I admit that writing this list is pretty self-indulgent. I'm hardly a music critic, and this isn't really a music blog. But I've had fun writing and ranking, and I've enjoyed the feedback so far. I think you can learn a lot about a person by the music they listen to, especially if they can speak passionately about it. I've enjoyed other lists that have been popping up throughout the blogosphere, and have even
stole bought some albums as a result.
And this list has turned out--a little to my surprise--to be a labor of love for me. I've seriously lost sleep over some artists and albums which didn't make the list, and gone into near panic when I remembered an album that had been left off and had to be accomodated. If a blog is a personal journal, where you're free to share thoughts, opinions, and vulnerabilities, then this exercise fits the model perfectly. I hope you're enjoying it as much as I am...
Shut up, CroutonBoy, and get on with the music.
#50 - Lou Reed - Transformer
I avoided Lou Reed for years, mostly because I thought his singing sucked ass. "Walk on the Wild Side" seemed like an aberration in his career, a rare moment of pop song craft only picked up by classic rock stations because of the BJ reference. A few years ago I heard "Perfect Day" on some movie soundtrack, and decided I might have been a little hard on Junkie McNoisemaker. Sure enough, it's great. I'm sure the fact that David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced it helps. The lyrics explore the fringes of society, yet casts its characters in familiar emotional tones of acceptance, longing, and frustration. They just want to be loved; is that so wrong? Favorite Song = "Hangin' Round"
#49 - R.E.M. - Murmur
"Stand in the place where you were, now face north." Oh wait...that's not on this album! But that's what I knew of R.E.M. in college...annoying songs that people who thought they were cooler than me listened to, with occasional novelties that made it to the radio. I've warmed to them over the years (Automatic for the People almost made this list) despite the fact that Michael Stipe looks like a cancer patient. 20 years later this album still sounds remarkably fresh and raw, with production values that sound like they're singing and playing just a little far away from the microphone. The songs are all great nuggets of folk-rock/post-punk fusion. Does that make me sound snobbish? Probabaly...forget I said it. Favorite Song = "Radio Free Europe"
#48 - Palomar - Palomar III: Revenge of Palomar
I'd be surprised if more than one person who reads this blog has this album. (Hi, Dave!) A friend of mine was a fan of these guys, and another buddy knew someone who was opening for them a couple years ago, so I tagged along to the show...I've been utterly hooked ever since. They remind me of a band that used to play at all our college parties that I became friends with. Tight, exuberant melodies, and a fun vibe that only a band that's still trying to "make it" has. And you can still chat with the band-members behind the t-shirt table at one of their shows. Favorite Song = "You Dance Bad"
#47 - Stevie Wonder - Fulfillingness' First Finale
Hopefully this will assuage those of you who got all bent out of shape about having a Stevie album in the 90s. This album never seems to get the props that his other albums do, but I like it the best. Don't ask me why...the only answer I can give is that collectively I like the songs on this more. Favorite Song = "Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away"
#46 - Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
Neil Young is another one of those guys, like Springsteen and the Beatles, who has been endlessly written about. I've got nothing to add. I will say, however, that he's also one of the few artists who have managed to maintain their credibility throughout their career (Bowie is the only other guy that comes to mind). Politics and nasal singing aside, this is a great batch of tunes: rootsy, majestic, and memorable. He was alt-country and grunge before those terms even existed...got to dig that. Favorite Song = "Don't Let It Bring You Down"
#45 - Air - Moon Safari
Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. If it weren't for my old subscription to CMJ Music Monthly I would have never heard of these guys, 'cause it was so NOT what I was listening to at the time. Their trance-like mix of atmosheric sounds and dance-beats opened my eyes to an exotic and fascinating sub-genre of music, and pushed the boundaries of my own sensibilities. It's hypnotic and damn-near irresistable. Favorite Song = "All I Need"
#44 - Velvet Underground - Loaded
I don't buy all that crap about bands who are "ahead of their time" or "experimental" and those who assume they must be great because of it. My message to musicians is to stop trying to push boundaries of sound unless you can write songs that normal people can enjoy. These guys seem to be the progenitors of that whole concept. So what is Loaded doing on my list? Because on this album they got it right. For once they recorded some tunes with melodies, found ways to get Lou Reed's semi-detached voice and phrasing to fit, and frankly just lightened up. Some of these even sound like Summer of Love singalongs, although with substantially more caustic lyrics. Favorite Song = "Who Loves the Sun?"
#43 - Radiohead - The Bends
These guys have turned into a hell of a group, haven't they? I don't even recognize them anymore, but I still love their stuff. As great as their last few albums have been, I still favor this, their first masterpiece. It still has all the structure of rock and roll (before they started disassembling it) and its both forceful and anguished. It's the sound of a band perfecting the basics--and doing it better than anyone else--before taking a giant leap. Favorite Song = "Fake Plastic Trees"
#42 - The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
Yeah, I drank the Kool-Aid. I read recently that the biggest beneficiary of the success of the Strokes (see #41) was not in fact the Strokes themselves, but the White Stripes. This album came out at just the right time for me...I was lamenting the death of good music on the radio (for the fifth consecutive year) and needed something different and energizing. Enter Jack and Meg. They are so good at so many different kinds of songs, from anthems ("I Can't Wait 'Til You Try to Come Back") to breakneck tunes that race by ("Fell In Love With a Girl") to sweet little playground tunes ("We Are Going to Be Friends"). And how do you not furiously bounce off walls when listening to "Little Room?" Imagine how good they'd be if Meg knew how to drum. Favorite Song = "Hotel Yorba"
#41 - The Strokes - Is This It?
Yeah, I drank the Kool-Aid (sound familiar?) You want to hate these guys: their lead singer's dad runs a powerful modeling agency, and you can bet he had a hand in getting them some early gigs and access. Plus the hype...oh, the hype. But how can you not like this album? It's like they updated the sounds of Blondie, Elvis Costello, and Velvet Undergound, adding 90s pop-sensibilities over a chugging backbeat. I for one have never got tired of this. Favorite Song = "Hard to Explain"
Now get back to work...the boss is going to see you...