Add this one to the list with the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," the Clash's "Give 'Em Enough Rope" and a number of other great LPs that people had the misfortune to cut right after they cut rock landmarks.
Patti Smith's "Radio Ethiopia" came on the heels of her classic debut "Horses," with which she defined her pre-punk poetess persona and helped reshape the music of an era. Some have been unduly harsh in criticizing the follow-up, writing it off as too accessible. But that's precisely what makes it so significant.
"Horses" established Smith's greatness; "Radio Ethiopia" made her important. While retaining her quirky vocals and disturbing/poignant lyrics, such songs as "Ask the Angels" and "Pumping (My Heart)" also featured catchy guitar hooks of the sort that were lacking in the earlier work. They helped make this record her first strike into rock's mainstream, a far more influential release. The trend would continue and expand two years later with Smith's biggest hit, "Because the Night," co-written with Bruce Springsteen.
Even those who want no part of Smith's pop side can find something here: a 10-minute shot of unmitigated dissonance in a record-ending medley of the title track and "Abyssinia." In any case, all eight songs on the album offer a solid sampling of one of rock's great lyricists.
Miles Davis, "Porgy and Bess" (1958), Columbia; Bill Potts, "The Jazz Soul of Porgy & Bess" (1959), Capitol
Love, "Forever Changes" (1967), Elektra
Skeeter Davis & NRBQ, "She Sings, They Play" (1985), Rounder
Joe Ely, "Joe Ely" (1977), MCA
Tim Buckley, "Goodbye and Hello" (1967), Elektra
Van Morrison, "Saint Dominic's Preview" (1972), Warner Brothers
The Dwight Twilley Band, "Sincerely" (1975), Shelter
The J. Geils Band, "Full House" (1972), Atlantic
The Partridge Family, "Greatest Hits" (1989), Arista
Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Cosmo's Factory" (1970), Fantasy