Proving that sometimes more is more, here are 30 of the music world’s finest double albums because really, can you ever have too much of a good thing?
30 M83, ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’ (Naive/ Mute)
“A grandiose double-album paean to childhood dreaming that only occasionally needs the naughty step,” we said in our review of the French band’s 2011 album.
29 Allman Brothers Band, ‘At Fillmore East’ (Capricorn)
This was the first live album from the Florida rock group and included different improvised versions. Producer Jerry Wexler felt it “ridiculous to preserve all these jams”, but the double album went through.
28 Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Wu-Tang Forever’ (BMG)
It was always going to be difficult to follow up ’36 Chambers’ but the Wu’s second album makes a good fist of it. Chockablock full of amazing rhymes and unusual production.
27 Lambchop, ‘Aww C’mon/No You C’mon’ (Merge)
Lambchop honcho Kurt Wagner set himself a challenge of writing a songs a day for a few months and this was the result. A fine album it was too.
26 Godspeed You! Black Emperor, ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antenna To Heaven’ (Constellation)
The Canadians’ 2001 post-rock adventure remains one of the genre’s defining moments – a sumptuous, combusting collision of orchestral instruments and guitars that stir slowly towards eruption. It’s only four tracks long but lasts almost 80 minutes.
25 Eels, ‘Blinking Lights and Other Revelations’ (Vagrant)
Eels frontman E described ‘Blinking Lights…’ as being about “God and all the questions related to the subject of God. It’s also about hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm, and it’s a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory.”
24 Arcade Fire, ‘Reflektor’ (Merge)
With the help of LCD’s James Murphy, some little known newcomer called David Bowie and others, the Montreal band abandoned rock’n’roll and made a dance record. Some said it was too long, but NME gave it 8/10.
23 Hüsker Dü, ‘Zen Arcade’ (SST)
“Bob Mould’s guitar sputters and splinters at earpiercing feedback into a thousand pieces, giving the impression of Hüsker Dü being a far larger and more forbidding unit than it is,” read NME’s review of Hüsker Dü’s cult 1984 album about a boy escaping an unhappy home life into an even worse world.
22 Nine Inch Nails, ‘The Fragile’ (Nothing)
The third album from Ohio industrialists, Trent Reznor and co. was released in September 1999 and immediately hit number one in the US. Its 23 tracks were definitely not all perfect but highlights ‘The Day the World Went Away’, ‘We’re in This Together’ and ‘Starfuckers, Inc.’ stand with some of NINs’ finest work.
21 Notorious BIG, ‘Life After Death’ (Bad Boy)
Hip-hop’s greatest legend’s sad swansong, released two weeks after his death, ‘Life After Death’ is the definitive mafiosa rap album: its 109-minute sprawl of lush beats and laconic flow telling a gripping story of trouble at the top for Biggie.
20 Kate Bush, ‘Aerial’ (EMI)
Bush played ‘A Sky Of Honey’ live during her Before The Dawn tour and it was one of the greatest moments in performance history. The first half of the 2005 album had more hit-type tracks but the whole thing is gold. Apart from Rolf Harris’s spoken word.
19 Elliott Smith, ‘New Moon’ (Kill Rock Stars)
Posthumous LP or double album? We count it as both, though we can’t say for certain how many of the songs on Elliott’s swansong the troubled songwriter would have included on the final tracklist. ‘New Moon’, released in 2007 after the musician’s apparent, only hammered home what a gifted talent the music world had lost.
18 Bruce Springsteen, ‘The River’ (Columbia)
1980’s ‘The River’ spawned 7 singles: testament to the record’s cavalcade of ready-made fist-pumping hits ripe for the charts. It’s in fact strange The Boss hasn’t written more double albums – he’s known to write up to 60 songs for each album, the prolific bastard.
17 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus’ (Mute)
One fast and furious, the other slow-burning and lusty, Cave’s 2004 double-disc epic packaged into one release two sides to the gloom poet. 10 years on, tracks like ‘Let the Bells Ring’ and ‘Babe You Turn Me On’ have precisely the same powerful pull they did a decade ago.
16 The Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ (Virgin)
A whopping 24 tracks saw Billy Corgan and his gang widen their sonic palette. The two halves of the album represented day and the night and Corgan got in Flood to produce.
15 Outkast, ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ (Arista Records)
The raucous reaction to tracks like ‘Hey Ya!’ and ‘The Way You Move’ at the Atlanta pair’s reunion dates this summer is testament to the vibrant imagination splurge of this double LP. Big Boi and Andre essentially wrote an album each and packaged them as one here. The LPs complimented each other perfectly.
14 Jimi Hendrix, ‘Electric Ladyland’ (Reprise)
‘Electric Ladyland’ was Jimi Hendrix’s final album before his death in 1969 – but what a high he left on. Its provocative, sensual sleeve was just the beginning of the lusty blues magnificence that lay inside.
13 Miles Davis, ‘Bitches Brew’ (Columbia)
One of the most important albums, let alone doubles, of all time. It was also contentious on its release: obscure, strange, histrionic, flawed and a turning point in jazz, embracing improvisational sounds and electric instruments.
12 Aphex Twin, ‘Drukqs’ (Warp)
Reveling in its split persona, Richard D James’ 2001 masterwork spent its 2CD run time careening from moments of glitchy electronic mayhem to moments of beautiful and serene Satie-esque piano. ‘Avril 14’ in particular is haunting, a ghostly snippet of melody amid a hurricane of noisy beats and screams of ‘COME ON YOU CUNT, LET’S HAVE SOME APHEX ACID.”
11 Stevie Wonder, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (Motown)
17 tracks of pure Stevie Wonder soul-funk joy. From ‘I Wish’ to ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ to ‘As’, it’s a record any respectable music fan shouldn’t be without.
10 Manic Street Preachers, ‘Generation Terrorists’ (Columbia)
The Manics’ debut album was released as a double album in 1992 and pronounced by the band as the “greatest rock album ever” – a big claim, but they weren’t way off the mark…
9 The Who, ‘Quadrophenia’ (Polydor)
The soundtrack to the 1979 film of the same name, ‘Quadrophenia’ saw the Who’s songwriting hit a dizzying new peak, but the record contains a considerable amount of covers as well as original material. You’ll see ‘Louie Louie’ by The Kingsmen and ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
8 Pink Floyd, ‘The Wall’ (Harvest/ EMI)
Another obvious choice. Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ needed its 2-disc extended run time to tell its story: a rock opera of loss, life and self-discovery in the wake of the Second World War, tracing one everyman’s life journey. A true classic that continues to beguile today.
7 Led Zeppelin, ‘Physical Graffiti’ (Swan Song)
1975’s Zep double-discer begins with the Bo Diddley-esque ‘Custard Pie’ and only gets better from there, its 15 tracks of blues innovation and guitar futurism more than worthy of its subsequent 8 million record sales. Robert Plant considers it their best work, while Jimmy Page calls it a “high watermark.” Enough said.
6 Sonic Youth, ‘Daydream Nation’ (Enigma)
At 70:47, album number five for the influential New Yorkers ‘Daydream Nation’ was as long as it was thrillingly progressive: a huge step forward for Thurston Moore’s band, full of runaway rhythms and explosive guitars. Its legacy is heard in many guitar bands breaking out today.
5 Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times’ (Paisley Park/ Warner Bros)
Never one to be daunted, Prince’s first album alone after leaving The Revolution was no timid introduction to solo life, but a wild, meandering 79-minute funk-rock odyssey that took on topics like gender, war, lust and depression.
4 Bob Dylan, ‘Blonde On Blonde’ (Columbia)
Released in 1966, ‘Blonde On Blonde’ was rock’s first studio double album, its massive success opening the door for pretty much every other double LP listed here. Listening back now, its easy to see why it was a hit: though the album, Zimmerman’s seventh, extends to 77 minutes, it flies by in a sepia-hued rush of inimitable folk thrills.
3 The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile On Main Street’ (Rolling Stones Records)
Holed up in a palatial mansion on the Côte d’Azur with Richards’ burgeoning heroin habit and Jagger and Wyman missing sessions amid fractions, it’s a wonder this record got made at all. And the received 10/10s across the board.
2 The Clash, ‘London Calling’ (CBS)
One of the greatest double albums ever, ‘London Calling’ fused ska, reggae, hard rock and lounge into a dizzying 65-minute spectacle that cemented Joe Strummer’s legacy as a British indie icon.
1 The Beatles’, ‘The White Album’ (Apple)
An undisputed classic that veers between abstract experimentalism (‘Revolution 9’), sweet and simple pop songs (‘Blackbird’) and some of the band’s finest work (‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’), despite the band being at loggerheads throughout recording.