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)
50. Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction
49. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
48. Sigur Ros, Takk…
47. The Radio Dept., Clinging to a Scheme
46. Sleigh Bells, Treats
45. Led Zeppelin, II
44. The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good
43. Beck, Odelay!
42. Arcade Fire, Funeral
41. Danger Mouse, The Grey Album
A CLOSER LOOK AT…
#45: Led Zeppelin, II
When I was in eighth grade, I ended up buying one of those “special issues” of Rolling Stone; this particular one listed something like the 100 greatest albums of all time (sound familiar?). I was thumbing through it while riding in my dad’s truck; he kept glancing over and saying, “I have that one. I have that one. I have that one too.”
So as soon as we got home, I went downstairs and started looking through my dad’s vinyl collection. Indeed, my dad had some cool stuff: Beatles, Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Wings Over America, and one album by Led Zeppelin. Where to start?
I’d heard plenty of Beatles at this point, so I set them aside for the time being. I finally picked a criterion for what I would listen to: which band adorned the most T-shirts in my junior high school? Zeppelin was the clear winner: the studs, the stoners, and the geeks all represented Led Zep across their chests.
So when I went to bed that night, I put the LP on the turntable (yes, I had a record player in my room in 1987), plugged in my over-the-ear headphones, and lay down to take it all in.
The stuttering riff of “Whole Lotta Love” filled my ears. Plant shrieked something about how I need coolin’ (he wasn’t foolin’). The song thundered forward, and then hit the part where the music spiraled around my head (the headphones made the music exponentially cooler) and Plant let loose with his howls. As soon as the song ended (or, more accurately, faded out), I jumped out of bed, moved the needle back to the beginning, and found myself air guitaring and lip-syncing the shit out of my new favorite song. I also hoped I would find time at school the next day to chat up any of the 73 guys who would undoubtedly have on their Swan Song or “Lantern Man” or Hindenburg shirts, to let them know that “I get it, man!”
The album is more than “Whole Lotta Love,” of course. “What Is and What Should Never Be” finds a nice groove; “The Lemon Song” gets all sorts of bluesy; “Ramble On” has that acoustic guitar/quirky percussion/whimsical Plant vocal that eventually roars into the chorus before settling back down into chill and so on (the quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamic we like in so many bands from the ’80s and ’90s). And don’t forget the drum solo song (“Moby Dick”) or the “guitar hero” song (“Heartbreaker”).
It’s the only Zeppelin album in my dad’s LP collection; my turntable needle deepened the groove in my dad’s record after repeated plays. I guess if you’re only going to own one Led Zep album, you can’t go wrong with II.
#41: Danger Mouse, The Grey Album
First off: you’ll be seeing “The White Album” on this list in due time.
Second: Jay-Z’s The Black Album is really pretty terrible. Not the raps, necessarily, but the backing beats and music are cheesy as shit. So melodramatic, so shiny, so…I don’t know…I’m going to go back to terrible. Which is too bad, because there’s some quotable lines throughout this album.
That’s why Danger Mouse has done Hova a big favor by blending White and Black and making Grey. (I think Jay-Z knew his words needed some inspired music behind them, as he released an a cappella version of the album in hopes that artists would remix it.) Danger Mouse, who at this point wasn’t producing Gorillaz or Beck or doing his Gnarls Barkley thing, spent weeks (months?) stitching together samples from the Beatles’ eponymous double album (including meticulous sampling of Ringo Starr’s drums, which he sequenced into something much heavier/hipper than Mr. Starkey ever banged out) to go along with Jay-Z’s vocals.
And it worked. Boy, does it work.
Keep in mind: mashups were, for the most part, little more than humorous juxtapositions at this point. Even the good ones were curious pairings: Nirvana and Destiny’s Child (“Smells Like Bootylicious”) or the Strokes and Christina Aguilera (“A Stroke of Genie-us”). This was also before Girl Talk dropped Night Ripper and Feed the Animals and took the mashup to the extreme. But Danger Mouse’s work, despite using two well-known quantities, felt natural. Yeah, I’d heard “99 Problems” before, and of course I’d heard the guitar and backing vocals from “Helter Skelter” a zillion times, but hearing these familiar elements together didn’t feel ridiculous. In fact, it sort of made the statement that the Beatles were kinda badass and would fit well underneath the self-appointed best rapper alive.
The frenzied samples from “Glass Onion” and “Savoy Truffle” are an infinitely better accompaniment to “Encore” than the shit Jay-Z used on his album (or anything Linkin Park had to do with that song, for that matter). And instead of some stupid Russell Crowe sample on “What More Can I Say,” Danger Mouse throws mad breakbeat and a slowed down version of the guitar from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” underneath Jay’s lament.
And then there’s “December 4th,” an oral history of Jay’s life complemented with a few thoughts from Jay’s mom. On The Black Album, this song is shackled with some of the worst backing tracks I’ve ever heard. Like something straight out of a 1977 discotheque (and not in a good way like some of the stuff used in Boogie Nights) or AM radio. Danger Mouse could have improved this song in his sleep, but he went beyond and delivered goods on the other end of the spectrum. Spotting the emotional potential of the lyrics, he pairs the verses with the touching guitar flourishes from “Mother Nature’s Son,” and concocts a drum beat to propel the song without overwhelming. Whenever I would play the Danger Mouse version in the car, Tracy would comment, “This song is so sad.” Imagine saying that about Jay’s original version, outside of saying “What a sad excuse for a song this is!”
The Grey Album elevates Jay-Z’s verses to new heights, and it does nothing to harm the integrity of the original Beatles material. Even Jay-Z and Paul McCartney think it’s pretty cool. They’re right.
(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)
50. Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights
49. The Sundays, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
48. Paul Simon, Graceland
47. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik
46. Cypress Hill, Cypress Hill
45. Catherine, Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories
44. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
43. Beck, Midnight Vultures
42. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
41. Massive Attack, Mezzanine
A CLOSER LOOK AT…
#44. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
Admittedly, I was late to the party with Modest Mouse. Hipsters that loved Modest Mouse from the beginning would tell you that Good News was the start of their musical downfall, but that’s just the standard hipster backlash towards a band that shows a bit of success. This is how a typical conversation would go with a true hipster.
Me: Hey, there Mr. Hipster. Nice skinny jeans. What are your thoughts on the group [insert indie band name here]?
Mr. Hipster: (disinterested, barely audible voice) Uhhh…just a sec…(finishing text to hipster friend)…I really liked their early stuff. I don’t like anything they did on [insert major record label name here].
Me: Thanks. Love the fedora. Douche.
That being said, I guess I started liking Modest Mouse after their musical downfall. I didn’t really listen to them until the summer of ’04 when Good News came out. “Float On” was my song of the summer that year. My wife and I were expecting our first child and also preparing to move to a new city for work.
A piece of advice for all you future fathers out there: Don’t knock up your old lady and then take a new job that requires you to move while she is 7-9 months pregnant. I’ve done that twice. Take it from me, it does not make your already stressed wife happy.
On Labor Day weekend that year, we were to close on our house in the new town. Now my wife was due any second at this point, a sane person would not have driven her 2 hours away from her doctor. Unfortunately, we were on a time table which required her to travel.
We closed on the new house on Saturday and decided to stay there for a couple of days. The plan was to go back to our other house after the weekend, she would have the baby and then we would permanently move a few weeks later. Man we were good. We had it all figured out. My daughter must have been listening from the womb laughing.
I was sound asleep that night when my wife woke me up complaining of stabbing pains in the “baby maker.” (My words not hers) It was go time! The countdown to baby had begun. I grabbed our bags and we hightailed it out of there. After I made her swear she would not give birth in my new truck, I drove like crazy back home.
The trip went by fast as my mind raced and fears of being a father swirled around in my head. Good News played over the car stereo the whole time and helped to soothe my nerves a bit. It took me an hour and a half to get us back home. Almost exactly the same amount of time it takes to listen to Good News in its entirety twice. My unborn daughter was really having fun with us because after that panicked drive home, she decided to wait two days to make her entrance into the world. Perhaps she was just preparing us for the many sleepless nights to come.
#42. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
I truly didn’t expect to be writing about Simon and Garfunkel in this set of 10 albums. After my plea for a reunion of The Sundays back at #70, I figured I would be regaling you all with stories of adoration for my #49 selection, The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. I was also hoping to announce that the first release from our new label, Music or Space Shuttle? Productions, would be the long awaited fourth album by The Sundays. Sadly, there has been no response on their end.
So, I’m writing instead about another rock duo that is no longer making music together. I will not be making any pleas for this pair to reunite. Not with their shaky past. Hell, Paul Simon is over 70 years old now. If he doesn’t want to hang with “The Funkel” anymore, fine. I won’t push it. I first came across Bridge Over Troubled Water around the age of 12 while going through my parent’s record collection. Back then, I really only liked a few songs like “The Boxer”, “Bye Bye Love” and “Cecilia.”
Side note on “Cecilia”: It seems as though “Cecilia” has turned into a drunken party anthem over the years. Walking home from the bar in college I would heard entire fraternity and sorority houses singing along while the house shook from that distinctive drum beat.
Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home
Many was the time I queued up that little romp as a party was getting into full swing at my apartment. People love it. Next to Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl”, there wasn’t a better song to get people in the mood for a drunken sing-along.
It wasn’t until years later during a road trip with my mother that I took notice of the rest of the album. She had just bought Bridge Over Troubled Water on cassette tape. I guess I know where I got my love of music because like her, I have purchased certain albums on every available format from vinyl to tape to CD to MP3. The song, “The Only Living Boy in New York”, in particular was one that stood out for me. I probably rewound that song 10 times during the car trip. My mother must a have taken note, because I came home from school a few days later and found a copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water sitting on my bed. Pretty cool surprise for a music geek.
I’m sure she just got a kick out of me getting into her music. As a parent myself now, I can’t wait until my kids start to show an interest in music from my generation. I’m going to make sure and do the same thing as my Mom. Hell, I’ll put the entire discography of The Cure on their beds at the slightest hint of interest. I’m going to be the annoying music pusher Dad. Can’t push too hard though. It may have the opposite effect and they’ll wind up listening to…shudder…country music.