Top 10 Double Albums
Releasing a double album in the ’60s and ’70s was a rite of passage. Even if an artist had no reason, let alone the material, to put out a two-record album, it was something that just needed to be done sometime during a career. The best double albums don’t leave you picking out half of the songs you’d think would work better on a single LP. For the most part, there’s nothing disposable on the records that made our list of the Top 10 Double Albums. Every single one of them belongs in your collection.
Fleetwood Mac followed up the gazillion-selling ‘Rumours’ with one of the weirdest records ever released by a superstar band. It cost more than $1 million to make — a record number back in 1979. And, like the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ (see No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Double Albums), it plays like several solo records by various members with their bandmates serving as the backing musicians. But it’s a triumph of style and substance, and a wonderfully nuanced record that earns its long length.
Pete Townshend called the Who‘s fourth album a rock opera, and it opened the gates to a whole bunch of messy, pretentious records over the next several decades. But the Who’s sprawling, ambitious story about a kid’s awakening (sexual and otherwise) is told through a battering of guitars, drums and rock-god vocals. No one else even came close.
‘The Wall’ (1979)
Like ‘Tommy’ (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Double Albums), ‘The Wall’ grabs much of its inspiration from the World War II childhood of its creator. In Pink Floyd‘s case, mastermind Roger Waters charts his own rise, ego and psyche in a crushing narrative about an emotionally damaged rock star bottoming out with issues, including the all-purpose mommy one.
‘Physical Graffiti’ (1975)
Led Zeppelin‘s most gargantuan album is made up of thunderous new tracks and leftovers from previous albums. It’s not always a seamless mix (the recent songs are easy to pick out), but the band manages to pull it together with massively epic songs that bridge Eastern and Western music. Possibly the most Zep-like album of their career.
‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (1973)
Elton John was at the point in 1973 where he could release a double album of show tunes recorded in the shower with his cat handling half of the vocals and it would be a worldwide smash. But ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ contains his best songs: epics, rockers, pop hits and old-fashioned standards retrofitted for electric guitars. And it all falls together as one of the best-sounding records of the decade.
‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ (1970)
The ultimate song cycle of love in all its complicated shades — from unrequited to spurned to brokenhearted. Eric Clapton brainstormed the project in light of his complicated relationship with pal George Harrison and Harrison’s wife, whom Clapton pined for. Through a sturdy mix of originals and covers, Clapton and band — including Duane Allman — soar through the hole in his heart.
‘Electric Ladyland’ (1968)
Jimi Hendrix‘s third album is his most aurally rich experience, an overload of musical ideas from the outer spaces of his mind. The patterns and textures layered throughout the album remain among rock’s most visionary. ‘Electric Ladyland’ is a blend of rock, blues, jazz, soul, funk and folk that filters the ’60s through a futuristic fever dream.
‘The Beatles’ (1968)
More than any other record on our list of the Top 10 Double Albums, the Beatles‘ ‘White Album’ is the one that still reveals new insights with each listen. The Fab Four basically played backing band to each other’s solo recordings on the record, and the songs unfurl like their past and present histories. It’s the Beatles at their most splintered, personal and ambitious.
‘Blonde on Blonde’ (1966)
Bob Dylan capped 12 months of tremendous output — starting with ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ quickly followed by ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ — with the two-record ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ recorded in New York and Nashville with members of the Band and session musicians. From sweet pop to bluesy rockers to 11-minute epics, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ is Dylan’s most sprawling record. Song for song, it could be his best.
‘Exile on Main St.’ (1972)
From the muddy production to the grimy guitars to the snapped-together songs, ‘Exile on Main St.’ is the sound of drugs, fatigue and egos sinking in. And it wouldn’t work any other way. Nobody could touch the Stones at this point, and this audacious work — bluesy, doped-up tracks that barely hide the hedonism that fuels them — stands as their life’s masterpiece. No wonder it took them more than five years, and almost as many albums, to recover from the high. Double albums don’t get better than this.