The Great Wall of Music: 340-331

  1. Black Flag – Damaged

Anti-establishment lyrics, rebellion in the very guitar they play, yelling about what they’re pissed off about, this is hardcore punk at its finest. They refused to be controlled and they defied any and every system that meant to own them. But it wasn’t just the music. Black Flag was fundamental to the Do-It-Yourself ethic. In that sense, you can see why this album resonated with so many. Still, you kind of have to wonder what on earth they’re so pissed off about. This album is so angry, I had to look up if these guys were still alive. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they weren’t. The only thing these guys seem remotely happy about is beer. I don’t know how much I got or enjoyed this upon first listen, but still I guess I can see why it’s here.

Highlights: Rise Above, Spray Paint, Thirsty and Miserable, Depression

  1. Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night

What’s strange about this album is how straightforward it is. It’s not trying to be artsy or eccentric, it just is what it is. Tom Waits sounds young, jazzy, and remarkably human on this album. If Springsteen went folk or jazz, it would sound like this album. Even the spoken word nature of “Diamonds on My Windshield” doesn’t sound strange. This album is littered with gems (“I’m selfish and I’m cruel, but you’re blind”, “If I exorcise my devils, my angels might leave too”). Definitely my favorite Waits project thus far.

Highlights: San Diego Serenade, Shiver Me Timbers, The Heart of Saturday, Please Call Me, Baby

  1. Big Brother and The Holding Company – Cheap Thrills

No, it’s not a live album. I know you hear a live audience at the beginning and the end and I know there’s an immense amount of energy that would make you think it’s live, but it’s not a live album. And yes, that’s Janis Joplin you hear; every bit as rock and roll as you can imagine. Listening to this album I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth she sings with such intensity – screaming, sounding like she’s about to lose her voice – and yet she still signs like an angel. Albeit a slightly raspy angel.

Highlights: I Need a Man to Love, Piece of My Heart

  1. Jethro Tull – Aqualung

They always told us not to judge a book by its cover. When I saw this album, I put off listening to it. It just didn’t sound/look like something I wanted to listen to, but musically it’s so impressive/clean and progressive that it almost covers a multitude of sins, like being just plain weird. Even though, lyrically, you get the sense Aqualung isn’t a particularly pleasant fellow to be around, the title track evolves in such a way I didn’t see coming. It starts creepy but then grows beautiful and light.”. Almost reminds me of Primus or Rush. While the band may debate whether or not it’s a concept album about God and religion, there definitely are those themes prevalent in it. Side note: man, can that man play a flute.

Highlights: Wond’Ring Aloud, Hymn 43, Wind Up

  1. Radiohead – In Rainbows

Definitely the first Radiohead record I ever bought. Instead of naming a price, the band invited fans to pay what they thought the album was worth. At the time, it was practically unheard of. I remember this album being so strange and unfamiliar, I immediately had to figure out what other albums people loved from them. Even though they’ve never been the kind of band for me that I know their songs chapter and verse, I have a profound respect for them. Thom Yorke’s voice is haunting and as experimental as they can be, they get so beautiful in that build of “All I Need.” It’d been a while since I last listened to this album. I think I need to listen to it more.

Highlights: 15 Step, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Reckoner

  1. Soundgarden – Superunknown

Thing about this list is that you’re constantly coming across all these artists that you should’ve heard before but haven’t. Now that they’ve died all you have is their music. That’s exactly what this felt like. For better or worse my introduction to Chris Cornell came with the supergroup Audioslave. I had never listened to Soundgarden. This is more ‘90s grunge for you and though I’m over 20 years late, I’m surprised how much of this stuff I find myself liking. The guitar in “Mailman” is heavy, Chris Cornell has this aggressive voice with the singing range of four octaves, and “Limo Wreck” sounds like where Finch got their inspiration for “Bitemarks & Bloodstains.” Definitely an album I’m revisiting.

Highlights: My Wave, Black Hole Sun, The Day I Tried to Live, Kickstand

  1. Graham Parker – Squeezing Out The Sparks

You can hear Elvis Costello in the voice, a bit of The Clash musically, and you can see the sparks in his hair. Overall the sound is fun but if I’m honest, upon first listen, I have no idea what makes it so special.

Highlights: Local Girls, Nobody Hurts You

  1. X – Wild Gift

While their story may be similar to the White Stripes, these punk rockers from Los Angeles are completely different. Exene Cervenka is more vocally central than Meg White ever was. Though I’ve never listened to them before, both Cervenka’s and Doe’s voices sound familiar. Regardless, their voices work wonderfully together. Their punk edge comes out a bit more on “We’re Desperate.”

Highlights: Universal Corner, Back 2 Base, When Our Love Passed Out On the Couch

  1. Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights

I was so moved by I Want to See The Bright Lights that when I found out another album of theirs was on the list, and that it’s supposedly better than the last, I was interested to see where it would go. This was Richard and Linda’s last album together. But based on the quality of the music here, you would’ve never guessed it. It’s in the magic of Linda’s voice and Richard’s guitar playing on “Walking on a Wire” and “Man in Need.” They sound alive and well. I’d have to listen to both albums side by side to hear which I lean towards but I am glad to see this on here.

Highlights: Walking on a Wire, Just the Motion, Shoot Out the Lights, Wall of Death

  1. The Beatles – Help!

I’m so embarrassed at just how little of The Beatles I’ve listened to. Right from the beginning there’s more way more energy on this project than Let It Be. That energy carries the rest of the album. This was the soundtrack to the movie of the same title. It’s catchy and fun and reminds you everything anyone has ever loved about The Beatles.

Highlight: Help!, I Need You, Lose That Girl, Ticket to Ride, Yesterday


The Great Wall of Music: Albums 350-341

  1. The Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer

The fact that their album before this (both chronologically, according to their American discography, and as it appears on this countdown) are so close together goes to show just how golden this period was for them. This is some time after Clapton had moved on and Jeff Beck stepped in as their guitar player. Immediately he becomes the star of the show. You hear it in “Jeff’s Boogie” as well as the solo in “Rack My Mind”. This album feels like something we would’ve played at Cold Stone for ambiance.

Highlights: Over Under Sideways Down, The Nazz Are Blue, Rack My Mind

  1. Jay-Z – The Black Album

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love it when I come across albums on this list that I’ve heard of/listened to/loved before the list. The Black Album fits in this category. When this album dropped, the singles were larger than life. Aside from being a solid album of its own, this was Jay’s retirement album. It’s the air sets the atmosphere (“If you can’t respect that your whole perspective is whack, maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black”, “I’m supposed to be number one on everyone’s list, we’ll see what happens when I no longer exist”). This is a legend bowing out. It’s Kobe dropping 60 points in his last game.  Why did Jay-Z retire, again? Well, it seems a mixture of him being at the height of his career and underappreciated for what he does. Of course, he wouldn’t stay away, but I personally am glad he didn’t. When this album isn’t not smooth, it’s gritty (“Threat”, “A Moment of Clarity”).

Highlights: December 4th, Encore, Change Clothes, Dirt Off Your Shoulders,

  1. Muddy Waters – At Newport

Oh man, he had me “Got My Brand on You”. While I do recall my Godfather listening to “Hoochie Coochie Man” on our drives to school, I think my grandfather showed me Muddy Waters. You know what this album reminds me of? That part in That Thing You Do where Guy Patterson is in the nightclub, drunk, and absolutely in awe of seeing his hero Del Paxton perform. Muddy Waters is just that good. My man was killing the show so much, he sang the same song twice.

Highlights: Got My Brand on You, I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Tiger in Your Tank.

  1. Pink Floyd – The Piper At the Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd’s first album. Every bit as theatrical as you can imagine from these guys. Both psychedelic and, harmonic. You can hear who they would eventually become in “Interstellar Overdrive.” The real trip comes from listening to headphones and having the audio shift from one ear to the other, fading in and fading out. But this album showed me where bands like Between the Buried and Me got their tricks from.

Highlights: Astronomy Domine, Matilda Mother, The Gnome

  1. De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising

Does it get it get anymore iconic than this in terms of ‘80s hip-hop trios than this? Just bars upon bars and luscious samples upon luscious beats. And yet for all its good natured rhymes, they still have a way of conveying the struggle of life in the ghetto and the plight of people in the hood.

Highlights: Magic Number, Ghetto Thang, Say No Go, Me Myself and I

  1. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

We might have done it, people. We might’ve finally found a Talking heads project I like. After my experience with the last Talking Heads record (and ‘80s new wave in general), I came into this album skeptical. I was prepared not to like it. Two songs in, I couldn’t help but think it was actually really amazing. I kept waiting for there to be a song that I didn’t like or a moment where I got sick of it, but it never came. These guys put one heck of a show. Their energy and quirkiness isn’t something just fabricated on record. It’s amplified here. Between the funk that is “Slippery People” and the line “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”, I will definitely have to revisit this project.

Highlights: Heaven, Slippery People, What A Day That Was, This Must Be the Place

  1. Lou Reed – Berlin

Stripped down and melancholy. There are drugs, abuse, prostitution all over the place. Lou Reed doesn’t even sing as much as it seems he’s talking to you. Even with the tragedy all over the place, there’s beauty in it. Take the opening track for example. Even horns couldn’t make this album sound any more optimistic.

Highlights: Berlin, Oh Jim, Caroline Says II, The Kids, Sad Song

  1. Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell

As silly as the name is, you can’t rip the musical talent. The man practically gave us a rock opera. “Bat Out of Hell” is a ten-minute epic that almost sounds like Bruce Springteen’s “Thunder Road”. I wouldn’t be surprised if this artist, album was a major influence for Tenacious D. There are horns, amazing guitar solos. It’s another one of those albums that just command your attention from start to finish.

Highlights: Bat Out of Hell, All Revved Up With No Place to Go, For Crying Out Loud

  1. Depeche Mode – Violator

I think I might’ve tried listening to this album once but didn’t make it that far. Of course, “Personal Jesus” is famous, but aside from that I don’t know how much else I’ve listened to these guys. Even though it’s more ‘80s pop, new-wave, I found that I didn’t mind it as much. In fact, “Policy of Truth” was surprisingly good. There’s something seductive in the music and the vocals.

Highlights: World in My Eyes, Personal Jesus, Halo, Enjoy The Silence, Policy of Truth

  1. Moby – Play

Before this, my familiarity level with Moby was practically nonexistent. All I knew was what Eminem said about Moby: “nobody listens to techno.” Yet, apparently, that’s not true as it’s here. “Honey” shows us why, it’s a crazy remix of a song. In some ways, you almost want to call it trip-hop but it’s not quite. There’s the sound of it being DJ’ed but there’s no rapping and oddly enough, it’s more enjoyable for that reason. Once again, I surprisingly liked this one.

Highlights: Honey, Porcelain, South Side, Weakness

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 360-351

  1. Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

Talk about old school punk rock. I think I remember these guys going on Warped Tour way back when and even then, they were famed punk veterans showing the next generation a thing or two. Singles Going Steady is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of singles first compiled to help Buzzcocks break onto the American scene. Songs for the most part are short and punchy. Sonically, “Orgasm Addict” immediately reminded me The White Stripes but overall, I agreed with Rolling Stones: this is The Ramones meets the Sex Pistols with a college sense of humor. If you listen to the lyrics though, they speak mostly to longing and desire and longing unfulfilled. Punk with sentiment.

Highlights: Promises, Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, Noise Annoys, Why Can’t I Touch It?

  1. Elton John – Honky Chateau

Due to my experience with Elton John’s last album on this list, I was really excited to take another shot at him. This record didn’t disappoint. Once again, he absolutely dazzles, playing circles around the listener in “Honky Cat.” But even more than that, this album is home to some of the songs we’ve come to know and love from him, namely “Rocket Man”. This album isn’t just a cure to a bad case of the Mondays, it’s a cure to a bad day period. Side note: did I mention his voice is amazing? Because it is.

Highlights: Honky Cat, Mellow, Susie, Rocket Man, Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters

  1. Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

The man who brought you the cool. I don’t know what to say aside from this album is beauty in its purest form. From the very beginning, you can’t help but be immersed in Davis’ playing and mastery. It’s cinematic in the sense that it sounds as if it belongs in some black-and-white movie with characters making a trek across the desert or wilderness. Maybe it’s the kind of music that takes each listener different places, according to their own impressions of the sound.

Highlights: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio), Solea

  1. The Rolling Stones – Between the Buttons

If someone came up to me and said, “Tomy, name three songs from The Rolling Stones” I wouldn’t have been able to do it. That’s the beauty of this list. I’m getting the opportunity to catch up on a lot of music I should’ve heard a long time ago. Having listened to, I’m sure I’ve heard an actual Rolling Stones song before but just didn’t know it was them. At the risk of overstating this, I can hear the Beatles. But apparently, that’s not an unfounded comparison. Both were part of the British invasion that took over the U.S. and others have made similar comments.

Highlights: Let’s Spend the Night Together, Ruby Tuesday, Connection, Miss Amanda Jones

  1. Randy Newman – 12 Songs

One of these days I’ll be able to listen to Randy Newman without hearing “You’ve Got a Friend In Me.” One day. Unfortunately, I have yet to have that day. It’s not that Randy Newman isn’t talented or enjoyable. It’s just that his voice is so distinct it’s hard to separate him from that song. In the same way Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine, no matter what he did or does before and after the X-Men movies, in the same way Daniel Radcliffe will always be Harry Potter, no matter what he did before or does after the movies, Randy Newman be Toy Story for me for a long time. But as I said, that’s not to say this album wasn’t enjoyable. The songwriting is as strong as its ever been and you can hear the blues influence here.

Highlights: Have You Seen My Baby?, Mama Told Me Not To Come, Old Kentucky Home

  1. The Yardbirds – Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds

What’s crazy about The Yardbirds is just how legendary the majority of their members went on to be. Eric Claption is the guitar legend we know him as today, Jimmy Page had Led Zepplin, and Jeff Beck is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. All of them at some point found their home with this band. Some of them even make an appearance on this record. The legend alone makes this album fun.

Highlights: You’re A Better Man Than I, I’m a Man

  1. Billy Joel – 52nd Street

This album appeals to me for a few reasons. First, because I remember the time Chris Rock made a joke connecting Billy Joel and Elton John. Second, because I once almost got into an accident driving home from Oakland because I was looking at an advertisement for a concert Billy Joel and Elton John were playing together. Lastly, because Andrew McMahon, my favorite songwriter, often cites Billy Joel as a key influence in his own piano playing. Between the groove that is “Big Shot” (mariachi and all) to the jam that is “My Life”, this album is sweeping. It sounds like he’s just having fun but he’s so ridiculously talented that his messing around is actual musicianship. And now having listened, I can understand the connections between Billy Joel and Elton John. Their sounds are similar.

Highlights: Big Shot, My Life, Half a Mile Away

  1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

According to Kanye West himself, this is his most perfect album. A handful of magazines and reviewers have called it his best album. Maybe I could see why they’d say that. It’s a hybrid of the arrogance that made Graduation fun to listen to with the same production feel but, at times, it’s got a sense of purpose like his first two albums. But still, I wouldn’t say it’s his best simply because Late Registration exists. HOWEVER, that being said, this is one heck of an album. Coming off 808s & Heartbreak Kanye had something to prove and he proved it. In some ways it feels a symphony of impressive features and equally impressive beats. But to me, this was when Kanye started to vulgar to a point where it became hard to listen to. This album is surprisingly long given that it’s only 13 songs. Side note: I would love to see him and Bon Iver tag team an album together.

Highlights: Dark Fantasy, POWER, All of the Lights, Runaway, Lost in the World

  1. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

Off the bat reminded me of Springsteen. Other times, it was reminiscent of ZZ Top. Still, I could hear Sting and the influence of the Police on “Ride Across the River.” Nevertheless, for all this, there are still these beautiful smooth jazz moments. “Your Latest Trick” is absolutely beautiful.

Highlights: So Far Away, Walk of Life, Your Latest Trick

  1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps

While I was initially thrown off by Neil Young singing “rock and roll is here to stay” over an acoustic guitar, he redeems it in the end with the electric version of the song. When he sings it there, it sounds so much appropriate and true. Neil Young has this strange, nasally gentle voice Ryan O’Neal from Sleeping At Last almost duplicates more beautifully and yet, you don’t really listen to Neil Young for the voice. You listen because he’s a phenomenal songwriter. This album, half acoustic and half electric, goes everywhere from psychedelic rock to folk.

Highlights: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Thrasher, Pocahontas, My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Black)

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 370-361

  1. Mott The Hoople – Mott

Mott the Hoople. Last time these guys were on the list, I mocked their name and then shared how I appreciated their sound. Well, they’re back and, once again, I can see why this album ranks higher than the last. Though Bowie’s production added certain elements to their last album, this one comes back with big rock sounds that are more definitively glam (you can hear it in the guitar solos). However, for all this, it doesn’t prevent them from getting more reflective on tracks like “Ballad of Mott the Hoople.”

Highlights: All The Way Down from Memphis, Honaloochie Boogie, Ballad of Mott the Hoople

  1. The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs

There are a few reasons why I love the fact this album is listed. First, because I appreciate The Smiths. Second, because it’s home to my favorite song from this band (“William, It Was Really Nothing”). Lastly, because it’s also home to The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s anthem (“Asleep”). Only thing about this release is that rather than a cohesive album, it’s a collection of singles put together to help The Smiths break into America. Still, that has its benefits. “Is It Really So Strange?” comes in loud just like the title suggests. “Shoplifters of the World Unite” has a killer guitar solo. While I don’t know if it’s quite as sexually frustrated as their other release on this list I don’t think Morrissey ever really gets too far away from the tension. Side note: if all these amazing acts come out of the UK, why are they so concerned with breaking out in the America? If anything, we should be trying to get over there.

Highlights: Is It Really So Strange?, William, It Was Really Nothing, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Please, Please, Please, Let Met Get What I Want 

  1. The Eagles – The Eagles

“Take It Easy,” they said and take it easy you will want to. It’s just that laidback. I mentioned Counting Crows on Jackson Browne when it came to lyrics but if they didn’t at least take some of their musical cues from The Eagles then I don’t know a thing about music. This album easily could’ve been the inspiration behind Recovering the Satellites. It’s rock but with a hint of country and some swooning harmonies. Of course, I’d heard “Hotel California” but this was my first real Eagles album.

Highlight: Take It Easy, Nightingale, Earlybird, Tryin’

  1. Madonna – Rays of Light

Unfortunately, this is a mixture of almost all the genres I explicitly stated I wasn’t a fan of. I hear Sinead O’Connor. I hear the Eurythmics. I hear trip-hop (“Candy Perfume Girl”). What I will say is that Madonna is vulnerable from the very open, talking of the ways she traded fame for love. It’s spiritual, ethereal. Some of have noted this was a departure from her previous work, but seeing as to how I have never really listened to Madonna, I wouldn’t know. Sonically it’s airy, almost hollow, as if you’re getting a taste but not the full thing. Not my favorite on the list but it has its own strengths.

Highlights: Swim, Ray of Light, Sky Fits Heaven, Little Star

  1. Johnny Cash – American Recordings

This is Johnny Cash’s 81st album. What the actual heck? 81 albums. I don’t even know how that’s remotely possible. On top of that it opens up with a crazy song like “Delia’s Gone” which talks about shooting this poor girl, Delia. I know Brian Fallon looks up to Springsteen a lot but “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” could’ve easily been a Gaslight song. I will say this though: it’s weird to hear this old man rap about texting. Maybe that’s Rick Rubin’s production.

Highlight: Let the Train Blow the Whistle, Why Me Lord, Bird on a Wire

  1. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine

For some reason, I couldn’t help but smile as this album started. Maybe because the sound is so iconic and so recognizably theirs: blistering, blaring rock with aggressive rap vocals. These guys are out to dismantle systems. By “Killing in the Name Of” came on, I had to just stop and admire its heaviness and aggression. You know how sometimes you’ll watch award shows and some epic performance comes on and they’re showing the audience, who knows the musical impact of the act so well that when the camera come to them all we see their collective admiration? That’s what this like. Like watching greatness in action, even 25 years after the fact. Every song is either close to five minutes over and yet somehow every second feels weighty. One of my favorites on the list.

Highlights: Bombtrack, Take the Power Back

  1. The Doors – L.A. Woman

This is Morrison’s last album with the band. He died shortly after this album. But I can hear its primal nature as well as James Brown and funk.. Not quite as obsessed with strange as Strange Days. I agree this a superior album to the one that was previously. “Been Down So Long” reminds me of the Albert King song, which I guess says something about the blues elements that get incorporated on this album, especially on a track “Cars Hiss By My Windows.” But “L’America” will show you the same band that wrote the song “Strange Days”.

Highlights: The Changeling, Love Her Madly, Hyacinth House, Riders on the Storm,

  1. New Order – Substance

I fell in love with this band a few years back (back when I thought I liked ‘80s new wave) with their song “Regret.” At the time I was looking for bands like Modern English and the Cure and of course these guys were shown to me. “Ceremony” feels like a predecessor to current bands like Modern Baseball and others who are trying to recapture this sound. However, on those occasions when they strip things down it reminds me of Suicide. At their best, they’re winsome and seductive, like LCD Soundsystem. “Perfect Kiss” reminds me a bit of the Cure. Be warned though: if you’re not huge on ‘80s new wave this a lot to listen to at one time.

Highlights: Ceremony, Temptation, Subculture, Bizarre Love Triangle, Lonesome Tonight

  1. The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

Like almost any other kid, my introduction of Smashing Pumpkins came with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I loved how they could be both aggressive and angry (“Bullet with Butterfly Wings) and yet beautiful and atmospheric (“Tonight, Tonight”). Then I had a friend show me “Disarm” and knew I had to dig back through the history. Corgan has a strange voice and yet it works. The guitars are overdriven, almost shoegaze-y. “Quiet” sounds like a car or a motorcycle, revving up and rearing down the highway. “Today” reminds me of everything I love about this band. I didn’t know a song called “Mayonaise” could sound so beautiful. I’m starting to find myself surprised by just how much grunge I actually enjoy.

Highlights:  Cherub Rock, Today, Hummer, Mayonaise, Luna

  1. OutKast – Stankonia

Less extraterrestrial than Aquemini, but still has that southern grit. This is the OutKast I came into. But in my head, it’s still not perfect. I don’t know what the point of “Snapping and Trapping” is. While I appreciate the update in sound in general, these guys get super vulgar. Normally I don’t mind based on context, but on first listen I have no idea what’s happening (We Luv Deez H**s, I’ll Call B4 I C**, Snappin’ & Trappin’). Maybe, the point is to convey life in the streets. In that sense, it’s conscious. But it would take me a few more listens to be sure. But nevertheless, I can see why it’s ranked higher than Aquemini

Highlight: So Fresh, So Clean, Mrs. Jackson, B.O.B., Humble Mumble

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 390-381

  1. The White Stripes – Elephant

From the very beginning of “Seven Nation Army” all I could do was smile. I grew up with this album. I remember first hearing “Hardest Button to Button” and being so entranced by their strange approach to music I went out and bought the album. It was probably one of the first songs I learned how to play on guitar. The guitar here is gritty and in some ways doesn’t sound like it should go together and yet that’s the appeal. “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” feels like an evolution from their previous album. As loud as Jack White plays, there’s no denying his virtuosity (“Ball and Biscuit”). Only thing that rivals their sound is their story: divorcees disguising themselves as siblings?

Highlights: Seven Nation Army, There’s No Home For You Here, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. The Hardest Button to Button 

  1. Don Henley – The End of Innocence

To be honest, I had the hardest time getting past the cover because Don Henley looks like Corey Feldman. The piano on the opening track sounded so much like Bruce Hornsby I had to research it. Imagine my surprise when I looked it up only to find Bruce both produced this album and plays on the title track (perhaps, I know something about music after all). Even Axl Rose makes his appearance on this album. That’s definitely Pino Palladino on “New York Minute.” “Shangri-La” reminds me of  The Police. “The Last Worthless Evening” sounds like this iconic ballad though I’m not sure if it ever was.

Highlights: The End of Innocence, The Last Worthless Evening, New York Minute The Heart of the Matter

  1. Various Artists – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

I just think it’s cool that world music makes the list repeatedly. These are the sounds of Africa. Just because you have no idea what they’re saying doesn’t prevent you from being able to enjoy the experience. It’s funky, poppy with a bit of jazz. If you wanted to know where Coldplay got some of their sounds for A Head Full of Dreams look no further than the guitar on “Emthonjeni Womculo.” You can hear the Peter Gabriel and the Vampire Weekend tracks that would follow from all this.

Highlights: Holotelani, Indoda Yejazi Elimnyama, Thul’ulalele, Ngicabange Ngaqeda

*don’t ask me how to pronounce any of these.

387. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang

This album is so east coast rap that when the first song came on I thought it was NaS. Each rapper has their own unique style. You can hear how this would be a sound formative for so many east coast rappers to come. You can hear Notorious BIG, you can hear NaS, you can even hear Jay-Z. This album flies by with all the personalities here. It’s aggressive and angry and I’m actually sad I hadn’t listened to this album before. My advice though: skip the opening of “Method Man” if you’re trying to stay holy.

Highlights: Shame on a ****, Wu Tang: 7th Chamber, Can It All be So Simple, Protect Ya Neck

  1. Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

You know how I talked about music per square inch? Well, Steely Dan just might be the epitome of it. Steely Dan has always been a name I’ve heard but I’ve never listened to the music. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t even know Steely Dan was a band and not a person. At times, I hear smooth jazz, other times funk, blues, and rock. But for all its progressiveness, it goes down smooth. I love the harmonies on the chorus on “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and the guitar domination in “Parker’s Band.”

Highlights: Night by Night, Barrytown, Parker’s Band, Pretzel Logic,

  1. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft

You know what’s crazy? This is Dylan’s 31st studio album. Thirty first. How on God’s great earth do you have thirty-one albums and thirty-one albums later still make this list of the greatest albums of all time? You write lines like “Standing by God’s river, my soul is beginning to shake.” That’s how. This album did have its fair share of controversy as Dylan was accused of plagiarism on “Floater” but of course, when you’re as iconic as Dylan the person you may have ripped off of is more honored than insulted.

Highlights: Mississippi, Honest With Me, Po’ Boy

  1. The Who – A Quick One (Happy Jack)

The only thing I knew about The Who prior to this was “Baba O’Riley.” This album is poppy for the most part but it has its fair share of experimentation (“Boris the Spider” and “Cobwebs and Strange” come to mind). These guys are symbolic of a sound. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a nine-minute song with five miniature songs within it. The fact that Green Day would go on to cover this makes me think this is where they got inspiration for songs like “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.”

Highlights: Heat Wave, So Sad About us

  1. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food

You know what’s interesting to me? I love “Once in a Lifetime” but whenever I’ve tried to stop and listen to a full project, I can’t seem to get into it. Unfortunately, the same applies here more or less. Maybe I’m really not a fan of new wave. Maybe it just takes more listens. But this is definitely Talking Heads and all their eccentricities. “Artists Only” reminds me “Once in a Lifetime” while at the same time being completely different. I’ll keep giving these guys a shot and maybe one day the impression will stick.

Highlights: With Our Love, Artists Only, The Big Country

  1. Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers

Don’t know what I expected. I was waiting or the moment when the lead singer would sing, but then I realized that blend between talking and shouting was his actual singing. Sonically, reminds me of The Doors, especially the Wurlitzer on “Astral Plane.” Apprently, these guys went on to influence Sex Pistols. “Pablo Picasso” made me wonder if girls actually couldn’t resist the stare, and if he really was never called an a**hole for picking up women. The verses to “Hospital” are beautiful in their own way but then the chorus come and take it in new directions.

Highlights: Old World, Hospital, Someone I Care, Modern World.

  1. Beach Boys – Smile

Here’s the thing about this list: you go from being a stranger to these artists to all of a sudden being some sort of aficionado. Of course I’ve heard Beach Boys before. Of course I’ve never listened to a full project. Of course Rolling Stone decides to remedy this with a five disc collection of clippings and demos and unreleased music of theirs. The harmonies are beautiful. In order to fully appreciate this album, you have to understand its story:  Imagine this being the height of the Beatles/Beach Boys rivalry – Beach Boys being America’s answer to the Beatles – this album having so much pressure attached to it that it psychologically scarred Brian Wilson. Re-workings of some of these songs were released as Smiley Smile, which wasn’t received as well as their previously released work. Mainly because he decided to play it safe instead of releasing some of these original versions. As a result this is hailed as the greatest pop album never released. Time and time again, they show their mastery in music. Even the backing vocal tracks are impressive. This is definitely something for Beach Boy die-hards. Though, listening to them in the studio is interesting.

Highlights: Heroes and Villains (all their versions I suppose), Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock), Cabin Essence, Vega-Tables, Good Vibrations

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 400-391

  1. The Temptations – Anthology

I know what you’re thinking: Tomy, what do you know about The Temptations? Not as much as others, but this was the stuff I was raised on. While my parents diverged greatly in their musical preferences at times, they found common ground in the Temptations. Heck, I still remember the miniseries. But what I appreciated most about this collection was that even as familiar as I was with The Temptations before this, this still showed me a number of songs I didn’t know.  Helped me to appreciate them even more.

Highlights: My Girl, Get Ready, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, Could Nine, I Can’t Get Next to You, Just My Imagination, Superstar Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Let Your Hair Down

  1. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

I know there’s such a thing as circus music, but if there was ever such a thing as the circus in the form of music, this is it. This is definitely more experimental than Mule Variations. There’s polka, for Pete’s sake. But for all the eccentricities, Tom Waits can be as beautiful as they come (“Anywhere I Lay My Head”). Lyrically he’s urban, almost like he writes his lyrics on the back of a gum wrapper or some crumpled piece of paper. I still have no idea how in the world someone naturally sounds like this.

Highlight: Big Black Mariah, Hang Down Your Head, Blind Love, Downtown Train

  1. ZZ Top – Eliminator

Second ZZ Top record on the list but this is their eighth studio album, some ten years after Tres Hombres. Upon first few seconds its sounds less Southern rock and more hard rock; less “bar scene” and more “large stadium”. As a result, it sounds a bit more produced then Hombres (and is there really a song about TV dinners on here?). “Got Me Under Pressure” will show you that even as bands grow in ten years, their heart can remain the same.

Highlights: Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp-Dressed Man, Legs, Bad Girl

  1. Massive Attack – Blue Lines

Back with some more trip-hop. The bass is moody, the atmosphere is trance inducing and yet, when they rap they sound like A Tribe Called Quest (“Blue Lines” in particular). Other times there’s spoken word that reminds a bit of Saul Williams. If that wasn’t enough, “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” is an homage to Curtis Mayfield. Come on. That’s just awesome. Overall, just a really cool album to vibe to. Not sure if I’m a trip-hop fan yet but I actually found myself enjoying some of this.

Highlights: Safe from Harm, Blue Lines, Five Man Army, Unfinished Sympathy

  1. Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

Immediately it felt like Rocky Horror Picture show. Almost theatrical in its execution, somewhere in between new wave and Elton John. Even though this isn’t a Brian Eno record per se, he adds some keyboard sensibilities. This would actually be the last album he did with the band before going on to his own solo endeavor. While I’m not sure I understand the album (might require more time to enjoy), this band’s legacy is deep.

Highlights: Editions of You, Grey Lagoons

  1. LCD Sound System – Sound of Silver

Scene: Old Navy in Emeryville, California. It’s Christmas time and the line to check out wraps around the store. My wife’s buying jeans, I’m looking at exercise clothes but there’s nothing I need. That’s when I hear “That’s how it starts” over a repetitive A chord playing on the system and I’m immediately thinking of The 1975’s “Sex”, wondering if it’s a cover of some sort. But as the song unfolds, it proceeds to go on a different direction. Turns out, the song was “All My Friends” and the band was LCD Sound System. This image of recognition and surprise is what characterizes this band. You always feel like you know where the song should go and yet they never go there. Where they go is so much better. It isn’t uncommon to see songs longer than five minutes on this thing. It’s dance-y, space-y at times. There’s spoken word. Almost feels like something that belongs on the soundtrack of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.

Highlights: North American Scum, Someone Great, All My Friends

  1. Randy Newman – Good Old Boys

If the voice sounds familiar it’s because it’s the man who brought you Toy Story’s “You’ve Got A Friend in Me.” As satirical as he can be (“Rednecks”), you can’t deny the quality here. The strings on “Marie”? Oh man, I thought I’d fallen in love all over again. Newman is a storyteller. Orginially starting as a concept album chronicling the life of one person, the released product wound up being stories from multiple perspectives and therein lies the charm. However, I will say: I now see why Newman’s afraid to play “Rednecks” in certain cities. Between “we’re keeping the n***ers down” and “we don’t know our a** from a hole in the ground” he’s asking for a fight and/or a bullet.

Highlights: Marie, Guilty, A Wedding in Cherokee County

  1. M.I.A. – Kala

When this album came out “Paper Planes” was EVERYWHERE. Yet for all its hype, I’ve never stopped and listened past the singles. This is where world music meets pop and while I love both, I’m not sure if this is something I would naturally listen to. Nevertheless, it’s loud and powerful. By the time I got to “Paper Planes” I found myself both relieved by the familiarity and how tame it seems in comparison to the chaos of the album. But it’s also impressive: M.I.A. managed to make the leading single not the best song on the album nor the song that’s most representative of the album.

Highlights: Boyz, Jimmy, 20 Dollar, Paper Planes

  1. The Beatles – Let It Be

This might be heretical but this is the first Beatles album I’ve ever listened to from start to finish and perhaps, what better place to start than at the end of their careers. Even at their worst, you can still see why they’re one of the greatest bands in the world. Still so many classics on this thing. This is them trying to get back to their simple sound and rediscover their chemistry as a band. Some say it’s messy and all over the place, but as a complete Beatles ignoramus, I couldn’t tell. Because George Harrison’s solo album was on here earlier, “I Me Mine” doesn’t surprise me as one of his.

Highlights: Dig A Pony, Across the Universe, Let It Be, Get Back

  1. Jackson Browne – The Pretender

The only problem with having multiple albums from the same artist so spaced out is that you forget what their other release sounded like. Here, Browne sounds like a guy trying to make the most of a bad situation. In some ways this is true (this after his wife has committed suicide). His songwriting prowess comes forward here (“No matter how fast I run/I can never seem to get away from me”). Even the upbeat songs are tempered by sadness (“Here Comes the Tears Again). Sounds like he’s tired and just trying to make it through. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” has to be one of the best titles of a song ever.

Highlights: Your Bright Baby Blues, Here Comes the Tears Again, Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate, The Pretender

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