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50 albums that changed music

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From "The Observer" 16th July

Fifty years old this month, the album chart has tracked the history of pop. But only a select few records have actually altered the course of music. To mark the anniversary, Kitty Empire pays tribute to a sublime art form, and our panel of critics argues for 50 albums that caused a revolution. To see the 50, click here

Sunday July 16, 2006

The Observer

A longside film, the pop album was the defining art form of the 20th century, the soundtrack to vast technological and social change. Once, sets of one-sided 78rpm phonograph discs were kept together in big books, like photographs in an album. The term 'album' was first used specifically in 1909, when Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite was released on four double-sided discs in one package. The first official top 10 round-up of these newfangled musical delivery-modes was issued in Britain on 28 July 1956, making the pop album chart 50 years old this month.

Singles were immediate, ephemeral things. Albums made pondering pop and rock into a valid intellectual pursuit. Friendships were founded, love could blossom, bands could be formed, all from flicking through someone's album collection. Owning certain albums became like shorthand; a manifesto for everything you stood for, and against: the Smiths' Meat is Murder , Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Before lasers replaced needles, albums had sides. They were a game of two halves, building towards an intermission; more than the sum of their constituent songs. At least, the good ones were. Some of them still are, except they can now last 70-plus minutes, over twice as long as their vinyl forebears. Is this bloat, or value for money? The debate rumbles on.

Entire lifestyles built up around albums, smoking dope to albums, having sex to albums. You lent your favourite albums out with trepidation; you ruefully replaced them, on CD, when they didn't come back. Getting hitched paled into insignificance next to merging record collections with your loved one. Getting rid of the doubles made divorce unthinkable. Elastica once sang, of waking: 'Make a cup of tea, put a record on.' That's how generations of hip young (and not so young) people have lived.

But for how much longer? Downloading favours the song, not the album. MP3 players favour personal playlists or shuffling. Listeners are already tiring of keeping company with an artist for an hour or more, as an album meanders beyond mere singles.

The album as we know it might not last another 50 years, maybe not even another 10. But just as artists show groups of paintings in galleries, songs will continue to be written in clumps, connected by theme or time, and presented to a public, just as the Nutcracker Suite once was.

On these pages are 50 clumps of songs, in descending order of importance, that we think caused a sea change in pop music, not always for the good, but without which many bands or entire genres would not exist. They are the sets of songs which have had the greatest lasting influence on music.

It was agonising, having to pick only 50. Why did we include NWA, but not Public Enemy? Probably because their influence was more pervasive. Why Fairport Convention and not The Incredible String Band? Because we had to plump for the single most influential album in British folk rock. And why no Rolling Stones? Because, brilliant though they are, they picked up an established musical idiom and ran with it rather than inventing something entirely new.

Our panel: James Bennett, Kitty Empire, Dave Gelly, Lynsey Hanley, Sean O'Hagan, Elle J Small, Neil Spencer.

To see the 50, click here

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No Rollling Stones at all?? Not even "December´s Children"?? Well, at least someone agrees with me:

7 Patti Smith

Horses (1975)

Who would have thought punk rock was, in part, kickstarted by a girl? Poet, misfit and New York ligger, Patti channelled the spirits of Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and Rimbaud into female form, and onto an album whose febrile energy and Dionysian spirit helped light the touchpaper for New York punk. The Robert Mapplethorpe-shot cover, in which a hungry, mannish Patti stares down the viewer, defiantly broke with the music industry's treatment of women artists (sexy or girl-next-door) and still startles today.

Without this ... no REM, PJ Harvey, Razorlight. And no powerful female pop icons like Madonna.

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On NWA's 1989 Straight Outta' Compton album: Without this ... no Eminem, no 50 Cent, no Dizzee Rascal.

.... and ?

Most of the artists this site listed were deserving, they even managed to get a few, that I thought would be overlooked, but a few of their "Without this" mentions would be better off unknown to the music world (i.g. Spice Girls, Justin Timberlake, etc.)

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While I agree with you musical wise, you have to admit that there are many, many people out there who love Eminem, Justin Timberlake etc.

And this list isn't about good music (what is "good music", anyway?), but about albums who introduced/influenced new styles in music history.

at least that's what I think of it...

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Two extremely influencial names not on that list were Ray Charles, whose gifts of fusing Jazz, Country, R&B into a pop stew, really opened the gate and gave credibility to later cross genres of music. Giving the green light for the Everly Brothers' country roots to begin rocking, as well as many black acts formerly pidgeon-holed in do-wop. Thank goodness groups like Santana have not had to stay "in their place." And Ray was the first to move into the neighborhood.

Also a nod to Roy Orbison would have been nice. As Bono once said, "Without Roy, it's possible that a manly man would still feel uncomfortable singing in a falsetto." Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen are among the MANY acts who give credit to Roy for inspiration to write intimate, heartfelt lyrics, as well as sing them.

Was glad to see the diversity of the list. No problems at all with it, but I thought the list was a bit Brit-centric, But then that's as it should be for a British poll.

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"Without this, there'd be no ... Bowie, Roxy Music, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Jesus and Mary Chain, among many others."

For VU & Nico, but they could have just said "without this, there'd be no alternative rock"

"3. Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express"

I agree with Kraftwerk being on there, but Autobahn was more important in my opinion.

"Without this ... no Eminem, no 50 Cent, no Dizzee Rascal."

For NWA, but they could have just said "without this there'd be no gangsta rap"

I'm glad they honored The Stooges - "Raw Power"

I think Are You Experienced? should have been higher, but I'm biased

I'm glad they honored "Headhunters" by Herbie Hancock

I'm glad they honored "Blue Lines" by Massive Attack

"Nevermind" should have been a lot higher

No Chieftains album? None at all from the band who single-handedly brought Celtic music to the worldwide masses?

This list was very biased towards British music

That's all I have to say

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