Monday, May 11, 2009
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 ...