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.
(Next week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.)
Here we go, the #1 picks…
Chris’ #1: The Cure, Disintegration
(click play button below to sample this album)
Not sure I can sum up my thoughts on Disintegration much better than the little dude toward the end of this video right here.
And I’m guessing most people saw this pick coming a mile away. (Those of you who asked me in person if it would be Disintegration, I always answered you honestly with a “yes,” and you all pretty much shrugged.)
But despite the lack of drama, I’m going to write about the album, and see if I can’t surprise myself with my reflections.
In 1989, I was wrapping up the late stages of my heavy metal phase, one that had morphed from stuff like Poison and Motley Crue to Def Leppard and Whitesnake to Slayer and Stryper (odd pair, I know) to Metallica and, um, Metallica. But I was starting to collect albums that were “college rock” or “alternative”: I had R.E.M.’s Green and a live Descendents album and an Echo and the Bunnymen album (Heaven Up Here, I believe it was) and U2’s The Joshua Tree and Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses and the Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. I had grown to love the various tunes on that Cure album, but not enough to send me exploring the back catalog.
But the new stuff in 1989, that’s what sent me down the path to Cure fanaticism.
When Disintegration first came out in late spring of 1989, I wasn’t in line to buy it or anything. It wasn’t until that summer that I realized that the band had a new album, in fact. I remember my family had gone on some big camping trip in the mountains, cut off from the modern world. After a few days of rain and rugged living in the Rockies, we returned to society, and one of the first things I did was pick up the most recent issue of Rolling Stone. I flipped to the back of the magazine to look at the charts, and saw Disintegration by the Cure at a rather lofty position, adjacent to the Cult’s Sonic Temple, as it happens. (The random shit I remember is equal parts amazing and dumbfounding, and almost always useless.) But I simply made a mental note that the Cure had a new album, and perhaps I could hit up my cousin Josh for a copy of it next time I saw him.
HOWEVER, the first time I heard “Lovesong” on Rock 108 (a station not typically known for playing bands like the Cure), I was absolutely floored.
I loved the sharp keyboard sound. I loved the active bass line bouncing around underneath the keys. And Robert Smith was singing very simple lines that, in his earnest voice, carried so much weight, so much sincerity. (Appropriate, seeing as he wrote the song for his wife, Mary, as a wedding present.) It felt like the first time I heard someone saying “I love you” and speaking on my behalf, you know? It seemed like the perfect song…and it was damn catchy too, riding the U.S. singles chart up to #2! I would call the radio station during request hours and chat the DJs ear off about how awesome “Lovesong” was. And I realized that I absolutely had to go buy this album.
The funny thing is, next time I was in the music section of a retail store, I didn’t buy it.
Because of this cool looking chick in the WalMart tape section.
She looked pretty “goth,” at least as far as Newton, Iowa, goes. She was browsing the cassettes when I rolled up. After a couple of minutes of surveying the situation, I started thumbing through the few Cure tapes on hand. The girl took this as an invitation to strike up a conversation…
Goth Girl: You like the Cure?
Goth Girl: Yeah, me too.
OK, common ground. Where do I go from here? We both kind of stared at our feet for a while, not saying anything. Before I could think of anything clever, Goth Girl spoke up again.
Goth Girl: What do you think of the new one? You have it, right?
Fuck. Play it cool…
Chris: Oh yeah, I got it. (LIAR!)
Goth Girl: Yeah, me too. It’s not my favorite of theirs, but “Fascination Street” is pretty cool.
Chris: Um, yeah, that’s a good one.
The conversation never got any deeper than that. But now I had painted myself in a corner. I couldn’t buy the tape now…I already owned it. And I didn’t think quickly enough to come up with some excuse like “I think I am going to buy it for my friend for his birthday” or something like that; I was too focused on not blushing and acting all cool. It was nice to talk to this cute stranger, but goddamn it, leave already so I can buy this tape!
But, of course, my parents showed up to tell me they and my grandmother were done shopping and it was time to go. So not only did I walk away empty-handed on the Disintegration front, my mom managed to say (before we were out of earshot of Goth Girl) “Who was that girl? Were you talking to her? Do you guys like the same music?” And the non-blushing effort was all for naught.
I eventually went to a retail store without my parents and got the tape, and I did not encounter any goth chicks that day, so no posturing. It was D-Day, as in Disintegration Day. A day that lives in infamy for me. (I couldn’t tell you the exact date, though.)
Once the tape had been opened (trying to remember if it had one of those awkward plastic covers on it or not) and inserted into the stereo, I was introduced to the song that to this day remains my favorite Cure song, “Plainsong.” It’s a song that sets the tone for the entire album, with icy grandeur, extended instrumental opening, and winning lyrics. “Sometimes you make me feel like I’m living at the edge of the world / like I’m living at the edge of the world / ‘it’s just the way I smile’ you said,” the final lyrics of the song, melt me every time. And the song absolutely made the coronation scene in Marie Antoinette one of the best shots in the whole movie.
(“Sometimes,” a song from my #2 album of all time, Loveless, had a similar effect in another one of Sofia Coppola’s films, Lost in Translation. Cab ride home from the karaoke night, for those of you who don’t recall.)
The album showcased varying strengths of the Cure’s lineup at its strongest. Bassist Simon Gallup owns “Fascination Street” with the driving bass line he lays down; it’s the absolute backbone of the song, and the first thing I taught myself how to play on the bass. Drummer Boris Williams is no slouch on that song, either, and he shows an interesting touch on “Closedown” and more propulsive drive on “Disintegration.” Porl Thompson guitar work isn’t as flashy as it was on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me but he works his talents within the soundscape set forth by Smith. His work on “Lovesong” often goes overlooked, and he shines on “Pictures of You,” another top achievement in the Cure’s entire songbook. I think I might be as fond of the video as I am the song, because at the end, it reveals the band to be a bunch of regular dudes having a blast on the set.
And Roger O’Donnell’s keyboard work is second to none. The atmosphere he creates on “Plainsong,” “Homesick,” and the majestic “The Same Deep Water As You” has that same overwhelming, emotional punch that shoegazers deliver with their tremulous guitars. He took the one-fingered keyboarding repertoire of Lol Tolhurst and upped the game a hundredfold. Keyboards weren’t always part of the Cure’s sound, but Roger O’Donnell made it so the band’s sound felt bare without them (even if O’Donnell found himself expendable a time or two over the years).
The songs still resonate with me to this day, after thousands of listens. Perhaps it’s because this album came out at the right time, coinciding with my 15-year-old self’s complete emotional dysfunctionality, and was able to get its hooks in me permanently. Also consider that I grew up in a small town that didn’t have MTV, before the Internet age, and I wasn’t overexposed to music (and certainly not the Cure), so there might have been a quality to this album that seemed a bit exotic. Some of it might have had to do with starting high school, and hanging out with some of the older kids and cool foreign exchange students (Nacho! Jacqueline! Hiro! Raymond!), demographics that tended to like the Cure and other music along those lines.
Or maybe it’s as simple as this: Disintegration spends 71 minutes projecting a singular message of longing and hope over 12 songs that are tightly constructed and magically performed. Robert’s voice is at its peak: strong but not overdone, and singing words that paint beautiful pictures without sounding cliché. The band had its best-ever guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and drummer all in place. The perfect storm.
In the liner notes, there is a line toward the end that says, “THIS MUSIC HAS BEEN MIXED TO BE PLAYED LOUD SO TURN IT UP.” Seems almost silly coming from a band like the Cure, but never has better advice been given. The best music should always be played loud.
Todd’s #1: Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
(click play button below to sample this album)
Siamese Dream, the album that started a nearly 3 year obsession with all things Smashing Pumpkins. As you will recall from previous posts, I loved The Pumpkins previous release Gish and was all pumped up for a new record. Little did I know the effect it would have on me and my musical tastes. Actually, obsession isn’t quite the correct word, there needs to be something stronger. I’ve never listened to an album more or over a longer period of time than Siamese Dream. My listening habits became a bit compulsive and at times I was like one of those freaky Beatles fans that thought their records were made specifically for them. The music on Siamese Dream effected me like no other music I’d heard before so in many ways it really did feel like it was made for me.
Within a few months of purchasing Siamese Dream everything about me was Smashing Pumpkins. My wardrobe was a rotation of five Smashing Pumpkins t-shirts. The Devils one, The Angels one, The heart one, The Siamese Dream album cover one, and some weird purple one with cartoon aliens on it. My reading material consisted of guitar magazines with SP leader Billy Corgan on the cover. I spent most of my extra income on every CD single with a B-side that I could find. The guys at Co-Op Tape and Records could probably set their clocks by my frequent visits. Todd’s here… must be Friday.
Record store Dude: “You get paid today Todd?”
Record store Dude: “Well let me show you what we have in the import section this week. We have a nice Japanese import of the “Today” single.”
Me: “I have that already.”
Record store Dude: “I know but the Japanese version has and EXTRA unreleased song on it.”
Record store Dude: “Don’t you want to know title of the song?”
Me: “Don’t care, have to have it.”
Record store Dude: “Don’t you want to know the price?”
Me: “I said sold. Give it to me now. Don’t make me hurt you.”
Then I would run to my car and put the CD in the player and bliss out. The closest comparison would be a heroin junkie getting a fresh injection. Once the glory of hearing the new song was over, I needed more though. It was a serious habit.
Remember that dude Roberto from my post about The Pixies Trompe le Monde? He hosted an alternative radio show I was into for awhile. Well, he also worked at one of the local record stores. Occasionally, I would go in there and chit chat about music with him. When there were no new Pumpkins oddities to buy, he could always get me to buy something else. He was very good at not letting me out of the store without buying something. In his defense, he never steered me wrong. He turned me on to The Sugarcubes, Medicine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and many others. He totally had my number…literally. More than once I came home and there would be a message on the machine from Roberto.
“Hey Todd, we just got in some new Smashing Pumpkins bootlegs. Thought you might be interested.”
I’d be out the door and driving to the store before the message was done playing. I ended up with quite the collection…
Not as impressive as it used to be. This is what I still have left. I know I sold a bunch of my bootleg concert performances and I had a few more concert VHS tapes too. Notice that there is not an actual proper Smashing Pumpkins release in there. That’s just the rarities. One thing I could add to that collection is the concert audio from the smashing Pumpkins concert I went to in Spring ’94. They came to Palmer Auditorium in Davenport, Iowa. Chris was actually at that same concert, not surprising since he had a similar love affair with them. Anyway, a few months back I searched the internet to find the setlist from that concert and ran across a website that had archived audio from that show. You could download it for free! It actually contains the first live performance of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, a huge hit from their follow up album Mellon Collie. I didn’t remember that happening so it was a pretty cool discovery.
I really don’t have the words to properly describe the awesomeness of this record but I’ll try. The drum roll at the start of the opening track, “Cherub Rock”, gives you the feel of being at some boardwalk sideshow. You half expect a carnival barker to start yelling,
”Step right up folks! Get ready for the greatest thing you have or will ever hear!”
Then there’s the slow build until shit just fucking explodes. The guitars are thunderous and almost force your arms into the air guitar position “You will bow down to the awesome and air guitar or I will destroy you!”
I have no clue how Billy gets this guitar effect. Call it filthy, call it crunchy, call it fuzzed out, call it any adjective that applies. All I know is you can’t duplicate it in your living room with a shitty amp and distortion pedal. I’ve tried. It ends up sounding, as you might expect, like some dude that can sort of play guitar trying to sound like The Pumpkins with a shitty amp and distortion pedal. There are stories about marathon studio sessions where Billy overdubbed and layered dozens of guitar tracks over top of each other to get it to sound that way. So my pathetic attempts at playing at guitar god were laughable. Anyway, “Cherub Rock” is one satisfying lead track. It’s maybe the most similar to the songs on Gish so it is the perfect handoff from one album to the next.
The Pixies get a lot of credit for creating the loudQUIETloud music style of the early ‘90s. If they invented it, then the Pumpkins perfected it with Siamese Dream. They use the technique on many songs like “Today”, (which I can never listen to without thinking of that damn ice cream truck video), “Geek U.S.A.,” and “Silverfuck.” But I didn’t just obsess over those more in your face songs. There are a few more laid back tunes like “Spaceboy,” “Sweet Sweet,” and “Luna” that all spent time with the title “My Favorite Song From Siamese Dream.” Actually, every song on Siamese Dream at one point was my favorite song from Siamese Dream. I’m sure I annoyed my girlfriend, my friends and basically anyone that road in my car with my frequent declarations of love for a different song from the album. Unlike Chris I am not going to apologize. No I am going to say… you’re welcome.
“You’re welcome” to my former girlfriend, for every time I pulled up to your parents’ house blasting a different song from Siamese Dream as loud as my stereo would go.
“You’re welcome” to my best friend who rode to work with me, for getting to hear me sing the quiet part of “Silverfuck” every day for two weeks.
“You’re welcome” to Co-Op Tapes and Records, for the day I paid $35 for a bootleg concert VHS tape worth $2.
And most of all, “you’re welcome” to you dedicated MoSS? readers. For getting to read all of the moronic things that pop in my head and end up on your computer screen.
completely redeemed from the entry of Gish. All makes sense now.
Summer of 2000, St. Louis, Mo. Cure’s “Dream Tour” in town. We left C.R. early just to make sure we got there in time … which was WAYYYY too early, so we ended up hanging out in a Best Buy store for, like, two hours. Needless to say, you played the intro to “Closedown” for something like 20 straight minutes on one of the store’s Casio keyboards. I knew you were an addict before, but didn’t realize that you were a junkie until right then. I then realized you needed an intervention about five hours later, when you rattled off the entire setlist to the show from memory in about three seconds flat (faster than I could write it down, at least). This selection is a surprise of the magnitude of the sky’s blueness and water’s wetness. Kudos.
As for “Siamese Dream,” I swear to effing Christ I thought I wrote this and you just stole it from me. You hacked my computer, right? No, you hacked my brain!
“Gish” and “Siamese Dream” are an interchangeable 1/2 on MY list; it just depends on the day. But substitute “BJ Records in Iowa City” with “Co-Op Records and Tapes” and you have my story. I bought every single. The Spin cover and the Rolling Stone cover … I bought TWO copies of each – one to read and one to save forever because it would be worth 5 millions dollars one day and I’ll look like a genius for saving them. When I bought my five-disc carousel in September 1993, I just HAD to christen it with the Pumpkins. I played “Drown” first off the “Singles” soundtrack, then took it out and replaced it with “Gish,” “Lull,” “Siamese Dream,” the Peel Session single and the “I Am One” single and hit shuffle until every single track of Smashing Pumpkins I owned had broken the cherry of my new carousel. The “Cherub Rock” single and the “Today” single followed quickly, as did the combo “Disarm” singles (I still remember being PISSED that there was a THIRD version on vinyl with yet ANOTHER song that I couldn’t own).
I saw them at Hairy Mary’s in Des Moines on the Saturday after “Siamese Dream” was released (they opened with “Soma”), then again in Iowa City a little over two months later (it was the day Michael Jordan “retired” for the first time … James Iha lamented the loss to Chicagoland from the stage that night). I too was at that Palmer Auditorium show, forced to the deck in the show-opening stampede and fearing for my life (still burned in my brain forever is the sight of a 20-year-old girl unconscious with her head on the concrete). I survived it to see the combo of “Drown” and “Hummer” played back to back seamlessly. Good fucking God, I loved that band.
(By the way, the only song from “Siamese Dream” I never heard played live in the six times I saw them was “Luna”).
I’ll skip the betrayal section (which I discussed in a previous entry).
But I will say this: I’ve recently gone through a Pumpkins renaissance. Our discussion about the best possible one-disc version of “Mellon Collie” got me hungry again (by the way, Todd … thank you for making me rediscover “By Starlight” … that’s just one of those songs that I had kinda written off and forgotten for YEARS. When I put together your one-disc version and listened to it again, it was almost like I’d never heard it before. Hard to explain, but that song is now in MY perfect one-disc version as well. Also, I listened to the entire album again from front to back after that discussion, and on that night when I was running at the rec center, I really, truly enjoyed “1979” for the very first time as an actual SONG. I always hated that song before (or better yet, resented it) because of what it stood for, which was the left turn they ended up making musically. That night, by the way, was October 24 … which I remember because I realized it was the 17th anniversary of the album’s release. It took me 17 years to like that song. Since then, I’ve gone back and listened to all their shit again (yes, even the Machinas, just to say I did) and fell in love with them all over again.