No matter how expansive and varied a musician or band's catalog of albums may be, for those at the highest levels of popularity, there's always that one album that everyone talks about more than others. In some cases, it's very much warranted. Purple Rain, for example, is a flawless record that deserves to be talked about for as long as the Earth is still spinning, no matter how many other great Prince records exist.
The same can't be said for the stuff on this list, though. Here are four famous albums that get way more praise than they deserve.
#4. Bruce Springsteen -- Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A. is considered Bruce Springsteen's finest album, mostly by people who think Bruce Springsteen is that one-hit wonder from the 1980s who released a flag-waving anthem about how great America is and then promptly disappeared. Meanwhile, people who've heard pretty much anything Springsteen did prior to that recognize Born in the U.S.A. for what it really is: a collection of otherwise decent songs that today sound corny and awful thanks to some of the cheesiest synthesizer work this side of the intro to "Jump" by Van Halen.
The 1980s were a strange time for established rock musicians. For a while there, it seemed like any band that didn't employ a keytar player was destined to fail. Like so many other rockers at the time, Bruce Springsteen recognized this and took steps to "update" his music to keep up with the times.
While songs like "Dancing in the Dark," "Glory Days," and the massively popular title track connected with people in a huge way back then, so did neon shoelaces and skinny ties and shit. It's not the 1980s anymore. When listened to in the unforgiving light of the rest of Springsteen's recorded output, Born in the U.S.A. borders on cringe-inducing. Nevertheless, Rolling Stone named it the 86th greatest album of all time.
Meanwhile, Nobody Talks About: Tunnel of Love
The strangest thing about Springsteen's mid-to-late-'80s work is that, while Born in the U.S.A. is still praised far and wide like those cheesy synthesizers aren't even plugged in, the album that followed it, Tunnel of Love, generally receives all of the criticism for being an embarrassing, synth-laden product of the '80s that Born in the U.S.A. more rightly deserves. Sure, the synthesizers are still there, but they're far less intrusive and corny on this album. Additionally, the "holy shit America is awful" sentiments are replaced with the more traditional "holy shit my heart is broken" kind of stuff. Translation: It's about 1,000 times easier to relate to for the average listener than Born in the U.S.A.
It's also, in my opinion, just a better collection of songs. I'll take "Tunnel of Love," "Brilliant Disguise," and even "One Step Up," the three huge singles from this album, against the three Born in the U.S.A. songs mentioned earlier any day.
As for album tracks, is, say, "Darlington County" or "Working on the Highway" (from Born in the U.S.A.) significantly better than "Valentine's Day" or "All That Heaven Will Allow"? Nope.
Born in the U.S.A. was as massive as it was because Bruce Springsteen was damn near the only rock musician who managed to enter the synthesizer arms race of the '80s with anything resembling effective weaponry. It's a testament to his prowess as a musician that he became a household name on the strength of one of his shittiest albums ever, but still, Born in the U.S.A. is the last album you should listen to when forming your opinion of Bruce Springsteen.
#3. N.W.A. -- Niggaz4Life
The third and final N.W.A. album, provocatively titled Niggaz4Life, was a huge deal at the time of its release and is still occasionally mentioned today as one of the better rap albums of all time. It's not, though, for a lot of reasons.
One of my favorite gripes about Niggaz4Life, aside from the one about not being able to say the album title in public without fear of being rightfully beaten, is that it tries way too hard to be shocking. The first half of the album plays like one long murder fantasy, which is problematic because, by this time, Dr. Dre had already been outed as the man who once wore sequins and lipstick on an album cover. The days of pretending to be a roving pack of murder villains should have been long over by this point.
The notorious second half of the album is an endless parade of the kind of misogynistic nonsense that acts like 2 Live Crew and Too $hort were always forgiven for because, no matter how vehemently the latter swore he was once blown by Nancy Reagan, for example, we understood that what was being said was just a joke.
Niggaz4Life doesn't feel that way, possibly because it was released just months after Dr. Dre made headlines by beating up the paper-thin female host of a music video show because he didn't like something she said in an interview. It's really hard to get behind a song like "One Less Bitch" when you're concerned that it might be based on real events.
The biggest problem, though, is an astounding drop-off in song quality. There's an easy explanation for that. Ice Cube, arguably one of the three or four best rappers on the planet at the time, left the group prior to the recording of Niggaz4Life. His exit was a mortal wound to everything N.W.A. released in the following years, especially their final album.
Of course, the album can't be completely terrible. After all, it's an entire record of songs produced by Dr. Dre. Even at his worst, he's a better producer than almost anyone else in rap, so it's understandable that people still give the last gasp of N.W.A. a pass from a critical standpoint (although for once Rolling Stone got it right, giving the album 2 out of 5 stars in its review). If you're looking for a "Dr. Dre" album from that era that won't make the women in your life fear you if you listen to it without headphones, though, there's a way better option you should look into.
Meanwhile, Nobody Talks About: No One Can Do It Better
While it's not technically an N.W.A. record, the follow-up to Straight Outta Compton that fans of Dr. Dre's production work should seek out is No One Can Do It Better by the D.O.C.
Released in 1989 while Dr. Dre was still awash in the afterglow of having helped invent gangsta rap, it's a nearly flawless (aside from a "rock" song that is the definition of awful) album that stands out as a bit of an anomaly in the N.W.A. history books. Almost completely devoid of the guns, sluts, and drugs aesthetic of most N.W.A.-related projects, No One Can Do It Better sounds more like the result of an East Coast MC sleeping on a West Coast producer's couch for a month, a trick Ice Cube would employ in reverse order to great effect on his solo debut.
It's not all battle raps, though. The album ends with one of the best N.W.A. songs most people have never heard.
Interestingly, that lack of "street" talk on the album likely goes a long way toward explaining why Straight Outta Compton sounded like a terrifying news report and Niggaz4Life sounded like the absurd boasts of a pathological liar. See, when Ice Cube left the group, his lead songwriter role was taken over by the D.O.C. As his debut album clearly showed, writing about violence and misogyny was way out of his depth. Expecting him to convincingly write the next N.W.A. album was silly.
It might have been different if the D.O.C. had actually been made a full member of the group, but a tragic car accident shortly after the release of No One Can Do It Better left him with a crushed larynx and no voice. Sadly, his career never recovered, but at least the one album he managed to release during his prime was a masterpiece.