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

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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