Top Ten Day: My favorite albums
I suppose saying "albums" is anachronistic, as I don't own any actual albums anymore (well, I suppose my parents probably still have a few - I used to have Cargo by Men At Work on vinyl, as well as Buckner and Garcia's Pac-Man Fever - the entire album!), but I don't know what else to call them. I also understand that even CDs are becoming passe, as iPods take over and make it easier and easier to customize anything you listen to and skip the songs you don't like. Well, I don't own an iPod, and I love entire albums! So here are my ten favorite. As usual, I don't claim that these are the best albums out there - I probably own several that are more technically proficient and lyrically stronger than these. But these are the ones that I know practically every lyric to, the ones I might be able to sing completely through by heart, the ones I spontaneously sing occasionally when I'm not thinking. In other words, my favorites. If you've ever read any of my greatest songs lists, you should know that you should tremble in fear! So, in no particular order (except the first one, my favorite album EVER):
1. Marillion, Misplaced Childhood, 1985. I know people who read this blog regularly are sick of my love of Marillion, but I don't care. Ironically, I was introduced to them in 1985 when my sister, of all people, came back from Germany with two of their albums on tape, including this one (I say "ironically" because, according to me, my sister has horrendous taste in everything). I liked the album enough to get it for myself. It's a concept album, but most of the songs stand on their own. The music is beautiful and haunting, and Fish's lyrics, which occasionally drift into the completely oblique (as happened on their previous release, Fugazi), stay grounded in the story of lost love and innocence. Some of the songs are classics - the album begins with the trifecta of "Pseudo Silk Kimono," "Kayleigh" (one of the best love songs ever, in my humble opinion), and "Lavender," and ends with "Childhoods End?" and "White Feather," in which Fish brings his journey through life and dealing with celebrity and disappointment with politics back to the theme of the album, which is how we lose a certain kind of innocence when we grow up but that we need to remain idealistic, if not innocent, in order to become truly happy. It's ultimately an uplifting album, and pulls together everything I love about Marillion. I still listen to it often, and know every single word and nuance.
2. Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, 1971. Krys laughs at me whenever I listen to this (I taped the original cast album from the 1970s, although I want to get a CD of one of the newer versions) because I cannot be interrupted the instant the singing starts: "My mind is clearer now ..." says Judas, and from there we're off. I could do a one-man show of this musical, I think. Not only is it good early 1970s-acid rock, it has a very nice love song ("I Don't Know How to Love Him"), the creepy premonitions of Pilate (the sad "Pilate's Dream"), Jesus and his doubts (the powerfully angry and ultimately tragic "Gethsemane"), the two songs between Jesus and Pilate ("Pilate and Christ" and "Trial Before Pilate" - to me, the two best songs on the album), and Judas' angry contemplation of why Jesus did what he did ("Superstar"). The movie added "Could We Start Again Please," which is a nice song about the doubts of Peter and Mary, and included the astonishing imagery of various artistic interpretations of Christ on the cross during "Gethsemane," but for the most part, the album's music and words stand on its own. This remains my favorite musical.
3. The Horse Flies, Gravity Dance, 1991. I have talked briefly about my love for this album before, and it remains one of my favorites. I don't know why I bought it back in 1991 - it was during the time when I would go into record stores and simply buy tapes and CDs by bands I had never heard of but thought sounded neat. Occasionally I would get a clunker, but I did find some great bands that way, and this is one of them. It includes the wildly fun tune "Roadkill," which is about, yes, eating things off the side of the road, and "I Need a Plastic Bag (to Keep My Brains In)," but it also includes the unbelievably beautiful "Two Candles" and a touching tribute to resisting oppressive governments, "Time is Burning." The Horse Flies are a weird pseudo-folk band with lots of other influences - some calypso rhythms, some zydeco - but they blend these things well and come up with brilliant off-the-wall lyrics. They never released another "real" album - they did a couple of soundtracks and a live album - but apparently they're out there somewhere kicking up some fun shit.
4. Mother Love Bone, Apple, 1990. You could call this grunge, I suppose, but MLB's only album (before lead singer Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin and a couple of the members formed Pearl Jam) is a brilliant piece of late 1980s hair metal with all the pretention drained out of it. The guys looked like they should be in Slaugter, but Wood's psychedelic lyrics and Stone Gossard's Led Zeppelin-esque guitars meant they were so much more than just metal. From the grind of "This is Shangrila" to the rocking goofiness of "Holy Roller" (with Wood intoning "The boys from Mother Love Bone are like ... soup ... they're like ... nothing bad ..."), to the transcendent majesty of "Stargazer" and pained yearning of "Crown of Thorns," Apple never fails to shine. It's out of print, but it's available as a compilation with their EP from 1989, Shine, which is pretty good too. As much as I like Pearl Jam, I always wonder what would have happened if Wood could have stayed off the junk.
5. Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique, 1989. A while ago someone mentioned that he liked Licensed to Ill more than this. That's his opinion, but he can't say it's a better album than Paul's Boutique, and I still like this one more. Licensed to Ill is frat-boy rap, and it's perfectly fine, but I hear something new whenever I listen to this, and that's even when I can recite almost the entire album by memory. Not only is this album magnificent lyrically ("Excuse me young lady I don't mean to trouble ya but you're lookin' mighty fine inside your BMW"; "Like Sam the butcher bringing Alice the meat, like Fred Flintstone driving around with bald feet"; "Long distance from my girl and I'm talking on the cellular, she said that she was sorry and I said yeah the hell you were"), but somehow the Boys and the Dust Brothers cram in the most samples you could ever hope to hear, seamlessly. It's astonishing to hear all the little things they stuff in and keep the flow going so smoothly. I absolutely love this album. It's far too much fun for its own good.
6. Pearl Jam, Ten, 1991. I suppose that Vs. and Vitalogy are "better" albums in that they are musically more interesting and the boys are more daring on it, but for sheer kick-assery, you really can't go wrong with Pearl Jam's first album. From "Once," the first song, when Eddie screeches, "Once upon a time I could control myself ..." to the powerful beauty of "Black," with the plaintive cry, "I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky, but why, why, why can't it be, can't it be mine ..." to the astonishing build up of "Release" and its final primal scream, this is a true gut shot of rock and roll, with more coherence from Eddie than we've seen on later albums and the raw emotion that makes music so good. When I saw Pearl Jam at Penn State in 1991, before they really went huge (they played with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins - now that was a show!), they played every song on this album ... except "Black," which was and still is my favorite Pearl Jam song. Stupid Pearl Jam!
7. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti, 1975. I could have thrown a dart at the wall with any of Zep's first six albums on it and gotten a winner, but the more I thought about it, the more Physical Graffiti came through. To me, this is the apotheosis of the Zep form - it comes after they had honed their skills on blues stuff that was fantastic but derivative, and before they went a little nutty. Here they strike a perfect balance between just jamming ("Custard Pie," "Trampled Under Foot," "Black Country Woman,") and that ethereal stuff that makes you think Plant was reading way too much Tolkien while he got high ("Kashmir," "In The Light"). All of the songs show off the band's chops, with Page the obvious hero but Bonham making a strong case for greatest rock drummer of all time on "In My Time of Dying." Fans of Keith Moon should listen to that song and suck on it! It's a great album because it shows how brilliant Zep could be even as they sung about love and sex and little else of consequence. A double album that earns it, which is a difficult thing to do.
8. Prince, Purple Rain, 1984. Unlike a lot of people, I know that Prince did not visit a South Pacific island between 1992 and 2004 - he kept making music, and some of it (The Gold Experience) is excellent. However, of his many peaks, Purple Rain stands above them all. He really put it all together on this album, from the opening blast of "Let's Go Crazy" to the majestic title track at the end. "The Beautiful Ones" is as piercing an indictment of spurned love as you'll ever hear (and one of the brilliant scenes in the movie), "When Doves Cry" is a nasty stab in the heart, "Darling Nikki" earns the scorn of Tipper Gore and her fascist buddies, even 22 years later, and "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm A Star" are joyous celebrations of love and celebrity and music. Part of the reason why this album is so good is that Prince resists adding one of those treacly love ballads which often break up his otherwise excellent work, and here, the tightness of the tracks and the blending of the screeching guitar with the rest of the band is brilliant. Too bad he went all ego on everyone, because he's done very good work since then, but never as joyful.
9. Genesis, Duke, 1980. My favorite band used to be Genesis, and this remains my favorite album. I thought about which album by Genesis was my favorite, and rejected the Peter Gabriel stuff because, although there are many great songs on the early stuff, too often there were some dogs, too. For every "Supper's Ready" on Foxtrot there's a "Can-Utility And The Coastliners." We get "The Musical Box" on Nursery Cryme but then we get "The Return Of The Giant Hogweed." So I thought about the post-Gabriel stuff, and Duke straddles the line between the weird, prog-rock of the 1970s (which produced some very good Phil Collins-as-lead-singer albums) and the stadium rock of the 1980s (which produced Invisible Touch, and the less said about that the better). Duke begins with "Behind The Lines," which contains a long musical segment, and then Phil comes in with a sweet tale of love that segues into "Duchess," a bitter song about a singer losing her looks but remaining strong. The pop singles of the album ("Misunderstanding" and "Turn It On Again") are complex musically and wistful lyrically, and I have recently mentioned how much I like "Heathaze." The album ends with a bit of a reprise of the musical themes of the first three songs, and a triumphant (as opposed to sad) restating of the lyrics in "Guide Vocal." A very nicely done album that shows how good AND accessible Genesis could be.
10. Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking, 1988. Jane's had a very brief career (and their comeback album, Strays, doesn't count), but they had a HUGE influence on the rock landscape. This album, their second, is not as ambitious as their "last," Ritual de lo Habitual, but for sheer rock, this album kicks a great deal of ass. "Ocean Size" is a scream of defiance from a battered soul, "Had A Dad" is a snarl at God, "Ted, Just Admit It ..." is a savage attack on the cult of sex and violence that the news peddles, and "Pigs In Zen" rips the upper crust a new one. Even with all this anger, Perry Farrell still gives us "Jane Says," a tragic tale of a girl with no direction, and "Summertime Rolls," a beautiful love song about a more innocent time. It's a wonderful album for the lyrics and Dave Navarro's truly brilliant guitar playing, and Stephen Perkins on drums keeps the tempo zipping when Farrell wants to drawl, while Eric Avery's rumbling bass provides the perfect slightly funky foundation for the hard rock going on above. Excellent stuff.
This was a hard list, because a lot of albums I love missed the cut. You'll note that there are no ABBA albums on this list, even though I love ABBA. Well, ABBA albums, for the most part, are not very well constructed. They have lots of great songs on them, but I think of ABBA as a singles band more, so I concentrate on the songs. If I had to choose, I would probably say Arrival is my favorite, but I don't have to choose!
Any thoughts? What are your own favorite albums? That's what we're all about here -sharing!