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This list of the 40 greatest Chicago records of all time raises a million questions, including: What counts as a “Chicago record”? What does “greatest” mean? And just who do we think we are? We classify a Chicago record as a nonclassical recording by an artist who is local by birthright or who adopted Chicago as home—or at least lived in town at the time the recording was made. As for picking the greatest, we sifted through thousands of full-length albums to choose 40 that were influential, successful, or musically accomplished, or that effectively captured a time and place (and, in some rare cases, all of the above). If you don’t like our choices, tell us why in the comments below. And if you’re Liz Phair, call us. We miss you.
40. Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965) From the gritty opening track, “Born in Chicago,” this brash white-boy blues album pays respect to—and broadens—one of the city’s finest exports.
39. The Buckinghams: Kind of a Drag (1967) In Chicago, the summer of love belonged to The Buckinghams, whose sunshiny, horn-driven pop ruled the airwaves all year.
38. Local H: Pack Up the Cats (1998) The Underrated Chicago Band That Should Have Been Huge hit its stride with this funny, relentlessly rocking song cycle.
37. The Impressions: The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story (1969) This criminally forgotten record’s soulful love songs and forceful black empowerment messages are horn-dominated mini pop concertos.
36. The Karol Stoch Band: Fire in the Mountains: Polish Mountain Fiddle Music, Volume 1 (1997) It would be a stretch to call it influential, but Stoch’s raw recordings from the late 1920s captured the spirit of Chicago’s burgeoning Polish community.
35. The Staple Singers: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972) The spiritual-based band that grew up with Chicago reached a pinnacle (critically and commercially) with this cheery slice of gospel-influenced soul.
34. Screeching Weasel: My Brain Hurts (1991) On the strength of this comical toe-tapper, Prospect Heights’ nineties answer to the Ramones assumed their throne in the kingdom of pop/punk.
33. The Ramsey Lewis Trio: The In Crowd (1965) Recorded live at an intimate lounge in Washington, D.C., Lewis’s exuberant piano-driven jazz thrills the crowd and all but leaps off the record.
32. Eleventh Dream Day: Prairie School Freakout (1988) A blistering declaration of college-radio rock, recorded in one day, EDD’s dual guitar attack and heartfelt vocals never sounded better.
31. Koko Taylor: Koko Taylor (1969) All the early hits from the quintessential South Side female blues belter, during an era when her sturdy voice could power a freight train.
30. The Jesus Lizard: Goat (1991) The definitive album on Chicago’s legendary Touch and Go Records, this noisy assault sounds just as twisted and ferocious today as it did 19 years ago.
29. Muddy Waters: Folk Singer (1964) Waters shocked the blues world by unplugging his guitar and going back to his Delta roots with this exceptional acoustic album.
28. Grupo Montéz de Durango: De Durango a Chicago (2003) This rollicking release by Stone Park’s granddaddies of the Duranguense movement—a Chicago-based interpretation of Mexican mountain music—
is impossible not to dance to.
27. Styx: Paradise Theater (1981) The Roseland group’s peculiar marriage of hard rock and over-the-top theatricality finally jelled on this loosely defined—but immensely successful—concept album.
26. The DJ Fast Eddie: Jack to the Sound (1988) A fixture on the house music scene, Fast Eddie’s best songs (all recorded here) merged acid house and hip-hop with a pop sensibility.
25. Material Issue: International Pop Overthrow (1991) One of the great power pop bands of the nineties, MI’s first full-length album is full of taut, melodic three-minute songs about girls.
24. Howlin’ Wolf: Howlin’ Wolf (1962) “The Rockin’ Chair Album,” as it’s also known, is filled with raunchy, roaring, electric Chicago blues belted by the genre’s most fearsome presence.
23. The Chi-Lites: (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971) This smooth, socially conscious soul record is packed with lilting harmonies, lush ballads, and optimistic entreaties for world peace.
22. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006) Case’s dazzling voice rages and aches and soars all over this twangy, bittersweet triumph.
21. Mahalia Jackson: Newport 1958 (1959) If you’re not moved by this passionate concert, which captures Chatham’s Queen of Gospel nearing 50 and still remarkable, there’s no hope for you.
Photography: (louis armstrong) pictorial press ltd./alamy, (folk singer) chess records, (kanye west) devin simmons/admedia, (neko case) jason creps, (superfly) rhino records.