Category Archives: The List 2010

The List, 2010, #100-91

Oh happy day! Not only is it my darling wife's birthday, but today I start my fourth biennial Top 100 Favorite Albums List - there are links to the others are on my left-side nav bar. Yippee!

Today's the first ten, and over the next few weeks, I'll be posting sections of the new list, one every few days.

I used the same basic method this year that I used in 08: I took the previous list, added 49 new entries, alphabetized the list, then fed it into my little C++ record sorter program. After four days of answering 'Y' or 'N' to its 1500+ questions (ex. “Big Star : Radio City (1974)” > “Bob Dylan : Highway 61 Revisited (1965)” ? y/n), it spat out my sorted list. Happily, this list differs a lot (IMO) from the previous lists - lots of new records, a few surprises, lots of huge movements, etc..

And so, here we go...

David Bowie 1972
Ziggy Stardust
When I was four or five, I had an awesome portable 8-track player shaped like a TNT detonator - you changed tracks by pushing down on the plunger and it made a big satisfying CLUNK! as it did whatever 8-track players did to switch tracks. I had Ziggy Stardust and something from John Denver, and I alternated between them for a good year or so. At least that's how I remember it.

But the 8-track player eventually died. And then the 8-track format died, too. And I was Ziggy-less for the next 25 years. When I picked this up again in the mid-90s, it turned out that I had forgotten most of it - except the hits, the world won't let you forget the title track, or Suffragette City, or Moonage Daydream. But all the rest of it was brand new again. And, unlike a lot of things I liked when I was five (ex. the bleedin Irish Rovers), this I still like today!

Robyn Hitchcock 1990
This is one of his many solo-acoustic records, and the first of his solo-acoustic records that I bought. So, it's a sentimental favorite of mine. Based on the number of YouTube pages I had to search through before I found a song from it, though, it seems to be one of his less-popular records.

To me, it's one of those records that I have to hear start to finish, all or nothing; and it's one that I like to pay close attention to when it's on. So it doesn't get played as often as some of his other records, because I keep finding myself saying "No, I'm not really up for 'Eye'."

Unrest 1991
Imperial f.f.r.r.

In a better world, Unrest would have been kings of the singles charts, in 1991. IMO, "Suki" (first link) and "Cherry Cream On" (2nd) are as blissfully catchy as anything anyone else has written, ever. Alas.
The Beatles 1967
Sgt Pepper
This one is actually a recent acquisition for me. While it's impossible not to know most of the songs from this one, I don't recall ever hearing it all together. And, happily it's even better in album form! The things I hadn't heard are good, too! Sweet.
The Police 1979
Reggatta De Blanc
If you're of a certain age, you just gotta like The Police. And yet this one just barely makes the list, and it's the only Police record on the list this time 'round. Why? Well, it's because overall, this one is just a tiny bit less played-out than most of their other records. It's not that it's not full of great songs, it's that I'm close to the edge of not being able to stand hearing any of them ever again.
Nirvana 1994
I like most of the songs here better than their studio versions because it showed that Nirvana wasn't all about the loud/quiet dynamic or Kurt's screaming - though that was surely a lot of it. It turns out that they also had a bunch of really good songs.
Slint 1991
Nobody ever did cold, hard, slightly-sinister math rock as well as Slint did. Frankly, I'm not aware of anyone who has ever tried, either.
Tortoise 1996
Millions Now Living Will Never Die
Tortoise writes long, interesting, songs during which nothing really happens. It's a neat trick.
Andrew Bird's Bowl Of Fire 2001
The Swimming Hour

This is the last of his records with the Bowl Of Fire group, and the first one that really breaks from his early style of pre-war jazz and folk music. In this one, he gets very close to his current style, but it's mixed up with things like country swing, dreamy 50's pop, and my favorite, the Ray Charles-esuqe "How Indiscreet" - linked above. This is also where "Why?", still a live staple, first appears.
Yo La Tengo 1990
Most of this record is covers of obscure, quirky songs from the 60's. With their own understated charm, YLT turns these mostly-forgotten oddities into adorable little WTFs. None of these songs would have seemed like the kind of song that needed to be covered, to me. But luckily, YLT heard something in them.

And who among us does not love a histogram ?

The List, 2010, #90-81

The second set!

Gastr Del Sol 1998
It's a loose amalgam of jazz, folk music, rock and plain-ol noodling. And while that description might make you think of the Grateful Dead, Gastr Del Sol is defintely a mid-90's "post-rock" band, and not anything like a hippy jam band. Gastr's not going to make you want to dance in the mud; they're not going to make you want to to dance at all. Gastr's introspective experiments might get you humming along here and there, but that's it. This isn't party music, this is music for your head.
The Cure 1989
It was their last great album. Maybe even their last good album. It's defintely the last one I enjoyed start to finish. And this is a fantastic start-to-finish album. But, as with Hitchcock's "Eye", finding the time and mood to sit down for these 72 minutes seems to come by less and less often these days.
Sunny Day Real Estate 1994
This album is inextricably tied to my memories of a few months in winter 94/95, when I would spend my Sundays going from the record store where I would buy the single album I allowed myself that week, to Taco Bell where I would always order the same thing every week (because it only cost $2.50), to the cemetery across the street where I would sit in my car, listening to this record and eating my soft tacos - no cheese. It was a good time to be emo.
The Feelies 1980
Crazy Rhythms
The Feelies came from the same era and scene as Television and Talking Heads, but somehow, they missed out on the attention. They've got that twitchy, nervous, late 70's, NYC sound, the clean interlocking guitars, strange and distant lyrics, and catchy, catchy songs. It's a fantastic little record. Not having a copy of it is a sure sign of mental deficiency.
The Shins 2001
Oh, Inverted World
Context is everything. "New Slang" actually did change my life, in a small way: it was my introduction to the Shins. And I hated it. It was on a sampler I picked up somewhere, and I couldn't stand it. Later, I heard about this group called "The Shins", so I picked up this album - and I loved it, even "New Slang"! After pondering this change of opinion, I realized that what I had really hated about "New Slang" was that it was totally out of place on that sampler, with Whiskeytown and Lucinda Williams and Eva Cassidy and a bunch of other mainstream folk-rock. It needed to be surrounded by other Shins' songs because The Shins had, at least back in 2001, a very unusual but subtly brilliant sound - I needed to get used to the whole Shins sound before I could appreciate the individual songs.
Sea And Cake 1997
The Fawn

This is a relatively smooth and shiny album for these guys, who were just starting their electronic phase. It's still guitar based, but here and there, sythesizers hum in the background. But it's also a mellow and subdued set of songs. It reminds me of Stereolab's "Dots And Loops", which had come out the same year - shiny and slick, but pensive, a bit of ennui in the margins. Just the way I like it.
Andrew Bird 2005
Mysterious Production Of Eggs

As with The Shins, I first heard Bird on a sampler CD, didn't like his song in that context either, and eventually discovered him through other channels. I then realized he was responsible for that song ("Skin Is, My") on that sampler that I didn't like, and came to the same conclusion I did with The Shins - his sound is so unusual that it's off-putting to the unintiated when his songs are surrounded by more mainstream stuff. Perhaps I should avoid samplers? In any case, Bird is a genius and this is a fantastic album.
Pavement 1997
Brighten The Corners

It's taken a long time for me to get back to this album. It's always been a bit of a bummer because it feels like the beginning of Pavement's decline. The songs are less experimental, fewer chances taken, a little safe. But, when I was doing this list of Pavement songs, I realized I actually do like this album. No, it's no "Crooked Rain", but it'll do.
Smashing Pumpkins 1991

Their first album was their best. Before they got serious about themselves, before they fell apart. Yeah, a lot of the songs sound a lot alike, but it's a good sound! And Billy Corgan remains one of the great underrated guitar players; the solos here - multi-layered and probably painstakingly pieced-together - just blow me away.
Paul Simon 1972
Paul Simon
I just discovered this one a couple of years ago (thanks to Spoon's cover of "Peace Like A River"), and I'm still a bit surprised it took me so long; why this isn't as widely revered as other classics of the era puzzles me (eg. Joni Mitchell's "Blue", Neil Young's "Harvest", etc.). Simon's voice and guitar playing are fantastic, as are the songs themselves. It drops a few spots in The List this time, because I've overplayed it over the last three years. I still like it though!

Spoon, "Peace Like A River" NPR:

And here's the histogram, so far:

The List, 2010, #80-71

Round three! Six of the following are new to The List.

The Smiths 1984
Hatful Of Hollow

It took me a long time to really get into The Smiths: 25 years, in fact. My friends in college liked The Smiths, so I got to hear plenty of them; but they were always too foppish for my taste. A couple of years ago, though, I decided to give them another chance, and so I bought this. It's basically live versions of the songs on their first album, along with a couple of (at the time) new things: notably, "How Soon Is Now". Being live versions, (most Peel Sessions) most of the songs have a bit more kick than the versions on "The Smiths", which is why this album is here, and not that one.
The Doors 1967
Strange Days
I love the creepy slide guitar in "Moonlight Drive", and "When The Music's Over" is my favorite of all The Doors' epics.
Spoon 2002
Kill The Moonlight
It was the one right after "Girls Can Tell" - with which it has much in common - so I expected more sublime greatness. It falls just short. There are plenty of great songs here, though. It's solid start to finish, in fact. Definitely my 2nd-favorite Spoon record.
The Beatles 1964
Hard Day's Night

My favorite of their early records. It starts with that chord, and the next 16.5 minutes are solid classic early Beatles: "A Hard Day's Night", "I Should Have Known Better", "If I Fell", "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You", "And I Love Her", "Tell Me Why", "Can't Buy Me Love". And that's just side one. Until earlier this year, the songs on side two were unknown to me; and while they aren't as strong as the first side, many are strong enough that I wonder why I hadn't heard them before. I still haven't seen the movie.
Wilco 2007
Sky Blue Sky
It's a nice, mellow album. Good for driving around to. And excellent for close listening. Tweedy's songs are fantastic, and his lyrics are some of my favorite ever. For example, the stinging "Hate It Here": "I'll check the phone I’ll check the mail I’ll check the phone again and I call your mom She says you’re not there and I should take care"; and the cryptic and mellifluous "You Are My Face": "I remember my mother’s Sister’s husband’s brother Working in the goldmine full-time Filling in for sunshine". It's just fun to hear.
John Mayall 1966
Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton
I've had it forever, but for some reason, I've been listening to this one a lot lately. I guess it finally clicked with me. Clapton's playing sizzling, of course, but the songs themselves are fun. I'm not much of a blues guy, but I think I'll see if I can figure out where this stuff came from.
Rolling Stones 1971
Sticky Fingers

Yet another that I've only recently started listening to. A few years back, I got all the Stones' records at once, and I've been slowly making my way through them. In that context, this one was kindof easy to overlook; flip through the Stones' catalog and you'll find a litle clump of three records, all from a three-year time span, that are stuffed-full with classic-rock ™ Stones songs: "Beggars Banquet", "Let It Bleed", and "Sticky Fingers"; and up until recently, I only had the strength of will to get through the first two. But I have persevered and now I know "Sticky Fingers", too. It's a gritty and often dark record, much more so than any of their other records (at least of those I've really listened to so far). I still have to skip "Brown Sugar", but after that - good stuff.
The Breeders 1993
Last Splash

I could never get into Frank Black's post-Pixies stuff, but I really dig what Kim Deal has done. This wasn't their first, but this album was the first to catch my attention - and everyone else's too - with a most unlikely hit, the oddly fun "Cannonball". That's one great thing about The Breeders, no matter what they're playing, they always sound like they're having fun - and that's infectious.
The Breeders 1990

Two Breeders records in a row? Yep, that's how the computer ranked 'em, and this time round I'm not going to argue with the computer. But, even though I was a bit surprised to see it here, it makes sense. I do like "Pod" more than I like "Last Splash", but not a whole lot more. "Pod" is a very different record from "Last Splash"; it's a bit less accessible, a bit rougher, more experimental, it has Tanya Donnely (of Belly) and Britt Walford (of Slint, on drums), it has Beatles cover. And it's more like the albums that would follow "Last Splash".
Alison Krauss & Union Station 1992
Every Time You Say Goodbye

I've told this story a million times on this blog, but to me, this album is the soundtrack to our leaving upstate NY, one dreary late winter, and arriving in NC where the flowers were out, trees were blooming and the grass was green - the heart of Bluegrass country.

The Histogram tells the tale:

The List 2010, #70-61

Part the fourth!

Tortoise 1994
I had tickets to go see Tortoise, this past Monday. Was too sick to make it. That's probably OK, since I haven't liked much of what they've put out in the last 14 years. This album, though. Mmm Mmm post-rocky Good. It's a bit more song-oriented than the other Tortoise record on the list. A bit less like a big sound collage. Sounds more like a band playing these cool, jazzy, spacey instrumentals.
Neutral Milk Hotel 1998
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
I rarely listen to this any more. It's so strange, and often abrasive, that I rarely find myself in the mood. So, when I was assembling this list, I made myself listen to it again, to at least have it fresh in my head when it came time to do the sorting. And, so I gathered my courage, and I put it on, to see if I still liked it. I did. Having grown more familiar with Syd Barrett's music, over the last couple of years, this no longer seems as shockingly original as it once did. But, it's still mighty powerful.
The Sundays 1990
"Reading, Writing and Arithmetic"
This is one of the many suprising entries on this year's list - suprising to me anyway. I've always liked this record, and I've been playing it a lot recently. I just never realized how much I liked it, I guess. So, here it is! I really do love the sound of it - her voice, his guitar, the whole lazy, dreamy, thing. And, I love this guitar player's sound and style. For instance, listen to that second clip ("Joy"), and then listen to this (skip ahead to 2:15 or so):

I = Theef!
In my defense, it did take me 15 years to recognize where I got that guitar bit from. I didn't copy it consciously.
Rogue Wave 2005
Out Of The Shadow
It's a quirky little slightly-psychedelic folk rock record! It's very much in the same niche as The Shins' first (though tending more towards the acoustic), and it's kindof like what Modest Mouse used to sound like. Ah, the good old days... of five years ago.
The Colorblind James Experience 1987
The Colorblind James Experience

Imagine Frank Zappa took over a western NY wedding band, broke all their polkas and line-dances and country swing tunes into short jerky fragments which repeat over and over while the singer sings surreal lyrics in a pleasant deadpan. With vibes! I doubt I'd know anything about these guys, if I didn't go to school in Rochester, NY.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah 2005
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Here's another surprise. I do like this record, but I don't think it has earned such a high spot - I've only had this for a few months. Nevertheless, here it is! This band has somehow captured the essence of the Talking Heads without sounding a whole lot like them. It does take a bit to get used to the singer's lazy groan, but if you can manage that, it's a great record.
Cowboy Junkies 1996
Lay It Down

"That lonely, sinking feeling". This is probably the most somber of all the Junkies' records. It's like a 50 minute melancholy sigh.
The Cars 1978
The Cars

Everyone knows at least six of the nine songs on this one, and you can hear any of those six any time of the day, if you just flip through the channels.
The Doors 1967
The Doors

Even today, this sounds unique; nobody ever tried copying their sound. And even The Doors themselves couldn't manage to hold onto it for too long.

Relatedly, this is an abomination.

Big Star 1972
#1 Record
The first time I heard this band, or ever heard of this band was more than twenty years after this record was released - and I wasn't alone. A lot of people were introduced to them in the early 90's, during a kind of Big Star revival. Why such great songs would wallow in obscurity for so long remains a mystery.

And, the histogram:

The List, 2010, #60-51

Closing-out the top half of this year's List:

Big Star 1974
Radio City
Because I got this and "#1 Record" (a.k.a. #61, on this List) on the same CD, this is really just the last twelve songs on the disk, to me. These songs are a bit more squirrely, a bit less straight-ahead power-pop, than the first 12, but there's really not a big difference. It's the same blend of melodic mid-60's guitar pop and early 70's muscle all the way through.
Black Sabbath 1971
Master Of Reality
I've been a bit amazed to discover that in the nearly forty years it's been trying, metal never really improved on what Sabbath did, way back at the beginning of it all. Metal got faster, shinier, bigger and more athletic; but at heart, it's just a recycling of everything Sabbath invented and/or perfected in the early 70s. They totally defined the sound.
Green Day 1995
Took me a long time to get into this one, too. But, now that I no longer hang out with people who play in bands that were doing that punk/pop hybrid years before Green Day got famous for it, I can appreciate just how good at it Green Day was (and still is). It's a truly great collection of songs.
Van Halen 1979
Van Halen
So much energy. So much fun. And such a fantastic, meaty, growling guitar sound (and the actual playing! OMFG) sitting right up there in the front of the mix: star of the show, without a doubt. Only a brash showman like David Lee Roth would even try to share the spotlight with something like that - and he did a good job. Sadly, they never improved on this, their first 35 minutes. But there are a lot of good bands whose first album was their best. There's no shame.
Black Sabbath 1971
Beats "Master Of Reality" because it's slightly more diverse (see "Planet Caravan", first link), and because it contains "Iron Man", "Paranoid" and "War Pigs". Any one of those would've been enough to ensure their everlasting fame. All three is almost too much.
Pink Floyd 1975
Wish You Were Here
Basically: three long songs sandwiched between two giant book-matched slabs of electronoodley space-age stoner jam. The concept itself practically begs you to fire up the bong before you take the record out of its dust jacket.
Fleetwood Mac 1975
Fleetwood Mac
It's nearly as good as, and very similar to, "Rumours". You can almost match each song on this one up with its counterpart on "Rumours":
"Monday Morning" : "Second Hand News"
"Over My Head" : "You Make Loving Fun"
"World Turning" : "The Chain"
"Rhiannon" : "Gold Dust Woman"
"Rumours" has just a bit more intensity. That's really this album's only problem: it gets overshadowed by what came next.
Beastie Boys 1994
Ill Communication
One of those records I somehow keep forgetting how much I like, until I actually put it on. Then I'm all like "Oh My God, this shit is sick. It's off the hook like Moby Dick!" Cause the Beasties make me wanna swear, and drop hot pop-culture references, rhyme.
Jimi Hendrix 1967
Are You Experienced
"Purple Haze", "Manic Depression", "Hey Joe" - and those are just the first three songs. You also get "The Wind Cries Mary", "Fire", "Foxey Lady", "Are You Experienced", "Red House", and nine other songs - and half of those are great, too. While David Lee Roth had to really whoop it up to compete with Eddie Van Halen's guitar antics, Jimi did it all - and better.
Sonic Youth 1987
Sonic Youth started really concentrating on writing songs here. There aren't any epic guitar feedback collages here, and most of the tracks have some kind of standard song structure; and that alone makes it more accessible than all of their previous records - which isn't really a tough bar to get over. But, the songs really are as good as anything SY's ever written - sharp, focused, energetic, and good company on road trips. Unfortunately, it's also a muddy, murky-sounding record. The drums sound muffled and small, the guitars make a huge wall that only the vocals can really get over. I'd really like to hear this one get a good remastering.

The List, 2010, #50-41

It's all downhill from here!

Leon Redbone 1974
On The Track
I believe this one takes the prize for highest placement of a record that has never been on a List before. But, I've been playing the hell out of it in the past year or so, it's earned the spot. This was his debut album, and even in 1974, it was anachronistic. Playing old-timey folk music is one thing - there were lots of bands doing that, but playing straight-up vaudeville, Dixieland jazz, and pop hits of the 20s and 30s was (and still is) unique. And I love it.
ZZ Top 1973
Tres Hombres
Before they turned into twin Santas, before they adopted those goofy personas, they were a straightforward Texas blues band. And a good one, too.
The Beatles 1968
The Beatles (white album)
A monster record. So many songs (30!), it's almost too much. But there are so many good songs that the whole thing works despite its sprawling enormity. But I still only take it one album at a time - I never play all four sides in a row.
Sonic Youth 1988
Daydream Nation
It was my first, and remains my favorite, Sonic Youth record. It starts with my favorite SY song ("Teenage Riot" - a song about a world where J. Mascis, of Dinosaur Jr, is president). There's a coherence to it - the sound, the feel of the songs, their order - that makes me think there could be a theme to it all, but I've never figured it out, if there is. I'm usually not a big fan of the songs Kim sings, but on this one, they all work. It's a long album, and one that works best start to finish, so as is becoming far too typical, I don't play it much anymore. And that makes me forget how much I like it. But once in a while, I'll play it, and it all comes back.
Rolling Stones 1968
Beggars Banquet
As I go through the sorted list, to write these little blurbs, I usually play a few songs from the record, to refresh my memory. Right now, "Daydream Nation" is still playing and I can't believe I put "Beggars Banquet" ahead of it. Oh well! This is a good record, though, like most Stones' records from this era, I have to skip the first track ("Sympathy For The Devil", in this case) because it's been criminally overplayed. Still, the rest of the album is great, and is a constant in my car CD player.
Pixies 1987
Come On Pilgrim / Surfer Rosa
While some of their later records were pretty good, the Pixies first (first EP and first album) was their best. It's fresh, frantic and spaztic and sometimes it's funny. Even now, it sounds unique. Everybody copied their loud/soft tricks, but nobody ever came close to duplicating their playful, creepy, menacing giddyness. Joey Santiago is the guitar player I always wanted to be; Frank Black was a phenomenal song writer and front man; and Kim Deal is a certifiable rock goddess. And, can you think of a better song to play over the closing credits of "Fight Club" than "Where Is My Mind" (first link)? I can't. This one should be higher up.
White Stripes 2001
White Blood Cells
While it's not their debut, it was the first time I'd ever heard them. It's a bit of an oddball for them. It's a lot sweeter and a lot less bombastic (though there's still plenty of bombast). When this one came out, they hadn't yet become the Rock Stars™ that they are today, so there's a lot less Rock Star™ attitude. While it's full of great songs delivered with great energy, it still feels a little bit innocent - at least compared to everything that followed. And speaking of perfect songs for movies: "We're Going To Be Friends" for opening credits of "Napoleon Dynamite" was an inspired choice.
REM 1984
Oh REM. You were so good, and then somehow you got really big at the very same time you stopped being really good. How'd you manage that?
A Tribe Called Quest 1993
Midnight Marauders
Every time I do this list, I get to this record and I look at what surrounds it and I think to myself: what is this doing here? But, the answer is: I love it; it's just so good! The person who introduced this to me also introduced me to the Beastie Boys, and that was my only real exposure to hip-hop up till then. I was content to ignore it (as I am now). But this record, and The Beasties' early 90's output, seem to come from a much different place than all the other hip-hop I've heard since. The jazzy samples and sampling, the laid-back vocals: nobody does that anymore. Sadly.

On the other hand, I just (as in today) got around to checking-out De La Soul. Sounds promising. Oddly, "3 Feet High And Rising" is either out of print or so hard to find that Amazon has no new copies for sale; iTunes doesn't carry it. Bit Torrent does, however.

The Cure 1981
Seventeen Seconds
It's cold and bleak. The lyrics are murmured despair; at their most-positive, merely memories of hope. The hard and sterile drums, tempos that rarely exceed dirge, guitars thin and chorused, nothing but minor keys for miles. Totally fucking awesome.

The histogram is shaping up nicely (if you like Cisco).

The List 2010, #40-31

Joni Mitchell 1971
It's just her incredible flute of a voice and a variety of acoustic instruments: very sparse, compared to most of the other stuff I've heard from her - which is all far more orchestrated and smooth-jazz-ified, cluttered, fussed-over. But this is intimate and direct, and just about perfect.
Lilys 1994
A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns
The shortest record on the List, by far. It's a six song EP, where the last song is totally skippable and two of the remains songs are under 2:00 long - and one of those is titled "ycjcyaofrj". But it's about a perfect example you'll find of a certain kind of dreamy alt-pop that was around in the early 90s.
Led Zeppelin 1973
Houses Of The Holy
This might be their most tuneful and least bluesy record - it's got a reggae song ! It's certainly the one that tries least to sound like classic thumpy stompy Led Zeppelin - which isn't necessarily something that they needed to avoid!
Robyn Hitchcock 2004
Another mellow acoustic Hitchcock album ? Yep! But this features the unmistakable sound of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who joined Robyn for this one album. It's got a handful of ultra-catchy tunes, a bunch of not-so-catchy-but-still-awesome songs, and a decent batch of merely solid ones. Plus, like I mentioned: Gillian and David!
Gillian Welch 1996
Speaking of Gillian and David! This is their debut record, and it's got two songs she entered into Merlefest's new songwriter contest ("Orphan Girl", which was ignored and "Tear My Stillhouse Down", which won. As far as Gillian Welch records go, it's just OK. It sounds a bit like they were trying to temper their anachronistic deep woods sound with some softer, more modern, alt-country tunes. So, it's only good enough for the #36 spot.
REM 1987
Dead Letter Office
This is a B-sides and outtakes collection, so it's full of things they didn't think were good enough for official release. I think it's their best full-length record. It's a rough and sloppy and funny REM - one that's not afraid of doing a TV jingle, or covering an Aerosmith song, or forgetting the words to "King Of The Road". It doesn't sound like they're trying to convey any deep messages with these songs; they're just having fun. Refreshing.
Rolling Stones 1969
Let It Bleed
On this one, the overplayed must-skip is the last song ("You Can't Always Get What You Want"). And I could do without "Country Honk" (the countrified version of "Honky Tonk Woman"). But, the rest is rock-solid super-awesome number one.
Led Zeppelin 1975
Physical Graffiti
It's the first two sides that earn this one this spot - the harder, heavier, stomping, thumping sides. The other two sides have a lot of softer atmospheric things which rub me the wrong way. But those first two... man: "Custard Pie", "The Rover", "Houses Of The Holy", "In My Time Of Dying", "Kashmir" ? Stomperriffic.
Rolling Stones 1978
Some Girls
It's their last great record, and their biggest-selling. But unlike all the other Stones records on this list, I don't have to skip the really big songs: "Beast Of Burden", "Miss You" and "Shattered". I still like them! And that's why it's the highest-placing Stones record this time around.
The Cure 1981

This one is very similar to "Seventeen Seconds" (aka #41), and the two were actually released together as a double record in the UK. The mood and the sound of the two are nearl yidentical, and the only reason this one places higher is because I like the hit from this one ("Primary") better than the hit off the other ("A Forest"). Other than that, I consider them to be interterchangeable.

Tell me what you know, Mr Histogram:

The List 2010, #30-21

Elliott Smith 1998
He was the king of bittersweet-(or just bitter, sometimes)-but-beautiful pop songs, and this album is full of them. It's a bigger and richer album than his previous ones - with more of a full band sound and fewer numbers with just Smith and his guitar. And normally, I prefer records where the musician has abandoned the band, and is delivering the songs as minimally and directly as possible (ex. Robyn Hitckcock, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, etc.). But I think Smith's songs benefit from the added depth. His solo-acoustic stuff is a bit repetitive; he falls back on steady eighth-note strumming a bit too often, for my tastes - giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assume he's playing rhythm guitar behind a melodic lead that only he can hear. But with the band, all of those spots get filled in. And he, or his producer, was smart enough to not over-fill the arrangements. They're big enough to stay interesting, but not so big that they overrun the song. Plus, "Waltz #2" is the most tenacious earworm I've ever come across.
Liz Phair 1993
Exile In Guyville
This is yet anther of those that I'll go for years without listening to, maybe even thinking it probably wasn't as good as I remembered, that it was just a phase. But once I get around to listening to it again, I can't deny how great it is. The intervals between listens are getting longer, however. But, the strange song structures, the dissonance, the sharp, smart, dark and sarcastic lyrics, the spacey guitars - it was all odd then, and it's still odd today, but it's a smart and charming odd.
Nick Drake 1972
Pink Moon
Unlike many of the records here, this is a final album. He finally got tired of the strings and horns that had weighed-down his earlier records (an opinion we share), and, except for a single piano overdub on one song, did this one without accompaniment of any kind - and he recorded it in less than four hours. Sadly, he died of an overdose of anti-depressants before he could finish another record, so this was his last. It's dark, raw, melancholy but beautiful. It's just his sleepy voice, his incredible guitar playing, 11 haunted folk-ish songs, 28 minutes. What a way to go out.
Pink Floyd 1971
A relaxed and, at times, playful, record from Mr Floyd. It doesn't try to be big, as all subsequent Floyd records do. There's no central theme or concept tying it all together. It's just a bunch of nicely done Floyd songs - in which, you can hear the seeds of things that would show up on "Dark Side Of The Moon", sure. So, you can tell in hindsight where they were going. But, it's nice on its own. Ah.
My Bloody Valentine 1991
There's no theme here, either. It's just looped drums and a guitar haze with voices floating around inside it all. Well, that's not all it is. It's also loud with beautiful psychedelic melodies and sheets of screeching dissonance, and it's intentional - you can tell that there's nothing accidental about any of the noises swirling around inside this. This is a well-crafted, finely de-tuned, mess.
Peter Gabriel 1986
Now here's a nostalgic one. I don't know if I've listened to this all the way through in a decade. But, just hearing one or two of the songs is enough to remind me of 1986, and of how amazing this record was to me (and everyone else, it seemed), at the time. And how cool were the videos for "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" ?! Very cool, is how cool. Since I was really into King Crimson, at the time, it was also very cool for me hearing that distinct Tony Levin bass/stick sound in the bottom-end.
The Shins 2003
Chutes Too Narrow
Of all the The Shins records, this is the shortest, and the punchiest. It has their catchiest songs, and their fastest songs. It's their least-cluttered, and their sharpest. It's their best.
Pink Floyd 1977
This one is the sound of riding the Greyhound bus from Rochester to Albany, winter 1988, looking out the window, watching the Mohawk river slide by. Cold, dark, lonely.

Your mileage may vary.

Bob Dylan 1965
Highway 61 Revisited
It's wild and exuberant, swirling with Dylan's surreal free-association lyrics and spiked with Mike Bloomfield's raw electric guitar licks. Most of it sounds like a party.
Pink Floyd 1973
Dark Side Of The Moon
I started out thinking "The more I listen to this, the more I find myself liking the second side better because that's where most of the songs are." Then, I went to verify that, and realized that the sound collages - the clocks, airplanes, running, twiddling synthesizers, etc. - don't really take up much of the record. They're interstitial, intros, etc.. And they're only extraneous if you're thinking about the first side as a collection of separate songs, and not as parts of the great tapestry Pink Floyd wove them into. And if I was to discount the entire first side because it's not as song-oriented, I'd miss out on the actual songs: "Breathe", "Time", and perhaps my favorite Floyd song ever, "That Great Gig In The Sky". So, yes, side two is great - "Money", "Us And Them", "Brain Damage", etc. - but, so is side one. Maybe side one's even better.

Every histo tells a story, don't it:

The List 2010, #20-11

It's the next-to-last set in the 2010 List! So amazing.

REM 1982
Chronic Town
This is their first non-single release, but still just five songs. It's a cleaner, crisper sound than they went for on their first full-length album, "Murmur" (which always feels a bit lazy and hazy, to me). This is a bit of a rarity these days, since it's only available (in the US anyway) as an add-on to their "Dead Letter Office" collection.
Sea And Cake 1994
Sea And Cake
I started listening to this band when their second album, "Nassau" (1994), came out. And then I got into their third album. Then the fourth, fifth, etc.. It wasn't until they started releasing records that didn't do anything for me (2007 or so) that I went back and listened to this one, hoping it would be more like the S&C that I loved. It was. And it's been in my car CD player ever since. It's breezy, light, energetic jazzy post-rock. It is, actually, ideal for driving around, top down, aimlessly.
King Crimson 1981
Guitar god Adrian Belew had just finished stints with David Bowie and the Talking Heads when guitar god Robert Fripp (who had also worked with Bowie and the Heads) asked him to join Fripp's new band, "Discipline", along with bass ace Tony Levin and drummer Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, etc.). They quickly decided to drop the name "Discipline" and instead become the next incarnation of Fripp's longtime project, "King Crimson". And so it was. Deliciously, but not surprisingly, this album sounds a bit like a cross between the technical prog rock of Yes and the nervous new wave of the Talking Heads - a comparison made even easier by the fact that Belew's voice is easily mistaken for David Byrne's. But, regardless of the comparisons, the songs here are fantastic. The music is fiercely complex but still, somehow, remains accessible; and Belew's playful clever words are miles from the oft-overdone stuff that previous King Crimson lyricists came up with.
Gillian Welch 2001
"Time, The Revelator "
This is a primal record. No artifice or embellishment. Unadorned. Pure. As if Gillian and David walked to the top of an Appalachian mountain and pulled these songs right out of the soil, root and all. The sound is so authentic it's almost unbelievable that neither of them are actually from the south.
The Pretenders 1980
The Pretenders
This is the pinnacle of punk's first wave. You can have your Clash and your Sex Pistols; this blows them all away. Sweet and mean and rough and tender, melodic, raging, exuberant, pensive. It does everything. Perfectly.
Belly 1993
When Tanya Donnelly formed Belly, she combined the quirky melodic new-wave pop of her first band, Throwing Muses, with the playful experimentalism of her last band, The Breeders. The result was airy, dreamy, and fantastically catchy.
Talking Heads 1980
Remain In Light
This is a deeply groovy record, with a thick layer of Fela Kuti-style Afrobeat on the bottom. On top of that, funky guitars skitter across the rhythm, Adrian Belew's jungle-beast guitar screams and growls, and Byrne's wry-and-dry vocals and puzzling lyrics keep the whole thing weird. This was their apex. Everything before was set-up, and everything after denouement.
Cowboy Junkies 1988
The Trinity Session
Nobody has ever done slow-motion country blues quite like The Cowboy Junkies (though Mazzy Star gave it a good try), and this is purest example of how they do it. It's a fantastic collection of songs, and it sounds amazing. The empty church it was recorded in is present in every sound you hear - that big warm natural reverb and the sense of space it creates, the players' palpable restraint and deliberately low volumes as they try not to overpower each other while all playing into a single central microphone. It's not really billed as a "live" record, but it is. And according to me, it really deserves to be known as one of the best live recordings, ever.
The Cure 1986
Standing On A Beach
This is a bit of a special entry. It's included here not for the hit singles compilation - which is really good, actually, but I try not to include compilations on The List. Rather, this is here for the flip-side of the cassette version of the compilation. That's where they put all of their non-LP B-sides (and remains the only place you can find those songs in that grouping). And, though they were recorded separately over many years, the songs work as a group; they make a nice little album. Now admittedly, these songs are not the best songs The Cure ever did; a couple are pretty weak, but most are at least better than average. But what I like about this is the same thing I like about REM's "Dead Letter Office" (#35); the songs show the band trying different things, having fun, ending up strange places, sounding a bit different from the sound they went for on the official albums.
Fleetwood Mac 1977
Like The Cars' first, there are a half-dozen songs here that are still in constant rotation on the radio. It's one of those albums that overflows with fantastic songs - even my least favorite song here ("Oh Daddy") is good enough that the record as a whole benefits from its presence (something which can't be said about The Cars' first).

Behold the penultimate histogram!

The List, 2010, #10-1

And... here it is! The last installment of The List, 2010!

If you'd like to see the whole list, in order, click here. You can also see previous Lists using the links on the left-side nav bar.

Sea And Cake 1995
The Biz
Their third record: a bit more focused and brighter than their second record, "Nassau", and far more so than their debut. But it's also warmer and more relaxed than either of those: languid. Sadly, it's also the last of their early-sound records. After this, they started their electronic period, which had them sometimes sounding more like Stereolab than the little scrappy jazzy rock band that I love.
Pavement 1992
Slanted and Enchanted
When this came out, in 92, it came right out of the blue. It was like nothing else anybody had heard (because almost nobody knew about their earlier stuff, yet). The dueling discordant guitars were an early-90's staple, sure, but the discord wasn't an end in itself, as it could be with other bands. Instead, the discordant parts were texture; and what you really noticed was the incredibly catchy tunes and Malkmus' offhand delivery of his clever but frustratingly opaque lyrics. In the 18 years it's been out, I've spent a lot of time trying to make sense these songs (both musically and lyrically); but I never get anywhere. Whatever they're doing defies my attempts at analysis, when I step back and think about it. I love it, but I barely know what it's about.
Gillian Welch 1998
Hell Among The Yearlings
This is their darkest record, full of old-timey murder ballads and minor-key songs about addiction and death. But it doesn't feel gloomy, nor maudlin, to me; rather, it feels raw and a bit wicked, dark and primitive. It beats "Revelator" only because the songs are shorter and so the record feels more concise.
Robyn Hitchcock 1998
Storefront Hitchcock
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The versions of "Glass Hotel", "No, I Don't Remember Guildford", "The Yip! Song", "The Wind Cries Mary" on this record are four of my all-time favorites Hitchcock recordings - all of them easily make the top 10 (top 6, maybe). The rest of the record is pretty good, too; and the movie they all come from is even better. It's pretty much the ideal Robyn Hitchcock record, for me - mostly solo, mostly acoustic, full of strong songs, with just enough of his between-song stream-of-consciousness banter to remind you of his live shows, but not so much that it distracts.
Pavement 1994
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Instead of trying to out-strange their wonderfully-strange previous record, "Slanted and Enchanted", they decided to make an album full of nearly-conventional songs. They ditched some of that buzzing discord and replaced it with hooks and melody and clean open space. Looking back, it's clear that they were still miles from mainstream; but when this came out, my friends and I all felt like this was going to turn them into household names. The songs just seemed so obviously perfect (and mostly, they still do), there was no way this wasn't going to take off the way Nirvana did. We felt the same way about Belly and Mudhoney, and all of our own bands, too. Ah, youth.
Miles Davis 1959
Kind Of Blue
I have a lot of jazz records, 18 from Miles Davis alone, but this one is the only one that made the cut this time. And obviously it made the cut in a big way! And it's the only album about which I've read a book. It was the second jazz record I ever bought, and I've gone on to buy records from almost everyone who played on this. But, this one remains my favorite. Coltrane on his own can be too frantic. Bill Evans on his own can be too introspective. Adderley's stuff is fine, but doesn't really knock me out. Davis has a thousand moods, and some I like quite a lot; but this one is my favorite. I've searched high and low for something as good, but with jazz, it appears I started with the best.
Led Zeppelin 1969
The only thing that could make this better (though it wouldn't place any higher) is if it didn't have "Moby Dick". Other than that, this is a 100% solid, top to bottom, back to front, in to out, record. Oh sure, "Whole Lotta Love" is cheesy, when you think about it; but it's fucking kick-ass when you hear it. "Heartbreaker" and "Living Loving Maid", "Ramble On" and "What Is And What Should Never Be" ah... pure rock joy.
The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road
This is another of those records which are best listened to start-to-finish. The side-two medley works best as a single unit, of course; but the way the tracks on side one are sequenced, the way they flow together, is remarkable too. Easily, the whole is better than the sum of the parts, and yet the parts themselves are spectacular. For example, "Something" - a song Frank Sinatra called "the greatest love song ever written".
Sea And Cake 1994
This is their second record, and came out a little less than a year after their first; but they grew a lot in that time. Their first record, while a favorite (#19), seems a bit unfinished; some of the songs feel like they maybe just reached the "good enough" stage before they were committed to tape. By comparison, this seems deliberate and confident; the songs are much more complexly-structured and fully-developed - they worked on these songs. Which is not to say they're stiff, far from it; it's a fairly relaxed and mellow record, with lots of their trademark breezy jazz-ish experimentalism. But, this one does have touches of the coolly-detached sound of the early Tortoise records (the bands share a drummer); and that gives some of the songs a slightly darker, harder feel.

One of my favorite bits happens about halfway through "The World Is Against You", when Archer Prewitt comes in with a guitar lead that sounds like a jet engine winding up at the end of the runway (I think it's an e-bow and a ton of distortion); and he keep it going all the way to the end, only loosely following the song's melody - mostly skipping over the top of it. It's the kind of guitar part that made The Sea And Cake the band I always wanted to emulate. Never could find anyone else who felt that way, though.

Spoon 2001
Girls Can Tell
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This was #1 last time around, too.

The more records Spoon puts out, the more I realize how much I like this one. There are good songs, even great songs, on their subsequent albums, but overall, I think there's something missing. What's missing is tension. Since this record, Spoon's songs have become more brash, loud, and sometimes a bit cocky. Daniels shouts more, the drums are harder, guitars are louder. On this album, though, the vocals and volume are generally restrained, and so many of the songs (and all of the best songs) feel tentative; as if they're being held back. This restraint, combined with Spoon's trademark sparse arrangements and many of the songs' minor keys, creates loads of tension. These days, there's very little of that - the songs are still spare, but they come out more jagged than taut. Which is, I guess, a way of saying that whoever produced this record got it right - Spoon needs restraint, not volume.

And, the final histogram:

Some more stats:

Mean 1985.47

Median 1987.5

Mode 1994

Minimum 1959

Maximum 2007

(These are words with an "M" this time)

Note the bimodal distribution in the histogram. I've been thinking about that, ever since I did the first of these Lists, in 04. I'll tell you all my theory about it, someday.

I think I'm also going to do an Honorable Mention segment, next week, for all those records that didn't make the cut, but I felt probably should have.