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: 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