The Great Wall of Music: Albums 380-371

  1. Toots & the Maytals – Funky Kingston

If Marvin Gaye did reggae, it would sound exactly like this. But you know what? I dig it. I dig it a lot actually. I actually even kind of wonder where it’s been all my life. As someone who lives in the Caribbean, especially on an island with close ties to Jamaica, this album felt perfect. It’s no wonder why Rolling Stone hailed them as the biggest thing coming out of Jamaica after Bob Marley. This American debut is nothing but fun to listen to (and I’m not big on reggae).

Highlights: Time Tough, Love is Going Let Me Down, Pomps & Pride, Got to be There

  1. TLC – Crazysexycool

CLASSIC. From its sensuality and its swagger, this is R&B through and through. While the majority of these albums are like taking a step back in time, this has a special place in my heart. What ‘90s kid didn’t grow up singing “Waterfalls”, even in jest? But even that obvious track aside, there some gems on this rcord. All you can do is rock your head to “Kick Your Game”, “Digging on You” definitely has Babyface written all over it, even “Red Light Special” is great, though I feel guilty for liking it. At 16 songs, this thing could be long even if some of it is a bunch of interludes but if you’ve ever liked anything from TLC, you’ll love this album.

Highlights: Creep, Kick Your Game, Waterfalls

  1. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory

Back in college I had a roommate who had just started playing guitar, charming the floor of our residence hall with his rendition of “Wonderwall.” Of course, because for all my music listening I still managed to live under a rock, I had never heard the song. But apparently, if you play acoustic guitar, that’s the one song you must know how to play. But if “Wonderwall” is the only song you know from this group, you’ve missed out something incredible. First, they psych you out with the “Wonderwall” foretaste during the opening only to command your attention with “Hello”. “Roll with It” sounds like it paved the way for garage bands like The Vines. In fact, by the time “Wonderwall” came on it felt like I was with an old friend.  Both sonically and lyrically, it’s sounds like angst; and that’s only part of its charm. Apparently, this album was a significant departure from their debut album and people generally consider their debut the superior album. Well, if this is where you start with this band, then you’re in for a treat.

Highlights: Hello, Roll With it, Wonderwall, Some Might Say, Champagne Supernova

  1. John Lee Hooker – The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990

I think I’ve mentioned before that my godfather was/is a bluesman and that when I first started playing guitar he gave me a handful of a blues records because that’s where the real players were in his mind. What I didn’t mention was that he loved blues so much that he even named his dog Hook after none other than this man right here: John Lee Hooker.

With such a great span of years, you can hear the difference in production. To an extent you can almost discern the movements of blues with the way timeline of the recordings. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” sounds like “Big Legs, Tight Skirts” and  “You Know, I Know”. Side note: that collaboration with Bonnie Raitt, though?!

Highlights: Boom Boom, Big Legs, Tight Skirt, You Know I know, Serve Me Right To Suffer,

  1. Bjork – Post

I’ve heard of Bjork and I know she’s legendary but I’ve never felt compelled to give her a listen. This reminds me of Portishead and Massive Attack and all those trip-hop bands I’m still trying to figure out. (Turns out Massive Attack worked on this project.) This kind of music fascinates me purely for the reason I have no idea how someone comes up with this stuff. The genre itself is curious but then on top of that she sings in Icelandic. “Hyperballad” almost makes me understand but I’m still not quite there. “It’s Oh So Quiet” is jazzy, in a Frank Sinatra sense and yet so theatrical in the drama she creates with her voice. I love the cinema on “Isobel”. While I don’t totally understand the sound, I will say she’s one of those singers that possesses the insane ability to sound like she’s singing directly to you despite the gap between when and where it was recorded and when and where you’re listening.

  1. Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky

I’ve been waiting to listen to this album since I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not like Browne ever needed legitimacy in my eyes but Springsteen singing his praises certainly made me want to listen closer. Jackson Browne’s songs almost seem like journal entries, musings, somehow put to music. I don’t know much of it is aware of meter. It’s slow and thoughtful in a way that shows he pays attention. “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer/I was taken by a photograph of you/There were one or two I know/That you would have liked a little more/But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true.” Those lyrics alone made me think of Adam Duritz from Counting Crows. Upon research, I found out Adam’s a big fan. Even the more upbeat songs on this album sing of loneliness.

Highlights: Late for the Sky, Fountain of Sorrow, Before the Deluge

  1. Roxy Music – Siren

Not going to lie, after their last album on this list I wasn’t particularly excited to listen to this one. I just didn’t have anything to say about it. But the nice thing about countdowns like this is that when you see another album by the same artist, it should mean that the higher ranked album is better. Such is the case here. “Love is the Drug” reminded me of The Clash “Rock the Casbah”, which made it more enjoyable. Overall, this album is just a bit more fun and straight forward. “Just Another High” sounds like something that paved the way for Velvet Revolver or like a song that’d be at a wedding

Highlights: Love is the Drug, Whirlwind, Nightingale, Just Another High

  1. Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers

Another album symbolic of the times it was made. This is late ‘60s, early ‘70s and Jefferson Airplane is not down with the war (“Good Shepherd”). Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here. “We Can Be Together” is an epic opening, especially towards the end with the swelling voices. “Turn My Life Down” sounds like inspiration for John Mayer’s “Speak for Me.” “Volunteers” is one of those closers that really feels like the whole album is starting up all over again.

Highlights: Good Shepherd, Hey Fredrick, Song for All Seasons, Volunteers

  1. The Police – Regatta De Blanc

It took me three albums, but I think I can finally say I’m a fan of The Police. While I thought Synchronicity was okay and their debut left me utterly speechless, this album impressed me in a different way. The story goes that these guys went into the studio with little material – everything went towards their debut. To the point where they even consider re-recording a song. But this album holds its own.  Seems less rock ‘n roll and a bit more progressive. A bit more calculated. The title means something along the lines of “White Reggae” you can hear that in “Walking on the Moon.”  But of course we can’t overlook the fact this album opens with “Message in a Bottle.”

Highlights: Message in a Bottle, It’s All Right For You

  1. Artic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Arctic Monkeys has been one of those bands I’ve wanted to get into for the longest time but for one reason or another never really could. Each time I found a song to listen to I didn’t care for it. Listening here though, I hear Sex Pistols and other punk rock despite this band not being that close to punk. This album is all about nightlife in their hometown and if you listen for the lyrics you can hear of the party. But for all the festivities, it still carries an air of sadness/sobriety.

Highlights: The View from the Afternoon, Fake Tales of San Francisco, Riot Van, When The Sun Goes Down

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