11:47 a.m. - December 13, 2005
Some of you may notice that there’s not a lot of contemporary stuff on these lists. And there are a couple of good reasons for that.
1. For an album to be considered here – it needs to stand the tests of time, unless it knocks you off your feet the first time you hear it. A great album must be aged like a fine wine so that you know in three years you won’t listen to it, cringe, and then rend your clothes like Job for penance of liking some histrionical crap.
Onward, rockin’ soldiers:
Revolver - The Beatles
Summary: Many consider this the Beatles masterpiece, and I think it’s right up there. It’s bold an experimental, and has something for everyone. It doesn’t sound dated like Sgt. Pepper. There are no wasted tracks, and each Beatle is given ample room to show what he can do.
Positives: John becomes trippy (“Tomorrow Never Knows”, “I’m Only Sleeping”, “Dr. Robert”, George shows he can write songs as well as the other two if given the chance, and Paul’s material could have been schmaltzy (especially “Good Day Sunshine” and “Here, There and Everywhere”), but they really work and are heartfelt instead of over the top. Oh, and “For No One” is one of the best songs ever.
Drawbacks: The original American version was butchered by removing three of John’s songs to put on another album, which was the last time they did that to a Beatles album.
Verdict: It’s either this one or Rubber Soul as the best Beatles albums. Flip a coin.
Random Trivia: That’s Paul on lead guitar on “Taxman”, not George.
Positives: The interplay between the bassist, drummer and guitarist is tremendous. Most all of the songs are brilliant, biting, and poignant.
Drawbacks: Sometimes the vocals are a bit strident, but the lyrics are so powerful that voice is needed to convey the message.
Verdict: So many bands were influenced by this band and this record, to spell them out would take pages and pages.
Random Trivia: They were supposedly Marxists, however, they seem to have fallen into the “reunite for the money” game that so many other bands have played.
Second Edition - Public Image, Limited
Summary: John Lydon (erstwhile Rotten) shows he has one great album in him, after all. A landmark record that broke some boundaries of what ‘punk rock’ was supposed to sound like. It’s a fragile, edgy record, and it’s no surprise that the band imploded within the next few years.
Positives: The first half of the record is classic – with a menacing bass rumble and a diabolical guitar guiding tracks like “Albatross” and “Memories”, then spacy electronics and noise shattering the air in “Careering”.
Drawbacks: The album runs out of gas near the end, and Lydon’s sneer becomes a bit wearing and annoying over time.
Verdict: It’s too bad Lydon is an ass, (and a real cartoon character as well), because this is an important and vital work in shaping the musical landscape in the 80’s and beyond.
Random Trivia: This album was originally titled “Metal Box” and indeed, it came in a metal box much like a film canister, on three 12” 45-RPM records. The American record company decided against that packaging when they released it here.
Summary: One of the most perfect power-pop albums ever. Sweet and his band of veteran alternative scenesters make an album that is pert near perfect. Sweet can write a rock song, and he can also write achingly lovely ballads.
Positives: The title track is perfection in itself, but songs like “Looking For the Sun”, “I’ve Been Waiting”, and “Evangeline” hold their own.
Drawbacks: It’s a rare 15-cut album that has no filler. It’s all killer.
Verdict: You will sing along to every track on this album, guaranteed. Sweet’s melodies and harmonies are ethereal, and his backing band supports him with gusto.
Random Trivia: Sweet used Richard Lloyd (from Television) and Robert Quine (from the Voidoids) on guitar – two veterans from the 1970’s punk scene in NYC.
Decade - Neil Young
Summary: Young released a lot of fine albums, but this compliation (originally a 3-record set) is a must have for it’s non-album cuts, Buffalo Springfield work, and tracks from collaborations.
Positives: While it doesn’t contain EVERY essential song Young wrote and performed from 1966 through 1976, it is a great overview and really makes you want to explore his catalog in its entirety.
Drawbacks: It tends to avoid some of his edgier work in the mid-70’s. Oh, and I could live without “A Man Needs A Maid”. I really could.
Verdict: It’s amazing to think that Young did all of this in ten years, but he was so prolific at the time he had a couple of other full albums still in the can when he released this. It’s a great portrait of a major artist.
Random Trivia: “Sugar Mountain” was never on an actual album before this release.
Trust - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Summary: Costello records his most varied album to date, refusing to be pigeonholed. He experiments with various styles and moods, and the result is an evocative and powerful album.
Positives: “Clubland”, “Watch Your Step”, “Lover’s Walk”, “Strict Time”, “New Lace Sleeves”, and I could go on and on and on. As you can see, the songs are all disparte sounding, yet they also hold together well.
Drawbacks: The CD has a lot of bonus cuts, and while most are good songs, I think they tend to dilute the impact of Costello’s albums. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it, just program it properly!
Verdict: I think this album shows Costello at his best.
Random Trivia: That’s Glenn Tillbrook from Squeeze singing with Elvis on “From a Whisper to a Scream”
Then Play On - Fleetwood Mac
Summary: A great album for those of you who love the guitar, and for those of you who are curious about pre-Buckingham / Nicks Fleetwood Mac.
Positives: Peter Green’s guitar work is magnificent throughout. The song “Oh Well” is a staple, with a rocking first half and a stunning beautiful acoustic second half. Danny Kirwan also makes a good impression with “Coming Your Way”.
Drawbacks: It may be a tad bit long – perhaps a couple of tracks could have been trimmed to make a more concise statement.
Verdict: If you’re expecting songs like “Don’t Stop” – then forget it. This is the pinnacle of Fleetwood Mac’s career.
Random Trivia: Both Green and Jeremy Spencer left Fleetwood Mac a short time later to join religious groups and / or cults (and were quite under the influence at the time). Kirwan was kicked out of the band in 1972 for erratic behavior.
Summary: The last album by this group of Christian Marxists (no kidding!) – it’s full of tuneful little pop ditties that hide a venomous lyrical bite.
Positives: P. D. Heaton’s vocal range is astounding (see “The World’s On Fire”), and his lyrics make the album. The songs themselves really do cloak their sarcastic tones in inventive arrangements.
Drawbacks: A couple of cuts seem like they’re just thrown in here for good measure. Oh, and they really throw in the obscure British references that we naïve Americans won’t ever get.
Verdict: You’ll tap your toe, and then you’ll be forced to think when you start to realize what the lyrics are all about.
Random Trivia: Heaton later formed the Beautiful South, while bassist Norman Cook you now know as Fatboy Slim.
All Mod Cons - The Jam
Summary: The Jam break through writer’s block, put a disappointing second album behind them, and come up with an album that charts their course for the rest of their career.
Positives: There’s really a Kinks’ influence here (and they DO cover “David Watts”). Paul Weller becomes observational and uses great imagery in his songs. The music moves away from Who-like proto-punk and becomes more varied and dynamic.
Drawbacks: There are a couple of less than stellar cuts, but none that will make you want to hit the skip button on the CD player.
Verdict: This is the album that focuses the Jam’s career, and they are now vital, influential and important artists for all time.
Random Trivia: The Jam formed while they were still in school in the mid-70’s.
One Sided Story - The Pursuit of Happiness
Summary: Moe Berg and his band of Canadians create a second album with tuneful power-pop. There are memorable hooks, crunchy riffs, nice harmonies, and a quirky, wry sense about the whole album.
Positives: This has more varied arrangements than many of the other TPOH albums, as Berg and produced Todd Rundgren pull out all the stops. The first 2/3 of the album is quite strong.
Drawbacks: Berg’s lyrics can tend to be a bit male-centric, and sometimes he reaches for a lyric that makes people squirm a bit.
Verdict: It’s rather obscure now, but this album definitely deserved more of a listen than it got in 1990.
Random Trivia: The band’s fanclub was called “The Love Slaves of the Pursuit of Happiness”.