Pixel8 Discuss The Best Album of all Time?
Pixel8 delve into one of the most difficult questions and ask – what is the best album of all time?
It’s a tough one right? Well, we make no bones that it is a massively subjective question and every music fan’s favourite album may change on a day-to-day basis. That said, there are some albums which consistently crop up in people’s top five records that resonate strongly and stand the test of time. Albums which span generations and continue to deliver that awesome feeling that only the best music can.
So let’s get the first controversial point out of the way, the best album ever has to involve an element of ‘pop’. I don’t doubt there are many amazing niche albums which firmly sit within a well-defined genre, albums which speak to a smaller number of people, but with no less effect on the listener. All of the albums on this list however, have transcended the confines of their respective genres and forcibly permeated popular culture. The albums are so good that anyone can appreciate the music, irrespective of the fact that it may be different to the music they would usually seek out. Bowie fans would rarely class themselves as Glam Rockers and Dylan fans would not all say they only listen to Folk. The music and albums produced by artists like these go beyond any singular category and exist as a part of the public consciousness. They are part of everyday lives on the radio, on television, in movies and of course in everyone’s treasured music collections.
So buckle up, get Spotify on stand-by and prepare to both wholeheartedly agree and disagree with these choices. Looking forward to seeing your comments on this one. Oh, and by the way, I may have a British bias, and I don’t get the Beatles…
- Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Maybe this is one for the UK only, but Oasis’ debut album came out of nowhere and absolutely blitzed a generation in the 90s. Maybe the last big band to hit the heights they did organically and without YouTube, this 1994 album brought together the genius writing skills of Noel Gallagher with the raw style and attitude of his brother, Liam. Living by the code of Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll they were pissed off, loud, ambitious and hated Phil Collin’s with a passion. As debut albums go there haven’t been many better.
- The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
When people think of the Beach Boys it normally conjours an impression of nice music and saccharin lyrics like it was made by happy kids on a summer vacation. And, for some of their albums this pretty much sums them up. They made commercially successful feel-good tunes with easy-listening melodies. With Pet Sounds there was a different approach. Brian Wilson had a vision for a pure sound, a vision to compose a perfect album with a refined blend of complimentary lyrics, melodies and harmonies. The structure is flawless in a way that can only be born out of obsession, singularity of vision and detailed execution. It is still the Beach Boys classic sound, but it is more accomplished and cohesive, more like a symphony than a pop album. The themes and lyrics of the album are contrary to the overall sound, filled with soulful anguish and an exploration of the complexities of love, rather than a celebration of it. It is an album that you makes you think, that is tangible and relatable, which somehow taps into shared emotions. Ultimately it is compositional master-piece.
- Michael Jackson – Thriller
Putting some pure pop into this list is MJ, with Thriller. The 1982 release actually got off to relatively slow start but throughout 1983 and into 1984 Jacko’s record company tactically released seven of the nine songs as singles which gave the album huge momentum. The music, the voice, the dancing and his unique style captivated a generation and made him the biggest star on the planet. The album is full of accomplished pop-songs, but 4, 5 and 6 on the track listing are some of the most celebrated pop-hits of all time in Thriller, Beat It and Billie Jean. When the video for Thriller was made, a strange extended mini-move, the album hit its peak and cemented it’s place as the benchmark for all pop albums. Still the biggest selling physical album of all time, this will always be known as the King of Pop’s lasting gift to the world.
7. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
A timeless classic, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ is simply full of beautiful songs. A hybrid album with elements of pop, rock and country, it showcased the talents of some of the greatest songwriters and musicians ever to grace the stage. The beauty of this album is that it can be enjoyed by anyone at anytime and anywhere. It has songs that you will hear at weddings and songs that will make you cry. It has songs you can belt out in the car or at a party and songs for quiet contemplation. Undoubtedly a pop master-piece. Think what could have been if Peter Green had stayed with the band…
6. Nirvana – In Utero
When Nirvana burst onto the scene in the mid-nineties they changed everything. Rock music had evolved into camp stadium shows of big hair and leather trousers. Not to say that Guns & Roses and Bon Jovi didn’t have their place, but the albums Bleach, and more importantly Nevermind, energised a generation with an exciting, raw sound. It was rock without the production and punk with a more musical focus – Grunge was born. The context here is important because Nirvana were at the peak of their powers when In Utero was released. Fans and the media were expecting another Nevermind, or even something more commercial in-line with the band’s recent successes, but that isn’t what they got. In Utero was filled with dark contemplation, nihilistic ravings and condemnation of the media and industry which had delivered fame and fortune. Filled with contradictions and poignant thoughts about life and love, it is was a none-to-subtle glimpse into the tortured soul of lead singer, Kurt Cobain. Perhaps the album was given more resonance by his untimely death, but the albums lyrics and style give a window into a tortured soul. The words are poetic and the music is imposing. It is an album which moves the listener and makes them think.
5. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
Bob Dylan was not a great singer, fact. But in my book he is the greatest lyricist of all time. The mid-sixties marked the best of Dylan’s albums. As he transcended from folk hero to rock star the music at this time represented the past, present and future if that time. Dylan had tempered some of the more melancholy, apocalyptic themes in his early music and the verses begin to take on a poetic tone rather than that of the agitated protestor. On the cusp of moving to a more electric sound, Blond on Blonde finds Dylan at a cross roads in his music career, and that of American music. The album has story telling elements of the folk tradition, a move toward more contemporary rock and blues riffs and of course the incredible lyrics. There are masterpieces scattered throughout Dylan’s myriad albums, but this one edges it for me as his finest record.
4. The White Stripes – Elephant
The turn of the century saw a massive revival of the Garage-Rock sound characterised by raw, kick-ass riffs and heavy revurb. This was a great era for rock music with bands like The Hives, The Strokes and the White Stripes taking over the airwaves and simply rocking out. Of all of the great albums to come out of this period them most definitive and well-rounded was Elephant. As a two-piece, the band’s minimalist chemistry is most prominent in this album; Meg’s almost primal drumming style is expertly overlaid with a mixture of pounding guitar solos and Jack’s unique vocals. The album stands out because it cherry-picks the best elements of stripped-down early blues, grunge and classic rock, and repackages with a distinctive sound that thumps the listener into submission with every song.
3. David Bowie - Hunky Dory
Bowie has a huge back catalogue and there are great albums scattered throughout his illustrious and career. In 1971, after struggling to break the UK market with anything substantial he released Hunky Dory. Where most struggling artists would have endeavoured to produce something commercially successful, Bowie created an album which is obscure in many ways, something that was unproven, unprecedented and sporadic in its approach. He mixed a classic pop sound in ‘Changes’ with something vaguely prog-rock-ish in ‘life on Mars’ and gave rise to what would later be known as glam-rock. Above it all, the song writing is fantastic. Catchy in some parts, enigmatic and poetic in others. It was a seminal piece that deservedly gained critical and popular acclaim, firmly cementing Bowie’s status as an iconic visionary within the music industry.
- Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd were, for most of their career, an experimental band. The avant-garde ethereal sound they so expertly wield on Dark Side of the Moon was always evident in the band’s early albums, but it was perhaps a step to for most people in terms of accessibility and enjoyment. This album remains strange at times and has a unique atmosphere created by synthesizers and musical manipulation, but it is grounded in a more traditional rock and roll structure. The songs for the most part are shorter than on other albums, but they cleverly retain the prog-rock roots by giving the album a clear progression which blends one song to the next. The music is confident, the themes are high concept. It is a masterpiece of musical innovation and imagination which sound unique and effortlessly cool to this day.
- Led Zeppelin – IV
Where to start with this album? Led Zep released this (officially untitled) album in 1970 following a mediocre reception to their previous record. As a result Jimmy Paige had a vision to close the band off from all distractions and produce the finest work of the band’s career. And boy, did they do that. The beauty of this album is that it has some of the finest songs ever recorded from different genres, many of which are hard to place. Blues-rock is well established enough, but mixed with folk-rock, prog-rock and early R&B it is for me, the most accomplished and well-rounded album of all time. Musically, there are complete innovations in structure, form and arrangement. Lyrically, the delivery and writing is as beautiful and progressive as the music. Underneath it all is simply a tight band, which can never be underestimated. The dexterity of the musicians and their execution grips the listener throughout the entire album. Whether it is in the form of a thumping blues sound in Black Dog or a wistful lament in the folk tradition in Stairway to Heaven, the album is pure joy from start to finish.