Soundtrack of the Boomer Generation
Recall the albums that saw us through some memorable firsts. From "My Girl" to "Hotel California," these tunes moved us like no others. So indulge us (or not — we'd love to hear from you!) in the 25 albums we present in chronological order — who could ever rank them by greatness?
Patsy Cline, 1961
After hours of trying to sing "Crazy," the Willie Nelson song that would become her biggest hit, Cline walked out of the recording studio in frustration. (Broken ribs from a recent car crash had left her unable to hit the high notes.) Thankfully, she recovered enough to complete this gorgeous album, which features not just "Crazy" but also "Walkin' After Midnight" and the plaintive "I Fall to Pieces." You can thank Elvis Presley's Jordanaires for the LP's beautiful backing vocals.
'Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music'
Ray Charles, 1962
Uh, country music?! Though it didn't contain "Georgia on My Mind" — the song that would become his personal anthem — this oddly titled album debuted such Charles classics as "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You Don't Know Me." Charles was never in better voice, and this would remain his best-selling record (as well as reach No. 105 on Rolling Stone's list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time").
'Highway 61 Revisited'
Bob Dylan, 1965
Renegade Bob Dylan made a generation sit up and take notice when he wailed, "How does it feel / To be on your own / With no direction home?" Fans have been debating the meaning of that song, "Like a Rolling Stone," ever since. Highway 61 also features the mordant "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," in which Dylan signals his disillusionment with the '60s music scene: "But the joke was on me / … I do believe I've had enough." As for the origin of the LP's title, well — that's still anybody's guess.
The Beatles, 1965
It's nowhere near as tight as the immaculately produced Abbey Road, but the band's sixth studio album might just be their best. Recorded in only four weeks, it's heavy on love ballads: Think of "Michelle," "Girl" and the haunting "In My Life." George Harrison introduced Western ears to the sitar on "Norwegian Wood" — but was the song the work of a psychopath or a comic genius? Discuss.
The Beach Boys, 1966
Some unassailable authorities — Rolling Stone for one, Sir Paul McCartney for another — have singled out Pet Sounds as the greatest pop album ever. Songwriting genius Brian Wilson was at the top of his creative game, while brother Carl's angel voice soars on the intricate "God Only Knows," one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written. The record is a testament to belief in what we all truly want: hope, love, acceptance.
'The Temptations — Greatest Hits'
The Temptations, 1966
You'll find few compilation albums on this list, but we couldn't resist this virtual jukebox of Motown Records, which includes such classic boomer earworms as "Get Ready," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Since I Lost My Baby," "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" and that perennial "our song" for every couple in love, "My Girl." Many of these hits were written for the Temptations by Miracles frontman (and later Motown VP) Smokey Robinson.
'Are You Experienced?'
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967
Hendrix would grow artistically until his death three years later, but he never topped his debut album's synthesis of rock, blues and soul — from the pulsing frenzy of "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady" to the mournful tenderness of "The Wind Cries Mary." Coaxing a sound from his guitar no one had heard before, Hendrix pioneered psychedelic rock.
Aretha Franklin, 1968
After her smash debut in April 1967 with Otis Redding's "Respect," the young blues singer knocked it out of the park again with this album, rocking "Chain of Fools" and singing the Gerry Goffin/Carole King tune "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" the way God intended.
'Bridge Over Troubled Water'
Simon and Garfunkel, 1970
The final studio album recorded by the influential duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was released into an American culture riven by antiwar protests and racial unrest. Featuring sweet, comic ballads such as "Cecilia" and "Song for the Asking" — and with its title song promising "I will comfort you" and "I will ease your mind" — the album seemed to hint that hard times pass, but music lasts.
'Sweet Baby James'
James Taylor, 1970
The balladeer's battle with heroin began at roughly this time, as evidenced by his two hospitalizations ("My body's aching and my time is at hand.") He was also weathering the death by suicide of a close friend — the subject of "Fire and Rain." Taylor's strong, sweet vocals combined with the funky lilt of his melodies and the confessional quality of his lyrics ("Sunny Skies" is none too sunny!) to establish sweet baby James as a major force in bluesy rock.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970
The coolest crew ever — David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash — annexed gritty Neil Young for their second album and came up with a No. 1 winner. From the exquisite harmonies on "Helpless" to the startling hippie homeyness of "Our House," and from the legacy-minded homily "Teach Your Children" to Joni Mitchell's generational anthem "Woodstock," CSN&Y laid down hard social truths with a deceptively folksy sound.
Carole King, 1971
King was a 29-year-old veteran troubador when she recorded this monumental record, studded with hit after hit — from "I Feel the Earth Move," "So Far Away" and "It's Too Late" to "You've Got a Friend," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." With 25 million copies sold, it remains one of the top-selling records of all time. King's raw, imperfect voice, said one critic, set women free to sing the truth, not just "sing sweet." The fifth track on the album, "Beautiful," was reprised as the title of a 2014 Broadway musical about King's life and work.
The Rolling Stones, 1971
Filled with dark undercurrents, the Stones' 11th studio album kicks off with the stark jangle of "Brown Sugar," a gleeful tribute to interracial sex — still a taboo at the time. Mick Taylor would leave the Stones in 1974, but his guitar brilliance shines bright (and long!) on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." The record's masterpiece, "Wild Horses," finds Keith Richards ruing the need to leave his newborn son to go on tour and Mick Jagger mourning his breakup with Marianne Faithfull. (Her spiraling drug use led her to cowrite the terrifying "Sister Morphine.")
'What's Going On'
Marvin Gaye, 1971