From Bowie to Beyoncé: the gateway albums to get into the greatest artists

Keen to explore an artist’s oeuvre but overwhelmed by choice in today’s stream-heavy world? Fear not: from Joni to Fela, Madonna to Miles, our critics tell you where to start

We exist in a once unimaginable world of musical abundance. The internet means that more or less the entirety of pop history is available to anyone at the touch of a button; more than 100,000 new tracks are uploaded to just one streaming service every day. Complete obscurity has been essentially eradicated: even if a song is too arcane for Spotify or Apple Music or Tidal, it is more than likely someone will have uploaded it to YouTube. Indeed, music is so abundant, the sheer volume on offer can feel overwhelming – where do you start?

The obvious answer is a greatest hits record or a best-of playlist, but there is something more fulfilling about taking in a complete statement from an artist, even – or perhaps more so – in an era when the album increasingly seems like a devalued currency, just a collection from which you can cherrypick tracks for a playlist. Picking the ideal introduction to an artist is sometimes very straightforward – their best-known album may be their best-known album for a reason – and sometimes more serpentine: not every artist’s biggest album shows the full breadth of what they do. But here are 15 potential embarkation points for some of the most important artists of the pop era. Alexis Petridis

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