Sometimes, one album just isn’t enough. Although many double albums are basically ego vessels for many bands and artists, there are some cases when the double album became the most definitive album of the artist’s career.
With the second half of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience dropping at the end of the month, we take a look at 10 other double albums that still left audiences wanting more.
The Beatles: The Beatles (aka The White Album)
The Fab Four’s 1968 self-titled LP was one of the band’s most ambitious projects. The album was essentially a compilation of the Beatles going solo, with the rest of the group playing backing band. The White Album marked the first time all 4 members of the band showcased their songwriting skills, and despite the drama king antics of the band behind the scenes (i.e. Ringo Starr walking out, coming back, and walking out again), the experimentation of different genres on the album set a precedent for future pop and rock acts.
Stevie Wonder: Songs In the Key of Life
Perhaps one of (if not the) most influential pop/R&B albums of all time, Songs In the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder’s eighteenth studio album. The 1976 album contains literally no filler tracks, a rare feat especially for double albums, and Wonder was so focused on the songs that he would reportedly go days without eating or sleeping during recording in the studio. All his hard work paid off, and Songs In the Key of Life is a classic in the music world.
James Brown: The Payback
Believe it or not, James Brown’s landmark funk double album The Payback was considered to be underwhelming by the producers of Hell Up in Harlem, a 1973 blaxploitation film that was supposed to feature Brown’s album as the soundtrack. Luckily, audiences weren’t smoking the same bad sh*t as the film producers, and the album shot up to the #1 spot on the Soul Albums chart. The album remains one of the baddest albums of music and the title track is the most sampled beat in hip hop.
Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti
The sixth studio album from powerhouse band Led Zeppelin was 1975’s double album Physical Graffiti. A massive critical and commercial success, Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin’s most larger-than-life record, featuring many of their most popular and genre-defying songs. The album was an interesting mix of new songs and songs left for dead from previous recording sessions and is arguably the most definitive Led Zeppelin album.
Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death
Biggie’s second album was not only a double album, but also his last. Released in 1997, Life After Death was dropped posthumously and featured killer collabs with everyone from 112, Jay Z, and Lil Kim, to Angela Winbush, R. Kelly, and Too $hort. The album re-solidified Kool G Rap’s genre of mafioso rap and served as the perfect soundtrack to the East Coast-West Coast drama that had been unraveling for the previous few years. Biggie’s haughty lyrics and I-may-seem-calm-but-I’ll-still-knock-you-out spitting style played a massive role in influencing East Coast rap for years to come.
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album happens to be the best-selling concept album of all time, NBD. The Wall saw the band go for a more theatrical and dramatic sound, with the rock opera vibe of the album making way for a live-action/animated/trippy-as-hell 1982 film of the same name. Detailing the rise, fall, and demise of a rock star, The Wall was bassist Roger Waters’ most personal album to date.
Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Another double album for the ages, Elton John’s 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a mix-and-mash of various genres, from prog rock to ballads and hard rock to pop. Initially considered to be unorganized and lacking a cohesive flow, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road wound up being one of the greatest albums of John’s career. The album was not only ambitious but also influential, and John managed to smash his constant reinventions and personalities into seventeen awesome tracks.
2Pac: All Eyez on Me
Hands down one of the greatest albums of the 90s, 2Pac’s 4th studio album All Eyez on Me saw the rapper change his musical style into a darker, more menacing vibe. The story behind the record reads like a bona fide gangster film: sitting in prison and completely broke, 2Pac was bailed out by Jimmy Iovine and Suge Knight, who ponied up $1.4 million in exchange for 2Pac’s soul (i.e. a contract for recording 3 albums under the Death Row label). All Eyez on Me was not only the first solo double album in hip hop history, but also 2Pac’s first album that ditched his politically-charged and socially-conscious raps in exchange for his infamous “Thug Life” mentality.
The Clash: London Calling
London Calling wasn’t just the Clash’s third album – it totally changed the face of punk rock and still stands as one of the most influential albums of all time. Double albums allow artists to expand their boundaries, but the Clash used their first double album to blow all boundaries out of the water. Virtually each song on the 1979 record is a different genre, with the band mastering everything from punk rock, rockabilly, jazz, ska, reggae, and pop. The Clash took the “No Rules” ethos of punk rock to the limits and was one of the first punk bands to embrace venturing into different genres.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland
If there’s any doubt about Jimi Hendrix being way ahead of his time, just take a listen to the Experience's third and final album, Electric Ladyland. A double album dedicated to groupies (Hendrix called them “electric ladies”), the album serves up a psychedelic platter of 100% pure Hendrix vision. Unique, futuristic, and just plain amazing, Electric Ladyland was a glimpse into the mind of Hendrix, which may as well have been outer space. Even straight-edge people can’t listen to this album without getting a contact high.