What is it?: A collection of recordings by blues legend and crossroad enthusiast Robert Johnson.
What’s it like?: If Johnson really did sell his soul to make this music, fair play to him.
I haven’t listened to as much blues in my life as I’d like, but even I know it’s rare to find it as good as this. Johnson is a pioneer and insanely skillful, equally as a guitarist, a singer, and a songwriter. The album positively hums with talent.
The multiple takes got a bit tiresome – I don’t necessarily need to hear a track twice in a row but slightly different – though I see why they’re there.
It honestly doesn’t matter what my opinion is on this record. You should listen to it.
When to listen to it: While sipping a whiskey and applying for a job as Lucifer’s PA.
Verdict: A vital collection, even if it’s not your standard background music. Sit down and take this one in.
What is it?: A comprehensive collection of songs by the legendary Chuck Berry that – oh jesus there really are 28 songs on this album
What’s it like?: I’m thrilled an artist like Berry was included on here, and so high up as well. Given how inspiring and vital he was to most of our modern rock and pop music, it’s no surprise that this, a collection of some of his best work, is pretty darn good. Its only downfall is that it goes on for a very long time – 28 songs – and that means some of the tracks tend to get a bit lost.
Between me listening to the album and actually posting this review, of course, Berry has sadly passed away at the grand old age of 90. He achieved a heck of a lot in that time, and it started with the songs on ‘The Great Twenty-Eight’ – and although not every song is a 10/10, I really recommend giving it a listen.
When to listen to it: When you have a lot of time to kill and want to celebrate the life of one of music’s greats.
Verdict: Rest in peace, Chuck.
What is it?: The youngest Jackson brother serving casual white tie realness and making some good music while he’s at it.
What’s it like?: Apparently ‘Thriller’ is “better” and “more influential” than ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’. Whatever, Rolling Stone, whatever.
Anyway. ‘Thriller’. If I remember rightly, this is the biggest-selling record in the UK, ever – and lord knows it’s iconic. It’s a surprise it hasn’t appeared until no.20 on this list. This is Jackson at his best, pumping out classics like ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’, and making those squealing sounds we all love.
There are a few dud tracks present, though – more than I would have expected, actually – and that was a little disappointing. But on the whole, it’s clear ‘Thriller’ deserves its iconic status.
When to listen to it: When you have something to celebrate and want to do it in style, baby.
Verdict: It’s fab, but I do see why it only just cracked the top 20.
What is it?: Okay, before I continue with this review, let’s just address the elephant in the room: we’re nearly at the end of the top 20 greatest albums of all time, and there’s still no sign of Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’, i.e. the single best piece of music ever recorded. Disgusting, right? Utterly unbelievable? I can only assume that the Rolling Stone staff just have appalling taste and have put it, for some reason, as low down as no.20. Anyway. Whatever.
What’s it like?: It’s a sad-sounding man cawing dismally and a little too slowly over plucked guitars and occasional percussion.
‘Astral Weeks’ very much epitomises ‘it’s probably great if you’re into that sort of thing’, and unfortunately this album (and Van Morrison as a whole, I suspect) is merely on the outer fringes of the sort of thing I’m into.
On a side note, I absolutely love the album art.
When to listen to it: In a field somewhere on a summer’s day when you’re feeling a little bit heartbroken.
Verdict: Ehhh, it’s fine. I wouldn’t listen to it again though.
What is it?: The top album from rugged human embodiment of liberal Americana, The Boss.
What’s it like?: I did enjoy ‘Born to Run’… but I think I’d need to be American to really get it.
It’s so earnest, which I’ll admit is refreshing to hear. But every song is so, so earnest, all in the exact same way – although the songs themselves are each listenable and melodic in and of themselves, the lack of variation in mood gets a little tiring.
The title track is still a tune though.
You have to be in a very specific mood to sit down and listen to ‘Born to run’ from start to finish, and unfortunately I was not in that mood – but I bet this album’s a 10/10 when you are.
When to listen to it: On a road trip through the American midwest, windows open and/or top down, sun shining, cactuses or something, I don’t know, I’ve never been to the midwest.
Verdict: Great for your road trip, won’t really work for a morning commute on the Tube.
When it comes to ‘Nevermind’, I’m afraid I am extremely biased: this was the album that got me into rock music.
At the age of 13, I watched the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on Kerrang channel, all the way through for the first time, and something really clicked. Cut to me a few nights later, listening to my dad’s copy of ‘Nevermind’ on my personal CD player and drinking in every note. It felt phenomenal. It felt like how rock music was supposed to sound like – not like Avril Lavigne or Michelle Branch and all the other crap I’d be contenting myself with. Nirvana sounded like a real band making music that I’d never heard before, that broke boundaries I didn’t even know existed while still giving me something I could sing along too. I came into school the following few weeks just raving about Kurt Cobain, making copies of this album to throw at all my friends.
So, I don’t really feel I can judge this album properly at the age of 26. I still adore it on a very personal level – and the music is amazing regardless. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ packs a muddy punch, ‘Polly’ haunts, ‘Drain You’ drips with sleaze. It’s an album worth discovering and re-discovering at any age.
When to listen to it: When you don’t want to tidy your room or be a responsible adult.
Verdict: I’ve fallen back in disgusting, grungey love.
This was a pleasant surprise. I always kind of wrote Dylan off as being a bit trite and overrated, but ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is actually… I mean, it’s really good. I liked every single track. Imagine me saying this in that very British way where your voice goes up at the end of the sentence that makes you sound mildly surprised when actually you’re deeply astonished by the situation.
The album sounds fresh – if you’d played it to me and told me it was, I don’t know, Conor Oberst’s latest record, I’d have said Wow, when did Conor Oberst start being good? and would just completely accept that it’s a 2017 release.
It’s through ‘Blood on the Tracks’ that I can really see how much Dylan has influenced modern folk, indie, and pop music: melodies that speak for themselves, lyrics that just feel right, and a balanced attitude towards production that makes every element enjoyable.
My profoundest apologies to ol’ Bobby for doubting him. He is a Nobel Prize winner, after all.
When to listen to it: In a meadow somewhere, either in spring or autumn, but not summer or winter.
Verdict: Liked it enough to add it to my Apple Music, and I might download it to listen to on my commute. Conor Oberst wishes.