Here are numbers 16-20:
20. Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime PieThis was Camper's last album before they broke up (until they reformed a decade later). But Camper fans were not sad for long: David Lowery formed (the superior, IMHO) Cracker two years later. Key Lime Pie's best tracks: "When I Win the Lottery," "Jack Ruby," and the band's biggest hit, a cover of Status Quo's "Pictures Of Matchstick Men."--Chris
19. Indigo Girls, Indigo GirlsTwo chicks, two acoustic guitars, and killer blended harmonies. For a girl who was doing a lot of singing at the time, this album was pretty extraordinary. I listened to it the other day and I still wanted to sing along. Fun fact: this album got the Indigo Girls nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy, which they lost to... Milli Vanilli. (You know, the Grammy was later revoked when it came out that they didn't actually sing.)--Archphoenix
18. The Cult, Sonic TempleIn the midst of the zombie apocalypse that was late '80s hair metal, The Cult stood out as something truly different. They never fit the mold of leopard-skin spandex and bandanas that their contemporaries sported to appear relevant and of-the-moment. The Cult just rocked. That's what they did. Sonic Temple was their crowning achievement, an object lesson in how to stay distinct and relevant in a sea of spandex. This album had all the hallmarks of the era of pop metal--fist-pumping anthems ("Fire Woman"), ballads ("Edie (Ciao Baby)")--but had none of the over-produced sheen of Poison or Warrant. That's probably why the album holds up so well today, still walking the tightrope between radio-friendly goodness and lock-up-your-daughters badness. It's technically not "alternative," but it might as well be as it was the one album that all the headbangers, prom queens, burnouts, and nerds could agree on.--CroutonBoy
17. Phish, JuntaWho would have guessed that Phish, of all bands, would turn into the cultural behemoth it has become? At the time I wouldn't have picked Vermont's greatest export as anything more than a college band with a quirky sound, but the roots of their future greatness are on brilliant display on Junta. In fact, I'd argue that Junta is actually one of Phish' most accessible albums, owing largely to quirky but relatively digestible tunes like "Esther," "Fluffhead," and "Fee," the latter being one of my favorite songs of all time. That doesn't preclude them from some of the experimental indulgences that have come to define their career. "The Divided Sky" clocks in at a cozy 12 minutes and "Union Federal" is over 25 minutes, conjuring images of Spinal Tap's "Jazz Odyssey" phase. But they never cease to be anything but fun, spinning a party platter that meanders from groove to groove, punctuated by moments that make you say, "Wait, rewind that. I want to hear that part again." God knows there's a lot of Phish music out there to listen to (cloud-computing was invented to store their bootlegs), but if you're a casual listener who might want to check Phish out, Junta is where I would start. It's where I did.--CroutonBoy
16. Billy Joel, Storm FrontUnlike so many of my favorite artists, I got on board with Billy Joel pretty early: my first album of his was Turnstiles in 1976. My uncle and cousin got me interested in his music; they told me that Billy Joel was "...sort of like Barry Manilow with more of an edge." I don't really think that's an accurate description (and I doubt Billy Joel would care for it), but as a Manilow fan it was enough to get me into Joel's music. So, all's well.
I bring this up because, as a long-time fan, I definitely recognize that Storm Front is pretty different from most of the albums that came before it. Honestly, I don't know that I could put my finger on exactly what's different. It's more... polished? Not sure that's really the right descriptor, but it does have less of a hard edge to it while, at the same time, not being as pop as some of his mid '80s stuff. But you can probably get an idea of what I'm talking about if you listen to "Big Shot" followed by "Uptown Girl" followed by a cut from Storm Front like "And So It Goes." Three very different sounds.
Which is not to say that I don't like all three. Storm Front retains its listenability today, even though it's not at all the same experience as listening to Joel's earlier albums. I had the pleasure of seeing him live on the Storm Front tour, and I found that his (then) new stuff blended very well with his earlier hits. It was and is an excellent Billy Joel album.--Dave