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Classic Albums is a documentary series about pop, rock and heavy metal albums that are considered the best or most distinctive of a well-known band or musician or that exemplify a stage in the history of music.
The TV series is made by Isis Productions and distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment. It is shown on various broadcasters including BBC, ITV, Sky Arts, VH1 and VH1 Classic. They are also available on DVD. The show is similar in structure to VH1's short-lived 2001 series, Ultimate Albums.
The music, and its production, is dissected by the musicians and/or producer playing the multitrack recordings and singling out tracks that one does not usually consciously hear when listening to the music, giving insight into the way the sound is built up. Also, the individual musicians play back pieces, which are then blended with the original recording. Almost all songs are dealt with, focusing almost entirely on the music itself, how it was composed/realised. Personal aspects of the band or members are occasionally dealt with, but mostly only if they serve this purpose. TV episodes are 50 minutes long but the DVD releases contain much additional material. All the releases in this series are done with the co-operation and full authorisation of the artists involved. The series producers are Nick de Grunwald and Martin R Smith. Various directors have been used for the series but the majority of the programmes have been directed by Bob Smeaton, Matthew Longfellow and Jeremy Marre.
The most recent episode of the series is Peter Gabriel's So, released in Autumn of 2012.
The television series is unrelated to a radio show devised by radio producer John Pidgeon as a vehicle for Roger Scott, following the disc jockey’s move from Capital Radio to BBC Radio 1 in 1988. The first hour-long series, produced independently by John and Roger, opened with Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms in May 1989, followed by The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet, Genesis' Invisible Touch, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, The Who's Who's Next, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, The Police’s Synchronicity, Eagles' Hotel California and U2’s The Joshua Tree. Roger died of cancer five months later, and the second series aired posthumously. Further programs were presented by Richard Skinner.
The first episode of Classic Albums is actually a documentary called "The Making of Sgt. Pepper". This documentary focused on The Beatles' landmark album and was produced in much the same way as the Classic Albums series. Isis Productions and Nick de Grunwald helped co-produce this documentary and it helped lay the template for the Classic Albums series. It aired in 1992 both on the Disney Channel in the United States and ITV's The South Bank Show in the UK.
The albums that have been covered are:
- The Band - The Band (1969)
- Black Sabbath - Paranoid (1970)
- Phil Collins - Face Value (1981)
- Cream - Disraeli Gears (1967)
- Deep Purple - Machine Head (1972) (see Classic Albums: Deep Purple - The Making of Machine Head)
- Def Leppard - Hysteria (1987) (see Classic Albums: Def Leppard - The Making of Hysteria)
- The Doors - The Doors (1967)
- Duran Duran - Rio (1982)
- Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (1977)
- Peter Gabriel - So (1986)
- Grateful Dead - Anthem of the Sun and American Beauty (see Anthem to Beauty) (1968/1970)
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland (1968)
- Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast (1982) (see Classic Albums: Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast)
- Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
- Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
- Judas Priest - British Steel (1980)
- John Lennon/The Plastic Ono Band - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
- Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell (1977)
- Metallica - Metallica ("The Black Album") (1991) (see Classic Albums: Metallica - Metallica)
- Motörhead - Ace of Spades (1980)
- Nirvana - Nevermind (see Classic Albums: Nirvana – Nevermind) (1991)
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes (1979)
- Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) (see Classic Albums: Pink Floyd - The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon)
- Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley (1956)
- Primal Scream - Screamadelica (1991)
- Queen - A Night at the Opera (1975)
- Lou Reed - Transformer (1972)
- Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures (1976/1981)
- Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)
- Paul Simon - Graceland (1986)
- Simply Red - Stars (1991)
- Steely Dan - Aja (1977)
- U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987)
- The Wailers - Catch a Fire (1973)
- The Who - Who's Next (1971) (see Classic Albums: The Who – Who's Next)
- Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
- Frank Zappa - Apostrophe (') / Over-Nite Sensation (1974/1973)
In the Netherlands special episodes were made about Dutch albums
- Focus - Moving Waves (1971)
- Boudewijn de Groot - Voor de overlevenden (1966)
- Herman Brood - Shpritsz (1978)
- De Dijk - Niemand in de Stad (1989)
- Cuby + Blizzards - Groeten uit Grollo (1967)
- Shocking Blue - At Home including "Venus" (1969)
- Caro Emerald - Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010)
These were included in the regular broadcast of the English series, but never released on DVD.