100 GREATEST CDS A LOVE-IT-OR-LOATHE-IT GUIDE TO THE ESSENTIAL DISC LIBRARY
You’ve finally done it: slogged over to your local audio store andplopped down a few hundred bucks for your first compact-discplayer-in part because LPs are nowhere to be found and audiocassettesare simply annoying. Now comes the hard part: What to buy first?Among the thousands and thousands of CDs available, where do youstart to piece together a basic collection of great- andgreat-sounding-music? And given the artificially high price of mostcompact discs, how in the heck do you decide which of those thousandsto buy?Even though CDs have existed since 1983, this scenario is notfar-fetched: According to the Electronic Industries Association, CDplayers have penetrated only 42 percent of the market, meaning thatthe bulk of music fans in this country have yet to go digital. Withthat statistic in mind, we decided to toss together a list of the 100greatest CDs-a beginner’s library rooted in pop and rock, withnibbles of jazz, country, folk, and classical, to round out any CDnewcomer’s essential repertoire.Actually, toss together is too casual a phrase. The yearlongprocess began with members of our music department submittingcandidates for the list. And the debates began almost immediately.Which Frank Sinatra and Neil Young albums should be included? AreBonnie Raitt, Run-D.M.C., and the Rascals important enough to makethe cut? (Yes, yes, and no, respectively.) Is there room for MariaCallas’ Tosca or the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray? (Uh no.)Should boxed sets be cited? (Yes, but only if these overpricedtombstones are essential.) Was the list too slanted toward the tastesof white, male rock critics? (Well, okay-sometimes.) The strifewasn’t pretty-in fact, it nearly caused the end of at least oneoffice friendship.But ultimately we configured a top 100, the criteria for whichwere fairly simple. Discs under consideration had to fall into one ofthree basic categories: classic albums (like the Rolling Stones’Exile on Main St. and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds) that sound evenbetter on these small silver platters; must-own collections thatdidn’t exist on vinyl (like recent anthologies of Talking Heads andJames Brown); and, for balance, a few albums from this decade thatmet our demanding test of great music and awe-inspiring soundquality.Given all the CDs for sale at your local record store, we don’tclaim that our list is the last word (as we were going to press, welearned of a brand- new David Bowie collection that could supplantthe one we’ve suggested- aargh!!). For the time being, though, givethese suggestions a spin under the laser beam in your home. And we’llsee you on the dark side of the moon.
1 Rolling Stones Exile on Main St. (Original release date 1972,Rolling Stones/Columbia) The Stones’ excursion into back-alleyAmericana isn’t a must- have CD just because it crams two LPs ontoone disc-or even because it carries a budget price ($13 list). The CDremix gives stunning clarity to those original murky LPs withoutmaking that joyful clutter of slide guitars, horns, and Mick Jagger’ssalacious voice sound sterile. Yes, it’s still next to impossible todecipher what Jagger is singing (and we do miss those postcards), butthe whole master-sludge sounds so wonderful you won’t care.
2 Led Zeppelin Remasters (1992, Atlantic) Well, you could buy theultimate Led Zep, the $149, 10-CD box containing every one of theiralbums. Or you might spring for their 1990 four-CD collection, orthis year’s two-disc Boxed Set2 supplement. For economy’s sake, we’veopted for Zep’s basic two-disc sampler, sizzlingly remastered for CD.But all these options demonstrate how desperately people love thisblues/metal/ mystical/sentimental band, which pounded its way intorock history with lots more than ”Stairway to Heaven.”
3 Miles Davis Kind of Blue (1959, Columbia) No rehearsals, almostno chord changes, virtually no tunes to speak of. A minimalist revoltagainst bebop’s self-celebrating complexity, Miles’ jaded innovationin modal music reduced jazz to pure and gorgeous ephemera. Consumernote: Columbia botched the initial CD pressing but recently issued aclear, crisp new edition (visually indistinguishable from itspredecessor, except for a small note on the back label).
4 Paul Simon Graceland (1986, Warner Bros.) Believe it or not,this thing of effortless beauty was once considered controversial:People felt Simon ripped off African music for mercenary gain. Allthat matters now is how many barriers he smashed with his perfectblend of African and American pop. And, of course, how radiant thealbum still sounds.5 Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon (1973, Capitol) Never mindhow well this basement-head-trip milestone holds up melodically twodecades later. Never mind the swell of backup choirs on songs like”Time” or the deft put- downs of hippies. Heard on any good system,the sheer sound of Dark Side- the cash register, the cacophony ofalarm clocks-is as awesome as Dolby Surround Sound. In other words,leave the bong downstairs this time.
6 Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde (1966, Columbia) Just before his 1966motorcycle wreck, Dylan was a pill-popping rock star who was sick ofplaying star, wary of hangers-on, and more than willing to spewbile at anyone in his way. Thankfully, he preserved the mood onvinyl, complete with careening music that bites as hard as his words.Another two-LPs-on-one-CD steal, Blonde on Blonde is a crystal-clearbreakdown.
7 Elvis Presley The Sun Sessions (1987, RCA) Elvis never madecoherent albums, and any collection of his greatest hits dissolvesinto lovable fluff. But these 16 tracks, the first he ever recorded,are another story-soaring, fresh, and, thanks to their drop-deadconfidence, more staggering than any music he ever made later.Overkill: 12 extra outtakes.
8 Aretha Franklin 30 Greatest Hits (1986, Atlantic) You can nomore deny Aretha than you could the Grand Canyon or theriver Nile. You need all her great songs-hence this collection.Follow it to the end and you’ll find a few pop-song indulgences(”Eleanor Rigby”) that don’t quite catch her at her best. But MissFranklin is so grand that her lapses are part of her charm.
9 J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations (1955, CBS) If any classical workcries out for CD, it’s this one: Longer than a single LP side, itmoves forward too breathlessly to be interrupted. And pianist GlennGould’s performance is both stunningly original and compellinglyright. One flaw: Tape hiss and other sonic defects got magnified onCD. Saving grace: Gould was celebrated for his grunts, which, equallyamplified, almost turn his playing into 18th-century rock & roll.
10 James Brown 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (1991, Polydor) It’s therhythm tracks that snap out at you when you play Brown on CD. Sincerhythm is the most startling thingin his music, that’s a big plus-and reason enough (besides thesongs, the whole history-making madness, and brother James himself)to start your CD collection right here.
11 The Beatles Abbey Road (1969, Capitol) A glorious swan songfrom the lovable Liverpudlians. Paul McCartney dominates-it took himfive years to do anything better than the 19-minute medley thatcloses the album. George Harrison also arrives as a songwriter to bereckoned with. No wonder John Lennon hated it.
12 Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction (1987, Geffen) First theStones and then the Sex Pistols took rock & roll to the very edge.How could it go any farther? Listen to Axl Rose screaming ”Welcome tothe Jungle” on this seminal explosion of punk-tinged hard rock. Thewhole world is on the edge, Axl seems to say, and there’s no escape.
13 Various Artists Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection1959-1971 (1992, Motown) Yes, it’s a big $53, four-CD box. ButMotown’s golden years were a musical era unto themselves, proving tothe white world that black musicians could turn out alluring,infallibly commercial pop. Besides, look what you get: theTemptations, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Four Tops
14 Phil Spector Back to Mono (1958-1969) (1991, Abkco) The mostspectacular boxed set ever? With ”Be My Baby” and other tracks heproduced in the early ’60s for the likes of Darlene Love and theRonettes, Spector created a delirious, symphonic sound never heardbefore or since-the sound of teen romance magnified until it seemedas majestic and deep as the entire American dream. Special bonus:Spector’s 1963 Christmas album, which does for ”Frosty the Snowman”what his pop hits did for puppy love.
15 Frank Sinatra Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956, Capitol) Assmoothly polished and powerful as a Caddy V-8, Sinatra’s voice wouldnever again have such sensual muscularity. This is the sound of thewar generation in its cocky prime, the brash epitome of snap-brimmedcool.
16 Nirvana Nevermind (1991, DGC) Forget the scandal overCourtney’s was-she- or-wasn’t-she-on-heroin? pregnancy. Forget thefight between Kurt and Axl Rose. Just listen to the band’smajor-label debut again. It’s a true modern classic, scared andpassionate, full of reckless melody struggling to survive in a sea ofnoise-a perfect summary of everything rock & roll means in the ’90s.
17 The Velvet Underground & Nico The Velvet Underground & Nico(1967, Verve) With its after-hours glaze and its tales of drugbuying, S&M, and mainlining, the first album by Lou Reed and companydisturbed plenty of people. Remixed for CD, this rock noir classic nolonger sounds as if potato sacks had been placed over thespeakers-but it will still spook you.
18 Beach Boys Pet Sounds (1966, Capitol) Everybody loves the BeachBoys’ hits. But this not-quite-hit was the album Brian Wilson adored.He had just heard Rubber Soul, and he wanted to compete with theBeatles. It’s no surprise that he matches their sophistication, butwho could have known how strange and intimate his music would turnout-or how doubly lush it would sound on compact disc?
19 Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits (1978, Polydor) WithoutWilliams, country would merely be a regional phenomenon. A masterof distilling a life’s heartache into 21 2 minutes, Hank, with histouching wail, makes every word ring true. These 40 tracks show whycountry songwriters owe him so much and have yet to pay him back.
20 Enya Watermark (1988, Reprise) Call it the dark side of a NewAge moon: the caress of sheer sonic beauty, accented by dolefulruminations and waterfall- like layers of vocal harmonies andkeyboards. If the CD didn’t exist, it would have had to be inventedfor Enya.
21 David Bowie Changesbowie (1990, Rykodisc) Whether he was atranssexual spaceman, an avant-garde electrodweeb, or just a plain,old pop deity, Bowie was always one step ahead of the parade. Thissmartly expanded editionof his 1976 vinyl anthology (which now includes moreone-dimensional ’80s smashes like ”Let’s Dance”) shows how he did it.
22 Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven 1925-1928 (1990, Giantsof Jazz) Gangstas, take heart: Nearly 70 years agoa terrified establishment screamed that this brazenly rhythmic,sexual new sound would spark the end of Western civilization as theyknew it. Fortunately, they were right. These are the birth sounds ofthe whole family of jazz, rock, soul, and pop records onthis list.
23 Van Morrison The Best of Van Morrison (1990, Polydor) One disccannot do justice to the Belfast cowboy’s career,but for Morrison neophytes this compilation makes anice introduction, covering his 1966-89 high points. From earlytracks with Them to his increasingly spiritual ’80s work, Morrisonproves that the carnality of soul music has at least one foot plantedin the mystic world.
24 Michael Jackson Thriller (1982, Epic) Michael’s got histroubles, sure, but let’s not forget the new sound, new dance moves,and new killer songs he pioneered 11 years ago. Thriller, whichsounds so transparent you’d never know it wasn’t engineered for thepinpoint clarity of CD, deserved to be the best- selling album of alltime-and the battering ram that opened space for black music on MTV.
25 Roxy Music Avalon (1982, Reprise/EG) Bryan Ferry never seemedso suave and vulnerable, and his once-decadent glitter-rock group sowarm, as on this make- out record. The CD format makesthe music’s cotton-ball-soft plushness that much more inviting.26The Beatles 1962- 1966 (1993, Capitol) It’s a long way from”Love Me Do” to | ”Eleanor Rigby,” and these 26 tracks from the FabFour’s moptop days chart their staggering artistic growth. You can’toverstate what they did for pop music. Without them, Frankie Avalonmight have been the Next Big Thing.
27 Prince Sign ‘O’ the Times (1987, Paisley Park) The little guymade more consistent albums, you say? Yes, and so did BelindaCarlisle. We value Prince (no matter what he wants to call himselfnow) for his probing, half-crazed invention. This is where his demonstook him furthest.
28 U2 Achtung Baby (1991, Island) A tough call between this albumand the panoramic, wide-angle Joshua Tree, which sounds equallyBono-fied on CD. But Achtung Baby gets the nod for its dark,bump-and-grind mood and up-front emotions (”One,” ”MysteriousWays”)-not to mention its nifty collage cover art.
29 Steely Dan A Decade of Steely Dan (1985, MCA) Does anything begfor the CD format more than 14 sparkling cuts by these notoriouslypicky studio rats? Easily the quirkiest major band of the ’70s, theDan were the closest thing to jazz ever to conquer pop radio.
30 Chuck Berry The Great Twenty-Eight (1984, MCA) Arguably thecleverest and most effortless lyricist rock & roll has ever produced,Berry also invented rock & roll guitar as we know it. For those tooyoung to remember anything before the regrettable ”My Ding-A-Ling”(which doesn’t appear among these 1955-65 cuts), this is a good placeto start catching up.
31 The Who Who’s Next (1971, MCA) The band’s finest hour gains newpower on CD, especially Pete Townshend’s crystalline acoustic guitarsand those bubbling synthesizers on ”Won’t Get Fooled Again” and ”BabaO’Riley.” Stadium rock at its best.
32 Sly and the Family Stone Anthology (1981, Epic) Whether he wasfeeling jubilant (”Dance to the Music”), manic-depressive (”FamilyAffair”), or silly (”Hot Fun in the Summertime”), the man whoinfluenced Prince and many others wasn’t afraid to wallow amonglife’s peaks and valleys, with a hooky melody for each mood. He madehis share of fully realized albums, but this 20- track, 74-minutesampler wants to take you higher-and does.
33 Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back(1988, Def Jam/ Columbia) They said they were too black and toostrong. So what else could these rappers do but make history withuncompromising politics and music that mirrors the tumult thepolitics came from? They did it with formidable humor, too.
34 The Band The Band (1969, Capitol) Think of roots music, and youthink of The Band-four Canadians and a small-town guy from Arkansaswho delivered deeper meditations on rural America than any scholar’sresearch could. Starting as a bar band, they never forgot to have thesometimes-wistful fun you’ll find on every cut of their mostsatisfying album.
35 Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings (1990, Columbia)Johnson’s country blues are a touchstone for generations of bluesmenand rockers. The inspiration for Clapton, Richards, et al. died in1938 at age 27, a victim of pneumonia and poisoning. One of theblues’ greatest singer-guitarists, he had everything but luck.
36 Patsy Cline 12 Greatest Hits (1988, MCA) With such trademarksas ”Sweet Dreams (of You)” and ”Crazy,” this is a good sampler ofCline’s best work. The emotion packed into these 1960-63 tracksinspired every woman singing country music (and rock, for thatmatter). Maybe that’s why her rich, sensual alto has never gone outof style.
37 Barbra Streisand The Broadway Album (1985, Columbia) This is asgood as show tunes get -sharp, ironic, funny, and drenched inglittering Broadway sentiment. Streisand might have been raw when shestarted and might have grown excessive later. But here, in songs thatcover both tradition (Guys and Dolls) and more modern times (anarresting dose of Stephen Sondheim), she’s perfection.
38 Bob Marley Legend (1984, Tuff Gong/Island) Marley remains theonly rocker from anywhere other than North America or the BritishIsles to break through this country’s cultural deafness and matter.All it took was talent, charisma, melodic power, and unquenchedlyrical hope. This 14-song best-of is the sharp, clear tip of theiceberg.
39 John Coltrane A Love Supreme (1964, MCA/ Impulse!) Afour-movement suite about inspiration-musical, romantic, andspiritual, all of which are the same in the work of jazz’s virtuosometaphysician. The tenor saxophone as an instrument of sacramentalgrace.
40 Bruce Springsteen Nebraska (1982, Columbia) It’s easy topigeonhole Springsteen as an arena rocker, born to mesmerize hugecrowds with songs about the romance of the road. But on this album hereveals himself as brooding and intimate. Not, of course, that thesequalities hadn’t lurked within him all along. But it took Nebraska todemonstrate the extra depth that makes him great.
41 Carpenters The Singles 1969-1973 (1973, A&M) Was brotherRichard using perky arrangements to disguise Karen’s deeply sadvoice? Was she trying to tell us something in gorgeously forlornballads like ”Rainy Days and Mondays” ? Ponder this as you relish thedoomed duo’s best singles, whose lush surfaces sound even morepristine on CD.
42 The Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced? (1967, MCA)For its bevy of Hendrix classics alone, this incendiary debut is amust-own. If there are any doubts, though, check out this newlyremixed disc: The clarity of the drums and Hendrix’s grinding guitaron tracks such as ”Fire” makes you feel as if you’re right in thestudio. Docked a notch for its new cover, but notfor its music.
43 Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (1990, Deutsche Grammophon) Until now,you couldn’t listen to Beethoven’s extra-long Ninth without changingthe record- sometimes right in the middle of the music.So the master’s unintended soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange isperfect for CD, especially in this blazing live performance LeonardBernstein conducted to celebrate the end of the Berlin Wall.
44 Neil Young Decade (1977, Reprise) A great summation of theFlannel Man’s first 10 years. Even in those days, Young wore lots ofhats: Buffalo Springfield country rocker, hit-making folk-singer, and pre-alternative thrasher. Then, as now, Young wasunpredictable and could be exasperatingly elusive-not that there’sanything wrong with that.
45 Madonna The Immaculate Collection (1990, Sire/Warner Bros.) Heralbums have never quite held together, but you can’t say the same forMs. Ciccone’s singles, gathered here in all their relentless,deep-throated glory. And the program button on your CD player ishandy if you want to skip the nonentity ”Justify My Love.”
46 Run-D.M.C. Together Forever: Greatest Hits 1983-1991 (1991,Profile) Most early rap acts fell by the wayside or faded away aftera few hits, but not these hard hitters from Queens. As this poundingcollection reinforces, the reasons are simple: no-nonsense beats, slybits of funk and hard rock, and, above all, great mouths.
47 Duke Ellington The Blanton-Webster Band (1986, Bluebird/RCA)The very symbol of hip elegance for half a century, Ellington broughtsymphonic grandeur to jazz and street wile to orchestral music. If hehad a peak (and that’s arguable), it would be the years around 1940,when the simultaneous arrival of cocomposer Billy Strayhorn, bassistJimmy Blanton, and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster inspired their bossthe way he inspired the whole jazz world.
48 Patti Smith Horses (1975, Arista) Back then, Smith’s debutsounded surly, an inflammable marriage of rock and poetry if youliked her, a tuneless mess if you didn’t. Now she sounds like acrucial link in musical history, a bridge between the VelvetUnderground and the deliberately unpolished incantations of today’scollege bands.
49 R.E.M.: Murmur (1983, I.R.S.) A Byrds-influenced guitarist,cryptic lyrics, and a weird lead singer (Michael Stipe) whoseenigmatic mumble slides into a wail: The combination catapulted thisAthens, Ga., band from local heroes to college-radio staples to themusic superstars we know today. Remastering this debut album for CDfurther heightens and clarifies a sound that was already hauntinglybeautiful. This was thefuture of rock in 1983.
50 K.D. Lang and The Reclines Absolute Torch and Twang(1989,Sire)At a thrilling crossroads between her country past and herchanteuse future, lang shines in every style, whether it’s a liltingballad like ”Trail of Broken Hearts” or a stomping hoedown like ”BigBoned Gal.” If there’s such a thing as giddy maturity, then langinvented it here.
51 Joni Mitchell Court and Spark (1974, Asylum) After six passiveacoustic albums, Joni steps out with Tom Scott’s slick L.A. rockers.Amazingly, she exhibits spunk (”Raised on Robbery”) and humor(”Twisted”) while sacrificing none of the incisive lyricism that hasinspired the likes of Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Rickie Lee Jones. Acareer turning point for an astounding talent.
52 Stevie Wonder Innervisions (1973, Motown) Journey back to thedays when Stevie was a one-man-band visionary, and when thesongs-”Living for the City,” ”Golden Lady,” ”All in Love Is Fair,””Higher Ground”-tumbled out effortlessly and beautifully.
53 Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols(1977, Warner Bros.) These supreme punk rockers didn’t bring theworld to an end, though people thought that’s what they were tryingto do. All they ended was themselves, since they broke up less than ayear after Bollocks came out. But they shook up rock & roll forever,with songs that still sound frightening and vital.
54 Elvis Costello & the Attractions Girls Girls Girls (1990,Columbia) He may ! now be immersed in string quartets and wordydiatribes, but at one time Costello spun out one concise, nervousnugget after another. Here are 47 of them-sequenced in no particularorder by the man himself-on two CDs that never fail to remind you ofhis gift for a melody and a clever turn of phrase.
55 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Deja Vu (1970, Atlantic) The hypewas intense, the egos were huge, and Deja Vu was why. CSNY’sunparalleled harmony singing put the shine on a communeful of hippieanthems: Nash’s ”Teach Your Children,” Young’s ”Helpless,” Crosby’s”Almost Cut My Hair,” and Stills’ reading of Joni Mitchell’s”Woodstock” are hippiedom at its most righteous and passionate.
56 Various Artists Turn the Beat Around/The Disco Years, Part 1(1990, Rhino) The silliest slogan of the ’70s: ”Disco Sucks.” Foremphatic proof that it didn’t, consult the first volume of thisentrancing series, which among much else proves that disco wasprophetic: The vivid bass and lushly layered production of songs like”Turn the Beat Around” and ”The Hustle” demand that you hear it onCD.
57 Sinead O’Connor I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got(1990,Chrysalis) Before the uproar over the national anthem, thepope, and the Dylan tribute came this raw, compassionate, angry albumwhose music matched O’C0onnor’s unblinking stare on the cover:O’Connor takes on everything from lost love to racism in Britain, andher yowl will shred your speakers.
58 Santana Lotus (1974, Columbia) Recorded live in Japan in 1973,this scalding double disc captures the band at the oven-hot peak ofits Latin-jazz fusion phase, led by the banshee wail of Carlos’ ownguitar. And don’t worry- the hits (”Black Magic Woman,” ”Oye ComoVa”) are here too.
59 Rod Stewart The Mercury Anthology (1992, Mercury/Polygram)Forget the embalmed remakes of ”Maggie May” and other chestnuts onUnplugged and Seated. This double CD, which includes the originalrecordings of those songs and wondrous album cuts, captures Rod theMod’s prime time (1969-1974) in all its raw-voiced, vulnerable glory.
60 Various Artists Best of the Girl Groups, Volume 1 (1990, Rhino)First you surrender to the sheer joy of these early treasures,recorded between 1961 and 1966. Then you realize that they’reproto-feminist, the first rock & roll that showed us love the waywomen see it. Even now, can you listen to ”Will You Still Love MeTomorrow” without crying?
61 SLAYER Seasons in the Abyss (1990, American).Great musicdoesn’t always sound pretty. So this first-major label record by themasters of speed-metal horror is much more than just a sensoryassault. It’s a key document of ’80s thrash, and one of the tightest,darkest records ever made, with guitar solos that cut more wildlythan any slasher.
62 Derek and the Dominos Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs(1970, Polydor) Duane Allman joins Eric Clapton and company, andpushes Clapton to his greatest recorded singing and playing ever.Long before the title tune’s rebirth as an Unplugged ballad, hescreeched it like a wounded animal. With passion and power to spare,this is the album that proved Clapton was much more than a GuitarGod.
63 Billie Holliday The Legacy (1991, Columbia Jazz Masterpieces)At a time when jazz singers were measured by how powerfully they putout a song, Lady Day showed that she was not a pro, but an artist whopulled listeners into her. What they found there, through the songsin this career-spanning (19tk to 19tk) three-CD set, was torturedreverie.
64 The Stooges Funhouse (1970, Elektra) Recorded during the timewhen Iggy Pop was smearing himself with peanut butter and leapingonto glass, this grinding gale storm was acid-punk before punk wascool. Like Exile on Main St. and The Velvet Underground & Nico, thesound is sharper than on vinyl without losing its punch.
65 Various Artists Hip Hop Greats: Classic Raps (1990, Rhino)Nearly everything you need to know about the dawn of rap-from thegenre’s first major hit, the Sugarhill Gang’s ”Rapper’s Delight,”through milestones like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’schilling ghetto tale, ”The Message,” and Kurtis Blow’s ”The Breaks.”
66 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1957, Verve)Jazz singing has a gospel, and it’s the tk volumes of Ella Fitzgerald”songbooks” that instantly became and still remain the definitiveinterpretations of the pre-rock repertoire. By turns sassy, smart,sultry, and tough, Ella cuts to the essence of Cole Porter, theGershwins, Rodgers and Hart, et al. But it took her 1957 recordingsof Ellington to let her really kick in and swing.
67 The Clash London Calling (1980, Epic) This historical landmarkof punk now sounds almost like classic rock, thanks to smartproduction values and songs that were pent-up but still unabashedlymelodic. That doesn’t mean a sonic whiplash like ”Train in Vain”has lost any of its fire on CD, though.
68 The Spinners A One of a Kind Love Affair (1991, Atlantic)Philly Soul collections are either hard to come by or incomplete, soopt for this two-disc retrospective of the era’s sharpest vocalgroup. The extended version of ”Mighty Love” and the way the remixaccentuates the percussion on ”I’ll Be Around” are reasons enough.
69 Jefferson Airplane 2400 Fulton Street-The CD Collection (1987,RCA) In the days of free love and LSD, Jefferson Airplane was theClass of ’67’s most charismatic band. Thanks to the explosive voicesof Marty Balin and Grace Slick, the Airplane’s spacey psychedelicblues and fist-in-the-air politics rang out loud and clear back when”Plastic Fantastic Lover” actually became an anthem-and made sense.
70 Metallica Master of Puppets (1986, Elektra) Five years later,they topped the charts. But when they sold a million copies of thisalbum to their underground audience, nobody guessed they’d ever growup. And with their icy speed-metal assault whipping out withunprecedented majestic force, nobody would have wanted them to.
71 The Police Every Breath You Take: The Singles (1986,A&M) Talkabout perfect recipes. Take one brilliant pop song-writer (Sting).Mix in equal parts modal jazz melodies and reggae rhythms. Blend withpunk-rock vitality. Result: some of the ’80’s most ravishing radiofare.
72 Loretta Lynn Country Music Hall of Fame Series (1991, MCA): TheCoal Miner’s Daughter is more than just a rags-to-riches story. Lynnwas the first woman in country music to take control of her ownmaterial, singing and writing songs from a decidedly female point ofview. With hits like ”Don’t Come Home A Drinkin”’ and ”Your Squaw Ison the Warpath,” this 1961-76 collection reinforces her as a feistytrailblazer.
73 Anita Baker Rapture (1986, Elektra) R&B singles can be majorpop phenomena. R&B albums generally aren’t-except this one, whichsupplied an elegant soundtrack for a mid-’80s generation ofR&B-loving adults. Cynics might tag it as a remnant of the earlydays, when only yuppies bought CDs. But they’d better listen again.Those smooth, supple songs stand up.
74 The Smiths Best…I (1992 Sire) If the Clash defines the ’70sin British rock, the Smiths personify the ’80s-they responded to thedepressed environment of their working-class hometown (Manchester)with music that was both angry (Johnny Marr’s furious guitar) andsad (Morrissey’s irresistibly morose lyrics-who else could make youjoyfully hum along to a song called ”Girlfriend in a Coma”?). Thehits are here, but the sonic resonance of the Marr guitar-fest ”HowSoon Is Now?” is what makes this collection mandatory.
75 Pet Shop Boys Discography: The Complete Singles Collection(1991,EMI) Who knew dance music could sound so compassionate, or soinnocently profound? And all without sacrificing melody. The two newsongs on this career retrospective aren’t up to the rest, but atleast we get a fab hit not found on any album – ” Where the StreetsHave No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You),” their simultaneousparody of the Four Seasons and U2.
76 Various Artists The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (1987,Shanachie) If you think great rock & roll has to be in English, thisSouth African compilation is a delightful slap in the face, raisingthe curtain on a whole continent of incredible music. Just becauseyou can’t pronounce the titles (” Awungilobolele”? Gesundheit)doesn’t mean you won’t be dancing around your living room with astupid grin.
77 James Taylor Sweet Baby James (1970, Warner Bros.) The albumthat taught thin guitar-playing boys to get sensitive. Taylor’s clearbaritone and uncluttered arrangements are the perfect tools for someof his best early material, including ”Fire and Rain” and ”CountryRoad.”
78 The Allman Brothers Band The Fillmore Concerts (1971, Polydor)An expanded edition of the FM radio mainstay At Fillmore East, thisepochal live set captures the peak of the Southern rock jam. DuaneAllman’s slide has never sounded better-plus you can listen to the33-minute ”Mountain Jam” without having to flip over the LP.
79 Aerosmith Toys in the Attic (1976, Columbia) Critics used tosneer at Aerosmith’s big-lipped brand of hard rock. Now they hailSteve Tyler and his gang as the successors to the Rolling Stones,citing Toys in the Attic as the group’s most irrepressible romp.Which only proves that the kids who rocked out to it nearly 20 yearsago were right all along.
80 Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-1983) (1992,Columbia) During those 28 years, Cash did it all: made bare-bonedrockabilly records, got famous, screwed up, got his act together,made bare-boned country, screwed up some more, found God and gospelmusic-and still managed to continually expand – the range and depthof American music. This stately three-CD overview takes you throughhis magnificent highs and riveting lows.
81 Rolling Stones The Singles Collection (1991, Abkco) If youdon’t know why this cornucopia made our list, maybe you don’t likerock & roll. It’s not for the set’s many B-sides, fascinating as theyare, or for the historical kick of hearing the Stones evolve from onesong to the next. Some hints: ”Let’s Spend the Night Together,””Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” ”Satisfaction”
82 Eagles Hotel California (1976, Asylum): You could argue thatthis isn’t necessarily the L.A. hedonists’ best album-not all of thematerial is up to par. But for sheer sonic beauty, and the presenceof the title track and ”Life in the Fast Lane,” it may as well be.
83 Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973, Polydor) We figureyou already own his Greatest Hits, so dip a bit deeper into his vast(and uneven) catalog for this double album, now available on onedisc. His most effective song cycle, it has its share of hits (thetitle song, ”Candle in the Wind,” ”Saturday Night’s Alright forFighting”) alongside darker rockers such as ”All the Young Girls LoveAlice.”
84 Ornette Coleman Free Jazz (1960,Atlantic) The shock, at thetime of its release, was that this experiment in atonal improvisationdefied any known music theory. It’s truly free human feeling in allits irrational glory. The kicker is that today this music stillstartles as only honest emotion can.
85 Parliament Tear the Roof Off 1974-1980 (1993, Casablanca)George Clinton has spread his whacked-out stew of poppin’ funk, hardrock, and sci-fi over albums by his groups Parliament and Funkadelic,as well as his own solo albums. Of the most readily available CDs,this trippy, booti-licious two-disc trip into the world of Clinton’salter ago, Dr. Funkenstein, will truly-to paraphrase one of hissongs-funk you up.
86 Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra (1954, RCA) Yes, the soundtracktheme from 2001, in a version made 40 years ago, when classicalrecorded sound-so audiophiles proclaim-was at its peak. This richlydetailed performance by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony,finally out on CD, proves them right.
87 The Quintet Jazz at Massey Hall (1953, Fantasy/OJC) This sideof downtown heaven, there was one perfect bebop band, recorded inToronto: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus,and Max Roach. On horns, the two founding geniuses of the flippybraintease called bop; on piano, the music’s cult madman; on bass,its most ferocious composer; and on drums, the dapper host. Together,they created something every born Marsalis can only emulate.
88 George Jones The Best of George Jones (1955-1967) (1991, Rhino)No single CD could ever tell the Possum’s entire story, but The Bestof serves his early honky-tonk years well. Jones is the acid testthat separates the real country fans from the hunk-watchers. If hisaching tenor doesn’t choke you up, you’ve been in the city too long.
89 Buddy Holly From the Original Master Tapes (1985, MCA) With aningratiating hiccup in his voice, the shy Texan exhibited astaggering range of styles, from rockabilly to R&B to string-ladenpop. Given the way his record company often massacred his tapes withoverdubs after his death in 1959, hearing the unvarnished Crickets(especially drummer Jerry Allison) is pure rock & roll joy.
90 Talking Heads Popular Favorites 1976-1983 and 1984-1992 /Sandin the Vaseline (1992, Sire) David Byrne’s journey from buttoned-upnerd-wave star to buttoned-up world-music explorer both propels andlends depth to this beguiling two-disc set. Over 33 tracks, you canhear the group’s gradual growth from its ”Psycho Killer” days to itsexperiments with African rhythms and white-folk funk.
91 Bonnie Raitt The Bonnie Raitt Collection (1990, Warner Bros.)For years, before Nick of Time, Raitt was a cult favorite who was abit too raw for radio. Listening to the brassy Dixieland bounce of”Give It Up or Let Me Go” and the bluesy ”Love Me Like a Man,” wehave to wonder: Why did it take so long for everyone else to notice?
92 Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits (1988, Warner Bros.) The stylisticand romantic discords that made Rumours one of rock’s top-sellingalbums eventually did Mac in. For a while, though, the group’smelding of a blues-influenced British rhythm section with theCalifornia passions of former lovers Lindsey Buckingham and StevieNicks epitomized pop on the eve of New Wave. This set includes thebest of Rumours, plus such hits as ”Rhiannon” and ”Tusk.”
93 Lynyrd Skynyrd Gold and Platinum (1980, MCA) Their three-guitarattack and rough-boys stance still pack a wallop..But it wassinger-songwriter Ronnie Van Zandt, who wasn’t afraid to admit to histroubles beneath the bluster, that made Skynyrd a truly greatband-and this double-CD hits package is a Southern rock essential.
94 The Byrds 20 Essential Tracks From The Boxed Set: 1965-1990(1992, Columbia/Legacy) Roger McGuinn and company were once called”America’s answer to the Beatles,” and in terms of influence, it’seasy to see why. This distillation of their boxed set has all theearly hits plus four new cuts. Even though it inexplicably skips overSweetheart of the Rodeo, it’s still a good place to begin listeningto a band without whom folk-rock and country- rock wouldn’t exist.
95 The Weavers At Carnegie Hall (1956, Vanguard) If you’re goingto give modern folk music a birth date, it would be Dec. 24, 1955,the night the Weavers played Carnegie Hall after three years on JoeMcCarthy’s blacklist. The ’60s folk boom was cast in the Weavers’mold: topical songs and robust voices, delivered with humor andrevival-meeting fervor.
96 Husker Du Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987, Warner Bros.)Before Nirvana, no one fused hardcore punk with sharp songcraft aseffortlessly as this now- disbanded Minneapolis trio. And evenNirvana might have problems sustaining that power over the course oftwo LPs (now on one CD), as the Huskers did on this window-rattlingmasterwork.
97 Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions Anthology (1992, MCA) Atwo-fer in its own way, this double disc combines Mayfield’s warmsingles with the Impressions-R&B standards like ”It’s All Right” and”I’m So Proud,” each with harmonies that melt like buttah-and a discof his solo work, including his Superfly hits. Freddie will never bedead.
98 Big Brother and the Holding Company Cheap Thrills (1967,Columbia) Argue, if you will, that Janis Joplin made more subtlerecords, with more accomplished backup bands. But it was this album,with such songs as ”Ball and Chain” and ”Piece of My Heart,” thatfirst made us love her. It will always remain the quintessentialJoplin sound: desperate, but also wild, fierce, and proud, anirresistible invitation to get up and dance.
99 Nenah Cheri Homebrew (1992, Birgin) A supple, genre-bendingblen of hip- hop, free-form jazz, and rock guitar that personifiessmart ’90s chick pop. Cherry’s second album makes up in heart, soul,and sass what it lacks in high- tech studio production.
100 Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing-Off (1988, Rhino)Every good drink needs a chaser, so check this out-a collectionfeaturing the worst records ever made. But they’re also the funniest,as William Shatner pummels ”Mr. Tambourine Man,” Leonard Nimoyponders the bewildering enigma of ”Proud Mary,” and Jack Webb (”Justthe facts, ma’am”) rasps his way through ”Try a Little Tenderness.”