This has been a year filled with musical milestones. More than a dozen albums have celebrated notable anniversaries, ranging from half a century to a decade.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, for example, composer Brian Wilson took the influential album out on tour, which included a life-affirming show at the Dubai Tennis Stadium this month.
But Pet Sounds is not the only classic album celebrating a landmark this year. Glance at the list on this page and it will be evident that each of the very different records was a product of a certain time and a unique set of circumstances: inspired creators coming together in a perfect moment.
Indeed, these albums can tell you much about the times in which they were made: from the experimentation and revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, to the furious disaffection of punk, grunge and rap, all the way up to date with the dubious merits of modern celebrity culture.
Several of these records were criticised, by labels or critics, at least one sold badly, and one was released on America’s darkest day. Yet here they are. Any flops from this year might have hope after all.
Has there been a more remarkable period for pop music than the summer of 1966? Revolver was released just weeks after Pet Sounds, and Wilson's work would be a major influence on the British band's later experimentation. Revolver, though, was the Fab Four's first foray into edgier territory, and the most satisfying, as new sounds and magical songs combined. George Harrison had recently discovered Indian classical music, which is a clear influence on several songs (Taxman, I'm Only Sleeping, Love You To), while the band's tape-looping experiments pointed to a more radical future, particularly on the aptly-named closing track, Tomorrow Never Knows.
What’s Going On (1971)
Gaye emerged as a popular solo artist on Motown Records in the early 1960s, but fought with the label to get this hugely important album released. With a brother fighting in Vietnam, and troubled by police brutality at home, the singer recorded a protest single, What's Going On? in January 1971. Motown protested too, but it sold well and the landmark LP of the same title followed. Gaye and Motown's underrated house band, the Funk Brothers, crafted a marvellously ambitious, interconnected, but accessible, concept record about conflicts at home and abroad. Soul music would never be the same.
Ramones is the shortest album on this list – just 29 minutes – and size definitely matters here. While soul had evolved into something significantly more profound during the 1970s, rock’s new “progressive” direction was horribly self-indulgent, with ludicrously overblown, overlong albums that, frankly, were no fun at all. This shock-blast of a debut album helped blow all that away. The New York quartet had been making a notorious ruckus at the legendary East Village venue CBGB, and sent the punk movement global with these 14 rapid bursts of high-tempo lyrical irreverence. Ramones sold sluggishly, initially, but its influence was enormous.
A striking model and singer, Jones was the face of the New York nightclub scene in the late 1970s. Disco was all about singles rather than albums, though, and her early records flopped. Hence the undaunted Jamaican headed to the Bahamas for album number five, with a band helmed by reggae legends Sly and Robbie, and came up with something entirely new, weaving in funk and electro. Led by the mighty hit Pull Up to the Bumper, Jones finally went mainstream with Nightclubbing, and would inspire a host of future stars, from Rihanna to Lady Gaga (then complain about them copying her).
Big pop-rock albums were becoming too studio-polished in the 1980s, including Paul Simon's 1983 flop Hearts and Bones. Seeking inspiration, he recorded with black South African musicians – and was accused of exploiting their sound. In fact, Graceland was such a phenomenal hit that it introduced a massive new audience to African rhythms. These were woven into the music subtly in some cases, such as Bakithi Kumalo's bass solo on the single You Can Call Me Al, but dominated other songs: the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo built a US audience out of their role on the album. Simon, meanwhile, relaunched his career.
Like the punk revolution 15 years earlier, in 1991 a new wave of alternative rockers took on the ageing, overproduced pop-rock hierarchy – but this time, they sold millions of records. Earlier in 1991, REM's pop-fuelled album Out of Time had propelled that critically acclaimed band onto daytime radio. Nirvana were a harder, darker proposition, though, with a sound that spawned an entire scene: grunge. Their frontman, Kurt Cobain, never liked that term, but Nevermind's success – marrying winning pop melodies with rough guitars – showed that guys in cheap shirts could sell more records than bored, balding legends in Armani suits.
All Eyez on Me (1996)
Halfway through its second decade, rap had evolved dramatically from its carefree origins when DJs were king and MCs just helped to keep the party hyped. By 1996, ego ruled – and Tupac remains the most deity-like of rappers, as iconic a figure to hip-hoppers as Cobain is to rockers. His fourth, and finest, album could have been disastrous, given that he made the double LP primarily to pay off a bail debt. Instead, it is a passionate, paranoid – but always listenable – exploration of an on-the-edge lifestyle that, later that year, would kill him. Look out for the similarly named biopic soon.
The Blueprint (2001)
If Tupac helped make hip-hop iconic, Jay Z took the longer view, successfully morphing from bad-boy MC to celebrity businessman. At the time of The Blueprint's release, the Hova was infamous, too, embroiled in various court cases and rap beefs. Thankfully, he also chose some more positive associates: Kanye West produced several of the tracks here, and like much of West's later output, this hugely accessible, old soul-fuelled record transcended rap's regular audience, setting Z on the path to wider acceptance and a brighter future. The release date certainly provided some perspective: September 11, 2001.
Back in Black (2006)
There is an argument that great art requires great pain. Amy Winehouse was a relatively content young jazz-pop singer when the album Frank made a modest splash in 2003. Then addiction and relationship angst kicked in, and Back in Black poured out, in collaboration with sympathetically retro-leaning producer Mark Ronson. Winehouse's rock-star lifestyle made the headlines but the authentic, old-school drama of these songs won her a uniquely wide audience, from kids and hipsters to their parents and grandparents. Sadly, that perfect creative storm eventually overtook her. Was the pain really worth the gain?