Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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CG-80s Book Cover

Rock Library: Before 1980

This basic rock library reflects my belief that great records should sound pretty great when you play them. Occasionally I've stretched this standard a little--the Aerosmith and Ohio Players, for instance, aren't as perfect as I'd prefer. But I've bypassed such dubious milestones d'estime as the Beatles' White Album, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? despite all the smart people they've touched. I've pretty much skipped metal, too, though metal certainly deserves a bigger place in rock history than Kate & Anna McGarrigle, whose first two LPs make the cut. I wish Rhino would do a single Nuggets album as consistent as its doowop compilations, but the leading U.S. reissue label knows its market can't get enough garage-rock. I don't prefer Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis, but he happens to have at least three fine (though shortish) records on the market while their undeniable albums stop at one good-sized best-of apiece. And so it goes.

I've tried to assure that every title I recommend will be in print when the book appears, providing catalogue numbers when similar titles might cause confusion. In print doesn't always mean in the store or even the warehouse, however, and with catalogues disintegrating as vinyl phases out, even in print can't be guaranteed; in addition, a few selections are scheduled reissues that may get delayed. I've listed acceptable U.S. releases even in the rare cases when clearly superor imports were available, but if an import was my only option, I didn't hesitate. While almost every choice is CD-available, I've avoided CD-only product, and I've listed none of the coffee-table boxes record companies sell so dear--three-(vinyl)-disc compilations (Motown's Anthology best-ofs and Neil Young's Decade) are as massive as my choices get. (Laserheads might well go for the Beatles' CD-only With the Beatles and Please Please Me, original U.K. configurations longer than and at least as good as the early U.S. stuff. The only decent Loretta Lynn compilation is a twenty-hits CD. And the Chuck Berry and Otis Redding sets definitely tempted me.) I've also included a few crucial country collections, two compilations by jump-blues forerunner Louis Jordan, and a Woody Guthrie album. And after much going back and forth, I've listed Sun City boycott violators Ray Charles and Ray Davies, whose contributions to history far preceded the political pigheadedness that makes it so hard to get with them these days.

Initially, I planned to come up with 250 records; instead, I stopped where the great stuff ended. As a result, I can't imagine a rock and roll fan with ears to hear disliking more than a few cranky exceptions among the two hundred-plus records below. And for future reference and current used-record shopping I've listed forty-plus out-of-print albums that shouldn't be--in a few cases superior work (or just packaging and song selection) by artists on the main list, but mostly unjustly obscure classics and personal favorites. As rock history is boutiqued, I fully expect many of these to reappear. Happy hunting.

The Core Collection

  • Aerosmith: Rocks (Columbia).
  • Africa Dances (Original Music).
  • Atlantic Rhythm & Blues, Vol. 3: 1955-1958 (Atlantic)
  • The Band: The Band (Capitol)
  • The Beach Boys: Endless Summer (Capitol)
  • The Beatles: The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (Capitol)
  • The Beatles: The Beatles' Second Album (Capitol)
  • The Beatles: Meet the Beatles! (Capitol)
  • The Beatles: Rubber Soul (Capitol)
  • The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol)
  • The Beatles: Something New (Capitol)
  • Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty-Eight (Chess)
  • The Best of Doo Wop Uptempo (Rhino)
  • The Best of Doo Wop Ballads (Rhino)
  • The Best of the Girl Groups (Rhino)
  • The B-52's: The B-52's (Warner Bros.)
  • Big Star: Radio City (Big Beat import)
  • Bobby Bland: The Best of Bobby Bland, Vol. 1 (MCA)
  • Blondie: Parallel Lines (Chrysalis)
  • David Bowie: Changesbowie (Rykodisc)
  • James Brown: The James Brown Story: Ain't That a Groove 1967-1970 (Polydor)
  • James Brown: The James Brown Story: Doin' It to Death 1970-1973 (Polydor)
  • James Brown: Live at the Apollo (1962) (Polydor)
  • James Brown: Roots of a Revolution (Polydor)
  • James Brown: Solid Gold: 30 Golden Hits (Polydor)
  • Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield (Atco SD2-806)
  • Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey (Mango)
  • Burning Spear: Harder Than the Best (Mango)
  • The Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady (I.R.S./A&M)
  • The Byrds: The Byrds' Greatest Hits (Columbia)
  • The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (Columbia)
  • Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Enigma Retro/Straight)
  • Ray Charles: Greatest Hits: Vol. 1 (Rhino)
  • Ray Charles: Greatest Hits: Vol. 2 (Rhino)
  • Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Rhino)
  • Eric Clapton: 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO)
  • The Clash: The Clash (CBS import)
  • The Clash: Give 'Em Enough Rope (Epic)
  • The Clovers: 5 Cool Cats (Edsel import)
  • The Coasters: Young Blood (Atlantic)
  • Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head (Horizon)
  • Sam Cooke: The Man and His Music (RCA Victor)
  • Elvis Costello and the Attractions: This Year's Model (Columbia)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Chronicle (Fantasy)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Cosmo's Factory (Fantasy)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poor Boys (Fantasy)
  • Miles Davis: Agharta (Columbia)
  • Miles Davis: Jack Johnson (Columbia)
  • Derek and the Dominoes: Layla (RSO)
  • Bo Diddley: His Greatest Sides, Vol. 1 (Chess)
  • Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band (RCA)
  • Fats Domino: The Best of Fats Domino (EMI import)
  • Donovan: Greatest Hits/The Best of Times (Epic)
  • The Drifters: Golden Hits (Atlantic)
  • The Drifters: Their Greatest Recordings: The Early Years (Atco)
  • Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia)
  • Bob Dylan/The Band: Before the Flood (Columbia)
  • Eno: Another Green World (EG)
  • The Everly Brothers: The Best of the Everly Brothers (Rhino)
  • Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)
  • The Flying Burrito Bros.: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M)
  • Aretha Franklin: 30 Greatest Hits (Atlantic)
  • Lefty Frizzell: Lefty Frizzell's Greatest Hits/The Best of Times (Columbia)
  • Funkadelic: The Best of the Early Years Volume One (Westbound import)
  • Marvin Gaye: Anthology (Motown)
  • Grateful Dead: Workingman's Dead (Warner Bros.)
  • Al Green: Al Green's Greatest Hits (Motown)
  • Al Green: The Belle Album (Motown)
  • Al Green: Call Me (Motown)
  • Al Green: Livin' for You (Motown)
  • Woody Guthrie: Dust Bowl Ballads (Rounder)
  • Tom T. Hall: The Essential Tom T. Hall: Twentieth Anniversary Collection/The Story Songs (Mercury)
  • The Harder They Come (Mango)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced? (Reprise)
  • Jimi Hendrix: The Cry of Love (Reprise)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Smash Hits (Reprise)
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland (Reprise)
  • A History of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues--Vol. 1 (1950-1958) (Rhino)
  • A History of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues--Vol. 2 (1959-1962) (Rhino)
  • Buddy Holly: 20 Golden Greats (MCA)
  • Michael Hurley/The Unholy Modal Rounders/Jeffrey Fredericks & the Clamtones: Have Moicy! (Rounder)
  • The Impressions: Greatest Hits (MCA)
  • Michael Jackson: Off the Wall (Epic)
  • Etta James: Her Greatest Sides, Vol. 1 (Chess)
  • George Jones: The King of Country Music (Liberty import)
  • Janis Joplin: Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits (Columbia)
  • Louis Jordan: The Best of Louis Jordan (MCA)
  • Louis Jordan: Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1941-1947) (MCA)
  • B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King Volume 1 (Ace import)
  • B.B. King: Live at the Regal (MCA)
  • The Kinks: Greatest Hits (Rhino)
  • The Kinks: Kink Kronikles (Reprise)
  • Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic)
  • John Lennon: Imagine (Capitol)
  • John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (Capitol)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: 18 Original Greatest Hits (Rhino)
  • Little Richard: 18 Greatest Hits (Rhino)
  • Love: Forever Changes (Elektra)
  • The Lovin' Spoonful: Anthology (Rhino)
  • Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia)
  • Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia)
  • Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers: The Best of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (Rhino)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gold and Platinum (MCA)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Leh-nerd Skeh-nerd (MCA)
  • The Mamas and the Papas: Farewell to the First Golden Era (MCA)
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Burnin' (Island)
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Catch a Fire (Island)
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Natty Dread (Island)
  • The Marvelettes: Greatest Hits (Motown)
  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Dancer With Bruised Knees (Carthage)
  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle (Carthage)
  • Joni Mitchell: Blue (Reprise)
  • Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark (Elektra)
  • Joni Mitchell: For the Roses (Asylum)
  • The Modern Lovers: The Modern Lovers (Rhino/Beserkley)
  • Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now (Warner Bros.)
  • Van Morrison: Moondance (Warner Bros.)
  • Willie Nelson: Stardust (Columbia)
  • Randy Newman: Good Old Boys (Reprise)
  • Randy Newman: 12 Songs (Reprise)
  • New York Dolls: In Too Much Too Soon (Mercury)
  • New York Dolls: New York Dolls (Mercury)
  • Ohio Players: Gold (Mercury)
  • Graham Parker and the Rumour: Howlin' Wind (Mercury)
  • Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (Casablanca)
  • Parliament: Motor-Booty Affair (Casablanca)
  • Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel (Reprise)
  • Dolly Parton: Best of Dolly Parton (RCA AYLI-5146)
  • Carl Perkins: Original Sun Golden Hits (1955-1957) (Rhino)
  • Wilson Pickett: Wilson Pickett's Greatest Hits (Atlantic)
  • The Platters: Encore of Golden Hits (Mercury)
  • Elvis Presley: Elvis' Golden Records (RCA)
  • Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (RCA)
  • Elvis Presley: The Sun Sessions (RCA)
  • Elvis Presley: A Valentine Gift for You (RCA)
  • John Prine: John Prine (Atlantic)
  • John Prine: Sweet Revenge (Atlantic)
  • Bonnie Raitt: Give It Up (Warner Bros.)
  • Bonnie Raitt: Home Plate (Warner Bros.)
  • Ramones: Ramones (Sire)
  • Ramones: Road to Ruin (Sire)
  • Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)
  • The Rascals: Time Peace: The Rascals' Greatest Hits (Atlantic)
  • Otis Redding: The Best of Otis Redding (Atlantic SD2-801)
  • Jimmy Reed: Bright Lights, Big City (Chameleon)
  • Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Anthology (Motown)
  • The Roches: The Roches (Warner Bros.)
  • The Rolling Stones: Aftermath (Abkco)
  • The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet (Abkco)
  • Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street (Rolling Stones)
  • The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (Abkco)
  • The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads (Abkco)
  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones, Now! (Abkco)
  • Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones)
  • The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones)
  • The Rolling Stones: 12 X 5 (Abkco)
  • Diana Ross & the Supremes: Anthology (Motown)
  • Sam & Dave: The Best of Sam & Dave (Atlantic)
  • Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks: Here's the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
  • The Shirelles: Anthology (1959-1964) (Rhino)
  • Paul Simon: Paul Simon (Warner Bros.)
  • Sly & the Family Stone: Fresh (Epic)
  • Sly & the Family Stone: Greatest Hits (Epic)
  • Sly & the Family Stone: There's a Riot Goin' On (Epic)
  • Patti Smith: Horses (Arista)
  • Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis . . . Plus (Philips import)
  • Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (Columbia)
  • Steely Dan: Can't Buy a Thrill (MCA)
  • Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy (MCA)
  • Steely Dan: Katy Lied (MCA)
  • Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic (MCA)
  • Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story (Mercury)
  • Donna Summer: On the Radio: Greatest Hits, Volumes I & II (Casablanca)
  • Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire)
  • Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)
  • The Temptations: The Temptations' Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Motown)
  • Joe Tex: I Believe I'm Gonna Make It: The Best of Joe Tex (Rhino)
  • Big Joe Turner: Greatest Hits (Atlantic)
  • The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Verve)
  • The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve)
  • Gene Vincent: The Best of Gene Vincent (EMI import)
  • Dionne Warwick: Anthology 1962-1969 (Rhino)
  • Muddy Waters: The Best of Muddy Waters (Chess)
  • Muddy Waters: The Real Folk Blues (Chess)
  • Muddy Waters: Trouble No More: Singles (1955-1959) (Chess)
  • The Who: A Quick One (Happy Jack)/The Who Sell Out (MCA)
  • The Wild Tchoupitoulas: The Wild Tchoupitoulas (Antilles)
  • Hank Williams: 40 Greatest Hits (Polydor)
  • Sonny Boy Williamson: The Real Folk Blues (Chess)
  • Jackie Wilson: The Jackie Wilson Story (Epic)
  • Jackie Wilson: Reet Petite (Ace import)
  • Wire: Pink Flag (Restless Retro)
  • Howlin' Wolf: Howlin' Wolf (Chess)
  • Howlin' Wolf: Moanin' in the Moonlight (Chess)
  • Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness' First Finale (Tamla)
  • Stevie Wonder: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Tamla)
  • Stevie Wonder: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (Tamla)
  • Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (Tamla)
  • Stevie Wonder: Talking Book (Tamla)
  • Tammy Wynette: Tammy's Greatest Hits/The Best of Times (Epic)
  • Neil Young: After the Gold Rush (Reprise)
  • Neil Young: Comes a Time (Reprise)
  • Neil Young: Decade (Reprise)
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (Warner Bros.)
  • Neil Young: Tonight's the Night (Reprise)

Gone But Not Forgotten

  • The Beach Boys: Wild Honey (Capitol or Brother/Reprise)
  • David Bowie: Station to Station (RCA Victor)
  • James Brown: Sex Machine (Polydor)
  • Chic: Risque (Atlantic)
  • Dion & the Belmonts: 24 Original Classics (Arista)
  • Fats Domino: Fats Domino: The Legendary Masters Series (United Artists)
  • Lee Dorsey: Holy Cow!: The Best of Lee Dorsey (Arista)
  • 18 Original King Sized Hits (Columbia)
  • Joe Ely: Honky Tonk Masquerade (MCA)
  • The Everly Brothers: Roots (Warner Bros.)
  • The Five Royales: The Five Royales (King)
  • Aretha Franklin: Spirit in the Dark (Atlantic)
  • Aretha Franklin: Young, Gifted and Black (Atlantic)
  • Lefty Frizzell: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia)
  • Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros.)
  • Arlo Guthrie: Amigo (Warner Bros.)
  • Hot Chocolate: 10 Greatest Hits (Big Tree)
  • The Insect Trust: Hoboken Saturday Night (Atco)
  • George Jones: 16 Greatest Hits (Starday)
  • George Jones: White Lightning (Ace import)
  • It Will Stand: Minit Records 1960-1963 (EMI America)
  • B.B. King: 16 Greatest Hits (Galaxy)
  • The Kinks: Face to Face (Reprise)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis: Together (Smash)
  • Andy Fairweather Low: Be Bop 'n' Holla (A&M)
  • Andy Fairweather Low: Spider Jiving (A&M)
  • Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn Writes 'Em and Sings 'Em (MCA)
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Manfred Mann's Earth Band (Polydor)
  • John McLaughlin: Devotion (Douglas)
  • Moby Grape: Moby Grape (Columbia)
  • Van Morrison: Into the Music (Warner Bros.)
  • Ricky Nelson: Ricky Nelson: The Legendary Masters Series (United Artists)
  • Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (Chrysalis)
  • Phil Spector's Greatest Hits (Warner/Spector)
  • Otis Redding: Dictionary of Soul (Volt)
  • Otis Redding: The Immortal Otis Redding (Atco)
  • The Spaniels: 16 Soulful Serenades (Solid Smoke)
  • Otis Spann: Walking the Blues (Barnaby or Candid)
  • Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  • Howard Tate: Howard Tate (Verve)
  • The Vibrators: Pure Mania (Columbia)
  • Gene Vincent: The Bop That Just Won't Stop (1956) (Capitol)
  • War: Greatest Hits (United Artists)

Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s, 1990


Compilations The A Lists: 1980