As they say, you don’t know until you try it (again). The first album sets the precedent, and the second album decides whether or not to break it, and on this list, whether they got it right or not at first, they sure did the second time round.
10. Big Star – Radio City
In a lot of ways, Radio City is the less prophetic The Velvet Underground & Nico – never fully realised because of its lack of commercial success, despite being massively influential. Stepping away from the mellowness on the preceding #1 Record, Alex Chilton went on nurturing Big Star’s love for both The Beatles and The Byrds, alongside their own soulful Memphis roots – simultaneously evolving the genre of power pop.
9. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
Released the same year as Led Zeppelin I – and just when you thought they couldn’t get any heavier – Led Zeppelin upped the ante with their second album. Opening with the steam-train chugging of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, moving onward to the fearless riff of ‘Heartbreaker’, and concluding on the blues-heavy ‘Bring It On Home’, although this album might have come out in 1969, it is fundamentally responsible for the sound of rock in the Seventies.
8. The Smiths – Meat Is Murder
If you missed Morrissey’s trenchancy and shrewdness from The Smiths’ debut, you don’t have to look far to find it this time. Naturally, Meat Is Murder bears an anti-institutional message (“belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools”), but The Smiths’ usual lyrical content is upheld with epigrammatic descriptions of fairground activity in ‘Rusholme Ruffians’ and the disillusionment of a materialist world in ‘Nowhere Fast’. Although The Smiths might have gotten a bit more serious, the beat goes on.
7. The Zombies – Odessey And Oracle
A quintessential spoonful of psychedelia, Odessey And Oracle paints a nostalgic and seasonal picture with its pleasant illustrations of English summers in ‘Beechwood Park’, all the while maintaining a cryptic undertone with songs like ‘Time Of The Season’. Both Colin Blunstone’s delicate vocals and Rod Argent’s opulent keyboard solos make this album one of the emblematic milestones of the British Invasion.
6. Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model
Elvis Costello’s first album with The Attractions, and his most loaded. Costello really cranks it up a gear, and the effect is so galvanising it makes his debut seem lethargic. The time for lamenting is over; no more ‘Alison’. Every word on This Year’s Model drips with disdain, spilling over ornate keyboard lines that are so clear-cut they could well be from the Classical period – move over Beethoven. All the same, Costello remains as witty and wry as ever.
5. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
The Low End Theory comes from a similar leaf on the same branch of hip-hop as De La Soul and Eric B. & Rakim; one that didn’t let the rising commercial success of hip-hop influence their artistry. Instead, the focal point of this album is the beautiful simplicity that can be found in each track: the stripped back setup of drums, bass and vocals. However, the underlying charm here is in Q-Tip’s colloquial, near-conversational delivery, flowing perfectly with the chilled out jazz samples.
4. Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Why would anyone bother with a concept album written about Anne Frank? Get real. Well, maybe it’s not the point that Jeff Magnum doesn’t sing all that melodically, and maybe all the lyrical bombast isn’t trying to achieve anything. The magic can instead be found in the way that the lyrics are poetically unspooled, and how something can sound beautiful despite the grinding accordion involved. Such an album is only meant to be understood and interpreted on an individual level; the point being that it’s its own weird and wonderful self. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea makes one hell of a statement, whatever that statement is.
3. Radiohead – The Bends
After the release of The Bends, anyone who said they knew Radiohead only for ‘Creep’ was dismissed as a fake fan. The first of many musical turning points for Radiohead, The Bends was the initial step towards their ever-increasing (and now signature) digital approach to rock, while staying loyal to their previous grungy sound; neurotic guitars rule tracks such as ‘My Iron Lung’, and Thom Yorke’s floaty vocals define ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. All in all, Radiohead’s sophomore album proceeded to dominate rock for the remainder of the Nineties.
2. Carole King – Tapestry
The Beatles might have been the first to truly break the singer/songwriter barrier, but Carole King was the first to stand tall by herself. Following her divorce with Gerry Goffin, King reimagined some of her own previously penned songs written for Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles, moulding them to her own woman-and-her-piano aesthetic, and gave them a sentiment that made them that bit more sincere and personal. A commercial breakthrough at the time, King undoubtedly gave the most in terms of female songwriting to the Seventies.
1. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver
Reflective, adult, and Pink Floyd-referencing, Sound Of Silver is the cool middle-aged dad we all wanted (and some had). In the album, electro-punk wizard James Murphy has managed the impossible, and made every song sound like it’s been plucked straight from a ‘best of’ by various other bands. The standout tracks – in an album of standout tracks – are ‘North American Scum’, a glorious, stereotype questioning mess, and the more melancholic ‘All My Friends’, an elegy about wasting time doing the wrong things in life and regretting it. As for the remaining songs, to not detail them would deny them any attention and do them a disservice; this album is all substance and no filler.