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.

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