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Vital Pop: 50 Essential Pop Albums

“Vital Pop” is a list of 50 essential pop albums. Defining the word “pop” was a task in and of itself.

Vital Pop

We here at Slant believe that there aren’t enough lists. So we’ve decided to create another one. “Vital Pop” is a list of 50 essential pop albums. Defining the word “pop” was a task in and of itself. Just a few of the informal definitions we stumbled upon were “of or for the general public,” “intended for the popular taste, esp. as exploited commercially,” and “to burst open with a short, sharp, explosive sound.” But none of these seemed to fit the idea-bubble floating above our heads. Here, “pop” isn’t a broad definition, which means no hip-hop (sorry, Lauryn, Dr. Dre) and no straight-up rock (no Nirvana, no Radiohead). Instead, we have chosen to focus on pure, post-rock-n’-roll-era pop genres (pop/rock, pop-soul, synth-pop, dance-pop, electronic-pop, folk-pop, dream-pop, vocal-pop, Euro-pop, jangle-pop, alt-pop—basically anything with the word “pop” attached to it), which can all be defined with disease-like words like “infectious,” “contagious,” and, our favorite, “gelatinous.”

We have excluded live albums and greatest hits collections (with the sole exception of disco diva Donna Summer’s On the Radio, since so much of the genre was singles-driven and her continuous-mix collection, which included two new songs, might be the single best example of how to package and present a greatest hits album). Some of our choices have been deemed “classics” (Thriller, Pet Sounds), others are more obscure (Belly’s King), while still others are less-heralded albums by established artists (U2’s Pop, for example). This is by no means a definitive VH1-style greatest-of-all-time list. We have chosen what we think are some of the best pop albums ever made. Since we’ve limited the list to 50, only one record per artist is permitted (Prince, however, has at least one co-writing or producing credit on no less than nine albums on our list).

• The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
• The Beatles, The White Album
• Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On
• David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
• Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
• Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
• Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark
• Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
• Billy Joel, The Stranger
• Blondie, Parallel Lines
• The B-52’s, The B-52’s
• Donna Summer, On the Radio
• Talking Heads, Remain in Light
• Michael Jackson, Thriller
• Prince, 1999
• R.E.M., Murmur
• Culture Club, Colour by Numbers
• Cyndi Lauper, She’s So Unusual
• Chaka Khan, I Feel for You
• The Bangles, A Different Light
• Janet Jackson, Control
• The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
• Madonna, Like a Prayer
• Depeche Mode, Violator
• Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
• Deee-Lite, World Clique
• George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1
• Paula Abdul, Spellbound
• Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend
• Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes
• Sophie B. Hawkins, Tongues and Tails
• Annie Lennox, Diva
• 10,000 Maniacs, Our Time in Eden
• The Cranberries, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
• Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
• Milla, The Divine Comedy
• Erasure, I Say, I Say, I Say
• Jeff Buckley, Grace
• Belly, King
• Björk, Post
• Vanessa Daou, Zipless
• Beck, Odelay
• Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow
• U2, Pop
• Mariah Carey, Butterfly
• Kylie Minogue, Impossible Princess
• Heather Nova, Siren
• Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
• Nelly Furtado, Whoa, Nelly!
• No Doubt, Rock Steady

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