Music

The 50 Coolest Albums ever

What, no insert-name-of-favourite-band-here?

Popular music has always been inextricably linked to the notion of cool. Whether that be looking cool, sounding cool or by not giving a flying fig about anything else and doing exactly as you please (very cool). Sometimes, it has been all three.

And while cool can often be a spurious and amorphous object, some elements endure. What we have for you here, therefore, are the 50 coolest albums of all time. A contentious claim? No doubt. But we assure you, your record/MP3 collection is seriously lacking in kudos without these 50 records.

What have we missed? Any glaring howlers? Come on, folks, let us know below. Let the mud-slinging begin…

Click on each image for more information.

You can also watch an entire YouTube playlist right here

  • Frank Sinatra: In The Wee Small Hours (1955)

    Frank Sinatra: In The Wee S…

    Frank Sinatra’s comeback and reinvention in the 1950s… More details

    Frank Sinatra: In The Wee Small Hours (1955)

    Frank Sinatra: In The Wee Small Hours (1955)

    Frank Sinatra’s comeback and reinvention in the 1950s established a template that rock’n’roll would gladly emulate. But of more interest for would-be hipsters was the idea of a concept album. Having split from Ava Gardner, Sinatra poured himself into a series of thematic recordings that evoked the utter desolation only the end of a love affair can bring. At the age of 40, and parading a natty line in sharp suits, it’s arguable that The Chairman of the Board never looked cooler too.

    Key track: Mood Indigo

  • Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956)

    Elvis Presley: Elvis Presle…

    Before Elvis there was nothing. Not completely true – as… More details

    Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956)

    Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956)

    Before Elvis there was nothing. Not completely true – as our list demonstrates – but John Lennon’s oft-quoted line does highlight what a catalyst the boy from Tupelo, Mississippi was for rock’n’roll. And if it’s the music’s first heady rush you’re after, The King’s debut album captures it and more. From the opening Blue Suede Shoes to energetic interpretations of Tutti Frutti and I Got A Woman, this is seminal stuff. Iconic cover too.

    Key track: Blue Suede Shoes

  • Robert Johnson: King of The Delta Blues Singers (1961)

    Robert Johnson: King of The…

    If popular music could be said to have a mythical father… More details

    Robert Johnson: King of The Delta Blues Singers (1961)

    Robert Johnson: King of The Delta Blues Singers (1961)

    If popular music could be said to have a mythical father figure it is Robert Johnson. The story goes that he sold his soul to the devil in order to become a master blues guitar player. This Faustian story casts a long shadow over rock’n’roll and the flip side of fame – Johnson himself was murdered at the age of 27, thus becoming the original member of the 27 Club. However, this 1961 collection of recordings made in the Thirties explains the reason for Johnson’s voluble musical influence. Delta blues with a raw sexual energy, without it the likes of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and co would have sounded very different.

    Key track: Cross Road Blues

  • James Brown: Live At The Apollo (1963)

    James Brown: Live At The Ap…

    James Brown had many sobriquets: The Godfather of Soul; Mr… More details

    James Brown: Live At The Apollo (1963)

    James Brown: Live At The Apollo (1963)

    James Brown had many sobriquets: The Godfather of Soul; Mr Dynamite, Soul Brother Number One… but on his best album, Live At The Apollo, the most applicable is The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. You can smell the sweat cascading down the Harlem walls, as Brown lays down the roots for funk, hip hop, disco and every other black music worth its dancing trousers, in an extraordinary and generous display of visceral sonic power.

    Key track: I’ll Go Crazy

    Links to buy/listen:

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    iTunes

    Spotify

  • The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

    The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

    Before 1966, it was tempting to think of rock’n’roll as… More details

    The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

    The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

    Before 1966, it was tempting to think of rock’n’roll as a fad whose time would eventually fade. Three albums released that year put paid to that ludicrous notion. Firstly, the Beach Boys’ astounding Pet Sounds; secondly Bob Dylan’s majestic Blonde on Blonde, and, finally, the Beatles’ Revolver. All three legitimised the idea of the album as a valid artform and reduced the single to mere ephemera. Revolver remains the coolest of the triumvirate by dint of combining wild studio experimentation with bold ambition and melodic accessibility. Quite simply, an album for all ages.

    Key track: Tomorrow Never Knows

  • Dusty Springfield: Dusty In Memphis (1969)

    Dusty Springfield: Dusty In…

    Incredibly for a singer oozing a rare warmth and blessed… More details

    Dusty Springfield: Dusty In Memphis (1969)

    Dusty Springfield: Dusty In Memphis (1969)

    Incredibly for a singer oozing a rare warmth and blessed with a vocal range the equal of US greats Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield was suffering from a crisis of credibility come the late Sixties. Thankfully, having signed to the Atlantic label, it was decided to take her voice to its natural habitat, Memphis. The resulting album was a flawless and classic melange of powerful soul, mellifluous R&B and, vitally, infectious pop.

    Key track: Son of a Preacher Man

    Links to buy/listen:

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    iTunes

    Spotify

  • John Phillips: John, the Wolf King Of LA (1969)

    John Phillips: John, the Wo…

    As the principal songwriter in sunshine-soaked, melody… More details

    John Phillips: John, the Wolf King Of LA (1969)

    John Phillips: John, the Wolf King Of LA (1969)

    As the principal songwriter in sunshine-soaked, melody merchants The Mamas & Papas, John Phillips knew his way around an irresistible hook. As a confirmed drug abuser, he was also familiar with the dissolute end of the Sixties dream. Both elements combined to stunning effect on his debut solo album. A dazzling mix of folk, country, gospel, rock and languid pop, it was, incredibly a commercial flop. Successive generations of songwriters have since paid testament to its musical majesty.

    Key track: April Ann

  •   Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (1970)

    Miles Davis: Bitches Brew…

    How cool was Miles Davis? He was a key player in untold… More details

      Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (1970)

    Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (1970)

    How cool was Miles Davis? He was a key player in untold musical movements, inspired everyone from Sly Stone to John Lydon and led a life rich with colourful hedonism. Pretty cool then, as his 1957 album, Birth of the Cool laid bare. His finest album, though, was 1970’s experimental avant-garde masterpiece, Bitches Brew. Inspired by the likes of Hendrix and Sly Stone, its improvised quality and crossover appeal gave birth to jazz fusion. A challenging, at times impenetrable listen, it remains a benchmark in modern music.

    Key track: John McLaughlin

  • Can: Tago Mago (1971)

    Can: Tago Mago (1971)

    Krautrock can be an unforgiving beast. Like jazz it gave no… More details

    Can: Tago Mago (1971)

    Can: Tago Mago (1971)

    Krautrock can be an unforgiving beast. Like jazz it gave no thought to the three-minute pop song, preferring freeform grooves that wandered from note-to-note like some sonic picaresque novel. Can’s Tago Mago is a fantastic example of this. On paper it sounds like a mess – jazz, rock, ambient and funk all fighting for space. In reality, it hangs together as a mad, hypnotic symphony. Happy Mondays, Public Image Limited and The Fall were certainly listening.

    Key track: Halleluhwah

  • Sly & The Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

    Sly & The Family Stone: The…

    By 1970, the flower power optimism that pervaded Sly &… More details

    Sly & The Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

    Sly & The Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

    By 1970, the flower power optimism that pervaded Sly & The Family Stone’s psychedelic classics Life and Stand! had all but run dry. Stone’s decadent lifestyle put paid to that. However, while the songs on There’ a Riot Goin’ On are certainly darker – the album’s title allegedly a riposte to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin On – the songwriting is still beyond reproach. The funk flipside to the decaying hippy era it remains a brooding, malevolent tour de force.

    Key track: Family Affair

  •  Aretha Franklin: Young, Gifted and Black (1971)

    Aretha Franklin: Young, Gi…

    Singing songs written by Nina Simone, Lennon and McCartney… More details

     Aretha Franklin: Young, Gifted and Black (1971)

    Aretha Franklin: Young, Gifted and Black (1971)

    Singing songs written by Nina Simone, Lennon and McCartney and Bacharach & David, with the likes of musicians Dr John, Donny Hathaway and Billy Preston in the studio and Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler among those in the producer’s chair, anyone other than Aretha Franklin could have been dwarfed by such illustrious company. Lady Soul utterly thrives, however. Buoyed by the black power rhetoric of the time, this is not only Franklin’s most celebratory album, it is her most incendiary: an unforgettable statement of soul by a musician working at the peak of her powers.

    Key track: Rock Steady

  • Big Star: #1 Record (1972)

    Big Star: #1 Record (1972)

    If record sales were comparable to a band’s influence,… More details

    Big Star: #1 Record (1972)

    Big Star: #1 Record (1972)

    If record sales were comparable to a band’s influence, Big Star would have been the biggest selling band of all time. As incredible as it sounds today, in the early Seventies, the melodic pop proffered by the Beatles was at an all-time nadir. Alex Chilton and his band of Memphis musicians saw it differently. Their exuberant debut album is a hymn to timeless songwriting. Amazingly, it sold next to nothing, but it, and their following two albums, would go on to inspire everyone from REM to Primal Scream.

    Key track: The Ballad of El Goodo

  • The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main St (1972)

    The Rolling Stones: Exile O…

    Everything that straight society considered wrong (ie what… More details

    The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main St (1972)

    The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main St (1972)

    Everything that straight society considered wrong (ie what makes it so freaking great) with rock’n’roll is encapsulated in the Rolling Stones’ finest moment, Exile On Main Street. Led by Keef, the Stones constructed a double album that haphazardly, and in endearingly louche fashion, touched upon country rock, soul, gospel and blues. The pace of the album is slower than on previous Stones albums – all that high living on the French Riviera no doubt – and the music takes its time to reveal its bountiful charms, but its ragged glory is the exact source of its clout. And for that we are truly grateful.

    Key track: Torn and Frayed

  • Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power (1973)

    Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Pow…

    Despite those unfortunate insurance adverts Iggy Pop… More details

    Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power (1973)

    Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power (1973)

    Despite those unfortunate insurance adverts Iggy Pop remains one of music’s all-time fascinating characters. By embodying all of rock’n’roll’s contradictions he pervades his work with a wilful lunacy. None more so than on The Stooges’ final album, Raw Power. A glorious, messy and deranged parting shot, its swaggering nihilistic rock provided punk with a sonic template from which to fire its equally dangerous arrows.

    Key track: Search & Destroy

  • Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1973)

    Stevie Wonder: Innervisions…

    Of course it could easily have been Music of My Mind,… More details

    Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1973)

    Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1973)

    Of course it could easily have been Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Fulfillingness’ First Finale or Songs in the Key of Life, the albums that directly preceded and followed Innervisions. This run of five albums, in which Wonder displayed the full gamut of his talents as producer, arranger, composer and, of course, musician, is arguably the finest in the history of recorded music. Why Innervisions, then? It’s the most cohesive body of work in an unparalleled career.

    Key track: Living For The City

    Links to buy/listen:

    Amazon

    iTunes

    Spotify

  •   Dion: Born To Be With You (1975)

    Dion: Born To Be With You…

    Most musicians that publicly rubbish one of their own… More details

      Dion: Born To Be With You (1975)

    Dion: Born To Be With You (1975)

    Most musicians that publicly rubbish one of their own records do so with good reason. However, and without wishing to castigate the taste of one Dion DiMucci, he is wrong to criticise his 1975 album, Born To Be With You. Hailed as one of the greatest albums ever made by Pete Townshend, Jason Pierce and Richard Ashcroft, Born To Be With You was created with the divisive figure of Phil Spector as producer. As such, its blue-eyed soul is a widescreen work of wonder.

    Key track: Born To Be With You

  • Augustus Pablo: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (1976)

    Augustus Pablo: King Tubby …

    Dub is the ultimate in studio manipulation: a progenitor of… More details

    Augustus Pablo: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (1976)

    Augustus Pablo: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (1976)

    Dub is the ultimate in studio manipulation: a progenitor of all the various forms of dance music that followed it, in particular electronica. And King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown is the ultimate expression of this hypnotic form of experimentation. Augustus Pablo is the musical brains behind the project; King Tubby the sonic scientist that moulded the tunes into something extraordinary. Its influence on post-punk, trip hop, dubstep, ambient and even disco cannot be overestimated.

    Key track: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown

  • David Bowie: Low (1977)

    David Bowie: Low (1977)

    Picking the coolest chap in music might seem like a… More details

    David Bowie: Low (1977)

    David Bowie: Low (1977)

    Picking the coolest chap in music might seem like a thankless task, but David Bowie makes it easy. No one has displayed such musical dexterity or confounded as many critics as the man christened David Jones. Low, the first of his so-called Berlin Trilogy, is a case in point. Utterly out there in terms of brutal electronic minimalism and yet driven by a pop aesthetic, it spoke to everyone from Joy Division to the Human League in giving rise to the electro-pop revolution of the late Seventies and early Eighties.

    Key track: A New Career In A New Town

  • Kraftwerk: Trans Europe Express (1977)

    Kraftwerk: Trans Europe Exp…

    Four Germans who resembled a pack of studious bankers… More details

    Kraftwerk: Trans Europe Express (1977)

    Kraftwerk: Trans Europe Express (1977)

    Four Germans who resembled a pack of studious bankers doesn’t seem the most promising of musical beginnings. But everything about Kraftwerk turned convention on its head. Having emerged from the Krautrock movement, they truly found their voice on the synthesiser-led Autobahn. This success was replicated on Radio-Activity, before they issued their robotic pop magnum opus, Trans Europe Express. A formative influence on everything from hip hop to house and techno, this album – like all of Kraftwerk’s dazzling canon – still sounds like nothing else.

    Key track: Trans Europe Express

  • Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

    Television: Marquee Moon (1…

    Even more than Velvet Underground, the Ramones and Talking… More details

    Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

    Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

    Even more than Velvet Underground, the Ramones and Talking Heads, Television are the ultimate New York band. Arty, intellectual and well-versed in the seedier aspects of New York’s grimy underbelly, their sound reflected these contrasting influences as their debut album, Marquee Moon, attests. Moreover, the sparse, inventive sonics that coalesced so memorably on the album’s title track, would provide a template for every aspiring new wave band – from Sonic Youth to The Strokes – to emulate.

    Key track: Marquee Moon

  • John Martyn: One World (1977)

    John Martyn: One World (1977)

    On his 1973 album, Solid Air, folk legend John Martyn… More details

    John Martyn: One World (1977)

    John Martyn: One World (1977)

    On his 1973 album, Solid Air, folk legend John Martyn inadvertently created a chill-out classic. Four years later, his haunting, soporific grooves rubbed shoulders with dub – including work with Lee Perry on Big Muff – jazz and snatches of proto electronica. The result, One World, is mesmerising. Martyn’s voice hovers between gruff and delicate, while the crepuscular musical movements, most notably on the closing Small Hours, are entrancing.

    Key track: Small Hours

    Links to buy/listen:

    Amazon

    iTunes

    Spotify

  • Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (1978)

    Kate Bush: The Kick Inside …

    The poise, grace and the sheer breadth of talent displayed… More details

    Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (1978)

    Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (1978)

    The poise, grace and the sheer breadth of talent displayed on Kate Bush’s debut album, belies the fact that it was released when Bush was just 19. Propelled by the inordinate success of her first single, the staggering Wuthering Heights, The Kick Inside is a magical blend of dramatic rock and gentle balladry. Today, it sounds completely captivating, back then it must have seemed as though it was beamed in from another world.

    Key track: The Man With The Child In His Eyes

  • Chic: C’est Chic (1978)

    Chic: C’est Chic (1978)

    Chic were the archetypal disco outfit: impossibly… More details

    Chic: C’est Chic (1978)

    Chic: C’est Chic (1978)

    Chic were the archetypal disco outfit: impossibly glamorous, funkier than Sly Stone’s afro and possessed of a dancefloor nous that other musicians could only dream of. Their second album was their defining moment. Every track suggests some elegant New York night club (quite possibly Studio 54), while remaining resolutely accessible. Without C’est Chic, hip hop, house and techno would have sounded dramatically different, and, even more importantly, worse. Still think disco sucks? Put C’est Chic on your record player.

    Key track: Le Freak

  • Brian Eno: Music For Films (1978)

    Brian Eno: Music For Films …

    Although not as feted as some of the musicians he has… More details

    Brian Eno: Music For Films (1978)

    Brian Eno: Music For Films (1978)

    Although not as feted as some of the musicians he has worked with, Brian Eno casts an almost unquantifiable shadow over contemporary music. His fascinating sonic experiments have formed the backbone of every musical genre from post-rock to electronica. And while you could make a case for Here Come The Warm Jets, Discreet Music or Ambient 1: Music For Airports, as his best album, Music For Films is certainly his coolest. An astonishing piece of abstract ambient sounds it is a thoroughly bewitching listen.

    Key track: From The Same Hill

  • Michael Jackson: Off The Wall (1979)

    Michael Jackson: Off The Wa…

    Michael Jackson had jettisoned his first attempt at a solo… More details

    Michael Jackson: Off The Wall (1979)

    Michael Jackson: Off The Wall (1979)

    Michael Jackson had jettisoned his first attempt at a solo career, so much was riding on the release of Off The Wall, his first solo album as an adult. He needn’t have worried. An unapologetic and optimistic record that celebrated pop in all its varied forms, it touched upon disco, soul, funk and soft rock, and was an unqualified success. Despite the elephantine success of later albums, Thriller and Bad, Jackson would never sound this carefree again. Remember him this way.

    Key track: Don’t Stop ‘Til You Got Enough

  • The Clash: London Calling (1979)

    The Clash: London Calling (…

    Sometimes familiarity can dull an object’s freshness.… More details

    The Clash: London Calling (1979)

    The Clash: London Calling (1979)

    Sometimes familiarity can dull an object’s freshness. That is certainly not the case with London Calling. Displaying a sonic bravado that shamed many of their peers, The Clash decided to reach for the stars with their third album. They achieved this by simultaneously reaching back to rock’n’roll’s varied roots – such as rockabilly, ska and R&B – and looking to the future. As such it’s a magnificent and innovative call to arms, and one that hasn’t lost any its lustre down the years.

    Key track: Clampdown

  • Dexy’s Midnight Runners: Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

    Dexy’s Midnight Runners: …

    The coolest bands have always resembled a mythical last… More details

    Dexy’s Midnight Runners: Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

    Dexy’s Midnight Runners: Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

    The coolest bands have always resembled a mythical last gang in town. So it was with Dexys Midnight Runners. Looking like they’d just stepped off the set of a remake of On The Waterfront, their debut album, the evocatively titled, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, set a new benchmark for Motown-infused rock’n’roll. Making it might not have been a joy, the dictatorial demands of band leader Kevin Rowland forcing most of the band to quit after its release, but for listeners it was an unforgettable experience.

    Key track: There, There My Dear

  • New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)

    New Order: Power, Corruptio…

    Melding dance and rock has never been the easiest of… More details

    New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)

    New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)

    Melding dance and rock has never been the easiest of exercises. However, on their second album, New Order finally cracked it. Emboldened by what they’d seen – and heard - in New York’s energetic clubs, the band created the perfect fusion between machine-led grooves and human beauty. At a time when most British ‘indie’ groups were looking ever inward, New Order spread their wings and embraced the ecstatic stirrings in electronic music. Their home town of Manchester has certainly never been the same since.

    'Key track:'' Your Silent Face

  • ESG: Come Away With ESG (1983)

    ESG: Come Away With ESG (1983)

    It’s an unfortunate music biz fact that not every band or… More details

    ESG: Come Away With ESG (1983)

    ESG: Come Away With ESG (1983)

    It’s an unfortunate music biz fact that not every band or artist can reap the cool currency they engender during their lifetime – see the aforementioned Big Star for further proof. ESG, composed of the four Scoggins sisters from New York - know this better than most. Listened to today their imaginative debut album – a mix of post-punk, new wave, funk and hip hop friendly dance-led grooves – sounds thrilling, back then it seemed to fall between the gaps. Unearthed by crate diggers a decade ago, it was one of the most influential records of the early noughties. A shame it only took 20 years.

    Key track: Moody

  • The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy & The Lash (1985)

    The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy & T…

    The popular perception of The Pogues – informed, no… More details

    The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy & The Lash (1985)

    The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy & The Lash (1985)

    The popular perception of The Pogues – informed, no doubt, by Shane McGowan’s volatile behaviour – is that of a barely-held-together outfit; their music as ramshackle as their modus operandi. And while it’s true that their music is wild, its expressive nature stems from The Pogues being a great band as their second album gloriously attests. McGowan’s anguished wail, a legacy of punk’s radical nature, is backed by a suite of stunning songs touching upon Celtic rebellion, cherished boozers and Jesse James. Music is rarely this fun, or poignant. A magical combination.

    Key track: A Pair of Brown Eyes

  • Prince: Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)

    Prince: Sign ‘O’ The Ti…

    Double albums are, by their very nature, unapologetic… More details

    Prince: Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)

    Prince: Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)

    Double albums are, by their very nature, unapologetic contradictory affairs. Rock’n’roll was meant to be short, sharp and direct. Records that take up four slabs of vinyl (ask your dad) can’t achieve this. What they can deliver, however, is lurid invention; a space in which an artist can fully express their vaulting ambition. Sign ‘O’ The Times is such an album – everything Prince was notorious for packaged in one (or two if you want be pedantic) remarkable record. No other album came close to capturing the late Eighties maelstrom.

    Key track: Sign ‘O’ The Times

  • Public Enemy: It Takes A Nation of Millions (1988)

    Public Enemy: It Takes A Na…

    Hip hop began as a means of getting people to dance at… More details

    Public Enemy: It Takes A Nation of Millions (1988)

    Public Enemy: It Takes A Nation of Millions (1988)

    Hip hop began as a means of getting people to dance at block parties. A decade after its inception, however, and thanks to the incendiary Public Enemy it sounded like the angriest music ever made. Their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, served notice of their intent, but it was on that record’s follow-up that their manifesto – both political and sonic – really came together. The production is a dense wall of sound, the lyrics righteous and taut. A revolutionary album in every sense.

    Key track: Don’t Believe The Hype

    Links to buy/listen:

    Amazon

    iTunes

    Spotify

  • Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (1988)

    Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (…

    Talk Talk’s first albums, especially It’s My Life and… More details

    Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (1988)

    Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (1988)

    Talk Talk’s first albums, especially It’s My Life and The Colour of Spring, were supreme examples of avant electro-pop. On their fourth album, Spirit of Eden, Mark Hollis’ outfit went even further, into territory generally populated by jazz musicians. The freeform nature of the sonic soundscapes in evidence were lapped up by both the burgeoning downtempo/chill out movement and those bands that would later be deemed post-rock. The likes of Sigur Ros, Portishead and Radiohead have all paid testament to its gauzy, trance-like versatility.

    Key track: Eden

  • Pixies: Doolittle (1989)

    Pixies: Doolittle (1989)

    The Pixies’ second (proper) album is that rare beast: a… More details

    Pixies: Doolittle (1989)

    Pixies: Doolittle (1989)

    The Pixies’ second (proper) album is that rare beast: a record that got journalists and fans alike delivering all manner of critical hosannas upon its release, and one that evokes even more praise today. Alongside REM and Sonic Youth, Pixies did most to revitalise American rock in the late Eighties and Doolittle was the apogee of their stellar career. An acknowledged influence on Nirvana, it combined underground credibility with hooks-a-plenty.

    Key track: Monkey Gone To Heaven

  • Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (1989)

    Beastie Boys: Paul’s Bout…

    After the furore that surrounded their debut album,… More details

    Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (1989)

    Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (1989)

    After the furore that surrounded their debut album, Licensed To Ill, it was tempting to dismiss the Beastie Boys as attention-seeking brats. Which partly goes to explain why so many missed out on the luminous excellence of their follow-up, Paul’s Boutique. Ushering in the next decade’s magpie musical tendencies, the album is an excitable masterclass in sampling and multi-layered beats. It also demonstrated that Mike D, Ad Rock and MCA were actually skilled hip hop luminaries in it for the long haul.

    Key track: Hey Ladies

  • Massive Attack: Blue Lines (1991)

    Massive Attack: Blue Lines …

    It’s impossible to overstate how important Massive… More details

    Massive Attack: Blue Lines (1991)

    Massive Attack: Blue Lines (1991)

    It’s impossible to overstate how important Massive Attack’s debut album was. Arriving after the first flush of acid house, it was a uniquely British take on what was hitherto ostensibly black American music – hip hop, rare groove, soul, funk and the like. Its symphonic grandeur, deft cut’n’paste aesthetics and resolutely street imagery spoke to a generation of club kids. It also helped usher in every musical movement from trip hop to drum’n’bass and broken beat to dubstep.

    Key track: Unfinished Sympathy

  • My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (1991)

    My Bloody Valentine: Lovele…

    Although lumped in with the rather insular shoegazing… More details

    My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (1991)

    My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (1991)

    Although lumped in with the rather insular shoegazing scene, My Bloody Valentine were always a purposefully singular outfit. Their first studio album, Isn’t Anything, hinted at their greatness, but it was their notorious second record, Loveless, that cemented their unique genius. A compelling fusion of naked noise, distortion and feedback with moments of vivid, almost transcendent, beauty, it was a testament to the vision of leader Kevin Shields. Whether or not it nearly bankrupted their label, Creation, matters little now: Loveless may have been a commercial failure, but in terms of the canon of popular music, it is nigh on untouchable.

    Key track: Soon

  • Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

    Aphex Twin: Selected Ambien…

    If the sine qua non of cool is being beholden to no one,… More details

    Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

    Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

    If the sine qua non of cool is being beholden to no one, than Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin, is one of the coolest musicians extant. This, his first album, is one of the most inventive records ever. Displaying a composer-like mastery of his sonics, James melded techno, acid, ambient and electronica to create something that sounded utterly new. Its influence is still being felt today, 20 years after its release.

    Key track: We Are The Music Makers

  • Orbital: Orbital (The Brown Album) (1993)

    Orbital: Orbital (The Brown…

    When acid house threatened to usurp indie music in the… More details

    Orbital: Orbital (The Brown Album) (1993)

    Orbital: Orbital (The Brown Album) (1993)

    When acid house threatened to usurp indie music in the early Nineties, rock bores moaned that the immediate rush of dance music meant that its practitioners couldn’t do full-length albums. And then Orbital released their second self-titled album. A monumental leap forward, it combined dancefloor-slaying anthems (Lush 3.1, Lush 3.2 and Halcyon + On + On) with masterly widescreen electronica. It hung together like the best albums should and enabled them to conquer Glastonbury the following year.

    Key track: Lush 3.1

  • Afghan Whigs: Gentlemen (1993)

    Afghan Whigs: Gentlemen (1993)

    Forget Nirvana, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam, the coolest band to… More details

    Afghan Whigs: Gentlemen (1993)

    Afghan Whigs: Gentlemen (1993)

    Forget Nirvana, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam, the coolest band to emerge from the resolutely anti-cool grunge scene was The Afghan Whigs. Having displayed their Motown-Atlantic-Stax leanings on their Uptown Avondale covers EP, they went into soul-powered rock overdrive on their fourth album, Gentlemen. A lascivious, emotive and bittersweet portrayal of love torn asunder, its released coincided with Greg Dulli and co adopting a leaner, suit-wearing, aesthetic for their blistering live shows. The epitome of cool indeed.

    Key track: Debanoir

  • A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Mauraders (1993)

    A Tribe Called Quest: Midni…

    If NWA displayed the rage inherent in much of hip hop, A… More details

    A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Mauraders (1993)

    A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Mauraders (1993)

    If NWA displayed the rage inherent in much of hip hop, A Tribe Called Quest were the intelligent and poetic flipside to such braggadocio. Alongside Daisy Age cohorts De La Soul, Tribe combined sunshine-soaked iridescence with an emphasis on groove and flow. This jazz-like approach reached its apotheosis with Midnight Marauders. Building on 1991’s magical The Low End Theory, it confirmed the trio as hip hop’s most inventive – and exciting – outfit.

    Key track: Award Tour

  • Sabres of Paradise: Haunted Dancehall (1994)

    Sabres of Paradise: Haunted…

    Andy Weatherall is one of the most pivotal figures in… More details

    Sabres of Paradise: Haunted Dancehall (1994)

    Sabres of Paradise: Haunted Dancehall (1994)

    Andy Weatherall is one of the most pivotal figures in recent musical history. A renowned acid house DJ, he made his name with Primal Scream (both as remixer and producer), going onto form experimental techno/electronica outfit Sabres of Paradise. Their second album, the conceptual ode to London’s shadowy after hours world, Haunted Dancehall, demonstrated that dance music had a future away from mindless bosh-bosh four-to-the-floor repetition. Incorporating discordant dub and post-punk into their minimal techno template, this was a landmark dance music release.

    Key track: Theme

  • DJ Shadow: Endtroducing (1996)

    DJ Shadow: Endtroducing (19…

    By the mid-Nineties the idea that there was to be no new… More details

    DJ Shadow: Endtroducing (1996)

    DJ Shadow: Endtroducing (1996)

    By the mid-Nineties the idea that there was to be no new revolutionary music was a persuasive one. So what DJ Shadow did was to create a new form using existing music. His debut album was stitched together using samples – in fact it appears in the Guinness Book of Records as the first album created from such a source. Instrumental hip hop in nature, but touching upon psychedelic rock, jazz, funk and esoteric soundtracks, the resultant album was revelatory. Even today it sounds incredible.

    Key track: The Number Song

  • Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space (1997)

    Spiritualized: Ladies and G…

    Jason Pierce had always been ambitious when it came to… More details

    Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space (1997)

    Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space (1997)

    Jason Pierce had always been ambitious when it came to pushing sonic boundaries, but on his third Spiritualized album he outdid himself completely. Previously – in Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized – his music had been deemed space rock. But this actually is space rock. The dynamic of rock’n’roll is completely redrawn, as if broadcast from another dimension. Gospel, ambient, New Orleans funk, electronica and psyche rock all thrown into one heady, hypnotic and ecstatic stew. Spiritual music for a secular age.

    Key track: Come Together

  • The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999)

    The Flaming Lips: The Soft …

    The Flaming Lips are the rightful heirs of The Band, Love… More details

    The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999)

    The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999)

    The Flaming Lips are the rightful heirs of The Band, Love and Buffalo Springfield: a bunch of freak flag flying hippies keeping the flame of cosmic Americana alive. The Soft Bulletin is their greatest moment. A joyous, epic and daring slice of symphonic pop, it is both expansive and experimental, but reassuringly familiar and accessible. Released at the tail end of the 20th Century, it was a fitting and dramatic finale to what was a tumultuous age.

    Key track: Race For The Prize

  • The Strokes: Is This It (Sept 2001)

    The Strokes: Is This It (Se…

    Without The Strokes there would have been no new rock… More details

    The Strokes: Is This It (Sept 2001)

    The Strokes: Is This It (Sept 2001)

    Without The Strokes there would have been no new rock revolution and the last decade would have sounded dramatically different. By adopting all the cool traits of their hometown of New York – the devil-may-care sneer of a young De Niro, the new wave riffs of Television and the arch gang-like mentality of Velvet Underground – and reformatting them for a new century they imbued the central tenets of rock’n’roll with a new vitality. Impossibly cool; impossibly influential. Their finest album.

    Key track: Last Nite

  • OutKast: Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below (2003)

    OutKast: Speakerboxxx/ The …

    As hip hop began to eat itself in the Noughties one outfit… More details

    OutKast: Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below (2003)

    OutKast: Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below (2003)

    As hip hop began to eat itself in the Noughties one outfit waged a battled against the myopia that had entrapped this once fertile of all musical mediums. That band was OutKast, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was their creative zenith. In effect two albums, Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx and Andre 3000’s The Love Below, both shared the same celebratory, free-wheeling vision. Speakerboxxx is defiantly funk-laced hip hop, while the multi-coloured symphonies of The Love Below recall Prince’s golden age. On their own the albums gave hip hop new avenues to explore; together they deliver a potent punch.

    Key track: Hey Ya!

  • LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (2007)

    LCD Soundsystem: Sound of S…

    LCD frontman James Murphy might have penned the coruscating… More details

    LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (2007)

    LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (2007)

    LCD frontman James Murphy might have penned the coruscating anti-hipster anthem Losing My Edge, but in reality his band were not only one of the coolest bands of the last decade, but one of the coolest outfits ever. Their second album is the epitome of this cool/not cool dichotomy. A rousing, irreverent and manically sarcastic release, it bought together all of Murphy’s musical obsessions – hardcore, post-punk, house, disco and Krautrock – and coalesced them in one brash and magnificent whole.

    Key track: All My Friends

  • Burial: Untrue (2007)

    Burial: Untrue (2007)

    Burial is not the first electronic auteur to prefer… More details

    Burial: Untrue (2007)

    Burial: Untrue (2007)

    Burial is not the first electronic auteur to prefer anonymity to hyped saturation (Basic Channel, Drexicya and Underground Resistance all saw it as a badge of honour), but by 2007, most producers played ‘the game’ to a certain point. Not dubstep pioneer Burial. But that’s not what makes his second album so alluring. Untrue thrills with the shock of the new, and yet, at the same time, sounds nostalgic, its rave-like decelerated grooves and atmospheric traces of garage both romantic and melancholic. An album bravely pushing music forward while clearly in thrall to what has gone before.

    Key track: Archangel

  • The xx: xx (2009)

    The xx: xx (2009)

    Appearing like the illegitimate offspring of The Jesus and… More details

    The xx: xx (2009)

    The xx: xx (2009)

    Appearing like the illegitimate offspring of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Missy Elliot, the xx displayed a preternatural grasp of mystery on their self-titled debut album. Their songs are barely there – gossamer-light sonics gently haunt the air, what isn’t there as captivating as what is – but somehow they bury themselves deep inside your mind. Everything from dubstep and R’n’B to indie rock and the metallic sheen of new wave post punk lurk in the album’s shadowy sonics making this a brave, enchanting and stylish listen.

    Key track: Night Time

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Will Rory McIlroy complete the golfing Grand Slam next year?

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