Whatever cynics and nostalgia bores might say, we live in a fantastic golden age for rock and pop. Festivals and live concerts are booming, while the greatest albums from every decade have never been so easily or cheaply available. The only problem is, with so much quality music at our fingertips, where should a serious collector start? The National asked a five-strong jukebox jury of artists, experts and industry insiders for their personal favourites. All five selected five great albums from five different decades. These are their recommendations - tune in, turn on, rock out.
Barney Hoskyns is co-founder and editorial director of the online rock-journalism library Rock's Backpages (www.rocksbackpages.com). He is also the author of numerous music books, most recently the acclaimed Tom Waits biography Lowside of the Road. Bobby Blue Bland - Two Steps From the Blues (1961) Much-loved early milestone from the Sinatra of the blues. Hoskyns: "My favourite soul singer, even if he predated or anticipated the soul era. With Joe Scott's sublime arrangements behind it, the cavernous voice of Robert Calvin Bland wrings every drop of emotion out of gospelly ballads and R&B swingers alike."
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966) Grandiose sunshine-pop masterpiece that helped inspire The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hoskyns: "Brian Wilson upped a gear when he graduated from snappy surf anthems to glorious gorgeous California pop symphonics using the cream of LA's Wrecking Crew musicians - and of course the lustrous Pacific harmonies of the Boys themselves." Love - Forever Changes (1967)
Lush, crafted soundtrack to the Summer of Love from multiracial folk-pop originals. Hoskyns: "Beautiful baroque-pop arrangements for songs of psychic and lysergic disturbance: the sound of LA miscegenation and the sinister genius of Arthur Lee, though it was Bryan MacLean's heartaching Alone Again Or that kicked the album off." The Band - The Band (1969) Bob Dylan's sometime backing band lay the foundations for 1970s country rock.
Hoskyns: "Elvis Costello said the Band's second album was like receiving a series of postcards from 19th-century America. The Woodstock-based quintet drew on the wellspring of roots Americana to fashion an album that felt more like a novel than an LP." The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed (1969) Mick and Keef cast a jaded eye on the crumbling 1960s dream. Hoskyns: "Their majesties at their most Satanic and zeitgeist-tapping: an album of malevolent splendour and dark decadence, and a perfect bridge from Beggars Banquet to Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St."
Chad Smith is the longtime drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the newly formed hard-rock supergroup Chickenfoot. Queen - Queen 2 (1974) Freddie Mercury and his team of Britrock royalty perfected their grandiose style on this baroque second album. Smith: "They were really coming out of their shell and into their own after what I thought was an amazing debut. This album is split into a white and a black side, which I think is really cool. It's when I really started to take them seriously as a rock band."
Deep Purple - Machine Head (1972) Deep Purple's sixth and most commercially successful album, featuring the all-time hard-rock anthem Smoke on the Water. Smith: "I learnt to play the drums to that one. We do Highway Star as an encore. Apparently their drummer Ian Paice was at our London show filming it on his phone. I'm glad I didn't see him on the night, that would have made me really nervous. He's a hero of mine."
Bad Company - Bad Company (1974) Britain's first hard-rock supergroup hit the ground running with this meaty debut. Smith: "One of the best debut albums of all time. This supergroup came from the embers of Free and seriously kicked ass. Paul Rodgers is one of the best rock vocalists of all time and Simon Kirke holds down the beat like a monster. It's got great songs too." Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti (1975)
Plant and Page squeeze hard rock, folk, blues and orchestral ballads into this double-album classic. Smith: "For me that's the best Led Zeppelin album, full stop. I love everything about it: the production, the rawness of the sound. The play is so tight yet it sounds spontaneous. And the songs: it doesn't get better than Kashmir does it?" Van Halen - Van Halen II (1979) The California quartet's breakthrough second album, featuring Smith's Chickenfoot cohort Michael Anthony on bass guitar. Smith: "When I was a kid I used to put the headphones on to Van Halen II, play along to tracks like Light Up The Sky and Somebody Get Me a Doctor and fantasise about being in a band with these guys. And here I am all these years later in a band with Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar. How amazing is that?"
Dave Simpson is a music writer for The Guardian and author of The Fallen: Life In and Out of Britain's Most Insane Group (www.thefallenbook.co.uk). Joy Division - Closer (1980) Starkly beautiful swansong from iconic British quartet. Simpson: "The Manchester legends' second album moved on from the post-punk of Unknown Pleasures to embrace their love of electronic music, especially Kraftwerk. Meanwhile, Ian Curtis's lyrics reflected a personal collapse. Rock has rarely sounded as heartbreakingly beautiful. By the time of its release, Curtis had committed suicide."
The Fall ? Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980) Unique blend of scabrous punk poetry and menacing garage rock. Simpson: "Mark E Smith's tales of 'grotesque peasants' introduced the concept of a national underclass years before the Eighties recessions made it reality, while Grotesque blended science fiction-like urban horror stories and 'Northern rockabilly'. John Peel's favourite band, the 'mighty Fall' would never sound quite like this again."
Prince - Sign o' the Times (1987) Huge funk-pop masterpiece. Simpson: "Pop's current obsession with genre mixing arguably started here, when the Minneapolis imp fused funk workouts with rock anthems, electronics and the unlikely raunchy duet partner of Sheena Easton on arguably his finest album. A shot of troubling social consciousness adds to an Eighties cornerstone that reflects the times and signposts the future."
U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987) The Irish supergroup went supernova with this bittersweet love letter to America. Simpson: "Dublin's finest gave birth to the stadium-rock era with an album that seems to have located a secret musical formula which gets listeners' fists pumping the air. However, while others would dumb down, this oozes beauty, style and humility, providing modern standards in With Or Without You and the gloriously yearning I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (1989) Dazzling debut that defined an era, recently reissued Simpson: "The album that ushered in the so-called 'baggy' era, the Mancunians' immortal debut combined Sixties sounds like the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Simon & Garfunkel with the emerging rhythms of acid house in a dizzying cocktail of headrushing melodies and youthful super-confidence. Oasis and scores of soundalike bands listened closely."
Emerging from the "Madchester" boom of club-friendly indie-rock in the early 1990s, Burgess is the Jagger-lipped, angel-voiced frontman with The Charlatans, who played in Dubai in April. Happy Mondays - Pills'n'Thrills & Bellyaches (1990) Groovy career peak from Mancunian funk-rock urchins. Burgess: "Quite an ambitious record, and it's a Manchester record so it's keeping it real. It was an amazing time. I was 21 years old and going to the Hacienda four times a week."
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991) Guitar-mangling noise-rock perfectionist Kevin Shields almost bankrupted his record label with this fiercely beautiful second album. Burgess: "An absolute classic, everyone talks about it all the time. I really like the Cocteau Twins, too, and it kind of had that same kind of sound. The best gig I ever saw was My Bloody Valentine at the Ritz in New York in 1991."
The Cure - Wish (1992) Robert Smith's goth-pop pioneers scored major success with their effusive ninth album. Burgess: "It has From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea on it which I think is one of the greatest records The Cure ever did. They were on an amazing high at that time, they were the biggest band in the world, or the biggest British band in America." Ride - Going Blank Again (1992) Oxford guitar quartet's dreamy, melodic second album helped define the short-lived "shoegazing" scene.
Burgess: "Ride and The Charlatans were always putting out records within a month of each other. It just happened that way. I really love the record, but the fact that we were putting out records at the same time made it more interesting. A massive record, and quite underrated." Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space (1997) Jason Pierce's epic avant-rock symphony, wrapped in a thick cardboard sleeve. Burgess: "Conceptually it was beyond what anyone else was doing and that's what drew me in. The white box, that got me hooked in and the music inside was really ambitious."
The columnist, critic and DJ Jude Rogers writes for The Guardian, New Statesman and others. She is also a judge for the Mercury Music Prize and hosts a lively blog at www.juderogers.blogspot.com. The Strokes - Is This It? (2001)
Sleek, chic, compact debut from New York's indie-rock It Boys. Rogers: "The album that brought back swagger, sex, spiky guitars and the idea of band-as-gang to American rock at the start of the decade, and spawning skinny-tied imitators who could never quite capture the spirit of this debut." The Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004) Roaring, soaring collective endorsed by David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and U2.
Rogers: "This debut album by the tirelessly imaginative Canadian septet created a magical realm full of snow-buried neighbourhoods, lightning bolts and rainstorms. It kicked off this decade's indie-rock trends for singing in unison and experimenting with folk instrumentation." Joanna Newsom - Ys (2006) Highly original avant-folk diva stretches her wings. Rogers: "Breathtaking second album from the Californian singer and harpist that weaves together five long, complex songs about love, lust and loss. It uses the language of folk music, the freedom of jazz, and the ambition of poetry to create something clever, affecting and genuinely unique."
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (2006) Best-selling smash hit from the troubled Brit-soul singer. Rogers: "The second album by the North London singer that drew on her passion for Sixties girl groups and Motown, recreating the sound, soul and language of those times in a very modern way while opening the doors for other loud-talking, hard-living women." Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You (2009) Saucy, sassy second album from Britpop's favourite naughty little sister.
Rogers: "Forward-thinking pop from a clever, canny and paparazzi-friendly young star whose gorgeously arranged songs about fame, fear, family, relationships and the perils of growing up skip merrily between genres, but are never anything less than witty, candid and wonderful."