10 great albums by artists that aren’t considered their BEST albums but might actually be their best albums
I mean, when the title of the thing you’re writing about practically needs to stretch into a paragraph, you know it won’t survive an elevator pitch. In fact, back in my days as a lifestyle journalist (‘lifestyle’ – snorts laughter), this would’ve drowned at sea within seconds – not snappy enough, you’d lose the room. But really, as a concept, it’s a simple one. It’s just albums by famous musical artists that aren’t held in the same esteem as their purported finest, but might actually be better. Or they mightn’t be better, they might just be really good as well, but for some reason they didn’t receive the same fawning recognition. Anyway here goes…
De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate (1993) – the De La Soul record no one ever seems to talk about. 3 Feet High and Rising might be on the Mount Rushmore of rap albums (definitely of the conscious variety), while Stakes is High and De La Soul is Dead (both incredible) also fared better, but for those who love it, this is always going to be the one. “I am Maceo, I be blowin the soul out of this horn” begins one of the greatest jazz tracks of the 90s. And on a De La Soul album.
Fleetwood Mac – Mirage (1982) – is it better than Rumours? No of course it isn’t, nothing is. No matter how hard you try to fight it, Rumours is the classic that can’t be beaten. But this comes much closer than anything else Fleetwood Mac produced before or since, despite what Tusk and Tango in the Night might be telling you. Granted, that my mum played this over and over again for the entire 1980s may have stacked the deck a little.
Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain (1960) – everyone goes mad for landscape-shifters like Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew, but recorded just a few months after Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain hits just as hard, and will transport you immediately to the country that blessed us with anchovies and oranges. This is equally playful on the palate* and with a larger orchestra than normal.
*by palate I mean ears. The palate of your ears.
Madonna – True Blue (1986) – to call this underrated might seem insane because it topped the charts all over the world, yet it’s still less revered than the notorious “Like…” albums that straddled it (“… a Virgin”, “… a Prayer”). But dare I say, it’s better than both of those on account of featuring the two greatest ever Madonna tracks – Live to Tell from At Close Range starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, and, in particular, Open Your Heart.
The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969) – the aficionados seem to take great glee in telling you that, actually, Revolver is a much better album than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, ignoring the fact that everyone’s been saying the same fucking thing for years. And incorrectly too, because the finest Beatles album can be found in the medley that takes up most of the B-side on Abbey Road.
Stevie Wonder – Music of My Mind (1972) – from Where I’m Coming From in 1971 to Songs in the Key of Life in 1976, old Steveland Wonder was probably on the hottest streak ever seen/heard in music, with six incredible albums one after the other (also, Talking Book, Inner Visions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale), including the lesser-adored Music of My Mind. Your job now is to listen to Superwoman then think of a better Stevie number (clue: there isn’t one).
Blondie – Autoamerican (1980) – we’re quite used to rock bands going through a period of noodling with different sounds, and this is the one where Blondie derailed a little and started monkeying around with synths and a small phenomenon called hip-hop. It mightn’t be as loved as Parallel Lines or Eat to the Beat but it’s way more interesting than both.
T. Rex – Futuristic Dragon (1976) – Marc Bolan’s last album before he died, and one that was widely disliked by all accounts, with talk of Bolan being far too strung out on drugs, barely making sense. But that’s to dismiss something truly indulgent, excessive, and at times, incredible. Clumsily soulful, butter-fingered attempts at going disco, this is a glorious record that captures everything you need to capture.
Chaka Khan – What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me (1981) – the Prince affiliation of I Feel For You can’t be understated, but for quintessential Chaka (outside of her work with Rufus), it has to be this. The title track, written by the underappreciated Ned Doheny, is a Yacht Rock masterpiece, and she even does a pretty good job of covering a little known band called The Bloody Beatles.
Marvin Gaye – I Want You (1976) – they say ‘write what you know’, and you get the sense that from the 1970s onward, Marvin Gaye’s music was entirely autobiographical. From the social befuddlement of his classic What’s Going On to the bitterness of a broken marriage on Here, My Dear. But this, as with Let’s Get It On, is all about a man with the horn, though in this case with the sleaze dialed up to about nine thousand.