Monday, March 31, 2008

No. 432: Sleepless

Band: Peter Wolf
Album: Sleepless
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Despite J. Geils Band's reputation as a one-hit wonder, Peter Wolf's songwriting was long praised by critics. His solo work has been celebrated and as a rock troubadour, you can do worse.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Honestly, why is this record on here? The record came out in 2002 and it's hardly an instant classic. Is it simply because the Wonder Twins help Wolf out?
Best song: "Run Silent, Run Deep" is very good.
Worst song: "Oh Marianne"is boring.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

There are some records on this list that I don't like, but I'd be hard-pressed to argue that they're not wildly important or hugely popular. Any of the Springsteen records, for example, are records that millions of people adore and scores of popular musicians (CouGHArcadeFireCOUGH) cite as heavy influences.

Peter Wolf's "Sleepless" is not an example of this type of record. "Sleepless," rather," is an example of the Rolling Stone fallacy, that if all things are equal, Baby Boomer icons and styles trump everything else.

"Sleepless" is a record of blues and country standards and songs written by Wolf himself. As leader of the J. Geils Band, Wolf was considered a master songwriter in a band that flew under the popular radar (save for, of course, "Centerfold). I guess a good modern comparison would be Nada Surf, a band that has been a critical favorite, despite only having one hit (a gimmick one, at that). Nevertheless, Wolf has held that title for ages and this album, his sixth, brings together other Boomer gods to make Jann Wenner light-headed.

It's not to say that "Sleepless" is a terrible albums. It's not. It is, essentially, what Jackson Browne should be. It's harmless soft rock with some very good influences (again, roots country and blues). With Keith Richards helping on a few songs and Mick Jagger lending his vocals, the record gets thrown into Boomer love territory.

No. 431: Anthology

Band: The Supremes
Album: Anthology
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Supremes are the sound of many oldies stations and rightfully so. The group was a picture of hits in the 1960s and Diana Ross' lead vocals are beautiful.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This should probably be a little higher.
Best song: “Where Did Our Love Go?” is brilliant.
Worst song: Eh. I like every song on this record.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Rock and roll//pop music movies I've never seen and should:
  1. Almost Famous

  2. Help!

  3. Dreamgirls

OK, so the list isn't terribly long, but I clearly should see “Dreamgirls,” as it is based on the Supremes and Diana Ross' ego.

I'll say this, though, the girl group sound never got better than the Supremes. The Motown never got better than the Supremes. Pop vocal performances? Few are better than the Supremes.

This album should be higher. It's all the great songs we've all heard in one place. Normally, I'd be against any and all greatest hits collections, but the Supremes were a singles group and this collection pieces the singles together beautifully.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No. 430: At Budokan

Band: Cheap Trick
Album: At Budokan
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Cheap Trick's power pop soundtracked much of the late '70s/early '80s and "At Budokan" was the record that brought them into stardom. "I Want You to Want Me" and "Surrender" became giant hits and propelled the band into some level of stardom.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Eh. This is about accurate.
Best song: "Surrender" is one of my favorite songs. It's bizarre and amazing.
Worst song: I don't love "Big Eyes."
Is it awesome?: It's a classic live album, so, yes.

Nippon Budokan is a martial arts venue. It's located in Central Tokyo and it has become something of a landmark for bands to perform there. The Beatles were the first band to perform here, so when Cheap Trick came in 1978, it was something of a homage.

Cheap Trick is known mostly as a joke band, thanks to Rick Nielsen, a man who owns a guitar with five necks. He sometimes wears silly hats and bow ties. He brings out a box of guitar picks, simply so he can throw them out to the crowd during the show. He mugs like a moron.

Here's the thing, though: He also has a wonderful ear for hooks.

"At Budokan" brought the band into the forefront and is the reason most people know the band. Either "I Want You To Want Me" or "Surrender" is the band's signature song. Similarly, "On Top Of The World" also charted.

The record isn't a revelation, on any level. It's simply four dudes with classic rock instrumentation. It's great hooks and easy guitar riffs.

The only striking thing is the amount of crowd noise. I cannot imagine that it was piped in or added to the record, but it sounds overly enthusiastic. Considering the band had no hits before "At Budokan," it's crazy to think the Budokan crowd loved the record that much.


This next song... is the first song on our new album... it just came out this week and the song is called... "Surrender."

So ends "I Want You To Want Me" as the band starts to play "Surrender." I found the song's lyrics to be incredibly confounding, as they appear to make no sense. The chorus of "Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright/They just seem a little weird/Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away" is about as catchy as they come, but the verse is bizarre.

The war? Kiss records? Huh? What is he talking about? Does it matter?


No. 429: Grievous Angel

Band: Gram Parsons
Album: Grievous Angel
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Gram Parsons' final album was recorded just weeks before Parson's death. Teaming with Emmylou Harris, Parsons' voice fills the country tracks he wrote and the country standards they played.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I like the Flying Burrito Brothers, but Parsons' solo stuff is way too country for me.
Best song: "Hearts on Fire" is a great, great track.
Worst song: I don't love "Ooh Las Vegas."
Is it awesome?: Eh.

Gram Parsons is a wonderful songwriter and Emmylou Harris has a beautiful voice. Parsons' writing is wry and clever, his band is tight and cool. Their sound is clever.

But, here's the thing: I hear this record and all that fills my mind is the episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes an agent for a country singer. The episode features a country-western bar and a TV show called "Ya-Hoo!," a parody of "Hee-Haw."

So... I, uh, can't really speak to the efficacy of this record. I really like "Hearts on Fire" and the "Medley Live from Northern Quebec," but this enjoyment came solely from the vocals. Fiddles and slide guitar just don't do it for me.

I hear this record and I think of the townie bar where I went to college, full of toothless truckers and cheap American beer. It's down the street from the gun shop and Regina's, the grosser of the town's two strip clubs.

I, as you can see, am an extremely prejudiced man.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No. 428: Kid A

Band: Radiohead
Album: Kid A
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Radiohead's change from "atmospheric British rock band" to "modern day Pink Floyd with computers" Extending the moves in "OK Computer," "Kid A" is a polarizing record that set Radiohead's track for years since its release.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: A lot of the chances the band takes do not succeeds. While there are great tracks, the bad ones are pretty awful.
Best song: "The National Anthem" and "Idioteque" are great.
Worst song: The title track stinks.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I've expressed my affections for Radiohead on this site before. Despite Johnny Greenwood's reluctance, the band is the closest modern equivalent to Pink Floyd that we have. The band combines electronic equipment and conventional instrumentation to make music about the disconnect humans feel towards one another. The increasingly reach of technology both sustains and hurts the band, and Radiohead is happy to meet this head on. Floyd did the same thing.

But, boy, did I hate "Kid A" when it came out.

During my time as our college station's program director, anything our DJs overplayed became a hated record to me (save for Cat Power's "You Are Free," I think). Much of my disdain was drawn by the sheeplike nature of many of our DJs; They simply wanted to jump on the hot band bandwagon. There was, I imagine, also some resentment that our DJs didn't always love the same things I did -- specifically when The Sea and Cake wouldn't get as many plays as I expected. Sadly, I came late to the party on a lot of bands (Radiohead and the Strokes being the operative ones), though in other cases -- The White Stripes, Rufus Wainwright, etc. -- the bands were not as great as our DJs claimed.

I'd always liked Radiohead, but "Kid A" struck me as self-indulgent. It is self-indulgent and echoes the type of records Björk makes. They have soaring production, small pieces of piano/voice sections and robust themes. In the case of "Kid A," my complaint always fell in the disaffection for the robot voice. While I love the vocoder, Thom Yorke apparently fell in love with the effect at some point and peppered the album with it.

Again, in some cases, I come back to a band to appreciate them. It only took me about a year to fully appreciate Radiohead ("Amnesiac" and the band's live album did it for me). But, those are other albums. In the case of "Kid A," I don't think I was wrong.

Save for a few songs, the album is too slow and meandering for me to really appreciate it. It lacks coherence and the album's sound is too sparse even for me. Hooks aren't the do-all and end-all of a band like Radiohead, but tis is a band that rose out of a scene where hooks were treasured. More importantly, Radiohead is a band that has shown a serious skill at writing hooks.

Radiohead is great, but the band is often overpraised. In one of its very rare 10/10 reviews, Pitchfork used this analogy to describe the album:

The experience and emotions tied to listening to "Kid A" are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax.

While I'm a fan of the site, I think this is the reason people hate Pitchfork. For one, "Kid A" is not a perfect album; The list of perfect albums is short and probably only includes "Revolver." Moreover, an analogy like that makes little to no sense. The only people who understand it are probably high on mushrooms.

There's no doubt about it, "Kid A" is polarizing. It's a wonderful record in a lot of ways. It's challenging (I love challenging) and it's slow. It's painful and it's tender. I love those things.

But in experimenting, one has to succeed in one's experiment more often than not. Many of the chances the band takes on "Kid A" -- the tempo of the title track, the production on "Treefingers," the instruments on "Motion Picture Soundtrack" -- just don't succeed.

That's not to say the album is terrible. "The National Anthem" is one of the only songs with saxophone that remains awesome and doesn't delve into Clarence Clemons territory. "Idioteque" is an experiment in electronic music that hits the bullseye both musically and lyrically (it's a political song on the coming climate apocalypse). "Morning Bell" is pretty and tender, despite having Charles Bronson-level violence in the lyrics.


Though I've lumped them in this group, Radiohead is a different brand of band than the superfan fandom bands. Radiohead's biggest fans are often critics and pretentious fuckheads in golf shirts as opposed to mouth-breathing, pushy morons.

Many thoughtful, intelligent music listeners don't like Radiohead. It's not because they don't get Radiohead, they just don't like them. I like the band, but no one should feel guilty for not liking them. As Carrie Brownstein says, Radiohead fans are often so to show off "evidence of their sophisticated taste in music."

That's annoying, but it's no reason to not enjoy the band. I think that was my first aversion to "Kid A." It's got highlights and it's a good record, but it's not as good as the band's previous work.

No. 427: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica

Band: The Ronettes
Album: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Led by Phil Spector's then-wife Ronnie, the Ronettes were the "dangerous" girl group. The band's harmonies and Spector-signature wall of sound made for girl group classics like "Chapel of Love," "Baby, I Love You" and "Be My Baby."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I like this placement. The girl group phase of American popular music is sometimes forgotten, but is well-represented in the list.
Best song: "Be My Baby" is a classic.
Worst song: "How Does It Feel?" isn't very good.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Phil Spector is a giant in rock and roll history, though I wonder how many people actually know much about him. I imagine most people my age who know about him are only familiar with his ridiculous hair experiments and murder trial than his place in rock and roll.

With all that said, he was clearly a bad dude. He threatened his wife Ronnie and... well, I'll just quote a large chunk of our good friend Wikipedia:

Spector's domineering attitude led to the dissolution of their marriage. Bennett was forbidden to speak to the Rolling Stones or tour with the Beatles, for fear of infidelity. Bennett claims Spector showed her a gold coffin with a glass top in his basement, promising to kill and display her should she leave him. During Spector's reclusive period in the late 1960s, he reportedly kept his wife locked inside their mansion. She claimed he also hid her shoes to dissuade her from walking outside, and kept the house dark because he didn't want anyone to see his balding head. Spector's son later claimed that he was kept locked in his room, with a pot in the corner to be used as a toilet. Ronnie Spector did leave the producer and filed for divorce in 1972. She wrote a book about her experiences, and said years later, "I can only say that when I left in the early '70s, I knew that if I didn't leave at that time, I was going to die there" [3]. She and Spector separated in 1973 and divorced one year later.

That's O.J. territory, ladies and gentlemen. That's Ike territory. Not good.


As my astonishment of previous American culture continues, the Ronettes were considered "bad girls" in their time of popularity. They wore beehives, short skirts and heavy eyeliner. Today, if a singer wore a beehive, a short skirt and heavy eyeliner, she's be... Hmmm... Amy Winehouse. Is she a bad girl?

OK, so, don't answer that. My bigger point is that Amy Winehouse isn't a bad girl because she wears a beehive, dark eyeliner and a short skirt. She's a bad girl because she smokes crack, doesn't want to go to rehab (no, no, no).

Bad girls in 2008 use drugs and they go out sans panties and they make sex tapes with camera phones.


The Ronettes came at the end of the girl group phase of American popular music. The era wasn't long; Everyone seemed to fall off into Motown and the Beatles within a couple of years. This record culls the singles from the Ronettes -- Spector-produced Wall of Sound soundscapes that still sound resonant today. Ronnie's voice is exquisite on songs like "I Wonder" and Phil Spector's "Be My Baby" is his masterpiece of masterpieces.

Sadly, this album is way out of print. However, if you can get your hands on a Ronettes greatest hits compilation, get it. It's worth it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No. 426: The Battle of Los Angeles

Band: Rage Against the Machine
Album: The Battle of Los Angeles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: RATM's final album is full of the band's fury and Zack de la Rocha's hot fire-spitting. "Sleep Now in the Fire" and "Guerrilla Radio" are both classics in the band's canon and "New Millennium Homes" isn't bad.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's formulaic, certainly. The hooks aren't as hook-y as the band's earlier work and de la Rocha is pretty mediocre.
Best song: "Sleep Now in the Fire" and "Guerrilla Radio" are the best songs on the record.
Worst song: "Ashes in the Fall" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

"Wait. That album is on the Rolling Stone list? Not 'Evil Empire?' Really?"
"Dude. That album sucks. 'Evil Empire' is much better."

And so went a conversation I had with an actual RATM fan this weekend about this album coming up on the list.

While the band's first album was a revelation, this record -- the band's final before breaking up -- is more repetitive. While Tom Morello's expanse of effects and guitar sounds had opened up for "The Battle of Los Angeles," the general feel of the album is one of repetition.

In an odd way, the album is decidedly listenable. When most of the songs sound the same (heavy riff, guitarless bass part, scream/sing chorus, bad rapping, etc.), the formula gets to be pretty familiar. It's not a bad formula, so, the record ends up being pretty decent. Lyrically, it's focused, but that focus is not as chantable as the first record. Therefore, the record didn't sell.

Also, the video for "Guerilla Radio" is very clever. The band quotes Orwell in three tracks on the record, which I always support. But, overall, it's repetition of the same formula.


I wrote a really long political rant here (that I've since deleted for fear of getting fired from my real job), but the gist of it was this:

In my piece about RATM's first record, I used the phrase "socialism doesn't really work well." I stand by this, with the caveat that I don't believe in market capitalism, either. Market capitalism is wildly destructive and I am not one of those people who's all "market will fix everything." A mix of the two is the best way to go about a state's economic policy.

No. 425: ChangesOneBowie

Band: David Bowie
Album: ChangesOneBowie
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: David Bowie's first real compilation was a giant hit, selling three million copies.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well, it's a greatest hits compilation.
Best song: Well, it's a greatest hits compilation, so the whole record is great.
Worst song: Eh.
Is it awesome?: Sure.


Greatest hits compilations aren't my favorite thing and Bowie isn't my favorite artist.

Certainly, 1976 was around the height of Bowie's art and when he released "Station to Station." It was, from an economic perspective, smart for Bowie to release the "ChangesOneBowie" to capitalize.

Look, it's a nice little collection. Every song on the compilation is good -- that's the nature of greatest hits records. I simply have a problem with the concept of putting a hits record on here. An album is a work in time and a piece of art in and of itself. A greatest hits collection is like a clip show.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

No. 424: King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. 2

Band: Robert Johnson
Album: King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. 2
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Like the first volume of this set, this record is half of Robert Johnson's recording history. Johnson is one of the fathers of rock and roll and is certainly on the Mount Rushmore of blues singers.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well... See below.
Best song: "Sweet Home Chicago" is a wonderful, wonderful song.
Worst song: "Drunken Hearted Man" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

Here's an interesting question: What would be the beginning of the modern musical era? Is it defined by genre? Is it defined by technology (digital v. analog, eight-track recording v. four-track recording, etc.)?

I say this because I called Buddy Holly "dated" earlier this week. I stand by this, but in listening to Robert Johnson, I wouldn't necessarily call it that.

Robert Johnson's music is so far in the past -- 20 years before Buddy Holly -- that comparing it to modern music is foolish. The best comparison I can make is to cars. A car from the 1980s and 1990s (and, maybe the 1970s) looks silly. A car from the 1950s is history.

(Of course, this isn't entirely true, even to cars. Some people find that era of American culture to be cool. This is the nature of our post-modernist culture.)

In the same way that a 1950s car is history, Robert Johnson is history. The car from the 1950s needs tons of care and it can't get to the speeds needed on the highway. It isn't usable in the same way that a new car is, but it's the precursor to the cars we use. It's interesting and fun to learn about. Robert Johnson's music isn't listenable in the same way that more modern stuff is. Modern music is recorded in multitrack. Modern music doesn't have tons of tape hiss in it. Modern music has more than the 12-bar blues.

But, still. It's history.


Notable on the record is "Sweet Home Chicago," a song with lyrics very different from the ones we know. Instead of "Back to the same old place," Johnson sings "Back to the land of California." Some people have suggested that Johnson was combining the places of California (great weather) and Chicago (north, no Jim Crow) to create a utopia for African-Americans at the time.

"Sweet Home Chicago" is the standard of standards in blues and listening to Johnson's version, it really opens your eyes to the tenderness of the song. As with many of Johnson's songs, despair is the order of the day.


It's a historical document more than a modern record. It's enjoyable and something to study, but I wouldn't walk around listening to it.

No. 423: Greatest Hits

Band: The Mamas And The Papas
Album: Greatest Hits
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Mamas And The Papas were one of the premier groups of their period. Many members of my parents' generation love the group and hold many of these songs in high regard...
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: But, I don't like them.
Best song: "California Dreamin'" is a classic, even if I don't like it.
Worst song: "You Baby" is terrible.
Is it awesome?: Blah.

I've stated my feelings on this group before. To reiterate, this stuff is as dated, if not more dated than the early rock and roll stuff. The multi-voice harmony-laden folk music was mocked in a Christopher Guest film, and for good reason. That stuff is pleasant enough, but with other groups doing it better (Simon and Garfunkel, specifically), why would you listen to this stuff? The lyricism is pretty boring and the arrangements are nothing to love.

Really, it's just a boring greatest hits compilation.

Monday, March 24, 2008

No. 422: The Best of the Girl Groups

Band: Various Artists
Album: The Best of the Girl Groups, Vol. 1 & 2
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The girl groups of the early 1960s had an incredibly distinct sound and these collections cull most of the records we know as the girl group hits of the time. Many of the groups were one-hit wonders, but the whole of the collection is fantastic. Twenty-one of the 36 songs were top 10 hits, including seven no. 1 songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The compilation sounds dated, but is still a grand collection.
Best song: I like "Leader of the Pack."
Worst song: "He's Got the Power" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I think I've mentioned that I am a total and complete sucker for female singers. I've got everything recorded by a slew of female indie artists, between Nina Nastasia, Cat Power and Tara Jane O'Neil. I love female voices.

These two records collect all the great early 1960s female group records we've all heard on our local oldies station. Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" is on here, as is The Exciters' "Tell Him." It's got "Chapel of Love," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "One Fine Day" and "The Boy from New York City."

"The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" is a classic, even before the CHer version. The song's simple yet beautiful lyrics describe the perfect man. Great arms/warm embrace, great eyes/size and charms/face. He acts great and she can squeeze him tight. What a man this fellow is.

My personal favorites are "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Leader of the Pack." The Angels tell the story -- later made into a pretty awesome/terrible 1980s zombie movie -- of a man angling towards a lady with the warning that her man is going to kick this dude's ass. The best lyric? "You're gonna be sorry you were ever born/'Cause he's kind of big and he's awful strong."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is awesome. Threatening violence.

I love "Leader of the Pack" if only for the awesomeness that is the sound effect. One of my complaints about modern music is the lack of sound effects. I love "Yellow Submarine" partially because the breakdown has a whole portion with longshoremen and nautical sounds. "Leader of the Pack" has a motorcycle revving with every chorus. How can you beat that?


Sadly, these collections are difficult to find, because having all these songs in one place is great.

No. 421: The "Chirping" Crickets

Band: Buddy Holly and the Crickets
Album: The "Chirping" Crickets
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of early rock and roll's first stars, Buddy Holly's slight Texas twang and easy combination of rockabilly, pop and R&B made for some classic early records.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Early rock and roll nearly always sounds primitive. The records were made in such a way that any production involved dubbing tons of vocals. I still don't understand that.
Best song: "Not Fade Away" is great.
Worst song: "An Empty Cup (And a Broken Date)" isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: How about "wildly dated?"

This album game out 51 years ago, so to call it dated is probably an overly obvious assertion, but I still can't really get over how slightly produced early rock and roll -- pre-Phil Spector, I guess -- sounds to modern ears.

There are so many doo-wop style harmonies and such a thin guitar sound, it's hard for me to love the songs with more emotion. "Last Night," for example, is a doo-wop vocal number and would probably sound better with a more robust arrangement, but it sounds like the type of thing I'd hear in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Certainly, Holly's use of the Bo Diddley beat in "Not Fade Away" is great and the song is one of early rock and roll's great hits. "Oh Boy!" is similarly rocking. "That'll Be The Day" is sorta prescient, but it's mostly overrated.

And so goes Holly's catalog. Some great songs, but a whole lot of backing vocals passing as production.

Friday, March 21, 2008

No. 420: With The Beatles

Band: The Beatles
Album: With the Beatles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The second Beatles album is some of the greatest early rock and roll on record.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Having this and "Meet The Beatles!" is overkill.
Best song: The whole album is great, but "Don't Bother Me" is a favorite.
Worst song: "I Wanna Be Your Man" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I complained about having both "Meet The Beatles!" and "With The Beatles on the same list before. That was kind of stupid, because I missed an opportunity to talk about Beatlemania there and the actual album here.

So it goes.

Anyway, "With The Beatles" was the band's second record in Britain, so the craziness that met "Meet The Beatles!" wasn't evident with this record. The tracklist is slightly different, as "With The Beatles" is the better of the two.

A few things to keep in mind in regards to the album:

  • There are several covers on "With The Beatles" and all of them are, in a word, awesome. "Money," "You Really Got a Hold on Me" "and "Please Mister Postman" are John-led songs that show his range. George tears through "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Devil in Her Heart" and Paul's often-overlooked softness peppers "Til There Was You."

  • "With The Beatles" also features the first Geroge-penned song, the angry "Don't Bother Me." It's snide and clever, as is George's way.

  • The album also features the first Ringo-sung song, the Lennon/McCartney track "I Wanna Be Your Man." The song was played by the Rolling Stones, released a month before the Beatles' version, and was a hit single for the Stones.

"With The Beatles," like "Please Please Me," doesn't have the depth of "Revolver" or "Rubber Soul," but the record is the near definition of early rock and roll. It's mop tops and dancing and girls screaming and suits and excellent harmonies. It's harmonic guitar lines and 4/4 Ringo beats. It's not "A Day in the Life," but no one was doing records like that in 1963.


And we've come to the last Beatles record on the list. The Beatles are, in my mind, the greatest rock and roll band in history. The Rolling Stones had more of an edge, Led Zeppelin were more of a one-trick pony and the Who became self-indulgent and pompous after a few years. The Kinks were more clever, but also considerably less catchy and interesting.

I love Pink Floyd and I consider Floyd to be a more challenging and interesting band. I often cite Floyd, Mogwai and Tortoise (as you can see on this site) as my favorite three bands, but those three are my favorites with the assumption that I consider the Beatles the greatest band of all time.

I've never not been in a Beatles mood. There is, basically, no emotion that can't be amended, fixed or helped by a Beatles song. The Beatles ruined love songs for me because they wrote about 95% of the greatest love songs, including two of my favorites ("I Will" and "Something"). The band's ability to create those records at such young ages astonishes me.

As we saw with "Band on the Run," the whole was always greater than its parts. Even the best post-Beatles work by any of the four -- in my eyes, George's "All Things Must Pass" -- isn't near even mediocre Beatles songs. Even though John and Paul mostly wrote on their own post-1965, the songs got clear input from both songwriters. And each had their strengths to the process.

And the songs were unparalleled. Any Beatles record stands up to just about any band. They're the best.

No. 419: Dummy

Band: Portishead
Album: Dummy
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The 1995 Mercury Prize winner is a more impressive record than the Massive Attack records also on this list. Beth Gibbons' voice is great and the samples/drumbeats are fantastic.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not the best thing I've ever heard and the songs certainly run together. The songs are very similar.
Best song: "Mysterons" and "Wandering Star" are great. "Sour Times" was the hit and is a great song.
Worst song: "Roads" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

There are a few easy ways for me to enjoy something. The first is to have a real downbeat rhytymn. The second is to have an anticipitory song build. Also, I like female singers. The final is to be literate by using literay phrases and themes.

The last point can be abused (the Decemberists annoy me), but when I heard this line: "Wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." That, ladies and gentlemen, is from the Epistle of Jude, chapter 1, verse 13. Pretty cool.

"The Bristol Sound" (or trip hop or whatever) can be incredibly effective when done well and "Dummy" is done very well. As puts it, "Portishead crossed over to an American, alternative audience, connecting with the legion of angst-ridden indie fans as well."

I was (and probably still am) one of those angst-ridden indie fans. So, this record really resonates with me. "Sour Times" was the hit, but it's hardly the best song on the record. "Mysterons" is the better song and "Wandering Star" are both fantastic songs.

The record works as background music really well, though when you examine it a little more, it's excellent in the foreground.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

No. 418: Band on the Run

Band: Paul McCartney & Wings
Album: Band on the Run
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Paul McCartney's legacy is nearly unmatched and he didn't stop being a great songwriter once the Beatles dissolved. His first two post-Beatles works were decent, but "Band on the Run" is his best work after leaving the Fab Four.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: McCartney's legacy is, uh, not based on his work with Wings.
Best song: "Jet" has some amazing harmonies. "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" is pretty great.
Worst song: "Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)" is pretty bad.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

I used to work with a woman who claimed that her mother is a huge Wings fan, but can take or leave the Beatles. This, of course, is patently ridiculous. People get annoyed when I make fun of Paul McCartney's smiley, happy songwriting, but the truth is that I love McCartney's songwriting. He's one of the best five songwriters in the history of rock and roll; to deny the quality of his work would be foolish. The only problem is that he was in a band with John Lennon, who was better.

Lennon and McCartney's post-Beatles work each showed that the band was the sum of its parts. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Wings or solo Lennon song that comes close to even the worst Beatles songs.

So, when you look at songs like "Jet" or "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" and compare them to, say, "For No One" or "Blackbird" or any of the other scores of great McCartney-penned songs, you'll inevitably going to be disappointed. "Band on the Run" is a wonderful song, but it isn't even in the same universe as "The Night Before," "Yesterday" or "Drive My Car."

Does that mean that "Band on the Run" is terrible? Of course not. "Jet" has some great harmonies, "Let Me Roll It" is pretty cool and the title track is wildly fun. But, does it compare to the Beatles? Not favorably.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No. 417: Boy

Band: U2
Album: Boy
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Well, "I Will Follow" isn't the worst song I've ever heard.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's U2's first record, which means it's the beginning of the end for decent music. It's self-indulgent and annoying.
Best song: Blah.
Worst song: Blah.
Is it awesome?: Come on, now.

I'm sorry, I really have nothing to say about this honking piece of junk. It was popular with the gay community, for what that's worth. Otherwise, I hate U2 and I hate this album.

No. 416: Mule Variations

Band: Tom Waits
Album: Mule Variations
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Possibly his best work, "Mule Variations" is classic Waits: Grimey, clever and bizarre. Coming off a five-year hiatus, Waits played off his folk/blues roots by using mostly odd householf items for percussion.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As with all things Waits, it's not an easy listen.
Best song: The opener, "Big in Japan," is brilliant. "Get Behind the Mule" is amazing.
Worst song: I know people like "Filipino Box Spring Hog," but it just doesn't resonate for me, for some reason.
Is it awesome?: Yes, actually.

"Mule Variations" was released after a five-year layoff from Tom Waits and the first for him on the independent Anti Records. Waits is looked at by many independent artists as the ultimate in independents, as he clearly does whatever the hell he wants.

"Mule Variations" is Waits at the crossroads of his independence and his best artistry. His songwriting (assisted by his wife Kathleen Brennan) is in top form and his growl is similarly near its apex. The album, again, is full of strange, old instruments and carnival melodies.

The album starts out with "Big in Japan," a raucous song with the Primus backing Waits up. "Hold On" has Waits at a more tender moment. "Get Behind the Mule" is a more folky situation, one where Waits' softer vocal work can thrive.

As explained by, "Get Behind the Mule" is partially a nod towards Robert Johnson.

Tom Waits explained in his press material for his 1999 album Mule Variations that "Get Behind the Mule" is a reference to something that bluesman Robert Johnson's father once said about his son: "He said, 'Trouble with Robert is he wouldn't get behind the mule in the morning and plow,' because that was the life that was there for him. To be a sharecropper," said Waits. "But he ran off to Maxxwell Street and all over Texas. He wasn't going to stick around. Get behind the mule can be whatever you want it to mean. We all have to get up in the morning and go to work."

Overall, it's a fantastic song on a great album.

No. 415: Van Halen

Band: Van Halen
Album: Van Halen
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The first Van Halen record is about as good as party rock gets. David Lee Roth's ridiculousness is the perfect compliment to the steady rhythm section and, of course, the manic guitar soloing of Eddie.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Due to the list's mostly anti-metal bias, this record is kind of low.
Best song: "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" is probably the best song on the record, though "You Really Got Me" is up there, also. "Eruption" is great, as well.
Worst song: The second side isn't great, save for "Ice Cream Man" and "Janie's Cryin'."
Is it awesome?: Yes!

Here's something you probably didn't know: There are five rock bands with two albums that have achieved diamond status (10 million records sold). They are Def Leppard (I know...), The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and... Van Halen.


I love Van Halen's first six (aka the "Roth years") albums. Well, love may be a little strong for "Women and Children First" and "Fair Warning," but they're still very strong albums.

"1984" is the more celebrated of the two diamond-selling records with huge singles like "Hot for Teacher," "Panama" and "Jump." The videos for each song made were perfect for the time -- mid-1980s -- and made the album a huge, huge hit.

But, the band's debut is better.

"Van Halen" is a knockout record and nearly a revelation.


I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Eddie's style influenced a type of guitar-playing that annoys just about everyone. Without Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani never move outside their respective basements. Speed and technical skill over melody is not attractive, on any level.


Even with the horrid Van Halen knockoffs, "Van Halen" is a wonderful combination of unabashed hard rock and party music. The band's rock and roll songcraft pits awesome melodies (and great musicianship) against David Lee Roth's ridiculous vocals.

To tell the tale of "Van Halen" is to tell the tale of "Eruption." The guitar-solo-as-song was not much of an entity and tapping wasn't really a big guitar form until "Eruption." It was a big part of the band's stage act before being recorded for the band's debut and Eddie was strange in trying to keep a hold on his new technique. Our good friend Wikipedia explains it well:

When performing live before the release of their first album, Eddie would place his back to the audience to prevent other guitarists from stealing "his" technique. His brother Alex had warned him that other guitarists would "rob him blind" if his tricks were exposed before a major album release. Afterward he was indeed widely emulated, but was comfortable displaying his techniques once credit had been firmly established on vinyl.

Strange, but pretty cool.


"Eruption" is awesome and rolls into the band's cover of, in my opinion, the greatest rock and roll of the early rock era, the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Eddie's side bends and taps are as skilled as anything on the record, including "Eruption" and his use of effects after the solo evoke the sexuality inherent in the song. Of course, Diamond Dave's moaning and screaming helps being the point home: This ain't your parents' rock and roll.

"Runnin' with the Devil" has been sampled about a thousand times and rightfully so. The interplay between the Van Halens makes for a delightfully fun song and, of course, the guitar solo is amazing.

"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" is the album's highlight in that it's the near-perfect Roth song. Diamond Dave's yells and screams about the difference between love and sex are fantastic.


The RS list doesn't have a lot in the way of metal. I wouldn't call the first Van Halen record a metal one, but Eddie's style has been imitated by most metal guitar players. To place it this low on the list is something of an insult to hard rock, a genre that's not just Sabbath and Zep.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No. 414: 20 All Time Greatest Hits

Band: James Brown
Album: 20 All Time Greatest Hits
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: I mean, it's James Brown and it's his hits.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The placement makes almost no sense to me. This disc is, basically, a sampler from "Star Time," the Brown boxed set. You know my thoughts on greatest hits packages, I'm even more down on this sort of thing.
Best song: "Hot Pants." Classic.
Worst song: Whatever. It's a greatest hits collection.
Is it awesome?: Come on.

Considering the fact that the boxed set this album is culled from is already on the list, I'm not going to elaborate.

No. 413: Beauty and the Beat

Band: Go-Go's
Album: Beauty and the Beat
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Oddly enough, the Go-Go's are more punk than most people know. Their pop chops are not questioned and the band's debut has some excellent pop tracks on it.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is probably a fitting place for an album of this caliber.
Best song: The singles, "Our Lips are Sealed" and "We Got the Beat"
Worst song: "Skidmarks on My Heart" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's good, but it's not worth it.

It's pretty easy to mock this record as the Go-Go's are kind of joke. The drummer was a contestant on the "Surreal Life" and Belinda Carlisle posed nude in Playboy a few years back.

I did not expect guitar lines from this record. I did not expect the start/stop-ness of it. The lyrics aren't much more than a party record.

The band's got more of a punk sensibility than I anticipated. Oddly enough, this record really reminded me of Sleater-Kinney. Belinda Carlisle's voice sounds remarkably like Corin Tucker, though not Tucker's wild screams. The tone of both singers' voice is excellent and dances between power and pretty.

Is it the Minutemen record? No, of course not. But, it's still damned good.

Monday, March 17, 2008

No. 412: Mezzanine

Second verse, same as the first. Here's Padraig again:

Band: Massive Attack
Album: Mezzanine
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Though not quite as innovative as their debut Mezzanine is Massive Attack’s best album and a high point for electronic music in the 90s.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: By the time it came out Portishead, Tricky and a host of 2nd-stringers had cluttered the playing field with releases heavily indebted to MA and time (or rather, the fickle music press) was beginning to pass them by.
Best song: "Teardrop" is probably the best MA track of all time.Halen classic.
Worst song: "Dissolved Girl," maybe?
Is it awesome?: Pretty much.

First things first, let’s be clear that "trip hop" is a meaningless term fabricated by the British music press to fulfill its’ longstanding fetish with inventing silly terms in order to divide music up into micro-genres that don’t really exist in the first place. It quickly devolved into a lazy catch-all for a wide variety of artists who may or may not have had anything to do with its’ original meaning. That isn’t too awful in and of itself – after all, the music press’ raison d’etre is finding new ways to make music sound exciting so people will buy it and the journalists will then get paid to write about it. What’s unfortunate is that in this case it made a handful of music innovators like Massive Attack, their Bristol compatriots and DJ Shadow look like purveyors of a cheap, gimmicky novelty, which they most certainly were not.

MA’s debut, "Blue Lines," stands alone in time – a jumble of soul and funk breakbeats and spaced club tunes, presided over by legendary roots reggae singer Horace Andy (solidifying the reggae/dub connection) and a rotating cast of divas, many of them, like Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl fame, renowned in their own right – all of it never rising above a languorous drift. That formula, which would be repeated to great success, was several years ahead of it’s time and I imagine at the time it sounded like nothing else. The strands are there for anyone interested to pull apart; the pulsing minimalism of acid house, dub’s negative space, the breakbeats from American hip hop, all informed by the avante-garde tendencies of Bristol post-punk O.G.s like The Pop Group (frontman Mark Stewart has collaborated with both MA and Tricky).

Parts of "Blue Lines" and "Protection," MA’s second album, sound dated today. "Mezzanine" doesn’t suffer from this nearly as much – nearly all of it still sounds reasonably fresh more than a decade on. The reggae influences are more subdued and thus better integrated with other elements. It’s an incredibly dense record (the Pitchfork review quite accurately describes it as "light-absorbing"), compressed, the beats pounding away over a sea of intricate studio touches and effects. In fact at times it threatens to collapse under its’ own weight. Fortunately by that time MA had really perfected their form and all that heaviness is mostly alleviated by their delicate touch and attention to detail.

One marked difference from their earlier work, and supposedly a great source of friction between band members, is the increased prominence of epic guitar riffs. "Teardrop", for example, sounds somewhat like an re-imagined inversion of the bombast of 80s arena rock. The vocals are, as ever, fantastic, like Horace Andy’s piercing falsetto soaring over and around "Man Next Door" (actually a remake of a reggae standard, penned by John Holt, that Andy recorded himself in the early 70s). The female vocalist is Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins, whose trademark indecipherable phrasing and haunting voice fit like a glove with the general sense of compression and paranoia.

It’s a shame that many people, in the US at least, probably associate Massive Attack if they even know who they are in the first place. "Mezzanine" isn’t as ground-breaking as their debut but is their most focused, resonant work. For lovers of soul, dub and hip hop alike.

No. 411: Double Nickels on the Dime

Band: The Minutemen
Album: Double Nickels on the Dime
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: You'll find few records as smart as "Double Nickels on the Dime" while still being unabashedly punk rock. Between "Anxious Mo-Fo" and "Love Dance," the record spans straight rock and roll to a John Fogerty cover to some songs co-written by punk rock friends like Henry Rollins.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As all double albums, "Double Nickels" is too long. Too much filler.
Best song: "Corona," "The Roar of the Masses Could be Farts," "Toadies," "Ain't Talking About Love" and "Untitled Song for Latin America" are all great. "Corona," for the uninitiated, is the "Jackass" theme song and "Ain't Talking About Love" is 40-second cover a Van Halen classic.
Worst song: "Shit From an Old Notebook" is basically gutter punk politics.
Is it awesome?: Yes. A classic.

Rolling Stone quotes "Our band could be your life" -- the now famous line in "History Lesson -- Part 2" -- on their page about this record on the 500 albums list. You won't hear me agreeing with the magazine much, but that line has become emblematic of the hardcore movement.

Like the grunge trend that followed, the hardcore scene was populist in its heroes. The Minutemen didn't look like rock stars and, more importantly, didn't act like rock stars. The band's mantra of "We jam econo" became a symbol of the DIY feelings among the punk rock of the time.

Oddly enough, punk rock historian Steven Blush has called the album "either the pinnacle or downfall of the pure hardcore scene" because of its sonic distance from much of the hardcore at the time. Unlike the Black Flag, Hüsker Dü and TSOL records of the time, "Double Nickels on the Dime" finds the band bringing jazz rhythms and more laid-back arrangements, at times. The band's lower-class San Pedro upbringing peppers the album, as class-based political songs make for some interesting, though muddled, messages. Songs like "Maybe Partying Will Help," "This Ain't No Picnic," "The Politics of Time" and others were ways of Mike Watt and company to speak out.

It's an epic record -- 43 songs over two discs -- and has been widely acclaimed from the second SST took it off the presses. It's the point in which hardcore punk rock finally matured out of the adolescent ramblings of the late 1970s. Sadly, the genre reverted mostly to that style, leaving the Minutemen as one of the most unique bands ever and "Double Nickels on the Dime" as the one of the best records as well.

Friday, March 14, 2008

No. 410: Pink Flag

In order to cast a wider line of opinion, I've enlisted a few people to help out in writing some of the pieces on this site. That tradition continues today with noted commentor Padraig, who gives us his take on Wire's "Pink Flag." Enjoy.

Why Rolling Stone Gets It Right: Smarter than the Clash and infinitely more musically progressive than the Pistols this album very much prefigures post-punk’s re-imagining of traditional guitar rock. Along with Marquee Moon and Gang of Four’s first album pretty much the template for weird, arty dudes with guitars.
Why Rolling Stone Gets It Right: It could stand to be a lot higher – unfortunately then we’d have to bump that Moby Grape album down a few spots and we all know what an awful tragedy that would be, right?
Best Song: They’re all great, particularly "Mannequin" a fantastic, chilling anti-love song
Worst Song: I don’t know. "Commercial", maybe? It’s a joke based around the title. Even if you don’t like a song only 5 of them break the 2-minute mark so they’re over quickly.
Is It Awesome?: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

"Pink Flag" is the point where the British punk equation of Ramones 1-2-3-4 + rotten attitudes and dumbed-down politics (and a more than a bit of Malcolm Maclaren’s impresario sleight of hand, natch) takes a turn inward, toward uneasy spaces where self-doubt can creep in and fester. It takes the minimalism of early punk rock to an entirely new level, and as the AMG review bluntly states, "If a musical hook or lyric didn’t need to be repeated Wire immediately stopped playing". However, despite their brutally spare economy the songs still pack a devastating wallop. Nothing is wasted.

It certainly helped that, unlike most first wave punk bands, Wire could really play. They were not, at the time of their debut album at least, virtuosos, but they were legitimate musicians who get into a groove and hold it. Unlike most of their contemporaries Wire weren’t just reaching back to Chuck Berry and the garage rock bands of the early to mid 60s. Rather, they were breaking rock and roll down into its’ individual parts, paring away the excess and rearranging the remnants to suit their own needs.

Within a year or two a slew of white guitar bands would follow in their wake, putting out their own interpretations of various forms of black music through punk’s harsh, searing lens. Where Gang of Four took on funk, Public Image Ltd. did a loving piss-take of disco and everyone professed an undying love of dub reggae, Wire did rave-up robotic R&B, twitchy, spastic & bug eyed. The groove of "Strange" for example, almost sounds like a more experimental Motown b-side circa 1968 or so slowed down to the pace of molasses – oh, and with a nasally British guy singing, of course.

The lyrics are equally great and they touch on themes that had always simmered beneath a lot of popular music but would really come to the forefront in the wake of punk rock’s scorched earth campaign against everything pompous and grandiose. Alienation and paranoia are prominent themes and the never-ending Cold War gets a number of oblique references. But the best songs, ironically enough are their love songs, which like their music, take classic, timeless tropes and flip them on their heads. "12XU" only has two lines "Saw you in a mag (smoking a fag), kissing a man/I got you in a corner (cottage), got you in a corner", but they communicate more than some bands do over their entire careers.

No. 409: 461 Ocean Boulevard

Band: Eric Clapton
Album: 461 Ocean Boulevard
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Despite immense label pressure, Eric Clapton's second solo album turned out well and sold even better. Including three Clapton classic reimaginings, "461 Ocean Boulevard" remains a popular record.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's Eric Clapton, so I'm not the world's biggest Clapton fan.
Best song: "Motherless Children" is the classic example of Clapton's strength: Blues arrangement and nimble fingerwork.
Worst song: It's not the worst song -- actually, the song holds up anywhere because it's one of the best written-songs around -- but Clapton's arrangement of "I Shot the Sheriff" isn't nearly as good as Marley's.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

Much of the recording of "461 Ocean Boulevard" was done after Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes broke up and Clapton has just gotten clean after years of heroin use.

The album isn't particularly strong. The first track, "Motherless Children" is a great arrangement of a classic delta blues song. Clapton's hard-charging guitar fits into the song as well as anything he's done.

The rest of the album is uneven. Clapton works Robert Johnson's "Steady Rollin' Man" a fine, fine song, but Clapton's take on Johnny Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive" -- despite being a minor hit -- isn't great. Somewhere in the middle is "I Shot the Sheriff," a far inferior version of Marley's original.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No. 408: Time Out of Mind

Band: Bob Dylan
Album: Time Out of Mind
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The record is the first of Dylan's recently lauded albums and it does not disappoint. The album's tone is darker and the production is better than Dylan's 1990s work.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Dylan decided he didn't care about anything, I think, and started just stringing weird phrases together. Also, his voice remains terrible.
Best song: "Not Dark Yet" is good.
Worst song: "Highlands" is too long and not good.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Two things come up when talking about Bob Dylan:

  • At some point, Bob Dylan stopped caring about being Bob Dylan and decided to be a totally incomprehensible version of Tom Waits.

  • At some point, critics stopped caring about what Dylan was actually doing and decided to cast all his work as great.

I'm not sure if the second point builds off the first, but the second point is more in effect now than it was when this record came out. Maybe this record made critics realize that Dylan was turning into Tom Waits.

Whatever happened, "Time Out of Mind" is a pretty decent record, though one that is wildly overpraised. Dylan himself has said he wasn't comfortable with the band and there are tons of stories of Dylan screwing with the band.

In fact, "Time Out of Mind" is an odd juxtaposition for a Dylan record. It's wonderfully produced by Daniel Lanois, with an atmospheric tone and cool stylistic choices ("Love Sick," in particular, sounds like a Waits record), but the lyrics are anything but Dylan-esque. "Dirt Road Blues" is a similar situation. The lyrics are OK, but the fast-paced 12-bar blues of the song is loose and fun.

"Not Dark Yet" is the example of such a wildly overpraised song. It's a great sounding song, but the lyrics are of no real quality relative to Dylan's work. The macabre, introspective song was heralded as a work of genius when, in reality, is was simply a pretty decent production job.

It's not, by any means, a great record. It's nice and it's a cool little look into the man, but it's hardly close to any of his earlier work.


Not for nothing, but "Time Out of Mind" is Bob Dylan's 30th (!) studio albums. That's just really impressive.

No. 407: Strange Days

Band: The Doors
Album: Strange Days
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Doors' second album is more eclectic and experimental than their debut. The results are fun, as the band gets funky on "Moonlight Drive" and bluesy on "Love Me Two Times." The signature darkness remains on the title track, as well.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: None of the songs are nearly as good as the band's best tracks. The experimentation makes for an uneven sound.
Best song: "Love Me Two Times" is probably the best track on the album.
Worst song: I find Jim Morrison's poetry to be putrid and "Horse Latitudes" is a spoken poem by Morrison as the band creates a cacophony in the background.
Is it awesome?: Nah.

I loved the Doors in my early teens and a lot of these songs are very familiar. My big task here is to determine the difference between familiar and good. I'm not sure I can do that well.

"Strange Day" isn't a great album, by any means. It's uneven and was something of a commercial bomb. The band experiments a little on the record as dark songs like the title track and even "People Are Strange." Both songs are nice little records, but not the pinnacle of alienation, as John Densmore later called "People Are Strange."

"When The Music's Over" is, in both time and theme, a crappier version of "The End." "Moonlight Drive" is a pleasant, pop-oriented song that sounds almost nothing like a Doors song. The blues guitar riff in "Love Me Two Times" is one of Robby Krieger's best, but nevertheless, not a great song.

Of course, Morrison's idiotic poetry also appears on the album, on "Horse Latitudes." That anyone gives a crap about the poetry is beyond me, but

It's a nice record and one of a band in transition, but it's hardly on the same level as the band's debut.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No. 406: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got

Band: Sinéad O'Connor
Album: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Thanks to an infamous incident on SNL, Sinéad O'Connor is probably ostracized more than she should be. Her voice is certainly distinct and beautiful and the span of sounds on the record is amazing.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: About half the record hits and about half of it misses.
Best song: Outside of the obvious, "The Emperor's New Clothes" is a fine, fine song. "Black Boys on Mopeds" is a brave song.
Worst song: "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: I don't really know.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The 1990s were a very, very odd decade. To pull a Bill Simmons and quote myself, "it was perfectly acceptable in 1991 to wear a velvet top hat, a tuxedo jacket, no shirt and parachute pants" during that decade.

"I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" has a sonic similarity to that time. The album has powerful missed-love songs, a few rockers, Celtic balladry, political messages, dance beats and an a cappella album ender.

"Feel So Different" begins the album and it's striking in the power behind O'Connor's voice. In fact, her vitriol in "I should have hatred for you/But I do not have any" and the chorus speaks to a young, vulnerable woman in pain.

"Black Boys On Mopeds" is a stark political song about a police incident. The song's indictment of the racial issues in the U.K. and the hypocrisy of the Thatcher government foreshadowed the later political stances O'Connor would have.

"I Am Stretched on Your Grave" is a dance number of sorts. While a valiant move, it doesn't totally work. Like Portishead after her, O'Connor tries to mesh the melodic and long with the short, quick dance beats of early 90s club music. Portishead does it better.

"Three Babies" has a distinctly Irish sound and O'Connor's natural accent only helps push the song along and "The Emperor's New Clothes" is a song without a chorus. A rocker, the song remains one of the greats on the record and one of O'Connor's best tracks. "I will have my own policies/I will sleep with a clear conscience" is the signature lyric of the song and one that nearly defines O'Connor.


One of the claims critics make of "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" is that it was influential
In fact, says "foreshadowed the rise of deeply introspective female singer/songwriters like Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan, who were more traditionally feminine and connected with a wider audience."

I guess that's a compelling argument, though, I would give another argument for inclusion on this list:

"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a song written by Prince and perfected by O'Connor. Certainly, the song's arrangement offers a reverential tone as choirs provide backup vocals and an string synth/organ synth combination is almost celestial. Over it all, O'Connor's broken, sad voice lilts around the breakup song's lyrics. Quite simply, it's among the greatest breakup songs ever and the video is a perfect compliment to the song.

If nothing, the album should be on the list if only for that song.

No. 405: Rid of Me

Band: PJ Harvey
Album: Rid of Me
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: British singer Polly Jean Harvey's second album didn't fit the grunge/riot grrl scene nor did it fit into Britpop of the era. Produced by Steve Albini, "Rid of Me" has the sound of the tightest band playing a show for only a few people, featuring Harvey's desperate vocals and piercing guitar.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is a record that could really stand to be higher just on quality.
Best song: It's probably cliche, but "50 Ft. Queenie" is a force of nature. "Yuri G" is great, and the title track is a classic.
Worst song: The Dylan cover is terrible. I mean, just awful.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

When signed to a major label, how would an artist send a message to said label that s/he isn't the label's puppet? Call Steve Albini.

Rid of Me was when I'd first signed to a major label and I felt that I wanted to—more than ever—demonstrate that I was not going to be the kind of usually expected major artist material [laughs]. So, I chose to work with Steve Albini, who is definitely not a particularly commercial engineer and I made a very difficult record. And I'm glad I did because I think it really did set the tone

Polly Jean Harvey's 2004 quote to Filter magazine mostly sums up the album. It's controlled fury, guided by the masterful hand of Albini's "band playing live" sound. Hired on the basis of his work with the Pixies, Albini's signatures (vocals low in the mix, deep distorted guitars, well-mic-ed rhytymn cymbals, etc.) are all over this record and it remains his best product-, er, engineering work.


It's probably sexist for me to sound as though I am putting this record's greatness on Albini. Albini's engineering fits the album well, but the greatness remains in Harvey's songwriting and powerful voice.

"Rid of Me" shares the aggressive third-wave feminism with much of the riot grrl music of the similar time, though the album's confident pomposity separates it from the amelodic punk rock of the Pacific Northwest.

The wave of guitar, for example, of "50 Ft. Queenie" almost overtakes a listener like few other hard rock songs. As Harvey counts up the inch count ("I'm 20 inches long" to "50 inches long" eventually), the song ramps up into a full-forced tsunami.

The album's lyrics, of course, are nearly the picture of third wave aggressive feminism. Like Liz Phair, Harvey's lyrics suggest a woman about to tear you apart. Between the lyrics of "Dry" and the explosive nature (and title) of "Rub 'Til It Bleeds," Harvey's sexual prowess and demand isn't questioned.

The title track, of course, is both timeless and a product of the musical landscape from which it came. The Pixies-esque dynamics and production certainly date it from a time, as does the forwardness of the lyrics. Still, Harvey's screaming inquisitions of "don't you wish you had never met her?" are catchy and interesting, while the snare drum snaps of the quiet segments fill the space between Harvey's perfect lyrics regarding her being on fire and her command to lick her legs.

It's a rollick and a near-perfect song. Like the whole record, it's aggressive, full of feeling and powerful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No. 404: Sandinista!

Band: The Clash
Album: Sandinista!
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Sandinista!" is a great record, some of the 80-90 best minutes of the Clash's work...
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Unfortunately, the last disc is pretty crappy.
Best song: "The Magnificent Seven" is the best "punk band trying to rap" song and "The Call-Up" is a great political song.
Worst song: "Mensforth Hill" is not good.
Is it awesome?: The first two discs are great. The third is not so much.

I've touched on gutter punk politics, but my knowledge of South American politics is less than my knowledge of physics or chemistry. Basically, I know nothing.

So, I won't speak to the issue of the Clash naming their 1980 triple (!) album after a Nicaraguan opposition political party. I will, however, speak to the idea that people (including famed rock critic Kurt Loder) think "Sandinista!" is an album on par with classics of rock and roll.

I'm sorry, but that's just not true.

First, there's the double album problem. I have mentioned it many times, but double albums are almost always inherently flawed. It is incredibly difficult to produce 90 minutes of great music, so the band finds itself trying to fill the album. Sometimes, those songs are b-side-quality tracks. With concept albums, they are simple crap plot-forwarding songs. Other times, experiments and jokes dot the album.

"Sandinista!" isn't a concept album, so you can take out the plot-forwarding songs. However, being a triple (!) album, the record's final two sides are mostly made up of experiments and b-side quality tracks.

It's actually kind of funny. The album's first four sides are nearly unparalleled in their quality. "The Magnificent Seven" is great and the Ellen Foley/Mick Jones duet "Hitsville UK" is the band's best ballads. "Washington Bullets" is constructed out of some dumb lyrics, but it has an odd style, but one that the Clash embrace and pull off. Adding more percussion to the band's already great reggae/dub rock was a perfect fit.

"The Call-Up" is a great song that would fit perfectly today in the modern American landscape:

All the young people down the ages
They gladly marched off to die
Proud city fathers used to watch them
Tears in their eyes

Even "The Sound of the Sinners" -- a religious song that the band mostly pulls off -- is a good song. Like the rest of the first four sides of the record, it's a bold move, but one that the band pulls off.

But, the portions of the last two sides (the backward song, the dub versions of other songs, the children singing on "Career Opportunities," etc.) speak to experiments and b-sides that could easily have been left off. Sure, "Sandinista!" could be the best double album ever, but it's not a double. It's a triple.

To use the baseball analogy: I know Willie Mays is one of the top 10 players of all time. But, his career wasn't just the first 15 years; Those last few years spent stumbling around the Met outfield also count.

The first two discs are great, but the final one -- the disc with the Clash misjudging fly balls and falling down in the Met outfield -- is part of the conversation, too.

No. 403: Radio City

Band: Big Star
Album: Radio City
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The logical step from the Byrds and Beatles to R.E.M. is Big Star. The Memphis power pop group took the region's soul and combined it with the hooks and guitar of the 1960s sound to make a fine second record. Slightly darker lyrically (but similarly bright in music), "Radio City" builds off the band's first album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This isn't the best Big Star record, as the band's debut is better.
Best song: "September Gurls" is fantastic, as is "I'm in Love With a Girl."
Worst song: "Life is White" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: While it's not "#1 Record," it is a great piece of rock and roll.

To add one more note to the "Times the author was ignorant about music" file: I had not heard of Big Star until I got to college. As I'm sure is evident, I thought I was king shit of fuck mountain going into college. I was the only person in my senior class who had both Superchunk and Pavement records (despite the fact that both had been gleaned from Mark, a man a year my senior and way more knowledged in music than I), so I figured I knew everything about rock and roll.

Um, no.

Anyway, Big Star and my college radio station are forever connected thanks to KCOU's reuniting the band in 1993 for our annual free spring concert. You can imagine my surprise in having never heard of this band on my entrance to college in the fall of 1999. Needless to say, I was schooled quickly.

As a fan of R.E.M., I liked Big Star upon first hearing them. Power pop isn't necessarily my bag -- it is often way too twee for my taste -- but Big Star has enough great songs for me to enjoy them.

"Radio City" isn't the band's best work, though. "#1 Record" is a better overall album, but "Radio City" has its moments. "Way Out West" has the classic jangle chords that define the band and Chris Bell's, um, odd vocals. "Back of a Car" is a classic love song that ably describes the teenage experience as well as being a great love song. "Daisy Glaze" is gorgeous, based around Alex Chilton's precious voice. "I'm in Love with a Girl" is similarly pretty, though in a much smaller way.

The highlight of the album, though, is "September Gurls." As Allmusic calls it the "quintessential power pop classic," and I'm not sure that's an incorrect statement. As I've mentioned before, some songs transcend artists and even the covers of "September Gurls" (specifically the Bangles or Matthew Sweet versions) are great songs. The song's R.E.M.-like juxtaposition of venomous lyric combined with jangle-pop guitars is so incredibly catchy and pretty.

Is "Radio City" perfect? By no means. A lot of the songs run together and many of the tracks are just plain bad. Still, a fine, underrated band and a fine, underrated record.

Monday, March 10, 2008

No. 402: Dr. John's Gumbo

Band: Dr. John
Album: Dr. John’s Gumbo
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: I could not tell you. This is a good album, but I'm not sure it is worthy of its place on the list.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I prefer my Dr. John records as weird as possible. The more conventional he becomes, the worse his records sound.
Best song: "Iko Iko" is pretty fun. "Tipitina" is pretty good.
Worst song: I don't like "Those Lonely Lonely Nights."
Is it awesome?: Nah.

I like Dr. John and I like this strangeness, but covers records really need to be different in order for me to love them. "Dr. John's Gumbo" is a cool idea -- a record of New Orleans-specific covers -- but not something I'd put in a list like this.

New Orleans is an important part of American musical history, no doubt. Having been to Preservation Hall, I can at least imagine what it would've been like to see Professor Longhair there banging on a piano.

But, with that said, Dr. John's great strength is his New Orleans bizarre sound, as on "Gris Gris." When he tries to fit into a more conventional box, it just doesn't work.

No. 401: (pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)

Band: Lynyrd Skynyrd
Album: (pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In addition to "Freebird," the album has "Gimme Three Steps" and "Tuesday's Gone," all classics within the Skynyrd catalog. Taking a page from the Allmans, Skynyrd's three-guitar attack and lush production from Al Kooper made for their most accomplished and complex record.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not the biggest Southern rock fan (more on that in a bit), but this album is certainly a classic.
Best song: "Freebird" is a rock and roll classic.
Worst song: I don't like "Mississippi Kid."
Is it awesome?: Yes, actually.

For the vast majority of my music-loving life, I've professed an antipathy towards Lynyrd Skynyrd. I mentioned it in passing in my Allman Brothers piece (and in my "Paranoid" piece), but moreso in talking to anyone who would listen, I would mention how much I didn't like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Mostly, I'd mention things like their showing the rebel flag at their shows (or calling an album "The Last Rebel"), the amount of twang in their vocals, their celebration of the American South (and the subsequent feud with Neil Young), the silliness that is people shouting "Freebird" at concerts and my general thought process that Skynyrd fans are uneducated, NASCAR-watching, American beer-drinking folks.

In short, it was mostly racism/classism/whatever. It was prejudice.

Sometimes, this type of assumption works and sometimes it doesn't. I've heard a fair amount of Molly Hatchet songs now and can definitely conclude that Molly Hatchet stinks. The Allman Brothers are simply a Southern Grateful Dead and I don't like the Dead. Mountain is terrible. A lot of Southern rock really sucks.

In my defense, part of music's draw is that we can identify with the artist's emotion and storytelling. The best love songs conjure up our own past relationships and the artists we often identify with most are those who speak to our experiences. This is, to be honest, why I don't like blue collar rock or Southern rock. I have never uttered the phrase "kinfolk" outside of total irony or mocking, yet Skynyrd uses it on the song "Poison Whiskey." Of course I'm not going to immediately identify with that.

However, to say Skynyrd totally sucks were premature. I was going off the ill-researched impressions of Skynyrd fans and painting the music as such. In short, I hadn't listened to much of the band.

Two things turned me. The first was when Built to Spill covered "Freebird" on their 2001 tour and subsequent release (to college radio) a single of the band playing it live. I saw BTS on that tour and they played several covers (Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" and George Harrison's "What is Life?" being two others I saw them play), but "Freebird" was one of the encores and the highlight of the show.

In my listening to BTS play the song on my iPod in the subsequent time since that show, I've come to appreciate two things. First, the musicianship of BTS is pretty amazing, to replicate the complexity of the solo note-for-note is amazing.

More importantly, though, the song is a beautifully written piece of music. Despite the overall simplicity of the song's lyric (birds are free. I gotta be free like a bird. So I can fly.), it's achingly sang by Ronnie Van Sandt, and, really, the vocals play second fiddle to the actual musicianship of the band. Slide guitars are almost always effective in augmenting an acoustic song (George Harrison's version of "If Not For You" is a great example) and "Freebird" is no exception. The song's slow, almost gospel beginning is sweet and uses the slide guitar to maximum advantage to then break into, well, something. It's probably best described as one of the best guitar solos in the history of rock and roll.

I was talking to a friend of mine last week about it and said "I used to hate this song. Boy, was I wrong. If you like awesome guitar playing and melody, you have to like 'Freebird.'"


Of course, the record isn't just that song. The popular "Tuesday's Gone" is a '70s classic and like all great sad love songs, puts melancholy into song well. Producer Al Kooper's (yes, that Al Kooper) mellotron makes for a more lush arrangement on the whole album, and "Tuesday's Gone" is the perfect example of this (though, his organ-playing on "Freebird" is a strong case, too).

"I Ain't the One" and "Gimme Three Steps" are based around strong guitar riffs and Ronnie Van Sant's wild west lyrics. Each is undeniable fun, though I'd hardly claim either is a classic. "Simple Man" is a little overwrought, but, still a really strong track. And "Poison Whiskey" is a bizarre lyric, but a cool riff.

Certainly, the centerpiece of the album is "Freebird" and that song is a classic on par with some of the other epic songs in music history ("Stairway to Heaven" is probably the best analogue). But, (pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)is a great album. I'm glad I was wrong about Skynyrd.

Friday, March 7, 2008

No. 400: Illmatic

Band: Nas
Album: Illmatic
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: There are albums critics hate. There are albums critics like. There are albums that critics love. And then, there is "Illmatic," probably the most fawned-over album in hip hop's history. No one doesn't like this album. And, for the most part, the love fits.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It, I'm sorry, sometimes sounds a little dated. As wonderful as Nas' lyricism is -- and it's wonderful -- there are a couple of songs that sound like 1994. Not many. But a couple. Still, this record deserves to be higher, as it influenced so many artists and, more importantly, is simply a masterpiece.
Best song: "Memory Lane" is the type of song that a lot of backpack hip hop references and could be Nas' best lyrics on the album. "N.Y. State of Mind" is a wonderful record.
Worst song: "Represent" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

There's a consensus that Nas' undwhelming post-"Illmatic" records aren't anywhere near as good as the rapper's debut. I can't speak to all of them -- I only have three Nas records -- but I do think "God's Son" is probably as good as "Illmatic."

Of course, "God's Son" is the first record of his I had ever owned. It is my favorite. This leads me here to a theory...

Simpsons creator Matt Groening has a theory that anything serial is looked at by fans as being constantly deteriorating from the point which that specific fan first encountered the particular thing. He uses "The Simpsons" as the example, in that the first generation of the show found the third and fourth seasons to be the best (the seasons when the show was most popular). Whatever you first saw is what you will love the best.

Another Simpsons writer (I'm blanking on whom) mentions on the same DVD commentary that something serial will have to change things enough, because everything else has been done. For example, charges of Homer being too stupid were levied at the show as early as season six, mostly because the writers needed to continue to push some sort of envelope. This is how "22 Short Films About Springfield" was made, as well. Someone had to do something to switch it around.

Most artists' debut albums aren't the first ones critics and fans get to hear. Most bands fly under the radar on their first albums while they tour and gain more fans. The bands' second album turns out to be the best-received a lot of the time.

The great example is Death Cab for Cutie, one of my favorite bands. Death Cab's first proper album didn't get crazy reviews, while "We Have the Fact and We're Voting Yes" blew the hell up. Arcarde Fire's first few records weren't super popular, but when "Neon Bible" came out, boy, howdy.

Hip hop isn't necessarily like that. Like certain rock and roll bands (I'm thiiiiiinking... The Strokes. The most hyped band in my lifetime.), hip hop debuts often get incredibly hyped. This promotion makes it so that the debuts are looked at in the same way as most popular episodes of "The Simpsons." Many fans -- myself included, by the way -- think "The Simpsons" will never do anything near the quality of seasons 3-6. Similarly, it will take a real masterpiece for 50 Cent to make a record better than "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."

And, as most critics got into Nas through "Illmatic," it is both his blessing and curse. The album is brilliant, on par with Jay-Z's "Reasonable Doubt" and B.I.G.'s "Ready to Die" as classics of East Coast hip hop. It's a beautiful street tale, with introspective lyrics and inventive beats. Nas chronicles but does not praise the street life on "Illmatic." For that, it is a classic.

But, it's also the standard by which he will always be measured. Even if "Nigger," his next album, is better than "Illmatic," it won't be considered as good. Critics will always hoist the first-heard album as the best. Just look at the critical reaction to the album. called Nas the "new Rakim." calls him thoughtful but ambitious. MTV calls it the second best hip hop album. Ever. Trevor Nelson calls it the fifth best album by a black artist ever (coming after only Marvin Gay, Michael Jackson, Public Enemy and Stevie Wonder.) calls it one of the 10 essential hip hop albums, noting it as the "hip-hop bible."

No subsequent album can measure up to that praise. It is, sadly, the way things go.

No. 399: Californication

Band: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Album: Californication
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Wow, well, Anthony Kiedis tried to at least sing for the first time since "Under the Bridge." So, there's that.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I really can't stand this band. They're not funky, they beat you over the head with hard rock and Kiedis' awful rap/rock sing annoys me. I can't fucking stand this band.
Best song: "Scar Tissue" is moderately listenable.
Worst song: Everything else sucks.
Is it awesome?: No.

I, uh, kind of can't stand this band. Upon listening to "Californication," all this unhappiness resurfaced.

To recap: The Chili Peppers deal in white guy funk, hackneyed spirituality, almost metal ("Parallel Universe"), actual melody ("Scar Tissue") and general idiocy. They make music for idiots.

That they are popular is more an indication of the crappy state of the music industry than anything. It's an industry based on tired cliches and pushing established (often crappy) bands onto the fawning music press.

Case in point: The AV Club. AV Club isn't the paradigm of indie rock, but, like a lot of the music press, it saw Rick Rubin, a return of John Frusciante and immediately thought "good album."

Through all this, it somehow made one of the most consistent, compelling, and confident—not to mention commercial and Californiacentric—records of its career, largely by going with what it knows.

Doing the same fucking thing, not experimenting and writing a record about the most self-indulgent state in the union? Those are all hallmarks of a good album? I'd suggest it is not.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

No. 398: Anthology

Band: The Temptations
Album: Anthology
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Well, the Temptations are one of the best vocal groups of their time period.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I think this is reasonable.
Best song: "My Girl" is great.
Worst song: "My Baby" isn't so great.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

This record isn't really in my wheelhouse. The Temptations, like other vocal groups of the time, are simply a nice group for the local oldies station. "My Girl" is a perfectly pleasant song and one that everyone loves.

The first disc has the classic vocal style of the band while the second disc has their funky, later work. Both are pretty good, but I can't speak to them much because it's all oldies to me.

No. 397: Rain Dogs

Band: Tom Waits
Album: Rain Dogs
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Thankfully, the strange music contingent has a place on the RS list, as evidenced by "Trout Mask Replica," Zappa's records on the list and, of course, this one. From the word go, "Rain Dogs" is qurirky and hypnotic.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not an easy album to, say, hum along to.
Best song: "Gun Street Girl" has the feel of an old blues song while "9th & Hennepin" is the type of thing the Velvets might (might) have recorded.
Worst song: "Union Square" is too much.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Tom Waits, uh, is strange.

"Diamonds & Gold" has the familiar tubular drum percussive sounds. The album's title track starts with what appears to be an organ solo. The short instrumental "Midtown" has a screaming trumpet. Waits himself produced the album with the notion that all the music would be organic, as the '80s had robbed popular music of organic drums. Because of this, there are a lot of folk-sounding instruments -- picked steel-sounding guitars, clanking drums, etc. -- and the record sounds incredibly natural. Waits fancies himself a blues/folk singer and, on "Rain Dogs," he was. He surrounds himself with the tools of the trade and, musically, it comes through.

And then, his voice. Waits' voice could be best described as "gravelly," though you'd have to imagine the gravel is jagged and dangerous. "Big Black Mariah" has Waits, essentially, screaming, while "Downtown Train" has Waits crooning as though he's Rod Stewart (who would later make the song a hit). Waits speaks the lyrics of "9th & Hennepin" as he describes the dangerous neighborhood and a prostitute within.

There's a niche for Tom Waits, certainly. Like a lot of quirky music, it has its place, though I'd suggest he's not on the same plane as Beefheart or Zappa. Still, "Rain Dogs" is a classic.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No. 396: Eliminator

Band: ZZ Top
Album: Eliminator
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Eliminator" sold 10 million copies based on the easy guitar riffage, hot rods and long beards of ZZ Top. Trust me, you know the songs and you know the beards. As a bearded person, I salute their beards.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Let's not get crazy. It's not exactly Beethoven.
Best song: Any of the three singles are good.
Worst song: Every other song stinks.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but, hey, beards!

Here's my contention: ZZ Top is wildly underrated as a cultural entity. I don't think ZZ Top is the do-all and end-all of a particular phenomenon, but when this particularly phenomenon hit them (and they exploited it with the three videos from this album), that meant it was mainstream.

I am, of course, speaking of the triumph of the cool person inside the nerd (or loser). The '80s were full of this storyline.

ZZ Top's videos from this period have a very similar storyline. Someone is a big dork and is having a hard go of it. In "Gimme All Your Lovin'," this guy has a tough job fixing cars. ZZ Top comes in (with their hot rod) and gives him an awesome hot rod and he suddenly has scores of women. Loser no longer!


In "Legs," the main character is having a tough go of it as a big nerd. Glasses, shapeless clothes. Everyone hassles her. But, then, ZZ Top comes in and gives her the famous keys to the hot rod. She then gets a makeover, new clothes and, boom! Nerd no longer.


"Sharp Dressed Man" features, of all professions, a valet parker. He's a real weenie in his misfitted tux. The rich people are all harassing him. He is toiling at his job until (you guessed it!) the hot rod shows up and the women all love him. They even get him a top hat and a scarf. Weenie no more!


One of my favorite music anecdotes:

Guided by Voices and Superchunk toured together in the fall of 1999, when I was training to become a DJ at (what would become) my beloved college station, KCOU. I admired the older DJs at the station and I saw one of them at the show. I asked him which band he was looking forward to seeing and he said "Each of these bands have been playing the same song for 10 years, I just like the Superchunk song better."

The same could be said for two bands on this list, ZZ Top and AC/DC. Like Superchunk and GBV, ZZ Top and AC/DC occupy the hearts of similar fans (pseudo-metalers) and come from the same time period. But, of course, ZZ Top and AC/DC each have a very strict template and almost never deviate from it.

For ZZ Top, "Eliminator" is where that template made them millions. Each song is based on a pretty easy blues guitar riff, has a couple of verses and turns into an extended Billy Gibbons guitar solo. They're are pretty simple. They're all in 4/4. They're all about pretty classic rock and roll topics (hot rods and women).

Really, there's not a lot to it. That doesn't necessarily make it bad. It's just thumping white guy rock.