Time’s a’wastin’! Let’s go tackle the next batch of albums for my project:
11. Bob Marley & The Wailers- Exodus (1977): Every college student who ever lived owns a copy of Legend, Marley’s posthumous greatest hits collection. I sure did. Marley is a global icon– both of oppressed people who see him as an icon in a diasporadic age, and of ignorant upper-middle class suburban guys who toke up to “Jammin'”. Alas, more than any album I’ve listened to so far in this project, the hits are so far above the rest of the material, that there is no compelling reason to listen to the filler.
12. Dr. John- Gris-Gris (1969): Okay, I get the significance. Dr. John incorporated rock with blues and bayou music, and his live shows had amazing elements of voodoo performance as well. Nevertheless, Dr. John’s piano is buried deep in the mix, and the result is a terrible, almost unlistenable album.
13. Buddy Holly & The Crickets- The Chirpin’ Crickets (1957): It was rare for a rock and roll artist to get a chance to record a long-playing record in the late 1950s– such a luxury was out of reach for many in Holly’s teenybopper clientele. When listening, I am amazed at how many hits are packed on to it- “Maybe Baby”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Oh, Boy!”. Not every track works– when Holly doesn’t do his trademark hiccup-y “Ah-well-ah”s or “Ah-hoo-ah-hoo-hoo”s, he isn’t that distinguished a singer. But his ability to craft songs this good at 21 years old makes his early death two years later all the more tragic. More than any other 50s rock guy, Holly had the tools to succeed well into the 60s without getting fat and selling out Elvis-style.
14. Tragically Hip- Up To Here (1989): I listened to this album at the request of one of my dearest friends, Sam. It was endearingly eager to avoid any genres- but the problem, one week after listening, is that I don’t remember a single song on it. It just left almost no impression on me at all. I didn’t hate it or anything, I just found it….nondescript. I’m so, so sorry Sam.
15. Aretha Franklin- Young, Gifted, and Black (1972): Oh my goodness. One of the most talented singers of the last half-century at the top of her game. Timed expertly to channel Maulana Karenga and US, it revels in its Afro-centric themes, and gives Aretha some new areas to explore, while remaining true to her soul and gospel roots. The musicianship backing her up, too, is top notch- and I was pleased to see Billy Preston listed among the keyboard players. Great, great album.
16. Dan Fogelberg- The Innocent Age (1981): This is not only the best album I’ve listened to for this project, it probably moves up to my personal top ten list. I always knew Fogelberg was a good songwriter, but this album goes beyond that– it is intensely personal and intensely universal- dwelling on the small moments that make the human experience– but never missing the mark with melody, and using hooks wisely and sparingly. You’ve heard “Same Old Lang Syne” every Christmas, but “Nexus”, “Into the Passage” and “Run for the Roses” are just as good.
17. The Zombies- Odyssey and Oracle (1968): I had often heard this album listed with Love’s Forever Changes as one of the great lost treasures of the 1960s. It lived up to the hype, and nearly every song works, although the public will only remember the eerie call-and-response of “Time of the Season.” Even more impressively, the album, by and large, hasn’t aged very much at all, and it sounds strikingly similar to what one might here on a Belle and Sebastian album today, as Heather pointed out. “This Will Be Our Year” is a particular winner, with its minimalist arrangement and its Beach Boys-like ability to make teenage relationships seem the stuff of epic literature.
18. Melissa Ethridge- Yes I Am (1993): The album is widely believed to be an allusion to Ethridge’s then-recent public disclosure of her lesbian identity. Whatever the implications of that may be (although I’ll be the first to admit the courage that took in the early 90s), this is Ethridge at her Springsteen-channeling finest. The hits I remember from my teenage years (“Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One” are competently supplemented with good storytelling and earnest heartland rock.
19. Neil Young- After the Gold Rush (1970): Young has always been my least favorite member of CSNY, even though he is by far the most famous and most prolific. But I am immensely glad that I gave one of his most famous solo albums, released the same year as Deja Vu, a good hard listen. Young’s work from that era is almost heartbreakingly poignant, but he isn’t above a good fun romp (“Cripple Creek Ferry”), or social commentary only a Canadian could pull off, blasting George Wallace-style demagoguery (“Southern Man.”) The fact that it took Lynyrd Skynyrd four years to come up with a rebuttal in “Sweet Home Alabama” isn’t saying much for their intellectual prowess.
20. Yes- Close to the Edge (1972): Closing out our second group of ten, we have another band that has recently been nominated for the Rock Hall. Yes is almost a textbook example of progressive rock, and is also a textbook case of the genre’s merits and flaws. This album has just three tracks, the shortest of which clocks in just under nine minutes, and the longest of which exceeds 18. It is said that progressive rock jettisons soulful expression in favor of instrumental proficiency, and this is exactly what happens. To a trained ear, you can pick out some insanely difficult keys and time signatures- but that is just the problem. I suspect Yes is more interested in impressing the listener rather than moving him or her.
So- where do these stand in relation to another? If forced to rank them, here’s how I would do it: The Innocent Age, Young Gifted & Black, Odyssey and Oracle, After the Gold Rush, The Chirpin’ Crickets, Yes I Am, Close to the Edge, Up To Here, Exodus, Gris Gris