20. Talking Heads, Fear of Music. This is not exactly an obscure album, but probably not the one most people think of when they think 'Talking Heads.' The only song on here that's familiar as a Talking Heads hit is "Life During Wartime," which is a great song but not even one of the best on the album in my OP. David Byrne is a hell of a musician - the Talking Heads earned this Top 20 spot in part for his solo work as well as their own oeuvre - and he was on his game for Fear of Music. Most of the songs are just nouns - Mind, Paper, Electric Guitar, Drugs, etc - all wrapped up in a plain black cover.
Amazing what could happen when David Byrne fixated on a bunch of nouns. "Heaven" is such a great tune, man. You can make a case for 77 over Fear of Music, but I was never the hugest fan of Speaking in Tongue or Little Creatures, so don't go there. (Especially if you're one of those people who still thinks This Year's Model beats Punch the Clock as Elvis Costello's best work, which is just a complete fallacy. More on that later, maybe ...)
19. The Pixies, Doolittle. This will always be the ultimate alternative album to me: the album that these people who worship Van Halen and Aerosmith and so forth will have never heard of, but which blows away the best that Van Halen and Aerosmith and their ilk ever had to offer. Doolittle didn't get played on commercial radio; it didn't pander to AOR programming. All the glory that Doolittle enjoyed was through college radio, and music magazines, and word of mouth. And ... the movie "Pump up the Volume." OK, I'll admit that too.
What more can I say about Doolittle? Every song is great; every song is different. Every song stands on its own, but when you listen to the album straight through they all have their own special part in the overall greatness. The album starts off huge ("Debaser") and finishes huge ("Gouge Away"). There's so much to explore and enjoy in between. And lastly, I never thought I'd see the Pixies live, but I was there a few years ago when they played Bumbershoot during their reunion tour. Boo yah! I thought I'd have to be satisfied for the rest of my life with Number 13 Baby (who were, in fact, a pretty good Pixies cover band), but then the real Pixies came back, and it was just an immensely satisfying experience.
18. The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks. Back in the late 80's, Rolling Stone magazine stunned a lot of people by ranking Never Mind the Bollocks as the 2nd-most important rock album, behind only Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. All that I remember from my youth about the Pistols was this story that circulated in my junior high school, about how they pushed safety pins through their cheeks and other depraved sorts of behavior. It wasn't until years later that I heard the album, and maybe a while after that before I really appreciated it. Perhaps you had to be around when it was released to see the impact it had on rock 'n' roll, the spawning of the punk movement, etc. All I know is, it's still a great album. The quality kind of drops off after "God Save the Queen," but there's still some all-time great songs here. The one-two punch of "Holidays in the Sun" and "Bodies" to start the album: hard to beat it.
The ironic thing is, I suspect that if the members of the Sex Pistols knew way back when that they were creating something that would be revered years later as a rock 'n' roll milestone ... well, what would they have done? I think they would've just puked on everyone, or maybe all OD'ed on heroin. Weren't they just trying to piss everyone off? See how ironic that is? You try to piss everyone off, and instead you create a masterpiece ...