Friday, November 30, 2007

No. 260: Buena Vista Social Club

Band: Buena Vista Social Club
Album: Buena Vista Social Club
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On pure quality of the album, this album is up there. A wonderful Cuban music record, Ry Cooder and a group of 70+-year-old Cuban musicians holed themselves up in Havana and played all these songs. Again, I can't claim to know what this is about, I just love it.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Wow, I can't even begin to claim to have knowledge about Cuban music.
Best song: "El Carretero" is so amazing.
Worst song: I didn't like "Murmullo" as much as the other tracks.
Is it awesome?: Yes. Absolutely. Yes. Go buy this. Now.

I plead ignorance. I can only direct you to our good friend Wikipedia:

In 1996, American guitarist Ry Cooder had been invited to Havana by British world music producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records to record a session where two African High-life musicians from Mali were to collaborate with Cuban musicians. On Cooder's arrival (via Mexico to avoid the ongoing U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba), it transpired that the musicians from Africa had not received their visas and were unable to travel to Havana. Cooder and Gold changed their plans and decided to record an album of Cuban son music with local musicians.

To say that it's a great, mind-expanding (not in the drugs way) record is probably silly. I can't say that I know anything about Cuban music, but this album is wonderfully fun. It's the kind of record I think nearly anyone could dance to.

It kind of makes me wonder if this type of music is being made in Cuba right now. I have to think it is; This record came out in 1997 and the opening track was written in 1987. It's the kind of thing where maybe I'll end up listening to more Cuban music if I can find some.

So, hooray, Buena Vista Social Club.

No. 259: Crosby, Stills & Nash

Band: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Album: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Supergroup was the word of the time in the late 1960s, as Cream and CSN made their hay. Each member of CSN brought their strengths -- Crosby was socially conscious, Nash wrote great hooks and Stills had the musical background to meld styles -- and the band expanded on the Simon & Garfunkel harmonic style.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't love Simon & Garfunkel and I don't love CSN.
Best song: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is great.
Worst song: "You Don't Have to Cry" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Meh. M-e-h.

I was going to write something laudatory about this album, but then, I came across this sentence from our good friend Wikipedia:

Their utilization of personal events in their material without resorting to subterfuge, their talents in vocal harmony, their cultivation of painstaking studio craft, as well as the Laurel Canyon ethos that surrounded the group and their associates, established an aesthetic for a number of acts that came to define the "California" sound of the ensuing decade, including The Eagles, Jackson Browne, post-1974 Fleetwood Mac, and others.

Ugh. You know my love for Fleetwood Mac, but I despise The Eagles and Jackson Browne. So, if Crosby, Stills & Nash's first album really defined those bands, I say boo.


Harmonies are pretty and guitar fingerwork is nice. But, really, what does CSN give you that Simon & Garfunkel doesn't? I guess they have moments of harder rock (which I appreciate, certainly, as soft rock doesn't do it for me), but they're clearly not as literate as Paul Simon is.

"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is a wonderful piece of music and I always enjoy it when it comes on. But, the rest of the album is basically Byrds-y melodies with a bunch of dudes singing. I appreciate how hard it is to write a song like that, but I don't enjoy it.

Quite simply, they were better with Neil Young.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

No. 258: American Beauty

Band: The Grateful Dead
Album: American Beauty
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Containing three of the band's signature songs, "American Beauty" is a touchstone in the Dead timeline. In "Sugar Magnolia," "Truckin'" and "Box Of Rain," the album features a poppier direction for the band.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I know I should like the Dead, but I don't. They're innovative in combining the myriad folk styles of America (blues, country, bluegrass, rock, etc.), but they fall flat on me, for some reason.
Best song: "Truckin'" is a song I know because I listened to a lot of classic rock radio growing up. It's not bad.
Worst song: I can't stand "Attics of My Life."
Is it awesome?: This is clearly not my thing.

I can't give you a lot about the Grateful Dead, being that I don't care for them. So, instead, I'll give you some jokes about Deadheads:

What do you call a Deadhead whose girlfriend just broke up with him?

How do you know if a Deadhead has been in your house?
He's still there.

What's brown and looks great on a Deadhead?
A Doberman.

What's orange and red and looks great on a Deadhead?

I'll be here all week. Please, tip your wait staff.

No. 257: Stardust

Band: Willie Nelson
Album: Stardust
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In lieu of his folk and country stylings, Willie Nelson's 1978 album is simply a group of standards, reinterpreted by the famed weed smoking singer.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I was pleasantly surprised by this album. It's really quite good and puts a fantastic spin on some wonderful standards.
Best song: Nelson's version of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" is fantastic.
Worst song: Most of the record is amazing, but I am not a fan of "Unchained Melody" in any form, including this one. Seriously, does anyone like this song?
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

My familiarity with most of the famous version of songs on "Stardust" is one of mostly indifference. I'm a child of boomers, so my childhood was bathed in The Beatles, Stones and Who.

Still, I'm an American and I've seen old movies. I know "Stardust." I know Irving Berlin. I know "Georgia On My Mind" and I know "Someone To Watch Over Me." All of those songs have been in about 1,000 romantic comedies.

And, really, we know the usual arrangement: Extra Anglo sounding male singer, swirling strings and backing chorus. To hear Willie Nelson's honey sweet voice and his, well, lack of strings really recasts the songs in a nice light.

It's easy to forget that Nelson started his career not as a singer, but as a songwriter. So, for him to make a record like this one is something of a move against the grain. Certainly, it fits. Nelson's voice is among the best in country music and the angst/desperation in said voice is incredibly moving.

This is the type of album that makes me glad to be doing this project. I'd never heard this album before and now I'm finding it to be wonderful. This is one that won't disappear off the iPod when I'm done writing it up. "Stardust" is a classic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No. 256: The Velvet Rope

Band: Janet Jackson
Album: The Velvet Rope
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On Jackson's sixth studio album, her songwriting expanded to include songs about self-determination, sexual-political issues and general love songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd suggest that "Janet." is a better record of hers, as "The Velvet Rope" is bogged down by endless interludes and songs about bisexuality (we get it, you like to kiss girls).
Best song: "Go Deep" is a great sexually explicit dance number.
Worst song: Her version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" isn't good.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty good, but it's not great.

I don't know if the Rolling Stone editors are stupid, this album is a big reason. The blurb on RS' Web site about the record is as follows:

Jackson left behind her girl-next-door image forever with The Velvet Rope, an album of sexy, confessional, freewheeling hip-hop soul. She fuses Joni Mitchell and Q-Tip in "Got 'Til It's Gone," but the shocker is her girl-girl version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night."

(Emphasis is mine.)

Um, "The Velvet Rope" came out in 1997. Four years prior, Jackson released "Janet.," which was an album that included the singles "Any Time, Any Place," "Throb," "What I'll Do" and "If." All of those songs are relatively explicit descriptions of sex. Not girl next door sex. "Throb" sex.


"The Velvet Rope" is more realized. Certainly, Jackson's feelings on sexuality are a bit more nuanced than on "Janet." though, I'd suggest that her emphasis on bisexuality has all the markings of a quarter-life crisis (when, indeed, she was 31 when the record came out). She also was more introspective, as "You" explores the unpleasantness of facades and falseness of being an entertainer.

But, I can't help but think that "The Velvet Rope" just isn't what it should be. At her heart, Janet Jackson makes dance music and dance music doesn't always work with songs about accepting homosexuality (a noble cause, indeed), as she attempts on "Free Xone."

"Got 'Til It's Gone" and "Deep" are the album standouts, largely on that simplicity that was evident in "Janet." "Got 'Til It's Gone" is based on a Q-Tip guest spot and a Joni Mitchell sample that work amazing well with Jackson's honey-rich voice. "Deep" is more of a club dance number that's about, well, going deep to the point of getting no sleep. That's the kind of thing we expect out of Janet Jackson and rightfully so.

The album has its highlights, but between the muddy sexual liberation songs and the endless interludes (the idea of sex over a dialup modem sounds positively quaint today), it's hard to find the great songs.

No. 255: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Band: The Kinks
Album: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A loose concept album, the Village Green record takes the Sgt. Pepper concept and actually fleshes it out. What if the Kinks were a community group looking to celebrate the hamlet life?
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Again, the Kinks' early records -- along with the Who -- really set up punk rock and records like "Village Green" are more meandering.
Best song: "Picture Book" is wonderful and "The Village Green Preservation Society" sets up the album well.
Worst song: "Animal Farm" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It is. I'm sort of torn on it, but I do enjoy it.

By no means do I want this to be a political piece, but I don't know if I have a choice. Maybe because The National Review fancies the Kinks to be one of the most conservative bands of all time, or maybe because I find technology to be both interesting and useful, but there's something about "Village Green" that makes me uneasy.

The album's theme, really (by most 2007 American political standards), is a mostly conservative one. RS calls it "Ray Davies' nostalgic ode to British pastoral life," which is certainly true. The record mostly speaks of the idealized hamlet life, a small town where everyone knows one another's name, as evidenced by the outcast characters in the songs ("Johnny Thunder," "Monica," etc.).

Moreover, the theme of nostalgia and classical art is well-established in the opening track:

We are the office block persecution affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you

Skyscrapers: Bad. Little shops: Good. Virginity: Good. Old ways: Not to be abused. New ways: Not to be used.


I don't want to deride nostalgia; My existance is almost entirely hamstrung by my own nostalgia. I'm constantly looking backward in my personal relationships with "what could have been" and "what happened" more than a normal person probably should.

I once wrote a long piece a little while ago that derides the death of the independent record store. It's a piece wherein I struggle with my own feelings on nostalgia and progress. I'm not going to put you through that. The indie record store is how I got into music and it will always be in my blood.

But, progress happens. You can do one of two things: You can get with it or you can get out of the way. I still buy CDs (a lot of CDs, in fact. I recently spent $85 at the local record store), but I also buy a lot of music through iTunes, Sub Pop's MP3 shop and Touch and Go's similar shop. I subscribe to eMusic for a lot of my indie stuff, though I might cancel that, as it just doesn't have the selection I'd like. My point is this: I'm trying to evolve.


But, it brings up the point: Progress is good. The hamlet lifestyle is lampooned in the fantasticly funny Hot Fuzz.

It's sort of funnny that everyone I knew in college that loved this album was a super liberal hipster, as the album has such a conservative edge. The free-love types that used to tout it at our annual Top 88 meetings always brought up a song from this record. Before I actually started to look into the album's lyrics and the context, I thought it was just a hippie record (it was recorded in '68, for Christ's sakes!).

There's certainly a chance that Davies wrote this record in satire, but I've found no evidence of that. Quite simply, Davies wishes for a more simple time. A patently ludicrous statement, but that's how he feels, apparently.


With all of that said, this album is soncially amazing. I'm no Anglophile, but the Kinks are the consummate British band and this tribute to the hamlet is decidedly British. It's wonderfully crafted and the addition of Nicky Hopkins on keyboards really brings out the band's sound.

Hopkins' influence leads off the record. "The Village Green Preservation Society" is filled with a rollicking piano that drives the song along. "Songbird" doesn't feature Hopkins, but rather a pretty flute that, of course, mimics a bird's call.

And, really, nostalgia isn't all bad. "Do You Remember Walter?" is a conversation that happens every time I hook up with old friends over holidays in Chicago. "Johnny Thunder" continues the Kinks tradition ("Lola," "Apeman," "Dandy," etc.) of painting a vivid character study (how's that for mixed metaphors?). "Picture Book," of course, is probably the band's most famous mid-career song, thanks to a camera ad in 2004. The song's low end drives it, with the drums and bass thumping along with a nice lyric about capturing memories of days gone by.

It's a fantastic-sounding record and the band's most fully realized effort. While I may not agree with the premise (moving forward is bad), I can't deny the album's greatness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No. 254: Whitney Houston

Band: Whitney Houston
Album: Whitney Houston
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: There's nary a female R&B singer who doesn't channel Whitney Houston's vocal style at some point. As all the Akons of the world want to be Michael Jackson, all the Rihannas of the world want to be Whitney Houston.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Come on, now. Whitney Houston? Outside of Huey Lewis, is there a better picture of 1980s pop nonsense?
Best song: "How Will I Know" is fun.
Worst song: Honestly, until convinces me that "The Greatest Love of All" is about masturbation (I don't think it is), I hate it.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Before I got Netflix (a few months ago), I never saw many movies. In fact, the movies I've seen the most are likely anything that played on Comedy Central in the afternoon when I was in late high school and college. Basically, any cheesy late-'80s/early-'90s comedy is something I know. "Soul Man," "Back To School," "Men At Work," etc.

Most of those movies are terrible. "PCU" (not from the same time period, but was on a lot) has its draws, but that's the type of movie we're talking about. Anyway, the Eddie Murphy classic "Coming To America" was one of those movies and, by far, the best Comedy Central movie ever. Even when censored for basic cable, it makes me fall down laughing.

What does it have to do with Whitney Houston's first album? Well...

(You need to get about two and a half minutes into it for Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate's version of "The Greatest Love Of All," but it's worth it.)


Accolades for this album:
  • The best-selling debut album (13 million copies. Seriously.) for a female artist until Britney Spears' first record.

  • Six singles were released from the album, and three hit no. 1.

  • The album stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for over three years (162 weeks).

Someone likes Whitney Houston.


From a draft of the film adaptation of Bret Eason Ellis' satire of 1980s violent American consumer culture, "American Psycho":

It's hard to choose a favorite track among so many great ones, but "The Greatest Love of All" is one of the best, most powerful songs ever written about self-preservation and dignity. It's universal message crosses all boundaries, and instills one with the hope that it's not too late to better ourselves. to act kinder. Since, Elizabeth, it's impossible in the world we live in to empathize with others, we can always empathize with ourselves. It's an important message, crucial, really, and it's beautifully stated on the album.

For anyone familiar with the movie or book, the character of Patrick Bateman (the protagonist) is empty inside and his proclamations of his love for, mostly, synthetic and mindless pop music reflects the emptiness of the greed culture of the 1980s. That Ellis chooses Whitney Houston to be the picture of 1980s music is fun, but she sold a lot of records.

EditHere's the scene:

No. 253: Trans-Europe Express

(German version)
Band: Kraftwerk
Album: Trans-Europe Express
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On the band's fifth album, Kraftwerk (German for “Factory”) found itself using custom built sequencers and synthesizers. It also had a truly full concept; The songs on the record are a celebration of European culture in varying forms, from the title track to the opening track, “Europe Endless.” Generally, Kraftwerk is the first real electronic band and have been sampled by endless hip hop and electronic records, most famously on the alleged first real hip hop track, Afrika Bambaataa's “Planet Rock.”
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not a foreground album. Kraftwerk works best as a soundtrack to something else and it's not fully realized, I'd say. I like it as the type of thing you play at a party, but to sit down and listen to it is not easy. I think, on some level, the RS editors felt Kraftwerk to be important, but since they don't have a greatest hits compilation, this album had to do. “Man-Machine” is probably a better album.
Best song: The title track and the next track, “Metal on Metal,” are fantastic.
Worst song: “Franz Schubert” isn't great
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

In a time when German nationalism wasn't, um, popular (1975), Kraftwerk leader Ralf Hütter said in an interview with Creem magazine the following:

So you see another group, like Tangerine Dream, although [it is] German, [it has] an English[-language] name, so [it creates] on-stage an Anglo–American identity, which we completely deny. We want the whole World to know that we are from Germany, because the German mentality – which is more advanced – will always be part of our behaviour. We create out of the German language, the mother-language, which is very mechanical; we use it as the basic structure of our music.

Like the rest of the world (and specifically those who share the faith of my upbringing), I'm not entirely comfortable with German culture being considered more "advanced" than any other. There's nothing wrong with being proud to be German; I'm proud to be American in a lot of ways. But, still. That statement creeps me out a little. Just a little.


Moog-heavy dance beats, the Casio synth, digital drumbeats, Afrika Bambaataa, "The Message," Ministry, Trans Am, the synth line in Whitney Houston's "Someone For Me," Einstruzen Neubaten, Krautrock, Can's popularity, the Neu! remasters, Moby, Daft Punk, etc.

There are few truly unique bands. Der Kraftwerk is one of them.

Monday, November 26, 2007

No. 252: Metallica

Band: Metallica
Album: Metallica
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A record that both influenced and pulled from the mainstream, the “Black Album” (as it was known) produced the band's largest commercial success, by far. It came out at a weird time, right before “Nevermind,” yet managed to keep pure (ish) metal in the spotlight. Songs like “Sad But True,” “Enter Sandman” and “The Unforgiven” remain in the culture to this day, 15 years after the album was released.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm totally clouded by my childhood in this one. This album was hugely popular when I was 10-12, which is the exact age this album is likely written for. Pre-teen boys love this nonsense and – like many albums on this list – it is such a part of my childhood that I know it backwards and forwards.
Best song: “Sad But True” is the best pure rhythm song on the record, with Ulrich and Newsted providing the thump while “Enter Sandman” is an unforgettable riff.
Worst song: “The Struggle Within” isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Again, this album is in my blood, so I would say, undeniably yes.

It's hard not to think of both The Beatles' White Album and Spinal Tap in reference to this record. Metallica is the type of band that eventually turned into Tap (constantly losing bassists, going through alcohol-fueled near-breakups, etc.) and the famous line in the movie reminds one of this album's cover. It cannot be more black.

Still, nearly anyone my age has this album memorized. The first time I had long hair, I mimicked Jason Newsted's circular headbang to “Through The Never,” I envisioned myself walking up to home plate (and still do, to this day) to “Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True.” I've driven to work crooning along with “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters.”

It's tattooed on my brain. What can I say?

Is a lot of it nonsense? Absolutely. “The God That Failed” is a lyrical misstep on par with Reznor's attempt to channel Nietzsche. I still can't figure out if “Don't Tread On Me” is sincerely patriotic or ironically pro-America. I'd venture that it's really pro-America for two reasons. The first is that the Gadsen Flag snake is the gray figure on the cover, and “Don't Tread On Me” was the phrase on said flag. The other reason is simple and could be totally wrong. I was young at the time (so, my memory is probably wrong), but I don't know of anyone who protested the first Iraq war – going on at the time – other than Ministry's “N.W.O.”

Metallica was the first real thrash metal band to have any real success. Certainly, this record kept the thrash to a minimum and had a more pop overtone to it. But, still, it had the elements – specifically, songs like “Through The Never” and “Enter Sandman” have really hard parts to them – of a thrash metal record. In some ways, it brought back metal's credibility in the face of grunge and the idiocy of hair metal.

And it's written for pre-teen boys. The lyrics are easy to remember, they overlay awesome guitar riffs and they say basically nothing. That final point, particularly, is a standard of one of the album's best tracks, “Sad But True.” The inner monologue/dual personality thing is patently ridiculous, if you deconstruct it, as its largely based on some idiotic horror movie (our good friend Wikipedia claims “Magic” from 1978) and represents the same ethos that “Fight Club” and Smashing Pumpkins' “Disarm” does; Duality. Hippy hooray. Who cares? That shit is high school English class stuff. We all know it.

Still, that riff is undeniable, as evidenced by the several times that hip hop and nu-metal groups sample it. Kid Rock himself had a hit sampling it in “American Badass,” a truly horrible song.

That's the whole record in a nutshell. Great riffs with mostly nonsense lyrics. Still, it's tattooed on my brain, so I adore it. “Metallica” is awesome.

No. 251: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul

Band: Otis Redding
Album: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On the last record released before his untimely death, Otis was branching out by doing a more varied set of songs. He hit C&W, rock and roll and his own classic soul to assemble this seminal album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There's a lot of Otis on this list and with each one, I get a little more tired of him. Certainly, yes, he was the greatest soul singer, but with each subsequent record, I find more flaws.
Best song: “Try A Little Tenderness” and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" are synonymous with Redding's name and signature songs.
Worst song: “You're Still My Baby” isn't great.
Is it awesome?: If only on the strength of those two songs, yes.

I have a friend (the same friend who wanted to make love to Frank Zappa) who used to claim that Otis Redding wrote 40% of the truly great R&B songs. That's a gross overestimation, but, certainly, Redding was a fantastic songwriter.

On “The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul,” Redding wasn't doing the writing, per se, but still doing plenty of other people's songs. Surprisingly, his version of the Lennon/McCartney classic “Day Tripper” is fantastic. Taking risks, he made the classic country standard “Tennessee Waltz” his own and put his own stamp on the big band classic “Try A Little Tenderness.” In fact, on “Try A Little Tenderness,” Redding's name has overtaken the original artists of the song, making it his own.

In addition, the record showcased Redding's ability to sing with sadness in his heart and a hitch in his voice. His own songs, "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "She Put the Hurt on Me” are brilliant songs, filled with achingly beautiful vocals.

Otis' band, including the famous MG Steve Cropper, is tight as can be on this record. The stops in “Day Tripper” mirror their version of “Satisfaction” and the ability to arrange the “Tennessee Waltz” to an R&B song is brilliant.

Overall, a wonderful record and something to discover, despite the overkill in regards to Redding.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No. 250: The River

Band: Bruce Springsteen
Album: The River
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Blah blah Springsteen, blah blah no E-Street Band, blah blah boomer erection, blah blah I don't like him.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: See above.
Best song: "Hungry Heart” isn't bad.
Worst song: The album isn't really good, but “Ramrod” is specifically bad.
Is it awesome?: Not at all.

Two things about this album:
  • I have a friend who likes Springsteen who specifically told me yesterday “Even I don't think 'The River' is all that great.” So, there's that.

  • Whenever people review Magnolia Electric Co./Songs:Ohia records, this album is brought up. I love the Magnolia Electric Co. and after hearing this album, I can see the comparison, but, really, Magnolia Electric Co. records are always much better.

Friday, November 23, 2007

No. 249: Low

Band: David Bowie
Album: Low
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Always one to push the envelope, “Low” is one of his most avant garde records. Because he'd recently kicked a cocaine habit, most of the album deals with the physical and emotional things Bowie was feeling while leaving the drug behind. In order to fully realize this, Bowie enlisted the genius of Brian Eno to create a wider sound that included some electronic elements.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As with every Bowie album, there are tons of filler and nonsense on the album
Best song: "Warszawa" is cool and evocative.
Worst song: "Always Crashing in the Same Car" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

“Low” isn't bad, but I like The Sea and Cake's cover of “Sound and Vision” better. Otherwise, it's just a really good Eno album with a crappy singer.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No. 248: Reasonable Doubt

Band: Jay-Z
Album: Reasonable Doubt
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: And... Here we have the best MC in rap music today. Jay-Z ruled most of this decade and the latter half of the previous decade. “Reasonable Doubt” was Jay's first record, the album that laid the foundation for his street rhymes rivaled only by Notorious B.I.G. in terms of East Coast rap. Commercially, it's not where his other records are, but it's artistically amazing.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is the type of record that should be higher, obviously, if only to reflect the modern record-buyer.
Best song: “Brooklyn's Finest” combines B.I.G. and Jay-Z and is a monstrously great song.”Ain't No Nigga” and “Dead Presidents II” are also fantastic.
Worst song: “Cashmere Thoughts” isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

In his primer on the AV Club, Nathan Rabin writes that Jay-Z is, first and foremost, a businessman. His records are the wonderful intersection of art and entertainment, but entertainment rules over the art most of the time.

Jay-Z learned from his debut. The stuff that sold wasn't necessarily the stuff on the album; But, his ability to ear our the best producers and write the best hooks were what mattered. “Reasonable Doubt” retells his ability to come out of the ghetto by hustling and working the streets.

Here's where the record is different from his subsequent records and different from the so-called gangster rap that has ruled the airwaves: “Reasonable Doubt” casts no shining light on this lifestyle. Like B.I.G. Before him, Jay-Z doesn't promote the drug-dealing and hustling lifestyle; It's simply a survival method for him.

“Ain't No Nigga” is the closest, but it's clearly a simple hook (and, not surprisingly, one of the more popular songs on the record). “Dead Presidents II,” of course, is a survival song; A record that gives the street life its due without glorifying it. It is, of course, also the source of the Nas/Jay-Z feud, as Jay-Z sampled Nas' voice on the record.

Again, that we're at the midway point of the list and we only have a handful of rap records is a shame. The list woefully underestimates rap music largely – I imagine – because the RS editors think rap is scary, profane or both. That's too bad. In the same way that blues and folk music told the plight of the working person, rap has done the same.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No. 247: Automatic For The People

Band: R.E.M.
Album: Automatic For The People
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: I can't see this record clearly because I love it so much. It came out when I was relatively young, but I ended up rediscovering it in college and continue to find it fascinating.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There is certainly debate whether this is the best R.E.M. record. The fanbase mostly falls into three camps: the "Automatic" people, the "Document" people and the "Murmur" people. The "Murmur" people are idiots. The "Document" people often are the same people who yell "sellout!" whenever an indie band makes any money. Needless to say, I'm in the "Automatic" camp.
Best song: "Drive" remains one of my favorite songs. "Man On The Moon" was a hit single and is beautifully crafted.
Worst song: This is going to surprise some people, but I don't really care for "Everybody Hurts."
Is it awesome?: No doubt about it.

Back when I was in high school and college (Jesus Christ, that was 10 years ago. I'm getting old), the idea of "selling out" was a curse on anyone with ties to the independent rock community. The grunge superstars were able to bypass it, but even some people continue to claim that "Bleach" is better than "Nevermind" or that "Kingdom of Come" is better than "Superunknown." This, of course, is patently ridiculous.

The threat of a band signing with a major label is that the label will come in and tell the band how to augment or change its sound to sell more records. Maybe the label'll ask for a duet with Rihanna. Maybe they will want a cadre of Swedes to punch up the sound.

Thanks to the explosion of Nirvana and R.E.M., this didn't happen as much as a lot of people think. However, a lot of bands do get fat on major label money and decide to add all kinds of orchestral bullshit to their records. I think specifically of Elliott Smith's major label debut, "XO," filled with pianos and ridiculous arrangement. The songs still remain, but the arrangements are bloated.

I understand that this discussion has become moot in recent years. The generation that screamed "sellout!" is mostly listening to NPR these days and any band worth their salt has sold songs to a car company. The record industry just isn't a place where you can make any money without selling a little of yourself.

Still, there's nothing wrong with making money.

Nevertheless, R.E.M. did it right. The band's major label, debut, "Green," was a distinctly R.E.M. record and didn't deviate much from the previous album. The band evolved two records later, using the major label money for their opus and masterpiece, "Automatic For The People."


"Automatic" doesn't really sound like an R.E.M. record. The jangly guitar isn't really there. Michael Stipe's lyrics are considerably easier to digest (admittedly, still not very straightforward). The band did add strings, though in this case, they hired a real professional to do them right (John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin bassist and fantastic producer).

The result is wonderful and -- as R.E.M. knows how to do -- achingly beautiful. Pain fills the record, as evidenced by the hit single, "Everybody Hurts." "Everybody Hurts" is not my favorite R.E.M. song, but it has a great deal of resonance with people. Similarly, "Drive" has the same feeling, but without the overt lyrics. Possibly due to its dark key (d minor) but "Drive" has a feeling of real desperation.

That's not to say the whole album is down. A tribute to Andy Kaufman, "Man On The Moon" is the closest to a classic R.E.M. song and certainly the closest to their jangly sound. Still, it's lyrically playful and a masterpiece of putting a song together.


The minor songs (aka the non-singles) are great, as well. "Monty Got A Raw Deal" takes a great deal from the band's previous album ("Out Of Time") and "Nightswimming" is a pretty, soft ballad. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" is a raucous upbeat number while "Sweetness Follows" is similarly haunting.

It's the band's most mature record and certainly its best. Sellout or no, "Automatic For The People" is brilliant.

No. 246: The Shape of Jazz to Come

Band: Ornette Coleman
Album: The Shape of Jazz to Come
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Easily one of the most influential jazz albums of all time, "The Shape of Jazz to Come" had Ornette Coleman working without the traditional mainframe of even improvisational jazz. There was no piano, had no particular chord structure and took a lot from the blues. It's fantastic.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm fine with this list placement.
Best song: "Lonely Woman" is a classic.
Worst song: It's jazz. It works as an album. All the songs are good.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Jazz is like visual art. I like some pieces and I don't like others. I can't really explain why I like any of it; It just pleases me.

"The Shape of Jazz to Come" pleases me. Free jazz pleases me.

No. 245: Bryter Later

Band: Nick Drake
Album: Bryter Later
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Nick Drake's second album is probably his clearest and most optimistic. Filled with jazz arrangements and easy rhytymns, the record is pretty and goes down easy. Largely an extension of Donovan's folk rock style, Drake's songs of sadness, failed romance and melancholy has gained a huge cult follwing since his death in 1974.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I've never been Drake's biggest fan, but as I'm warming to him lately, largely on my fandom of singers influenced by him (Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith, mostly).
Best song: "Northern Sky" is pretty great.
Worst song: "Fly," an instrumental, isn't terrible, but it's not great.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty good, but I prefer "Pink Moon."

While Drake is wildly known as a soft-spoken singer/songwriter, "Bryter Later" is more upbeat than the rest of his work. The feeling of optimism in the record is palpable and something exciting not we're used to seeing from a guy who died after an antidepressant overdose.

Specifically, "Hazey Jane II" is an instrumental that reflects Drake's ability to arrange for jazz-style records. "Sunday" has a little more of a boisterous feel to it. "At the Chime of a City Clock" is another jazzy record with melancholy lyrics about the city life Drake despised.

Again, I prefer "Pink Moon," but "Bryter Later" is Drake's most eclectic work and, likely, his most interesting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No. 244: Live/Dead

Band: The Grateful Dead
Album: Live/Dead
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Dead were a humongous force on American music in the rock and roll era and the centerpiece of the band was certainly its live shows. Known as the godfathers of jam bands, "Live/Dead" is a peak into that world.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't take drugs (save for cold medicine and the like), so this sort of wanking does nothing for me. I tried to give it a chance, but it's just not interesting. At all. Just long.
Best song: Blah.
Worst song: I just listened to the album twice in a row and could not pick out a song, melody or, really, anything. It was just meandering.
Is it awesome?: No thanks.

I tried. I really did. I tried to listen to this set on my iPod and I tried to listen to it through my stereo. I tried to pick out the songs or themes but couldn't. Ick.

Admittedly, my real entrance into jam bands is Phish, who I don't love, but can appreciate. Compared to the Phish live sets I have (two, but both four-disc sets), this is just unlistenable. The solos go nowhere and the lack of a cohesive force is really striking.

Nevertheless, people like it. I'll simply give you Robert Christgau's feelings on the the record as a counterpoint to my own:

An admitted fanatic raves to all the other admitted fanatics. Side two of this four-sided set contains the finest rock improvisation ever recorded, and the rest is gently transcendent as usual. Beautifully recorded, too. A+

So, there you go. Contrasting opinions.

No. 243: Freak Out!

Band: The Mothers of Invention
Album: Freak Out!
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Frank Zappa was a master at music and was able to regurgitate his years as a session musician in Los Angeles into a genre-bending record. He hit doowop, early rock, blues, jazz and straight up weirdness to make a classic album that influenced just about every musician who heard it.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I imagine this should be higher. As much as I love "Trout Mask Replica," it wasn't possible without "Freak Out!"
Best song: "Trouble Every Day" is a classic and the song everyone knows from this record.
Worst song: "Help, I'm a Rock" is a bit too much, even for me.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

One of my favorite quotes from Frank Zappa was something he said to a crowd during banter in the 1970s.

I have an important message to deliver to all the cute people all over the world: There's a lot more of us ugly motherfuckers that you. So, watch out.

This prompted a friend of mine to say "If Zappa wasn't so dead and ugly, I'd want to make love to him."

So true. So very true.


The best compliment I can give Zappa is this: If Frank Vincent Zappa didn't exist, we would have to invent him. Popular music needed Frank Zappa and popular music owes a great debt to him.

There are a lot of people who try to be quirky or weird just for the sake of doing it. The Mummies come to mind.The people who look for attention by effecting their love for elephants wearing hats or something. And there are people who are so weird, they cannot exist in any formal role. Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beehfeart) was this.

And there are insane geniuses. Syd Barret or even Beefheart had their genius corrupted by mental illnesses. Perhaps the combination of genius and drugs did them in, but certainly, the emotional problems each had helped their art while destroying their minds.

Zappa was none of these things.He was weird, but hardly insane. He was a ridiculously intelligent man (more on this in a bit) and a shrewd businessman who never lost his vision. He could compose for the mainstream (“Over-Nite Sensation,” for example), he could attempt a Broadway musical (“Thing-Fish,” which never got funding) and he could go way out there (almost everything else he did).

He was not on the cusp of any political movement, but his political speech was always pointed and smart. His testimony at the (our good friend Wikipedia has it here) PRMC hearings in 1987 is some of the best arguments for free speech Capitol Hill has ever seen. Not surprisingly, it was also funny.

Zappa's parents -- like so many of his generation -- were immigrants and his background in working class Baltimore affected his music. He was a tremendously hard workers; In his fewer than 30 years of recording, he released over 60 albums under his various recording titles. Since his death in 1993, 15 albums of his unreleased work have been released. Not compilation or greatest hits records. Nope. Just stuff he never released.

The genius of “Freak Out!” is in Zappa's roots. As a session musician in the early 1960s musical macinery that was Hollywood, he learned important lessons. First, the arranger/producer is kind in a lot of pop music. Similarly, his basis in classical music and his overly demanding personality meant he could get the best out of the best musicians. He never accepted a half ass player and he didn't allow for the usual drug and debauchery that the music world – especially the jazz and session players of the SoCal 60s scene – saw during this period.

To call "Freak Out!" experimental rock is like saying the South Pole is a little chilly. The record's penultimate tracks are mostly compositions of the Mothers singing odd little subversive phrases, while the closing track is largely an improvisation.

In an interview with David Fricke, Zappa said he thought the audience for "Freak Out!" was mostly "male, between the ages of sixteen and twenty, from Middle-class, Jewish suburban homes. We were saying something that those particular kids wanted to hear."

Speaking as someone who discovered Zappa as teenage Jewish male from the suburbs, he was right. There's something cerebral, yet lowbrow about Zappa's music (Over-Nite Sensation, for example) that celebrates the whole of the male experience. I've not met a ton of female Zappa fans, and that's fine. I'd rather Zappa be our music than other male-centric stuff like Limp Bizkit.


The album's highlight and the most enduring song from the record is "Trouble Every Day." Partially a blueprint for hard-driving 12 bar epic blues rock records (The Velvet's "Sister Ray" being an example), "Trouble Every Day" sees Zappa himself step out for the vocals. His lyrics are some of the smartest protest lyrics in music. We know protest music largely as songs like "Ohio," "War" and just about anything by Rage Against The Machine, but "Trouble Every Day" examines the race riots of the 1960s from several angles. The first verse blames the first person for watching the riots on TV, the second turns anger towards the police for abusing kids, the third attacking the press for its coverage, the end of the song addressing the cause of the problems: White racism towards black Americans. Of course, the clinching line is spoken, frankly, by Zappa when he says "Hey, you know something people? I'm not black. But there's a whole lots a times. I wish I could say I'm not white."

He devolves somewhat into gutter punk politics in the last verse, saying that the United States isn't free, though one can certainly argue that America wasn't free for black Americans in the 1960s. Nevertheless, it's an amazing track, some sort of combination of excellent protest music and the sort of thing that would've been on the Nuggets had it come out of San Francisco instead of Los Angeles.

(The most recent release of "Freak Out!" has Zappa's notes on the song as such:

Trouble Every Day is how I feel about racial unrest in general and the Watts situation in particular. It was written during the Watts riot as it developed/ I shopped it briefly all over Hollywood but no one would touch it. Everybody worries too much about not getting any air play. My, my.

Of course.)


For me, listening to "Freak Out!" is tremendously exciting. Nearly all the songs use incredibly familiar song styles and genres ("Hungry Freaks, Daddy," for example, also belongs on the Nuggets box), but with some kind of insane twist that challenges each form it uses. "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" has all the makings of a San Francisco freak out, but a jazz vibraphone doubles the rhythm changes, which is something Moby Grape would have never done. "Who Are The Brain Police?" similarly uses orchestrated brass in a way no other 60s band would've tried, especially not in 1966. I still can't put my finger on why "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder" isn't classical doowop. Maybe it is, it's just weird to have Zappa doing it. "Wowie Zowie" is famously the song kids loved from the album, but it's off-the-wall proclamations of love ("I don't even care if you shave your legs" being the one my father found particularly funny) are almost Yankovic-esque in their humor.

Clearly, in addition to being a master arranger and composer, Zappa was a funny man.


Zappa fans sometimes take umbrage at the notion that "Sgt. Pepper" is the first concept album, as "Freak Out!" is a concept album in a similar way. In fact, McCartney himself has ceded that "Freak Out!" influenced "Sgt. Pepper" a great deal. The Suzy Creamcheese character makes appearances and Zappa himself has said that each song has a theme of America in the 1960s.

It's a hard sell, especially since Zappa so masterfully created rock operas later in his career ("Joe's Garage" being, probably, the best). Still, "Freak Out!" doesn't have light songs in any way. Like "Trout Mask Replica," it's not always an easy listen (of course, it's easier listening than TMR is), but it's tremendously rewarding.


Like TMR, Matt Groening cites it as one of his favorite albums. If it's good enough for Matt Groening, it's good enough for you. And me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

No. 242: All Killer, No Filler

Band: Jerry Lee Lewis
Album: All Killer, No Filler
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Along with Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and others, rock and roll was forged from the music of Jerry Lee Lewis. As Johnny Cash was an outlaw in country, Lewis was an outlaw for rock.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Outside of being a big-time skeezy dude, Lewis' music hasn't aged well at all. Unlike Chuck Berry's or Elvis', Lewis' music sounds dated and quaint.
Best song: “Great Balls Of Fire,” of course.
Worst song: All the '70s country stuff at the end of the second disc stinks, but as far as the early rock stuff is concerned, his version of “Chantilly Lace” isn't very good.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Blah blah early rock and roll, blah blah singles artist, blah blah Sun Studios, blah blah dated.

You know the deal:

  • He was married twice by 23, when he married his third wife, who just happened to be his 13-year-old cousin.

  • He had troubles with alcohol and drugs.

  • His cousin is Jimmy Swaggart.

  • Dennis Quaid played him the biopic.

Otherwise, find a greatest hits collection that's in print (this one is out of print and goes for $50 on Amazon Marketplace) in the bargain bin at your local record store and listen sparingly.

No. 241: Black Sabbath

Band: Black Sabbath
Album: Black Sabbath
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The world's first big real metal band's debut is nothing short of amazing. The song's deft blending of hard riffing and blues structures was mirrored by only Led Zeppelin and even then the sound was lessened by Zep's formula. Unrelenting and punishing, “Black Sabbath” is a masterpiece.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As I mentioned in my piece on ”Paranoid,” RS and its list is woefully ignorant of metal and this placing shows that. Save for Metallica and Zeppelin, there are really only a few metal records.
Best song: “The Wizard” is important in that it is largely the space where blues rock turned itself into metal. The harmonica, the riff, the drum fills... it all came to a head here.
Worst song: It's nearly a perfect record, though the ending track, "A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning," goes on a little too long.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Alternative media gadfly, former Black Flag singer and all-around awesome dude Henry Rollins has been doing spoken word tours since the waning days of Black Flag. On one of the albums recording on one of those tours, he lamented the name “el Nino” to describe the weather pattern that afflicted southern California in the 1990s (“El Niño” meaning “the child”):

Maybe we should cal it “The First Four Black Sabbath Albums.” That would work. [TV announcer voice] “Bakersfield California was destroyed today by the first four Black Sabbath Albums.” [/TV Announcer Voice]“Fuck yeah it was!Have you ever heard “Paranoid? Goddamn! That would destroy my town right now!”

Most people are introduced to the band through “Paranoid,” but“Black Sabbath” is where the band's sound – obviously, as it was the band's debut – began. Like the first Zeppelin record, “Black Sabbath” reflected the band's idea of hard rock going forward: An amalgamation of Eric Clapton-style blues rock, the fury of American protopunk and the band's dreary world outlook.

The beginning of the record, in fact, defines dreary. Like the Door's “Riders on the Storm,” “Black Sabbath” begins with rain as it leads into Tony Iommi's (literally) devilish riff.

It's devilish in that... Well, I'll let our good friend Wikipedia explain it:
The main riff is constructed with a harmonic progression including an interval of tritone, that is to say the augmented fourth. That interval was banned from medieval ecclesiastical singing because of its dissonant quality, which led monks to call it diabolus in musica—"the devil in music."

In addition the tritone, the song's tempo and tone is the basis for a lot of modern doom metal. Bands like Earth, Boris and the like use similar slowdown metal as a basis.

The song's lyrical theme is supposedly based on a dream that Geezer Butler recounted to chief lyricist Ozzy Osbourne where the devil was standing before him as he lay in bed (I'm assuming this was a drug experience).

The album's other two highlights are also somewhat drug and occult-induced. While the song “N.I.B.” isn't clearly about drugs, it is sung from the point of view of Lucifer (“My name is Lucifer, please take my hand”), though Geezer Butler claims it's about the devil falling in love and changing his ways.

The band claims“The Wizard” is about Gandalf, but because I hate and constantly mock “The Lord Of The Rings,”I prefer the idea that the song is about the band's drug dealer. Since the band has never fully denied this, I'll go with it.

The song itself is an upbeat romp of a blues song, complete with Ozzy Osbourne's awesome harmonica. Iommi's solo sounds a bit like some of his later solos, reaching ridiculous sustained high notes wile staying within the song's theme. The drum fills and bass drops are also notable, as the song is one of the many Sabbath tunes that feature each player within the song.

Heavy metal is nothing without Sabbath. This, in fact, is the first pure metal abums and one of the genre's best.

Friday, November 16, 2007

No. 240: Run-D.M.C.

Band: Run-D.M.C.
Album: Run-D.M.C.
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On the group's first record, the rap genre was largely defined in spare music and call-and-response rapping.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The record sounds horribly dated; Rap music hasn't sounded like this in years. Even groups that take a cue from the old school (Jurassic 5, for example) sound much more modern.
Best song: "Rock Box," "It's Like That (That's Just The Way It Is)" and "Sucker M.C.s (Krush-Groove 1)" are all classics.
Worst song: "30 Days" isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: It's not as good as "Raising Hell" and it does sound dated, but it is highly influential.

One of the overwhelming themes with this list and my analysis (Ha! Analysis!) is that I use the word "important" a fair amount. That's probably foolish, as music isn't something easy to quantify in any way other than "I like it" or "I don't like it." It's art. Save for record sales (not a great indicator) or Grammys (a very crappy indicator), there isn't a number to fall back on. It's not like analyzing the stock market or baseball players. Those are black and white.

Still, I'm a journalist by trade (not for this project necessarily, I work for a news magazine and have worked in print/online journalism my whole career), So I understand that Rolling Stone is something of an opinion maker/recorder of history. I deride this list for a a lot of reasons -- it's baby boomer-centric, it ignores rap, etc. -- but it's still Rolling fucking Stone. People read Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone's account of which albums are the greatest is not only a cool argument-starter (as this whole project shows), but the list is taken, at the very least, as a suggestion as to which albums are the best.

Obviously, "greatest" is even more nebulous. RS calls it the "greatest" albums of all time, and I have absolutely no fucking idea what that means. So, I try to couch it in "Well, was this album influential or not? Did other people hear it and start a band? Did it sell a lot?" All those factors come into play when I call a record "important."

If I had to make a list of what I consider the best albums ("Revolver," "Dark Side," etc.) of all time, I don't know if I could do it. I imagine it would be pretty different from a list of my favorite albums ("Either/Or," "Animals," "Spiderland," Isis' "Panopticon," etc.), though there'd certainly be some overlap.

But, I'm just a dude on the Web. I'm not Rolling Stone, the former voice of the counter culture, the supposedly most important music magazine in the United States. When Rolling Stone puts out a list, again, it's taken with a certain amount of levity.

So, I hope RS gets it right. Of course, it's just my opinion, but I think there are serious problem with important records on the list.


Which brings us to Run-D.M.C.'s first record. It was something of a revelation in its time; Hip hop was in its infancy and the group did something totally different to frame the genre. Not until the 90s did rap music sound considerably different; Every rapper in the 80s took what Run-D.M.C.'s style and appropriated it. Even Eric B and Rakim took the group's production style and spun a slightly different flow on it.

Pitchfork sums it up well:

It's hard to hear Run-DMC's music as music in 2005. For 20 years, their singles have been dorm-room staples like Hendrix and Marley; they danced with Steven Tyler on a hundred VH-1 video countdowns, their fedora-clad images have fossilized into pop consciousness. The group hasn't been relevant to rap in nearly 20 years; most of the music played on urban stations' old-school mixes comes from years after the group's peak...But musically, it's spare and hard and densely compelling, and it probably sounded terrifying in 1984.

On some level, that's what makes Run D.M.C. important. They're one of the genre's biggest titans, a group whose work has been copied and co-opted a million times.

No. 239: Let It Be

Band: The Replacements
Album: Let It Be
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On the band's third album, the 'Mats went more in a songwriting direction, focusing more on Westerberg's contributions. The results is a lush, genre-stealing work that features mandolins, shuffle beats and, of course, the band's signature garage sound.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I think this is fitting, as the 'Mats are a great band. This record isn't necessarily their top album, (That'd be "Tim,") but it's good.
Best song: "I Will Dare" is great and the single had the band covering "Hey Good Lookin'" and "20th Century Boy" as the B-sides. How great is that?
Worst song: "Androgynous" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's good, but I'm not in love.

Not as good as "Tim" and mostly just more garage rock ("Gary's Got a Boner?" Seriously? . Next.

(For what it's worth, Robert Christgau loves it. Also, said Paul Westerberg, "This was the first time I had songs that we arranged, rather than just banging out riffs.")

Thursday, November 15, 2007

No. 238: Can't Buy a Thrill

Band: Steely Dan
Album: Can't Buy A Thrill
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Jazzy, funky, rock-,uh,-y... Steely Dan's debut album has a smooth feel.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Steely Dan doesn't have a ton of fans and I don't totally see the draw in them.
Best song: The first two tracks are the hits from the record ("Dirty Work" and "Do It Again") are pretty great, as is the third hit, "Reelin' in the Years."
Worst song: I don't love "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again."
Is it awesome?: Well...

You may remember my claiming ignorance for Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew?" So much so that I punted the review to a friend?

Well, I'm doing that again. Basketball expert and world's biggest Steely Dan fan Kelly Dwyer ("I'm the only Steely Dan fan I've ever met," he says.) is here to fill the space.

Here are some of the credentials he owns:

Anyway, the point is this: He knows his shit. His words follow:


One of my major quibbles with the RS list, and Ross' continued breakdown, is the emphasis on what is "important" and what dissipates in time. (Ed. note: I will be writing about this soon.) I've no interest in that, I can understand why "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" means the world to a modern world full of guys with spit curls and zero Otis Redding albums, but it shouldn't mean I should have to give a rip.

"Can't Buy a Thrill" isn't important. It's the plexiglass sound of two assholes handing songs to a band full of mustaches and beards and overalls and it was recorded during downtime when the assholes in question were on a midnight holiday removed from writing songs for Denny Doherty. It's the first album anyone heard that used plastic keyboards and electric sitars for sounds not intended to accurate and/or soulful; instead, the "instruments" were used to unnerve and enervate. Years before Farfisas and odd stringed-things were thrown into the mix by self-aware, too-informed bands with five Nuggets copies between them, these assholes used them because they sounded right.

The album, more or less, is this picture:

It's that peace sign, and that sneer. The sneer that allows for "Change of the Guard," that allows for spelling "midnight" with an "n-i-t-e." It's an inside joke. It's a peace sign that doesn't count. It's a pose that few others -- no others, probably -- can pull off. Lord knows I've tried, but it comes off as too damn sincere and I'm embarrassed by the time I look at the back of that tall kid's camera. It's an album that draws you in, fooling with tripe like "motion in the music" before it laughs down your sleeve at you for actually taking it seriously. If that's cold or cruel or calculating, then boo-fucking-hoo. Elliott Randall's in the parking lot, if you can't pull off the necessary pull-offs.

It's not their best, and it's probably not something they're proud of, but it works. Dearest Gustav, beloved Tristan: Dan Steele. Outre' Daniel, Steely Dan. It's growing.

No. 237: Like A Prayer

Band: Madonna
Album: Like A Prayer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Looking for some credibility (and, of course, some publicity), Madonna became more personal, recording some personal balladry and religious nonsense.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Madonna's work is not encapsulated in this record; Her influence -- and her best work -- came earlier than this. "Like A Virgin" should be the high Madonna record.
Best song: "Express Yourself" is a classic.
Worst song: "Act Of Contrition" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Eh.

It's amazing to think of Madonna being shocking to people. To whit:

Icons like Tom Cruise and Madonna are so calculated and scripted in their every move that, like Bale in Psycho, they often come off like career-minded androids pretending to be human. I suspect that when the Madonna android has fulfilled her use for the evening, her handlers shut her down, then restart her the next morning for Pilates class or a business meeting. Even when the Madonna android does something seemingly spontaneous or rebellious, like trying to shock David Letterman by talking about pot and dropping the F-bomb indiscriminately, it feels like the programmers behind her simply downloaded a provocation upgrade into her mainframe and waited for revenue-generating controversy to ensue.

The above quote is from Nathan Rabin's sublimeMy Year Of Flops blog on

But, it fits. This was the time when Madonna started making somewhat calculated moves in an effort to "shock" America. Sadly, we were still enraptured enough with her to take nonsense like "Spanish Eyes" and the title track seriously. So, when she brought a black Jesus statue to life, the Vatican got all made.

It's actually kind of quaint now, isn't it?


You'd be hard to find someone of my age who doesn't think Madonna was pretty great in her time. Pretty much every female I know within five years of my age at once played dress up to look like Madonna and sang in front of someone, belting out "Like A Prayer" or something else from her late '80s catalog.

However you feel about her music -- pure pop meant to solely sell records to impressionably teenagers -- Madonna's style was something incredibly important.

Again, "Like A Prayer" was the beginning of the Material Girl's decline and the music shows it. It's well-tread territory -- the Prince duet, the disco beats, the confessional to her parents -- but Madonna still could sell it. If nothing, she was a saleswoman; In fact, who sold sex better?

As the shock value wore down, she ended up in the crazy zone (1992's "Erotica" was idiotic on, like, 10 levels), but "Like A Prayer" predates that. There are highlights; "Express Yourself" and "Cherish" are excellent songs. But, Rolling Stone allegedly calls it " close to art as pop music gets" (I say allegedly because I can't find the source) and that's total nonsense. Madonna may have fancied herself an artist because she wrote a ballad about her dead mother, but that's totally off.

It's not Madonna's best record or even close. It's fine, but it's the first in her descent.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No. 236: The Who Sings My Generation

(U.S. cover)

(U.K. cover)
Band: The Who
Album: The Who Sings My Generation
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Who's debut is a rocking exploration of sound and space, as well as a picture perfect rereading of early R&B-tinged rock and roll. The record's taut sound is only rivaled by its sheer energy.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: My opinion is that this record should be the top-ranked Who album, not the bloated "Who's Next." "My Generation" is punk before punk existed and furious in its passion.
Best song: Is there a bad song on here? I'd suggest no. "I Don't Mind" is great early rock and roll balladry, but it's not the best thing the band has ever recorded.
Worst song: Nope.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

In writing about "Who's Next," I say that "The Who was a great proto-punk band and a great bunch of mods" and this first record shows that as well as anything. What is "My Gneration" if not a punk rock record?

Like the Kinks, the Who occupied the Mod subculture in 1960s London, trotting about in slimline jackets, shorter (well, shorter than the rockers, at least) hair cuts. They rode around on Vespa and Piaggio scooters. See the "Quadrophenia" movie. You'll see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, whatever scene they identified with, the band's first album and early single basically form the template for punk rock. Certainly, the band's

Rock and roll before the Who was pleasant and it was dangerous because it was titillating. The danger was in the sexuality, it was subtle and it was a threat to their innocence.

The Who changed that. The Who took rock and roll's sound and added, probably, the most often-quoted anti-authority line of the mid-60s: "I hope I die before I get old."

The song's open "fuck you" (in the above line or the "why don't you all just f-f-f-ade away") to the older, "greatest," generation was more of a middle finger than any dance Elvis could ever swing or more than any haircut John Lennon would refuse. Pete Townsend stated it deinitively and bluntly: It's us against them and they can kiss our asses.

The band followed it up with their live performances. Toward the end of the song, as John Entwistle played, Townsend smashed his guitar and Moon would kick through, set fire to and generally destroyed his kit.

The message, again, was clear: We're not fucking around.


This is where punk rock got its attitude. One of the Clash's first American tours was with the Who, largely because the Who saw them as their earlier selves. While the Who devolved into stadium pomp-rock, the early records rock with a ferocity of 19-year-old Keith Moon pounding away.

"My Generation" is that. Feeding back, screeching and furious, it's punk at its earliest and, possibly, best.

No. 235: Mr. Excitement!

Band: Jackie Wilson
Album: Mr. Excitement!
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Jackie Wilson is in the class of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding as far as R&B singers go, but it largely forgotten because his popularity came just before the other two. Honey-voiced and sweet, he was the love and wonder-type soul singer.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know many of his songs, but he's perfectly pleasant.
Best song: "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" and "(I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real" are pretty great.
Worst song: "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" is not so good.
Is it awesome?: It's great, but it's an easier-listening Sam Cooke record.

Jackie Wilson's fame was mostly short as he was one of the trailblazers of R&B music. At point, his voice sounds soulful and real, but at points his voice gets a little annoying. I've heard his version of "My Way" (not on this set) and it sounds like the way Eddie Murphy talks when he's imitating a white guy.

Now... I understand that Wilson was probably trying to emulate the white singers of his day, but it still sounds a little strange.


According to our good friend Wikipedia, Wilson, well, let's just quote it:

Wilson suffered a massive heart attack while playing a Dick Clark show at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on September 29, 1975, falling head-first to the stage; he was singing "Lonely Teardrops". The blow to the head Wilson suffered left him comatose. For the next eight years and four months he was in a vegetative state until his death at age 49.



I hate to be that guy -- again, I worry that it paints me as racist -- but I can't see how Wilson is anywhere near the singer that Otis Redding was. i guess it makes sense that this set is so low as compared to Redding's work; Wilson was Redding's precursor, but he wasn't Redding's equal.

Also, Jackie Wilson converted to Judaism as an adult. That's, um, cool? Maybe?


Overall, it's great set, if you can find it. The first disc has some of Wilson's work with the famous soul group The Dominoes and their version of "Stormy Weather" is amazing. The set is long out of print, with copies going on Amazon Marketplace for $185(!) and no copies on eBay. Crazy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No. 234: The Ultimate Collection

Band: Patsy Cline
Album: The Ultimate Collection
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Patsy Cline exists in the same place as Hank Williams. She died early, she recorded a fair amount of stuff and her country music influence is similarly influential. "Crazy" itself put songwriter Willie Nelson on the map.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Placing Cline on this list is a hard thing to do. Like the early rock and rollers or Williams, she didn't record albums in the traditional way as bands like The Beatles or Stones. Not surprisingly, I'm not the world's biggest Patsy Cline fan.
Best song: "Walkin' After Midnight" and "Crazy" are both classics.
Worst song: "I Cried All the Way to the Altar" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: I don't really know. This isn't my type of music, but she's wildly important.

She's dead, she's popular and I don't get it. Next.

No. 233: Bookends

Band: Simon and Garfunkel
Album: Bookends
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Certainly, Simon and Garfunkel are of some import, so their songs are a huge part of the culture. The three famous tracks on "Bookends" are no different.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The non-single tracks aren't great; They're simply well-written. The arrangement don't do even the singles justice and, quite frankly, not a lot of riks were being taken.
Best song: Both "Mrs. Robinson" and "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" are excellent.
Worst song: "Voices of Old People" is just that and it freaks me the fuck out. "Overs" isn't great, either.
Is it awesome?: I'm getting tired of these two, but this album has its charms.

"Bookends" is a Simon and Garfunkel album, so expecting them to start arranging crazy synths and such is probably foolish. Certainly, they started doing some things different around this time (1968) in their career, as the synth in "Save The Life Of My Child" shows, but, mostly, we're looking at lullabies and soft rock.

Of course, the big, giant, fancy track on "Bookends" is the one from "The Graduate," "Mrs. Robinson." The song was largely written for the movie and has become about as huge as a song can get. Certainly, the memory of Joe DiMaggio was revived to a new generation of people thanks to the song and Simon himself paid tribute to the fallen Yankee upon Dimaggio's death in 1999.

(Maybe my least favorite band ever, the Lemonheads -- the competition is between them and the Eagles -- covered the song for the second "Waynes World" movie in what has to be the worst band covering a great song ever.)

"America" is popular for its placement largely in the film "Almost Famous" -- no, I still haven't seen it -- and I still can't really see the import of ths song. So, I'll turn it over to

Simon was observing the trends of his generation -- the physical restlessness and spiritual bankruptcy that the wanderlust signified... By the time "America" reaches the second chorus, and again for the final chorus, the arrangement stokes up into something approximating a robust sea shanty -- with cymbal crashes and layered harmonies -- thus forming a second template for '70s singer/songwriters; this time one with less subtlety by Neil Diamond on songs like his "America" and some of Billy Joel's early, folky moments, like "Piano Man."

Fair enough.

My first exposure to "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" is from The Bangles, a band of my early youth that also did novelty favorite "Walk Like An Egyptian." In all honesty, I find the Bangles' version to be perferable, but, as is the case for most great songs, it's tough to play poorly. Simon and Garfunkel's version is a little harder than the Bangles' version, but I guess my familiarity is with the Bangles.


Yes, this record isn't as soft-rock as the duo's earlier work. And it's certainly smart. But, for some reason, I just can't really get into them. Simon and Garfunkel symbolize something weird to me; They're excellence as defined by my parents' generation, not excellence we can agree on (like, say, the Beatles).

The great example of this is when Simon won the first Gershwin prize. As much as I try to be a cultural omnivore, I've still got punk rock/college radio in my heart, so when an authority (in this case, the U.S. government) tells me something -- especially something that has virtually no hard edge -- is great, my first instinct is to say "fuck off."

And that's always in the back of my head with Paul Simon (sorry, Art, I'll start caring about you when you have a real solo career).

Monday, November 12, 2007

No. 232: Mr. Tambourine Man

Band: The Byrds
Album: Mr. Tambourine Man
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The debut of the preeminent folk-rock band had the California quintet establishing its signature sound. In fact, the sound the band is most identified with -- Roger McGuinn's twelve-string guitar's so-called "jangle" -- was named after the album's title track's lyrics.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I've mentioned my Stockholm syndrome circumstance with this band before.
Best song: All the Dylan tracks are excellent, proving the point that a good band can make a well-written song sound amazing. As for the originals, "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" is one of my favorite breakup songs; It's quite the revelation.
Worst song: "The Bells of Rhymney," a Pete Seeger cover, isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: This list can talk you into thinking the Byrds are the most important band of the 20th century.

I want to say that this album is misplaced, but I'm not totally sure that it is. If any Byrds record should be on this list for the reason of "great songs on the album," this one should be there (I'm speaking of all the non-compilation records, of course).

Possibly because the album only has five Byrds-penned tracks, the record's highs are pretty high. The four (!) Dylan songs are all excellent, specifically the title track and "Chimes Of Freedom." It's not hard to make those songs sound good as long as you don't sing through your nose and know how to actually play the guitar.

The Byrds originals range from just OK ("You Won't Have to Cry") to the sublimely great ("I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better"). The latter has been covered several times, including one on Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever."


This is the last of the five Byrds records on this list and I'd be a fool to not to say something about it. That the Byrds have five records on this list is pretty foolish, though it's not as though they shouldn't have any record on here.

"Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" is the highest ranked Byrds record at 117 and it's the one record Gram Parsons was a huge part of. It largely introduced us to Parsons, so I guess I can see having it on here. "Younger Than Yesterday" (124) comes next and I can't really see how it should be there, and it's basically there because it has some decent songs. Not a choice I'd have made.

"The Notorious Byrd Brothers" comes at 171. I don't see a reason to have it here, save for it being released in 1967 in America. So, you know, summer of love and whatever. And 178 brings us the band's greatest hits. I see that there. The Byrds, quite frankly, are a greatest hits band.

No. 231: The Kink Kronikles

Band: The Kinks
Album: The Kink Kronikles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: This two-disc set reflects the band's most productive period after their mod/pre-punk early years. This was the period that the band made its critical hay and the songs reflect the Davies brothers' biting humor, clever guitar work and distinct British-ness.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not sure this isn't a token, just to get the Kinks on here somewhere. Yes, this period was their most productive and yes, their only classic album was recorded during this period, but the Kinks' influence lies in their early singles work.
Best song: "Waterloo Sunset" is the wonderfully melancholy song about lost love.
Worst song: "Get Back In Line" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's an odd collection, but the Kinks are awesome.

The 1966-1970 period of the musical world was one of mass exploration, as rock and roll was maturing and the entertainment world was experimenting with drugs.

The Kinks, poster children for the Mod rock movement of early 1960s London, were no different. The band released albums dealing with issues as diverse as the future of man ("Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One"), small town life ("The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society") and the nature of being British ("Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)"). That band wrote interesting, incisive lyrics.

This collection covers those albums, as well as the non-thematic "Something Else by the Kinks" and "Face to Face." Also, the double-disc set has some non-LP singles and b-sides.

Not to get too repetitive, but I don't totally see the point in getting this set on here. "Something Else" is on the list, as is "The Village Green Preservation Society." Why put all three on here, yet keep any of the band's early stuff -- the really important stuff -- isn't there.

It's too bad. The Kinks' early work is, at least, as important to rock and roll history as the Stooges and Television records are, in that the band's early songs are pure punk rock. The fury of "My Generation" is equaled in "You Really Got Me" in a much more tightly packaged record.

I love "The Village Green Preservation Society" and "Something Else" isn't bad, either. But, this collection is too much.

Friday, November 9, 2007

No. 230: A Night At The Opera

Band: Queen
Album: A Night At The Opera
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "A Night At The Opera" features two of the band's best songs, "You're My Best Friend" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," as well as some of their underrated tracks. It's the height of the band as they developed Freddie Mercury's songwriting voice, showing off the operatic pop that defines the band.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well, Queen fits the definition of pompous stadium rock perfectly.
Best song: "Bohemian Rhapsody." Hands down.
Worst song: "Sweet Lady" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Actually, it is.

I came into this record with a pretty negative viewpoint. Queen isn't really on my radar at all; I have both "Classic Queen" and "Queen's Greatest Hits" on CD and I always found those two to be more than enough Queen for me.

I think I was wrong.

"A Night At The Opera" is amazing. Sure, it has its low points -- "Seaside Rendezvous" is stupid -- but, overall, this record is excellent. It's produced with a meticulous hand, full of multiple-tracked Freddie Mercury vocals and strange time signature movements. It falls into downright progressive rock at times and that delights me.


Here's something you probably don't know: Freddie Mercury was Indian. And not just Indian, but Indian Parsi, a community of Indians who followed Zoroastrianism. his birth name was Farrokh Bulsara and he was born in Zanzibar, though he was educated and grew up mostly in British India. His funeral was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest.

It's just part of the weird saga that was Mercury's life. A Sunday Times writer, after his death, made a curious comparison:

He wanted to pass as a white European rock’n’roll star. Curiously, people are horrified that Michael Jackson should be in such denial of his ethnic origins and yet don’t mind Mercury doing the same thing.

Obviously, I don't know what the rock and roll world was like in the 1970s; I wasn't even a thought in my parents' mind when Queen was starting out. But, I think Michael Jackson's issue isn't so much with race. That skin bleaching thing is just the tip of the MJ-is-crazy iceberg.

Mercury was a notoriously shy and private person in the media (and exactly the opposite in the rock and roll party scene), so some of this could just be that he didn't want any undue attention given to him. He was more straightforward about his sexual orientation, but because of the music circle he ran in --glam rock -- sexuality was more nebulous. Race isn't.

Furthermore, Queen was placed on the United Nations list of blacklisted artists in the 1980s for playing a series of shows in Sun City, South Africa during apartheid. That, to me, is pretty much reprehensible, especially for someone with colonialized roots. Clearly, Mercury

Nevertheless, he did a good job of hiding his Indian ancestry. I didn't know today of his heritage and probably wouldn't have found out if I didn't think "Mercury sounds like a stage name" and then look it up.


"A Nigh At The Opera" is almost the epitome of 1970s pomp rock. I consider myself something of a musical omnivore, so I don't want to take sides on the punk rock/stadium rock debate/progressive rock war or whatever.

I guess it's easy to say that now, as I didn't live through Queen's wanking around stadia in the 1970s. Like many people about my age, my first exposure to the band was from "Wayne's World." Still, it's important to take Queen for what they are. They're pompous and ridiculously out there. This is nothing new. In the words of my friend Ellen:

"That Queen song was really subtle and understated" doesn't get said much. Except maybe about "Fat Bottomed Girls."

Oddly enough, the band's closest shot at subtlety isn't a Mercury- or May-penned song, but one of their hits on the album. "You're My Best Friend," written by bass player John Richard Deacon about his wife, showcases Mercury's wonderful lower register and excellent keyboard-playing abilities. The song is gentle and pretty, something you don't hear a lot about Queen.

In fact, the album's other highlights are anything but gentle. The fantastic opener, "Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)," recalls the band's early metal and progressive roots. Basically a "fuck you" to Queen's former manager, Norman Sheffield, who supposedly stole from the band. May's signature guitar sound falls around Mercury's sneer. Throwing around insults like they're nothing, Mercury tells the song's subject "now you can kiss my ass good-bye" before his triple-tracked harmonies come in. It's wonderful.

Drummer Roger Taylor wrote and sung "I'm in Love with My Car," another near-metal record from the band. It's probably his favorite song and I have to admit that I didn't know it was a Queen record until yesterday. Still, May's guitar is effected beyond belief, getting a wah/fuzz sound that you only find on Queen or Fucking Champs records.

Finally, the reason anyone knows Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Anyone who's reading this knows that I am a sucker for anything that references literature and the rumor (never really substantiated) is that "Fred's thing" (as it was known by the band during recording) was written largely about one of my favorite books (Camus' L’Étranger). In fact, the first segment of "Bohemian Rhapsody" has had probably 100 meanings attached to it, though, Mercury never really confirmed or denied any of them.

The song begins with an easy, 45-second multi-tracked near-a capella from Mercury (the video has the band lip syncing the four parts). Mercury's piano balladry around the second segment of the song (our good friend Wikipedia has the song broken down) is rivaled only by Elton John's "Love Lies Bleeding" in its brilliance and the song is only rivaled by King Crimson in its changes.

The song's legacy is pretty amazing. It's been cited by a million people as one of the greatest songs ever, though I wonder if there's a tint of irony in there. Certainly the "Galileo" portion is patently ludicrous and seems to either be drug-induced or written around simply the rhythm of the words.

Nevertheless, it's an amazing track and a lot of fun. Like the other highlights of the record, it's not subtle, but it's certainly great and one of the most revered rock songs.

Anyway, here it is, because it's so great:


"A Night At The Opera" is almost the picture of Queen. It features Mercury's four-octave voice in its full form, May's guitar and the band's epic productions with a hint of metal. It's a treat and something I'd recommend to anyone with an appreication for operatic pop.

No. 229: Nick Of Time

Band: Bonnie Raitt
Album: Nick of Time
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Wow, I can't really tell you.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: [Deep breath, then rushed voice] It's lame blues rock, it features cheesy synth strings, it's faux feminist nonsense for secretaries and idiots, she looks like a skunk, the easy country influences are straight middle of the road, aaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnd... almosteverysongisaboutlove.
Best song: Nope.
Worst song: Any of them.
Is it awesome?: Come on, now.

If you didn't think I could hate an album more then "Achtung Baby" or "Sweet Baby James," boy, were you wrong.

I geuss I shouldn't begrudge Ms. Raitt -- with her white strip in hair that makes her look like the object of French rapist Pepe Le Pew's affections -- for making an album that sounds like the period from which it sprung. It came from the late 80s, when Roxette was making records like "It Must've Been Love" and Heart was doing "Who Will You Run To." This was a time when pseudo-rogueish blues rock was celebrated by boomers facing mid-lie crises.

Hell, "Nick of Time" won album of the year at the Grammys that year (the title track won best female rock and pop act, garnering Raitt three awards). Now, it's the Grammys, so no one should give a shit, but still. Other albums worlds better than "Nick Of Time" that came out in 1989:

  1. The Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique

  2. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton

  3. Motley Crue - Dr. Feelgood (seriously)

  4. Nirvana - Bleach

  5. Fugazi - 13 Songs

  6. The Pixies - Doolittle

  7. Bad Religion - No Control

  8. Madonna - Like A Prayer

  9. Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking

  10. Tom Petty - Full Moon Fever

  11. De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising

  12. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet

  13. Faith No More - The Real Thing

  14. Chris Isaak - Heart Shaped World

See all those records? Far and away better than "Nick Of Time." Thanks, Grammys.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

No. 228: Toys In The Attic

Band: Aerosmith
Album: Toys In The Attic
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Aerosmith's style was pretty much cemented on "Toys In The Attic." The blues-rock template was set and the band unleashed Steven Tyler's ridiculously hyperbolic sexuality on the world on "Dream On" and "Walk This Way."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Where do I begin? Tyler sounds like a moron with his "kakakakakaaaa" nonsense. The song "Big Ten Inch Record" is dirtbag filthy. The guitar work is lazy and uninspired.
Best song: The title track is good by other bands.
Worst song: Ick. Aerosmith stinks.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Man, Aerosmith, Springsteen and U2 all in one week. Oh, happy day.

Anyway, you know my feelings on this particular band. The problem with my reviewing them is twofold:

  1. Every album has one decent, not-super-well-known song that would be passable by another band.

  2. Their hits (on this album especially) are so ingrained in our consciousness, it's hard to say they totally suck.

The first point shows up in the song's two monster hits, "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion." I can't say I hate them, because I don't. I'm certainly sick of them, but neither is a total insult to the ears like, say, "Janie's Got A Gun" or "Amazing" are. Rather, they're just a mild annoyance. If I hear it at a bar, I complain mildly, I don't go on an anti-Aerosmith rant.

Anyway, I've heard these songs so many times, I know all the lyrics and the melodies. I'll even find myself singing along, despite the fact that I don't even like the songs. Damn you, commercial classic rock radio!

The first problem is less so. The song's title track -- like "Back In The Saddle" from "Rocks" -- isn't a bad song and the cover R.E.M. recorded as a b-side to "Fall On Me" is brilliant. However, having Steven Tyler scream the lyrics makes me want to bang my head with a dictionary.


Let's also talk about how dirtbag filthy Aerosmith is on "Big Ten Inch Record." The lyrics are straight out of an AC/DC song:

Got me the strangest woman
Believe me this trick's no cinch
But I really get her going
When I whip out my big 10 inch

I understand it's an old blues tune, but it takes a special band to look at those lyrics and think "wow, yeah, that's perfect."


So, yes, Aerosmith. This album stinks and the band stinks. Sadly, we all know the songs because classic rock radio/VH1 loves them.