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The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

Debating Rolling Stone’s Top 20 Albums Of All Time (Part 1 of 4)

Rolling Stone Magazine has been around for nearly 60 years, and though its reputation may have hindered in recent years, its respect as a magazine is among the highest in the world. 

Possibly the one thing that draws them the most attention is their long lists. Whether it’s a year end list of the best albums of that particular year, or an all time list that looks at highlights from years past, they always seem to get attention. 

However, the most attention they’ve received from a list was their top 500 albums of all time. I’ve gone over the list many times, however, most of the albums I haven’t heard. I’ll specifically be reviewing the top 20 listed here. Some of these listens were delightful, while others were less than satisfactory. 

#20: Radiohead- Kid A (2000)

Album cover for “Kid A” by Radiohead.

Radiohead’s “Kid A” was released on October 2 2000. The hype for this album was unprecedented following their acclaimed and supposed masterpiece, “OK Computer.” 

Although their previous album was renowned for its excellent instrumentation and beautiful themes while also being combined with dark lyrics and the haunting vocals from frontman Thom Yorke, Kid A did not have any singles leading up to its release, so none of the content that could be found on the record was anticipated. 

Speaking of the content, Kid A is described by many as the greatest left turn in music, as it sounds nothing like their previous albums. Instead of the grand instrumentation of “OK Computer” and “The Bends”, it was replaced by lots of synths, drum machines, and much more produced vocal effects from Yorke. 

Songs like “Everything In Its Right Place,” “The National Anthem,” “How to Disappear Completely,” “Idioteque,” and “Morning Bell”  are all classic songs that share very dark themes and thoughts from the mind of all the band’s members. 

As for its place at #20, it’s absolutely deserved. In fact, you can argue that it belongs higher on the list, as it changed the music industry as a whole, while also being a new step for what’s now known as one of the greatest bands of our generation. 

My personal rating for “Kid A”: 10/10

#19: Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

Album cover for “To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar.

Kendrick Lamar is likely the most acclaimed and universally celebrated rapper of our generation. When you compare “To Pimp a Butterfly” and his previous album, “good kid m.A.A.d city” side by side, they’re two very different projects. Whereas the latter focuses on Kendrick’s life in the lead up to the album, TPAB focuses more on America, specifically African Americans as a whole. 

To Pimp A Butterfly is more than just an album, it’s a cultural phenomenon. It’s considered by many to be not only the greatest rap album of all time, but to some, it’s the greatest album ever made. It’s easy to see why, as at its center, TPAB is a deep look into Kendrick’s personal life, as well as America itself through racism, power, and political corruption.

Even if you look past his message, the entire album sounds amazing, with the production highlights being “For Sale?,” “Alright,” and “The Blacker The Berry.”

To Pimp A Butterfly is easily the highlight in Kendrick Lamar’s extensive discography of particularly incredible albums, mainly because of its ambitiousness, hard hitting lyrics, and most of all, beautiful pacing. 

Not only does it deserve its spot on the list, but you can definitely argue that it belongs higher. Rolling Stone is 2 for 2. 

My personal rating for TPAB: 10/10

#18: Bob Dylan- Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Album cover for “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan.

When talking about the greatest songwriters of all time, many are quick to jump at answers like Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, and Stevie Wonder. However, in my opinion, nobody touches Bob Dylan at his peak. 

To be completely honest, I hadn’t listened to this album before writing this, but after fully making it through, I can safely conclude that Bob Dylan was out to make a statement with this one, and what a statement he made.

For an album that came out in 1965, it’s one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard ever, especially from that time period. Songs like “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” have always been considered masterpieces in themselves, but when you make an album with 9 said masterpieces, other songs are often overlooked. 

Having listened to other Dylan projects such as “Blonde on Blonde” and “Blood on the Tracks,” I can confidently say that this is his most well written. The blend of different instruments really struck me immediately. For example, I have never heard a harmonica sound good at all, but it’s not the only seemingly impossible thing Dylan does on “Highway 61 Revisited.” 

Finally, let’s talk about the outro, “Desolation Row,” an 11 minute folk classic that perfectly encapsulates the feel of the entire album. As someone who listens to long songs regularly, never has a 10+ minute song gone so fast.

Rolling Stone including this is probably the most accurate selection so far, as Dylan just does everything right. I will admit that there is not a single flaw on this album, and that makes RSM 3 for 3. 

My personal rating for Highway 61: 10/10

#17: Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Album cover for “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West.

Though I was not intending to write about Kanye on this, there’s no denying the impact that this album in particular has made to the modern rap genre. Though I wouldn’t say it’s his best album, (College Dropout) it’s easily his most well produced, with great features and verses found all throughout. 

The first five songs set the tone, but the second half is unavoidably amazing. “Runaway” is often cited as West’s best track, and while I disagree, it’s a perfect song that captures the imagination, creativity, and intensity of West and a featuring Pusha T. 

Westis often crowned as the best sampler of all time, and while once again I disagree, the sampling on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is unbelievable. From the King Crimson sample on “POWER,” to Smokey Robinson on “Devil in a New Dress,” the sampling is one of the key things that I look back upon when I think of this album. 

Speaking of which, “Devil in a New Dress” is my personal favorite song by West, along with “We Major” and “No More Parties in LA.” 

Rick Ross’s feature is the highlight of the whole album, and that paired with possibly the best loop West has ever produced, results in a perfectly crafted track near the end of the album. 

Now, there’s no avoiding it. There are filler songs on MBDTF. “Blame Game” and “Hell of a Life” are both decent songs, but to include them at the end of the album following tracks such as, “All of the Lights,” “Dark Fantasy,” and the other previously mentioned songs throws off the mood to a large extent. 

Amazing album, but to place it ahead of borderline perfect albums isn’t what I expected, nor do I agree with. Regardless, I can’t recommend this one enough. Absolute banger from Kanye. 

My personal rating for MBDTF: 9/10

#16: The Clash- London Calling (1979)

Album cover of “The Clash” by London Calling.

My experience with The Clash is similar to  most people; I’ve heard “Should I Stay or Should I Go” time and time again across several radio stations, along with some friends who are very into this album in particular. Because this album is so highly praised, I was very excited to finally give it a chance. Three listens later, I must say; I don’t get it. 

This may be unpopular, but this album is hyped up way too much for what it is. It may have done lots for the punk scene, as when I think of the genre, I immediately think of “The Clash.” Not because I enjoy them, but because they are the face of a genre with lots of fans. 

It’s obviously got some great songs such as, “London Calling”’ “Lost in the Supermarket,” and “Train in Vain” in particular, but overall, this thing is pretty inconsistent. 

Most of the time, a song begins, and immediately, I recognize that it always starts pretty good, but only a handful of them actually stay captivating till the end. In short, the songs most of the time just go nowhere. 

Obviously it’s still a good album, but I just can’t see at all how this one lines up with the previously mentioned projects. I just can’t agree with the Stone here, 3 for 5. 

My personal rating for London Calling: 7/10

Final Thoughts:

Not as bad as I expected, knowing the magazine’s reputation. I found a gem that I will continue to come back to, in Bob Dylan, while I also got to reflect on albums that I’ve already loved for a long time, such as “To Pimp A Butterfly” and “Kid A.” 

Also, after each of these parts, I will rank the albums that were listed from best to worst based on my opinion. 

  1. Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly: Best songs include: Blacker the Berry, Mortal, Wesley’s Theory, How Much A Dollar Cost
  2. Bob Dylan- Highway 61 Revisited: Best songs include: Like A Rolling Stone, Ballad of a Thin Man, Desolation Row
  3. Radiohead- Kid A: Best songs include: How To Disappear Completely, The National Anthem, Morning Bell, Idioteque, Motion Picture Soundtrack
  4. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Best songs include: Devil In A New Dress, Runaway, Power, Dark Fantasy
  5. The Clash- London Calling: Best songs include: London Calling, Train in Vain, Brand New Cadillac, Lost in the Supermarket.

With that being said, this group of albums is very good, and I’m happy Rolling Stone Magazine listed them this high on the list (The full list includes 500 albums). Although there’s a lot more to come, I’m very excited to continue. 

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