20 awesome albums that critics initially hated
Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty Images 

20 awesome albums that critics initially hated

Jan. 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic release of Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album, also known as “Led Zeppelin I.” Now ranked among the greatest rock records ever made, “Led Zeppelin” actually wasn’t initially received well by critics. However, as you’ll soon see, many now-iconic records also didn’t get the warm welcome you might have expected from critics. And back before anyone with an internet connection could be a published music writer, major publications held a lot of power, and a couple of bad reviews could really damage a band or artist (one reason why the list tends to skew older). With that, here are 20 awesome albums that critics initially hated.

 
1 of 20

“Led Zeppelin” - Led Zeppelin (1969)

“Led Zeppelin” - Led Zeppelin (1969)
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The reason for this list is also its earliest entry. When Led Zeppelin dropped its debut record, Rolling Stone famously panned it and the band (get used to this kind of miss from the magazine) by criticizing everything from the authenticity (calling them a lesser version of the Jeff Beck Group) to Jimmy Page’s multiple roles, referring to him as “a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” Robert Plant was dubbed a “nowhere near so exciting” Rod Stewart. Numerous publications in England also tore into their fellow countrymen, as did some American rags across the pond. But these nay-saying voices soon found themselves drowned out by fans who bought “Led Zeppelin” en masse, launched it to No. 10 on the Billboard 200, got it ranked on best-record lists and eventually put the source of songs like “Good Times Bad Times,” “Communication Breakdown” and “Dazed and Confused” in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.

 
2 of 20

“Abbey Road” - The Beatles (1969)

“Abbey Road” - The Beatles (1969)
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If “Abbey Road,” a masterpiece by the Beatles, can appear on this list, then clearly no record is safe. The Fab Four’s 11th studio album was turned into road kill by critics like Nik Cohn of The New York Times, who said the tracks are “nothing special.” Rolling Stone lamented the use of its signature synthesizers, saying the sound “disembodies and artificializes” the music. William Mann of the London Times called the album’s best songs “minor pleasures in the context of the whole disc,” while Life magazine critic Albert Goldman said it wasn’t one of the band’s great albums. Conversely, “Abbey Road” was also praised by many critics, with most of the naysayers quickly switching sides following the record’s instant and overwhelming success.

 
3 of 20

“Black Sabbath” - Black Sabbath (1970)

“Black Sabbath” - Black Sabbath (1970)
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Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone might have been the best rock critic there ever was, but he also missed the mark on one of the greatest metal records there ever was: Black Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut. The source of songs like “Black Sabbath,” “N.I.B.,” “Evil Woman” and “The Wizard” was dubbed a Cream rip-off by Bangs, who also called it “a shuck” filled with “inane lyrics” and “discordant jams.” On its way to a C-minus grade, “Black Sabbath” was called “bull****” and a reflection of "the worst of the counterculture” by Robert Christgau of the Village Voice. Of course, the debut eventually topped lists of the greatest metal records of all time, with Rolling Stone backtracking on its previous review, saying the opening number “would define the sound of a thousand bands.”

 
4 of 20

“Ram” - Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)

“Ram” - Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)
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We’ll admit that other than the near-perfect track “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney’s 1970 debut solo album was pretty weak. However, his second attempt, 1971’s “Ram,” was unfairly grouped together with its predecessor. Jon Landau of Rolling Stone called it “so incredibly inconsequential and so monumentally irrelevant” and “unbearably inept” while trashing nearly every track. Elsewhere, Q described it as “frustratingly uneven,” Robert Christgau simply said it’s “a bad record” and NME settled on the term “mediocre.” Even Playboy wouldn’t recommend playing it. Fans had a different opinion. They helped the tune “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” become McCartney’s first No. 1 single as a solo artist, heavily supported the singles “The Back Seat of My Car” and “Eat at Home” and caused critics to re-evaluate their stances on the album. More recently, publications have not only cited “Ram” as a predecessor of indie pop but also as one of the former Beatle's best solo works.

 
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“Exile on Main St.” - The Rolling Stones (1972)

“Exile on Main St.” - The Rolling Stones (1972)
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When the Rolling Stones released “Exile on Main St.” in 1972, critics collectively yawned at what they deemed inconsistent and what Rolling Stone writer (and Patti Smith guitarist) Lenny Kaye said “once again slightly miss[ed] the mark” and left him thinking the best Stones album of the band’s mature period was yet to come. Kaye wasn’t alone in his opinion. However, “Exile on Main St.” would later be deemed not just the best album of the Stones’ career, but also one of the greatest rock records in music history. In fact in 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 7 in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums.

 
6 of 20

“Harvest” - Neil Young (1972)

“Harvest” - Neil Young (1972)
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“The album, despite some embarrassing moments, is an interesting one lyrically,” said an early review of Neil Young’s 1972 effort, “Harvest,” in The Montreal Gazette. And that’s one of the kinder critiques. John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone basically called it a rip-off of Young’s previous album, “After the Gold Rush,” citing a “discomfortingly unmistakable resemblance of nearly every song on this album to an earlier Young composition.” Mendelsohn also called the heartfelt classic “The Needle and the Damage Done” “glib,” and said Young’s backing band “pale miserably in comparison to the memory of Crazy Horse,” among other jabs. Christgau’s B-plus rating was one of the few early bright spots for “Harvest,” which became the best-selling album of 1972, the No. 1 album of the Billboard 200 for two weeks and even earned the No. 78 spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list in 2003.

 
7 of 20

“On the Corner” - Miles Davis (1972)

“On the Corner” - Miles Davis (1972)
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What does it take for a record to get a good review in 1972? Well, Miles Davis’ foray into jazz fusion on his “On the Corner” album certainly couldn’t figure it out. Jazz critics (and many fans) didn’t just critique “On the Corner,” but they destroyed it. “Repetitious ċrap” and “an insult to the intellect of the people,” were both part of published reviews. “Pure arrogance” was the wording selected by CODA’s Eugene Chadbourne. Even some of the musicians on the album didn’t care for it! And the collective critical opinion didn’t sway after a few months or years; people relentlessly hated on “On the Corner” for decades. It took the eventual evolution of genres like hip-hop, electronica and experimental jazz for people to realize that Miles Davis’ 1972 album wasn’t bad at all. It was simply ahead of its time.

 
8 of 20

“No Other” - Gene Clark (1974)

“No Other” - Gene Clark (1974)
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Eight years and three solo albums after leaving the Byrds, Gene Clark released “No Other,” an album that truly lived up to its title. At the time, there was no other record like “No Other,” which cost more than $500,000 (adjusted for inflation) to produce and was seen as a masterpiece by Clark. However, the experimental use of overdubs and other effects were just a bit ahead of their time, leading to heavy criticism by the press, who called the effort bloated, pretentious and overproduced. (Fleetwood Mac used many of the same techniques just a year later to great success.) As a result, Asylum Records refused to promote the album and basically disowned it, damaging Clark’s career so badly that he would never recover. Sadly, it wasn’t until after the artist’s death in 1991 that “No Other” would see a reissue, re-evaluations by critics and the respect it (and Clark) rightfully deserved.

 
9 of 20

“Blood on the Tracks” - Bob Dylan (1975)

“Blood on the Tracks” - Bob Dylan (1975)
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Rolling Stone famously printed two reviews of Bob Dylan’s 15th studio album, “Blood on the Tracks,” and they appeared directly across from each other. One called the record “magnificent,” while the other (by Jon Landau) reported it having been “made with typical shoddiness.” Landau wasn’t alone. NME’s Nick Kent decried the songs of “Blood on the Tracks” as “so trashy they sound like mere practice takes” and Crawdaddy’s Jim Cusimano took a shot at the perceived incompetence of the instrumentation. Today, “Blood on the Tracks” is the standard to which Dylan’s newer music is compared, a double-platinum-certified top-seller in the icon’s catalog and a Grammy Hall of Fame inductee as of 2015. Rolling Stone is no longer divided on its opinion of the record either; in 2003, it earned the No. 16 spot on the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

 
10 of 20

“Wish You Were Here” - Pink Floyd (1975)

“Wish You Were Here” - Pink Floyd (1975)
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You really can’t get much better than an album containing nothing but the five songs “Welcome to the Machine,” “Have a Cigar,” “Wish You Were Here,” and both “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” tracks, and that’s exactly what was on Pink Floyd’s 1975 album, “Wish You Were Here.” To most fans this record was perfection, but few critics agreed — at least initially. Among other disses, Melody Maker said the album “displays a critical lack of imagination in all departments,” and Rolling Stone said it contains a “lackadaisical demeanor” and is devoid of passion. Are we sure they were listening to the right album? Commercially, “Wish You Were Here” was the band’s fastest-selling album, it is praised as one of Pink Floyd’s best and among the best in the rock genre as a whole, and it hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Lyrically, the album blasted the phoniness and ignorance of the music industry, and as it turns out those British boys were right.

 
11 of 20

“High Voltage” - AC/DC (1976)

“High Voltage” - AC/DC (1976)
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Critics haven’t always been friendly to the incredibly popular rockers of AC/DC, and this can be traced back to the Aussie band’s first album. Upon the release of “High Voltage” in 1976, Billy Altman of Rolling Stone called Bon Scott’s vocals “truly annoying,” he described the band as “two guitars, bass and drums all goose-stepping together in mindless three-chord formations” and summarized his feelings by lamenting that “the genre has unquestionably hit its all-time low.” A few years later, the magazine took another crack at reviewing “High Voltage” — the source of songs like “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” and “T.N.T.”— and still trashed it. This was common among critics despite the fact that fans ate up “High Voltage” (and nearly every subsequent AC/DC album), launching the band’s career and propelling them to god status in the rock genre.

 
12 of 20

“Never Mind the Bοllocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” - Sex Pistols (1977)

“Never Mind the Bοllocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” - Sex Pistols (1977)
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Music writers and fellow artists were hip to the Sex Pistols’ debut album, “Never Mind the Bοllocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols,” but those weren’t the only folks who fancied themselves critics upon the record’s 1977 release in the U.K. Local police citing indecency warned stores not to stock the album (one shop manager was arrested just for displaying it), charts refused to list the title in any way, newspapers slandered the band and its music, and the BBC network even banned the song “God Save the Queen” while citing “gross bad taste.” Nevertheless, on the strength of singles like “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Holidays in the Sun,” “Never Mind the Bοllocks” debuted at No. 1, spent an astonishing 60 weeks in the top 25 and has been named among the best albums in music history.

 
13 of 20

“Jazz” - Queen (1978)

“Jazz” - Queen (1978)
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The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice all panned Queen’s 1978 album, “Jazz.” Famous for yielding classic Queen songs like “Bicycle Race,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Jazz” was trashed by Rolling Stone so badly that critic Dave Marsh even went as far as calling Queen “the first truly fascist rock band.” The Village Voice was even more crude with its language choices, suggesting in a C-plus review that the band sounds like 10cc (another English rock group) with “a spoke, or a pump” inserted somewhere undesirable. Creem also called the effort “absurdly dull” and containing “dumb ideas and imitative posturing.” In addition to receiving certified platinum status and uncertified classic status, “Jazz” peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

 
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“My War” - Black Flag (1984)

“My War” - Black Flag (1984)
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Hardcore punk pioneers Black Flag were largely ignored after the release of their first album, 1981’s “Damaged,” even though it was eventually elevated to an iconic level. The band’s second effort, 1984’s “My War,” received much more attention, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Citing a decline in both humor and anthem-like songs and an increase in gloomy numbers, the Boston Phoenix called it “unbearably boring” while Maximumrocknroll described the sound as “Black Flag doing an imitation of Iron Maiden imitating Black Flag on a bad day.” The record’s first side was something of a continuation from the previous record, albeit with some uncharacteristic guitar solos that confused and divided punk fans. But the B-side contained three experimental tracks that bordered on sludge/doom metal, which critics detested. (Robert Christgau called them a “waste.”) However, in retrospect, Black Flag is praised for its influence on the hardcore punk, metal and even grunge genres. In fact, Mark Arm of Mudhoney said he cried upon first hearing the track “Nothing Left Inside” live, and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain cited the “My War” tour as his first punk show and the record as one of his all-time favorites.

 
15 of 20

“Bad” - Michael Jackson (1987)

“Bad” - Michael Jackson (1987)
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Three out of four stars from the Los Angeles Times, four out of five from Blender and only a B-plus from Entertainment Weekly. Richard Cromelin of Rolling Stone used descriptors like “not bad” but “disappointing” in terms of its creative level. Robert Christgau of the Village Voice lamented its lack of genius and lyrical themes. This certainly doesn’t sound like a summary of Michael Jackson’s 1987 studio album “Bad,” which won two Grammys and sold more than 35 million copies worldwide. And it certainly doesn’t sound like an album that became the first ever to include five consecutive No. 1 songs: “I Just Can't Stop Loving You,” “Bad, “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Dirty Diana.”

 
16 of 20

“Ten” - Pearl Jam (1991)

“Ten” - Pearl Jam (1991)
Paul Bergen/Redferns

Back in 1991, with the grunge scene about to explode, music critics were eager to get their hands on any album coming out of the genre... but too many cynics were also eager to overlook some obvious gems. Mojo, Q and Rolling Stone all gave Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten,” four out of five stars, but the latter two eventually included the record on greatest album lists. (Q even ranked it No. 42 all time.) And these were the nice reviews! NME flat out accused the band of “trying to steal money from young alternative kids' pockets,” while Robert Christgau and Entertainment Weekly just called “Ten” a carbon copy of works by other emerging grunge bands. In case you need a reminder of which album “Ten” is, it’s the uber-praised one that sold some 15 million copies off the strength of the classic hit songs “Alive,” “Even Flow” and “Jeremy.” 

 
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“Pablo Honey” - Radiohead (1993)

“Pablo Honey” - Radiohead (1993)
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Using the term “hated” here might be a bit of a stretch, but Radiohead’s 1993 debut, “Pablo Honey,” was still universally ruled mediocre by a slew of critics. Q called it good but only awarded it three out of five stars. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times gave “Pablo Honey” two-and-a-half stars out of four, praising its hit single, “Creep,” but also saying, “This English quintet's debut doesn't really deliver anything you haven't heard before.” Entertainment Weekly’s B review compared Radiohead to U2, the Smiths and the Cure in a single sentence, and the Village Voice also did not recommend buying it. With that amount of heat, it’s no wonder “Pablo Honey” gained notoriety as one of rock’s most criminally underrated albums.

 
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“Korn” - Korn (1994)

“Korn” - Korn (1994)
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The Calgary Herald gave Korn’s debut album, “Korn,” a notoriously negative review, and Robert Christgau barely mentioned the band’s actual music in his 88-word C-plus dismissal of the album, but that did little to slow its success and influence. Said to possibly be the first record in the nu metal genre, the powerfully heavy and brutally blunt “Korn” contained the hits “Blind” and “Shoots and Ladders” and was equally praised for its pioneering sound and deep lyrics. It has since achieved certified double-platinum status.

 
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“(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” - Oasis (1995)

“(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” - Oasis (1995)
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While Oasis’ debut album, “Definitely, Maybe,” earned almost instant acclaim, the same critics and publications initially trashed the band's follow-up record. “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” was called “laboured and lazy” by Melody Maker, The Independent called its songs “dab and chummy” and “tiresomely generic,” and Q magazine said the lyrics say “nothing much about anything.” Surprisingly, Rolling Stone and NME were two of the dissenters that actually praised the album, which probably shouldn’t be that surprising given the albums eventual critical acclaim, the No. 4 spot it earned on the Billboard 200 and the now-unforgettable songs “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” among others. “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” also sold so many albums that its 14 Platinum certifications set a record in the U.K. that wasn’t broken until the release of Adele’s “21” in 2011.

 
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“Pinkerton” - Weezer (1996)

“Pinkerton” - Weezer (1996)
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It would be hard for Weezer to top its 1994 debut studio album, the source of the hit singles “Buddy Holly,” “Undone - The Sweater Song” and “Say It Ain’t So.” Somewhat understandably, critics were wary of a possible sophomore slump when 1996’s “Pinkerton” was released, but many didn’t even give it a chance. Entertainment Weekly trashed the follow-up as a “sustained aria of disengagement,” Melody Maker recommended listeners “ignore the lyrics entirely,” and Rob O’Connor of Rolling Stone called it “juvenile” and “aimless,” albeit with a bit of optimism. Even a lot of fans couldn’t get on board.  However, “Pinkerton” miraculously grew on almost everyone and is now viewed as one of the band’s best albums. Case in point: Rolling Stone readers said “Pinkerton” was the third-worst album of 1996 upon its release. Only six years later, the same magazine’s readers voted it the 16th greatest album of all time.

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