Sunday, September 20, 2009

Top Albums of the 1970s (Pt. 2)

This part will showcase my favorite albums from the decade that brought us everything from pet rocks to Saturday Night Fever from #30 down to #16. (The top 15 will come in sometime this week.)

Besides pet rocks, though, the '70s had a lot to offer. As I said in the previous installment, the decade was incredibly diverse musically. Whereas most of the pop and rock of the '60s had taken on a relatively similar sound, music began to take widely different paths in the '70s. Soul music became darker and funkier than, say, Motown, and rock music turned into prog rock, punk, and then post-punk. Meanwhile, all sorts of electronic and experimental music were being invented and perfected. And don't forget hip-hop; that came around in the decade's closing years. So, while many look back on the '70s and remember Foghat and The Trammps, people like Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, David Byrne, Holger Czukay, George Clinton, etc. etc. etc. were the ones putting an indelible stamp on all interesting music to come. Enjoy.

30. Neu!--Neu!
Spacey synths? Check. Motorik beat? Check. From Germany? Check. Looks like we have a work of krautrock on our hands. These characteristics came to define nearly every experimental rock/electronic group to come out of Germany in the 1970s. From Can to Popol Vuh and everyone in between, krautrock became a truly unique sound. But what makes Neu! so much better than most? It was one of the first to sound like this. By 1972 (when it came out), Kraftwerk had not yet reached their peak and Can was not working much with electronics yet. Neu! synthesized the approaches of both groups to create a tight instrumental electronic album that provided heavy influence for Bowie (see #29 for example) and post-rock in the '90s. Neu! was one of the first and is still one of the best.

29. David Bowie--"Heroes"
David Bowie's famed Berlin Trilogy of Low, "Heroes", and Lodger showed Bowie at his most experimental and coked out. Coincidentally, they are three of his best albums. (I, sadly, haven't heard Lodger, but I'll assume it's quite good.) Anyways, as David Bowie was living in Berlin; hanging with Iggy, Eno, and Fripp; and doing massive amounts of drugs, he stumbled upon a sound that fused his signature glam rock with prog rock, krautrock (see above), electronic, and funk. It certainly shares an aesthetic with Low, which came out only nine months (!) before, but it establishes enough of its own identity to be a classic. "Heroes" is most famous for its undeniably brilliant title track, the only hit Bowie produced during his tenure in Berlin, but the rest of the album is a wildly bizarre and varied pop masterpiece.

28. The Pop Group--Y
Similar to Public Image Ltd.'s Second Edition, The Pop Group's Y is a difficult, experimental, dubby post-punk album that is a classic because of its ambition. Throughout the whole album, The Pop Group prove that their name is about as ironic as a name could possibly get through their formless forays into krautrock and dub and dark explorations of punk and funk. At times, it sounds minimal: Mark Stewart's authoritative voice droning over a simple beat and bassline. At other times, it is pure chaos; there is often a cacophonous blend of squealing saxophones, sharp guitars, and heavy percussion. It must have sounded unique upon release (the only notable contemporaries that I know of are Public Image and This Heat), and no one has really been able--or even tried--to copy it, proving its uniqueness.

27. Can--Future Days
Future Days is the final album in Can's trilogy of unbelievable albums featuring Damo Suzuki on vocals. Released in 1973, shortly after Ege Bamyasi, Future Days is the most ambient and spacious of those three albums. (The third is 1971's Tago Mago). The album is even less rock oriented and more jazz oriented than any other Can release, but it still keeps the rhythmic experimental rock sound that was established previously. There are four tracks, and three of them are eight and a half minutes long or more. This makes Future Days easier to get completely lost in than its more song-based predecessor. The triton on the cover symbolizes the album's oceanic quality. At times, the mix is so muddled and washed out that it feels like it was recorded underwater. This only adds to Future Days's awesomeness.

26. Iggy Pop--The Idiot
Had there not been the chain of Iggy Pop to David Bowie to Brian Eno to David Byrne in the 1970s, music would be radically different right now. (And it would not be as good.) The Idiot is Pop and Bowie's most collaborative effort, and, though it is indeed an Iggy Pop album, David Bowie's influence is all over. This is a very good thing. The Idiot combines Iggy's punk spirit and sarcasm with Bowie's experimental funk-rock sensibilities. The result is Pop's snarky commentary weaving in and out of minimalist funk landscapes that are dark, dense, haunting, and truly bizarre. Nothing else in Iggy's (or even Bowie's) catalogue is so dark and apocalyptic. Not even Raw Power (or Low). The album gives the listener an idea of what it felt like to be a drug-addled artist in the '70s better than anything else. The Idiot is crazy and crazy good.

25. Devo--Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
A lot of normal folks think of Devo as insufferably weird '80s one-hit wonders. What those normal folks don't know is that Devo were also insufferably weird and amazing '70s post-punk/new wave pioneers. Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo's range of influence over the next decade or two is startlingly apparent. Their obsession with devolution, science, and getting laid paved the way for the geek rock bands of the '80s like Violent Femmes, They Might Be Giants, The Feelies, and more. Their heavy synth use and ear for a great hook greatly influenced the synth-pop and new wave that was so popular. And their experimental punk edge has influenced anyone who has ever claimed to be post-punk or dance-punk. The album is fun, weird, uplifting, and challenging. Most of all, it's exceedingly smart and relatable and original.

24. Miles Davis--Bitches Brew
In A Silent Way showed that Miles in the late '60s/early '70s was pretty different from Miles in the '50s. Bitches Brew showed that Miles was doing way too much cocaine and being way too brilliant. A double album, Bitches Brew is a wildly expansive, dense, and chaotic work of jazz-funk-rock fusion. The electric pianos of Corea and Zawinul provide the avant-garde backbone for McLaughlin's psychedelic guitar playing and, of course, Miles's strong and sporadic trumpet. It is said that people like McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, and Dave Holland pushed Miles to be more experimental, but none of those people ever did anything as wild or as good as Bitches Brew, proving that maybe Miles was the driving force after all. Bitches Brew is long (nearly two hours), but it enthralls throughout, and it's for sure one of the best jazz albums of all time.
"Pharaoh's Dance, Pts. 1, 2, and 3"

23. The Velvet Underground--Loaded
It pains me to list a VU album anywhere outside a top ten (or even top five), but, to be fair, Loaded is not their best album. It's probably fourth. That said, no other band in history has put out four albums as good as VU's first four, which means Loaded is pretty darn amazing. It streamlines the already straightforward rock sound found on The Velvet Underground, but loses essentially none of The Velvets' genius. Loaded is indeed loaded (I couldn't resist) with big rock hooks and riffs, and they are some of the most memorable hooks and riffs in the history of rock. Lou Reed's lyrics are more lucid and relatable than on any other VU release, which goes well with the more straightforward music. Lots of bands played this style of music at that time (1970), but The Velvet Underground were the only ones who made it interesting because they played it with the utmost intelligence.

22. Iggy & The Stooges--Raw Power
Iggy Pop is pretty awesome. "[He's] a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/ [He's] a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb/ [He is] the world's forgotten boy/ The one who searches and destroys." Nowhere is this more apparent than on Raw Power. The album, produced by who else but David Bowie, is The Stooges' triumphant return and finale. They had tackled garage rock and proto-punk on their debut and free jazz and avant-garde rock on the follow up, but then they fell into a deep hole of drugs and other bad stuff. Iggy was a forgotten boy. But then they came back with Raw Power, an album as dark as Fun House with as much energy as The Stooges. This album is often credited with inventing punk, which makes sense because of its primal nature, but Raw Power is far more complex musically and lyrically than any punk album I've ever heard.

21. Steve Reich--Music For 18 Musicians
Steve Reich had already established himself as one of the most unique, innovative, and best modern composers by 1978 through pieces like "It's Gonna Rain," Drumming, etc., but with Music For 18 Musicians, he cemented his place as the best composer post-1960. This is a defining work for minimalism and classical music in general. It phases and pulses its way into an ethereal, blissful atmosphere that has been cheaply imitated by countless composers since. The marimbas, clarinets, voices, and everything fit together perfectly. As I said, it has influenced nearly every modern classical composer, but what is even more impressive is its influence on modern rock and electronic music. Post-rock and Minimal electronic would be nothing without him. His music, specifically this piece, transcends classical music to become just an amazing work of art.

20. The Modern Lovers--The Modern Lovers
I've referenced this album in several other lists when talking about albums that perfectly capture what it means to be a person between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. Among these albums (The Replacements' Let It Be, Weezer's debut, and a few others), The Modern Lovers sums up the feelings that go along with young adulthood best. Jonathan Richman's nasally delivery of charmingly innocent lyrics is instantly relatable. He is funny, smart, sarcastic, and emotional as he talks about getting girls (or not getting girls) and listening to the radio--the fundamental aspects of both life and rock n' roll. The Modern Lovers also has good music going for it in addition to perfect lyrics. It provides a simple mix of simple guitar playing and simple beats that was hugely influential to the entire punk movement. Whether or not you've heard it, The Modern Lovers is the soundtrack to your life.

19. Brian Eno--Here Come The Warm Jets
My path to Here Come The Warm Jets was probably different from most people's. I had already heard My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, Another Green World, and Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy before hearing Jets. I no longer thought that anything Brian Eno could do could shock me or weird me out. I hate admitting I'm wrong, but I was wrong. This album is not very similar at all to any other Eno solo release. It is an electronic, avant-garde, glam rock, prog rock mindtrip. It's simultaneously more accessible and more challenging than any other Eno album because the songs are catchy and glossy, and yet insufferably bizarre. The songs often make no sense musically or lyrically, but they draw the listener in nonetheless because they are so unique. Here Come The Warm Jets sounded nothing like anything else in 1973, and it sounds nothing like anything in 2009.

18. Wire--Chairs Missing
Wire's trio of albums from 1977 to 1979 rivals David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy and Can's Damo Suzuki Trilogy for best album triptych ever. Like the other two, all three albums are awesome. Unlike the other two, Wire changed their sound a lot with each successive release. Whereas Can and Bowie kept similar M.O.s throughout their respective trilogies, Wire transformed from a nearly straightforward punk group on Pink Flag to a completely avant-garde post punk group on 154. Chairs Missing is somewhere in the middle of that. It has songs that are dense, chaotic, and arty like the ones on 154 and ones that are more punk oriented like the ones on Pink Flag. It also, however, has the poppiest of Wire's songs. Several of the tracks are more clean sounding and actually have smart, discernible hooks. It was a sort of transition album for Wire, and it allowed them to try everything while still being cohesive and great.

17. Can--Tago Mago
If Future Days is Can's jazz album and Ege Bamyasi is their pop album, then I guess Tago Mago is their rock album. Jaki Liebezeit's drumming is, as usual, fierce and funky. Karoli, Schmidt, and Czukay provide spacey rock atmospherics to accompany the beat, and Damo Suzuki makes his debut with his signature slurred, chaotic vocals. Julian Cope said that the album sounds "like no one before or after," which is mostly true. I say mostly because countless people--even talented folks like The Feelies or Tortoise--have imitated aspects of the album. The thing is, though, no one (other than Can themselves) ever has been able to truly recreate the sounds found on Tago Mago. As the album goes on, it switches from krautrock to krautexperimental, but Can is influential and amazing even when they are completely freaking out. Tago Mago is a really stunning piece of art.
"Halleluhwah, Pts. 1 and 2"

16. Serge Gainsbourg--Histoire de Melody Nelson
This is the only album in my top twenty of any decade where I don't actually understand a single lyric. As you might guess, the whole album is in French. But one does not need to know French to get a feel for what Monsieur Gainsbourg is saying. His frustratingly cool and sensual voice (frustrating because I'm jealous of it) penetrates the music, and, at once, the listener can feel what he is saying, even if he or she cannot understand the words. The main aspect of Histoire de Melody Nelson, though, is its music. Funky, psychedelic, minimal rock guitar and drumming is accompanied by dense, beautiful string arrangements to create the most organic (and best) orchestra/rock fusion ever. The album is strangely mesmerizing, and I've found that it's pretty easy to listen to several times in a row. Forget that it's not in English, because this is one of the sexiest, weirdest, and most beautiful albums ever. In any language.

That's what I think. What will be in the top 15? Who knows? (I do.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Top Albums of the 1970s (Pt. 1)

Culturally, the 1970s were pretty diverse. Musically, same thing. The music of the '70s took all of the previous music--rock, soul, blues, pop, psych, classical, etc.--and made it different and more extreme. Electronics became more widely used, punk happened, post-punk happened. Underground music became exceedingly experimental, and, as a result, many different subgenres were born. A pretty hefty portion of (good) modern indie rock music owes everything to punk, post-punk, prog rock, and David Bowie and Brian Eno.

This first part of the Top 120 Albums of the 1970s, which will cover #s 31-120, proves that there were a lot of different styles going on in the '70s. Whereas my '80s list was nearly all post-punk and indie rock and my '90s was all indie rock, the '70s list is considerably more varied. There's plenty of soul, funk, avant-pop, regular pop, post-punk, punk, folk, and krautrock. Because the music was so experimental and different, the '70s are probably my favorite decade for music. (But I'll probably change my mind when I do my '60s list.) The 1970s had a lot of bad, corny music and trends, but here's some more evidence that they weren't just about the Eagles, afros, and bell bottoms. (Though those were pretty cool. Except the Eagles.) Enjoy.

120. Deuter--D
119. The Residents--Meet The Residents
118. Pink Floyd--Meddle
117. David Axelrod--Seriously Deep
116. Elton John--Madman Across The Water
115. DEATH--...For The World To See
114. Neil Young--On The Beach
113. The Walker Brothers--Nite Flights
112. Klaus Schulze--Cyborg
111. The Rolling Stones--Sticky Fingers

110. The Dells--Sing Dionne Warwick's Greatest Hits
109. Archie Shepp--The Cry Of My People
108. Pink Floyd--Wish You Were Here
107. Dead Boys--Young Loud and Snotty
106. Kraftwerk--Kraftwerk 2
105. Incredible Bongo Band--Bongo Rock
104. Black Nasty--Talking To The People
103. Art Ensemble Of Chicago--Les Stances a Sophie
102. Augustus Pablo--King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown
101. Kraftwerk--Radioactivity

100. James Brown--Hell
99. Herbie Hancock--Mwandishi
98. Stevie Wonder--Innervisions
97. Augustus Pablo--East Of The River Nile
96. Mahavishnu Orchestra--Inner Mounting Flame
95. The B-52's--The B-52's
94. Vashti Bunyan--Just Another Diamond Day
93. Joni Mitchell--Blue
92. Marvin Gaye--What's Going On
91. Michael Jackson--Off The Wall

90. Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters--Roast Fish Collie Weed and Corn Bread
89.Simon & Garfunkel--Bridge Over Troubled Water
88. John Cale--Paris 1919
87. Jimmy Cliff (and others)--The Harder They Come
86. The Residents--Third Reich 'n' Roll
85. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band--Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
84. Dave Holland--Conference Of The Birds
83. Faust--Faust
82. Iggy Pop & James Williamson--Kill City
81. The Upsetters--Super Ape

80. Steve Reich--Drumming
79. Kraftwerk--Autobahn
78. Parliament--Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome
77. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band--Clear Spot
76. Pere Ubu--The Modern Dance
75. David Bowie--The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
74. This Heat--This Heat
73. Cluster--Zuckerzeit
72. Miles Davis--A Tribute To Jack Johnson
71. Leonard Cohen--Songs Of Love And Hate

70. Robert Wyatt--Rock Bottom
69. Herbie Hancock--Crossings
68. Pink Floyd--The Wall
67. David Bowie--Aladdin Sane
66. Throbbing Gristle--20 Jazz Funk Greats
65. Faust--Faust IV
64. Sly & The Family Stone--Fresh
63. Richard Hell & The Voidoids--Blank Generation
62. Curtis Mayfield--Superfly
61. Faust--So Far

60. Wire--154
59. Brian Eno--Before And After Science
58. The Cure--Three Imaginary Boys
57. Led Zeppelin--IV
56. Herbie Hancock--Head Hunters
55. The Clash--London Calling
54. Jimi Hendrix--Band Of Gypsys
53. Brian Eno--Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy
52. Black Sabbath--Master Of Reality
51. Herbie Hancock--Sextant

50. Talking Heads--Talking Heads: 77
49. Nick Drake--Bryter Layter
48. Fela Kuti--Expensive Shit
47. Suicide--Suicide
46. The Rolling Stones--Exile On Main Street
45. The Slits--Cut
44. James Brown--The Payback
43. The Specials--The Specials
42. Giorgio Moroder--From Here To Eternity
41. Creedence Clearwater Revival--Cosmo's Factory

40. Tim Buckley--Starsailor
39. The Beach Boys--Surf's Up
38. David Bowie--Station To Station
37. Iggy Pop--Lust For Life
36. The Congos--Heart Of The Congos
35. Miles Davis--On The Corner
34. Kraftwerk--The Man Machine
33. Bob Dylan--Blood On The Tracks
32. The Ramones--Rocket To Russia
31. Talking Heads--More Songs About Buildings And Food

That's what I think. Stay tuned for #30-16 and then #15-1 later this week. (Or next week.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Favorite '70s Pop Songs

If you haven't guessed already, this marks the beginning of 1970s week(s) here at Il Buono. Like '80s week and '90s week before it, '70s week will give you a list of my favorite pop songs of the decade (which is the list below) and my 120 favorite albums of the decade (which will come later).

The '70s were kind of a weird time musically. The beginning of the decade was still full of '60s leftovers: hippie folk, Motown, psychedelic, etc. There was no definable sound. As the decade progressed, tons of different genres began to form. Punk, new wave, funk, electronic, and more all began to take on their now recognizable forms during the '70s, and, as a result, the '70s are probably my favorite decade for music.

However, the pop music of the '70s was mostly terrible. It may have been because there was less of a musical identity. It may have had something to do with Vietnam. (That's what everything is blamed on.) But despite the cheesy AM rock, over the top soul, and excessively romantic pop that plagued the charts, there were still many great popular songs. Most of the songs on this list would fall under the "R&B/Soul" listing (if you're going by iTunes), as funk, disco, and soul are all well represented. But there was some good rock, too. These songs are all great, but I think we can agree the album reigned supreme in the 1970s. (The criteria for getting on this list: the song had to be a top 20 hit in America from 1970 to 1979.)

1. Donna Summer--I Feel Love
2. Sly & The Family Stone--Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
3. Chic--Good Times
4. Stevie Wonder--Superstition
6. Marvin Gaye--Got To Give It Up
7. Stevie Wonder--Higher Ground
8. David Bowie--Golden Years
10. Parliament--Flash Light

11. Marvin Gaye--What's Going On
12. Michael Jackson--Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
13. Al Green--Let's Stay Together
14. Gloria Gaynor--I Will Survive
15. The Temptations--Papa Was A Rollin' Stone
16. Bee Gees--Stayin' Alive
18. Chic--Le Freak
19. Blondie--Heart Of Glass
20. Blue Oyster Cult--Don't Fear The Reaper

21. Gladys Knight and The Pips--Midnight Train To Georgia
22. Deep Purple--Smoke On The Water
23. The Beatles--Let It Be
24. M--Pop Muzik
25. Isaac Hayes--Theme From "Shaft"
26. Edwin Starr--War
27. Billy Preston--Nothing From Nothing
28. David Bowie--Fame
29. Marvin Gaye--Let's Get It On
30. The Jackson 5--ABC

That's what I think. I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot, but that's okay.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Favorite Movie Soundtracks

Everyone likes movies. And movies wouldn't be nearly as good if they didn't have music in them. Some movies use music to truly enhance the film. And sometimes, the music in a film is the best part of said film. And usually when a movie comes out, the music in that movie is compiled and put on an album, and that album is released along with the movie. Those albums are called "soundtracks." A good soundtrack is fun to listen to separate from the movie. These are all very good soundtracks. (As you can tell, I'm tired and don't feel like writing anything of substance or prestige.) Here are my top twenty. (I'm not including any Beatles soundtracks because we've had enough Beatles this week.)

1. Purple Rain
Music by: Prince & The Revolution

2. Super Fly
Curtis Mayfield

3. Pulp Fiction
Dick Dale, Al Green, Dusty Springfield, et. al.
"Pumpkin & Honey Bunny/Misirlou" by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones

4. O Brother Where Art Thou?
The Soggy Bottom Boys, Alison Krauss, John Hartford, et. al.
"I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" by The Soggy Bottom Boys

5. The Big Lebowski
Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Gipsy Kings, et. al.
"The Man In Me" by Bob Dylan

6. Repo Man
Iggy Pop, The Circle Jerks, The Plugz, et. al.
"Repo Man" by Iggy Pop

7. Reservoir Dogs
Stealers Wheel, Joe Tex, George Baker, et. al.

8. Easy Rider
Steppenwolf, Roger McGuinn, The Holy Modal Rounders, et. al.
"The Pusher" by Steppenwolf

9. Performance
Mick Jagger, Ry Cooder, Jack Nitzsche, et. al.
"Memo From Turner" by Mick Jagger

10. A Clockwork Orange
Wendy Carlos

11. The Royal Tennenbaums
Nico, Mark Mothersbaugh, Paul Simon, et. al.
"These Days" by Nico

12. Aguirre: The Wrath Of God
Popol Vuh

13. Lost In Translation
Kevin Shields, Phoenix, The Jesus & Mary Chain, et. al.
"City Girl" by Kevin Shields

14. Morvern Callar
Holger Czukay/Can, Aphex Twin, The Velvet Underground, et. al.
"Cool In The Pool" by Holger Czukay

15. Paris, Texas
Ry Cooder
"Paris, Texas" (It's a cover, but a good one)

16. Goldfinger
Shirley Bassey and John Barry
"Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey

17. Bottle Rocket
The Proclaimers, Rene Touzet, Mark Mothersbaugh, et. al.
"Over And Done With" by The Proclaimers

18. Crumb
Scott Jolin, Geechie Wiley, Joseph Lamb, et. al.
"Wall Street Rag" by Scott Joplin (another cover, but another good one)

19. Fitzcarraldo
Popol Vuh, Caruso, Verdi, et. al.
"Wehe Khorazin" by Popol Vuh

20. Napoleon Dynamite
When In Rome, John Swihart, Jamiroquai, et. al.
"The Promise" by When In Rome

That's what I think. It's interesting how most of these soundtracks are more memorable than the films themselves.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Favorite Beatles Albums and Songs

The past few weeks have brought a kind of second coming of Beatlemania. They never really lost their popularity, but the remasters and Rock Band have put The Beatles in the spotlight again. (They even made the cover of Entertainment Weekly.) So I'm giving you my list of favorite Beatles albums (all the studio albums ranked by favorite from 1 to 12) and songs (a top 45.)

You may not like to admit it, but The Beatles are one of (if not the) best and most innovative rock bands ever. They have altered the course of modern pop and rock n' roll, and they continue to be hugely influential to all music. During their early years, they churned out perfect pop hit after hit, setting a precedent for guitar pop for decades to come. In their later period, they balanced the delicate worlds of art and pop better than any other band or artist before or since. They experimented wildly, made intense innovations in the studio, and pumped out brilliant albums pretty much every year (and sometimes twice a year.) Their work was consistently amazing; every single one of their studio albums is worth owning and cherishing. They may not be your favorite band (I wouldn't call them my favorite), but, without a doubt, The Beatles are the world's biggest and most important rock band ever.

1. Revolver
2. The Beatles (The White Album)
3. Abbey Road
4. Magical Mystery Tour
5. A Hard Day's Night
6. Rubber Soul
7. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
8. Please Please Me
9. Beatles For Sale
10. Help!
11. Let It Be
12. With The Beatles

Songs (Album)
1. Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver)
2. Eleanor Rigby (Revolver)
3. I Am The Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)
4. A Day In The Life (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
5. Strawberry Fields Forever (Magical Mystery Tour)
7. Love You To (Revolver)
8. Across The Universe (Let It Be)
9. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Beatles)

10. Twist and Shout (Please Please Me)
11. A Hard Day's Night (A Hard Day's Night)
12. Hello Goodbye (Magical Mystery Tour)
14. Blackbird (The Beatles)
16. Something (Abbey Road)
17. Lady Madonna (Single)
18. All You Need Is Love (Magical Mystery Tour)

19. Julia (The Beatles)
20. Help! (Help!)
21. She Loves You (Single)
22. Taxman (Revolver)
23. Come Together (Abbey Road)
24. Martha My Dear (The Beatles)
25. I Should Have Known Better (A Hard Day's Night)
26. I'm Only Sleeping (Revolver)

29. Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)
30. Savoy Truffle (The Beatles)
31. Maxwell's Silver Hammer (Abbey Road)
32. I Will (The Beatles)
33. Can't Buy Me Love (A Hard Day's Night)
34. Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour)
35. Eight Days A Week (Beatles For Sale)
36. I Saw Her Standing There (Please Please Me)

37. Revolution 9 (The Beatles)
39. Dear Prudence (The Beatles)
40. Ticket To Ride (Help!)
41. She Said She Said (Revolver)
42. If I Fell (A Hard Day's Night)
43. Dig A Pony (Let It Be)
44. Drive My Car (Rubber Soul)
45. Let It Be (Let It Be)

That's what I think. Sit back and enjoy these songs, even if you disagree about the order.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Favorite Albums of All Time (When I Was 11)

I started getting really into music roughly in the summer of 2003. I had been surrounded by loads of current pop and R&B thanks to my sister and loads of older rock, jazz, and some more experimental stuff thanks to my father (who shares my passion and, for the most part, my taste), but I had never really cared much about music. I liked it, sure, but it never really occurred to me that I could go out and find stuff that I liked, rather than just listen to whatever my sister or dad was listening to. So I started reading some things and listening to the radio--mainly Chicago's Q101--to find some cool music. I was at first drawn towards hard rock, popular alternative rock, and pop-punk. Mostly new stuff, but some older stuff, too. This was what played on Q101, and it seemed edgy, hip, and angsty. At age eleven, I was in the height of this wannabe edgy, hip, and angsty phase, and I was listening to a lot of hard rock and the like.

Now, I realize that most of the albums on this list are pretty terrible, but they were part of my first notable musical encounters. (And a decent amount are still good.) They led me away from *NSYNC, and, eventually, to Can. So, as bad as they are, they represent childhood for me (and I'm guessing for you, too.) Here are My Favorite Albums of All Time as I think I would have listed them in the spring of 2004. (Because that summer was when I got Funeral and Good News For People Who Love Bad News, thus altering my taste forever.)

1. Nirvana--Nevermind
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers--Californication
3. Green Day--Dookie
4. The White Stripes--Elephant
5. Weezer--Weezer
6. Nirvana--In Utero
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers--By The Way
8. P.O.D.--Satellite
9. System Of A Down--Toxicity
10. The White Stripes--White Blood Cells

11. The Offspring--Splinter
12. Sublime--Sublime
13. Rage Against The Machine--Battle For Los Angeles
14. Sum 41--All Killer No Filler
15. Hoobastank--The Reason
16. The Strokes--Is This It
17. Guns N' Roses--Greatest Hits
18. Foo Fighters--One By One
19. Linkin Park--Hybrid Theory
20. Various Artists--Spiderman 1 Soundtrack

21. Red Hot Chili Peppers--Blood Sugar Sex Magik
22. Yeah Yeah Yeahs--Fever To Tell
23. Blink-182--Take Off Your Pants And Jacket
24. Jimmy Eat World--Bleed American
25. Queens Of The Stone Age--Songs For The Deaf
26. Puddle Of Mudd--Come Clean
27. The Offspring--Americana
28. Smashing Pumpkins--Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
29. Linkin Park--Meteora
30. Incubus--A Crow Left Of The Murder

That's what I thought. And you can't really criticize an eleven year-old's music taste.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top Albums of the 1980s (Pt. 3)

Here it is. The moment you've all been waiting for: the final installment of my Top Albums of '80s list. (Don't worry, I know none of you have actually been waiting for this.) Anyways, this segment brings you my fifteen favorite albums from that gloriously weird and campy decade. If you want to know my opinions for #31-120, click here, and if you want to know #16-30, click here. If you've read the other segments, you might be able to guess what's in the top 15 based on process of elimination. But maybe not. There might be a surprise or two. Per usual, it's all indie rock and post-punk, except for one hip-hop album, an electronic album, and two avant-garde blues-rock albums. (Guess who those are by... I'll give you a hint: not Stevie Ray Vaughan.) So here it is. The top 15. Enjoy.

15. Sonic Youth--EVOL
Though it may be thought of as a stepping stone to the following two albums, Sister and Daydream Nation, EVOL is a stand alone masterpiece. It takes the sound that Sonic Youth had been developing (messy yet intricate art rock guitars, furious post-punk, and convoluted lyrics) and refines it. The result is a more accessible (though still not overly accessible) and more cohesive album that's chock full of SY classics including "Madonna, Sean, and Me" and the song linked below. The most interesting aspect on EVOL, as on all Sonic Youth releases, is the guitar work. Where, on previous albums, it had been purely chaotic, on EVOL it mixes beauty into the chaos, edging deeply into both at different times (and sometimes simultaneously). The album often chimes and plods along somewhat like a conventional rock album, but the obscure lyrics and noise freakouts prevent that feeling of conventionality from lasting too long. Their third best, but still an amazing work.

14. Public Enemy--It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
This is probably the greatest hip-hop album ever made. Here's why: the lyrics are angry, smart, political, and groundbreaking in a way that is yet to be paralleled by any other lyrics on any other album in any other genre of music. Chuck D's unconventional MC-ing suits the words well, as every rant and rave is heard with the utmost clarity, precision, and ferocity. Hip-hop had been socially conscious before (BDP, Grandmaster Flash, etc.), but no one had the feeling and the smarts of Chuck D and Public Enemy, and on no other album was that feeling and intelligence as well displayed. (Although Fear Of A Black Planet comes pretty darn close.) The production is equally as wild, raw, interesting, and groundbreaking as the lyrics are. Those high-pitch squeaks and squeals that pop up frequently are now famous, and the use of samples is carefully planned while still sounding extremely raw and messy. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is the best and most influential hip-hop record ever.

13. The Fall--This Nation's Saving Grace
This Nation's Saving Grace is the culmination of six or seven years of putting out consistently good, if not great albums. And it sounds like it. By this album, The Fall sounds thoroughly matured musically and lyrically. By this I mean that their music was uniquely executed and structured, able to bounce around to different ideas and moods while always maintaining the same relative sound and attitude, and the lyrics are developed, smart, and sung in perfect confidence and snottiness. I don't mean the lyrics are toned down. Mark E. Smith is more sarcastic and ridiculous on this album than on any other, and it makes for engrossing listening. But, I think, the most important part of This Nation's Saving Grace is, for the first time, not Smith's babbling. It is in fact the music. The music on this album really sounds like it was made by talented and thoughtful, albeit a little crazy, musicians, and that makes it one of post-punk's grandest statements.

12. Spacemen 3--The Perfect Prescription
The sound of confusion, indeed. With The Perfect Prescription, Spacemen 3 created their trippy, psychedelic, shoegaze-y, big rock masterpiece. The sound is refreshing and unique, even though it pays obvious tribute to their influences (an "Ode To Street Hassle" and a Red Krayola cover.) It's completely washed in feedback and organ drone most of the time to great psychedelic effect, but they don't use that haze to mask crappy ideas and lyrics and instrumentation. Instead, behind that fog lies a number of great hooks, riffs, and words. The hooks are warm, raw, and often very catchy. The riffs are also warm, raw, and often very catchy. The words mainly concern drugs and sex, but in a way that sounds mature and clever as opposed to immature and, well, not clever. It is an album of high highs and low lows, which foreshadows the ever present use of dynamic shifts that took place in the music of the '90s. The Perfect Prescription is a perfectly named album and a great one, too.

11. The Jesus & Mary Chain--Psychocandy
Anyone who has listened to "indie rock" in the past twenty years has heard Psychocandy, albeit in a copied, lesser form. That's because The Jesus & Mary Chain discovered the formula for which somewhere between 70 and 100 percent of all indie rock uses. That formula is simple: nice, pretty, consonant melodies and a rock n' roll spirit that are buried underneath immense noise. It influenced shoegaze, lo-fi, etc. etc. and certainly informs the current trend of lo-fi noise pop, even if it's not getting due credit for that. Take away the noise, and you have really good '60s pop songs, but said noise is what makes it heavy, weird, original, and timeless. It utilizes the "Be My Baby" drumbeat a few times, but, for me (and many people of my generation and aesthetic) that drumbeat is the "Just Like Honey" beat. Psychocandy is just that epic and important to the history of music. But, you might say, there are many highly influential albums that just aren't that good. Well, Psychocandy is not one of those albums.

10. Tom Waits--Swordfishtrombones
Tom Waits had already written some pretty great stuff by 1983. He had mastered the art of the drunken, melancholy, lonely ballad over the course of several albums. But that was all boring compared to what he brings on Swordfishtrombones. This was the first album on which he established his distinct and now (semi) famous stomping, clanging, industrial, experimental blues sound. And it's awesome. He sounds every bit as drunken and sleazy as he did before, if not more so, but the music is entirely different. Random found percussion claps and rings and clangs all over the place as demented horns whirl. Waits's voice, alternating between a furious growl, a slurred speaking, and a tender but gravelly moan, tells weird and demented tall tales that, though completely twisted, are warm and personal. He channels his inner Beefheart and Howlin' Wolf, but, in doing so, creates a completely unique piece of music. Swordfishtrombones might as well be the first Tom Waits album because it created that typical Waits sound, and it is still one of the best. (I think it's 2nd.)

9. My Bloody Valentine--Isn't Anything
It isn't anything like Loveless (oh, how I love a good play on words), but Isn't Anything is a masterpiece in its own right. Though the seeds of this album's successor are certainly sown throughout its twelve songs, Isn't Anything sounds wholly different and wholly unbelievably awesome. It is full of hazy and dreamy atmospheres, harsh dissonance, lots of snare hits, and breezy vocals like Loveless is, but it doesn't bury its beauty and its lyrics as deeply. In fact, the lyrics are easily distinguishable on nearly every track, and they're pretty nice and smart. But, like Loveless, Isn't Anything is about the music and Kevin Shields's ear for dense, beautiful sonics. Some songs are definitely shoegaze (such as "All I Need" and "Lose My Breath") and they execute the sound expertly, smoothly, and hazily, but several of the songs are more straightforward in their approach. This is not to say that they are conventional, just less dense. "Soft As Snow"'s vocals are brought forward, and its jagged guitars show off a rawer, younger, more rockin' MBV, which is what Isn't Anything is all about.

8. Pixies--Doolittle
The best and most cohesive album from what is widely considered one of, if not the, best indie rock band of all time, Doolittle is predictably brilliant. However, that's the only thing predictable about it. It thrashes about, releasing loads and loads of fiery angst and spastic energy, and then takes a few breaks to craft beautiful and refreshing pop songs. And then it thrashes about some more. The lyrics are better developed and even more bizarre on this one than on Surfer Rosa as they tackle everything from sci-fi to religion to relationships in truly unique and clever fashion. Frank Black's vocals sing those lyrics in a jittery, hyped up way that has influenced every other indie rock singer since. Musically, it's carefully calculated to be completely raw and wild. The guitars are spiky and jagged and wonderful. Doolittle is totally weird even if at some points it sounds semi-conventional. The reality is, the only reason it sounds at all normal is because nearly every rock band in the last twenty has tried to mimic it. And for good reason: this album is really amazing.

7. Brian Eno & David Byrne--My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
This album takes the skills of both artists--Brian Eno's electronic wizardry and avant-garde sensibilites and David Byrne's global ear and twitchy funk sensibilites--and combines them to create a work of art that is more innovative and bizarre than anything Eno or Byrne did separately. I've mostly talked about samples in reference to hip-hop music (3 Feet High, Paul's Boutique, It Takes A Nation, etc.), but My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts uses samples frequently and awesome-ly, and it was released six or seven years before any of those hip-hop records. The samples are of anything from talk-radio to Middle Eastern and African singing, and they are layered flawlessly atop a mountain of experimental electronic funk music. It uses some of Eno's ambience and Byrne's funk, but My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is pretty different from anything else ever made. That said, its found sound and fusion of genres have influenced nearly every electronic and avant-garde album in the past three decades. It's a truly unique and bizarre trip from two of modern music's biggest geniuses.

6. Minutemen--Double Nickels On The Dime
They say that every in every good double album lies a great single disc. This may be true in things like The Wall or The White Album, but it's not in the case of Double Nickels On The Dime. It has enough material to fill a double. Its forty-three songs may feel overwhelming, but pretty much every single track is great and belongs on the album. Stylistically, it's pretty diverse. Though definitely rooted in and chiefly influenced by punk rock, it forays into folk, experimental, and jazz (a genre that most rock bands cannot pull off without sounding ridiculous. See: Steely Dan, Chicago.) Furiously political hardcore jams are intermingled with free-form exercises and fingerpicked instrumentals. The force that makes the album flow is the vocals and the lyrics. Perfectly jaded and sarcastic, D. Boon (and sometimes Mike Watt) sing about politics, growing up, California, and life in general with the utmost sincerity, intelligence, and humor. This is another one of those endlessly relatable and personal albums that I've been talking about. It's not just one of the best punk albums ever, it's one of the best rock albums.

5. Sonic Youth--Sister
EVOL showed that Sonic Youth was indeed capable of crafting a good song, as opposed to just making a whole lot of noise. Sister proved not only that EVOL was not a fluke, but that Sonic Youth were one of the most important bands of the '80s. (Their next album proved that they were, in fact, the most important band of the '80s.) Sister builds on EVOL's mixing of chiming melodies and slightly reformed song structures with harsh dissonance and plenty of noise, and then it refines the sound even more. This is not to say this is a refined album. It is wonderfully messy and chaotic, but it also contains much more sophisticated and conventional melodies, harmonies, lyrics, and ideas. Sister does this without losing its edge. It rocks much harder than any of their previous (and probably succeeding) releases because of its more basic structure. Rather than getting caught up in hideous guitar noise all the time (which, thankfully, Sister still has), Thurston, Kim, Lee, and Steve decide to take a few cues from normal rock n' roll music. This is an integration that is extremely welcome. As much as I do like noise, this is about rock n' roll when all is said and done, and Sister brings it more than EVOL.

4. Talking Heads--Remain In Light
"And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack/and you may find yourself in another part of the world/and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile/and you may find yourself in beautiful house, with a beautiful life/and you may ask yourself, 'well, how did I get here?'" That sounds about right. That's what Remain In Light feels like. It takes the listener to that shotgun shack with its furious, metallic polyrhythmic experimentalism. It takes him or her to another part of the world with its African tinged funk. It puts him or her behind the wheel of a large automobile because the listener feels in control and in touch with what David Byrne is warbling (not sure it can be called singing.) And Remain In Light gives the listener that beautiful house and that beautiful wife because it's that big and that grand. But at the end of it, you definitely will ask how the hell you got there. Because all that stuff is happening at once--the funk, the avant-garde, the rhythmic twists, the clever lyrics, etc. etc. etc. This album is unbelievably busy and unbelievably weird, but it never strays from Talking Heads' pop and punk sensibilities. Remain In Light is one of the best band ever's best album.

3. Joy Division--Closer
More diverse than Unknown Pleasures, Closer is the definitive British post-punk album. It combines its predecessors stark minimalism and heir of despair with heightened musical ability and more successful experimentalism. Ian Curtis is at his jittery, melancholy best as he moans about life, death, epilepsy and all other things that relate in some way. Bernard Sumner's guitar/synth playing: immaculately jagged, rough, bizarre, and overwhelming. Hook's bass sounds similar to what it sounded like on Unknown Pleasures; it's quick and light, bouncing underneath the chaos that unfurls on top of it. This makes it even more refreshing. I think the thing that makes Closer such a viscerally personal experience is its size and its scope. It's utterly massive--the avant-garde songs like "Atrocity Exhibition" hit harder than nearly anything I've ever heard, and the synth-y ballads are gloriously minimal and spacey. It's so big, it allows the listener to fall into the music and feel like you are next to Ian Curtis as he is having a fit. Recorded a few months before Curtis died and released a couple months after, Closer truly contains all life's experiences, and it sounds like death. That's a sound that is certainly depressing, but it's also singularly unique and unbelievable.

2. Tom Waits--Rain Dogs
I said that Joy Division's Closer, the previous album on this list, is diverse. If I am to stick with that claim, then a new, more extreme word has to be created to adequately describe Rain Dogs. I'm going with flarb. Rain Dogs is very flarb. It delves even deeper into the avant-garde than Swordfishtrombones did, and it yields even greater results. Waits uses increasingly unconventional instrumentation--besides marimbas and whatnot, he uses all sorts of unidentifiable percussion--to create an atmosphere that is darker, sleazier, and weirder than any other. The relatively short songs generally resemble blues and rock, but branch out in countless directions. Sounds of the circus, funeral parlor, saloon, opera, caravans of gypsies, and Hell itself seep into the vague blues structures. The result is a completely unique and flarb sound that is so solidly bizarre that it actually hasn't been influential to modern indie rock. (Except for maybe Man Man.) Some tender ballads are intermingled with the experimental romps, but their simplicity actually sounds nice and interesting juxtaposed with their highly cacophonous neighbors. Enough with the music, though. Waits's lyrics and singing are sharper and quirkier on Rain Dogs than on any other release. He tells twisted and intricate stories of love, life, death, family, and things that I don't quite understand (and don't want to.) Rain Dogs is a beast of an album, a statement yet to be matched in terms eccentricity or Hellishness.

1. Sonic Youth--Daydream Nation
First things first: click the play button on the video below.

Alright. Pretty good, huh? One of the best songs you've ever heard, right? Now, imagine an album full of twelve songs that also have that one's brilliant mix of dissonant, free-form guitar playing with pop sensibilities and a heavy dose of rocking and rolling. Well, that's Daydream Nation. And if you still need to be convinced why it's the '80s finest album, I'll try to sway you.

Daydream Nation is Sonic Youth's most fully realized effort. The previous seven or so years of taking in all the no wave and post-punk that was going on around them and producing some wild guitar based noise-rock albums was seemingly just practice for Daydream. (Even if some of those previous albums are still pretty amazing.) On Daydream, they sound like matured, seasoned veterans while maintaining the exuberance and spark of a nascent post-punk group. This is shown in their ability to add brilliant hooks and brilliant lyrics to their already well-developed guitar attack. That guitar attack--a combination of Thurston Moore's lead and Lee Ranaldo's rhythm (which is more heavily featured here)--is chiming and beautiful when it wants to be, and it's devastatingly loud and dissonant when it wants to be. Moore and Ranaldo have such supreme control over their instruments, they can invent brand new tunings on every song and make it sound like that tuning is standard. Daydream Nation does indeed contain both Sonic Youth's best rock music and the decade's, but what sets it apart even more is that accessibility that it offers. While I won't call it a pop album or an accessible work, Daydream Nation is full of some infectious melodies and more straightforward structures. And it rocks. Hard. An album like EVOL was atmospheric and bizarre and awesome, but it forgot the aim of this kind of music. It's rock n' roll, and Sonic Youth realize this the most on Daydream Nation. Daydream Nation is an ear (and eye--it as a cool Richter cover) opening experience that is just that: a musical experience.

That's what I think. And I realize that the top 10 has two Sonic Youth albums, two Tom Waits albums, and two David Byrne albums. I like those people. You should, too.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Top Albums of the 1980s (Pt. 2)

Sorry for the slight delay. School started. Anyways, this next installment of the Top Albums of the 1980s brings you #30-16. If you missed Part 1, it's here--or you could just scroll down a bit.

This segment highlights some more of the decade's choice post-punk and indie rock because, well, that's what I like, and there was a lot of that stuff in the '80s. However, there's a hip-hop album and a pop album and an electronic album. Regardless, all these albums and artists will prove that Wham!, in fact, was not the best band to come out of the '80s. Enjoy. (Sorry for the annoyingly big space between 30 and its explanation and 29 and its explanation.)

30. Pixies--Surfer Rosa

It may displease some to see this album outside the top ten, but I think #30 is an okay place for it. It’s a great album by one of the greatest bands of the last thirty years, but it’s not without its flaws. “Gigantic,” I hate to say, remains one of my least favorite songs in their catalogue. But I’m nitpicking. Surfer Rosa is still an amazing album—an album that only hinted at the capabilities of an amazing group. It has plenty of hooks, plenty of noise freakouts, plenty of weird lyrics, and plenty of angst to make it a truly enjoyable and unique listen. It really is an indie rock classic, albeit one that is slightly overrated.

"Where Is My Mind"

29. Gang Of Four--Solid Gold

Solid Gold finds Gang Of Four making the extremely jagged and sparse post-punk from Entertainment! less jagged and sparse. This is not to say this is a smooth album (like Songs Of The Free), but it is certainly a little smoother and definitely funkier than their debut. And it’s much denser. Solid Gold is thicker and fuller of music than its predecessor. This is not a good thing or a bad thing, just a different thing. That said, Solid Gold is really a great album. It, along with its predecessor, has an extremely distinct post-punk sound that has been the subject of inferior imitation since its release in 1981. Solid Gold is just that.


28. Mission Of Burma--Signals, Calls, and Marches
Signals, Calls, and Marches may have all the energy and ferocity (and some of the sounds) of a punk album, but it's not really a punk album. The guitars are too complex, the lyrics are too smart, and the music is just executed and conceptualized too well. There is always a good hook. The songs are about growing up, not wanting to be complacent or stagnant, and all sorts of other things that don't coincide with the punk movement, but it does often feel like punk. So, I believe that just makes it indie rock. Which means, as it came out in 1981, it's one of the first indie rock records, making it extremely influential, and, to this day, it's one of the best.

27. The Replacements--Let It Be
Wanting to grow up, but wanting to stay young. Wanting to rebel, but wanting a sense a purpose. Wanting to get girls, and, well, wanting to get girls. Many albums try to really get this feel, but Let It Be is one of only a handful that succeeds. (Modern Lovers' debut, Weezer's debut to name two others.) It's so relatable, it's a veritable Catcher In The Rye of indie rock. The music is gloriously messy and unkempt guitar rock, and the lyrics talk about all the struggles of youth and growing up in a way that's both innocent, snotty, and smart. It's one of the only records on this list that is universally loved because it encapsulates everyone's youth.

26. Public Image Ltd.--Second Edition
Coming off the mediocrity that was Never Mind The Bollocks (yeah, I said that), Johnny Rotten created two amazing albums of wild, avant-garde post-punk. It combines thick dub atmospherics with psychedelic organs with krautrock-esque plodding experimentalism with funk grooves with intense pot-punk guitars and vocals. It's been hugely influential (arguably as influential as Never Mind The Bollocks) to the following decades of underground music, but, like most on this list, has never really been matched in terms of weird-ness or greatness. This is one of the most bizarre and one of the best post-punk/experimental albums ever made.

25. Kraftwerk--Computer World
By 1981, Kraftwerk had already established themselves as the greatest, most innovative, and most influential electronic music group ever. Computer World showcases their established electro-pop sound, but builds on the "-pop" portion of that term. It definitely sounds more "80s" than any of their previous efforts in that it's glossier, synth-ier, dance-ier, and sillier. (Not that they weren't a little silly before.) They reference the progressing technology perhaps in an effort to show maybe that the world had finally caught up to them, but, the reality is, the world still hasn't caught up to Kraftwerk. This, along with most of their albums from the'70s, is still the best example ever of electronic music.

24. Prince--Purple Rain
It's hard to say anything unique about Purple Rain. After all, it's widely considered one of the best albums in any genre of the bast thirty years, and it has sold more records than the other 119 albums on this list combined. (Maybe. Probably not. I made that statistic up. But it has it's sold 18 million or so.) Anyways, the universal praise for this album is completely warranted. At its core, it's pop music, but it combines so many disparate elements--funk, psychedelic, electronic, soul, rock n' roll--that it's still pretty hard to classify. Nearly every song on the album was a hit, but they are all far more complex and far weirder than most pop songs from that decade. Purple Rain is one of the most bizarre and successful pop albums ever.

23. De La Soul--3 Feet High and Rising
I've said this before, but as a white person who leads an extraordinarily boring and simple life, I have found it difficult to relate to most hip-hop lyrics, and so I usually only like hip-hop with truly great and unique production. 3 Feet High and Rising does have truly great and unique production. The samples (which are thoroughly diverse) are used sporadically and effectively in a way that was and still is original. The beats are simple enough, but they accompany the rapping very well. It does have some of the finest ever production. But the real kicker here is the lyrics. De La Soul's lyrics are often very positive. They're about hanging out, having fun, and trying to get with girls. These are things that I can relate to. And the lyrics are endlessly smart, clever, and sunny. So, when brilliant production is combined with actually identifiable and smart lyrics, the result is a close to perfect hip-hop album.

22. Galaxie 500--On Fire
This is one of those albums that I thought I wouldn't like. All the descriptions I had read of it made it sound pretty boring. Everyone said it was soft and chiming and pretty and slow. Those are adjectives that once upon a time I hated, and even now tend to be hesitant towards. But I finally decided to actually listen to the record, and what I found was indeed a soft, chiming, pretty, slow album. However, it works. It's truly mesmerizing and beautiful in its approach. It is for sure slow, but the pace allows the reflectiveness and atmosphere shine through. The songs do get loud occasionally, to great effect, but mostly they cruise dreamily and quietly along. It, like most of these albums, has proved to be very influential, and, like most of these albums, has not been equaled. On Fire is a beautiful, minimal, weird, and hypnotizing dream-pop album that is extremely important to indie rock.

21. Big Black--Songs About Fucking
One of the most aptly titled albums ever made, Songs About Fucking is the heaviest, most furious album to come out after the death of punk. The punk spirit is indeed in the music; the songs are short, fast, distorted, angry, and the lyrics are all about, well, you know... However, Big Black's sound is too sophisticated and too dense to really be called punk. It has been influential to all sorts of experimental rock and industrial bands for its extremely noisy, metallic feel, but it isn't industrial itself. Musically, the guitars are at the forefront; they're always heavily distorted and fuzzy. The percussion is equally heavy, and it's disjointed and definitely industrial sounding. I think the secret to the album's success, though, is the vocals. Steve Albini's thick, terse, muddled rants about sex, murder, and more make this the frustrated noise rock masterpiece that it is.

20. The Fall--Hex Enduction Hour
Reviews of this album nearly always reference the first few lines of "The Classical." So I will, too. (Pardon my language.) "Where are the obligatory niggers?/Hey there fuckface," Mark E. Smith says in his usual snotty, deadpan voice. A blistering, heavy post-punk groove is set behind these words, and then Hex Enduction Hour takes off. (Apparently, The Fall were about to sign to Motown for this record, but that first line ended the deal.) This lyric really does set the tone for the album, which is full of probably offensive, sarcastic, and smart lyrics sung in Smith's ever recognizable drawl. This album is actually pretty diverse musically. Though it is definitely post-punk all the way through, the songs vary widely in mood, feel, and pace. Elements of proto-industrial and funk and more find their way into the mix to accompany Smith. That said, The Fall would not have fit on Motown.

19. Husker Du--Zen Arcade
Here's another album that shares a lot of characteristics with punk, but fails to actually be punk. It's certainly very fuzzy and fast and angry, but it is far too literate and developed to be considered part of that genre. Zen Arcade is long and chaotic, and Husker Du bounce around to different styles frequently. The songs go from punk to acoustic to post-punk to experimental and back again. Despite this, Zen Arcade is a cohesive and thoroughly enjoyable work. The reason for this being that neither songwriter (Bob Mould and Grant Hart) are afraid of a big, awesome hook, and so, beneath he relentless fuzz nearly always lies a good--nay--great pop song. It has been hugely influential to the following two and a half decades of independent music, but it itself really stretched the boundaries of typical indie rock. It's a humongous statement that is yet to be matched.

18. New Order--Power, Corruption & Lies
On Power, Corruption & Lies, New Order make you forget that they were once three-fourths of Joy Division. (This is not to say they are better than Joy Division, just different.) This album is full of brilliant post-punk inflected dance-pop. The songs are relentlessly catchy, the production is crisp and smooth--showing perhaps the direction that Joy Division was heading in--and the music is invigorating and often beautiful. Though not overly original in style, New Order was singularly unique in their execution. By this album, Bernard Sumner proved himself to be a pretty darn good singer, and the rest of the band proved themselves to be completely capable synth players, which added a lot of depth and modernity to their sound. New Order was pretty spot-on in the 1980s, and they created five albums that were all very good (well, I haven't heard Low Life), but Power, Corruption, and Lies is their opus.

17. Beastie Boys--Paul's Boutique
Like I said in the review for 3 Feet High and Rising, I can rarely relate to hip-hop albums. The Beastie Boys, however, are easier for me to relate to. (It's probably the whole white, Jewish thing.) And so the lyrics here, which cover everything from science to girls to the Torah, make sense to me. Not to mention that they're smart, weird, and often very funny. But, the reality is, the star of Paul's Boutique is the production. It uses samples more frequently and better than arguably any hip-hop album ever made (the only competition are 3 Feet High and an album that will be ranked in the top 15.) Because of the density of samples, Paul's Boutique lends itself to repeated listening. Nearly every time I hear it, I find a new favorite sample, whether it's used for a second or a minute. It, more than any of these other albums except for maybe the one below, is an album that truly needs to heard to be fully understood.

16. This Heat--Deceit
There was a fair share of weird albums to come out of the post-punk genre (see #26), but Deceit definitely takes the cake in the category. Though it is certainly very out there, its brilliance is easily identifiable. Taking the sound that they developed on their debut, This Heat made an album that was more polished, more song-based, and, well, better. Deceit mixes tribal percussion with furious guitars, droning vocals, and sounds that are pretty hard to recognize--but don't let that make it sounds formulaic or consistent. The album's songs jump around in terms of style, pace, and tone frequently. The lyrics are often political--and actually rather smart--but the music is definitely the most important element. There is very little structure, and there are very few reference points or recognizable influences. Deceit is one of the most original works I've ever heard.

That's what I think. Time to criticize these picks/start guessing the top 15.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Top Albums of the 1980s (Pt. 1)

Like I said in the previous post, this is the First Annual '80s Week here at Il Buono. (I don't think I actually did say that.) Though some of the most terrible and ridiculous things came out of the '80s, it was still a great decade for music and pop culture. I can only wish I lived through those ten years, but, through VH1, John Hughes movies, and post-punk records, I think I've gotten the general gist of the decade--what made it excessive, flashy, bizarre, and awesome.

This list functions exactly like its '90s counterpart, but with different albums. It will include my 120 favorites from the decade. This part (Part 1) will be a list of #120-#31. Part 2 will have 30-16 with written explanations, and Part 3 will have 15-1 with slightly longer written explanations. (Those will come hopefully by this weekend.) "Post-punk" and "indie rock" seem to be the genres that I enjoy most from the 1980s. Thus, a majority of the albums fall in or near one of those two categories. However, there are enough synth-pop/new wave albums there to satisfy most fans of the that stuff, and there are a few hip-hop albums. I've said it before, but as with all lists I make, there are things that I simply haven't heard. (For example, I've never heard all of Sign O The Times by Prince, so it's not on this list.) Enjoy.

120. Angry Samoans--Back From Samoa
119. Sparks--Angst In My Pants
118. The Cure--Pornography
117. Anti-Nowhere League--We Are The League
116. Robert Ashley--Improvement
115. Galaxie 500--Today
114. Naked Raygun--Jettison
113. The Cure--Faith
112. The Raincoats--The Kitchen Tapes
111. Wipers--Is This Real?

110. The Lounge Lizards--Voice Of Chunk
109. Echo & The Bunnymen--Crocodiles
108. Ry Cooder--Paris, Texas
107. Scientist--World At War
106. Simply Saucer--Cyborgs Revisited
105. The John Carter Octet--Dauwhe
104. David Bowie--Let's Dance
103. Tippa Irie--Is It Really Happening To Me
102. Can--Rite Time
101. Cameo--She's Strange

100. Jandek--Staring At The Cellophane
99. Slint--Tweez
98. Christian Marclay--More Encores
97. Archie Shepp--Trouble In Mind
96. XTC--English Settlement
95. Pylon--Gyrate
94. Wipers--Over The Edge
93. Einsturzende Neubauten--Haus Der Luge
92. Fugazi--13 Songs
91. Metallica--Kill 'Em All

90. The Smiths--Strangeways, Here We Come
89. Wipers--Youth Of America
88. Sonic Youth--Bad Moon Rising
87. Kate Bush--Hounds Of Love
86. Brian Eno--Ambient 4: On Land
85. Big Daddy Kane--Long Live The Kane
84. Scott Walker--Climate Of Hunter
83. Tom Tom Club--Tom Tom Club
82. The Stone Roses--The Stone Roses
81. The Replacements--Tim

80. Black Flag--Damaged
79. John Zorn--The Big Gundown
78. Cocteau Twins--Treasure
77. X--Los Angeles
76. Dinosaur Jr.--You're Living All Over Me
75. R.E.M.--Murmur
74. Ministry--The Land Of Rape And Honey
73. The Birthday Party--Prayers On Fire
72. Rapeman--Two Nuns And A Pack Mule
71. The Gun Club--The Las Vegas Story

70. Arthur Russell--World Of Echo
69. Public Enemy--Yo! Bum Rush The Show
68. The Misfits--Walk Among Us
67. Talk Talk--The Colour Of Spring
66. Glenn Branca--The Ascension
65. Crass--Penis Envy
64. Tears For Fears--Songs From The Big Chair
63. Gang Of Four--Songs Of The Free
62. Pixies--Come On Pilgrim
61. The Cure--The Head On The Door

60. Big Black--Atomizer
59. Boogie Down Productions--Criminal Minded
58. Leonard Cohen--I'm Your Man
57. Dexy's Midnight Runners--Searching For The Young Soul Rebels
56. The Cure--Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
55. The Pogues--Rum, Sodomy, and The Lash
54. Michael Jackson--Thriller
53. Husker Du--New Day Rising
52. New Order--Brotherhood
51. David Bowie--Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

50. Nurse With Wound--Homotopy To Marie
49. ESG--Come Away With ESG
48. New Order--Movement
47. Beat Happening--Jamboree
46. Bad Brains--Bad Brains
45. Spacemen 3--Playing With Fire
44. New Order--Technique
43. Adam and The Ants--Kings Of The Wild Frontier
42. The Human League--Dare
41. Prince--Dirty Mind

40. King Crimson--Discipline
39. Young Marble Giants--Colossal Youth
38. Minor Threat--Out Of Step
37. Mission Of Burma--Vs.
36. John Zorn--Naked City
35. Talking Heads--Stop Making Sense
34. The Smiths--The Queen Is Dead
33. Eric B. & Rakim--Paid In Full
32. Talk Talk--Spirit Of Eden
31. The Cure--Disintegration

That's what I think. If some of your favorites aren't there, don't worry. Either they're really good (and will be ranked higher) or they're really bad. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Favorite '80s Pop Songs

Last week (or the week before, I can't remember) I counted down my favorite albums and pop songs of the 1990s. It was a lot of fun. (At least I thought so.) Well, this week I'm going to take a look at the previous decade--the 1980s.

This list will go through the 30 best pop songs of the decade. The '80s were a time of excess, bright colors, MTV, and Jheri curls. The pop music, which this list centers on, was usually also excessive and ridiculous. Most of it is synth-driven, glossy pop, but some of the post-punk groups were able to cross over. So there's a mix. I think the music on this list speaks for itself; it's fun, weird, electronic, and amazing. Because of that, I'm not going to write explanations. I'm saving myself for the albums left, which is coming later this week I think. So here you go. Enjoy.

30. Adam & The Ants--"Antmusic"
28. Rob Base & DJ E.Z. Rock--It Takes Two
27. The Go-Go's--Our Lips Are Sealed
26. David Bowie--Ashes To Ashes
25. The Cure--Close To Me
24. The Waitresses--I Know What Boys Like
22. Musical Youth--Pass The Dutchie
21. A Flock Of Seagulls--I Ran (So Far Away)

19. Kajagoogoo--Too Shy
17. Madness--Our House
16. Michael Jackson--Billie Jean
15. Yello--Oh Yeah
14. Wall Of Voodoo--Mexican Radio
13. New Order--Bizarre Love Triangle
12. Prince--When Doves Cry
11. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army--Cars

10. Modern English--I Melt With You
9. Devo--Whip It
8. Frankie Goes To Hollywood--Relax
7. Soft Cell--Tainted Love
6. Talking Heads--Burning Down The House
5. The Human League--Don't You Want Me
4. Dexy's Midnight Runners--Come On Eileen
3. The Cure--Just Like Heaven
2. Joy Division--Love Will Tear Us Apart
1. New Order--Blue Monday

That's what I think. I have nothing clever to say. (Not to say that any of my sign-offs are clever.)