We survived the granddaughters spending Friday and Saturday with us as their mommy and daddy went to Pittsburgh with some friends to see Rage Against the Machine. Personally, I wanted to see them, but I just can’t travel that long for a concert anymore. Plus, those two littles just kicked my ass. However, we are giving those two some memories even though the younger one won’t remember a thing except that we have developed a relationship with her.
Anyway, let’s get to the countdown.
90. Paul Weller – Illumination (2002). Mr. Weller began the new millennium with an excellent set of songs that displays all of his strengths as a singer/songwriter/guitar without succumbing to the modern studio trappings.
89. Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers (2003). Finally, power pop gods, and the creative force behind the fake band The Wonders from the terrific Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do, got the hit album and song (“Stacey’s Mom”) the band always deserved.
88. TLC – Fanmail (1999). TLC burst onto the scene as some cutesy girls from Atlanta who made some fine hip hop-influence bubblegum R&B confections in the early-90s. By the time of the release of this their third album, they had grown into young women stretching to control their careers and get out from under a contract that had made their former management rich but left the ladies in bankrupt. When this album dropped, you could hear their maturation permeate throughout the lyrics, music and accompanying videos and tour. It’s shame that the band in all purposes died when the trio’s troubled rapper Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes tragically died in a car accident. No matter the talent level of the other two women, they were missing the third leg of the stool of the band’s chemistry. Yet, what a legacy this album left behind.
87. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). As the visual centerpiece of arguably hip hop’s most talented group, Ms. Lauryn Hill burst on the scene when Fugees’ monster hit song “Killing Me Softly” burned up the charts. Her looks were model-worthy and her vocals were born in the line of the greats like Aretha and Chaka. But, no one was ready for what she created on her debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Now, those powerhouse vocals were set loose on lyrics worthy of an urban Joni Mitchell or Carole King set upon a musical landscape that seemed to be designed more by A Tribe Called Quest than anything the Fugees unleashed on their debut. I would probably rank this album higher if I were a younger woman, because I understand how Ms. Hill speaks to their concerns as young mothers, young black women, young women in general. Still, as an old white male, I do not believe that I can fully grasp everything she describes. But, what I can do is empathize, which seems totally inadequate.
86. Jellyfish – Spilt Milk (1993). Jellyfish is a Californian cult band that only produced two albums, with Spilt Milk being the second and last of studio material. The band debuted during the fall of hair metal and the rise of alternative music. Song their complex Pet Sounds/Revolver/A Night at the Opera pure pop gems were totally out of step with the current musical trends. Many aficionados consider this to be their masterpiece, while I tend to look at both releases as co-masterpieces with Spilt Milk being a slight step down. Here, you get all of the Gen X-based mid-70s pop/rock influences (from aforementioned albums) to groups like Wings, Player and Squeeze. This is a pop lovers’ wet dream. You just gotta overlook the band’s silly image of Goodwill-inspired Alice in Wonderland clothing. Members have gone on to solo and production work, as well as guitarist Jason Faulkner and keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. touring as members of Beck’s band.
85. The Cure – The Head on the Door (1985). While the band’s two follow-ups, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration, were The Cure’s commercial breakthroughs, The Head on the Door is the album that people should have latched onto since it is stuffed full of the band’s best songs. Any album that contains “In Between Days,” “Push,” “Close to Me” AND “A Night like This” HAS got to be considered a classic.
84. The Band – Music from Big Pink (1968). Let’s face it, how many artists can say they made an album that created a whole genre of rock music? Now, let’s narrow the list further by asking how many did it on their debuts? Hmmm, maybe Elvis Presley? Uh, Little Richard? Well, Bob Dylan? I’m not sure if any of them really invented anything on their debuts. They all signified that something was in the water. On the other hand, in 1968, there was country music (Johnny Cash), there was pop/rock (The Beatles), bubblegum (Tommy James & the Shondells), folk rock (Simon & Garfunkel), soul (Aretha Franklin), funk (Sly & the Family Stone) or hard rock (Blue Cheer). Then, upon this album’s release, a new thing, eventually dubbed Americana, was released by The Band. All I need to say is “Tears of Rage,” “I Shall Be Released” and, of course, “The Weight.”
83. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis (1969). When it came to female soul singers in the 60s, the throne belonged rightfully to Aretha Franklin. But, as you began to make your list, you better not overlook the white woman from the UK Dusty Springfield. While she had made some very good blue-eyed soul across the pond, the music world were left to wonder what she would sound like with an authentic southern-fried soul band would bring to her songs of heartbreak and ache. So, Atlantic tried an Aretha make-over by taking Dusty to Memphis to hook up with a band. After the band laid down some hot tracks, Dusty immediately got stage fright, intimidated by the reality of authenticity of the tracks. So, in a compromise, Dusty was flown to New York City, which calmed her down and allowed her to lay down her magnificent vocals. All of this created one of the greatest soul albums ever, regardless of race. All of which came from the pain of a diminutive bisexual English lass. Isn’t it wonderful how music can reach over all obstacles?!
82. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977). By 1976, there was a small coterie of musical misfits in NYC who formed bands that adhered to few of the rules plaguing rock music at the time. Over time, these artists were collectively known to be playing punk rock, since they all appeared to dress as if they were toughs from West Side Story. Then came the Ramones tour of the UK. After their blitz through the mother country, punk bands began to spring up all over London, spreading like a virus into other cities and towns throughout the commonwealth. Then, there were also artists who were looking to cash in on a fashion statement under the guise of being part of the French art movement known as the Situationists. From that crowd came Malcolm McLaren who happened to run a clothing boutique in London called SEX. He put together a band of an equipment-stealing tough with big rock star dreams, a rhythm section of actual songwriters and a confrontational front man with maximum charisma and the ability to piss off the masses. Together this ragtag bunch produced one of the most exhilarating albums of all time. Though the band was more of a singles band, this album has stood the test of time by bringing politics and punk anger together for the first time.
81. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987). Although this band popped up from the LA hair metal scene, they were much more than dudes playing pop metal in order to pick up chicks and party. Now, don’t get wrong; GNR played to pick up chicks and party. The difference? GNR were street urchins who were battling against everyone to keep their music “real” and their vision “pure.” The band consisted of two songwriting fighters with chips on their shoulders from the farmlands of Indiana (W. Axl Rose and Iggy Stradlin), a Hollywood gun-slinging guitarist (Slash), a Seattle punk expat bassist (Duff) and a terrific but troubled drummer (Steven Adler). When these volatile personalities came together, they created some of the most real feeling music of the 80s, while being a Molotov cocktail of clashing personalities and drug and alcohol issues. At their most focused, as on this album, GNR were a creative nuclear blast that have ever been released on the public. But, the dark side of each member was bubbling just underneath each member’s dermis waiting to explode. The original lineup only held it together long enough to record two EPs and this album. And, this album remains a testament to a band finally putting together all classic rock influences together with punk and metal to give a glorious but never duplicated hard rock experience.
And, that brings us to the end of today’s writing. Stay tuned for more to come as I go through the last 80 albums on my list. Peace.