We have hit the big time of the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time: the Top TWENTY! I’ve looked ahead and I see only one more compilation on the countdown total. It’s in this segment but at the end (I don’t like ending a segment on a comp). But, other than that, I’ll be hitting the discs and I’m pretty sure that my scrutiny and my questioning will reach an all-time high. These are supposed to be the best and I already know I’ll be questioning at least two of them, one in this segment and the other in the next. I still have a ways to go and a short time to get there, so let’s hit it!
#20 – Thriller by Michael Jackson. Still the best-selling album of all time. By a long mile, too. I had this on vinyl, well my sister did, and between the both of us, we destroyed it pretty darn good. Scratched the heck out of it and threw it about. We were kids, that’s what we did. This album had seven singles (out of nine total songs) and all seven went top 10 on the Billboard charts. The only two that didn’t was “Baby Be Mine” and “Lady In My Life.” I didn’t realize that “The Girl Is Mine,” with Sir Paul McCartney, was the first single released, in October 1982, a month before the album was released. I always liked that song and listened to it, but didn’t realize it was first. It reached #2. Up next was “Billie Jean.” That was the first one I remember hearing on the radio. I was just starting to listen to the radio because we had finally gotten a station to listen to. I’d been in my KISS hole up until then. I always thought he was saying “Billie Jean is at my door.” Louis Johnson of Brothers Johnson provided that fantastic bass line. It never stops. Those are always the ones that give me the most trouble, the repetitive ones. The song reached #1. “Beat It” next and it had a true all-star personnel list. Hidden for a while was Eddie Van Halen, but those who knew his style heard it in the solo. I wasn’t familiar with him so I didn’t, but when I figured it out, it all made sense. Steve Lukather played all the leads other than the solo and was the bass player. Steve and Jeff Porcoro plays keys and drums respectively. Another #1. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” came out next. Not my favorite. I did like the “mama say mama sah…” part and I still haven’t figured out why we have to bring vegetables into it. It only reached #5. “Human Nature” only went to #7. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” only went to #10. “Thriller” went to #4. This is a monster album and it continues to climb on the all-time sales list. I really, really enjoy this album. Let’s even go with a little light “love.”
#19 – Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. Top 20, eh? I don’t get it. Now, let me give the caveat. I think this is some beautiful music. The songs themselves are decent songs, well played and well produced. But, it bored me out of my mind. I tried to read along with the lyrics and it was excruciating. “Cyprus Avenue” seemed like he was just saying whatever came to his mind as he was playing it. While the lyrics of that song make sense, it’s like stream of consciousness and he just repeats things as he wanted to, as he went along. “Madame George” is the same way and the first line of lyrics from that song mentions Cyprus Avenue. Coincidence? I think not! I kid. “Madame George” is also over nine minutes long. It is impressive that Morrison recorded the whole thing in about 48 hours and with a group of musicians he didn’t know. Should this be in the top 20? I don’t know. If it were up to me, certainly not. Top 100? Probably not. Top 500? Maybe. But, it’s not up to me and it’s here. At times it’s like he is just wailing and not in a good jammin’ kind of way. So, it’s here and I don’t much care for it. Beautiful, but boring. Did not dig.
#18 – Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The album starts off with one of my two least favorite (that I know of) Boss songs: “Thunder Road” (the other being “Rosalita”). I have never understood the appeal of either of those songs. I suppose I never will. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is the story of the formation of the E Street Band. Bad Scooter must have been a nickname for Bruce Springsteen. Still not my favorite. The vocals in “Backstreets” seem to be buried in the mix and he’s just screaming his way through them. This has always been a peeve of mine about Bruce; he just screams through songs. Not always be enough. Musically, there’s a lot of good stuff here and lyrically, he’s a great and fantastic storyteller. It’s hard to beat him there, I’ll give that. And, musically, it’s all sound. I especially like the ending of “Jungleland.” But, something about all of it together. I haven’t ever cared about the title song but I don’t think I really ever caught the lyrics. I still don’t like it but knowing the lyrics makes it a little more tolerable. I’d prefer switching this album with Born in the USA (#86) and then it may be right. Perhaps switching Born in the USA with an earlier ranked Springsteen album and then switch Born in the USA with that. I don’t know i just don’t like this album. Did not dig.
#17 – Nevermind by Nirvana. The exact moment in time where the music that I love (yes, hairband and pop hard rock stuff), died; the moment this was released. I bad mouthed it and talked trash about it ever since its release. I made bad suggestions about Cobain’s suicide that I’m not at all proud of, not at all, I repeat. The truth is, it was time for that to stuff that I dug so much to be put out to pasture. Music is nothing but stale and stagnant unless it evolves. It was perhaps the biggest evolution that I had ever experienced in that sense, though. It was like this album was a musical murderer. But, again, it was time. I still held a grudge about it for a long, long time. It wasn’t until I was basically told to knock it off by The BCPF that I took time to listen to what was going on. I’ve only known her for a time going on seven years, so that means that I just came around a mere couple of years ago, or so. I purchased it. I listened and thought, okay, it isn’t so bad. But, listen to it in headphones, if you haven’t before. If you’re not too familiar with the album (uh huh really) give it a listen that way. Your mind will be blown how well produced (no, it’s not just noise like I thought) this disc is. And it’s not all gloom and doom that I always thought, either. Cobain was a lyrical genius. Was he the modern day John Lennon like his followers want to portray him as? Well, perhaps modern day, but not exactly. There’s only one of those. I’ve not even touched any of the songs, yet. The opening notes of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a light setup for the punch in the mouth the rest of the album is going to be. It’s a teaser at the beginning and an onslaught to follow. The title was from a friend of Cobain’s who wrote on the wall the he smelled like the deodorant that his then-girlfriend wore. He was trying to rip off the Pixies. “In Bloom” has great harmonies and was fun to play on Guitar Hero. I love the flanged intro and feel of “Come As You Are.” That whole song feels dark but not necessarily foreboding. “Lithium” is a search for sanctuary in religion upon contemplation of suicide. But, it’s a great song. “Polly” is a good departure from the previous five songs, a little more melodic. After that, it gets a little noisy and less organized. There’s still good stuff there but it doesn’t compare to the first side of songs. Well, the first part, I don’t think this was on vinyl until reissues recently. Dave Grohl is a beast of a drummer, even without a lot of fills – he was pretty much kept at bay; and bad arse harmonies. Same with Krist Novoselic. A mediocre bass player, at best, but solid, all the way. I’m going to kick myself for this, but I believe it should have been about 5 positions higher on this list. Not quite top 10 but close. I love this album. Yes, I just said that.
#16 – Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. A big departure from the heavier album prior. It seems as if Dylan is actually enjoying recording this album. He makes a trip back to the acoustic feel of this folksy day but keeps the band element. We just had Blue from Joni Mitchell last segment and the first song on this album, “Tangled Up In Blue” was inspired by that album after Dylan immersed himself in it. Two very long tunes are “Idiot Wind” (7:47) and “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” (8:51). One of those I liked and the other I didn’t. The “didn’t” is the former. “Simple Twist of Fate” is pretty good, too. I am a fan of “If You See Her, Say Hello.” It’s a beautiful tune. I love the harp-like and arpeggiated mandolin parts in that. Overall, I liked it, although after a bit it started sounding run together. I think it is definitely where it needs to be on the list, and I’ll say “dug’ but I’m not in a hurry to listen to it, in full, again for a bit.
#15 – Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. I love that you can hear Jimi clear his throat before he starts singing in “Purple Haze.” I just think that adds a human element to this superhero-like figure. I never noticed him talking over the solo either. I am a fan of King’s X’s version of “Manic Depression” from Dogman, but I like this one, too. I don’t know if I knew that “Hey Joe” was a cover.I may have. I listened to this with headphones and there is a shload of panning effects from the first note of “Purple Haze” until the last sound of “Are You Experienced?” Also, a lot of delay and echo. The album sounds very experimental, something I think I sort of expected from Hendrix. I believe this is the album I’ve been expecting to hear from him and I’ve not gotten my fill until this album. I like this one better than all the others put together. Am I wrong in thinking that “Are You Experienced?” is a reference to partaking in drugs? The album is definitely in your face, but it’s got laid-back moments, as well. A lot of it, to me, reminds me of The Beatles around the “white album” time, which came out after this album. A good bit of it is trippy in psychedelia, too. Just listen to “Third Stone from the Sun.” I love the jazz aspects of that song. There are many great tunes on here: “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Fire” and “Foxy Lady.” As, I said, this is the album from Jimi that I’ve been waiting on and I got it. I also want to reiterate that I like this better than all other of his albums on this countdown. I really, really, really “dug” it.
#14 – Abbey Road by The Beatles. I have three favorite albums by The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (White Album) and this one. I’m not talking about which is best, that’s not what this list is about, at least on my end. I’m talking about my favorites. This was the last one to be recorded by the Fab Four. Yes, Let It Be came out afterward but that had mostly been recorded by the time these sessions started. Contention was high in the studio and tempers flew. After the recording of this was completed, John Lennon left, albeit secretly, and Sir Paul left publicly a year later. One purpose of this list for me was to explore more the “album form.” That’s why I don’t do compilations, no matter how important those may have been (at least in some cases). Of course, I’m a huge fan of the production, I love production. Another reason I am not usually a fan of live albums. But, it’s the construction, dedication to, and execution of the album, itself. This, to me, is one of the best and well constructed albums, ever made. The track listing is nearly perfect. From the “shoot” and bass line at the beginning of “Come Together” it’s a non-stop barrage of all things musical and really, all things Beatles. You get a little bit of everything here. Slow, heavy, pop, blues, everything. I won’t go into a song-by-song analysis because as I write this I’m already 2200 words in on this post. But, it should be noted that side two is basically a medley of unfinished songs that McCartney pushed together to create its famed weirdness. A lot of it makes perfect nonsense. Some of my favorite Beatles songs are on this album: “Come Together,” “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Golden Slumbers,” “The End” (telling wasn’t it?) and “Her Majesty.” The Vagabond Saints Society did a fantastic job with this album even though it was all a core band deal (I was part of the opening act). So, yeah, I could see this higher in the countdown, possibly even top 10 but, I’m satisfied with its placement here. I LOVE this album.
#13 – The Velvet Underground & Nico by The Velvet Underground. Okay, so in a discussion that almost lead to a major argument between The BCPF and me, I totally understand the need for this album for many people. I get that sometimes people need an outlet for what they have to say, the stories they need to tell, the thought processes they need to convey. Sometimes, there’s no other avenue. I also can get behind Lou Reed as a songwriter because I really find myself liking his solo stuff. He even co-wrote some songs for a KISS album. I get it. But, as I said, perhaps more than once in this segment alone, it’s not about the merits or overall importance of an album for me on this countdown. It’s whether or not I like it. Thumbs up or thumbs down. I only have two thumbs but if I had more I’d give a resounding 12 thumbs down for this. I have mentioned before, also, that I am all about production. I want production. I want to see what the producer’s vision was. This sounds like a big room with people playing whatever came to their minds without a care for key signatures, harmonious note intervals or anything that even remotely resembles a rational chord progression. But, I’m told, it’s about what they say. Not on my list. I don’t care what they’re saying. I’ve been accused before, and I accept it, to not getting the “spirit” of the song. In about 90% of the music I listen to, I don’t care about lyrics, I don’t care about message. I want to hear the overall package. Maybe I’m not equipped to comprehend what’s being said or perhaps I just don’t give two hoots about it. Either way, I don’t care. If this album must be on the list, give them spot #500. I will never understand the appeal of this 49 minutes I will never get back. I’m sorry, baby, I just do not dig it. Hate is a strong word but the most descriptive I can use politely.
#12 – Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. John Coltrane and Miles Davis together. That’s like a dream, right? There is some of the most beautiful modern music I’ve ever heard on this album. Perhaps even on par with some classical. The last two songs: “All Blues” and “Flamenco Stretches,” plus the bonus track (“Flamenco Stretches (alternate take)”) reminded me of what Vince Guaraldi did later with the Peanuts specials, films and shorts. There’s a melancholy, an underlying sadness in what isn’t really sad sounding. It’s not blatant but understated. The feeling was definitely blue throughout. Now, all that good stuff said, I don’t know that it should be in the top 20. Top 200? Probably. Top 100? Maybe. It’s a great record and I’d love to have it on vinyl and I’d listen to it over and over again, but I don’t think I’d give it top 20. Bill Evans plays some beautiful piano on this album (except on “Freddie Freeloader” which was Wynton Kelly) and Paul Chambers’ double bass is some flavorful stuff. It’s good for conversation and good for relaxing. The album is fan-frickin’-tastic. I love it.
#11 – The Sun Sessions by Elvis Presley. Another one that I’ll have to revisit after this countdown is over. But, it’s a comp and the fact that it’s top 11? Argh! There should be another list for comps.
So, the Top 20 wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would/could/should be. Five “loves,” one “hate is too strong but close,” two “did not digs,”one “dug but meh” and one comp. I was hoping to be knocked out by something and with a couple I did, but for the most part, it was an average or so-so segment. Disappointing to me. Let’s hope for better to end the whole thing. That’s up next!
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – “The End” (Lennon/McCartney)