86. XTC, Apple Venus (Volume One) (TVT, 1999)

I almost considered putting Nonsuch (1992) in this spot, as it contains such beauties as “Wrapped In Grey” and “Rook”, but they’re just stepping stones to this follow-up, which came after a bitter, seven-year strike with the band's record label. Orchestral pop perfections like “Easter Theater” and “The Last Balloon” are worlds away from earlier records, and good for them; XTC is one of the few new wave combos to start out great, then blossom, evolve and endure. “Your Dictionary” is the most scathing, eloquent divorce song I’ve ever heard, but it’s the way that Andy Partridge’s voice vulnerably trills, “And I may as well wish for the moon at hand” in “I Can’t Own Her” that stops my heart every time. The sound of aging gracefully and honestly.

87. Various Artists, Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute To Cole Porter (Chrysalis, 1990)

This is still the prototypical tribute album, and a once-in-a-lifetime miracle. Get twenty contemporary musicians, ranging from heavyweights (U2, Annie Lennox) to cult favorites (Tom Waits, The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl) to cover Cole Porter compositions to raise money to fight AIDS. Despite the stylistic shifts (from Jungle Brothers rap to Lisa Stansfield croon in one fell swoop), this coheres beautifully. Credit the songwriter, but also credit the spirit of coming together, of putting your heart into a mosaic of good will and previously untapped artistic possibilities. Not everything’s brilliant or illuminating, but the batting average is uncommonly high. And Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop (an acerbic take on “Well, Did You Evah!”) is a match for the ages.

88. R.E.M., Murmur (I.R.S., 1983)

Everyone has a favorite REM album, and mine will appear in this list’s top five for sure. As for second-best? That’s a tough one. I could say Document, for its breakthrough in politics and intelligibility, or Out of Time for its wide-ranging canvas, or even Life’s Rich Pageant, half of its selections absolutely sublime. But this one, the first full-length, wins the prize, partially because it was first, mostly because it keeps revealing surprises to me eleven years after I first heard it. Everyone loves “Radio Free Europe” and “Talk About the Passion”, but the jaunty, wistful “We Walk” moves me most because it’s the work of an art band not afraid of accessibility while still working to expand its parameters.