Saturday, October 31, 2009

50 other great albums, in no particular order: part two

11. Queen, A Night at the Opera. This was one of the first albums that my oldest brother owned, therefore one of the first albums I ever got acquainted with. A tiny but strong little piece of my childhood, and a great album in its own right. Everybody knows "Bohemian Rhapsody," but fewer are familiar with "You're My Best Friend." And fewer still have rocked out to "Death on Two Legs!" But it's a trip, man.

12. Dead Can Dance, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun. Pompous and overbearing to some, exotic and beautiful to others. I remember buying this album in college and never really tiring of it. A sound like no others, mimicking the music of vanished civilizations, which has stood the test of time on its own.

13. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones. I just got into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs within the past few months. I've listened to this album and Fever to Tell, and I like this one better. If I'd heard it a year earlier ... would it have made my Top 50? A tough question. Lead singer Karen O did some of the music for the film version of "Where the Wild Things Are" - may have to check it out.

14. Kings of Convenience, Riot on an Empty Street. Think A-Ha is the best band to ever come out of Norway? Ok kontrarre, min frair! I think Erlend and Eirik would disagree with you. This is a great album, and the vocal contributions from Feist on several songs really put it over the top.

15. Yo La Tengo, Painful. They've had a lot of great albums, so it was again a struggle to narrow it down to just one. But this album has my favorite YLT song of all time, "Double Dare." One of my favorite songs, period. It makes me want to be young and drive across the country again, with every new day bright and clear.

16. Karp, Self Titled LP. Props again to my friend Brian for introducing me to Karp, one of the greatest bands to ever come out of the Seattle area. Again, I'm not a huge metal fan, but Karp's music was somewhere beyond metal, taking the rage and noise of metal and tempering it with brash intelligence. (What ordinary metal band would have a song called "J is for Genius?" Or a song whose entire lyrics are "Ding dong, I'm fucking with your head, fucking with your head.") I still remember seeing them at Bumbershoot a while back: two guys thrashing on guitar and taking turns bellowing into the microphone, with drummer Scott Jernigan (who died in a boating accident in 2003) pounding away behind them. I don't know if I've ever gotten as much visceral pleasure from another show. Supposedly, there's some documentary about Karp coming out within the next few months.

17. Tortoise, TNT. This one would also probably be in the low-to-mid 50's if I ever made a comprehensive Greatest Albums list. All instrumental, all the time, with impressive variation in the song styles. There's one song on here, I swear, that will transport you to a lazy summer evening in the French countryside circa 1957. If it doesn't, I will gladly refund your money.

18. The Postal Service, Give Up. So which flavor of "Such Great Heights" do you like? The snippet from the UPS commercials, or Iron & Wine's slowed-down, mellowed cover version? I'm actually a bigger fan of "Nothing Better," from its atmospheric opening to Ben Gibbard's wistful lyrics to the sudden, stunning, wonderful entry of Jenny Lewis as his vocal counterpart. Such a sad song, but such a great album.

19. Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock. Ah, Sleater-Kinney: another one of those Northwest bands that I hadn't really discovered while I was living in the Northwest. Or maybe I did, towards the end? I can't even remember now. Just wish I'd seen them live at least once; but at least I got to see Janet Weiss perform a few times in Quasi. I think everyone's got their favorite S-K record, depending on their style, and I can't claim to have heard them all. But this one's the bomb ...

20. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America. I know next to nothing about The Hold Steady. So how can I include them here? Because this is a special place, with magical rules, and I'm kickin' back after grinding through my Top 50. I listened to this album a bunch. It's great. A very distinctive lyrical style.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

50 other great albums, in no particular order: part one

Maybe it's a touch of separation anxiety, but I've had a hard time moving away from my Top 50. Well, actually, the hardest thing was leaving off a bunch of albums I really love. But it was also hard to keep that list going, week in and week out! It nearly destroyed me: the research, the hand-wringing, the grasping for words and phrases that would effectively describe my favorites. So I'm doing this quick 'n' dirty, just for fun, in no particular order ...
1. Band of Horses, Everything All the Time. This was probably #51 on my list. A great, great album, separately recommended to me on separate occasions by my friends Brian and Dean. Didn't much care for the follow-up, though. Could it be because they left Seattle?
2. The Bevis Frond, Triptych. One of my favorite alt albums from college, an amazing one-man psychedelic tour de force including a cover of "Hey Joe" sung by the artist's mum. BF, aka Nick Saloman, just kills on the guitar. Extremely unheralded.
3. Jason Loewenstein, At Sixes and Sevens. I've got a soft spot for albums thrown together by one guy down in his basement, and this one may be the king of the genre. It rocks almost as good as the best stuff from Sebadoh, Loewenstein's former band (he's now playing with the Fiery Furnaces).
4. Sebadoh, The Sebadoh. I despised Everett True when he worked as a music critic for The Stranger, but I'll always be a little grateful to him for his glowing review of this album. I now have about 5 Sebadoh CD's, but this one's the best for sure. Hardly a bad song on here; a couple are truly awesome.
5. The Folk Implosion, Dare to be Surprised. While on the subject of Sebadoh, let's not overlook Lou Barlow! This is a great CD with some brilliant vocal interplay between him and collaborator John Davis.
6. The Innocence Mission, Glow. Probably the last band you'd want to back you up in a bar fight. The name is true to their gentle sound, distinguished by Don Peris' understated guitar and Karen Peris' incredible voice. (Women's voices shouldn't be this beautiful - it just breaks your heart ...) The thinking man's 10,000 Maniacs.
7. The Deftones, Adrenaline. This band is the anti-Innocence Mission. I'm normally not big on growly alt-metal, but the Deftones completely separated themselves from the rest of the pack with actual musical ability, and a lot of it.
8. The Fixx, Reach the Beach. Who the hell were The Fixx? Where'd they come from? Where'd they go? I'd almost forgotten about them until that creepy "Saved by Zero" commercial.
9. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary. So you think the Arcade Fire is the best new band to come out of Montreal recently? Au contraire, mon frere! Seriously, Wolf Parade kicks their ass. Another album with hardly a weak song, maybe none whatsoever. Probably #52 on my overall list, capped by the dazzling "I'll Believe in Anything."
10. The Killers, Sam's Town. Do people really think Hot Fuzz is a better album than Sam's Town? That just seems unbelievable to me. But The Onion keeps saying it, over and over again. Will anyone else stand with me and proclaim Sam's Town to be the superior Killers album?

All right, I'm spent. More later ...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

the breakdown

Chris, do you think you could do some type of statistical breakdown on my Top 50? Here's what I was thinking: maybe sorting the picks by decade (60's, 70's, 80's, etc.), male vs. female lead singer, country of origin of artist, platinum/gold-selling album vs. not, etc etc. You could come up with some other categories as you see fit. Also, a cross reference between the selections that our blogs had in common, and also how that compares with that Rolling Stone Top 500 albums list from a while back. Now, I'm interested not only in percentages, but also in the absolute numbers (n). I think my readers would get a kick out of it! Whenever you've got a few moments. Thanks ...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Recap

50. White Stripes, The White Stripes
49. Sparrow Orange, Hands and Knees Music
48. XTC, Skylarking
47. Catherine Wheel, Chrome
46. The Sea and Cake, The Biz
45. King Crimson, Red
44. Weezer, Weezer
43. Live, Throwing Copper
42. Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth
41. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
40. Quasi, Featuring Birds
39. Pearl Jam, Ten
38. Spoon, Gimme Fiction
37. The Police, Synchronicity
36. Elvis Costello, Punch the Clock
35. Moby, Play
34. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
33. Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes
32. Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps
31. The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
30. The Replacements, Tim
29. Belle and Sebastian, Tigermilk
28. REM, Murmur
27. Lounge Lizards, Voice of Chunk
26. Andrew Bird, Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
25. Neko Case, Furnace Room Lullaby
24. The Grateful Dead, one of their bootlegs
23. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
22. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
21. Philip Glass, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof
20. Talking Heads, Fear of Music
19. The Pixies, Doolittle
18. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks
17. Sonic Youth, Evol
16. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
15. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
14. Paul Simon, Graceland
13. Fleetwood Mac, Rumors
12. Michael Jackson, Thriller (*)
11. Derek and the Dominoes, Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
10. Love, Forever Changes
9. U2, Achtung Baby
8. Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run
7. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
6. Nirvana, Nevermind
5. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief
4. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?
3. (tie) Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
The Beatles, The Beatles
The Who, The Who Sell Out
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV
Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
2. Pink Floyd, The Wall
1. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

Saturday, October 10, 2009

number one

1. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Kind of Blue is the greatest album of all time. I really believe that. Obviously, I haven't listened to all of them, and there may be some obscure release sitting in the bargain bin of a used record store in a back alley in Cleveland that would impress me even more, but I kind of doubt it. Think about it: what's the greatest album in the history of rock 'n' roll? I certainly have my opinion, but there would be a lot of debate, and if you asked 10 rock critics you'd probably get 8 different answers. But ask 10 jazz experts to name the greatest album in jazz history, and I think they'd all say the same thing.

Kind of Blue was recorded and released 50 years ago this year, but sounds completely timeless. An album for the ages if there ever was one, with a sound that's elemental, pure, complete. It came out around the dawn of rock 'n' roll, and has had a lasting influence on rock, jazz, and other musical styles. And it was recorded in two sessions, with minimal rehearsal. That's right: two sessions. Like Miles Davis had simply tapped into the primal fountainhead of music and let it pour out of his trumpet, or something like that.

Well, I could wax on for hours about this album, without ever really going anywhere, but I will end my Top 50, this nearly year-long endeavor, by asking my many readers out there to just go listen to it. If you've never listened to Kind of Blue before ... what the hell is wrong with you???And if you haven't listened to it in a while, then it's time to catch up. And even if you listened to it recently ... were you really listening? Or was it just playing in the background while you drove to work or made dinner? C'mon, go really listen to it.

As for completing the Top 50, I have to admit it's a bittersweet moment. I never thought it would take this long, or be so taxing. But I really did rediscover some of the things I loved about my favorite albums. And I took pleasure in the fact that nobody was able to guess what Number One would be, despite the clue. (Did anyone figure that out, by the way? You know, "Godzilla," like the song by Blue Oyster Cult. Blue Oyster Cult -> Kind of Blue. Simple.) Some might say that Brian actually did guess it, when he aired his grievance with my Number Three selection; but no, he didn't really. He was just being snarky. And if you're impressed that he at least came close, don't be. I lived with the guy for something like half my adult life, and never tried to hide anything from him. He knows my tastes, and I know his. I could even tell you what would be Number One on his list if he ever put together his own Top 50: Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King by the Dave Matthews Band. He just can't get enough of it ...

I also know that some of you out there will take issue with the fact that I chose a black artist for my Number One pick. And not only that, for Number Four as well! And a few other spots in the Top 50. Well, first of all, I just want to say that Jimi Hendrix was also part Native American. And second of all, that we're living in a different age now. We have a black president in this country, and everyone can vote now. And finally, I stand for racial equality and judging people by the content of their character and their artistic endeavors, and not judging them based on physical characteristics alone and whatnot. And if you don't also believe in that, I challenge you to a fight, because this is something I believe in strongly.

And some of you may be surprised that Number One isn't a rock album! Well, I never said this was the Top 50 *rock* albums - just the top 50. And I included Philip Glass a while back, so that should've tipped you off. And Kind of Blue has influenced rock music, in ways both subtle and profound. There are probably other jazz albums out there that belong on my list, and maybe some classical and R&B, maybe even a little old-time country. Rap? Got that covered with Public Enemy. Reggae? I don't really care for it that much. Klezmer? Oi? Chorale? Classical? Bring it on, people, if you have suggestions. Bring. It. On.

I don't know - there's probably some stuff I missed. But it's a moot point now: I'm done here. Thank you all for participating in the Top 50. Time to pack up and move on with the rest of our lives ...

Monday, October 5, 2009

number one fever

There's a special feeling in the air these days, and I'm not talking about the approach of autumn. It's called ... Number One Fever! Can you feel it??? So much anticipation to find out what the big Number One pick is gonna be! Can almost cut it with a knife. But don't worry, people, you'll find out soon enough: as soon as I get 10 guesses.

Come on, phone 'em in! Don't be shy. Let's see what you all think it might be. I've had a lot of fun with all this, and decided it was time to let everyone else join in. There'll be a special prize for anyone who gets it right. And don't forget the secret clue I gave out, not too long ago ...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

number two

2. Pink Floyd, The Wall. Believe it or not, this was a tough call for me. Because of my self-imposed limit of only one Top 50 album per band, I had to choose between The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, a hellish task for anyone but especially for a committed Pink Floyd lover. And also, Meddle, an egregiously overlooked album. While the first two get most of the acclaim, Meddle contains one of the most mind-blowing and awe-inspiring songs of all time: "Echoes," a psychedelic descent into the underworld and back again with Roger Waters and David Gilmour as your guides instead of Virgil (you know, like in the Divine Comedy). It takes up an entire album side, and yet there's not a wasted moment in the whole song. Damn! And Side A is not too shabby, either ("One of These Days," "A Pillow of Winds," etc etc.)

So how to choose between The Wall and Dark Side? Again, it's not easy. (Damn!) But there were a few factors favoring The Wall: A) Dark Side has already gotten a lot of glory from staying on the charts longer than any other album in rock history. B) The Wall is a double album. Twice the fun. C) The Wall is also a movie. Not just any movie - one of the best rock-related movies ever made, too. (Is anyone out there going to deny it??? Please.)

So, I reluctantly gave the nod to The Wall, even though it slips a little right at the end, especially "The Trial." But before then ... oh mama, what an album. All the torment in Roger Water's life - the death of his father during WWII, the painful childhood, his rage at Nazi Germany and the English educational system, his conflicted relationship with fans and his own culpability in buying into the excesses of rock-star life - somehow all gets channeled into this cohesive work of amazing rock music. And it seems that every other song has a filthy David Gilmour guitar solo - what other album has so many filthy guitar solos? Just filthy. I can't decide which is my favorite: "Comfortably Numb?" Does that beat out his raging, filthy solos in "Run Like Hell" and "Young Lust," or the guitar work in "In the Flesh" and its reprise? I don't know. And then the little treasures, like the quiet, beautiful piano in "Nobody Home." And the sound effects: the sound of a descending dive bomber, abruptly seguing into a baby's cry. Just cool as hell.

This is the album that tore one of my favorite bands apart, to the point where they could never really get it together again. Their follow-up album, The Final Cut, was a forgettable mix of leftovers from The Wall, and the last album made with the intact line-up. Pink Floyd continued on without Roger Waters, but probably shouldn't have. Everything that followed The Wall was just an afterthought. It may have torn the band apart, but what a way to go.

(A final note: check out the bluegrass version of The Wall by Canadian band Luther Wright and the Wrongs! Both reverential and hilarious.)