18. R.E.M., 'Automatic for the People'
Named after a slogan used in an Athens, Georgia, soul-food restaurant, Automatic for the People is a feast of Southern Gothic pop, combining the gossamer intricacies of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and the singalong wallop of the Beatles' Abbey Road. The weirdness is warm and playful — "Star Me Kitten," a delicious homage to 10cc's "I'm Not in Love"; "Man on the Moon," Michael Stipe's buoyant tribute to the late comedian Andy Kaufman — and torch songs such as the Stax-with-strings jewel "Everybody Hurts" glow with hard-won optimism. At the height of alt-rock, former undergrounders R.E.M. tried to show that melody could be heavy too — and, in the process, made one of the finest American pop albums of the decade.