The Essential Music Library: Modern Rock

The Essential Music Library project is an attempt to get the many musical minds of the SDMB to sit down and discuss what works are absolutely necessary for a well-stocked musical library. There will be roughly 20 threads detailing a variety of genres so that we can get the depth that would be missing from a single-threaded discussion and the breadth necessary to cover what’s out there.

The topic of this thread is modern rock, ranging from 1980 or so up until the present day. Give us your grunge, your alt-rock, your indie rock and your corporate rock.

Previous threads: Project Planning | Classical | Rock | Jazz

Pixies - Surfer Rosa
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation
Nirvana - In Utero
Flaming Lips - Clouds Taste Metallic
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Slint - Spiderland
Deerhoof - Reveille
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - I See a Darkness
Breeders - Last Splash
Belly - Star
Luna - Penthouse
The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace with God
Radiohead - OK Computer
Tindersticks - Tindersticks (I)
Cocteau Twins - Head Over Heels

Alice in Chains - Dirt
Metallica - The Black Album
Soundgarden - Superunknown
Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape
Jerry Cantrell - Degradation Trip Vol. 1 and 2

Mind if I ask why the Jerry Cantrell albums are on there? No disrespect to the guy, but if you’ve got [probably] the most essential Alice in Chains album already on the list, I have trouble seeing his solo stuff on there. Cantrell wrote most of AiC’s songs anyway.

The White Stripes - White Blood Cells

Nine Inch Nails: either Pretty Hate Machine or The Downward Spirial. Personally, I’d pick PHM.

Tool: Aenima

I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased toward that double album, because IMO it’s the best “grunge” album released after the early 90s. A shame it didn’t get more radio play, because almost all the critics loved it.

Off the top of my head, and limiting myself to one album per artist:

The Great Escape - Blur
The Queen is Dead - The Smiths
Pinkerton - Weezer
Odelay - Beck
Slanted and Enchanted - Pavement
Definitely Maybe - Oasis
The Joshua Tree - U2
Automatic for the People - R.E.M.
Loveless - My Bloody Valentine

The Cure- Disintegration
The Verve - A Storm in Heaven
Faith No More - Angel Dust
Tool - Aenima
Failure - Fantastic Planet
The Strokes - Is this It?
Dredg - El Cielo
The Afghan Whigs - 1965
Pearl Jam - Ten
Nirvana - Nevermind
Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine
A Perfect Circle - Mer de Noms
The Joshua Tree - U2
Radiohead - OK Computer

Nirvana - Nevermind
Green Day - Dookie
Metallica - s/t
Weezer - first s/t
Radiohead - OK Computer
U2 - Joshua Tree
Pixies - Surfer Rosa

REM deserve something on the list, but I’m not familiar enough with their work to say what.

Agreed. I think Automatic for the People is probably the right pick, based on what I’ve heard.

Depends on what you call essential. AFTP would have the most hits, but R.E.M.'s best and most influential work was done in the '80s. Hmm… why don’t we make this easy and have a couple R.E.M. ones. They have been one of the defining modern rock bands.

I would suggest the following, some of which have already been suggested. I have included quite a lot of records from the '00s, but that’s because I think great rock continues to be made to the present day. i have thought my selections through and I consider my recent selections to be just as worthy of inclusion as the older ones.

The Clash - London Calling
Obvious place to start, and even though it was released in the UK in '79, it’s US release was 1980, so it squeezes in. I just noticed there’s a punk thread planned, so perhaps this should be held off until that, but the record is diverse enough to be considered under the modern rock banner.

U2 - The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby
U2’s best records and most representative. War would be a good third choice, particularly because it shows the groups early more post-punk sound, but it’s more an essential U2 record than an essential modern rock record.

R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant, Out of Time and Automatic For The People
They really do deserve three albums here. Most modern rock is basically permutations of The Pixies, R.E.M., and more recently, Radiohead. LRP may not be as good as Murmur but its the best introduction to their '80s sound, which really made them famous. It also has the better singles, and is a pretty good representation of the band - “Begin The Begin” shows their rocking anthemic side, “Cuyahoga,” their jangliness, “Fall On Me,” their ability to write unforgettable singles. Out of Time has their biggest hits, and some of the biggest hits of the '90s - “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People” as well as classic like “Near Wild Heaven.” Automatic For The People was the completion of their transition into the mainstream, and is a great album, all six singles are essential and is one of the strongest, most musically and thematically consistent and cohesive records of the period.

The Cure - Disintegration
I think this is generally agreed to be the classic. It’s tricky though, because The Cure are also a great singles band.

The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead

The Replacements - Pleased To Meet Me
I’m putting this in tentatively. Love the Replacements, but I get their records confused a bit. They certainly need to be on this list.

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation, Goo

Nirvana - Nevermind, In Utero
I would argue that both records need to be included, to show both the catchy, hooky side of the band and the reactionary, noisy side.

Pixies - Surfer Rosa, Doolittle
Wrote the blueprint for indie rock.

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

Pearl Jam - Ten, Vitalogy

The Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
The greatness of SD seems to be accepted, but some people are less fond of MCatIS. It could be argued that at a double it is too bloated, but even if you do take issue with that, the quality of the songs is undoubtable - Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1979, Stumbleine, Tonight Tonight

Beck - Odelay

Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; Slanted and Enchanted

Radiohead - The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A

I think all three of these must be included. The Bends showed their greatness as a pop group, OK Computer remains one of the greatest albums of all time, completely flawless (yes, even Fitter Happier is perfect) and Kid A is the prickly, left-field equal to Ok Computer. I must emphasize this point - as far as I am concerned, there is no doubt that Kid A is as good as OK Computer, if not better. Not only does it have great songs - Idioteque, Everything In Its Right Place, The National Anthem, as an album it is an astounding experience, 40 minutes where everything is in its right place. So what if it doesn’t have guitars?

Mogwai - Young Team

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
I like it better than the Soft Bulletin, although that record could easily substitute for this one.

Wilco - Summer Teeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Modest Mouse - The Moon And Antarctica

At The Drive-In - Relationship Of Command
Every time I return to this record it amazes me again with its power. How sad that they had to become the disappointing Sparta and the wretched Mars Volta.

Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights
Almost gets passed over because it just perfectly works a sound that has been done before, but the quality of the songs make this an equal to the other records on this list.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Majick

The White Stripes - White Blood Cells

The Strokes - Is This It

**The Arcade Fire - Funeral

Death Cab For Cutie - We Have The Plans And We’re Voting Yes

Built To Spill - There’s Nothing Wrong With Love**
There’s nothing wrong with Built To Spill in their more adventurous, guitar-hero mode, but I prefer their indie-pop simplicity. Substitute with Perfect From Now On if you wish.

The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
They’ll change your life. :wink:

**Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary

Bright Eyes - Lifted, Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground

Belle and Sebastian - If You’re Feeling Sinister**
Feel free to substitute Tigermilk.

Weezer - Blue Album, Pinkerton
Both are vital.

**Billy Bragg - Talking to the Taxman About Poetry

Jeff Buckley - Grace

Blur - Parklife

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever To Tell**

Some I haven’t seen yet:

Elvis Costello absolutely must be on the list, represented by one or more of My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, or Imperial Bedroom.

Paul Simon’s Graceland, and quite possibly also Rhythm of the Saints. (If you want to argue that these aren’t rock, then tell me where they do belong, because they ought to be on some list.)

They Might Be Giants, represented by one of their earlier albums or a compilation.

XTC: Either Skylarking or Oranges and Lemons.

Something by Billy Joel or Tom Petty? They kind of straddle the 1980 boundary.

There are some (sub)genres that maybe ought to show up somewhere in a representative collection, but I’d be hard pressed to single out a particular album or artist:

metal/pop metal (e.g. Def Leppard, Van Halen, Guns n Roses)

radio-friendly arena rock (e.g. Journey, REO Speedwagon, Styx)

MTV-friendly 80s New Wave (e.g. Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Culture Club, Men At Work)

British pop-ska (e.g. Madness, the Specials, the English Beat)

I’m sure rock snobs will dismiss some of these, but I want a list with broad appeal.

You don’t have the genre I listen to in your Essential Library, but I suppose these could go into the ‘Modern Rock’ slot:

Kate Bush - Hounds of Love (The Dreaming is my favorite album by her, but HOL is probably the one that regular people should have)

Peter Gabriel - PGIII (melted face) (PGIV (Security) is my favorite, but this would do for an Essentials list)

Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes (Under the Pink is my favorite)

Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstacy (Solace is my favorite)

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (my favorite, whoo!)

Bjork - Debut

Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life In The Bush of Ghosts

Siouxsie & the Banshees - Once Upon A Time: The Singles

Essential to me, but wouldn’t be to someone who was trying to build a library like yours:

Kirsty MacColl - Electric Ladyland
Happy Rhodes - Many Worlds Are Born Tonight
Sinead O’Connor - Universal Mother
Eddi Reader - Mirmama
Jane Siberry - When I Was A Boy
Bel Canto - Shimmering Warm & Bright
Noe Venable - The World Is Bound By Secret Knots
Cocteau Twins - Treasure
Dead Can Dance - Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun
The Innocence Mission - Umbrella
Komeda - What Makes It Go
Sheila Chandra & Monsoon - Third Eye
Two Loons For Tea - Looking For Landmarks
Julee Cruise - Floating Into The Night
Danielle Dax - Dark Adapted Eye
Nina Hagen - Nunsexmonkrock
Diamanda Galas - You Must Be Certain Of The Devil (even I wouldn’t choose Plague Mass)
Lene Lovich - The Stiff Years
Mary Margaret O’Hara - Miss America
Mary Coughlin - Under The Influence
Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Broadcasting From Home
The Sundays - Reading Writing & Arithmetic
Victoria Williams - Happy Come Home
Zap Mama - Zap Mama
Zoe - Hammer
Loreena McKennitt - The Visit
Lost In The Stars - The Music Of Kurt Weill (old music yes, but done by modern musicians like Tom Waits and Lou Reed)
Tricky - Maxinquaye
Camper Van Beethoven - II & III (that’s the name of the album, it’s their 2nd)
Eva Cassidy - Songbird
Hector Zazou - Songs From The Cold Seas
This Mortal Coil - It’ll End In Tears
My brain just went blank.


I think all of those will fit into the punk/post-punk/new wave and metal threads.

I don’t see where any of those don’t fall under rock or modern rock. The list is incomplete cause I wanted to keep the thread count down and still hit all the major areas.

Oh, and here’s an easy one: Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense.

Well, on the hard rock/metal side you’d have to have:

Ozzy- Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman, though I think Blizzard came out late 79.

Metallica- Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets

Van Halen: Women and Children First. Possibly another album. I don’t like VH so I don’t know what would be the best pick but they gotta be in there somwhere.

Iron Maiden - The Number Of The Beast

Judas Priest - Screaming For Vengeance

Guns N’ Roses - Appetite For Destruction

Rush- Moving Picutres.

Dream Theater - Images And Words

Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime and Rage for Order.

Yngwie Malmsteen - Rising Force. Yeah, Yngwie is an ass and over plays way too often but this brought semi-classical shred guitar to the world for better or worse.


PTMM shouldn’t be included, since it lacks the frenetic, twisted lead guitar of Bob Stinson. From the smart-ass title, to the brilliant songwriting, Let It Be was the Mats at their finest.

I’m not sure how well they’re known outside of Minnesota, but Low has made some of the most quietly beautiful music of the last ten years. I would nominate Secret Name as their album worthy of inclusion on this list.

In the alt-country arena:

**Uncle Tupelo ** - No Depression
**Son Volt ** - Trace
**The Jayhawks ** - Hollywood Town Hall
**Lucinda Williams ** - Car Wheels On Gravel Road

I love this album too, but I don’t think it qualifies under this category (80’s and beyond “modern” rock). I assume that there will be a separate prog thread someday.

On the other hand, I think King Crimson jumped into the 80’s pretty nicely with Discipline. Especially given their influence upon NIN and Tool.

No separate prog thread. Instead, it’s split between rock and modern rock. If you think the rock thread is short on prog, feel free to add some.

Probably way overplayed, and didn’t exactly breakl new ground, but deservedly popular:
Hootie and the Blowfish: Cracked Rear View
Collective Soul (their self-titled)