The Great Wall of Music: Albums 370-361

  1. Mott The Hoople – Mott

Mott the Hoople. Last time these guys were on the list, I mocked their name and then shared how I appreciated their sound. Well, they’re back and, once again, I can see why this album ranks higher than the last. Though Bowie’s production added certain elements to their last album, this one comes back with big rock sounds that are more definitively glam (you can hear it in the guitar solos). However, for all this, it doesn’t prevent them from getting more reflective on tracks like “Ballad of Mott the Hoople.”

Highlights: All The Way Down from Memphis, Honaloochie Boogie, Ballad of Mott the Hoople

  1. The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs

There are a few reasons why I love the fact this album is listed. First, because I appreciate The Smiths. Second, because it’s home to my favorite song from this band (“William, It Was Really Nothing”). Lastly, because it’s also home to The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s anthem (“Asleep”). Only thing about this release is that rather than a cohesive album, it’s a collection of singles put together to help The Smiths break into America. Still, that has its benefits. “Is It Really So Strange?” comes in loud just like the title suggests. “Shoplifters of the World Unite” has a killer guitar solo. While I don’t know if it’s quite as sexually frustrated as their other release on this list I don’t think Morrissey ever really gets too far away from the tension. Side note: if all these amazing acts come out of the UK, why are they so concerned with breaking out in the America? If anything, we should be trying to get over there.

Highlights: Is It Really So Strange?, William, It Was Really Nothing, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Please, Please, Please, Let Met Get What I Want 

  1. The Eagles – The Eagles

“Take It Easy,” they said and take it easy you will want to. It’s just that laidback. I mentioned Counting Crows on Jackson Browne when it came to lyrics but if they didn’t at least take some of their musical cues from The Eagles then I don’t know a thing about music. This album easily could’ve been the inspiration behind Recovering the Satellites. It’s rock but with a hint of country and some swooning harmonies. Of course, I’d heard “Hotel California” but this was my first real Eagles album.

Highlight: Take It Easy, Nightingale, Earlybird, Tryin’

  1. Madonna – Rays of Light

Unfortunately, this is a mixture of almost all the genres I explicitly stated I wasn’t a fan of. I hear Sinead O’Connor. I hear the Eurythmics. I hear trip-hop (“Candy Perfume Girl”). What I will say is that Madonna is vulnerable from the very open, talking of the ways she traded fame for love. It’s spiritual, ethereal. Some of have noted this was a departure from her previous work, but seeing as to how I have never really listened to Madonna, I wouldn’t know. Sonically it’s airy, almost hollow, as if you’re getting a taste but not the full thing. Not my favorite on the list but it has its own strengths.

Highlights: Swim, Ray of Light, Sky Fits Heaven, Little Star

  1. Johnny Cash – American Recordings

This is Johnny Cash’s 81st album. What the actual heck? 81 albums. I don’t even know how that’s remotely possible. On top of that it opens up with a crazy song like “Delia’s Gone” which talks about shooting this poor girl, Delia. I know Brian Fallon looks up to Springsteen a lot but “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” could’ve easily been a Gaslight song. I will say this though: it’s weird to hear this old man rap about texting. Maybe that’s Rick Rubin’s production.

Highlight: Let the Train Blow the Whistle, Why Me Lord, Bird on a Wire

  1. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine

For some reason, I couldn’t help but smile as this album started. Maybe because the sound is so iconic and so recognizably theirs: blistering, blaring rock with aggressive rap vocals. These guys are out to dismantle systems. By “Killing in the Name Of” came on, I had to just stop and admire its heaviness and aggression. You know how sometimes you’ll watch award shows and some epic performance comes on and they’re showing the audience, who knows the musical impact of the act so well that when the camera come to them all we see their collective admiration? That’s what this like. Like watching greatness in action, even 25 years after the fact. Every song is either close to five minutes over and yet somehow every second feels weighty. One of my favorites on the list.

Highlights: Bombtrack, Take the Power Back

  1. The Doors – L.A. Woman

This is Morrison’s last album with the band. He died shortly after this album. But I can hear its primal nature as well as James Brown and funk.. Not quite as obsessed with strange as Strange Days. I agree this a superior album to the one that was previously. “Been Down So Long” reminds me of the Albert King song, which I guess says something about the blues elements that get incorporated on this album, especially on a track “Cars Hiss By My Windows.” But “L’America” will show you the same band that wrote the song “Strange Days”.

Highlights: The Changeling, Love Her Madly, Hyacinth House, Riders on the Storm,

  1. New Order – Substance

I fell in love with this band a few years back (back when I thought I liked ‘80s new wave) with their song “Regret.” At the time I was looking for bands like Modern English and the Cure and of course these guys were shown to me. “Ceremony” feels like a predecessor to current bands like Modern Baseball and others who are trying to recapture this sound. However, on those occasions when they strip things down it reminds me of Suicide. At their best, they’re winsome and seductive, like LCD Soundsystem. “Perfect Kiss” reminds me a bit of the Cure. Be warned though: if you’re not huge on ‘80s new wave this a lot to listen to at one time.

Highlights: Ceremony, Temptation, Subculture, Bizarre Love Triangle, Lonesome Tonight

  1. The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

Like almost any other kid, my introduction of Smashing Pumpkins came with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I loved how they could be both aggressive and angry (“Bullet with Butterfly Wings) and yet beautiful and atmospheric (“Tonight, Tonight”). Then I had a friend show me “Disarm” and knew I had to dig back through the history. Corgan has a strange voice and yet it works. The guitars are overdriven, almost shoegaze-y. “Quiet” sounds like a car or a motorcycle, revving up and rearing down the highway. “Today” reminds me of everything I love about this band. I didn’t know a song called “Mayonaise” could sound so beautiful. I’m starting to find myself surprised by just how much grunge I actually enjoy.

Highlights:  Cherub Rock, Today, Hummer, Mayonaise, Luna

  1. OutKast – Stankonia

Less extraterrestrial than Aquemini, but still has that southern grit. This is the OutKast I came into. But in my head, it’s still not perfect. I don’t know what the point of “Snapping and Trapping” is. While I appreciate the update in sound in general, these guys get super vulgar. Normally I don’t mind based on context, but on first listen I have no idea what’s happening (We Luv Deez H**s, I’ll Call B4 I C**, Snappin’ & Trappin’). Maybe, the point is to convey life in the streets. In that sense, it’s conscious. But it would take me a few more listens to be sure. But nevertheless, I can see why it’s ranked higher than Aquemini

Highlight: So Fresh, So Clean, Mrs. Jackson, B.O.B., Humble Mumble

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 380-371

  1. Toots & the Maytals – Funky Kingston

If Marvin Gaye did reggae, it would sound exactly like this. But you know what? I dig it. I dig it a lot actually. I actually even kind of wonder where it’s been all my life. As someone who lives in the Caribbean, especially on an island with close ties to Jamaica, this album felt perfect. It’s no wonder why Rolling Stone hailed them as the biggest thing coming out of Jamaica after Bob Marley. This American debut is nothing but fun to listen to (and I’m not big on reggae).

Highlights: Time Tough, Love is Going Let Me Down, Pomps & Pride, Got to be There

  1. TLC – Crazysexycool

CLASSIC. From its sensuality and its swagger, this is R&B through and through. While the majority of these albums are like taking a step back in time, this has a special place in my heart. What ‘90s kid didn’t grow up singing “Waterfalls”, even in jest? But even that obvious track aside, there some gems on this rcord. All you can do is rock your head to “Kick Your Game”, “Digging on You” definitely has Babyface written all over it, even “Red Light Special” is great, though I feel guilty for liking it. At 16 songs, this thing could be long even if some of it is a bunch of interludes but if you’ve ever liked anything from TLC, you’ll love this album.

Highlights: Creep, Kick Your Game, Waterfalls

  1. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory

Back in college I had a roommate who had just started playing guitar, charming the floor of our residence hall with his rendition of “Wonderwall.” Of course, because for all my music listening I still managed to live under a rock, I had never heard the song. But apparently, if you play acoustic guitar, that’s the one song you must know how to play. But if “Wonderwall” is the only song you know from this group, you’ve missed out something incredible. First, they psych you out with the “Wonderwall” foretaste during the opening only to command your attention with “Hello”. “Roll with It” sounds like it paved the way for garage bands like The Vines. In fact, by the time “Wonderwall” came on it felt like I was with an old friend.  Both sonically and lyrically, it’s sounds like angst; and that’s only part of its charm. Apparently, this album was a significant departure from their debut album and people generally consider their debut the superior album. Well, if this is where you start with this band, then you’re in for a treat.

Highlights: Hello, Roll With it, Wonderwall, Some Might Say, Champagne Supernova

  1. John Lee Hooker – The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990

I think I’ve mentioned before that my godfather was/is a bluesman and that when I first started playing guitar he gave me a handful of a blues records because that’s where the real players were in his mind. What I didn’t mention was that he loved blues so much that he even named his dog Hook after none other than this man right here: John Lee Hooker.

With such a great span of years, you can hear the difference in production. To an extent you can almost discern the movements of blues with the way timeline of the recordings. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” sounds like “Big Legs, Tight Skirts” and  “You Know, I Know”. Side note: that collaboration with Bonnie Raitt, though?!

Highlights: Boom Boom, Big Legs, Tight Skirt, You Know I know, Serve Me Right To Suffer,

  1. Bjork – Post

I’ve heard of Bjork and I know she’s legendary but I’ve never felt compelled to give her a listen. This reminds me of Portishead and Massive Attack and all those trip-hop bands I’m still trying to figure out. (Turns out Massive Attack worked on this project.) This kind of music fascinates me purely for the reason I have no idea how someone comes up with this stuff. The genre itself is curious but then on top of that she sings in Icelandic. “Hyperballad” almost makes me understand but I’m still not quite there. “It’s Oh So Quiet” is jazzy, in a Frank Sinatra sense and yet so theatrical in the drama she creates with her voice. I love the cinema on “Isobel”. While I don’t totally understand the sound, I will say she’s one of those singers that possesses the insane ability to sound like she’s singing directly to you despite the gap between when and where it was recorded and when and where you’re listening.

  1. Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky

I’ve been waiting to listen to this album since I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not like Browne ever needed legitimacy in my eyes but Springsteen singing his praises certainly made me want to listen closer. Jackson Browne’s songs almost seem like journal entries, musings, somehow put to music. I don’t know much of it is aware of meter. It’s slow and thoughtful in a way that shows he pays attention. “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer/I was taken by a photograph of you/There were one or two I know/That you would have liked a little more/But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true.” Those lyrics alone made me think of Adam Duritz from Counting Crows. Upon research, I found out Adam’s a big fan. Even the more upbeat songs on this album sing of loneliness.

Highlights: Late for the Sky, Fountain of Sorrow, Before the Deluge

  1. Roxy Music – Siren

Not going to lie, after their last album on this list I wasn’t particularly excited to listen to this one. I just didn’t have anything to say about it. But the nice thing about countdowns like this is that when you see another album by the same artist, it should mean that the higher ranked album is better. Such is the case here. “Love is the Drug” reminded me of The Clash “Rock the Casbah”, which made it more enjoyable. Overall, this album is just a bit more fun and straight forward. “Just Another High” sounds like something that paved the way for Velvet Revolver or like a song that’d be at a wedding

Highlights: Love is the Drug, Whirlwind, Nightingale, Just Another High

  1. Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers

Another album symbolic of the times it was made. This is late ‘60s, early ‘70s and Jefferson Airplane is not down with the war (“Good Shepherd”). Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here. “We Can Be Together” is an epic opening, especially towards the end with the swelling voices. “Turn My Life Down” sounds like inspiration for John Mayer’s “Speak for Me.” “Volunteers” is one of those closers that really feels like the whole album is starting up all over again.

Highlights: Good Shepherd, Hey Fredrick, Song for All Seasons, Volunteers

  1. The Police – Regatta De Blanc

It took me three albums, but I think I can finally say I’m a fan of The Police. While I thought Synchronicity was okay and their debut left me utterly speechless, this album impressed me in a different way. The story goes that these guys went into the studio with little material – everything went towards their debut. To the point where they even consider re-recording a song. But this album holds its own.  Seems less rock ‘n roll and a bit more progressive. A bit more calculated. The title means something along the lines of “White Reggae” you can hear that in “Walking on the Moon.”  But of course we can’t overlook the fact this album opens with “Message in a Bottle.”

Highlights: Message in a Bottle, It’s All Right For You

  1. Artic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Arctic Monkeys has been one of those bands I’ve wanted to get into for the longest time but for one reason or another never really could. Each time I found a song to listen to I didn’t care for it. Listening here though, I hear Sex Pistols and other punk rock despite this band not being that close to punk. This album is all about nightlife in their hometown and if you listen for the lyrics you can hear of the party. But for all the festivities, it still carries an air of sadness/sobriety.

Highlights: The View from the Afternoon, Fake Tales of San Francisco, Riot Van, When The Sun Goes Down

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 390-381

  1. The White Stripes – Elephant

From the very beginning of “Seven Nation Army” all I could do was smile. I grew up with this album. I remember first hearing “Hardest Button to Button” and being so entranced by their strange approach to music I went out and bought the album. It was probably one of the first songs I learned how to play on guitar. The guitar here is gritty and in some ways doesn’t sound like it should go together and yet that’s the appeal. “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” feels like an evolution from their previous album. As loud as Jack White plays, there’s no denying his virtuosity (“Ball and Biscuit”). Only thing that rivals their sound is their story: divorcees disguising themselves as siblings?

Highlights: Seven Nation Army, There’s No Home For You Here, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. The Hardest Button to Button 

  1. Don Henley – The End of Innocence

To be honest, I had the hardest time getting past the cover because Don Henley looks like Corey Feldman. The piano on the opening track sounded so much like Bruce Hornsby I had to research it. Imagine my surprise when I looked it up only to find Bruce both produced this album and plays on the title track (perhaps, I know something about music after all). Even Axl Rose makes his appearance on this album. That’s definitely Pino Palladino on “New York Minute.” “Shangri-La” reminds me of  The Police. “The Last Worthless Evening” sounds like this iconic ballad though I’m not sure if it ever was.

Highlights: The End of Innocence, The Last Worthless Evening, New York Minute The Heart of the Matter

  1. Various Artists – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

I just think it’s cool that world music makes the list repeatedly. These are the sounds of Africa. Just because you have no idea what they’re saying doesn’t prevent you from being able to enjoy the experience. It’s funky, poppy with a bit of jazz. If you wanted to know where Coldplay got some of their sounds for A Head Full of Dreams look no further than the guitar on “Emthonjeni Womculo.” You can hear the Peter Gabriel and the Vampire Weekend tracks that would follow from all this.

Highlights: Holotelani, Indoda Yejazi Elimnyama, Thul’ulalele, Ngicabange Ngaqeda

*don’t ask me how to pronounce any of these.

387. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang

This album is so east coast rap that when the first song came on I thought it was NaS. Each rapper has their own unique style. You can hear how this would be a sound formative for so many east coast rappers to come. You can hear Notorious BIG, you can hear NaS, you can even hear Jay-Z. This album flies by with all the personalities here. It’s aggressive and angry and I’m actually sad I hadn’t listened to this album before. My advice though: skip the opening of “Method Man” if you’re trying to stay holy.

Highlights: Shame on a ****, Wu Tang: 7th Chamber, Can It All be So Simple, Protect Ya Neck

  1. Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

You know how I talked about music per square inch? Well, Steely Dan just might be the epitome of it. Steely Dan has always been a name I’ve heard but I’ve never listened to the music. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t even know Steely Dan was a band and not a person. At times, I hear smooth jazz, other times funk, blues, and rock. But for all its progressiveness, it goes down smooth. I love the harmonies on the chorus on “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and the guitar domination in “Parker’s Band.”

Highlights: Night by Night, Barrytown, Parker’s Band, Pretzel Logic,

  1. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft

You know what’s crazy? This is Dylan’s 31st studio album. Thirty first. How on God’s great earth do you have thirty-one albums and thirty-one albums later still make this list of the greatest albums of all time? You write lines like “Standing by God’s river, my soul is beginning to shake.” That’s how. This album did have its fair share of controversy as Dylan was accused of plagiarism on “Floater” but of course, when you’re as iconic as Dylan the person you may have ripped off of is more honored than insulted.

Highlights: Mississippi, Honest With Me, Po’ Boy

  1. The Who – A Quick One (Happy Jack)

The only thing I knew about The Who prior to this was “Baba O’Riley.” This album is poppy for the most part but it has its fair share of experimentation (“Boris the Spider” and “Cobwebs and Strange” come to mind). These guys are symbolic of a sound. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a nine-minute song with five miniature songs within it. The fact that Green Day would go on to cover this makes me think this is where they got inspiration for songs like “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.”

Highlights: Heat Wave, So Sad About us

  1. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food

You know what’s interesting to me? I love “Once in a Lifetime” but whenever I’ve tried to stop and listen to a full project, I can’t seem to get into it. Unfortunately, the same applies here more or less. Maybe I’m really not a fan of new wave. Maybe it just takes more listens. But this is definitely Talking Heads and all their eccentricities. “Artists Only” reminds me “Once in a Lifetime” while at the same time being completely different. I’ll keep giving these guys a shot and maybe one day the impression will stick.

Highlights: With Our Love, Artists Only, The Big Country

  1. Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers

Don’t know what I expected. I was waiting or the moment when the lead singer would sing, but then I realized that blend between talking and shouting was his actual singing. Sonically, reminds me of The Doors, especially the Wurlitzer on “Astral Plane.” Apprently, these guys went on to influence Sex Pistols. “Pablo Picasso” made me wonder if girls actually couldn’t resist the stare, and if he really was never called an a**hole for picking up women. The verses to “Hospital” are beautiful in their own way but then the chorus come and take it in new directions.

Highlights: Old World, Hospital, Someone I Care, Modern World.

  1. Beach Boys – Smile

Here’s the thing about this list: you go from being a stranger to these artists to all of a sudden being some sort of aficionado. Of course I’ve heard Beach Boys before. Of course I’ve never listened to a full project. Of course Rolling Stone decides to remedy this with a five disc collection of clippings and demos and unreleased music of theirs. The harmonies are beautiful. In order to fully appreciate this album, you have to understand its story:  Imagine this being the height of the Beatles/Beach Boys rivalry – Beach Boys being America’s answer to the Beatles – this album having so much pressure attached to it that it psychologically scarred Brian Wilson. Re-workings of some of these songs were released as Smiley Smile, which wasn’t received as well as their previously released work. Mainly because he decided to play it safe instead of releasing some of these original versions. As a result this is hailed as the greatest pop album never released. Time and time again, they show their mastery in music. Even the backing vocal tracks are impressive. This is definitely something for Beach Boy die-hards. Though, listening to them in the studio is interesting.

Highlights: Heroes and Villains (all their versions I suppose), Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock), Cabin Essence, Vega-Tables, Good Vibrations

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 400-391

  1. The Temptations – Anthology

I know what you’re thinking: Tomy, what do you know about The Temptations? Not as much as others, but this was the stuff I was raised on. While my parents diverged greatly in their musical preferences at times, they found common ground in the Temptations. Heck, I still remember the miniseries. But what I appreciated most about this collection was that even as familiar as I was with The Temptations before this, this still showed me a number of songs I didn’t know.  Helped me to appreciate them even more.

Highlights: My Girl, Get Ready, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, Could Nine, I Can’t Get Next to You, Just My Imagination, Superstar Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Let Your Hair Down

  1. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

I know there’s such a thing as circus music, but if there was ever such a thing as the circus in the form of music, this is it. This is definitely more experimental than Mule Variations. There’s polka, for Pete’s sake. But for all the eccentricities, Tom Waits can be as beautiful as they come (“Anywhere I Lay My Head”). Lyrically he’s urban, almost like he writes his lyrics on the back of a gum wrapper or some crumpled piece of paper. I still have no idea how in the world someone naturally sounds like this.

Highlight: Big Black Mariah, Hang Down Your Head, Blind Love, Downtown Train

  1. ZZ Top – Eliminator

Second ZZ Top record on the list but this is their eighth studio album, some ten years after Tres Hombres. Upon first few seconds its sounds less Southern rock and more hard rock; less “bar scene” and more “large stadium”. As a result, it sounds a bit more produced then Hombres (and is there really a song about TV dinners on here?). “Got Me Under Pressure” will show you that even as bands grow in ten years, their heart can remain the same.

Highlights: Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp-Dressed Man, Legs, Bad Girl

  1. Massive Attack – Blue Lines

Back with some more trip-hop. The bass is moody, the atmosphere is trance inducing and yet, when they rap they sound like A Tribe Called Quest (“Blue Lines” in particular). Other times there’s spoken word that reminds a bit of Saul Williams. If that wasn’t enough, “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” is an homage to Curtis Mayfield. Come on. That’s just awesome. Overall, just a really cool album to vibe to. Not sure if I’m a trip-hop fan yet but I actually found myself enjoying some of this.

Highlights: Safe from Harm, Blue Lines, Five Man Army, Unfinished Sympathy

  1. Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

Immediately it felt like Rocky Horror Picture show. Almost theatrical in its execution, somewhere in between new wave and Elton John. Even though this isn’t a Brian Eno record per se, he adds some keyboard sensibilities. This would actually be the last album he did with the band before going on to his own solo endeavor. While I’m not sure I understand the album (might require more time to enjoy), this band’s legacy is deep.

Highlights: Editions of You, Grey Lagoons

  1. LCD Sound System – Sound of Silver

Scene: Old Navy in Emeryville, California. It’s Christmas time and the line to check out wraps around the store. My wife’s buying jeans, I’m looking at exercise clothes but there’s nothing I need. That’s when I hear “That’s how it starts” over a repetitive A chord playing on the system and I’m immediately thinking of The 1975’s “Sex”, wondering if it’s a cover of some sort. But as the song unfolds, it proceeds to go on a different direction. Turns out, the song was “All My Friends” and the band was LCD Sound System. This image of recognition and surprise is what characterizes this band. You always feel like you know where the song should go and yet they never go there. Where they go is so much better. It isn’t uncommon to see songs longer than five minutes on this thing. It’s dance-y, space-y at times. There’s spoken word. Almost feels like something that belongs on the soundtrack of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.

Highlights: North American Scum, Someone Great, All My Friends

  1. Randy Newman – Good Old Boys

If the voice sounds familiar it’s because it’s the man who brought you Toy Story’s “You’ve Got A Friend in Me.” As satirical as he can be (“Rednecks”), you can’t deny the quality here. The strings on “Marie”? Oh man, I thought I’d fallen in love all over again. Newman is a storyteller. Orginially starting as a concept album chronicling the life of one person, the released product wound up being stories from multiple perspectives and therein lies the charm. However, I will say: I now see why Newman’s afraid to play “Rednecks” in certain cities. Between “we’re keeping the n***ers down” and “we don’t know our a** from a hole in the ground” he’s asking for a fight and/or a bullet.

Highlights: Marie, Guilty, A Wedding in Cherokee County

  1. M.I.A. – Kala

When this album came out “Paper Planes” was EVERYWHERE. Yet for all its hype, I’ve never stopped and listened past the singles. This is where world music meets pop and while I love both, I’m not sure if this is something I would naturally listen to. Nevertheless, it’s loud and powerful. By the time I got to “Paper Planes” I found myself both relieved by the familiarity and how tame it seems in comparison to the chaos of the album. But it’s also impressive: M.I.A. managed to make the leading single not the best song on the album nor the song that’s most representative of the album.

Highlights: Boyz, Jimmy, 20 Dollar, Paper Planes

  1. The Beatles – Let It Be

This might be heretical but this is the first Beatles album I’ve ever listened to from start to finish and perhaps, what better place to start than at the end of their careers. Even at their worst, you can still see why they’re one of the greatest bands in the world. Still so many classics on this thing. This is them trying to get back to their simple sound and rediscover their chemistry as a band. Some say it’s messy and all over the place, but as a complete Beatles ignoramus, I couldn’t tell. Because George Harrison’s solo album was on here earlier, “I Me Mine” doesn’t surprise me as one of his.

Highlights: Dig A Pony, Across the Universe, Let It Be, Get Back

  1. Jackson Browne – The Pretender

The only problem with having multiple albums from the same artist so spaced out is that you forget what their other release sounded like. Here, Browne sounds like a guy trying to make the most of a bad situation. In some ways this is true (this after his wife has committed suicide). His songwriting prowess comes forward here (“No matter how fast I run/I can never seem to get away from me”). Even the upbeat songs are tempered by sadness (“Here Comes the Tears Again). Sounds like he’s tired and just trying to make it through. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” has to be one of the best titles of a song ever.

Highlights: Your Bright Baby Blues, Here Comes the Tears Again, Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate, The Pretender

The Great Wall of Music: 410-401

  1. Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

First Dylan record on the list and the first Dylan record I’ve listened to from start to finish. This comes at the tail end of the ‘90s, which is definitely a bit different than ‘60s rambling Dylan. But “Standing in the Doorway” reminds me of the Dylan I know. Interestingly enough this was Dylan’s first album of original material in seven years. What better way to return than to do a double album featuring multiple songs without choruses and the longest recording you’ve ever done. It’s folky, bluesy, and poetic. His voice is both nasally and raspy, gruff but whiny .This is where Adele gets “Make You Feel My Love.”

Highlight: Dirt Road Blues, Standing in the Door Way, Trying to Get Heaven, Not Dark Yet

  1. The Doors – Strange Days

Ashamed to say this, but this is my first Doors record. Supposedly, this album is a bit darker than the previous one and I suppose I hear it. Between the the bass lines, Morrison’s voice and the organs in the background, it sounds like Halloween (“Horse Latitudes” is a perfect example). It doesn’t help the album is called Strange Days, the cover is strange, and then there’s a song called “People Are Strange”.

Highlight: You’re Lost Little Girl, Unhappy Girl, People Are Strange

  1. Sinead O’Connor – I Don’t Want What I Haven’t Got

 From the first track, I was waiting for the drums to come in and it to turn into this epic rock opera or something, but halfway in, it wasn’t there. Those drums come in on “Last Day of Our Acquaintance.” O’Connor grew up Catholic and religion takes an interesting role in this album. It opens with the serenity prayer, “Black Boys on Mopeds” is filled with biblical allusions. “I Am Stretched Over Your Grave” is a poem that was translated and put to music. “Nothing Compares 2 U” is a Prince song she rearranged. The album ends as quietly as it starts.

Highlights: Three Babies, Black Boys on Mopeds, Nothing Compares 2 U, You Cause As Much Sorrow

  1. The Clash – Sandinista!

I was not ready for that bass line in “The Magnificent Seven.” “Hitsville U.K.”being a play-off of the headquarters of Motown headquarters, while also doing an amazing job at sounding Motown. For a punk band, they play with all kinds of genres here. “Junco Partner” was a blues song that The Clash redoes here in a more reggae tone and then plays again in “Version Pardner”.  But that’s not the only song they redo. “Living in Fame” is a reprise of “If Music Could Talk”. I’ve known The Clash as a punk band but this showed me they were so much more multi-dimensional than that. There’s waltz, five minute songs, and more. Solid triple Disc Album. Still, I don’t know if I recommend listening in one sitting. I couldn’t.

Highlights: The Magnificent Seven, Ivan Meets GI Joe, Someone Got Murdered, Up In Heaven

  1. PJ Harvey – Rid of Me

I know in my last PJ Harvey album I compared her a bit to Nirvana but this album is produced by the same man who produced In Utero (in fact, they were released the same year). On top of that, both Cobain and Courtney Love extol Harvey’s genius. But that might be where I end the comparison for this album. Now I see how Stories might’ve been Harvey in love. This album has legs getting cut off, rubbing and bleeding, and being left “dry” – whatever that means. She said she wanted to shock people and she certainly did. PJ Harvey’s music reminds me of a girl I went to college with: vivid in its detail and uncomfortable but it’s kind of genius. It’s aggressive and loud. And in a way, I just might like it.

Highlight: Rid of Me, Man Size (Both versions I guess), Snake, 50 Ft. Queenie

  1. Big Star – Radio City

At this point I feel like I’m able to speak a bit more confidently on Big Star. If I’m a fan, I’m no longer a nominal one, but I’ve heard the majority of their discography thanks to this list. This band has four albums and three of them made it in this list. I feel like I need to go back and listen to these chronologically to get a better sense of the band but I can say that while this band was never commercially successful, I can understand how their impact on power-pop runs deep.

Highlights: O My Soul, What’s Going Ahn, Daisy Glaze, September Gurls, I’m in Love with a Girl

  1. Dr. John – Dr. John’s Gumbo

Based off title and cover alone, this is definitely something I’d only listening to because I have to. But then you start the album and you’re hit with all of flavors of New Orleans. You come to appreciate Dr. John’s rasp and the colorful instrumentation here. This album, more than anything, is a tribute to the city that inspired it. In its own way it helps you to be there without being there.

Highlights: Iko Iko, Blow Wind Blow, Those Lonely Nights

  1. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd

Between “Sweet Home Alabama”, them being the butt of every live concert joke (there’s always that one guy that yells “Free Bird” in between songs), and them being the face of rednecks everywhere, I have never truly given these guys a fair shot. I realized that the second “Free Bird” came on and it occurred to me that for all my years of music listening and concert going, I’ve never once stopped to actually listen to the song.

I may regret saying this, but this album is not bad. In fact, I might even enjoy it (I’ll add it to my list of guilty pleasures and if anyone ever calls me out on it, I’ll deny it). There’s obvious musicianship in the piano and guitars. It’s this group who brought fame to the genre of southern rock.

Highlights: I Ain’t The One, Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps

  1. Nas – Illmatic

One of my favorite hip-hop albums of all-time. Ten songs (nine, if you don’t count the intro) of straight fire. NaS is a master storyteller, capturing the essence of the streets. Internal rhymes galore and features from unknown rappers equally talented. This album changed everything. (How was he 20 years old when he dropped this?) If you haven’t listened to this one, take my word. You need to. His flow is so smooth, it’s charming. I’m pretty sure if you don’t appreciate the art of rapping or don’t consider it music, this is the album to start with. Try following his rhyme scheme.

Highlights: N.Y. State of Mind, The World Is Yours, Halftime, It Ain’t Hard to Tell

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

One hundred albums in and what better way to celebrate than Red Hot Chili Peppers. This albums is everything I’ve always loved about this band. Flea’s funky bass lines, Anthony Kiedis’ back forth between rapping and singing, the guitar. It’s funky but then they have the ability to kick it up another notch (“Parallel Universe”). This is definitely worth revisiting.

Highlights: Parallel Universe, Scar Tissue, Otherside, Californication, This Velvet Glove

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 420 – 411

  1. Buddy Holly and the Crickets – The Chirping Crickets

It seems Rolling Stone decided to take a bunch of albums from the ‘50s to the ‘70s and put them back to back to back. If you’re listening to all of these in the same day or even remotely together, it feels like you’re in a time warp. As renown as Buddy Holly is, I don’t know if I’ve ever listened to a Buddy Holly song. Their debut album is filled with short but sweet rockabilly songs. Before you know it, it’s over.

Highlights: Oh Boy, Not Fade Away, Last Night

  1. Portishead – Dummy

So, this is Trip-Hop. Maybe it takes a few more listens but I’m not quite sure I’m a fan. Honestly, it’s kind of creepy/haunting, Beth Gibbon’s voice only adds to this effect. I will say this though, between the instrumentals and the melody, it’s easy to find yourself just vibing to the album. But when you really listen, at least when I really listen, it almost feels like a juxtaposition of two things that shouldn’t be together. There are these hip hop vibes and then contrary vocals. But perhaps, that’s the charm: these two things that don’t actually belong together that surprisingly work in their own way.
Highlights: Strangers, It’s A Fire

  1. Paul McCartney and the Wings – Band on the Run

 It’s always interesting when bands break up and pursue other projects. You get to see who brought what to the table and who was the real brains behind the operation. It either exposes the talent or lack of in an artist. This is third album from this group and Paul’s fifth since the end of The Beatles. “Jet” reminds us why McCartney is one of the greatest to ever do it. McCartney produced this thing and you can hear the more experimental elements in “Picasso’s Last Words”, which can be at time as abstract as a Picasso painting. Apparently, they challenged Paul to see if he could write a song about anything and an article about Picasso was lying around. This song was the product. I remember hearing the chorus from “Band on the Run” before but I didn’t know it was connected to this project, nor did I know the song itself was as progressive as it was. Where it ends is nowhere near where you start off. But there’s a big finish to the album that bringing us back full circle.

Highlights: Jet, Let Me Roll It, No Words, Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)

  1. U2 – Boy

 I think I’m so used to the atmospheric, stadium anthem U2 that listening to this sounds like a completely different band. I guess this makes sense as it’s U2’s first album.. This is where punk meets ‘80s new wave. Twilight” reminds me a bit of The Cure, other songs have a bit more grit to them. At the same time, you still hear glimmers of what would eventually come from this band (“Into the Heart” being a prime example). I need more time with this one.

Highlights: Twilight, Into the Heart, The Electric Co.

  1. Tom Waits – Mule Variations

I know I said Notorious B.I.G. is the only artist to make me afraid for my life, but Tom Waits is a close second. The man’s voice has always terrified me. If you’ve ever listened to the guy talk, you know where Heath Ledger got his inspiration for The Joker. Needless to say, this was my first Tom Waits record. It’s scratchy, backwoods, bluesy and folky all at the same time. “Hold On” reminded me a bit of Springsteen. Surprisingly I found myself enjoying different pieces of this project. It’s a solid introduction to what can be an iconic but strange artist to get into. I’m pretty sure “You got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow” is going to be my new motto.

Highlights: Big in Japan, Hold On, House Where Nobody Lives, Pony

  1. Van Halen – Van Halen

Van Halen’s been on my radar ever since I was a teenager and Eddie Van Halen was named the best guitarist of all time, citing “Eruption” as proof. Well, what I didn’t know was that Eruption was on this album. I can only imagine how nuts this must have been upon first release. This is music you turn up on full blast in your room and your parents knock on your door, telling you to turn that crap down.

Highlights: Eruption, You Really Got Me

  1. The Go-Go’s – The Beauty and the Beat

I don’t know how much more iconic it gets in terms of pop music than these ladies. This has been labeled the cornerstone for new wave music and is known as one of the strongest debuts of all time. Even if you don’t know anything about anything, chances are you’ve heard “We Got The Beat.”  You may have even heard “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Those songs are everywhere. It’s what comes on when you’re at the Hard Rock Café, paying $14 for that burger, watching the music videos they show you to assuage your broken heart and empty wallet.

Highlights: Our Lips Are Sealed, Lust To Love, We Got the Beat

  1. Minutemen – Double Nickle on the Dime

Who in the world puts 43 songs on an album? Granted most songs are about a minute and a half, it’s still 43 songs. 43 punk songs.  Honestly, I feel like this album is one that I’d have to listen to repeatedly before I like it. And the main reason I’d like it is because I’m supposed to and for the legacy it carries. For a punk rock band, these guys can get technical and genre-bending. There’s spoken word, funky bass lines, and hardcore-like yelling. In some ways, that’s always what was great about punk music. You didn’t have to be a particularly great vocalist. It was in the message and the message is definitely here.

Highlights: Vietnam, Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want The Truth, Corona, History Lesson Part II, Dr. Wu

  1. Wire – Pink Flag

Half the amount of songs, half the length of Minutemen but still punk nonetheless. Commercially this album didn’t do well but still received acclaim from critics. Not quite as fast or as reckless as Minutemen. “Lowdown” almost reminds me of The Clash. Similar to a few other albums on the list I found the latter half other album more enjoyable.

Highlights: Ex Lion Tamer, Fragile, Mannequin, Feeling Called Love.

  1. Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard

My first Eric Clapton record. This is coming off the heels of heroin addiction. You hear the repentance in guitar and the organ of “Give Me Strength.” Even Clapton’s voice sounds broken. While there are hints of reggae on this album, this guitar tone is all Clapton. This is where you get the famous “I Shot The Sherriff” cover. “Please Be With Me” sounds like where John Mayer got his inspiration on “Waiting On The Day”, “Let It Grow” sounds like “Stairway to Heaven.”

Highlights: Give Me Strength, I Shot the Sherriff, Please Be With Me, Steady Rolling Man

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 430-421

  1. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

FINALLY! AN ALBUM I’VE HEARD BEFORE AND ALREADY ENJOY! I remember when this album came out my buddy Lucas would have this on constant rotation in his car. This album reminds me of 2008, drives around Berkeley, and wishing I had gone to Berkeley High for my senior year of high school. And because of that, it has a special nostalgic place in my heart. Between Ezra having gone to Columbia and this album reminding me of Berkeley, it’s always seemed a bit pretentious in the best way. At the time, these were completely different sounds than I was used to hearing (African guitar sounds, Peter Gabriel references and all). It’s a similar feeling I felt when I heard Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which surprisingly is not on this list. There is no bad song on this album and if you listen to one, there’s no way you’re not listening to several.

Highlights: Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, M79

  1. Brian Eno – Another Green World

Second Eno record on the list. Immediately this felt different. Chronologically, this is his third album, transitioning more into his ambient stylings (“In Dark Trees”, “The Big Ships”) and honestly, it’s those ambient stylings that make this record. Once the first ambient tracks came on I recognized why this man is so important. But that’s not to say the other songs are superfluous. Something about the way he sings “I’ll come running to tie your shoes” sounds extremely sweet and thoughtful.
Highlights: St. Elmo’s Fire, In Dark Trees, The Big Ships, Becalmed, Zawinul/Lava

  1. The Police – Outlandos D’Amour

This album. I can’t even imagine what it must’ve felt like to be alive when this album came on the scene. I imagine this would’ve changed everything people thought they knew about rock music up to that point. This was The Police’s debut album and man, what a debut it is. “Next To You” is a rock jam that gets you hook, line, and sinker. “Roxanne” is no stranger to me (and if you do CrossFit it might not be to you either). Second record from The Police on the list and I immediately like it more than Synchronicity. The rock, the reggae and the obvious skill these guys demonstrate. It’s all raw energy whereas Synchronicity is a bit more calculated. So impressed by this.

Highlights: Next To You, So Lonely, Peanuts, Born in the ‘50s.

  1. Peter Wolf – Sleepless

“This song is about being double parked on the highway of love.” Apparently this is called modern blues and I guess I can hear it. While it’s technical for sure, it doesn’t carry the same vintage sound you’d hear in listening to Albert King or B.B. King. It’s a bit more polished and new. There’s even a bit of country thrown in. At times, it reminds me of Springsteen, at other times it reminds me of Stevie Ray Vaughn, and sometimes he reminds me of Tom Waits with his growl.

Highlights: Nothing But the Wheel, Lots of Good Ones Gone, Five O’Clock Angel, Oh Marianne

  1. Cheap Trick – At Budokan

The boys are back in town. This after three studio albums these guys are rocking the heck out of Japan. You can hear the audience drown out the sound at certain elements. From what I’ve read, I understand this was right as Japan was falling in love with them and you can hear the joy in the music. It sounds like they’re having the time of their lives. They sound like the kings of the world. I even enjoyed the “Hello There” reprise at the end of the show. Both clever and corny.

Highlights: Come On, Come On, Surrender

  1. Graham Parsons – Grievous Angel

This was released four months after Graham Parsons’ overdose. Listening to it, I couldn’t help but wish he’d been around to enjoy the reception. Even for me, someone who’s not an avid country listener, this was surprisingly fun to listen to. Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ voices blend well together and it shows on the album’s opening track. They have this incredible way of building a song both musically and vocally to its ultimate climax and then resolving it beautifully.

Highlights: Return of the Grievous Angel, Brass Buttons, $1000 Wedding, Love Hurts

  1. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising

 The boss is back and he is out to make a statement. This album was inspired by September 11th and you can hear it in a number of songs. He tells the story of firefighters, families of victims and firefighters as well as the victims themselves. “Nothing Man” and “You’re Missing” are particularly poignant. Overall this album is a bit more electric, a bit more energetic than the morose Tunnel of Love. It almost feels like good songs just come out of this man strumming his guitar and repeating a phrase. My only critique: 15 songs leaves a lot of room for filler. At a certain point, you have to ask yourself if every song needs to be on the album. “Let’s Be Friends” comes to mind. But this album reminds me how music can unite a country and provide consolation for a hurting nation.

Highlights: Lonesome Day, Nothing Man, Mary’s Place, You’re Missing

  1. Diana Ross and the Supremes – Anthology

When they said anthology, they meant it. This is 50 songs, clocking in over two hours long. After a while, you’re surprised you’re still listening to this. My recommendation: don’t listen in one sitting. But disclaimers aside, these ladies are gems of the Motown era. They were the bestselling act of that whole era and to this day remain one of the most successful vocal groups. Similar to The Drifters, you may not know that you’ve been listening to The Supremes all these years but you certainly have. This is what they play in the diner to create atmosphere. And the beauty of this anthology is that there are so many hits on this thing. Still, 50 songs. Don’t listen in one sitting if you really want to enjoy the experience.

Highlights: Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, Come See About Me, Stop! In The Name of Love, I Hear A Symphony, You Can’t Hurry Love

  1. The Ronettes – Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica

Another girl group from the ‘60s. Interestingly enough, this started as a family group between sisters and a cousin. Similar to The Supremes, it feels like something you’d hear in a diner but this vocal group is a bit more pop and a bit more rock. Interestingly enough, for a career which lasted quite a while, this was their only studio album.

Highlights: Walking in the Rain, I Wonder, Be My Baby

  1. Various Artists – The Best of the Girl Groups, Vol. 1 & 2

Something a bit different! We’ve had studio albums, live albums, collections and anthologies but this is the first time we’re seeing a compilation of various artist as an album on here. I suppose it’s valid and counts. In terms of sound, it’s exactly what we’ve seen from the past couple of albums. That same ‘60s sound, those same iconic jams you at times take for granted for having actually been written and performed by people at some point. This does make for a good comprehensive overview of that era of music.

Highlights: Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss), Will You Love Me Tomorrow, My Boyfriend’s Back, Locomotion