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’ #5: The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
(click play button below to sample this album)
One of my favorite parts of Oliver Stone’s The Doors is the part where Jim and the Doors go hang out at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable and meet Andy Warhol. For one, you get the wonderful performance by Crispin Glover as Warhol; that cameo ranks right up there with his tour de force as George McFly. Second, Jim tries to drink Nico under the table and ends up going up an elevator while the blonde beauty goes down (Nico boobs, too).
But third, you get the delirious high of the Velvet Underground, as “Venus in Furs” and “Heroin” are both played in the background throughout the scene. Once the movie was over, it was time to look through my dad’s vinyl collection to find that album with the banana on the cover. (Of course he had it…)
The album is a 49-minute lo-fi blast that has a little bit of everything (tinkling xylophones, a German chanteuse, soft songs, straightforward romps) and a lot of viola, feedback, monotone vocals (from Lou Reed and Nico), low-end drums (especially floor toms, and no cymbals, as Lou felt they drowned out guitars), and a feeling of the underbelly of society. Music that reflected the band’s image of black clothes, black shades, bleak outlook, beautiful noise.
If you like punk rock, you have to like the bare minimalism and nihilism reflected in these tunes. If you like the no-wave scene and NYC bands like Sonic Youth, these are your favorite bands’ godparents. If you enjoy stuff like Nirvana and other feedback-drenched tunes, these guys were doing it long before. If you worship the drug tales of Axl Rose or Layne Staley, consider that “Mr. Brownstone” and “Angry Chair” aren’t as likely if not for VU songs like “Waiting for the Man” (that song might as well be the father of “Mr. Brownstone”) or “Heroin.”
But as cool and unique as John Cale’s viola can be on this album, sometimes you just want to hear some uptempo, gritty guitar songs, and the Velvets deliver those with the aforementioned “Waiting for the Man” and tunes like “Run Run Run” and “There She Goes Again.” And even though it sounds at times as if Nico is singing her vocals while reading from phonetically transcribed lyric sheets, the songs do have a dreamy quality to them; “I’ll Be Your Mirror” might be the most traditionally beautiful thing on this album.
But in terms of true Velvet Underground beauty, it’s tough to beat “Venus in Furs.” Cale’s viola swoops in and out, accenting the guitar work of Reed and Sterling Morrison, all providing the bed for Reed’s tales of submission and bondage. Reed’s low-key delivery of lines like “Whiplash girl child in the dark” and “Taste the whip, in love not given lightly / taste the whip / now bleed for me” just bring that extra edge to the subject matter (as if it really needed it, especially when the album came out in 1967). It sounds like art rock and shoegaze and punk rock all rolled into one.
And that “Heroin” ditty is pretty sweet too.
The band wasn’t long for this world: Nico was never fully brought into the band and Warhol was not retained as “producer” beyond the first album; John Cale left before it was all said and done, too (after White Light/White Heat, the only other front-to-back-outstanding Velvet Underground album). But The Velvet Underground and Nico remains a treasure for the listener to “peel slowly and see” what lies within.
Todd’s #5: Jeff Buckley, Grace
(click play button below to sample this album)
In the spring of ’95, one of the shitty radio stations where I lived changed formats to alternative rock. You can imagine my elation. Good music on the radio! Being as it was fairly new, the owners must have run out of money or something because they only had like fifty records. They seemed to play the same twenty new songs along with about thirty oldies. I probably heard The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now” three times a day. They also played a ton of New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and many other classic alt-rock bands. As for the newer music, it was a cavalcade of Alanis Morissette and early Foo Fighters. One of the more random new songs on heavy rotation was Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye.” I liked it right from the start. It was kind of catchy and a nice change from the more typical dude rock of the day. The thing that struck me most was the lyrics. Not something I typically notice right away, I tend to listen to music more by the feel of it. He’s singing about the end of a relationship and love lost (A common theme on Grace). The first verse says it all.
This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it’s over
Just hear this and then I’ll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you’ll ever know
That’s some pretty vulnerable stuff to float out there in between Stone Temple Pilots and Green Day songs. I bought Grace and played “Last Goodbye” quite a bit but never really got around to listening to the whole album until a year or so later when I routinely played it in the background when I studied. Probably not a great idea because I often got lost in the music instead of in Ohm’s Law. V= I times what again??? The opening track “Mojo Pin” would hook me right in. It’s another song about love lost and it’s soaring vocals would leave most singers breathless.
If only you’d come back to me
If you laid at my side
I wouldn’t need no Mojo Pin to keep me satisfied
Don’t wanna weep for you, I don’t wanna know
I’m blind and tortured, the white horses flow
He could definitely write about heartache and deliver it with conviction. I remember listening and thinking “Dude seriously feels that shit.” Nowhere is that more evident than in my favorite song from Grace, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.” In this song, he bears his soul to a woman he regrettably fucked over but wants another chance with. This song is so chock full of great lyrics that I should just post them all here but I’ll just pick a few of the choice nuggets of yearning and you can listen to sampler above for the rest.
Sometimes a man gets carried away, when he feels like he should be having his fun
And much too blind to see the damage he’s done
Sometimes a man must awake to find that really, he has no-one
Translation: I porked someone else and I’m real real real real sorry about that.
So i’ll wait for you… and i’ll burn
Will I ever see your sweet return
Oh will I ever learn
Oh lover, you should’ve come over
‘Cause it’s not too late
Translation: I really am sorry and I wish you would return my phone calls. I’m at home so call me anytime, I’ll be here. Please?
This next part always kills me. Some of the best words ever penned.
It’s never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder
It’s never over, all my riches for her smiles when i slept so soft against her
It’s never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
It’s never over, she’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever
A touch stalker-ish, but holy shit that’s good stuff. If the girl he was writing about didn’t forgive him for at least one more night in the sack then she is part robot.
A word of caution though:
If you are secretly pining away or in love with someone and have not told them yet, you should not listen to this song repeatedly every night for months on end. It does not help soothe any intense feelings of longing. It only serves to amplify those feelings times a billion. I know of this effect firsthand. Luckily, I married the person I was pining away for, but you may not be so lucky. Godspeed to all you lovelorn fools out there.