In response to the various lists of greatest albums of all time (compiled by the writers of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines), I have compiled a short list of the five most underrated and generally left-out albums. These records should receive some credit for their originality, energy, and musicianship:
1. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
“Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton”
This album best represents the guitar playing genius of Eric Clapton in the prime of his career. The solos are crisp and electrical which perfectly offsets the funky Yardbird-esque harmonica of Mayall. The first two cuts alone are worth the price of the album. Simply the greatest blues album ever to come out of England.
2. XTC “Drums and Wires”
XTC recorded this album before the commercial successes of later albums, so it is often overshadowed by their popularity. Nevertheless, “Drums and Wires” is a fantastic pop album. “Making Plans For Nigel” should have been a big hit with its post-punk tinny guitar sound and vocals which really hit the spot. The album is filled with odds and ends musically including “Helicopter” and the album’s closing track, “Complicated Game,” in which Partridge lets loose with a wild vocal outburst, building up from a whisper. Grossly underrated.
3. Traffic “John Barleycorn Must Die”
Steve Winwood’s second version of Traffic yielded this often overlooked gem from 1970. The six tracks on this disc are packed with blues-tinged folk and great melodies to match. The first cut “Glad” is a jazzy instrumental with skillful piano and organ dubs by Winwood. The best track is “John Barleycorn,” a medieval folk tune about the efforts of the common people of England to give up alcohol. Winwood’s mastery over many instruments (he plays all of the instruments on “Stranger to Himself”) makes “John Barleycorn” a worthy addition to any record collection.
4. Buzzcocks “Love Bites”
A product from the punk-rock boon of the late seventies, “Loves Bites” is one of the greatest overlooked albums of all time. The electricity begins from the very first track “Real World” and it hits its peak on the second side. The best cut, for all of you “Z-94’ers” out there is the original “Ever Fallen In Love.” “Love Bites” is the perfect balance between punk and pop.
5. R.E.M “Life’s Rich Pageant”
This album, while a fan favorite, has never received the acclaim that the other R.E.M. albums have gathered because of its successor, “Document.” “Fall On Me” is easily the greatest pseudo-ballad written in the 1980’s and “Begin The Begin” has an urgency intertwined with the able guitar playing of Peter Buck. “Superman” is a fantastic vocal mix with harmonies to surpass any found on later albums. The best R.E.M. album to date.