My top 5 rock albums

1966 to 1989

There was a question on Quora asking for people’s top 5 rock albums. What an inane question! How can anyone pick just five? So I decided to do it anyway.

First, some guidelines. I am not going to get into the definition of what is “rock.” I hear this every year when an ABBA, Nina Simone, or Joan Baez enters the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nor will I address the “best” albums because “best” has become an increasingly elusive term for me.

I could have picked Blue by either Miles Davis or Joni Mitchell, Who’s Next, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Abraxas by Santana, k.d. lang’s Ingenue, or approximately a zillion more, including at least three by Stevie Wonder.

I’m not selecting a greatest hits album; Sly and the Family Stone would otherwise be on the podium. There are no soundtracks, Broadway cast albums or compilations, so no The Harder They Come, Hamilton, or  West Side Story.  And if I do this in five years, three of these might be different.

The Eclectics

I decided on three of these because they are so eclectic.

Spike – Elvis Costello, which I mentioned back in 2009 in my 25 most influential albums. The All Music review calls it “maddeningly diffuse.” Its diffuseness may be why I like it because I don’t find it maddening at all. 

Veronica, Chewing Gum, Last Boat Leaving

That’s A Plenty – the Pointer Sisters. I first wrote about this album in 2006.  Then in 2014; unfortunately, only the links to Little Pony, Fairytale, and Black Coffee still work.

Salt Peanuts; Love In Them There Hills 

Revolver – The Beatles. I picked this one over other Beatles albums because I hate Run For Your Life (Rubber Soul). Abbey Road has Octopus’s Garden, which is too much in the Yellow Submarine vein. I may as well pick the album with Yellow Sub. It’s not my favorite song, but it fascinated me because the single, in the last verse, has “As we live a life of ease (a life of ease),” but the echo doesn’t happen on the album version I had.

The 2012 post has lots of bad links.

Taxman, For No One, Got To Get You Into My Life, Tomorrow Never Knows

Two more

Still Crazy After All These Years – Paul Simon. As I noted here in 2016. “Inextricably tied to the Okie in my mind.”

I Do It For Your Love, Have A Good Time, Title song.

Peter Gabriel (melt)- Peter Gabriel. I mentioned Gabriel in 2011 and 2020. In this post, also from 2020, I listed my favorite Gabriel songs, and the links still work! The ones from Melt have a 3 after the title because they are on the third eponymous PG album.

Musician Peter Gabriel turns 70


Peter Gabriel MeltPeter Gabriel is one of my 25 “island” albums. Hmm, I suppose I should specify. There were three or four eponymous albums of his, depending on the country.

I’m talking about the THIRD Peter Gabriel album, the one originally released on Mercury Records in the US in May 1980. “The album is also often referred to as Melt owing to its cover photograph by Hipgnosis.”

At FantaCo, where I started working that very same month, many of the tracks were on heavy rotation on the radio station WQBK-FM, Q104, which was on in the store constantly.

I also heard songs from his first two albums. From Car, Solsbury Hill and Here Comes the Flood. Scratch featured On the Air. And from the last Genesis album featuring Gabriel, the title track of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.


Intruder uses the “gated drum” sound of Phil Collins, Gabriel’s former bandmate on Genesis.

No Self Control is well described on a blog about the music of Kate Bush by Christine Kelley.

Start is a snippet leading to I Don’t Remember. “Gabriel jokingly summarised the album’s themes as ‘The history of a decaying mind.'”

Family Snapshot was inspired in part by An Assassin’s Diary (1973). Gabriel said it was “a really nasty book” by Arthur Bremer, who had attempted to assassinate George Wallace in 1972.

And Through the Wire the closest to a straight-up rocker, but with a distorted vocal.

Side Two starts with Games Without Frontiers, also well described by Kelley. We knew the line was “jeux san frontières” but the FantaCo running joke was that it was really “she’s so funky, yeah.”

Not One of Us is another song of alienation.

Lead a Normal Life – “Atlantic Records (the label for the first two albums) didn’t want to put [Melt] out at all…” Atlantic head Ahmet Ertegun wondered “‘Has Peter been in a mental hospital?’ They thought I’d had a breakdown and recorded a piece of crap … I thought I’d really found myself on that record, and then someone just squashes it. I went through some primordial rejection issues.”

Biko – I was vaguely aware of the murder of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977. But this haunting track gave the incident the worldwide attention it deserved.


For Christmas 1980, our boss Tom at FantaCo gave us each a foot-long cube, which turned out to be six LPs. One of mine was Ein deutsches Album, “released in July 1980… Gabriel sang German vocals on top of completely new recorded instrumental and backing vocal tracks.” I loved it.

After that, I became a big Peter Gabriel fan, buying the first two albums, then Security and ITS German counterpart (1982), with the hit Shock the Monkey. Plays Live came out in 1983. The massively successful So album was released in 1986.

In October 2001, my wife and I were in Cherry Valley, NY, trying to get away from the world. A store was playing Afro Celt Sound System’s Volume 3: Further in Time. I recognized vocals by Gabriel (When You’re Falling) and also Robert Plant. I bought it.

Peter Gabriel turns 70 today. Links to songs throughout.

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