Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Miss the Comfort in Being Sad

#10 In Utero: Nirvana. For all of the talk about how great Nirvana was (and they were), their greatness is really only reflected in 2 albums, this one and that other one. It is quite a reflection of the greatness of both of them that they are considered so good with just these two. Its like hearing that Gilligans Island was only on for 3 seasons, or that Farrah Fawcett was only Charlie's Angel for one.

In Utero is really the one that cements their greatness, since it came after they achieved super-mega-stardom, and everyone wanted to see how they would follow up Nevermind. What they did, was come out with something harder, raw-er, less accessible, but with the same power as its predecessor. Its angrier, and more mature than Nevermind, but the songs on here are are at least as good as the best ones there - the singles Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies are all time greats. Other songs like Dumb and Frances Farmer... and Serve the Servants and all the others - they all seem much more personal and soul-ripping, hinting at Kurt's inner turmoil. In many ways, I am more likely to reach for this one off of the CD shelf than the other one if I want to hear some Nirvana, and that is saying something - except for the fact that I never take CDs off the shelf anyore, oh whatever nevermind.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Slow Down, You Crazy Child

#11 The Stranger: Billy Joel. Ask yourself this: what is the album/CD that you have listened to the most in your life? It's interesting to think about. It probably has to be something that you listened to when you were a teen - a time when if you liked something you played it over and over and over again. It has to be something that you have enjoyed through your whole life. It probably helps if you have some kind of emotional or cultural attachment to it. Extra bonus if your kids like it, so it is one of the few things you can enjoy together. And a super extra bonus if one of your children is named after a song on it.

For me, The Stranger satisfies all of the above. I grew up in the town next to the one where BJ grew up, in fact the guitarist on his early albums went to high school with my sister. Everyone on Long Island grows up a Billy Joel fan - it is ingrained. Billy Joel has very distinct eras - his early stuff is pensive piano-driven music, then he hit his stride with Streetlife Serenade and The Stranger - really great stuff, filled with vivid characters, melodic piano, a jivin' sax and just good rock and roll. Then came popularity and more popularity and some solid CDs followed by the theme park of An Innocent Man and then his downhill slide into oblivion. Billy gets credit however, for curtailing his CD making when he realized he had nothing relevant to say anymore.

The Stranger is the best of the whole bunch, with pensive piano tunes (the title track), rockin' character driven tunes (Scenes From an Italian Restaurant), our favorite air-sax bar mitzvah song (Only the Good Die Young), and of course the all time classic, Vienna.

By the way, Billy has not aged gracefully. If you hear recent interviews with him, he is an angry, bitter man. Check out Chuck Klosterman's interview/article in his book IV. It's pretty sad.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Soul of A Woman Was Created Below

#12: Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin. I might be unusual here, but this is my favorite LZ album - for me it is the album of theirs that best defines rock and roll. They have lots of great moments to come afterwards obviously - they are totally deserving of the Rock and Roll Gods status that they have, but this first CD of theirs just blows me away. Heavy blues stompin, awesome guitar licks, the wailing lyrics of the best voice in rock and roll history, Robert Plant. Their later stuff spawned a million copycat bands that tried to write their own Stairway to Heaven, but no one (including LZ themselves) was ever able to re-create the blues-y deep heavy sound of You Shook Me and Dazed and Confused and then I just love the boogie vibe that it closes with How Many More Times. Damn good.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Waste Another Year

#13 Reckoning: REM. Here is where I cheat. I love early REM - they have several CDs that are worthy of this list. But somehow, stylistically, to me, they are all kind of the same - one big collection of awesomeness. So, Reckoning makes the list because it is my favorite, but it could have just have easily been Life's Rich Pageant, or Murmur, or Fables of the Reconstruction, and I didnt want to have 4 REM CDs on my list. Be prepared, the rest of my top 13 is full of such cheats. I know, it's a lame cop out. But Trevor does it too.

Anyway, here we are with REM. They make great tunes with great melodies and harmonies. But what makes them unique are Michael Stipe's lyrics. Has there ever been a song of his that has really made sense? But the brilliance is that it might make sense if you think about it hard enough. There are phrases that sound really clever and insightful until you actually try and figure it out. Here is a line from ''Camera", on Reckoning: "If I'm to be your camera, then who will be your face?" Doesnt that sound really deep? But what the hell is he talking about? I guess that is what poetry is. I always hated poetry but I dig Michael Stipe. Go figure.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I'll Show You My Dark Secret

#14.3 Rubberneck: The Toadies. This CD is so great, I cannot believe it never became a multi-mega smash. It rocks, hard. Its dark, and uncomfortable, with songs about rapists and stalkers and just generally bad people. They are kind of like Nirvana From Texas. But don't take it from me. Take it from Trev, who is a much better writer than I am, as he describes the night we saw them in concert (opening for Bush (!))

"These freaks include one of the butchiest-looking women I've ever seen on bass, a lead singer who seems to be one Ritalin dose from a spastic breakdown, and a totally inbred-looking motherf****r on lead guitar. When he chimes in "I come from the water" during one of the band's songs ... well, you have to believe it. Most amazing of all, the drummer has a pretty ordinary appearance ...
The opening band, these "Toadies," rip it up that night. Many concert-goers insist that they put on the better performance that night. Among them: a lanky pre-med student who later buys the band's CD, expects great things from them, and is convinced that the guitar-playing genetic freak will somehow rise above the circumstances of his birth to one day wed Gwen Stefani. I was so close, so close ..."

it took them 7 years to follow this up due to a dispute with the label (damn record companies!!) and they never did anything close to this again. But they still tour, and I just saw them last year, and they still kick butt.

The Son Is Drowning In The Flood

#14 (poor counting means we will have at least two #14s) Weezer (Blue Album): Weezer. Weezer breezed into our consciousness in 1994 with a song about a sweater. Somehow this collection of songs about burnouts, losers, surfers, and rockers sticks in your head for a long time. I dare you not to rock out to the first few chords of this album - in fact, My Name is Jonas will always have a special place for me as it was the first song I ever played on Guitar Hero (it is an *awesome* Guitar Hero song). These guys have stayed good through the years, and they are sometimes claimed to be pioneers of emo or geek-rock or something or other. But basically it just shows that you can go pretty far with and enigmatic lead singer, good lyrics and power chords. Oh and dont forget how cool that video to Buddy Holly is.