So… this is it. The last segment of the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time. I have gone through 490 albums to get here (minus about 35 greatest hits/compilation/anthologies along the way). I wrote my first review for this countdown on Tuesday, January 28, 2014. It was because I saw Doug Davis and Ed Bumgardner talking about it and I decided I could do it. My now-business partner, Paul Jones, said I should write my thoughts on the list as he was interested in hearing them. My pal, Keith Wilson encouraged me to do it, as well. Eugene, bless him, has made fun of me the whole way, but I get it. I have learned a lot about my tastes, some surprising, some affirming, in music. It has been a very fun journey along the way, any how. So, I will have finished this 500 albums in just under three years. I appreciate all of you that have read along and commented, as well, regardless whether it was here, on Facebook or on Twitter. I have enjoyed going through it with you. So, let’s finish this thing. I will tell you there are four Beatles albums in this segment and two Bob Dylan. Everyone else is one-shots for this segment; the rest have had at least one in another segment along the way. Here we go…
#10 – The Beatles (The White Album) by The Beatles. The second of my three favorite Beatles albums. A full two albums, really, all in one package. When I got my turntable a few Christmases back, my brother-in-law gave this to me for Christmas on vinyl. 29 songs, many of them very well known, and not one single was released. Still the album went to #1 in both US and UK. I’m more a fan of the first disc overall but there are some songs on the second that I like even more. The recording sessions, which also produced tunes “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” (not to be confused with the acoustic-driven “Revolution 1” and avant garde “Revolution 9”), neither on this album (both were released as singles), was done after the infamous Transcendental Meditation trip to India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Several things happened with that. One was the other people that were involved, including the wives of the band and Mia and Prudence Farrow. It was Prudence’s obsession with the meditation aspect that led to John Lennon writing “Dear Prudence.” Another thing was dissension within the ranks of the band, partly over direction and partly over Yoko Ono. Again, even with that going on, there are some fantastic tunes written here. Arguably, it’s some of George Harrison’s best stuff as a Beatle. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long” and “Savoy Truffle” are all great songs. “Piggies” isn’t bad, and it seems Charles Manson was a fan, as he referenced it in all the “Helter Skelter” mess, named for another song from this album. I could go into all the songs that I like but that would be a blog post all to its own. I’ll just say that I really like almost every single song. Perhaps if I’m taking the opposite route, “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Yer Blues” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” are the ones I like least. Love it!
#9 – Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan. I like the happy-go-lucky feel of the first tune “Rainy Day Women #12&35.” It’s a let’s go smoke some weed and get stoned kind of song, in fact, it says as much all through the choruses. I like that he laughs like it’s a big party the whole time, leaving that in the song, even though I really don’t know what it’s about. I don’t think I’m equipped to understand a lot of what Dylan is talking about, most of the time. When the Chicago Blues song, “Pledging My Time” came on I felt like throwing something. I really can’t stand that stuff. Thankfully it went by fairly fast and we get the long but wonderfully written “Visions of Johanna,” a song about contrasting lovers. One a bit of sexual and one a bit spiritual. The song is lovely. There are parts of “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” that sound like a game show theme. It’s also very circus-ish. I heard the bluesy stuff at the beginning of “Temporary Like Achilles” and worry it will be another crapola song, but this wasn’t crapoloa. Yes, it is saloon-like but not in some gin joint kind of way. It’s a well constructed song and I love the line: “Honey, why are you so hard?” For the most part, for the highlights of the album, nothing on here stands out. The band being on the album to accompany Dylan (I believe called The Hawks with Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko of The Band) is pretty cool. But, this is not any better than most of the other Dylan albums on this countdown. In fact, I’d have taken just about any of them over this one. Even with headphones on, I found myself puttering around on the internet and checking emails and Facebook messages. It was okay, but certainly not top 10 material, to me. Meh.
#8 – London Calling by The Clash. Okay, I get the significance and all that but does it belong in the top 10? I can’t say for sure (this isn’t the one I’m questioning, by the way – see Part 49 of the countdown), but I doubt it. I’ve always found the “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” line, funny. Perhaps even more now that it is surrounded by Beatles album on the top 10. I had always put The Clash in the same category as, say, Ramones and Sex Pistols. They most certainly aren’t. Maybe their earlier days. Not this album, at least. Let’s get this out of the way, first: Paul Simonon is a bad, bad, bad arsed bass player. I listened to this album with headphones and his playing is all over it and it is so clear. Examples (well, the whole danged album, but if I must) would be: “Koka Kola,” “The Guns of Brixton” (which he wrote and sings lead on), “Lost in the Supermarket,” “London Calling” and “Lover’s Rock” to name just a few. Seriously, the whole album is like a Simonon session. Another thing about this, I never realized the harmonies (albeit rudimentary) were so good and the somewhat wide breadth of styles they touch the whole album. From 50s-style do-wop to harder rock, pure punk to jazz and all in between, it’s here. And the production! We’ve discussed how much I’m into that and man, it’s here. The songwriting on here, even beyond the style is really good. I own this on CD and have listened through once, about 8 years ago or so, and mostly dismissed it as “that punk crap.” I still think that of their earlier records, but this is some fantastic stuff. So, let’s revisit those first two lines of this entry: Does it belong in the top 10? I retract that whole statement and change it to, “yes it does.” I also want to add the words: “ab-so-f***ing-lutely!” This could stand to be one or two higher, perhaps? When the new year arrives, I’m heading to Underdog Records (the official vinyl store of The Less Desirables) to purchase this on vinyl and not any old used copy either. A shiny new one. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I LOVE this album ×∞ (that’s infinity, boys and girls).
#7 – Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones. I do not get it. I don’t understand. To me, this sounds like a jumbled mess of, well, mess. Granted I’ve never been a fan of the Stones, so what do I know? I only enjoyed two songs from this album, “Shine a Light” and “Soul Survivor.” And, I’m not completely sure that last one wasn’t influenced by the fact it was the last thing I had to hear from it. I thought I owned it on CD, but I don’t. I remember the big hype about it in 2010 and I’m thinking that may be when I got it, if I did. I thought about purchasing it but I have had so many hit-or-miss moments with the Stones that I was gun shy about it. I could be and am probably wrong but I spent a lot of time listening to the local classic rock radio station here that has a mad on for some Stones and I can’t recall ever hearing any of these songs on there. They weren’t known for their expansive rotation. Pointing out two things about this list, again, because I’m sure I’ll be ripped about this one: If it must be on this list, it shouldn’t be this high; I’d not have it on there at all. Tattoo You and Some Girls are much better albums, to me. Which, brings me to my second point: this review process is about what I liked or didn’t like. It’s not necessarily a record of the merits or greatness of the album, that’s what Rolling Stone’s job was in compiling it. That being said, I don’t care if I never hear this again. Did not like.
#6 – What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye. Ah, a great addition to the list after that last clunker. A fantastic album of soul and R&B, this definitely is diamonds. I’m going to throw this out there, right out front: both James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt are out of this world bass players. Both are Motown legends, both members of the famous Funk Brothers and both are beasts. I can’t say which I liked listening to better. Another thing, I’ve mentioned I love concept albums and that’s what this is. It’s about the Vietnam War, but it’s not a protest album. It’s a love album. From the get go, Gaye is unrelenting on his love for fellow man and the disappointment of the treatment of vets returning home. In fact, the album is done from the perspective of a vet who was fighting for his country, coming back to a country that is intolerant, bitter and holds hatred for just about everyone. “What’s Going On,” while written about an incident seen on the Four Tops tour bus, pretty much sums up the feeling of 1971, which is, what is going on? I think that could be asked today, too. So much hatefulness, rancor, opposition to everything no matter if you really agree or not and so on. Gaye’s own brother was a Vietnam vet and wrote letters to Marvin and when he returned discussed what he saw. This was influential for the album, as well. Marvin Gaye has one of the sweetest, most purest voices I think I’ve ever heard and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t pay more attention to him before this. There’s much more to this man than “Sexual Healing” and his tragic demise. I’m not picking favorites on here, the whole album (nine songs, barely over 35 minutes) is my favorite song. I highly recommend this album, for sure. I LOVED it!
#5 – Rubber Soul by The Beatles. Top five, baby! And so it begins, the Beatles letting go of their cutesy boy meets girl/lovey dovey baloney and jumping feet or head first into the
more grownup themed music that I really dug. They kind of did that on Help! but I think this is where it really took off. I have mentioned my top three fave Beatles albums, but if I were going to round out the top five, this would be #5 while Revolver (still to come) would be #4. From far-fetched career aspirations and innuendo (“Drive My Car”) to an abandoned, pyromaniacal would-be lover (“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”); someone wondering where their life is going (“Nowhere Man”) to introspection, love and loss (“In My Life”). This album has a lot of things going on. French inspiration in the form of “Michelle” and I love the French for these are things that go together well. I have the book A Hard Days Write by Steve Turner and in that he says Paul had to ask a French friend of his how to say it and it worked out perfectly. The urgency of “The Word” pounds in some early “harder” rock and I love that. Lennon and McCartney seemingly wrote that while getting stoned, writing the lyrics on multicolored paper. I guess that was to add to the trip. And, wouldn’t “Run For Your Life” be considered a bit threatening? “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than see you with another man.” Yep, sound kind of stalkerish to me. So, it’s a well-developed and beautifully flawed album all at the same time. As I said, it’s one of my top 5 Beatles albums of all time and it’s right where it should be, I think. Love.
#4 – Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan. Jeez, let’s hope this one is better than the last Dylan album. And, it is. I’m pretty sure that Stephen King got the title of his book From a Buick 8 from the song, “From a Buick 6.” I know that Mr. King is a music fan and I can totally picture listening to some Zimmerman. Something about this album, while slightly similar to Blonde on Blonde, has a different overall feel to it. I’m still not fantastically into it, but it has good moments. Of course, it wouldn’t be Dylan if there wasn’t some long-arsed song that went on for almost 12 minutes, right? That’s what you get with “Desolation Row.” I don’t know how he remembers all the words live. I also don’t picture him with teleprompters. Perhaps he didn’t do that one live? I do like how Dylan combined poetry with music. I think, too, that was the beauty of what he did. I know she was misunderstood and her poetry and songs weren’t that spectacular, but Jewel did the same thing 20 years later. I know that lyrics are basically poetry (sometimes, I don’t think “Got Love For Sale” from KISS is necessarily poetry), but he actually conveys that it’s poetry set to music. The legendary “Like a Rolling Stone” is on this album. Poor girl, I say. I like the title track and the slide whistle in it. It’s credited as a slide whistle but I don’t know if that’s what it is. They make these whistles that create that sliding sound but it’s according to how hard you blow. A slide whistle only goes so far and you have to use the slide. Novel concept, eh? There are plenty of good songs on the album, “Queen Jane Approximately,” “Tombstone Blues.” Both good songs. However, my favorite on here is “Ballad of a Thin Man.” I just like the darker, meaner, snarkier feel of the tune. It was cool to listen to. Overall, the album was still a mystery to me because I never know what the heck he’s talking about but it was better than the previous, as I said. Still, is it top 10? Not to me, nope. Put it in the 300s. I dug it, but don’t care to hear it again.
#3 – Revolver by The Beatles. 1…2…3…4… 1…2…(1-2-3-4! ). That, and it’s followed by one of the coolest basslines I’ve ever heard in one of the heavier songs the Beatles had done up to that point. That’s how my experience with this album started some 25 years ago (yeah, I got a late start). With “Taxman.” My fourth favorite Beatles album, Revolver was the only Beatles album that had a George Harrison tune as the lead track. What followed that was a song I had heard on the local classic rock station but didn’t know what it was. I actually had to call the station and ask Pete Bunch what it was. He didn’t make fun of me, but I could tell he was amused. That song was “Eleanor Rigby.” The instrumentation, in fact, was sans any of the Beatles, only a double string quartet. I did a rock version of that tune about 15 years ago. I need to see if I can dig it up off an old computer or something. I can’t find it otherwise. I’d like to “release” that for people to hear. The sound quality itself was pretty crappy but I really liked my arrangement of it. The production of this album is lush. Sometimes albums from this era has a thinner sound to me, even from the big boys. Part of it, I’m sure was the absence of the big open “live” recordings and reliance on more multi-track recording which allows for better isolation. Listening to this through headphones the width of the sonic field is magical. Panning and depth are amazing here. The first appearance of “Yellow Submarine” was here, too, almost a full two years before the film and soundtrack of the same name came out. The harmonies here are so full and masterful, too. The harmonies of Lennon and McCartney are historic, of course, but when you add in Harrison’s harmonies, it’s out of this world; complex. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is an oddity because with the exception of a few notes here and there, the song’s instrumentation is only in the key and never moves out of this key; just tablas, bass and backward sitars in an Indian style. I’m not a fan of the Indian stuff on most Beatles albums, so “Love You To” isn’t a fave. I’d say on this album, it’s the only song I don’t really care for (not the last time you’ll read about that in a Harrison tune). I could write an entire post on this album, so I’ll stop on it now, but I’ll also say that some of my actual favorite songs are (in addition to “Taxman” and “Eleanor Rigby”): “She Said, She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “For No One,” “Got to Get You into My Life” and “I Want to Tell You.” To say I love this album is an understatement, indeed.
#2 – Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. This album is always compared to and, sometimes, turns out ahead of Sgt. Pepper and I don’t see it, don’t understand it, at all. In the last entry I talked about Revolver sounding lush, this is the thin tinny sound that I was talking about that was opposite of that lushness. To me, the Beatles albums still sound somewhat fresh. This is dated. This is 1966 and it sounds like it. It’s okay if that’s what you like. And, I don’t mind it, but, this isn’t as full as the Beatles albums. Not to me, anyway. This is only the second time, ever, listening to this album. I own it on CD and listened through once, saying to myself, wow this is the great album everyone keeps talking about? Okay, then… I’m listening to the mono version because I believe that was the original release. I don’t know the difference in mono version vs stereo, other than the obvious aural spread. I do find funny, the fact that people get twisted out of shape when they find out that other than vocals and a few random instrumental moments, the Beach Boys didn’t play on this album. This, my friends is the magical work of the “Wrecking Crew!” Remember them? I did a review of the documentary a few months back and I’ve talked about on this list finding out they’ve been on it has really perked me up. That’s some saving grace for me on this. Some. Any electric bass you hear, that’s the legendary queen Carol Kaye. She’s awesome! Is it really a Beach Boys album or is it a Brian Wilson solo album? The first single, “Caroline, No” was released as by him, I think. I don’t know. There’s good songs on this album, it’s just a different monster all together. Some of those good songs would be: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Here Today,” “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” Really, though, I am repeating myself: I don’t get it. I’m not saying it’s a bad album. I’m saying it, in no way, to me, is comparable to Sgt. Pepper. Not in song quality, not in sonic quality. There’s good songs on this album, it’s just a different monster all together. Some of those good songs would be: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Here Today,” “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” I will admit, I went back and listened to parts of the stereo mixes and it sounded much better; more full with more depth. Rumor has it that Paul McCartney heard this and wanted to reproduce it. If that’s the case he totally out-tripped the coverage. Sgt. Pepper went leaps and bounds over this. I told you last segment that I was going to question something in this segment and this is it. Now, Top 20? Yeah, probably. So, I’ll say I dug it, but not for this spot. And, the winner is…
#1 – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Yes. #1. Right where it should be. It is the greatest record of all time for me. Not to say it’s flawless, by any means. There are two songs on this album that I don’t care for: “Good Morning Good Morning” and “Within You Without You.” Everything else, though? Amazing. There’s not enough adjectives I could put in here to describe it. The orchestra warming up at the beginning indicates you’re in for a show, an exhibition, a spectacle! And, the sound of the roaring orchestra at the very end of “A Day in the Life” lets you know that you’ve just been knocked on your arse, perhaps both literally as well as figuratively. I do hate that George Harrison’s only vocal/written tune is one of the two I don’t like, but really, George, I don’t like your Indian-influenced tunes. I don’t discard it all of the time, just in the case of “Within You Without You” and “Love You To” from Revolver. And, for once, a Ringo-voiced tune isn’t a throwaway token song. “With a Little Help from My Friends” is one of the cornerstone staples of this album. A tune that also was covered, famously by Joe Cocker (I covered that version for the VSS “Woodstock” show) and the theme song to a successful television show, The Wonder Years. Storytelling by the Beatles, in my opinion is only bested by Bob Dylan, perhaps Springsteen at times. But, the Beatles stories are bold as in “She’s Leaving Home” (which is one of my favorites on here), “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “A Day in the Life,” which is at times my absolute favorite Beatles song. That fluctuates its superlative status based on my mood. The production itself, again, rumored to be the result of Paul hearing Pet Sounds and wanting to best it, is completely lush and brilliant. George Martin, you beast! I think when the Beatles decided to throw away the “can we reproduce this live” worry, they opened their minds, their music and their craft to whole new, astronomical levels. It’s an aural, moving piece of art that I can never get tired of listening to. It finds its way onto my listening rotation at least once every six to eight months. Before I got the remastered box set and transferred it all to my iPod, my old copy of this was really, most literally, worn down. I didn’t take too good of care of it. I gave it to someone, perhaps The BCPF or my buddy Brian, I’m not sure who got what. I can write whole posts about this but it would be a lot of redundant descriptors, adverbs and adjectives; more than is ever needed. The bottom line is, this is the greatest album of all time. It’s the greatest album that will ever be. I can say that because the art of putting an album together is basically done and I don’t see this being beaten. So, I love it. I own it. I have a dilapidated old, used, saved from a fire vinyl copy that I will change in the next few months with a shiny new version. It’s chock-full of greatness and it was even completely covered by Cheap Trick. That makes it even more cool, right? Right. Ladies and gentleman… may I introduce to you, the (album) you’ve known for all these years: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
So, that’s it. That’s the top 500 albums of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine’s poll of record industry folk, performers and regular folk. That’s the compiled list. Now, as I’ve said all along, I don’t necessarily agree with some of it. Just the top 10 alone, I’d push The Beach Boys back to about 18, move both Dylan albums to wherever, perhaps even if out of the top 500, definitely take Exile out completely, move Abbey Road, Nevermind (yes, I said it), Are You Experienced into the top 10 for sure and then take your pick between Rumours, The Joshua Tree or Tapestry and put it in the top 10, and I’d feel much better about it.
I have found things that I love that I didn’t know that I loved. I found things that I looked forward to frighteningly dull or just plain awful. I found things I’d never heard of. I found things I never want to hear again. This list has had it all. I will go back and listen to some of these multiple times. I have found some of my favorite stuff on vinyl or otherwise. I will go back and listen to the compilations since they’re out of context of a true greatest albums list. I want to be fair about it all. If I find I can’t live without it, I’ll write an addendum, or perhaps amend the original post to reflect my findings, otherwise I’ll leave them the way they are. Thank you, Dear Reader, so very much for reading these rantings and my admittedly naive and mostly uninformed opinions on these albums. I am more informed now that I’ve listened and read more about them.
So, 2016, you took a lot of great people from this list, but you also saw me finish the Top 400 Nominees of the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list but also the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time. I apologize for this long 4000+ word post. It was necessary, I thought. There will be a reflection piece in the next week or so, I hope.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, tres bien ensemble.” – “Michelle” (Lennon/McCartney)