2007: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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In 2007-07, I switched schools, going from Hamilton Southeastern to the first new public high school in the state of Indiana in 20+ years and HSE’s sister school Fishers High School. I moved mainly because when the school split would happen, if I remained at HSE, I would be teaching biology to freshmen, and after teaching chemistry for nearly a decade, I had no desire to go backward. Plus, at FHS, I would get to start the Honors Chemistry and Microbiology programs from scratch. To a healthy me, that was a challenge I needed at this point in my career. Unfortunately, I underestimated my healthiness and found out later that this change was a huge strain on my health. However, if I stayed at HSE, my mental side would have dragged me down faster by teaching freshmen because I took it as a demotion.

The crazy part of the move is that I instantly went from being a teacher of average age to being one of the old teachers in the building. That was ironic since I had spent all of my career teasing the seasoned teachers. Now, I was the seasoned teacher who was being teased. That was jarring to say the least, but that’s how karma works.

To top things off, I allowed myself to get talked into being a varsity assistant basketball coach at the new school, during a year in which we would be fielding a team with no seniors (the school opened with NO seniors, it was full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen). The new head coach and his assistant needed a fourth coach on the staff. Those two had been assistants at Lawrence North, which was coming off two national high school basketball championships and three Indiana state championships. They coached two future professional basketball players, Mike Conley and Greg Oden. They were in for culture shock with the lack of basketball experience.

This all occurred because I am friends with another assistant coach at LN, and he recommended the head coach, JR Shelt, to contact me. JR called me and gave me his sales job. He said that he would give me time off when my back was giving me problems. The biggest thing he wanted was a somewhat familiar face to the kids coming into a new school. I was hired ultimately because I could help the other three coaches navigate the high expectations for a teacher and coach in this school district. Unfortunately, I knew we were in trouble when the final roster was split into three teams, with the best team to be coached by the varsity assistant; the second best by the JV head coach; and I got the leftovers to play a Round Robin sort of unofficial tournament in a free game of teams playing for a quarter each. Before each quarter we played, I told the kids they were playing for the playing time during the upcoming season. This was the opportunity to work on things we had taught them during the preseason, and all I was asking for them to play hard and the score will take care itself. Now, what was the bad part? My “C” team beat the tar out of the other two teams. They played harder, defended decently, went for rebounds with more passion and simply out-played the “A” and “B” teams.

So, whenever the other coaches would give me crap about being the low man on the coaching totem pole, I would remind them that I’m undefeated against them. And, whenever I needed to play this card, I would: I was the only coach in this coaches’ office who had won a Conference, County, Sectional or Regional championship. That one would always get the most laughter out of them. However, by mid-December, my back was so bad that I stopped riding on the team bus to the away games that were more than an hour away, of which there were several. By the end of the season, I was so tired and hurting so badly that I knew I had just coached for the last time. That March, I resigned and have had a huge hole in my heart ever since. No matter what I attempt to do, nothing can fill it the same way.

Then, a month later, I made my first step into the world of electronic devices made to help me deal with my pain better. I had a spinal cord stimulator implanted that is a battery on my left side back just above my waist. It feels like a thin hockey puck and has electrodes that run up to one of the higher levels of my thoracic vertebrae, threading down both left and right sides of my spinal column until they reached the nerves that branch off the spinal cord between L4 and L5 that were damaged by my injuries to those vertebrae. The constant delivery of electronic impulses kills the pain by fooling my brain with those impulses instead of the pain signals. It has reduced my pain by 85%, causing me to slightly reduce my oral pain medicine intake at the time. So, I am part bionic, but I can’t see better, run faster OR jump higher. Still, I am getting closer to having the same $6 million dollars to improve Steve Austin.

Which means, it’s time for the music from 2007 that made my life just a little more bearable.

10.13 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007). Bon Iver (pronounced bon é-vār, a deliberate misspelling of the French phrase bon hiver that translates to rough winter) is the studio name of indie folk artist Justin Vernon. Vernon recorded this sparse album in a cabin in the wooded regions of Wisconsin during the winter of 2006. And, this beautiful album was what he came out in the spring of 2007 with. It has been described as a rustic, acoustic Radiohead album. Vernon went on to work with Kanye West, the first of several collaborations with rap artists.

10.13 Jay-Z - American Gangster

Jay-Z – American Gangster (2007). Jay-Z’s retirement didn’t last very when he dropped Kingdom Come to lackluster reviews and soft sales. So, Jay needed a bounce back quickly. And that came in the version of a film called American Gangster which inspired this album. And, he rose to the occasion as he fashioned an album that details the gangster life of NYC in great detail and empathy as a cautionary tale much like the movie that inspired it. Jay-Z was back!

10.13 LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007). This studio conglomeration is the brainchild of a huge music fan named James Murphy. One listen to this album, or any by his band, tells you this guy is a HUGE music fan. Murphy, a Gen X-er, latched onto the club scene for his inspiration for his mixture of humor, punk, EDM, rock, soul, pretty much anything and everything, to create some of the most exciting music of the new century. Once again, I must thank my older son for the heads up on this one. It has been a gift that truly keeps on giving.

10.13 M.I.A. - Kala

M.I.A. – Kala (2007). I remember hearing this song coming from my younger son’s room that was based upon the sample of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell.” I popped into his room and asked him who the artist was, telling me it was M.I.A. So, I listened to the album and discovered that there were really some artists doing wonderful music under the banner of EDM. And M.I.A. was one of them. This album uses all kinds of samples from the alternative music of my youth, like “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers, or Jonathan Richman if you prefer. What an exciting new form of dance music.

10.13 MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (2007). I love the jumping-off point of Millennials’ version of rock music. The Boomers’ music used the blues, jazz, Broadway, big band and hillbilly music as their starting points. With Gen X, those musicians began with disco, punk and bubblegum music for their inspiration. The Millennials start with the technology of their youth, cheap Eighties electronic noises. Thus, this album by MGMT, a new duo from NYC. They started with a Casio keyboard and a producer of some of The Flaming Lips’ more ornate albums resulting in this album which is nothing but fun use of junk culture made into great art. This reminds me of my new wave days, yet still sounds light years beyond my age group’s music. Simply put, it might be the Album of the Year for 2007.

10.13 Radiohead - In Rainbows

Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007). This album is notable for the band offering it for download on their website for whatever the downloader wanted to pay for it. That was a marketing masterstroke, as this meant the band was making pure profit nearly from the outset. The crazy thing is that Radiohead’s music actually sounded cheerful, regardless of Thom Yorke’s lyrical misery. It was a great juxtaposition. When the physical form of this album was finally released, the band was flushed with cash and able to put together an elaborate tour, which only increased their reputation as being this era’s Pink Floyd. This is truly a wonderful album.

10.13 Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad

Rihanna – Good Girl Gone Bad (2007). You gotta give it up to Jay-Z because the man sure can recognize talent. Rihanna was his latest protégé to receive his cameo appearance in her ubiquitous hit “Umbrella.” This album broke Rihanna into superstar status with this state of the art pop music. Rihanna will always reside next to Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift as the big divas of the early 21st century.

10.13 Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007). Sometimes, it is simply reassuring that an album like this is released periodically these days. It tells me there are musicians still out there who are picking albums by some of my favorite artists like Cheap Trick, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and the rest and expanding upon their vocabulary. For 2007, it happened to be another journeyman band called Spoon who concocted this masterpiece in indie rock to whet the thirst of this old man. And, I still crank up my car’s radio whenever I hear “The Underdog.” It’s a great song from a great album.

10.13 The White Stripes - Icky Thump

The White Stripes – Icky Thump (2007). Everybody’s favorite Detroit garage band since The Stooges was back with what appears to be the duo’s last studio album. If this is the way they intended to end their creative bond, then they did it right. Both had moved out of Detroit (Meg to LA and Jack to Nashville), so fans were worried what that would mean to their sound. Yes, the eclecticism from their previous album was present but in less obvious manners. Plus, Jack had gotten back to cranking up his guitars, so all was fine with the fans.

10.13 Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (2007). In the fall of 2007, Graham was in San Diego attending law school. One night he called and said, “Dad! Seriously, you gotta get the new Wilco album! It’s awesome!” Reluctantly, I followed his advice since it had taken me a couple of years and many listens to fully appreciate Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I did it anyway, and, of course, he was correct! This was a great album right from the first listen. This is a much more subdued album as opposed to the aforementioned LP, as if Sky Blue Sky were influenced by Neil Young’s Harvest, the hits by America, and the rest of that great soft rock from the early- and mid-Seventies. This is just a beautifully relaxing album, and a great way to forget about one’s physical pain.

Those are my picks from 2007. We now have 910 albums finished and 90 more spanning 12 years left to cover. See you next time! Peace.

2006: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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There are great years, then there not so great years. 2006 was definitely that latter. From the viewpoint of someone observing my life, you might think I was living a charmed life, and to a certain extent I was. But, this was the year during which I discovered what chronic pain actually was. Like most of us, I thought pain came in three forms.

First, there’s a physical pain due to being uncomfortable, sick or injured. You take some acetaminophen or ibuprofen and go on your way, maybe rest a little. Second, there is emotional pain due to the loss of a loved one, a breakup or the loss of something important in your life such as a job. Time heals those wounds, even it’s not completely. Finally, there’s the physical pain involved with exercising or training for athletic competition. The pain you experience while lifting weights, running in a timed run, the pounding you take in football, the constant change-of-direction movement in basketball, soccer or tennis, the constant down-and-back in swimming, etc. Those are temporary pains that you learn to break through in order to become better.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is something that never goes away and seems like all three of the aforementioned types rolled into one. You never escape it. It wakes you up at night and keeps you from sleeping, making you constantly sleep-deprived. You never feel refreshed or caught up on rest. Then, there’s the days of breakthrough pain, which seems to be at a whole new level. I hate those days the most, which I have been battling the past couple of days. My patience is non-existent and my body feels like I’ve been running a marathon, played an afternoon of basketball games, then beaten with a baseball bat. That’s been my life for the past three days. Later today, I will rally because we are watching our grandson for a few hours, then I will collapse.

It was in 2006 that I knew something was wrong with my body. My spine did not feel stable. I was immediately sent to pain management because I was also complaining of constant back spasms and back pain, but all of that stemmed from the lack of a fusion of vertebrae L4 and L5. When you are sent to pain management, the immediate concern becomes that you are an addict, which was not true of most of us. But, that’s American society and our false mantra of picking yourself by your bootstraps.

So, I was beginning my foggy period of life, in a haze of medications while attempting to work my way through this, since that’s what you did in sports. It’s the old “are you hurt or are you injured?” question. Even when I was probably injured, I tried to bounce back quickly as if I were hurt. The problem was that I could no longer deny that I was injured, no matter how I tried to ignore it and just carry on. 2006 represented the year when I discovered I was invincible. So, I was battling to come to grips with my new limitations.

Still, there were a few albums that helped me survive this change in my life. So, let’s see what 2006 had to offer.

10.12 Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006). What a talent and what an album! This album was simply timeless in Amy’s jazz/soul singing and instincts brought up to date with tasteful touches of modern sounds from hip hop and R&B. She was a talent for the ages, and her absence is felt more and more as time moves on. Unfortunately, it may have been that internal pain of hers that moved her talent to the immortal level.

10.12 Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). For a brief moment, this band was poised to be the next big indie rock band out of the UK. And, this debut set the tone. Unfortunately, once again, a huge English indie rock band does not translate well here, and they become a little bit bigger than a cult band here. Regardless, this album rocks.

10.12 Bob Dylan - Modern Times

Bob Dylan – Modern Times (2006). A few years earlier, Dylan quietly released an album called Theft & Love that introduced the bard of Minnesota to a whole new generation of music lovers. That album was something of the beginning of a whole new level of creativity for Dylan. Sure, the days of his world-changing music were 40 years in his rearview mirror, but he actually was entering a whole new phase like the old bluesmen of the past. Modern Times happens to be the best album in his catalog since 1976’s Desire. This is a great album.

10.12 Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere (2006). If you did not hear this duo’s song “Crazy” back in 2006, you may not have been on Earth. This album was the work of Danger Mouse, fresh off his Grey Album bootleg mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album, and Cee Lo Green, former member of the rap group the Goodie Mob. I remember my older son bringing this CD home from college for me to listen to. What a visionary mix of the old and the new. Plus, how did “Crazy” NOT win the Grammy for Song or Record of the Year? Robbery!

10.12 John Mayer - Continuum

John Mayer – Continuum (2006). In the aftermath of the surprising popularity of the Dave Matthews Band, there seemed to be a million or so acoustic guitar-based artists with whiny voices and sincere lyrics popping up everywhere. Initially, despite the protests of many of my students and athletes, I wrote off John Mayer as a somewhat pleasing poser. Then, he recorded this album that is steeped in the blues and Seventies soul that seemed to be something of a millennial’s What’s Going On. Finally, he was breaking through those silly love songs of his youth and stepping into being something of a serious artist. This album changed my opinion of him.

10.12 Justin Timberlake - FutureSex LoveSounds

Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006). I never expected that little curly-haired dweeb from *NSYNC to be the man who would bring sexy back. But, that’s what makes rock music so much fun. Suddenly, this guy has grown into a major musical force yet will leave it behind for a bit while he pursued an acting career. But, this album was so good, that people never forgot and were constantly begging him to make a comeback, which he did in spectacular fashion. This album will be the one that launched him into superstardom and a future Five Timers Club member on SNL.

10.12 TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain (2006). This was the NYC band’s breakthrough album that caught the eye of many record buyers in the mainstream. This band has been described as something of America’s answer to Radiohead. And, there is a little truth to that description. On this album, the band’s production allows their music to breathe, much like Radiohead discovered on their O.K. Computer album. But, the music is still challenging but melodic (sound like someone else, uh, let’s say Radiohead?) and even soulful. They must have been good because David Bowie lent backing vocals to this project.

And, there you have it. I know, it’s a short list, but it is packed with some outstanding albums. Catch you later! Peace.

2004 & 2005 – From Professional Highs to Personal Lows, These Were Crazy 24 Months: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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Looking back on these two years, I really cannot explain how crazy they were for me and my family. Actually, those 24 months were actually 26 months of chaos as I had arthroscopic surgery on my left ankle in November of 2003. Over the years, I had severely sprained and twisted both of my ankles while playing basketball, so I knew a day, or days, of reckoning would be coming soon enough. So, at the age of 40, I got my most bothersome ankle repaired with an outpatient surgery, followed by six weeks of physical therapy (no problem because I tried to maintain a fairly decent exercise regime at this point). I also knew that I would be having my right ankle scoped on my birthday in February, which would put me out of commission for the first week of the track season.

So, I survived both surgeries as the track team went on to have what I call me Dream Team season. This 2004 team accomplished many things that had not been done by a HSE boys track up to this point. The boys had ended perennial state boys track power Carmel 31 consecutive Hamilton County Championships when they dropped the hammer that night in early May. Over the course of the next three weeks, this team took home the championship trophies for the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (HCC) the second year in a row, the Sectional (first time in school history for the boys program) and the Regional (actually, this was the second time HSE had ever won this championship. And, at the Regional, the guys performed so well that we ended up having the largest number of boys who qualified for the State meet that year. No, we didn’t win the State championship, but what can you say win the guys set new school records in a majority of the events for which we had qualified. In other words, we hit the best in the State with our absolute best performances, only to finish just outside of the podium, which meant only a handful of the guys ended up as All-State track athletes.

So, the 2003-04 school year ended on an up note, even though the team fell short of our goal to have finished in the Top 5. No matter what, however, HSE boys track was a state power and have remained that way ever since (they even won a state championship back in 2013). Of course, my life seems to follow Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states for every action, there’s an equal but opposite reaction. First off, I know that Newton was discussing the actions of matter in motion, not the highs and lows of life. Yet, I do find it amusing to compare a normal person’s rollercoaster ride of life in scientific terms, but sometimes its just plain fun to “misuse” scientific theories.

Which leads us on to November 2004. After getting home from church, I decided that I was going to mow the lawn one last time before the temperature got too cold to mow. As I was changing my clothes, I bent down to pick up my T-shirt that I had just throw to the ground in reckless abandon. As I went to straighten back up, I felt a severe grabbing of my lower back muscles and could not straighten up. You see, in 2002, I had a laminectomy, discectomy and bone spurs, pieces of cartilage and bone fragments removed from my spinal column in the L4/L5 region. Well, that disc had finally given up because now I needed fusion surgery. The neurosurgeon who did the 2002 surgery handed me off to an up-and-coming orthopedic surgeon who had developed a huge reputation after saving the careers of many professional and college athletes who had faced similar situation.

So, this guy performed a posterior fusion of L4/L5. Little did I know that I would become part of the wrong 1% crowd: the 1% whose fusion surgery would never fuse and that would result in most of the back issues I deal with to this very day. Still, I was hopeful that this would fix my issues of chronic back spasms, chronic and acute pain along the L4/L5 region of my spine and the chronic nerve-based pain that was radiating from the spinal cord through my gluteus maximus on both sides, down both legs and into my ankles and feet. The chronic back pains wears you down. The chronic back spams constantly take your breath away at least two or three times per week (That’s why I take UP TO three muscle relaxers per day. But, it’s the nerve pain that puts everything over the top since no amount of medication will ever reduce which individual or cocktail of various pain medications you use. Plus, you get side effects of the nerve pain of numbness down both legs (try to walk or get up out of a chair. Also, that nerve issues can cause either the muscles to have severe spasms, or, my personal favorite, your legs will begin twitching on their own. That twitching is what I call having “frog legs,” based on the old high school biology experiment of sending electrical impulses from a dry cell battery into an amputated frog’s leg to watch the leg twitch. I have found that still being attached to the leg or legs as they twitch violently with no way to control them.

At that time in March of 2005, my family and I were very hopeful that this surgery would be the magic bullet that would end the need for oral pain medications (I was never addicted to those opioids. They made me feel cloudy and I hate them!). Unfortunately, that was not to be. When I kept complaining that something was not right in the fusion area, the surgeon forwarded me onto pain management. And, that became a four-year battle with two pain management groups and Lords know how many insurance companies, as our schools kept searching for the cheapest deal for group insurers. 

Needless to say, I really wasn’t in the mood for music over 2004 and 2005, so this list reflects this troublesome period in my life. Overall, there were small numbers of albums from each year, so I combined them into a bigger blog entry. Hold on to your hats.

10.11 Arcade Fire - Funeral

Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004). The full-length debut of this fantastic Canadian band is like the best acoustic combination of Springsteen, U2 and Bowie. These people opened up like no other band from this moment in time. It was as if this band was formed in the Eighties but transported to the early 2000s so their impact would be even more dramatic. “Neighborhood #1” and “Wake Up” still resonate with their post-punk attitude and classic rock feel. What a great start for a great new band!

10.11 Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004). Finally, a band has burst onto the scene while wearing unironically wearing their Duran Duran influences on their collective sleeves. This new wave-loving band recorded some of the most fun dance/rock since the MTV days of D-squared and INXS.

10.11 Green Day - American Idiot

Green Day – American Idiot (2004). Legend has it that Green Day a fully recorded their follow-up album to 2000’s Warning but had the final tapes stolen. And the story continues, the band regrouped, albeit in a foul mood, and proceeded to write a protest concept album against America’s War on Terrorism carrying over into Iraq. Subsequently, American Idiot saved Green Day from becoming a Nineties punk nostalgia band, like Blink-182, and launched them into first-ballot inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is called serendipity.

10.11 Kanye West - The College Dropout

Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004). In 2004, there was nothing on the radio that sounded as radical as “Jesus Walks.” What?! A sociological protest song incorporating Jesus in it? Whoa! This Kanye West has a set on him. And, he proved his budding artistic vision with the rest of this outstanding album. For the opening decade of the new millennium, Kanye proved to be as important as Eminem not just in the rap or music worlds, but as a pop culture icon.

10.11 Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose

Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose (2004). Once again, we have a country legend being creatively revitalized by an iconic musician/producer from a totally different world. In this case, The White Stripes’ Jack White breathed life into the great Loretta Lynn’s career by striping her music down to its bear essence thus allowing her timeless vocals to carry the project. This is another wonderful example of country music getting back to its emotional roots through alternative rock.

10.11 Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004). When I heard this Modest Mouse album for the first time, I remember saying how much this band sounds like Talking Heads. Well, besides being a major influence on the band, the Heads reference really solidifies itself based on the fact that both bands love to take a base melody that could be as sugary as any bubblegum hit and scuff it all up with deliberately strange noises, off-kilter lyrics, otherworldly funk rhythms and deadpan vocals. Oh, how I wanted this band to continue through the years, much like I did for the Heads. And, in both cases, their demises left me feeling empty, no matter how often I play their old stuff.

10.11 The Killers - Hot Fuss

The Killers – Hot Fuss (2004). Leave it to my older son to turn me onto this band, then make fun of me for loving “the Eighties stylings of The Killers.” What’s there not to love about this Las Vegas band? They have internalized every great Eighties new wave song and thrown in some classic Hall & Oates, to create their own exciting brand of pop/rock for the Millennials. This album remains the band’s finest moment so far, even though they have proven themselves to become consistent hitmakers.

10.11 The Libertines - The Libertines

The Libertines – The Libertines (2004). Hey British empire! We hear you have the latest “it” band over there! Obviously, picking up where Oasis and Blur left off seven or so years ago, The Libertines had the sound. They also had the troubled creative visionary in the group, Pete Doherty. Of course, the band had the goods, as you can hear on their debut album. But, like the Sex Pistols and Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, this band had a supremely talented lineup that was equally combustible. So, all we could do is watch this group waste its talent as the whole thing went up in flames.

10.11 The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free

The Streets – A Grand Doesn’t Come for Free (2004). The first thing I had to ask myself after hearing The Streets for the first time was whether this was a British parody of American hip hop or was this the real thing? I came to the conclusion that The Streets was being sincere about his criminal life. I also concluded that the creative mind behind The Streets, Mike Skinner, just might be as mentally disturbed as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Eminem and Kanye West. What I am surprised the most about this album’s influence is that there have not been any significant pasty white Englishmen rappers to follow in The Streets’ wake.

10.11 Fall Out Boy - From Under the Cork Tree

Fall Out Boy – From Under the Cork Tree (2005). On their first two releases, Fall Out Boy show promise in the new pop punk category. Finally, they made this album while hitting on all cylinders. The energy remains, along with the teenage snarky in their lyrics, but it’s all dressed up in a shiny, pop/rock production gleam. Finally, FOB is on par with Jimmy Eat World as well as the other outfits who were equally influenced by Green Day and Weezer.

10.11 Kanye West - Late Registration

Kanye West – Late Registration (2005). Although this album is lacking the world-changing single that was “Jesus Walks,” Late Registration is still a major step forward in the creation of Kanye the Hip Hop Genius. Now, Kanye was making inroads within the world of pop music as he made the timely move to cash in on Jamie Foxx’ Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles by having Foxx join him on the big pop smash hit “Gold Digger.”

10.11 Mariah Carey - The Emancipation of Mimi

Mariah Carey – The Emancipation of Mimi (2005). By 2005, Mariah was in desperate need of a big hit. Since her salad days of the Nineties, Mariah had been on a slow decent toward mediocrity after her TRL-televised mental breakdown and the soft sales of her last album. This time, instead of recording middle-of-the-road soft tune after soft tune, Mariah channeled her inner Beyoncé and took us all to the clubs for her most success album since Fantasy. Plus, “We Belong Together” gave her a mega-hit as well. I’m calling this one a comeback.

10.11 My Morning Jacket - Z

 My Morning Jacket – Z (2005). MMJ finally recorded their most balanced and focused album that the mainstream began to take notice of this talented band from Louisville, Kentucky. Their special mix of indie rock, classic rock, pop, alt.country, R&B and jam band tendencies were finally given the laser-like focus the band always needed in order to succeed. Quickly, MMJ became my favorite 21st century rock band.

10.11 The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan

The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan (2005). After gaining an adoring following of critics and fans alike, Jack White and his former wife Meg White finally gained enough confidence to begin to indulge their inner artists and follow Jack’s personal muse. Now, Jack was writing songs on his piano and acoustic guitar, giving the public an inkling that his production work with Loretta Lynn was going to steer him in a newer, more textured direction. Perhaps the best comparison of this album would be to Led Zeppelin III in which both bands wander around the musical landscape for inspiration. And, in both cases, the moves were brilliant for the long term effects on their careers.

And, that’s my favorite albums of 2004 and 2005. See you soon! Peace.

2003: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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2003 was significant for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it was the year in which my older son graduated from high school then started college at Butler University. The other reason was that the HSE boys track team was becoming formidable. Not a bad year for a guy who also turned 40 at the same time.

Like I said earlier, Graham was the first family member since my maternal grandmother to attend a college other than Ball State. And, as I stated earlier, they both attended Butler. That university was a good fit for Graham in that it was small and held him to a high academic standard. He actually graduated in four years, which is uncommon these days. Unfortunately, it took him nearly another decade to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. But, that happens to be common with the men in my family. Now, he has a great job, a great wife who he met at Butler and a budding family.

As far as track was concerned, we had turned a corner in 2003 and were being recognized by other coaches and programs as an up-and-coming program. Much like what happened at Alexandria after three years with the program, HSE won the school’s first Hoosier Crossroads Conference championship, and their first track team conference championship since the Eighties. Finally, we were beginning to be on par with the girls team who were a state power. It was so rewarding to watch these kids work hard to gain respect from other teams in the state. We were no longer a laughingstock. In three short years, the number of boys in the program had grown from 20 to 80 and would peek at 120 in 2005, my last year with the program. The cool part was this success was now an expectation and not a goal.

What I enjoyed the most about the track team was they liked to do their team warmup exercises while listening to music. Of course, any music the guys submitted had to be edited of “bad” words. And, like all teenage boys, they gave me a CD with a mix of songs, none of which had been edited. Of course, I was blasting it on the stadium speakers, when a F-bomb was dropped. I ran back up the bleachers to take that CD off, but not before 4 more F-bombs  had been transmitted across the campus. When I got up to the press box and changed the CD to a more appropriate choice, I walked out only to see the boys and girls teams literally rolling on the track in hysterics over watching my reaction. That was the bonding moment of my team, as well as both teams, which made both programs stronger.

Fortunately for us, the conference meet was at HSE. We were favorites to win the championship, but we had hardly ever been intimidating as a group. Well, that night the guys were unusually quiet at the team meeting, and none of them were on the track when the other schools began to arrive. The only thing I ever told them was that good teams acted confidently whenever they arrived at a meet. They were focused, and something about the team made everyone else watch that team get ready for the meet. I had them watch other ranked teams, both boys and girls, to see how they acted at these invitationals. That night at the 2003 HCC Conference Track Championship, my HSE Royals lined up at the 100-meter dash starting line after the last school arrived. Then, one of the guys pulled out an old boombox, cranked it and started playing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as he held the box above his head. The team then walked down the homestretch of the track in front of the grandstands playing that song over and over. The confidently walked around the track to the backstretch until they reached the spot where they had set up their tents for a team camp. Once they put down their equipment, they began an impressive warmup. Those guys had set the tone for the meet and had proceeded to intimidate all of the other teams. Of course, they backed up the entrance with a dominant performance, and they never looked back again. They had arrived, much like the team in Remember the Titans, on their own terms.

And, here is some of the music we were listening to that year.

10.10 50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin'

50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003). It had been nearly a decade since a new rapper had been this hyped, reminding people of the days of Snoop Dog or Nas arriving on the scene. This was a massive album that year. So much, that my black athletes all gave me a speaking lesson in how to properly say 50’s name (they told me to speak more street and less like a hick!). As far as rap debut albums, this one ranks up there with the immortals like Snoop, Nas, Wu-Tang and Biggie. Eminem was the album’s executive producer, and that made 50 raise his game to mythic proportions. This is a landmark album.

10.10 Amy Winehouse - Frank

Amy Winehouse – Frank (2003). When Amy Winehouse arrived on the scene with this stellar album, she was unfairly being compared to Macy Gray, only because they both based their music in the jazz, R&B and soul of the past mixed with hip hop of the present, as if they were both an equal mix of Billie Holliday and Lauryn Hill. The difference between the two women was that while Gray’s music had the life sucked out of it by studio perfection, Winehouse had a band of excellent musicians who used loose arrangements that let the music breath and allowed for soloing. On Frank, you can hear Winehouse attempting to come to terms with her talent and vision. While everything had not yet come together, Frank is so original that it pops when compared to the other music of 2003. This woman is a dynamo vocalist and songwriter.

10.10 Beyonce - Dangerously in Love

Beyoncé – Dangerously in Love (2003). It is true that Beyoncé was being groomed for the moment – a solo career. After all, she was always presented as the star of Destiny’s Child. But, I truly don’t believe anyone outside of her camp was quite ready for the quantum leap she would make as a solo artist. She went toe-to-toe with her future husband on the brilliant song “Crazy in Love,” which was her clearly stated theme for her solo career. She was going to be a tough, independent diva who was not going to be afraid to take artistic chances. An in retrospect, this was just the beginning.

10.10 Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers

Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers (2003). The power pop/pop punk album of the year, if not the decade, the Fountains of Wayne finally put together their immense promise into one helluva album. Of course, “Stacy’s Mom” is rightfully the hit to remember, but the rest of the songs are just a focused and full of hooks. Outside of their fantastic work on That Thing You Do soundtrack, this is Chris Collingwood and the late Adam Schlesinger’s finest artistic moment, as the toned down their goofball side and played up their melodic brilliance.

10.10 Jay-Z - The Black Album

Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003). If I had a dollar for every time an artist stated their were retiring after a particular album or tour, I would be a very wealthy man. This time, Jay-Z was going around saying this album was the last time he would be spitting his stellar rhymes over his dope beats. If it were so, then Jay-Z was going out on top. Jay even showed that he could out rock Kid Rock with “99 Problems” that samples Billy Squier thanks to producer Rick Rubin. Plus, the rest of the album is Jay-Z challenging himself musically, with a little genre hopping. Of course, Jay would be back soon enough with more classic material in the near future.

10.10 Kings of Leon - Youth & Young Manhood

Kings of Leon – Youth & Young Manhood (2003). Back when the Kings of Leon first burst onto the scene with this album, they were a group of three brothers and a cousin who had been raised with a traveling preacher. The young men were musical prodigies, so an uncle took them under his wing and exposed them to the greats of rock music. Quickly, the band absorbed these influences while creating their own unique blend of rock with a touch of southern rock mixed in for good measure. They were like a stripped down, punkier version of The Black Crowes that were lighting the critics’ collective fire. This was a promising debut.

10.10 Outkast - Speakerbox The Love Below

Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003). Finally, Outkast became the big commercial success everyone had expected the duo to become for years now. Their blend of all things hip hop, soul, Motown, blues, funk, R&B, rock and pop became all the rage with this Grammy-winning Album of the Year, the first for a rap group (Sorry Eminem! The Marshall Mathers LP truly deserved to be the first.). And, no one could escape the hits “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move,” though they both sound as fresh today as they did 17+ years ago. Not their masterpiece, that goes to Stankonia, but a terrific double album all the same.

10.10 The Darkness - Permission to Land

The Darkness – Permission to Land (2003). The music world just seemed to be ready for a band that took all of the best parts of glam, metal and hard rock and wrapped it all up in a millennial’s post-modern point of view. All the great stuff is there, from nods to Sweet and Queen to power licks from Judas Priest and Def Leppard. The Darkness was bringing the fun back to rock music just in the nick of time.

10.10 The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium

The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003). The hard rock/heavy metal groups of this era were all pretty much influenced as much by the dark arty sounds of King Crimson and the musicianship of Rush, as they were by the sheer ferocity of Metallica and Pantera. But, what The Mars Volta did was step things up a notch by blowing it all up beyond stadium proportions to outdoor rock festival proportions. This band is not for the weak of heart.

10.10 The White Stripes - Elephant

The White Stripes – Elephant (2003). This album begins with the now-ubiquitous riff of the decade of “Seven Nation Army,” which is a warning that the duo is going to deal with their new-found fame in a different manner altogether. Now, they were turning up the Zeppelin-esque sounds to 11 and heading full force into the blues. This album remains the masterpiece of the band’s illustrious catalog, as its themes continue to resonate through the ages.

10.10 Warren Zevon - The Wind

Warren Zevon – The Wind (2003). Zevon spent his last few days on this Earth working with his favorite musician friends that he developed throughout his career on an album that would ultimately help him deal with his impending death while maintaining his sarcastic view on life. This is a brilliant statement from a dying man.

10.10 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (2003). It must have been nearly as fun to have been a twenty-something to live in NYC during the early part of the 21st century (after 9/11, of course) as I imagined it to have been during the mid-Seventies. The music scenes of both time periods were fertile and innovative, though the more recent one was built upon the foundation of the previous one. So, after The Strokes came the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who were a bit more abrasive in their sound but came packing the same melodic hooks as well. This debut is a thrilling listen, especially since the whole band’s aggressive sound is grounded by the earthy vocals of lead singer Karen O. Once again, this band set the bar too high for them to ever live up to their major label debut.

That’s a wrap! See you next time as continue our trip through the years up to and including 2019. Peace.

Getting Back to Normal in 2002: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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After the tumultuous year of 2001, we slowly began the act of getting back to normal, whatever that meant. 2002 was significant in that the last half of the year was the beginning of my older son’s last year of high school. By the end of 2002, we had received word that he would be going to Butler University on an academic scholarship. Personally, I was disappointed that he would become the first one in our family since my maternal grandmother not to go to Ball State. And guess where she went? Butler, of course.

Coaching wise, 2001 was the year in which I was coerced to get back into track. After that one year of coaching basketball on the greatest staff, the boys track coach no longer wanted to be in charge of the whole team. He simply wanted to coach the distance runners. So, he approached me first about taking his position with him becoming one of my assistants. After that, the full court press was put on by the boys and girls Athletic Directors, the principal, one of the assistant principals and the girls team coaches. It was nice to feel so wanted, but basketball was still my first love. So, it was Coach Bull who helped me the most with this decision. He said that he did not want to lose me, but he did not want to hold me back either. He said that I had the chance to put my stamp on a program that was in as bad of shape as Alexandria’s had been. The only problem was Hamilton Southeastern was quickly becoming one of the largest schools in the state, so we would be taking a beating the first couple of years.

So, in 2001, I had a group of freshmen who had some talent and loved the sport, so I made the “no-brainer” decision to develop those kids and fill in the rest of the spots with older kids until the talent improved. Needless to say, 2001 was brutal. But, we did get better in 2002, even winning an invitational toward the end of the season due to our improvement and our budding team depth. Let’s just say that we were gaining confidence as a team as I weeded out the older kids who had problematic attitudes.

Probably the highlight of 2002 was not coaching or teaching, but being a parent. When your child is a junior, the parents organize what is known as The Post Prom, an event of games and entertainment for the high school kids that takes place at the high school after the Prom is over. Every year, the parents transform the school into a themed wonderland of fun entertainment. And, each year, a group of parents are in charge of a show. Over the years, the parents have played movies, performed SNL-themed variety shows, talent shows and the like. This time, I was on that committee and my wife nominated me to write this show when I wasn’t at the meeting. Great!

Well, I did remember at the Winter Talent Show that a group of teachers had formed a band and played a song to the delight of the students. Afterwards, the group never performed again. My idea was to due a send up of VH-1’s Behind the Music about this group the guys called Flying Squirrel. So, my wife proceeded to tape them answering questions in the manner of This Is Spinal Tap and The Rutles. Everyone understood what I was doing, so these knuckleheads ran with it. It goes without saying that these guys were brilliantly funny. And, since I had a student teacher, I was able to do some video editing to create the show, complete with the school’s principal doing a Lorne Michaels-like bit begging the band to come back together for a free dessert from the school cafeteria to reunite, to their sleazy manager (another hilarious teacher), to a roadie talking about the band’s groupies (a parent that everyone knows), to the groupies (some hot moms) saying they inspired the music (my nod to Almost Famous), to a band member leaving the band for a solo career (he did a rap number and the Worm), to a band member never realizing the other guy left the band, to a dream-like origin story of the band’s name, and capped off with a new performance by the reunited band. And the kids loved it. The other teachers all said that was the best one. Personally, I don’t know if that is true, but it was fun, even though two of the moms never understood what we were doing and tried to sabotage it every step of the way. I kept telling them to watch one episode of VH-1’s Behind the Music, but they never would. Fortunately, the others on the committee had my back and supported this throughout.

Unfortunately, I never got to do the show for my younger son’s Post Prom because of my stupid back. That will be a regret I will take to my grave since he had helped with the whole Flying Squirrel show. Anyway, let’s take a look at the music of 2002 that inspired me.

10.9 Andrew WK - I Get Wet

Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet (2002). One day, my older son came home from work with a new CD saying that he had something that would remind me of everything that was great about Eighties music. I quickly had learned to be skeptical whenever he came in saying that because the music would be his punchline. Instead, what I heard was the best of metal, punk and pop being rolled up into one relentless headbanging album. For once, he was paying homage to my music and not making fun. At least, that’s how I choose to remember it.

10.9 Bruce Springsteen - The Rising

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002). Just when you were beginning to think we were remain in a post-9/11 funk came word that The Boss had summoned the E Street Band to the studio for a reunion. And, the resulting album was all about healing, specifically the healing of relationships, like the families of the victims of 9/11, the people of the United States and the band members themselves. What a beautiful album about healing! And, it had to be Springsteen and the E Street Band to do this.

10.9 Christina Aguilera - Stripped

Christina Aguilera – Stripped (2002). For the most part, Aguilera has wasted her pipes behind crappy music. And, for most of this album, she continues that route. Except on “Beautiful,” that song written by her producer and former 4 Non Blondes leader Linda Perry. No, Perry captured Aguilera at her most vulnerable while singing that song. And, that’s how Christina should be recorded ALL the time. At least on this album, she is more about her emotions that her technique. Her perfectionism is getting in the way of her becoming the voice of a generation. At least she came pretty close on this album.

10.9 Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head

Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002). Coldplay was obvious in who their biggest musical influence was, U2. While on their debut, they took a more sleepy approach, this album is the one in which they made their influences their own sound. Remember, U2 never had many piano-based hits. So, Coldplay was able to wrap that U2 influence around a piano to create the band’s first major singles “Clocks” and “The Scientist.” Coldplay was proving they were ready to ascend to the rock throne soon.

10.9 Eminem - The Eminem Show

Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002). The question should be, “Will the real Eminem please stand up?” Em was in a creative battle with his Slim Shady persona, and Shady seemed to be winning at the time. While this album was not quite the world-stopping brilliance of The Marshall Mathers LP, this was still a stellar album that had the rapper questioning his own role in the world of hip hop. He proved he was an artist for the ages.

10.9 Johnny Cash - American IV The Man Comes Around

Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002). Just when, in your own mind, the collaboration between the Man in Black and producer Rick Rubin could no longer pay dividends, the duo releases this wonderful album of vulnerability on a world hungry for a statement like this. And, they saved the best song of their decade-long work together for what now resonates as a deathbed confession, Johnny’s version of the Nine Inch Nails classic “Hurt.” Cash discovered a whole new level of emotion and truth in that song, making the definitive version (sorry Trent!) of the song. Then throw in Cash’s stellar cover of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” and you now have a wonderful one-two punch.

10.9 Justin Timberlake - Justified

Justin Timberlake – Justified (2002). Of all the boy band members of those dominant bands from the late-Nineties, did anyone honestly have money on Timberlake having the breakout solo career? I sure never expected Justin to become something of a new Michael Jackson. Hell, this album reminds me so much of Off the Wall that it’s not a joke any longer. After listening it the album or the first time in my older son’s room, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

10.9 Maroon 5 - Songs About Jane

Maroon 5 – Songs About Jane (2002). Well, it seemed like alternative music was becoming pop music. My older son kept telling me that this band was an alternative band, but I kept telling him there was little difference between Maroon 5 and the great Redbone of “Come and Get Your Love” fame. Oh well. Maroon 5 IS a pop band, and a damn good one at that. This was a pretty good start for the band.

10.9 Norah Jones - Come Away with Me

Norah Jones – Come Away with Me (2002). Don’t get me wrong! I think Norah Jones is a great artist. But, I did get tired of this album when every middle-aged woman kept playing it everywhere I went. Personally, I love the light jazz/singer-songwriter vibe of the album, and Norah executes it with panache. But, when the soccer moms latch onto an album they sure can take the enjoyment out of it.

10.9 Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf

Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf (2002). Here is one of the heaviest bands of the new millennium. Plus, it’s always fantastic to hear Dave Grohl behind the drums. And the way the band solidifies around Grohl’s beats and Josh Homme’s guitar licks is a thing of beauty. I love this album!

10.9 The Roots - Phrenology

The Roots – Phrenology (2002). America’s favorite rap band was back with a vengeance. The rhymes are insightful, the beats are slinky and the musicianship is impeccable. The Roots prove they are much more that a rap group, since they are talented and versatile musicians as well. This is post-modern band.

10.9 The Vines - Highly Evolved

The Vines – Highly Evolved (2002). Of course, a band from Downunder will be ready to jump into the pop punk/new garage band sweepstakes. After all, it is a natural sound for bands from that continent. The newest entry was The Vines, who exploded from the speakers with this excellent album. Luckily, The Vines were playing a concert at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when we were there. So, my boys can be seen in the crowd on the taped show of the concert on MTV. Great band, great performance, but too bad they could not maintain the momentum.

10.9 Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). Originally, Wilco lead Jeff Tweedy was a member of alt.country innovators Uncle Tupelo. Then that band splintered into Son Volt and Wilco. Many thought Son Volt would become the next big thing, but it was Wilco who persevered. Initially, Wilco continued down the country rock path blazed by the original band, but slowly the band evolved to include more Radiohead-like textures. So, when the band handed in this album to their label, the label rejected it. Undaunted, the band went seeking a new label. Eventually, they found one, and the album was released to a litany of critical praise. Once again, this proves the musicians know and the bean-counters don’t. This is a terrific transition album as you hear a band change into alternative rock darlings.

And, there you have it, 2002 in a nutshell. And, as always, until next time, peace.

2001 – A Musical Odyssey: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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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.

10.8 Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor

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.

10.8 Daft Punk - Discovery

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.”

10.8 Destiny's Child – Survivor

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.”

10.8 Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera

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.

10.8 Gorillaz - Gorillaz

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.

10.8 Jay-Z - The Blueprint

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.

10.8 Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American

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.

10.8 Missy Elliott - Miss E. So Addictive

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.

10.8 Ryan Adams - Gold

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.

10.8 Sum 41 - All Killer No Filler

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?!

10.8 The Strokes - Is This It

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.

10.8 The White Stripes - White Blood Cells

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.

10.8 Tool - Lateralus

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.

Y2K: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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After spending the 1998-99 school year teaching middle school science at my hometown Pendleton Heights Middle School, I quickly began a search for a high school teaching position. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall that I would never get a high school teaching or coaching position in my hometown, so I started my search in school systems near me. The nice thing was that I received two interviews AND job offers at the small school where I student taught, Eastern Hancock Jr. and Sr. High School, and the one of the fastest growing school districts in the state, Hamilton Southeastern High School. Both schools wanted me to teach chemistry and coach basketball as an assistant. So, I went with the larger school, Hamilton Southeastern. Plus, I knew their newly hired head basketball coach through my dad. You see, Coach’s dad and my dad had coached against each other when Coach was in high school. That’s what got me hired, but it was my ability that kept me around.

That one year being a boys varsity assistant coach was an awesome experience. The four coaches on the staff were exceptional people, and we had great chemistry. The assistants were encouraged to use our ideas to improve the offense or defense as needed. Coach Bullington (or Coach Bull as we all called him) had a basic outline to his offense and defense, and he left the details for tightening up things to his assistants, which was a cool way to coach. Now, all of us have a vested interest in how the team performs. Personally, I loved to quietly analyze a team’s performance until I have diagnosed their problems. Once I had a grasp as to the deficiency (or deficiencies), I would talk to Bull, make my suggestions as how to improve the problems and show him how I would improve them through drills. If he agreed, then he turned you loose. That’s the reason all three of his assistant coaches became head coaches, though I was the only one who did not stick with basketball, not that Bull really wanted me to leave the program for track. However, he was one of my biggest supporters. Likewise, when Coach Satt took over for Bull to become the head coach of HSE, which he still is in that position nearly 20 years later. And, Coach Grace went on to coach at a couple of noteworthy high schools before hanging up his whistle.

I have often described that coaching staff as if we were The Beatles. We were great together, while all of us eventually went on to become pretty successful on our own. First, Bull left HSE after three years for Pike High School, where he won a State Championship, then retired. Satt, as I said earlier, continues to coach at HSE, where he has coached two Mr. Basketballs, a handful of Indiana All-Stars and won a couple of Sectional championships. Grace was the head coach at a couple of prominent high school programs in Indiana, but left the profession so he could watch his children in their sports. And, me? Well, I will continue to cover that. Though I led some pretty remarkable coaching staffs as the head boys varsity track coach, none of them compared to the chemistry this basketball staff had.

The cool part is how much laughter we shared that year. That’s what I remember the most, followed by the first win of the season (the game plan was totally mine too!), Bull’s 300th career win, the night we beat a school that had fired Bull about a decade earlier (never had I heard a coach so fired up to beat a crappy team), the game when the fire alarm went off at an opposing school in the middle of the second quarter and we had to evacuate the court (and one of the referees got arrested at halftime too!) and the night when the whole staff nearly got ejected from the last game of the season over the worst officiating crew ever. Greatest. Season. Ever. And we were only a couple of games over .500 for the season.

Still, once again, Y2K had some great music, and the world did not end. So, let’s see what’s on my list from the year 2000.

10.7 D'Angelo - Voodoo

D’Angelo – Voodoo (2000). D’Angelo returned in 2000 with his sophomore album that continued his neo-soul explorations that he innovated on his debut release Brown Sugar. On this LP, the man must have asked himself what would soul sound like if Prince had started the genre. From there, he worked both forward by incorporating hip hop sensibilities and backward as he soul vision bought in not only Seventies soul but jazz and light funk as well. This sound made him more than a retro artist, as Lenny Kravitz or Boyz II Men could at times sound like. No, D’Angelo has his own thing going on as he mixed and matched the talents of The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Raphael Saadiq, among others, in creating the sound on Voodoo.

10.7 Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). Many people, my sons included, have stated at one time or another that this album may be the greatest hip hop joint of all-time. Now, I don’t feel all that qualified to designate any album as the greatest in the genre. But, I will say that this is one helluva album and should have won the Grammy for Best Album that year. And, remember, I love Steely Dan, but they did not deserve what amounted to be a lifetime achievement award for their comeback album. Their album was nowhere near the cultural phenomenon this album was. It was ubiquitous and remains a landmark release in all of music.

10.7 Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes - Live at the Greek

Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes – Live at the Greek (2000). To be perfectly honest, when I first read about this pairing, I was very skeptical. How would a roots rocking band ever mix well with one of the greatest hard rock guitarists of all-time? Well, I was totally wrong! This was a pairing made in heaven. Seriously, the Crowes are well-versed in the musical language of Zeppelin, giving the music enough musical diversity that kept it fresh. Plus, lead singer Chris Robinson’s vocals can nearly match the soaring timbre of Robert Plant on the Zeppelin songs. This album was a revelation.

10.7 Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory

Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory (2000). Rarely does the best band of a genre show up at the end of that genre’s run, but that’s exactly what happened when Linkin Park broke through in 2000. This rap/metal ensemble turned up the angst to 11, while smoothing out the rough edges from the Slipknot/Limp Bizkit sound so their tunes would be more commercial. Plus, their secret weapon was lead vocalist Chester Bennington, who had the ability to scream like a Death Metal banshee, rap like a minor league white rapper (but in a good way) and croon like a teen idol. Couple Bennington with the angst-ridden aggressive pop sound and you have a guaranteed hit.

10.7 Madonna - Music

Madonna – Music (2000). So, what’s a diva to do when she seems to be on a never-ending music innovation roll as Madonna was for nearly the past two decades. Well, after the success of her amalgamation of dance, techno and pop on Ray of Light, Madonna looks back at her roots in the disco floors of the late-Seventies. Then, she adds some new millennium sounds to create some of the most exciting club music of the year. This is the sound of a master looking back in order to move forward.

10.7 Marilyn Manson - Holy Wood

Marilyn Manson – Holy Wood (In the Valley of the Shadow of Death) (2000). As the Nineties were ending, Manson was reeling from the sting of the blame laid at his feet for the Columbine massacre and the commercial dud of his Glam Mechanical Animals. So, he regrouped, refocused and re-emerged as his old nasty heavy metal/industrial rock perverted self. This was the sound of a wounded man reclaiming everything that made him great in the first place.

10.7 Nsync - No Strings Attached

*NSYNC – No Strings Attached (2000). In the boy band sweepstakes around the turn of the century, there were truly only two groups who could stake claim the throne: Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. Both bands had their backers, and rarely did a fan love both bands. But, this album sold a ton during the first week of its released. So many copies that this album has the record for most units moved during the first week of its release. And, *NSYNC had a secret weapon in their lineup, a lad named Justin Timberlake, who will go onto getter heights as a solo artist, actor and Jimmy Fallon pal. Give the Y2K Boy Band award to *NSYNC.

10.7 OutKast - Stankonia

Outkast – Stankonia(2000). Once again, the most innovative hip hop sounds were being created by Outkast, this time on their brilliant Stankonia. Sure, they built there sound on a P-Funk foundation, but they found ways to warp those sounds while never ignoring the pop hooks in each song. The emotional centerpiece of this album is the apologetic “Ms. Jackson,” which is an apology to Erykah Badu’s mother for Andre 3K getting Ms. Badu pregnant. It remains a very poignant moment in hip hop history. This album changed everything in the rap world.

10.7 PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000). Maturation is a natural progression in people across the spectrum but is rarely seen in the rock world, especially when an artist is known for her angst-riddled anguish in her original run of albums. Yet, all of a sudden, Harvey looks back on her life only to discover a more mature manner in which to express her anger. As opposed to blowing her audience away with her bluster, now Harvey takes the listener by the hand and shows the aftermath of an emotional bomb being dropped on a maturing adult. This is the sign of maturity within the comfy confines of rock music.

10.7 Radiohead - Kid A

Radiohead – Kid A (2000). After Radiohead released their previous album O.K. Computer, the world was ready for how the band was going to continue to save rock music from itself. Once again, the band answers the bell and comes out swinging. Not only is Radiohead wailing away at the technology of the day, but also the current music from a machine, EDM. Radiohead completely blows up everything in its sights. This is one of the first albums that bypassed the rock conceptions of the Boomers and Gen X and completely geared its sounds for the Millennials. This album is a seismic shift indeed.

10.7 Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000). Before his whole misogynous allegations surfaced, Adams was considered to be something of a modern day Gram Parsons, a cat who was bringing the country rock sound into the 21st century. Originally, Adams was a member of one of the original Nineties Americana bands Whiskeytown. Unfortunately, that band broke up before they could experience much success. But, when Adams began to do his own thing, the expectations were placed squarely on his shoulders. Heartbreaker is just the kind of album that gets those with their fingers on the pulse of genre all sweaty with excitement. This is a modern mix of Parsons and Neil Young.

10.7 The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious

The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious (2000). As the new millennium rolled around, young people were yearning for the raw sound of the original punk movement of 1977. First came Green Day, The Offspring, and others in their wake. Initially, this all started as a trickle but was beginning to catch a little stream. Into the void steps The Hives, ripping through their songs like amphetamine-driven version of The Cars, sans the synth. This is more pop punk (nothing more than harder, faster power pop) than most of the old CBGB sound. It may not have been art, but I like it!

10.7 U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind

U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000). When we last heard U2, they were doing some crazy sonic experimentations with the attempted marriage of their Dadaist rock sound of Achtung Baby/Zooropa with the EDM-based rock sound of Pop. After getting all of that out of their collective system, the band then began to look back in order to move forward. So, now, after a decade of experimentation with their basic sound, it was time to reach back to their mid-Eighties days of soaring anthems loaded with sincerity for inspiration. The result was this album being a definite embrace of all stages of their development in order to create this album. And, this was definitely their finest LP in a decade, proving that U2 still had creative life flowing through their veins.

Now that we are finally taking about music from the 21st century, let’s take a look where we stand in this list. Currently, we have 19 more years to cover (2001-2019) with 159 albums. I cannot believe how close we are to finishing this thing off. Until next time, peace.

Closing Out the 20th Century with 1999: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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During the 1998-99 school year, I experimented with teaching middle school kids. Let’s just say that it was not as successful as I had hoped. Teaching middle school kids takes a special person, and I am NOT that person. I discovered that I prefer teaching budding human beings as opposed to whatever early teens are considered. Plus, I discovered that I was at my best when I was pushing students out of their comfort zones, and, well, just the basic work in science is out of the comfort zones of most 12- and 13-year-old kids. Additionally, I discovered that you really cannot go back to your old school, as I could not get a high school coaching job in my old school system, even though I just had success at Alexandria. So, I coached the seventh grade boys basketball team and bid my time for a year.

During the summer of 1999, I was training for the Chicago Marathon as a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. By July, I had been hired as a high school chemistry teacher at Hamilton Southeastern High School. Later, I was hired as a varsity assistant basketball coach. All of that happened at the end of June. So, on July 3, my family went to my wife’s family reunion, which was a blast. I played basketball and baseball all day long with the teens, mainly because I still had the energy of a teen even though I was in my mid-thirties. And, that was the last time I ever had that amount of energy running through my body.

On Independence Day, 1999, I went out for a small four-mile run with my brother-in-law Bruce. Up to that day, I had been running all of my ten-mile or less runs at five minute, thirty pace. Yet, on that day, I planned to cut the pace by a minute per mile so Bruce and I could run together. Unfortunately, by the two-mile mark, I could not feel my legs. This was not the normal pain from running. I could NOT feel my legs. I kept slowing my pace, finally telling Bruce to just go on because I was not right.

What should have taken me 20 to 25 minutes ended up lasting 45 minutes as I limped and walked my way back to my in-laws’ home. Of course, my wife was frantic since she could not imagine what could have happened to me. Of course, I took a week off from my training to rest my legs. When I started the training back up, the same thing happened on the third day of running, only this time I was in the middle of an eight-mile run. When I finally got home, my wife immediately drove me to the sports medicine walk-in clinic at a nearby sports med group. Initially, I was diagnosed with a double hip flexor strain, which is funny because one strain is more of a sprinter’s injury, not a distance runner’s. It took about three months and three doctors until someone discovered that I had a herniated disc between L4 and L5 vertebrae in my spine, along with some “trauma” to both L4 and L5. It seems I had injured my back in high school, once during a basketball game when I went back first into some bleachers and the other when I had been showing off while playing baseball with some little kids in the neighborhood, lost my balance and went back first into a tree. It seems that either accident, or both, caused a crack in one vertebra and lots of bone and cartilage debris to accumulate around the nerve branches coming off the spine that went down both legs. Thus began my now two-decade battle with my back issues that all came to a head on that day in 1999.

However, on the positive side, the music was pretty good. So, let’s take a look at my favorites from 1999.

10.6 Backstreet Boys - Millennium

Backstreet Boys – Millennium (1999). Pop music geared toward the tweens and early teens has been around since the dawn of rock music. In the late-Fifties and early-Sixties, teens had the Teen Idols. In the late-Sixties and early-Seventies, we had the bubblegum groups. In the Eighties, it was New Edition, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block. By the late-Nineties, as a backlash against all the alt.rock and gangsta rap floating around, teen artists began popping up again, with the Backstreet Boys becoming one of the first to break big. Their smooth R&B-based vocal harmonies coupled with their stylish videos made Backstreet the first to strike it big with the little girls.

10.6 Blink-182 - Enema of the State

Blink-182 – Enema of the State (1999). After Green Day smashed down the wall that kept punk rock on the outside, more and more pop-oriented punk bands began to have commercial success. And, none were better than Blink-182, a pop punk trio from San Diego who marketed their brand of punk with much snotty teenaged boy crude attitude. It was Blink’s collective sense of humor that separated them from the rest of the wannabes and opened the floodgates to the pop punk phenomenon of the early-2000s.

10.6 Britney Spears - Baby One More Time

Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time (1999). In a post-Madonna pop world, you just knew that the world was ready for a Lolita-type of pop queen. And, into that Nabokov-sized Freudian void steps a former Mouseketeer from the Nineties version of the Mickey Mouse Club turned teen video vixen Britney Spears to exploit the raw sexuality of a teenaged girl in a pop world. However, if you listen to the music without the visual, you have some fairly solid dance/pop tunes to capture the listeners’ ears. Honestly, her early videos made me very uncomfortable, but her songs were real earworms.

10.6 Eminem - The Slim Shady

Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999). So, at the same moment when all the teen-oriented artists began to make strides on the charts, on the complete opposite side of the moral line enters one of the most exciting artists in a decade. His name was Eminem, a white rapper who was everything that Vanilla Ice never was, in a word legit. Em allowed his producer, the great Dr. Dre, to channel his inner alt.rock world in creating a whole new world of beats. Dre had set the aural tones for N.W.A; then Snoop, The D.O.C. and himself; and, now, for the new millennium, Eminem.

10.6 Fiona Apple - When the pawn

Fiona Apple – When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King (1999). Oh, the Nineties were a time when women began exerting the muscles as musical idols. So far, we’ve had strong personas from Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Missy Elliott, PJ Harvey, Björk and Alanis Morissette, so in waltzes a young lady who seems to be influenced by Kate Bush with a Nineties attitude. Fiona Apple, a little petite woman with the brashness of all of the aforementioned female artists, hit like a sledgehammer. Rock would never be the same again.

10.6 Foo Fighters - There Is Nothing Left to Lose

Foo Fighters – There Is Nothing Left to Loose (1999). Who knew that Dave Grohl would become the last big rock star left in the world? Here, his band created one of the finest pop punk, Cheap Trick-influenced albums. After this album, the Foos would grow into one of the biggest rock bands left on Earth.

10.6 Moby - Play

Moby – Play (1999). This type of album would have NEVER been made in the Eighties. First, this is an EDM album, constantly kneeling at the alter of Kraftwerk. Second, the concept behind the album is that every song is intended by Moby to be used in commercials. Commercials?!?! Twenty years earlier, that notion was considered selling out. Now, it was a total subversion of the commercial world. Yet, this whole thing works as art. This was Moby’s finest moment.

10.6 Rage Against the Machine - The Battle of Los Angeles

Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles (1999). The world’s most controversial band made the Nineties’ most overtly political album that rocked. This is the type of album that is missing today. This is in a single word, incendiary.

10.6 Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999). RHCP’s best lineup is singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante. The originally joined forces after original guitarist Hillel Slovak passed away for the Mother’s Milk LP in 1989. Then, in 1991, they hit the big time with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. After which, Frusciante freaked out and bolted. Then, he returned for this album, allowing the band to rediscover that successful chemistry that made them so great. This album proved without a doubt that this was the best lineup.

10.6 Santana - Supernatural

Santana – Supernatural (1999). It had been nearly 30 years since Santana had created a commercially successful album. In the intervening years, the band had been mostly hit-and-miss, and, unfortunately, mostly miss. Now, under the guidance of the legendary Clive Davis, Santana was paired with many current artists like Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 and Dave Matthews to create a modern sounding version of the classic Santana sound. This was a fresh-sounding merge of Latin sounds, blues, rock and hip hop. And, it was successful beyond belief and won a boatload of Grammys.

10.6 Slipknot - Slipknot

Slipknot – Slipknot (1999). Just when you think that metal is dead, along comes a new band with a fresh take on the old format. Taking their cue from Kiss, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, the members of Slipknot wore unique masks during performances that made them appear as deranged mental patients, or at least killers in their own horror films. Their rhythms were heavier, as they added percussionists to the rhythm section, not for texture but for menacing power and volume. They added turntables for scratching and sample for more power and volume. The whole collective seemed as if they were exorcising their demons simultaneously as they play and record. Thrash had finally been turned up to 11.

10.6 The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999). Every so often, one of the strange underground bands of an era creates such a beautiful, off-kilter album that somehow catches the imagination of the masses. In the Eighties, Love & Rockets did it, as did XTC on Skylarking and as the Dukes of Stratosphear on Psonic Psunspot. As the 20th century was about to turn over, The Flaming Lips filled this void. This band’s pop has always been ornate and beautiful in the eye of the beholder. But, with this lush album, these Oklahoma natives created a sonic landscape so out of sync with the times that it came off as timeless. The Flaming Lips had officially left their punk days behind.

10.6 The Roots - Things Fall Apart

The Roots – Things Fall Apart (1999). Back in 1999, hip hop artists rarely used live musicians when making their music, even though the Beastie Boys had broken that barrier earlier in the decade. Then, along comes this band from Philadelphia, who totally changed the face of rap on this outstanding album. From this point on, hip hop artists began to use live bands to back them, and The Roots became eventual mainstays of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Now, this uncommonly talented group of musicians are icons. This is where everything broke open for them.

Now, we can put the final nail in the coffin containing the 20th century. Next time, we will begin the 21st century. Peace.

1998: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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About once a month or so, my pain-ravaged body will go into shutdown mode. I really don’t know when it will happen, but when it does, there is nothing I can do but sleep. I must have slept over half of the day Saturday. Fortunately, it happened when my wife had to meet with her four brothers to decide what to do about her parents’ home and property, so she was gone all day. Of course, I had planned to spend the day finally listening to the 13-LP box set of Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times remastered classic. Now, I will have to spread the enjoyment out over several days. Let’s just say that what I have heard on the first album of the newly released material is awe-inspiring. Prince had six LPs worth hit albums recorded during this legendary three-year period of creativity beginning in 1985 and ending in 1987.

So, anyway, we are up to 1998 in my list of My 1000 Favorite Albums. Now, the spring of 1998 was the last few months of my tenure at Alexandria. However, it ended on the highest of highs. In 1998, Alexandria did the unthinkable for a 2A school. They won the first state championships in two sports in one school year, basketball and baseball. And, while many of the sports teams did exceptionally well that year, the next biggest story was my track team.

Like I had said previously, these guys were some of the finest competitors I have ever coached. I only wish they had the coaching staff I worked with at Hamilton Southeastern because I feel like these guys could have had so much more to pull out of them than I could as their only coach. What they accomplished was solely on their own. I gave them their workouts and had to trust they would follow them as I could not be overseeing guys throwing the shot and discuss on one side of the school and jumpers on another, while the sprinters and hurdlers were sharing the front straight of the track, God knows where I had sent my distance runners to run for their miles. But, for some reason, the captains at each event kept the others in line and focused. Eventually, it all paid off.

Once again, Alexandria track had been the laughingstock of the sports program. Whoever had coached in the past never cared about practices or meets much because they were in a word terrible. Then, two years before I became the head coach, a young guy had taken over as head coach. He didn’t know much about track but he hated to loose. And, when I took over cross country, he immediately asked me to be his assistant. Together, we worked to change the working environment and attitude, which was easy because the kids in this small town hated to lose at anything. Unfortunately, that head coach left for an administration position at another school, so I became the head coach in 1997. By 1998, the kids that we focused the future on were now juniors and seniors, so I was expecting big things.

No matter how hard these guys competed, they kept finishing second or third in the invitationals, even though we were beating many of those teams in head-to-head competitions. Big meets are a different animal. Fortunately, I knew how to push these guys’ buttons. And, the biggest button was someone saying they were not good. The day before the conference meet, the local newspaper released its weekly paper. Immediately, I turned to the sports column that was written by a former AD at the school. Now, that man loved his Alexandria sports and was a fine man. I continue to have great respect for him. But, in his column, he slighted the track team basically saying they had a good season but would only finish fourth in the eight-team meet. There it was! I had those guys immediately. I copied that exact quote and handed it out to the team at our team meeting the night before the meet. I told them that according to the times that I had sent in for seeding, which were now two weeks old, said they would finish fifth as a team. But, when I substituted their more recent times, I told them they could win, no matter what happens with Peru’s stud All-State sprinter, who unfortunately was injury-prone.

The next day came, and when the meet started, one of our workhorses was laying an egg on the track. He scratched all attempts in the long jump and did not qualify for the finals in the high hurdles. My team was freaking out, so I gathered as many of them as possible, told them to relax and let the meet come to them. I said this happens all the time and that people will pull surprises as the meet continues. In other words, I bullshitted them.

At the half-way point in the meet, we were in last place in the team standings. And, then it started to happen. In those last events, we flexed our muscles. We went from also-rans to studs in the course of those events. As a matter of fact, when the last race, the 4x400m relay, was lining up, we were in first place by one point. All we had to do in the last race was to finish according to our seed, third, and we would win the school’s first track conference championship ever. And, that’s exactly what happened. Those guys, all of them had competed in three prior events each, were exhausted but dug down to finish a close third place. When the team standings were announced, only 10 points separated the champs, us, for sixth place! As a matter of fact, we finished first, second place was one point behind us, third place was 2 points back and fourth place was 3 points out. It was the craziest meet ever, but my guy prevailed and are now immortalized on the school’s sports wall of fame as the only boys’ track team on the wall. And that is a testament to these guys’ character. Today, all of them have successful jobs and families, so coaching them only made me appear to be good.

10.4 Dixie Chicks - Wide Open Spaces

Dixie Chicks (now, The Chicks) – Wide Open Spaces (1998). Of course, the trio is known as The Chicks, but I will still refer to the artist’s original name for the sake of this blog. So, when this multi-talented group of women combined their skills, they set the musical world, not just the country world, on fire. Sure, The Chicks were steeped in country, but they also displayed flashes of Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and other significant artists from the country side of rock. They had their very own sound, with the lyrics written by some tough women. With this album, The Chicks proved they were going to be a musical force for the ages.

10.4 Hole - Celebrity Skin

Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998). Courtney Love and her band followed up their 1994 breakthrough album Live Through This four years later with a bigger commercial hit in Celebrity Skin. Of course, controversy followed Ms. Love as she attempted to move forward with her life after losing her husband Kurt Cobain. At the time, she was rumored to be dating lead Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan, who was now being held up as the ghost songwriter of the tunes on this album. As if a woman could actually write their own music. Not!

10.4 Incubus - Make Yourself

Incubus – Make Yourself (1998). Sure, Incubus were steeped in the alt-metal hybrid that was popular in the late-Nineties. But, this time, the band used R.E.M.-producer Scott Litt, whose work emphasized the moodiness of the band’s songs. This moodiness, along with the cleaner production values, made the band more commercially enticing. Thus, this album put the band on the map, however briefly it lasted. My fondest memory of this album was hearing my older son’s high school garage band learning to play the songs on this album to play in the school talent show.

10.4 Korn - Follow the Leader

Korn – Follow the Leader (1998). After Rage Against the Machine broke, it seemed as if there were a million bands with a metal/hip hop fusion sound getting airplay in MTV. Hell, there was Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, White Zombie (and Rob Zombie as a solo artist) and, of course, Korn, leading the way. Korn was next to Manson in the scary sound department. You just felt an uneasiness in the air as their album played or during a live performance. Either way, I always felt as though I should sprinkle some Holy Water on the CD player after my track guys listened to this Korn CD while they were lifting weights. Yet, there was something about Korn that I liked. It was more than “Freak on a Leash” too.

10.4 Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). Recently, Rolling Stone released an updated version of their Top 500 Albums of All-Time list. No longer was the list being dominated by the tastes of Baby Boomers. Now, Gen X and Millennial critics’ opinions were being recognized. So, it should not surprise many out there that this album is in the Top 10 on this list. And, it deserves its placing. Hill was the counterpoint voice in the Fugees, bringing not only a feminine point-of-view to the great band’s musical statements, but she was also the social and personal centerpiece. So, while much was expected of Ms. Hill on her first solo album, no one could have predicted just how focused this album would be. The versatility in her vocals, going from a tough girl rap to a tender lover singing voice within the course of one song, was spellbinding. And, while she made it very clear that her children would come before her career, no one really took her seriously. Now, since she has released very little music in the interim years, this album has taken on a more poignant landmark in her all too brief career.

10.4 Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998). Here is another great album by a female artist released in 1998. Lucinda Williams was another terrific artist in the newer Americana scene that was led by Counting Crows, The Jayhawks, Son Volt, Wilco, among so many others. But, what Williams accomplished on this album still resonates to this day in the genre. Ms. Williams definitely hit a home run on this album release, perhaps the best of her illustrious career.

10.4 Madonna - Ray of Light

Madonna – Ray of Light (1998). Through the Eighties and early-Nineties, Madonna rarely took time off from her career. But, in 1998, Madonna ended a four-year hiatus with the release of her Grammy winning album Ray of Light. On the LP, pop’s most famous musical chameleon, patterned after David Bowie’s career, Madonna hooked up with techno producer William Orbit in order to give her pop/dance sound a modern overhaul. And, the result was this mesmerizing hybrid of influences that reinvigorated Madonna and poised her for a strong opening at the beginning of the 21st century.

10.4 OutKast - Aquemini

Outkast – Aquemini (1998). You know what the cool thing about modern popular music is? The coolest thing is that the music rarely gets stale. Once that begins to happen, along comes a fresh new artist ready to overturn the applecart of the status quo. At the time, gangsta rap and other tales about thug life were growing thin with some listeners. So, when a rap group pops up from Atlanta of all places, using P-Funk samples and a surrealist, nearly Dadaist, approach to their music and rhymes figured to shake up the establishment. The best example was the duo’s hit song “Ms. Jackson.”

10.4 The New Radicals - Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too

The New Radicals – Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too (1998). I’ve written about this album before, but I will say it again. This album is totally underappreciated. The New Radicals brought took the influences of Daryl Hall & John Oates AND Todd Rundgren. This is just a beautiful mix of power pop and blue-eyed soul. And, the unique thing about this band is that the leader, Gregg Alexander, who never shied away from controversial statements about the state of the music industry to his belief in left-wing politics, broke up the band after scoring a lone Top 40 hit (“You Get What You Give”) in order to be an actual one-hit wonder.

And that wraps up the next-to-last year in the old millennium. We have currently covered 815 albums on my list, leaving 185 LPs over 21 years to go. See you next time. Peace.

1997: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

1997 was the year when my coaching success was finally beginning to caught up with the success I was having in the classroom. I know that is a weird statement to make, but I rarely had issues getting students to work in the classroom. I simply wanted them to achieve more than their status quo, which goes against the American teenager’s credo. But, when it came to my sports, my competitive nature always was larger than my athletic gifts. Yet, through sheer tenacity of both me and my teams, we were beginning to have success.

Cross country had been a dead sport for about 20 years at the school, and boys’ track fielded “teams” that were made up of 20 or fewer athletes. As a matter of fact, Alexandria only had one good runner back when I was in high school, and he graduated in 1978. So, in essence, there was not much of a history in track or cross country. I told the guys that everything they would accomplish would be history. In 1996, my first year coaching cross country, the AD’s daughter was named All-State Second Team. In 1997, both boys and girls teams finished second in the conference after finishing seventh the first year. The boys even finished in the top 5 teams at the Sectional meet to qualify for the school’s first Regional appearance in Cross Country.

In track, we overcame much that poor schools have stacked against them. Our facilities, generally speaking, were crap, even though we did get the track resurfaced for the first time in 20 years (also, it was the last time the track has been resurfaced, believe it or not). Things were so bad that the school had stopped competing in the pole vault, which meant we were walking into every meet down AT LEAST nine points, more at big invitationals. And, my last words before getting off the bus to compete was, “We are losing by 9 points (or 18 at an invitational), who’s going to make it up?” Then, I get off the bus and lead the team onto the track. Every time we got to a meet, everyone on that bus was as pissed as me, but it worked as motivation. These guys would constantly loose a championship by a point to a larger school, but every time they were ready to challenge them again, refusing to give an inch even when they should have lost. Fortunately, 1997 set up 1998, which I will get to next time.

So, what were the best albums of 1997? Let me simply say that Master P did not have a hand in any of them.

10.3 Björk - Homogenic

Björk – Homogenic (1997). Man, did this little Icelandic lady ever loose her chanteuse label to become a full-fledged rock artist. Here marriage of electronica, pop, rock and dance really turned the apple cart over. This remains her finest album.

10.3 Buena Vista Social Club - BVSC

Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club (1997). This album is named after a historic members-only club in Havana, Cuba during the pre-Castro days. Those were a time of rich musicianship, with most of these musicians never getting their acclaim in the States as former bandleader Desi Arnaz did. So, the great guitarist and musicology of sorts Ry Cooder went to Cuba to record an album with these forgotten musicians while also filming a documentary about this whole adventure. This album is a history lesson in Cuban music as you can hear the blending of jazz, mambo and much playfulness found in the simple love of playing. This album shows that music is the universal language.

10.3 Elliott Smith - Either Or

Elliott Smith – Either/Or (1997). Even though this was the man’s third album, he kind of burst on the scene because his song “Angeles” was included in the movie Good Will Hunting. But, this guy was much more than that song. This album is pure acoustic indie pop bliss. Unfortunately, he would die tragically at the age of 34.

10.3 Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope

Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope (1996). Janet went full-on nympho goddess on this album. It’s like she had decided to take on Prince’s Dirty Mind and update the music. Whatever happened, I like it!

10.3 Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly

Missy Misdemeanor Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly (1997). Here it is, the most acclaimed album by a female hip hop artist. And, that is a sexist statement, because this is a landmark hip hop period. She and Timbalake burst onto the scene with this fantastic album with strong songs full of dope beats.

10.3 Radiohead - OK Computer

Radiohead – O.K. Computer (1997). I remember in the early-Eighties when people were comparing The Cure to Pink Floyd, especially the earliest version of The Floyd. And, I thought they were daft. Nobody is like Floyd. Except now. You see, it took a Gen X band who grew up with computers to fully comprehend what it would take to become a Floyd in the Nineties. Technology causing alienation? Check. Weird-ass sounding guitars emulating and immolating the blues? Check. Using technology of the day to heighten the drama of the music? Check. Former art school students? Check. See where I’m going? Of course, Radiohead will blow up that notion soon enough.

10.3 Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out

Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out (1997). And, here my friends, is when the dream of The Runaways became real. Sleater-Kinney is a fantastic punk band who happens to be all-female. And no one cared! All everyone could hear is the great punk-based music this band was creating. They breathed a whole new life into the 20+ year old genre.

10.3 The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death

The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997). This album proved that Ready to Die was not a fluke. And, for a moment, Biggie could stake claim on being the finest MC on the planet. Unfortunately, he was murdered right as this album was being released, so we’ll never know the heights he might have climbed had he lived. Could he have adapted like Jay-Z or Snoop, or fallen off the face of the world?

10.3 The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land

The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land (1997). Thanks to this album, techno, or electronic dance music (EDM), was now worldwide. And, this ain’t no disco, either. This is a head-on aural assault that plays like a thrash metal band meeting up with Lou Reed at his most inaccessible. The sound is both menacing and danceable. The album was one stunning statement.

10.3 The Verve - Urban Hymns

The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997). By 1997, Britpop was flaming out as the masters, Oasis and Blur, were imploding and the excitement was being drained by a bunch of wannabes. But, with this album, The Verve made a statement to the world that the Britpop dream was not yet dead, and that young Brits still wanted to be a combination of The Beatles, Stones and Kinks all the while becoming rock stars. This album is magical, especially the controversial lead single “Bittersweet Symphony.”

And that’s my take on 1997. I’m sure some of my younger readers will object and that’s fine with me. But, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.