- OutKast – Aquemini
Confession corner: this is the first Outkast album I’ve ever listened to start to finish. That alone feels like some rite of passage. To me, this group has always held a mythical/legendary status. I know we consider them visionaries. I know Andre 3000 is one of the greats, but for some reason I just never sat down and listened but I’m glad I did. This album is conscious in its own right – detailing the black experience now while also contemplating the future, aware of the image that surrounds the genre and yet determined to be different.
Highlights: Rosa Parks, Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1 & 2), Return of the “G”, Skew it on the Bar-B
- B.B. King – Live in Cook County Jail
If you’ve ever wondered where John Mayer learned to play guitar like he does, here it is. B.B. King is alive and real in this recording and it’s one heck of an experience. Vocally and musically, he’s impeccable. As a performer, he’s both charming and funny. It’s no wonder he won the crowd over. He wins you over too, even forty-seven years after the fact. It feels like he’s you’re in the audience too, being equally moved by the moment as you share in this legend. Once again, this was my first real B.B. King listening experience and what a gift it was.
Highlights: the whole darn thing.
- The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
What’s unfair is that every album or band I want to compare to this came after this record. Upon first listen, it reminded me a bit of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (they share an atmospheric, shoegaze-y sound). And yet, Loveless was released in 1991. Then it reminded me of the Cranberries but even that was 1993. All this to say, there’s something strangely familiar about The Stone Roses, as if you’ve heard them – or at least, should have – before but not quite sure if you have.
Highlights: She Bangs the Drums, This is the One, I am the Resurrection
- The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
I came into The White Stripes around Elephant was released. Something about both the music and the video for ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ demanded my attention. I followed them for the next couple years but unfortunately never took time to listen to their breakthrough album. This album reminded me of everything I’ve always appreciated about The White Stripes – the fuzzy guitars, the pounding drums, rock riffs with a tinge of experimentation. It’s rough around the edges and at times sounds like your neighbor’s garage band but it’s that coarseness that makes it accessible. You want to pick up a guitar and do what Jack White does. But therein lies the deception: it’s never as easy as he makes it sound.
Highlights: Fell in Love With a Girl, We’re Going to Be Friends
- Boz Scaggs – Boz Scaggs
This is where listening to 500 albums becomes a choice. If I’m honest, I had no desire to listen to this album. Based on the cover (yes, I know what they say) it just didn’t look like it’d be something that’d appeal to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the beginning of “I’m Easy” I knew I had made the right choice. The man can jam – the twelve minute epic ‘Loan Me a Dime’ is proof. But I think what grabbed me most was his voice. It reminded me of the soul artists like Lenny Williams and the Temptations carry and yet he’s white. Something about the way he sings, “I’m going to get up and make my life shine” speaks to your soul, almost as if it was always your heart’s cry and yet you knew it not.
Highlights: I’m Easy, I’ll Be Long Gone, Loan Me a Dime, Sweet Release
- Bonnie Raitt – Give It Up
Here’s the thing: committing to listening to 500 albums means sitting down with albums you have no interest in listening to. No offense to Bonnie Raitt but she’s not what I would normally go for when I’m just looking for something to listen to. Heck, I may still not even listen after this but I can’t deny it’s good. Between the steel guitar, the horns, Raitt’s vocal perfection (Both in tone, but also delivery) you see why this is such a pivotal record. When she says, “you can love me like a man” I feel like she’s singing to me. The fact that it’s her killing it on that slide guitar in the beginning of “Give It Up”? Oh man, Bonnie Raitt is the real deal. Sorry for doubting you.
Highlights: Give It Up, I Know, Under the Falling Sky, Love Has No Pride
- MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
This was a bit of a surprise for me. This album isn’t that old (2007). I remember the singles coming out and it being everywhere, but for some reason I never stopped to listen to anything apart from singles and remixes that were released. However, the fact that it’s made the list, as young as it is, says something. In my own head it feels like the perfect blend of new and old. The chorus on to “Time to Pretend” engulfs you with its synth while ‘Weekend Wars’ reminds you of Queen and Pink Floyd.
Highlights: Time to Pretend, Electric Feel, Kids
- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Finally, the first album on this list I’ve somewhat listened to before. Being a bit of a self-proclaimed music nerd, I’m all for comparison and rivalries. During grad school, I stumbled upon the Beach Boys/Beatles rivalry while writing for a school project and with it came the Wilco/Radiohead comparison. Being a marginal Radiohead fan myself, I had to listen. Just so happens, this was the album I was told to start at. At times, during this listen I heard Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Like both Radiohead and Neutral Milk Hotel, it takes more than an initial listen to fully appreciate this album. It’s an album I have to acquire a taste for. But even without having the time to really dig into it, I found myself in awe of Tweedy’s ability to nail it lyrically. “Distance has no way of making love understandable” he sings on “Radio Cure”. “Reservations” has got to be one of the most beautiful and devastating songs I’ve heard in a while. If you’re looking for something to lift your mood and make you feel all right about life, I don’t know if this album is it. But if you’re feeling down and need a record that gets you, search no more. This record will break your heart.
Highlights: Kamera, Radio Cure, War on War, Pot Kettle Black, Poor Places
- Eurythmics – Touch
What happens when you get to an album on the 500 list that you’re not a fan of? Does that imply that something’s wrong with you? The thing is, these albums are ranked. If we’re talking ranking, that means that in an ideal situation each album would be better than the last. But when each album is so different from the one before it, how do you even properly gauge it? All this to say, this wasn’t my favorite. I’m all for 80’s new wave but on first listen (admittedly, that might not be enough), it didn’t do it for me. I’m not a huge fan of her voice. The chorus on “Cool Blue” may grow on me eventually but it hasn’t yet. I will say though that when Lennox sings, “Talk to me like lovers do” on “Here Comes the Rain Again” she sings it so earnestly I feel like she’s talking to me.
Highlights: Here Comes the Rain Again, Who’s That Girl?
- Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign
First heard this album when I researched John Mayer’s blues influences. Now, I am by no means a bluesman but this album is everything I love about the blues. With lines like, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” and “I’ve been down so long, down don’t bother me”, you can’t help but to admire the genius and vulnerability. It’s both hilarious and devastating, relatable in a way that you wonder if it’s okay to put this level of misery into song. Blues tells a story and Albert King does it so well while making his guitar talk. First half the album moves quick; second half is a bit longer but by then you’ve bought in and your wiling to go wherever Albert King’s willing to take you. You just want to know more about his life.
Highlights: Born Under a Bad Sign, Kansas City, Oh Pretty Woman, Down Don’t Bother Me.