The 41 greatest Chicago albums of all time

From Curtis to Kanye, from Screeching Weasel to Pelican, these are our favorite records made by Chicago artists ever

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  • 41. Chance the Rapper Acid Rap (2013)

  • 40. Pelican The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (2005)

  • 39. Cap'n Jazz Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We've Slipped On and Egg Shells We've Tippy Toed Over (1995)

  • 38. Material Issue International Pop Overthrow

  • 37. Screeching Weasel Boogadaboogadaboogada

  • 36. Gastr Del Sol Camoufleur

  • 35. Chicago Chicago (1970)

  • 34. Angel Olsen Half Way Home (2012)

  • 33. The Sea and Cake The Fawn (1997)

  • 32. Ministry Land of Rape and Honey (1988)

  • 31. Various Artists Busted at Oz (1981)

  • 30. The Jesus Lizard Goat (1991)

  • 29. Do or Die Picture This (1996)

  • 28. Various Artists For a Life of Sin (1994)

  • 27. Tortoise Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)

  • 26. Big Black Songs About Fucking (1987)

  • 25. Dinah Washington Dinah Jams (1954)

  • 24. Shoes Black Vinyl Shoes (1977)

  • 23. The Buckinghams Kind of a Drag (1967)

  • 22. Fingers Inc. Another Side (1988)

  • 21. Sun Ra and His Arkestra Super-Sonic Jazz (1957)

  • 20. Mahalia Jackson The World's Greatest Gospel Singer (1955)

  • 19. Cheap Trick Heaven Tonight (1978)

  • 18. Crucial Conflict The Final Tic (1996)

  • 17. Magic Sam West Side Soul (1967)

  • 16. Baby Huey The Baby Huey Story: Living Legend (1971)

  • 15. Jerry Butler The Ice Man Cometh (1968)

  • 14. Rufus Rags to Rufus (1974)

  • 13. The Chi-Lites A Lonely Man (1972)

  • 12. Ahmad Jamal At the Pershing: But Not for Me (1958)

  • 11. Muddy Waters Folk Singer (1964)

  • 10. The Impressions The Young Mods' Forgotten Story (1969)

  • 9. Syl Johnson Is It Because I'm Black? (1970)

  • 8. Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

  • 7. R. Kelly 12 Play (1993)

  • 6. Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream (1993)

  • 5. Liz Phair Exile in Guyville (1993)

  • 4. Kanye West The College Dropout (2004)

  • 3. Common Resurrection (1994)

  • 2. Junior Wells' Chicago Blues Band with Buddy Guy Hoodoo Man Blues (1965)

  • 1. Curtis Mayfield Curtis (1970)

Spoiler alert! Curtis Mayfield is a god. Okay, so it is no spoiler to announce that Curtis Mayfield, Muddy Waters, Kanye West and Wilco make our list of the best records created by Chicago artists. The rest of top 41 list will hopefully surprise, delight and/or anger you. It's a music list, one opinion, so there are bound to be disagreements. We are fortunate enough to live in a city where even 100 slots are too few for all the classic records. Leave your arguments and complaints below.


RECOMMENDED: Your guide to living in Chicago


The story of Chicago music is one primarily told through its black artists, from gospel and blues up through soul, house and hip-hop; from the jazz clubs to the dance clubs. Still, Billy Corgan earns his spot.


  1. 41–31
  2. 30–21
  3. 20–11
  4. 10–1
Chance The Rapper performs at The Riv on November 27, 2013.

41. Chance the Rapper 'Acid Rap' (2013)

Daisy age classicism met bedroom Internet hip-hop on the South Side MC's breakthrough. Black market vinyl pressings hit shops and a CD bootleg even scraped Billboard charts. There is the growing sense he'll never be able to live up to it. (Justin Bieber collabos don't help.) Fact is, Chance is the only new Chicago musician in recent years to grab the world's attention. So he lives in L.A. now, probably.

40. Pelican 'The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw' (2005)

Chicago's metal scene seemed to grow out of post-rock as much as any kind of traditional headbanger lineage. Instrumental metal (instrumetal?) acts like Pelican and Russian Circles were weaned on a steady diet of Touch & Go records like Don Caballero, and sounded a bit like Tortoise if you made 'em sleep outside for a winter. It's as epic and cinematic as heavy, as Trevor de Brauw weilds his guitar like Mjölnir.

Photograph: IshootRockstars.com

39. Cap'n Jazz 'Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We've Slipped On and Egg Shells We've Tippy Toed Over' (1995)

The sound of boy hormones falling up a staircase, the sloppy and poetic brand of Midwest emo started here. It was far more interesting than what followed. Cap'n Jazz members alone spawned an entire scene—Promise Ring, Joan of Arc, American Football, Owen, Owls, etc.

Material Issue

38. Material Issue 'International Pop Overthrow' (1991)

The power-pop revival was nipped in the bud by grunge. Despite Jim Ellison screaming, "Valerie loves me!" like it pained him, the jangle beat of "Valerie," the opening cut on this sweet confection, was far too carb-heavy and Anglophilic for the meaty scuzz of the era. So the title was comically overambitious. But this sugar holds up far better than Veruca Salt.

POP GOES THE WEASEL Screeching Weasel’s seminal 1988 album, Boogadaboogadaboogada!, has sold more than 100,000 copies.

37. Screeching Weasel 'Boogadaboogadaboogada' (1988)

Before iPods, streaming and YouTube made everyone listen to everything, music fandom was about factions. And for anyone who skated in the late '80s–early '90s, "I Hate Led Zeppelin" was a rallying cry. Ben Weasel's crew were the Ramones with more snot, velocity and nihilism, less patience and polish. Of course, we all grew up to love Zeppelin anyway.

Gastr Del Sol

36. Gastr Del Sol 'Camoufleur' (1998)

David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke approached folk music like Autechre approached techno. On this fourth and final LP, O'Rourke's lush art-pop began to overtake Grubbs's John Fahey worship. "The Season Reverse" resembled O'Rourke and drummer John McIntire's phenomenal work with Stereolab, and forshadowed the chamber pop of the former's Eureka and Insignificance (great albums with creepy artwork).

Chicago band, circa 1970

35. Chicago 'Chicago' (1970)

On album two, the band may have shortened its name from Chicago Transit Authority, but the prog excesses of the era popped up in three long suites. Though with its pillow horns and buttery vocals, Chicago was never aching to be Genesis. Still, this LP holds the unfuckwithable "25 or 6 to 4," which continues to spawn debates about its meaning. (Trains? Drugs?)

Angel Olsen plays to crowds of indie kids and music lovers at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013, July 19.

34. Angel Olsen 'Half Way Home' (2012)

The most stunning voice to come out of Chicago this decade, Olsen honed her unnerving warble by backing Will Oldham. On this solo full-length debut, her fluttering, quivering vocals drew rightful comparisons to Roy Orbison (hear the operatic rockabilly shuffle of "The Waiting" and "Free") and even Edith Piaf. Smartly sparse, the record immediately joined the canon of cult folk masterpieces alongside Sibylle Baier and Vashti Bunyan. She called Chicago home fleetingly, living here between her roots in St. Louis and current nest in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We are fortunate to be able to claim her.

The Sea and Cake

33. The Sea and Cake 'The Fawn' (1997)

Sam Prekop sings like a sigh in reverse. It's a voice with a breezy melodicism unlike any other, and it found its perfect match with John McEntire's skittering boutique beats on this album of looping melancholy and headphone swirl. The Fawn hit at the peak of bachelor-pad krautrock, as England's Stereolab was hitting its highs on heavily Chicago-assisted LPs like Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots & Loops (honorary members of this list). It still goes down like an ice cold martini.

Al Jourgensen of Ministry in "FIX - The Ministry Movie"

32. Ministry 'Land of Rape and Honey' (1988)

If you ever heard a Wax Trax act, or any industrial group at all, Ministry was likely it. Before Al Jourgensen went down the Rob Zombie path, he perfected grinding death-disco here with 18-inch nails. Seeing the video for "Stigmata" in the am hours of early MTV was genuinely disturbing. Though time has a way of twee-ifying dark electronic music, the sinister purpose is still palpable on this unrelenting yet danceable record.

The Effigies

31. Various artists 'Busted at Oz' (1981)

We expect to catch heat for not including a Naked Raygun record in this tally, but there's a lot of homerism in cheering on those adequate and dated punk platters. A far more exciting and immediate prospect to fresh ears is this seminal scene complilation, which collected the speed and spunk of local hardcore kids like the Effigies and Silver Abuse, as well as Raygun.


  1. 41–31
  2. 30–21
  3. 20–11
  4. 10–1

Users say

10 comments
B S
B S

Naked Raygun Naked Raygun Naked Raygun....WTF

B S
B S

Naked Raygun Naked Raygun Naked Raygun..........no really

I was going to say "Millions..." seemed too low, but I can only really quibble with a couple of the choices above it.

Lee M
Lee M

Really? No Naked Raygun? No Local H? No Urge Overkill? Please...

Chicago N
Chicago N

No Sam Cooke, specifically Live at the Harlem Square Club? There wouldn't be a Baby Huey or Curtis Mayfield were it not for Sam Cooke.

Andrew A
Andrew A

Good list. One particular album I would put on the list is "Howl" by JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound.

Edonna O
Edonna O

What about Minnie Rippleton?  Wasn't she from Chicago?

Bill F
Bill F

The recording industry was born here, so many records of days gone by were recorded here. The biggest Grammy winner of all time is Sir Georg Solti and many of his awards were at the head of the Chicago Symphony. And not a single classical recording made the list? Really?


I know there are people who think the young, hip desirable demographic don't like the Classical stuff, except maybe some classic rock, but c'mon folks. A critic's job is to challenge their audience to experience, not ignore. And speaking for myself I certainly don't care for a lot of the items on the list, but I'm not offended by their presence.


Classical music and, yes, even Opera, have been around a long time. Prophets of doom not withstanding they will out live all of us. So how about not pretending they don't exist?

dominic d
dominic d

Philip Cohran's "On The Beach," Art Ensemble Of Chicago's "Les Stances A Sophie," and Jim O'Rourke's "Bad Timing" would like to say a few things about this list.

Brent D
Brent D

I will start the conversation by arguing with myself. I really wanted to find a way to fit Pezband's 1977 debut on here. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is an eternal favorite, and quite relevant to living through this godforsaken winter.