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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Albums of 2014

Tom Petty, Lana Del Rey, U2 and more: see how our readers’ ranked the year’s greatest music

Weekend Rock

As D'Angelo just taught us with the surprise release of his astoundingly great LP Black Messiah, the year in music ain't over until it's over. For all we know, Madonna, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Adele are going to drop surprise albums sometime before the ball drops. (They probably won't.) But back in those pre-Black Messiah days of last week we asked our readers to vote for their favorite albums of the year. Here are the results. 

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Jack White, ‘Lazaretto’

Jack White spent about 18 months recording Lazaretto, his second solo disc. He started while on tour in 2012. "I wanted to catch stuff while we were still on tour, while we were still electric," he told Rolling Stone. "‘We're a band right now, let's record right now.' I didn't wanna come back and reintroduce ourselves to each other."

Many of the songs were inspired by a group of short stories he wrote when he was 19. "That was a way of stimulating me," he says. "What if I talk to my younger self and work together with him? What if you write songs with your younger self's ideas?"

The result is a killer collection of songs, reminiscent of some of his best work in the White Stripes and The Raconteurs. "I really love the guitar sounds and the solos that happened on this record," White says. "I was looking at songwriting in a different way. With this record, I got to new places. I never played in drop-D tuning before, for one thing, and the solos were recorded live, in the room, at the time, the first thought out of my head."

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Lana Del Rey, ‘Ultraviolence’

For her third album, Lana Del Rey assembled an incredible team of producers including Dan Auerbach, Paul Epworth and Greg Kurstin. They put together a disc that instantly shut up all the haters and guaranteed that her legacy won't be a botched Saturday Night Live appearance. 

The album had a difficult birth. "There was a lot of bullshit I'm not used to," Auerbach told Rolling Stone. "The label says, 'We're not going to give you the budget to extend this session unless we hear something.' And we send them the rough mix and they fucking hate it and they hate the way it's mixed. And it's like, 'Thanks, asshole.'"

Thankfully, the label eventually heard the brilliance in Ultraviolence. "Every criticism that I'd ever heard about her was proven wrong when I was in the studio with her," Auerbach says. "From how great the songs were to how confident she is as a musician to her fucking singing every song live, with a handheld microphone and a seven-piece band. I mean, get the fuck out of here, who does that? Nobody does that, there hasn't been a number one pop record that was recorded like that in 40, 50 years."

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U2, ‘Songs of Innocence’

U2 went through four years and five producers until they had 11 songs they deemed worthy of release. "We had great fun getting lost in the creative process," Bono told Rolling Stone. "The thing that propelled us to reach deeper and aim higher was a new appreciation of the craft of songwriting. . .We found ourselves bored with material that just felt good or unique."

In order to find the energy and passion that fueled him to become a singer in the first place, Bono began writing a series of tunes about his turbulent teenage years in Ireland. "I went back and started listening to all the music that made us start a rock band," he said. "It gave us a reason to exist again. That’s how this album started."

The tracks on Songs of Innocence deal with the death of Bono's mother, falling in love with his future wife Ali and first hearing the Ramones. They're more stripped down than the material on U2's last few albums. "We wanted the album to have songs that would stand up when played on acoustic guitars or piano," Bono said, "not relying on Edge, Adam and Larry’s atmospheres or dynamic playing."

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Foo Fighters, ‘Sonic Highways’

About a year after creating a documentary about legendary Los Angeles studio Sound City, Dave Grohl decided to broaden the project considerably. Picking eight studios in cities across America, Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters traveled the country and cut one song in each place. Along the way, he interviewed rock stars from each city and shot the acclaimed HBO series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways.

It was an extremely ambitious project, featuring guest appearances from Joe Walsh, Zac Brown, Ben Gibbard and many others, but it all flowed together quite nicely. It was also a very clever cross-promotional effort since the album fueled interest in the TV series, and vice versa. The Foo Fighters promoted each episode with a club show, but this summer they're hitting the road for a massive stadium tour. Back in 1993, who would have guessed the drummer in Nirvana would be in this position?

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