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.
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.
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.
Suicide, Suicide (1977)
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.
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.
The Slits, Cut (1979)
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.
ESG, Come Away With ESG (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.
Tortoise, 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.
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.
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.