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10 Classic Albums Rolling Stone Originally Panned

From Led Zeppelin’s debut to Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ look back at 10 times our critics’ takes didn’t quite line up with history

Being a music critic is not always easy. Sometimes you have a matter of hours to listen to a new record, digest it and produce a review that will live forever. But some albums take many, many listens to truly reveal themselves. Imagine hearing a group like AC/DC or the Ramones for the first time without any context: The music might seem ridiculous and childish, and even if you grow to revere the group in question, your first impression is the only thing anyone will remember. We’ve been running reviews in Rolling Stone since the very first issue in 1967. That’s thousands and thousands of reviews, and more than a few times, we have panned an album that went on to become a beloved classic. Here are 10 of the most infamous instances – along with our revised takes, by different writers, that appeared later.

Nirvana - 'Nevermind' (1991)

Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

Ira Robbins' three-star review of Nevermind is perhaps the most notorious Rolling Stone review of the 1990s, but reading through it now it's clear that Robbins really enjoyed the album. It almost reads like a four-star review. He truly understood their influences and placed it within the context of its time. How was he supposed to know this little album was going to change the world?

"A dynamic mix of sizzling power chords, manic energy and sonic restraint, Nirvana erects sturdy melodic structures – sing-along hard rock as defined by groups like the Replacements, Pixies and Sonic Youth — but then attacks them with frenzied screaming and guitar havoc. … Too often, underground bands squander their spunk on records they're not ready to make, then burn out their energy and inspiration with uphill touring. Nevermind finds Nirvana at the crossroads – scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants." –Ira Robbins

Second take: Five Stars (2004 Rolling Stone Album Guide)

"The killer hook is a stuttering chord progression similar to the stuttering chord progression in Boston's "More Than a Feeling," a hit 15 years earlier, utterly transformed through Nirvana's trademark loud/soft dynamic and dark, surreal mood. Following Ezra Pound's call to arms, Cobain made it new. Following the Talking Heads' dictum, he stopped making sense. And he stopped making it in a way that made total sense to those who shared his alienation. It was like the James Dean of Rebel Without a Cause, the Bob Dylan of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues,' the Eddie Cochran of 'Summertime Blues,' and the Johnny Rotten of 'Pretty Vacant" had been rolled into one shy kid with beautiful eyes and unwashed blond hair. And if there was any doubt about the meaning of the mulatto/albino/mosquito/libido nonsense, there was the video, the most riveting three minutes in the history of MTV. At last, high school portrayed as the pep rally in hell that it is. Millions of pos-deducation-stress-disorder survivors immediately identified. The rest of the album is a relentless run of monster riffs and monstrous imagery, all punched along by arguably the greatest rock rhythm section since Led Zeppelin." –Charles M. Young

Weezer - 'Pinkerton' (1996)

Weezer, ‘Pinkerton’ (1996)

The 1996 Rolling Stone Critics Poll labelled Pinkerton one of the worst albums of the year, though the original review by Rob O'Connor was significantly less vitriolic.

"Weezer over-rely on catchy tunes to heal all of Cuomo's wounds. In 'El Scorcho,' the song's infectious chorus proves to be slim reward. 'Tired of Sex,' a look at a brooding stud's empty sex life, is as aimless as the subject's nightly routine. But 'Butterfly' is a real treat, a gentle acoustic number that recalls the vintage, heartbreaking beauty of Big Star. Cuomo's voice cracks as he unintentionally bludgeons the fragile creature in the lyric, suggesting that underneath the geeky teenager pose is an artist well on his way to maturity." –Rob O'Connor

Second take: Five Stars (2004 Rolling Stone Hall of Fame)

"The self-produced album sounds as raw as Cuomo's lyrics, without any of the sheen that Ric Ocasek provided on the band's debut. But what makes Pinkerton more than a blog entry is Cuomo's unfailing gift for power pop. 'Across the Sea' – which quoted so much of that Japanese fan's letter that Cuomo gave her a slice of the songwriting money – is the masterpiece, building to ever-greater intensity as Cuomo wails about the most distant of all his unattainable girls. At the end, the chorus swells: 'I've got your letter/You've got my song.' Unrealized fantasy is enough happiness for anyone, Cuomo is saying – and he sings it with enough passion to make you believe it too." –Gavin Edwards

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