May 2017 – 50 Albums of the Last Half-Century(-ish)

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

A little while ago, someone looked at the development of heavy metal from the 1970s to the 2000s and exemplified it by listing one album per year. Of course, this was just one perspective but, more generally, I thought it might be interesting to do something similar across all modern music genres.

This is only my catalogue of 50 years (actually 52 years but who’s counting?) of modern musical history. It is, of course, value-laden and massively subjective, with many great artists and albums excluded by the ruthless application of selection criteria, which included:

  • Must be an original album, not an EP or single
  • Only 1 album from each year (no reissues – original release date applies)
  • Only 1 album by any artist (band or solo)
  • The album must include some guitar work (i.e. no pure electronica)
  • Albums may come from any modern music genre
  • No compilations, ‘best of’ or various artist collections
  • They must be appreciated and owned by the author (i.e. not just made up or copied from elsewhere)

The resulting compendium is not representative of popularity, perceived wisdom, other people’s opinion or commercial success. It is simply my choices for a timeline covering over half a century of great music.

Why pick these 52 years? My age makes it difficult to go back further than the mid‑1960s for a start, so there aren’t any selections from the ‘birth’ of rock ‘n’ roll in about 1954 to the ‘dawn of rock’ in about 1965 – to be honest, I don’t own and am not particularly familiar with pre-’65 albums. I’ve brought it right up to date with 2016 being the last full year at the time of writing. However, anything beyond about 2010 is probably too recent to really place any kind of enduring significance to the entries – historical retrospective can be beneficial that respect. Arguably, the longer the intervening time period, the more consolidated, reliable and credible that hindsight becomes within context (discuss…).

Feel free to make up your own timeline over whatever period you like, using your own criteria. This is just my perspective; I can guarantee that anyone reading it will disagree with it and would produce a VERY different route through the roadmap of time. Actually, that’s both the point and the fun of it – if we all ended up with the same journey, we would live in a very dull world.

So… here we go, in chronological order…

The 1960s(-ish):

1965 Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

1966 John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton

1967 Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced

1968 The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

1969 King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King

The 1970s:

1970 Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

1971 The Doors – L.A. Woman

1972 David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

1973 John Martyn – Solid Air

1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping

1975 Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

1976 Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

1977 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus

1978 AC/DC – Powerage

1979 The Clash – London Calling

The 1980s:

1980 Talking Heads – Remain In Light

1981 The Cramps – Psychedelic Jungle

1982 Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

1983 ZZ Top – Eliminator

1984 Iron Maiden – Powerslave

1985 Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms

1986 Metallica – Master Of Puppets

1987 Guns n’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

1988 Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session

1989 The Cure – Disintegration

The 1990s:

1990 Megadeth – Rust In Peace

1991 Nirvana – Nevermind

1992 Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

1993 Dinosaur Jr – Where you BEEN

1994 Portishead – Dummy

1995 Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

1996 Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads

1997 Rammstein – Sehnsucht

1998 Massive Attack – Mezzanine

1999 Suede – Head Music

The 2000s:

2000 The White Stripes – De Stijl

2001 The Strokes – Is This It

2002 Beck – Sea Change

2003 Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts

2004 Kasabian – Kasabian

2005 Editors – The Back Room

2006 Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways

2007 Seasick Steve – Dog House Music

2008 The Black Keys – Attack & Release

2009 The Horrors – Primary Colours

The 2010s (so far):

2010 Warpaint – The Fool

2011 The Kills – Blood Pressures

2012 Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

2013 Savages – Silence Yourself

2014 Band Of Skulls – Himalayan

2015 Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

2016 Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

So… how many of these do you own and/or like? What course would you take through the last 5 decades? I’m sure that readers will be up in arms about what’s missing.

As with other CRAVE Guitars’ challenges, this exercise wasn’t as easy as when it was first envisaged. Reflecting on the list and making a few observations…

The albums listed are not necessarily my favourites; just ones that carry some meaning within the context of the topic. See my rant of July 2016 for my suggested top 20 most influential albums, some of which also appear in this list. There were many beloved albums (and favourite guitarists – see CRAVE Guitars’ February 2017 article) that didn’t make the final list. There are some great albums by great artists that don’t appear. Some albums on the list may not be the pinnacle of achievement by the artist but they appear because of the way the selection criteria worked.

The widely-regarded, guitar-dependent and ‘important classics’ on the timeline tend to come from the 1960s and ‘70s. These albums have stood the test of time and still have relevance today. Some represent ground-breaking events and their appearance on the timeline will be of no great surprise. Why no Rolling Stones or The Beatles on this list? Well, I’m not a Beatles fan and the Stones came close for a number of years including 2016 but got pipped at the post elsewhere. No Pink Floyd? Surprisingly not. No watershed albums like, for instance, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ or Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’? Not on this occasion. No manufactured boy/girl bands from the formulaic TV ‘talent’ production line (or their heinous celebrity-driven ilk)? Heck no! Real music only, please.

While the available choice of albums seemed to increase significantly from the mid‑1990s, the quality of output seemed to become more homogenous with the increase in quantity, meaning that it was harder to pick outstanding entries and, by the time the new millennium arrived, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out the exemplary future classics from amongst the multiplicity of also-ran material. This doesn’t mean that quality deteriorated, simply that the market became increasingly saturated and tour de forces became more difficult to define. Time will tell as to which ones (if any) will have the longevity to stand out as true masterpieces.

Some years were spoilt for choice and it was a VERY hard task to select just one entry from a wealth of great albums, while other years were very sparse and it was a case of selecting from the ‘best of the rest’. For some years, there was an obvious shoo-in, while for others years it was actually quite difficult to pick a ‘winner’ from an amorphous morass of uninspiring averageness.

Within modern western popular music, it is probably not a surprise that the majority of artists in the timeline are British or American, with a smattering from elsewhere (Canada, Jamaica, Germany and Australia). Perhaps increased globalisation and geographical dispersion may introduce new influences, especially from those areas with different musical cultures, e.g. the middle east, far east, Africa and South America. Perhaps these influences, generally categorised as ‘world music’, will become more mainstream, especially as the Internet provides greater access to hitherto niche markets.

In terms of diversity, certainly the older music was male/white dominated. While a few more females populate the latter years, there is still a general shortage of female musicians in the industry. Ethnicity is predominantly white, which was a bit of a surprise and it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice. Music is one of those industries where artists from diverse backgrounds have been able to succeed and influence successive generations. As in other forms of 21st century life, ensuring equality of opportunity for everyone and the music industry depends on the best talent, rather than to segregate on the basis of specific upbringings.

Many genres were evenly distributed. However, a number of genres were under‑represented including rap/hip-hop, reggae, dance/funk/disco, etc. Surprisingly, indie music seems to have taken more of a centre stage in the noughties and tweenies, at least in this exercise. How these albums age over time will be interesting. Bands tended to feature, rather than solo artists, which was notable.

There is some pretty impressive album artwork over the half-century. It is amazing how effective musical packaging design has been. We are, sadly, long past the heyday of album art integrated with popular cultural references. I can’t see that changing with current and future media delivery systems. Why should credible artists and designers stake their reputation on, say, the latest download fad?

The rigorous application of the selection criteria was particularly challenging and may well account for some of the more obvious anomalies. A different approach might have led to a more balanced (and perhaps more predictable) result.

A slight grammatical oddity; there are 3 albums on the list whose titles are clearly prima facie questions and none of them end in a ‘?’ (1967, 1993 and 2001). Weird or what?

A number of albums on the list were debut or sophomore albums, perhaps indicating that for many artists, the pool of inventive material is more furtive early on in the limelight and, for some, success actually seems to dilute the fire of creativity, resulting in shortened professional careers. There are relatively few who have the longevity of a lifelong career. Sadly, a large proportion of the artists are no longer with us and their potential is lost forever. We miss their imagination.

When thinking about future direction within the context of the past, the outlook appears healthy and increasingly disparate, despite the broadcast media’s obsession with exploitative ‘talent’ drivel. The days when a single type of music would dominate the ‘air waves’ (remember them?) looks increasingly unlikely, simply because of the volume of new music and the ways in which it is made available to the listening public.

What will be ‘the next big thing’ and will there be any (counter-)culturally significant new genre developments like metal, new wave, punk, rave, grunge, etc.? Major mainstream step changes are possibly unlikely; the musical landscape is now so varied that anything fundamentally new is likely to be genre-specific, for example dancehall and dubstep, rather than a mass‑market popular revolution.

The emergence of completely new trends becomes less likely over time, as it can also be argued that most original ideas have pretty much been used up by now. There can only be a finite number of combinations of existing musical patterns to fuel experimentation and ultimate acceptance. The number of plagiarism litigations suggests that the future will increasingly have to recycle and re-use existing ideas, rather than create new ones. Existing genre conventions, once they have become well‑established, also tend to constrain further creativity within that particular genre. Perhaps we will see more genre cross-overs in an attempt to find that spark of innovation and inspiration.

So there you have it. It has been another interesting little challenge that has also raised a few more peripheral questions. While it doesn’t really add anything to humanity’s collective knowledge, it passes time and the task makes one think (again).

Finally, seeing as CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars is all about the venerable instrument, think of all the great guitars and the guitarists that wielded them that feature on not only all the albums listed above but also all the ones that have been missed out.

This is the final monthly article before the ‘big move’ and, hopefully, things beginning to get back on track. Proverbially, I’ll see you on the other side. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “If actions speak louder than words, why can’t people hear what I’m doing?”

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

← Return to ‘Musings’ page

Like it? Why not share it?