Most Defining Albums of Each Decade


1960s: “The Velvet Underground & Nico” –
The Velvet Underground & Nico
I was very tempted to pick The Beach Boys and their iconic California surf-pop sound in the deeply introspective “Pet Sounds.” The Velvet Underground & Nico take the cake because their self-titled album represents the pinnacle of the dark counterpoint to hippie idealism of the 60’s. By discussing controversial topics and proving to have an avant-garde sound, the album was not initially popular. But, it has grown to become the most defining album of the 1960’s by setting the tone for the provocative and confrontational albums of the 70’s and beyond.

1980s: “Hounds of Love” – Kate Bush

No one can match the sound of Kate Bush, who’s eclectic pop sound created the most defining album about love ever. “Hounds of Love” wonderfully integrates the use of digital synthesizers into music and beautifully discusses the topics of womanhood, sexuality, and love, all while freely pushing the boundaries of pop sound through Bush’s
keening soprano and genius production.

2000s: “Discovery” – Daft Punk

“Discovery” is a supreme artifact of its time: released in 2001, the album marks the turn of a century in a world that is becoming increasingly globalist in a time of rapid technological advancements by mastering the electronic-infused genres of disco, post-disco, garage house, and R&B. “Discovery” sends the listener into a sort of philosophical flux where the line between the fiction of Daft Punk’s stories and reality becomes ever more blurry.

1970s: “The Dark Side of the Moon” – Pink Floyd

I almost chose Bowie, I’ll admit it. But Pink Floyd is the clear winner here. With an album cover that is both worn by people born 30 years after this album’s release and hung up on science classroom walls, this album’s popularity has outlived almost any other. “The Dark Side of the Moon” tells the cutting story of a man who descends into insanity as he navigates his deeply alienating world. Themes of conflict, time, death and mental illness permeate the rest of the masterpiece.

1990s: “Nevermind” – Nirvana

The riffs that begin the lead-off track “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cannot be mistaken as any other song. Though the album is considered a cornerstone of the grunge genre, it is also notable for its musical diversity, including acoustic ballads (“Polly” and “Something in the Way”) and punk-inspired hard rock (“Territorial Pissings” and “Stay Away”). Rolling Stone put it perfectly: “No album in recent history had such an overpowering impact on a generation—a nation of teens suddenly turned punk—and such a catastrophic effect on its main creator.”

2010s: “To Pimp a Butterfly” – Kendrick Lamar

“To Pimp a Butterfly” is heartbreaking and angering. Immensely popular, the album is melodically beautiful with wordplay and metaphors that could be studied in AP Lit. The stories of “To Pimp a Butterfly” are vivid with nuance and strife that explore themes such as Black culture, racial inequality, depression, and institutional discrimination. “To Pimp a Butterfly” is wry, theatrical, chaotic, ironic, and mournful-often all at once.