7. Johnny Cash, 'American Recordings'
He was once one of most visible establishment performers, boasting 13 Number One Country singles and his own TV show. But with 23 years since since his last Top 100-charting solo outing and an "outlaw" presence as timeless as blue jeans, his 1994 comeback was marketed as "alternative" with grace and ease. With American Recordings, producer Rick Rubin established a production technique that he would later use with artists like Metallica, Kanye West and Black Sabbath: He stripped the Man in Black's sound down to its bare essentials. Johnny Cash's rawest-sounding record in decades found him revisiting the themes that defined his career early on, including songs about shooting people ("Delia's Gone"), culling from a diverse collection of iconic songwriters (Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits, Glenn Danzig) and a few of his own stark, haunting numbers ("Redemption," "Like a Soldier"). No longer a cog in Nashville's well-polished hit-making machine, putting out sleek and comparatively mediocre pop-country numbers like 1991's "Goin' by the Book," American Recordings was a declaration of freedom. Kory Grow