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

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The Great Wall of Music: Albums 490-481

  1. ZZ Top – Tres Hombres

The men with some of the best beards in the business. This is southern rock with a tinge of blues. I feel like the only way to have a proper experience with this band is watching them live at some festival with good food and good drinks and a straw cowboy hat. At times I hear Rush (another great trio) in this but nevertheless this is feel good music with some tasty riffs. I can now say I’ve listened to a ZZ top record.

Highlights: Waitin’ for the Bus, Jesus Just Left Chicago, La Grange

  1. KISS – Destroyer

I almost want to ask where this has been my entire life, but I know exactly where it’s been: right in front of me. Back in elementary school I had a best friend whose dad was a huge KISS fan. Unfortunately, aside from “Rock and Roll All Night” I never really sat down to listen to them. But this. This is the music you listen to when you’re about to have a night out on the town with your boys and each of you solemnly swear you’re up to no good. ZZ top had the beards but KISS had the make-up and their own unique sex appeal.

Highlights: Detroit Rock City, God of Thunder, Flaming Youth, Shout it out Loud

  1. Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising

Imagine sitting down, never having heard this band or this album and hearing blaring, distorted guitars, speed-of-light drums, and lots of yelling only to be told this is their slower, more melodic album. You would think someone was pulling your leg. But apparently, that’s the story with this album. I almost believe them. It’s hard to when you have songs like “Watcha drinkin’”, “How to Skin a Cat” or even the title track, “New Day Rising”. Those are straight punk rock songs. Vocally, they remind me of Misfits. And yet “I Apologize” is a bit too clean/smooth to be punk rock, the chords in “Celebrated Summer” a bit too luscious. In that sense, you can see they’re at a crossroads in their career.

Highlights: The Girl Who Lives on Heaven’s Hill, I Apologize, Terms of Psychological Warfare

  1. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual

After the screaming and yelling of Husker Du, hearing poppy/dance-y Cyndi Lauper was surprisingly refreshing. If this album doesn’t have you belting “money changes everything”, you need to listen again. Lauper has this amazing ability to sound like she’s singing at the top of her lungs and yet demonstrate supreme control Like I feel like her voice is so powerful, you’d hear it she was singing from a mountain. Though I wasn’t a fan of “I’ll Kiss You” this album was so infectious, she won me over. This debut had all the jams.

Highlights: Money Changes Everything, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, When You Were Mine, Time After Time (yes, I know those are like the first four songs on the album. Don’t judge me.)

  1. Earth, Wind, and Fire – That’s the Way of the World

Aw yeah, Earth, Wind, and Fire, baby. I don’t know if you’re allowed not to absolutely love these guys. I’m pretty sure if you don’t like these guys, you don’t know music. Thumping bass lines and jamming horns, this is musical ecstasy in its purest form. This album had me jamming and reminiscing, surprised by how many songs on this thing I already knew. This album is filled with the cuts! “Africano” is a just an all-around good groove. This is back when people used to talk to you on tracks and then magically find themselves singing again just to prove they could. I almost those days. They don’t make this kind of stuff anymore.

Side note: can we talk about how prolific these guys were/are? Who in the world comes out with eight albums in the span of six years?

Highlights: Shining Star, That’s The Way of the World, Happy Feelin’, Reasons

  1. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy 

One of the fun parts about listening to these albums is I get to dive into the mythos of the artist. Strangely enough, I never listened to Pearl Jam growing up. Some of my closest friends are big fans and I’ll hear their music in passing as a result but I’ve never actually sat down and listened to a full album. But from the moment I heard the opening of “Last Exit” I had a feeling this was it. My natural desire is for a good, catchy chorus but when they didn’t opt for it, I was even gladder. By “Spin the Black Circle” I thought they’d gotten a new fan. By “Nothingman” I knew it. It’s aggressive yet thoughtful but not without its eccentricities. Take “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” or “Pry, To” for example: what are the point of those songs? Nevertheless  I can see why so many people were drawn to them around their debut. I want to dig deeper as well. Sonically, I wonder if this is where Incubus gets it from.

Highlights: Last Exit, Nothingman, Corduroy, Better Man

  1. Mott the Hoople – All The Young Dudes

Not going to lie, at first I was hesitant to give it a listen. I mean, what kind of name is Mott the Hoople? (As it turns out Mott the Hoople comes from a book of the same name). But these guys are considered important to the glam rock genre and I can see it. Even though at times they resemble Bob Dylan in terms of songwriting and lyrical delivery, you can also hear the influence of David Bowie producing this record. At times I even hear Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zepplin. But what I love most about this album is the way it begins and comes full circle in its end. There’s something reassuring about, “Ride on my son, ride until you fail.”

Highlights: Sweet Jane, All the Young Dudes, Jerkin’ Crocus, One of the Boys

  1. Gang of Four – Entertainment!

Before there was Anti-Flag, before there was Against Me! there was Gang of Four and all their punk rock greatness. Political lyrics analyzing society, walking bass lines, and those guitar riffs that don’t sound particularly melodic but you come to love them anyway? All those can be found in this album. But for all its punk, it’s got its fair share of melody. If you’re not really listening carefully it’s easy for this album to become background noise. My encouragement: don’t do it. You might miss out on something special. I feel cooler and infinitely more punk rock just for having heard this album.

Highlights: Natural’s Not In It, Not Great Men Damaged Goods, I Found That Essence Rare

  1. Steve Earle – Guitar Town

Personally, I get a little upset when people say they like everything but country music. Not because I’m a huge country fan but because there is good country music out there, even if I can’t fully relate to the narrative that’s being shared. While I know nothing about the hillbilly highway, this album is not without its gems (“Little Rock ‘N’ Roller is a perfect example). It may be a country album but it’s got rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ heart.

Highlight: Good Old Boy, Some day, Little Rock ‘N Roller

  1. D’Angelo – Voodoo*

This album is too smooth, man. This is a record you put on and just vibe, letting it take you wherever it wants to take you for the day. It’s so layered, so textured and rich, you can’t help but to be captive to its hold and for the most part, you don’t mind (“Left & Right” is crazy vulgar). His cover of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” alone makes the album worth it. This is neo-soul at its finest. Pino Palladino, Raphael Saadiq, and Charlie Hunter kill it on the bass lines, D’Angelo is a master arranger. This album performs a rare feat: it gets better with every song. Definitely deserves another listen.

Highlight: Send It On, One Mo’Gin, Feel Like Makin’ Love, Untitled (How Does It Feel?)