The Great Wall of Music: 410-401

  1. Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

First Dylan record on the list and the first Dylan record I’ve listened to from start to finish. This comes at the tail end of the ‘90s, which is definitely a bit different than ‘60s rambling Dylan. But “Standing in the Doorway” reminds me of the Dylan I know. Interestingly enough this was Dylan’s first album of original material in seven years. What better way to return than to do a double album featuring multiple songs without choruses and the longest recording you’ve ever done. It’s folky, bluesy, and poetic. His voice is both nasally and raspy, gruff but whiny .This is where Adele gets “Make You Feel My Love.”

Highlight: Dirt Road Blues, Standing in the Door Way, Trying to Get Heaven, Not Dark Yet

  1. The Doors – Strange Days

Ashamed to say this, but this is my first Doors record. Supposedly, this album is a bit darker than the previous one and I suppose I hear it. Between the the bass lines, Morrison’s voice and the organs in the background, it sounds like Halloween (“Horse Latitudes” is a perfect example). It doesn’t help the album is called Strange Days, the cover is strange, and then there’s a song called “People Are Strange”.

Highlight: You’re Lost Little Girl, Unhappy Girl, People Are Strange

  1. Sinead O’Connor – I Don’t Want What I Haven’t Got

 From the first track, I was waiting for the drums to come in and it to turn into this epic rock opera or something, but halfway in, it wasn’t there. Those drums come in on “Last Day of Our Acquaintance.” O’Connor grew up Catholic and religion takes an interesting role in this album. It opens with the serenity prayer, “Black Boys on Mopeds” is filled with biblical allusions. “I Am Stretched Over Your Grave” is a poem that was translated and put to music. “Nothing Compares 2 U” is a Prince song she rearranged. The album ends as quietly as it starts.

Highlights: Three Babies, Black Boys on Mopeds, Nothing Compares 2 U, You Cause As Much Sorrow

  1. The Clash – Sandinista!

I was not ready for that bass line in “The Magnificent Seven.” “Hitsville U.K.”being a play-off of the headquarters of Motown headquarters, while also doing an amazing job at sounding Motown. For a punk band, they play with all kinds of genres here. “Junco Partner” was a blues song that The Clash redoes here in a more reggae tone and then plays again in “Version Pardner”.  But that’s not the only song they redo. “Living in Fame” is a reprise of “If Music Could Talk”. I’ve known The Clash as a punk band but this showed me they were so much more multi-dimensional than that. There’s waltz, five minute songs, and more. Solid triple Disc Album. Still, I don’t know if I recommend listening in one sitting. I couldn’t.

Highlights: The Magnificent Seven, Ivan Meets GI Joe, Someone Got Murdered, Up In Heaven

  1. PJ Harvey – Rid of Me

I know in my last PJ Harvey album I compared her a bit to Nirvana but this album is produced by the same man who produced In Utero (in fact, they were released the same year). On top of that, both Cobain and Courtney Love extol Harvey’s genius. But that might be where I end the comparison for this album. Now I see how Stories might’ve been Harvey in love. This album has legs getting cut off, rubbing and bleeding, and being left “dry” – whatever that means. She said she wanted to shock people and she certainly did. PJ Harvey’s music reminds me of a girl I went to college with: vivid in its detail and uncomfortable but it’s kind of genius. It’s aggressive and loud. And in a way, I just might like it.

Highlight: Rid of Me, Man Size (Both versions I guess), Snake, 50 Ft. Queenie

  1. Big Star – Radio City

At this point I feel like I’m able to speak a bit more confidently on Big Star. If I’m a fan, I’m no longer a nominal one, but I’ve heard the majority of their discography thanks to this list. This band has four albums and three of them made it in this list. I feel like I need to go back and listen to these chronologically to get a better sense of the band but I can say that while this band was never commercially successful, I can understand how their impact on power-pop runs deep.

Highlights: O My Soul, What’s Going Ahn, Daisy Glaze, September Gurls, I’m in Love with a Girl

  1. Dr. John – Dr. John’s Gumbo

Based off title and cover alone, this is definitely something I’d only listening to because I have to. But then you start the album and you’re hit with all of flavors of New Orleans. You come to appreciate Dr. John’s rasp and the colorful instrumentation here. This album, more than anything, is a tribute to the city that inspired it. In its own way it helps you to be there without being there.

Highlights: Iko Iko, Blow Wind Blow, Those Lonely Nights

  1. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd

Between “Sweet Home Alabama”, them being the butt of every live concert joke (there’s always that one guy that yells “Free Bird” in between songs), and them being the face of rednecks everywhere, I have never truly given these guys a fair shot. I realized that the second “Free Bird” came on and it occurred to me that for all my years of music listening and concert going, I’ve never once stopped to actually listen to the song.

I may regret saying this, but this album is not bad. In fact, I might even enjoy it (I’ll add it to my list of guilty pleasures and if anyone ever calls me out on it, I’ll deny it). There’s obvious musicianship in the piano and guitars. It’s this group who brought fame to the genre of southern rock.

Highlights: I Ain’t The One, Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps

  1. Nas – Illmatic

One of my favorite hip-hop albums of all-time. Ten songs (nine, if you don’t count the intro) of straight fire. NaS is a master storyteller, capturing the essence of the streets. Internal rhymes galore and features from unknown rappers equally talented. This album changed everything. (How was he 20 years old when he dropped this?) If you haven’t listened to this one, take my word. You need to. His flow is so smooth, it’s charming. I’m pretty sure if you don’t appreciate the art of rapping or don’t consider it music, this is the album to start with. Try following his rhyme scheme.

Highlights: N.Y. State of Mind, The World Is Yours, Halftime, It Ain’t Hard to Tell

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

One hundred albums in and what better way to celebrate than Red Hot Chili Peppers. This albums is everything I’ve always loved about this band. Flea’s funky bass lines, Anthony Kiedis’ back forth between rapping and singing, the guitar. It’s funky but then they have the ability to kick it up another notch (“Parallel Universe”). This is definitely worth revisiting.

Highlights: Parallel Universe, Scar Tissue, Otherside, Californication, This Velvet Glove

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The Great Wall of Music: Albums 440-431

  1. The Pogues – Run Sodomy and the Lash

This is definitely Celtic punk rock. This takes me back to The Warped Tour and Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphy’s. You get all the folk and rock elements along with bagpipes, mandolins, and accordions. Even though these guys come from London, this feels like Irish pub music (Shane McGowan is Irish-British). They can get just as crass as the rest and yet that’s part of the charm.

Highlights: Sick Bed of Cuchulainn, I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day, Sally McLennane

  1. Sam Cooke – Live from the Harlem Square Club, 1963

Mr. Soul himself. Sam Cooke, to me, has always been “Change Gon’ Come” but this is a completely different side to him. In fact, that’s partially why it took so long to be released (this recording is from 1963 but was put out 1985). Sam and the band are bringing down this historic Miami Club and you’re just caught in the whirlwind. His voice sounds like he’s been killing performance after performance for days now and he’s at his end but he loves what he does so much it’s not going to hold him back. Rolling Stone called it. When the crowd chimes in during “For Sentimental Reasons”, you just have to appreciate the moment. Don’t fight it. Feel it.

Highlights: Chain Gang, Somebody Have Mercy, Bring it on Home To Me

  1. The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry

This makes me happy for a number of reasons. First, I’m already a fan of The Cure (“Letter to Elise” is one of my favorite songs of all-time). Second, because if this album is on here that means Disintegration is also going to be somewhere on this list (turns out it’s 326). These guys and the Smiths had their own miniature war on sadness and I honestly can’t tell you who won. Interestingly enough, this isn’t a studio album as much as it’s compilation of their stuff prior to this. Maybe because I became a fan of this band’s late ’80s releases, some of this stuff doesn’t appeal to me as much (“10:15 Saturday Night”). It sounds a bit amateur, and young. Of course, all the DNA that brought you “Friday I’m in Love” is here but it’s just not as refined.

Highlights: Boys Don’t Cry, Jumping Someone Else’s Train, Fire In Cairo

  1. Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III

Lil Wayne and I have a love/hate relationship. On one hand, he seems like the most arrogant rapper alive. In my head, he buys into his own hype way too much, thinking everything he touches turns to gold. And yet, we bought into it too. As a result, everything he touched DID turn to gold. He would say the most outlandish things and half the time it didn’t seem like he tried. But then on the other hand were these handful of songs from him where I couldn’t deny his giftedness. Thing is, Wayne is clever but he rides the borderline of clever and cheesy. (“Money so old/it’s growing white hair”). But I remember when this album came out and the singles were everywhere. I think my biggest issue is that there’s simply no substance on most of these songs. If he’s not bragging about money, he’s talking about women and I just want more from it. Not to mention, this album feels unnecessarily long. To the point where it sounds like even HE got tired of it by the end. I know Lil’ Wayne fans are going to kill me for this. Sorry.

Highlights: Mr. Carter, Comfortable

  1. Beck – Sea Change

For some of us, the only reason we know about Beck is because the Beyoncé Grammy snub. I’m sure I’d heard of him before that but it wasn’t until then that I researched him and that album in particular. A comment every review said was that it was a follow up to this album. Sea Change is a break up album, melancholy through and through. Story goes as such: Beck and fiancé, who he’d been with for nine years, broke up after him discovering she’d been cheating on him. Apparently after they split, he wrote the majority of these songs in a week but then held onto them for a while because they were too personal. And you can hear it in the lyrics (“It’s only lies I’m living/it’s only tears I’m crying/it’s only you I’m losing/guess I’m doing fine.”) This is an album to fall asleep to, or cry tears in your pillow as the day wanes. True story: I had to take a nap half way into it.

Highlights: Golden Age, Guess I’m Doing Fine, Lonesome Tears, Already Dead

  1. Nirvana – In Utero

How does one follow up an album Nevermind? The album that put them on the map, bringing more fame and celebrity than they could’ve ever dreamed? Tear it to the ground and start again. Nevermind showed us Nirvana polished and clean. In Utero shows us grit and unrefined. Take “Scentless Apprentice” for example. That almost sounds like a completely different band from “Smell Like Teen Spirit” but “Heart-Shaped Box” shows us they’re still in there.

This is a multi-layered album. On one hand, it talks about a variety of seemingly unrelated things. “Rape Me” could be telling the story for the perspective of a rape victim and the almost poetic justice of that person being raped. But then it could also the way Kurt is feeling about the music industry. “Frances Farmer” could be about the celebrity, but then at the same time could also express Kurt’s own feelings at that stage of his life and career. Even though this album was released a year before his suicide, there’s something haunting about this record. Maybe even because of the suicide that follows. The self-hatred and themes of suicide and feeling empty or used. Similar to Hole, “milk” makes an appearance a couple times in this album.

Highlight: Heart-Shaped Box, Rape Me, Dumb, Tourette’s, All Apologies

  1. Big Star – #1 Record

Second Big Star record on this thing! This is the first band to have multiple albums on the list (I know as we get higher we’ll see more Beatles and Beach Boys). Already I can sense the life in this record that wasn’t present the one prior on the list. They just seem to have a bit more energy here. Still at times reminds me of the Beatles. But, this is where you feel the power-pop come out. I have a strong feeling this is one of those albums you go to listen to only one song and before you know it, you’ve listened to the whole thing. So many great harmonies on this thing. This definitely tops Third/Sister Lovers.

Highlights: Ballad of El Goodo, In the Street, Thirteen, Try Again

  1. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

If it sounds like The Beatles, it’s because there are a couple of songs on here that were written for the band but were turned down by McCartney and Lennon. This is a triple-disc, country/folk album. Easy on the ears and good for the soul. Perfect soundtrack to get work done to. Only problem is that while there’s so many good tracks on this album you inevitably hit a point you’re tired of listening to it. But there’s lots to enjoy here. The last three tracks on the album are solid instrumentals. The guitar and horns on “Art of Dying” are epic.

Highlights: My Sweet Lord, Wah-Wah, Isn’t It A Pity, What Is Life, Awaiting On You All

  1. Brian Eno – Here Comes the Warm Jets

Brian Eno is legend. Besides all the production credits under his belt (U2 ranks among them), he’s practically the father of ambient music. But for all that being true, my attempts to listen to an Eno record has always ended prematurely. I’m not patient enough to stick with it, but this time I’m forced to. And this was fun. This is Brian Eno’s debut album. You can hear the glam elements as well as the more experimental, Bowie-esque elements (“Blank Frank”, “Driving Me Backwards”).

Highlights: Needles in the Camel’s Eye, Cindy Tells Me, On Some Faraway Beach, Some of Them Are Old

  1. PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

PJ Harvey is another one of those artists I’ve heard mentioned a lot – seems like she’s everywhere – yet I’ve never stopped and listened to her. I feel like I hear 90’s grunge in it. Almost like the guitar reminds me of Nirvana but the vocals resemble Courtney Love. While this is supposed to be her happier record, “Beautiful Feeling” is cryptic. I feel like this might be one of those albums you listen to more than once to really appreciate it.

Highlights: Big Exit, A Place To Call Home, The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore, You Said Something

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 450-441

  1. Jackson Browne – For Everyman

Words escape me to describe this album. Maybe because every time I try it defies classification. “These Days” has that steel string, country twang but it’s got that beautiful piano driving it. “Red Neck Friend” is a bit country, a bit rock and roll. At times, I hear Tom Petty. At times, I hear Counting Crows. At times, I hear Elton John. Maybe it’s the influence of all the difference guest artists that feature on this record. This is what you would hear at the Grammy’s and only those old enough to remember or those who’ve done their musical research would know who this is.

Highlights: Our Lady of the Well, Colors of the Sun, I Thought I Was a Child

  1. Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers

This is so lame, but I struggle to figure out what to say about these guys. It might remind me of the Beatles a bit? It’s hard to know for sure. Chilton has this delicate, smooth voice. And what I love about them is they’ve got a bit of melody and bounce to them. Apparently they’ve influenced bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements. It’s like I’ve heard this sound before but I can’t really place it. Side note: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an album with more versions of a track list.

Highlights: Thank You Friends, Femme Fatale, O Dana, Kangaroo

  1. The Police – Synchronicity

I remember once in an interview John Mayer (I feel like he comes up a lot on this thing) talked about how he misses the 80s because you got more music per square inch. In that, he referenced The Police and their ability to be both musically technical but have mass appeal. I think my introduction to them, Guitar Hero aside, came with Coheed & Cambria’s “Number City.” When I was researching bands who had that sound, The Police was frequently mentioned. Nothing is ever simple with these guys. On the surface, Walking in Your Footsteps” is a track about dinosaurs. But when you actually listen it’s about the extinction of the human race. “Every Breath You Take” isn’t a love song but a song about the darkness of a person’s heart. Personally, I found the album more accessible towards its end. Like if you’re looking for classic Police sound, the first half might be that. If you’re looking for something a bit more poppy, the latter half is that.

Highlights: Synchronicity II, King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger

  1. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto

This is elevator music. The type of stuff they’d play in a fancy store as your significant other is shopping for clothes and you’re sitting on a couch, waiting for them to finish. This may seem completely random, but “Girl from Ipanema” has been all over the place and you’ll know you’ve heard it the second the chorus hits you. This is just enjoyable to have on in the background.

Highlights: The Girl from Ipanema, Doralice

  1. MC5 – Back in the USA

If you’re looking for an American rock and roll band, this is it. Everything happens at a mile a minute, including in-your-face guitar solos. Between “Teenage Lust” and “Let Me Try” you get the sense these guys are out to get some. It is the ’70s after all. This is the music of teenage rebellion. The music your parents are hearing about and you’re not allowed to listen to them. You sneak out at night to place where they’re playing anyway. Quick album, but it covers a lot of terrain. Extra points for the album starting and ending with a cover from black artist.

Highlights: Tutti-Frutti, Tonight, The American Ruse

  1. Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle

From the second the title track came on, I was like, “ooooh shoooot.” You know how cool Steve Miller had to feel, sitting in the studio listening back to this song fully produced? He had to feel like the coolest dude on the planet. I would’ve. I would’ve felt untouchable.  If that was the only track on this album, this album would’ve been worth it. But they add to it and some of these other tracks feel like a victory lap (“The Window”). These guys play with so many sounds: blues “Mercury Blues”, Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque southern rock “Take the Money and Run”, and more. Makes me proud to be from San Francisco.

Highlights: Fly Like an Eagle, Serenade, Take The Money and Run, Rock’n Me

  1. War – The World is a Ghetto

If you haven’t heard “The Cisco Kid” you must’ve been under a rock. This is funk of its own kind. You can hear it in the bass. “City, Country, City” is just a jam track. The title track off this album is ten minutes long, but it’s probably the best song on this whole album. These guys take rock, funk, and create their own sound. There are horns, clean guitars, and Latin flavor galore. Takes me back to driving around with my dad.

Highlights: Cisco Kid, City Country City

  1. Cheap Trick – In Color

My first Cheap Trick album. All I can picture are checkerboard guitars. Another larger than life sounding band. Somehow, they command the stage while playing on record. “I Want You To Want Me” takes me back to Dawson’s Creek. At times it reminded me of Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith (who’s first album came out in 1973 as well).

Highlights: Hello There, I Want You to Want Me, Southern Girls, So Good to See You

  1. Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

In some ways it reminds me of Talking Heads, whose first couple albums came out around this time. They’re quirky both in terms of sound and lyrics. Not quite sure if I’m buying it totally. Take “Jocko Homo” for example. In the way the band itself carries an image and concept, I imagine these guys paved the way for groups like The Phenomenauts. This album is produced by both Brian Eno (who went on to work with groups like U2) and David Bowie and maybe you get a sense of Bowie’s love for the theatrical with their image but I can’t get on the inside of this album. In some ways, this is all one giant art instillation.

Highlights: Mongoloid, Gut Feeling

  1. Suicide – Suicide

I procrastinated in listening to this album. The only time I would’ve ever been interested in listening to a band called “Suicide” might’ve been back in high school. But for all the gore the name suggests and the album cover invokes, this quite the opposite. It’s extremely minimalistic. If there’s any percussion, it’s faint. Synth is the main driver. It’s to the point where you keep waiting for the other foot to drop, these songs build and at any given moment they can crescendo but they just don’t. Be on the look out for the blood-curdling screams on “Frankie Teardrop”.

Highlights: Cheree