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

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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