Facing The Music: The Greatest Albums of All Time

Alex King ranks the best albums by decade


Alex King ’18 with a few of his favorite records. Via Adrienne Dettore

Alex King, Business Manager

When Senior Nick Bates and I set out to rank our top 5 favorite albums by decade, we thought it would be an easy task. We know our own music tastes pretty well, right? Wrong! We found that in some decades, there were too many awesome albums to rank and that there were not enough in others.

There were also many artists that barely missed the cut (sorry Billy Joel, David Bowie, and Biggie) and some genres that were severely underrepresented. And being as picky as I am, ranking albums that are younger than I am was like pulling teeth. However, after a bit of research, I soon realized that today’s music is actually quite good!

After much deliberation, I finally assembled a list that I can be proud of. Read it below, and be sure to check out Nick’s here when you’re done reading mine!



“The Velvet Underground and Nico” continues to inspire many punk and alternative artists many years after its release. Via discogs.com

Best Album of the 1960’s: The Velvet Underground-The Velvet Underground and Nico (Verve, 1967)

While most critics would normally have The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at this spot, I am not one of those critics. Yes, Pepper’s was largely responsible for positioning albums as a cohesive, thought out art form rather than just a collection of songs, and used many state of the art studio techniques. This unassuming, Andy Warhol-produced album was released the same year and took the opposite route. It eventually became just as important as the Fab Four’s work. Featuring German model and chanteuse Nico on four tracks, The Velvet Underground’s debut was a watershed moment for alternative rock. The album starts out calmly with “Sunday Morning” and approaches madness for anti-drug statement “Heroin”, all before ending in cacophonous noise during “European Son”. There is a subtle beauty in Lou Reed’s songwriting that gets heavily overshadowed by his and Sterling Morrison’s noisy guitar work, John Cale’s intimidating viola playing, and Maureen Tucker’s primitive drumming methods. It took me a few attempts to even feel comfortable while listening to this album, and a few more to fully understand the rebellious genius of the band. It might take you quite a few listens to like it or even be tolerant of it, but you’ll easily understand right off the bat how unique and important The Velvet Underground and Nico was in 1967. It broke the musical status quo, leaving room for early punk and alternative acts like David Bowie, The Stooges, and The Ramones to eventually become popular. If you enjoy listening to anything that sounds a bit weird and touches on taboo topics, then you have this album to thank.

2. The Beatles-Revolver (Parlophone/Capitol, 1966)

3. John Coltrane-A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1965)

4. The Rolling Stones-Let It Bleed (London, 1969)

5. King Crimson-In the Court of the Crimson King (Island/Atlantic, 1969)


“Wish You Were Here” is emotional, atmospheric, and fun to listen to in the dark. Via discogs.com


Best Album of the 1970’s: Pink Floyd-Wish You Were Here (Harvest, 1975)

For the record, this is my favorite album of all time by a large margin (even over Pink Floyd’s own The Dark Side of the Moon). I could have easily put each one of the band’s ‘70’s releases on this list, but I limited myself to just one pick. Wish You Were Here serves as a thoughtful tribute to former bandleader Syd Barrett, who was forced to leave the group after becoming mentally ill. The 26-minute “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” bookends the album and offers ample room for each member of the band to showcase his talents at length. However, the album’s three shorter songs are also superb, as they manage to be radio-friendly without losing artistic value. David Gilmour’s slide guitar work towards the beginning of the second half of “Shine” could possibly be my favorite moment in all of music. Overall, Wish You Were Here is a great album that perfectly combines the mellow sound that Pink Floyd exhibited on The Dark Side of the Moon with a bit of the harsher musical and lyrical tone found on their later work.  You’ll want to listen to this one in the dark and with good headphones on for the full effect!

2. Led Zeppelin-Houses of the Holy (Atlantic, 1973)

3. Steely Dan-Aja (ABC, 1977)

4. Fleetwood Mac-Rumours (Warner Bros., 1977)

5. Eagles-Hotel California (Asylum, 1976)


“Remain In Light” is not Talking Heads’ best selling album, but is their most critically acclaimed by far. Via discogs.com


Best Album of the 1980’s: Talking Heads- Remain in Light (Sire, 1980)

I feel that the 1980’s was an odd time for music where artists tried to incorporate many different genres and influences into a single album or song. Many of these experiments have aged poorly, but this album was a masterpiece upon release and remains one to this day. Drawing equally from traditional African rhythms and frontman David Byrne’s anxious persona, Remain in Light is easily Talking Heads’ magnum opus. The band decided to forego more radio-friendly hits (save for “Once in a Lifetime”) in favor of longer, more introspective pieces. A review of this album isn’t complete without mentioning “The Great Curve”. The song features one of the most underrated guitar solos in music thanks to Adrian Belew. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, all you need to know is that he’s so good at his craft that he once toured with Frank Zappa…until David Bowie stole him away.

2. The Clash-London Calling (Epic, 1980)

3. Prince-Purple Rain (Warner Bros., 1984)

4. The Smiths-The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade/Sire, 1986)

5. The Rolling Stones-Tattoo You (Rolling Stones Records, 1981)


“Nevermind” is the album that catapulted Seattle’s grunge scene into the mainstream. Via discogs.com


Best Album of the 1990’s: Nirvana-Nevermind (DGC, 1991)

Everybody loves a bit of hair metal every now and again, but by the late 1980’s, the subgenre got a bit out of hand, with some arguing that it was taking all of rock and roll down with it. While everyone was tied up with Michael Jackson and Guns N’ Roses, a group of long-haired weirdos from Aberdeen, Washington came out of nowhere to introduce the music world to grunge! Picking between this and In Utero was a difficult decision. Nevermind is arguably the most culturally significant album of the past 30 years, while the latter album is something that Kurt Cobain and company are a lot more proud of. This album needs no introduction. With songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Lithium”, and “Drain You”, it’s almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t heard at least part of Nevermind. Cobain’s poppy songwriting blends with his noisy guitar, Krist Novoselic’s fuzzy bass, and Dave Grohl’s powerful drumming to create a sound that appeals to all audiences.The album has a really good flow, with each song leading right into the next. When the Geffen execs asked the band to compile the track listing, Cobain walked into a meeting and just rattled it right off the top of his head. That’s just another testament to Nirvana’s creative genius.

2. Smashing Pumpkins-Siamese Dream (Virgin, 1993)

3. R.E.M.-Automatic For The People (Warner Bros., 1992)

4. A Tribe Called Quest-The Low End Theory (Jive, 1991)

5. Various Artists-Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic, 1992)


“Kid A” is a well-crafted album that stands apart in a decade known for its singles. Via discogs.com


Best Album of the 2000’s: Radiohead-Kid A (Parlophone/Capitol, 2000)

I found it difficult to find some solid albums to rank for this part of the list. That doesn’t mean that 2000-2009 was a low point for music in general, it just means that it was a decade where songs flourished rather than albums. After much thought, I had to hand it to Radiohead’s Kid A for being a well-crafted album in an age so dominated by radio singles. I am not a die-hard Radiohead fan by any means, and reading so many rave reviews of the band led me to believe that their work, and especially this album, was overrated. And then I decided to give Thom Yorke a chance. Most albums, good or bad, require a complete listen (sometimes several) in order for a listener to form an opinion. I knew that Kid A was a winner less than a minute into the first track. I heard the familiar tone that I knew from OK Computer with a new electronic twist. The band immerses listeners in a strange futuristic atmosphere in a way that only they can manage. In a departure from their previous work, Yorke’s lyrics seem to have no defined meaning and were admittedly assembled at random. Despite this, the album still sounds incredibly eloquent. This is the band at their creative peak. It’s accessible enough to first time listeners, yet also deep enough to reward devoted fans. It’s eerie in some parts, beautiful in others, and thoughtful and quirky all throughout. There’s a reason why most critics agree with me on this one.

2. Gorillaz-Demon Days (Virgin, 2005)

3. Beck-Sea Change (Geffen, 2002)

4. Kanye West-808s and Heartbreak (Roc-A-Fella, 2008)

5. Daft Punk-Discovery (Virgin, 2001)


“Awaken, My Love!” combines elements of classic and modern R&B for a unique listening experience. Via discogs.com


Best Album of the 2010’s: Childish Gambino- “Awaken, My Love!” (Glassnote, 2016)

I remember working on The Cannon the day that this album came out. Every editor, designer, and writer was arguing over whether or not “Awaken, My Love!” was good. Cannon advisor Mr. Burtch seemed to be the only person in the room who liked the album, as everyone else thought that it was too far of a departure from Childish Gambino’s earlier work.  I had never bothered to listen to Gambino before then, so I decided to give him a shot. I was instantly impressed with what I heard: The perfect marriage of 70’s P-funk and today’s R&B music. A great ratio of authentic old to limitless new. In a time where many artists claim to pay tribute to the music of the past, Donald Glover is one of the only people who’s truly done it. Combining his talented songwriting, his soulful vocals, and a slew of vintage mellotrons and synths, he and producer Ludwig Göransson crafted a delightful set of songs that sound akin to what George Clinton and company recorded decades ago. “Redbone” is an instant classic, and it ends with a Göransson guitar lick that’s one of the catchiest uses of the instrument that I’ve heard in recent years.  So far, “Awaken, My Love!” is, in my opinion, the greatest album of the decade. Can another album dethrone it before 2020 hits? We’ll just have to wait and see.

2. Tame Impala-Currents (Modular, 2015)

3. Lorde-Pure Heroine (Lava, 2013)

4. Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella, 2010)

5. Twenty One Pilots-Vessel (Fueled By Ramen, 2011)