All posts in 100

1: Beatles’ Revolver (1966)

I’m a Beatles girl, I guess. And I’m one of those Beatles girls that doesn’t grow tired of the songs she loves. Sure, White is incredible, and yeah, there’s a lot of incredible stuff out there that the Fab Four are responsible for, but what can I say, this is my favorite. “Eleanor Rigby”, “Taxman” and come on, one of the greatest songs ever, “Tomorrow Never Knows” completely changed the way I listen to music more than once. It’s my favorite song of all time. Besides that, the theme of groups experimenting with different genres comes to full fruition on this one, as it stands as one of the most successful attempts at playing with different sounds ever.

The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows”

2: Radiohead’s Kid A (2000)

I have such an undeniable affection for the oldies, the songs that create the platform and landscape for current listening, that it sometimes clouds my relationship with new music. It’s not any sort of revolutionary statement to declare modern music deeply in debt to the innovators of the past, but it does bear repeating. Being able to look back and see how things fit together in the vast musical landscape is important for anyone who truly cares about the art form — or any art form, for that matter.

That’s why Kid A is such an incredible record. Though it definitely brings to mind a variety of other genres and accomplishments, it’s one of the only records I’ve ever listened to that truly, completely turned all other music on its head. There’s nothing to compare it to, even if you’re able to find elements of the familiar inside its dense compositions. It’s so complex, so thick and layered, its individual parts almost float away. The beauty of these songs lies in the way every smaller element fits with the whole. The simple floating layers at the beginning of “Treefingers”, the deafening horns, seemingly completely out of context in “National Anthem”, the haunting layers of whispers in “In Limbo” … years of listening still hasn’t revealed all the moments of these songs to me. I’m always completely amazed and bewildered by how subtle and powerful this album is.

So while it seems strange to list a record that came out only ten years ago at #2, I stand by it and truly believe it will be a long while before I hear something this incredible again.

Radiohead “The National Anthem”
Radiohead “In Limbo”

3: Pavement’s Wowee Zowee (1995)

It’s no secret that I’m a Pavement nerd. Shit, this blog is named after one of my favorite songs. Wowee Zowee, however, might not be the popular choice for the best of the bunch. Regardless, WZ has become not only my favorite Pavement record, but one of my favorite records of all time. More eccentric than its predecessors, it combines some of Malkmus’ best songwriting with a lot more guitar than we’d seen previously. The sort of classic rock vibe disappeared on this album, leaving room for lots of improvisation structure-wise. It’s also one of the most perfectly sequenced albums ever … I could probably write a short book about this record, but these write-ups are supposed to be brief!

Pavement “Flux=Rad”
Pavement “False Skorpion”

4: Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (1979)

Here’s another record that usually divides a room. Even folks who really love Fleetwood Mac in a non-ironic just-the-hits kind of way don’t always see eye to eye on Tusk. For me, the magic of that band has always lied with Lindsey Buckingham, the group’s driving force post Peter Green and the band’s most prolific songwriter. For a Buckingham fan, Tusk captures everything wonderful about him as a musician: there’s the softer, simpler songs as well as the other side — a meaner, more aggressive personality with lots of weight to carry emotionally. “What Makes You Think You’re the One” sort of embodies both of these personalities flawlessly, mixing the sing-along loveliness of Fleetwood Mac with the caustic, angular bits that always kept them interesting.

After all, if all they’d ever done was pump out these sunny CA love tunes, they never would have reached the point they did stardom-wise. Though in many circles, they’re relegated to that summary, it’s simply not true. Even on Rumours, their most successful album, Buckingham’s experimental input added an incredible amount of character to all the songs. The same is true — in spades — on Tusk. After the success of Rumours, he decided to insert more of his vision into the follow up, and the result wasn’t necessarily received as well as the band would have liked. Though there’s still plenty of input from Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, the album was widely regarded as a commercial failure (despite peaking at #4 in the States and #1 in UK). Bassist John McVie even commented once that the record sounded like “the work of three solo artists”.

It remains one of my favorite records ever, and no matter how many times I listen I find something new to fall in love with. My favorite songs are always changing, and to me that’s a sign of real greatness. The eccentric blend of straight pop beauty and bizarre coke-driven experiments is right up my alley, and I still believe it’s Buckingham’s strongest work. Little known fact: George Harrison appears, uncredited, on “Walk a Thin Line”.

Fleetwood Mac “What Makes You Think You’re the One”
Fleetwood Mac “Sisters of the Moon”

5: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (1970)

I wrote this about George a while back, after watching some Dick Cavett DVDs:

Watching him talk to Dick Cavett has brought me to the verge of tears more than once, and not because he’s said anything particularly emotive, not even because I’ve watched him become upset remembering footage he saw of Bangladesh or his visible discomfort in the interviewee seat (despite having been there who knows how many times by that point in his life). Not even, hard as it was, because he’s gone. There’s something else that’s hidden, and something essentially unknowable about him. Dark Horse, right?

At one point in the interview, which is almost painful to sit through thanks to Cavett’s clear discomfort and Harrison’s even more visible version, the subject of composition comes up. Cavett mentions that Harrison doesn’t read or write sheet music, and asks if that has ever hindered the music-writing process. Harrison laughs, I believe for the first time in the interview, and says something to the effect of, “No, people who compose orchestras, people who write symphonies, those are people who ‘read’ or ‘write’ music, what I do is much more simple.”

Perhaps it’s that sort of self-deprecating (at least in tone) attitude that always gets me about him. As he went on to explain his process (“I have a tune in my head that I’ll remember, then I work it out on piano or guitar. I don’t write anything down until I have words, why else would I need to write anything down?”), I was startled at how difficult it sounded. Perhaps Harrison won’t go down in history as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but certainly the composition across genres, the scope of works like All Things Must Pass, and his general brilliance should lend insight into this idea that music is something that strikes us, that we have to work at to complete. It’s not really about writing at all. He says at another point, (amidst obnoxious questions about Yoko and LSD) that using the term ‘writing’ isn’t really fair. That just astonishes me, though I suppose his perspective on the creative process (while not, perhaps, revolutionary) lends itself to that idea.

The end of the interview is a short clip of Harrison with Ravi Shankar from Ragas, and the smile on his face is so bright, so honest, it almost makes me forget how sad and distant he seems throughout the rest of the show. As the Cavett stage comes back into focus, we catch Harrison picking what must be a small piece of lint from his pants, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger vigorously, then blowing it off of his fingertips like blowing a dandelion, seemingly unaware of cameras, Cavetts and stage lights.

This record is over-looked, and I’ve never understood why. It was the first ever triple album, the Spector-sound is outrageously good, and the songs vary so much, it’s hard to stop listening. For me, even after all these years, this record stands out and speaks to me — from top to bottom — in ways I never fail to marvel at. It’s sad when I want it to be sad, it’s uplifting when I want it to be uplifting — it’s almost as though it bends for me. There might be other albums ahead of it on this list, but none that make me feel as much.

George Harrison “If Not For You” (mp3)

6: New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies (1983)

What can I say about this record? It’s been in my pretty elastic top 10 list for years, and I never grow weary of it. “Blue Monday” aside, this record mastered the genre, emerged from the Joy Division shadow, and brought its subject matter to a new and innovative spotlight. One of the best albums start to finish ever recorded. I can’t think of a moment on it that I’d skip.

New Order “Your Silent Face” (mp3)

7: Gastr Del Sol’s Camoufleur (1998)

I’m a huge Jim O’Rourke nerd. I love all of his stuff, from the noise to the ethereal to the Bacharach covers. He’s got such a palpable essence to his work — you can always tell when he’s had a hand in something. Songs on Smog’s Red Apple Falls (which O’Rourke produced) sometimes even feel like O’Rourke tunes themselves. He has a bag of tricks that hasn’t changed much over the years, but those sounds and feelings morph enough to make every new project worth pouring yourself into. Camoufleur was O’Rourke’s last record with Gastr Del Sol, and it’s a beautiful parting from bandmate David Grubbs. The songs vary from straightforward to layered and complex, all seeming to exist in some other universe. Even the anthemic horns of “Bauchredner” require patiently waiting through the several minutes of experimental guitar layers prior to it. Everything is earned here, and all the time you spend with this LP is well worth it.

Gastr Del Sol “Blues Subtitled No Sense of Wonder”

8: Red House Painters’ Ocean Beach (1995)

Though there aren’t that many Red House Painters albums, the man behind the project, Mark Kozelek, has produced tons of amazing music over the years. Red House Painters was the first iteration of his work (he went on to do solo stuff and work as Sun Kil Moon, among other things), and the first stuff I ever fell for. It was just at the end of high school, when I was just discovering a lot of really incredible stuff. Stuff I’d kind of ignored for several years because I was immersed in hardcore punk shit. No regrets, just a big wide opening of the flood gates, really. Kozelek’s haunting voice and somewhat aching songs really resonated with me, and they still do. This record is incredibly open and dense, and it collects some of his most beautiful work. Even still, this record takes me back to that time but also sounds brand new and amazing each and every time I listen. It might be strange to pick “Shadows” as my shared track since it’s a piano / organ tune and Kozelek is known for his guitar work, but it’s my favorite tune on the record. If you’ve never listened to him before, starting here is the best place to begin.

“Shadows”

9: Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden (1988)

Spirit of Eden is another record that completely snuck up on me. I’d heard bits and pieces by the band, but never really delved into the good stuff until a couple of good friends pointed me there (thank you Aaron and Jonathan!). Ever since, this record has become a sort of gold standard by which most other things are judged. It might not be too popular these days, when noise, lo-fi and sloppiness are super cool, to be so into this kind of album, but it’s unarguably timeless, beautiful and perfect. As with all of these last few records I’m discussing, picking one song is really difficult. It might be even more difficult for Spirit than the rest, because it’s such a listen-to-the-whole-thing-all-at-once kind of record.

Talk Talk “I Believe In You” (mp3)

10: David Bowie’s Low (1977)

I was never too into Ziggy and the majority of Bowie’s late 60’s-early 70’s stuff, but from Low right on up to Let’s Dance (or thereabouts), I’m smitten. If you know me, you know I really love stuff that is harsh but sensitive underneath, stuff that plays with dissonance and difficulty levels, but at the end of the day, I still love a good love song. In many ways, this is the perfect example of what I love, as “Be My Wife” jots through angular transitions and robotic percussion to reveal a lonely person’s desire to be with the one he loves. The juxtaposition there, and across this album, make it a benchmark for me in terms of what I love about music.

David Bowie “Sound and Vision”

11: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977)

Here’s 1977 again, rearing it’s beautiful head. Buckingham’s bittersweet “Go Your Own Way” against the loveably cheesy “You Make Loving Fun” and everything in between make this one a classic. This album is another one that I had around a lot growing up, but only came to know intimately as a teenager, driving around with my girlfriend, learning to drive stick and smoking in empty parking lots. One of my fondest memories of my late teen years involves dancing on the roof of a ‘78 Cadillac to “Don’t Stop”. Now I know that’s not what makes an album great, but I really shouldn’t have to argue for Fleetwood Mac.

Fleetwood Mac “Never Going Back Again” (mp3)

12: Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway (1972)

Once upon a time, I wrote a really long piece about Donny over at another blog I used to work on with Elastic Heart and Mondo Salvo (Swoon, for those keeping up). Truly, Hathaway deserves a long and thoughtful piece written about all his work, particularly this epic recorded with Roberta Flack, but this list is all about the quick hits. Maybe someday I’ll come back and re-write that long piece. Until then, suffice it to say that this record is one of the greatest — and most under-appreciated — soul records out there. It starts with a devastating love and loss tune (“I Who Have Nothing”), moves through some higher moments (most high is probably their version of “You’ve Got a Friend”) and ends with Hathaway’s absolutely crippling instrumental tune, “Mood”. For those of you who know something about Donny Hathaway, that song hits a real tender chord. It wasn’t long after this record that he committed suicide. Every single track on the album stands out, and their voices together are just stunning. So wonderful. I highly recommend tracking it down on vinyl if you can (I did without too much trouble), because that’s definitely the best way to listen to it.

Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack “Be Real Black For Me” (mp3)

13: The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers (1976)

For not being too crazy of a Velvet Underground fan, I sure do like a lot of groups influenced by them. Jonathan Richman is right at the forefront of that gang of chaps, and his Modern Lovers (who recorded the album with John Cale in ‘73) presented 1976 with a style of New England geek punk that took minimalistic riffs, real emotion and the comedic abstract and packaged them up so nicely, they earned a spot in my heart foreverz. My favorite song? “Girl Friend”.

The Modern Lovers “Girl Friend”

14: Led Zeppelin’s IV (1971)

Man, how lucky was everyone in the 70’s? It’s such a fucking shame that even intelligent people talk about the music of the 70’s like it was some big coke-fueled dance party. Um, duh ppl. Yes, this is the one with “Stairway”. But you know what, fuck that – it’s not even the first track, it’s not even the closing track. And you know what? Fuck it if it was, “Stairway” is fucking great. But even if you have a problem with the song’s over-exposure, don’t dismiss this album as its device: “Black Dog”, “When the Levee Breaks” and “Battle of Evermore” are all incredible, the whole album is, top to bottom.

Led Zeppelin “Four Sticks”

15: The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966)

When music geeks sit around and talk about great production, layered tracks and even when they move into ambient and electronic stuff, they owe a big wave and jelly donut to Wilson and this album. Not only did it set a creative and technical bar at its time, its an album comprised of fucking excellent songs, performed flawlessly.

The Beach Boys “That’s Not Me”

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