Hole – Live Through This
Courtney Love is not to be trifled with. Her voice is filled with aggression, rage, and sadness. This album is complex for multiple reasons. This album was released right after Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Surrounding this album was accusations that he wrote the music (and when you listen to it, you can understand why – that Nirvana Nevermind sound is all over this). Also, this an album processing motherhood, fame, and marriage. It’s hard to tell if she’s driving out demons or if she’s giving them voice. There’s Anne Sexton references, a recurring theme of milk (whether that’s literal or another word for heroin), and so much more. “Asking for It” deals with violence against women – particularly her experience crowd surfing and being violated. “Plump” deals with motherhood. If it took a Nirvana rivalry to create this then I’d say it was worth it.
Highlight: Miss World, Asking For It, Doll Parts
- The Drifters – The Golden Hits
Now for a completely different change of pace. This is ’60s doo-wap. Classic and untouchable. This is the kind of music you’re not allowed to dislike. You may not listen to it frequently, but to not like this music is to practically not like music at all. In that way, by modern standards we might see it as pedestrian or vanilla – you’re supposed to like this – but that doesn’t detract from its art. Not a lot of people sing this anymore and we may underestimate its difficulty. You may not even know that you’ve heard this group before until you start seeing song titles and then you realize that you’ve always been surrounded by them. Side note: this group has seen so many different incarnations, it’ll make your head spin.
Highlights: True Love, Dance With Me, This Magic Moment, Under the Boardwalk
- Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection
When I listen to these albums I typically jot down little notes and smoothen them out at the end of the day. Not so with this album. Not because I didn’t want to but because I was too busy jamming out to analyze it. Maybe that’s what good music does. You become a consumer (or even consumed by it) before you become a critic. Much like how I felt with Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”, this album felt like I stumbled on another treasure. I don’t think I’ve ever known how much I love Elton John’s voice or really admitted what a gifted singer he was/is but “Country Comfort” says it all. I love the American Western concept. “Burn Down the Mission” is a theatrical end to an already great album.
Highlights: Ballad of a Well-Known Gun, Country Comfort, Son of Your Father, Amoreena
- My Morning Jacket – Z
Another album that’s not too old. Oddly enough, I have an image in my head Circuital being on sale at Best Buy but never thinking much of it. Years later the name came back to me only to find rave reviews and everyone pointing back to this album. Now I can see why. This is something that’d be perfect for a summer night at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California drowning in the chorus of “Wordless Chorus” (no pun intended). I can hear Phox in this and at times Jim James sounds similar to Ryan O’Neal from Sleeping at Last. I love the dancing bass lines. “What A Wonderful Man” is a straight rock jam whereas “Off The Record” is a bit more reggae. That solo in “Lay Low” made me stop what I was doing and just appreciate it for a second. All of this says nothing about “Dondante” which is both a beautiful and tragic song.
Highlights: Wordless Chorus, Gideon, Off the Record, Anytime
- Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear
Story goes that Gaye and his first wife, Anna Gordy, got divorced but not before she handed him a hefty lawsuit saying the royalties from whatever album he made next would go to her. Out of spite, Gaye decided he would rush an album just so she could have the money. In fact, he didn’t even care if it was good. In fact, he wanted it to be bad. But somewhere along the way, he became invested in this album in a way he never had before. He played the keyboards on it. Instead of simply relying on others to write it, he wrote the lyrics – sometimes figuring out words while they were recording. The result is this record in all of its mixed emotions. You hear the looseness of the lyrics and sardonic tone he takes. It’s cutting and cathartic. Scale it back a bit and this could’ve made for an excellent blues record. But if nothing else, this album is legendary for the story that surrounds it.
Highlights: I Met A Little Girl, Everybody Needs Love, Falling In Love Again
- Los Lobos – How Will the Wolf Survive?
I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect this. This reminds me a bit of ZZ top at times. The same rock with a slight tinge of blues. But at the same, it touches genres that even ZZ Top didn’t. “Corrido #1” reminds me of Mariachi music but a bit more polished with a bit more oomph. I find that to be the word I want to use to describe these guys: polished. A kind of polished that only comes from being good at your craft. It’s clean, controlled, and not just because it’s recorded. I get the sense they sound exactly the same live as they do on record.
Highlights: Don’t Worry Baby, I Got Loaded, Serenata Nortena
- Alice Cooper – Love It to Death
Father of shock rock himself. Honestly didn’t know what to expect with this. Any picture I’ve seen of Alice Cooper has always freaked me out a bit and yet at the same time I know he now describes himself as a born-again Christian. This man has a crazy raspy voice. Upon researching this album, I found this has influenced so many (The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Foo Fighters). In terms of genre, this album is considered to be important to the formation of heavy metal but to me it sounds more like hard rock (but really, what are genres anyway?). Maybe I hear the heavy metal in “Hallowed Be My Name” or “Black Juju” but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Just by nature of the people it’s influenced, this album wins.
Highlights: Caught In a Dream, I’m Eighteen, Is It My Body, Ballad of Dwight Fry
- EPMD – Strictly Business
More ’80s hip-hop for you. Immediately reminded me of Biz Markie (in fact, his first album came out the same year this album was released). Funky beats, stuffy flows with wit and swagger. Good natured rhymes. Even had their own dance called the Steve Martin, named after the comedian/actor. Got some great samples on here (“Jungle Boogie”, “I Shot the Sherriff”, “Slow and Low.”)
Highlight: Strictly Business, You Gots to Chill, D.J. K La Boss
- John Prine – John Prine
Almost immediately reminded me of Bob Dylan. Between his voice, the music itself, and some his lyrics, it’s winsome. If you’ve ever listened to John Mayer’s Born and Raised this almost sounds like where he got his inspiration. “Far From Me” almost reminds me of Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker. This man has inspired Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, has been compared to Neil Young, and I hear that too. Prine is a storyteller who somehow beautifully articulates sadness and loneliness. “Well, ya know, she still laughs with me. But now she waits just a second too long”, “A question ain’t really a question if you know the answer too”. This is an important album to hold onto.
Highlights: Illegal Smile, Spanish Pipedream, Sam Stone, Far From Me
- Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
From the second “Rehab” came on, it was hard not to be overcome with sadness. Such a unique voice and presence, taken from the world too young. I don’t know what’s in the water over in the UK, but they churn out some incredible artists. Interestingly enough, I forgot how uncouth Winehouse was. But I suppose that was and is part of her charm. She’s got this beautiful voice and this classic sound, only to drop F bombs and talk about getting high. I like how the album comes full circle between “Rehab” and “Addicted”.
Highlights: Rehab, Tears Dry On Their Own, Addicted