Let’s be real for a second, I love far more than 10 albums but this has been a fun exercise. I really struggled to name my last album but ultimately shrugged and decided to just pick another one I love.
It took me quite a while to warm up to Marquee Moon. I first heard it in college and dismissed it as a band that wanted to sound like the Cars but was trying too hard. Over time I grew to appreciate the sound and its place in history. And I don’t necessarily mean musical history. There is a kind of weariness to it and in my mind that fits in well with the times. I can’t help but hear Vietnam and Watergate fatigue in the sound.
That weariness is also why I’ve never really considered it a punk album. It doesn’t have the attitude and snarl I expect out of punk. Marquee Moon strikes me as a mood album. The guitars are more atmospheric than driving in my opinion. But what a mood! I love the feel and sound of this album, they more than justify its perpetual placement on critics’ best albums lists. It’s another one that too few people have heard.
Take a prototypical American punk album, lo-fi, grating, low on talent but high on attitude, and mix it with third wave feminism and you get this album. Bikini Kill was at the forefront of the so-called Riot Girrrl movement, female punk rockers carving out their own space in punk music. Here is a quick primer on the movement as a whole. I think Bikini Kill was easily the most “punk” of all of them.
This album starts with the lead singer Kathleen Hannah yelling, “WE’RE BIKINI KILL AND WE WANT REVOLUTION!!” That sets the stage for the onslaught of guitars, screaming, and general badassery to come. Punk rock has always specialized in confrontational, deliberately antagonizing songs and trying to shock people that they see as antagonists. There are some doozies on this album that fit into that punk archetype like Carnival, Suck my Left One, and White Boy. Also on here is what most people think is their signature song Rebel Girl.
Listening to this in 92 was a revelation. It also reminded me of the music scene I had fallen into at college. Today I think it is bracing, like splashing cold water on your face. I will still listen to this when I need to get my blood pumping and my senses sharpened.
This may be my favorite important album that most people have never heard of or the artist.
Double Nickels on the Dime is an American punk classic. The only song from it most people recognize is Corona because it was used as the theme to the movie Jackass. As an aside, Corona is a brilliant song and it pains me that people’s only connection to it involves the Jackass franchise. Sigh.
Released in 1984, DNOTD features sparse, witty songs with the Minutemen’s signature brevity. “We are time Nazis…” is one of D. Boone’s self descriptive lyrics. Some of my favorite songs on the album include the aforementioned Corona, The Big Foist, Jesus and Tequila, Little Man with a Gun in his Hand, and their taking-the-piss versions of Steely Dan’s Dr. Wu and Van Halen’s Ain’t talking ’bout Love. I think anyone that loves honest, blue collar rock with punk leanings needs to hear this album. I’ll always love it.
Today’s album is probably my favorite jazz album of all time.
I originally bought this album based on recognizing the name Sarah Vaughn and loving the cover. Having recently “getting” Jazz for the first time via Cookin’ by the Miles Davis Quintet I was hot to get another cool cool jazz record. Much like my very first album I ever bought I got lucky with my second jazz album completely by chance.
I had listened to Ella Fitzgerald and enjoyed her stuff well enough but found her scat soloing tiring after a while. Sarah Vaughn’s singing relies much more on color and tone rather than Ella’s riffs and runs. Vaughn’s perfect phrasing created what I consider canonical versions of several jazz standards like Lullaby of Birdland, September Song, and Jim.
The other musicians are in fine form as well. In particular Herbie Mann’s flute, Paul Quinichette’s sax, and Clifford Brown all put in understated, classy performances. The sound is warm and lush and in my mind epitomizes everything good about mid-50s jazz.
Today’s album is the last one ever made by this artist.
Glenn Gould caused a sensation when he recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 1955. Gould re-recorded the piece in 1981 and I believe it is far superior to his first try. That, in turn, means that the 1981 version is the best one you will ever hear.
Casals’s renditions of Bach’s Cello Suites were what opened my ears and brain to Bach but it is Gould’s 1981 Goldberg variations that opened my heart. Five notes into the initial “Aria” and I was captivated. The rest of the 30 variations spill out effortlessly and captivate me every time I play them.
This album gives you two geniuses at once, Bach and Gould. Both shine through and I believe this recording will be held up as authoritative as long as people listen to Bach. It is brainfood of the highest order, it refuses to stay background music. It demands to be listened to and will command your attention. If you only ever listen to one classical album this should be it.
Today’s album still haunts me after all these years.
Pretty on the Inside is not fun to listen to, nor is it filled with songs that you’ll find yourself humming. Harrowing is the best word I can find to describe it. The album seems to chronicle a woman’s descent into heroin and prostitution. Abusive relationships, the threat of overdoses, and the constant fear of herself round out the fun times. The songs hold together really well and the lyrics are both well crafted and delivered expertly.
I don’t usually like concept albums, or even albums with a narrative thread. Most of them never transcend the didacticism of their story telling. I always imagine the artist presenting their very important work to me and I’m supposed to be the grateful receiver of their message. Pretty on the Inside manages to transcend this problem by simultaneously painting an excruciatingly stark painting of this woman’s life and not caring if you “get something” out of it or not. The lyrics and performance feel too honest to be just stories. Knowing what we know about Courtney Love’s life makes me sure she has first hand knowledge of what happens to the protagonist on this album.
I love this album because it is an honest, complete piece of performance art. Love has managed to make a towering monument to self-loathing and bad decisions. I think it is important to experience art like this from time to time in order to empathize with people in these sorts of situations. Sometimes you have to stand in the dark in order to see the light. This album gives you a taste of what living in a spiritual and emotional darkness must be like.
Today I’m sharing one of my favorite rock albums of all time.
This is the first album by the White Stripes. Plenty has been written about them, both good and bad. What people tend to hate about the group is what is seen as artificiality. I don’t agree with that assessment at all. The look is calculated but so were Bowie’s. I have no problem with bands managing their look and presence, especially when they have the musical chops to back it up.
This album is rock and roll stripped down to its most basic. Most of the songs are just a guitar and drums. Meg White’s drum playing has been widely criticized but I think that criticism is off base. Jack White has said that she played drums like a cave man but that wasn’t criticism. Her simple beats are the perfect foil to his huge blues riffs. Criticizing her because she isn’t Neil Piert or Buddy Rich just shows how little you understand the band.
In my opinion this may be the best sounding rock album of all time. The live experience of feeling the drums and having the guitar envelop you typifies the rock concert experience and solidifies the feel of the music. This album was recorded in such a way that you can feel like you are at a live show. Yes, the music is simple and not very deep but it feels incredible. I turn to this album whenever I want to feel alive and have a rock and roll experience.
Today I’m highlighting an album that has opened a lot of doors for me.
I first heard Ravi Shankar’s The Sounds of India in a music class in college. I recognized the sound of the sitar from various Beatles songs but I had never heard a proper piece of Indian classical music before. I promptly went out and bought the CD and listened to it repeatedly.
For those of you that have never listened to a raag (westerners seem to call them ragas but the Indian musicians call them raags) they are intricate, subtle, complex, and organic. The Hindustani raags place a heavy emphasis on improvisation inside of tight musical framework. To this day I can’t say I really understand the music but it makes sense to me.
In the years since I heard this album I have continued to dive into the unlimited depths of Hindustani classical music. If this was the only impact this album had on me I would still consider it incredibly important to me. What this album actually did for me was to open my mind to enjoying other “world” music. I have since gone on to enjoy Flamencao, Bulgarian, Argentinian, Balkan, and music from who knows what locations. My life is much better for this album opening the world’s music to me.
Today’s album is the very first one I ever bought.
I was living in the suburbs of Richmond, VA in 79 or 80. I can’t remember if I had saved up my allowance or if I had gotten some money for a birthday or something. In any case, I was taken to a record store called Peaches and was allowed to pick what I wanted.
I don’t remember the decision process involved. I was too young to really know about albums other than the ones I already knew. I was also too young to really have favorite contemporary artists. My gut feeling is that I had been brought up listening to oldies in the car and I simply knew that I liked The Beach Boys.
Whatever the reason I lucked into a great LP. It’s only 34 minutes long but it is as good an example of American pop rock as you can find. As an 8 year old I was delighted and I still have a soft spot for it now. It isn’t just nostalgia either, I really think that it is as solid a pop recording as anything the Beatles ever did. The last three songs on the first side (Do it Again, Wake the World, Aren’t you Glad) in particular are gold. They were true pros at this point, probably the height of their appeal and talent. You can hear 15 years worth of singing about girls, cars, and surfing in Mike Love’s singing on Do it Again and it is glorious.
Yes, two of their worst hits (Barbara Ann and California Girls) are on here as well but they are bearable because of the strength of the rest of the album. There is a great horn section (!) and the harmonies are on point. I will always hold this up as the epitome of great pop rock and will always make me fell like I’m 8 again.
My brother shared a cute Facebook thing were we are supposed to share our favorite 10 albums over 10 days. The idea is to just post the album covers and not really editorialize about them. Well, I take this stuff too seriously to let it go like that. Here are my 10 most important albums in no particular order, one day at a time.
First up is the album I played through all of my childhood.
I’m willing to bet I played Abbey Road more often than any other LP in my life. I don’t know how young I was when I started but I’ll say this, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was the very first non-kids song I ever knew all the words to. My parents owned some interesting records by some interesting bands like CCR, The Association, Jefferson Airplane, Isaac Hayes, and other albums by the Beatles but Abbey Road was the one I came back to again and again, for decades.
Really though it was the first side that captivated me as a kid. I think that as a little kid I really liked the sing song tracks like Octopus’s Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer but as I got older I appreciated the weirdness and heaviness of I Want You and Come Together. I absolutely adored the abrupt end of I Want You, it seemed so absurd to me.
For whatever reason I didn’t really appreciate the second side until my teenage years. Maybe because that’s when I started to play music loud. The entire medley and especially The End just sounds so much better loud.
Years later I learned that Abbey Road was essentially the death throes of the band and was essentially recorded without Paul and John working together. That broke my heart. Still, the album is a masterpiece by any measure and was the first album to pop into my head with this album challenge.