MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #1

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)

disintegration coverNot 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.

Why not?

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?

Chris: Yeah.

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 coverSiamese 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?”

Me: “Yep”

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.”

Today Single

The “Today” single and the Japanese import “Today” single.

Me: “I have that already.”

Record store Dude: “I know but the Japanese version has and EXTRA unreleased song on it.”

Me: “Sold.”

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…

 Pumpkins 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.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

#5

#4

#3

#2

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #2

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’ #2: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

(click play button below to sample this album)

loveless album coverI did the college radio DJ thing for the first time in 1997, during my last year at Iowa State. I had two three-hour shifts a week on KURE (Cure!), which was based in the basement of one of the buildings there (sad that I can’t remember exactly where…Friley Hall, maybe?). It was a lot of fun, even though we were forced to follow a CMJ-based playlist for about 50 percent of the air time. There were six songs per hour we had to play; we could fill the rest of the time with our own choices, as long as the songs didn’t contain “fuck” or “shit” in the lyrics and weren’t top 40 kind of stuff.

(Contrast this with my time at KRUI as a staff member at the University of Iowa, which was post-Janet Jackson-boob-flop/FCC crackdown on “indecency.” The top 40 rule applied at KRUI, but I was told not to play songs that had the word “damn,” never mind “shit” and “fuck.” Different times in college radio, I guess.)

So once I got my required plays out of the way (being 1997, that meant stuff like Tindersticks, Travis, Suede, Sarah McLachlan), I would dig into the older CDs, and often times I turned to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I would turn the in-studio speakers up to 11 and let the waves of guitar wash over me. One particular time, I decided to play three songs in a row: “Touched,” “To Here Knows When,” and “When You Sleep.” About halfway through the second song, the studio phone rang.

“Hey, I think you have the record player on the wrong speed.”

I informed the caller that I was using a compact disc player.

“Whatever. Listen, I’m calling from Mr. Goodcents. We would like to do you the favor of playing your station over our in-store speakers, but if you’re gonna play weird stuff like this, I don’t know that we can keep doing that for you.”

[silence on my end]

“So, like, play something normal, and we’ll keep you on the speakers.”

I realized what was at stake if I didn’t comply with the wishes of the most popular sandwich outlet in Ames aside from Jimmy John’s, Subway, Blimpie, Pita Pit, Pizza Pit, the gyro carts on Welch, convenience store delis, and a few others (probably). If I fuck this up, the station would see a ZERO PERCENT reduction in funding from Mr. Goodcents; worse, we would be facing audience casualties that might number in the tens.

So I did what any asshole college radio DJ would do: I said I’d play something slightly more mainstream, got on the air after the MBV trifecta ended, dedicated the next song to the good folks at Goodcents, and then played an eight-minute Future Sound of London song (which I believe was on the CMJ playlist…two birds with one repetitive techno stone).

I did so not to maintain the hipster image of the college radio DJ, but because I was genuinely pissed off and surprised that the greatness of MBV went unrecognized by this sandwich maker. And it really goes beyond ignoring the greatness; the quality of said music had been called into question, and the airing of the music sparked a likely boycott by the local eatery. I was left perplexed: Who doesn’t think Loveless is the best thing since sliced bread?

(To be fair, the dudes at Mr. Goodcents probably have an elevated opinion of sliced bread, thus a higher standard of excellence.)

my bloody valentine band photoThere’s so much for me to like in this band, and in this album in particular. First and foremost, the amazing sounds that ringleader Kevin Shields and the much beloved Bilinda Butcher coax from their guitars. Their guitars are everywhere: soaring, circling, bouncing off the walls, howling, smothering, surrounding you. It’s amazing to feel the weight of the guitar assault. And not volume for volume’s sake sort of attack, either: it’s the density that does the bludgeoning. I feel like I’m in a hot tub of awesome when I listen to this album.

(“How is this guy not getting paid millions of dollars to pen music critiques?” you might be asking in the wake of that last sentence.)

So yeah, guitars, guitars, guitars, with textures and volumes aplenty. Not the kind of guitar-music that prompts me to bust into air-guitar theatrics, though. Despite the waves of guitar, I’d sooner completely chill with this music on. How can that be? I chalk it up to another important element of MBV music: the vocals evident under the surface of six-string sonic assault. Sometimes sung by Bilinda, sometimes by Kevin, always soothing. It almost has a hypnotic effect. The words are somewhat decipherable, which on its face sounds like a criticism more than a compliment, but they serve almost more like an instrument than a narrative. Not quite to the level of Sigur Ros, but similar. Kevin’s laid-back style fits well underneath the music, and Bilinda’s tone (so dreamy, so sensual) is what matters, not the words she’s saying.

Plus, when the words are a mystery, we can all feel a little less self-conscious when we do that “sing-along-using-sounds-that-sorta-resemble-real-words” thing that we all do with music from time to time.

Even the drumming, which is muted even more so than the vocals, sounds really good on here. Nothing fancy, but I think because it is used as more of a complement to the rest of the music, it magnifies the fills, creating a greater impact.

Even though I’m quite certain this album factored poorly in one of my dating escapades at Iowa State (the girl saw the CD in my car and, aghast, blurted out, “My Bloody Valentine? Should I be worried?”), the good far outweighs the bad. As shoegaze enjoys another revival in popularity, it is timely for me to rejoice Loveless as one of the most important (and incredible) albums ever made. Click the play button on my sampler atop this write-up, sit back, close your eyes, and let (three songs from) Loveless envelop you.

Or turn it off and go make a sandwich.

Todd’s #2: Pixies, Doolittle

(click play button below to sample this album)

pixies_doolittleIf you read our #6 album post about Nirvana’s Nevermind, then you that saw Chris and I were asked questions by the International Blogging Syndicate during an interview about out lists. One of the questions asked was…Is it easier to write about an album you love or an album you hate? Chris had a great response:

The ones you hate. The ones you love, you want to respect the shit out of them, so it’s harder to get the words just right, to get them to convey your true admiration.

Well, that’s how I feel about The Pixies, Doolittle. I have nothing to write about this album’s greatness that hasn’t already been written by way better scribes than me. Nor do I have any particularly interesting anecdotes about this record to discuss. I also already shared details of my Pixies addiction in my “Surviving the New Music Wasteland” trilogy of posts.

So I guess I am taking the easy way out and choosing to do-little (rimshot) for my Doolittle post. I am going to run through the songs of Doolittle and tell you the very specific reasons why I like them. Could be a drum beat. Could be a lyric or lack thereof. The best parts of songs can sometimes be the subtleties. So here we go.

“Debaser”- Kim Deal’s backing vocals make this one for me. Also, the line at the beginning “slicing up eyeballs.” Wonderfully graphic.

“Tame”- Has to be Black Francis’ screaming TAME!!!! at the end of the song. He had to have needed a lozenge after that.

“Wave of Mutilation”- Love the rumbling drums before the chorus.

“I Bleed”- Black Francis’ imperfect echoing of Kims Deal’s vocals and the part where he sings the line “Nobody Knows” in a comically deeper voice.

“Here Comes Your Man” – Basically, everything about this song is great, but to pick one specific part…The little guitar ditty between verses.

“Dead”– The ‘60s pop guitar solo in the middle of the song.

“Monkey Gone to Heaven”- If man was 5 and the Devil is 6…then God is 7!!!!

“Mr. Grieves”- They say the album title Doolittle in it.

“Crackity Jones”- “The last set of ”Crack crack crackity jones” and the little chirping noise he makes in between them.

“La la Love You”- The pleas for us listeners to ‘Shake Your Butt!” at the beginning.

“No. 13 Baby”- The two minute outro is fucking great.

“There Goes My Gun”- I love that the first verse is just Black Francis yelling Yoo Hoo! Three times. Guess he decided to Doolittle on the verse.

“Hey”- Another song that I adore everything about…I guess I’ll pick the guitars during the first verse. Very jangly for a verse about whores in your bed.

“Silver”- This is the one song I’ve struggled over the years to like much. Kim Deal sings on it so I’ll go with that.

“Gouge Away”- I love that it is the perfect segue song to the next Pixies album Bossanova. Very similar style to many songs on that release.

So there you have it. My very specific reasons for liking every song on Doolittle. Give it a listen sometime if you already haven’t (How that could even be possible is beyond me) and think of your own reasons.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

#5

#4

#3

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #3

 

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’ #3: The Beatles, Revolver

(click play button below to sample this album)

revolver coverMusic class at St. Patrick’s Grade School was a bit of a mixed bag. Often times we had to sing hymns from our Glory & Praise song books to prepare for Friday morning Mass, stuff like “Be Not Afraid” (ironic when you consider our education was a combination of fear and Catholic guilt mixed in with some phonics and math) and “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Other times we sang stuff like “Joy to the World” (the one about the bullfrog, not the one about “the lord is come”) and “Home on the Range” and “This Land Is Your Land.”

Once a month, we had “Listening Day,” where we were allowed to bring records and cassettes to school and listen to our favorite songs at the moment. My music teacher once said if she had a nickel for every time she had to hear Duran Duran, she’d be a rich woman. (This was around the time of “The Reflex” and “Wild Boys,” so I felt obligated to share.) I don’t think I ever missed a month, also bringing in the Purple Rain singles and my Bryan Adams Reckless tape and Hall & Oates’ “Out of Touch” and even that Chaka Khan song (you know, the one where her name is the primary lyric: “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaka Khan! Chaka Khan! Chaka Khan!”). It was my favorite day of the month.

And it was through Catholic grade school music class that I discovered the Beatles’ Revolver. One of the songs in our secular songbook was “Yellow Submarine,” which everyone loved singing, although at some point our class thought it was funny/whatever to change the lyrics to “Green Submarine,” possibly because it rhymed? I dunno. Anyway, we would sing that song a lot, often by request from members of the class. As such, I eventually noticed the songwriter credit was listed as “Lennon/McCartney.” Those names seemed to ring a bell, so I remember asking my dad who Lennon and McCartney were.

After telling me that they were two of the Beatles, he asked why I was asking. I told him that our class was singing “Yellow Submarine.” His response: “That song is on one of the Beatles records I have downstairs.” So off I went to rifle through the vinyl collection once again.

revolver's back coverI found Revolver, with its funny looking cover. I remember noticing little things, like John’s ear being shaded in (for whatever reason, that really struck me as odd). I flipped over the album cover and saw these four dudes, three in shades and the fourth in quirky regular glasses, looking quite happy with themselves. I also saw the track listing, which helpfully listed not only the composers (Lennon/McCartney most of the time, Harrison thrice) but also who sang lead vocals on each song. I saw that Ringo Starr was the singer on “Yellow Submarine”; it was his only vocal, so I figured it must be a very important song if they saved it for the guy named Ringo.

So yeah, I listened to “Yellow Submarine” a dozen times or so; they did an OK job with it, almost as good as the St. Pat’s kids. Then I figured I’d check out the rest of the album. Being 10 years old at the time, I must say that the album was a “grower” for me. I do remember thinking “Taxman” was kinda cool, and I liked “Good Day Sunshine.” The rest of it didn’t hold my attention, though, so it was back to “The Reflex” and the like.

But as I got older, I found myself digging the Revolver tunes more and more. “Eleanor Rigby” became one of my favorite songs of all time. “I’m Only Sleeping” had that nice dreamy vocal from John and “Love You To” was one of those mystical George songs that I found appealing with time, much like “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper’s. (By the way, George’s mentor in this aspect of music, Ravi Shankar, just died at age 92.) We got one good “Paul song” (“Here, There, and Everywhere”) and one brassy “Paul song” (“Got to Get You Into My Life”) and the epitome of a “Paul song” (“For No One”).

And then those two John songs, the ones that closed each side of the record (remember, that is indeed how I experienced this album), “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Holy shit, dude. “She Said” has that jarring guitar work that cuts through the haze, created both by the murky bass, somewhat muted drumming, and John’s vocals about “knowing what it was like to be dead” and “making me feel like I’ve never been born” and shit like that. Listening to it with headphones on, which I often did as a kid (which is why I can’t hear worth a shit, no doubt), was pretty trippy, with the drums isolated to my left ear and the guitar squall hitting my right ear.

And “Tomorrow Never Knows” ups the ante. John’s double-tracked vocal, ever so slightly out of unison, inviting you to “turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream” and imploring you to listen to the color of your dreams,” to this day I find myself awed by this song. The swirls of guitar, the non-stop cymbal sounds, the insistent bass-and-snare drum pattern that propels the song beyond its amorphous nature, the backward sound, the bass rumbling below, the manic piano notes striking every so often toward the end…while “A Day in the Life” is my favorite Beatles song of all time (favorite regardless of band, really), then this is a close second. (And what Mad Men did with this song last season was fucking bad-ass, and made me love Megan Draper all the more.)

This is the Beatles at their zenith. They were still existing as a band, their decision to stop touring before this album paid off big-time, they were introducing more elements to their music without losing their edge. When the worst song on the album is the one that we sang all the time in music class, you know you’ve got a classic on your hands.

I’ll always love the Cure the most, but the Beatles are the best band ever. This will remain true always.

Todd’s #3: Prince, Purple Rain

(click play button below to sample this album)

cover for Purple RainI just got back from taking my daughter to a live performance of the musical Annie (Well done Iowa City Community Theatre). If I learned one thing from that experience, it was that the overall performance of the actors in a show is not that important as long as the material and songs are top notch. That’s what you get with Purple Rain, pretty shitty acting performances in between some of the greatest music ever made.

While I don’t consider the Purple Rain album a typical movie soundtrack (Obviously, or it would not have been eligible for the list), I can’t listen to the album without also thinking of the movie and the sub-par acting performances. Like the “What’s the password” scene featuring Morris Day and Jerome from The Time.

Pretty bad but no one cared because the Time had two amazing song performances in the movie “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.”

apolloniaApollonia gave quite possibly the worst performance in the history of movies but who cares? She wore tight leather cat suits and lingerie throughout the entire movie. Also, much to the delight of this impressionable young boy’s eyes, she exposed her wonderful rack in the scene where she jumps in the lake to prove herself to Prince’s character “The Kid.”

“…That ain’t Lake Minnetonka.”

Looking back, that scene is probably solely responsible for my preference for brunettes. Blondes never had a chance after Apollonia unleashed the hounds. And, besides adding the sexy factor, Apollonia “Bettie Booped” her way through the songs, ”Sex Shooter” and the kick ass duet with Prince, “Take Me With You.”

Not all of the performances in the movie disappoint. Actually, all of the musical performances are top notch. I suppose that should be expected of musicians trying to be actors. When you are already a charismatic rock star, how hard could it be to play a charismatic rock star on stage in a movie?

My favorite song performance in the movie is “The Beautiful Ones.” Prince is memorizing and the Apollonia character actually sheds what may have been real tears. Acting!

“The Beautiful Ones” is one of those epic songs that slow builds. Prince starts off innocently declaring his love and asking the object of his affection to please choose him over another man.

Baby, baby, baby
Can’t U stay with me 2night?
Oh Baby, baby, baby
Don’t my kisses please U right?

Eventually, the tone changes to a frantic lust filled plea. This is the scene in which my wife will tell you, “That man is sex on a stick.” I find it hard to disagree with her. He certainly gets his point across. I would have liked to share a video clip of that performance but Prince is being a prick about people using his stuff on the internet now. The lyrics will have to do.

Baby, baby, baby
Listen

I may not know where I’m going baby
Look here

I may not know what I need
But one thing
One thing for certain baby

I know what I want
And it’s to please you baby
Please you baby
I’m begging down on my knees
I want you

I know I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but how can people think the dude is gay? I guess they are just looking at the clothes he wears.

Prince's Purple One

If they were paying attention they would see he surrounds himself with hot chicks and so many of his songs are sexual in nature. Like the song “Darling Nikki.” That had some of the most overtly hetero lyrics of all time.

I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess u could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said how’d u like 2 waste some time
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind

I was very young when this album was out and my older brother scored a dubbed* copy from a friend. When he played “Darling Nikki” I was pretty confused about the lyrics. My brother was more than happy to explain. I didn’t know what the word masturbation was and when it was revealed to me, I still didn’t get how she did it with a magazine like the lyrics said. How do you do that with a magazine?… How does she fit it in there? …Does she just roll it up?… Oh, she just looks at it?… Why?… Oh!…cooooool!

[*His dubbed tape of Purple Rain had a bad spot in it and when Prince was supposed to say the word, “funky”, it just cut out. Every time he played “Darling Nikki” when I was around, he would make a point to tell me, “he says funky there.” Since then, I don’t think I’ve heard that part without thinking “he says funky there.”]

Woke up the next morning
Nikki wasn’t there
I looked all over and all I found
Was a phone number on the stairs
It said thank u 4 a funky time
Call me up whenever u want 2 grind

The word “grind” confused me too. When my mother heard the song I remember she was especially shocked by the use of that word. It sounded like something painful to me but, based on her reaction I guessed it was probably amazing. Again, my brother explained it to me. She gets on top?…Why?…Oh…Then what?…And people like that?…Neato!

I was lucky to have an older brother who would share such knowledge. Most people needed a health class or a zoo keeper to get first class sex education like that.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

#5

#4

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #4

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’ #4: The xx, xx

(click play button below to sample this album)

xx coverI thought I’d list all the things I was doing when I was 20: playing video games in my dorm room, working a few hours a week in a Northern Iowa computer lab, killing time before I transferred to a school that offered a real journalism degree.

Let’s see, what else…I already mentioned video games…I was really good at those Sega Genesis hockey games. One of my friends, I’d play against him with my net empty and still beat him. Not as impressive as my friend Jim, who beat someone at Tecmo Super Bowl without running a single offensive play, but still…

What I wasn’t doing: getting together with three of my fellow 20-year-old friends and recording an album that sounds like the work of the most senior of souls. An album that intertwines the simplest of notes with the voices of boy-girl back-and-forth to make something ever so seductive. I wish this album had been around when I was 20; I could have used it in my attempts to “hunker down” with the ladies. Probably would have worked better than throwing on the first Violent Femmes album or whatever dumb/sensitive move I was prone to make.

Seriously, when I was 20, my lone attempts at making music involved trying to sing the songs from Alice in Chains’ Sap EP while my roommate played the acoustic guitar, or the time me and two buddies knocked out some song called “Lighter” which was about, erm, not being able to find a lighter. It had a bit of early Rolling Stones influence, perhaps a bit of Talking Heads or Television, matched up with some early R.E.M. or something…wait, no, it was none of those things. It was a Casio keyboard and some form of percussion and the aforementioned lyrics about a missing lighter.

Meanwhile, these four (at the time, before Baria was booted from the band) 20-year-olds put out the best debut album ever. Equal parts gorgeous gloom and sensuality to spare. I’m not sure which element of the xx sound is more vital: the guitar tone that fills the room without a flurry of notes and without loud effect, or the heart-melting voice of Romy Madley Croft. (These two elements are on display in the songs “Shelter” and “Night Time,” the second and third songs in my sampler above.)

There’s something about those echo/chorus/whatever-drenched guitar notes that cause them to hit me right in the pleasure region of my brain. Something about the tone, which seems a good match for the dark vibe of the overall song. Or perhaps because I love the way such a minimalist approach yields such great payoff.

And Romy’s voice…did I mention that yet? I think it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorite voices in music history: the hush, the whisper, the sorrow, the longing, the sweetness, the sighs. For someone who looks a little bit like an early-era Robert Smith (before the hair got crazy), she’s got one hell of a beautiful voice.

(And to be fair, she’s actually pretty cute. Seeing her in concert was an experience. So polite, so unassuming, so appreciative of the adoring audience at First Avenue. I wish I were still at the show.)

Although the album is a very cohesive, singular statement, there’s enough variety here that it isn’t just a 39-minute drone. A faster pace is set with songs like “Intro” (which was featured in that AT&T commercial with Apolo Anton Ohno), “Crystalised,”  and my favorite xx song thus far, “Islands” (which features a brilliant video that I’ll embed below).

That beat. The guitar line that is joined by that slinky bass line. Those four-note blasts of bass, both from Oliver Sim’s stringed instrument and Jamie xx’s producer’s table. And the lyrical content…well, I have my own interpretation, and it’s kinda heartbreaking. I see no reason to share my thoughts, as I’d rather you listen to the words and watch the video and draw your own conclusion. Bottom line: so. fucking. good.

The band can get a little quirky and drop references to HBO programming (“VCR”), throw down some good ol’ hand-clapping pop tunes (“Heart Skipped a Beat,” “Basic Space”), allow the low end to take center stage (“Fantasy,” the tail end of the album closer “Stars,” which practically blew a hole in my chest at First Avenue), and get dark and intense (“Infinity,” “Shelter,” “Night Time”).

The music can work for people madly in love. It can work for people who are experiencing heartbreak. It can work for people holding out hope for happiness. It can work for people wanting to dance around the room (at times, anyway). It can work at the gym. It can work on a road trip. It can work as background music. It can work as just about anything.

For something so simple, it is incredibly versatile and mature. That’s why after just three years of existence, I put this as my #4 album of all time…and I’m not sure it’s peaked yet.

Todd’s #4: The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

(click play button below to sample this album)

yoshimiQuestion…Can a record about a Japanese girl fighting evil pink robots be any good?
Answer…Hells yeah! If the record is The Flaming Lips’ album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Were you thinking of another album about a Japanese girl ridding the planet of pink robot evil-doers?

Well actually, only the first few songs follow the theme of robots that develop emotions and attempt to destroy us all.

The first song “Fight Test” is nice little song that sets the tone for the album. If you think it sounds familiar that’s because apparently they consciously or unconsciously stole the melody from the Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son.” I can sort of hear it, but come on dude, let it go. He actually sued them and won the case. He gets royalties from it now. Didn’t he give up his wealth when he changed his name and went all Muslim on everyone? I guess ol’ Yusuf needed a cash infusion. Anyways, “Fight Test” sets the seen for a fight to come between man and machine where the first stance of man is one of pacifism.

I thought I was smart – I thought I was right
I thought it better not to fight – I thought there was a
Virtue in always being cool – so when it came time to
Fight I thought I’ll just step aside and that time would
Prove you wrong and that you would be the fool

The next song, “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21”, continues the weirdness as robots come to life and develop emotions…they are sad (tear).

Unit three thousand twenty one is warming
Makes a humming sound, when its circuits
Duplicate emotions, and a sense of coldness detaches
As it tries to comfort your sadness,
One more robot learns to be something more than
A machine, when it tries the way it does, make it seem
Like it can love

Song three, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 1” brings us the first appearance of our heroine Yoshimi.

Her name is Yoshimi
She’s a black belt in karate
Working for the city
She has to discipline her body

Clearly, she can kick some ass. The townsfolk plead for help..

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots defeat me

This leads to the epic battle in the fourth song “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 2”, which is an instrumental song mixed in with the screeching, squealing, fighting sounds of Yoshimi. Mostly, it sounds like she is doing something much more pleasurable than fighting robots. Until the end that is, where it sounds like she is being gutted with a citrus zester. The robot fighting theme ends there. After that, The Lips delve into a lot of other heady material mixed in with their wonderfully bizarre and beautiful music.

Quite often I associate albums with a season of the year. Al Green and Joy Division are normally autumn albums while Pixies and The Clash usually get played in the winter. Yoshimi is solidly placed in the “Summertime Albums” category.

Could it be that there is a song on it called “It’s Summertime”?…Maybe.

Could it be because I bought Yoshimi in the early summer of 2003 and didn’t stop listening to it until winter 2004?… Maybe.

Could it be that when I hear the sunny sounding songs like “Do You Realize?” and “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” all I can think of is lazy Sunday drives with my wife in my new truck (I loved that damn truck. I had to sell it when we had kids a year later) and her wearing gloriously short shorts in the seat next to me?… Definitely.

livewireI don’t have any memories prior to us having kids together that are better than those. We would hop in the truck, grab some orange soda (Mountain Dew LiveWire to be exact. We both may have had a small chemical dependency for whatever they put in LiveWire that summer. It was the devil’s nectar. It tastes so sweet and gives you that extra boost of energy to get you through the day. Unfortunately, it had like 42000 calories per can or something like that. Basically, if I wanted to keep my svelte physique, I had to put down the LiveWires), put Yoshimi in the CD player and drive around looking at houses that we couldn’t afford.

I still play Yoshimi a few times every summer. Usually while on the treadmill or on a family road trip. The wife and I don’t get too many lazy Sunday drives alone anymore, but Yoshimi and drives with the kids can be nice too. Plus, if the car breaks down we just let the kiddos drink a few LiveWires and they can pull us home.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

#5

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #5

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)

velvet underground and nico coverOne 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)

graceIn 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.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #6

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’ and Todd’s #6: Nirvana, Nevermind

(click play button below to sample this album)

nevermind coverThat’s right. Chris and Todd both had Nevermind ranked #6. This was not planned. Each of us was tasked to make a top 100 list and Nevermind was the only one that landed in the same spot on both lists. The International Blogging Syndicate, or I.B.S., which governs the content of all blog entries, found out about our happy coincidence and decided to investigate our lists and ask a few questions about Nevermind‘s influence in our lives. Here is the transcript of that interview.

I.B.S.: You both had Nevermind at #6. Where there any other albums that came close to the same spot? Any near misses if you will?

MoSS? Chris: Surfer Rosa and Violator were one spot away on our lists. Unrelated: Surfer Rosa has boobs on the cover.

I.B.S.: How many albums actually appear on both lists?

MoSS? Todd: 26…and while we had one match and some near misses, a couple of them had a pretty wide gulf between them. Tricky’s Maxinquaye made both lists, but 72 spots apart. You’ll see another 72-spot gap before this countdown is over.

I.B.S.: What were your requirements for inclusion in the list?

MoSS? Chris: Stuff had to be awesome and/or sweet. Or Counting Crows! Ha ha, Todd!

MoSS? Todd: (Points at Chris) He really is a dick.

I.B.S.: So why not just have 10 Cure or Prince albums listed and call it good?

MoSS? Todd: We limited the number of albums per artist at five. Chris took The Cure to the limit with five inclusions. I wanted to list all five Pixies albums but felt inclusion of other artists was more important, I ultimately went with my favorite three. Same with Prince: I chose only four in order to get more variety in my list.

MoSS? Chris: I did hit my five with The Cure; I did not have a sixth in my 100, though. And yeah, my top 25 is pretty Cure-heavy, but they don’t show up again until #92.

I.B.S.: Any albums you were surprised were not included on the other’s list?

MoSS? Chris: I don’t know…kinda surprised by the absence of anything by Take That and/or Bros.

MoSS? Todd: I was certain there would be at least one Journey album on Chris’ list. I think he has a man crush on Steve Perry.

I.B.S.: Any inclusions you wish you could change?

MoSS? Todd: That Bjork selection is looking a bit suspect right now. I never listen to that record anymore.

MoSS? Chris: I probably low-balled Sigur Ros’ ( ) at #16, to be honest. The Joshua Tree probably should have been higher too. The Hooray for Earth album probably is overrated in the top 100.

I.B.S.: Is it easier to write about an album you love or album you hate?

MoSS? Todd: It depends on the level of hatred I have for the record. If the album has Don Henley involved in any way shape or form, I can barf out insults all day long. If the record is only slightly annoying, like say Boston, I’d have a harder time. On the other hand, I can love a record but have nothing to say about it other than it sounds real real good.

MoSS? Chris: The ones you hate. The ones you love, you want to respect the shit out of them, so it’s harder to get the words just right, to get them to convey your true admiration. But anyone can write “Linkin Park? More like Stinkin’ Park!!!” and get his point across. (Makes note on legal pad to recycle that Stinkin’ Park bit in a future rant)

I.B.S.: So Nevermind. What is the first memory you have of that record?

MoSS? Chris: Listening to it with my friend Jeff and practically bouncing off the walls with excitement. Looking at the CD booklet photos and seeing some scurvy dude flipping me off, and some dude who looks like Andy Kaufman. I really liked “On a Plain” a lot on first listen. I put this album on one side of a blank tape and Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish on the other. It was the best tape ever. I suppose that was more than one memory…

MoSS? Todd: Some friends and I were hanging out and we were watching a vhs recording of the past weeks episode of 120 Minutes, an MTV show that played alternative music videos. The “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video came on and everyone just sort of stopped and stared. I think we rewound that tape six or seven times. It’s the first time I remember being in a group of people and everyone being agreement that we were witnessing something special.

I.B.S.: Had you heard of Nirvana before “Teen Spirit”?

MoSS? Todd: Other than searching for my own form of “sexual nirvana”, no.

MoSS? Chris: Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant. “Tie Dye on the Highway”!

I.B.S.: Favorite song?

MoSS? Chris: “In Bloom”

MoSS? Todd: “Lounge Act”

I.B.S.: Worst thing about the album?

MoSS? Todd: I fucking hate the lead- in to “Territorial Pissings.”

MoSS? Chris: It only had one follow-up album. 😦

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #7

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’ #7: Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream

(click play button below to sample this album)

siamese dream coverI geeked out over Gish, as I documented 10 spots ago in this countdown. As a result, some dangerous expectations were set for the sophomore record, which came out two years later, in 1993. Would I be cringing upon first listen?

The opening drum roll of “Cherub Rock” hooked me. The addition of each instrument a little bit at a time built the suspense. By the time we got to the guitar solo, I was celebrating. And by song’s end, I was screaming “LET ME OUT” right along with Billy.

As much as I liked Gish, Siamese Dream took Smashing Pumpkins to a new level. Like “Hey, The Cure, you’re losing your spot on the perch of my favorite bands list” level of devotion.

Because of my fanaticism, I feel I should pen the following letter.

Dear College Roommate of 1993-94:

I’m sorry I killed such an awesome album. Seriously. Toward the end of our cohabitation period, I’m pretty sure you wanted to “Disarm” our stereo, because all I ever listened to that year was Siamese Dream. You would wake up, thinking maybe, possibly I would be listening to something else, but no, “Today” was like every other day. I’m sure you thought I was a loser, a real “Geek U.S.A.” of sorts. Can’t our speakers enjoy some peace and “Quiet,” or at least some Mr. Bungle, you probably wondered.

At one point, I’m sure you shared my opinion that these songs were the musical equivalent to a “Hummer,” but after 1,000 listens, you probably wanted to put me on a “Rocket” that was heading straight for the “Luna,” turning me into a “Spaceboy” of sorts. And those times when I actually went to class, thereby relenting control of the stereo, I’m sure those moments were “Sweet Sweet” relief.

I hope you have been able to enjoy this album in the years since we shared a dorm room. I also hope I didn’t ruin “Mayonaise” [sic] for you when you made trips to your local deli for a bite to eat.

Sincerely,

Chris

P.S.: Since I couldn’t work these song titles into the letter, “Cherub Rock,” “Soma,” and “Silverfuck.”

cc: Most everyone else I knew during this time

I know I should say great things about this album—there is plenty to say—but I am sure somebody you know (ahem) will handle that at some point between now and the end of time. Just know that in the wake of Siamese Dream, the following actions and thoughts took place:

  • I thought it would be cool to name my firstborn son William Corgan Clair. (My son’s middle name is NOT Corgan, in case you were wondering.)
  • The lone time I adorned my car with a bumper sticker, the sticker was a “Smashing Pumpkins/Siamese Dream” promo.
  • The one time I thought about getting a tattoo, I was going to get the “SP” heart logo (which would have been easier to justify if I had fallen in love with Hart to Hart actress Stephanie Powers or something).

Bottom line: even with the alt-rock revolution of the early ’90s long in the rear view mirror, Siamese Dream remains an album that delivers amazing, heartfelt RAWK time and time again.

Todd’s #7: The Clash, London Calling

(click play button below to sample this album)

london calling coverI was first exposed to The Clash, like a lot of people my age who just missed out on the early punk era, with the song “Rock the Casbah.” I saw the video on an HBO show called Video Jukebox. They played a few choice videos in between showings of Chariots of Fire and The Nude Bomb, the only movies that ever seemed to be on HBO when I was a kid. On this particular episode, they played the videos for Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s “Come On Eileen”, Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, and The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”. Quite a collection of early ‘80s gems there. The thing that I noticed most about The Clash video (other than Mick’s weird camouflage facemask thingy) was the lead singer’s voice*. It was unlike anything I’d heard before, he had a real gravely sound and seemed like he really needed to clear his throat. Every line delivered was a struggle and he seemed so full of anger. I won’t say that I liked The Clash from the start, but they definitely stuck in my head.

[*I have this ongoing debate about which singer’s voice I would most like to have if I could somehow magically steal it. My decision usually comes down to Joe Strummer of The Clash or Peter Gabriel (another unique voice, rough like Joe Strummers but his seems more effortless). It’s always a toss up. Gabriel wins every time I hear the song “Solisbury Hill.” Strummer wins the debate every time I listen to the song “Clampdown”off of London Calling. Once in my life I’d like to sing like he does on the post-bridge chorus of that song. I’ve driven my wife crazy with frequent spins of “Clampdown.” It’s one of my favorites of all time (seems like I write those words a lot, there’s just a lot of great tunes in the world) and I listen to music a bit obsessively. She always complains when it first comes on but she almost always says “Yeah, that’s a pretty f’ing good song” once it’s finished. I must have her properly brainwashed by now.]

I was later re-introduced to The Clash when a borrowed the greatest hits album, Story of the Clash from a friend. I was already familiar with songs like “Should I Stay, or Should I Go” and the aforementioned “Rock the Casbah” but I really enjoyed most of the other tunes on it too. So, I went to the record store to by a copy for myself. While perusing The Clash CDs,  I noticed most of my favorite songs from Story where on London Calling so I bought that instead. It turned out to be the right move.

The Clash are considered punk rock royalty but London Calling is far from a punk record. When listening now, I don’t really hear much of the punk sound from their earlier releases at all. There are hints of reggae, ska, ‘60s pop, rock-a-billy (Normally that last one would turn me off, but The Clash make it sound good, not like the fucking Stray Cats or something) and regular old rock. The more rock heavy songs actually seem more on par with what Bruce Springsteen or Elvis Costello were doing in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s than Sex Pistols or Ramones type punk. Their live show may have been a different story, I’ve seen footage from their shows and the London Calling songs aren’t nearly as polished as they are on the album.

London Calling was originally a double album so there are quite a few songs on it, but I rarely skip any of them. I think it’s the variety of genres that makes it interesting for me. Sometimes a record can drag and you just skip to the A+ material instead of hang around for the whole thing. Today’s technology makes it even easier to weed out bullshit album filler songs so I appreciate an album like London Calling even more. There’s nothing like pressing play and losing yourself in the music for an hour or so. The best part of my day at work today was listening to all 18 songs with my crappy ear buds turned up to 11. It took all of my will power not to sing along to “Train in Vain.” The people in the cubicles around probably wouldn’t have enjoyed that too much. Much like unleashing potent flatulence, that kind of thing is generally frowned upon in the office.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #8

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’ #8: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

(click play button below to sample this album)

nation of millions coverWhile most people know It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back as Public Enemy’s second album and the NYC group’s breakthrough collection, it should have been known as the soundtrack of the greatest basketball film never made, Five White Dudes Ranging in Age From 12 to 43 Ball It Up on a Slanted Driveway. Because me, my brother, my dad, and the Brothers Schneden used to play hoops in the Clair family driveway all the damn time in 1989-90, and P.E. is all we ever listened to while ballin’.

The teams were constant during the driveway wars: me and Younger Brother Schneden vs. my brother, Elder Brother Schneden, and my dad, whose nickname to this day is Ed Nealy. (When Michael Jordan came back to the NBA for his second stint with the Bulls, he wore Ed Nealy’s number. It had to be pure coincidence.) It seems unfair that the team with the elder statesman and the elder Brother Schneden also got a third member, but it speaks to the explosive offensive potential found on Team Chris/Younger Brother Schneden.

Elder Brother Schneden was never afraid to make the extra pass to help out his teammates, and could occasionally channel Derrick Coleman (considering the timeframe, that’s a compliment) and be the triple-threat power forward on the pavement. My brother was known to spot up on the left baseline corner and pop the side shot with assassin-like precision. His baseline shot was soon dubbed “The Perfect Shot.” He was only 12, but he was aided by the fact that our driveway sloped downward, and the hoop was situated about halfway down the driveway, so where he was shooting from, the hoop was probably about 9 feet off the ground; conversely, you never wanted to shoot from long distance near the road, because the rim was a good 11 feet off the ground at that point. Another element of The Perfect Shot: our garage had a light with a globe-like glass fixture right above where my brother would shoot The Perfect Shot. Nobody wanted to block my brother’s shot into the fixture and have it shatter, lest you want to answer to Mrs. Ed Nealy.

oil spot

Leave Nealy open here, mark two points.

And then you had Ed Nealy, who had three money spots on the concrete and a secret mantra to make his other shots go in. First, let’s diagram the money-shot locations:

  • The free-throw line: Nealy shot the 15-footer with success rates rivaling the best pros in the Association. If he was at the top of the key, you better get a hand in his face before he gets near the stripe.
  • “The Oil Spot”: Likely created by our piece of shit family truckster (the powder blue with faux wood panel Caprice Classic station wagon), the Oil Spot was similar in distance to the free throw, only from the left elbow of the lane. Get my dad the ball at the Oil Spot, and he’ll score like, um, a well-oiled machine.
  • “The Bermuda Triangle”: There was a triangle-shaped crack pattern a little closer to the hoop than the Oil Spot. If Ed Nealy was able to get himself to the Bermuda Triangle, forget about it, because the Bermuda Triangle “is the place where defenders disappear.” (The shit-talk on the driveway was pretty tame in terms of profanity, at least this stuff from Ed Nealy, but you hear these cute/corny lines enough times, you are driven in-fucking-sane.)

And even if you manage to defend these money spots, Ed Nealy would pull out the secret weapon:

“Hoosiers!”

When he would shoot, he would yell out “Hoosiers!” just before releasing the ball, and 98.432924% of the time it would go in, no matter where he was at on the driveway. (Yes, this vocal trick entered his arsenal after seeing the Gene Hackman movie.) It was stupid, and he cracked himself up with that stuff, which drove me and the Younger Brother Schneden crazy.

What you must realize is that the Legend of Ed Nealy knows few limits. This is a guy who made a hook shot from his truck as he backed out of the driveway on the first try. And not some layup of a hook shot, either; he was back-tires-on-the-street distance as he hit nothing but net. This is also a guy who to this day, in his mid-sixties, still goes to the local gym and plays hoops on occasion. He told me that he played hoops with my buddy Lee one time, but Lee didn’t come back after that initial visit. When I asked Lee about it, he said (jokingly?) “Your dad never let me shoot!”

So I asked Ed Nealy about this; his response was classic Ed Nealy: “Well, I let him set some screens for me.”

So how did the Younger Brother Schneden and I hang with Team Ed Nealy? Well, part of it was that Younger Brother Schneden and I were both pretty decent ballers ourselves, with quicker first steps and good outside shots, especially me from beyond the arc. And Younger Brother Schneden was pretty good at driving the lane and drawing fouls on his elder brother or Ed Nealy; he would yell out “I got one!” whenever he took it to the hoop and felt contact, extending our possessions time and again or scoring two on the continuation play.

But I think Ed Nealy’s kryptonite was Public Enemy. He’d be frowning at the language on display in “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic” and we’d take that opportunity to bury a J from downtown or drive to the hoop and lay one in. Or “Bring the Noise” would kick off with one of many of Flav’s “YEEEEAAAAAHHHH BOYYYYYEEEEEEEEE” exclamations, and we’d find our second wind (we played to 100 every time, so we’d actually get tired). And then “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” would come on, with the sax blaring and the woman repeating the title phrase, and I’d get in the zone and show Ed Nealy what I got.

It’s really nice that I have these memories attached to the greatest rap album ever made…not that the album needs the external positives. The innovative sounds created by the Bomb Squad gave this album the sonic boom to match the intensity of Chuck D’s delivery. (Side note: the Mission Creek Festival brought Chuck and the Bomb Squad to Iowa City in 2010 for a panel discussion about the techniques used on this album; it was a fascinating conversation.) Listen to Chuck bring it on tracks like “Louder Than a Bomb” or “Prophets of Rage” and feel the hair stand up on the arm. He flows effortlessly on “Bring the Noise” and “Rebel Without a Pause” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” And then Flav…he does his thing well on “Cold Lampin’ with Flavor” and chimes in with some of the most memorable lines of his career on “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, the song that samples Slayer’s “Angel of Death” and matches the power of that riff with the beats and rhymes. Even the little interludes like the aforementioned “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” and “Mind Terrorist” and “Security of the First World” (the last providing the beat for Madonna’s “Justify My Love”) are solid.

When I was home for Thanksgiving this year, I saw that the driveway basketball hoop was gone, a nearby tree grown to the point that it pushed the hoop out of its home some years ago. But I’ll always have memories of hoops and P.E. Plus, thanks to my friend Shannon visiting our place numerous times with his leaky Mustang convertible, the Oil Spot will live forever.

Todd’s #8: Dr. Dre, The Chronic

(click play button below to sample this album)

chronicOne, two, three and to the fo’
Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the do’
Ready to make an entrance, so back on up
Cause you know we ’bout to rip shit up

That was maybe the best opening in rap history. It got you ready for that seamless back and forth between Dre and Snoop. Snoop was the perfect complement to Dre’s more straight forward style and a big reason why The Chronic crossed over with more mainstream listeners. He was just making a name for himself and had one of the most original deliveries I’d ever heard. His easy flow kind of reminded me of a slowed down version of Slick Rick.  Here’s a video of my favorite Slick Rick song if you are unfamiliar with him. See if you hear the  similarities too.

The Chronic is the only album in my top 10 that I can only play after hours. I rarely get to listen to it because most of it is just plain filthy. I actually waited until the kids went to bed to write this because I like to listen to the album I’m writing about for inspiration. I’m holed up in the basement typing and checking over my shoulder for eavesdropping kiddos. It’s like they know when I am listening to something I don’t want them to hear. My daughter can read now and that’s a whole other issue. I don’t want her looking at the screen and reading song titles like “Deeez Nuuuts”, “Fuck wit Dre”, and “Lyrical Gangbang”? Then you have to answer questions like “Daddy, what does ‘Pimpin’ ho’s and clockin’ the grip’ mean?” I also don’t want them coming in while I’m singing the lyrics from “Bitches Ain’t Shit”

I once had a bitch named Mandy May
Used to be up in them guts like everyday
The pussy was the bomb, had a n**** unsprung
I was in love like a motherfucker lickin’ the pearl tongue

Snoop Doggy Dogg was a real muthafuckin’ wordsmith back then wasn’t he? That was two name changes ago though. Now he hangs with Rastafarians, goes by Snoop Lion and makes “The Ragoo” music. I don’t blame him for going a different direction, the current state of rap is well…crap.

If you look at the rap albums in Chris and my lists, you will notice a distinct pattern. It’s either Beastie Boys, which fits in with our more alternative listening habits, or early ‘90s rap. (I don’t count the Danger Mouse record Chris listed. He had to mix it with The Beatles White Album to make that Jay-Z shit even remotely palatable) There are a few bright spots. Some of the new crop of guys is ok. I liked the solo stuff from Heems. (Look for more solo stuff because it appears as though Das Racist has broken up) What I’ve heard from that kid Earl Sweatshirt is good but he needs to release more music. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has one of the best free style videos I’ve seen but most of today’s rap is lost on me. Check out the Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire clip below. It’s pretty cool. His entourage yells out topics and he freestyles on that until a new one is tossed out. He performs in a strip club and has two of the clubs employees booty shake along to his rhymes so probably NSFW.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand

The Chronic was another one of those albums that everyone seemed to have. Even the dudes that didn’t really listen to rap had this one. In high school we all used to hang out at one of the local parks. At least until the police disbanded us or hauled a few people away for underage drinking. The required way to enter that park was to cruise in with the bass on your stereo turned up as loud as it would go. Apparently, you had to prove you had the woofers to hang out there. Either that or it was some odd experiment to try and create the mythical “Brown Note”; that frequency in which you get the human colon to spontaneously release its entire stockpile of excrement. For a period of time, nearly every car rolled in playing music from The Chronic. I’ll admit I did it too. My song was “Let me Ride”. A fine choice in my book. It has a one of the best beats to cruise to. Dre uses a sweet sample from the P-Funk song “Mothership Connection.”  The only problem was I was rolling in a Ford Escort and not…

Rollin in my six-fo’

Swing down, sweet chariot stop and, let me ride
hell yeah
Swing down, sweet chariot stop and, let me ride

Oh crap! I hear one of the kids coming. I better end this. Don’t want to have to explain what a “skeezer” is to my five year old.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #9

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)

rio coverDuran 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)

NowhereridecoverWhen 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:

  1. Quit reading right now (well not now, continue with the instructions and then quit reading)
  2. Click play on the song sampler above
  3. Jump to “Vapour Trail”
  4. Turn up your shitty computer speakers
  5. Enjoy
  6. Do it…Really…You won’t be sorry

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #10

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’ #10: The Cure, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

(click play button below to sample this album)

kiss me kiss me kiss me coverThis is when it all started for me. No, this isn’t my highest-ranked Cure album (not a spoiler for anyone who’s known me for a long time) but had I not heard this wide-ranging double album, I might not have subsequently bought Standing on a Beach and pounced on the release of Disintegration and I might be pining for a Skid Row reunion or something like that. (Or I would have heard “Fascination Street” or “Lovesong” in 1989 and gone down the Cure path anyway…who’s to say.) But the album with the lips on the front cover and the eyeball on the back cover got this all started.

Again, I must give my cousin Josh credit; he’s the one who hooked me up with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me all those years ago. Not only did he have Cure albums aplenty in his music collection, his room was adorned with some really cool black-and-white posters featuring the wild-haired singer, Robert Smith. So in addition to the other stuff he provided me (Slayer, Beastie Boys, etc.), I asked him for a copy of the latest Cure album.

I remember putting it on the stereo when we got back to Waukon, and being a little bit confused. I had this preconceived notion that this band was basically some sort of keyboard-heavy new wave kind of thing. So when the opening track, “The Kiss,” with its blistering guitar work by Smith and Porl Thompson, came screaming out of my speakers, I had to wonder if Josh had recorded the right band. Of course, when Robert starting singing, I realized the band was right and my preconceived notions were wrong.

This is definitely an album where Porl Thompson, who departed the Cure in 1994 to play in the Page/Plant band that performed on MTV Unplugged and later tour in support of the reunited Led Zep greats, was allowed to showcase his skills. And after an album where Robert wrote everything (The Head on the Door), all five members of the band were asked for input. Robert stated that the tapes he got from the others ranged from your typical guitar and guide vocal stuff to drummer Boris Williams submitting a demo that Robert described as “vampire drumming.”

And even though the resulting 18 songs are over the map stylistically, the quality level never dips. After “The Kiss” and its guitar showmanship (and lyrics that conclude with “I wish you were dead”), we hear bits of strings (“Catch”), some Eastern accents amid what I would consider to be “vampire drumming” (“If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” awesomely covered by Deftones, by the way), the brassy compliment song “Why Can’t I Be You?”, a song with so many simple layers that when assembled come across as a song that is one of the most beautiful songs the band has penned (“How Beautiful You Are”), a dark, somewhat hypnotic tale about being “a mile under the ground and thinking that it’s Christmas” and being “out in car and it’s full of stupid girls and I try to speak and I just can’t remember a word” (“The Snakepit”), and more blasts of brass (“Hey You!”, “Hot Hot Hot!!!”, “Icing Sugar”) and an electric, up-tempo blast (“Shiver and Shake”) and one of those songs that I guess I always presumed the Cure did (“The Perfect Girl,” with its toy piano accents and no shortage of “doo-doo-doo” lyrics).

The album also has one of the greatest songs ever recorded, the song that even non-Cure fans probably are familiar with: “Just Like Heaven.” The song structure is similar to the aforementioned “How Beautiful You Are” in that it’s not a complicated song by any stretch of the imagination, but each little element comes together to create an amazing whole. It’s a song I’ve heard so many times and not once have I been “sick of it.” And the lyrics aren’t sappy but they’re not overly abstract, either. It’s a wonderful love song about how special an embrace can be and how dancing can be like “spinning on that dizzy edge” and how being with that special someone is just like heaven. And the video, set atop an oceanside cliff, is pretty cool, too.

The album also has “Like Cockatoos,” a song that features some really cool percussive effects around a slinky bass line, cool keyboard work, and an amazing way of describing the ending of a relationship. The whole song has a novel’s worth of emotion in about 100 words. The lyrical work on this song (throughout the album, really) is nothing short of stunning. It’s a skill of Robert’s that made the Cure so incredible during the band’s peak.

One funny thing about this album, a story that seems like a nice way to close this entry: my dad was listening to this album with me when we were driving somewhere. The song “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” came on, and my dad remarks, “They ripped this off from the Eagles.”

Let’s get one thing straight: much like The Dude, I hate the fucking Eagles, so you can imagine how well that statement went over with me, especially teenage version of me. I’m sure I insulted him in some way, to which he said, “Listen to ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’ and then tell me I’m wrong.” He had One of These Nights on LP, so when we got home, I gave it a listen. To call them similar is a stretch; to say one ripped off the other is flat-out wrong.

But to my dad’s credit, he wasn’t completely off-base. In an interview, Robert talked about recording some of the stuff in Southern California, and as a result, he felt at times they sorta sounded like…you guessed it, THE EAGLES.

I guess I should give my dad props for recognizing it, even if he won’t acknowledge the Cure is 1,000,000 times better than the Eagles.

Todd’s #10: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

(click play button below to sample this album)

FMacRumoursWhat do you get when you take a band with two broken long term relationships, throw in an affair with another band member, and mix with lots of drugs and alcohol? The 10th best album of all time of course.

Like everyone else their age in the ‘70s my parents had this Fleetwood Mac Rumours album. For a long time this was the soundtrack to our weekends. My parents would be doing one of their typical projects around the house and when I wasn’t busy getting in the way or snagging my Dad a fresh beer, I would listen to Rumours and stare at the album cover.

When I hear the song “Dreams”, I’m always reminded of those lazy weekends and the brief time when you are very young that your life revolves around your parents. You go about your business secure in the fact that they have everything under control and nothing bad is ever going to happen. Of course, as you grow older you lose that feeling and realize they were winging it just like everyone else.

Anyways, I must have looked at the album cover a million times. Specifically this picture.

rumors

Quite an odd collection of people there. Singer and lead guitar player Lindsey Buckingham had the biggest hair I’d ever seen. He doesn’t look too happy to be next to his ex-girlfriend Stevie Nicks in the middle there. The McVies are nowhere near each other and Christine won’t look in John’s direction, which sort of tells you everything about the status of their relationship at the time. And what to say about Mick Fleetwood standing behind Stevie? Apparently they were banging around that time so maybe the look on his face makes sense in that respect.

Rumours has to be the most emotionally charged album in history. I can’t imagine being in the studio for the recording of some of these songs. Especially the songs like “Go Your Own Way.” I imagine Lindsey came in and said “Hey everyone, I have this great song. Stevie, It’s about how you broke up with me and started banging Mick. No hard feelings though Mick. Here’s how it goes.”

Loving you
Isn’t the right thing to do
How can I
Ever change things that I feel?
If I could
Maybe I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me?

That’s maybe my favorite lyric in music history.

If I could
Maybe I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me?

It always gets me going. Just ask my wife. When that part of the song comes on I always go crazy. “You see! He’s trying to give her everything but that bitch won’t take it from him!” She just laughs but I think she gets my outrage. The dude put it all out there but Stevie still fucked the drummer instead. The guitar solo at the end of the song is awesome too. Side note there: When I was at music school, the faculty put on a concert and I ran sound. One of the songs they played was “Go Your Own Way.” When that guitar solo came up, I raised the levels on the lead guitar and started rocking out pretty hard. Afterwards, I noticed that most everyone around me was watching me instead of the guitarist. I guess they didn’t think it was as cool as I did.

Rumours has a ton of amazing guitar work though. Take “Never Going Back Again” for example. Sometimes it sounds like three guitars instead of one. Once and awhile I listen to it and think “Hey, that’s really awesome. I could probably play that“. Then I remember I can’t. I have this Fleetwood Mac guitar book and when I look at the tablature on the page my head spins. It’s like doing musical calculus. Guess I’ll just stick to the Ramones songs where I just bang out 4 chords as loud as I can.

maddenThe Lindsey and Stevie songs usually get most of the airplay from this record but I like them all, even the Christine McVie tunes. I went through a period in college when I would listen to Rumours every afternoon. Guys used to come in and out of my room and I would usually end up playing someone in Madden 96’. They would complain when the Christine songs would come on. I thought it was great. Just when Christine lulled my opponents to sleep with “Songbird” or “Oh, Daddy”, Mike Alstott would blast through their defensive line for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers touchdown. All kidding aside, I really do like the Christine songs a lot. Well, sometimes I skip the Clinton/Gore fightsong “Don’t Stop”, but who doesn’t?

I guess we should give thanks to Slick Willie. He’s the reason for the Fleetwood Mac reunion in the ’90s. I actually bought my wife the Fleetwood Mac reunion concert album The Dance on our first date. I knew that I was going to marry her for two reasons after that date.

  1. She said she loved Fleetwood Mac.
  2. We ended up at a record store on our first date.

Yep, I’m a simple man.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

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