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The Top 10 Albums Turning 50 in 2024

Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney and Dylan ruled half a century ago — and today


spinner image A collage of album covers from 1974 from artists such as Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, David Bowie and Steely Dan
Photo Collage: Paul Spella; (Source: Getty Images; Alamy)

It was 50 years ago that ABBA won fame at the Eurovision Song Contest, Van Halen debuted at a Hollywood club, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac. In a year packed with such musical milestones, 1974 also ushered in scores of illustrious albums that remain essential today — and at this year’s Grammys, Joni Mitchell, 80, was the headline performer, joining the Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, 78, and Bob Dylan, 82, as award nominees.

​They’re still making vital new music, and their old work hasn’t aged a day. Here are 10 of the best albums from half a century ago that merit fresh attention:

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spinner image The album cover of "Band on the Run" by Wings
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Wings, ‘Band on the Run’

Paul McCartney just reissued this classic in a 50th anniversary edition (on CD or vinyl) that includes a second disc of previously unreleased “underdubbed” mixes, stripped of orchestral overdubs, as he did with the 2003 Beatles album rerelease Let It Be…Naked. In 1974, armed with fresh material, McCartney went to Lagos, Nigeria, to record the third album with his post-Fabs band Wings. Days before the band’s departure, the guitarist and drummer quit, leaving McCartney, wife Linda, singer/guitarist Denny Laine and veteran Beatles sound engineer Geoff Emerick on their own to record at an ill-equipped studio in a dodgy location. Chaos fueled creativity. Band on the Run saw a return to the confident, catchy, melodic pop and rock McCartney contributed to the Beatles. From the lively sophisticated three-movement title track to charging rockers “Jet” and “Helen Wheels” to the bluesy “Let Me Roll It,” the album vibrates with energy and hooks.

spinner image The album cover for "Court and Spark" by Joni Mitchell
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Joni Mitchell, ‘Court and Spark’

Joni Mitchell’s bestselling album, a blueprint for generations of acolytes, departs from her previous confessional songs to explore characters. The Canadian singer/songwriter also drifts further from folk into a dexterous fusion of jazz and pop. Adventurous, complex, melodic and clever, Court and Spark won over the masses with the rocking, comic sex-worker lament “Raised on Robbery,” jazzy “Free Man in Paris” (written about her friend the star-maker machinist and record mogul David Geffen), and the airy, anxious love song “Help Me.” The album is free of fillers, with poetic lyrics and inventive arrangements from start to finish.

spinner image The album cover of "Before the Flood" by Bob Dylan and The Band
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Bob Dylan and The Band, ‘Before the Flood’

The double-live album, a memento from the 1974 reunion tour, finds Bob Dylan and The Band in fine form, performing with vigor and ferocity while defiantly thumbing their noses at the past by revamping beloved hits. A new sense of fury and urgency propels “All Along the Watchtower,” “It’s All Right, Ma,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Most of the tracks were recorded during the tour’s final shows at the Los Angeles Forum in February 1974 (“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was captured in New York). Dylan’s first live release was widely praised, even though the ever-sardonic singer/songwriter later dismissed the tour as “sort of mindless.”

spinner image The album cover of "It’s Only Rock ’n Roll" by The Rolling Stones
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The Rolling Stones, ‘It’s Only Rock ’n Roll’

Though the album is cohesive, a certain nonchalance pervades these raucous songs, underscoring the self-deprecating title. The performances feel relaxed and uncalculated as the Stones barrel through the reggae-tinged “Luxury,” cynical “If You Can’t Rock Me,” the heavyhearted “Time Waits for No One” and droll “Short and Curlies.” The anthemic single “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (and I Like It),” destined to become a concert staple, was Mick Jagger’s retort to negative journalists. The album marked the exit of guitarist Mick Taylor and was the first to identify production duo Jagger and Keith Richards as “the Glimmer Twins.”

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spinner image The album cover of "Diamond Dogs" by David Bowie
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David Bowie, ‘Diamond Dogs’

After establishing himself as rock’s chameleon with earlier works, David Bowie ditched the Spiders from Mars and shape-shifted again on Diamond Dogs, his last to showcase glam rock as he integrated soul and funk. “Rebel Rebel” is ear candy, a spry rock radio anthem originally slated for Bowie’s aborted Ziggy Stardust musical. Most of Dogs is enticingly dark garage art-rock that paved the way for goth, punk and industrial genres. Bowie’s crooned “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise),” a brooding, surreal marvel, stands out in this set of apocalyptic soundscapes.

spinner image The album cover of "Jolene" by Dolly Parton
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Dolly Parton, ‘Jolene’

Granted, a few of the 10 tracks on the country legend’s 13th solo album are forgettable, but her stature as a consummate singer and songwriter was solidified by two standouts: the title track and “I Will Always Love You,” both written on the same day. In the haunting “Jolene,” Parton sings in anguish as she confronts a woman she believes wants to steal her husband. “I Will Always Love You,” a tender, bittersweet farewell to her mentor and professional partner Porter Wagoner, became a bigger hit for Whitney Houston in 1992, but her showy pop version lacked Parton’s fragility and emotion. Parton also triumphs in a cover of Wagoner’s “Lonely Comin’ Down.”

spinner image The album cover of "Heart Like a Wheel" by Linda Ronstadt
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Linda Ronstadt, ‘Heart Like a Wheel’

On her fifth solo album, a commercial and artistic breakthrough, Linda Ronstadt shines on every level, demonstrating an uncanny ability to leap across moods and genres. With a technically stunning alto and pure conviction, she doesn’t simply interpret songs, she inhabits them, from her strapping blues belting on “You’re No Good” to her plaintive wail on Anna McGarrigle’s “Heart Like a Wheel.” She unleashes a rock roar on the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved” and a tasty twang on Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You).” And she reins in Little Feat’s carousing “Willin’ ” to unearth its emotional core.

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spinner image The album cover of "Can’t Get Enough" by Barry White
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Barry White, ‘Can’t Get Enough’

The R&B icon with the soulful and sultry bass voice was an unrivaled bedroom crooner who seduced audiences worldwide with this third solo album, his finest release. The seven-track set included two Billboard R&B chart-toppers, both stellar valentines, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” and “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.” Against silky orchestration, White waxes romantic on the epic “I Can’t Believe You Love Me” and “I Love You More Than Anything (in This World Girl).” Between his deep sensual rumble and the music’s savvy fusion of soul and commercial pop, what’s not to love?

spinner image The album cover of "Grievous Angel" by Gram Parsons
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Gram Parsons, ‘Grievous Angel’

The alt-country pioneer died at 26 of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1973 before the release of his lauded second solo album. A former member of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons was hugely influential in shaping the country-rock genre, and his swan song stands as a classic despite his lack of solo success. He and Emmylou Harris harmonize beautifully on “Return of the Grievous Angel” and other Parsons originals as well as Boudleaux Bryant’s “Love Hurts.” It doesn’t hurt to have backup like guitarist James Burton, drummer Ronnie Tutt and pianist Glen Hardin, members of Elvis Presley’s TCB band.

spinner image The album cover of "Pretzel Logic" by Steely Dan
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Steely Dan, ‘Pretzel Logic’

Steely Dan’s third studio album followed the commercial lemon Countdown to Ecstasy, leading the band to adopt a pop-song formula and abandon lengthy instrumentals. But Pretzel Logic is no capitulation to Top 40 fluff. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen serve up wry, intricate, dense tunes. Even the catchy hit, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” has a tricky chord progression. Thrillingly diverse, the 11 tracks zigzag from the sumptuous “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” to the bleak addiction narrative “Charlie Freak” to a perversely deconstructed version of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.”

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