The Ten Best Rock & Roll Albums of All Time – A Completely Subjective List in No Particular Order
- The Beatles. Please Please Me. If this had been the only album The Beatles ever made, they would still be in contention for being one of the best r&r bands of all time. It starts out with Paul’s jubilant count in –unique at that time I believe- to “I Saw Her Standing There.” In his last live appearance ever, John Lennon, at that moment bitterly at odds with Paul, couldn’t resist covering this galloping rock and roll number. Anybody could have written “Yesterday.” There are very few composers capable of penning a genuinely rocking song. This first Beatle album ends with “Twist and Shout.” I’ve actually heard it said that The Beatles, as compared to the Rolling Stones, never really rocked. Anything the Rolling Stones ever recorded is just pitter patter compared to The Beatles’ rendition of “Twist and Shout.”
- The Bo Deans. Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams. The most authentic and atmospheric and enigmatic album I know of. Somehow it conveys the impact of a thousand nights playing to the same anonymous, faceless, enraptured audience at a hundred different blurry bars on freezing nights in a wintery mid-west. The spare arrangements don’t need another note or another instrument. The lyrics are so grounded and revealing–they’re obviously the true stories of the band–their real girls, their dream girls, their families, their days, their nights, their loves and their losses. And the stellar drawl of their voices make it all valid. When this album ends, you have to look around to remember where you are. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, with its gritty vocals, brusque arrangements and cow girl atmosphere, this just might be the sturdiest, most utterly romantic album ever recorded.
- The Rolling Stones. “Some Girls.” This album salvaged the1970’s musically, coming out just as that dreadful, rotted and decayed decade was at last grinding to a stop. Keith and Mick picked through the wreckage, salvaged bits and pieces of music, dabbed at styles, collated images, pieced together a trenchant commentary, wired it all up, got juiced, then spilled the entire mess into a microphone. In the early Sixties, when you had to take sides, I unhesitatingly chose The Beatles. No looking back there. But in the 70’s, as the former Beatles ricocheted off each other and squabbled through the decade, the Rolling Stones coalesced and came up with this shudderingly coherent record.
- Buddy Holly & The Crickets Legend. A Double album in a strangely desirable package. My first acquaintance with Buddy Holly came in 1966 when my favorite song on the USA Capitol release of The Beatles’ “The Beatles Sixth” album (and ever since then my favorite single recording of all time ) was “Words of Love.” I was slightly taken aback when the credit was one “Buddy Holly” and not Lennon, McCartney. Jump ahead eleven years to a record store on First Ave. in the E. 80’s (?) and this “Legend” album appeared as I flipped through the racks. I recalled “Words of Love.” Good enough for The Beatles, good enough for me. I asked the clerk, “Buddy Holly? He’s all right or what?” “He’s great.” “Really? He’s great?” “He’s great.” I bought the album, got it to my apartment, and played it through. Through and through. Again and again. Lots of liner notes, photos. I’ve been a knocked out Holly fan from that moment to this. When I hear any Buddy Holly song, as it comes to an end, I can hear the next song as they’re sequenced on the “Legend” album. I still think The Beatles’ cover of “Words of Love” surpasses Buddy’s version. The lead is less twangy and the singing–John Paul and George on a single mike at midnight on the outskirts of London–is breathier and more ardent, but “Legend” introduces Buddy Holly’s music in a staggering tour de force. The best of Buddy Holly is very good indeed and the album as a package of music and information, with its cover design, creates a wonderful ambiance, part of my criteria for greatness. The songs meld together perfectly. Norman Petty, who produced most of these tracks, was apparently a bit of a stinker but in the late 50’s in the middle of nowhere he was masterfully releasing timeless recordings.
Coming up: Elvis Presley Sun Sessions, Bob Dylan Nashville Skyline, and Blood on the Tracks.