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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Double Albums of All Time

Your selections include ‘The Wall,’ ‘London Calling’ and ‘Quadrophenia’

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Pulling off a great double album was much easier in the vinyl age. Back then, most records over 45 minutes long were forced onto two separate discs. (When they crammed much more than that onto a record, the sound quality began to suffer.) Until 1966, few artists even thought about releasing a double album, but the huge success of Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde kicked open the door. Suddenly, everyone from the Beatles to Frank Zappa were releasing double albums. Visionaries like Pete Townshend and Roger Waters were no longer forced to tell a story in 45 minutes or less – but by the CD age, the length of an album suddenly doubled.

That probably explains why most of the winning albums on this poll were released before CDs. Two hours of music is a lot and you need a pretty great album to justify all that time. Click through to see your selections for the greatest double albums of all time. 

By ANDY GREENE

The Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness 

Courtesy of Virgin Records

10. The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’

The huge success of Siamese Dream gave the Smashing Pumpkins a lot of creative freedom. The Chicago alt-rockers were suddenly all over MTV and the budget for their third album swelled. They spent countless hours in the recording studio in the summer of 1995, eventually producing the 28 songs on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It was a huge smash with fans and critics, scoring hits with "1979," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "Tonight, Tonight." It brought the band into arenas and, for a short while, they were on top of the world, but the sudden death of their touring keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin in July 1996 sent the group into a downward spiral.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness marked the final time the original Smashing Pumpkins ever recorded together, and a very vocal segment of their fanbase sees it as their absolute best work. 

The Clash London Calling 

Courtesy of Columbia Records

9. The Clash – ‘London Calling’

The Clash's London Calling is a smidge over 65 minutes long, making it one of those double albums that easily fits onto a single CD. They could have chopped off a few songs to fit it onto one record, but how could they possibly have made those cuts? Every song on London Calling is practically flawless, the perfect fusion of punk, reggae and rockabilly. "It was a point where everybody felt very comfortable being in the studio and recording," Clash bassist Paul Simonon recently told Rolling Stone. "But to add to that, we had somebody called [producer] Guy Stevens. He was really important, and he helped create a very positive atmosphere, even though he was a little crazy. But he was like a conductor. He brought out the best in everybody."

The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East 

Courtesy of Mercury Records

8. The Allman Brothers Band – ‘At Fillmore East’

There are only 7 songs on the Allman Brothers' 1971 live album At Fillmore East, but there was no way a single album could ever contain one of their concerts back then. "Whipping Post" alone is over 23 minutes long and takes up an entire side of an album. The record hit shelves just three months before Duane Allman died, and it remains the ultimate document of their live show during his tenure in the band. The album has been expanded a number of times over the years, and the current one has an insane, 33-minute long "Mountain Jam" that needs to be heard to be believed. 

The Who Quadrophenia 

Courtesy of Track Records

7. The Who – ‘Quadrophenia’

Most people see The Who's 1971 album Who's Next as an absolute masterpiece, but to Pete Townshend, it's merely proof that he was unable to achieve his dream of completing his crazily ambitious Lifehouse project. When he recovered from the trauma of that experience, he turned his creative energies towards a new rock opera about a young Who fan named Jimmy in 1964. He's a part of the Mod scene but never feels like he fits in with his friends or family. He jumps on a train and heads to Brighton, but things only seem to get worse. Unlike Tommy, the story on Quadrophenia is pretty easy to follow and kids all over the planet related to Jimmy's angst. There was no massive single like "Pinball Wizard," but many Who fans see it as the group's finest work. It also would never have worked on a single album. There's simply too much story to tell. 

Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde 

Courtesy of Columbia Records

6. Bob Dylan – ‘Blonde on Blonde’

Bob Dylan and many of his peers were releasing two albums a year in the first half of the 1960s, so releasing a double LP made little sense. Also, the album as an art form didn't really come into its own until around 1965, when Bob Dylan and the Beatles began seeing them as more than a bunch of songs packaged together.

When Dylan began crafting his follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited, he had so many great songs, they simply couldn't fit onto a single album, especially after he wrote the 11-minute "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." Columbia agreed to release Blonde on Blonde as a double album, not quite realizing it was a historic moment. 

Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti 

Courtesy of Swan Song Records

5. Led Zeppelin – ‘Physical Graffiti’

Led Zeppelin found themselves with a little problem near the end of the Physical Graffiti sessions in 1974. They had eight songs they absolutely loved, but they couldn't all fit onto a single album. They didn't want to record more songs just to pull off a double album, so they combed through their vault and dug out enough songs to fill out the second record. The outtakes fit in seamlessly with the new material and few fans even knew the true story behind the album. They just knew the new Zeppelin album was the longest one yet. 

Bruce Springsteen The River 

Courtesy of Columbia Records

4. Bruce Springsteen – ‘The River’

It's pretty amazing that The River is the only double album in the Bruce Springsteen catalog. The songwriter often writes way more songs than a single album can hold. He wrote over 60 songs for 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town, cutting off classics like "Because the Night" and "Fire." He originally gave Columbia a record in 1979 called The Ties That Bind, but later called it back so he could continue recording. He wanted to balance out somber tracks like "Drive All Night" and "The River" with party songs like "Ramrod" and "Crush on You."

The result is an extremely solid double album, though Steve Van Zandt will tell you the Boss still cut many of the best songs. Check out the Tracks box set to hear River outtakes like "Restless Nights" and "Loose Ends." Maybe it should have been a triple album. 

The Rolling Stones Exile on Main St. 

Courtesy of Rolling Stones Records

3. The Rolling Stones – ‘Exile on Main Street’

Nearly 40 years after the release of Exile on Main Street, Keith Richards was still trying to figure out what made the album so magical. "There was something about the rhythm section sound down there [in France]," he said in 2010. "Maybe it's the concrete, or maybe it's the dirt, but it has a certain sound to it that you couldn't replicate if you tried." Today, the album is seen as the Stones' absolute best work, but there was no huge single off the double album and it was met with some very mixed reviews.

"We kind of expected that just from the fact that it was a double album," said Richards. "First of all, the record company wanted to cut it in half. So we said, 'Oh, this is not looking good.' But also we insisted, 'No, this is what we did. This is Exile on Main Street, and we insist that it's a double album.' So it kind of got a slow take-off, but ever since then, it's been up there. Also, it's the first album with no particular single on it, you know? There was no 'Brown Sugar' or whatever. We made it as an album, rather than looking for a hit single."

Pink Floyd The Wall 

Courtesy of Columbia Records

2. Pink Floyd – ‘The Wall’

Pink Floyd absolutely dominated the rock scene in the 1970s, so it was fitting that they released their last masterpiece in the final weeks of the decade. Inspired by the death of Roger Waters' father in World War II and the songwriter's increasingly uneasy feelings about rock fame, The Wall is a crazily ambitious 30-song collection that has aged remarkably well.

Roger Waters spent the past three years taking it to stadiums and arenas all over the planet, selling out everywhere he went. The album gave Floyd a ton of radio hits ("Comfortably Numb," "Hey You," "Mother," "Young Lust," "Another Brick in the Wall Part II"), but it also proved that the band no longer functioned as a unit. Roger Waters fired keyboardist Richard Wright midway through the sessions, and the bassist/songwriter dominated the singing and writing on the album. Pink Floyd carried on for three more albums but never with the classic lineup, and they never managed to create anything again that could even compare to The Wall

The Beatles The White Album

Courtesy of Apple Records

1. The Beatles – ‘The White Album’

The Beatles were barely functioning as a band when they began cutting The White Album in the spring of 1968. The death of manager Brian Epstein left them without a leader and long-simmering personal and creative issues began boiling over. Things got so bad that Ringo Starr quit the group for a brief time, forcing Paul McCartney to play drums on some of the songs. The four members were all writing on their own at this point, and many critics have pointed out that the album is almost four solo discs fused together. None of that takes away from the power of the album and, if anything, the wildly varying tone of the songs is the album's greatest strength. "Rocky Raccoon" sounds nothing like "Revolution 9," which sounds nothing like "Piggies," but somehow, it all works. The Beatles simply couldn't make a bad album, even when they couldn't stand the sight of each other. 

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