LL Cool J – Radio
To be honest, I forgot LL Cool J made music. I’m too used to seeing him lick his lips on award shows and acting on CSI. This album, though, takes me back. This feels like something my dad would’ve had on in the car as he drove me home from school. This is 80’s hip-hop music at its finest. That Run DMC “My Adidas” vibe. That Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Deezer D rapping in their car vibe in CB4 vibe. This album is almost impossible not to love. It’s good natured and winsome, even hilarious in its insults (“You Can’t Dance”, “Dear Yvette”, “That’s a Lie”). This will take you back to back to an era that unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore and make you miss it all the more.
Highlights: I Can’t Live Without My Radio, Dear Yvette, Dangerous, Rock the Bells, That’s a Lie
- Fugees – The Score
We all know how epic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is. Some may even know how great Wyclef Jean is. But before there were solo careers, there were Fugees and this classic album. This is that Low End Theory, that Black Star flow. Dope beats, smooth flows, and heavily conscious. What I especially loved was its smooth crossfade from one track to another. Whether it’s due to my own limited knowledge of the subsequent careers following this album or if it’s genuinely true, this Wyclef and Lauryn like I’ve never heard them before. I’m used to Wyclef singing. I didn’t know how solid of a rapper he was and L-Boogie rips it on this album. This album felt like an education of its own, helping me identify songs maybe I’d always heard but never knew their origin. I don’t care how many times I hear “Killing Me Softly.” That song remains the jam.
Highlights: Ready or Not, Family Business, Killing Me Softly, Manifest
- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
I have a feeling that by the end of this 500 I’m going to have a healthy appreciation for the blues. If it wasn’t B.B. King, it was Albert King and now we come to this. When these guys aren’t playing circles around you with their guitars (Take “Thank you Mr. Poobah”, “Screaming”) they are straight jamming. I can appreciate a white dude singing the blues.
Highlights: Blues With a Feeling, Thank You Mr. Poobah, I Got My Mojo Working,
- Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
With a voice like this and guitar playing skills like this, it’s no wonder why they call him the Boss. Look no further than “Spare Parts.” His storytelling abilities alone tells us why we consider him one of the great American songwriter. Inspired by his failed marriage, this album is heartbroken and earnest and in that could easily be the inspiration for The Gaslight Anthem’s Get Hurt or Ryan Adams’ Prisoner. This is the album for bar room loneliness. You put the money in the jukebox and knock back some cold ones, contemplating the whole thing. Whenever you get misty-eyed, you take another drink and when you feel the anger welling up in your chest whether from hurt or regret, you drink again. I mean, who writes, “If you’re rough enough for love, I’m tougher than the rest” or “There’s a girl across the bar, I get the message she’s sending/mmm, she’s not looking too married/me, well honey, I’m pretending”? Genius. “Walk Like a Man” takes me back to my own wedding day and the fear in the pit of my stomach. “Two Faces” highlights my own fears about myself and my capacity for good and for evil. This is definitely an album I’m revisiting.
Highlights: Tougher than the Rest, Walk Like Man, Two Faces, Brilliant Disguise
- Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
Some albums you get and you don’t appreciate until a much later date. This is case in point. Back in the eighth grade my best friend at the time bought me two records for my birthday: AFI’s Sing the Sorrow and Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head. I asked for the AFI record. Coldplay was just a little something on the side. For the longest time this album sat neglected, opened but never listened to. It wasn’t until I fell in love with X&Y that I went back for this album and couldn’t deny how good it was. In fact, it made me mad. First, because it took me so long to listen to this album and second because it was my non-rock listening friend who showed it to me (I can be quite the music snob at time). But this is the Coldplay I like. Not so concerned with image or concept or theme or reinvention as much as they’re just concerned with making great music.
Highlights: In My Place, The Scientist, Clocks, Warning Sign
- The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
Well, if there’s one thing I can say about The Magnetic Fields is that they warned you in advance. This is a 69-song album, spanning three volumes. Although that sounds daunting, three hours of The Magnetic Fields passes a bit easier than five of Haggard. Maybe that’s why it’s ranked higher. Rather than a collection spanning decades, this is a singular, genre-transcending album. There’s country, jazz, and folk and its constant genre-bending makes it even more compelling. You never really know what you’re going to expect. While “I Don’t Believe in the Sun” sounds like it belongs to the Juno soundtrack, “Fido Your Leash is too Long” initially sounds like an ad between songs before evolving into more. While the “69 songs” is honest, the term “love” can be used very flexibly. Some of these sound like break up songs, “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” has more to do with desire than love, and I think that’s the idea. More than being specifically about love, they touch on the subjects surrounding it. Stephin Merritt has this deep voice that almost sounds uninterested in what it’s singing, but it creates for a haunting atmosphere. The lower we get in these numbers, the more I find myself wanting to revisit these albums to fully digest the gems in them.
Highlights: I Don’t Believe in the Sun, All My Little Words, I Think I Need a New Heart, The Book of Love, Sweet Loving Man, No One Will Ever Love You, Meaningless
- Def Leppard – Hysteria
I can feel the flames shooting out of the stage just listening to this. This is stadium rock hair metal in all its larger than life glory, anthemic choruses everywhere you turn. Maybe the only way you could get more sex, drugs, and rock and roll is if this was a Motley Crue record. There are a couple things I find amazing about this record. First, it’s the album after their drummer lost his arm. You wouldn’t know the difference. They pick up right where they left off. Second, I feel like this album’s sound influenced many. The opening riff on “Women” reminds me of Coheed and Cambria’s “Domino the Destitute”, in “Rocket” I hear Joe Satriani. Side note: all the head nods to difference artists on “Rocket”? So cool. I found myself trying to figure out where I’ve heard that chord progression on those “Animal” verses but I couldn’t quite place it. This is an album you’ll be tempted to pass off as blasé but if you allow yourself to be caught in its gravitas, there’s actually a lot to enjoy here.
Highlights: Animal, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Hysteria, Love and Affection
- Echo and the Bunny Men – Heaven Up Here
I know for a fact I’ve heard of this group before and I believe there was a time when I wanted to listen to this but, as is the recurring theme, I never got around to it. Well now that I’m here, the album didn’t immediately grab my attention. In fact, even after twenty minutes it didn’t. I found myself wanting a more coherent melody instead of incomprehensible bellowing. This is the second 80’s new wave album I haven’t liked. Maybe it’s not my thing after all. This very well might be an acquired taste and sound. One that requires you first listen to another one of their albums, appreciate them and then you’ll understand the genius of it. At times I hear The Cure, Joy Division, and Depeche Mode. At times, it sounds like the theme song for a television show like Weird Science or Beauty and the Geek or something. I only wish I got it.
Highlights: I can’t really name one sadly.
- R.E.M. – Document
Along with Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy, R.E.M.’s Document was another album sitting on my computer that I never got around to listening to. There’s an anger that pervades this record, stemming from its political undercurrent. Although it probably goes without saying being listed on this countdown, this album feels iconic; almost like it defines a generation or an age. This might be an album that needs to be sat with for a while, learning about the band as well in order to understand what makes it great. If the chorus of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” hasn’t already been a theme song for a television show, then a show needs to be created just so it can be. I’m thinking Daria-esque?
Highlights: Welcome to the Occupation, Exhuming McCarthy, It’s the End of the World As We Know It
- Public Image Ltd – Metal Box
They say context is key. I suppose that’s true. Without knowing a bit of context, this album seems strange – bass driven, scratchy guitars, indiscernible melodies. But upon understanding, it’s still slightly strange but also slightly understandable. This was Johnny Rotten’s band after Sex Pistols fell apart. As the story goes, people were upset that this new band wasn’t the same as his previous band and in response to their complains he made stranger music to further alienate the complainers. “Albatross” is literally a ten minute song with improvised lyrics that will leave you scratching your head trying to figure out if you’re missing something. This feels like something I’d hear in some underground club. Pretty sure I wouldn’t get it, the music nor the people who actually liked this stuff. But I do enjoy the way the bass and the guitar works together in “Poptones” almost reminds me a bit of Explosion in the Sky or more emo projects like American Football. Maybe this is one of those projects you get or you don’t. Maybe it first requires a love for the Sex Pistols.
Side note: I lightweight freaked out when “Radio 4” came on and I thought I heard it before. And after combing the depths of my memory, J. Cole uses it in “She’s Mine” (Pts. 1 & 2).
Highlights: Swan Lake/Death Disco, Poptones, Careering