Music is a bit like wine: it seems to have its good years and its bad years. What will 2015 hold? Are we in for some truly great tunes? Or will the radio waves – or, rather, our Spotify accounts – be marked by mediocrity?
Let’s flash back to the past half century, ten years at a time, and put the spotlight on some indisputably great albums. And if that’s not enough, we’ve even thrown in a quiz!
Our album of the year: Rubber Soul by The Beatles
Why we chose it: The sixth release by the most famous group in the history of contemporary music may not be their most acclaimed recording, but it’s still essential listening, and possibly marks the biggest artistic shift in their career. The use of sitar on “Norwegian Wood”, for example, foreshadows much of the mind-blowing experimentation that would pepper (pardon the pun) their later albums.
Highest chart position, UK/US: 1/1
Best song: “In My Life”
Test your knowledge: Here are sample lyrics from two other classic albums of 1965. Can you name the song, album and artist? (answers at the bottom of the page)
– “How does it feel, to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?’
– “People try to put us d-down, just because we g-g-get around”
Our album of the year: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Why we chose it: How do you follow the astonishing global success of Dark Side of the Moon? One thing Pink Floyd didn’t do is target chart success (though they got plenty of that anyway); patience is required for Wish You Were Here – the opening track is nine minutes old before anyone sings a note. Soon though, you realise that the pacing, structure and tone of the album are things of greatness.
Highest chart position, UK/US: 1/1
Best song: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
Test your knowledge: Here are some sample lyrics from two other classic albums from 1975. Can you name the song, album and artist?
– “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream, I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been”
– “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”
Our album of the year: Rain Dogs by Tom Waits
Why we chose it: In the scheme of Billboard successes of 1985, Rain Dogs was a modest performer, yet we think it was the year’s best – after all, how can we overlook an album that begins with a song called “Singapore”? Bias aside, there’s an extraordinary mélange of sounds here, including everything from Waits’ earlier piano-bar style to sea shanties, dirty blues and bizarre polkas. And lyrically he’s at the top of the tree.
Highest chart position, UK/US: 29/188
Best song: “Time”
Test your knowledge: Here are some sample lyrics from two other classic albums from 1985. Can you name the song, album and artist?
– “I’ve waited hours for this, I’ve made myself so sick, I wished I’d stayed … asleep today”
– “You shut your mouth, how can you say, I go about things the wrong way?
Our album of the year: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis
Why we chose it: “Where were you while we were getting high?” asks Liam Gallagher towards the end of this, Oasis’s biggest-selling album. Well, if you happened to be in the UK in the 90s, then you’ll have first-hand knowledge of how this Manchester rock outfit massively affected the cultural landscape, thanks to storming hits like “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” from Morning Glory. Not bad for a bunch of lager louts.
Highest chart position, UK/US: 1/4
Best song: “Champagne Supernova”
Test your knowledge: Here are some sample lyrics from two other classic albums from 1995. Can you name the song, album and artist?
– “The world is a vampire, sent to drain”
– “Two jumps in a week, I bet you think that’s pretty clever, don’t you boy?”
Our album of the year: Illinois by Sufjan Stevens
Why we chose it: If you’ve not heard this album, it’s hard to sell it in a short blurb: a sprawling collection of low-fi songs about the various historical characters and landscapes of the American state of Illinois – doesn’t sound too appealing, right? In fact, it’s incredible stuff: a mix of multi-instrumental pop songs, banjo-driven folk tunes and splashes of soul and even disco, with catchy hooks and memorable lyrics.
Highest chart position, US: 1 (and ranked 1 on Amazon.com for the year)
Best song: “Chicago”
Test your knowledge: Here are some sample lyrics from two other classic albums from 2005. Can you name the song, album and artist?
– “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad, I got sunshine in a bag, I’m useless but not for long, the future is coming on”
– “She take my money when I’m in need, yeah she’s a trifling friend indeed”
Will this year’s albums scale the heights of those we’ve mentioned already? We hope so. To give you a glimpse of what we’re in for, here’s a list of 10 artists who are rumoured to be releasing new music at some point over the next 12 months.
– Death Cab For Cutie
– Bruno Mars
– Kanye West
– James Blake
– Frank Ocean
– Bob Dylan, “Like A Rolling Stone”, Highway 61 Revisited
– The Who, “My Generation”, My Generation
– Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir”, Physical Graffiti
– Patti Smith, “Gloria”, Horses
– The Cure, “Close to Me”, The Head on the Door
– The Smiths, “How Soon is Now?”, Meat is Murder [bonus point if you knew this single was not on the original album but was included on most subsequent editions]
– Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
– Radiohead, “High and Dry”, The Bends
Gorillaz, “Clint Eastwood”, Demon Days
Kanye West, “Gold Digger”, Late Registration