Saturday, September 26, 2009

number three

3. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
The Beatles, The White Album
The Who, The Who Sell Out
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV
Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

I recently got an email from a Mad City fan, hungry for me to resume my countdown, who asked if one of the "Big Three" was going to be at the top. And by that, I think he meant the first 3 bands here. And I know there's been a lot of curiosity and anxiety out there about the remainder of the Top 5, and who was I going to leave out. Because I think some of you were expecting one or more of these albums or bands to make an earlier appearance; and obviously, if I was at Number Three, I couldn't include all of them.

Or could I? I guess my Number Three proves once again that I didn't come from the mold: I broke it. Or something along those lines. You know what I mean, right? Basically, what I'm trying to say is that you cannot predict what's next with me. I'm unpredictable. And this proves it.

So here's my way of thinking: you can't do a Top 50 Albums and leave any of these artists out. They're lodged in there. They're like the Mt. Rushmore of Rock, if Mt. Rushmore had 5 presidents on it. These are monster albums. But let's face it: these guys are also dinosaurs. They're like Godzilla: part dinosaur, part monster. And if you know you have to include them, and you only have 50 spots to work with, that's like 10 percent of your list, and that doesn't leave a lot of room for new or unconventional picks. Voila! Let's lump them all together, near the top. That way, they're all included (as is admittedly necessary), but I've also got like 98 percent of my list to play with still.

As for the individual selections here, I guess there might be some controversy. I guess there are some people out there who don't think The White Album is the Beatles' greatest effort, etc. But I also guess that I'm a sucker for a good double album. But even then, there's controversy: The Who Sell Out over Tommy? It's a tough call, but I think Sell Out is an under-recognized gem, and something about Tommy always freaked me out a little. Just a little too psychedelic and self-indulgent for my taste.

So who's stoked for my final two? All of you, I bet. So, here's a little preview: coming up next is the greatest double album of all time. And at the top is the greatest album of all time, period. And remember the term "Godzilla." Godzilla Godzilla Godzilla ...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

number four

4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced. I am going to go out on a limb, and proclaim that Jimi Hendrix was the coolest son of a bitch in the history of rock. A lot of people believe he was the greatest rock guitarist ever, and I agree, but even more importantly in my mind, he was a cool son of a bitch. And that was reflected in his music. For all the acclaim his guitar-playing received, he was a pretty damn good singer too, and an amazing songwriter. "Little Wing" - hell of a song.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear on Are You Experienced, but that's one of the few flaws of this album. I still remember the first time I heard "Purple Haze": riding in the carpool to high school, with Shane DiMaio's mother driving. Greatest song of all time? It's certainly up there. And without question, the opening guitar solo ... to my mind, it kind of summarizes rock and roll, in the space of about 10 seconds. It's rock boiled down to its essence. And somehow, Jimi found a way to rock hard in so many different ways, without ever sounding like he was borrowing from his other work. "Fire" sounds completely different from "Foxey Lady," which sounds completely different from "Manic Depression." And "Hey Joe" is completely different in a different way. But put them all together, and it creates one of the most memorable albums of all time.

It's kind of hard to believe Jimi was only 27 when he died. Sweet Jesus, what would he had done if he'd lived for even 5 more years? Or was alive now? He'd only be 67 years old. Just barely drawing Social Security. Playing the guitar with his gums, and then smashing it with his walker. But somehow, he would still make it look cool. Damn ...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

number five

5. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief. Radiohead has been the greatest band in the world for - what? Five years now? Or has it been even longer than that? Their music is consistently innovative, sophisticated, complex and yet accessible at the same time. I'm amazed sometimes at how sound is put together on some of their songs to create something beautiful without any readily identifiable melody. This Thom Yorke fellow: clearly a tormented genius. Maybe the other guys in the band are, too.

But here's the question: what is Radiohead's opus grande? It's an easy question to answer for a lot of other acts. Michael Jackson, for all his fame and King of Pop status, really had only one good album. Bruce Springsteen had a number of great albums, but most critics and fans agree that Born to Run is numero uno. U2? They may have been the biggest (but not necessarily the greatest) band in the world at one time. What was their best effort? My money's on Achtung Baby, but I also acknowledge that there may be less of a consensus there.

But Radiohead - man, that's tough. For quite a while, I had Kid A pegged for this spot. A great album, with my favorite Radiohead song ("Morning Bell") and a lot of other good ones. OK Computer also has a big following. And I know one wayward soul who recently spoke highly of In Rainbows, almost as if he thought that might be their best. (Sure, you could get it for free, more or less, but better than Kid A or Hail to the Thief? Come on ...)

No, I'm gonna have to go with Hail to the Thief. It starts off with a blistering hit ("2+2 = 5"), proceeds through a bunch of other great songs (including maybe my 2nd-favorite RH song, "Where I End and You Begin"), and just keeps on going. And just when you think RH couldn't fit any more great songs on one album - you know, when you're getting to the point around song #10 where even great albums typically crap out with a bunch of filler material - all the sudden you get this insane electronica groove with "Myxomatosis." (And what other band could put out a song called "Myxomatosis," that's about myxomatosis, that actually sounds this good?) And then you close with "A Wolf at the Door," a glorious burst of hope, the perfect closing song.

So it's a great album. Although, to be honest, there are other albums in my Top 20 that I may enjoy listening to a little more. But Radiohead is the greatest band in the world, and has been for a while, and for that reason alone and on the strength of several other albums, they deserve to be in the Top 5. Some have accused me of "cheating" by ranking certain albums based on the cumulative output of the artist, but I think that's unfair, and such an ugly word! I prefer the term "cognitive dissonance," or maybe "myxomatosis." Yeah, "myxomatosis." I like that ...