Wednesday, May 27, 2009

number 14

14. Paul Simon, Graceland. Notice anything different about the blog? Other than I haven't published anything in 2 weeks, LOL? I have replaced my old computer, which was giving me fits, with a powerful Gateway model which I purchased like 2 months ago but didn't hook up until this past weekend. Vista power, baby! Not that I really wanted Vista - I would've been perfectly content with XP, just needed some faster Internet action etc etc - but Vista came with the computer.

But I digress. Graceland. Who can deny that this was a seminal album in American music history? Well, probably plenty of people; but I'm still going to make that case. Obviously, world music existed before this album, but how many great-rock-albums-influenced-by-world-music were there? Huh? Clearly, Paul Simon set a precedent here. And what an amazing comeback for the former Simon and Garfunkel-er! He just came out of nowhere with this baby, kind of like David Bowie with Let's Dance, maybe.

Some will say that albums like Graceland have bastardized world music, replacing the authentic sound of other cultures with white male sensibilities. Well, speaking for myself, I have to say that I like my world music filtered through the musical tastes of aging white folk heroes with receding hairlines. It works for me just fine. Because how many people discovered the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo through this album? Me, for one; my hand's in the air. And also, a lot of the people who were critical of Paul Simon for this album remind me of Derek Mazzone, the narcissistic host of Wo' Pop on KEXP. I never could stand that guy's show, and his voice. Ugh! No matter which country's music he played - Botswana, Kazakhstan, Bolivia - he always thought he pronounced the song names with the correct accent. Kind of a jackass.

Anyhow, I digress again. Beyond its historical importance, this album is great cover-to-cover, especially the fantastic title track and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." I was never that crazy about "You Can Call Me Al," but I do really like "Crazy Love." "Homeless": wonderful a cappella song. Such a great album in so many different ways ...

Monday, May 11, 2009

numbers 15-16

16. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville. I'm just going to come right out and say it: this is the greatest rock album ever by a solo female artist. It was just an astonishing feat. Back in the mid-90's, there was a blitz of "righteous babe" type albums from women artists like Ani DiFranco and Four Non-Blondes and Paula Cole, encouraged by their growing prominence in independent music and maybe trying to stake their claim as the most righteous of them all. And some of them were quite good. But then along came Liz Phair with this debut album, sounding alternately wounded and defiant and vulnerable. And, well ... oversexed. (Was I imagining that part? Someone might need to back me up here.)

As a sex kitten's response to the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, this album couldn't have hit the mark any better. But you don't really need to know the backstory to realize that there are some great, great songs on here. In fact, a freakishly large number of of them fall into the "great, great" category, led in my opinion by "Mesmerizing." And I say "freakish" because little that Liz Phair has subsequently done has come close to matching her first album. What happened? I don't know. But it makes Exile in Guyville seem that much more intriguing and unique.

15. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. This one goes neck-and-neck in my book with Public Enemy's next release, Fear of a Black Planet. How can I possibly leave off the album with "Fight the Power" on it? Well, it was a tough call. And I will give readers the option of substituting Fear in for Nation in this slot if they so choose.

But I digress. I'll just tell you right now that this is the only rap/hip-hop album on my Top 50. Snoop Dogg is not going to come out of nowhere to bum-rush the Top 10. I've actually made a decent attempt to appreciate hip-hop as an art form, and it just hasn't clicked for me most of the time. (Latest group that I researched and ended up being underwhelmed by: A Tribe Called Quest.)

For the most part, I think rap is an ingeniously-marketed commodity to extract money from unsuspecting members of a key demographic group (impressionable white dudes ages 16-25 with too much money and anger), and "sampling" is a sad excuse to cover up the lack of creativity that seems to be endemic in commercial rap. But there's no denying the talent behind Public Enemy's music, especially on these two albums. I'm sure Chuck D would disagree with most or all of what I've written here, and that saddens me. Because I have as much respect for Chuck D as a musician and songwriter as just about anyone else. You too, Flavor Flav. If I had cable, I would watch "Flavor of Love" far more often.

Damn! You know, it's just about killin' me, having to choose Nation over Fear for this slot. So I'm going to recite some of my favorite lyrics from "Fight the Power":

Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne
Cause I'm Black and I'm proud
I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check
Don't worry be happy
Was a number one jam
Damn if I say it you can slap me right here

Fight the power, bitches! Word to your mother ...

a solo act

Until I published my review of Sonic Youth's Evol last night (see the entry "# 17"), I'd gone nearly 2 weeks without writing anything here. And believe me, that was distressing for me . But you have to understand, I've been damn busy at work recently, trying to get stuff done so I could motor back east for a weeklong visit (which I'll detail at another time).

Even more distressing, though, was that as I was grinding through this tough period at work and looking for occasional distraction online, I discovered that many of my colleagues and peers in the blogosphere had also gone silent. Now, the odds that all these people would also be hit by a major crunch at work, at the very same time as me, seemed remote, especially since we don't work together. How to explain it, then? I don't know. But the sad thing is, these people tricked me into venturing into the blogosphere, and then apparently snuck out and locked the door behind me. So, I have written a song to explore my feelings about this, to the tune of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." Here goes:

Where have all the bloggers gone
Concords are shriv'ling
Where have all the bloggers gone
Biscuit's just dough
Where have all the bloggers gone
Can't find manuka
When will they ever learn
When will they ever learn

I'll publish the remaining verses once I've completed my Top 50 countdown. Peace out ...

number 17

17. Sonic Youth, Evol. Something tells me I'm gonna catch some flak for this one, too. Because Daydream Nation seems to be the consensus "best" Sonic Youth album; and then, there're the people who are gonna demand Top 10 placement for Sonic Youth; and then, there're the people who've never heard of Sonic Youth (not too many of them, though, fortunately). And of course, also the people who object to excessive use of semi-colons ...

But you know what I say to all of them? Sue me. Just sue me. You don't scare me. The only thing that scares me is ... this freaky album cover. What the heck is up with this album cover? Is she the Blair Witch?

But anyhow, I'm digressing, because I'm a little intimidated at the prospect of writing about Sonic Youth. Their music is deep, man, and I'm not sure if I understand all of it. But I know what I like, and this is the first Sonic Youth album I ever heard (college radio station, freshman year) and still my favorite. "Tom Violence" is such a laconic, beautiful tune, so quintessentially Sonic Youth, and "Star Power" kicks out the jams as much now as it did back then. This was also the first SY album to feature Steve Shelley, who I think is an underappreciated and excellent drummer.

There is some degree of Lifetime Achievement status with this pick, considering how amazing it is that Sonic Youth has lasted as long as they have without ever really compromising their principles (and with 2 of the members being married!). And also, that several of them were apparently almost done in by Daniel Johnston at one point. That's some amazing shit, man. And yes, one could make a case for Daydream Nation (although the songs "Eric's Trip" and "Kissability" annoy me quite a bit for some reason), and maybe an even stronger case for Goo. But given the choice of having any of these play on my headphones when "American Idol" comes on TV, I'm gonna stick with Evol ...