ZZ Top – Tres Hombres
The men with some of the best beards in the business. This is southern rock with a tinge of blues. I feel like the only way to have a proper experience with this band is watching them live at some festival with good food and good drinks and a straw cowboy hat. At times I hear Rush (another great trio) in this but nevertheless this is feel good music with some tasty riffs. I can now say I’ve listened to a ZZ top record.
Highlights: Waitin’ for the Bus, Jesus Just Left Chicago, La Grange
- KISS – Destroyer
I almost want to ask where this has been my entire life, but I know exactly where it’s been: right in front of me. Back in elementary school I had a best friend whose dad was a huge KISS fan. Unfortunately, aside from “Rock and Roll All Night” I never really sat down to listen to them. But this. This is the music you listen to when you’re about to have a night out on the town with your boys and each of you solemnly swear you’re up to no good. ZZ top had the beards but KISS had the make-up and their own unique sex appeal.
Highlights: Detroit Rock City, God of Thunder, Flaming Youth, Shout it out Loud
- Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising
Imagine sitting down, never having heard this band or this album and hearing blaring, distorted guitars, speed-of-light drums, and lots of yelling only to be told this is their slower, more melodic album. You would think someone was pulling your leg. But apparently, that’s the story with this album. I almost believe them. It’s hard to when you have songs like “Watcha drinkin’”, “How to Skin a Cat” or even the title track, “New Day Rising”. Those are straight punk rock songs. Vocally, they remind me of Misfits. And yet “I Apologize” is a bit too clean/smooth to be punk rock, the chords in “Celebrated Summer” a bit too luscious. In that sense, you can see they’re at a crossroads in their career.
Highlights: The Girl Who Lives on Heaven’s Hill, I Apologize, Terms of Psychological Warfare
- Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
After the screaming and yelling of Husker Du, hearing poppy/dance-y Cyndi Lauper was surprisingly refreshing. If this album doesn’t have you belting “money changes everything”, you need to listen again. Lauper has this amazing ability to sound like she’s singing at the top of her lungs and yet demonstrate supreme control Like I feel like her voice is so powerful, you’d hear it she was singing from a mountain. Though I wasn’t a fan of “I’ll Kiss You” this album was so infectious, she won me over. This debut had all the jams.
Highlights: Money Changes Everything, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, When You Were Mine, Time After Time (yes, I know those are like the first four songs on the album. Don’t judge me.)
- Earth, Wind, and Fire – That’s the Way of the World
Aw yeah, Earth, Wind, and Fire, baby. I don’t know if you’re allowed not to absolutely love these guys. I’m pretty sure if you don’t like these guys, you don’t know music. Thumping bass lines and jamming horns, this is musical ecstasy in its purest form. This album had me jamming and reminiscing, surprised by how many songs on this thing I already knew. This album is filled with the cuts! “Africano” is a just an all-around good groove. This is back when people used to talk to you on tracks and then magically find themselves singing again just to prove they could. I almost those days. They don’t make this kind of stuff anymore.
Side note: can we talk about how prolific these guys were/are? Who in the world comes out with eight albums in the span of six years?
Highlights: Shining Star, That’s The Way of the World, Happy Feelin’, Reasons
- Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
One of the fun parts about listening to these albums is I get to dive into the mythos of the artist. Strangely enough, I never listened to Pearl Jam growing up. Some of my closest friends are big fans and I’ll hear their music in passing as a result but I’ve never actually sat down and listened to a full album. But from the moment I heard the opening of “Last Exit” I had a feeling this was it. My natural desire is for a good, catchy chorus but when they didn’t opt for it, I was even gladder. By “Spin the Black Circle” I thought they’d gotten a new fan. By “Nothingman” I knew it. It’s aggressive yet thoughtful but not without its eccentricities. Take “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” or “Pry, To” for example: what are the point of those songs? Nevertheless I can see why so many people were drawn to them around their debut. I want to dig deeper as well. Sonically, I wonder if this is where Incubus gets it from.
Highlights: Last Exit, Nothingman, Corduroy, Better Man
- Mott the Hoople – All The Young Dudes
Not going to lie, at first I was hesitant to give it a listen. I mean, what kind of name is Mott the Hoople? (As it turns out Mott the Hoople comes from a book of the same name). But these guys are considered important to the glam rock genre and I can see it. Even though at times they resemble Bob Dylan in terms of songwriting and lyrical delivery, you can also hear the influence of David Bowie producing this record. At times I even hear Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zepplin. But what I love most about this album is the way it begins and comes full circle in its end. There’s something reassuring about, “Ride on my son, ride until you fail.”
Highlights: Sweet Jane, All the Young Dudes, Jerkin’ Crocus, One of the Boys
- Gang of Four – Entertainment!
Before there was Anti-Flag, before there was Against Me! there was Gang of Four and all their punk rock greatness. Political lyrics analyzing society, walking bass lines, and those guitar riffs that don’t sound particularly melodic but you come to love them anyway? All those can be found in this album. But for all its punk, it’s got its fair share of melody. If you’re not really listening carefully it’s easy for this album to become background noise. My encouragement: don’t do it. You might miss out on something special. I feel cooler and infinitely more punk rock just for having heard this album.
Highlights: Natural’s Not In It, Not Great Men Damaged Goods, I Found That Essence Rare
- Steve Earle – Guitar Town
Personally, I get a little upset when people say they like everything but country music. Not because I’m a huge country fan but because there is good country music out there, even if I can’t fully relate to the narrative that’s being shared. While I know nothing about the hillbilly highway, this album is not without its gems (“Little Rock ‘N’ Roller is a perfect example). It may be a country album but it’s got rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ heart.
Highlight: Good Old Boy, Some day, Little Rock ‘N Roller
- D’Angelo – Voodoo*
This album is too smooth, man. This is a record you put on and just vibe, letting it take you wherever it wants to take you for the day. It’s so layered, so textured and rich, you can’t help but to be captive to its hold and for the most part, you don’t mind (“Left & Right” is crazy vulgar). His cover of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” alone makes the album worth it. This is neo-soul at its finest. Pino Palladino, Raphael Saadiq, and Charlie Hunter kill it on the bass lines, D’Angelo is a master arranger. This album performs a rare feat: it gets better with every song. Definitely deserves another listen.
Highlight: Send It On, One Mo’Gin, Feel Like Makin’ Love, Untitled (How Does It Feel?)