4.) The Beatles (The White Album)-The Beatles
From a literal point of view, The White Album isn't really a Beatles album at all. It's more like two solo albums, one for John and one for Paul, and two EPs for George and Ringo. Only on two songs ("Birthday" and "Cry Baby Cry") does the band share vocals. Nevertheless, it is 30 songs. 30 frigin' songs! And that's what ultimately makes The White Album so great. It gives all four Beatles the freedom to make the music they want to make with very few limits.
And, boy, did they take advantage; The White Album is easily the Beatles' most eclectic release. Of course, the diversity on this album is enormous, allowing listeners to hear every great brand of the Beatles' music. Lennon's "Julia" and McCartney's "Martha My Dear" are simple and incredibly beautiful love songs. "Birthday," "Helter Skelter," and the Beach Boys-influenced "Back In The U.S.S.R." are rollicking rockers, bringing to mind the Beatles' earlier works. And "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," Harrison's "Long, Long, Long" and "Wild Honey Pie" are subtle and almost avant-garde, demonstrating the Beatles' evolution from mop-topped rock and roll stars to innovative and progressive pop artists. The White Album may be a mess, with little organization and group dynamic, but it's a pretty damn beautiful mess.
3.) Thriller-Michael Jackson
You know that old phrase "music is the universal language of mankind?" No where does that better apply than Michael Jackson's Thriller. Not even with the Beatles. How else to explain that, even without a hit song in almost 15 years and a hit album in almost 20, and sexual abuse charges and bizarre behavior damaging his public image during that time, MJ was treated as a hero when he died last summer? In the end, it all comes down to Thriller.
During a time when Linkin Park, Black Eyed Peas, and other garbage dominated my playlists, I purchased Thriller at my local Barnes and Noble solely based on its legend. One listen through, and I was hooked like a fish on a rod. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "P.Y.T." are dance-pop at its most irresistible. The ballads "Human Nature" and "The Lady In My Life" are tender and poignant. And "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" are, well, perfect. Michael Jackson literally sounds on top the world on Thriller; there's no rhythm he can't handle and no note he can't hit.
2.) Vitalogy-Pearl Jam
For the longest time, Pearl Jam has been my favorite band, and it even feels a bit sacrilegious not putting them at #1. And also for the longest time, I considered PJ's Vs. to be my favorite album. And then there's, of course, Ten, the magical album that that introduced me, like so many others, to the band in the first place.
As of today, at least, I consider Vitalogy to be the groups greatest effort. It's the perfect balance between the epic and emotional intensity of Ten and Vs. and the more subtle beauty of their later work, like No Code and Yield. Vitalogy is also Pearl Jam's most uncompromising album to date, a quality that may be off-putting at first but ultimately rewarding in the end. After only a few listens, fierce punk-rockers like "Whipping," "Not For You" and "Spin The Black Circle" sound exhilarating. But for every song that requires patience ("Tremor Christ" and "Satan's Bed," additionally), Eddie Vedder and Co. toss in tender and gorgeous gems like "Nothingman," "Immortality," and especially "Better Man" that demonstrate Vedder at his songwriting best.
1.) OK Computer-Radiohead
Like I've done for every other album on this list, I listened to Radiohead's OK Computer a full way through in preparation for this post. Still, I couldn't find the capacity to conjure up words for an album, and band, I became infatuated with two winters ago. Then I listened to it again. And again. And again. Four times through OK Computer, and I still had nothing. But I sure enjoyed every second of it.
Maybe that's the real beauty of a record like OK Computer. I can listen to it in its entire length, multiple times through, and not even think about it. As I find it, OK Computer is as mentally and psychologically dominating as anything I've ever heard. This isn't an album you can multi-task to.
The palpable paranoia in Thom Yorke's voice on "Climbing Up The Walls" and "Karma Police;" Jonny Greenwood's sweet, delicate guitar tones on "Subterranean Homesick Alien" and "No Surprises;" the band's thrilling transitions between musical sections on "Paranoid Android." It may sound like an old cliche by now, but OK Computer enraptures you. Call me old-fashioned, but in our culture of iPhones, Twitter and 24-hour news cycles, I find nothing more tranquil than lying in my bed, listening to music, staring into space, and allowing the sounds and words coming out of my headphones to take over. And for those occasions, I know the one album I can always go to.