That last segment of Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time was pretty great, overall. I’m hoping this, the Top 30, will be just as fantastic. No time to waste, let’s hit it.
#30 – Blue by Joni Mitchell. The BCPF and I have recently learned the joys of Joni Mitchell. Yes, we had heard of her and heard her stuff, especially The BCPF as it’s in her wheelhouse. We just have gotten to know more about the music. Our summer Sundays on the lawn include dialing up some JM on Pandora and letting it play through. It wasn’t always her but when it was, we really enjoyed it. This was a catalyst for the whole modern singer-songwriter movement. Some people that guested on the album are James Taylor on three songs and Stephen Stills who played bass on the whole album. He does impressive work, too. I’m not quite sure what was going on, or the effect they were trying for during “This Flight Tonight” but it’s weird. I don’t not like it, it’s just weird. The title track is one of my faves from this album and “California.” Joni is a definite storyteller. It’s not just songwriting for the sake of writing a song, she has something to say and the lyrics are a vivid tale, not just rhyming babble. I like her piano playing, too. It’s simple but effective. “All I Want, “A Case of You” and “River” are also great tunes. I dug it!
#29 – Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin. From the first notes of “Good Times Bad Times,” it was on. This commercial hard rock was something new and exciting. Jimmy Page is pegged as a sloppy player a good bit and I’ll agree with that on his solos. But, I believe the man is one of the best rhythm and riff writers/players I’ve ever heard – refer to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Black Mountain Side” (both the rhythm and lead parts). Robert Plant was only 20 when this album was recorded. He had mature pipes for that age. John Bonham was also only 20. I can only imagine what people thought of the powerhouse drumming that he put on aural display when they heard it for the first time. I know that I have always been blown away by it and I am used to hard and heavy music. I know it goes against just about everything I ever say when I talk about blues and all that, as, for the most part, this album is chock-full of the stuff I hate. I’m not talking about blues-based or influenced stuff. I’m talking stuff like “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” both written by Willie Dixon, by the way, which are certainly not my favorite tunes on the album, but I don’t always push next, either. On this album, Zep wasn’t afraid to bypass radio intentions and just put out a really good album, this is also evidenced in the fact that of nine songs on the album, only three of them are under four minutes. When it was time to play something on the radio, Jimmy Page made adjustments to the running time of “How Many More Times” on the album credits to read only “3:30” even though it’s really 8:27. This was so the radio stations would play it. Of course, that could be rumor and I can’t verify it; it only applies to the old LP copies. I guess no one took the time to actually look at the record itself to see how long a song actually was back then. I can tell the difference in a four minute song and an eight minute one just by looking at it. I know professional DJs could have. My faves on this album are “Good Times Bad Times,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Dazed and Confused,” “How Many More Times” and “Your Time is Gonna Come.” Understanding the importance and significance of this album is key. I’d rate Zep II or IV in front of this album on the list, if it were me. But, I still dig it good bit.
#28 – Who’s Next by The Who. To me, this is The Who. The earlier stuff is fine and good; not all of it my cup of tea. But, this is where The Who got me. From the first arpeggiator-produced notes of “Baba O’Riley” into “Bargain” and “Love Ain’t for Keepin’,” the first part of the album is priceless. I am also a big fan of the last three songs, “Going Mobile,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” The last song being what KISS got to be known for on their reunion tours on, although, really, they should stop using it, if they still do, because it’s not the original lineup and they’re not “fooling” anyone with that (for the record: I don’t at all mind the new lineup how they are). I won’t say I’m a big fan of John Entwhistle but, man, “The Ox” is a beast! I own this album on CD and I got it used on vinyl, although I haven’t listened to it on that, just yet; time hasn’t permitted it. I love the cover which shows the members having just urinated on a big concrete protrusion jutted in the middle of a spoil pit. I don’t know what to say about this album other than I really like it, if for nothing more than it’s just a great album.
#27 – The Joshua Tree by U2. Yes. This. More of this, please. It, along with Achtung Baby!, my two favorite U2 albums. I like most of what they did after and I like what they did before but this was what set them off. It was good stuff and more mature than the previous stuff, not that it was immature, it was just an evolution in songwriting that took them to these new heights. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, it had a more direct sound than just a lot of echo and ambiance. The lyrics were more pointed than most and it showed off how much U2 loved the USA and how much U2 loathed them. Politically, we don’t really put off a positive vibe to the rest of the world. We’re standoffish and don’t play well with others. Socially, we tend to take our stance to either help or hinder other places, however it best works for our own advancement. Yeah, we get it. That’s just how we are. There are times it’s better and times it’s worse. We’re moody like that. That discontent is shown prominently in the song “Bullet the Blue Sky” which is one of my faves of the band. It’s a much better use of that riff than the oafish Ted Nugent in “Stranglehold.” This has a groove, the other… well it has Ted Nugent. No better reason not to listen than it being him. Anywhat! The song was originally written about our intervention into the Salvadorian civil war and how we handled it, according to an interview with Bono on the @U2 website. The other side of that, though, is the love of American gospel music, our freedoms, the people and the beauty of the land. The album’s title alone is all about the desert, the wide openness and the wonder of it all. The gospel-esque “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” showed the love of our southern-laced music. It wasn’t all just us, though, there were parts that were about other places, like “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It’s about identity and residence; how you can tell about a person from where they live. “One Tree Hill” was written for a fallen friend of Bono. “Mothers of the Disappeared” is about the families of the children who “disappeared” in El Salvador and Nicaragua. It means they were abducted, or probably more than likely killed for political gains. My favorite song on the entire album is “With or Without You.” Just the way Bono sings it combined with the ethereal guitar parts from The Edge, I find it to be a fantastic song and reminds me of a time when I hated U2 (what I knew of them) because it wasn’t the other pop drivel I had come to love. I know better, now, considering them one of my top 10 acts, if not top 5. It doesn’t have a bad song on it. I LOVE this album.
#26 – Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. Make sure you spell it right… the British way. Another monster album. It seems this part of the list is where you’re going to start really getting into the meat of it all. I mean, it’s the top 30 albums of all time, right? So, yeah, a monster album. It is full, and I mean full, of awesome songs. From the opening, chugging notes of “Second Hand News” there’s not a dull moment or bad note, much less a bad song, through the fade out of “Gold Dust Woman.” The band, while probably in some constant state of f’ed up, was firing on all cylinders on this album musically. Mick Fleetwood was a solid drummer and probably still is, although at 69, I believe he needs a little backup on that. Christine McVie (whose maiden name is actually Perfect) is cranking, not tickling, the ivories throughout and while I never thought she had the greatest voice, she is a fantastic songwriter and pianist and a good singer. Lindsey Buckingham was always a mystery to me. I never knew he was that good of a guitar player but the coolest part is that he’s a finger picker. I don’t know if he ever uses a pick, it sounds like he probably does through the strumming part but his finger-picking style gives a different timbre to the tonality of his playing. It’s not as bright but is still quite prominent. I think that’s quite unique. I am always talking about the bass players and, well, John McVie (the “Mac” in Fleetwood Mac) is solidly planted at the bottom end. I use the bass line of “The Chain” to get levels when I play out. Not too tough but enough to get a tonal range. That and it’s fun. On this album he doesn’t “go off” but he’s the foundation of the sound. Stevie Nicks was there to be beautiful and raspy. I kid about that. She’s a great voice and songwriter and she was quite beautiful. She still is. “Songbird” is one of the most underrated songs, ever. Christine McVie is on it and that “good voice” is velvety and emotional. The same for “Oh Daddy.” That song is emotional and dark. The whole feel of the song is dark and beautiful. “I Don’t Want to Know” is a bounce-happy trip from Stevie and Lindsey written by Nicks back in the days they performed as a duo before joining Fleetwood Mac. Again, not a bad song anywhere to be found. It could easily be top 15, in my opinion. I love this album (I also own it on vinyl).
#25 – Live at the Apollo by James Brown. Okay, I don’t get it. Listening to this was about as much fun as watching a local church Christmas play. I understand that it was laying a precedence for the marketability of James Brown and it laid groundwork for the future of R&B music. And, I get that is should be on the countdown. I just think that place should have been in the high 400s. Not the 25th greatest album of all time. I couldn’t wait until it was over and it was less than 32 minutes long. This is not the fun and exciting James Brown that we come to know and love. This was just songs performed by a yeller and his three cronies. Now, that sounds harsher than I mean it. The James Brown I know was bombastic, energetic and loud. This was early, I get it, but it just wasn’t fun to listen to, history and significance be darned. I just didn’t care for it. I did like “Night Train,” so there’s that.
#24 – Innervisions by Stevie Wonder. This album has my absolute favorite Stevie song on it: “Living For the City.” There’s just something about that song that has a great groove, a good story and his vocals are incredible. And the Fender Rhodes never sounded better. On the album is the very extended version of the song. It includes a black man being arrested for being black in the city that I’m assuming is NYC. It’s pretty telling, really. I never thought Stevie a political one but it was a jab at prejudice, I think. And, he plays every single instrument and sound on this song, that’s just amazing. The same goes for the opening track, “Too High,” too. His jazz drumming and synth bass playing is out of this world. Stevie’s vocals are airy on “Visions” and the song is beautiful; amazingly so. I am seeing that Stevie connects all his songs in the mastering process. The fade out goes into the next tune, except when it’s time to change a side. The first time I ever noticed it was on the cassette for In Square Circle when I was a kid. I am pretty sure it happened on Songs in the Key of Life, too. As much as I really do like the Chili Peppers’ version of “Higher Ground,” it doesn’t hold a candle to the groove of this version. It’s slower, yeah, but it’s more groove. Again, Stevie does it all himself. Other greats: “All in Love is Fair,” “Golden Lady,” “Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All.” I’ve already alerted Jonathan at Underdog Records to keep an eye out for this coming in, used or otherwise. I really, really dug this album. Stevie at his best.
#23 – Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon. I have heard a lot of these songs but I’ve never heard this album, Lennon’s first “solo” album; released 21 days after I was born. A cool thing is Ringo Starr played drums on it. “Mother” is a bit creepy. After reading the story behind it, it is even more creepy. Lennon went through primal therapy with some quack that made him relive the hardest times of his childhood instead of analytical discussions. It brought some darkness out in him, for sure. “Hold On” is a good song, very stripped down to just guitar, bass and drums. Not really a fan of “I Found Out,” though. “Working Class Hero” is another dark and miserable song, but I really like it. It’s a precursor to grunge, I’d say. I don’t know if I’d be correct, but that’s what I’ll say. It’s a commentary on class and perception, I’m figuring. “Isolation” has some really cool chord progressions and dissonant chords. I dig it. I don’t know if he felt much isolation by this time. Phil Spector plays piano on “Love,” which is a little bit of fresh air after all the depressing songs that precede it. I was thrown off by the little instrumental interlude before the end of the song; the song disappeared and came back. “Well Well Well” is just an abundance of screaming. I can’t find any redeeming qualities about it, really. Billy Preston plays piano on “God” where Lennon pretty much questions everything and I can’t blame him for that. It’s a beautiful song, though, musically. And the album ends as morbidly as it starts and keeps with the sad theme, “My Mummy’s Dead.” I like John Lennon. He’s never been my favorite Beatle, or even my second fave, probably. I’m used to his stuff being better than this. That doctor (and Yoko) really messed him up. Other than a few flashes, I really couldn’t get into this album. For the three or four songs I did like, I’ll say I dug it, but just barely.
#22 – The Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson. I know this is “classic” and I may go back and listen but it’s a compilation, so not on here.
#21 – The Great Twenty-Eight by Chuck Berry. Again, probably “missing out” but it’s a compilation. Didn’t want to end the segment on that, but oh well, it’s on the list that way.
So, for the most part, this was a dynamite segment! Leave off the James Brown and the two comps and I’ve got six really strong dugs or loves and a mediocre (to me) John Lennon album. I have two albums to go and 10 days to do it in. I hope to have it done and done right. I’m not streaking through, I’m just not dragging my feet. Okay, that’s all.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“This guy comes up to me, his face red like a rose on a thorn bush. Like all the colors of a royal flush. And, he’s peeling off those dollar bills; slapping them down: one hundred, two hundred. And I can see those fighter planes. And I can see those fighter planes. Across the mud huts where the children sleep, through the alleys of a quiet city street, you take the staircase to the first floor. Turn the key and slowly unlock the door as a man breathes into a saxophone. And, through the walls you hear the city groan. Outside is America. Outside is America. Across the field you see the sky ripped open, see the rain through a gaping wound pounding on the women and children who run into the arms of America.“ – “Bullet the Blue Sky” (Clayton, Evans, Herman, Mullen, Hewson, Toure)