The greatest albums you've never heard

Last month we listed 49 musical secret weapons - albums that are obscure but incredible. We asked you to tell us what the 50th should be. The response was overwhelming, so here are 20 more albums, chosen by you, to inspire, dazzle and sometimes baffle

Welcome to the Boomtown (1986)

In the midst of the mind-numbing Reagan years, with "big hair music" ubiquitous on the radio and MTV, David Baerwald and David Ricketts released Welcome to the Boomtown, an album about the hard and bleak lives of people who had been "swallowed by the cracks": druggies and wife-beaters, people living alone together and "dead, dead dreamers". With crisp vocals and driving guitars and drums, these songs shake the listener's complacency. They demand not to be ignored. These songs of desperation still resonate over 20 years later, and find their modern counterpart in Green Day's American Idiot.
Jim Healey

Hector Zazou
Songs From the Cold Seas (1995)

World music is generally associated with waving palm trees and drowsy heat. French producer Hector Zazou's stunning cocktail is the opposite, an ice shower for the temperate and tropical hangover. Despite of bringing together such wilful talents as Björk, John Cale and Siouxsie Sioux, plus musical styles from Siberian shamanic chanting through to Inuit duets, the whole album freezes together like pack-ice. That's the key to the concept: never mind the political boundaries, the climate, landscape and sheer difficulty of existence impose a cultural unity on the extreme north. Standout moments are arbitrary; Jane Siberry's haunting Newfoundland song She's Like a Swallow, Björk's choral take on a traditional Icelandic song and - finest of all - Lena Willemark's siren echoes on Havet Stomar, an ice dagger that chills drowning men's hearts to a standstill.
Mike Thompson

Johnny Dangerously
You, Me and the Alarm Clock (1990)

Johnny Dangerously looked like a griddle chef, but had the voice of an angel. When he walked on stage, he carried only a guitar and a plastic crate. He put one foot on the crate, perched the guitar on his knee and sang soaring, glorious songs about supermarket love affairs, muscle magazines and bedsit self-loathing. People only really knew him around Manchester, but it was 1990, and he was drowned in a tide of baggy trousers. Johnny was more donkey jacket than denim, so this mini-album slipped out and promptly vanished. Shame. Because it's still to-cry-for wonderful. Aching with picture-poems set to simple soul-squeezing acoustic melodies. No one bought it, and Johnny slipped quietly away. But there's a sting in the tail. This year, he's back having one last pop with his band I Am Kloot. Connoisseurs purred when they saw the bonus track on a recent CD single: a lost gem from You, Me and the Alarm Clock, rerecorded and as gorgeous as ever. But sadly, no one's listening now either.
Bill Jones

Jenny Owen Youngs
Batten the Hatches (2005)

Sometimes you find treasure on the net. What was I looking for? Something to do with architecture, I think. Links led me to some kid's MySpace page - nothing to do with geodesic domes - and I heard Fuck Was I playing as his background music. I was instantly intrigued. My son is 15 and I endure my fair share of contemporary sounds (I can't call them all music), but this combination of astringent, cynical lyrics and subtle but intelligent arrangements had me hooked. Their influences include Erin McKeown, Jeff Buckley, the Sundays and Nick Drake. I love it all, though Fuck Was I remains my favourite track. Why is this brilliant young New Jersey singer-songwriter languishing in obscurity? Kindly move over, KT Tunstall.
Peggy Birch

Nile Rodgers
Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove (1983)

I'm always amazed at how unknown this album is. It was recorded just before Bowie's Let's Dance (produced by Rodgers) and in a way it's the underground, super-hip, dangerous version of that album. It's also perhaps the ultimate New York funk album. It stinks of sleazy nights and early mornings; the grooves are irresistible, late-period disco morphed into raunchy rock and electroid funk. Rodgers' voice has character and his lyrics are hilarious, featuring absurd sexual innuendos and hair-raising vignettes about the party life. The cover is brilliant, too - a map of New York done ancient-Rome style, complete with Tribeccivm, Grammercia and Italia Minor. Bowie was obviously impressed and so was I, though it's almost impossible to find these days.
Matt Phillips

Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)

How can you explain to your two-year-old daughter what you're doing when you take her around Anne Frank's house? Easy if you've played her Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: an album about singer Jeff Mangum's obsession with Anne Frank's ghost. This album - on the surface a skittery, lo-fi assortment of acoustic guitars, soaring brass instruments and cracked vocals - has a hypnotic power and rhythm that makes jaded adults and bouncy toddlers alike sing along. What is all the more exceptional is how life-affirmingly upbeat it is. The genius of Aeroplane lies in Mangum's ability to take topics such as Anne Frank and two-headed boys floating in jars and make their stories into celebrations.
Andrew Schagen

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and his Inter-Reformers Band
Inter-Reformers A Tunde (1974)

Gowing up in a white pocket of 1970s south London, I struggled to work out why everyone at school was white and spoke English, while at home we were all black and Yoruba was the tongue - even the faces on the sleeves of my parents' records and the voices that blared from the hi-fi. Twenty years later, the well-fed face of Ebenezer Obey beaming in close-up from the LP cover prompted me to rediscover this prime example of the Juju music dominant in Nigeria at the time. The 12 seamlessly segued 12 tracks make great party music, and I realise now how much comfort expatriate Nigerians like my parents must have derived from this recording.
Adejumoke Oke

The Gun Club
Mother Juno (1987)

Mother Juno still gets to me with its adrenalin rush. Jeffrey Lee Pierce, edgy and psychotic, screaming headlong. Pounding rock from the swamp, bastard offspring of the Doors, the Cocteaus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Bastard offspring of JG Ballard's crystal world, and like Lowry's day of the dead, it is alcohol-lit, neon and lurid. Pierce screams tales of Sargasso Sea madness and violence and you can smell the booze on his breath. He was dead within a few years. For me, this record weaves a spell, and holds it all the way.
Ian Ormondroyd

Sandra Weckert Trio
Be Careful! These Phrases Are Out (1997)

We had escaped from the Gay Games in Amsterdam, via Freiburg, to Berlin. We stayed with a woman called Cornelia, serendipitously encountered a week before, on a softball field. After a sombre afternoon at Ravensbrück, we drove to a village in what was once East Berlin, for the birthday party of a German tennis player. We found ourselves in the grounds of a dilapidated, fairytale schloss. Tall, elegant women were playing badminton under the trees. We were directed to hand over barbecue food we'd brought to the "grillmeister". Sitting on a rug, we listened to the Sandra Weckert Trio. Their music was mesmerising, the sun radiant. Now, whenever I hear the opening notes of Out of the Night, I am in a German garden. My secret rapture.
Jayne Gill

Giant Sand
Chore of Enchantment (2000)

A chair scraping against a porch isn't a musical instrument. Neither is the water fountain outside your record company. Somehow, this ambient noise is expertly woven into a record played with almost wilful nonchalance. With hints of an old Italian opera recorded on cassette in the background, and Howe Gelb's unhurried drawl, Chore of Enchantment evokes memories of lazy summer evenings in their hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Anyone familiar with The Godfathers of Music will be comfortable here. But let's get this the right way round - Lou Reed? Tom Waits? They sound just like Giant Sand.
Simon Wallis

Kevin Coyne
Marjory Razorblade (1973)

Kevin Coyne's mind was a dying seaside town; broken-windowed alehouses, charity shops, battered lives in bleak attics forgotten by everyone but him. His ugly-beautiful mutter bawling his stories like a mongrel locked out in the rain. One-eyed songs on crutches spilling fag ash in their drinks. Demented old ladies, like the knife-tongued Marjory Razorblade, who might just be Gracie Fields's bastard sister; Eastbourne Ladies flashing their knickers; Jackie in his boarding house, paper hat on head, pining for Edna, his love long gone. Lives played out in the shadow of the mental hospital on the hill where Coyne once worked. Max Wall singing the blues. A desolate, desperate, beautiful scrapbook of stories, a scuffed blues bestiary spat out by England's Gogol, the Bard of Derby, Kevin Coyne, dead at 60, coughing his lungs up, missed like mad.
Jeff Young

Tracey Thorn
A Distant Shore (1982)

Forget Everything But the Girl, this must have been the album Massive Attack had in mind when they asked Thorn to add her voice to Protection. It's been the soundtrack to so many break-ups and heartaches for me, it's hard to listen to. But without doubt, this is the English folk voice I'd waited for all my life, our heartbreaking answer to Joni. A small-town girl with a ringing guitar and a voice, a voice that's a comfort one moment and a reason to blub the next. By the time the final track, Too Happy, comes round, you have been taken somewhere only music and love can take you.
Neil Allmark

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Now trendy, the great man was (before Michael Brook and various grungers stuck their oars in) the devotional Sufi singer par excellence. With this album, the listener is in danger of floating away in ecstasy. If I said the music washes over you, you'd think I was talking blandness. But Shahen-Shah is mesmeric. As a non-Muslim, I'm obviously missing the point of it, but even as a western agnostic I can appreciate the love one can have for one's God. Unlike hymns, some of which have a dismal emphasis on suffering, Qawwali music like this lifts anyone who hears it above such mundanity. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan can seemingly empty his vocal chords into doves that have a habit of filling the very air around you.
John Gimblett

Mark Kozelek
What's Next to the Moon (2001)

This collection of AC/DC covers reinterprets their smut and bar-boogie riffs as acoustic folk. The effect is spine-chilling. Songs that were templated by headbang-swagger and tattoos are deconstructed and infused with melancholy. This music couldn't be farther from the memories I have of Bon Scott performing the originals while strutting the stage in 1975, but for me it is a fitting epitaph. Kozelek sings these stories of love, sex, bravado and self-identity in the guise of a world-wise troubadour, while plucking beautiful melodies somehow wrung from the original rockers. So many people ask what the music is when I play it, and it never fails to surprise them. That Kozelek could find and arrange something so evocative from treasure so well hidden in Scott's work highlights the genius of both.
Victoria Button

Eg & Alice
24 Years of Hunger (1991)

Brother Beyond's ex-drummer and a female BMX champ scoop the improbable accolade of making the feyest album ever. 24 Years of Hunger is fragile and starkly emotional - and lovely. I bought it in that difficult second year at university, when you're forging your identity away from the raucous first-year gangs; its jazzy, pristine pop fitted with my Prefab Sprout and Scritti Politti affinities, and the boho Notting Hill it portrayed seemed so glamorous. Alice sang with a gossamer, broken voice, Eg with a throaty, quiet roar, and they watched over their W11 friends like a louche Zeus and Hera, chronicling the banal and the parochial with a tender eye. It doesn't seem so obscure now that I've spent 15 years bothering my friends with it. They don't know how lucky they are.
Matthew Horton

Neva Again (1993)

If ever I want to remind myself that hip-hop was once a potent form of angry, powerful music, I stick this mini-epic on. A sustained attack on all that is wrong in post-LA-riots America, it sizzles with a focused fury. Kam's booming delivery rides the no-nonsense beats with an assured attitude reminiscent of Chuck D at his best. Unfortunately, it never sold anything. People wanted to listen to Cypress Hill rapping about bongs.
Rob Coulson

Les Nubians
Princesses Nubiennes (1998)

Les Nubians are Chadian-French sisters who live and record in Paris. When this R&B masterpiece came out, I was working in a music store in Olympia, Washington. The manager specifically barred us from playing it because it sold out every time we did; all the grunge kids, bikers and soccer moms would come up to the till - "Who is this? It's terrific." Even so, we never had enough copies in stock. Their second album, One Step Forward, is half in English, but it's not a patch on the combination of clever backbeats and gentle but danceable melodies that make up Princesses Nubiennes. Now I play it in south London when my friends are over, and they always ask the same questions as Olympia's soccer moms did back in Washington.
Sarah Manvel

Herman Brood and His Wild Romance
Street (1977)

Herman Brood is the demonic Dutch-piano-playing love child of Dr John and Johnny Thunders. At his peak, he was married to one of his backing singers, a shy girl named Nina Hagen. The other one was Lene Lovich. That gang recorded a great live double-album called Cha-Cha, but Street started everything. Herman was a great R&B singer and lyricist with rock'n'roll soul. Cheerful and tragic, Street is easily the greatest album written about heroin addiction. Herman, like Don van Vliet, established himself as a star in the art world before his early death, a leap off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton a few years ago. Books and movies have been made about him in the Netherlands, but who speaks Dutch?
Reginald Ollen

And the 50th secret weapon is ...

Zbigniew Namyslowski Quartet:
Siodmawka Polish Jazz Vol 6 (1966)

A few years before I was born, an unhappy computer programmer and his chain-smoking girlfriend stayed with my parents in Montreal. When the pair departed after two miserable weeks, the woman left behind three LPs of Swedish, Polish and Czechoslovakian jazz. I discovered them, untouched, 18 years later and Polish jazz immediately became a lifelong favourite. It's not like any jazz you've heard before; the unfamiliar syncopation and odd jagged arches of melody are emotively Slavic, but it's definitely the meandering, conversational jazz of the late 60s. The horn plays like a loon on a winter lake, but there is the joy of discovery, too, and possibly pictures of an imagined America. When I was at university I played the record for friends: some loved it, others were more sceptical, but it didn't matter to me what people thought. That album belongs to me and the chain-smoking woman in Montreal.
Karen Murphy

· Karen wins the £500 HMV giftcard. Thanks to all the readers who submitted entries.

The GuardianTramp

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