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

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The Great Wall of Music: Albums 490-481

  1. ZZ Top – Tres Hombres

The men with some of the best beards in the business. This is southern rock with a tinge of blues. I feel like the only way to have a proper experience with this band is watching them live at some festival with good food and good drinks and a straw cowboy hat. At times I hear Rush (another great trio) in this but nevertheless this is feel good music with some tasty riffs. I can now say I’ve listened to a ZZ top record.

Highlights: Waitin’ for the Bus, Jesus Just Left Chicago, La Grange

  1. KISS – Destroyer

I almost want to ask where this has been my entire life, but I know exactly where it’s been: right in front of me. Back in elementary school I had a best friend whose dad was a huge KISS fan. Unfortunately, aside from “Rock and Roll All Night” I never really sat down to listen to them. But this. This is the music you listen to when you’re about to have a night out on the town with your boys and each of you solemnly swear you’re up to no good. ZZ top had the beards but KISS had the make-up and their own unique sex appeal.

Highlights: Detroit Rock City, God of Thunder, Flaming Youth, Shout it out Loud

  1. Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising

Imagine sitting down, never having heard this band or this album and hearing blaring, distorted guitars, speed-of-light drums, and lots of yelling only to be told this is their slower, more melodic album. You would think someone was pulling your leg. But apparently, that’s the story with this album. I almost believe them. It’s hard to when you have songs like “Watcha drinkin’”, “How to Skin a Cat” or even the title track, “New Day Rising”. Those are straight punk rock songs. Vocally, they remind me of Misfits. And yet “I Apologize” is a bit too clean/smooth to be punk rock, the chords in “Celebrated Summer” a bit too luscious. In that sense, you can see they’re at a crossroads in their career.

Highlights: The Girl Who Lives on Heaven’s Hill, I Apologize, Terms of Psychological Warfare

  1. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual

After the screaming and yelling of Husker Du, hearing poppy/dance-y Cyndi Lauper was surprisingly refreshing. If this album doesn’t have you belting “money changes everything”, you need to listen again. Lauper has this amazing ability to sound like she’s singing at the top of her lungs and yet demonstrate supreme control Like I feel like her voice is so powerful, you’d hear it she was singing from a mountain. Though I wasn’t a fan of “I’ll Kiss You” this album was so infectious, she won me over. This debut had all the jams.

Highlights: Money Changes Everything, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, When You Were Mine, Time After Time (yes, I know those are like the first four songs on the album. Don’t judge me.)

  1. Earth, Wind, and Fire – That’s the Way of the World

Aw yeah, Earth, Wind, and Fire, baby. I don’t know if you’re allowed not to absolutely love these guys. I’m pretty sure if you don’t like these guys, you don’t know music. Thumping bass lines and jamming horns, this is musical ecstasy in its purest form. This album had me jamming and reminiscing, surprised by how many songs on this thing I already knew. This album is filled with the cuts! “Africano” is a just an all-around good groove. This is back when people used to talk to you on tracks and then magically find themselves singing again just to prove they could. I almost those days. They don’t make this kind of stuff anymore.

Side note: can we talk about how prolific these guys were/are? Who in the world comes out with eight albums in the span of six years?

Highlights: Shining Star, That’s The Way of the World, Happy Feelin’, Reasons

  1. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy 

One of the fun parts about listening to these albums is I get to dive into the mythos of the artist. Strangely enough, I never listened to Pearl Jam growing up. Some of my closest friends are big fans and I’ll hear their music in passing as a result but I’ve never actually sat down and listened to a full album. But from the moment I heard the opening of “Last Exit” I had a feeling this was it. My natural desire is for a good, catchy chorus but when they didn’t opt for it, I was even gladder. By “Spin the Black Circle” I thought they’d gotten a new fan. By “Nothingman” I knew it. It’s aggressive yet thoughtful but not without its eccentricities. Take “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” or “Pry, To” for example: what are the point of those songs? Nevertheless  I can see why so many people were drawn to them around their debut. I want to dig deeper as well. Sonically, I wonder if this is where Incubus gets it from.

Highlights: Last Exit, Nothingman, Corduroy, Better Man

  1. Mott the Hoople – All The Young Dudes

Not going to lie, at first I was hesitant to give it a listen. I mean, what kind of name is Mott the Hoople? (As it turns out Mott the Hoople comes from a book of the same name). But these guys are considered important to the glam rock genre and I can see it. Even though at times they resemble Bob Dylan in terms of songwriting and lyrical delivery, you can also hear the influence of David Bowie producing this record. At times I even hear Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zepplin. But what I love most about this album is the way it begins and comes full circle in its end. There’s something reassuring about, “Ride on my son, ride until you fail.”

Highlights: Sweet Jane, All the Young Dudes, Jerkin’ Crocus, One of the Boys

  1. Gang of Four – Entertainment!

Before there was Anti-Flag, before there was Against Me! there was Gang of Four and all their punk rock greatness. Political lyrics analyzing society, walking bass lines, and those guitar riffs that don’t sound particularly melodic but you come to love them anyway? All those can be found in this album. But for all its punk, it’s got its fair share of melody. If you’re not really listening carefully it’s easy for this album to become background noise. My encouragement: don’t do it. You might miss out on something special. I feel cooler and infinitely more punk rock just for having heard this album.

Highlights: Natural’s Not In It, Not Great Men Damaged Goods, I Found That Essence Rare

  1. Steve Earle – Guitar Town

Personally, I get a little upset when people say they like everything but country music. Not because I’m a huge country fan but because there is good country music out there, even if I can’t fully relate to the narrative that’s being shared. While I know nothing about the hillbilly highway, this album is not without its gems (“Little Rock ‘N’ Roller is a perfect example). It may be a country album but it’s got rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ heart.

Highlight: Good Old Boy, Some day, Little Rock ‘N Roller

  1. D’Angelo – Voodoo*

This album is too smooth, man. This is a record you put on and just vibe, letting it take you wherever it wants to take you for the day. It’s so layered, so textured and rich, you can’t help but to be captive to its hold and for the most part, you don’t mind (“Left & Right” is crazy vulgar). His cover of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” alone makes the album worth it. This is neo-soul at its finest. Pino Palladino, Raphael Saadiq, and Charlie Hunter kill it on the bass lines, D’Angelo is a master arranger. This album performs a rare feat: it gets better with every song. Definitely deserves another listen.

Highlight: Send It On, One Mo’Gin, Feel Like Makin’ Love, Untitled (How Does It Feel?)