The Great Wall of Music: Albums 330-321

  1. Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night

My biggest struggle with Neil Young has always been his voice. It just sounds whiny and nasally. I don’t know if I would call him a “good singer” necessarily. And yet, I feel like you don’t listen to Neil Young for his voice. You listen because he’s one heck of a songwriter. Yes the voice is nasally, but on songs like “Borrowed Tune” and “Albuquerque”, you don’t really care. This whole album is riddled with grief. Written after the death of two of his close friends, the album starts off with a tribute to his roadie. There’s so much power in the moment he shouts “I heard that he died”, you get bowled over.

Highlights: Speaking Out

  1. James Brown – In the Jungle Groove

When I first heard this record, I wondered if it was live. Upon researching, this is actually a compilation of tracks recorded between 1969 and 1971, even though it was released in 1986. Nevertheless, live or not, the man is a mater showman. He has you from beginning to end. You feel caught in his gravitas. You are there in the room as he’s singing. You are sucked into the vortex that is the performance. You realize once again how iconic he was and what we lost in his passing. You almost can’t help but to miss him. In short, it’s everything you’ve ever loved about James Brown ever.

Highlights: It’s A New Day, Funky Drummer, Get Up, Get Into It, Get involved, Soul Power

  1. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

In some ways reminds me of Smashing Pumpkins – the guitar sound ambient, almost shoe-gazey but I can’t quite put my finger on the sound itself. Not totally what I expected. I expected a more aggressive sound. I appreciate the reverb-y guitars. This is the kind of album you sit with over a time and allow it to take you to another time.

Highlights: Teenage Riot, Sprawl, Hey Joni

  1. Liz Phair – Exille in Guyville

Like so many others I first heard Liz Phair with her single “Why Can’t I?” It was such a tender, heartfelt song I practically melted every time I heard it. Imagine my surprise when, years later, a friend of mine showed me this Liz Phair. With songs like “F*** and Run” and “Flower”, it felt like that time my high school teacher rapped all the words to “Freaks of the Industry” whereas another told me her favorite song was Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” Some things can’t be forgotten.

If this exile from guyville, Liz Phair proves she can be as sexual and vulgar as they are – on one hand there’s loneliness and longing and on the other there’s disgust and frustration with men. Even as she calls herself a real c*** in spring, she sounds angelic. A bit more distortion and it could be grunge. Part of the real allure of this album is it’s connection with Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Apparently, each song on this album corresponds and responds to each song on the each song on Main Street. There’s her explanation of how somewhere on the internet. It would seem the band wasn’t too pleased.

Highlights: Never Said, Canary, F*** and Run, Shatter

  1. The Cure – Disintegration

I have a confession to make: Nearly ten years ago I used to stay awake way too late at night listening to “Untitled”, thinking about life and the sadness of it all. For as long as I can remember, The Cure has been the poster band of sad and gloomy music. This album is quintessential. Between “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street” you get the sense, this is the band at their most realized, their most gelled and put together. From the very beginning the atmosphere envelopes you. And for the duration of each song (which can get long at times), they keep you.

Highlights: Pictures of You, Lovesong, Disintegration

  1. Eric Clapton – Slowhand

The man himself. With the album opening with “Cocaine” and going straight into “Wonderful Tonight” and “Lay Down Sally”, it feels like it’s just one huge Clapton hit after another. To be honest, I’m so used to thinking of Clapton as a guitarist that I forget him as a singer-songwriter altogether. Yet what I appreciate about Clapton is that very rarely is it just shredding for the sake of it, but he’s just as capable at communicating feeling through his playing. It’s soulful but it’s technical. Proving they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. He can be technical, but he can also pull back to make you feel (“Peaches and Diesel”). Still, if you forgot just how much the man can shred, let “Core” be proof. The name album title refers to a nickname given Clapton because his ability to play so fast.

Highlights: Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight, Next Time You See Her, Peaches and Diesel

  1. David Bowie – Station to Station

The return of the Thin White Duke is just as theatrical as you can imagine. The opening, title track is a 10 minute epic that continues to evolve. As eccentric as he can be, he can make something that genuinely moves you. He can get funky and poppy all at the same time. The Thin White Duke will haunt you when he’s not moving your feet.

Highlight: Word on a Wing, Stay

  1. The Police – Ghost in the Machine

This is supposedly them at their best (judging by what online rankings and its placing on this list), but I think there’s room for discussion here. In a way, they do seem the most realized version of themselves on this thing. You can hear what would be Synchronicity while also hearing Regatta De Blanc’s influence. Of course, you have the gem that is “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” Still, I come away wanting to listen to their discography in chronological order. I want to hear how they evolve and how their albums are conversations with each other.

Highlight: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Hungry For You, Omegaman

  1. Randy Newman – Sail Away

It’s not that I don’t like Randy Newman. I actually really appreciate his social commentary and the satirical nature of his lyrics at time. Even the title track makes fun of what it means to be an American with its plentiful religious references. I just don’t know if I can listen to his voice for long periods of time. It’s so distinct, all I hear is “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” When I can get past that, I recognize his understanding of music and how he draws from the wellspring of knowledge.

Highlights: Sail Away, He Gives Us All His Love, Burn On, Political Science

  1. Nick Drake – Pink Moon

Beautiful and sad.  It’s stripped down, acoustic and therein lies its charm and strength. This is something that would be in Juno or like 500 Days of Summer. The music mellow. Nick Drake’s voice soft and deep. I almost wonder where it’s been my entire life. Songs are relatively short, which causes the album to go by quickly.  “Place To Be” sounds like a predecessor to The Early November’s “1000 Times A Day.” As a singer/songwriter, it feels like there’s so much to unpack here. Nick Drake committed suicide shortly after this. Apparently he had always struggled with depression.

Highlights: Pink Moon, Place To Be, Which Will, From The Morning.

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My Top Albums for 2017

Normally, I would restrict my end-of-the-year blog posts to my top reads of that year but for some reason, whether it’s because everyone’s posting their Spotify summaries or because I’ve been listening to and sharing my thoughts on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (currently at 238), I feel compelled to share my top albums from this past year as well.

In a way, this list is different from books. My book list never gets restricted to what came out that year. I simply keep a running list of what I’ve digested. For the sake of this list, though, I’m only looking at what came out this year. These may not be the best albums from the year but they are the ones I found myself returning to time and time again. Once again, here are my five (in no particular order).

  1. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Zombies on Broadway

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Anyone who knows anything about me knows that Jack’s Mannequin was and is my favorite band of all time. So, when Andrew McMahon decided to retire the moniker to make pop music, I was a bit saddened and skeptical. All of this went away with the first Wilderness record. But on this second album, Andrew McMahon has done something I didn’t realize he was doing nor did I think it possible: he’s creating soundscapes for cities. If the first album sounded like laidback southern California, this one is the bustling city of New York. With only ten real songs, it’s a lean album full of surprises. And, while we’re at it, can we talk about “Birthday Song”? Both heartbreaking and beautiful.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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After taking nearly three years to follow up his debut album, I was a bit skeptical when DAMN. was released only two years after To Pimp a Butterfly, especially considering how radical of a departure his sophomore release was from its predecessor. How does someone follow up such a complex record? With the most seemingly-straightforward album of his career. If Good Kid, MAAD City was a movie, and To Pimp a Butterfly a thesis, then DAMN. was just an album. So straightforward, in fact, there was speculation that this was actually the first installment of a two-part album. When rumored NATION. didn’t make its appearance, it occurred to us Kendrick Lamar did surprise us again. DAMN. listened to in reverse order told a completely different story. The answer to the “wickedness or weakness” lies in which order you listen. To me, this album demonstrates Kendrick’s mastery of music. Even in those moments where it seems imperfect (I don’t love every song here), I have no doubt that Kendrick knew exactly what he was doing.

  1. The Maine – Lovely, Little, Lonely

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The Maine is one of those bands that not only reinvents themselves, but gets better with each release. When their first album came out, I remember thinking it pop-punk that lacked bite. On American Candy, they gave themselves over to their pop-sensibilities and it created for one of my favorite albums that year. This was one of those sneaky albums that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it on first listen so I re-listened. When I couldn’t figure it out after a second listen, I listened again…and again…and again…until it became my go-to album. Cohesive in a way American Candy wasn’t and a bit more lyrically/thematically mature than its predecessor, it picks up where it picks up where the last album left off but drives where former bounced. Still bummed I missed their Modern Nostalgia tour where they played both albums in full.

  1. I The Mighty – Where The Wants To Go/Where You Let It Go

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I’ll be honest, when I heard the first couple singles to this album I wasn’t skeptical. I was scared. Having followed these hometown heroes from their Talking House Records days, I had always been amazed at their progress from the first time I heard them. “Silver Tongues” and “Chaos in Motion” didn’t excite me. I was scared this would be the first I The Mighty project I didn’t absolutely love. Then the album came out and everything made sense.

Though some would disagree, this, to me, is the first real I The Mighty record. It’s the album where they stopped trying to be someone they weren’t and allowed themselves to be themselves. There are no political songs, no overtly conceptual songs (they finished The Frame trilogy on Connector). It’s their most musically diverse record yet. And even though “Symphony of Skin” makes me more uncomfortable the more I think about it, I still feel like there are less lyrically cringe-worthy moments here. Hands down my favorite album from them thus far.

  1. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

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The War on Drugs is one of those bands I often forget exists. Then I give them another listen and I wonder how I could’ve ever forgotten. This is an album you get lost in, allowing your emotions to swell with the sound. This is the album I couldn’t stop recommending to people if they were looking for something to listen to. Adam Granduciel is a master at texture and creating lush tones and this album is as beautiful as they come.

Honorable Mention:

  1. LANY – LANY

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I think part of what draws me to this album is its surprise. LANY has been dropping EPs since 2015 and though I’ve followed them, they haven’t been my favorite synth-pop outfit. Lyrically, they’re a bit too casual for me. But something about this album works well. “Dumb Stuff” pulls you in and you find yourself still engaged by “Flowers on the Floor” and still by “Purple Teeth.”

 

 

P.S. Yes, I know Jay Z’ 4:44 came out this year. Yes, I know SZA’s CTRL dropped this year. Yes, I know Ryan Adam’s Prisoner, Metallica’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, Taylor Swift’s reputation, Ed Sheeran’s ÷, U2’s Songs of Experience, Betty Who’s The Valley, Lorde’s Melodrama, Haim’s Something to Tell You, John Mayer’s The Search for Everything, and Drake’s More Life all came out this year. The list still stands.

The Great Wall of Music: 340-331

  1. Black Flag – Damaged

Anti-establishment lyrics, rebellion in the very guitar they play, yelling about what they’re pissed off about, this is hardcore punk at its finest. They refused to be controlled and they defied any and every system that meant to own them. But it wasn’t just the music. Black Flag was fundamental to the Do-It-Yourself ethic. In that sense, you can see why this album resonated with so many. Still, you kind of have to wonder what on earth they’re so pissed off about. This album is so angry, I had to look up if these guys were still alive. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they weren’t. The only thing these guys seem remotely happy about is beer. I don’t know how much I got or enjoyed this upon first listen, but still I guess I can see why it’s here.

Highlights: Rise Above, Spray Paint, Thirsty and Miserable, Depression

  1. Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night

What’s strange about this album is how straightforward it is. It’s not trying to be artsy or eccentric, it just is what it is. Tom Waits sounds young, jazzy, and remarkably human on this album. If Springsteen went folk or jazz, it would sound like this album. Even the spoken word nature of “Diamonds on My Windshield” doesn’t sound strange. This album is littered with gems (“I’m selfish and I’m cruel, but you’re blind”, “If I exorcise my devils, my angels might leave too”). Definitely my favorite Waits project thus far.

Highlights: San Diego Serenade, Shiver Me Timbers, The Heart of Saturday, Please Call Me, Baby

  1. Big Brother and The Holding Company – Cheap Thrills

No, it’s not a live album. I know you hear a live audience at the beginning and the end and I know there’s an immense amount of energy that would make you think it’s live, but it’s not a live album. And yes, that’s Janis Joplin you hear; every bit as rock and roll as you can imagine. Listening to this album I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth she sings with such intensity – screaming, sounding like she’s about to lose her voice – and yet she still signs like an angel. Albeit a slightly raspy angel.

Highlights: I Need a Man to Love, Piece of My Heart

  1. Jethro Tull – Aqualung

They always told us not to judge a book by its cover. When I saw this album, I put off listening to it. It just didn’t sound/look like something I wanted to listen to, but musically it’s so impressive/clean and progressive that it almost covers a multitude of sins, like being just plain weird. Even though, lyrically, you get the sense Aqualung isn’t a particularly pleasant fellow to be around, the title track evolves in such a way I didn’t see coming. It starts creepy but then grows beautiful and light.”. Almost reminds me of Primus or Rush. While the band may debate whether or not it’s a concept album about God and religion, there definitely are those themes prevalent in it. Side note: man, can that man play a flute.

Highlights: Wond’Ring Aloud, Hymn 43, Wind Up

  1. Radiohead – In Rainbows

Definitely the first Radiohead record I ever bought. Instead of naming a price, the band invited fans to pay what they thought the album was worth. At the time, it was practically unheard of. I remember this album being so strange and unfamiliar, I immediately had to figure out what other albums people loved from them. Even though they’ve never been the kind of band for me that I know their songs chapter and verse, I have a profound respect for them. Thom Yorke’s voice is haunting and as experimental as they can be, they get so beautiful in that build of “All I Need.” It’d been a while since I last listened to this album. I think I need to listen to it more.

Highlights: 15 Step, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Reckoner

  1. Soundgarden – Superunknown

Thing about this list is that you’re constantly coming across all these artists that you should’ve heard before but haven’t. Now that they’ve died all you have is their music. That’s exactly what this felt like. For better or worse my introduction to Chris Cornell came with the supergroup Audioslave. I had never listened to Soundgarden. This is more ‘90s grunge for you and though I’m over 20 years late, I’m surprised how much of this stuff I find myself liking. The guitar in “Mailman” is heavy, Chris Cornell has this aggressive voice with the singing range of four octaves, and “Limo Wreck” sounds like where Finch got their inspiration for “Bitemarks & Bloodstains.” Definitely an album I’m revisiting.

Highlights: My Wave, Black Hole Sun, The Day I Tried to Live, Kickstand

  1. Graham Parker – Squeezing Out The Sparks

You can hear Elvis Costello in the voice, a bit of The Clash musically, and you can see the sparks in his hair. Overall the sound is fun but if I’m honest, upon first listen, I have no idea what makes it so special.

Highlights: Local Girls, Nobody Hurts You

  1. X – Wild Gift

While their story may be similar to the White Stripes, these punk rockers from Los Angeles are completely different. Exene Cervenka is more vocally central than Meg White ever was. Though I’ve never listened to them before, both Cervenka’s and Doe’s voices sound familiar. Regardless, their voices work wonderfully together. Their punk edge comes out a bit more on “We’re Desperate.”

Highlights: Universal Corner, Back 2 Base, When Our Love Passed Out On the Couch

  1. Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights

I was so moved by I Want to See The Bright Lights that when I found out another album of theirs was on the list, and that it’s supposedly better than the last, I was interested to see where it would go. This was Richard and Linda’s last album together. But based on the quality of the music here, you would’ve never guessed it. It’s in the magic of Linda’s voice and Richard’s guitar playing on “Walking on a Wire” and “Man in Need.” They sound alive and well. I’d have to listen to both albums side by side to hear which I lean towards but I am glad to see this on here.

Highlights: Walking on a Wire, Just the Motion, Shoot Out the Lights, Wall of Death

  1. The Beatles – Help!

I’m so embarrassed at just how little of The Beatles I’ve listened to. Right from the beginning there’s more way more energy on this project than Let It Be. That energy carries the rest of the album. This was the soundtrack to the movie of the same title. It’s catchy and fun and reminds you everything anyone has ever loved about The Beatles.

Highlight: Help!, I Need You, Lose That Girl, Ticket to Ride, Yesterday

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 350-341

  1. The Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer

The fact that their album before this (both chronologically, according to their American discography, and as it appears on this countdown) are so close together goes to show just how golden this period was for them. This is some time after Clapton had moved on and Jeff Beck stepped in as their guitar player. Immediately he becomes the star of the show. You hear it in “Jeff’s Boogie” as well as the solo in “Rack My Mind”. This album feels like something we would’ve played at Cold Stone for ambiance.

Highlights: Over Under Sideways Down, The Nazz Are Blue, Rack My Mind

  1. Jay-Z – The Black Album

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love it when I come across albums on this list that I’ve heard of/listened to/loved before the list. The Black Album fits in this category. When this album dropped, the singles were larger than life. Aside from being a solid album of its own, this was Jay’s retirement album. It’s the air sets the atmosphere (“If you can’t respect that your whole perspective is whack, maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black”, “I’m supposed to be number one on everyone’s list, we’ll see what happens when I no longer exist”). This is a legend bowing out. It’s Kobe dropping 60 points in his last game.  Why did Jay-Z retire, again? Well, it seems a mixture of him being at the height of his career and underappreciated for what he does. Of course, he wouldn’t stay away, but I personally am glad he didn’t. When this album isn’t not smooth, it’s gritty (“Threat”, “A Moment of Clarity”).

Highlights: December 4th, Encore, Change Clothes, Dirt Off Your Shoulders,

  1. Muddy Waters – At Newport

Oh man, he had me “Got My Brand on You”. While I do recall my Godfather listening to “Hoochie Coochie Man” on our drives to school, I think my grandfather showed me Muddy Waters. You know what this album reminds me of? That part in That Thing You Do where Guy Patterson is in the nightclub, drunk, and absolutely in awe of seeing his hero Del Paxton perform. Muddy Waters is just that good. My man was killing the show so much, he sang the same song twice.

Highlights: Got My Brand on You, I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Tiger in Your Tank.

  1. Pink Floyd – The Piper At the Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd’s first album. Every bit as theatrical as you can imagine from these guys. Both psychedelic and, harmonic. You can hear who they would eventually become in “Interstellar Overdrive.” The real trip comes from listening to headphones and having the audio shift from one ear to the other, fading in and fading out. But this album showed me where bands like Between the Buried and Me got their tricks from.

Highlights: Astronomy Domine, Matilda Mother, The Gnome

  1. De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising

Does it get it get anymore iconic than this in terms of ‘80s hip-hop trios than this? Just bars upon bars and luscious samples upon luscious beats. And yet for all its good natured rhymes, they still have a way of conveying the struggle of life in the ghetto and the plight of people in the hood.

Highlights: Magic Number, Ghetto Thang, Say No Go, Me Myself and I

  1. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

We might have done it, people. We might’ve finally found a Talking heads project I like. After my experience with the last Talking Heads record (and ‘80s new wave in general), I came into this album skeptical. I was prepared not to like it. Two songs in, I couldn’t help but think it was actually really amazing. I kept waiting for there to be a song that I didn’t like or a moment where I got sick of it, but it never came. These guys put one heck of a show. Their energy and quirkiness isn’t something just fabricated on record. It’s amplified here. Between the funk that is “Slippery People” and the line “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”, I will definitely have to revisit this project.

Highlights: Heaven, Slippery People, What A Day That Was, This Must Be the Place

  1. Lou Reed – Berlin

Stripped down and melancholy. There are drugs, abuse, prostitution all over the place. Lou Reed doesn’t even sing as much as it seems he’s talking to you. Even with the tragedy all over the place, there’s beauty in it. Take the opening track for example. Even horns couldn’t make this album sound any more optimistic.

Highlights: Berlin, Oh Jim, Caroline Says II, The Kids, Sad Song

  1. Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell

As silly as the name is, you can’t rip the musical talent. The man practically gave us a rock opera. “Bat Out of Hell” is a ten-minute epic that almost sounds like Bruce Springteen’s “Thunder Road”. I wouldn’t be surprised if this artist, album was a major influence for Tenacious D. There are horns, amazing guitar solos. It’s another one of those albums that just command your attention from start to finish.

Highlights: Bat Out of Hell, All Revved Up With No Place to Go, For Crying Out Loud

  1. Depeche Mode – Violator

I think I might’ve tried listening to this album once but didn’t make it that far. Of course, “Personal Jesus” is famous, but aside from that I don’t know how much else I’ve listened to these guys. Even though it’s more ‘80s pop, new-wave, I found that I didn’t mind it as much. In fact, “Policy of Truth” was surprisingly good. There’s something seductive in the music and the vocals.

Highlights: World in My Eyes, Personal Jesus, Halo, Enjoy The Silence, Policy of Truth

  1. Moby – Play

Before this, my familiarity level with Moby was practically nonexistent. All I knew was what Eminem said about Moby: “nobody listens to techno.” Yet, apparently, that’s not true as it’s here. “Honey” shows us why, it’s a crazy remix of a song. In some ways, you almost want to call it trip-hop but it’s not quite. There’s the sound of it being DJ’ed but there’s no rapping and oddly enough, it’s more enjoyable for that reason. Once again, I surprisingly liked this one.

Highlights: Honey, Porcelain, South Side, Weakness

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 360-351

  1. Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

Talk about old school punk rock. I think I remember these guys going on Warped Tour way back when and even then, they were famed punk veterans showing the next generation a thing or two. Singles Going Steady is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of singles first compiled to help Buzzcocks break onto the American scene. Songs for the most part are short and punchy. Sonically, “Orgasm Addict” immediately reminded me The White Stripes but overall, I agreed with Rolling Stones: this is The Ramones meets the Sex Pistols with a college sense of humor. If you listen to the lyrics though, they speak mostly to longing and desire and longing unfulfilled. Punk with sentiment.

Highlights: Promises, Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, Noise Annoys, Why Can’t I Touch It?

  1. Elton John – Honky Chateau

Due to my experience with Elton John’s last album on this list, I was really excited to take another shot at him. This record didn’t disappoint. Once again, he absolutely dazzles, playing circles around the listener in “Honky Cat.” But even more than that, this album is home to some of the songs we’ve come to know and love from him, namely “Rocket Man”. This album isn’t just a cure to a bad case of the Mondays, it’s a cure to a bad day period. Side note: did I mention his voice is amazing? Because it is.

Highlights: Honky Cat, Mellow, Susie, Rocket Man, Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters

  1. Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

The man who brought you the cool. I don’t know what to say aside from this album is beauty in its purest form. From the very beginning, you can’t help but be immersed in Davis’ playing and mastery. It’s cinematic in the sense that it sounds as if it belongs in some black-and-white movie with characters making a trek across the desert or wilderness. Maybe it’s the kind of music that takes each listener different places, according to their own impressions of the sound.

Highlights: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio), Solea

  1. The Rolling Stones – Between the Buttons

If someone came up to me and said, “Tomy, name three songs from The Rolling Stones” I wouldn’t have been able to do it. That’s the beauty of this list. I’m getting the opportunity to catch up on a lot of music I should’ve heard a long time ago. Having listened to, I’m sure I’ve heard an actual Rolling Stones song before but just didn’t know it was them. At the risk of overstating this, I can hear the Beatles. But apparently, that’s not an unfounded comparison. Both were part of the British invasion that took over the U.S. and others have made similar comments.

Highlights: Let’s Spend the Night Together, Ruby Tuesday, Connection, Miss Amanda Jones

  1. Randy Newman – 12 Songs

One of these days I’ll be able to listen to Randy Newman without hearing “You’ve Got a Friend In Me.” One day. Unfortunately, I have yet to have that day. It’s not that Randy Newman isn’t talented or enjoyable. It’s just that his voice is so distinct it’s hard to separate him from that song. In the same way Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine, no matter what he did or does before and after the X-Men movies, in the same way Daniel Radcliffe will always be Harry Potter, no matter what he did before or does after the movies, Randy Newman be Toy Story for me for a long time. But as I said, that’s not to say this album wasn’t enjoyable. The songwriting is as strong as its ever been and you can hear the blues influence here.

Highlights: Have You Seen My Baby?, Mama Told Me Not To Come, Old Kentucky Home

  1. The Yardbirds – Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds

What’s crazy about The Yardbirds is just how legendary the majority of their members went on to be. Eric Claption is the guitar legend we know him as today, Jimmy Page had Led Zepplin, and Jeff Beck is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. All of them at some point found their home with this band. Some of them even make an appearance on this record. The legend alone makes this album fun.

Highlights: You’re A Better Man Than I, I’m a Man

  1. Billy Joel – 52nd Street

This album appeals to me for a few reasons. First, because I remember the time Chris Rock made a joke connecting Billy Joel and Elton John. Second, because I once almost got into an accident driving home from Oakland because I was looking at an advertisement for a concert Billy Joel and Elton John were playing together. Lastly, because Andrew McMahon, my favorite songwriter, often cites Billy Joel as a key influence in his own piano playing. Between the groove that is “Big Shot” (mariachi and all) to the jam that is “My Life”, this album is sweeping. It sounds like he’s just having fun but he’s so ridiculously talented that his messing around is actual musicianship. And now having listened, I can understand the connections between Billy Joel and Elton John. Their sounds are similar.

Highlights: Big Shot, My Life, Half a Mile Away

  1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

According to Kanye West himself, this is his most perfect album. A handful of magazines and reviewers have called it his best album. Maybe I could see why they’d say that. It’s a hybrid of the arrogance that made Graduation fun to listen to with the same production feel but, at times, it’s got a sense of purpose like his first two albums. But still, I wouldn’t say it’s his best simply because Late Registration exists. HOWEVER, that being said, this is one heck of an album. Coming off 808s & Heartbreak Kanye had something to prove and he proved it. In some ways it feels a symphony of impressive features and equally impressive beats. But to me, this was when Kanye started to vulgar to a point where it became hard to listen to. This album is surprisingly long given that it’s only 13 songs. Side note: I would love to see him and Bon Iver tag team an album together.

Highlights: Dark Fantasy, POWER, All of the Lights, Runaway, Lost in the World

  1. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

Off the bat reminded me of Springsteen. Other times, it was reminiscent of ZZ Top. Still, I could hear Sting and the influence of the Police on “Ride Across the River.” Nevertheless, for all this, there are still these beautiful smooth jazz moments. “Your Latest Trick” is absolutely beautiful.

Highlights: So Far Away, Walk of Life, Your Latest Trick

  1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps

While I was initially thrown off by Neil Young singing “rock and roll is here to stay” over an acoustic guitar, he redeems it in the end with the electric version of the song. When he sings it there, it sounds so much appropriate and true. Neil Young has this strange, nasally gentle voice Ryan O’Neal from Sleeping At Last almost duplicates more beautifully and yet, you don’t really listen to Neil Young for the voice. You listen because he’s a phenomenal songwriter. This album, half acoustic and half electric, goes everywhere from psychedelic rock to folk.

Highlights: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Thrasher, Pocahontas, My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Black)

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