To celebrate the news that Biffy Clyro will be treating us all to a double album later this year, Strictly has decided to count down the Top 10 Greatest double albums. Now there is one caveat, this is essentially a rock and pop site, so to keep the countdown on topic, we’re going to exclude Jazz, so sorry, no Miles Davis.
Let us begin.
After the post-punk explosion of 1978-1982 everything was seemingly possible. The whole idea of being in a band and what constituted pop music had been blown up by everyone from Public Image Ltd and The Talking Heads to Throbbing Gristle and The Human League. In the years that followed, every idealized strand of the revolution would be carved up and expanded into full-blown niches and subgenres. Post-Punk and hardcore superstars The Minutemen weren’t happy to bid adieu to innovation just yet however as their spikey 1984 double album Double Nickels On The Dime bristled with ideas from punchy Gang of Four meets Talking Heads jams to gorgeous Spanish guitar and blues sequences and depraved rants (“It’s Expected I’m Gone”). Whatever The Minutemen turned their hands to they mastered, and they produced a spectacular double album that would provide inspiration for so many today’s post-hardcore heroes like Fucked Up.
9. Bruce Springsteen – The River (1980)
After the morbidly oblique statement Darkness Of The Edge Of Town and the polished street opera of Born To Run, Springsteen could do no wrong, and for his next project he decided to do it all. On his first double LP The Boss abandoned the selective approach of Darkness… and let it all hang out. Luckily enough, it was all brilliant, as The River overflowed with hits. The title track became one of The Boss most enduring and heartbreaking statements, but it was surrounded on all sides by huge tunes; “The Ties That Bind”, “Jackson Cage”, “Sherry Darling”, “Hungry Heart”, “The Price You Pay”, and “Out In The Street”. In The River, Springsteen delivered a greatest hits collection in the waiting.
8. Husker Du – Zen Arcade (1984)
The Minutemen weren’t the only hardcore/post-hardcore superstars making waves in 1984. Minnesota’s sublime Husker Du also unleashed their career-defining opus. Though follow up New Day Rising was arguably more acutely targeted, few albums could rival the boldness and invention of Zen Arcade. Long before Refused expanded the hardcore lexicon, Husker Du were successfully incorporating elements of jazz, psychedilia (plenty of that), and even folk into their formidable assault. What make Zen Arcade so effective was the way in which Husker Du thoroughly co-opted every new element into their signature sound. When they briskly dabbled with whispish acoustic guitars, it was never “Husker do folk”, it sounded like an entirely natural expansion of the bands core aesthetic. Even the starkest sonic contrasts were tied together harmoniously by the sheer pace of Husker Du’s assault.
By 1987 Prince’s powers were unrivalled. When he announced his decision to release a double album, no one question the move, brilliance was excepted. Prince delivered of course. The first line alone left audiences the world over awestruck; “In France A Skinny Man Died Of A Big Disease With A Little Name, By Chance His Girlfriend Came Across A Needle, And Soon She Did The Same”.
Rather than delivering a precision-engineered assault, Prince followed The Beatles model and released a mess of divergent ideas and sounds that in many cases had no business sitting alongside one another. Fortunately enough the star’s impeccable charisma and fearless pop sensibilities held all the insanity together. Sign O’ The Times is effectively everything you’d could want from a Prince double album, even if that means going from death in the slums to partying in bikinis.
6. The Clash – London Calling (1979)
Robert Christageau called it the greatest double album “since Exile On Main Street” and with an album cover that intentionally recalls Elvis Pressley’s inconic and groundbreaking debut album, London Calling was always destined for greatness. With a slightly expanded sound, and with Paul Simonon’s newfound love of reggae and dub, London Calling was neither a full-blown experiment nor a retreat to the Punk values of old. Instead, The Clash’s career defining album reveled in the fundamentals of rock’n’roll and garage rock that The Ramones so expertly espoused in 1976 while simultaneously embrace a new palette of sounds that were sweeping the nation. More than anything however, London Calling was a showcase of Joe Strummer and The Clash’s phenomenal pop and rock sensibilities. The joy of the album still lies in just following Joe’s lead as he shuffles across the dance floor, rages against the machine, and sardonic skewers seemingly everything.