This summer has been so busy, but it is coming to an end. Maybe not according to the calendar nor the earth’s position around the Sun, but when the calendar hits August in an educator’s life, the summer is done. Around here, school starts next week. I hate it for all of the educator’s in my life, but as a retired educator I will only recognize the beginning of the school year with a light bout of depression. Remember, retirement was NOT really my decision, but my back put me in this situation, with so many professional goals left unfulfilled.
While I will have more time in which to write this crazy blog, I will be doing so with a heavy feeling on my heart. By this point in my career, I had hoped to have reached my goal of coaching teams in two different sports to State championships, becoming a good enough coach to have turned it into a color commentary job for broadcasts of my sports, all the while maintaining high standards as a chemistry teacher so my students will have a head start on their peers in college science classes. I know the goals were grand, but who ever said to temper your goals just because they were difficult? Plus, how can you go wrong when you felt as though you were fulfilling a calling?
Anyway, just bear with me as I get myself to Labor Day. Now, without a good segue, let’s turn back to my overwhelming album countdown. Today, we will get a little bit closer to the Top 100. Until then, let’s begin at #150.
150. Kanye West – Late Registration (2005). Ye may just be the artist of the Aughts, and I feel as though this LP solidified his position. The leap forward in his vision was light years beyond his terrific debut a brief two years earlier. Kanye the artist lost his grounding after his mother tragically passed a young age.
149. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988). When The Waterboys first hit the scene, they were being touted as Scotland’s answer to U2 with the soaring anthems of their debut album. Yet, when Mike Scott went to record his band’s third album, he came under the spell of Celtic folk music in much the same way Kevin Rowland of Dexys had seven years earlier. Once again, this turn paid off artistically for a UK artist.
148. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). Back when this was a new album, my uncle asked his history classes at his high school which three albums he and my aunt should purchase to give me for my 10th birthday. According to the man himself, the only unanimous choice was this album, along with Goat’s Head Soup by the Stones and Alice Cooper’s immortal School’s Out. Of course, this is the one I wore out several times over. I might just be on my third or fourth copy of the album in three different formats. You just can’t say that about every album.
147. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (1976). This album was one helluva debut. Too bad it didn’t enter my collection until AFTER I had heard “Breakdown” on the excellent late-70s soundtrack FM. The song was given a primo position of being on the Side One of the first record, but the song didn’t catch on with Indiana radio due to the title track by the hot Steely Dan and a terrific song by Joe Walsh called “Life’s Been Good.” Regardless, “Breakdown” captured my heart, leading me to become a lifelong Petty fan. This album is an absolute delight.
146. Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994). Every time doubt has crept into my mind about a Petty album, he generally comes back with guns blazing. Into the Great Wide Open was good but not great. Then, Petty quietly dropped this solo bomb on us and suddenly everyone seemed to be singing his praises. Solo or with The Heartbreakers, there are few songwriters who can match Petty’s catalog depth (others matching him are for me Prince, Weller and Springsteen).
145. Paul Weller – Wild Wood (1993). Paul Weller released an excellent debut that saw him tackling and accepting his musical influences into his mod-ish sound. Still, in true Weller fashion, it’s always the next couple of albums that constantly improve upon the initial vision. And that’s the case with this album. Paul is now pushing into his thirties and forging a whole new direction that will end up opening the British floodgates for a new sound known as Britpop.
144. Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience (1992). I’m not gonna lie, but I am a sucker for great music that uses a jangling guitar. And the Gin Blossoms filled this album with hit after hit based upon that wonderful power pop sound. I bet I play this album a couple times a month.
143. Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973). I believe it was Dave Marsh who described the three songs on Side Two of this album sounding like the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of a weekend in the life of a twenty-something. What a romantic thought! And not just because “Rosalita” remains my favorite Saturday party song!
142. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – This Year’s Model (1978). Elvis debuted on the 1977 SNL Christmas episode. He was a last minute replacement for the Sex Pistols who were having trouble get visas to tour America. Elvis was told not to play “Radio, Radio,” a terrific cut from this soon-to-be-released album. After playing another song for about a minute, Elvis stops the band and kicks full blasted into a venom-influenced version of his rant about radio censorship. And this album if stuffed full of the type of angry songs for which Elvis became a household name.
141. Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970). It’s crazy to think that a band would release their best two albums in a single year, but artists did it all the time in the 60s and 70s. Therefore, it was little surprise that the Dead would find their musical sweet spot by following The Band down the Americana path for a bit. These guys were so talented that it may have been difficult to get them to focus on a three-to-five minute song with little deviations or instrumentation noodling. But they did first on Workingman’s Dead and again on American Beauty.
140. Roxy Music – Avalon (1982). Arguably, Roxy Music created the most beautiful and sexiest album of the 80s with Avalon. Gone were all of the squawks and squeaks of their past sonic experimentation with a musical refinement never expected for these Glam Rock survivors. Roxy showed all the early-80s New Romantics how to update the Roxy sound.
139. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (1994). The Beasties changed the direction of popular hip hop three times on their first three albums. So what if the boys decided to rest a bit in order to amalgamate those albums into a punk-influenced sound. All I need to say is “Intergalactic.”
138. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989). Although The Stone Roses’ place in the Sun only really lasted for this album, it is noteworthy because they played something of a John the Baptist presaging the whole Britpop movement of the 90s. To this day, their swirling brand of psychedelia-meets-the-80s dance rock was some of the most exciting music of the late Eighties, especially when they are juxtaposition with the sound-alike quality of the hair metal bands.
137. New Order – Power, Lies & Corruption (1983). When Ian Curtis died, Joy Division went with him. So, the other three in the band added another keyboardist and some dance rhythms to the synthpop/rock sound that brought the darkness to the dancefloors all over the world. While the band’s subsequent releases were more commercially appealing, this album remains the most intriguing and sexy.
136. Taylor Swift – Red (2012/2021). Personally, I prefer the roughed up sound of Taylor’s version of this album, but I get why purists will stick with the original. Regardless, Red is noteworthy for Taylor’s growth into songwriting womanhood, upon which her reputation as a singer/songwriter is based. I cannot say enough good things about Red, except if you date Ms. Swift, don’t dump her and piss her off because she will have the final word on the relationship in song.
135. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991). By the early-90s, hip hop was in a constantly evolving stage. Trends were coming and going, but the true visionaries were focused on their rhymes and the beats, no matter the source. Case in point, the great and legendary A Tribe Called Quest. At the time, no one could match their verbal dexterity, jazz-based samples and the exquisite low end. These guys were hip hop prophets who are worthy of the term genius.
134. Madonna – Like a Virgin (1984). This album sent shockwaves around my college campus back in the day. It’s as if there was a history of pre-Like a Virgin and post-. Suddenly, girls on campus and at the mall were dressing like mini-versions of Madge. The album represents the selling of the total package of Madonna: fashion, visual and musical. We were on the dancefloor for Prince, Michael, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” but stayed when Madonna followed.
133. The Knack – Get The Knack (1979). The Summer of 1979 was all about two albums, this one and Cheap Trick’s At Budokan. What a summer! I have nothing but great memories of the music at the time. And, honestly, this one led the way. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about The Beatles trappings that the Boomers were bitching about. No, I thought the power pop was outstanding! This album was hot from beginning to end and signified the beginning of the MTV generation two years BEFORE MTV went on the air. Just give this wonderful band it’s due. I’m sorry their management made the band look like dicks. Yes, they should have been on all the TV shows of the day: the Grammys, American Music Awards, American Bandstand, hell, even Soul Train if they would’ve had them. But, that was not the guys. And I never understood the backlash. It wasn’t like they were on the radio 24/7. It was only a sixth of that around these neck of the woods.
132. Steve Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974). What an album! This is Stevie at his near-peak. Every song is a classic. So, how did he top it? He recorded a double album AND an EP’s worth of music at this level, that’s how. Stevie was rarely as funky or in command of his muse as he was here.
131. Phil Spector (And Various Artists) – A Christmas Gift for You (1962). This wonderful album has the dubious distinction of having a release date that ended up being the day President John F. Kennedy died, so Americans were in no mood for some of the best Christmas music ever put to vinyl. However, the album has been discovered and enjoyed by people in the Yuletide season. Of course, Darlene Love was the undisputed MVP of the album, but don’t forget The Shirelles’ contributions when making your annual Christmas playlist.
130. Dexys Midnight Runners – Too-Rye-Aye (1981). I find it rather ironic that I would be singing the praises of this album at the same time as I did for Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys, as they are cousins. Both are steeped in Celtic folk music, though Dexys filters it through Van Morrison, while The Waterboys went through U2 for their sound. Funny also that both are highly influenced by Irish artists as well. But, I absolutely love Dexys take on Van Morrison’s soulful sound, giving it an update for a new wave. This is a highly underappreciated album that needs re-evaluation.
129. Bob Dylan – Bringing It Back Home (1965). If you could distill Bob Dylan into three albums without relying upon any compilations, then you HAVE to choose this one. This is a simple tour de force as Dylan dips his toes into going electric. Oh the blasphemy!
128. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Voices (1980). At the dawn of the 80s, the duo left Philly for the Big Apple to be closer to all that was happening in the rock and dance clubs in addition to what was happening in the streets. There was an artistic renaissance of sorts happening and Hall & Oates knew they had to be there. They soaked in the environment and quit relying on producers to ruin their sound and vision (Damn you David Foster for ruining what should have been a wonderful X-Static LP! I will NEVER forgive that man for that and ruining Chicago in the mid-80s. I think he just might be Satan. NOTE: I’m joking about Satan, but he does over-power the artists he is producing). In the meantime, they hit their stride as songwriters and this was the just the beginning of the Hall & Oates monster of the Eighties.
127. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer (2018). What’s an artist to do when you want to have a sound influenced by Prince without relying on him to produce your album. Well, you hang and jam with the man. Monáe did just that and created her best album to date. If Prince had only lived to hear this album it might have given him the kick in the butt to battle her in a friendly game of artistic vision.
126. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994). Remember the whole MTV Unplugged series of concerts that breathed some new life into the acoustic guitar? It was all the rage in the 90s. There were some pretty average performances (most of them), some that were overrated (Sorry Mark Kline, we will have to agree to disagree on this one my friend!) and some that were transcendent (Stone Temple Pilots, R.E.M., LL Cool J all come to mind). But the granddaddy of them all is Nirvana. What we didn’t realize at the time but see in hindsight how this show was in essence a wake for Kurt Cobain who would commit suicide before the airing of the show. The performance is eerie, haunting and reaffirming all at once. I love that Kurt dug up songs by The Vaselines, Leadbelly, The Meat Puppets AND Bowie and interspersed them with his own tales. This is simply a magnificent and poignant album.
And that brings us to the end of this section. FYI: I got my Springsteen tickets today. And, unless Pearl Jam, Paul Weller, The Cure, The Bangles or Depeche Mode come through, I may be retiring from my concert life. Outside of Billy Joel’s appearance at the Notre Dame football stadium, the other concerts I attended were all just okay. Maybe it’s me. I guess we’ll next year.