Yep, we’ve made 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.
We’ve reached the really good stuff: our top 10s. We’ll roll these out one per day (Monday-Friday) over the next two weeks, reaching #1 on Friday, Dec. 14. The following week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.
Let’s get on with it…
Chris’ #9: Duran Duran, Rio
(click play button below to sample this album)
Duran Duran. The supposed Achilles heel of my musical tastes. I understand that not everything the “Fab Five” did was golden; Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the album that included “The Reflex” and “New Moon on Monday,” is otherwise kind of a steaming pile. Some of the albums in the late ’80s and the early early ’90s (Liberty, anyone?) are completely inconsequential to the band’s discography. And that Thank You covers album really did stink up the joint.
But the first two albums…I’m sorry, they’re early-’80s pop perfection, especially the second one, Rio. I believe the following points illustrate that fact (mascara is not on the list).
The three singles from this album are fucking top-shelf
“Hungry Like the Wolf” seems to be everyone’s favorite Duran Duran song, what with its “Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo” verses and the singalong “I’m on the hunt; I’m after you” chorus. The guitar is sharper than usual, the drums are bigger than usual, Simon’s voice is as sure as ever. “Rio” also was made for singing along with a smile, with the chorus “Her name is Rio and she dances on the saaaaaaaand.” And “Save a Prayer” is the slow burn, showing a vulnerability that contrasts with the other two singles. Plus, it has that weird trick where Nick Rhodes plays a note on the keyboard and then slides a lever back and forth to bend the note into something exotic.
The videos for the three songs couldn’t have been any cooler
Seriously, “Hungry Like the Wolf” was a better Indiana Jones sequel than Temple of Doom and that most recent one (which I wasn’t duped into seeing, I’m proud to say). I’m pretty sure Harrison Ford paid off Simon LeBon to not incorporate the bullwhip or the fear-of-snakes angle into his “Wolf” character, for fear that Ford would be replaced by LeBon in the Indy title role. (If nothing else, I’m going to update Harrison Ford’s and Simon LeBon’s Wikipedia entry to say as much.)
“Rio” incorporates tropical scenes, a really attractive brunette, and yachts without sounding like yacht rock. And in addition to the attractive scenery, it had some of the oddest non sequiturs. One: John Taylor lounging around reading a combat comic book; flash to scene of John in pseudo military gear, storming the beach, only to find a scantily clad woman lying on the beach with wine/booze being poured into a glass perched on her perfect stomach. Artistic genius!
And “Save a Prayer” completes the trifecta of Sri Lanka beauty. One of my favorite aspects of this video is that Simon LeBon is dressed as if he is about to meet with Tony Montana and Alex Sosa to discuss the yeyo biz.
Who the hell didn’t want to live like Duran Duran after seeing these three videos? They hung out in kick ass weather wearing cool clothes chasing hot babes everywhere! And there were elephants and old world architecture and more babes, too.
The album’s closer, “The Chauffeur,” is Duran Duran’s best song of all time
The song has an eerie, dreamlike sequence of keyboard running throughout, along with bending bass notes and perfect percussion accents that give shape to LeBon’s lyrical tale of “the droning engine throbbing in time with your beating heart.” (The one thing I’ll admit about Duran Duran: the lyrics are usually pretty lame, although the words in “The Chauffeur” aren’t completely wince-inducing.) I don’t know how long it took Nick Rhodes to compose this synth-ony, but it’s pure bliss. And someone made a video that included a few topless women doing interpretive dance, so there’s that.
The other five “album tracks” are, for the most part, seriously great songs, too
No, they’re not radio-made tunes, but the five songs that fill out the album’s playlist beyond the three singles and “Chauffeur” elevate your typical album from the 1980s into something seamless and worthy of repeated spins. “Hold Back the Rain” is perhaps the most straightforward rock song they’d done on the first two albums, and remains a live favorite to this day. “My Own Way” is upbeat and tense, a perfect second song to follow the leadoff title track. “Lonely in Your Nightmare” and “New Religion” are both moody pieces that play well.
“Last Chance on the Stairway” is probably the closest thing to a throwaway tune to my ears, although I like it for a couple of reasons: I love the sound of someone flicking a lighter, taking a drag, and exhaling smoke at song’s beginning, with Nick Rhodes’ keyboard slowly building around it all; and John Taylor gives the bass strings a workout throughout the tune. Which leads me to my next point…
John Taylor is a stud of a bass player, a point he proves repeatedly on Rio
The dude is flat-out funky. His lines are so tight; the notes just pop at times, probably since he famously uses a pick to strum the low end strings. His stressed notes accent the fast songs and he provides the steady framework for the slower songs. And really, John is the coolest guy in the band, going on to play in a band with Duff McKagan at one point, so I felt I had to point out his contributions, as Simon and Nick seem to get the lion’s share of the attention.
And a more general point: These guys are so much better than you’ll ever allow yourself to admit
And why won’t you admit it? Because they have keyboards in their music? Because they considered image/fashion as one aspect of their overall package? What?
These guys took aspects of dance, rock, punk, and funk and made it work. And it works not only because these guys made cool videos or looked trendy or whatever; the fact of the matter is that John Taylor and Nick Rhodes can really write great pop songs, especially in the early going. And they were smart, especially when you consider how young they were and they weren’t managed like some fucking boy band. They embraced the video medium like no other, a move that paid off exponentially with the advent of MTV.
And I’m sorry, some who scoff at Duran Duran are the same people who tell me with a straight face that Journey is fucking great, or they can’t shut up about how awesome Aerosmith is.
Journey? Yeah, that’s more synthesized than Duran Duran…the Journey guitar sound makes me want to throw up. Seriously, listen to something like “Separate Ways” again and then come back here and tell me that is authentic rock music. Because Journey fans seem to think it is. Mind-baffling! And the dude sings at a register five octaves higher than Simon. But you’re right, Journey is way more “awesome.” Just look at this video for proof:
(This should be the next installment of my video breakdown series.)
Aerosmith? Yeah, since you started listening to them sometime in the 1990s, they’ve written exactly ONE SONG. And then threw new cheeseball lyrics at it about 50 times and put out a few albums. Nothing good since “Toys in the Attic.” Nothing.
And the authorities can’t understand why I want to throat-punch people sometimes…
So anyway, yeah, I’m putting Rio here. To reference a song from my #11 album, consider this my own Revolution 9.
Todd’s #9: Ride, Nowhere
(click play button below to sample this album)
When I first set out to rank my favorite albums of all time, I found that this was one of the few albums on my list that I didn’t own a copy of anymore. I was a bit shocked when I looked in my iTunes library and, other than the song “Vapour Trail” which I’ll talk about later, it wasn’t there. I converted all of my CDs to MP3 long ago. Made a pretty penny selling all the hard copies at a garage sale a few years back. I did hold on to a select few sentimental picks so I checked in there. No copy of Ride Nowhere there either. How could that be?
I had no idea when I quit listening to it, but Nowhere has always ranked near the top of my list of favorites. When I showed my finished list to my wife (She got a VIP early premiere) she immediately objected to the Ride record’s spot in the top 10. “How is that a Top 10? You’ve never talked about that record or listened to it since I’ve known you.” Was she right? Had I truly not listened to it in close to twenty years? Why? I really had to think about it until I came up with the answer. I quit listening to it because… it made me feel bad.
When I think back at the time when I would listen to this album obsessively, I realize now that I was pretty depressed. I’m not going to bore you about why I was depressed. This blog isn’t for sob stories or a source of fodder for “After School Special” writers. I will tell you this, it wasn’t some “We Need to Talk About Todd” type scenario and I didn’t spend my spare time torturing cats or anything like that. I was just unhappy a lot of the time. After I came out of that funk, I associated Nowhere with that unhappy feeling. So I quit listening to it.
When Chris came up with the idea for our joint best of lists I thought it would be impossible. Then once I got into it, I found it to be a lot of fun. Re-listening to hundreds of records and reminiscing about them has been amazing musical therapy. Since making this list, I’ve listened to Nowhere a dozen or more times and now it has a much happier association for me. I guess I have Chris to thank for that. Although, he did give me shit for my Counting Crows pick at #75. Such a dick.
The thing that I notice most now when listening is that Ride’s rhythm section is incredible. Something like that could easily be overlooked on a shoegaze genre record where you generally get overwhelmed by the wall of guitars and distortion. The opening song “Seagull” starts off with a long intro of drums and killer bass line and never looks back. By the time the vocals come in, I’m already exhausted and I’m just listening.
Ride uses that “wall of sound” strategy, for lack of a more original term, on many songs on Nowhere. I tend to like the songs which allow the noise to ebb and flow a bit more though. The song “Dreams Burn Down” is a great example. It slowly builds around already loud guitars and drums until the chorus when they take it up a notch and the result feels like the musical equivalent of a gut punch.
Then there’s the song “Vapour Trail.” If you held a gun to my head and asked me what my favorite song of all time was it would be hard for me not to pick this song. I could listen to that main guitar riff all day and the fucking drumming on the two minute outro blows me away every time. The guy just goes crazy. Actually everyone does. Guitars, bass and drums all doing their own thing but all in the confines of the song. The structured chaos goes on until a string quartet fades in playing the main melody and pulls every thing back together. I’m always left wanting more. If you’ve never heard this song, I suggest you follow these steps immediately:
- Quit reading right now (well not now, continue with the instructions and then quit reading)
- Click play on the song sampler above
- Jump to “Vapour Trail”
- Turn up your shitty computer speakers
- Do it…Really…You won’t be sorry