Tuesday, December 31, 2013
We finally have made it to the end of the countdown. In what has been a tremendous year in music, it comes down to the final two. The separation between number 1 and 2 is microscopic, to the point where I have flipped flopped them at least a dozen times. (By comparison, The Lonely Forest, while a tremendous record, was not even in consideration for top 2 status)
In case you missed any of the countdown here is:
Without further delay, the final two….
NIN – Hesitation Marks
In early 2009, Trent Reznor announced to the world that NIN was taking a break. There was no timetable given, not a lot of reason either, but in his eyes, it was time to shut it down for a while. So, following the tour in 2009, Trent put his energy and creativity into other projects. First, came the project with his wife entitled “How To Destroy Angels”. Also, Trent teamed up with Atticus Ross to record two BRILLIANT scores for David Fincher films, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (the former for which he received a Golden Globe and an Oscar) Just when you could start thinking, with all of this success, that NIN might be retired forever, Trent took a left turn and announced that the first Nine Inch Nails record in 5 years would be released in 2013. Expectations were of course, very high, and luckily for the listener, not only met, but leapt over in a free and easy swoop. Reznor has always been a master at mixing the electronic with the “raw” in music. Ahead of his time with the use of technology, while still allowing the sonic entities to remain pure. Hesitation Marks hits top speed from the get go, with the brilliant lead off track “Copy Of A”. One of Reznor’s unique abilities, it to write a lyric that may seem so simple at first listen, but gains more depth the more you hear it/think about it. The album continues at warp speed with “Came Back Haunted”, another gem. It closes out side 1 (for the vinyl consumers) with the beautiful “Find My Way”. In the space of three songs, the landscape is set, from pounding pulse to minimalist airiness. The rest of the album flows in the same vein, moving from up tempo to slower songs with ease. The time off from “the band” did nothing but fuel Trent to put out his best effort since The Fragile, one that in most years would top this list.
Key Tracks – Copy Of A, Came Back Haunted, Everything, Running, While I’m Still Here
Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
Over the span of his 3+ decade career, Elvis Costello has become one of music’s ultimate chameleons. His collaborative efforts have included writing/recording with Sir Paul McCartney, (including the hits, “Veronica” for Elvis and “My Brave Face” for Paul) Allen Toussaint and Burt Bacharach to name a few. So, in hearing of this effort at the beginning of 2013, it was met by a slight head tilt and a “huh”. I have the ultimate respect for Questlove and the Roots as musicians, as they really have a wonderful way of adapting styles….but a record with Elvis? I was curious to hear the results, and anxiously anticipated the record. Within the first 30 seconds of hearing “Walk Us Uptown”, I was sold that this was going to be magical. 12 perfectly executed tracks, each one building on the previous, with Elvis’ voice in top form, and a backing band taking him wherever he needs to go.
There is a “part 2” to this capsule, a quick hit email interview with the producer of the record, Steven Mandel, that will be posted as an addendum, as he has been busy the past couple of days to get back to me. Be on the lookout!
Key Tracks – Wise Up Ghost, If I Could Believe, Walk Us Uptown, Come The Meantimes
Friday, December 27, 2013
Stereophonics – Graffiti On The Train
In 2001, Stereophonics took the UK by storm, releasing one of the best albums of that year (or the decade for that matter) Just Enough Education To Perform. It featured some great songwriting, incredible music, and the unmistakable voice of Kelly Jones. When I first heard it, I was onboard with the possibility of a HUGE breakout. The next two records moved the needle a bit, but not to the point I thought it would. Then in 2007 and 2009, they released two records that for lack of better term are better left forgotten. Many (including myself) wrote Stereophonics off, thinking it was time to pack it in. Thankfully, the band knew better than us. Graffiti On The Train is a TREMENDOUS comeback, the kind of record that feels like they are saying “Oh yeah? We’re done? Here you go….”. Jones, one of the best voices in rock music, is at his growling finest, as the lead track, “We Share The Same Sun”, sets the tone for the entire record. The title track follows, taking the tempo down, but not the energy. And as every song envelops the room as the record plays, you take notice that no two sound anything alike, nor like anything they have done up to this point. This record is a triumph, a true front to back experience, and one that gets me excited for whatever comes next….just like 2001 all over again.
Key Tracks – We Share The Same Sun, Graffiti On The Train, Indian Summer, Roll The Dice
The Lonely Forest – Adding Up The Wasted Hours
Do you remember the early 90s? Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees….etc..etc… Collectively known as the “Seattle Sound”. I think in 2013, we may have stumbled upon this version 2.0. Maybe not Seattle, per se, but Pacific Northwest. I give you The Lonely Forest. At first listen, they MAY sound like a Death Cab “rip off”….but as you dig deeper, you hear layers of soul that are their own, and expressed in a much different way than Ben, Walla and the rest of DCFC would express. (it should be noted, that this record is their debut on Walla’s Trans-Record label) This was the last record to fall into my hands before finalizing the list, and as I tweeted at the time, as I THOUGHT the top 12 was locked, “they may have blown up the top 3”. Front to back, this is an album of pure joy. “Pull The Pin” sets the tone from the start, with it’s very staccato syncopation before launching into anthem like strains, “Neon Never Changes” turns the car left down a trippy-ish road, and then “Lavender Dress” (which on its own, may seem like a throw away song) segues perfectly into one of the best songs of the year, “Warm/Happy”. There is nothing like the pure joy of “discovering” an artist that .001% of the population may know, RIGHT before the height of their perceived super powers are launched to the mainstream. This record is a run, don’t walk, situation.
Key Tracks: Warm/Happy, Pull The Pin, Fire Breather, Left Hand Man
As noted a few weeks ago, this year was incredible for new releases in music. My normal top 10 list expanded to 12 (could have easily been top 15), and even the records I did not like as a whole produced some tremendous songs. So, before I reveal the remaining top 4 albums of the year, a look at some of the other tunes that struck a chord.
Panic At The Disco – This Is Gospel
I Can Make A Mess – Lions
Superchunk –Me & You & Jackie Mittoo
Atoms For Peace – Ingenue
The National – Sea Of Love
The Appleseed Cast – Cathedral Rings
The Head And The Heart – Another Story
Balance And Composure – Reflection
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Welcome back to the countdown. If you missed #12-9, scroll down to the previous post before (or after) reading this.
And now, let’s get to it. My favorite albums of the year, continuing with #8-5. Remember the simple rules:
No Best Of
Minor Alps – Get There
There have been a few nice male/female vocal collaborations this year, including Mathew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs offering their third edition of Under the Covers and Billie Joe and Norah Jones covering the Everly Brothers. While those were both very good in their own right, they were pale in comparison to this stunning debut from Mathew Caws (of Nada Surf fame) and Juliana Hatfield. Both have put out great albums apart from each other in the past, however, at the risk of hyperbole, it’s as if those paths were leading to this. Their voices separate are wonderful….together it is sublime. There is nothing too complicated with the music on the album, it is the soaring harmonies that take the songs to a tremendous level. The first single, “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands”, is a bit of a misnomer for the breath of the record. While both can “rock out” with the best of them, the quieter moments of this album are what make it what it is. Tracks like “If I Wanted Trouble” and “Waiting For You” showcase the duo’s pop sensibilities without raising the distortion level to 11. A fantastic debut from two veteran rockers.
Key Tracks – If I Wanted Trouble, Wish You Were Upstairs, Buried Plans
Koji – Crooked In My Mind
More than anything, this album represents a wonderful throwback in time. Back where having a relationship with a record store, led to you getting suggestions on music you may not have heard if not for that. Because of the relationship I have with the people at my favorite shop, this incredible debut record fell into my hands. Based on my purchase history, tastes, and conversations we had, “my guy” recommended this record, and I am incredibly happy he did. Backed by a tight rhythm section, singer/songwriter Andrew Koji Shiraki delivers not only stark vocals, but some really great chord progressions throughout the entire record. It starts right off the bat with “Chasing A Ghost”, a wonderfully constructed three and a half minutes of longing and angst. And as you progress through the record, you quickly find out, this is a guy with something to say. His voice has the perfect blend of smooth and growl, which pushes the songs to new heights. This is one guy to keep an eye on for the future.
Key Tracks – Chasing A Ghost, Distance/Divide, What You Leave Behind
Gary Numan – Splinter
Yes, the guy that did this…….
There is a reason I use the NIN/Numan clip to remind you of who he is. Trent Reznor has been on record saying that Numan was an influence on Nine Inch Nails….and it seems with this record, Numan has returned the reverential favor. I was struggling with this capsule, as I was having a hard time articulating “why” this record rates so high. When I brought that up to a very good friend, we both thought at the same time “it’s haunting”. (and she has never heard it….she just knew) This is a record of introspection, pain and suffering. A record that is needed to be heard as a whole to understand the true beauty of it. A record that gets better with every listen. It’s dark, it is broken….and it gets the listener BEGGING for a happy ending. It’s not there to be had, and that may be, in part, the genius of it. Numan, in the space of 12 aching tracks, takes the listener on a journey into his world and more importantly, into his psyche and soul. While he has continued to release music over the past years, this was the first record since “Cars” that has really moved the needle in the US. Truly, long overdue.
Key Tracks – (going to defer to the review and say that taking individual tracks out does not do this record justice)
Cumulus – I Never Meant It To Be Like This
How to start a capsule on the best debut record of 2013? How’s this for polished: When talking about the record on the FABULOUS Air-Raid podcast, (seriously, go subscribe to it now, it’s fantastic) Chris Walla, head of Trans-Records said, when referring to the day he signed Cumulus to the label (and I’m paraphrasing) “It was the only record I can remember being brought to us that we didn’t touch before releasing, it was perfect as it was”. THAT is pretty high praise. Cumulus, prior to becoming a true band, was the work of Alexandra Niedzialkowski, a wonderful singer from outside of Seattle. Influenced by strong women from her youth listening to music, Alex started to put together a catalogue of original songs that grew in stature with every time she played out. Enter her childhood friend Lance Umble and bassist Leah Julius. Cumulus went from confessions of one woman, to a band with a plan. The sound and feel of the band brings me back to early 90’s women-led alt-rock acts, especially the Sundays. In fact, I sent an email to Alex to tell her how much I loved the record, and how much she reminded me of Harriet Wheeler, she indicated she had never really listened to them. (which, to me, was just great, as it took away the aspect of “copying a sound”) All of those comparisons aside, this is just a fantastic piece of art. From the opener, the flirty, popped-up “Do You Remember”, all the way to the end and “Night Swimming” (NOT a cover of the R.E.M. classic….but pretty damn near as good), the record takes the listener on a sonic voyage. Alex’s voice, filled with strength AND lilt, is as good as it gets. She hit’s every note, every word, every phrase with meaning and purpose. This was absolutely one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and a record I can’t stop putting back onto the turntable.
Key Tracks – Do You Remember, Ocean Song, Morning Coffee, Night Swimming
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
As the year is winding down, I am pretty confident that I have heard everything I wanted to hear this year. Click here to read the primer to the list that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. In short form? This was a TREMENDOUS year in music. This list was truly a labor of love, as the re-listen to everything I had heard since January, jumbled the rankings up more than I thought could happen. That said, I am very confident in how everything fell, and am happy to present the list to you, the reader.
Before we dive into the best of the best…..a few that JUST missed the top 12 (and what made me think of extending it to 15…it was THAT good a year). One line and one track on each.
Cage The Elephant – Melophobia
Victim of the re-listen, loved on the initial release, failed to keep speaking to me after the fact…
One Track: Come A Little Closer
Balance And Composure – Things We Think We’re Missing
A touch below their debut, strong throughout, but not enough to push any higher….
One Track: Lost Your Name
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The opposite of Cage, with more listens, it would probably crawl into the bottom half of the 12….
One Track: Slipped
And now, let’s get to it. My favorite albums of the year, starting with 12-9. Remember the simple rules:
No Best Of
Volcano Choir – Repave
The top 12 starts with a record that up until about 3 months ago, would have easily checked in to the top 5. The reason for the “drop” is two-fold:
1) A LOT of great stuff came out since September
2) The re-listen made me take a more critical look
This is not to say it’s not a very good album, as it is. It’s just upon listen after listen, my excitement, while never waning, never increased either. The Bon Iver side project’s sophomore release is rife with great instrumentation, as well as the distinct voice of Justin Vernon. But unlike the Bon Iver records, Vernon has an avenue to let his range show, breaking down the usual falsetto wall, and allowing full register to be at the forefront. And guess what? It works very well. The record lacks a true standout track, and like a few records upcoming further up the list, works much better as a whole. If you like Bon Iver, it will not disappoint, and may become a “background music” staple.
Key Tracks: Byegone, Acetate
Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
One of the most anticipated releases of the year in the household. I had a lot of expectations, following the resurgent release Backspacer, and Lightning Bolt, while not knocking it out of the park, certainly was a great offering from Mr. Vedder and the band. The obvious highlight is “Sirens”, which is easily one of the best songs of the year. A simple mid-tempo anthem, it soars with Eddie’s vocals and the unmistakable Mike McCready guitar sound. Other highlights include "Mind Your Manners", a punkish rocker with a FANTASTIC bridge and "Infallible", a mid-tempo bluesy feeling tune. The issue I have with the record, and why I can’t rate it higher, is that, like Backspacer, Lightning Bolt gets VERY uneven in the second half. I know that sequence of songs should not matter THAT much, but in this case, for me, it is a detriment. That said, if you skip around to what you want to listen to in whatever order, it may work better. A great, not REALLY great effort from Pearl Jam.
Key Tracks: Sirens, Fathers Son, Mind Your Manners.
Mazzy Star – Seasons Of Your Day
17 years. 4 sets of Olympics, 4 World Cups….hell, it’s my son’s AGE! That is the number of years since the last Mazzy Star record came out. That is a hell of a hiatus. It’s crazy to think that I was in my 20s when "Fade Into You" hit the airwaves (but kid you not, despite the boyish looks, I was). So, when I was made aware that Hope Sandoval and David Roback were coming back to the scene…while excited, I was a bit skeptical. Could they recapture the magic that “Fade” had? Did they still have something to say? Were they aware that “their sound” should not be changed, as it would be re-welcomed into today’s landscape? The answer to all three, is a resounding YES. From the moment the record starts, the ethereal landscape is set. Roback has a defined talent in setting a mood from the first note that is struck. And then Hope’s voice….never loud, never reaching, just a perfect balance of emotion and verve that sets her apart from singers 20 years her junior. As the record plays, one song flows into the next. The textures are brilliant, the lyrics captivating, and the “Mazzy” sound envelops the room. The highlight is “California”, which I would rank in the top 10 songs of the year (there will be a side-bar type post to address this), but in all honesty, you could pick 6 songs off the record as a contender. This was my genuine surprise of the year, and a record that has had many a spin on the turntable. (bonus points for purple vinyl)
Key Tracks: California, Lay Myself Down, Sparrow
Boxer Rebellion – Promises
In 2011, I became a TAD bit addicted to Boxer Rebellion. The Cold Still was in heavy rotation for me for a good two months, and every time I listened, I picked up something new from Nathan Nicholson and company. So, I was eagerly awaiting the follow up. I was not only not disappointed, I was blown away. Promises, while sounding like a Boxer Rebellion album, takes the SOUND to a new level. The first song, and first single, “Diamonds” sets the ethereal tone, taking the listener on a swell of emotions in a perfectly crafted 4 minutes. Howe’s guitar work has evolved into a signature sound, ala The Edge. Nicholson’s voice has never sounded better, soaring in spots, quiet in others. He may have taken the title from Chris Martin for “best well placed falsetto” as well. From “Diamonds” all the way through to the closer “Promises”, this is clearly their best work.
Key Tracks: Diamonds, Keep Moving, New York, Promises
Thursday, November 14, 2013
I was talking to a friend a few weeks back, a casual music fan at best, and the subject of new releases came up. Admittedly, being a casual fan, he was in the camp of “well, besides (insert favorite band here), everything else is just awful”. It’s not the first time I have heard this in my life. And while I agreed with his assessment that his favorite band DID put out a pretty spectacular album in 2013, that he was missing the boat on some fantastic issues from the course of the year. Some known bands, some new bands, some indie bands…..this year was a GREAT year in music. So much so, that I have to expand my normal “Top 10” thought process, to a Top 12. I even toyed with 15, but then the write ups would get draining and drab, so thought better of it. (I will list a few “near misses” when the first part of the list comes out) A couple of thoughts right away:
1. If you came here thinking that Arcade Fire was going to be on the list……you are reading the wrong blog. For the 3rd record in a row, I gave them my best listen. I WANTED to like the new record (as if it would let me eat at the cool kids table), I really did. I just can’t. I GET the appeal, I GET the fandom….I just don’t get the music.
2. When it came to ranking the top 3, it took a couple of re-listens to settle on the order. (they were always the top 3, I just changed my mind 6,000 times as to the order) As I write this, I still have time to change it 6,000 MORE times….but I don’t think I will. In the words of great speech writers, I believed “it is locked”. (unless, of course, something comes out prior to releasing the list that blows the whole list up….)
3. As far as 4-12…..well that changed order (and the bottom changed entrants) 6,000 times….X 10. That speaks to the breadth of awesome that came out this year. The difference between 4 and 15 is very minimal, and led me to nit-pick. Just know, that anything in the 12, is not just good, but at least VERY GOOD to GREAT.
Now, the standard judging rules apply. Those are:
1. No Best Of records – Obviously. Even if they tacked on a couple of new tracks, can’t evaluate.
2. No Live records – Live records tend to be BEST OF’s in front of an audience.
3. No COMPS – Needs to be a band and a full LP (which, this year was a tough omission, as the Sound City soundtrack is phenomenal)
Lastly, as with anyone’s “Top Whatever #” list, this is purely subjective. I don’t really pay attention to mainstream reviews; I like to listen not only with my ears, but also my gut. What I like may be different than what you do. There are a lot of diverse sounds on the list, so I am hoping that at least one of the albums will speak to everyone who reads.
The capsules will start posting towards the end of November, once I feel comfortable that nothing new coming out in December could create an issue. Thanks as always for the read.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
In advance of what has become an exhaustive process of ranking the best records of 2013, I wanted to NOT rank some of the best cover versions on YOUTUBE. No order, no ranking….just pure bliss. Here we go….. Jeffery Gaines – In Your Eyes
Let’s start here. Take one of my favorite songs, an ICONIC piece of music, and strip it down to guitar and a different vocal take…..I’m in. Covers of PG songs are tricky for me (even though this is 1 of 2 on the list) because I hold the originals in such high esteem. However, Gaines kills this version, despite the hacky “live” video.
Pearl Jam – Baba O’ Riley
Absolute “must be” part of any set list for the Seattle rockers. I would feel cheated if I was at a PJ show and they did not break this out. Mikey M nails the riff, Cameron is SPOT on behind the kit….and Ament…..well, Jeff is Jeff. Wait? Did I mention Eddie’s scream at 1:43? (or his donation of 30 tambourines to Brazil faithful?)
Nine Inch Nails w/Gary Numan – Cars
No secret that BOTH of these acts will break the top 10 for 2013 with their TREMENDOUS albums. Put them together….. NICE
Elbow – Mercy Street
Back to a Gabriel cover….but if ANY band could handle it, it is Elbow. If you listen to their early work, Guy sounds SO much like PG it’s kind of scary. When the “Scratch My Back” project came about, and PG covered Mirrorball (brilliantly BTW) I was waiting with baited breath to hear the return…..so not disappointed.
Stereophonics/Tom Jones – Mama Told Me Not To Come
Unabashedly, I think that Kelly Jones has one of the best voices in rock and roll. SOOOOO, lets team him up with a legend. The result? They made it their own. Three Dog Who?
Foo Fighters – Rock And Roll
OK, it DOES help the AURA of it, that JPJ and Page are on stage. BUT!!! Dave behind a kit WAILING? Sign Me Up. (intro is not safe for kids)
What are your favorites? Drop in the comments below.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Top 10 Albums of the 1980s
The 80s, visions of big hair, acid wash jeans and bad fake metal bands. The time for me, when my musical tastes were starting to round into form. And while there were plenty of Poisons and Slaughters and (OMG) Wingers that littered the landscape, the 1980’s also had its fair share of tremendous music. The following list was easy to assemble in theory, but very hard to whittle down and rank. All lists are subjective, as our personal tastes and likes infiltrate what we deem “the best”, so I am sure there will be raised eyebrows and shaking of heads when you realize that “X” did not make the cut. Without further adieu, the top 10 albums of the 80’s. (LIVE and Best Of discs do not qualify)
Just Missed the Cut:
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
Purple Rain - Prince
War – U2
Document - REM
Dream of the Blue Turtles - Sting
Scarecrow – John Melencamp
Here is where the subjective starts right away. I can HEAR you screaming at the screen, “How the HELL does Purple Rain not make the list??” Some of you may have already stopped reading. But here is the thing: I recognize the genius that is Prince, I understand that I MAY go to hell for not including him on the list….but I am just not a fan. I like some of the songs on the disc, don’t get me wrong, but front to back, TO ME, I just can’t displace anyone in the Top 10
10) Thriller – Michael Jackson
I am certainly not going out on a limb when I tell you that this is an amazing album. What Michael delivered with his debut, Off The Wall, he multiplied 10 fold for this classic. Who can forget the first time you heard Beat It and said “Oh my god, that is Eddie Van Halen playing the solo….Michael is COOL!”? Who can forget the iconic image of the lighted walkway of the Billie Jean video? (and subsequent debut of the moonwalk at the Motown Show) Who can get Vincent Price and Thriller out of their head on Halloween? The man was pure genius, and this was his masterpiece.
Key Tracks: Billie Jean, Beat It
9) Reckoning – REM
When REM took the college radio scene over in the mid-80s with the disc Murmur, everyone was waiting with baited breath for the follow up. A curious and shy front man in Stipe, jangley guitars from Buck, great harmonies from Mills and a thump from Berry, REM was about to embark on a 30 year musical journey starting in a little Georgia town. Reckoning delivered on so many levels, from the “mainstream” sound of So. Central Rain, to the cult classics Time After Time and 7 Chinese Brothers. I had a hard time choosing between this and Document (see above) but in the end, songs like Don’t Go Back To Rockville ring more true.
Key Tracks: Time after Time, Pretty Persuasion, Harbor Coat
8) Back in Black – ACDC
What do you do when your lead singer dies unexpectedly? Do you call it a day and take a job at the mill? Or do you find a new singer, press on, and write and record a classic tribute to the fallen hero? Luckily for us, the Young brothers chose the latter. While ACDC had modest success prior, Back in Black solidified them at the top of the hard rock heap. You probably don’t realize it, but you can put it on today, and you STILL know all the words, and you STILL will break out the air guitar. The title track is simplistic in it’s writing, but powerful in its delivery. Hells Bells, with its ominous beginning followed by a killer riff, is pure angst and grit. The band would follow up with a few more platinum releases, but not a one that could compare to their masterpiece.
Key Tracks: Back in Black, Shake a Leg, Shook Me All Night Long
7) Vivid – Living Colour
Produced by Mick Jagger (who also played harp on the album) Vivid was the auspicious debut for four black men breaking into the “white” world that was hard rock. They set out to forge a path to break stereotypes, and succeeded on so many levels. Vernon Reid and Corey Glover formed a 1-2 punch that is needed to make a good band great: a mastery and innovation in guitar work, and a voice that can not only carry the melody, but make it “sing”. Rounded out by the thumping bass of Muzz Skillings, and the fabulous drumming of Wil Calhoun, Living Colour gave birth to a debut that had an anthem (Cult of Personality) as well as thought provoking and enjoyable songs. On a personal note, this was the first CD I ever “wore out” from repeated playings, and is one of the soundtracks of my High School years. I saw them two years ago, and STILL had the same heart stopping reaction to the opening riff of Middle Man, that I did when it first rung in my ears.
Key Tracks: Middle Man, Cult Of Personality, Open Letter To A Landlord
6) Appetite For Destruction – Guns and RosesWhile only 6th on my list, this is probably the most IMPORTANT disc of the 80s. Hard rock, at the time, had turned into “who could wear the most make-up” and “we know FOUR CHORDS! Beat THAT!” And then along came a band that pushed the envelope and said to hell with the established. When Appetite first dropped, a collective “oh no” was heard through out the Hair Metal fraternity. Guns and Roses had taken it to the next level, and never looked back. Put this disc on today, and I would wager songs will take you to very specific memories of that time. And who amongst us has not tried the Axl Rose “dance” moves when Sweet Child o’ Mine hits the speakers? Who hasn’t uttered the phrase “you’re in the JUNGLE BABY” in a brief moment of angst? While they may have sputtered out quickly (after the Illusion discs) and remain a true enigma, this disc re-defined hard rock in the 80s, and their recent Rock and Roll HOF selection is well deserved.
Key Tracks: Welcome To The Jungle, Mr. Brownstone, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Paradise City
5) White City (A Novel) – Pete Townshend
I have eluded to it already, but will reiterate here: This is a list that is PURELY subjective, and “mine”. Look no further than this selection as proof of that….and I am ok with that. I scoured a few different “Top 100” of the 80s, and this disc doesn’t even sniff a single one. I don’t care. Back when CDs were cassettes, I would argue with anyone I knew, that White City “Side 1” (kids, ask your folks) was maybe this single greatest side of a tape…..ever. While my stance has probably softened a bit, I could probably still make the argument. The BRILLIANCE in this disc can be described in this way: Pete Townshend, maybe one of the top 10 guitarists of his generation, did not pick up a single Stratocaster in the recording of White City. Instead, he felt “ashamed” and “in awe” of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who delivered the crushing riffs that powers it. Give Blood is the anthem’s ANTHEM. From the freight train guitar hook, to the unbelievably spot on drumming of Simon Philips (seriously, top 10 drum songs of all time….oh wait, there is another list….) to Pete’s wailing vocals, the song is 6+ minutes of pure ecstasy. Sure, some find “Face to Face” and anemic single, I would argue the counterpoint that it gave the disc a bit of “light” and also a top 40 hit. If you have never listened to it front to back, I implore you to do so. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Key Tracks: Give Blood, Secondhand Love, Face the Face
4) Synchronicity – The Police
Another one that I wrestled with quite a bit, as I am one of the few who prefer Sting’s early solo work over his “late Police” work…but there is no denying the greatness of this album. It spawned hits (Every Breath You Take, King of Pain) as well as providing the band to show what it had done for years prior: make music that will move the masses. Both Synchronicity 1 and 2 are steeped in the back beat of Stewart Copeland, but also ride the majestically fluid guitar sounds of Andy Summers. Sting never sounded better, belting out every note as if it was the last he would sing. It is a shame that the band “had enough” of each other following this tour, as it would have been interesting to see what the next chapter would be. (although, again, none the worse for me, as I thought Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles was the “side step” of all side steps)
Key Tracks: Wrapped Around Your Finger, King Of Pain, Synchronicity 1
3) Joshua Tree – U2
U2 was the closest of any band to place two in my top 10, as War is just as an iconic piece to me as this one. This disc showcased Bono and company at the start of their meteoric rise to the stratosphere as the best band in the world, a mantle they truly deserved. The Edge had mastered his sound, and Clayton and Mullins formed the best rhythm section this side of Buddy Rich and….well, just about any bass player. And at the helm? Bono. The man who had so much ego, you looked at him and said: “Wow, I can’t believe his lack of ego”. Yes, he is that good. I can be nitpicky and say the BEST song from the Joshua Tree sessions didn’t make it to the disc, (Sweetest Thing was relegated to b-side status) but the tunes speak for themselves. The opening build of Streets Have No Name (and subsequent Edge classic riff) still give me chills. One Tree Hill MAY be the most underrated “back end of the disc” song of all time. (You will read about my FAVORITE one in the “Discs of 2000”) And the “hits” were just that…hits. As well rounded an album to come out in 40 years, and one truly deserving of the legendary status it has achieved.
Key Tracks: Where The Streets Have No Name, With Or Without You, One Tree Hill
2) Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
Like Vivid defined my high school years, so did John Squire and company for the college years that followed. If someone asked me “What is the greatest debut album of all time?” (oh hell, another list) I would have to think long and hard between this and Boston’s. I can remember distinctly where I was the first time I heard Waterfall, and was amazed and the brilliance in the simplicity of Squire’s guitar work. I overlooked the “weak link” of Ian Brown’s vocals, and instead, let the MUSIC wash over me. I was hooked. From there, it became a weekly case of “no, THIS is my favorite song on the disc”, and what I have learned over 30 + years of listening to music, is that it is VERY rare that every song on the disc held that “spot” with me. Front to back, starting with the rumblings of I Wanna Be Adored all the way to the classic I Am The Resurrection, it is the near perfect album. (even the backwards looping of Waterfall which became Don’t Stop)
Key Tracks: Waterfall, I Am The Resurrection, This Is The One, I Wanna Be Adored
1) So – Peter Gabriel
I fancy myself a writer, and after typing the name and artist, I stared at a blank screen for over 10 minutes, not knowing how to start. How DO you define the album of the 80s? Do I start by talking about the iconic video that it spawned? (Sledgehammer is THE video of the 80, please don’t even argue) Do I start by talking about the iconic MOVIE IMAGE it birthed? (Sure, right now, close your eyes…..think In Your Eyes…..you see Lloyd Dobler and his boom box, don’t you?) Do I start by mentioning one of the best closing scene songs in THE show that defined the 80s? (We Do What Were Told in Miami Vice….gripping) Or, do I just give in and say that I haven’t even mentioned what I consider the greatest “guest vocal” on a single song? (Kate Bush on Don’t Give Up) In a word…..YES. I could start with any and all of them. I still haven’t mentioned Red Rain, or Big Time. The beauty of the 6 songs I just mentioned….not one sounds like the other. Peter has a voice that is understated and powerful, and every song on the disc, while showcasing amazing musical talent, allows him to shine. Have I mentioned that I haven’t mentioned Mercy Street or Hear That Voice Again?
Key Tracks: (Really?) ALL OF THEM