Pet Sounds, by the Beach Boys
Still beloved today, the Beach Boys were much more than their breezy name would imply. Starting out as a surf band with a beautiful harmony between its singers, the band quickly grew under the leadership of unstable but brilliant singer/songwriter Brian Wilson. The album was released in 1966 and defined the Beach Boys as much more than simply a regular band with a special harmony; Wilson had crafted the music of his band mates using a new technique called the wall of sound which created powerful compositions with complexity and depth never before seen in music. The open-mindedness and experimentation of Wilson can be seen in the lyrics and composition of songs such as I Know There’s An Answer, while the sheer musicality of the band is demonstrated throughout, particularly in songs such as Wouldn’t It Be Nice.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, by Kanye West
A contemporary classic, MBDTF has been referred to as “the Sgt. Peppers of rap.” Perhaps a lofty praise, the album came at the turn of the decade and nonetheless broke barriers with pop and hip-hop fans and defined Kanye West as the most formidable rapper of the 2010s, a title he still holds over half a decade later. Some albums demonstrated Kanye’s master flow and ability to be perpetually clever while some were just so popular you still regularly hear them today. Unarguably, though, the finest achievement of the album was the collaboration song Monster featuring verses from Jay-Z and Nikki Minaj as well as features from Rick Ross and Bon Iver, showing Kanye’s range of taste and influence in one song. The album helped to demonstrate Ye’s transition from a pop rapper to a more serious, conscious entity in the scene.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, by David Bowie
David Bowie is arguably one of the most influential musicians of all time. The so-called “Musical Chameleon”, his voice is beyond famous, echoing infinitely through the public conscious with classics like Space Oddity and Heroes. But no Bowie album created as many instant classics and lifelong fans as his 1972 masterpiece known to most simply as Ziggy Stardust, a name shared with his stage persona that riled up fans and made David Bowie a household name during his Spiders from Mars tour of the same and following year. The album demonstrated Bowie’s love of glam rock as well as his legendary range, demonstrated in the back-to-back rollicking honky-tonk jam Suffragette City and the somber ballad and album-closer, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.
OK Computer, by Radiohead
Beginning as a regular pop-rock group in Oxfordshire in 1985, Radiohead would go on to be the most enduring act of the 21st century, producing albums ranging from instant classics to venerated experimental triumphs. No album better defines the range and uniqueness of Radiohead than their album to first embrace that they were much more than a “rock band,” an album created in defiance of a record label that told them they could be filthy rich if they made another album like their last. Instead, in 1977, they put out OK Computer, an album entirely recorded in a mansion and mostly late at night and early in the morning, an album featuring a track entirely of an disquieting robot voice listing goals, an album deemed “uncommercial” before its release. However, the talent of Radiohead won out and OK Computer became in indie darling and modern classic, with tracks such as Subterranean Homesick Alien and Electioneering changing the minds and tastes of kids, college students, and everyone who ever thought that Creep was the pinnacle of indie music.
The Velvet Underground & Nico, by The Velvet Underground
Most albums are either critical successes or critical failures. Few manage to achieve the feat that the Velvet Underground did, which was to be entirely, willfully ignored by the critical scene for what is seen as a lack of taste. Eventually going on to be considered one of the landmark acts of the 1960s, the definitive American counter-culture band and flat-out one of the most venerated musical acts of the 20th century, the Velvet Underground began as a pet project of New York art sensation Andy Warhol in which lead singer Lou Reed insisted that “one note is good. Two notes is crowded. Three notes is jazz.” Applying this minimalist philosophy the Velvet Underground helped to develop the genre of punk rock with their 1967 release in songs such as I’m Waiting for the Man and Heroin, both songs frankly and openly discussing drug use and the lifestyle surrounding it. Brian Eno famously said that though the album only sold 30,000 copies, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”
Jessica Kane is a music connoisseur and an avid record collector. She currently writes for SoundStage Direct, her go-to place for all turntables and vinyl equipment, including VPI Turntables.