Everybody loves lists. I've got my picks, you've got yours, and life's just made for the fussin' over 'em. As long as you don't take them too seriously, they're lots of fun. Here are 75 albums that I like a lot and I consider in some way essential. Not all are deathless classics, but all are certainly more than worthy of your time. The one rule I had is to only list each artist once. I thought about leaving off compilations, but that would exclude too many greats like Chuck Berry, so I put a few essential ones one there. It's mostly albums, though, and I only picked comps if I felt the artists didn't put out albums I love through and through. If I didn't limit myself to one album per artist, I'd have a stack of Beatles albums on there, and that wouldn't work at all, now would it? Why 75? Well, it's a nice round number and I didn't have quite enough for 100 and too much would have gotten left out with only 50. I suppose I'll get around to providing full-length reviews of all of these eventually. Meanwhile, enjoy!
P.S. There's no qualitive, better-best order ranking here. That'd be too much of a headache, so I listed them more or less chronologically.1. Chuck Berry: The Great 28
Ulp! It seems like I went over 75. Guess I miscalculated a bit. Okay, to round it out to 80 I suppose I'll have to add a couple more. #79's easy since I forgot all about The Ultimate Otis Redding for the '60s. #80 should probably be something released in the past couple of years, but I couldn't think of anything (of course ten years from now I'll no doubt fondly remember at least a dozen classics from 1997 and 1998: the past always gets rosier with hindsight, and the present always seems depressing even when it isn't, which is why you shouldn't bitch too much about how "music sucks nowadays compared to that great old stuff"). I realize that I'm very deficient in '90s albums, and there's a simple reason for that: new CDs are much more expensive than bargain bin tapes and budget-priced "classics". When faced with the difference between $2 for a tape of the first Pretenders album to $16+tax for the new Apples In Stereo, which one do you think I'm going to pick? You see, unlike most rock critics who receive new albums in the mail for free, I actually had to go out to record stores and purchase all my albums on my own. I generally make a habit of waiting a couple of years or so after release to purchase an album in the used CD/cutout bins, a habit which enables me to listen to a lot of music for half the price. I take quite a few chances when I buy music, and I'll give most anything a try unless it's in a genre I know I don't care for, like death-metal industrial music for instance.
My list looks both very conventional and fairly eclectic, I suppose. My criteria basically was for it to be an album I actually enjoy listening to quite a bit. Not all the albums are created equal, of course - the Smiths aren't in the same league as the Replacements, for example. Some of these albums I rank five *****, some four ****; none of them I would rank less than that. I didn't want to rank these albums in better-best order because that ranking would change on a weekly, even daily, basis. If you're curious, for the past few months I've thought that Mott is the greatest rock'n'roll album of all time. The biggest fault of this list is that it's incomplete. There are plenty of artists whose albums I don't have and haven't listened to yet. I also left off stuff that I haven't heard in a long while and don't have a copy of - I'm sure both Sam & Dave's Greatest Hits and AC/DC's Back In Black would make the list if I recall correctly.
Update 3/26/98: Well, I have heard Sleater-Kinney's Dig Me Out now, and it's pretty fun but I'll have to let it sink in a while before I add it to the list. I also recently found a tape of Back In Black for a quarter - yep, that's right - and I most definitely won't add it: it's much spottier than I remembered. Why can't those guys come up with an entire album of songs as good as "You Shook Me All Night Long"? There are several bands from the '90s that I'm mulling over for inclusion, also. The problem is that '90s albums are still fresh and I haven't quite made up my definitive mind about some of them yet. I mean, I've heard Led Zeppelin all my life and despite my disgust with their pomposity and tunelessness, I have to admit that every so now and then they really blow my mind and rock my world, dude. Certain albums sound great when they first come out, but wear thin and don't hold up several years later. Which is to say that, for example, I really dig the Pulsars' eponymous debut that came out this year but I don't know how I'll feel about it next year. This of course is an ongoing list; it only ends when I stop hearing new albums I like, which hopefully won't be happening anytime soon. Stay tuned.
Update 7/20/98: I take that back about Sleater-Kinney; I was impressed at first, but it's far too lacking in melodic interest for me to actually play the album much. Two albums I've recently aquired need to be added to the list for sure, though. Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes' Greatest Hits - Wake up everybody, Teddy Pendergrass is '70s Soul Brother #2 (anyone who's heard Al Green's voice doesn't have to think twice about who #1 is) - satisfaction guaranteed. Also, they just rereleased Tommy Keene's long out of print power pop masterpiece Songs From the Film (1986) with 9 bonus tracks - textbook hooks and melodies that were unbelievably ignored by the public, the sad fate of many post-Beatles master pop craftsmen from Alex Chilton on down.
Update 9/4/98: Two more albums from the early new wave/postpunk epoch I'm going to add to the list. Television's Marquee Moon, which I've actually owned for years but never gotten into all that much - until recently. I read this article from Perfect Sound Forever that, like a good piece of music criticism should, inspired me to revisit this album that I hadn't played in quite some time. And immediately afterwards I wanted to smack myself for missing its obvious brilliance for so long. It's a guitar solo album, which I'm usually allergic to (and undoubtedly the reason I felt pretty lukewarm towards in the past), but Tom Verlaine isn't wanking off - his solos are highly melodic and work with the songs, not against them. And unlike, say, Jimi Hendrix, a brilliant guitarist who couldn't write a decent song to save his life, Verlaine can write real songs with catchy pop melodies and grace. The other album is Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, which I've recently aquired; quite a bit of their other work can be suicidally depressive (sorry) and boring, but their 1979 debut has verve, energy, and hooks, as well as being startlingly original (some might claim that Joy Division were the most influential British of the '80s, staking out the moody postpunk turf that it seems 75% of bands from the-island-where-it-always-rains have mined for the past two decades). I don't like goth most of the time, but this album doesn't sound like their other work - "Interzone" is even heavy metal! - which is exactly why I like it. If it weren't to blame for Jesus & the Mary Chain and the Stone Roses, I'd like it even better.
Update 10/11/98: I've heard the guy all my life, but I've never gotten into him: Stevie Wonder. I just picked up a copy of Innervisions, and believe me that's going to change: the man is a marvel, and now I'm on the lookout for every '70s album of his I can get my hands on. It's time now for me to bitch about "classic rock" radio, which never really struck me as racist until I realized that the only black person they ever played was Jimi Hendrix. It's a shame that no radio stations play Stevie Wonder or any classic soul (except for the '60s material on oldies stations), which means that for most of my life I've never heard him as the musical prodigy he is - talk about harmonically inventive! Oh yeah, I suppose I oughta add Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart while I'm at it - I've heard it plenty of times before; I just overlooked it, which is easy to do considering what happened later. But in the early days, he was quite good. At this rate, I might reach a Top 100!
Update 11/07/98: I haven't included any compilations on this list for rather obvious aesthetic reasons. However, I am now going to make one huge exception: Nuggets. This collection of '60s garage bands, originally compiled in 1972 by Lenny Kaye, is hands down the most important various artist anthology in rock history: it rewrote the canon and challenged ideas about what is and isn't great rock art. I could spend a page or four discussing the ramifications upon fans and future musicians of the original Nuggets. I just bought the extended four-disc box set reissue, and it contains any number of flat-out amazing tracks. I'll set up a separate page for it eventually.
Update 3/01/99: Ho, ho, I might get around to filling out a Top 100 any day now. I haven't updated this page in a few months, but in the meantime I've discovered five albums that deserve inclusion. They are:
Brian Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) - Ex-Roxy Music synthwiz embarks upon a solo career of enigmatically twisted pop. Suspicious of the tight strictures of popular music, he fiddles around with standard rock instrumentation and band arrangements to arrive at a genuinely new subversion of the same old rock'n'roll. Actually, he's essentially doing the same thing Brian Wilson and the Beatles did a decade earlier - progressive art-pop lives, which I much prefer to progressive art-rock (can't stand wank-off guitar solos). Here Come Warm Jets and Another Green World, from the same period, are also worth checking out.
The Gang of Four: Entertainment! (1979) - The sound of a quartet of Marxist graduate students who spent too much time taking Derrida and Barthes seriously rant against the dehumanizing forces of commodity capitalism. Sounds pretty tedious, huh? Actually, not at all; though a moderate grounding in post-structuralist theory helps, you don't have to have read a word of Adorno or Gramsci for the musical elements to impact. Go4 merge punk and funk more successfully and creatively than anyone before or since (that includes the Minutemen, for starters); genuinely new, and even more genuinely subversive, describe this disc as well. And yes, the title is ironic: "The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure".
Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak (1976) - Ireland's most underrated band, at least by the critics; some might write this off as run-of-the-mill '70s metal, but it's got a soulful depth that sets it apart. Not to mention terrific hooks, memorable melodies, and great rock'n'roll drive. Led by songwriter Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy's best album comes from the same place Springsteen, Mott the Hoople, and the Boomtown Rats did, only with a slightly louder volume level.
The Undertones: The Undertones (1979) - More Irish; actually, Northern Irish, from Belfast, to boot - but these lads don't sing about terrorist violence, they sing about girls and Mars bars. Silly, sure - "I wanna be a male model!" - and it's the best punk bubblegum you'll chew into this side 'o the Ramones. In fact it's the best album the Ramones or the Hollies never released; I can't imagine anyone who likes poppy little tunes with cranked guitars hating this. There are some folks who don't like poppy tunes with guitars, you know.
Roy Wood: Boulders (1973) - I've never been overwhelmingly impressed by the Move (an opinion based, admittedly, on the one album of theirs I own), but Wood's first solo LP is a pure delight. As he did in the Move, Wood seems to have based his entire career on duplicating the Beatles' White Album: to call his taste for eclecticism insane would be an understatement, as he ranges from mock-classical motifs to bluegrass to '50s sockhop. The style he does best, though, is Beatlesque pop, surprise surprise. This has been long out of print for years and has never been released on CD, but if you do happen to find a copy, you're in for a real treat.
Post Your Comments
Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program