In addition to cracking voices a la Peter Brady, bad perms, braces, and arm pit hair, musical taste begins taking root during puberty – or at least it did for me. Fortunately, my uncles Tim and Tom gave me a rock music birds and the bees talk when I was around 12 or 13. Okay maybe it wasn’t an actual sit down but because I worshipped anything that they did or said, I began paying special attention to their bands. As teenagers during the 70s, their tastes were unsurprising in retrospect but absolutely solid nonetheless. I recall The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, etc.
Lucky for me at that time, Uncle Tom purchased what was known as a “compact disc player” and bequeathed many of his albums to my brother and me. During those lonely junior high nights, I’d place the needle on a record and wear enormous earphones that dug into the side of my head if I moved my neck. The A side of “Who’s Next” provided the soundtrack as I pondered whether Christine Idzelis would ever go out with me.
Apparently, the popularity of record albums is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The trend, I imagine, is due in part to the “hipster” generation of pierced and tattooed bike courier-types who forego iPods in favor of the more classic LP players. However, I must admit a certain pleasure exists in hearing the crackling and hiss that accompany songs played on vinyl.
Nowadays, my musical appetite does not consist strictly of Rock. My need for variety has introduced me to music of all genres. Some days, I’ll nibble on rap, hip hop, soul, funk, and top-40. Other days, I’ll feast on classical, Cuban, bossa nova, or jazz. And I’m not scared by heavy metal, punk, or bluegrass. But then, of course, I get one of those cravings where all I want is some good old, guitar solo/air boards/white man’s overbite/head bopping/freak out by yourself in a car with no remorse rock n’ roll.
“Irregardless,” I am so excited for that day when G-love is ready for her own sit down about beats and tunes. If you forced me at this very moment to list the top 10 greatest albums of all time, I’d be happy to indulge. But before doing so, you should understand my criteria.
First, “alternative” and “rock” will be considered together. I was in high school during the “Grunge Era” so these styles of music are overlapping in my world of music. Second, the albums were considered as a whole to the extent that an album with one great song and the rest mediocre will not make this list. For example, “Heat of the Moment” by Asia on their self-titled debut album is a great song but the other songs are pretty lackluster. Thus, these albums deliver an overwhelming majority of “solid” to “off the charts”-level songs from start to finish. In other words, you are not inclined to fast forward over any of the songs. Lastly, “Greatest Hits” albums do not count. Without further ado:
10. “Rubber Soul” by The Beatles. I omitted “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” from this list because there are too many songs that I fast forward – “Fixing a Hole”, “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Within You Without You.” Then I realized that I don’t FF any songs on “Rubber Soul.” I like to think this earlier album was a true harbinger of The Beatles’ future brilliance. “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), and “I’m Looking Through You” are my personal faves.
9. “Who’s Next?” by The Who. The boards that introduce “Baba O’Riley” trigger an eerie feeling of temporary escape in my brain as soon as I hear that opening “ding – ding, ding. ding – ding, ding.” Moon’s drums are appropriately splashy (thanks Ron Burgundy), Townsend’s guitar blazes, and Daltrey nails high notes on the same level as Robert Plant. That’s right. I went there. I fucking love that song.
Often overshadowed by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Who was so effective at building an orgasmic crescendo in its anthem songs through effective repeating riff foreplay. (Besides “Baba,” think “Eminence Front.”) Anyway, don’t skip any songs on this album. Trust me. For the record, “Going Mobile” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rock it out completely.
8. “Ten” by Pearl Jam. Think long hair, flannel shirts, and a voice that channeled the angst of high school kids everywhere in the early 90’s. “Release” is far and away the best song on this album. No argument. Hands down.
Unfortunately, Eddie Vedder developed a condition that my buddy Scott and I coined “E.V.S.” (Eddie Vedder Syndrome) where the band’s commercial success was such a strain on his artistic vision that he was unable to speak publicly in coherent sentences from about 1993 to 2000. You also write songs about “bugs in my head.” Fortunately, Eddie recovered and helped advocate an overthrow of the Bush Administration with Sean Penn.
(As an aside, The Killers currently have a serious case of E.V.S. I mean who the hell writes a song asking whether “are we human or are we dancer?” Give me a freaking break.)
7. “Motorcade of Generosity” by CAKE. The lead singer of this band would probably mock me just for writing a top ten list, but this is my favorite CAKE album start to finish. “Jolene” also happens to be my overall favorite song by this band, as well as my inspiration for the protagonist in my screenplay that will never complete. Anyways, I hope they give me permission to play the song when Jolene walks out on Jonas in Portsmouth.
For the record, these guys blow the doors off live. I lost my mind at The Orpheum seeing them with T-bone, Skipzy, and Bree a couple years ago. And, the first time I saw them live, they played “Jolene.” I almost cried. Almost.
6. “Weezer” a/k/a “The Blue Album” by Weezer. COLLEGE!!!! The vibe on this album just totally resonated with me when I heard it for the first time. It’s rare that I can listen to a band for the first time and truly enjoy every song. That happened for me one special day in 1995 after a trip to Pure Pop in Burlington.
Surprise, surprise, Jonas’ inspiration came from here. However, “No One Else” and “Surf Wax America” also make me want to dance around in my underwear. The wife and I watched one of their concerts in Japan on TV and they brought up a fan from the audience to play guitar on “Say it Ain’t So.” She was bawling, but she pulled it off. Re-donk-a-donk.
Weezer still does it for me (their song “Jamie” is a tribute to their lawyer – how cool is that!?) but I’m not sure their future albums can ever eclipse “The Blue Album.” Footnote that Rivers Cuomo has apparently recovered from his bout with E.V.S.
5. “Siamese Dream” by Smashing Pumpkins. Whenever I hear “Cherub Rock,” I think of a road trip to Montreal during college in which our car averaged about 90 the minute we crossed Derby Line, Vermont. Just thought you should know.
I challenge you to find a bad song on this album. You will not succeed. I once asked Tooth to play “Mayonaise” at my funeral. I’ve subsequently changed my mind but that was how strongly I felt about this album. Also, please do not overlook “Sweet Sweet” and “Luna.” They are two very pretty songs.
Unfortunately, Billy Corgan still has not recovered from his infection with E.V.S.
4. “Abbey Road” by The Beatles. If I was considering just Side B, we’re talking serious contender for Number One. That side starts with George’s masterpiece “Here Comes the Sun” and ends with possibly my favorite lead guitar solo ever (I think it’s John) on “The End” (well technically “Her Majesty” is the last song on but it’s kind of a mini-song only). Every song on Side B seamlessly flows into the next. By the way, I have no idea what “polythene” means but that song really does it for me.
3. “Achtung Baby” by U2. Back to high school again. Go to any party during the summer before my senior year in high school and this was playing either before or after “Check Your Head” by The Beastie Boys. The radio focused on “One” and “Mysterious Ways,” which are good songs. However, “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” is far and away the best song on this brilliant album. “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” is a sleeper on this disc, too.
2. “The Beatles” a/k/a “The White Album” by The Beatles. I agonized about where to rank these last four albums, but I’m satisfied with their order now. This particular double album is like a Thanksgiving dinner of good songs. “Dear Prudence,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird,” “Revolution” (the slower version), and “Sexy Sadie” are my BFFs in this chapter of the Bible of Rock.
1. “The Joshua Tree” by U2. Heather Voigt let me listen to this cassette on her Walkman during a 7th grade summer camp overnight in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. That night, blondes and “With or Without You” established themselves as my personal kryptonite. “Joshua Tree” never fails me. It’s like a security blanket you pull out for emergency purposes.
If your heart rate doesn’t increase slightly when you hear those opening notes in “Where the Streets Have No Name,” I question whether you are alive at all. And is there a better 1-2-3 punch than “Streets,” “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?” and “With or Without You.” It’s like Gehrig, Dimaggio, and Williams on the same team.
But don’t dare stop there. Please keep going. “Bullet the Blue Sky” is so purely dark and brilliant. “Running to Stand Still” and “In God’s Country” are off the charts, too. I thoroughly enjoy every single song on this album.
“The Joshua Tree” is just so absolutely perfect, I can’t handle it. I don’t want anything about it to change. Just perfect. I can’t say anything more.
So there it is. Take your best shot. What did I miss? Agree? Disagree? Has anyone even made it this far? Shout out.