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The 20 Best Albums Not in the Canon: The Complete List

Megadeth
Megadeth

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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 with 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 first smoked grass or whatever. And so, here are the top 20 albums missing from Rolling Stone's canon.

20. Fela Kuti

Zombie (1977)

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. -Ben Westhoff

18. Garbage

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

Justified (2002)

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

16. Scarface

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

See also: Scarface Is Out Of Jail: Excerpts From His Last Interview

15. Sublime

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

See also: 40oz. to Freedom Is 20 Years Old: We Reminisce and Speak With Sublime's New Incarnation

14. Weezer

Pinkerton (1996)

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

13. Megadeth

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

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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

See also: Ice Cube's Death Certificate Turns 20: The True Story Behind "My Summer Vacation"

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

10. Built To Spill

Perfect From Now On (1997)

Not really grunge but not springy enough to be pop, Built to Spill's Perfect From Now On is that rare, practically non-existent indie rock epic, practically a concept album in its brooding, temperamental contemplation of the cosmos. Lyrically it vacillates between the abstract and the concrete, throwing out images that stick more often than not. ("By the time you read this/ You kicked it in the sun.") The guitars, meanwhile, sound like they'd like to tell you everything's going to be all right, really, if only they believed that to be the case. -Ben Westhoff

9. Goodie Mob

Soul Food (1995)

More than just a judge on The Voice, Cee-Lo also anchors Goodie Mob, a group that was integral to hip-hop's evolution. In fact, one could easily make a case for Soul Food as the most influential southern album of all time. The template for those who followed, it's a slice of Atlanta, from the gospel-influenced morality tales to the sermons about their region's unjust history. Fellow Dungeon Family members OutKast are frequently included in the canon, likely because their visible early influence from groups like Souls of Mischief made them more palatable to rap critics at the time. Many still, however, react to Goodie Mob's unabashed Southern-ness as if they were speaking a foreign language. -Chaz Kangas

8. Fugazi

Repeater + 3 Songs (1990)

Back when flannel-clad kids, drunk on Nevermind and Ten overran record stores shelves fixing for more "alternative," good record store clerks offered up Repeater + 3 Songs. Washington, DC's Fugazi represented the prefect marriage of co-frontmen from the seminal Dischord scene: Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat (with his visceral political hardcore) and Guy Picciotto (with his emotional post-postpunk). Released a year before the '90s alt-rock explosion, Repeater stoked the furies of a generation of maturing punks and activists with its earnest anti-corporate rage ballads. Songs infused with blistering punk, tempered by angular hooks and forcefully narrated with searingly sharp lyrics are the reason Fugazi became universal shorthand for, "My music is my politics." -Paul T. Bradley

7. Elliot Smith

Either/Or (1997)

Everything you love about Elliot Smith -- the  gutter punk narratives, the perfect song-structure, the desperation --  is here on Either/Or, which with any justice will be remembered for as long as the Kierkegaard tome for which it's named. From its first verse it's absolutely devastating, the high water mark of a tortured poet who thankfully managed to get his depression on paper before he went down. "Nobody broke your heart," he sings on "Alameda." "You broke your own." -Ben Westhoff

6. Rufus Wainwright

Want One (2003)

Rufus Wainwright, son of singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, could have retired after Want One and accurately stated that he'd composed a masterpiece by age 30. His cinematic pop balances rich orchestrations with emotional honesty, and his lyrics capture the zeitgeist of the early 2000s -- when "metrosexual" had entered the lexicon ("Oh What a World") and cell phones on vibrate seemed new-fangled ("Vibrate"). He writes of doomed romance with heartbreaking cynicism ("Go Or Go Ahead") and Tin Pan Alley tunefulness ("14th Street"). In the end, Want One is both glorious and bittersweet. -Linda Leseman

5. The Flaming Lips

The Soft Bulletin (1999)

Forget Radiohead's rock-discovers-cyborgs. The real surprise makeover were tOklahoma acid casualties The Flaming Lips riding two decades of warbling trash-psych to major label glory. They suddenly discovered a gift for orchestral pop that influenced a decade of modern rock to follow, from Coldplay to Arcade Fire. The Soft Bulletin remains their most beautiful work, which is not to say that the slashing rhythm attack on "Buggin'" should be labeled anything less than feral.  -Dan Weiss

4. Snoop Dogg

Doggystyle (1993)

The Chronic may have invited the citizens of the world to the g-funk party, but Doggystyle got them settled in, drunk on Tanqueray and high as hell. Smooth-flowing, soft-bouncing and jacked up by the fake radio station concept W-Balls, Doggystyle not only introduced the word "shiznit" to suburban white kids, it also bumped them funkier than they had been in decades. Even the completely rap averse could be drawn in by Snoop's charmingly sinister flow. Biyatches and suckas are adequately forewarned: Snoop's love has limits. -Paul T. Bradley

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3. DJ Shadow

Entroducing... DJ Shadow (1996)

DJ Shadow was so visionary that an entire new genre had to be coined for him: the term "trip-hop" first appeared in attempt to describe his first single, called "In/Flux." But no label can accurately do justice to the melodic and rhythmic achievements of his debut, magnum opus and greatest-album-ever-made candidate Endtroducing...DJ Shadow. The bustling drums and basslines rescued from garage-sale junkpiles complement beauteous piano samples, championship scratching, disembodied spoken comedy, with Metallica and Bjork woven in. That this perfect album was the Guinness-certified first to be entirely stitched together from other records is almost beside the point. -Dan Weiss

2. Neutral Milk Hotel

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998)

Our generation's Sgt. Pepper's? Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea too inhabits an imagined, fanciful world, though the emphasis is less on the whimsical than on the dark and bewildered. You may not remember where you were when you first heard it, but you remember how the world was when it first sunk in. There's a reason all your friends can sing the words "Now she's a little boy in Spain/ Playing pianos filled with flames," and it's not because they make any sense. -Ben Westhoff

1. Slayer

Reign In Blood (1996)

Slayer had been kicking around for several years, but when Reign in Blood dropped it was like a neutron bomb on the metal community. Front man Tom Araya's opening scream in "Angel of Death" is a mission statement for the twenty-nine minutes of pure blistering thrash insanity that follows. Producer Rick Rubin brought a clarity to Slayer's mayhem that had yet to surface on the band's previous recordings, which featured subpar production. Reign in Blood's influence can be felt whenever a newer metal band performing live can't get the crowd interested; all they have to do is play the opening riffs from "Raining Blood," and the pit will immediately come to life. -Jason Roche

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