100. Kanye West – The College Dropout
The Kanye West of 2010 is eerily similar to the Kanye West of 2002. Whereas the Chicago MC of today is fueling his creative surge with a newfound sense of hunger (the result of a MTV publicity stunt gone wrong and a corresponding eight-month, self-imposed exile), eight years earlier West was equally determined to prove his critics wrong. Despite dropping out of college to focus entirely on his hip-hop career, West could not find a record contract to save his life. They said he lacked that gangsta image and if anything he was a producer and not an MC. Even future friend Jay-Z, whose Roc-A-Fella Records was the first to give West a bite, later admitted he had doubts as to whether West could be a successful rapper.
West responded with his 2004 debut, College Dropout, a definitive record that proved not only his talents as both producer and MC but also launched him into superstardom. The 21-track effort is nothing less than spectacular, combining wit, social commentary, and even religion with a bevy of old-school soul and funk samples one would never expect to hear on a hip-hop album. Blackjack’s “Power of Love”? Luther Vandross’s “A House is Not a Home”? A sped up Chaka Khan? It was all there. The culmination, of course, came in the form of “Jesus Walks”, a track that managed to make Christianity sound as gangsta as “Straight Outta Compton”. West was on a mission and used College Dropout to not only redefine what it meant to be a rapper but also the concept of sampling and production. Not since Jay-Z’s The Blueprint had the hip-hop industry heard such a game changer.
The rest, of course, is history and one that most of us know pretty well. West further proved his abilities with 2005’s Late Registration and 2007’s Graduation and then changed the blueprint again with 808s and Heartbreak. And though he grew an ego along the way, his music never lost a sense of originality, and much like there would be no Kanye West without Jay-Z, there would be no Lil Wayne, Drake, and Cudi without Kanye. What’s more, much like eight years ago, West is hungry again, eager to prove the doubters and once again establish himself among the industry’s elite. If College Dropout is any evidence, then the next decade and beyond will continue to be ruled and shaped by West. -Alex Young
Essential Tracks: “Jesus Walks”, “Through the Wire”, and “Never Let Me Down”
99. Talking Heads – Fear of Music
For their first two albums, Talking Heads met with warm reception towards their quirky, post-modern songwriting, but it was with Fear of Music that they established themselves as art-rock masterminds. By staying true to their punk and avant-garde beginnings, while progressing their sound with alternative rhythms and surreal yet accessible lyrics, Talking Heads crafted a powerful collection of songs ranging dramatically in scope and subject matter – paper to heaven, wartime to electric guitars. With the aid of Brian Eno, the band set out to make dark, dystopian disco music; the end result was a landmark collection of intellectual rock songs as cutting edge as anything hanging on a wall in the most revered modern art galleries. – Cap Blackard
Essential Tracks: “Cities”, “Life During Wartime”, “Air”, “I Zimbra”, and “Heaven”
98. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
There’s an old saying that promises, “Everyone will eventually get into Led Zeppelin.” It may not start with Physical Graffiti, but for those already versed in their early days, this album rewards like no other.
Zep embodies their own spirit of excess by giving us a double album packed with epic pysch-rockers, bluesy stompers, acoustic interludes, power ballads, and the closest they’d ever get to an alt-country song, all of which show Jimmy Page displaying some of his best work. “In My Time of Dying” is yet another microcosm of Zeppelin’s boisterousness, but it never feels indulgent, not for any of its 11 minutes. The sturdy drum work of Bonham in “Kashmir” and “Houses of the Holy” is the stuff of rhythmic head-nods everywhere.
And while there are stand-out tracks and singles, Physical Graffiti stands alone in the Zep catalog as the album with the most ideas, most experiments, and greatest success rate of these risks. The latter half of the album never feels like filler, from the acoustic southern blues of “The Wanton Song”, to the aching ballad of “Ten Years Gone”, to the straight pop-rock of “Night Flight”. In 1975, Zeppelin released their longest album, arguably their last great album, but also one of their best. -Jeremy Larson
Essential Tracks: “In My Time of Dying”, “Houses of the Holy”, and “Kashmir”
97. Elliott Smith – Either/Or
Elliott Smith’s quivering whisper is so desperate; so defeated, it’s like listening to a child owning up to some horrid fault. On Either/Or, Smith mellows out his take on Beatles-esque folk-rock to the speed of a heroine high and owns up to his demons: alcohol, lethargy, and his ongoing depression. Even the semi-joyous, jaunty “The Ballad of Big Nothing” seeps with confetti-speckled agony. On “Between the Bars”, he paints a picture of a man imprisoned by his own addictions, trapped between beer taps–a cage keeping him from his passions, his lovers, and a real life. For all its misery, Either/Or is an apt title for a record that romanticizes depression-fueled indifference and pays passionate homage to the horrors of apathy. -Drew Litowitz
Essential Tracks: “Between the Bars”, “The Ballad of Big Nothing”, “Rose Parade”, and “Angeles”
96. Beck – Midnite Vultures
Beck has always been a pretty funky guy. However, Midnite Vultures took his groovier side to the highest degree. It’s as if Beck spent the year between Mutations and Vultures listening to Parliament-Funkadelic exclusively. The horns that start “Sexx Laws” are yet another display of how far he’s willing to push the envelope. This album can be seen as the last hurrah for the Beck of the ’90s, before Sea Change moved him into a less tongue-in-cheek career path. -Joe Marvilli
Essential Tracks: “Sexx Laws”, “Mixed Bizness”, “Get Real Paid”, and “Debra”
95. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Five songs, 45 minutes, and all of them are awesome. Pink Floyd’s tribute to former member Syd Barrett (who coincidentally walked into the studio unnoticed during the making of this album), Wish You Were Here, is a mental ride through time and space, where one can dwell on whatever they see fit over this voyage of sound. Both segments of “Shine on Your Crazy Diamond” are perfect from start to finish, even though they both range well over 10 minutes of psychedelic wonder. The middle tracks include the bad-acid trip about conformity, “Welcome to the Machine”, and the funky live staple of Floydology, “Have a Cigar”. Pink Floyd’s five-song albums always seem to be mind-benders (see: Animals), but nothing was more classic than Wish You Were Here, and it will forever remain on my most-played list until I listen to it to calm my nerves on my deathbed. -Ted Maider
Essential Tracks: “Wish You Were Here” and “Shine on Your Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)”
94. Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
In truth, this album should not have been completed. Thrash metal was little more than an underground phenomenon in its time; tensions in the band had reached their peak as bassist Ron McGovney quit before future Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine was unceremoniously ejected; the original title, Metal Up Your Ass, was not thought marketable by record executives. It was 1983 when Kill ‘Em All finally struck — a biting LP full of punk and classic rock roots mashed together with a bloody hammer. Satriani student and former Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett lent a melodic mid-section to “The Mechanix” (co-written by Mustaine) later titled “The Four Horsemen”; the late Cliff Burton was enlisted, performing his now-iconic bass solo on “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”. In death to all those who would have passed them over, thrash metal — and what is believed by many to be Metallica’s definitive lineup — was born. -David Buchanan
Essential Tracks: “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”, “Whiplash”, and “The Four Horsemen”
93. Parliament Funkadelic – The Mothership Connection
It all comes down to those eight timeless groove-demanding words, “We need the funk, gotta have that funk!” This record was made for every drug-laced, over-sexualized experience in need of a smooth gyrating bass line. Opening like the late-night radio shows of the 70’s, it plays through as the soundtrack from that decade. The songs are full of hilarious and ridiculous one-liners (“Make my funk the P. Funk, I want to get funked up”), and the track names carry the same eccentric good-times feel. As a record, Mothership is a party. Parliament throws down a steady, funky rhythm all the way through to the end of “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples” like the life of that party depends on it. Mothership… is the record that put George Clinton on the map as the new godfather of funk and in just seven tracks had us all bouncing along with him decade after decade. -E.N. May
Essential Tracks: “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof off the Sucker)”, “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”, and “Supergroovalisticprosifunkystication”
92. Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted
Nineties indie rock will be discussed in music history books in another 15 years. This seems like an offhand attempt to sound profound, but all the indie that exists now will someday need to be documented, and the nineties will be the first chapter in said biographical accounts. One record that will be continuously referenced in the creation of modern-day music is Stockton-based Pavement’s first album, Slanted & Enchanted, with its lo-fi recording, intellectually deep lyricism from singer and lead guitarist Steven Malkmus, and percussion and backing vocals from a bizarre character named Bob Nostanovich.
Together, these five relatively average dudes put together a cult classic and consistently rad album, with songs like the fantastic and triumphant “Trigger Cut/Wounded Kite at :17”, the sludge-like “In the Mouth a Desert”, the beautiful and elegant “Here”, and the fist-pumping “Two States”. At the end of the day, Slanted & Enchanted will continue to get better with age, much like the wine that comes from the band’s neighboring Northern Cali territories. -Ted Maider
Essential Tracks: “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” and “Here”
91. The Clash – The Clash (US Version)
When the Clash released their self-titled debut album in 1977, the band’s label, CBS Records, refused to release it in the United States, citing it as “not radio friendly.” After becoming the largest selling import of the year, CBS released a US print in July 1979. With a slightly altered tracklist, removing four songs and adding five non-album British-only singles and an altered version of “White Riot”, The Clash, with its blend of old-flavor rock and roll, Jamaican rhythms, ska-like tones, and punk fury, set the stage for the band’s masterpiece, London Calling.
The US release benefits from the altered tracklist and results in a stronger overall album, with stompers like “Clash City Rockers” opening the record and the atypical “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” helping to explore the diversity of the band and their influences. Lyrically, Strummer and Jones are very rooted in the actual events of the day; however, they project their message forward 30 years to modern-day America, where an economy is teetering on a cliff, unemployment is high, the youth are continually disenfranchised, and the ennui that affected the youth of the UK has nothing on the combined sense of complacency and malaise that currently seeps throughout our land. I can’t think of a more perfect album much less a more perfect time to revisit it. -Len Comaratta
Essential Tracks: “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”, “Police and Thieves”, “White Riot”, and “Career Opportunities”