MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #60-51

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…

Chris’ #60-51

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

60. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature

59. The Breeders, Last Splash

58. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes

57. Burial, Street Halo

56. Radiohead, Kid A

55. Duran Duran, Duran Duran (1981)

54. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place

53. Cults, Cults

52. N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

51. Pixies, Surfer Rosa

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#55: Duran Duran, Duran Duran

duran duran front coverWhen you are 10 years old and living in a town where the main music supplier is the Pamida store on the edge of town, you find yourself struggling to get your hands on a cassette from a band’s back catalog, even a band as current in 1984 as Duran Duran. If you wanted to buy Arena or Seven and the Ragged Tiger, no problem. Even Rio could be found from time to time. But the band’s eponymous 1981 debut? The Pamida staff isn’t that savvy.

But there are ways to get what you want. In my case, you agree to go shopping in nearby “metropolis” La Crosse, Wis., with your mom and your little brother and be good THE WHOLE TIME. Then, and only then, will my mom take me to Musicland and buy me the elusive Duran debut.

It was a struggle. This meant having to walk through the women’s sections of Dayton’s and JCPenney and Younkers and Maurices and god knows what else, but also not picking on my little brother while killing time surrounded by blouses and slacks. But I was on a mission, and it was successful.

And well worth it, I might add. Not only did I now possess the songs “Girls on Film” and “Planet Earth,” but I was introduced to the deeper cuts that define this album as a New Romantic masterpiece. “(Is There) Anyone Out There” is a wonderful blend of spiky guitar, atmospheric keyboards, and plucky bass. “Careless Memories” is a rock song that uses the right touch of keyboard and percussion flourishes. “Sound of Thunder” is probably the standout track on the more avant garde Side B of the album, a song that has more in common with stuff like the Cure and Joy Division than any of the “totally ’80s” stuff like Bow Wow Wow or Kajagoogoo, even though Duran Duran is often lazily categorized with the latter. If you don’t believe me, check out album closer “Tel Aviv,” a song that will defy most people’s conventional thinking about the band. (And a song that makes a wonderful soundtrack during a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains, with its soaring keyboard, guitar, and vocal effects playing against the backdrop of Colorado’s snow-capped rocky peaks.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with liking the songs you’d find on Duran Duran’s Decade or Greatest albums, but the band’s debut shows an intelligence behind the band’s glamour image that goes ignored by music fans and historians alike.

#52: N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton coverI landed a copy of this album when I was 15, and I swear it took me probably six months to get past the first three songs. Not because I couldn’t stand more than 15 minutes of gangsta rap in one sitting…far from it. It’s just that as soon as “Straight Outta Compton,” “Fuck tha Police,” and “Gangsta Gangsta” had run their course, I’d immediately hit the stop button on the boom box and rewind to the beginning, and repeat that trifecta of street knowledge.

Eventually I found the gems later in the sequencing (“Dopeman,” “8-Ball,” and the preview of Ice Cube’s solo work, “I Ain’t Tha 1”) but the opening three songs, had they been released alone as an EP, might have carried Straight Outta Compton to immortal status.

Ice Cube’s opening flow on the title track is still mesmerizing, even if the language isn’t nearly as shocking now as it was to a 15-year-old northeast Iowa boy (maybe it should be more shocking to me now as a 38-year-old father?) who thought Tackle-Hoops-playin’ Theo Huxtable was flush with street cred. MC Ren was a decent change-up to Cube…not as confident, but just as crude.

If Ren was the change-up, Eazy-E was the 12-6 curveball. This high-pitched voice talkin’ big about being tired of gettin’ jacked up by the motherfuckin’ police or being a brother who’ll smother your mother or drinkin’ Olde English 800 like a madman and steppin’ into the party and dissin’ yo ho and his boyz in the hood keepin’ him cool…WTF (as in WHO the fuck) is this? Did Cube and Ren let their little brother drop some knowledge? Is he on here because he has the best name of the bunch? (The dude with the worst name, DJ Yella, comes off as nothing more than Dr. Dre’s understudy; the guy with the oddest name, The Arabian Prince, I’m not sure he actually says more than 10 words throughout the album.)

And wasn’t I a little bit intimidated by his stuff despite sounding like Alvin, Simon, or Theodore?

I couldn’t relate to much being said on this album, but I was just one example of the thousands (millions?) of suburban kids who found themselves fascinated by the raw language and the sweet beats laid down by Dre and Yella. And this was more punk than anything considered punk at the time, the perfect music for a teenager looking to rebel against something, anything. Even in Waukon, yo.

In my opinion, once Cube left, N.W.A. went south in a hurry, at least in retrospect. (I hung around for the 100 Miles and Running EP, but then I was out.) But I’ll always go back to Straight Outta Compton to get my gangsta nostalgia on.

Todd’s #60-51

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

60. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

59. Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies

58. Arcade Fire, Funeral

57. Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy

56. Nada Surf, The Weight is a Gift

55. Van Halen, 1984

54. Ice Cube, Death Certificate

53. The White Stripes, Elephant

52. Pixies, Surfer Rosa

51. Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#59.Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies

I bought this EP on a very cold February day back in 1994. I must have come into some money that day because I remember buying three other CDs at the same time. Fine. Since you are all so curious, I’ll tell you what the other three albums were; My first copy of The Clash’s London Calling, David Bowie’s Changesbowie, and Tori Amos’ Under the Pink. Quite the odd collection there.

Let’s get back on track shall we? I was never a huge Alice in Chains fan. I enjoyed a few songs from Facelift and there was a time when you couldn’t get away from their album Dirt. Every “bro” in town was listening to that one since Poison wasn’t making records anymore. I just wasn’t as into them as some other bands from that era.

That attitude changed one day as I was driving to work with a friend. As we got on the road, he threw in a new CD and told me to take a listen. After the first few bars of track one, I was hooked. I asked who the band was and didn’t believe him when he said it was Alice in Chains. Of course, it was obvious as soon as the perfectly harmonized vocals of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell came in during the first verse of “Rotten Apple.”

Hey Ah Na Na
Innocence is over
Hey Ah Na Na
Over

The whole EP seemed completely different than other Alice in Chains releases. From the acoustic songs like “Rotten Apple” and “Nutshell”, to the instrumental “Whale and Wasp”, this was an Alice in Chains I could get into. Jar of Flies owned my Sony Discman for the next few weeks. I don’t think I even opened up that Tori Amos record until April.

#51. Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak

Nothing fancy here. Hard driving bass and drums. Overpowering guitars. Wild, growling vocals. Early Kings of Leon was straight up “we don’t give a fuck” rock and roll. Not to disparage the newer KOL music too much, but it does come across a bit more polished than the tunes on Aha Shake Heartbreak. Now enough praise for these guys. The record’s great, cool lead vocals, sexy lyrics… blah blah blah.

Why the KOL hate on a post praising their album? Because I’ve heard each of their songs so many times that I’ve lost all enjoyment in hearing them. It wasn’t me playing them over and over, but I am to be held responsible. I created a monster. A 5’2″, brunette haired, KOL listening monster.

For most of our relationship, my wife has enjoyed the same music as me. On occasion, I will introduce her to a band that we both enjoy equally, but usually I like a band and she is neutral. That’s how it started with KOL. I really liked Aha Shake and she seemed to enjoy it too.

The next Kings of Leon record, Because the Times, came out and the same thing happened. We both liked it, but she never would have chosen to listen to it on her own. Then came the fourth KOL release, Only By the Night. I got a “totally legal, not pirated” advanced copy of that record and could tell it was going to be big. There were several songs on it that just screamed “radio hit.” And big it was. You couldn’t turn on an FM station without hearing “Use Somebody” within five minutes. This is where I witnessed the early KOL addiction signs from my wife. Let’s go over the addiction checklist from a pamphlet I found on the topic.

-Frequent, bordering on obsessive KOL listening?…Yes

-Listening to KOL by yourself?…Yes

-Unable to listen to any other groups music?… No

-Internet Stalking of Band Members?…No

-Internet Stalking of Band Member Spouses/Potential Murder Victims?…No

Man was I relieved. She only got a 40% on that test. I quit worrying and everything was fine for awhile. She stopped listening to Only by the Night and we enjoyed many other artist’s albums for a year or so. Then came that home-wrecker of an album, Come Around Sundown. God bless her, she resisted at first. She even said she didn’t like it, but she slowly wore down. How could she resist. They write lyrics that are like catnip to rock loving girls everywhere. Every song seems to be about how a guy likes a girl and wants to fight some other dude so he can be with her.

Example:

The song “Pickup Truck”

Hate to be so emotional
I didn’t aim to get physical
But when he pulled in and revved it up
I said, ‘you call that a pick up truck?’
And in the moonlight I throwed him down
Kickin’ screamin’ & rolling around
A little piece of a bloody tooth
Just so you know I was thinking of you
Just so you know ohhhhh

Well, after that it was all over. We’re talking 100% percent on the KOL addiction test. Those KOL supermodel spouses better watch out. My wife is watching and waiting. If I read in the paper one day that one of those lovely ladies “accidentally” tripped and broke her neck, I will know my wife won’t be coming home for supper anymore. I may have to host an intervention or hire one of those therapists that “de-program” cult members. I’m praying for a band break-up. That could be the only thing that saves her.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #70-61

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…

Chris’ 70-61

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

70. Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left

69. Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun

68. Best Coast, Crazy for You

67. Green Day, Dookie

66. M83, Saturdays=Youth

65. Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra

64. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

63. U2, The Joshua Tree

62. The Black Keys, thickfreakness

61. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#67: Green Day, Dookie

album cover for "dookie"A song with a killer bass line and lyrics about polishing the skin flute…that’s what piqued my interest in Green Day. Then I bought Dookie, and found myself absolutely enamored with all the simple things that make rock n roll great: an amazingly tight rhythm section, a catchy sequence of power chords, faux-British-accented vocals, lyrics about having a blast and burning out and “paradise” and wasting other people’s time and being paranoid and/or stoned and hearing someone cry aloud out all the way across town and being told to fuck off and die.

I think Dookie came along at a perfect time. Grunge was running its course, especially with the death of Kurt Cobain, but I was still interested in non-flashy guitar-driven rock. Green Day provided that. The band had matured into better songwriters and stepped up their production values after two solid albums (the debut compilation of LP and EPs, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, is a definite indicator of the potential, even with a lesser drummer). The glossiness of Dookie never bothered me, just like I had no reason to despise the sound of Nirvana’s Nevermind compared with the sludgy sound of the $606 production of Bleach. I was also in a new town when I started listening to Dookie in earnest. I was making new friends in Ames and enjoying life and more often than not we had songs such as “Having a Blast” on the sound system while, erm, having a blast.

I thought Green Day had additional bright moments over the years, but nothing that burned as bright as this piece of shit from 1994. From the first two touches of the high hat that kick off “Burnout” to the last quiet bits of the jokey “hidden track” that followed “F.O.D.,” this was youthful joy. I never reach for the skip button when listening to this album, and the songs have aged well over the subsequent two decades.

And if you don’t like it, you can F.O.D.

#63: U2, The Joshua Tree

joshua tree album coverMany people like to romanticize that Nirvana (more specifically, Nevermind) killed hair metal. For me, it was The Joshua Tree.

When U2’s fifth album came out in 1987, I was listening to a lot of “awesome” music; that spring, I probably played my Poison tape more than anything. Then the song “With or Without You” hit the radio and music video rotation, and I was intrigued. Then I heard the whole album, and found myself really drawn to the two songs that ended up being the next two singles, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” And the bombast of “Bullet the Blue Sky.” And Bono’s yowls on “Trip Through Your Wires.” And “The Edge guitar sound” on “In God’s Country.”

And the quiet hush of “Running to Stand Still,” which I included in my #61-70 sampler above. I found so much to enjoy about the lyrics:

Sweet the sin
Bitter taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out

You got to cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice

You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
Then I floated out of here

Suddenly, singing along to “‘Cause baby we’ll be at the drive-in, in the old man’s Ford, behind the bushes, ’til I’m screamin’ for more” seemed juvenile, even to a hormonal 13-year-old dude. Admittedly, it’s not like I immediately threw away my Look What the Cat Dragged In cassette after hearing The Joshua Tree. But I never bought Open Up and Say…Ahhh!; I did get Rattle and Hum when it came out and plucked War from the back catalog and started giving bands like R.E.M. a try when joining the BMG tape club.

Before The Joshua Tree, my lone exposure to U2 was watching Bono leaping down into the crowd (sort of) during the 1985 Live Aid broadcast (I was really annoyed, because I was waiting and hoping to see–surprise!–Duran Duran). I had no idea that in two years, this band of Irishmen would seriously alter the way I listened to and appreciated music. And I believe The Joshua Tree is one of those albums that is able to speak to myriad audiences. Consider life in my dorm during freshman year at the University of Northern Iowa. I lived two doors down from a couple of football players; their room was a popular hangout for a fair number of the Panthers. Whenever they got together to play Madden on the Sega Genesis, they always listened to The Joshua Tree, even though it was a good five years old by then. Not macho metal, not ridiculous rap…”Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.” I always liked that…even if I could never beat those fuckers in Madden. Oh well: Tecmo Super Bowl was always my game, anyway. And I owned them in NHL ’93 the following spring…

/video game braggadocio

Todd’s 70-61

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

70. The Sundays, Static and Silence

69. The Ocean Blue, The Ocean Blue

68. The Breeders, Last Splash

67. Crash Test Dummies, God Shuffled His Feet

66. Oasis, What’s the Story(Morning Glory)?

65. Madonna, True Blue

64. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Stoned and Dethroned

63. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

62. Feist, The Reminder

61. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#70. The Sundays, Static and Silence

This was the third of three stellar albums from The Sundays. After its release, lead singer Harriet Wheeler and guitarist David Gavurin quit the business to settle down and raise their kids. I have patiently waited 15 years for a fourth Sundays album. Waiting…Waiting… I’m starting to get impatient. So, in an effort to get them out of retirement, I am going to make a personal plea to The Sundays. Please, come back! Pretty please! Seriously! C’mon!

I get that you wanted to live a simpler life, have kids, and get away from the hassles of the record industry. But we live in different times now. You don’t need large record labels to record and distribute music anymore. We have a thing called “The Interwebs” now. Get a computer (heck I’ll buy you one) and record in your basement like 23 million other artists are doing now. Throw the new material up on a website (I’ll do that for you too. It would be a Music or Space Shuttle? exclusive release. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.)

If it’s the money that’s holding you back, I have a plan for that as well. No one makes money doing it the old way. Unless your last name is Bieber, Swift or Gaga, you aren’t selling albums like the old days. Listen up Sundays. Here’s the new plan. And all you new bands can get in on this as well. Release your album slowly, one song a month. Stream it online and let me decide it I like it or not. If I like it, I buy it. If not, someone else does. Or doesn’t. Who cares? You have another song coming out next month. Maybe we like that song instead. I’d be way more likely to pay for a band’s music one dollar at a time than I would be to buy a whole album for $10 without hearing it. I’m sure a lot of other people would as well.

Sounds great right Harriett? Right Dave? I’m ready when you are. Just think about it.

Please come back! Pretty please?

#61. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I was going to music school in Minneapolis around the time The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released. I listened to it a lot in between classes and would get different reactions.

There were a lot of guitar students in one of my music theory classes and they would give me shit for listening to it. I didn’t take it personally. Most of them were assholes and looked like rejects from a Black Sabbath cover band. One guy dressed almost exactly like Rob Zombie sans makeup. He kept trying to tell me Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe was the greatest album of all time and Lauryn Hill was crap. Unfortunately, Hellbilly is still on my “Albums To Listen To” list so I’ll have to take his word for it. (Side Note: Zombie guy could shred on guitar. I watched him play an inspired solo during his rendition of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.”)

My production classes were a mixed bag, half the students were into electronic and trip hop music and the other half were into rap. One trip hop guy thought he was way too cool for me because I wasn’t listening to the newest Portishead record every day like he was. I never thought that record was very good. Portishead’s first album, Dummy. Now that was good. The rap guys were way into Silkk The Shocker around that time. I had to listen to Charge It 2 Da Game several times. To this day, I still think it is one of the worst things ever recorded. If I made a list of worst albums of all time (coming Fall 2013) this would be at the top, if not #1.

In a school full of musicians and music lovers, why was the future #61 album of all time getting no love? Why did we all hate each other’s music? Why couldn’t we all just get along? Maybe I was an asshole to the guitar guys and not the other way around. Is there some long haired cover band guitarist in the Twin City area blogging about some dick from Iowa that used to say Hellbilly Deluxe was shitty? That’s too much to take in right now. Maybe I need a therapist.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

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