The Great Wall of Music: Albums 330-321

  1. Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night

My biggest struggle with Neil Young has always been his voice. It just sounds whiny and nasally. I don’t know if I would call him a “good singer” necessarily. And yet, I feel like you don’t listen to Neil Young for his voice. You listen because he’s one heck of a songwriter. Yes the voice is nasally, but on songs like “Borrowed Tune” and “Albuquerque”, you don’t really care. This whole album is riddled with grief. Written after the death of two of his close friends, the album starts off with a tribute to his roadie. There’s so much power in the moment he shouts “I heard that he died”, you get bowled over.

Highlights: Speaking Out

  1. James Brown – In the Jungle Groove

When I first heard this record, I wondered if it was live. Upon researching, this is actually a compilation of tracks recorded between 1969 and 1971, even though it was released in 1986. Nevertheless, live or not, the man is a mater showman. He has you from beginning to end. You feel caught in his gravitas. You are there in the room as he’s singing. You are sucked into the vortex that is the performance. You realize once again how iconic he was and what we lost in his passing. You almost can’t help but to miss him. In short, it’s everything you’ve ever loved about James Brown ever.

Highlights: It’s A New Day, Funky Drummer, Get Up, Get Into It, Get involved, Soul Power

  1. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

In some ways reminds me of Smashing Pumpkins – the guitar sound ambient, almost shoe-gazey but I can’t quite put my finger on the sound itself. Not totally what I expected. I expected a more aggressive sound. I appreciate the reverb-y guitars. This is the kind of album you sit with over a time and allow it to take you to another time.

Highlights: Teenage Riot, Sprawl, Hey Joni

  1. Liz Phair – Exille in Guyville

Like so many others I first heard Liz Phair with her single “Why Can’t I?” It was such a tender, heartfelt song I practically melted every time I heard it. Imagine my surprise when, years later, a friend of mine showed me this Liz Phair. With songs like “F*** and Run” and “Flower”, it felt like that time my high school teacher rapped all the words to “Freaks of the Industry” whereas another told me her favorite song was Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” Some things can’t be forgotten.

If this exile from guyville, Liz Phair proves she can be as sexual and vulgar as they are – on one hand there’s loneliness and longing and on the other there’s disgust and frustration with men. Even as she calls herself a real c*** in spring, she sounds angelic. A bit more distortion and it could be grunge. Part of the real allure of this album is it’s connection with Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Apparently, each song on this album corresponds and responds to each song on the each song on Main Street. There’s her explanation of how somewhere on the internet. It would seem the band wasn’t too pleased.

Highlights: Never Said, Canary, F*** and Run, Shatter

  1. The Cure – Disintegration

I have a confession to make: Nearly ten years ago I used to stay awake way too late at night listening to “Untitled”, thinking about life and the sadness of it all. For as long as I can remember, The Cure has been the poster band of sad and gloomy music. This album is quintessential. Between “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street” you get the sense, this is the band at their most realized, their most gelled and put together. From the very beginning the atmosphere envelopes you. And for the duration of each song (which can get long at times), they keep you.

Highlights: Pictures of You, Lovesong, Disintegration

  1. Eric Clapton – Slowhand

The man himself. With the album opening with “Cocaine” and going straight into “Wonderful Tonight” and “Lay Down Sally”, it feels like it’s just one huge Clapton hit after another. To be honest, I’m so used to thinking of Clapton as a guitarist that I forget him as a singer-songwriter altogether. Yet what I appreciate about Clapton is that very rarely is it just shredding for the sake of it, but he’s just as capable at communicating feeling through his playing. It’s soulful but it’s technical. Proving they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. He can be technical, but he can also pull back to make you feel (“Peaches and Diesel”). Still, if you forgot just how much the man can shred, let “Core” be proof. The name album title refers to a nickname given Clapton because his ability to play so fast.

Highlights: Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight, Next Time You See Her, Peaches and Diesel

  1. David Bowie – Station to Station

The return of the Thin White Duke is just as theatrical as you can imagine. The opening, title track is a 10 minute epic that continues to evolve. As eccentric as he can be, he can make something that genuinely moves you. He can get funky and poppy all at the same time. The Thin White Duke will haunt you when he’s not moving your feet.

Highlight: Word on a Wing, Stay

  1. The Police – Ghost in the Machine

This is supposedly them at their best (judging by what online rankings and its placing on this list), but I think there’s room for discussion here. In a way, they do seem the most realized version of themselves on this thing. You can hear what would be Synchronicity while also hearing Regatta De Blanc’s influence. Of course, you have the gem that is “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” Still, I come away wanting to listen to their discography in chronological order. I want to hear how they evolve and how their albums are conversations with each other.

Highlight: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Hungry For You, Omegaman

  1. Randy Newman – Sail Away

It’s not that I don’t like Randy Newman. I actually really appreciate his social commentary and the satirical nature of his lyrics at time. Even the title track makes fun of what it means to be an American with its plentiful religious references. I just don’t know if I can listen to his voice for long periods of time. It’s so distinct, all I hear is “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” When I can get past that, I recognize his understanding of music and how he draws from the wellspring of knowledge.

Highlights: Sail Away, He Gives Us All His Love, Burn On, Political Science

  1. Nick Drake – Pink Moon

Beautiful and sad.  It’s stripped down, acoustic and therein lies its charm and strength. This is something that would be in Juno or like 500 Days of Summer. The music mellow. Nick Drake’s voice soft and deep. I almost wonder where it’s been my entire life. Songs are relatively short, which causes the album to go by quickly.  “Place To Be” sounds like a predecessor to The Early November’s “1000 Times A Day.” As a singer/songwriter, it feels like there’s so much to unpack here. Nick Drake committed suicide shortly after this. Apparently he had always struggled with depression.

Highlights: Pink Moon, Place To Be, Which Will, From The Morning.


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 430-421

  1. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

FINALLY! AN ALBUM I’VE HEARD BEFORE AND ALREADY ENJOY! I remember when this album came out my buddy Lucas would have this on constant rotation in his car. This album reminds me of 2008, drives around Berkeley, and wishing I had gone to Berkeley High for my senior year of high school. And because of that, it has a special nostalgic place in my heart. Between Ezra having gone to Columbia and this album reminding me of Berkeley, it’s always seemed a bit pretentious in the best way. At the time, these were completely different sounds than I was used to hearing (African guitar sounds, Peter Gabriel references and all). It’s a similar feeling I felt when I heard Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which surprisingly is not on this list. There is no bad song on this album and if you listen to one, there’s no way you’re not listening to several.

Highlights: Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, M79

  1. Brian Eno – Another Green World

Second Eno record on the list. Immediately this felt different. Chronologically, this is his third album, transitioning more into his ambient stylings (“In Dark Trees”, “The Big Ships”) and honestly, it’s those ambient stylings that make this record. Once the first ambient tracks came on I recognized why this man is so important. But that’s not to say the other songs are superfluous. Something about the way he sings “I’ll come running to tie your shoes” sounds extremely sweet and thoughtful.
Highlights: St. Elmo’s Fire, In Dark Trees, The Big Ships, Becalmed, Zawinul/Lava

  1. The Police – Outlandos D’Amour

This album. I can’t even imagine what it must’ve felt like to be alive when this album came on the scene. I imagine this would’ve changed everything people thought they knew about rock music up to that point. This was The Police’s debut album and man, what a debut it is. “Next To You” is a rock jam that gets you hook, line, and sinker. “Roxanne” is no stranger to me (and if you do CrossFit it might not be to you either). Second record from The Police on the list and I immediately like it more than Synchronicity. The rock, the reggae and the obvious skill these guys demonstrate. It’s all raw energy whereas Synchronicity is a bit more calculated. So impressed by this.

Highlights: Next To You, So Lonely, Peanuts, Born in the ‘50s.

  1. Peter Wolf – Sleepless

“This song is about being double parked on the highway of love.” Apparently this is called modern blues and I guess I can hear it. While it’s technical for sure, it doesn’t carry the same vintage sound you’d hear in listening to Albert King or B.B. King. It’s a bit more polished and new. There’s even a bit of country thrown in. At times, it reminds me of Springsteen, at other times it reminds me of Stevie Ray Vaughn, and sometimes he reminds me of Tom Waits with his growl.

Highlights: Nothing But the Wheel, Lots of Good Ones Gone, Five O’Clock Angel, Oh Marianne

  1. Cheap Trick – At Budokan

The boys are back in town. This after three studio albums these guys are rocking the heck out of Japan. You can hear the audience drown out the sound at certain elements. From what I’ve read, I understand this was right as Japan was falling in love with them and you can hear the joy in the music. It sounds like they’re having the time of their lives. They sound like the kings of the world. I even enjoyed the “Hello There” reprise at the end of the show. Both clever and corny.

Highlights: Come On, Come On, Surrender

  1. Graham Parsons – Grievous Angel

This was released four months after Graham Parsons’ overdose. Listening to it, I couldn’t help but wish he’d been around to enjoy the reception. Even for me, someone who’s not an avid country listener, this was surprisingly fun to listen to. Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ voices blend well together and it shows on the album’s opening track. They have this incredible way of building a song both musically and vocally to its ultimate climax and then resolving it beautifully.

Highlights: Return of the Grievous Angel, Brass Buttons, $1000 Wedding, Love Hurts

  1. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising

 The boss is back and he is out to make a statement. This album was inspired by September 11th and you can hear it in a number of songs. He tells the story of firefighters, families of victims and firefighters as well as the victims themselves. “Nothing Man” and “You’re Missing” are particularly poignant. Overall this album is a bit more electric, a bit more energetic than the morose Tunnel of Love. It almost feels like good songs just come out of this man strumming his guitar and repeating a phrase. My only critique: 15 songs leaves a lot of room for filler. At a certain point, you have to ask yourself if every song needs to be on the album. “Let’s Be Friends” comes to mind. But this album reminds me how music can unite a country and provide consolation for a hurting nation.

Highlights: Lonesome Day, Nothing Man, Mary’s Place, You’re Missing

  1. Diana Ross and the Supremes – Anthology

When they said anthology, they meant it. This is 50 songs, clocking in over two hours long. After a while, you’re surprised you’re still listening to this. My recommendation: don’t listen in one sitting. But disclaimers aside, these ladies are gems of the Motown era. They were the bestselling act of that whole era and to this day remain one of the most successful vocal groups. Similar to The Drifters, you may not know that you’ve been listening to The Supremes all these years but you certainly have. This is what they play in the diner to create atmosphere. And the beauty of this anthology is that there are so many hits on this thing. Still, 50 songs. Don’t listen in one sitting if you really want to enjoy the experience.

Highlights: Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, Come See About Me, Stop! In The Name of Love, I Hear A Symphony, You Can’t Hurry Love

  1. The Ronettes – Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica

Another girl group from the ‘60s. Interestingly enough, this started as a family group between sisters and a cousin. Similar to The Supremes, it feels like something you’d hear in a diner but this vocal group is a bit more pop and a bit more rock. Interestingly enough, for a career which lasted quite a while, this was their only studio album.

Highlights: Walking in the Rain, I Wonder, Be My Baby

  1. Various Artists – The Best of the Girl Groups, Vol. 1 & 2

Something a bit different! We’ve had studio albums, live albums, collections and anthologies but this is the first time we’re seeing a compilation of various artist as an album on here. I suppose it’s valid and counts. In terms of sound, it’s exactly what we’ve seen from the past couple of albums. That same ‘60s sound, those same iconic jams you at times take for granted for having actually been written and performed by people at some point. This does make for a good comprehensive overview of that era of music.

Highlights: Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss), Will You Love Me Tomorrow, My Boyfriend’s Back, Locomotion

The Great Wall of Music: Albums 450-441

  1. Jackson Browne – For Everyman

Words escape me to describe this album. Maybe because every time I try it defies classification. “These Days” has that steel string, country twang but it’s got that beautiful piano driving it. “Red Neck Friend” is a bit country, a bit rock and roll. At times, I hear Tom Petty. At times, I hear Counting Crows. At times, I hear Elton John. Maybe it’s the influence of all the difference guest artists that feature on this record. This is what you would hear at the Grammy’s and only those old enough to remember or those who’ve done their musical research would know who this is.

Highlights: Our Lady of the Well, Colors of the Sun, I Thought I Was a Child

  1. Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers

This is so lame, but I struggle to figure out what to say about these guys. It might remind me of the Beatles a bit? It’s hard to know for sure. Chilton has this delicate, smooth voice. And what I love about them is they’ve got a bit of melody and bounce to them. Apparently they’ve influenced bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements. It’s like I’ve heard this sound before but I can’t really place it. Side note: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an album with more versions of a track list.

Highlights: Thank You Friends, Femme Fatale, O Dana, Kangaroo

  1. The Police – Synchronicity

I remember once in an interview John Mayer (I feel like he comes up a lot on this thing) talked about how he misses the 80s because you got more music per square inch. In that, he referenced The Police and their ability to be both musically technical but have mass appeal. I think my introduction to them, Guitar Hero aside, came with Coheed & Cambria’s “Number City.” When I was researching bands who had that sound, The Police was frequently mentioned. Nothing is ever simple with these guys. On the surface, Walking in Your Footsteps” is a track about dinosaurs. But when you actually listen it’s about the extinction of the human race. “Every Breath You Take” isn’t a love song but a song about the darkness of a person’s heart. Personally, I found the album more accessible towards its end. Like if you’re looking for classic Police sound, the first half might be that. If you’re looking for something a bit more poppy, the latter half is that.

Highlights: Synchronicity II, King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger

  1. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto

This is elevator music. The type of stuff they’d play in a fancy store as your significant other is shopping for clothes and you’re sitting on a couch, waiting for them to finish. This may seem completely random, but “Girl from Ipanema” has been all over the place and you’ll know you’ve heard it the second the chorus hits you. This is just enjoyable to have on in the background.

Highlights: The Girl from Ipanema, Doralice

  1. MC5 – Back in the USA

If you’re looking for an American rock and roll band, this is it. Everything happens at a mile a minute, including in-your-face guitar solos. Between “Teenage Lust” and “Let Me Try” you get the sense these guys are out to get some. It is the ’70s after all. This is the music of teenage rebellion. The music your parents are hearing about and you’re not allowed to listen to them. You sneak out at night to place where they’re playing anyway. Quick album, but it covers a lot of terrain. Extra points for the album starting and ending with a cover from black artist.

Highlights: Tutti-Frutti, Tonight, The American Ruse

  1. Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle

From the second the title track came on, I was like, “ooooh shoooot.” You know how cool Steve Miller had to feel, sitting in the studio listening back to this song fully produced? He had to feel like the coolest dude on the planet. I would’ve. I would’ve felt untouchable.  If that was the only track on this album, this album would’ve been worth it. But they add to it and some of these other tracks feel like a victory lap (“The Window”). These guys play with so many sounds: blues “Mercury Blues”, Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque southern rock “Take the Money and Run”, and more. Makes me proud to be from San Francisco.

Highlights: Fly Like an Eagle, Serenade, Take The Money and Run, Rock’n Me

  1. War – The World is a Ghetto

If you haven’t heard “The Cisco Kid” you must’ve been under a rock. This is funk of its own kind. You can hear it in the bass. “City, Country, City” is just a jam track. The title track off this album is ten minutes long, but it’s probably the best song on this whole album. These guys take rock, funk, and create their own sound. There are horns, clean guitars, and Latin flavor galore. Takes me back to driving around with my dad.

Highlights: Cisco Kid, City Country City

  1. Cheap Trick – In Color

My first Cheap Trick album. All I can picture are checkerboard guitars. Another larger than life sounding band. Somehow, they command the stage while playing on record. “I Want You To Want Me” takes me back to Dawson’s Creek. At times it reminded me of Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith (who’s first album came out in 1973 as well).

Highlights: Hello There, I Want You to Want Me, Southern Girls, So Good to See You

  1. Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

In some ways it reminds me of Talking Heads, whose first couple albums came out around this time. They’re quirky both in terms of sound and lyrics. Not quite sure if I’m buying it totally. Take “Jocko Homo” for example. In the way the band itself carries an image and concept, I imagine these guys paved the way for groups like The Phenomenauts. This album is produced by both Brian Eno (who went on to work with groups like U2) and David Bowie and maybe you get a sense of Bowie’s love for the theatrical with their image but I can’t get on the inside of this album. In some ways, this is all one giant art instillation.

Highlights: Mongoloid, Gut Feeling

  1. Suicide – Suicide

I procrastinated in listening to this album. The only time I would’ve ever been interested in listening to a band called “Suicide” might’ve been back in high school. But for all the gore the name suggests and the album cover invokes, this quite the opposite. It’s extremely minimalistic. If there’s any percussion, it’s faint. Synth is the main driver. It’s to the point where you keep waiting for the other foot to drop, these songs build and at any given moment they can crescendo but they just don’t. Be on the look out for the blood-curdling screams on “Frankie Teardrop”.

Highlights: Cheree