Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.
Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.
Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.
We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.
That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…
(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)
40. The Beatles, Help!
39. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup
38. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
37. Nick Drake, Bryter Layter
36. The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
35. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique
34. Sonic Youth, Goo
33. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet
32. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
31. Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual
A CLOSER LOOK AT…
#40: The Beatles, Help!
This album is the perfect mix of “Yeah Yeah Yeah” kind of Beatles and the more introspective type of song the band would write more often in the second act of its career. Makes sense, seeing as it is the fifth of the band’s 12 albums (going by the British catalog). But that’s only part of the reason I like this album so much.
I love the movie Help! Just love it. It was the second movie for the Fab Four, and it served the same purpose as their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night: an excuse to have the Beatles play their music on the big screen. Since the first movie’s plot was “let’s show the Beatles being the Beatles, playing music everywhere they go in their everyday lives,” Help! needed some sort of exotic plot. Here’s what they came up with:
A girl is to be sacrificed by some offbeat cult. However, she mailed the “sacrificial ring” to Ringo, who put it on his pinky finger only to have it stuck on there. Soon, the cult leader is pursuing Mr. Starr, as is a British mad scientist who thinks he could “rule the world” with such a ring. Oh yeah, the sacrificial girl’s sister shows up to help the Fab Four escape the evil clutches of Ringo’s enemies (and she’s kinda hot, so naturally she likes Paul despite being fawned over by George). Hilarity ensues, and (SPOILER!!!!) Ringo lives to drum another day.
The movie’s tone is a bit like Monty Python, albeit not nearly as clever. But it did beat the Pythons to the punch with the nonsensical “intermission” bit spliced into the movie:
And Help! had the great tunes you all know (the title track; “Ticket to Ride”) and the equally great ones you won’t find on greatest hits compilations (“The Night Before”; “Another Girl”; George’s “I Need You”; “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”; and one of the best songs in the Beatles’ entire catalog, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”). The tunes used in the movie are amazingly catchy, and the second half of the album is just as solid, featuring seven more songs not used in the movie. Hardly throwaways, either: the most-covered song of all time, “Yesterday”; Paul’s wonderful vocal on the quick romp “I’ve Just Seen a Face”; the interesting guitar sound complementing John’s raw voice on “It’s Only Love.”
Many a person likes to look at Rubber Soul as the album where the Beatles got “serious”; I think Help! is a better collection of songs, an album that shows the band capable of greater musical flourishes (the guitar interplay between John and George is wonderful throughout) and finding a better balance of Beatlemania-pop and serious content. It’s no wonder they cobbled a movie together to showcase this stuff.
#36: The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
I remember the first time I heard the second album from the Black Crowes. I had just moved to the second floor of Rider Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. My folks and my younger brother helped get my dorm room in order, which wasn’t a tall task, as all I brought were clothes, books, my CD player, and my CD collection. What else did I need? I was going to go to a party at the infamous “White House” later that evening with one of my good friends and a girl who graduated from Waukon a year ahead of me. (When you bought a cup at the White House, they wrote a number on your hand; mine was somewhere among the first 20. Toward the end of my night, I saw some numbers in the 800s.) I was just a couple of days away from starting my training as a computer scientist (a trade I would abandon after three semesters of outdated computer code–it was 1992 and I was learning FORTRAN, for fuck’s sake–and way too much calculus).
Anyway, life at that moment was good. But I was a little nervous all the same. Kinda like when I started kindergarten, but without the risk of peeing my pants this time (after a few hours at “the White House,” though, all bets are off on urinary control). During those first few days of kindergarten, I would find my buddy Alex, who was in first grade, on the playground at recess. He would invite me to come hang with the other first graders, playing tag or kickball or participating in whatever tomfoolery first graders did at a Catholic grade school. That helped me get used to school, and soon enough, I was the coolest kid at St. Pat’s. (That last part is false.)
Lucky for me, my buddy Alex now lived on the same floor of Rider Hall as me, in the other wing. So I went to find him.
Alex was a sophomore, so he had this dorm room thing down. His room looked like pimped-out compared to mine. (Read: he had a lofted bed, a TV, a stocked fridge, and a sweet stereo.) He asked me how I was going to spend my first night at UNI; I told him I was heading to the White House. “Gonna get some puss?” I was asked. Not “pussy,” but “puss.” (While I probably responded with “Yeah!” or “I hope so,” the answer turned out to be “no.”) As we talked, he flipped on the stereo, and the opening riffs of “Sting Me” filled the room.
Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about dorm rooms or “puss” or an offer to hook me up with a $5 case of Meister Brau (which, before the afternoon was over, I accepted…unwisely). What I was thinking: Damn! The Crowes have a new album! Who can give me a ride to Sam Goody?!?
So Alex and I shared a cold drink or two while listening to the Crowes and talking about college. It was just what I needed, both from a calming standpoint about my new life as Joe College, and hearing good tunes. “Sting Me” moved to “Remedy” and “Thorn in My Pride,” two songs tailor made for rock radio, and then two soulful jams, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” and “Sometimes Salvation,” which in my opinion is the best one-two punch in Black Crowes recorded history. There’s not a bum track on this album, an opinion I formed with Alex and later confirmed over numerous listens. The Crowes’ first album was pretty great, but the follow-up sounded like a band more comfortable with themselves, stretching their legs and groovin’ the fuck out. And it’s an album that stirs up the positive memories I have of my friend Alex, who sadly passed away not too long ago. Alex and I lost touch once I transferred to ISU, but I’ll always remember the times he helped out his younger friend, and his good taste in music in 1992.
And his dropping of the “y” from “pussy.” (smile)
(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)
40. Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs
39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life
38. M83, Saturdays=Youth
37. Peter Gabriel, So
36. Vampire Weekend, Contra
35. Prince, Dirty Mind
34. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II
33. Pearl Jam, Ten
32. Beck, Mellow Gold
31. Portishead, Dummy
A CLOSER LOOK AT…
#39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life
Three seventeen year old suburban white boys are rolling down the street in a ‘79 Monte Carlo. Out of the obnoxiously loud sub-woofers come the soothing sounds of N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton. One of the guys is looking extra menacing with his NY Yankees hat on backwards. Of course, back then I weighed about 135 lbs. so you could see why I looked so menacing. I also wore that stupid Yankees cap for about 2 years straight.
Why? I had such thick luxuriant hair. Why cover it up? I took it for granted. To all you haired men out there, never take it for granted. Never. You assholes…I know you’re taking it for granted. I can tell. Right now you’re laughing at me. You’re saying, “That guy’s nuts. My hair is never falling out.” Well take it from me. It sneaks up on you. One day you’re reading a book and you notice two small strands of your hair slowly drift onto the paper. You scoff at it; “Plenty more where that came from,” you’ll say. Then one day you’ll see the top of your head on a video camera as you walk into the local Target store. You will be blinded by the reflection from your un-camouflaged scalp. Again you will be in denial. “Those surveillance cameras must have some weird filtering effect or something” you’ll say. Then the day will come when you look in the mirror and realize your head looks vaguely like a half plucked chicken. What little hair that is left is wispy and pathetic. You will have two choices; Comb-over or shave it. I chose to shave it like a man. I hope you choose to comb-over when your day comes.
So as I was saying, we were rolling down the street and listening to tough guy gangsta rap. I was new to the art form at that point and wanted to have a copy of my own to bone up on all the gangsta rap terms: gaffle, endo, and suckamuthafucka. Also, how else was I going to learn all the different ways to degrade women?
So we head over to the Best Buy. Gangstas shop at Best Buy right? Yeah, we were living the thug life. We head over to the rap section looking for Straight Outta Compton. That’s when I saw that N.W.A had a new album out. Niggaz4life. I grabbed it and opened my wallet to see if I had enough money. The Velcro ripping noise of my wallet was extra gangsta I’m sure. I had a $15 in there. What a pimp! The tape was only $9.99 so I was all set to purchase. That’s when I noticed dozens of papers pinned up all over the rap section of the store stating that you had to be 18 years old to buy the cassette in my hands. Not any other tape. They made a point to call out Niggaz4life specifically. They would be verifying I.D.s at the checkouts. Suckamuthafucka!
I was not living the thug life or looking particularly gangsta as I wandered the music section looking for an adult that would take my money and buy the tape for me. I found a college dude willing to do it, if he could keep what was left of my money after the transaction. Eazy-E would have said that I got gaffled there. So gangsta.
33. Pearl Jam, Ten
Ten was released in late 1991 and by summer the next year everyone I knew had a copy. To borrow a line from Wayne’s World, “If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.” Wayne was of course referring to the album Frampton Comes Alive which somehow avoided both Chris’ and my lists. Ten was very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adored it. They think it’s some righteous music. Include me somewhere in that bunch. I’ll let you decide which category I was in. I think I enjoyed it mostly because it felt very intense bordering on angry much of the time.
After seeing the video for “Even Flow” I was totally hooked. Lead singer Eddie Vedder was like a man possessed. He appeared to be an incredibly charismatic front man with his angry head banging and microphone swinging. At one point in the video, he climbs around in the rafters of a venue during a live show. He swings on pipes, scales walls, and finally dives off of a ledge into frenzied crowd below. After that, I swore that I would see them live.
I was all pumped up for the next Pearl Jam release Vs. I even waited in line with fifty other music nerds at Co-Op Tapes and Records for the special midnight release. It was good but I wasn’t obsessively listening to it like I did with Ten. I was still on the lookout for a live show though. That would have to kick ass right? Then I saw this performance on MTV.
That was the beginning of Eddie Vedder’s potted plant phase. He hardly moves. The intensity seems to be there but it looks like he’s in a straitjacket for much of the performance.
By the time Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy was released I had almost no interest in them. Pearl Jam toured in support of that record and were coming only 2 hours away to Chicago. They were in a battle with Ticketmaster at the time and were using some other ticketing agent. You had to call a special number and could only buy four tickets at a time. You also had to call from an Illinois phone number. Most of my friends were in Iowa. I had a girlfriend who lived in Illinois and hatched a plan to call from her place. We got through three times before the concert sold out and came away with 10 or 12 tickets to the show. We marked up the price and sold them to friends and acquaintances for a nice chunk of money. I even sold my own ticket, using the money to buy more CDs, lots of beer, and a mountain bike. I think I made the right choice. I still have the bike and you should see my calf muscles. They’re enormous. My friends that went to the concert only came away with a hangover and mild tinnitus.