A few months back Rolling Stone put out their updated 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. (Here's a quickly-scannable version; Sgt. Pepper's is number one, Pet Sounds number two, blah blah blah.) It's largely hogwash; one expected it to be heavy on the dinosaur rock, but c'mon, five Elton John albums? Still, people are taking this thing pretty seriously, as they always do these Rolling Stone lists, particularly music newbies. (Hard copies remain on-sale in grocery check-out lines.)
So it's fair to call this the canon, though the omissions are numerous and tragic, and reflect serious biases when it comes to metal, hip-hop, indie rock and other genres that weren't around when Jann Wenner smoked grass for the first time or whatever. And so over the next two days we'll count down the top 20 albums left out, starting today with 20 through 11.
20. Fela Kuti
Fela Kuti's seminal Zombie pissed off Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo regime and started at least two epic riots -- all with horns, drums and guitars. Kuti, as bandleader and songwriter, assembled the album with his acolytes inside of his self-declared independent Kalakuta Republic (actually his Lagos, Nigeria, compound). The apex of afrobeat (a genre that he invented), Zombie's multi-instrumental, rhythmic jazzy highlife could ear-funk the sorrow out of anyone. Kuti's sparsely peppered, but directly confrontational Pidgin English chants (a language used for its pan-African appeal) rail against Obasanjo's shock troops. Revolution never sounded so euphonious. -Paul T. Bradley
19. The Postal Service
Give Up (2003)
There were a number of years in the mid-aughts when literally every lady I wanted to get to know (mostly psychology majors from midwestern liberal arts colleges, but whatever) were obsessed with The Postal Service's Give Up, and even if we don't talk anymore, the album holds up. Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard teamed with producer Jimmy Tamborello for a celebration of melancholy, with Jenny Lewis on backup vocals. Full of bleeps, blops and blips but grounded in melody, it's the most dazzling electronic indie pop you'll ever have the pleasure of weeping to.
Version 2.0 (1998)
Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson admits to having been intimidated by her far-more-experienced bandmates when she penned the lyrics for Garbage's self-titled debut in 1995, but on Version 2.0, she came into her own. The hit single "Push It" begins ominously, "I was angry when I met you, think I'm angry still," before erupting into a chorus -- "Push it" -- that's both simple and incredibly naughty-sounding. Super-producer Butch Vig folds unexpected samples into a pop-rock-electronica fusion on this record that underscored Garbage's reputation as one of the most innovative bands of the '90s. -Linda Leseman
17. Justin Timberlake
It's hard to remember now, but there was a time when Justin Timberlake was a joke. Even the first listen of the former N*Sync member's debut solo act, Justified, didn't convince everyone, but two or three did. Timberlake's white boy R&B seemed outlandish in the early 2000s, but he pulled it off and soon got play on black stations. (Timbaland's tracks helped.) JT became not just a pop star but something rarer: a genuinely beloved, artistically respected cultural icon. -Ben Westhoff
The Diary (1994)
Geto Boys member Scarface is the real king of southern rappers (not T.I.), and The Diary is his crown jewel, a multi-layered triumph of the genre. Its tales of street life, hustler morality and tragic reflection ("I hear you breathing but your heart no longer sounds strong / and you kind of scared of dying so you hold on") are as good as it gets. Each song in sequence peels away a layer of narrative distance to eventually reveal a man reflecting on his career and the role of rap in the media and the community. -Chaz Kangas
40oz. To Freedom (1992)
Sublime's debut is an aggressive gumbo: punk, dub, reggae, hip-hop and ska mixed into a concoction that still triggers something pavlovian in stoners. More than just drug music, though, 40oz. to Freedom represents an entire culture of marginalized beach people: the skate rats, the drunks under the pier, the locals who have had to watch their beloved towns get yuppified. Not everyone can afford the big beach house; some of us prefer to sit in the sand, trying to not get too drunk before noon. -Kai Flanders
Emo was just never sick enough to top Pinkerton. No one else grew disillusioned with sex to the point of begging a lesbian to switch sides ("Pink Triangle") or masturbating to a barely legal fan ("Across the Sea"). Love is dismissed ("Why bother/ It's gonna hurt me") as a rationale to "keep whackin'." Scores of tortured rockers have been down this hole, but none as funny or tuneful as Rivers Cuomo, who also had the good taste to cap his spew at 34 minutes. -Dan Weiss
Rust in Peace (1990)
For years Dave Mustaine had an inferiority complex about getting kicked out of Metallica. But Megadeth's Rust in Peace is surely as awesome as Metallica's Master of Puppets, which is the standard thrash metal go-to for lists such as Rolling Stone's. More streamlined than Megadeth's previous efforts but just as ferocious, the album benefits from Mustaine's new-found sobriety and the addition of guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza. Rust is highlighted by "Hangar 18," whose opening guitar riffs continue to inspire headbanging in arenas and living rooms the world round. -Jason Roche
12. Ice Cube
Death Certificate (1991)
Ice Cube's debut, Amerikkka's Most Wanted, is certainly a classic, but somewhat less heralded is his even-more-explosive follow-up, Death Certificate. With Los Angeles' civil injustice and unrest under a national microscope, Cube ruthlessly expressed his frustration with the lies of the American dream. Today, the production still sounds fresh, and the themes ("The Death Side -- a mirror image of where we are today" and "The Life Side - a vision of where we need to go") still resonate. -Chaz Kangas
11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever To Tell (2003)
In 2003, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs emerged from New York with a raw, garage-rock take on '80s-style post-punk. Fever To Tell is the album that made a star of singer Karen O, unique for her quirky vocal mix of yowls, screams and the occasional tender melody. The quiet single "Maps," a love song with mostly inscrutable lyrics, has become one of the band's most enduring tunes. But O is at her best when she's loud. Her guttural growls on "Rich" are truly fearsome, and on "Man" when she proclaims, "I got a man who makes me wanna kill," you believe her. -Linda Leseman
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