Alright, mateys. We are nearly a third of the way through with this posting. Our next ten albums on the project include several of rock’s all-time greats. Without any further ado:
21. The Band- Music from Big Pink (1968): I can see why people love this album. Really, I do. I am not quite sure that I do. It seemed…enervated, I guess. I appreciate that it is going for a bit of a hootenanny atmosphere, and finesse is not what Robbie Robertson and co. are aiming for. Having said that, there is only so much poorly coordinated vocal parts and double-tracking that one can take. I mean- the material here is wonderful- “The Weight” is timeless, and justifiably so. Still- compare this version here, to say, Ringo Starr and the All-Starr’s version from 1989- sadly, Ringo and crew (Which included Band members Levon Helm and Rick Danko) outdid the canonical studio performance. I will say this, though- Garth Hudson is a true organ, keyboard, and piano virtuoso. The man deserves to be in conversations about the best rock keyboard guys, and no mistake.
22. Velvet Underground & Nico– epon. (1967): I wasn’t fond of this album either, and I feel awful saying that, since founding member Lou Reed died this week, a few days after I played the album. (If this is going to be a trend, maybe I should give Ted Nugent a listen after all.) Here’s the thing– I think my musical palette is sophisticated enough to recognize a good band whose music I just don’t dig (The Band) and an overrated band that just isn’t that good (Velvet Underground.) Sorry guys, it just doesn’t work. They get points for sort of being edgy and doing songs about heroin. And some of John Cale’s violin parts are creepy and ethereal. But the craftsmanship is just terrible, Nico is probably the worst singer I’ve heard yet for this project, and when you put all this together, you have an album that is only member for Andy Warhol drawing a picture of a banana. Velvet Underground is a garage band that should have stayed in the garage.
23. Harry Belafonte- Calypso (1956): What a lovely surprise. I was expecting something superficially Caribbean, and was shown something close to art. Everybody knows “Day-O”, but Lord Burgess’s sweet and lilting Jamaican songs, “Jamaican Farewell” and “I Do Adore Her” are especially nice, and add immeasurably to the mix. This album was #1 for over 10 weeks when it was first released, and it deserved every bit of that success. How fortunate we are that a performer of Belafonte’s caliber is still with us today.
24. TLC- Crazysexycool (1994): As someone who was a teenager in the 90s, this album was inescapable; it was a rite of passage. TLC took hip-hop further into the mainstream than ever before, and it looses none of the street creed. My goodness, though, those songs we were singing when we were 13- “Creep” is about seeking revenge against a cheating lover, “Waterfalls” addresses AIDS, “Red Light Special” is raunchy– we just didn’t have any idea at the time, and that is what makes this album so timeless.
25. Jackson Browne- Late for the Sky (1974): Surprisingly disappointing. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that I did not give this album a fair shot, listening to it while grading papers on a Friday, preparing to leave work for the week. I was a lot more impressed with the album when I sat down and looked at the lyrics, which show a great deal of forethought and aplomb. But as a musical piece, it was just too mellow at the wrong time, and I suppose I expected something a bit more upbeat from the guy who wrote “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy.”
26. Guess Who- American Woman (1970): Ever since seeing Randy Bachman perform with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1995 as a 12-year-old, I’ve had a soft spot for the Guess Who. This project was designed to give me a good reason to delve a bit into their catalog, and despite a bunch of clever Manitoba-ish album titles like Canned Wheat, I went with the album that bore the name of their most famous hit, and their last album before Bachman split. Very good, serviceable album. I never thought of the Guess Who as the sort of band that did instrumentals, but it worked. I also did not think they could do psychedelia (“Talisman”), but it also worked. Moreover, I was impressed by what an ensemble they were by this time, it wasn’t just Bachman and lead singer/keyboardist Burton Cummings- they worked together to create a solid rock and roll sound that hasn’t always been given its due.
27. Indigo Girls– epon. (1990): One of only two albums made after 1972 in this set of 10, it was also the first in this batch that really impressed me. Erudite, truthful, and wise without trying to be too clever or pretentious, this is a good, solid folk-rock album by a duo that I admire a little more every time I listen to, and may have snuck into my top 20 artists ever. As an academic, their opening track about the limits of academia, “Closer I am To Fine”, hits a bit close to home. And I like that.
28. Rolling Stones- Sticky Fingers (1971): I was inspired, I suppose, to pick this one as my Stones album for the project, since it showed up in Heather’s readings on masculinity, and not only for its bulgy-trousered album cover. I’ve never listened to a Stones album in its entreaty before, and doing so made me believe that they are a good album band, but a much better singles band. And that sentence will make every Stones fan’s head explode. You always remember a Stones song when it comes up on classic rock radio– when I worked as a dishwasher a dozen or so years ago, the highlight of my work shift could be hearing “Brown Sugar” on 106.5. But 40 minutes of the Stones? Too much cynicism passing for art, I’m afraid, and too much misogyny passing for worldly wisdom. Don’t get me wrong- it was a really good record, and I appreciate the skill that went into it. But I expected arguably the best record from the World’s Second Greatest Rock Band to be a bit better.
29. Moody Blues- Days of Future Passed (1967): This was truly extraordinary. A legendary rock album that lived up to the hype all the way. Although it is often categorized as progressive rock, that isn’t quite right, although it shares progressive rock’s ambition. Rather, classical-rock is better; large parts of the album are lush and symphonic, with the entire work encompassing a day in the life. That kind of outline might seem pretentious- and yet the Moodys’ greatest trick is taking this concept- complete with spoken word poems at the beginning and the end- and execute it in deadly earnest. If I was to revisit my “100 Artists who Belong in the Hall of Fame” post, I would move the Moodys up several notches.
30. The Byrds- Mr. Tambourine Man (1965): The Byrds were enormously influential- you can say that they are the missing link between the British Invasion sound and the psychedelic sound. Alongside Peter, Paul & Mary, they helped bring Dylan to the masses, and did so with some remarkable devices- not the least of which was their rough, but beautiful harmonies, and Roger McGuinn’s jangly 12-string guitar. It made “Mr. Tambourine Man” one of the most important singles ever, but this entire album is filled with jingle-jangle guitar, and stoned-out harmonies. It is good, but repetitive. It makes me appreciate how The Beatles never let a single gimmick- the sitar, wah-wah guitar, the moog synthesizer, double-tracking, harmonica, you name it- dominate an album the way that the 12-string dominates this.
If forced to rank them, I guess it is: Days of Future Passed, Indigo Girls, Sticky Fingers, Calypso, American Woman, Crazysexycool, Mr. Tambourine Man, Late for the Sky, Music from Big Pink, Velvet Underground & Nico.