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11:24 a.m. - December 17, 2005
Another List of 10 of the 150 Albums I Dig the Most
It’s time yet again for another installment of 10 of the 150 (or so) albums that I dig the most. Did you think I’d stop this list now? Au contraire! By my calculations this is the halfway point of the list, and let me tell you what, some of the best is yet to come.

Being a weekend, I thought I’d go a little footloose and fancy free for this listing of 10. They may be quirky, they may be surprising, but all in all I think they’re pretty darn groovy.

If you missed an installment, hit my Older Essays and peruse at your leisure.

With that being said, let’s carry on:

Lincoln - They Might Be Giants

Summary: The madcap duo hits its peak early in its career, with a laugh-a-minute record encompassing all kinds of styles.

Positives: Where to start? “Ana Ng”, “Purple Toupee”, “Kiss Me, Son Of God”, “Santa’s Beard”, “Snowball In Hell”, “Cage and Aquarium” all are hi-freakin-larious (technical term).

Drawbacks: When a joke is flat – it’s flat. There aren’t may flat ones here, though.

Verdict: Definitely their best album cover to cover.

Random Trivia: Their Dial-A-Song service still works! 718-387-6962. But beware, it’s always busy and often broken! But don’t fret, they have Dial A Song on the web, too.


Absolutely Free - The Mothers of Invention

Summary: Frank Zappa’s second album is not as ambitious as his first attempt, but it’s a more cohesive album that has two landmark suites of comedy and commentary.

Positives: The first side with the “Duke of Prunes” / “Call Any Vegetable” suite is possible the best work the original Mothers of Invention did. The music chops are astounding, and the writing is sharp and funny.

Drawbacks: The expanded CD adds a rare single, which is nice, but puts it in the middle of the sides of the album, which isn’t so nice.

Verdict: The best of the early Mothers and definitely worth looking into, especially if you know Zappa’s later work.

Random Trivia: “Amnesia Vivace” part of the “Duke of Prunes” suite, quotes from Stravisnky’s “The Rite of Spring.”


Notorious Byrd Brothers - The Byrds

Summary: The original Byrds, falling apart at the seams, put out their definitive album, experimenting with production techniques and sounds, before shattering and later regrouping into the first country-rock band.

Positives: The first side, starting with “Artificial Energy” through “Get To You” is an absolute classic, and the second side isn’t shabby, either.

Drawbacks: “Space Odyssey” is a bit tedious and some of the bonus tracks were best left in the can.

Verdict: It may sound a wee bit dated, but it’s definitely the best Byrds album track for track. No hits, but who cares!

Random Trivia: David Crosby was booted from the group halfway through the sessions, and even though many of the harmonies are stunning, he’s rarely heard in them. (He’s nowhere to be found on “Goin’ Back”, which have breathtaking harmonies.)


Bringing It All Back Home - Bob Dylan

Summary: A landmark album, as Dylan leaves proper folk in the dust and goes electric on the first side, with stunning results. The acoustic second side isn’t real folk music either. It’s a classic that shook up the folk establishment.

Positives: This is the album with “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Maggie’s Farm”, plus many, many other classics.

Drawbacks: I don’t play the second side as much as the first, but that’s not indicting it at all.

Verdict: This is the start of Dylan’s phenomenal 1965-66 era where he had the world in his hand.

Random Trivia: “Maggie’s Farm” was the song he played at the Newport Folk Convention, electrically, that got everyone’s in a bunch, and caused a lot of people to think of him as a “Judas” in the folk world.


Sad Wings of Destiny - Judas Priest

Summary: Am I off my rocker? Yeah, a bit. But this is rather much the start of Judas Priest, the band, and Judas Priest, the sound. Quite influential, and it rocks hard, of course.

Positives: “Victim of Changes”, “Ripper”, “Tyrant”, “Genocide” are all classic example of Priest and the building blocks of the new wave of English heavy metal and other metal sub-genres.

Drawbacks: They try to do actual ballads, and it’s just not them.

Verdict: Something to explore if you want to know the genesis of the new wave of heavy metal in the 70’s and 80’s. Oh, that and “Victim of Changes” contains every heavy metal cliché in the book.

Random Trivia: Well, by my count, they went through at least seven drummers. Maybe more.


Let It Bleed - The Rolling Stones

Summary: The Stones reach the end of the 60’s on a definite high, with this album full of menacing tracks contained in a tight groove.

Positives: “Monkey Man”, “Live With Me”, “Gimme Shelter”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Need I say more?

Drawbacks: “Country Honk” is kind of a reach.

Verdict: The best Stones albums of the 60’s and possibly of all time.

Random Trivia: Released after Brian Jones passed away, he played on two of the tracks, as did replacement Mick Taylor, so basically for half the album the Stones were a four piece.


Argybargy - Squeeze

Summary: A classic pop album with new wave smarts, Argybargy contains the best songs that Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook would ever come up with, and the arrangements are varied, fun and fascinating.

Positives: Starting strong with “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Another Nail in My Heart”, the album doesn’t let up until almost the very end, as each track is strong and unique.

Drawbacks: “Wrong Side Of the Moon” sounds just a bid out of place

Verdict: If you are interested in Squeeze, start here.

Random Trivia: Jools Holland would leave after this album to start a solo career and later a TV host in Britain.


Beatles For Sale - The Beatles

Summary: The Beatles sound weary, because of their insane touring schedule, but they come up with a minor, low-key classic that’s a personal favorite, even if the critics don’t agree.

Positives: “No Reply”, “I’m A Loser” and “Baby’s In Black” is a killer way to start the record, but there are several other tracks that people don’t always hear, like “I Don’t Want To Spoil the Party”, “What You’re Doing”, and “Every Little Thing”.

Drawbacks: “Mister Moonlight” can just leave, now. They had a better song in the can that they didn’t use.

Verdict: Not their best, but it’s a fascinating album because of its mood and feel.

Random Trivia: In America, when Capitol originally released these tracks, they were split between Beatles ‘65 and Beatles VI.


Cheap Trick at Budokan - Cheap Trick

Summary: Sometimes, a live album can kick start a career. It worked for Frampton, and now it works for Cheap Trick. Drawing from their first three records, it’s a dynamite introduction to the band.

Positives: The expanded CD, with the entire concert, is the way to hear this, as the pacing is great, the playing is terrific, and the band has a lot of energy.

Drawbacks: It’s an almost perfect rock-and-roll show. There are no drawbacks to be found, except that it took too long to release the entire concert.

Verdict: This album will make you want to find the first three Cheap Trick albums and play them forever.

Random Trivia: The success of this album delayed the release of Dream Police which may have gotten the band off track in the 80’s.


Dire Straits - Dire Straits

Summary: A brilliant, yet understated, debut album. Mark Knopfler’s playing and semi-Dylanesque highlight a great set of pub rock songs with country and blues underpinnings.

Positives: “Down to the Waterline”, “Setting Me Up” and of course “Sultans of Swing”.

Drawbacks: “In the Gallery” and “Wild West End” drag on and on a bit, which was a problem for Knopfler later in his career. Hey Mark, can you end that song, please?

Verdict: It’s a great debut and really was a unique album in the Dire Straits canon, as they’d never sound this relaxed again.

Random Trivia: “Setting Me Up” was a country hit for Highway 101 (#7 in 1989).

 

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