So far in this series, I have covered 841 albums that are on my list, with the majority of them coming from the twenty-year prime of my life which runs from 1975 through 1995. As the years get to be more current, the impact of those years are not as great. Now, if I were running my own radio station, or streaming service, I would continue to pimp the “best” current music, while generally not falling for much of the crap that is considered popular, much as I did in my listening prime.
And as I began this list a little over a year ag, I knew that I would be leaving off some pretty terrific music. These lists are inherently flawed due to the biases of the people creating them. That’s why people find the new 500 Greatest Albums list in Rolling Stone so controversial, since the influence of the Boomers is waning, as evidence of a quick comparison to the 2012 list to the current one. My sole complaint is that London Calling by The Clash is no longer a Top 10 All-Time Album? Please. If I were to rank the albums on my list, it would fall somewhere between the two, which is where I sort of fall generationally speaking.
As far as 2001 is concerned, you can basically divide the music into two categories: pre-9/11 and post-9/11. And, those poor artists whose albums actually dropped on 9/11 never really found a home. For example, anyone remember the band P.O.D.? They were a quasi-Christian rap/metal band, ala Limp Bizkit but with a positive message. Prior to 9/11, that album was being hyped to the hilt due to the success of the band’s previous album. Unfortunately, that album was released on the day that the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked, while a fourth plane was crashed before it could hit its DC target, be it the White House or the Capitol Building. All of a sudden, loud, abrasive music was no longer part of the healing prescription for music. Now, the public was seeking songs which were musically soothing with hopeful lyrics, which explains the soaring popularity of U2’s “Walk On,” John Mellencamp’s “Peaceful World” or that all-star charity single, originally released to raise funding for AIDS research, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On,” which seemed to speak to the millennials I was around at the time. So, P.O.D.’s career assent came to a screeching halt.
So, 2001 ended up being a year that was something of an anomaly musically speaking. Let’s take a look at the albums that made a lasting impression on me.
Alicia Keys – Songs in ‘A’ Minor (2001). Can you believe the audacity of this young twenty-something neo-soul artist in covering a Prince B-side? First, you gotta give her credit for tackling the man’s music. Next, she made a great move covering a B-side and not one of his better known songs. Finally, she made the damn thing her own. Oh, the song? “How Come You Don’t Call Me.” Still, the songs that made Keys’ career were “Fallin'” and “A Woman’s Worth,” tunes that belie her age at the time.
Daft Punk – Discovery (2001). Daft Punk caught my attention back in 1997 with their stellar EDM/acid house mix Homework. Then, unlike many of their electronic peers, the French duo went silent for four long years. When they reappeared, they played up their rockin’ robot personas (kinda a reverse Kraftwerk man machine schtick) and hit the Seventies disco and Europop sounds harder which made for a more pleasant listening experiences. This album contains what is arguably their greatest song, “One More Time,” which I feel would make for a fantastic Cher cover version. Oh, and Kanye found inspiration for one of his future songs on this album that goes by the title of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”
Destiny’s Child – Survivor (2001). When Destiny’s Child hit the airwaves in the late-Nineties, they were written off as just another teen group. But, somewhere along the line, these girls became women, and with that maturity came a focus to create great R&B music. This album opens with a trio of timeless songs that only predicted the future solo success of Beyoncé: “Independent Women, Pt. 1,” “Survivor” and “Bootylicious.”
Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera (2001). This band is the “radical left” of the new southern rock movement that is influenced as much by punk and Stax as it is by Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. This band’s lyrics are the grandkids to Ronnie Van Zandt’s Seventies lyrical output in that both are struggling to come to terms with the South’s original sins of slavery and bigotry while attempting to move forward in their current worlds. Leader Patterson Hood, son of one of the musicians who rose to fame as a session player in all of those landmark albums created in Muscle Shoals for artists as diverse as Skynyrd, Seger, Al Green and Aretha Franklin. Hood and co-leader Mike Cooley created the first modern day southern rock classic with this album that deals with the grapple between being a modern Southern Man and the baggage of the past. This is just as good as any Skynyrd album from that band’s prime. The scary part is that DBT just keeps getting better, especially when the incomparable Jason Isbell was a member of the band after this album.
Gorillaz – Gorillaz (2001). Gorillaz is the virtual band dreamed up by Blur lead singer Damon Albarn, with help from Tank Girl comic book creator Jamie Hewlett and Dan “The Automator” Nakamura. The trio created the music and accompanying videos in which a group of cartoon characters “play” the music, not unlike The Archies or Josie & the Pussycats. The difference is that Gorillaz records some terrific dance/rock/pop music that borrows heavily from hip hop as well. “Clint Eastwood” is the big song on this album.
Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001). One of the more memorable things about my boys in 2001 was the day they tried to sync up their CDs of The Blueprint in order to play it, in their words, “twice as loud” by using two stereos. It took them several false starts before they got the timing correct. It goes without saying that this moment only enhanced “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” By the way, this album only solidified Jay-Z’s ascension to the NYC rap throne vacated after the untimely death of The Notorious B.I.G. From this point onward, NYC belonged to Jay-Z.
Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American (2001). Personally, I loved the whole pop punk/garage punk thing that was happening in the wake of Green Day, Weezer and Blink-182. It reminded me of the new wave gravy days high school and college days. For one album, Jimmy Eat World was the epitome of this new sound, especially on their timeless hit “The Middle.” I continually relived my glory days as I listened to this album.
Missy Elliott – Miss E…So Addictive (2001). Good Lord! Was “Get Ur Freak On” played everywhere back then or what? And rightfully so! That was a great song on a great album. Now, Elliott was confident in her abilities as a songwriter, and her collaboration with Timbalake was second nature. The evidence is all over the album. No, it is not as startling as her debut album, but the sheer confidence exuded throughout the album is the story of this one.
Ryan Adams – Gold (2001). I remember my older son really being big on Ryan Adams’ music at the time. A year earlier I had gotten him into Gram Parsons and had a double CD set that collected Parsons’ work with the International Submarine Band, The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and his solo stuff. After he discovered Adams’ original band Whiskeytown, my son was really sold on the more recent alt.country stuff that was flying around. And, that stuff included solo Ryan Adams. I remember Graham listening to “New York, New York” quite a bit to help him deal with 9/11. Just think that Adams had recorded that song months before 9/11 happened, yet it sounded like he had written the song in its wake. Crazy, just crazy.
Sum 41 – All Killer No Filler (2001). Another one of those pop punk bands, only Sum 41 had some definite musician chops. The album’s title was a rip-off of Jerry Lee Lewis describing his music, it was full of punk classics, especially the hit “Fat Lip.” And remember CD days when bands would include a hidden song and you’d hear this extra song that had no credits on the insert? Well, of course, Sum 41 did this, only that song either paid homage or parodied Iron Maiden on it perfectly. Honestly, I think the song is paying homage to the metal band, while the accompanying video is parody. Don’t you love it when an artist has its cake and eats it too?!
The Strokes – Is This It (2001). New York critics had been waiting for a new NYC music scene ever since the original CBGB-based scene got too big to remain contained in the Bowery. About 25 years later, a whole new independent rock scene that had soaked itself in left-over beer from the punk days arose just when us older folks needed some new rock music. And the band that towered over the others at the time, The Strokes, hit a grand slam on their first trip to the plate. While this album reminds me of Television, sans the guitar hero solos and posturing, it is a 21st century creation through and through. Unfortunately, the band has never reached the heights set by the music on this album.
The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001). If you only knew this band because of their hit song “Fell in Love with a Girl,” you might want to lump The White Stripes in the whole pop punk thing. The only thing is that guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White, a divorced couple who made beautiful music together, were much deeper than they. They were actually a blues-based rock band in a minimalist version of Led Zeppelin, with the ability to jump genres not just from song to song but within a song itself. Jack White quickly established himself as the guitar hero for the Millennials.
Tool – Lateralus (2001). Everyone’s favorite new millennium version of Rush and King Crimson channeled through punk was back with yet another complex, dark art metal classic. Tool’s musicianship is unparalleled in this day and age of splicing together sampled music run through an iPhone’s Garage Band app. It’s always reassuring to hear just how steeped in the Seventies this band is.
And that wraps up my take on the music of 2001. Until next time, peace.