Reviews > Culture

The Music

Culture

Issue: "Linda Chavez," Jan. 20, 2001
1
Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975
The Eagles 27 million copies sold
Year released: 1976
STYLE
Slick, mostly mellow pop-rock with folk and country underpinnings.

BEST-KNOWN SONGS
"Take It to the Limit," "Lyin' Eyes," "One of These Nights," "Best of My Love," "Witchy Woman"

OTHER TOP-100 RIAA ALBUMS
Hotel California (1976; 15 million sold), Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume Two (1982; 9 million sold)

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SIGNIFICANCE
This album's popularity and its skillful commercialization of various Woodstock-era sounds reflect the baby boom generation's tendency to see itself as the sum total of its romantic dysfunctionality.

2
Thriller
Michael Jackson 26 million copies sold
Year released: 1982
STYLE
A dazzling transformation of the rhythm-and-blues-based bubblegum of Mr. Jackson's Motown youth into dance music of surprising resiliency and sophistication.

BEST-KNOWN SONGS
"Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Human Nature," "Thriller," "P.Y.T."

OTHER TOP-100 RIAA ALBUMS
None

SIGNIFICANCE
That Thriller continues to sell despite the increasingly unsavory spectacle of Mr. Jackson himself suggests that the album and the cultural revolutions it fostered (for example, integrating MTV) have taken on a life of their own.

3
The wall
Pink Floyd 23 million copies sold
Year released: 1979
STYLE
Spacey, pretentiously ominous rock, with at least two turgid segues for every attention-getting song.

BEST-KNOWN SONGS
"Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)," "Run Like Hell," "Comfortably Numb"

Other Top-100 RIAA albums
Dark Side of the Moon (1973; 15 million sold)

SIGNIFICANCE
Could the navel-gazing cynicism of parts of contemporary Western culture stem from this widely disseminated, cynical "rock opera"? Nah; The Wall is just one more example of art imitating life.

4
Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin 22 million copies sold
Year released: 1971
STYLE
Archetypal heavy metal, complete with American blues, British folk, and flower power.

BEST-KNOWN SONGS
"Stairway to Heaven," "Black Dog"

OTHER TOP-100 RIAA ALBUMS
Physical Graffiti (1975; 15 million sold), Led Zeppelin II (1969; 12 million sold), Houses of the Holy (1973; 11 million sold)

SIGNIFICANCE
To rock musicians and the world at large, a hard-rock monument-its peaks and depths disappearing into the clouds and Middle Earth respectively. To gullible Christians, an urban legend-its lyrics allegedly unmasked as Satanic when played backwards.

5
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Billy Joel 21 million copies sold
Year released: 1985
STYLE
Obsequious, piano-based pop, with even the "tender" songs rendered noxious by a self-involved, smart-alecky nastiness that Mr. Joel hardly goes out of his way to hide.

BEST-KNOWN SONGS
"Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Uptown Girl"

OTHER TOP-100 RIAA ALBUMS
The Stranger (1977; 9 million sold)

SIGNIFICANCE
Vivid proof of what happens when a square peg (Mr. Joel might've single-handedly revitalized the Broadway musical) insists upon fitting into a round hole (rock superstardom).

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
John Wesley Harding seldom pops up in discussions of Bob Dylan's best albums any more, but upon its release in December 1967, when domestic tension over the Vietnam War was escalating, many considered it significant indeed. Its one-take, acoustic sound and direct, parable-like lyrics put it at odds with such then-fashionable extravaganzas as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, causing a culture accustomed to regarding Mr. Dylan as the "antenna of the age" to subject Harding's form and content to scrutiny. Harding is in some ways even more mysterious now: Removed from the '60s, its outlaws, patriots, saints, drifters, and messengers resound within contexts quite different from the ones in which they were first heard. But it's less mysterious too: Its jokes now sound like jokes instead of ciphers, and its biblical echoes, having come home to roost in Mr. Dylan's gospel albums, now have literal as well as symbolic meaning. Ironically, what once made Harding unfashionable-its simplicity-now makes it seem forever young. Don't be surprised if one day it's held out as the truly essential Bob Dylan.

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