Year By Year Picks: 1965-1997
As if my Top 75 list wasn't enough, I've decided create another. These are my picks for album of the year. I started in 1965 because before then the album as a sustained piece of work was fairly rare; the recording industry concentrated on singles for the most part. I ended with 1997 because 1998 just ended a few months ago and I haven't made up my mind yet. As with my first list, I only listed an artist once to avoid all sorts of messy complications.1965 Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
By the way, 1998 sucked pretty badly, which is why there's no selection from that year yet. Lauryn Hill was okay, but vastly overrated, as was everyone else who made the critics' picks for that lame year. So far 1999 hasn't been much better, but hopefully the situation will improve.
As you might guess, some years were better than others, as it always is. 1990, 1986, and 1974 were all particularly bad years. Aside from Roxy Music, Big Star, Steely Dan, and Bob Dylan's comeback, there was little good music from 1974 - unless you just love southern rock, disco, Bad Company's debut, and Mr. "I'm so hip I'm a nerd" Tarintino's soundtracks of campy pop jingles along the lines of Menudo and "Stuck In The Middle With Glue" - yecch. I'm not the world's biggest expert on rap music, but rock and roll was so dead and overproduced in 1986 that it was easily trounced by two of the decade's most influential rap albums. Of course, this was before rap starting taking its cultural signifigance too seriously and stopped being something you could actually dance to (Beastie Boys' latest included): these two albums are actually musically adventurous and possess both monster beats and hooks - they aren't lamely sampling whole some old Police or Roberta Flack song and making a career out of it. 1990 might be the worst year in certain ways; even my favorites of that era - the Pixies, Replacements, Midnight Oil - released subpar albums. So the honor goes to another rap group, Public Enemy, who may be the greatest hip-hop group ever: as I said, I'm not a huge fan of rap, but I'm blown away by the musical textures and fierce intelligence of this record (even when I don't agree with some of their questionable politics). The late '80s and early '90s were the great years of rap, when it came into its own and blossomed into many different and interesting directions; too bad it's become so stagnant, lame, lazy, and stupid in the past few years. 1995 was also fairly weak; it was the Year of the Clones, some of which (Elastica's Wire/Buzzcocks recontextualization) turned out to be quite entertaining, but most (Rancid's Clash revival, Alanis & Co.'s Patti Smith/P.J. Harvey/Liz Phair fake angst/anger, not to mention the hordes of Nirvana-bes) were practically unstomachable. Supergrass, other than a vague reminder of the Small Faces (more in spirit and attitude than actual sound), were one the few bands that didn't come across as a high-concept cover band. Actually, I was tempted to put down Oasis, but realized that I haven't actually played What's The Story, Morning Glory in six months - too busy listening to the Beatles. One more thing to consider: I haven't actually heard most of the good albums from 1995, so that year in particular should be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, I haven't heard all the good albums from 1965-1998, so my entire list should be taken with a grain of salt! Now, if somebody started mailing me free albums (hint, hint....)
1966 (rock realized that it wasn't just teenage fluff, but could really be art, for the first time), 1968 (arty impulses got out of hand after rock realized that it was art back in '66, so the Beatles/Dylan/Stones/Kinks/Beach Boys/Byrds etc. got back to their roots with good, basic rock), 1973 (seminally proto-punk from the Stooges to Mott to the Dolls), 1977-1980 (the heighth of the punk/new wave era, how could those years not be great?), 1984 (American Indie Rock's first flowering), 1987 (the backlash against Reagan and oversynthed '80s fluff gave us some great politicized, stripped down real rock and roll albums - just like '68), 1991 (the year alternative broke and the year hair metal died - how can you not love it? Unfortunately, most of the alternative music that came in the wake of Nirvana made one pine for the upfront, unpretentious phoniness of hair metal - and those '80s hard rock bands played tighter, too), and 1994 (here comes the grunge backlash, as Britpop takes over in Britain and in America more good power pop bands than usual put out more than the usual amount of good-to-great music. Full throttle guitar rock was given back what it needed the most - MELODIES and HOOKS), were all very good years.
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