Side A: Todd’s Picks
Side B: Chris’ Picks
This weekend marks the return of the annual Record Store Day. As luck would have it, I recently started buying vinyl albums. While collecting vinyl is new to me, the act of collecting music is not. I’ve owned music in pretty much every format over the years but I was a bit too young to ever actually own my own records as a kid. Growing up in the ‘80s, I jumped right into the cassette tape era. My first tape (Men at Work, Cargo) was a present for my 8th or 9th birthday. I can’t remember which; these things tend to get a bit fuzzy as of late.
What I do remember is the joy of actually owning a physical copy my favorite band’s recording.
That’s right, for a short period in 1983, Men at Work was my favorite band. So what?!
“Settle Down and Eat Your Peas and Gravy, My Boy.” What lyrics!
“This is the story of Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive.” What imagination!
Not all of my cassettes were the proper studio pre-packaged release. Most of my tapes were homemade mixes filled with songs recorded from the radio. They didn’t have lyrics sheets or cool covers but it was still a physical possession. Plus, there was an enormous amount of fun that went along with my secret cassette naming and cataloging schemes. Only I could know that OMD’s “If You Leave” was on Side B of the tape labeled Radio Goo Goo Ga Ga. It was the song after Paul Hardcastle’s “19” but right before “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me” by Rockwell.
Whether it was cassettes in the ‘80s or CDs in the ‘90s I truly enjoyed the music collecting process. I loved it all, especially the anticipation of the trip to the music store. A lot of forethought went into these trips. This is a typical example of the pre-trip deliberations going on in my head or with friends:
Q: Are you going to buy Led Zeppelin I or II?
A: I like more songs on Led Zeppelin II.
Q: Aren’t you kind of tired of it though? You’ve been listening to my copy a lot lately.
A: Ok, Led Zeppelin I it is.
Q: What if the store doesn’t have Led Zeppelin I?
A: Well, then maybe I’ll have to look at the new Cult album with “Fire Woman” on it.
Q: That’s a great song! Any other good songs on that album?
A: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just stick with Led Zeppelin. Physical Graffiti is awesome.
Q: That’s a double disc. You have enough money?
A: Ooh. No. Well maybe I’ll get that Love and Rockets album. You know, the really good one.
Q: Earth, Sun, Moon. Yeah that’s great. You can almost never find that one in the store though. What if they don’t have it?
And on and on and on, until the fateful day that I made it to the music store and all that planning went completely out the window when I bought the last copy of Alice Cooper’s Trash album because they played the song “Poison” over the store’s overhead speakers.
The process was easier in the early 2000s as I got older and my musical tastes matured along with my wallet. It wasn’t unheard of for me to walk out of the store with 3-4 CDs. I often stuck to the old adage, “Something old (Al Green, Greatest Hits), something new (Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin), something borrowed (Used copy of The Sugarcubes, Stick Around For Joy) and something blue (John Coltrane, Blues Train.)
Things went on smoothly like this until I started relying more and more on my computer and iPod for entertainment. Pretty soon, I had any song in the world available to me. Complete discographies of forgotten artists could be on my hard drive in the click of a mouse. That’s when a different form of music collecting took over my life. I was a full on file hoarder. No amount of MP3s could satisfy my hunger. I downloaded album upon album of songs that I’ve still never listened to. If I ever feel a need to visit the collected works of Thin Lizzy, I can. That day probably won’t come but… you never know. Every now and then, I think that I should spend some time and clean up my disc drives but I can’t ever seem to delete many files. That copy of Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow isn’t hurting anything in there. I’ll probably never play it but again…you never know.
Up until last year, I still had many of my old CDs, cassette tapes and even a few albums I picked up along the way from friends and family.
Mostly, these items just collected dust in my basement. I had an old turntable but ended up giving it away to a relative in need. Knowing this info, my mother bought me a new turntable as an early Xmas present. I had a pretty good time spinning my old records but didn’t really think about collecting again. On a whim, I stopped into an old record store, actually it was the very store I used to buy all of my CDs back in the 90s. I asked the guy at the counter if they had any vinyl. He chuckled and waved his arms like Vanna White, drawing my attention to the entire store.
“Look around you, man. We have vinyl everywhere. Old. New. Whatever you want.”
He was right. They had it all. Before I knew it, I had spent an hour digging through record shelves and I was holding a stack of albums both new and used. The rest of the day I had an oddly pleasant feeling rooted back to my record store experience. I’d forgotten how fun it could be searching through the bins for anything that piqued my interest. I’d forgotten the excited feeling you get after you leave the store with your purchases. I’d forgotten how I always removed the items from the bag as soon as I got in my car and looked over the album cover and read the liner notes. Something had been awakened inside of me.
In the months since then, I’ve made multiple trips to different record stores. If I’m ever going to be out of town, I frequently look online the day before I leave to see if there are any stores in the area. In my travels, I’ve found that there are basically 3 types of stores:
1. The stores that have used albums at a decent price and sell new albums at ridiculously high prices.
2. The stores that have new albums at a decent price and sell used albums at ridiculously high prices.
3. The stores that reek of incense or patchouli and sell everything at a decent price.
All three types of store can suit your album collecting needs depending on what you are after. My favorite store is type #3. I prefer purchasing quantity over quality and have a high tolerance level for overpowering fragrances designed to mask the smell of the “sticky icky.”
Now to be clear, I’m not one of those hardcore audiophile weirdos. Many of the albums I buy are less than perfect. I don’t minds a few pops and hisses. The imperfections can actually make the listening experience a bit more enjoyable. I also don’t that think the MP3 is inferior or that vinyl is the one true audio format. I love technology as much or more than the next guy. My wireless SONOS system probably gets more use that my record player. Sometimes you can’t beat the ease and versatility of digital formats.
With Record Store Day 2014 is coming up this weekend, maybe this would be a good time for many of you readers out there to pop into your local record store (if you can find one) and dip your toe into the album collecting pool. (I really can’t recommend The War On Drugs, Lost in the Dream enough. Great sound on vinyl.) Like me, that one visit could be the spark that ignites an album buying habit you though had long been burnt out.
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
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.
Few things can trigger a long lost memory like music. It can happen anywhere. For me it usually happens in the car. The other day, I was driving to work and flipping channels on the satellite radio. I stopped on Lithium the 90’s alt-rock channel. They were playing a cool old song from the early 90’s that I had forgotten all about, Luscious Jackson’s “Deep Shag”.
I was quickly taken back to Fall 1994. I was driving around smoking Camel Lights and listening to Nine Inch Nails when I decided to stop off at a friends house for a bit. I pulled up to the house and noticed hanging out front was the same group of dopy 15 year old skateboarders I saw every time I stopped there. They always asked me for some smokes. I always answered back (usually with one dangling from my lip) “No, that shit will kill you”. They would grumble something back and that was the extent of our relationship. My vehicle had an alarm system but for some reason I didn’t turn it on. I must have thought my little buddies out front would keep an eye on things.
So I went into my friend’s place and we hung out for a couple of hours. When it was time to go I hopped in my car and drove off sensing something was amiss. Nine Inch Nails “Head Like a Hole” was still playing and I decided to change CDs in my super high tech Discman. On the floor of my car I had a small 10 CD case in which I kept my go-to music of the week. I reached for it and to my surprise there was no case! My heart skipped several beats. Back then the thing I valued the most in life was my music collection. I was 19 and had a crappy part time job. Replacing 10 CD’s would be next to impossible.
In a panic, I pulled over to calm down and search my vehicle. Easy Todd, maybe you just misplaced the CDs. Maybe you left them at home. After a quick search, I realized they were definitely gone. I had been burgled. This was a travesty! Who would do such a thing to me? I reached in the console between the seats for a delicious and calming Camel Light, but hey were gone too! Who would take my CDs and my smokes?………….Those little fuckers! Now I was more pissed knowing that I had been burned by that group of prepubescent criminals. I was sure they were laughing it up. Listening to my music and smoking my smokes. Bastards.
I drove back to see if I could find the little bastards but it was late and no one was around anymore. The next few times I went back over to my friend’s place I tried to find the culprits but I never saw them again and I didn’t have much proof even if I had found them.
The real problem came after the fact. What do I do about replacing these CDs? As already referenced, I had a crappy part time gig and couldn’t afford to replace them all right away. There was also new music coming out all the time that needed purchasing. So I had to prioritize. I organized the lost CDs into tiers of importance.
Tier 1: You Fucking Assholes. I Love That CD and I Must Sell Blood, Semen or Organs to Get the Money to Replace It.
Songs of note: Well, all of them, but “Bury Me” may be my favorite today.
Replacement Status: Repurchased 1 week after incident at full price. I have purchased this album in every available audio format over the years. Cassette, CD (twice) and digital download.
Song of note: “Sometimes Always”
Replacement Status: Repurchased 2 weeks after incident at full price.
Songs of note: “Sure Shot”, “Root Down”
Replacement Status: Repurchased one month after incident at full price.
Tier 2: Awe man, that sucks. I’ll have to get that back when I get the chance.
Song of note: “Deep Shag”
Replacement Status: Not replaced yet. Will be scouring the inter-webs for a suitable torrent as soon as I am done with this post.
Songs of note: “Say it Ain’t So”, “Undone – The Sweater Song”
Replacement Status: Not replaced yet. Napster-ized a few of the key singles on this release but have not as of yet replaced.
Songs of note: “Gold”, “Hit”.
Replacement Status: Repurchased summer of 1997 for $1 at CD Xchange. What a bargain!
Tier 3: You can have it. I won’t be buying that one twice.
Song of note: “Milquetoast”
Replacement Status: A friend recommended it. Never liked it. Never considered replacing it.
Songs of note: “The Pink” ”She Knows Everything”
Replacement Status: Liked the record but never really considered replacing it. Also had other releases by Medicine to help fill the gap. Medicine is a bit different. I wish I could have seen the look on those little assholes faces when they first heard this one.
Songs of note: Counting Crows, “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)” Nirvana, “Pay to Play”
Status: I Napstered the crap out of the Counting Crows song but the rest was of little interest to me. Never considered replacing.
I can’t believe it’s been nearly 20 years now since that Luscious Jackson CD was taken. I also can’t believe I had forgotten all about it until they played it on the radio. Is there a moral here? Probably not. I did learn that you can’t trust a pack a 15 year old skateboarders unless you give them cigarettes upfront. And hey, things could have been worse. They could have found the 3 cases of Milwaukee’s Best in the back seat.