MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #15-11

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #15-11

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

15. TrickyMaxinquaye

14. InterpolTurn on the Bright Lights

13. The CurePornography

12. PortisheadDummy

11. The BeatlesThe Beatles

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#15: Tricky, Maxinquaye

Trip-hop can be divided into two columns: the amazing (Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky) and the generic coffeehouse variety (everyone else who followed). But even if these Bristolites caused inferior imitation, they did provide an imprint that still sounds cool today. And where Massive Attack thrived on chill groove and Tracey Thorn, and Portishead incorporated more turntable scratching, brass, and Beth Gibbons, the young man known as Tricky was all over the place…in a good way. Dark, textured, truly interdisciplinary music with beats big enough to satisfy the “hop” crowd and eccentricities that worked for the “trip” audience.

The thing that struck me about this album upon first listen was how well he incorporated other people’s material into his own warped vision. Consider a three-song stretch in the album’s first half, where Tricky covers a Public Enemy song (“Black Steel,” with female vocalist Martina Topley-Bird handling the Chuck D rhymes), samples his friends from Portishead on an eerie song aptly titled “Hell Is Round the Corner*, and then works the drums and guitar bits from the Smashing Pumpkins’ song “Suffer” into his song, respectfully titled, um, “Pumpkin.” So he covers a song by my favorite rap act, samples a current band that I love, and then samples my favorite group from the Alternative Nation gang…and does all that in a way that allows him room to do his own thing with the material or accent his songs with the samples, rather than a rote cover or using the samples as the primary element of the songs a la Puff Daddy.

(* – “Hell Is Round the Corner,” found in my sampler above, was used by the show Rescue Me during a scene depicting the aftermath of a tragic death in Tommy Gavin’s family. You’d have thought the song was written specifically for that scene. Incredible.)

And on the album’s opener, “Overcome,” Tricky took some lyrics he had given to Massive Attack (which they used for the song “Karmacoma,” a somewhat upbeat tune*, and showed the old boys how it was supposed to sound. Martina’s voice and her looped gasps pierce through the atmospheric keyboards and persistent thump of the drums, creating an ominous yet sexy song. When she sings, “You sure you wanna be with me? I’ve nothing to give…but I’ll lie and say this loving’s best,” accented by those aforementioned gasps, I find myself saying, “Um, yes. Yes I do.”

(* – I would be willing to be that “Overcome” has equal/greater BPM than “Karmacoma,” but I would never describe “Overcome” as upbeat. It’s all about the mood, the tone.)

The album has extended grooves (“Aftermath”), slightly abbreviated grooves (“Abbaon Fat Tracks”), aggressive jams (“Brand New You’re Retro”), and one truly bizarre track toward the end (“Strugglin'”) that truly makes you question the guy’s sanity. A decade and a half after trip-hop arrived, I still find myself enjoying this album…maybe not as much as I did when I was 21, but enough to deem it #15.

#11: The Beatles, The Beatles

My dad had four proper Beatles albums in his LP collection: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour. So I had the luxury of listening to the Beatles at a pretty early age. But he didn’t have anything after that; he explained to me that he got a lot of his records from the radio station at St. Ambrose, and he transferred to Illinois for his DVM studies in 1968, before the “White Album” came out. (Indeed, his copy of Sgt. Pepper’s has the call letters “KSAR” written in one of the upper corners of the cover.)

So I did what any self-respecting fan would do: I found one of the cool girls in my class and asked her if she had the “White Album” and if so could I please borrow it and record it to one of my various TDK blank tapes? (File sharing at its best.)

And so began my love affair with the wonderfully varied (scattershot, some might say) double album, one that was among my first 10 CD purchases when I made the move to the newer medium. I listened to it over and over, night and day, forward and backward…which, of course, led to me believing there were myriad hidden messages suggesting riots and new world orders and who knows what else (not really).

(I don’t subscribe to the Charlie Manson school of thought; I don’t buy all the subliminal messaging, or at least not his translation of them. However, there is that part at the end of the song “I’m So Tired” that sounds like gibberish. When that is played backward, it does sound just a little bit like “Paul is dead, man, miss him, we miss him, miss him!” in that typical backmasking kind of way. I assume it is either coincidence or the Beatles having a bit of fun with the urban legend. They were known to use reversed sound in their music, as early as 1966 with vocals on the song “Rain.”)

My original acquisition of the “White Album” coincided with the peak of my Beatles obsession. I would grab my Walkman and my “White Album” tape and go for walks around town almost every night that I wasn’t making pies at Pizza Hut, just so I could spend 90 minutes alone with my thoughts and the Beatles piping into my ears. (Exercise by accident!) My friend David and I had scored a book via interlibrary loan that detailed the Beatles’ studio recordings, and it painted quite a dreary picture of the band during the “White Album” era. It seemed like there were quite a few songs where the instrumentation was documented as such:

“Mother Nature’s Son” (Lennon/McCartney)

  • Paul McCartney: vocals, acoustic guitar, timpani, bass drum
  • John Lennon: not present
  • George Harrison: not present
  • Ringo Starr: not present
  • George Martin: brass arrangement

But so what, even if the album was ironically named after a unified group? The tunes, all 30 of them, are at the very least intriguing and often outstanding, and to my ears the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It never bothered me that it jumped around a bit; you can grab one of the numerous bloated 80-minute rap albums that came out after the CD era exploded. (THAT is monotony.) I loved the quirky stuff like “Wild Honey Pie” and “Martha My Dear” (an ode to Paul’s dog) and “Piggies” and “Rocky Raccoon”*. We got four George songs instead of one or two, including one of the best songs in the entire Beatles catalog (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”).

(* – Shortly after I borrowed the tapes from the cool girl in my class, a couple of her good friends, older dudes I got along with just fine but didn’t typically hang out with, came up to me during Advanced Keyboarding class and asked me how I liked the “White Album.” I told them I really dug it, while also wondering if an invite to get high in the parking lot was soon to follow. The follow-up statement from one of the dudes: “Isn’t ‘Rocky Raccoon’ a great song?” What else could I say but a statement of agreement? I never thought I’d be bonding with anyone because of the song “Rocky Raccoon”; proof that anything is possible.)

Anyway, where was I… We got the nice Paul moments like “Blackbird,” “I Will,” and the aforementioned “Mother Nature’s Son.” We got the John rock ‘n’ roll tunes like “Yer Blues” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey.” Paul rocks out with “Helter Skelter”; John gets wistful on “Julia” and “Cry Baby Cry.” You get “Dear Prudence,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (Corky!), a slowed-down version of “Revolution,” “Birthday,” and arguably my favorite song on the album, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” And the album closes with “Good Night,” a song I used to sing to my son at bedtime when he was just a little tyke.

Even “Revolution 9” is worth exploring from time to time, just to pick out the various sounds woven into the fabric.

This is one of two consecutive double albums in my countdown. What will be at #10? Come back Monday…

Todd’s #15-11

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

15. Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De lo Habitual

14. The Beatles, Abbey Road

13. Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

12. Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

11. Prince, Sign O’ the Times

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#13: Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

cover for gishWhere to start here? Like Chris who ranked it at #17, Gish was a hugely defining album for me. It sort of blew me away the instant I heard it and destroyed every preconceived opinion I had about music and what was good.

I first heard Smashing Pumpkins on the radio show Off the Beaten Track. If you read my post about Pixies Trompe le Monde then you will remember that this was a show that played exclusively alternative and indie music. It was on late night on Sundays and I would stay up and listen until I fell asleep. Often I would record these shows and replay what I missed later. On one of these tapes I discovered Gish. Well part of Gish. During the show they played 2 songs from the album. “I Am One” and “Siva.” I fast forwarded the tape immediately to try and find out the name of the artist. The DJs briefly talked about the songs and maybe goofed on the name Smashing Pumpkins a bit but the big revelation was that they were going to play Gish after the show. After every show they played a new album in its entirety.

So I fast forwarded some more to the end of the show hoping I had enough tape to catch the whole album. I was elated as “I Am One” came over the speakers. I’d heard that one earlier but that was fine, there was new songs coming. Thinking I was going to be hearing the whole album I cranked up the volume sat back and enjoyed. I loved how lead singer Billy Corgan’s voice was franticly snarling and screaming out the lyrics. His guitar work was filthy and grimy (notice I didn’t write grungy) and I couldn’t get enough. Next up was “Siva”; great tune but I had heard that one already too. I was getting impatient for something new. Finally, the third song “Rhinoceros” came on and I was enjoying its blissed out psychedelic dreaminess when the tape cut off. Blurgh!!!  I had to hear more!

The next weekend I went to the record store at the mall to grab my very own copy. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell it. I think the dopey record store guy thought I was kidding when I told him the band’s name was Smashing Pumpkins. I should have known better than to go to the mall anyways. Back in the day if you wanted hard to get or more underground artists you had to go to Co-Op Tapes and Records. The mall had the chicks but Co-Op had the selection. So I buzzed over to the nearest location and asked the hipster dude at the counter if they had Smashing Pumpkins. He seemed truly impressed. Must not have been everyday that preppy 16 year olds came in asking for that record. He grabbed me a copy and I immediately threw it in the car tape deck. The rest of the day I drove around playing Gish over and over.

Since then, I’ve met several guys with similar stories to me. They loved Smashing Pumpkins and were the first people in there town/school/state to listen to them. They talk as though they were the area ambassadors for the band and introduced them to the world. I can say I did not do this. I didn’t hoist the Smashing Pumpkins banner and wave it for everyone to see. I did tell a couple of my friends about them but mostly I kept quiet. The band was just for me. It stayed that way until their next record came out and they truly unleashed the awesomeness…

#11: Prince, Sign O’ the Times

I’ve been trying to write a blurb about the album Sign O’ the Times for a while now. Things have been slow because I’ve been busy messing with technology issues. This is ridiculous, how am I supposed to get inspiration when I can’t get to the online streaming database and listen to the record at 320 bit digital perfection? First, the internets weren’t working. Then, once I got the modem online the Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect to my laptop. So I tried my phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Two songs in, I realized that I was using way too much data. My cell provider will send me an enormous bill if I go over my allotted gigabytes. What was I to do?

Then I started thinking about my first copy of Sign O’ the Times. It was a dubbed cassette tape from my brother. We didn’t have a dual tape deck so I just pushed my tape deck next to his and hit play on his and record on mine. I stuck this crude contraption in the closet so it wouldn’t pick up sound from the TV in the other room. A valiant effort but during the song “Adore” you could still hear Hawkeye arguing with Hot Lips Houlihan from the M.A.S.H. rerun my Dad was watching. At one crucial point in “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” you could hear my mother telling me or my brother to take out the trash. Not a perfect system but it worked. What more did I need? I wanted to hear the songs and didn’t care if it was a perfect digital copy or not.

I remember having a lot of music recorded that way. If you looked in my cassette tape storage unit back then (shoe box), you would have found dozens of tapes with songs recorded off of the radio. I used to spend hours listening to the local pop stations waiting for specific songs. Who cared if the DJ was talking up the first 30 seconds of the song as long as you got enough of the song to jump around your room singing Su-Su-Sudio? It really was the earliest form of music pirating. Much more difficult, but way more satisfying. You really had to work to get that free version of “One Night in Bangkok.”

Technology makes things so easy now. If I want to listen to any song in my over 100 gig music library,* I just tap the screen on my phone or iPad and wireless speakers start playing. If I want to listen in the car, I plug my iPod or phone into the stereo and hit play. What I wouldn’t have given for that back when I rode around with $1000 worth of CDs in my car. Back then, if you told me we were going to have a device like the iPod, I would have expected there to be flying cars and robot prostitutes too. It would have seemed impossible.

*(Believe me I’m not bragging, I know people that have Napstered and BitTorrented there way to ten times that amount. All my music was paid for (wink) and obtained legally (wink). I’m no pirate. Arrrrr!)

And just like I couldn’t imagine file sharing and streaming music services back then, I can’t imagine what is coming next. Things change so fast. 12 years ago I didn’t own a cell phone or personal PC. Since then, I have had 10 cell phones, 2 smart phones, 4 PCs, and 2 tablets. What? I have to stay plugged in. I need to be notified in the middle of the night when I can save $20 dollars on Zappos.com and how else can I find out which boner pills are guaranteed to satisfy.

So, in closing, Sign O’ the Times is real real good.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #20-16

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #20-16

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

20. PortisheadThird

19. Depeche ModeViolator

18. Nick DrakePink Moon

17. Smashing PumpkinsGish

16. Sigur Ros( )

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#17: Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

cover for gishWe said we’d keep our “closer looks” to two artists per entry until the top 10; as a result, I’m basically ignoring the album (Violator) that defined a big part of my junior year of high school, right around the time that I ended a relationship that by all accounts was perfect and entered into another that was short-sighted yet valuable all the same. And if you ever wanted an album to soundtrack the mixed emotions of a confused teenager, you can’t go wrong with the extremes found on Violator.

Yet I’m opting to talk at length about one of two albums that defined my senior year of high school, when I wised up and stopped taking science courses (I took physics, but that’s math) and dropped Advanced Composition to take Parenting and started dating girls two grades below me. And yes, listened to Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish hundreds of times.

Thanks to Spin, which wrote a feature about a handful of bands to watch, I made a mental note to check out this oddly named band. It wasn’t hard to remember the name, probably because it’s a terrible name for a band. Most people laughed at the name when I told them they had to check out Smashing Pumpkins. Often times they would snicker or roll their eyes or whatever and never listen to the blank tape I carried with me at all times. Then again, a lot of people I knew back then had no interest in anything other than Zeppelin or Garth or Poison (but rarely all three).

Despite this reaction, perhaps the name is genius. I certainly remembered it in the period between reading that Spin article and buying the CD. And if you’re as good as the Pumpkins were on their debut disc, you can make a ballsy move like naming your band Smashing Pumpkins. Because once you hear them, you’re not going to give a fuck what the band name is, aside from the fact that you need the name so you can tell your friends they have to listen to this band now.

The clean snaps from Jimmy Chamberlin’s snare drum immediately call the listener to attention. The rumble of the bass comes next, and then the Billy Corgan Experience comes at you with guitars a-blazin’. You do a double-take when the thin Corgan voice fills the air, but you’re still rolling with the groove, so you shrug a little bit. Soon enough, Corgan is assailing your ears with layers of solo guitar work before the bass’s rumble is isolated again and the song hits its final chorus and it comes to a halt and you’re all like “dude! What the fuck!” And then “Siva” starts and you’re air-guitaring the shit out of your bedroom/basement/car’s driver seat/back room at Pizza Hut/wherever.

These aren’t the 1980s guitar licks, processed and played only in the higher ranges. This shit was grungy (aha!), tuned down and dirty as fuck. “Siva” plays up the LOUDquietLOUD aspect of late ’80s/early ’90s alt-rock at least twice, the second time again isolating the bass guitar, which isn’t playing anything complicated (although D’Arcy might disagree) but propels the song forward while the guitars chill the fuck out for a few seconds and Billy whisper-sings about wanting to know what you’re after because he just wants to get there faster and then the SONG JUST FUCKING EXPLODES and you’re punching the air along with every hit of Chamberlin’s drums and you are like “holy shit this is so so so so goddamn good and I hope this puts a fucking ice pick in the eye socket of ‘heavy metal’ and all that hair metal shit because holy fuck this is awesome.”

And then “Rhinoceros” takes everything down a notch, to let you know that Billy doesn’t need layers of guitar running through Big Muff pedals to do his thing.

And then “Bury Me” brings the guitar heroics back. And then “Crush” slows it all down again. Songs like “Crush” and the next song, “Suffer,” are the songs that best exemplify what Spin said about these guys (I’m paraphrasing): an album you put on as you relax and get all reflective while watching the specks floating in the beam of sunlight coming through your bedroom window. There’s something romantic to that description, and I always enjoyed approaching parts of this album through that lens.

The album throttles forward again with “Snail” and “Tristessa,” then concludes with the two most eccentric tracks on the album: the ominous, slow build of “Window Paine” (punctuated with trademark blasts of controlled feedback at song’s end) and “Daydream,” an acoustic tune that features D’Arcy on vocals and a perfect sense of weariness. (And when you think the album is over, a strange reprise of sorts kicks in, with Billy back on vocals and a simple electric guitar line that adds just a touch of sinister to the album’s conclusion).

Many people thought the Pumpkins were from Seattle, because that’s where all the good music like this was coming from, courtesy of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. No, they were from Chicago; yes, they were as good as (if not better than) the folks from the Pacific Northwest.

#16: Sigur Ros, ( )

cover for ( )The challenge: express my love for an album that had no title, no song titles (at least upon initial release), lyrics that weren’t English or any other established language…essentially guide vocals that served more instrumental value than vocal message.

The thing is, as pretentious as the whole thing sounds, the eight songs that make up this untitled album are absolutely gorgeous. I might as well be writing in the nonsense language sung by Jonsi to adequately get across my points…but if nothing else, the bottom line is that these songs create an environment that, to my ears and to my “the afterlife is bullshit” mind, is as close to heaven as I think any of us is going to get.

Much like with Explosions in the Sky, this music sounds like the perfect ingredients for a motion picture score. And the music is varying enough (even if the “lyrics” aren’t) that it works for a number of moods and settings. And the fact that the lyrics aren’t real words is not a hindrance: much like the music behind them, the words can mean whatever you want them to mean. And be honest…a lot of you don’t get the words right when you sing along to songs in English.

(To my ears, the primary “lyric” to the first song is “You sat along the fire/you saw the light/you saw/you suffered alone/you sat alone/your soul”; again, there is no definitive lyric, but that’s what I hear, and it plays into my interpretation of the artistic vision of the music.)

Soaring, atmospheric, conjuring up scenes of natural beauty, fast, loud, slow, quiet, pianos, guitars, percussion, strings, organ, Jonsi…all of these elements add up to bliss. I should take a cue from the album’s lack of words and stop now, and let the music speak for itself. Please listen to the last two songs in my sampler found just above my #20-16 list, and interpret the space between the album title’s parentheses as you will. As someone who will finally see the band in concert in April 2013, I’m sure my interpretations will change again after the live experience. That’s one, if not the primary, beautiful aspect of ( ): there’s always room for your ever-changing view of this wonderful art.

Todd’s #20-16

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

20. Beatles, Revolver

19. The Strokes, Room On Fire

18.The Cure, Disintegration

17. Radiohead, Kid A

16. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#18: The Cure, Disintegration

I’ll keep this brief because I’m pretty certain my main MoSS? man Chris is going to be waxing poetic about this record at some point down the road. No surprise to all you Chris fans out there I’m sure.

I’d like to say that I was in on this album from the beginning but that wasn’t the case. When Disintegration came out, I was still exploring classic rock and Livin’, Lovin’ my way through the Led Zeppelin catalog. I’d probably heard a few songs from The Cure by then but they were definitely not on my radar at that point. I do remember seeing the video for “Lovesong” and thinking, “What’s that dude whining about?”

So what made me change my mind? Well, a girl of course. Around that time, my dopey friends and I went over to a classmate’s house to hang out with her and her friend from another school. Yes, a new girl from an exotic unknown land. Well, two towns away to be exact. She was cool, cute, and brunette. I was smitten. I have a weakness for brunettes, this is well documented. The TV was tuned to 120 Minutes, an MTV show that played alternative music videos. At some point the video for the song “Fascination Street” was on and new girl said she loved The Cure. What do you think I told her in response? You guessed it…“I love them too. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time.”

She must have sensed I was full of shit. Maybe it was my hair. I was still rocking the mullet. You know. Business in the front…party in the back. See photo on the left. It was an obvious sign of a hard or classic rock lover. Not too long after that I started to wear my hair in the exact opposite way, with my hair long in front and short in back which was more in line with the alternative music that I was getting into. See photo on the right of the band The Ocean Blue. They made the list back at #69 with their self titled debut album. I dressed and wore my hair just like the those guys.

Anyways, exotic-two-towns-away girl didn’t fall for my lie and I, of course, got nowhere with her. It wasn’t a total strikeout though because the experience got me interested in The Cure. Today I wouldn’t be lying if I told her that The Cure is one of my favorite bands of all time. Plus, I can always console myself in the fact that I met and married a way cooler, way hotter brunette that loves The Cure too.

I wonder what happened to two-towns-away girl? I like to think that she married some dude that got her into country music and right now she is listening to Rascal Flatts or something equally as horrid. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything.

#17: Radiohead, Kid A

This is my highest rated Radiohead album. You won’t be seeing the over hyped OK Computer on any of my lists (unless we make a list of the 100 Most Overrated Albums Ever…mental note) No, Kid A is the Radiohead album for me. I feel the same way about this record as Chris does about Sigur Ros ( ) which he so eloquently wrote about above. The music, while eerily off-putting at times, is beautiful. Though, unlike Jonsi from Sigur Ros, Thom Yorke is singing in English and you can understand most of his lyrics.

In my crazy head, the album Kid A will always be connected to the movie Almost Famous. They really have nothing to do with each other, but I can’t think of one without eventually thinking of the other. They came out around the same time. Almost Famous in September 2000 and Kid A a few weeks later. A week or so after that, Saturday Night Live had Radiohead as the musical guest and the host was, new Hollywood “It Girl” and star of Almost Famous, Kate Hudson.  She really blew up after that movie came out. They threw her in a ton of crap movies and you couldn’t go to a newsstand without seeing her on several magazine covers. Like this Rolling Stone cover from late October 2000.

Not too shabby in the looks department but not really my type. I always liked the actress that played the sister in Almost Famous better, Zooey Deschanel. She’s been involved in much better projects than Kate since then and is in the indie band, She and Him, which gets her astronomically more cool points. I guess Kate did marry the dude from the Black Crowes but that doesn’t really help her cause in my book. And again, I have a weakness for brunettes.

Anyways, I bought that Rolling Stone magazine at the O’hare International Airport before a business flight to Tampa Bay. The two main articles in it are about… you guessed it… Radiohead’s Kid A and the movie Almost Famous.

The last 45 minutes of the flight were pretty bumpy as we came through some bad weather. At times it felt like we were riding a roller coaster as we suddenly gained and lost altitude. I’m not scared of flying but like most people, I find rocketing through the air in a tin can a bit less fun when the tin can is being thrown around by turbulence. I put on my headphones and queued up the first song on Kid A to try and relax. “Everything in It’s Right Place” came over my headphones and did nothing to soothe my nerves. It has a pretty ominous sound to it and made me feel even more like we might not make it safely to the ground. We hit a very bumpy stretch a bit later and when I looked out the window I could see lightning and huge storm clouds ahead.

There is a great part in the movie Almost Famous were the central characters are in a small airplane that has engine troubles and they believe they are going to die as they plummet to the earth. Everyone on board takes the opportunity to make major announcements about there sexuality and/or air out long held grievances. The plane eventually rights itself and they realize that they aren’t going to die. Awkward!

I definitely wasn’t going to be sharing any major revelations with the chatty 300 lb. dude wedged into the seat next to me. So, I just closed my eyes and tried to appear as though I was calmly sleeping through the worst plane flight of my life. At that point, the song “How to Disappear Completely” came over the headphones.  This time the music and lyrics actually made me feel better.

Strobe lights and blown speakers
Fireworks and hurricanes
I’m not here
This isn’t happening
I’m not here
I’m not here
I’m not here

I just kept on listening and by the time the album was over so was the storm. I opened my eyes and there was nothing but clear skies ahead. The rest of the flight went smoothly and we touched down in sunny Florida with our lives and our dignity intact. Although, the dude next to me did reveal that he had been a bed wetter until the age of 15.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

 

#80-71

 

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever: Ineligible Albums and Those That Missed the Cut

We’re taking a little break from our Undisputed Top Albums Ever countdown during this busy holiday week. Instead, we are going to share with you a few albums that didn’t make the cut and a few albums that we’ve declared ineligible for selection. When we were first tasked with making these lists, we decided to limit our top 100 albums to proper releases. This meant no soundtracks, no live albums, no compilations etc. Some great material had to be omitted. Take a look at what didn’t make the cut. Your favorite record could be in there somewhere.

Don’t worry, the countdown continues next week with #20-16.

Chris’ 5 That Missed The Cut

Alice in Chains, Dirt

INXS, Kick

Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral

Van Halen, 1984 

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

INXS, Kick

cover for kickOnce I realized that Kick was not in my top 100 albums, I nearly chucked all of my analysis out the window. Not sure how this one landed at #102, given how much I worshipped this album growing up. I swear my friend Jeff and I listened to this album 800 times one year, doing SWEET DANCE MOVES more often than not (and changing the lyrics to fit our ridiculous sense of humor…we won’t go into that here). I even bought an INXS t-shirt (and it was tie-dye, naturally).

This was a more overall satisfying disc compared with Listen Like Thieves or The Swing, with song after song tailor made for modern radio but dissimilar from one another as well. “New Sensation” sounded nothing like “Devil Inside,” which sounded nothing like “Need You Tonight,” and then there was the one with the strings (“Never Tear Us Apart”). And then you had the leadoff track, “Guns in the Sky,” which is probably a bit flimsy as far as political commentary goes but sounded pretty kick-ass back then. And that monotone rhyming thing on “Mediate” was pretty cool…

Anyway, listen to my favorite song from the album below.

Chris’ 5 Ineligible Albums, Soundtracks or Live Albums

Descendents, Liveage!

Ramones, Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!: The Anthology

Wings, Wings Over America

Various artists, Pulp Fiction soundtrack

Various artists, No Alternative

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

Descendents, Liveage!

cover for liveageOne of the albums that created the era known as BMCJMMC (Before My Cousin Josh Made Me Cooler) was this wonderful 20-song blast of live ’80s punk by Descendents. (You can’t go wrong with the studio compilation, Somery, either.) Now, granted, my 13-year-old ears perked right up once opening track* “I’m Not a Loser” unleashed an avalanche of profanity (the last four lines or so are right in the wheelhouse of a junior high kid). But once I finally stopped laughing and rewinding that song (yep, cassette era), I discovered some of the greatest punk/pop moments from a band that had street cred.

(* – technically, the first track is the one word/one note blast called “All”)

The music is tight, lean, and full of wonderful lyric topics like suburban homes and funky vans that function as homes and silly girls and not being a cool guy anymore and wanting time to woo a woman and, um, dumb stuff like “I Wanna Be a Bear” and “Weinerschnitzel.” I remember Josh and I figured the singer, Milo, was probably lying in a drug-induced coma in some gutter somewhere, when it turns out he holds a doctorate in biochemistry. Milo Goes to College, indeed. Listen to “Silly Girl” below…

Todd’s 5 That Missed The Cut

Frank Ocean, Nostalgia Ultra

U2, Achtung Baby

Massive Attack, Protection

Pixies, Bossanova

M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

Frank Ocean, Nostalgia Ultra

I had two issues with this record being on the list.

Issue #1. It was too new. I have a very hard time ranking an album that is only a year old in my top 100. I need time to really decide if it is worthy. Check with me in two years and I bet it will make the cut. In the meantime, watch out Bjork, Frank is coming to take your spot.

Issue #2. That fucking “American Wedding” catastrophe near the end of the album. It’s basically him singing over the music of The Eagles “Hotel California.” A song I loath. Don Henley threatened to sue Frank Ocean if he didn’t quit sing the song. I think the world should threaten to sue Don Henley if he doesn’t stop singing it.

Here’s an example of a good song from the album.

Todd’s 5 Ineligible Albums, Soundtracks or Live Albums

Guns N’ Roses, Live Era ’87-’93

Fleetwood Mac, The Dance

Various Artists, Grosse Pointe Blank Soundtrack

Various Artists, Once (Music from the Motion Picture)

Various Artists, Singles Soundtrack

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

Gross Point Blank Soundtrack

I know this soundtrack is really just an ’80s music playlist but I love it. So many great artists on it. Violent Femmes, Guns N’ Roses, The Clash, Queen with David Bowie. How can you go wrong? Not only are the artists great but the songs they chose by those artists are some of my all time favorites. Examples: Queen’s “Under Pressure”(Not Rob Van Winkle’s “Ice Ice Baby”), The Clash’s “Rudy Can’t Fail” and one my top five favorite songs ever “Pressure Drop.” Many people have covered this Toots and the Maytals classic. The Clash actually have an A+ cover version that I love. My favorite version is on this soundtrack and it is done by legendary ska band The Specials.  Check it out below.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

Today’s Random Song in My Head, “Luka”

Listen, and understand! She’s out there! Suzanne Vega doesn’t feel pain. She can’t be bargained with. She can’t be reasoned with. She doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And she absolutely will not stop, ever, until I’m dead!

That’s right. She’s back with another act of musical devastation. Last time, I barely got out alive but managed to foil her plan for world domination. I thought that we were safe. I was wrong.

Here’s how it all happened:

I was again minding business listening to the radio when the Susanne Vega song “Luka” started playing. With what happened last time, I was obviously concerned. But nothing evil transpired…at first. A few hours later, I caught myself humming “Luka.” Then I thought, “She can’t be that bad a lady. She wrote a song calling attention to the terrible problem of domestic and child abuse.” That’s when she had me.

Suddenly, I lost all control of my body. The “Luka” lyrics that were in my head changed. I walked like a zombie until I came to a tall building. The song told me to take the stairs to the second floor. Then, I started singing the alternate “Luka” lyrics.

My name is Toddie
I’m jumping from the second floor
If I’m upstairs from you
You may see me fly by your door
If the impact gives you a fright
Don’t you worry cause it’s alright
Just leave me bleeding on the floor
Just leave me bleeding on the floor
Just leave me bleeding on the floor

I stepped to the ledge and was about to jump when I heard singing from behind me…

I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend
You could cut ties with all the lies, that you’ve been living in,
And if you do not want to see me again, I would understand

I awoke from my stupor and turned around. The lead singer from the late ‘90s post-grunge rock group Third Eye Blind, was standing there beckoning me off the ledge. I was saved by another shitty song calling attention to a terrible social issue, this time “Jumper” which deals with teen suicide. Naturally, I had some questions. The story gets a little confusing what with the space-time paradox thing, but stick with me here.

Me: Third Eye Blind Guy? What are you doing here?

SJ: Yes. It is I, Stephan Jenkins. I was sent here from the future to stop the evil Suzanne Vega. You must live to keep blogging about new good music. In the future, Music or Space Shuttle? has successfully rid the world of shitty music. Suzanne Vega and musicians like her have been banished. They play music for no one. She and Michael Bolton started a rebellion and have been sending subliminal messages hidden in her music to destroy you.

Me: Cooooool. Hey, wait. Why are you here? Third Eye Blind sucks too.

SJ: Yes, but unlike Suzanne Vega, we know that we suck. That’s what gives us our power.  I volunteered to come here and save you from her madness. I also wanted to apologize for our songs ever getting stuck in your head.

Me: You are forgiven. Boy, you guys really sucked.

At that moment, I heard a tremendous screeching voice. “You must jump from the second floor!!!!” It was Susanne Vega. But not the version I remembered from the past. She had lost all of her pixie-like good looks from the ‘80s, and now resembled some sort of she-beast. “Die Blogger!!!” she screamed, as she picked up her guitar and started playing a mash-up of “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner.”

The maniacal medley compelled me to jump. I had one foot over the ledge when Third Eye Blind Guy overpowered her with his own song “Semi-Charmed Life.” That distortion filled suckfest of a song was too much for Suzanne Vega.

I want something else
To get me through this
Semi-charmed kind of life
Baby, baby
I want something else
I’m not listening when you say
Goodbye…


Her head exploded as the vocals during the line “Goodbye…” hit their high pitched peak.

Me: Wow. That was crazy! Thanks Third Eye Blind Guy.

SJ: Yeah, my name is Stephan Jenkins. No problem. I have to leave now. Your MoSS? brother is in danger. Michael Bolton has disguised himself as Robert Smith from The Cure in a dastardly plot to dispose of Chris.

Me: That devious bastard! Go Third Eye Blind Guy. Go save my friend.

SJ: My name is Stephan Jenkins.

Me: Yeah, Whatever.

That is exactly how it all went down. Not a word a lie.

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #30-21

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Interpol, Antics

29. School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms

28. Vampire Weekend, Contra

27. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain

26. The White Stripes, Elephant

25. The Cure, The Head on the Door

24. Nirvana, In Utero

23. The Radio Dept., Pet Grief

22. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (a.k.a. II)

21. Pink Floyd, The Wall

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#27: Prince & the Revolution, Purple Rain

cover for Purple RainCan you recite the opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy”?

Of course you can. My co-worker Tom (the one who writes) prides himself on it. Every now and then we’ll talk about music and somehow, either through my prompt or his way of steering the conversation, he’ll rattle them off (often double-timing it just to show how awesome he is):

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today to get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life; that means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else:
The afterworld
A world of neverending happiness
You can always see the sun
Day
Or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one
Dr. Everything’ll Be All Right
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life, things are much harder than the afterworld
This life…you’re on your own

(I realized after I typed that up that I didn’t use the letter “U” every time the word “you” is used. Or the numeral 2 instead of the word “to.” An oversight for which I have no apology.)

If John Lennon had been alive in 1984 and heard this opening track, he would have turned to Yoko and said, “Did you hear the way that guy in purple started off his new album? Much cooler than ‘I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats,’ innit?”

“Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the three 45RPM records I have from Purple Rain; I didn’t even own the album in its entirety for probably two years after its release. I had a third of it already, along with the sweet b-sides like “Erotic City” (they say “fuck” on that one, Tipper!). I also had “When Doves Cry,” the song that occasionally prompts a re-enactment of the video in my office to the chagrin of my officemate. (I’ve got that crawling-across-the-floor move down.) And he might refute it now, but I clearly remember my dad coming downstairs while I was listening to my records and asking, “What Prince songs do you have?” I showed him Doves and Crazy, he frowned, then said, “So you don’t have the ‘Purple Rain’ song?” After my next trip to Pamida, I did. “Purple Rain”: kid tested, dad approved.

I really had no interest in getting the album as a whole until I heard about “Darling Nikki” and all its lyrical glory. Not from my friends or the older kids in the neighborhood or at school; no, I read a big article in the Des Moines Register about the PMRC and Tipper Gore and the attempts to keep the smut out of the hands of kids. All because Tipper heard the “masturbating with a magazine” line in “Nikki” and lost her shit. Before long, Washington wives were making a list of the “Filthy Fifteen” (which included “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper*) and dudes like Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying before Congress. But it was John Denver who put it best in his testimony: “That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you.” Yep, as soon as I read about all of this nonsense, I couldn’t wait to get the whole album.

And it was a good thing, as I discovered a treasure trove of later singles that I hadn’t bought on 45 like “Take Me With U” and great album cuts like “Baby I’m A Star.” And much to Tipper’s disappointment, I never became a depraved sex fiend after hearing “Darling Nikki” and I didn’t join the occult after listening to Slayer and I didn’t kill myself after listening to Suicide and I didn’t kill any cops after listening to Body Count or Ice-T or N.W.A.

But I loved this Prince album. Still do.

(* – “She Bop” was flagged for masturbation references. Masturbation was the furthest thing from my mind whenever I heard/saw Cyndi Lauper.)

#22: Crystal Castles, II

album cover for Crystal Castles IITwo years ago, I came down with some strain of flu (avian, swine, whatever) and found myself lying listless for about a week straight. I was too tired to read, too woozy to get out and about…I couldn’t even play video games, which was a red flag that something was definitely wrong.

So how did I spend all that recovery time? Listening to an album with songs called “Fainting Spells,” “Suffocation,” “Violent Dreams,” and “Pap Smear.” And finding my favorite album of 2010 in the process.

The band that had the coolest 8-bit sound around, quite evident on the eponymous debut that came out two years previous, suddenly decided to take the tunes in a shoegaze direction (with an electronic twinge, of course). And it was beautiful. Songs like “Celestica” and “Suffocation” (despite the gloomy title) soared thanks to Alice Glass’ actual singing (!!!) and the keyboard chords created by Ethan Kath. No longer were these two relying solely on piercing, mutated screams and Donkey Kong samples to create art. (Although that was cool too.)

Whether it was the thumping beat and impassioned howls of “Baptism” or the shrewd use of a Sigur Ros sample in “Year of Silence” or the whirling whiplash of “Pap Smear” (I know, these aren’t the most appetizing titles, but the songs themselves aren’t 1/1000th as nauseating as songs bearing benign titles like “Moves Like Jagger” or whatever geeks like One Direction call their songs) or the brilliant use of Robert Smith vocals on “Not in Love.” For people yearning for the chaos of the first album, there are cuts like “Doe Deer” and “Fainting Spells.” “Intimate” provides the dance-floor crowd something to devour, and, um, weirdos everywhere could rally around the generally spaced-out “I Am Made of Chalk.”

There’s something sinister about each of these songs; sometimes it’s evident, sometimes not. Even the gorgeous “Celestica” has a dark side: the song was inspired by an incident at a Celestica plant (it’s a plastics company in Canada, apparently) where an employee fell into a boiling vat and died.

On that note, I hope you all catch swine flu and spend a week listening to this masterpiece.

Todd’s #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking

29. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

28. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

27. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

25. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

23. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

22. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

21. Depeche Mode, Violator

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

This was the first Prince album that I ever got. Not to say it was the first I’d ever listened to. I had dubbed copies of other Prince albums from my older brother who was a big fan. Parade was the first one that I actually went to the store and picked out. My parents let my brother and me each pick out something from the music section at the local Target store. This was a rare occasion so I took a rather long time deliberating over many options. I believe at one point I had three tapes picked out and had the plastic security doohickeys around my wrist.

Remember those things? So many times I remember perusing the music bins of Musicland or Disc Jockey spinning one of those around my wrist as I looked. I sort of miss going to record stores. It made the album selection process more important. If you were going to leave the house, find a record store and then plop down the majority of your hard earned cash on an album, you wanted it to be good. Not just one or two songs good and the rest crap. Believe me, I bought a ton of those over the years.

I’m pretty sure my brother picked his tape right off. He chose INXS, Listen Like Thieves. (In itself a great album that I briefly considered putting on this list. Unfortunately, it did not meet all the strict requirements to make the final cut) Based upon his aggravated looks and comments, I’m sure my brother was getting pretty annoyed with me because I couldn’t make up my mind. Around my wrist I had:

Peter Gabriel, So. (Great album that made this list at #37)

Pet Shop Boys, Please (Good album but never considered for this list)

Prince and the Revolution, Parade (So incredibly good that it should be on everyone’s list)

Apparently, I was shopping exclusively in the P’s section of the store. After flip flopping on my decision for twenty minutes or so, my brother made the decision easy. He looked at my selections and said “It’s not that hard. That’s dumb (Peter Gabriel), that’s stupid (Pet Shop Boys), and that’s Prince. Put that other shit back and let’s go.” So that’s what I did. I just needed a little push in any direction. If he would have said Peter Gabriel was the better choice I probably would have taken that one home.

Prince turned out to be the right choice as I learned later. I ended up getting both of those other tapes at subsequent visits to the store. Parade got way more plays on my boombox. Is there a lesson here? Yes. Two lessons.

Lesson 1: Listen to your older siblings. They may seem like they’re being jerks sometimes but they are actually secretly looking out for you.

Lesson 2: “That’s dumb, that’s stupid, that’s Prince.” Words to live by.

#24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

Back when I was in high school, I would spend my Sunday nights not going to bed early and preparing for a new week at school, but instead staying up late listening to a radio station broadcasting from the middle of a corn field near Muscatine, Iowa. Specifically, a show called “Off the Beaten Track.” They played all kinds of early alternative and college rock. I heard many of my all time favorite bands for the first time listening to that show. The DJs were Mary of the Heartland and some dude named Roberto. (Roberto will come into play in some of the upcoming album blurbs.) I used to put a fresh cassette tape in my radio/tape player/CD player and listen as long as I could until I fell asleep. The next day I would rewind the tape and listen to what I missed.

After the show, they would premiere a newly released record in its entirety. I could catch most of that on the same tape if I stayed up late enough to flip it over. It was a great way to get a new album for free if you had the time and a crap ton of blank tapes. On one of those nights, they played The Pixies, Trompe le Monde. It was the first Pixies album that I’d ever heard. From the start of the title track I was confused and blown away at the same time. Was it punk? Was it surfer rock? The next song “Planet of Sound” played more like a metal song with Black Francis’ screaming vocals. The next song, “Alec Eiffel”, went back to surfer-punk, well kind of, because they sneak in a keyboard part at the end. Then, they really confused me by throwing in a cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain song “Head On.”  They were all over the map and I loved it. And I didn’t even have to buy it!

I still have a weird reaction when I listen to the last song “The Navajo Know.”  My tape cut off right in the middle.

Upon construction
there is the Mohawk
his way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
skywalk
some people say that
[click]…

Years later, I bought Trompe le Monde on CD. For quite awhile, I would still expect the song to end at that point. It took me a long time not to anticipate the abrupt ending. At least I finally got to hear the last of the lyrics and learn “what some people say.”

some people say that…

the Navajo know
a way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
oh no.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

Some content on this page was disabled on May 7, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from PRS for Music. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

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Some content on this page was disabled on May 7, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from PRS for Music. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: November 2012

Side A : Todd’s Picks

1. Tegan and Sara, “Closer”

2. Dan Deacon, “True Thrush”

3. Local Natives, “Breakers”

4. The Sea and Cake, “Harps”

5. Lower Dens, “Blue and Silver”

Side B : Chris’ Picks

1. Kate Boy, “Northern Lights”

2. Earl Sweatshirt, “Chum”

3. Hannah Georgas, “Enemies”

4. Black Moth Super Rainbow, “Psychic Love Damage”

5. Crystal Castles, “Child I Will Hurt You”

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #40-31

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #40-31

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

40. The Beatles, Help!

39. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup

38. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career

37. Nick Drake, Bryter Layter

36. The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

35. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique

34. Sonic Youth, Goo

33. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

32. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm

31. Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#40: The Beatles, Help!

cover image for help!This album is the perfect mix of “Yeah Yeah Yeah” kind of Beatles and the more introspective type of song the band would write more often in the second act of its career. Makes sense, seeing as it is the fifth of the band’s 12 albums (going by the British catalog). But that’s only part of the reason I like this album so much.

I love the movie Help! Just love it. It was the second movie for the Fab Four, and it served the same purpose as their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night: an excuse to have the Beatles play their music on the big screen. Since the first movie’s plot was “let’s show the Beatles being the Beatles, playing music everywhere they go in their everyday lives,” Help! needed some sort of exotic plot. Here’s what they came up with:

A girl is to be sacrificed by some offbeat cult. However, she mailed the “sacrificial ring” to Ringo, who put it on his pinky finger only to have it stuck on there. Soon, the cult leader is pursuing Mr. Starr, as is a British mad scientist who thinks he could “rule the world” with such a ring. Oh yeah, the sacrificial girl’s sister shows up to help the Fab Four escape the evil clutches of Ringo’s enemies (and she’s kinda hot, so naturally she likes Paul despite being fawned over by George). Hilarity ensues, and (SPOILER!!!!) Ringo lives to drum another day.

The movie’s tone is a bit like Monty Python, albeit not nearly as clever. But it did beat the Pythons to the punch with the nonsensical “intermission” bit spliced into the movie:

And Help! had the great tunes you all know (the title track; “Ticket to Ride”) and the equally great ones you won’t find on greatest hits compilations (“The Night Before”; “Another Girl”; George’s “I Need You”; “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”; and one of the best songs in the Beatles’ entire catalog, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”). The tunes used in the movie are amazingly catchy, and the second half of the album is just as solid, featuring seven more songs not used in the movie. Hardly throwaways, either: the most-covered song of all time, “Yesterday”; Paul’s wonderful vocal on the quick romp “I’ve Just Seen a Face”; the interesting guitar sound complementing John’s raw voice on “It’s Only Love.”

Many a person likes to look at Rubber Soul as the album where the Beatles got “serious”; I think Help! is a better collection of songs, an album that shows the band capable of greater musical flourishes (the guitar interplay between John and George is wonderful throughout) and finding a better balance of Beatlemania-pop and serious content. It’s no wonder they cobbled a movie together to showcase this stuff.

#36: The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

cover image for the southern harmony and musical companionI remember the first time I heard the second album from the Black Crowes. I had just moved to the second floor of Rider Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. My folks and my younger brother helped get my dorm room in order, which wasn’t a tall task, as all I brought were clothes, books, my CD player, and my CD collection. What else did I need? I was going to go to a party at the infamous “White House” later that evening with one of my good friends and a girl who graduated from Waukon a year ahead of me. (When you bought a cup at the White House, they wrote a number on your hand; mine was somewhere among the first 20. Toward the end of my night, I saw some numbers in the 800s.) I was just a couple of days away from starting my training as a computer scientist (a trade I would abandon after three semesters of outdated computer code–it was 1992 and I was learning FORTRAN, for fuck’s sake–and way too much calculus).

Anyway, life at that moment was good. But I was a little nervous all the same. Kinda like when I started kindergarten, but without the risk of peeing my pants this time (after a few hours at “the White House,” though, all bets are off on urinary control). During those first few days of kindergarten, I would find my buddy Alex, who was in first grade, on the playground at recess. He would invite me to come hang with the other first graders, playing tag or kickball or participating in whatever tomfoolery first graders did at a Catholic grade school. That helped me get used to school, and soon enough, I was the coolest kid at St. Pat’s. (That last part is false.)

Lucky for me, my buddy Alex now lived on the same floor of Rider Hall as me, in the other wing. So I went to find him.

Alex was a sophomore, so he had this dorm room thing down. His room looked like pimped-out compared to mine. (Read: he had a lofted bed, a TV, a stocked fridge, and a sweet stereo.) He asked me how I was going to spend my first night at UNI; I told him I was heading to the White House. “Gonna get some puss?” I was asked. Not “pussy,” but “puss.” (While I probably responded with “Yeah!” or “I hope so,” the answer turned out to be “no.”) As we talked, he flipped on the stereo, and the opening riffs of “Sting Me” filled the room.

Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about dorm rooms or “puss” or an offer to hook me up with a $5 case of Meister Brau (which, before the afternoon was over, I accepted…unwisely). What I was thinking: Damn! The Crowes have a new album! Who can give me a ride to Sam Goody?!?

So Alex and I shared a cold drink or two while listening to the Crowes and talking about college. It was just what I needed, both from a calming standpoint about my new life as Joe College, and hearing good tunes. “Sting Me” moved to “Remedy” and “Thorn in My Pride,” two songs tailor made for rock radio, and then two soulful jams, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” and “Sometimes Salvation,” which in my opinion is the best one-two punch in Black Crowes recorded history. There’s not a bum track on this album, an opinion I formed with Alex and later confirmed over numerous listens. The Crowes’ first album was pretty great, but the follow-up sounded like a band more comfortable with themselves, stretching their legs and groovin’ the fuck out. And it’s an album that stirs up the positive memories I have of my friend Alex, who sadly passed away not too long ago. Alex and I lost touch once I transferred to ISU, but I’ll always remember the times he helped out his younger friend, and his good taste in music in 1992.

And his dropping of the “y” from “pussy.” (smile)

Todd’s #40-31

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

40. Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs

39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life

38. M83, Saturdays=Youth

37. Peter Gabriel, So

36. Vampire Weekend, Contra

35. Prince, Dirty Mind

34. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II

33. Pearl Jam, Ten

32. Beck, Mellow Gold

31. Portishead, Dummy

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life

Three seventeen year old suburban white boys are rolling down the street in a ‘79 Monte Carlo. Out of the obnoxiously loud sub-woofers come the soothing sounds of N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton. One of the guys is looking extra menacing with his NY Yankees hat on backwards. Of course, back then I weighed about 135 lbs. so you could see why I looked so menacing. I also wore that stupid Yankees cap for about 2 years straight.

Your time is coming soon.

Why? I had such thick luxuriant hair. Why cover it up? I took it for granted. To all you haired men out there, never take it for granted. Never. You assholes…I know you’re taking it for granted. I can tell. Right now you’re laughing at me. You’re saying, “That guy’s nuts. My hair is never falling out.” Well take it from me. It sneaks up on you. One day you’re reading a book and you notice two small strands of your hair slowly drift onto the paper. You scoff at it; “Plenty more where that came from,” you’ll say. Then one day you’ll see the top of your head on a video camera as you walk into the local Target store. You will be blinded by the reflection from your un-camouflaged scalp. Again you will be in denial. “Those surveillance cameras must have some weird filtering effect or something” you’ll say. Then the day will come when you look in the mirror and realize your head looks vaguely like a half plucked chicken. What little hair that is left is wispy and pathetic. You will have two choices; Comb-over or shave it. I chose to shave it like a man. I hope you choose to comb-over when your day comes.

So as I was saying, we were rolling down the street and listening to tough guy gangsta rap. I was new to the art form at that point and wanted to have a copy of my own to bone up on all the gangsta rap terms: gaffle, endo, and suckamuthafucka. Also, how else was I going to learn all the different ways to degrade women?

So we head over to the Best Buy. Gangstas shop at Best Buy right? Yeah, we were living the thug life. We head over to the rap section looking for Straight Outta Compton. That’s when I saw that N.W.A had a new album out. Niggaz4life. I grabbed it and opened my wallet to see if I had enough money. The Velcro ripping noise of my wallet was extra gangsta I’m sure. I had a $15 in there. What a pimp! The tape was only $9.99 so I was all set to purchase. That’s when I noticed dozens of papers pinned up all over the rap section of the store stating that you had to be 18 years old to buy the cassette in my hands. Not any other tape. They made a point to call out Niggaz4life specifically. They would be verifying I.D.s at the checkouts. Suckamuthafucka!

I was not living the thug life or looking particularly gangsta as I wandered the music section looking for an adult that would take my money and buy the tape for me. I found a college dude willing to do it, if he could keep what was left of my money after the transaction. Eazy-E would have said that I got gaffled there. So gangsta.

33. Pearl Jam, Ten

Ten was released in late 1991 and by summer the next year everyone I knew had a copy. To borrow a line from Wayne’s World, “If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.” Wayne was of course referring to the album Frampton Comes Alive which somehow avoided both Chris’ and my lists. Ten was very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adored it. They think it’s some righteous music. Include me somewhere in that bunch. I’ll let you decide which category I was in. I think I enjoyed it mostly because it felt very intense bordering on angry much of the time.

After seeing the video for “Even Flow” I was totally hooked. Lead singer Eddie Vedder was like a man possessed. He appeared to be an incredibly charismatic front man with his angry head banging and microphone swinging. At one point in the video, he climbs around in the rafters of a venue during a live show. He swings on pipes, scales walls, and finally dives off of a ledge into frenzied crowd below. After that, I swore that I would see them live.

I was all pumped up for the next Pearl Jam release Vs. I even waited in line with fifty other music nerds at Co-Op Tapes and Records for the special midnight release. It was good but I wasn’t obsessively listening to it like I did with Ten. I was still on the lookout for a live show though. That would have to kick ass right? Then I saw this performance on MTV.

That was the beginning of Eddie Vedder’s potted plant phase. He hardly moves. The intensity seems to be there but it looks like he’s in a straitjacket for much of the performance.

By the time Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy was released I had almost no interest in them. Pearl Jam toured in support of that record and were coming only 2 hours away to Chicago. They were in a battle with Ticketmaster at the time and were using some other ticketing agent. You had to call a special number and could only buy four tickets at a time. You also had to call from an Illinois phone number. Most of my friends were in Iowa. I had a girlfriend who lived in Illinois and hatched a plan to call from her place. We got through three times before the concert sold out and came away with 10 or 12 tickets to the show. We marked up the price and sold them to friends and acquaintances for a nice chunk of money. I even sold my own ticket, using the money to buy more CDs, lots of beer, and a mountain bike. I think I made the right choice. I still have the bike and you should see my calf muscles. They’re enormous. My friends that went to the concert only came away with a hangover and mild tinnitus.


Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #50-41

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #50-41

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

50. Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

49. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

48. Sigur Ros, Takk…

47. The Radio Dept., Clinging to a Scheme

46. Sleigh Bells, Treats

45. Led Zeppelin, II

44. The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good

43. Beck, Odelay!

42. Arcade Fire, Funeral

41. Danger Mouse, The Grey Album

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#45: Led Zeppelin, II

cover for Led Zeppelin IIWhen I was in eighth grade, I ended up buying one of those “special issues” of Rolling Stone; this particular one listed something like the 100 greatest albums of all time (sound familiar?). I was thumbing through it while riding in my dad’s truck; he kept glancing over and saying, “I have that one. I have that one. I have that one too.”

So as soon as we got home, I went downstairs and started looking through my dad’s vinyl collection. Indeed, my dad had some cool stuff: Beatles, Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Wings Over America, and one album by Led Zeppelin. Where to start?

I’d heard plenty of Beatles at this point, so I set them aside for the time being. I finally picked a criterion for what I would listen to: which band adorned the most T-shirts in my junior high school? Zeppelin was the clear winner: the studs, the stoners, and the geeks all represented Led Zep across their chests.

So when I went to bed that night, I put the LP on the turntable (yes, I had a record player in my room in 1987), plugged in my over-the-ear headphones, and lay down to take it all in.

Whoa, dude.

The stuttering riff of “Whole Lotta Love” filled my ears. Plant shrieked something about how I need coolin’ (he wasn’t foolin’). The song thundered forward, and then hit the part where the music spiraled around my head (the headphones made the music exponentially cooler) and Plant let loose with his howls. As soon as the song ended (or, more accurately, faded out), I jumped out of bed, moved the needle back to the beginning, and found myself air guitaring and lip-syncing the shit out of my new favorite song. I also hoped I would find time at school the next day to chat up any of the 73 guys who would undoubtedly have on their Swan Song or “Lantern Man” or Hindenburg shirts, to let them know that “I get it, man!”

The album is more than “Whole Lotta Love,” of course. “What Is and What Should Never Be” finds a nice groove; “The Lemon Song” gets all sorts of bluesy; “Ramble On” has that acoustic guitar/quirky percussion/whimsical Plant vocal that eventually roars into the chorus before settling back down into chill and so on (the quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamic we like in so many bands from the ’80s and ’90s). And don’t forget the drum solo song (“Moby Dick”) or the “guitar hero” song (“Heartbreaker”).

It’s the only Zeppelin album in my dad’s LP collection; my turntable needle deepened the groove in my dad’s record after repeated plays. I guess if you’re only going to own one Led Zep album, you can’t go wrong with II.

#41: Danger Mouse, The Grey Album

cover image for The Grey AlbumFirst off: you’ll be seeing “The White Album” on this list in due time.

Second: Jay-Z’s The Black Album is really pretty terrible. Not the raps, necessarily, but the backing beats and music are cheesy as shit. So melodramatic, so shiny, so…I don’t know…I’m going to go back to terrible. Which is too bad, because there’s some quotable lines throughout this album.

That’s why Danger Mouse has done Hova a big favor by blending White and Black and making Grey. (I think Jay-Z knew his words needed some inspired music behind them, as he released an a cappella version of the album in hopes that artists would remix it.) Danger Mouse, who at this point wasn’t producing Gorillaz or Beck or doing his Gnarls Barkley thing, spent weeks (months?) stitching together samples from the Beatles’ eponymous double album (including meticulous sampling of Ringo Starr’s drums, which he sequenced into something much heavier/hipper than Mr. Starkey ever banged out) to go along with Jay-Z’s vocals.

And it worked. Boy, does it work.

Keep in mind: mashups were, for the most part, little more than humorous juxtapositions at this point. Even the good ones were curious pairings: Nirvana and Destiny’s Child (“Smells Like Bootylicious”) or the Strokes and Christina Aguilera (“A Stroke of Genie-us”). This was also before Girl Talk dropped Night Ripper and Feed the Animals and took the mashup to the extreme. But Danger Mouse’s work, despite using two well-known quantities, felt natural. Yeah, I’d heard “99 Problems” before, and of course I’d heard the guitar and backing vocals from “Helter Skelter” a zillion times, but hearing these familiar elements together didn’t feel ridiculous. In fact, it sort of made the statement that the Beatles were kinda badass and would fit well underneath the self-appointed best rapper alive.

The frenzied samples from “Glass Onion” and “Savoy Truffle” are an infinitely better accompaniment to “Encore” than the shit Jay-Z used on his album (or anything Linkin Park had to do with that song, for that matter). And instead of some stupid Russell Crowe sample on “What More Can I Say,” Danger Mouse throws mad breakbeat and a slowed down version of the guitar from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” underneath Jay’s lament.

And then there’s “December 4th,” an oral history of Jay’s life complemented with a few thoughts from Jay’s mom. On The Black Album, this song is shackled with some of the worst backing tracks I’ve ever heard. Like something straight out of a 1977 discotheque (and not in a good way like some of the stuff used in Boogie Nights) or AM radio. Danger Mouse could have improved this song in his sleep, but he went beyond and delivered goods on the other end of the spectrum. Spotting the emotional potential of the lyrics, he pairs the verses with the  touching guitar flourishes from “Mother Nature’s Son,” and concocts a drum beat to propel the song without overwhelming. Whenever I would play the Danger Mouse version in the car, Tracy would comment, “This song is so sad.” Imagine saying that about Jay’s original version, outside of saying “What a sad excuse for a song this is!”

The Grey Album elevates Jay-Z’s verses to new heights, and it does nothing to harm the integrity of the original Beatles material. Even Jay-Z and Paul McCartney think it’s pretty cool. They’re right.

Todd’s #50-41

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

50. Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights

49. The Sundays, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

48. Paul Simon, Graceland

47. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik

46. Cypress Hill, Cypress Hill

45. Catherine, Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories

44. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News

43. Beck, Midnight Vultures

42. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

41. Massive Attack, Mezzanine

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#44. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News

 Admittedly, I was late to the party with Modest Mouse. Hipsters that loved Modest Mouse from the beginning would tell you that Good News was the start of their musical downfall, but that’s just the standard hipster backlash towards a band that shows a bit of success. This is how a typical conversation would go with a true hipster.

Me: Hey, there Mr. Hipster. Nice skinny jeans. What are your thoughts on the group [insert indie band name here]?

Mr. Hipster: (disinterested, barely audible voice) Uhhh…just a sec…(finishing text to hipster friend)…I really liked their early stuff. I don’t like anything they did on [insert major record label name here].

Me: Thanks. Love the fedora. Douche.

That being said, I guess I started liking Modest Mouse after their musical downfall. I didn’t really listen to them until the summer of ’04 when Good News came out. “Float On” was my song of the summer that year. My wife and I were expecting our first child and also preparing to move to a new city for work.

A piece of advice for all you future fathers out there: Don’t knock up your old lady and then take a new job that requires you to move while she is 7-9 months pregnant. I’ve done that twice. Take it from me, it does not make your already stressed wife happy.

On Labor Day weekend that year, we were to close on our house in the new town.  Now my wife was due any second at this point, a sane person would not have driven her 2 hours away from her doctor. Unfortunately, we were on a time table which required her to travel.

We closed on the new house on Saturday and decided to stay there for a couple of days. The plan was to go back to our other house after the weekend, she would have the baby and then we would permanently move a few weeks later. Man we were good. We had it all figured out. My daughter must have been listening from the womb laughing.

I was sound asleep that night when my wife woke me up complaining of stabbing pains in the “baby maker.” (My words not hers) It was go time! The countdown to baby had begun. I grabbed our bags and we hightailed it out of there. After I made her swear she would not give birth in my new truck, I drove like crazy back home.

The trip went by fast as my mind raced and fears of being a father swirled around in my head. Good News played over the car stereo the whole time and helped to soothe my nerves a bit. It took me an hour and a half to get us back home. Almost exactly the same amount of time it takes to listen to Good News in its entirety twice. My unborn daughter was really having fun with us because after that panicked drive home, she decided to wait two days to make her entrance into the world. Perhaps she was just preparing us for the many sleepless nights to come.

#42. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

I truly didn’t expect to be writing about Simon and Garfunkel in this set of 10 albums. After my plea for a reunion of The Sundays back at #70, I figured I would be regaling you all with stories of adoration for my #49 selection, The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. I was also hoping to announce that the first release from our new label, Music or Space Shuttle? Productions, would be the long awaited fourth album by The Sundays. Sadly, there has been no response on their end.

So, I’m writing instead about another rock duo that is no longer making music together. I will not be making any pleas for this pair to reunite. Not with their shaky past. Hell, Paul Simon is over 70 years old now. If he doesn’t want to hang with “The Funkel” anymore, fine. I won’t push it. I first came across Bridge Over Troubled Water around the age of 12 while going through my parent’s record collection. Back then, I really only liked a few songs like “The Boxer”, “Bye Bye Love” and “Cecilia.”

Side note on “Cecilia”: It seems as though “Cecilia” has turned into a drunken party anthem over the years. Walking home from the bar in college I would heard entire fraternity and sorority houses singing along while the house shook from that distinctive drum beat.

Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home

Many was the time I queued up that little romp as a party was getting into full swing at my apartment. People love it. Next to Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl”, there wasn’t a better song to get people in the mood for a drunken sing-along.

It wasn’t until years later during a road trip with my mother that I took notice of the rest of the album. She had just bought Bridge Over Troubled Water on cassette tape. I guess I know where I got my love of music because like her, I have purchased certain albums on every available format from vinyl to tape to CD to MP3. The song, “The Only Living Boy in New York”, in particular was one that stood out for me. I probably rewound that song 10 times during the car trip. My mother must a have taken note, because I came home from school a few days later and found a copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water sitting on my bed. Pretty cool surprise for a music geek.

I’m sure she just got a kick out of me getting into her music. As a parent myself now, I can’t wait until my kids start to show an interest in music from my generation. I’m going to make sure and do the same thing as my Mom. Hell, I’ll put the entire discography of The Cure on their beds at the slightest hint of interest. I’m going to be the annoying music pusher Dad. Can’t push too hard though. It may have the opposite effect and they’ll wind up listening to…shudder…country music.


Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

Today’s Random Song in My Head, “Tom’s Diner”

We need to wake up people! There is an ongoing act of musical terrorism continually being perpetrated right under our noses. We have to fight. That’s right! Suzanne Vega must be stopped!

I may sound paranoid here, but I’ll take that chance. I have to spread the word. Suzanne Vega is using the song “Tom’s Diner” as a form of mind control to take over the world. The song sweetly tickles your ear for awhile until it suddenly violently burrows its way permanently into your brain. That’s where things get weird.

It happened to me, it’s still a little hazy, but I do remember a few things. I was minding my own business the other day when I hear the familiar early ‘90s era song come over the radio. Innocently enough at first, the “Doo doo doo doo, doo da-doo doo” of “Tom’s Diner” came floating out of the speakers. That’s how she does it. She catches you off guard and lulls you into submission. Then I remember the doo doo doo doo part changing. Soon, I was overcome. All I heard was kill ki-kill kill, and the song lyrics changed.
Kill Kill Kill Kill
Kill Ki-Kill Kill
Kill Kill Kill Kill
Kill Ki-Kill Kill
 
Everyone Is
Now Against You
And You Must Not
Let Them See You
 
Find An Object
To Destroy Them
And Start Killing
At Your Leisure

The rhyming scheme wasn’t perfect, but it was still very convincing. I was wandering around in a trance-like state singing that death mantra. I awoke just as I was about to bury a sharpened lawn blade into a man’s head à la Sling Blade. He had his hands up and was screaming “Don’t kill me. I love Suzanne Vega!!!” Apparently, back in the early ‘90s, he was an original member of the “Vega Army.” He got out before things got crazy with the whole world domination thing. He knew that the only way to break the death trance was to say the phrase “I love Suzanne Vega.” I suggest we all teach that phrase to our friends and loved ones. It could be the only thing that saves you the next time you hear “Tom’s Diner.”

Here is the “Tom’s Diner” video. Watch if you dare.

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #60-51

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #60-51

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

60. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature

59. The Breeders, Last Splash

58. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes

57. Burial, Street Halo

56. Radiohead, Kid A

55. Duran Duran, Duran Duran (1981)

54. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place

53. Cults, Cults

52. N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

51. Pixies, Surfer Rosa

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#55: Duran Duran, Duran Duran

duran duran front coverWhen you are 10 years old and living in a town where the main music supplier is the Pamida store on the edge of town, you find yourself struggling to get your hands on a cassette from a band’s back catalog, even a band as current in 1984 as Duran Duran. If you wanted to buy Arena or Seven and the Ragged Tiger, no problem. Even Rio could be found from time to time. But the band’s eponymous 1981 debut? The Pamida staff isn’t that savvy.

But there are ways to get what you want. In my case, you agree to go shopping in nearby “metropolis” La Crosse, Wis., with your mom and your little brother and be good THE WHOLE TIME. Then, and only then, will my mom take me to Musicland and buy me the elusive Duran debut.

It was a struggle. This meant having to walk through the women’s sections of Dayton’s and JCPenney and Younkers and Maurices and god knows what else, but also not picking on my little brother while killing time surrounded by blouses and slacks. But I was on a mission, and it was successful.

And well worth it, I might add. Not only did I now possess the songs “Girls on Film” and “Planet Earth,” but I was introduced to the deeper cuts that define this album as a New Romantic masterpiece. “(Is There) Anyone Out There” is a wonderful blend of spiky guitar, atmospheric keyboards, and plucky bass. “Careless Memories” is a rock song that uses the right touch of keyboard and percussion flourishes. “Sound of Thunder” is probably the standout track on the more avant garde Side B of the album, a song that has more in common with stuff like the Cure and Joy Division than any of the “totally ’80s” stuff like Bow Wow Wow or Kajagoogoo, even though Duran Duran is often lazily categorized with the latter. If you don’t believe me, check out album closer “Tel Aviv,” a song that will defy most people’s conventional thinking about the band. (And a song that makes a wonderful soundtrack during a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains, with its soaring keyboard, guitar, and vocal effects playing against the backdrop of Colorado’s snow-capped rocky peaks.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with liking the songs you’d find on Duran Duran’s Decade or Greatest albums, but the band’s debut shows an intelligence behind the band’s glamour image that goes ignored by music fans and historians alike.

#52: N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton coverI landed a copy of this album when I was 15, and I swear it took me probably six months to get past the first three songs. Not because I couldn’t stand more than 15 minutes of gangsta rap in one sitting…far from it. It’s just that as soon as “Straight Outta Compton,” “Fuck tha Police,” and “Gangsta Gangsta” had run their course, I’d immediately hit the stop button on the boom box and rewind to the beginning, and repeat that trifecta of street knowledge.

Eventually I found the gems later in the sequencing (“Dopeman,” “8-Ball,” and the preview of Ice Cube’s solo work, “I Ain’t Tha 1”) but the opening three songs, had they been released alone as an EP, might have carried Straight Outta Compton to immortal status.

Ice Cube’s opening flow on the title track is still mesmerizing, even if the language isn’t nearly as shocking now as it was to a 15-year-old northeast Iowa boy (maybe it should be more shocking to me now as a 38-year-old father?) who thought Tackle-Hoops-playin’ Theo Huxtable was flush with street cred. MC Ren was a decent change-up to Cube…not as confident, but just as crude.

If Ren was the change-up, Eazy-E was the 12-6 curveball. This high-pitched voice talkin’ big about being tired of gettin’ jacked up by the motherfuckin’ police or being a brother who’ll smother your mother or drinkin’ Olde English 800 like a madman and steppin’ into the party and dissin’ yo ho and his boyz in the hood keepin’ him cool…WTF (as in WHO the fuck) is this? Did Cube and Ren let their little brother drop some knowledge? Is he on here because he has the best name of the bunch? (The dude with the worst name, DJ Yella, comes off as nothing more than Dr. Dre’s understudy; the guy with the oddest name, The Arabian Prince, I’m not sure he actually says more than 10 words throughout the album.)

And wasn’t I a little bit intimidated by his stuff despite sounding like Alvin, Simon, or Theodore?

I couldn’t relate to much being said on this album, but I was just one example of the thousands (millions?) of suburban kids who found themselves fascinated by the raw language and the sweet beats laid down by Dre and Yella. And this was more punk than anything considered punk at the time, the perfect music for a teenager looking to rebel against something, anything. Even in Waukon, yo.

In my opinion, once Cube left, N.W.A. went south in a hurry, at least in retrospect. (I hung around for the 100 Miles and Running EP, but then I was out.) But I’ll always go back to Straight Outta Compton to get my gangsta nostalgia on.

Todd’s #60-51

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

60. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

59. Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies

58. Arcade Fire, Funeral

57. Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy

56. Nada Surf, The Weight is a Gift

55. Van Halen, 1984

54. Ice Cube, Death Certificate

53. The White Stripes, Elephant

52. Pixies, Surfer Rosa

51. Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#59.Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies

I bought this EP on a very cold February day back in 1994. I must have come into some money that day because I remember buying three other CDs at the same time. Fine. Since you are all so curious, I’ll tell you what the other three albums were; My first copy of The Clash’s London Calling, David Bowie’s Changesbowie, and Tori Amos’ Under the Pink. Quite the odd collection there.

Let’s get back on track shall we? I was never a huge Alice in Chains fan. I enjoyed a few songs from Facelift and there was a time when you couldn’t get away from their album Dirt. Every “bro” in town was listening to that one since Poison wasn’t making records anymore. I just wasn’t as into them as some other bands from that era.

That attitude changed one day as I was driving to work with a friend. As we got on the road, he threw in a new CD and told me to take a listen. After the first few bars of track one, I was hooked. I asked who the band was and didn’t believe him when he said it was Alice in Chains. Of course, it was obvious as soon as the perfectly harmonized vocals of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell came in during the first verse of “Rotten Apple.”

Hey Ah Na Na
Innocence is over
Hey Ah Na Na
Over

The whole EP seemed completely different than other Alice in Chains releases. From the acoustic songs like “Rotten Apple” and “Nutshell”, to the instrumental “Whale and Wasp”, this was an Alice in Chains I could get into. Jar of Flies owned my Sony Discman for the next few weeks. I don’t think I even opened up that Tori Amos record until April.

#51. Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak

Nothing fancy here. Hard driving bass and drums. Overpowering guitars. Wild, growling vocals. Early Kings of Leon was straight up “we don’t give a fuck” rock and roll. Not to disparage the newer KOL music too much, but it does come across a bit more polished than the tunes on Aha Shake Heartbreak. Now enough praise for these guys. The record’s great, cool lead vocals, sexy lyrics… blah blah blah.

Why the KOL hate on a post praising their album? Because I’ve heard each of their songs so many times that I’ve lost all enjoyment in hearing them. It wasn’t me playing them over and over, but I am to be held responsible. I created a monster. A 5’2″, brunette haired, KOL listening monster.

For most of our relationship, my wife has enjoyed the same music as me. On occasion, I will introduce her to a band that we both enjoy equally, but usually I like a band and she is neutral. That’s how it started with KOL. I really liked Aha Shake and she seemed to enjoy it too.

The next Kings of Leon record, Because the Times, came out and the same thing happened. We both liked it, but she never would have chosen to listen to it on her own. Then came the fourth KOL release, Only By the Night. I got a “totally legal, not pirated” advanced copy of that record and could tell it was going to be big. There were several songs on it that just screamed “radio hit.” And big it was. You couldn’t turn on an FM station without hearing “Use Somebody” within five minutes. This is where I witnessed the early KOL addiction signs from my wife. Let’s go over the addiction checklist from a pamphlet I found on the topic.

-Frequent, bordering on obsessive KOL listening?…Yes

-Listening to KOL by yourself?…Yes

-Unable to listen to any other groups music?… No

-Internet Stalking of Band Members?…No

-Internet Stalking of Band Member Spouses/Potential Murder Victims?…No

Man was I relieved. She only got a 40% on that test. I quit worrying and everything was fine for awhile. She stopped listening to Only by the Night and we enjoyed many other artist’s albums for a year or so. Then came that home-wrecker of an album, Come Around Sundown. God bless her, she resisted at first. She even said she didn’t like it, but she slowly wore down. How could she resist. They write lyrics that are like catnip to rock loving girls everywhere. Every song seems to be about how a guy likes a girl and wants to fight some other dude so he can be with her.

Example:

The song “Pickup Truck”

Hate to be so emotional
I didn’t aim to get physical
But when he pulled in and revved it up
I said, ‘you call that a pick up truck?’
And in the moonlight I throwed him down
Kickin’ screamin’ & rolling around
A little piece of a bloody tooth
Just so you know I was thinking of you
Just so you know ohhhhh

Well, after that it was all over. We’re talking 100% percent on the KOL addiction test. Those KOL supermodel spouses better watch out. My wife is watching and waiting. If I read in the paper one day that one of those lovely ladies “accidentally” tripped and broke her neck, I will know my wife won’t be coming home for supper anymore. I may have to host an intervention or hire one of those therapists that “de-program” cult members. I’m praying for a band break-up. That could be the only thing that saves her.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61