The 100 Albums You Should Own May 25, 2011Posted by greatbloginthesky in Recommendations.
Tags: air, animal collective, arcade fire, at the drive-in, Beach House, beastie boys, Beck, bjork, black sabbath, blitzen trapper, bloc party, Broken Social Scene, Cut Copy, daft punk, the beatles, the bee gees, The Black Keys, the chemical brothers, the crystal method, top 100 albums
In honor of our 100th post, we decided to dig deep into our dusty…um…CD cases and hard drives to bring you a list of the 100 albums that have had the most influence on the two of us. We felt we needed to put a personal spin on the tired old “best-of” ideas to make it more interesting for everyone, and to invite a litany of (dis-)agreement from our fellow aficionados. To make this extensive survey easier to digest, we will be releasing 1/5 of the list with each successive post. Most of the albums will include multimedia examples, others may be a bit too obscure, but rest assured, all of them are timeless.
Each of these selections has survived our meticulous scrutiny and debate, and they run the gamut from rock’s early incarnations to, well, earlier this month. The criteria for inclusion were these:
- One of us had to own the album at some point in our lives (e.g., I could’ve included REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity because I owned the tape in 1982, but haven’t quite gotten around to re-purchasing it. Nor will I.)
- Obviously, the other necessity here is that one (or both) of us think that these works are extraordinarily important, or just plain fantastic to listen to.
Having said that, we realize that some of you will feel there are some glaring omissions. Rolling Stone has always taught us that there are a handful of albums that everyone should own, regardless of taste, but as far as I know, neither of us is Jann Wenner. For instance, while I respect what Bob Dylan did for music and society at-large, I’m not a big fan of folk music, thus I’ve never owned Blood on the Tracks. Similarly, we also respect the introverted psychosis of Brian Wilson circa 1966 (and I love “God Only Knows” as much as the next guy), but you won’t see Pet Sounds on our list. And I’ve always thought the Rolling Stones kinda sucked, hence Exile on Main Street has been…exiled. Don’t hate us.
Though we thoroughly loved Hi Fidelity, we felt the simplest and most effective way to organize our list was to just lay them out alphabetically. Grouping chronologically, by genre, or “autobiographically” just doesn’t pack quite the punch in this forum.
As you can tell, creating a list like this is meant to challenge our readers, and ourselves, so hopefully you’ll weigh in. We appreciate that, to some degree, you trust our ears, so building a blog post like this is like writing a prequel to everything you’ve read so far. These are our influences and the albums we fall back on during good-music droughts. We hope you discover something new or remember an old favorite.
These are the 100 albums you should own. Enjoy!
A through D
Air – Moon Safari – 1998 – Unforgettably described by Rolling Stone as a “euro-cheese omelette”, Moon Safari found this imaginative french duo doing their best Serge Gainesbourg-via-Stereolab impression across its 10 syrupy tracks. Coming six months into my introduction to electronic music, this album opened the door for a lighter, more lounge-inspired (very early) Sunday morning experience.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion – 2009 – The boys from Baltimore freed us all from the shackles of the indie-dance formula with this masterpiece of unorthodox (yet highly dance-able) sound. Not only was MPP ground-breaking in its use of heavily modulated instrumentation, the themes of family and the intra-band relationship resonated with many a fan, earning it the top spot in most “best of 2009″ lists.
Arcade Fire – Funeral – 2004 – With all due respect to their recent Grammy, this was the album Arcade Fire was meant to make. Recorded on the heels of a few family losses, this was the most enjoyable and high energy grief counseling one could stomach. The husband-wife team Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, along with the younger Butler brother on guitar, and the, like, 15 other people in the band, wove an orchestral tapestry with hard-hitting lyrics and harder-hitting hooks.
At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command – 2001 – Before Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (whew…) crafted 20 minute long art-punk noise collages for The Mars Volta, they cut their teeth with this Texas band and made blistering 4-minute art-punk noise collages. With CBZ’s (I can’t type that again) visceral lyrical imagery and the face-melting virtuosity of ORL’s fingers, Relationship of Command seamlessly bridged the gap between the Stooges and Tool.
Beach House – Teen Dream – 2010 – The surge of indie dream pop in the late 2000’s gave us a number of strong contenders for the list — School of Seven Bells, The xx, even Goldfrapp to an extent. Maybe it’s the sing/hum-a-long-ability of Teen Dream or its complement to an after-work beer on the back patio/deck, but this Baltimore duo refined an album of songs with just the right balance of ethereal texture and melody.
Beastie Boys - License to Ill – 1986 – As far as my suburban childhood was concerned, this was the first rap album. Ever. (Yes, I’d heard Newcleus and the Grand Master before this, but as far as an “album” goes…). Every fifth-grader in my school couldn’t wait to fight for their right to party, even though I really had no idea what that meant. To this day, I defy you to find someone in their mid-30’s to early 40’s who can’t still spit out some of “Paul Revere”.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967 – The first of two essential Beatles albums on our list, Sgt. Pepper practically invented the psych-rock concept album. From the opening bars of the title track, to the closing clang of “A Day In The Life”, it’s apparent that the lads from Liverpool had tapped into something eternal. A friend down the street that, perplexingly, really didn’t like the album loaned it to me my freshman year of high school. He never got it back.
The Beatles – Abbey Road - 1968 – If we were to have ranked these albums, this would reside in the top five. Their coup-de-grace (followed only by the slightly weaker Let It Be), Abbey Road found all four members at the peak of their powers (and their hallucinogenics). But it’s side 2 that really weaves itself into your heart, never pausing between songs. By the time the silly “Her Majesty” rounds out the emotional conclusion, I’ve gone through a tissue or two.
Beck – Sea Change – 2002 – By the early 00’s Beck had transformed from a silly (Grammy winning) Ween-esque sing-speaker (Odelay), to a slightly more serious troubador (Mutations) to a late-night urban pimp (Midnite Vultures). Then his long-time relationship ended, and he made the most engaging and heart-felt album of his career. Gone were the “Loser”s and “Nicotine and Gravy” and in was “Lost Cause” and “Already Dead”. The quintessential break-up album, Sea Change (and libations) got me through more than a few.
The Bee Gees – Saturday Night Fever – 1977 – By the time this album’s disco kitsch clicked with me, I was a junior in college. As the 80’s revival plodded on in the mid 90’s, it suddenly became cool to go even further back. I’ve never been to Studio 54 (’cause I didn’t do blow when I was 2), but this album harbored at least 5 party anthems, and “A Fifth of Beethoven” for christ’s sake, but it was the rest that really solidifies it as a classic (see: “How Deep Is Your Love”, etc.)
Bjork – Debut – 1993 – As pixie-ish lead singer of Iceland’s Sugarcubes, Bjork Guðmundsdóttir (that’s right) was just beginning her trip into the cosmos. Her first solo foray perfectly melded her beautiful and exotic voice to forward-thinking acid-house, creating an indelible mark on the indie (known then as “college rock”) and dance music worlds, helped by lead single “Human Behaviour”. Subsequent albums Homogenic and Vespertine are genius in their own rights, but Debut had something for everyone. Believe it or not, it was my dad that bought this album. Sandwiched between Little River Band and Frente, our Sunday mornings became eclectic.
The Black Keys – Brothers – 2010 – Dan and Patrick may have another color-absent duo to thank (Jack and Meg of The White Stripes…well, ok, Jack) for cracking the door for stripped-down blues-rock, but take nothing away from The Black Keys for their efforts. On the heels of no less than a handful of albums the Keys release Brothers to cement their gritty, garage blues sound in what we safely call their tightest and most front-to-back enjoyable album yet. As my tastes expand to include more blues, Brothers is an excellent, modern-day addition to the collection.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid – 1970 – The Godfathers of metal: Ozzie, Tony, Geezer and Bill. The world had never heard anything as heavy or as raw as this upon its release, with lines blatantly referencing war, drugs, and Satan’s ascension to Earth. And “Iron Man”. Though this lineup was fleeting, we all know whose career it launched. Borrowed from a friend at my job in college (along with others like Hawkwind and Mahogany Rush), I instantly sank my fangs into its sludgy black riffs and that Ozzie howl.
Blitzen Trapper – Furr – 2008 – Technically, Blitzen Trapper is categorized as a folk rock band, but what’s so cool about the songs Eric Earley writes is that they push on every edge of the genre to the point where no two sound alike. Some are raucous, others soft, and some are twangy or dark or playful. Mix that with detailed and vivid storytelling and a voice that mutates and bends to the theme of the song and this album will certainly lure you into its snares.
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm – 2005 – The 80’s revival that began in the mid- to late-90’s culminated in a stripped back sound reminiscent of the forefathers of forefathers of post-punk/new-wave. Among the vanguard of bands to strike while this iron was hot was Bloc Party. Their energetic, pop-y spin on the formula was infectious and set the standard for scores of imitators, from Editors to Arctic Monkeys. Silent Alarm was on heavy rotation back then which led me to subscribe to England’s Q magazine. Back when one actually had to subscribe to magazines to discover the newest music. How archaic.
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People – 2002 – I have no idea how I found Broken Social Scene but I’m ecstatic I did, and this second LP from the Canadian band really showcased their musical acumen. Like Arcade Fire, there are 19 or so people manning the instruments/mikes at various incarnations, not least of which are a few well known spin-off names/bands: Feist, Metric, Apostle of Hustle, Do Make Say Think, Land Of Talk, Stars. Though they’ve enjoyed success with their last two, slightly more stadium-ready albums, I feel they were at their best when utilizing all of their range and creating a lush, more exotic sound, as was the case here.
The Chemical Brothers – Dig You Own Hole – 1997 – It was in the summer of 1997 that I finally discovered electronic music. I’ve never been the same, preferring chugging 130-bpm bangers to electric guitars now. And this was one of the first albums that I fell in love with. Each track on this debut album by the Chem’s is unique and memorable, never choosing to club you over the head with repetition. This was the soundtrack as I explored Columbus and its handful of night-spots (ahh Mecca, how I miss thee) that actually played stuff like this.
The Crystal Method – Vegas – 1997 – Continuing with the above summer-of-1997 theme, Vegas put a scuzzy Los Angeles spin on the electronic music of the period, utilizing oscillating synthesizers to mind-blowing effect. I haven’t connected with any of this duo’s albums since (barring their spectacular showing at last year’s Burning Man), but this one has stood the test of time, always a go-to for a bass-filled summer spin.
Cut///Copy – In Ghost Colors – 2008 – A trio from Australia, Cut Copy have recently found themselves the unofficial beneficiaries of the synth-pop crown since the untimely demise of LCD Soundsystem. Of their three LP’s this is by far the best, and I feel it’s because In Ghost Colors isn’t just a collection of dance-floor singles. The unsung heroes here are the 30-90 second transitional pieces that could be singles if allowed to blossom, but tease us ever-so-gently until the next track hits. The (fan-made) clip below is not one of these (damn YouTube), but you will not be disappointed.
Daft Punk – Discovery – 2001 – The mysterious Frenchmen that started the current electro movement. Discovery found them veering from the house-inflected hooks of debut Homework and dipping into synth-pop territory, with unforgettable results. The sound they created here inspired a generation of producers from Kanye West to Deadmau5, and even landed them the opportunity to score last year’s Tron. I say that because, unfortunately, they haven’t quite been able to reproduce the originality or life of this album since, but with a classic like this, they’ve earned a bit more time.