2012 Favorite Records List. 60-51

Let’s close out the top half.

It’s finally starting to feel like a real list, as if things are finally falling in the right place. This doubt happens every time I do this. Perhaps next time around, I should only do 50… or dump 100-51 as an unranked blob. Something.

What will probably happen is I’ll come up with yet another way to do the sorting and will trust that to give the right result – until I see it.

60
Yo La Tengo 1995
Electr-O-Pura
Score: 444 W/L/T: 11 / 10 / 2
This is the last of YLT’s truly guitar-centered records. After this, their sound started to be dominated by keyboards. It’s pure coincidence that this is also the first one I bought. I wonder if I’d feel differently if “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” was my first…

Whatever the reason, it remains my favorite, by far. “Tom Courtenay”, a song vaguely about 60’s British cinema icons, is a noisy pop gem; “Decora” (FYI, Spoon’s cover), and “My Heart’s Reflection” are hypnotic slow-burners; “Blue Line Swinger” is one riff, building, building, building, for nine minutes, as only YLT can do it.

59
Tortoise 1994
Tortoise
Score: 452 W/L/T: 23 / 19 / 16
Their debut.

They’re another ‘post-rock’ band. So, their music is jazzy, experimental, introspective, essentially instrumental, but still, somehow, engaging. This seemed like it had to have come from another world, when it showed up. It was nothing like the rest of the indie music scene, which was still wallowing in the big dumb loud of the grunge years. This felt so clean and defiantly intelligent. Two bassists and three percussionists – vibraphones and marimbas, fer fuck’s sake! And even though Radiohead has managed to popularize something like this sound, this still sounds unique.

I think they’re still going, but I haven’t paid attention to them in years. After this, their records became progressively less interesting to me, and I eventually stopped buying them – though I do like their second record, “Millions now living…”.

58
Nick Drake 1972
Pink Moon
Score: 456 W/L/T: 31 / 18 / 5
His first two albums were big and fluffy, overburdened with ugly 70’s strings and horns. They covered his pretty songs in so much avacado green and mellow harvest gold frippery that I can’t even listen to them. But this record, all twenty-eight minutes, is stripped to the bone. Just Drake’s pleasant mumbly vocals and his lovely guitar playing.
57
Rolling Stones 1968
Beggars Banquet
Score: 457 W/L/T: 21 / 21 / 7
The first of their golden era records (though this is with Brian Jones, not Mick Taylor), when they abandoned psychedelia and went for the southern US country/blues sound. I usually skip “Sympathy…” – no need to hear that again. But the rest of the album is great – even “Dear Doctor”, which I swear has to be the inspiration for the voice South Park’s Mr. Hankey.
56
The Cars 1978
The Cars
Score: 470 W/L/T: 27 / 19 / 15
“Good Times Roll”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Just What I Needed”: those are merely the first three songs. You also get “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, “Bye Bye Love” (my favorite, because it wasn’t overplayed) and “Moving in Stereo” (and all of its associated memories), plus three others! Now that’s a debut!

Elliot Easton is another underrated guitar player. His solos are great: amazingly quick and fluid, but so very melodic. And Benjamin Orr was a great singer (though because he and Ocasek have similar styles and inflections, a lot of people don’t know he sang at all).

55
Leon Redbone 1974
On The Track
Score: 475 W/L/T: 45 / 14 / 13
Imagine if Thom Yorke discovered a guy in a nightclub who was doing faithful, non-ironic versions of 1970s pop songs. Like maybe he was doing songs from Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. He dressed the part: bell bottom jeans, giant beard, fringed leather jacket. Never stepped out of character. And he did the songs well, and so looked the part, you’d swear he had arrived here via time-machine. Would anyone care? Would that be interesting?

Well, because we’re not in the middle of a 70s music revival – there’s no need to revive 70s pop since it never went away – no, it wouldn’t be interesting. You can probably find a station anywhere in the country that’s playing that stuff right now, and if you can’t, there’s probably someone in every other dockside bar, up and down both coasts, playing that stuff. But when Bob Dylan discovered Leon Redbone, in 1975, in a nightclub who was doing faithful, non-ironic, versions of songs from the 30s, it was interesting, and the country wanted to hear it.

Or something. Whatever the reason, the guy’s a genius. Watch that video. Check out his ‘trumpet’ playing. He’s also a fantastic whistler. And this is a great album. His other records are basically more of the same (wonderfully done versions of songs from the 20s and 30s), but this one has the best songs.

54
The Cure 1986
Standing On A Beach
Score: 479 W/L/T: 37 / 9 / 17
As always, this is strictly for the back side of the cassette release: the collection of B-sides from the singles on the front side. These days, you can only get these songs on the Cure’s outtakes and rarities box set (four CDs worth!). So, I’ve assembled them into a playlist which duplicates the cassette sequence.

They span the band’s early to middle period, stopping in the Head On The Door era. But they’re still feel somehow more coherent than the A-sides do. You can definitely hear the changes in style, over the years, in the A-sides; but the B-sides don’t seem to follow. They have their own sound: a little silly, a little daring, a little experimental. Together, they feel like they make up a proper album, but from a time I can’t pinpoint.

53
Big Star 1972
#1 Record
Score: 480 W/L/T: 25 / 21 / 9
It’s like they appeared out of nowhere, in the early 90s. Somehow, they went 20 years without anyone knowing about them. Then, suddenly everyone (everyone cool, that is) knew about them. Ahead of their time, I guess. Better late than never.

And this is a great album, start to finish (so long as you skip “The India Song”). Alex Chilton’s rough edges and Chris Bell’s sweetness combined to create the best power-pop since Lennon & McCartney. Too bad the partnership only lasted for this single album.

52
Paul Simon 1972
Paul Simon
Score: 482 W/L/T: 32 / 9 / 9
I still can’t get over Simon’s voice: so, smooth, so relaxed. Doesn’t matter what he’s singing, it always sounds great. He’s a hell of a songwriter, too. I prefer this one over his later stuff because, even though he was a seasoned professional by the time he released this, there’s a kind of innocent simplicity and directness here that really suits his confessional style. There’s less production in the way.

Fun fact: Whitney Houston’s mother does backups on “Mother and Child Reunion”. And, I can’t think of any other album that mentions “chowder” and “chow fun”; and “Mother and Child Reunion” is the name of a dish Simon saw on a Chinese menu (a chicken and egg dish). It’s another record I like to cook to.

51
Pink Floyd 1971
Meddle
Score: 483 W/L/T: 23 / 37 / 8
“Fearless” is a great song. “One Of These Days” has that killer bass. “Pillow Of Winds” is nice. “San Tropez” doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd at all. “Seamus” is about a dog. I sometimes don’t make it through the 23 minute “Echoes”, but sometimes I do. And it’s a nice listen either way.

PF’s third appearance ? Hmm.