No.10 – The Beatles, ‘The White Album’

All right, confession time. For all the shit I talk about The Beatles, I actually love ‘The White Album’. It’s awesome. It feels just as fresh as if it had been released this year. I thought that when I heard it 10 years ago and you know what, I still think it now.

A fun fact about this record: Charles Manson listened to it a lot in prison – pre-Family and pre-murders – and thought the band were trying to communicate the end of the world to him. Helter Skelter was supposedly what the apocalypse would be called; Revolution 9 was what he and his Family would hear going on in the outside world as it ends; and I can’t remember what he thought Piggies was about but I’m pretty sure it was something super racist.

Anyway, even outside of all the grim history of this album that appealed to 16-year-old goth Kim in the first place, it’s brilliant. The tunes are melodic, they’re passionate, and they’re varied. Here the four experiment with folk, baroque pop, heavy rock, and outright experimental stuff – and every time it seems to work and create something worth listening to.

When to listen to it: When you’re a literal murderous sociopath stewing in the clink, apparently.

Verdict. It’s good. Oh man, it’s good. Still a bit tired of listening to Beatles though.



No.8 – The Clash, ‘London Calling’

Oh, I am loving this.

Despite being a hella, ultra punk teenager, ‘London Calling’ has somehow escaped my musical grasp for a really long time – it’s just one of those that I never quite got round to listening to.

Hats off to this challenge for finally getting me there. This album rules.

I don’t need to talk about all the subsequent artists who this has obviously influenced, because it’s quite clear that this was not just a seminal punk album but a seminal mainstream rock one too. Strummer’s disaffected drawl, the band’s uninhibited energy, the whistleable riffs and hooks – it’s doing something special. I love it.

When to listen to it: In the pub after a jolly good protest somewhere outside Downing Street.

Verdict: What can I say? It’s great. It’s worked hard over the years. It’s still exciting after four whole decades.



No.7 – The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile on Main Street’

The main thing I can say about ‘Exile on Main Street’ is that it’s fun. I found myself havin’ a boogie, often without realising I was doing so and to my utter horror, which is certainly a good sign. ‘Tumbling Dice’ and ‘Sweet Virginia’ provided some standouts that got me inadvertently jivin’.

However, besides a few moments of “ooh, I like this one”, it was ultimately a lot of the same. I can only just about point to those two songs as highlights, and even then I can’t say I’m 100% sure they’re the ones I mean. I certainly couldn’t sing them to you if you asked me to (not that you should, given how much my singing voice sounds like a chainsmoking cat slowly dying).

Ultimately, I liked ‘Exile on Main Street’. But I liked in that way where you just raise your eyebrows slightly and kind of purse your lips and nod, you know?

When to listen to it: When you’re getting ready for a night out, somewhere after choosing an outfit but before the hairspray goes on.

Verdict: Enjoyable from start to finish. Can’t really say much more than that though.



No.6 – Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On’

I’ll warn you right now: I’ve given this album a 5/10, and it does not deserve a 5/10. ‘What’s Going On’ is a good album… it’s just not my sort of thing. Sorry, Marv.

What’s Going On? Not much, really. I feel like, rather than starting a quality album, the question is instead the beginning of one of those bland conversations you used to be forced to have on MSN with someone you see maybe three times a year and whose life isn’t all that fascinating. What’s going on? Nm, u? Nm. Wubu2? Nm, hbu? Nm.

Again, this could just be my personal taste, but none of the tracks on ‘What’s Going On’ particularly stood out. Which isn’t to say I disliked listening to it – I was happy enough with it on in the background. There just wasn’t enough there to keep me interested.

On the plus side, though – look! We’ve broken the straight-white-guys-only pattern!

When to listen to it: When you’re baking, and you don’t normally bake, and you don’t want to bake in silence but you also don’t want anything distracting you. It’s okay. Let Marvin’s caramel tones soothe you. The posset will set. The souffle will rise. Everything will be okay.

Verdict: Like I said, this one didn’t really do it for me, but I can’t bring myself to give it a negative review. It’s fine, you know?



No.5 – The Beatles, ‘Rubber Soul’

Listening to this much Beatles in such a short space of time really makes me question whether the band really deserves this many spaces in the top five.

Maybe I’m missing some important context, or maybe I’m just Beatlesed-out, but Rubber Soul was boring. It wasn’t interesting. While essentially inoffensive, it didn’t feel as original or as innovative or even as enjoyable as ‘Sgt Pepper’ or ‘Revolver’ – there weren’t any standout tracks for me at all. They all seemed to blend into one. At this level of supposed greatness, I’m sorry but I need more variation than “oh, hey, this one has a sitar on it”.

Aaaaand to be honest, it’s at this point that the Rolling Stone panel kind of begins to show their hand. We’ve got five full albums down this list, and so far we have only heard records from straight white dudes from the 60s and 70s, three of which were by the same band. Are we really saying that this particular Beatles album, not even their best one, is greater, and more important to 20th century music, more influential than the entire discography of, say, Madonna? Of  Billie Holliday? Of David Bowie?

I’m doubtful.

When to listen to it: At the very end of the party, because guys, seriously, it’s 4.30am now and you need to go home.

Verdict: It’s not terrible, in all fairness, but it’s still taking up a precious slot on the list where something better could go.


Note: No.4 was Bob Dylan, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, but sadly this one wasn’t on Apple Music. No wonder I’m so overloaded on Beatles.


No.3 – The Beatles, ‘Revolver’

Oh, cool, more Beatles, is it? I’m sensing a pattern here.

‘Revolver’ is decent. It’s nowhere near as stunning as ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was for me, but, you know, it’s enjoyable. There are some tracks that really stand out – ‘Eleanor Rigby’, for one, and of course ‘Yellow Submarine’ – but unlike ‘Sgt. Pepper’, it feels like there’s a lot of filler. Looking back over the tracklist right now, I can’t remember the majority of the songs on it.

So, I mean… it’s not really ‘top five best albums ever’ material. If it was in the top 100, I’d probably accept it – but if you stick it anywhere near the top 20, I’m going to have a few questions.

Still, there’s sitars and stuff, and I love that shit.

When to listen to it: Saturday afternoon, when you’ve done your chores and housework for the day and want to sit down for a cup of tea before you have to get ready for your evening plans.

Verdict: Yeah, I like it. Don’t think I top-five like it, but I like it.



No.2 – The Beach Boys, ‘Pet Sounds’

I’m digging this one. We’re definitely off to a good start.

While I wouldn’t say ‘Pet Sounds’ is one of my personal favourite albums, I can see why it’s number two on this list. The influence it’s had on modern music is palpable, for a start, with layers of emotion carefully built up in each song. There’s none of the flash-bang of current bubblegum pop, for instance, but this is where pop gets its emotive heart from.

Also, there’s a goat on the cover, which is an automatic plus from me.

When to listen to it: When it’s the end of the summer, and just a bit too cold to go surfing, and your summer romance is either ending or turning into something serious, and you’re walking along in the evening trying not to feel sad that you can’t really wear shorts any more.

Verdict: I like it a lot, and it gets points for influencing some of my very favourite musicians. And I’ve added it to my Apple Music library. ‘Pet Sounds’ is a goodun.