Category Archives: The List 06

The List, 2006, #10-1

OMG OMG. The interesting part! Spanning five decades, it's the final, the pinnacle, the peak, the top ten!

10. Liz Phair : Exile In Guyville (1993)

Woah! Is that a nipple on the cover ?? Smart, biting, brutal and clever. She avoids verse-chorus-verse for most all of the songs, yet they don't feel academic or studied. She sounds so sure of what she has to say that she doesn't need to rely on the traditional framework to structure and focus her thoughts - just wail on that top string until she's said what she has to say, the lyrics hold it all together.

9. Beatles : Abbey Road (1969)

It's got George Harrison's finest song, Something, Lennon's classic Come Together, McCartney's awesome Oh! Darling . Even Ringo's songwriting contribution, Octopus's Garden, is a classic. There are a lot of great singles here, but there are also a lot of odd bits thrown between them - and even though those bits don't always work so well on their own (Mean Mr Mustard, Sun King), in context, they all work to form a fantastic whole.

8. Pink Floyd : Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

It's such a cliche, I know. And it'd be nice if we could get classic rock DJs playlist programmers to agree to not play it for a year. But when the mood is right, and I can listen to it with a clear head, this is still an awe-inspiring piece of work. And, even though the album works so well as a whole, songs like Money and Us And Them are truly great all by themselves - and that's a pretty big feat all by itself.

7. Miles Davis : Kind Of Blue (1959)

Technically these guys are way out there, but you can listen to it and enjoy it as dinner music without a second's worth of analysis. Or, you can close your eyes and pay full attention; you could probably close your eyes and listen to it at dinner, too - it works any way you want to approach it. I have a bunch of records from Bill Evans and John Coltrane (separately), but I've never enjoyed either of them as much as I do here - they're each focused and restrained instead of indulgent. It's the oldest record on this list, but it's timeless. It's considered by some to be the pinnacle of jazz; I have no reason to argue. My sentences don't talk to their neighbors.

6. Neutral Milk Hotel : In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998)

Anachronistic, twisted folk songs - sortof. Some of the songs are just acoustic guitar and vocals, but the rest is full of creaky horns, organs, accordions, singing saw, zanzithophone, and fuzzed guitars and give the whole thing a rollicking, drunken, 19th century carnival band feel; Jeff Mangum's lyrics are wildly imaginative, dark, sometimes disturbing, and nearly impenetrable at times. Yet even when I can't follow exactly what he's singing about, his words are packed with such vivid images and poingant little sketches that I can enjoy them as a slideshow set to music. I can work out stories to fit most of the songs if I'm willing to use a little imagination to patch up the huge leaps in time and place he makes here and there. And there are certain themes and images (childhood, ghosts, war, sex, rings, being naked in the dark) that recur throughout the songs, tying them all together, somehow, even if their precise meanings escape me. That sounds like what someone would say about Bob Dylan, I guess; and I wouldn't be the first person to compare the two, if I did. And like Dylan, the vocals are just unusual enough to turn some people off. But this isn't a Dylan rip-off, this is something great all it's own. And it's such a unique and unusual album (though their previous album is a definite warm-up for this), and so intense and imaginative, that I don't feel shy about calling it genius. I think The Decembrists might agree.

5. Sonic Youth : Daydream Nation (1988)

It was my first Sonic Youth record. I remember the store where I bought it, but not the city. The plastic of the CD jewel case has a particular smell that I haven't found anywhere else. Because it's clear plastic, the little fingers on the tray that hold the CD in place are all missing. It has paintings of candles on the front and inside sleeves. I remember the first time I played it, my roommate and I weren't sure what to make of it - we'd never heard anything like it. It certainly rocked, at times, but the guitars made strange, grinding, buzzing, chiming sounds, and we couldn't tell what the lyrics were about - something grimy and urban maybe. We were pretty sure they weren't the important part. Some songs were abrasive and furious, other parts were strangely beautiful - and delicate instrumental breaks where guitars soared and swarmed were everywhere. It starts with the gigantic epic about Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Riot, with that beautiful opening part and then that fantastic guitar line that they play over and over and over. It ends with Eliminator Jr., which takes a riff from some Bizzaro World ZZ Top and turns it into a furious hand-banging punk stomper. The record is long, deep, and wide. Fantastic songs are everywhere. Even Kim's songs are good. It's everything that makes Sonic Youth worth listening to. They'd never get close to this again.

4. My Bloody Valentine : Loveless (1991)

A beautiful swirling whorl of guitars, drum loops and indecipherable vocals. I can still close my eyes, listen to this thing beginning to end, and end up amazed. It's a carefully constructed simulation of chaos. I first thought it sounded like Guitar Effects Gone Wild, but eventually noticed that the layers of sounds work too well together to be random: the noise is actually sculpted, posed, and arranged. It's not sloppy. It's impressionistic, abstract.

3. The Pretenders : The Pretenders (1980)

My mother had this record, and MTV played the hell out of the videos for Tattooed Love Boys and Brass In Pocket, so this was old news by the time I finally got around to buying a copy of my own, just a few years ago. But, somehow, in the 20+ years since I last heard it, it's only grown better. It tears the place up; it gets all sexy; it jumps around and sings nonsense; it makes rocking-out in 15/16 sound natural; it throws endless hooks at you and makes you wonder why it isn't near the top of everybody's list. Even the fact that Brass In Pocket is worn smooth isn't a problem - since it sits way out there at the end of the record; you get to enjoy 9 other songs before deciding to skip to the equally-great, but overshadowed, Mystery Achievement - or not.

2. Pavement : Slanted and Enchanted (1992)

On the other hand, this is sloppy, yet intricate, too. It's clever and absurd, half-assed but brilliant, strangely-structured, with hooks everywhere. Most of the lyrics are completely opaque, but at the same time clever: a giant collage of beautifully rendered but only distantly-related images. I know all the words, but still can't remember half the song titles.

And finally, topping the list this time 'round...

1. Talking Heads : Remain In Light (1980)

The first five songs are funky, multilayered and dense - even after 26 years of listening, I can still find new instruments sneaking around here and there in the mix. They're propulsive - even though I'm a committed non-dancer, I can't help but get all stirred-up by them - my foot, she taps! And while the last three songs maintain the density, they turn the tempo down down down, until the last song is finally just a slow drone: "a gentle collapsing / a removal of the inside". All throughout, Adrian Belew's guest guitar shrieks and groans; Byrne's lyrics are paranoid and confused; and up until the last couple of songs, the rhythm section works double-time to make sure no beat goes un-accented. It's one of those records that I love to hear end-to-end in headphones, and it just seems to get better every year.

And that's that. There was a fierce battle for position in the top 10. Every time I looked at it, I found a reason to move something (and it usually involved The Pretenders getting closer to the top). But, the deadline is here, so this is the order I'm going to have to live with. I'm sure you'll all agree that it is, in fact, the optimal ordering.

And, another hat-tip to Paige at Flux-Rad for the inspiration.

But, wait! This isn't geeky enough yet. So...

A little Excel-fu gives me the following exciting statistics:

Mean year of release 1984
Median 1987
Mode 1987
Range 45 years
Earliest 1959
Latest 2004

And here's a histogram of number of entries per five-year period:

Now that's geeky,

You can see them all, here. And for reference, here's the 2004 list (all in one list, no comments).

The List, 2006, #20-11

The teens! Almost done.

20. Pixies : Surfer Rosa / Come On Pilgrim (1987/88)

Two at once? Yeah, they always felt like they should be combined into one record, to me. My second year of college, a new kid moved into the dorm room across the hall from mine. He would play these two Friday nights, while my friends wanted to hear Meat Loaf and the Violent Femmes. He was cooler than we were. I had a copy of the Pixies' "Doolittle", so I knew the Pixies. But this stuff was more direct and raw. I just love Joey Santiago's biting, angular guitar playing, and Kim Deal's voice. I love the kick-the-reverb break in Vamos (both versions). And I thought Where Is My Mind? was an inspired choice to use for the closing credits of "Fight Club".

19. Joni Mitchell : Blue (1971)

I first heard this just four or five years ago. Up until then, I know knew Joni Mitchell from Big Yellow Taxi (a.k.a. "They Paved Paradise") and Help Me. But I bought it anyway, not knowing what to expect. Wow. It's intense and personal, sad, gleeful, funny, pensive. The songs are almost uniformly fantastic. Her voice is amazing, the lyrics are brilliant. It's a shame I haven't found anything else by her that comes close; "Court And Spark" sounds soooo 1974.

18. Sea And Cake : Nassau (1994)

1994: grunge was over; metal had ceased to please; old standbys REM, The Cure, and Sonic Youth were well into their declines. Joe played this for me and all was better. I think the official label for this is "post-rock": a sleek modern sound, influenced by jazz and electronica - though there isn't much, if any, electronica on this record (that came later). After a long stretch of music where noise, feedback, and sloppiness were the rule, I was struck by the clean, restrained, sophisticated vibe these guys were putting out. It wasn't pretentious or studied - just, I dunno, deliberate. I decided if I could be in any band, it would be the Sea And Cake.

17. Spoon : Girls Can Tell (2001)

Pitchfork Media once described Spoon's songs as sounding "half-finished"; and there's a lot of truth in that. A lot of their songs are arranged in ways that leave huge open spaces in the sound - places where many bands would put another guitar, or some strings, or horns or something to add another layer to the sound - but not Spoon. Spoon puts out songs that are uncluttered to the point of sparse, and the magic happens when that less-is-more aesthetic hooks up with a song like Anything You Want, The Fitted Shirt, or Everything Hits At Once; you get a perfect little rock song built with the absolute minimum amount of materials. All the moving parts are visible and you're left to marvel at how well they work together. It doesn't work all the time, but on this album, the misses are far outnumbered by the hits. I simply can not drive to the beach without hearing this album. It will always remind me of NC 70E between Goldsboro and Beaufort.

16. REM : Reckoning (1984)

Great songs all the way through. I don't remember when I first heard this (some time after 1986, definitely), but I know it's always sounded warm, worn-in, and comfortable, like an old coat. Timeless. Like Pavement's Malkmus sings, Time After Time is my least favorite song on the record, though it's still not bad.

15. Pavement : Crooked Rain Crooked Rain (1994)

While it's their most accessible record, it's still miles from the mainstream. It's as catchy and hooky as anything can be, while still strange enough to avoid widepsread popularity. In other words, it's perfect. The melodies are fantastic and the way they can make a song out of what sometimes sounds like three people playing three different songs is always amazing to me. Malkmus' lyrics are brilliantly absurd - most of the time you can tell what he's singing about in only a general sense - much like REM's Michael Stipe. But still, the last verse in Gold Soundz inexplicably chokes me up every time I hear it.

14. Big Star : #1 Record (1972)

Except for the India Song (which I've completely deleted from iTunes, it offends me so), this is a 100% solid 70's power-pop classic: sparkling, chiming guitars and fantastic melodies in the service of strong songs. It probably doesn't hurt my opinion of it that I discovered this at the same time I was playing in a band that conicidentally was trying to do the same kind of stuff.

13. Fleetwood Mac : Rumors (1977)

So many great songs. Lindsay Buckingham's inventive guitar playing is always a joy; all the vocalists are great. How many bands can boast three great lead singers? (The Beatles and ...?) How can anyone not like this?

12. Led Zeppelin : II (1969)

It's the most straightforward rocker of all their records. It just rocks. There aren't any mandolin or banjo songs, just a handful of ripped-off, ripped-up blues songs and Zeppelin classics like Whole Lotta Love and Ramble On. I mean, come on, seriously, who among us can deny the joys of Heartbreaker / Living Loving Maid: "With a purple umbrella and a fifty cent hat" ? While the drum solo part of Moby Dick, annoys me, rest of the record is so fucking great I can excuse it. I remember hearing this in my friend's huge old Delta 88, while we were on our way to the country side, to go hunting; the car had a blown speaker in the dash, so in the break in What Is And What Should Never Be, when Page's guitar is ping-ponging back and forth between the left and right channels, we could only hear every other one. We had to add the missing bits vocally - very Wayne's World. Later that day, after wandering around in the woods for a few hours, we came up to a stand of picnic tables. A Sheriff and a park ranger were waiting there, ready to arrest us - we'd wandered into a State park. No hunting allowed in the picnic area.

11. Pink Floyd : Wish You Were Here (1975)

I went a long time before buying a copy of this. Why bother? I could hear 90% of it by just turning on any Classic Rock station for a day. But, it's one thing to hear the songs out of context, and another to hear them in situ (Latin adds a touch of authority, no?)

Tune in Friday, when I finish this silly thing.

The List, 2006, #30-21

Things are getting hectic. Lots of last-minute shuffling of these final 30. Second-guessing is the rule - and, by coincidence, REM's Second Guessing just finished playing.

30. Nirvana : Nevermind (1991)

Yeah, it blew the lid off the "alternative" box, back in 1991, and all kinds of great stuff swarmed onto the popular music scene after this record (The Flaming Lips on 90210!). But, ten years passed, and now the interesting stuff is all back underground again. These days is seems like Nirvana's only lasting effect on popular music was to open the door for bands that sound exactly like Nirvana and Alice In Chains. Maybe it's simply that the Vaselines, the Meat Puppets and Mudhoney really were too unusual to make it big, and those of us who thought that Nirvana' success represented any kind of sweeping revolution in popular music were just kidding ourselves. Still, a great record.

29. Led Zeppelin : Houses Of The Holy (1973)

When I discovered this (in my stepfather's record collection), I thought I'd stumbled onto some rare and secret treasure. At the time (10th grade, 1986), none of my friends liked Zeppelin except for IV (the Stairway album). But this was better, or at least fresh to my ears. I'd heard a bunch of these songs on the radio, of course, but they weren't as ubiquitous as Stairway and stuff from Led Zep. II - and the stuff on here that I hadn't heard before was awesome. I still prefer it over IV.

28. Gillian Welch : Hell Among The Yearlings (1998)

I love heavy, minor-key, old-time country songs; and this album is full of them: Caleb Meyer, One Morning, Rock Of Ages, The Devil Had Ahold Of Me, etc.. There's a lot of darkness, fire, and brimstone on this record. And it's delivered with such intensity that it sends chills up my spine every time I hear it.

27. The Cure : Disintegration. (1989)

After the great but sprawling "Kiss Me...", this album feels monolithic - as if carved from one giant boulder - a big sad boulder. It's cohesive, focused, dark (of course), and grand, epic. It came out the same time I was breaking up with my high school girlfriend, so all those bittersweet love songs grabbed me more than they would have otherwise. But even without that, it's a fantastic way to mark the end of the good part of The Cure's output.

26. Fleetwood Mac : Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Rumours beats this for best Fleetwood Mac album by a mere nose, but this puts up a good fight. Even Rumours needs to pull out all the stops to best a record with these classics: Monday Morning, Blue Letter, Rhiannon, Over My Head, Say You Love Me, and Landslide.

25. Cowboy Junkies : The Trinity Sessions (1988)

I'm always a sucker for stripped-down melancholy. This is the perfect Cowboy Junkies record. It has all those classics reworked into that unmistakable Junkies style (Blue Moon, Walkin After Midnight, Dreaming My Dreams With You); it has their version of Sweet Jane, and all those great originals. Recorded on a single microphone, in a church, everything is slowed-down and stripped, and Margot Timmins sounds like she's standing in front of you, singing with that hypnotic, sometimes whispering, always cool, voice of her's. A gorgeous piece of work.

24. Elliott Smith : XO (1998)

This is the album where his songs finally got the full studio treatment they needed. Unlike a lot of artists on this list (and in this section in particular), I prefer Smith's songs when they are fully fleshed-out. Along with a bunch of other really great tunes, it has one of my favorite songs of all time, Waltz #2. It's the perfect Elliot Smith song: insanely catchy, intelligent, introspective, bittersweet, biting. I think I hummed it for two weeks solid.

23. Big Star : Radio City (1974)

It's a bit more eccentric than their first record, probably because of the loss of Chris Bell, who contributed the bulk of the Byrds/Beatles sound (for proof, compare Bell's solo album, "I Am The Cosmos" to anything Alex Chilton ever put out). There are a lot of fantastic songs on this one, but without Bell's shiny optimism, they get darker, more introspective and a bit less conventional - the change becomes even more obvious when you hear their next record, Third/Sister Lovers.

22. The Cure : Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987)

The record that got me out of my high-school metal-head rut and turned me on to the fact that: a) all the stuff metal claimed to own could be done better by people who weren't singing about demons and concerned about playing their guitar faster and b) dance music didn't have to suck and c) love songs weren't necessarily crap. It truly changed my life.

21. Nick Drake : Pink Moon (1972)

It took that Pink Moon VW commercial for me to notice Nick Drake. And once I did, I was astounded that I could have missed him, and this album in particular, for so long. It's just him and his guitar. Some of the songs are light and shimmering, some are dark and bleak - all very introspective. His guitar playing was fantastic - intricately fingerpicked in all kinds of strange tunings: Pink Moon CGCFCE, Free Ride AADEBE, From The Morning BEBEBE, etc). His vocals are hushed, as if he's singing to himself. His previous two albums were slathered in strings and horns and backing vocals, which makes them feel garish, by comparison. It was his final album, and after finishing the recording of it (in just four hours, and the whole thing is only 28 minutes long), he swore of recording and performing forever, in a note he left with the master tapes on his way out the studio - saying he was going to become a computer programmer. And he died before he could record again.

Wednesday will bring in the teens. And I'll finish this thing on Friday.

Previous 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, 50-41, 40-31.

The List, 2006, #40-31

Getting bigger. Getting stronger.

40. Led Zeppelin : Physical Graffiti (1975)

About 1/4 of this is filler (all on the second disc), but the rest is great. There's classic Zeppelin blues rock, a few epics, lots of Jimmy Page guitar goodness, and plenty of Robert Plant doing his rock god thing, and ... Kashmir!

39. Yo La Tengo : Electr-O-Pura (1995)

My first YLT record, and their last before they started down the road to electronica and lounge music. Among other good tunes, it has my favorite YLT song, Tom Courtenay - even though I have no idea what the lyrics are about... something about Julie Christie.

38. Jimi Hendrix : Are You Experienced (1967)

Just look at that song list : Purple Haze, Manic Depression, Hey Joe, The Wind Cries Mary, Fire, Foxey Lady, etc.. And of course, guitar heroics that leave all other guitar players slack-jawed.

37. Slint : Spiderland (1991)

This came out the same year as Nirvana's "Nevermind", and like Nirvana, Slint gets a lot of use out of extreme changes in volume. And, the same guy produced this record as produced Nirvana's "In Utero", Steve Albini. But that's where the similarity ends, because while Nirvana was writing pretty much straightforward rock songs, Slint wrote complex, coldly atmospheric songs, with icy, angular guitars and vocals that were barely more than spoken stories. All the songs share a feeling of cold menace; and it's a record best heard start to finish, (alone, in the dark, if possible) to get the full benefit of its beautiful cold astringency.

36. Pink Floyd : Animals (1977)

Easily the least popular of all the albums from their golden age. Unlike the other Floyd records in this era there aren't any singles here - the parts don't separate from the whole nicely, so it's hard for radio to handle. But taken as a whole, the album is great - it's dark, moody, atmospheric and cynical as anything. I used to listen to this a lot on the Greyhound bus ride from Rochester to Albany. It's bleak, pessimistic tone seemed perfect for watching central NY silde by, on cold winter's nights.

35. The Beastie Boys : Ill Communication (1994)

My favorite rap album, by a mile. Great beats, great samples, funny, self-effacing lyrics and some fun instrumentals. Q-tip makes a nice appearance. It's a long album, but one that works for me start to finish.

34. The Beatles : Revolver (1966)

This sits just on the late side of the early/late divide. This is where they started to get into psychedelia and where songs about things besides girls were no longer oddities - where they started to get interesting, instead of just a really good pop band. One of my bands did a passable version of She Said She Said.

33. Sonic Youth : Sister (1987)

The individual songs are much more focused than songs from previous records; the traditional SY guitar freak-outs feel deliberate and not just open-ended improvisations, and there's a lot less noise for noise's sake. Many of the songs are truly catchy and, for early Sonic Youth, accessible. For a long time this was my favorite SY album since, unlike "Daydream Nation", this doesn't feel like a monolithic epic, and I don't feel bad not giving it my full attention.

32. A Tribe Called Quest : Midnight Marauders (1993)

This is the other rap album on my list. ATCQ avoids a lot of the cock-grabbing nonsense that defines the rest of rap. Well, they mostly avoid it... well, maybe not even mostly. They often avoid it? Whatever, they still get into it, but it's not all they got. They're funny, crude, clever and often brilliant. The samples are slick, the words are smart, and the attitude is smooth and laid-back. I've been looking for years for rap that compares favorably to this album, and haven't found it yet.

31. The Beatles : The Beatles (white album) (1968)

It's huge and varied and full of goodness, greatness, goofiness and godawfulness. But the good parts outweight the bad, and the great parts outweigh everything else - even Revolution #9.

Tune in Monday for the next part.

Previous 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, 50-41.

The List, 2006, #50-41

This section is pretty heavy on the Classics, and it's one of the sections that feels the most crowded to me - a lot of records fought to get into the Top 50. And, even though it's too late to change them now, I know there are a couple here that don't deserve the honor, and there are a few that didn't make the top half that should have. But, we're more than half-way there; we've turned the corner; it's all downhill from here!

50. Rolling Stones : Exile On Main Street (1972)

Outside of the big 2-disc greatest hits set, this was the first Stones record I ever bought. While it's not as hit-packed as Let It Bleed or as concise as most of their others, this one is one of the few I can appreciate as a self-contained album - most of the others from the Stones' heyday are so top-heavy with hits, that they feel like Classic Rock Party albums. Plus, "Exile..." has my favorite Keith song, Happy.

49. Bob Dylan : Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

I have a confession to make. I don't like Bob Dylan. I know he's revered by people who's taste in music I generally respect, but he just doesn't do it for me. I've tried listening to what are widely considered his best works, but they fall flat, or worse - for example, I simply can't listen to "Blonde On Blonde". I think I've looked mostly at his post '65 stuff, so maybe I need to look at his earlier stuff... ? OK. Whew. Sorry. This record, on the other hand, I like. Lots of interesting songs here - muscially and lyrically. It spent a long time in my car's CD player.

48. The Doors : Strange Days (1967)

It's not quite as strong as their first record, but it's solid, with a nice batch of great songs: Strange Days, Love Me Two Times, Moonlight Drive, People Are Strange, When The Music's Over. I just love Robby Krieger's slide playing on Moonlight Drive; I've always thought he was an underappreciated guitarist.

47. The Cars : The Cars (1978)

How big was this record? Here are 6 of the 9 songs: Good Times Roll, My Best Friend's Girl, Just What I Needed, You're All I've Got Tonight, Bye Bye Love, Moving In Stereo. The other three are good, too. The Cars are one of those bands that are capable of both great songs and completely fucking horrible shit songs. Luckily, this record is all the former.

46. U2 : The Joshua Tree (1987)

Another one ruined by overplay. But it's solid, front to back. This was U2's peak, without a doubt. The success of this went right their already-bloated heads, and they never even got back to tolerable.

45. The Doors : The Doors (1967)

When I first started to get into music, 5th grade or so, I listened to a lot of Top 40 junk I got from the jukebox supply store across the street. But sometimes, when he wasn't home, I would listen to my father's copy of this album on his stereo (with the big speakers!). Since I was ten years old, this album was darker than anything I'd heard before, and I liked it. This was grown-up music! Well, kinda. Most of this is pretty dated, 40 years out, but a lot of it still holds up pretty well: Break On Through, Light My Fire, Back Door Man, etc.. Plus, it'll always have that sentimental value... "Mother. I. Want. To. Blawrraithnowwwcomeowhnyayyuh".

44. Gillian Welch : Time, The Revelator (2001)

The songs here are more ambitious than on their previous records. They're longer, deeper and push beyond the typical country/bluegrass boundaries in structure and subject: the last song is 14+ minutes long; a song about there's even a song about music piracy (Everything Is Free Now); and she whips out the F-word in the first track ! (this isn't your great-grandaddy's bluegrass...) But it's still just the two of them doing that acoustic thing they do so well. The playing and singing is, as always, excellent, the recording is great (I Want To Play That Rock And Roll song was recorded live, but you can't tell at all until you hear the audience erupt in applause after a Rawlings lead), and the song writing is truly beyond compare.

43. Scud Mountain Boys - Massachusets (1996)

Before they were the Pernice Brothers, the brothers Pernice were in this band. This album is simple, laid-back, alt-country - only one song rises above mellow. There aren't any muscial theatrics or any technical brilliance to speak of. It's just a collection of melancholy songs about fucked-up relationships. I can't really explain why I like it so much. So I won't try.

42. Peter Gabriel : So (1986)

So many fantastic songs - even if Sledgehammer,
Big Time , Red Rain , and In Your Eyes are almost worn thin by overplay. Reminds me of the winter I spent working as a stock boy at a women's clothing store.

41. King Crimson : Discipline (1981)

One summer, I spent a few weeks hanging out with my uncles. We played a lot of board games (double-board Monopoly and The Stock Market Game) and listened to a lot of King Crimson, this album in particular. At first I thought it was the Talking Heads, since Belew's voice sounds a lot like David Byrne's. Good times. The playing on this is mind-boggling, from Belew's animal-noise guitar sounds, to Levin's 'Stick', to Bruford's mechanically-precise drumming, and then Fripp's inhumanly dextrous guitar playing. I've learned to play a few of these guitar parts, but there's always that other guitar (usually Fripp) playing that other part that I just can't even comprehend - does he have four hands ? And right in the middle of the record, they dial it all back and come up with a beautiful little tune like Matte Kudasai. Easily the best of the three records from this era.

Tune in next time - I hear Q-tip is gonna make an appearance or two.

Previous 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51.

The List, 2006. #60-51

Today I close out the bottom fifty of my 100 favorite records. This time, all of them are American bands - three from Texas alone.

60. Spoon : Kill The Moonlight (2002)

Jonathan Fisk is a great little rocker; The Way We Get By does an awful lot with piano, handclaps and a little bass; Something To Look Forward To is exactly the kind of song that makes Spoon great: stripped-down, singable, power-pop. It's not quite as strong as their previous record, "Girls Can Tell", but it's better than 99% of their contemporaries.

59. REM : Chronic Town (1982)

It's just a little 5-song EP, but four of them are great. It's tacked onto the end of their "Dead Letter Office" CD, where it feels a little out of place. But, it's nice to get it, in effect, for free (with the purchase of DLO)

58. Gillian Welch : Revival (1996)

An relatively upbeat record, even if it starts with a (presumably autobiographical) song about being an orphan: "No mother, no father, no sisters, no brothers / I am an orphan girl". So many of these songs sound so old-timey that it's hard to believe they're all originals. But these two do that old-school country/bluegrass sound so well, everything sounds like they're doing faithful covers of old songs.

57. Lilys : A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns (1994)

This is a short little record that catches The Lilys in a brief Big Star / Teenage Fanclub phase (in the middle of their My Bloody Valentine phase, before their Kinks phase). There are only 5 real songs here (the sixth is a silly little bit of noise), and two of them fail to break two minutes in length. But every song is a gem: great melodies, great dynamics, fun (if opaque) lyrics. On one hand it's a shame the record wasn't longer, in case there's a chance they had more songs like this; on the other, the record's pretty much perfect as-is.

56. Codeine : Frigid Stars (1990)

One Saturday afternoon, my college roommates, their girlfriends, and I returned home, put two CDs in the player and sat around, snacking and talking. The first CD was Pearl Jam's 10, I think. It went by without much notice. This was next. From the time it started until it stopped nobody in the room moved or spoke. When it ended, the sun had gone down, and we were all sitting in the dark. I think we all let out a sigh at the same time. It's slow and heavy, but melodic, and at times, touching.

55. The Shins : Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

Their first full album, "Oh, Inverted World" was pretty good. It was interesting, different, but far too processed - the whole deep reverb, spacey keyboard thing was a little overdone, to my ears. So this album was a big surprise: without all that spacey atmospheric stuff, you can hear the vocals and the guitars - and they're rocking. A totally solid, if very short, record. Ten fun, bouncy, jangly pop songs, with great lyrics.

54. The Sea And Cake : The Biz (1995)

The overall feel is a bit breezier, but it basically continues along with the same clean, crisp, Latin-jazz-tinged rock as their previous record, "Nassau". They came out the same year, so it's not surprising that the two albums are similar. If this places farther down the list than "Nassau", that's probably just because I heard "Nassau" first and it made such a whopping first impression.

53. Stevie Ray Vaughan : Texas Flood (1983)

He was just so ridiculously good. He made it sound like playing guitar was just too easy - he couldn't help but put impossible little licks here and there, just to keep himself from falling asleep. And, I'm always amazed that he used these super-heavy guitar strings (a .13 for the high E) - to my scrawny little fingers, that feels like playing a bass - but bent and wiggled the things like they were ultra-lights. Yeah, he brings out the guitar geek in me.

52. ZZ Top : Tres Hombres (1973)

Sure, the whole Sharp Dressed Man / Legs thing from "Eliminator" was a drag. It was everywhere, back in the mid-80's. But this came out ten years before that; this is raw, gritty, John Lee Hooker-esque Texas blues. There aren't any keyboards or goofy videos here - just a bunch of shit-kickin songs.

51. The Feelies : Crazy Rhythms (1980)

A bunch of jittery, nervous songs that sound something like a sped-up Talking Heads / Velvet Underground / Television hybrid: a lot of crisp, jangly guitars, anti-guitar-hero solos, nervous detached vocals. There's a lot of empty space in these songs - wood blocks click in an empty room; lone guitars ring out here and there; Loveless Love takes over a minute before it really starts; Forces At Work takes 1:45 to fade up to full volume. And like the Velvet Underground, The Feelies are happy to sit on a chord for two or three minutes before changing to something else. And like Television, they shun blues-based riffing and solos. Yet, instead of difficult or pretentious, the way those other bands can sometimes feel, The Feelies make it seem fun.

Next time, Wednesday, I break on through into the Top 50!

Previous 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61.

The List, 2006, #70-61

America takes a solid 50% of the slots in this section - good job, boys and girls. But first, there are a couple of Canadians and a bunch of Brits that I gotta deal with...

70. Rush : Moving Pictures (1981)

I was in 6th grade, I think, when this came out, and it was so cool. It was heavy, but modern; there were cool videos; there was a song, that nobody understood, about Tom Sawyer! 25 years later, it's not quite as modern, and it's definitely less cool. But it's still got some of the best technical playing around, and the first side still rocks.

69. Neil Young - Live Rust (1979)

Ideally, I put this record on at about 7:30, on a summer Saturday afternoon. Then I sit on the porch and drink beers. The acoustic set should last just until the sun goes down.

68. The Police - Regatta De Blanc (1979)

It's a little less polished and a little more silly than "Zenyatta Mondatta". And unlike that other Police record, it wasn't a college favorite. So, even though it's closing in on 30 years old, it sounds fresher to my ears. "And when the wombat comes / He will find me gone". Yup.

67. Replacements : Let It Be (1984)

It's everything you could want in a Replacements record. It has mindless fun: Gary's Got A Boner, Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out; Big Star-ish stuff: Favorite Thing, Sixteen Blue; classic Westerberg heartbreak songs: Unsatisfied, and the awesome Answering Machine. Plus, a KISS cover!

66. Sunny Day Real Estate : Diary (1994)

It's grand and soaring, beautiful. These are rock anthems, generally (but not always) loud and driving, sometimes soft and delicate. But always, the singer's unique voice and generally incomprehensible lyrics make the songs mysterious - you know he means it, but you don't know what he means. The lyrics might be in the liner notes, but at this point, I don't want to know what they are. This will always remind me of cool autumn Sunday afternoons, sitting in my car in Rochester's Mt. Hope cemetery, munching on Taco Bell: 2 soft tacos (no cheese), pintos and cheese, Dr Pepper. I just don't like un-melted cheese.

65. Dinosaur Jr. : You're Living All Over Me (1987)

The album's full of strange melodies, guitar effects, feedback, and head-scratching lyrics, Neil Young-style guitar solos and the lazy, whining vocals of J Mascis. Plus, the whole thing sounds like it's been pushed through a TV speaker. It took me a long time to get into this record, because it sounds so alien, but once I did... yay!

64. Yo La Tengo : Fakebook (1990)

90% of this record is covers, mostly obscure things from the 60s and 70s. While this doesn't highlight YLT's songwriting, it does prove that they have good taste in music. And more importantly, it shows just how much fun they are as a band. The backups on Emulsified are awesome - and who can not like a song about being emulsified?

63. Robyn Hitchcock : Storefront Hitchcock (1998)

This is a live album, so, like all live albums, it's also a Best Of collection. I've tried to avoid those kind of collections here, but because Robyn is so prolific his really good songs are scattered all over the place. This puts a bunch in the same place and gives them his typical live treatment: him and a guitar, though other people show up to play along on a few songs. The film version of this is good, too - it was the first DVD I ever bought.

62. Nirvana - Unplugged (1994)

Took me until last year to finally buy a copy, because it took that long for me to get over the Nirvana saturation I received in the mid-90's. But, happily, I think this is great. I like that the covers are obscure. I like that they didn't do Smells Like Teen Spirit. And I like that they mostly avoided their other hits, too - I didn't need to hear those Nevermind songs quite yet. They did two big hits, of course: Come As You Are and the fantastic version of my favorite Nirvana song evah, All Apologies.

61. The Cure : Happily Ever After (1981)

= +  

This is a US-only double CD set which includes both of their "Seventeen Seconds" and "Faith" albums, and it's how I first heard these two. They are each dark, lean, and introspectve records. "Faith", the later of the two, is a bit more agressive than the other - not quite so many dirges. But that doesn't mean there's anything to smile about. This is The Cure at their most melancholy, and I don't think there's a happy thought to be found on either. Still, I find their profound gloom beautiful.

Next time (Monday), we'll finish off the top 50 and get into what I consider the meaty part of the list.

Previous 100-91, 90-81, 80-71.

The List, 2006, #80-71

Previous sections: #100-91, #90-81.

Here's the next batch. A full 50% of the records in this section are from British musicians; then there's a mixed Aussie/Brit band, and a set of Cubans. America needs to step it up!

80. Van Morrison : Moondance (1970)

If only for these three songs: And It Stoned Me, Moondance, Into The Mystic. It doesn't hurt that the picture of Van on the cover looks just like my uncle Billy.

79. AC/DC : Back In Black (1980)

Another sentimental pick. Though I don't own a copy, and haven't since high school, I know every song front to back and consider all of them to be classics, even if I never need to hear Back In Black or You Shook Me All Night Long ever again.

78. The Colorblind James Experience - The Colorblind James Experience (1987)

A wild mix of rock, jazz, polka, country, blues, and more, with clever laconic lyrics and deadpan delivery. They were active in Rochester, NY - their home base - when I was going to college there, but somehow I managed to avoid seeing them live. I once had a cassette version of this album, which I wore out, and then lost. I've been trying to find a CD copy for years now, but unfortunately, it's terribly hard to find these days. So I have to settle for the handful of songs at the front of their Greatest Hits CD.
Edit: I just found a used copy of the vinyl for this, on-line. So, in a week or so, after I've ripped all the songs to MP3, I'll have a full working copy again. Yay!

77. Blonde Redhead - La Mia Vita Violenta (1995)

There's a huge Sonic Youth and Pixies influence in early Blonde Redhead - no way around that. But, using them as starting points, Blonde Redhead adds a Japanese-accented female vocalist, an Italian-accented male vocalist, strips away a lot of the surface anger and creates a lean, clean, dreamy sound. It's still pretty far out there into noise-rock, but here they do it with interesting melodies and an intimate feel that you don't get from too many of their peers.

76.The Beatles : Rubber Soul (1965)

It sits just on the early side of the early/late Beatles, so it's long on great singles about girls, but only hinting at the deeper and more psychedelic stuff, which I prefer, that they'd do on the other side of that line.

75. Rolling Stones - Some Girls (1978)

Miss You, Some Girls, Far Away Eyes, Beast Of Burden, Shattered, etc.. Probably their last great album.

74. Robyn Hitchcock : Spooked (2004)

This is his latest record of all-new songs, and was recorded with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (who also produced it). It's got a couple of my all-time favorite Hitchcock songs : Sometimes a Blonde and Flanagan's Song, and a good cover of a Bob Dylan song, Trying To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door. Rawlings' distinctive guitar playing (and the plucky sound of his old Gibson) fits well with Robyn's folky strumming - I honestly can't pick out what Gillian is doing. But the overall effect is very nice. Good to know Robyn can still bring it, 25 years and nearly 30 records (counting compilations and 'rarities' things) since he started his solo career. He did a couple of shows in Nashville with Gillian and Rawlings in support of this record, and they played the whole thing, if my info was correct. I saw him the night after, and he did very few of these songs. Sigh.

73. Buena Vista Social Club : Buena Vista Social Club (1997)

This is music by musicians who were popular in Cuba in the 50's, recorded in 97 by Ry Cooder as part of a (fantastic) documentary. It's my only experience with Latin music, but I love it.

72. Tortoise : Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)

Instrumental, experimental, influential, hydromatic, minimalist, electronic, ambient, cool jazz rock. Tortoise and The Sea and Cake (which share a wicked drummer/producer) both worked in the minimalist post-rock vein. But Tortoise did it without vocals or (obvious) guitars - Tortoise was all about the cool trippy instrumental, with bass or vibes taking the lead. It's very a clean, modern sound, and was the perfect way to rinse my palette after a long time with the noisy grime of earlier indie rock. And, since it's not a big leap from this to traditional jazz, it was a bit of a gateway, for me.

71. PJ Harvey : Dry (1992)

First thought: "Damn... That woman is pissed!" It's a raw, dark, angry record with a handful of truly catchy songs. She does the whispered-verse, thundering-chorus thing very well.

Be sure to stop by this Friday, for a double-shot of Canadians!

The List, 2006, #90-81

Arright. The first ten are done. Now we move into the eighties. As promised, we'll visit Chapel Hill, NC. But we'll also make stops in Boston, The Isle of Whight, LA, and other exotic locales.

90. Belly : Star (1993)

A classic early 90's alt-rock hit. It's bursting with great hooks and great songs. In a just world, Tanya Donnely would be a superstar and Madonna would be teaching aerobics at a retirement home. One of my bands worked hard to write a song that ended up sounding almost exactly like a song from this album. We played it anyway.

89. Yes : The Yes Album (1971)

Yeah, it's over the top in complexity and technicality - totally square. But, it's also the stuff I grew up listening to. My mother and her brothers were teenagers when this came out (yeah, I was around then), and they played it all the time. These are like old family photos, to me.

88. Son Volt : Trace (1995)

Straightforward, uncluttered, unaffected roots-rock songs, capped by the great Ron Wood song, Mystifies Me.

87. Grandaddy : The Sophtware Slump (2000)

It's futuristic and spacey, but with a warm gentle core. With the high, fragile vocals and grand orchestration of simple melodies, it has the same feel as a modern-era Flaming Lips record; and the electronic beeps and whistles remind me of the Apples In Stereo's spacey power-pop. But, it's done so well that it doesn't suffer from the comparison; they took the style and did something great with it. It's a shame I can't get into any of their other records, at all.

86. The Police : Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

Andy Summers was one of my first guitar heros; Stewart Copeland was the first drummer that made any impression at all on me; Sting was a terrific songwriter; and this album gives great examples of all that. There are a couple of weak songs, but the playing is great all around, and the best of the songs are fantastic. A dorm favorite.

85. Violent Femmes : Violent Femmes (1983)

I can't imagine a better album to listen to when you're 18 and away from home for the first time. The singer sounds more nervous than you are and he's not getting the girl either; everyone in the room can sing along; you get to say "fuck"; you get to count to ten.

84. Superchunk : No Pocky For Kitty (1991)

Our first Chapel Hill stop. It's punk rock with a smile. It blazes through anthem after anthem: Skip Steps 1 & 3, Punch Me Harder, Seed Toss, Tie A Rope..., Throwing Things, etc. and makes you wanna sing along with all of them. My wife and I discovered Spoon at a Superchunk show - more about Spoon later.

83. Rolling Stones : Let It Bleed (1969)

Get rid of the threadbare You Can't Always Get What You Want and Country Honk (the silly sloppy acoustic version of Honky Tonk Woman), and you've got a really good 7-song EP of classic-era Stones, including one of my fav's, Midnight Rambler.

82. Robyn Hitchcock : Eye (1990)

This, the second R.H. album I ever bought, is an album of songs on acoustic guitar and piano. While solo acoustic guitar is pretty much his default (the five times I've seen him live, it's been just him and a guitar), this album is swimming in reverb and backing tracks, so it comes across dreamy and atmospheric, not just unplugged. The lyrics are pretty tough to decipher, as usual, but they seem to be a little more personal than previous records. I could be imagining that, though. He did a similar atmospheric-acoustic thing on "I Often Dream Of Trains", but the songs on "Eye" are a bit more intimate and less kooky than the earlier record.

81. Polvo : Cor-Crane Secret (1992)

Returning to Chapel Hill for one more stop. Swirling, buzzing guitars, complicated songs, a silght Middle Eastern tinge, and lyrics about... well, I don't really know what they're about - that's not the point of Polvo anyway. The important parts of Polvo are the math-rock song structures and the amazing way the two guitar players' distinct styles mesh throughout those structures. I was lucky enough to catch their last show ever, at the Cat's Cradle - the place was packed. In fact it was so packed that they did another show the next night and ruined my story.

Thus concludes part two, 90-81. Tune in again next time (Wednesday) when we'll visit sunny Cuba! El yay!

The List, 2006, #100-91

Paige, over at Flux-Rad just finished up a series of posts where she listed her favorite top 100 albums evar. And she did such a fine job of it, that I'm going to shamelessly, brazenly and completely, rip off the way she did it !

And so, without further addoo, here are the first ten, #100-91, of my 2006 Top 100 Favorite Albums Of All Time.

100. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)

Let's kick this off with a bang. Loud and heavy, with those crazy time signatures, heavy heavy riffing, and Chris Cornell's amazing vocals. The first half of this is pure handbanging goodness. The second half gets a little tedious, but that's what the Eject button is for.

99. Jane's Addiction : Nothing's Shocking (1988)

I saw the Mountain Song video on MTV and was joyous - hair metal hadn't killed rock yet! Deep underground, some people were still making straightforward guitar-based music that didn't suck ! And then I heard the rest of the record and was all like ... "WTF? These guys are all over the place. This is even more fun than I expected! Yay!"

98. U2 : War (1983)

Sunday, Bloody Sunday has been played to death, but it's still the best track, with its martial, marching snare drum intro, to kick off this record. The rest of the songs continue that marching feel, in varying degrees, until finally giving way to the calm, raised-lighter ending of 40 - ahh, preach to me Bono. A couple of the songs are a bit weak, but the highlights are great.

97. Cowboy Junkies : Lay It Down (1996)

They stick to their trademark sound, but they turn up the volume on many of the songs, giving it a harder and even darker edge than their previous records.

96. Black Sabbath : Paranoid (1971)

War Pigs, Iron Man, Paranoid, Fairies Wear Boots. Yeah baby. It's almost a caricature now, but that's OK.

95. Alison Krauss & Union Station : Every Time You Say Goodbye (1992)

Wow, what a voice. And what a great bunch of songs. While I knew all the old bluegrass standards from my father, it wasn't until this album that I started paying attention to its current practitioners. Of course this isn't strictly old-time bluegrass, it's more of a pop/country/bluegrass hybrid. But whatever you call it, it's good stuff.

94. Pixies : Doolittle (1989)

Reminds me of my first summer off from college - this, The Sugarcubes, 10,000 Maniacs, The Cure's "Disintegration", The The's "Mindbomb", etc.. Here Comes Your Man is the song that introduced me to the Pixies, and I'll always be thankful.

93. Modest Mouse : The Moon & Antarctica (2000)

One of those bands that makes you think, when you hear them for the first time, "Wow. That's, err, different." Then you have to decide if you like it. Sometimes their nervous, scattered lo-fi energy is tough to take, especially their early records. But they tone down the skittishness on this one, and the major-label production is smooth and shiny, making this fairly accessible. I remember getting this one afternoon and not being able to stop listening to it, even as my wife stood by the door, tapping her foot, trying to get us to the restaurant in time for our anniversary dinner reservations. The fucking risotto can wait - he's singing about dogs!

92. The Cure : Standing On A Beach (1986)

This is the cassette version of their "Staring At The Sea" greatest hits collection. The reason I include this is not for the singles, but for the flip side of the tape, which is a great collection of B-sides. Though mostly from The Cure's darkest period, they're not quite as gloomy as the songs they back - which is probably why they didn't make the albums. They're quirky and unpolished, often goofy. One at a time as B-sides, they're probably pretty forgettable. But, when they're all together like this, they seem to work as a whole. They should've released them as an album, the way REM did with their B-sides and outtakes record, "Dead Letter Office". Up until 2004, and the release of their "Join The Dots" collection, the only place to find these altogether was on that cassette, so I went a long time without hearing them. Now that I have them on CD, I can build the album they wouldn't build for me.

91. Van Halen - Van Halen (1979)

I know this is totally uncool, but, what can I say. It's just a fun record. It's defintely VH's most consistent early record (they wouldn't stack an album anywhere nearly as full until "1984", David Lee Roth's final VH album - and even then, meh). But this is almost 100% great. Sure, they were over-the-top. But if you can believe that they were in on the joke and simply having fun with it all, you can have fun right along with them.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment, on Monday, where I will pay a visit to Chapel Hill, NC, circa 1992!