modern art in American history than The Velvet Underground & Nico. Without a brush, without clay, The VU painted a picture and sculpted a vision of life in the NYC underground. The stunning pairing of one of history’s most influential and astounding bands with the haunting voice of fashion model-turned songstress, Nico, created an atmospheric landscape of sonic wonder the likes of which the world had never seen. The fingerprints of producer, Andy Warhol, are all over the record, from the cover art to the melodies. I’ve mentioned before that truly great records tend to feel more like a collective of artists, working toward a goal… that feeling has never been more clearly exemplified than on this album. Every idea was on the table, nothing was off-limits. Drugs, sex, sleaze, grit, grime, pain, beauty, love and the greatest party you’ve ever seen. This album is art, worthy of its place in the finest museum in the world. Fortunately for us, everyone can own a copy for less than the price of a nice frame.

The Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs

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1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

If you’re very familiar with me, this should come as absolutely no surprise. There is no album that I love more than Pet Sounds. As a songwriter, Brian Wilson was as close to human perfection as we have ever known (I say was, as I’m fairly sure that he died shortly after the release of this record and has sense been paraded around as an animatronic horror). His music didn’t just shock the world, it fueled the creativity of some of the world’s other great bands. Pet Sounds is far bigger than itself. It is responsible for thousands of subsequent releases from hundreds of fantastic bands. Every single song on this album is absolutely flawless, something that I can’t say about any other album in history. How much do I love it? Well, I’ve purchased the mono copy, the stereo copy, the reissue, the re-reissue, the boxed set and the A&E Biography on Wilson himself. If they make a Mike Love Approved Edition, I’ll probably buy that one too.

The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Thanks so much for being a part of this experience with me. I’ve had the chance to think about records that I haven’t picked up in ages. I’ve taken a lengthy stroll down memory lane, causing me to think of countless incidents involving these albums that may very well involve you. It’s been a grueling, miserable experience, but also one of my best blog-related events ever. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve laughed or gotten a little choked up thinking about where I was, who I was with or how I felt when I heard a specific album or track. I hope you’ve done the same. And as far as some of these records that you may have not heard are concerned, give them a listen! You may find something in here that you’ve been missing all of your life, but just didn’t know it.

Again, thanks for putting up with this. It’s meant more to me than you’ll ever imagine.

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2 Responses to “20-1”

  1. Zack Says:

    WOO HOO! I love Pet Sounds. Great choice for number one.

  2. david Says:

    i heard brian wilson only wrote pet sounds to try and catch up with OK computer. after realizing it wasn’t going to happen his brain just gave out. it’s sad, but don’t mess with thom & co.

    i realized, after reading this, that i haven’t listened to a lot of these records in a long time. the top 20 will be the soundtrack for this week.

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