Word of advice to everyone out there: NEVER change the code to your house right before you leave on vacation without testing the code. Someone very close to me did just that, while giving my wife and me the honor of watching our granddog (Oops! I didn’t give it away, did I?). So, I go over to said house owned by a very close acquaintance to hang out there while demolition takes place in our bathroom. So, I loaded up the dogs, mine and our granddog, to take them to the granddog’s house. After getting there, I had to go back to my house due to a worker needing my presence.
Upon returning to the vacationers’ house, the codes would not work. A couple of hours later, a locksmith arrived to get me back into the house in order to take out three extremely stressed dogs for a walk. The best part of the walk? Running into a neighbor who has been taking care of the mail. That person has been stacking the mail in the garage (that code works!) yet was also unable to get either the old or new codes to work on the front door. By the way, neither worked on the utility door that connects the garage to the house. Needless to say, it has been a very interesting morning.
Now that I have caught my breath, let’s get the next-to-last blog on this topic rolling.
20. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971). Marvin Gaye completely changed the games of soul/R&B and Motown in one quick swoop when he released What’s Going On. Most strikingly, Marvin’s lyrics directly lamented the plight of inner city black men in society and its subsequent breakdown. He was questioning why so many poor black men were being sent over to Vietnam just to be killed. While the lyrics were raging against the machine, Marvin’s music was going to a whole new level. Not only was Marvin influenced by the psychedelic rock, funk and Southern-fried Stax soul of the day, he was equally smitten with the jazz fusion and world music of the day. All of this made for a musical brew that broke new ground including its ongoing influence on hip hop. To say What’s Going On was ahead of its time while being of its time really doesn’t give the album the justice it deserves.
19. Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque (1991). Teenage Fanclub’s sophomore LP answers the unasked question, “What would Big Star sound like if they came of age in the early 90s?” But, since Big Star really didn’t have a roadmap, they needed themselves before ever becoming TF. Oh, those time-traveling limitations are a bitch. Anyway, these four Scotsmen obviously grew up listening to Big Star because they used their albums as the jumping off point, adding more feedback that was the rage in the early-90s. Teenage Fanclub bridges the gap between the sweet sounds of power pop, indie rock/alternative rock and some shoegaze/grunge thrown in for good measure, But, it’s those oh so sweet melodic hooks that pull you in. SPIN magazine got it correct when they named this album Album of the Year in 1991, beating out Nirvana’s Nevermind.
18. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966). When The Beatles released Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson took note and got to work in the studio, eschewing touring. When the boys got back into the studio, Mike Love was taken aback by the maturity and sophistication of the music that Brian had written, recorded and produced. Love felt that Brian was indulging his muse, not understanding the full-influence of this left turn away from the pop/rock sound The Beach Boys had found success with. Calling the songs on this album “teenage symphonies to God,” Brian threw down the gauntlet that made Paul McCartney take note, which caused The Beatles to respond with Sgt. Pepper. But, no one, and I mean absolutely NO ONE had the vocal prowess of The Beach Boys. And, that’s what truly made this album an absolute masterpiece that rivals almost anything written by Mozart and Beethoven.
17. Big Star – #1 Record (1972). There were a loosely associated coterie of knuckleheads spread out across the world who all longed for the days of the original Beatles sound while longing to punch the music up a bit with the rawness of the early Who songs. This was the beginning of power pop behind the visions of Badfinger, Raspberries and Big Star. But, it was the star-crossed Big Star whose sound has outlasted the rest of the original practitioners of power pop. This quartet debuted with this ironically titled album #1 Record with nothing but bad luck, as the label totally fumbled the promotion and push behind the band. But, the reputation of the band, as well as this album, grew over the next 50 years, influencing everyone from REM to Matthew Sweet to The Bangles to Teenage Fanclub. Big Star is much like The Velvet Underground whose influence is much greater than the sales during its time. Yet, the people who bought their albums probably all started bands. Look for Big Star to be inducted in the the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the next decade.
16. The Cars – The Cars (1978). Few albums had the impact during its time like this eponymous titled debut album by The Cars. I remember reading all about the album in Creem and Rolling Stone, among others. However, it took months for the album to catch on with radio and the album-buying public. But, when they all finally acquiesced, the music was everywhere and has remained so ever since. The album plays like a greatest hits compilation. Now, this can be said about many albums, but few albums actually hold up to the weightiness of those words like The Cars. After nearly 45 years since its release, this album continues to hold up.
15. R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986). When word got out upon the release of this album that R.E.M. had John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman working with the band at Mellencamp’s studio, many began to cry, “Sellout!” However, all Gehman did was to get the band’s playing focused and to bring singer Michael Stipe’s vocals to the forefront of the song’s mixes. Gehman’s true production brilliance comes in someone finally making studio R.E.M. sound like live-in-a-club R.E.M. To me, this album tends to get lost in the midst of a brilliant run of terrific albums, with many turning to Murmur, Reckoning, Document, Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People and New Adventures in Hi Fi as the band’s best. Just know that I will lead the fight for this album as one of the band’s greatest releases ever.
14. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1997). Ready for some irony? This album was released and super-popular with the world during the very moment my parents’ divorce was taking place. So, for the longest time, this album agonizingly accurate portrayal of my family’s life. But, as I grew up, I noticed a tenderness to the lyrics of Rumours that ran contrary to my mom’s venom toward my dad. Once I got that, Rumours‘ stature began to grow exponentially in my view. The music is impeccable, as is the production and everyone’s singing and playing. However, if there is a more soulful bass player than John McVie, please point that player to me because I feel like McVie is a very underrated player.
13. U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987). I cannot believe that this album did not make my Top 10. This is the album I expected the band to make after seeing their transcendent Live Aid set that was topped only by Queen. I had been following U2 from the beginning so I knew their trajectory and was just waiting for these four Dubliners to put everything together. When The Joshua Tree was finally released in the spring of 1987, I knew immediately upon the first listen that I had greatness on my turntable. From the opening “noise” of “Where the Streets Have No Name” through the standout singles “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” all the way to the closing of “Trip Through Your Wires,” you knew that the band had grown as musicians and songwriters while learning to texture their music with sounds from their instruments with the help of their producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. The band’s grand vision of the saving grace of rock music reached a pinnacle in which they could not take any further. But, before U2 remade their sound, they conquered the world, for the first time, with this triumphant album.
12. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). When the Floyd debuted in 1967, they were a blues-based band drenched in psychedelia because of the songwriting of then-leader/songwriter Syd Barrett. Then, Barrett developed a LSD-induced psychosis, which caused the band to replace him with guitarist/singer David Gilmore. It took the band a few years to work out their direction and hierarchy, but everything came together as bassist Roger Waters began to exert his leadership on this very album, a journey through the fragile state of the human mind. The musicianship is impeccable, and the production was years ahead of its time. But, it was the songwriting that went to the next level, making this album one of the all time greatest.
11. The Style Council – My Ever Changing Moods (1984). In 1982, Paul Weller disbanded The Jam, much to the chagrin of millions of fans in the UK. Then, he partnered up with keyboardist Mick Talbot, with the intention of the duo writing songs to be performed with an ever-revolving cast of musicians. Their intention was to dive head first into the R&B/jazz-side of the mod life that Weller had explored from the rock side in The Jam. Still, these men dove into their music, to create a unique blend of R&B, jazz, pop and Europop that was both sophisticated and commercial. Plus, the group, which grew to include drummer Steve White and background singer Dee C. Lee, quickly gelled to give us this mix of love songs and left-leaning political thought as a reaction against the evils that beset the working class during the age of Thatcher and Reagan. It was the perfect album at the perfect time, as I was searching for something that reminded me of the early 70s soul that I listened to on the radio with lyrics that reflected the 80s. All in all, The Style Council solidified my love of Paul Weller’s career.
Next time, it’s the Top 10! Peace.