Double albums have nearly all but disappeared, after becoming popular in the mid-60s and carrying on with strength into the 70s, they are now rarer than a jiving goth. Having two albums worth of material without it sounding like a hell of a lot of filler, is an art form. With this in mind, we count down the top 10 that not only made it work, but created near faultless masterpieces in their own right.
Bonus Mention: American Idiot by Green Day (2004)
I really wanted to include this modern masterpiece on the list, but there is some incredible competition and so I had to make the hard decision to cull it (as well as Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road). The problem with it being released in 2004 was that it was released on CD and it wasn’t until the vinyl release that it became a double album as vinyl is more limited when it comes to time than soulless CDs. It is an excellent punk rock album, carrying on the tradition of rock operas set out by Pink Floyd and The Who … talking about Pink Floyd and the Who, what do we have at number one and two?
- The Wall by Pink Floyd (1979)
The double album really lends itself to rock operas as the artists have more time to play around with their theme or story and that is exactly what Roger Waters did on this iconic Floyd album. The album is a novel in music form with a cornucopia of metaphors and symbolism. As well as the great sound and story within the album, it is also home to some of the greatest Pink Floyd songs ever recorded, including ‘Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)’, ‘Hey You’ (which is my favourite Floyd song), and ‘Comfortably Numb’.
- Quadrophenia by The Who (1973)
The second rock opera on our list from the band that pioneered the form. Quadrophenia wasn’t the first rock opera The Who did as this album came after the seminal Tommy, and Who fans still argue to this day which album is the best. The plot revolves around a young Mod who is disillusioned with life and his parents and tries to fit in with his friends before ultimately ending up on a rock in Brighton contemplating his life. Whilst not the best Who album (in my opinion), it definitely uses the form of the double album well and spawned some classic Who tracks like ‘5:15’ and ‘Love, Reign o’er Me’.
- Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder (1976)
This is the odd one out album on the list as it’s the only double album that isn’t in the rock or rock/pop genres. The form lends itself to rock music and every major rock musician or band worth their salt released a rock album during the 60s or 70s. Stevie, however, proved you don’t need to shred a guitar to make a good double album when he released his magnum opus, the wonderfully titled, Songs in the Key of Life, featuring classic songs like ‘Sir Duke’, ‘I Wish’, ‘Pastime Paradise’ (which was sampled on the seminal hip-hop song ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’), ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, and ‘As’. Considered one of the best albums ever recorded, who wouldn’t want four vinyl sides of Stevie Wonder.
- Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones (1972)
It was only a matter of time before The Rolling Stones jumped on the band wagon and released a double album. 1972 proved to be the fateful year that they managed create one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. At the time of recording the band was a drug-fuelled mess only held together by the hard work of Keith Richards who almost single-handedly created what some believe the best Stones album. At the time of release, the album wasn’t met warmly by critics, but it didn’t take long for people to see the genius and although the album wasn’t a song hit machine like other Stones releases, it still held gems like ‘Rocks Off’, ‘Tumbling Dice’, and ‘All Down the Line’
- London Calling by The Clash (1979)
I’m not a punk fan, I have to admit, however the beauty of this album is that it incorporates a multitude of different styles and genres to create one of the most seminal albums of all time. That is what a double album should be: eclectic. The album opens with the blistering ‘London’s Calling’ --which has become about as iconic as a song can possibly be – and doesn’t let up till the final bars of ‘Train in Vain’.
- All Things Must Pass by George Harrison (1970)
If you ever look at a Beatles album back cover you’ll notice that the vast majority of the songs are credited to ‘Lennon and McCartney’, which is fine as they are two of the greatest songwriters of all time, however Harrison was often overlooked. In my opinion, Harrison is at times better than the other two and whenever he popped up with one of his own creations on a Beatles album, it was invariably the best track. So as the Beatles imploded, Harrison had a wealth of songs in his head that I can only assume John and Paul wouldn’t let him record for fear of taking their crown away, so he sat down and created one of the best double albums of all time, pouring all of his creativity and genius onto two pieces of vinyl. Without a single dull point on the album, Harrison is able to belt out such pop classics as ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, ‘What Is Life’, and an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘If Not for You’. The album is as close to perfection as one can get.
- Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan (1966)
The album that started it all. In the 60s Bob Dylan was a creative powerhouse. He dived from genre to genre and released seminal album after seminal album. Some believe his best work was on Blonde on Blonde … although those people have clearly never listened to Blood on the Tracks which is obviously his best album … but whatever … Blonde on Blonde was insanely influential on the world of music and not least because he created the double album as we know it. The album is jam-packed with classic Dylan songs including ‘Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’, ‘Visions of Johanna’, ‘I Want You’, ‘Just Like a Woman’, and ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ … as well as nine others that are just as incredible.
Okay … technically the first double album was some French guy … but most people recognise Bob (being the second double album) with popularising the form and bringing it to the attention of the world.
- Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix (1968)
Now we get the holy trinity of double albums starting with Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. Hendrix looked to Dylan like a starving Nun might look to God and thought, ‘If Dylan’s doing a double album, then I should too.’ Electric Ladyland is like no album you have ever heard, or will ever hear … it is a sonic experience like no other that blends everything that made Jimi such an icon. Parts of the album feel like (and actually were) jam sessions, including the majestic fifteen minute ‘Voodoo Chile’ and fourteen minute ‘1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be). It’s pure 60s psychedelic craftmanship and it’s absolutely wonderful. But, the main reason I think it’s worth the price of admission: Hendrix’s version of the Dylan classic ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which is the best cover song of all time, and quite possibly the greatest rock song of all time … aside from ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of course!
- The Beatles (The White Album) by The Beatles (1968)
Not only did we see Electric Ladyland released in 1968, but also, quite possibly, the greatest Beatles album, which has come to be known as The White Album. By this point in their career, the Fab Four had ceased to be able to work as a coherent unit and so the album often feels like the John, Paul, George, and Ringo doing solo projects but putting them on the same two pieces of vinyl … this is why it’s such a great double album, as its eclectic and rambling and each song takes you off into a wonderful and new magical landscape without any real consideration for what came before or what’s coming next. This is the greatest show case of the Beatles individual talents and I really wanted to put it at number one! Just take a look at a small section of the songs on the album; ‘Back in the USSR’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Helter Skelter’, and ‘Revolution 1’ … plus 25 others!!!
Let’s just forget about all the Manson Family nonsense, though … shall we?
- Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin (1975)
Not only the greatest double album of all time, but quite possible the greatest rock album of all time (no possibly about it, it just is). I’m going to struggle to put into words why this album is so spine-tinglingly awesome, but I’ll give it a go. When the band came to record the album, they had slightly too much material for a single album, but not enough for a double album. The problem was, they couldn’t decide what to get rid of as they loved all the songs equally so they decided to dig into the treasure trove of songs they cut from other albums and tack them on the end … this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but somehow it worked incredibly well. When Led Zep put in the work, they were the greatest band that ever existed … and this album is all the evidence you need. Featuring ‘The Rover’, ‘In My Time of Dying’, ‘House of the Holy’, ‘Trampled Under Foot’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘Down by the Seaside’ and other stone-cold classics, the album will be forever held as one of the greatest musical creations humanity has ever produced.
Painfully Cut from the List:
The River by Bruce Springsteen
Tusk by Fleetwood Mac
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
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