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).

6 thoughts on “The List, 2006, #10-1

  1. Rob Caldecott

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your top 100 Cleek. Talking Heads are one of my all time favourite bands (thanks to the influence of my older brother), though my personal favourite is “More Songs About Building and Food”. I also play the live double-album (“The Name of this Band is Talking Heads”) regularly and am still amazed at how fresh it sounds (the recording quality is amazing for a live album).

    So, kudos! Are you a movie buff BTW? Will we be seeing a films list at any point? :)

  2. cleek

    “The Name of this Band…” is really good. i’ve only had for a couple of months, so it hasn’t hda a chance to work its way onto any list. but, yeah, it does sound really good, for a live record. it’s a lot different than “Stop Making Sense” (which i’ve had as long as it’s been out).

    no, no movies. i tried making a movie list a couple years back, but could barely find 30 i liked well enough to even remember. just not my thing.

  3. dbati


    Rob (above): I would say that “77” beats “The Name of This…”. In any event, there would be a TH in my top ten.

    I also love your inclusion of the Pretenders 1st. That is a lost classic in my arsenal and will be listened to upon returning home this evening, most likely at pain inducing volume.

    I started thinking about a list like that and was too daunted by the enormity of the task. Kudos to you Cleek.


  4. marklow

    Man that top ten was inspiring. Brilliant.

    With the summer nearing its end, the friends from high school are taking on the Songs List. 20 nominees per person and after everyone gets a cd or two worth of each voter’s nominees, we excel it til its over.

    And my strongest nominee, outside of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” is “Crosseyed and Painless.” An absolute masterpiece.

  5. marklow

    and I listened to Slanted for the first time in 2 years and let me tell you, its awesome. Even Dad, nearly passed out in the driver seat on a 105 degree Mississippi day, was inspired to say, “This is good, is it OK Computer?”

    You bought me that for my 13th birthday.

  6. cleek

    >“This is good, is it OK Computer?”

    that makes me a little bit sad

    i remember we made a trip to Montreal one summer (me, you, the parents). dad asked me what i was playing on my discMan; it was S&E. and then he asked if he could put it in the car’s CD player. i reluctantly agreed… it wasn’t a big hit.

    >You bought me that for my 13th birthday

    heh. contributing to the delinquency, or something.

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