80-61

For those of you sneaking a peek early, I’ve decided to post numbers 80-61 on Sunday night instead of Monday morning. Why, you ask? Well, no particular reason. I’d like to say that it’s because I know that so many of you are on the edge of your seat, dying to know what comes next… however, even my own incredible vanity can’t convince me that the above is true.

Essentially, I get just as bored at looking at the “same ol’ thing” as you do, so I wanted to spice things up. If you happened by here on a Sunday night, good for you! You’re ahead of the curve. Now, call all of your friends and make high-dollar wagers on which album will place at number 79 (hint: it’s Tupelo Honey!).

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80. Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Trip hop, electronic music, hip hop, trance… Mezzanine managed to wear more hats than Carrot Top at a five year old’s birthday party. The album defies any sort of genre-specific label, smoothly careening through track after track, giving even the most staunch prohibitionist a feeling of chemical euphoria. With this release, Massive Attack granted the wishes of three specific target audiences… those in need of a soundtrack to an evening of chemically altered bliss, those in need of a challenging yet beautiful work of art and those in need of a new “lay your lady down by the fire” record.

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79. Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey

Like Revolver, Tupelo Honey could have made the list exclusively on the strength of one song. The title track offers all of the soul, emotion and squint-your-eyes-while-turning-your-headisms that define what it is to be a Van Morrison record. But Tupelo Honey is greater than one song, it’s a front porch summertime sing along with the woman you love. It’s a drive through the woods on a cool autumn day. The songs contained on this record are the songs you hear someone picking on the guitar at a party, and even though you may not know the words, you hang on every note.

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78. Social Distortion – Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell

In the history of rock & roll, very few artists have had a more commanding or distinct voice than Social Distortion’s Mike Ness… and none have had better hair. Ness is like the rockabilly-punk Bruce Springsteen, offering the Boss’ working class themes with loud guitars and nearly equal talent for capturing the moment. While Social D has clearly had more recognizable tracks than those contained in this record, the tracks on Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell may do the best job of summing up the band, their attitude and their sound. Lyrically, Ness has never been better:

It was a hot summer night in mid July,
A hangover and a black eye.
Your momma said I was a loser,
A dead end cruiser, And deep inside I know that she was right.

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77. Andrew WK – I Get Wet

“Don’t even try and deny it, cause we’re gonna have a party tonight!” Exactly.

Andrew WK came to party, and he wants to make absolutely certain that you’re aware of that. From It’s Time To Party to Party Til You Puke, from Party Hard to Fun Night, WK’s classic I Get Wet should be the official soundtrack to, well, anything. I can’t think of a single event that couldn’t be improved by adding this album to the mix. Everything from funerals to political fund raisers could be turned into history’s greatest party by simply pressing play. In fact, if Mitt Romney would simply make Party Hard his official campaign song, I may consider joining the GOP… wait, how in the hell did Rudi miss this, how is his campaign theme NOT I Love NYC?

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76. Pulp Fiction – Official Soundtrack

It’s not really appropriate to include greatest hits packages or soundtracks on a list like this, as they tend to cherry pick moments from music history instead of putting together a cohesive album. However, with the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino managed to do what had never really been done before, he actually created an album. Pulp Fiction feels like the playlist from the radio station lodged deep inside your mind, spinning records that you’d long forgotten about or weren’t really aware that you knew. The soundtrack defined the movie and ushered in a generation of meticulously assembled compilations… well done, Mr. Tarantino.

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75. Brand Nubian – Everything Is Everything

After building a loyal following with the hip-hop classics, One For All and In God We Trust, Brand Nubian opted for smooth, jazzy beats and higher production value on their 1994 release, Everything Is Everything. The move was both surprising and dangerous, taking the underground legends into the mainstream. To the shock (and awe) of listeners, this move paid off, releasing perfectly crafted anthems of Black Pride and street life to the masses. Sadat X and Lord Jamar have never been more sharp, the beats are unforgettable and one listen to Claimin’ I’m A Criminal will undoubtedly stick with you forever.

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74. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

There’s little for me to say about Dylan’s 2nd studio album that hasn’t already been said. Yes, it’s a masterpiece. Yes, it defined a generation. Yes, even the damn album cover has become as iconic as the man himself. I can remember being about 14 years old, gazing at the album cover in question and hoping that one day I’d find myself bundled up, walking the streets of New York with the woman I loved. That’s the thing about Dylan, his music fuels your dreams. It’s no wonder that his music continues to fuel revolution, that’s its heart and soul, that’s its very reason for living.

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73. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose

Growing up the son of a coal family, Loretta Lynn may have been the first musician I ever actually heard. Around our house we had Coal Miner’s Daughter the book, Coal Miner’s Daughter the movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter the soundtrack… occasionally Loretta would just stop by to remind us that we were, in fact, coal people, popping her head in the window and shouting, “COAL!” before scampering off into the woods. Needless to say, hearing that she was working with Jack White was more than exciting, and amazingly enough the results were priceless. Van Lear Rose is her masterpiece, a soulful culmination of a career that was as edgy as that of Johnny Cash and as sweet as Dolly Parton’s.

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72. The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

For those of us accustomed to the frat-party antics of Licensed to Ill, Paul’s Boutique was a shock to the system. Something clearly clicked in the collective Beastie mind, causing them to call in legendary (but not at the time) producers, The Dust Brothers and assembling one of hip hop’s (if not all of music’s) most important and indispensable albums. Sampling had always been a major part of hip hop music, but until this exact moment, no one had ever used the art to such an extent. While a relative commercial failure, Paul’s Boutique quite literally changed the face of popular music as we know it. Before this record, no one seemed to realize the power of sampling, after its release the world of popular music would never be the same.

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71. Prince – Purple Rain

Less of a soundtrack album, more of an epic love song to love itself, Purple Rain is Prince’s true landmark work of genius. Few have ever reached the level of greatness exhibited on this album, and I doubt that many ever will. In nine songs Prince accomplished what may take mortal men a lifetime, he created an unsurpassed body of work that causes even the most casual listen to race to the dance floor or belt out their own heartfelt rendition while driving along the interstate. Purple Rain isn’t just an amazing album, it’s an entire career’s worth of artistic accomplishment, composed and released at once. An album that reached the inner cities and suburbs simultaneously, speaking the one uniform language of the world.

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70. Metallica – Master of Puppets

Ladies and gents, the first cassette tape that I ever purchased. When I was a kid I liked the same kind of music that most kids like… loud, aggressive heavy metal. At least, I assume that most kids like that kind of thing. I owe most of my love of music to this album, and to Metal Edge magazine. As hair metal took off, I found myself buying that particular periodical, looking to learn more about this strange, loud art form. I quickly found myself captivated by bands I’d never heard, as nothing could cater more to the 6 year old mind than an Iron Maiden album cover. It was Metallica’s creepy cover (and their awesome name) that drew me to blow my savings on this tape… one minute and twenty seconds into Battery, my head exploded.

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69. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Can an album be both space-age quirky, dramatic and incredibly moving at the same time? Usually, the answer to that is a clear and decisive “NO.” However, The Flaming Lips have made quite a livelihood for themselves by defying convention and challenging listeners to hear the story behind the story. Yoshimi… isn’t about a young Japanese girl fighting giant robots, Yoshimi… is about love, loss and friendship. As good as the album may be, there is absolutely no experience on Earth quite like seeing it performed live. The closest you’ll ever likely come to pure musical bliss can be found while standing in a field with your closest friends, arm in arm singing Do You Realize? at the top of your lungs.

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68. Michael Jackson – Thriller

If anyone, and I do mean anyone, gives me guff over including this album it may turn into pistols at dawn. Thriller was more than an album, it was a generation-defining masterpiece that launched arguably the most powerful musical tastemaker (MTV) into full force. If you dare doubt the impact of this album, remember that major network television dedicated an entire hour of prime-time programming to “The Making of Thriller.” Nearly every song on the record was a hit, not just a hit, a hit of such magnitude that very few singles could ever measure up. Michael’s music knew no racial boundaries (and neither did Michael himself in later years), causing soccer moms to moonwalk and construction workers to secretly covet a red leather jacket. Thriller has a permanent place in my heart and in my childhood, and yours.

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67. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising

As you may remember, there was some unpleasantness in New York City on September 11, 2001. As a nation attempted to come to grips with such immeasurable tragedy, our own working class bard sat down with a guitar in an attempt to make everything alright. The story goes that Springsteen found himself walking the boardwalk in New Jersey, contemplating the world around him, as a passer-by shouted, “Bruce, we need you now!” At that moment, this album was born. The Rising did more to heal wounded hearts than any speech, telethon or magnetic ribbon ever could. There are still times when I’ll sit, quietly listening to You’re Missing or My City Of Ruin, finding myself choked up yet inspired to give the world my best. If an album can do that, then maybe music really can save the world.

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66. The White Stripes – De Stijl

Named for an obscure art form, The White Stripes’ 2nd release is that embodied. A two piece, male/female enigma with the most basic of instruments, The White Stripes developed an entirely new sound fueled by classic rock and blues guitar. At the time of its release, nothing quite like De Stijl had ever existed, and with the exception of the duo’s subsequent releases, nothing ever has. The album is explosive, a giant wall of sound (without the murder) that defies logic. I sat in the basement of my a friend’s apartment for hours, days and weeks, listening to this album on repeat, drinking rum and desperately trying to figure out exactly how two people could generate such a sound. Imagine our surprise when we finally saw it unfold live, only realize that there was no trick… they really did sound like that.

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65. Nas – Illmatic

In less than 40 minutes, a 21 year old from Queensbridge, NY left a permanent and monumental stamp on the world of hip hop music and popular culture. Illmatic is Nas, pure Nas, that’s a fact. However, the team behind the album reads like a “who’s who” of urban culture. The album stands as one man’s vision, pumped through a unified front of incredible talent to plant a flag in New York… a reminder to those making records on the West Coast of where hip hop came from, and where it would stay. MC Serch, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Q-Tip and Nas himself worked tirelessly to perfect what would almost immediately be heralded as a classic album. Nas has never again been this good, but really… how could he be?

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64. Operation Ivy – Energy

My brief flirtation with skate-punk music in the late 1990’s really didn’t do much to expose me to high-quality albums. In hindsight, most of that music is absolutely dreadful. However, a healthy obsession with Operation Ivy is something that everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. Their music, a combination of ska, thrash and old fashioned punk rock, opened doors for countless West Coast bands and defined a specific sound. The phrase, “often imitated but never duplicated,” for all of its cliche, applies perfectly to this album. While many others came in its wake, none ever captured the sincerity and energy that Op Ivy did on this, their only release. The band quickly went their separate ways, leading Tim Armstrong to great commercial success as the founder of Rancid. For a brief history of the band’s rise and fall, check out Rancid’s Journey to the End of the East Bay.

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63. Bob Marley – Legend

As countless keggers and basement smoke-outs have proven, you don’t have to like reggae to like Bob Marley. As I’m sure you’re well aware, every song on this record exhibits songwriting prowess well above Marley’s years, each one nearly causing revolt in the streets. Marley was more than a songwriter, he was a bold revolutionary and to many in the third world, a Christlike figure. Whether or not you’re a fan, it’s impossible to discount Bob Marley’s impact on the world as a whole. Once in a lifetime a figure of such international importance will arrive on our planet, and just as people will comb through The Motorcycle Diaries, The Autobiography of Malcom X and the works of the Dalai Lama for generations to come, so shall they continue to listen to Legend. Your parents may have listened to this record, you have, and so will your grandchildren.

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62. Tom Waits – Heartattack & Vine

This 1980 release from one of America’s greatest songwriters puts its author at a crossroads. Behind him lies his past: beautiful, sweeping ballads crafted from gold. On the horizon, a dark basement filled with forgotten instruments, trash cans and the occasional rooster. Tom Waits had long established himself as a troubled troubadour, wearing his heart on his sleeve as he drunkenly swayed back and forth at a piano in the back of a smoky bar. With Heartattack & Vine, his music began to change, shifting into new and uncharted territory. The sultry swagger of the opening notes takes your hand, leading you into a place that you both fear and embrace. Depending on your opinion of Waits’ career, this may have been his greatest moment or his worst, either way it’s a defining album in the career of one of popular music’s true giants.

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61. Radiohead – The Bends

In the follow-up to the wildly successful Pablo Honey, we can visibly see Radiohead evolving into the band that we know today. Even more commercially viable than its predecessor, The Bends gave MTV something it could use, catchy pop songs on the fringe of exactly what defined a catchy pop song. Both High & Dry and Fake Plastic Trees became bona fide hit singles, wrought with emotion and complexity they defied the typical pop formula and quietly pushed musical conventions in a new direction. This experimentation with pop music gave birth to an accessible and adventurous album, paving the way for one of history’s true classics.

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3 Responses to “80-61”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Finally, a section that has albums I’ve actually heard of (and no Garth either). But, really, where the hell is Chris Gaines? He better be on the next round, or I’m challenging your selection process.

  2. Zack Says:

    Kudos on your selection for this particular fifth or the countdown. You’ve got a lot of great albums there, but so far no Beach Boys… I’m getting worried.

  3. corygraham Says:

    Oh, never fear. I have a feeling that they’ll pop up somewhere.

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