Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 440-431


Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Previous Posts:

Artist: Loretta Lynn
Album: Coal Miner’s Daughter
Year: 1971
Label: Decca
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
  • “What Makes Me Tick”

Thoughts: Since my mother was a coal miner’s daughter, and I am the grandson/great-grandson of a coal miner (or at least a coal cracker), the title track has always resonated, even if my own family experience is very different.  The rest of the album are almost entirely songs about cheating, or being cheated on, but Lynn’s voice makes them all sound lovely.


Artist: James Brown
Album: Sex Machine
Year: 1970
Label: King
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Sex Machine”
  • “I Got The Feelin'”
  • “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose (Undubbed Mix)”
  • “Please, Please, Please”
  • “Mother Popcorn”

Thoughts: The title track of this album as long been a favorite of mine.  Turns out that this is a different, slower version of “Sex Machine” than I’m familiar with.  The album consists of a portion that Brown recorded with one backing band (including Bootsy and Catfish Collins) that he had produced with sound effects that make it sound like it was recorded in front of a live audience.  The other portion of the album is an actual concert performance with a different band from James Brown’s hometown of August, GA in 1969.  Both performances are blistering and blend together well.


Artist: Blur
Album: Parklife
Year: 1994
Label: Food
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Girls and Boys”
  • “Parklife”

Thoughts: Back in the 90s, I somehow got it into my head that Blur was another generic grunge band and didn’t give them much attention. This impression was probably due to the ubiquity of “Song 2” – admittedly great rally music in a hockey arena – but not representative of their work.  Instead, Blur are a pop band with with clever story songs in the tradition of The Kinks.  Despite learning this, I still hadn’t gotten around to giving Blur a fair listen (much like I haven’t done with The Kinks). It makes me question my poor decision-making skills in the 1990s regarding what I did and did not listen to. The only song I was familiar with is “Girls and Boys,” which I hated back in the 90s, but now I think it really slaps.


Artist: Primal Scream
Album: Screamadelica
Year: 1991
Label: Sire
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Slip Inside This House”
  • “Don’t Fight It, Feel It”
  • “Come Together”
  • “Loaded”

Thoughts: Scottish band Primal Scream kind of sound like if by the 90s the Rolling Stones had evolved to sound like an alt-rock band that took a great interest in the acid house scene.  Primal Scream were, of course, an alt-rock band that took a great interest in the acid house scene, and this album creates an undefinable mish-mash of 90s rock, funk, disco, psychedelia, and Madchester bands.  I’ve written about the song “Loaded” before on this blog, and I was familiar with some of the other songs, but overall listening to this album all the way through for the first time is a revelation I waited 30 years too long to have.


Artist: 2Pac
AlbumAll Eyez on Me
Year: Death Row
Label: 1996
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes, a little
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Heartz of Men”
  • “Life Goes On”
  • “Only God Can Judge Me”

Thoughts: As I’ve noted previously in this column, I did not pay much attention to rap and hip hop in the 1990s.  Nevertheless, I remember feeling sad when I learned about the murder of Tupac Shakur. From what little I knew about Shakur, he struck me as a talented and thoughtful young man who died way too young. Despite, 90s rap being in my blind spot, I was still surprised that I wasn’t familiar with any of the tracks on this album. I didn’t enjoy listening to the songs with lyrics about “bitches” and “hos” and the celebration “thug life” and the n-world sprinkled liberally about. Nevertheless, I could still see the genius and conscience of Tupac Shakur shine throw on a number of tracks.


Artist: Pet Shop Boys
AlbumActually
Year: 1987
Label: EMI Manhattan
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
  • “It’s a Sin”

Thoughts: The Pet Shop Boys are an odd duck, a duo who made music unlike anything else at their time. You got a pair of men who look and sound bored all the time, singing wry satire about the failures of the Thatcher/Reagan era, over danceable synthpop.  And all those pieces work together.

Somehow, I was never aware until now that Dusty Springfield is the guest artist on “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” Did I know who Dusty Springfield was when I was 13? I do know that as a Catholic school boy the imagery of “It’s a Sin” made me laugh, and also made me feel guilty about polishing off a carton of Breyer’s mint chocolate chip.


Artist: Pavement
Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Year: 1994
Label: Matador
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: none

Thoughts: Prior to now, the only Pavement album I’d listened to before is Slanted & Enchanted,  which I liked well enough but wouldn’t consider it a favorite. This album strikes as me as sound like very generic 90s rock.  While Pavement is not a post-grunge band, I would consider their work on this album adjacent to a mid-to-late 90s genre I call “boring rock.” That is to say, it’s not bad, it’s just not very interesting.


Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: Sound of Silver
Year: 2007
Label: DFA/Capitol
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Get Innocuous!”
  • “North American Scum”
  • “Us V Them”
  • “Watch the Tapes”

Thoughts:  I’ve always liked LCD Soundsytem although I don’t think I’ve listened to a full album before. The album branches out beyond the definitive electronic music sounds LCD Soundsystem to punk, indie rock, and even a bit of folk. I also love the humor of the lyrics such as the title track “Sound of silver talk to me /Makes you want to feel like a teenager / Until you remember the feelings of / A real life emotional teenager / Then you think again.” Although maybe that’s not funny enough to be repeated the entire song.


Artist: Usher
AlbumConfessions
Year: 2004
Label: Arista
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Not intentionally
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Yeah!”

Thoughts: So, after years of hearing the song in the ether I finally found out that THAT song, which is “Yeah! (feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris),” is by Usher. It’s nice to put 2 and 2 together at last.  The rest of this album is down- and mid-tempo contemporary R&B with Usher crooning over the beats.  Too mellow for my tastes.


Artist: Los Lobos
AlbumHow Will the Wolf Survive?
Year: 1984
Label: Slash/Warner Bros.
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Don’t Worry Baby”
  • “A Matter of Time”
  • “Corrido #1”
  • “Will the Wolf Survive?”

Thoughts:  This is an album I’ve listened to before and liked but didn’t love.  Listening again I found myself enjoying the blues rock and tejano sounds mixed into a solid collection of 1980s rock & roll.  Los Lobos, a Mexican-American band from Los Angeles, made a big splash in Reagan’s America, which is as an impressive an accomplishment as this delightful album.


 

Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  • 498. Suicide, Suicide
  • 497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
  • 494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
  • 489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
  • 487. Black Flag, Damaged
  • 485, Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • 483, Muddy Waters, The Anthology
  • 482, The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
  • 481, Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
  • 478, The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
  • 477, Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight
  • 469, Manu Chao, Clandestino
  • 465, King Sunny Adé, The Best of the Classic Years
  • 464, The Isley Brothers, 3 + 3
  • 462, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin
  • 459, Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day
  • 457, Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
  • 456, Al Green, Greatest Hits
  • 455, Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley
  • 453, Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
  • 452, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Anthology
  • 451, Roberta Flack, First Take
  • 448, Otis Redding, Dictionary of Soul
  • 446, Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidanada
  • 444, Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
  • 443, David Bowie, Scary Monsters
  • 440, Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter
  • 439, James Brown, Sex Machine
  • 438, Blur, Parklife
  • 437, Primal Scream, Screamadelica
  • 435, Pet Shop Boys, Actually
  • 433, LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
  • 431, Los Lobos, How Will the Wolf Survive?

Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 470-461


Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Previous Posts:


Artist: Juvenile
Album400 Degreez
Year: 1998
Label: Cash Money
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: None
Thoughts: We begin this week’s listening to an album and artist active in my own adult life who I have no recollection of.  I thought by listening to the album, I might recognize some of the songs, but that did not happen. I read some positive reviews of this album that emphasized that this album made Southern hip hop relevant and kicked off a run of success for New Orleans’ Cash Money Records. But unlike the critics, I don’t hear anything interesting or innovative in this album.  I do hear a lot of misogynistic lyrics and the n-world sprinkled liberally, though. I guess I’ll just chalk this one up as “Not For Me.”


Artist: Manu Chao
AlbumClandestino
Year: 1998
Label: Virgin
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Bongo Bong”
  • “Luna y sol”

Thoughts: I don’t know what I was up to in 1998, because this is the second album in a row where I have never heard of this artists.  I did recognize one track on this album – “Bongo Bong” – because it was played at my kid’s preschool!  Manu Chao is a multilingual French-born Spanish musician who brings a busker’s perspective to his Latin music/reggae fusion. This album was a chart success across Europe, but not in the US and UK, which makes it’s appearance on the RS 500 a surprise.  But I found it a fun and refreshing change of pace.


Artist: Rolling Stones
AlbumSome Girls
Year: 1978
Label: Rolling Stones
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Not really
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Miss You”
  • “Shattered”

Thoughts: 33 albums into the list and we’ve finally reached one that I’ve definitively listened to before. As far as the Rolling Stones go, I’ve long considered them a good singles band who made some classic albums between 1966 and 1972, and then about one compilation album worth of good songs from 1973 to the present. Some Girls may be the Stone’s best album in the post-Exile on Main Street era, but the competition isn’t very strong.  On the other hand, they do deserve credit for trying something new on an album, for what would be the last time. On “Miss You” they do a great job of incorporating disco, while “Shattered” is Mick’s tribute to his gritty adopted home of New York City in the troubled late 70s.  The rest of the album for me is “meh” (and the title track is downright awful),  but your mileage may vary. There are five more Rolling Stones albums coming up on this list and I expect will enjoy them all more.


Artist: Maxwell
AlbumBLACKsummers’night
Year: 2009
Label: Columbia
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: None
Thoughts: The 460s have not been good to me because once again we have an artist and album I have never heard of, and I don’t recognize any of the tracks either.  Maxwell sings silk-smooth, mid-tempo r&B.  And I don’t find it all too interesting.  So on to the next album.


Artist: The Beach Boys
AlbumThe Beach Boys Today
Year: 1965
Label: Capitol
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Help Me, Rhonda”

Thoughts: On this album The Beach Boys moved on from songs about surfing  and fast cars to more introspective pieces, and probably began regretting their silly band name.  The lyrics still focus on teenage love and love lost, but from the perspective of a more thoughtful teen. I’m not a big fan of the Beach Boys outside of their Pet Sounds‘ era peak, but the arrangements and instrumentation on this album show that they are on their way up that mountain.


Artist: King Sunny Adé
Album: The Best of the Classic Years
Year: 2003
Label: Shanachie
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Somewhat
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Sunny Ti De”
  • “Afai Bowon”
  • “Adena Ike”

Thoughts: King Sunny Adé is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who can great fame in his home country, and then in the 1980s achieved crossover success in Europe and North America. He is credited with kicking off the World Music boom that followed later in that decade. Once again Rolling Stone selects a compilation album for their list, but according to Adé’s discography on Wikipedia, he’s released 123 albums, so I guess that they can be excused for having difficulty narrowing it down.  This album collects a sampling of songs from Adé’s early years, 1967-1974.


Artist: The Isley Brothers
Album: 3 + 3
Year: 1973
Label: T-Neck
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “That Lady”
  • “Sunshine (Go Away Today)”

Thoughts: I’ve always liked the songs I’ve heard by the Isleys over the years, but I wasn’t familiar with the content of this album going in.  Or so I thought, because I immediately recognized Latin-style soul opening track “That Lady.” The bigger surprise is that about half of this album is covers of songs by the likes James Taylor, The Doobie Brothers, Jonathan Edwards, and Seals & Crofts, not the immediate source of inspirations one would expect for a soul band. But they demonstrate that they are excellent interpreters, making the songs their own.


Artist: Laura Nyro
Album: Eli & the 13th Confession
Year: 1968
Label: Columbia
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Sweet Blindness”
  • “Lonely Women”

Thoughts: First of all, I just want to note how contemporary Laura Nyro looks on that album cover.  Like, it almost looks like Billie Eilish with dark hair.

My familiarity with Nyro was basically “Wedding Bell Blues” and some other songs. This album contains Nyro’s Brill Building song-writing which build up to her belting out the lyrics sounding like the lost cast recording of a 1960s Broadway musical.  Unfortunately, I found myself liking songs at first but with all the dramatic changes and emotiveness it all became too much and just left my brain spinning.


Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers
Album: The Gilded Palace of Sin
Year: 1969
Label: A&M
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Just the name of the band
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Christine’s Tune”
  • “Sin City”

Thoughts: I’ve heard of The Flying Burrito Brothers as being one of the many country rock acts of the 60s and 70s to grow out of The Byrds. In fact, I’ve considered doing a Music Discovery of The Byrds and their spinoff country rock bands, because I’ve read a lot about them but have never really heard any of them.  Anyhow, this band lead by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman is fascinating in that it sounds both old-time country with psychedelic rock playing over it and somehow the two genres harmonizing with one another.  And then they cover an Aretha Franklin song and make that work too! It’s definitely a treat for the ears and not what I’d expected.


Artist: Bon Iver
AlbumFor Emma
Year: 2008
Label: Jagjaguwar
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: None
Thoughts: I routinely listen to NPR Music programming because I’m a living stereotype of a coastal, liberal, white man.  But one thing I’ve never been on board with is the NPR Music staffs’ adoration of Bon Iver. Like every album in this list I made sure to give it a fair shake, and I didn’t totally hate it.  But I still find it incredibly boring music.  So you’re going to have forgive me Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton.


Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  • 498. Suicide, Suicide
  • 497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
  • 494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
  • 489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
  • 487. Black Flag, Damaged
  • 485, Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • 483, Muddy Waters, The Anthology
  • 482, The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
  • 481, Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
  • 478, The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
  • 477, Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight
  • 469, Manu Chao, Clandestino
  • 465, King Sunny Adé, The Best of the Classic Years
  • 464, The Isley Brothers, 3 + 3
  • 462, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin

Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 480-471


Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Previous Posts:


Artist:  Miranda Lambert
Album: The Weight of These Wings
Year: 2016
Label: eRCA Nashville
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • Runnin’ Just in Case
  • Highway Vagabond
  • Good Ol’ Days

Thoughts: I’m not a huge fan of contemporary country, but this album exceeded my expectations. While country underlies every track, the collection explores a great variety of genres. The songs and lyrics are well-crafted and tell the story of Lambert moving on from her recent divorce.  I think at 24 tracks the album goes on a bit long and would’ve been more effective if trimmed down to a single album.


Artist: Selena
Album: Amor Prohibido
Year: 1994
Label: EMA Latin
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Only by name
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Probably not
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Fotos Y Recuerdos”
  • “Bidi Bid Bom Bom”
  • “Tus Desprecios”

Thoughts: Texas Tejano musician Selena was already a legend before a murderer ended her life far to early at the age of 23. As much as I’ve heard about her success and tragedy, I never before heard any of her music, to my knowledge. I was surprised by the chintzy synths, although Selena’s voice transcends the production values. I have to admit that while Selena’s artistry is not something that engages me that nonetheless I can recognize her talent and understand why she is loved by so many.  The album also includes a cover of “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders, retitled as “Fotos Y Recuerdos,” which I like a lot better than the original.


Artist: The Kinks
AlbumSomething Else by the Kings
Year: 1968
Label: Oye
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes (“Waterloo Sunset” to be specific)
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:  Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Death of a Clown”
  • “Harry Rag”
  • “Love Me Till the Sun Shines”
  • “Waterloo Sunset”

Thoughts: The Kinks are one of those bands I’ve long felt I need to pay more attention to, and they’ve been on my short list for a Music Discovery for some time.  This album marks the transition of The Kinks from a British Invasion rock band to a band that writes wry, introspective, and observational songs about every day people. The Kinks aren’t folk rock but their music is informed by the folk tradition, and this album also reflects that odd music hall revival that coincided with psychedelic rock in England.


Artist: Howlin’ Wolf
Album: Moanin’ in the Moonlight
Year: 1959
Label: Chess
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Smokestack’ Lightnin'”
  • “All Night Boogie (All Night Long)”
  • “Evil (Is Going On)”

Thoughts: I’ve been critical of the RS 500’s inclusion of compilation albums on this list, and expect I will continue to harp on this issue as I work my way through the list, but here’s an instance where I think that they got it right.  Much like fellow Chess blues artist Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf’s only appearance on the RS 500 is a collection of singles from the 1950s.  The difference here is that Moanin’ in the Moonlight was released in 1959 while Howlin’ Wolf was still at his artistic peak.  Howlin’ Wolf and his production crew likely had input on song selection and sequencing.  And as the LP was just becoming commercially viable at this time, it certainly brought Howlin’ Wolf’s music to the attention of new audiences, including the many blues and blues rock artists of the 60s and 70s who would draw on his influence.  So yes, this is how a compilation album can indeed be a greatest album of all time!


Artist: Sparks
AlbumKimono My House
Year: Island
Label: 1974
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Vaguely
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Talent is an Asset”

Thoughts: I only learned of Sparks last spring when a friend recommended their most recent album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. I liked the album, although not enough to review it on its own, and was surprised that a band that sounded so contemporary went back to the 1960s. This 1974 album was their breakout record and influenced artists from Morrisey to Björk. It doesn’t resonate with me though as it is very prog rock and sounds like Rush performing Rocky Horror.


Artist: Sheryl Crow
AlbumSheryl Crow
Year: 1996
Label: A&M
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Unfortunately
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: None

Thoughts: When Sheryl Crow’s first few singles hit the airwaves I always went through a phase where first I would think, this is kinda good, but after repeated hearings would like the song less and less.  Eventually I grew to just dislike everything by Sheryl Crow.  I’m trying to listen to every album on this list with an open mind, but I’m not at all surprised that I still don’t like the music of Sheryl Crow.


Artist: Big Star
Album: #1 Record
Year: 1972
Label: Ardent
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: By reputation
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Maybe, one day
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Thirteen”

Thoughts: Big Star and its band leader Alex Chilton are revered among rock music enthusiasts but I’ve never been able to get the appeal.  It’s not that Big Star is bad, far from it, I just don’t hear it as so amazingly great. They feel to me more like a great bar band than the icons who inspired R.E.M. and The Replacements.


Artist: Daddy Yankee
Album: Barrio Fino
Year: 2004
Label: V.I. Music
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Maybe
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Like You”
  • “Salud y Vida”

Thoughts: I like the sound of reggaetón, which I typically experience as beats from a passing car or coming over the speakers at the corner store. This is the first time I’ve ever sat down and listened to a reggaetón album, and I liked it just fine.  Daddy Yankee, of course, practically invented the genre of reggaetón so naturally he deserves a spot on this list even if it isn’t something I’d listen to all the time.


Artist: SZA
AlbumCtrl
Year: 2017
Label: RCA
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Not likely
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Wavy (Interlude) (feat. James Fauntleroy)”
  • “Normal Girl”

Thoughts: SZA is another contemporary artist I’m not at all familiar with.  The downtempo style of hip-hop and R&B doesn’t really appeal to me, but nevertheless this album is not bad.


Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Album: Surrealistic Pillow
Year: 1967
Label: RCA
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Somebody to Love”
  • “White Rabbit”

Thoughts: One can argue about what albums deserve inclusion on this current version Rolling Stone 500 and how they should be ranked, but the nice thing about it is that they’ve made a conscious effort to include a greater variety of genres, artists of different backgrounds, and across different eras.  The appearance of Jefferson Airplane here is a reminder of the old Rolling Stone which was fixated on promoting the late 60s San Francisco scene as the epitome of all that is good in rock music. The album includes the two songs that everyone knows Jefferson Airplane for, and a lot of mediocrity.  In fact, the rest of the album sounds more like a folk rock album than psychedelia so it definitely captures the band in transition.


Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  • 498. Suicide, Suicide
  • 497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
  • 494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
  • 489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
  • 487. Black Flag, Damaged
  • 485, Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • 483, Muddy Waters, The Anthology
  • 482, The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
  • 481, Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
  • 478, The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
  • 477, Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight

Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 490-481


Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Previous Posts:

Artist: Linda Rondstadt
AlbumHeart Like a Wheel
Year: 1975
Label: Capitol
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “You’re No Good”

Thoughts: This collection of countrified rock is entirely covers or compositions of songs by other artists so everything sounds familiar even if I hadn’t listened to this album before. “Willin’,” for example, I know from a cover by Richard Shindell.  The lead track “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Beloved” I remember being radio staples when I was a child in the 1970s but haven’t heard in decades so it made me a little nostalgic. On the other hand, this style of music doesn’t appeal to me much so I can’t imagine listening to this album again. 


Artist: Phil Spector and Various Artists
AlbumBack to Mono (1958-1969)
Year: 1991
Label: ABKCO
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Lots of them, yes.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Individual tracks and the Christmas album
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King
  • “Puddin’ N’ Tain” by The Alley Cats
  • “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” by The Crystals
  • “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes
  • “Baby, I Love You” by The Ronettes
  • “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up) by The Ronettes
  • “Walking in the Rain” by The Ronettes
  • “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” by The Righteous Brothers
  • “Born to be Together” by The Ronettes
  • “River Deep – Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner
  • “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday)” by Ike & Tina Turner
  • “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by The Ronettes
  • “Love Is All I Have to Give” by The Checkmates Ltd.
  • “Frosty the Snowman” by The Ronettes
  • “Sleigh Ride” by The Ronettes
  • “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
  • “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Bob B. Soxx, The Blue Jeans

Thoughts:

There are lots of things I can argue about regarding the Rolling Stone 500, but one thing I disagree with most is the inclusion of so many compilation albums. There are some possible exceptions such as soundtracks which can be unique multiple artists compilations, or something like The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. But I don’t think “greatest hits” compilations should count as great albums.

In this instance it appears that RS simply wanted to recognize influential producer Phil Spector’s work on the list even though he most predominantly did his work in producing singles rather than albums. And so RS included this box set released decades after Spector’s best work even though many of the songs are (deservedly) already on their greatest songs list. The fact that he’s a convicted murderer and abusive person makes me question whether he should be on the list at all, and perhaps we should be recognizing the talented artists on this compilation instead.

Ironically, a lot of my favorite songs from this collection were already on Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, which I listened to for the previous post. The box set also includes the 1963 holiday compilation A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector in its entirety. This Christmas album was previously included on previous iterations of the RS 500 and since it was intentionally designed to be an album, I believe it deserves a spot on the current list on its own.


Artist: The Stooges
Album: The Stooges
Year: 1969
Label: Elektra
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: I know the band
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Maybe
Favorite Tracks:

  • “1969”

Thoughts:

This album sounds a lot more recent than 1969. Perhaps because pop music of the 1960s tended to be sunnier, or at least earnest. This music seems to accurately reflect the mood and resignation that goes with a time of violence and strife that rivals our own. The Stooges are described as a proto-punk band, but I also hear a bluesy sound that’s proto-metal.


Artist: Black Flag
Album: Damaged
Year: 1981
Label: SST
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Surprisingly not.
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Rise Above”
  • “TV Party”
  • “No More”
  • “Padded Cell”
  • “Damaged I”

Thoughts: If anything good comes out of this Rolling Stone 500 experiment it will be things like filling in my punk rock deficiencies and finally listening to this Black Flag album.  This is supposed to be an album that parents hate, but I’m a parent and it’s really resonating with me right no.  So there. 


Artist: John Mayer
AlbumContinuum
Year: 2006
Label: Columbia
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Not really
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks: None

Thoughts: I know John Mayer as the “Your Body is a Wonderland” guy and therefore the avatar of the generic dudebro pop music wave of the early 2000s.  I was not aware of the rest of his body of work and therefore surprised to see him on a “greatest of all time” list.  And after listening to the album, I’m even more surprised to see it on the list.  It’s soooooooooooooo boring!


Artist: Richard and Linda Thompson
Album: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Year: 1974
Label: Island
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Only by name & reputation.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “When I Get to the Border”
  • “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”
  • “Down Where the Drunkards Roll”
  • “We Sing Hallelujah”

Thoughts: As a folky, I’ve been remiss in not listening to this album before, even though I’ve known of its existence for decades. The music is drawn from the English folk revival of the 1960s & 70s, reminiscent of the music of The Revels, but with rock & roll flourishes. 


Artist: Lady Gaga
Album: Born This Way
Year: 2011
Label: Interscope
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Kind of impossible not to.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Probably not.
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Born This Way”

Thoughts: Lady Gaga was ubiquitous about a decade ago.  I guess she still is, with A Star is Born and performing at Biden’s inauguration. But other than the title track, I didn’t know any of these songs.  I guess all of her big songs are on another album. This is a fine collection of dance tracks, but I’m not likely to seek it out.


Artist: Muddy Waters
Album: The Anthology
Year: 2001
Label: MCA
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Gypsy Woman”
  • “I Can’t Be Satisfied”
  • “Rollin’ Stone”
  • “Walkin’ Blues”
  • “Country Boy”
  • “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”
  • “I Just Want to Make Love To You
  • “Mannish Boy”
  • “Forty Days and Forty Nights”
  • “Got My Mojo Working”
  • “You Shook Me”

Thoughts: I love the music of McKinley Morganfield and took great delight in listening to 50 of his songs back-to-back.  But I once again find it a copout to include a box set compilation, released two decades after Muddy Waters’ death, as a “greatest album.” Obviously the RS 500 editors want to recognize the importance of the great Chicago Blues man who did most of his best work on singles rather than albums. I wonder if they could’ve achieved this by nominating instead his musical crossover success of At Newport 1960, or even one of the compilations released by Chess records in the 50s and 60s. This would feel to me something more intentionally an album rather than a retrospective box set.


Artist: The Pharcyde
Album: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
Year: 1992
Label: Delicious Vinyl
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Not at all
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Officer”
  • “Passin’ Me By”
  • “Otha Fish”
  • “Pack the Pipe”

Thoughts: Apparently I was busy with something else when The Pharcyde had their moment in the early 90s, because they are the first band so far in this list that I’ve never heard before.  I was excited to see RS refer to them as “a little like a West Coast answer to De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest,” though. I do feel bad that I missed out on The Pharcyde because this is the type of hip hop with a sense of fun that I enjoyed before gangsta rappers began taking things (and themselves) too seriously.  The casual sexism in some of the lyrics make it less fun, though.


Artist: Belle and Sebastian
Album: If You’re Feeling Sinister
Year: 1996
Label: Jeepster
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Vague awareness of the band
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Me and the Major”
  • “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”
  • “If You’re Feeling Sinister”

Thoughts:

There are two things I know about Belle & Sebastian: 1) they were considered the epitome of twee back in the Oughts, and 2) they wrote a song about the New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza having to call a press conference regarding his sexuality.  I remember listening to one of their albums and not finding it much too interesting.  I didn’t realize that Belle & Sebastian were around as early as 1996, chipping away at the last days of grunge dominance. This a collection of finely-crafted folk rock tunes and I can’t say anything bad about, although it doesn’t really excite me either.  Nevertheless, I could see giving it another spin one day.


Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  • 498. Suicide, Suicide
  • 497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
  • 494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
  • 489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
  • 487. Black Flag, Damaged
  • 485, Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • 483, Muddy Waters, The Anthology
  • 482, The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
  • 481, Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister

Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 500-491


Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Artist: Arcade Fire
AlbumFuneral
Year: 2004
Label: Merge
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:  Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
  • “Crown of Love”
  • “Wake Up”

Thoughts: I can’t remember when I first became aware of Arcade Fire.  I definitely knew of them by the time they won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year and “Who is Arcade Fire?” became a social media meme, but I definitely was not aware of them when their first album was released in 2004.  Listening to this album for the first time was a revelation and I enjoyed the orchestrated melodies, harmonies, and atmosphere.  This is definitely good “dozing off to sleep music” as the sounds swell over you and become part of your dreams.


Artist: Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
AlbumAsk Rufus
Year: 1977
Label: ABC
Have I Listened to This Album Before?:  No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  A little bit
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:  Not really
Favorite Tracks:

  • “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)”

Thoughts: I know Chaka Khan primarily from her hit cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You” and her guest vocals on the songs of numerous other artists. I only knew of Rufus by reputation. This is definitely a solid 70s funk & soul album with a touch of disco.  But other than the opening track it didn’t really grab me. 


Artist: Suicide
Album: Suicide
Year: 1977
Label: Red Star
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:  Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Ghost Rider”
  • “Rocket USA”

Thoughts: I’m surprised that I haven’t heard this before because it’s right up my alley.  It’s got the punk aesthetic, with gloomy lyrics, over minimalist synth beats.  I can definitely hear this album’s influence in a lot of music that I like, especially Stereolab


Artist: Various Artists
Album: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
Year: 1985
Label: Earthworks,
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Likely
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Kinda?
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes!
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Awungilobolele” (Can You Pay Lobola for Me) – Udokotela Shange Namajaha
  • “Holotelani” (Daughter-In-Law) – Nelcy Sedibe
  • “Qhwahilahle” (Leave Him Alone) – Moses Mchunu
  • “Nansi Imali” (Here Is the Money) – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Thoughts: I have a vague memory of checking this album out from the library when I was a teenager obsessed with Paul Simon’s Graceland and the music of Johnny Clegg. For some reason I didn’t get a copy of my own, which is a pity, but it was great to become reacquainted with this South African guitar-based music.


Artist: Shakira
Album: Dónde Están los Ladrones?
Year: 1998
Label: Columbia
Have I Listened to This Album Before?:  No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  Artist yes/Songs no
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: It’s not bad
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Ciega, Sordomuda”
  • “Que Vuelvas”

Thoughts: While Latin pop is not the first style of music I’d gravitate to, I’ve long had a soft spot for Shakira. I first became acquainted with her when I heard her song “Whenever, Wherever” sung by young women on the streets of Dublin. Her World Cup anthem “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” is also kind of a theme song for my kids’ elementary school. This early album was Shakira’s attempt to break into the US Latin music market, but precedes her recording in English.  I was surprised that the music was much more of a guitar-based alternative music sound. I saw one reviewer refer to her as a Colombian Alanis Morrisette, which is a bit of an exaggeration, but a hint at how different Shakira’s sound was at this period compared with her later dance pop sounds.


Artist: Boyz II Men
Album: II
Year: 1991
Label: Motown
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  Boyz II Men were inescapable in the 90s
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Probably not.
Favorite Tracks:

  • “U Know”

Thoughts: Boyz II Men were the dominant R&B sound of the 1990s with harmonies that hearken back to the doo-wop era. I can definitely appreciate their music, although it is another style that’s not really my thing.


Artist: The Ronettes
Album: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
Year: 1964
Label: Philles
Have I Listened to This Album Before?:  No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:  Definitely
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Walking in the Rain”
  • “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”
  • “Be My Baby”
  • “Baby, I Love You”

Thoughts: This was The Ronettes only official album release, and is technically a compilation since it collects a number of singles the group had already released.  But since all these singles were released over a course of about a year, it still reflects an incredible run of impressive music in a short period of time. I can imagine some teens in the 1964 could have a good party just putting on this album in the background. 


Artist: Marvin Gaye
Album: Here, My Dear
Year: 1978
Label: Tamla/Motown
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  I know Marvin Gaye well, but not this album.
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Not really
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Everybody Needs Love”

Thoughts: I was only familiar this album by its reputation of being a contractual obligation as part of Marvin Gaye’s divorce from his wife Anna Gordy Gaye. The album runs the gamut of emotions from divorce – bitterness, anger, grief, passion, and nostalgia – on a string of songs almost entirely in a soulful mid-tempo. The work of Marvin Gaye can never be dismissed but if I’m going to listen to Gaye, I would gravitate toward several of his other albums including some that will appear in this Top 500 list.


Artist: Bonnie Raitt
AlbumNick of Time
Year: 1989
Label: Capitol
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  Very
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Maybe
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Thing Called Love”
  • “Have a Heart”
  • “The Road’s My Middle Name”

Thoughts: Everyone loves an underdog story. Bonnie Raitt had been working for decades before bottoming out in the 1980s, both professionally and personally.  So it was an unexpected thing when this stripped-down blues rock album became a huge deal in 1989 and continued to be a hit album for some years afterward.  I don’t love the music of Bonnie Raitt, but I’m not going to run away if someone puts this album on, and I can definitely appreciate the effort and spirit she put into achieving this stunning moment of success.


Artist: Harry Styles
Album: Fine Line
Year: 2019
Label: Columbia
Have I Listened to This Album Before?:  No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  Not at all
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Not likely
Favorite Tracks:

  • ‘Adore You”

Thoughts: My knowledge of boy bands is extremely limited, and about all I knew about One Direction is that they existed and had a member with the same first name as me. I was surprised when I learned that they only debuted in 2010 and have already broken up and gone on to successful solo careers.  Which leads me to this Harry Styles album. I had no idea what to expect, but I was still surprised that the several songs have a folky style, sometimes akin to the Laurel Canyon sound of the 1970s. The album is eminently listenable and while I would also file it in my “not my thing” category, I’m glad I gave it a chance.


Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, ‘Funeral’
  • 498. Suicide, ‘Suicide’
  • 497. Various Artists, ‘The Indestructible Beat of Soweto’
  • 494. The Ronettes, ‘Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes’

Music Discoveries: Peter Gabriel, Real World Records era


In previous posts I’ve examined Peter Gabriel’s origins with the band Genesis, and is increasingly successful output as a solo artist. Never one to follow trends, Gabriel followed up his hit album So by creating a new label called Real World Records, which would release his remaining albums to date as well as the work of non-Western musical artists, helping popularize World Music.  Gabriel’s output has been slight over the past 30 years compared with his earlier career, but there’s still a lot that I missed out on.

Title: Passion
Released: June 5, 1989
Label: Real World

Three years after achieving rock stardom with So, Gabriel returns with a collection of instrumental tunes drawing on Middle Eastern and African influences as a soundtrack to the controversial Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ.  Not at all your typical career move.  I remember not liking the movie all that much, not because it was offensive but because it was weird.  Nevertheless I did play parts of Passion on my college World Music radio show.  I don’t think I appreciated the soundtrack album all that well, though, because listening to it now I find it far more entrancing and engaging.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time?

Rating: ****


Title: Us
Released: September 29, 1992
Label: Real World

After a six year wait, Gabriel returned with an album of new songs and it was a big deal.  I remember listening to this on repeat when it came out my sophomore year of college but not at all since then.  I found it worth revisiting, although ironically, two of the singles from the album are the weakest tracks: “Steam” is derivative of “Sledgehammer while “Kiss That Frog” is a puerile request for a blowjob.  The other hit from this album, “Digging in the Dirt,” is an excellent reflection of relationships which also doubled as my theme song for all the archaeological fieldwork I was doing at the time.  “Washing of the Water” is a song I didn’t recall but really liked upon revisiting.

Rating: ***1/2


Title: Secret World Live
Released: September 13, 1994
Label: Real World

I’m entering into uncharted territory here, as I’m not familiar with really any of Gabriel’s post-Us catalog, albeit it is mostly live albums and soundtracks. This album features live performances of songs from Us plus as smattering of earlier hits. In a very 90s moment, Paula Cole lends her lovely voice as a substitute for Kate Bush on “Don’t Give Up.”

Rating: ***1/2


Title: OVO
Released: June 12, 2000
Label: Real World

The soundtrack to the Millenium Dome Show features guest performances by Neneh Cherry, Rasco, Richie Havens, Elizabeth Fraser, and Paul Buchanan, although I can’t find a source that credits which tracks they each appear on.  The songs tell a story of some sort and are a mix of genres.  The opening track features a rap which works surprisingly well with Gabriel’s grooves.  Other tracks have a Celtic sound reminiscent of the Afro-Celt Sound System (who are Real World artists, so maybe not a coincidence).  There are some good moments and some meh moments but nothing stands out as really amazing or terrible.  I am curious to what this show was like, though.

Rating: ***


Title: Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence
Released: April 16, 2002
Label: Real World

Another soundtrack from Peter Gabriel with instrumental, atmospheric, World Music-y, tunes.  It’s fine and good, but I’m realizing that even though I’m listening to these over a few days, Peter Gabriel’s essential sound has remained unchanged for a decade now.  I do need to this movie.

Rating: ***


Title: Up
Released: September 24, 2002
Label: Real World

After a ten year absence, Peter Gabriel returns with a new studio album of original songs (which is also his most recent to date!).  I remember hearing “The Barry Williams Show” when it first came out, felt puzzled about why Gabriel was satirizing the Jerry Springer show a decade after it was trendy, and pretty much shrugged it off.  I may have been too hasty as there are some worthwhile tracks on this album.  He apparently spent the 90s listening to industrial music which is evident in tracks like “Darkness” and “Growing Up.” Ultimately, though, this album seems disappointing after the long wait.

Rating: **1/2


Title: Big Blue Ball
Released: June 24, 2008
Label: Real World, Rykodisc

This is less of a Peter Gabriel album than a collaborative project.  Gabriel is joined by artists from around the world including Wendy Melvoin of Wendy & Lisa, Sinéad O’Connor, Karl Wallinger (of World Party), Natacha Atlas, and Papa Wemba.  Recorded over several sessions in the 1990s, it has that enjoyable, if a bit dated, sound of World Beat fusion, something I’d have enjoyed on an album released by Ellipsis Arts, or Real World Records. I enjoy “Habibe,” “Shadow,” “Forest,” and “Jijy” most.

Rating: ****


Title: Scratch My Back
Released: February 12, 2010
Label: Real World

Maybe Peter Gabriel has had writer’s block for decades, because after another eight-year absence, he released an album entirely of cover songs.  The songs are from Gabriel’s contemporaries like David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Lou Reed as well as newer artists who were influenced by Gabriel such as Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, and Radiohead.  Unfortunately, every single interpretation is slow and maudlin, adding no value to original versions of these songs.  A disappointment piled upon disappointments.

Rating: **


 

Title: New Blood
Released: October 10, 2011
Label: Real World

Gabriel returns again, this time with orchestral arrangements of his previous work.  It’s kind of like a greatest hits with symphonic accompaniment.  Appropriately the music has a cinematic sound which fits in with all of Gabriel’s soundtrack work. Some tracks profit from the arrangement like “Rhythm of the Heat” and “Red Rain.”  Others, like “In Your Eyes,” lake the urgency of the original recordings and end up sounding dirge-like.  It’s a nice experiment but does make one wonder about Gabriel’s lack of new material.

Rating: ***


 

Title: Growing Up Live
Released: February 8, 2019
Label: Real World

Peter Gabriel’s most recent album release is a live concert recording that’s not all that recent (it was recorded and released as a concert film in 2003).  It is an excellent concert with guest vocals by The Blind Boys of Alabama.  I’d like to attend a Peter Gabriel concert if the opportunity presents itself in the future (and we’re allowed to go to concerts).

Rating: ***1/2

And so concludes my investigation of five decades of the musical creations of Peter Gabriel. Let’s hope he has some more music to add to his catalog before too long!

Music Discoveries: Peter Gabriel, 70s and 80s Solo Career


After leaving Genesis, Peter Gabriel embarked on a solo career where he ventured into music unlike he created with the band.  His music was both experimental and political.  And yet, within 10 years, he would find himself at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, ironically usurping his former bandmates from their first #1 hit.

Title: Peter Gabriel (Car)
Released: February 25, 1977
Label: Charisma

Peter Gabriel makes his solo debut with the first of four eponymously-titled albums, much to the irritation of his record company. The album is a grab-bag of pop music genres, with a definite harder rock sound that Genesis on many of them, but also dabbling in the Blue and music hall. The standout track, of course, is “Solsbury Hill,” a folk rock tune that sounds nothing like Gabriel’s Genesis work. It’s clearly an all-time great song that somehow manages to get airplay on classic rock radio while also being a proto-alternative music favorite.

Rating: ***


Title: Peter Gabriel (Scratch)
Released: June 3, 1978
Label: Charisma

It’s kind of boring.  This album has a prog rock pedigree with hints New Wave/prog rock to come.  Something about the music sounds like a weird Peter Gabriel attempt pastiche of stars of the late 70s like Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, and maybe even Billy Joel. None of it really works or holds together well.

Rating:  **


Title: Peter Gabriel (Melt)
Released: May 30, 1980
Label: Charisma

Definitely a bolder and more confident album from Gabriel.  And with radio staples like “Games With Frontiers” and “Biko,” it’s more familiar as well. I also like “I Don’t Remember” quite a bit.  This album really puts Gabriel on track to blending art music with rock in a weird but accessible way. It’s also interesting to hear Phil Collins and his “gated drums” on several tracks. “Biko” includes Gabriel’s first efforts to incorporate “World Beat” sounds into his music.

Rating: ****


Title: Peter Gabriel (Security)
Released: September 8, 1982
Label: Charisma

I would not become familiar with Peter Gabriel’s music until he released So, but retrospectively this album was the source of a lot of Gabriel’s best-recognized 1980s material, including like “Shock the Monkey” and “I Have the Touch.”  I also like “Rhythm of the Heat” and “Kiss of Life” a lot.  Gabriel’s pop/art rock crossover sound is fully developed here with further exploration into African, Latin American, and Native American sounds.

Rating: ****


Title: Plays Live
Released: June 9, 1983
Label: Charisma

Peter Gabriel’s greatest solo tunes get punched up with live performance energy.  I particularly like “The Rhythm of the Heat.”  But have you ever noticed that “D.I.Y.” kind of sounds like an 80s sitcom theme?

Rating: ****


Title: Birdy
Released: March 18, 1985
Label: Charisma

Gabriel’s first movie score is a collection of atmospheric, instrumental pieces heavy on synthesizers and percussion.  Some of the tracks derive from Gabriel’s earlier work like “Rhythm of the Heat” and “San Jacinto.”  I really liked this a lot more than I expected.

Rating: ****


Title: So
Released: May 19, 1986
Label: Charisma

This is where I came in.  The bombastic horns of “Sledgehammer” were my introduction to Peter Gabriel.  And while So is Gabriel’s most pop and accessible recording of his career, it was still experimental enough to be a revelation to 12-year-old me, especially on tracks like “We Do What We’re Told” and “This is the Picture.”  The hit songs still sound fresh, “Don’t Give Up” still makes me cry, and I may be colored by nostalgia, but I can’t find anything objectively wrong with this album.

Rating: *****

Next week, Peter Gabriel launches a new record label for himself and for the world. This final post will bring us up to the present day.

Music Discoveries: The Clash


In Music Discoveries, I find artists and bands that I’ve liked but have only listened to a small portion of their output, and do a complete listen of their discography. In the case of the Clash, this is a band I have listened to a more extensively but nevertheless have still found new-to-me music.

Back when the Clash was an active band I was a child who decidedly did not like punk music. Of course, I didn’t really know what punk music was since I basically equated it with heavy metal (and honestly I didn’t really know what heavy metal was either). I first became acquainted with the Clash like many mainstream Americans with their 1982 hit songs “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” In 1989, I was reading a “Best of the 80s” issue of Rolling Stone that ranked the Clash’s London Calling as the #1 album of the decade (despite being released in December 1979). I got a copy from the library and gave it a listen, surprised by what I heard and more surprised that I loved it.

A couple of years later, I started college and many of the people in my dorm listened to the Clash so I got exposed to their other recordings, including the more raw punk of the earlier days. And so, five years after the Clash broke up, I became a fan.

Lately I’ve been trying to learn more about the band by listening to a podcast produced by the BBC and Spotify called Stay Free: The Story of the Clash hosted by Chuck D of Public Enemy fame.  That prompted me to give the Clash the Music Discovery treatment.

Album: The Clash
Release Date: April 8, 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Remote Control,” “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” “Career Opportunities,” and “Police & Thieves.”
Thoughts:

The Clash come in with a roar on one of the most remarkable debut albums of all time.  This is The Clash at their most raw, most punk rock, and yet already melodic enough to be appealing to squares like me. They even cover a reggae song, “Police & Thieves,” which was innovative at the time. The album also stands as a legacy of the social unrest, inequality, and racial strife of the UK in the 1970s.

Rating: ****1/2


Album: Give ‘Em Enough Rope
Release Date: November 10, 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Guns on the Roof,” “Drug-Stabbing Time,”
Thoughts:

The sophomore effort feels more stripped down and raw than the debut, although the second side is poppier (and “Drug-Stabbing Time” sounds deceptively cheerful).  Lyrically there’s a broadening of topical issues beyond the band’s experiences in London to global political events.  This album doesn’t grab me as much as The Clash, but it’s still quality.

Rating: ***


Album: London Calling
Release Date: December 14, 1979
Favorite Tracks: “London Calling,” “Hateful,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “The Right Profile,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Guns of Brixton,” “Death or Glory,” “Revolution Rock,” “Train in Vain”
Thoughts:

It’s hard to find anything new to say about what many people consider one of the greatest albums of all time, except to say it is one of the greatest albums of all time.  It’s hard to single out my favorite songs, although “Lost in the Supermarket” has always resonated with me. I wonder what it would’ve been like to hear this album for the first time in 1979.  It must’ve been so unexpected for most listeners of the time.

Rating: *****


Album: Sandinista!
Release Date: December 12, 1980
Favorite Tracks: “The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville, U.K.,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “The Sound of Sinners,” “Lose This Skin”
Thoughts:

Almost a year to the date of releasing a double album, the Clash follow up with a triple album! Sandinista! is reminiscent of the Beatles “White Album” in it’s diversity of musical styles, large list of guest musicians, and the sense that one could pare down this sprawl into a great single album, but what would you cut?  The new wave and “world music” sounds of the album seem to be years ahead of the rest of music world.

Rating: ***1/2


Album: Combat Rock
Release Date: May 14, 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Know Your Rights,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Straight to Hell”
Thoughts: The band’s best-selling album is more radio-friendly with tracks like “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” but I don’t think the band compromised too much for commercial success. Other tracks on the album like “Know Your Rights” hearken back to their early punk rock sound. And then there’s music that doesn’t sound like anything else ever made, like “Straight to Hell,” one of my all-time favorite songs by any band.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Cut the Crap
Release Date: November 5, 1985
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: This is the much-maligned final album of the disillusioned remnant of a once great band.  The songs are formulaic, recorded over cheezy 80s synth with shout-along choruses that sound like a crowd of drunken football supporters.  It’s not terrible, but it it is boring, which is about the worst thing one can say about the Clash.
Rating: *


My Clash All-Time Top Ten Songs

Aramagideon Time (Live at Shea Stadium)

(NOTE: The live performance combines Armagideon Time with The Magnificent Seven which is not evident from the YouTube clip)

I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.

Know Your Rights

Lost in the Supermarket

Remote Control

Revolution Rock

Rudie Can’t Fail

Somebody Got Murdered

Straight to Hell

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, Finale


I managed to listen to every album that George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney released between 1968 and 1980 as documented in part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.  But my review of ex-Beatles’ musical output was missing something, including some of the best songs they recorded during this period, and that is the non-album singles.  So, to complete this music discovery, I listened to the following songs:

1969 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Give Peace a Chance”

One of John’s political anthems that is more fun than preachy.  It still resonates today even if I can’t understand the

1969 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Cold Turkey”

I’m surprised I’ve never heard this one before.  It has a rockin’ riff, but otherwise is dull.

1970 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Instant Karma!”

An all-time classic, and one with a great backstory of how it was created in (nearly) one day.

1971 – Paul McCartney – “Another Day”/”Oh Woman, Oh Why”

“Another Day” is a perfectly fine McCartney ballad, but feels a bit watered down compared to his best love songs. The b-side is just blah.

1971 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Power to the People”

More anthemic but less resonant that “Give Peace a Chance.”

1971 – George Harrison – “Bangla Desh”/”Deep Blue”

The charity single is born, and like “We Are the World” later on, it has good intentions with cheezy lyrics.  Harrison should be remembered for his dedication to the cause though, that likely had greater real world effect than Lennon’s sloganeering.  “Deep Blue” is a folksy-blues tune about Harrison grieving his mother that ties in personal tragedy with the global catastrophe of the A-side.

1971 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

The reuse of the tune for “Stewball” and its frequent repetition every December since its release makes this song feel an oddity.  But the Harlem Community Choir is genuinely charming and it works as both a Christmas pop song and an anti-war anthem.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”

I find it interesting that Lennon & McCartney both recorded political songs about the Irish Troubles at this time.  The Irish issue didn’t seem to be much of interest to either of them at any other point in their life.  McCartney is not known for political anthems and it humors me that Great Britain actually banned the song despite its milquetoast lyrics.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Mary Had a Little Lamb”/”Little Woman Love”

Holy crap, an ex-Beatle totally recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and released it as a single!  The B-side is a fun rockabilly number, but nothing special.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Hi, Hi, Hi”/”C Moon”

More mediocrity.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Live and Let Die”

McCartney at his most bombastic perfectly suits the UK’s bombastic James Bond film series.  I like this one despite myself.

1974 – Paul McCartney & Wings -“Junior’s Farm”/”Sally G”

McCartney tries on 70s arena rock and it’s not too shabby. The b-side is a nice bit of twangy country.  This is McCartney at his competent, okay-ness.

1974 – Paul McCartney & The Country Hams – “Walking in the Park with Eloise”

An instrumental ragtime tune with country twang.  Not bad, but sometimes I wonder if McCartney ever wanted to be a rock star.

1977 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Mull of Kintyre”

Another song that I never heard until recently despite that fact that it was one of the biggest singles in UK history. I’ve heard better pop songs with bagpipes.

1978 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Goodnight Tonight”/”Daytime Nighttime Suffering”

Wings does disco, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

1979 – Paul McCartney – “Wonderful Christmastime”/”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae”

I’ve actually successfully made it through this holiday season without ONCE hearing “Wonderful Christmastime” for the first time in decades, so I’m certainly not going to listen to the Worst. Christmas. Song. Ever. on purpose.  I listened to the B-side so you wouldn’t have to. It’s an instrumental reggae version of “Rudolph” played on violin.  For realz!


Ex-Beatle Superlatives

George Harrison:

Best AlbumAll Things Must Pass
Runner Up – Wonderwall Music
Worst Album – Extra Texture (Read All About It)
Best Song – “What is Life?”

John Lennon:

Best Album – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Runner Up – Imagine
Worst AlbumMind Games
Best Song – “Instant Karma”

Ringo Starr:

Best AlbumRingo
Runner Up – Goodnight, Vienna
Worst Album – Ringo the 4th
Best Song – “Photograph”

Paul McCartney:

Best Album – Back to the Egg
Runner Up – Venus and Mars
Worst AlbumLondon Town
Best Song – “Maybe I’m Amazed”


The Ex-Beatles Greatest Hits

To finish off, here are the 22 best songs by former Beatles up to 1980:

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band :: Give Peace a Chance

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band :: Instant Karma!

Paul McCartney :: Maybe I’m Amazed

George Harrison :: What is Life?

John Lennon :: Working Class Hero

John Lennon :: Imagine

John Lennon :: New York City

George Harrison :: Living in the Material World

Ringo Starr :: Photograph

Ringo Starr :: You’re Sixteen

Paul McCartney & Wings :: Live and Let Die

Paul McCartney & Wings ::Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five

John Lennon :: #9 Dream

Ringo Starr :: No No Song

Paul McCartney & Wings :: Silly Love Songs

George Harrison :: Not Guilty

Paul McCartney & Wings :: Getting Closer

Paul McCartney :: Coming Up

John Lennon & Yoko Ono :: (Just Like) Starting Over

John Lennon & Yoko Ono :: Watching the Wheels

John Lennon & Yoko Ono :: Woman

 

 

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 5


Heading into the home stretch on the first decade of post-Beatles music, and I’ve not been all impressed with the mid-to-late 70s offerings of Paul, George, & Ringo and John has gone on sabbatical. Entering the period covered by this period, they can all be relieved that the then most popular band in the world – the Bee Gees – decided to put together an all-star cast to make a film and album based on Beatles’ songs called Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  And it BOMBED!  So the former Beatles could rest assured they would not make to most embarrassing music tied to the Beatles in the late 1970s.

AlbumLondon Town
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Release Date :31 March 1978
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts:

Paul McCartney ventures into yacht rock by literally recording parts of this album on a yacht.  The band is down to a trio once again with McCartney and Denny Laine collaborating on a number of songs. It’s awfully yawn-ful.


AlbumBad Boy
Artist: Ringo Starr
Release Date: 21 April 1978
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts:

Ringo cuts back the disco flourishes (thankfully!) and eschews famous guest artists, focusing on an album of mostly covers with the same backing band behind him.  Unfortunately, the world didn’t need Ringo’s renditions of these songs.


AlbumGeorge Harrison 
Artist: George Harrison
Release Date:20 February 1979
Favorite Tracks: Not Guilty,
Thoughts:

And now George releases a yacht rock album, with Steve Winwood going overboard on the cheezy synths on many tracks.  “Not Guilty” is good, but I like the version recorded for the White Album better.


AlbumBack to the Egg
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Release Date: 8 June 1979
Favorite Tracks: Getting Closer, Spin It On, Old Siam Sir, So Glad to See You Here
Thoughts:

With an album title this dumb, I braced myself for the worst, only to be surprised that this is the most enjoyable McCartney album released thus far! Part of the reason is that this album rocks harder than McCartney & Wings have ever done before.  Songs like “Spin It On” even approach a punk rock sound, albeit one that will never be confused with The Ramones or Sex Pistols.  It seemed like McCartney had been creatively stuck for some time, with his previous 8 albums all sounding like they could’ve been outtakes from the Beatles recording sessions circa 1967-1969.  Blending in punk and new wave influences helps reconnect McCartney with his own rock & roll roots, and create something original for the first time in ages. The album slows down on the backside and lyrically it’s not strong, but definitely an improvement on the McCartney oeuvre.


AlbumMcCartney II
Artist: Paul McCartney
Release Date: 16 May 1980
Favorite Tracks: Coming Up, On the Way,
Thoughts:

So, Paul McCartney releases his second album, disavowing everything that was released over the previous 10 years.  I jest.  With McCartney playing every instrument, experimenting with synthesizers, and drawing some influence from synth-pop, this album is quite odd, sometimes delightfully so.  Even “Temporary Secretary” is a fun track, albeit not one I’m going to listen to over and over. It’s not all good, but McCartney experimenting is better than McCartney repeating the same old dreck in my book.


AlbumDouble Fantasy 
Artist: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Release Date:  17 November 1980
Favorite Tracks: (Just Like) Starting Over, Watching the Wheels, Woman
Thoughts:

John & Yoko record their first album together since 1972, and John’s first recording at all since 1975 on the album set up as a conversation between the once-again happily married couple.  The critics don’t like it, they never like anything with a lot of Yoko Ono on it, but I think it was a pretty good comeback and a sign of possibilities to come (never realized).  Besides, Yoko’s music is now no weirder than some new wave music being released at the time, like the B-52s.  This album was released just before my 7th birthday and I distinctly remember it as among my earliest memories of knowing anything about the Beatles, so it holds a particular nostalgia.

 

 

The 1980s would not see a Beatles’ reunion.  John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980.  The surviving members of the band all continued on in their own ways, but made fewer waves than in the previous two decades. Paul McCartney would work to drag down the careers of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and then perform with a frog chorus, before re-rediscovering that he’s a rock star at the end of the decade.  Ringo Starr retreated from recording for most of the 80s, spending some time narrating Thomas & Friends, before getting back on the music bandwagon in 1989 with His All-Starr Band, that has served him well.  And George Harrison also retreated from making music for a time before returning with some big solo hits and then forming the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.