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40 Greatest One-Album Wonders

The best one-and-dones: Lauryn Hill, Jeff Buckley, Young Marble Giants and more

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Some of rock’s greatest stories are short ones. After making one, solitary studio full-length, these acts were promptly derailed by death, internal band politics or the simple desire to put something down and never pick it back up. Here are the best one-and-dones.

[Editor’s Note: A version of this list was originally published July 2016]

From Rolling Stone US


37. Hermann Szobel, ‘Szobel’ (1976)

Let's assume this lost jazz-fusion masterpiece would have never seen the light of the day if Vienna-born Hermann Szobel weren't the nephew of concert promoter Bill Graham. That stipulated, the album is a mind-bending scorcher by any standard: a deliriously virtuosic collection of zig-zagging Zappa-esque melodies and moody emotional plunges performed by an obscure quintet temporarily channeling the authority of Weather Report. Its 18-year-old pianist-bandleader, however, didn't stick around to record a follow-up. Likely suffering from mental illness, Szobel disappeared from the music world; his mother filed a missing-person report for him in 2002, noting that he enjoyed dogs and hashish. In 2015, however, Szobel reappeared in the documentary Looking for Jesus, for which he allowed director Katarzyna Kozyra to record (but not film) him on the street in Jerusalem, where he lived as an apparently homeless artist.


36. Convicts, ‘Convicts’ (1991)

The lone LP from the Convicts — the duo of Big Mike and Lord 3-2 — is one of the filthiest, funniest documents of Houston shock-rap that followed in the wake of the Geto Boys in the early Nineties. Released on pioneering Texas label Def Jam, the Convicts took the provocative lyrics of Ice Cube and 2 Live Crew into the realm of the absolutely ludicrous and completely irresponsible: "Fuck School" is a dropout's anthem and "1-900-Dial-a-Crook" explains how to steal a car in great detail. Like a Andrew "Dice" Clay routine set to funky breaks, there are over-the-top, deliberately offensive journeys into sexism ("Woop Her Ass") and racism ("Illegal Aliens") that would justifiably be called "problematic" today. But Convicts is an artifact of a different era, a historical document of the time when rappers were America's loudest defense of the first Amendment, and mouthpieces as interested in pushing buttons as pushing boundaries. Between the jokes, there's vivid and intense critiques of the prison-industrial complex: No wonder former N.W.A member Dr. Dre was a fan. The Convicts had a brief courtship with Death Row, but the group ultimately disbanded when Big Mike went to replace Willie D in the Geto Boys in 1993.


35. Scratch Acid, ‘Just Keep Eating’ (1986)

Following bad-trip baddies the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid were Texas' other hot and extremely bothered contribution to the Eighties' noise-flecked "pigfuck" movement. Giving the Birthday Party's swamp-stumble the gnash of American hardcore, Scratch Acid were a puddle of venom on record and a steely force on tour (well, when they weren't flinging fake poop at audiences or stealing Public Image Limited's beer). A long tour in 1986 inflamed band tensions leading to an on-stage argument between guitarist Brett Bradford and drummer Rey Washam and they were done in 1987. Vocalist David Yow and bassist David Wm. Sims would later tighten up this mess into the lean college-rock massacre Jesus Lizard, who would ultimately sign a major label deal in the post-Nirvana bubble.


34. Skip Spence, ‘Oar’ (1969)

Moby Grape co-founder and songwriter Alexander "Skip" Spence slipped seriously into darkness the night he attempted to fire-axe his way into a hotel room with the intention of freeing his drummer from himself. After a six-month stay in a psychiatric ward, the 22-year-old biked to Nashville, where he recorded his sole, literally solo album. Spence's ghostly, barely intelligible howl, off-register guitars and snare-heavy drumming resulted in a stirring and disturbing reflection of desperate loneliness and wild-eyed folk-rock ecstasy. What Spence considered demos, producer David Rubinson deemed acceptable for a (minimally promoted release, resulting in Columbia's lowest-selling album to date. Spence wrote and performed with the Grape intermittently but gradually descended into a quagmire of mental illness and substance abuse until his death in 1999 at age 52.


33. Green River, ‘Rehab Doll’ (1988)

Equal parts ramshackle and ferocious, Rehab Doll is the lone full-length from Seattle supergroup-in-retrospect Green River, which featured future Mudhoney leader Mark Arm and Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. Released in Sub Pop's earliest years, Rehab Doll is proto-grunge at its best, its mud-dipped tracks breaking down and building themselves back up in real time. Frontman Mark Arm (later of Mudhoney) sounds like he gargled with lye before cutting tracks like the boogie-gone-bad "Together We'll Never," while the band's rip-roaring cover of David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" (originally only available on the album's cassette release) hints at the wry humor that would animate much of the Seattle scene's best moments. Rehab Doll also features the second iteration of Green River's swaggering single-entendre "Swallow My Pride," which would be covered by fellow Seattle luminaries like Soundgarden and the Fastbacks during the grunge era's initial ascent.


32. The Count Five, ‘Psychotic Reaction’ (1966)

The great British blues-rock stars may have flaunted their studied virtuosity, but this quintet of San Jose snots stripped R&B down to a rude, rudimentary swagger – and they also wore Dracula capes. Garage rock doesn't get more essential than the title track, with swaggering verses offset by periodic instrumental freak-outs and John "Mouse" Michalski's guitar buzzing like a ferocious mosquito let loose in your earhole. They serve as psychedelic tour guides on "Double Decker Bus," slobber over a gal with a "Pretty Big Mouth" and more than do right by the two Who songs they tackle. Lester Bangs, perhaps their biggest champion, couldn't help but imagine a series of even further out follow-ups, but in real life, the band members just went back to college.


31. Operation Ivy, ‘Energy’ (1989)

Berkeley four-piece Operation Ivy were not just the lynchpins of the East Bay punk scene, but key players in the evolution of American ska. Formed in 1987, the band craftily worked reggae inflections into their frenetic hardcore furor; first in raucous 7-inch Hectic, then in their 1989 full-length, Energy. Vocalists Jesse Michaels and future Rancid leader Tim Armstrong – then known as "Lint" – hammered home their principled takes on gang violence ("Unity"), police brutality ("Officer") and consumerism ("Artificial Life") through barely intelligible, gravelly yawps. Op Ivy wouldn't survive the Eighties, breaking up just two months after the release of Energy. Their final show was on May 28, 1989 – a date also notable as Green Day's inaugural show at Berkeley D.I.Y. stronghold 924 Gilman St.


30. The Pulsars, ‘Pulsars’ (1997)

One of the gems of the mid-Nineties alt-rock gold rush, the lone album by the brotherly duo the Pulsars is a shimmering collection of blissed-out synth-pop peppered with references to long drives to Wisconsin, pet robots and S&M. Dave and Harry Trumfio had collaborated on music since they were young; and Dave had worked with indie luminaries like the Mekons and the Handsome Family at his Chicago studio Kingsize Soundlabs. Pulsars – which came out on Herb Alpert's short-lived Almo Sounds label – was a gorgeous love letter to the early New Wave era's dark side, with tracks like "Suffocation" transcending misery with irresistible choruses and pillowy synths.   


29. Margo Guryan, ‘Take a Picture’ (1968)

Jazz-trained Margo Guryan released Take a Picture in 1968 after about a decade of songwriting – with credits including Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Harry Belafonte, among others. The Pet Sounds acolyte's lone full-length is an early prototype for countless lounge and dream-pop excursions, and bridges the gap between Burt Bacharach and Belle & Sebastian. The hazy production is loaded with horns, strings and sumptuous harmonies; standout "Sunday Morning" became a Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell duet. The album received critical praise, but Guryan had no aspirations to tour. "I didn't want to be a performer," she said in a 2011 interview. "I wanted to be a songwriter… You needed a manager, an agent, a lawyer, an accountant … people telling you what to wear, what to say, who to be. The whole thing just didn't appeal to me." 


28. The United States of America, ‘The United States of America’ (1968)

In the Sixties, a few brave punks were not afraid to make some noise with the squawking, blipping textures of embryonic electronics. Back then, American electronic music was mainly reserved for composers and academics tinkering on wall-sized synthesizers in the Columbia Music Center. But Los Angeles sextet United States of America were a trippy, psychedelic, Communist-leaning rock band — a counterpoint to Silver Apples' proto-industrial paranoia. In turn, they made California's acid-rock present drip into the acid house future. The band jumbled all sorts of early electronics — oscillators, contact mics, synths, tape decks, — into their revolution rock, creating a future model for fans like Portishead and Animal Collective. A Molotov cocktail of intra-band fistfights, drugs, musical differences and record label politics destroyed this one-of-a-kind band before the dawn of the Seventies.


27. CRU, ‘Da Dirty 30’ (1997)

South Bronx trio Rhythm Blunt Cru's only album – released during Def Jam's struggling years between Warren G and DMX – is a snapshot of East Coast hip-hop in the Nineties. The South Bronx trio has shades of rugged-and-raw grittiness (check hypeman and ODB soundalike the Mighty Ha on "Lisa Lipps"), trade mics with Y2K conspiracy theorist Ras Kass, indulge in oddball skits and underline it all with Jeremy "Yogi" Graham's buttery loops. Neophytes who couldn't accept Yogi and Chaddio's Tribe Called Quest-inspired mic-trading routine on the minor Rap City hit "Just Another Case" missed one of the more quirkily entertaining rap albums of the era. At least Puff Daddy recognized its charms: He recruited Yogi to Bad Boy's production squad, resulting in G. Dep's Harlem Shake classic "Let's Get It."


26. Cassie, ‘Cassie’ (2006)

When Cassie Ventura preened and undulated in front a dance studio mirror on her "Me&U" video clip, she set magazine covers aflame and gossips wagging about her romance with mentor Sean Combs. However, a decade after underwhelming sales (and thinly veiled sexist claims that she was a prefab one-hit wonder), this collaboration with then-rising producer Ryan Leslie turned out to be the most brilliantly minimalist R&B album of its era. Her understated, nearly spoken vocal delivery proved an influence on future stars like Kelela, the xx and Jhene Aiko, while Leslie's haunting electronic arrangements perfectly complement nighttime pop gems like "Kiss Me" and "Call U Out."


25. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, ‘The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon’ (1956)

When Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers burst onto the R&B scene in 1956 with their Number One hit "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," the music industry was still centered around selling singles. However, Lymon had so many hits in such a short time period ("I Want You to Be My Girl," "I Promise to Remember," "The ABC's of Love") that Gee Records put them onto an LP simply called The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon. Most of his fans were very young without the pocket money to buy anything more expensive than a 45, so it was far from a best-seller. The Teenagers split in 1957 and Lymon attempted to go solo, but his voice deepened after he went through puberty. Like many child stars, he discovered the public had little use for him once he was older and he began a vicious descent into drug addiction. He died of a heroin overdose in 1968 when he was just 25.


24. Dennis Wilson, ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ (1977)

Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy that actually surfed. He was also the most naturally charismatic and fun-loving, though by the mid-1970s his non-stop party lifestyle was beginning to take a heavy toll. The drummer was in his early 30s, but looked ten years older, and years of drinking and drug abuse added significant gravel to his once pristine singing voice. But with his brother Brian largely out of commission, he began contributing his own material to Beach Boys albums. Not happy at taking direction from his bandmates who never saw him as a serious songwriter, he began squirreling away songs for a solo album. Recording took two years, and by 1977 he was finally ready to unveil the haunting Pacific Ocean Blue. Haunting tracks like "Farewell My Friend" and "River Song" reflect his fragile state and reveal just how far he'd grown as a composer and lyricist. Work started on a follow-up but Wilson's drug abuse was spinning out of control and it remained unfinished when he drowned in 1983.


23. New Radicals, ‘Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too’ (1998)

The project of songwriter Gregg Alexander, New Radicals hit the sweet spot between adult-contemporary and "alternative" that was just beginning to be discovered when Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too came out in 1998. A bubbling stew of influences that had glossier production and more pointed lyrics about corporate America than its alt-rock-radio brethren, Brainwashed could have been the beginning of a new pop order. "You Get What You Give," with its triumphant chorus and bootstrapping spirit, is one of the Nineties' most singular singles, while tracks like "Flowers" fused together revved-up rock and passion-fueled soul in a way that tipped savvy listeners off to Alexander's wide swath of influences. But Alexander broke up the band before the reflective "Someday We'll Know" could be released as the album's second single. He went on to become a songwriter-for-hire, penning tracks like the Santana/Michelle Branch collaboration "The Game of Love" and reuniting with fellow Radical Danielle Brisebois for the soundtrack to the 2013 romance Begin Again.


22. The Monks, ‘Black Monk Time’ (1966)

By the mid-Sixties, Germany had pretty much had enough of the American occupying force – and so had the five discharged G.I.s who hung around the country banging out raw Neanderthal rock as the Monks. Formerly known as the 5 Torquays, the band was reconceptualized by its management, a sketchy pair of German advertising executives who talked the working-class quintet into robes, tonsure haircuts and tight neckwear. Nihilism rocks: Farfisa organ and skronky electric banjo accompanied songs like "Shut Up" and "I Hate You." Germany Polydor released Black Monk Time on the strength of the group's live popularity. But when the company's American branch passed on the album, the vexed and disheartened combo went their separate ways, eventually enjoying postponed acclaim upon their rediscovery in the early Nineties.


21. Life Without Buildings, ‘Any Other City’ (2001)

Sue Tompkins of Life Without Buildings was a painter, not a singer, and she approached words with an experimental sense of wonder, testing to hear how her conversational lilt might inflect a simple phrase like "look around" if she repeated it in the reassuring tone of someone hoping to pet a timid bunny. The other Glaswegian art students in this band were similarly curious, channeling the adventure of post-punk without its aggression: Chris Evans' bass wends its own course underneath Will Bradley's restless drum patterns while Robert Johnson's guitar alternates between jangle, strum and cleanly plucked melody. This was pop viewed through a prism.


20. The Exploding Hearts, ‘Guitar Romantic’ (2003)

The giddiest power-pop album of the Aughts comes with one of the saddest postscripts imaginable. Formed in the Pacific Northwest, the Exploding Hearts were just solidifying a rep for their 2003 debut, Guitar Romantic, when three of the four members were killed in a car accident coming back from a gig. The band left behind infectious blasts like "Modern Kicks" and "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades," led by departed singer/guitarist Adam Cox's blithe spirit. Throughout, the band toasts to the Clash, Elvis Costello and the Buzzcocks by shoving pop hooks and soul down punk's scream-torn throat.


19. The Good, the Bad and the Queen, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Queen’ (2007)

"Where do I see the light?/It's all gone dead in a way," Damon Albarn sings on "80's Life," one of the perkier tracks on the paean to post-millennial wartime gloom The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Made up of Albarn, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, keyboardist Simon Tong, and percussionist extraordinaire Tony Allen, the technically nameless supergroup ("We won't make another record, and we didn't properly name the band, because a name is for a marriage," Simonon told Observer Music Magazine in 2007) got together with Danger Mouse to create what Albarn called "a song cycle that's also a mystery play about London." The album put forth its bad vibes gently but firmly, with tracks like the spacy "Herculean" and the washed-out "Behind the Sun" utilizing sparse lyrics and downtempo beats to create a record that has its post-apocalyptic feeling only heightened by its overwhelming melancholy.


18. Mother Love Bone, ‘Apple’ (1990)

It's hard not to overstate how different rock music in 2016 would be if Seattle quintet Mother Love Bone had been able to make a second album. Their combination of Northwest grunge and runny-mascara glam sounded like a prediction of where hair metal, just beginning its decline in 1990, could go. Lead singer Andrew Wood's witchy stage persona, capped off by an inimitable yowl, transformed the taut, spiky rock turned out by his bandmates into gutter-glitter anthems, whether they were lost-highway chronicles like "Mr. Danny Boy" or otherworldly power ballads like "Crown of Thorns." Wood died of a heroin overdose just as Apple was about to be released, and the band broke up. Guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament went on to form Pearl Jam, whose chaotic take on grunge transformed the rock landscape only a year later. 


17. The Shaggs, ‘Philosophy of the World’ (1969)

It takes all of two seconds for the Shaggs' out-rock masterpiece Philosophy of the World to fall apart into a glorious, asynchronous mess. The group was a trio of sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire whose father and manager believed in their bizarre, messy music about cats, parents, Halloween and how "you can never please anybody in this world," as Dot Wiggins sings on the title cut. Although the Shaggs were too weird for mainstream success – leading to their eventual disbandment after their dad died – their sole LP became an underground hit. Frank Zappa said they were "better than the Beatles," Kurt Cobain named Philosophy his fifth favorite record ever and rock group NRBQ believed in them enough to coax two-thirds of the group out of retirement in 1999. Their story became the subject of an off-Broadway musical that opened in 2011. 


16. Germs, ‘GI’ (1979)

No studio recording could ever quite capture the chaos of the live Germs experience, with Darby Crash singing everywhere but into the microphone and at least one onstage band member narcotically incapacitated. Instead, producer Joan Jett captured the sound of punk at its most reckless and self-destructive, as Crash's poetic sneers articulate all the nihilism of his U.K. punk heroes and none of their irony. You can hear punk transforming into hardcore here, with the caustic, trebly blare of future Foo Fighter Pat Smear pointing the way forward into the Eighties, and the rhythm section – Lorna Doom's melodic bass, Don Boiles swatting drums as though they're being hurled at his head – setting a pace that makes the Ramones sound like poky dawdlers. The Germs had already disbanded by the time Crash ended his life in December 1980, via an intentional heroin O.D.


15. Rockpile, ‘Seconds of Pleasure’ (1980)

Rockpile made throwback rock that drew on Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, but they played it like the Ramones: fast, loud and funny. Dave Edmunds was a rockabilly obsessive and studio whiz. Nick Lowe was a pub-rock reprobate and new-wave guru who produced five Elvis Costello albums. Rockpile backed them on tour and on solo projects (Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary for Edmunds; Labor of Lust for Lowe), but made just one album of their own. Seconds of Pleasure recreated the snap, snarl and unbridled lust of early rock & roll with modern power, and its reason for being was summed up by a line from Lowe's "Play That Fast Thing One More Time": "It does something to me and sure feels fine." Uncomplicated and pretty close to perfect.


14. Blind Faith, ‘Blind Faith’ (1969)

Traffic and Cream both folded around the same time, leaving Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood both without bands or clear plans for their futures. The two friends began jamming together at Winwood's English cottage, quickly discovering they had incredible chemistry, but not really thinking about forming an actual band. One night Ginger Baker showed up, totally unannounced. "Steve's face lit up when he saw Ginger," Clapton wrote in his memoir, "while my heart sank, because up till that point we were just having fun, with no agenda." Baker's presence turned them into a real band, and with Ric Grech rounding on the group on bass. Soon incredible songs like "Can't Find My Way Home" and "Presence of the Lord" began pouring out of quartet. Their self-titled debut came out in August of 1969 and topped the charts all over the world, but just weeks later they played their final show in Hawaii. To Clapton, it felt too much like a new Cream and he wanted to pursue new challenges: When Delaney and Bonnie asked him to join their group he happily broke up Blind Faith and never looked back. 


13. The La’s, ‘The La’s’ (1990)

Whether about heroin or just unrequited love, the La's single "There She Goes" off their self-titled debut has endured as a founding piece of Britpop's foundation. Credit Lee Mavers' insistent falsetto bringing the song's sad-sack protagonist to life as the never-ending guitar hook intensifies his desperation. "There She Goes" – which later was a hit for Sixpence None the Richer – was no fluke. Elsewhere, "Feelin" straddles classic pop hooks and harmonies spinning back to the Who and the Beatles, and "Way Out" embraces a more modern, post-punk spirit. However, a long, obsessive recording process poisoned the Liverpool band's perception of their work and each other. "We [hate] it," Mavers said of The La's not long after it surfaced in 1990. "It never captured anything that we were about. To cut a long story short, too many cooks spoil the broth."


12. Temple of the Dog, ‘Temple of the Dog’ (1991)

Before grunge blew up, members of the Seattle music scene united to pay tribute to a fallen star from the community. Andrew Wood, frontman of Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun, died of a heroin overdose at age 24 in the spring of 1990, the day his roommate, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, returned from tour. In tribute, Cornell wrote several songs dedicated to his friend and created Temple of the Dog with Mother Love Bone's surviving members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, guitarist Mike McCready, Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and vocalist Eddie Vedder, who had just flown to Seattle to audition for the band Mookie Blaylock (later to be named Pearl Jam). Temple of the Dog was an emotionally heavy foray for the musicians, showcasing a tenderness that wasn't quite as highlighted in their soon-to-be-famous acts, turning their sadness into a masterpiece.


11. Young Marble Giants, ‘Colossal Youth’ (1980)

Kurt Cobain raved about them. Olympia's trailblazing K Records was unimaginable without them. Consciously or not, every indie band whose guitarist deliberately turned the volume down or whose singer refused to shout takes a cue from this Welsh post-punk trio's sole LP. But though the Giants' heirs are typically champions of inspired amateurism and defiant quiet, what stands out about Colossal Youth is its eerie sense of control. Philip Moxham's minimalist bass figures, Stuart Moxham's anxious guitar and droning organ, the occasional clicks and pops of a primitive drum machine: Not a single sound takes up more space than it needs or wavers a millimeter out of place. And no matter how jittery, twitchy or abrasive her surroundings, singer Alison Statton keeps her cool. 


10. Madvillain, ‘Madvillainy’ (2004)

Madlib and MF Doom had always intended Madvillain as a lark through the vinyl crates before returning to their respective careers as two of the biggest names in underground hip-hop. The result was a masterpiece of elliptical beat flurries like the self-explanatory "Accordion" and the weed-encrusted "America's Most Blunted," and grumpy street raps like "Meat Grinder" with more twists than an Elmore Leonard novel. Expectations for a follow-up have swelled ever since. Despite occasional promises and remix records, it seems unlikely that Madlib the Loop Digga and Doom the Supervillain will try to recapture a summit that may be the closest thing hip-hop fans have had to the kind of salty jazz communiqués Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker engaged in during the bebop era. 


9. The Postal Service, ‘Give Up’ (2003)

In 2001, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello (then known as IDM producer Dntel) began swapping song ideas through digital audio tapes, mailed back and forth between Seattle and Los Angeles. Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis, who lived in the same apartment complex as Tamborello, would supplement their tracks with backing vocals. The result was Give Up: a swoony, synth-pop reprieve from the guitar-centric machismo of indie rock. Borrowing from the New Romantics of the Eighties, they glazed their computerized love ballads with an icy, orchestral ambience; but not even the glossy, robotic vocal stylings of Gibbard and Lewis could cool the high melodrama of the lyrics. Hit single "Such Great Heights" would feature in several different television commercials and get the Hollywood treatment in 2004 film Garden State, via acoustic interpretation by Iron & Wine. Gold certified in 2005, it precipitated an onslaught of arty indie pop acts such as Owl City, Matt & Kim and Passion Pit. The trio would briefly reunite for a 10-year-reunion tour in 2013, but promised no other releases under the Postal Service moniker. "Not only will this be the last song of the tour," Gibbard told the audience at their closing show at Lollapalooza, "this is the last song we will ever do."


8. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, ‘L.A.M.F.’ (1977)

A squawking, hungry, mean and broken-hearted mess of guitar slop set to the sped-up rhythms of Fifties rock and R&B, the Heartbreakers' one studio album was a document of street fighting New York men lost in London, looking for love, fame or anything not nailed down they could sell for drug money. Formed in 1975 after guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan quit the New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers toured with the Sex Pistols in 1977 and recorded L.A.M.F (for "Like a Mother Fucker") while overseas. The album's mix was so hopelessly tinny that Nolan quit for a while. But as endless remixes (and live tapes) showed, songs like "Born To Lose" and "Can't Keep My Eyes On You" were showcases for Thunders' guitar, which came on like a razor blade stuck on top of a cupcake, full of vicious sweetness. "Chinese Rocks," written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell, told the rest of the story: everything down the drain of heroin addiction.


7. Buena Vista Social Club, ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ (1997)

Lured to Havana by plans to record some Malian musicians who never showed up, guitarist Ry Cooder concocted a Plan B that ended up selling more than 15 million copies. With the help of local bandleader Juan de Marcos, Cooder gathered together a solid core group augmented with aging local legends like 79-year-old pianist Rubén González and 89-year-old guitarist Compay Segundo, along with 60-year-old singer Omara Portuondo. With Cooder adding understated blues and Hawaiian-tinged accompaniment, the six-day project yielded boleros, sons, a guajira and other songs of ineffable charm and nostalgic power. And while this particular group of musicians never reconvened, the same sessions produced another debut, Introducing… Rubén González, highlighting the pianist Cooder considered a cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat.


6. Minor Threat, ‘Out of Step’ (1983)

Out of Step is not a typical full-length debut – its nine tracks clock in at less than 22 minutes. It's more a valedictory statement from a quartet laying out the socio-political ideals of American hardcore. Back then, the best punk bands said what they had to say and then either renewed themselves with lineup changes or broke up. Minor Threat had already conquered the D.C. punk scene with "Straight Edge," a clarion call that subsequently spawned the alcohol-and-drug-free D.I.Y. ideologue. Personality conflicts and money issues ensured that the group would splinter soon after. Decades after their premature demise, Ian MacKaye's legendary shout on the title track still resonates with the primal spirit of unchained youth hoping for something more: "I don't smoke! I don't drink! I don't fuck! At least I can fucking think!"


5. The Modern Lovers, ‘The Modern Lovers’ (1976)

The combustible early lineup of the Modern Lovers held together just long enough in the early Seventies to record an avant-punk classic full of tension, humor and self-examination. That is, according to most anyone other than their visionary, off-key voice Jonathan Richman, who was distancing himself from the controlled madness as it was being created. "Jonathan was headed in a new direction, and [producer John] Cale wanted the angst and the violence in the sound, which really characterized us in our early days," said bassist Ernie Brooks, who played on the sessions with keyboardist Jerry Harrison (soon to be in the Talking Heads) and drummer David Robinson (soon to be in the Cars). Hypnotic freakouts like "Roadrunner" and "Old World" signaled not exactly a new way forward, but a vicious sideways attack. This strident attitude stirred something in the Sex Pistols, and can still be heard in current punk experimenters like Parquet Courts. 


4. Jeff Buckley, ‘Grace’ (1994)

The legacy of Jeff Buckley's delicately heartbreaking album Grace has lived on well past the singer's tragic 1997 death. Bearing a trembling balance of sparseness and desperation, Grace was a masterpiece of songwriting, musicianship and vocal prowess, with Buckley's tortured-angel voice filling each song with drama. Most notable was his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which turned the hymnal into a more drawn out reflection on love and faith; it's nearly usurped the legacy of Cohen's version with its frequent use as the soundtrack to climactic on-screen moments and national tragedies. Buckley did not get to witness the song's power since it was never officially released as a single during his lifetime: He was 30 years old when he drowned during a spontaneous swim in a slack channel of the Mississippi River while working on what would have been his sophomore album.


3. Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ (1998)

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a colossus of an album; a final, triumphant representation of the Afrocentric bohemianism once championed by Hill's former multi-platinum group the Fugees, and the nation-conscious ethos championed by earlier heroines such as Queen Latifah. Most importantly, it's a womanist statement on love, politics and morality; striking a balance between career and motherhood, from the joyful tribute to her newborn son "To Zion" to her fierce battle-rap dismissal of former Fugees partner Wyclef Jean on "Lost One." Just as essential to the myth of Miseducation is how Hill became the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year, only to embark on a heartbreakingly troubled retreat from the spotlight, leaving us to wonder about a sequel to this watermark that never was.


2. Derek & the Dominos, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ (1970)

It's Eric Clapton's masterpiece, of course, but neither the travails of smack addiction nor his infamous infatuation with Patti Harrison deserve full credit for driving him to the most intense playing and singing of his career. Clapton was, for once, first among equals, not competing for attention in a supergroup or seeking anonymity as a sideman. As keyboardist, singer and songwriting partner, Bobby Whitlock has Clapton's back throughout, the rhythm section of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon motor along with nuanced precision, and Duane Allman's soaring slide work is a pitch-perfect counterpoint to Clapton's own clipped, stinging phrases. The band couldn't hold it together, however, dissolving during a follow-up session.


1. Sex Pistols, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ (1977)

By the time that punk firebrands Sex Pistols put out what would be their only drop of album-length venom, they were already the most notorious band in the United Kingdom. The people behind the official U.K. pop charts wouldn't even print the name of the band, pegged as foul-mouthed hooligans, when "God Save the Queen" made it to Number Two in May 1977. The LP was destined to be a cultural turning point no matter what was on it; but because Bollocks contained 12 distinctly angry salvos that begged for chaos ("Anarchy in the U.K."), reveled in laziness ("Seventeen") and embraced the obscene ("Fuck this and fuck that"), it exploded in a way that has caused reverberations in music ever since, inspiring everyone from Axl Rose to, obliquely, Neil Young. The band's lust for chaos would ultimately get the better of them, as quarreling with manager Malcolm McLaren and feelings of antipathy toward his bandmates led Johnny Rotten to quit the band onstage, a little over two months after the album came out.