1. A good album is diverse
A good album is like a good meal. Once in every while, you’re presented with different flavours, different textures. It’s one of the main differences between cuisine and fast food. Unfortunately, this rule means that all your Techno and Death Metal albums are out of the competition. An album that sort of sounds the same from beginning to end does not build up to anything, nor does it surprise you at any point. After one track it’s merely ‘there’. Remember: it’s not about (my) taste. It’s an objective standard.
2. A great album is recorded by excellent musicians.
It is not possible to make a ‘top 5′ album, when the band has to drag one of it’s members along… or when a crappy producer is hired. Great music may sound like you could’ve played it yourself, but believe me: you couldn’t. This rule -surprisingly- also means that Ringo is an excellent drummer after all. Who knew?
3. Ending up high in the charts is not a factor, but decent sales are.
I’m guessing there will be no debate over the fact that Britney Spears has no place in a ‘Top five of best albums’ list. However, there are people that would make a case for, say ‘Tigermilk‘ by Belle and Sebastian. Sorry. A great album will by definition have more decent sales. Greatness will move -perhaps- not masses, but large quantities of people nonetheless. At the same time it can be argued that if an album is number one in a lot of charts, for a long, long time, it may be that the album is not great, but well-marketed.
4. A good album can be easy and simple, a great album -by definition- is not.
This rule has a lot in common with the previous two. Successful producers as Stock, Aitken and Waterman (or even Justin Timberlake) make music that is as easy to the ear as a Whopper is to the tongue. sometimes you just feel slutty and you think you need it. but afterwards you feel defiled and empty. That sort of thing. You can never identify a great album at first play. You have to get used to it. A great album challenges you to hear many things you have never heard before.
5. Compilations don’t count
Personally I cannot think of a compilation album that I would rate ‘great’ anyway, but you never know. A compilation is exactly what it is called; compiled singles. That will never make a well-balanced album. Not even if you’re Genesis. A great album is by definition more than merely the sum of it’s songs added together. Something extra happens. Like mixing Coke with Mentos, but musical..
6. Great albums have inspired other -really good- albums
If you have a couple of really good (but not yet great) albums at home, go and find out who and what inspired those albums. Good chance you’ll end up listening to something truly great. A great album is the definitive work of a genre and a start of something (completely) new at the same time. Again, this is not an opinion, it’s an objective rule of thumb. You may like Coldplay, their albums are not great.
So there we are. Six easy rules to get you started on finally deciding what five albums are the absolutely top bestest in the entire history. Go and make your list.
(Oh, one more piece of advice. if ‘OK Computer’ isn’t on your list you’re setting yourself up to be justly ridiculed by the world.)