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

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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