Five wonderful albums you think you know


Even if you have never heard them before.

by Gregory Wakeman in Rock & Pop

Five musical wonders
Five musical wonders

Some albums are so insanely popular that we seem to be born with common knowledge of their sounds, regardless of whether we have heard them, let alone listened to them in their entirety.

Such titles are also usually innately linked with the bands and artists who created them to the point that we just presume we've heard them, even if we cannot name any of their tracks beyond their stand-out single releases.

We may also lazily assume that the tracklisting of these albums is made up of the group's greatest hits because their much-played standout tracks are what we have heard on Spotify, on the radio, or on YouTube. But regardless of our preconceptions or misinterpretations, the rightly famous albums that follow are indeed iconic and worthy of close(r) listening.

They mean something and should be listened to. Their artwork, graphic design, production and gestation were probably constructed to reflect each band member's (or the originating artiste's) vision for the music and lyrics they contain, or perhaps everyone involved just got lucky during the creative process. Or possibly it was a combination of both.

But either way, they deserve the accolades because, in that complicated creative mix, they contain that musical magic that changed careers and affected lives, and which marked the times they were recorded in.

So, in case you are one of these lost souls who has sailed through a musical abyss, avoiding any discussions over the following albums lest your absent consciousness of their sounds and ideas is revealed, to follow is a breakdown of five popular and highly acclaimed LPs that you may think you already know, even if you don't.

Or perhaps you have heard them in their entirety in the age of streaming where they have become lost in a plethora of playlists and podcasts, waiting to be reappreciated all over again. In which case, and indeed whatever your circumstance, I hope you enjoy what follows.

The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (1966)

What you expect:

Sun, fun, surfing, girls and cars.

What you get:

Brian Wilson's opus.

The overweight and depressed genius decided to reveal his innermost fears to the public on this album and in the process became the songwriter for a lost generation. Which isn't bad when you consider his contemporaries were McCartney, Lennon, Jagger, Richards, Davies and Dylan. It might take a few listens, but as soon as Pet Sounds clicks, you will never want to listen to any other musical sound (pet or otherwise) ever again.

The album ebbs and flows like blood coursing through your veins, each track colliding into one another and ultimately moulding together as one.

Stand out track:

God Only Knows. Simply incredible music. Even Beethoven and Mozart would quiver with jealous resentment after hearing this bad boy.

Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1966)

What you expect:

Johnny Cash plays hits to criminals.

What you get:

The Man In Black formed his musical persona with this riotous performance in front of the incarcerated. By playing prison songs such as Busted, Folsom Prison Blues and I Still Miss Someone (instead of his hits Ring of Fire and Walk The Line), Cash shows here just how much he cares about and connects with his audience. He sounds confident, affable and relatable in this performance, and by hearing the prisoners' reactions, you can't help but feel as if you are standing right there next to (or in front of) him.

Stand out track:

25 Minutes To Go. Cash's morbid tale counts down the last thought and plans of a murderer on death row. Funny, moving and dark as hell, its ending will give you nightmares.

Marvin Gaye, What's Going On (1971)

What you expect:

Gaye's sultry vocals take the listener on a sexual journey.

What you get:

Dismayed by America's end of the 60's decline, Gaye delivers a concept album that shares a narrative, told from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran returning home to the US.

Emotional, taut and extraordinarily personal, Marvin sounds close to tears throughout.

This is also the album that came to define early 70's urban America.

Stand out track:

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). Gaye holds his pipes back and walks us through the plight of the contemporary American ghetto. But, as he does so, he is accompanied by an assorted backing track that you can't help but tap your feet to. Mesmerizing and poignant.

Bruce Springsteen, Born In The USA (1984)

What you expect:

Flag-waving patriotism that bleeds red, white and blue when you smash it on the floor.

What you get:

A critique of a fat, lazy and bloated America that was, living off past glories at the time of the album's recording. Only Springsteen could get away with releasing such a record. Each of the tracks here is musically unique but equally passionate, and they work together to form a rich tapestry of working class Americana.

Stand out track:

I'm Goin' Down. Because of his single success, it's easy to forget just how subtle and intricate The Boss' album tracks can be. It's cheesy, sexy and catchy as hell.

The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead (1986)

What you expect:

This Charming Man, How Soon Is Now and some dreary pop music.

What you get:

Intense and intensely dark pop music without the obvious hits.

But don't let that put you off, because each song on this album features wonderfully personal lyrics from Morrissey about heartache, isolation and yearning, each of which is wonderfully juxtaposed against Johnny Marr's eclectically bombastic guitar strings. I Know It's Over should be played at the apocalypse, Bigmouth Strikes Again is the perfect soundtrack for a car chase and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and There Is A Night That Never Goes Out are the band's greatest ever achievements.

Stand out track:

Cemetery Gates. A perfect pop song that revolves around two lovers spending a "dreaded sunny day" inside a graveyard reading the headstones of the deceased. Delightfully, achingly Morrissey.

So, there you have it, five wonderful albums you may or may not know.

If you have listened to any of these long players, give yourself a round of applause and if you haven't, dive in. 

Plus, feel free to disagree (or agree) with what I have to say here.

You know you want to!

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