2016 – Favorite Records 20 – 11

Forward, forward, forward!

20
Gillian Welch 1998
Hell Among The Yearlings
Score: 658 W/L/T: 12 / 3 / 0
Consider the titles: “The Devil Had A Hold Of Me”, “My Morphine”, “I’m Not Afraid To Die”, “Whiskey Girl”. Consider “One Morning” (linked above), which tells, in four short stanzas, the story of a mother who sees a horse bring the bloody corpse of her son back to her home. Consider “Caleb Meyer” and the eponymous rapist who gets his throat slit in the act. These are not party songs. They’re awesome songs nonetheless.
19
Leon Redbone 1974
On The Track
Score: 659 W/L/T: 11 / 4 / 2
Songs from Irving Berlin, Jimmie Rodgers, Fats Waller, Burl Ives, Hoagy Carmichael and other legends of the Great American Songbook, sung by a mysterious Canadian who dresses in Vaudeville clothes and has a lower register like a bullfrog. What’s not to love?
18
Led Zeppelin 1969
II
Score: 662 W/L/T: 10 / 7 / 0
Their scrappiest, hardest-rocking record. Plus, Gollumm!
17
Pavement 1992
Slanted and Enchanted
Score: 677 W/L/T: 14 / 6 / 1
I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I like the explanations I come up with. I don’t know why that one guitar ignores the beat and the melody, but I like the way it sits in the song. I like the way the drums sometimes step up and become almost a lead instrument, Keith Moon-style. I like how the producer takes the band’s unusual approach to melody, rhythm and arrangement, lets all the chaos run free, but tweaks the presentation just enough to show off the simple heart of every song.
16
The Doors 1967
The Doors
Score: 680 W/L/T: 13 / 3 / 1
A totally unique sound from four totally unique musicians (with help from the uncredited bass player, Larry Knechtel). Even the two covers sound like they could’ve been originals. Though I had other records before this (random hand-me-downs and kids’ records), this is the first record that I remember deliberately seeking out. And because I wouldn’t stop using my father’s turntable to listen to it, he bought me my first stereo.
15
Spoon 2001
Girls Can Tell
Score: 680 W/L/T: 9 / 2 / 3
It reminds me of the late 70s, early 80s Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Squeeze era. The songs are bare-bones, but still well crafted; the lyrics are fun, and there’s plenty of attitude.
I’m pretty well shocked that this wasn’t in the top 5, since it was #1 the last three times. I question the algorithm.
14
The Pretenders 1980
The Pretenders
Score: 696 W/L/T: 11 / 5 / 3
The Doors, The Cars, Van Halen, The Pretenders : perfect self-titled debut records. And the key to this one is Chrissie Hynde. As much as I love the rest of the band (James Honeyman-Scott was my first guitar hero!), it’s Hynde’s show. Her voice is fantastic. Her songwriting is brilliant. Her lyrics are smart, tough and tender. I even love the song sequencing. The huge hit, “Brass In Pocket”, surprisingly shows up not in the standard single spot (#2), but way out in the middle of the second side (track #10, in the modern era). “Finally! There it is. Ahh,” I think. And that’s followed by the long, slow “Lovers Of Today” which ebbs and flows then builds, and then fades away. And as it’s fading out, the band has just switched to a new part of the song, Hynde has started a new vocal melody, the lyrics are going somewhere else, there’s more to the song… but then it’s gone. It’s as if my time as a listener has run out. Even though they’re going to keep playing, they’re closing the door on me. And so that feels like it should be the end of the record. Every time I hear it, I think “And that’s all I get…” But then that driving snare & bass intro of “Mystery Achievement” starts up and I know that I’m just seconds away from that incredible chorus! Yay!
13
Big Star 1972
#1 Record
Score: 716 W/L/T: 13 / 4 / 3
Another debut. And what a gorgeous, shimmering, melodic, rocking critical success and commercial failure. I hope they made some money when the world finally discovered this, 20 years after its release.
12
ZZ Top 1973
Tres Hombres
Score: 723 W/L/T: 12 / 2 / 4
Such a groovy record. Billy Gibbons is such a bad ass bluesy guitar player with a bunch of killer sounds; plus he’s an oddly charismatic singer. And Frank Beard is a great but underrated drummer. I love the lick he uses to start the bars of the verse in “Waitin For The Bus” (linked above); it jumps the song ahead but immediately slows it back down when that hi-hat meets up with Gibbon’s lick each time through. Pulsating.
11
Talking Heads 1980
Remain In Light
Score: 724 W/L/T: 14 / 3 / 4
Eno and the Heads went on a long trip to the Caribbean and jammed their heads full of reggae and Fela Kuti. They improvised a bunch of things, cut them up, picked out what they liked, stitched them back together and then asked Belew to do some guitar stuff on top. And then Byrne wrote the words. And it sounds like it came from the future, still.