1. The Seeds
The Seeds 1966
Though the L.A. acid-rockers never quite rose above local-hero status, their glorious garage noise heralded the rising tides of psychedelia and punk.
2. Judee Sill
Judee Sill 1971
Signed by David Geffen and splashed across the cover of Rolling Stone, she seemed poised for Joni-level folk stardom. But her lovely songs belied an ugly spiral of addiction and hard times; by 35, she was dead.
3. Shuggie Otis
Inspiration Information 1974
After recording his buttery, mind-expanding R&B masterpiece, 21-year-old Otis turned down a spot on a Rolling Stones tour and lost his record deal. His “Strawberry Letter 23” did become a hit, though — for the Brothers Johnson, who covered it in 1977.
4. The Congos
Heart of the Congos 1977
Produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry at his legendary Black Ark studio, this sublime roots-reggae classic was treasure-hunted for two decades until its reissue.
Other downtown art stars outshone them at the time, but Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s spectral, unsettlingly pretty sound presaged both dance and industrial visionaries, from Joy Division to Nine Inch Nails and LCD Soundsystem.
6. The Slits
Infamous for its near-nude cover, these Brit lady-punks’ debut, all itchy chaos and rock-steady reggae splashes, sowed the seeds for riot grrrls, ska’s third wave, and Gwen Stefani.
Come Away With Me 1983
TLC, Wu-Tang, and the Beastie Boys sampled them, proto-house DJs spun them, and Public Image Ltd invited them on tour: Though commercial luck was never on their side, these four South Bronx sisters helped reinvent dance music in disco’s glittery wake.
Millions Now Living Will Never Die 1996
Their penchant for 20-minute instrumentals didn’t exactly scream “FM radio,” but this Chicago collective of punk survivors with backgrounds in noisy hardcore somehow spun a post-rock touchstone of transcendent beauty.
9. Dr. Octagon
Dr. Octagonecologyst 1996
In a genre rife with alter egos, none were as awesomely bizarro as Kool Keith’s mad M.D.: a time-traveling, Jupiter-born “paramedic fetus of the east” whose scatological humor and B-movie camp effectively birthed the horrorcore genre.
10. Rah Digga
Dirty Harriet 1999
Still one of hip-hop’s finest debuts — forget the “by a female MC” qualifier. (Or the fact that the artist born Rashia Fisher wouldn’t release another album until 2010.) Digga was rugged enough to go toe-to-toe with Busta Rhymes but still make room for shout-outs to Charles Dickens and Ally Sheedy.
Nas: My Pick
Rapper, Illmatic, Life Is Good
“I met AZ back in the ’90s and I knew he was advanced. He had a vision. ‘We Movin'” is my favorite. Even though he ain’t at all mainstream today, he still shoots out verses like shrapnel ammunition.”
A 20th-anniversary edition of Illmatic is due April 15.
St. Vincent: My Picks
Singer, Strange Mercy
Solex “This woman Solex made records in the 1990s using samples [back] when it was still a really painstaking process. They’re really alien-pop and catchy and interesting.”
Selda “My friend [Welsh singer-songwriter] Cate Le Bon hitched me to Selda’s self-titled record a few years ago — it’s epically awesome ’70s funk reimagined through a Turkish lens….”
Cate Le Bon “And Cate’s record Cyrk I listen to over and over again. I asked her to go on tour with me, and then we became great friends. She’s just phenomenal. A great guitar player, too.”
St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, is on tour now to support her most recent album, St. Vincent.
Taylor Hawkins: My Pick
Drummer, Foo Fighters
“Joe Walsh is brilliantly funny, a brilliant guitar player, great with lyrics, and the Eagles would be dead in the water without him. Barnstorm is out of print, and it’s a shame. It’s his first solo record, but it’s still raw like [his first band] James Gang.”
Hawkins is working on a new Foos record, and his side project The Birds of Satan will release their debut on April 15.
Ezra Koenig: My Pick
Frontman, Vampire Weekend
“There’s a song, ‘Probably Nu It,’ that came out a few months ago by a rapper called MC Tree. The first time I heard it I was like, ‘That’s a hit song.’ And maybe it will be, but so far I haven’t heard too many people talking about it. Check it out.”
Vampire Weekend are on tour now for 2013’s Grammy-winning Modern Vampires of the City.
Fred Armisen’s Favorite Unsung Albums
“‘Life Goes On’ is one of the most beautiful songs ever written on planet Earth. That’s not my opinion, that’s fact.”
Herein Wild 2013
“My favorite album of last year. There’s a mix of synth sounds and heavy electric bass that’s like a secret ingredient.”
Reissues and 2012’s Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar Man revived Detroit’s Dylan manqué.
2. Merry Clayton
More Oscar love — for last year’s 20 Feet From Stardom — shined a light on the backup singer’s soulful solo work.
3. Roky Erickson
The psych pioneer was the subject of a 2005 doc, You’re Gonna Miss Me, and received a hero’s welcome at Coachella in 2007.
4. Linda Perhacs
When her 1970 folk gem Parallelograms flopped, the dental hygienist kept her day job — until Gen-Y rediscovered her.
5. Scott Walker
A onetime ’60s pop star gone avant-garde, he now calls formative label 4AD home.
6. Wanda Jackson
Producer/superfan Jack White got the ’50s rockabilly queen back in his Nashville studio.
7. Daniel Johnston
The insider’s outsider, cuddly and Cobain-approved.