7. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1978)
Four decades after Rumours, its creators still can't escape the drama, pettiness and soap operatic intrigue that inspired its creation -- at any moment, you can picture someone in the band listening to "I Don't Want to Know" or "Go Your Own Way," hearing a lyric in a new way, shouting "Hey, wait a minute!" and jumping on the phone to start the cycle anew. That's probably the thing that keeps the album such a vital piece of the modern pop fabric, never more than a sample, sync or meme away from another generation of rediscovery. Well, that and the songs, products of a unique alchemy that allows stomping folk-rock, gauzy Laurel Canyon balladry and menacing proto-goth to all sound like it's pumping from the same fraught central nervous system -- and with enough character and conviction to make "Thunder only happens when it's raining" and "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow, 'coz it'll soon be here" sound like gospel.
Should It Have Won? Yes, though wow what a year for '70s West Coast studio rock, with Steely Dan's Aja and The Eagles' Hotel California also in contention.
Not Even Nominated: Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, Bob Marley and the Wailers' Exodus, all punk rock
6. Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life (1977)
“Most of all, I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder, who didn’t make an album this year," was how Paul Simon concluded his acceptance speech for album of the year in 1976, following Wonder's back-to-back wins in '74 and '75. His assumption that Wonder would've won had he participated that year was validated by Stevie winning a third time upon his return in '77, though it wasn't like he cruised to the finish line: Songs in the Key of Life was a 21-track, three-record set full of hit pop singles, interstellar explorations, religious conversations and everything in between, the only way a run like Wonder's mid-'70s could've been capped. The best thing about Songs is the way new favorites sneak up on you with every listen; its size practically guarantees there'll always be one unexpected rack that knocks you off your feet. The true testament to its largesse was what the prolific Wonder did next: nothing, for three years, then an album about plants.
Should It Have Won? Much love to Peter Frampton and Boz Scaggs, but yeah, handily.
Not Even Nominated: Queen's A Night at the Opera, Earth Wind & Fire's Gratitude, Boston's Boston