60-41

The highlight of this project, thus far, must be the conversation that it seems to have started. For every comment that appears beneath the entry, I’m typically accosted by ten people, each certain that I’m 100% wrong about an album. Everyone seems to be upset about the placement of Revolver behind Ropin’ The Wind… honestly, I’ve tried to understand you people, but right now I’d much rather hear Rodeo than Taxman.

I’m fairly certain that 60-41 will offer little more than argument… but that’s the point. I had three reasons for assembling this list:

1. If you haven’t heard any of these records, I’d like you to know how spectacular I think they happen to be. As a result, I hope you’ll check a few of them out.

2. I’m actually mad enough to think that you care.

3. I’d love to start a widespread discussion about what truly makes a great album, causing you to bitch and moan to your friends and suggest records that they may not have heard.

At the end of the day, my favorite albums aren’t yours. Music is simultaneously universal and extremely specific. If you prefer Kenny Chesney to The Velvet Underground, well, good for you (okay, bad example)! The important thing is this: you care. Music is one of the very few surviving forms of living, breathing creativity in the world. Your love for it, whether “good” or “bad” isn’t the issue… it’s just that you care enough to love it that matters.

I had an important lesson taught to me by an elderly woman while working at a record shop in Lexington. She approached the counter with a rather large stack of truly spectacular 70’s-era R&B records… no kidding, it was magnificent. I paused as I rang them up, taking a moment to say, “Excuse me ma’am, but I’d just like to say that these are just incredible… so much better than the horrible music that I usually sell in this store.” She looked at me, as if to slap me across the face with her eyes, and said, “Son, there isn’t good music or bad music… if it makes you feel something, then it’s good.”

Amen.

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60. The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

No release in VU history (and very few in music history) have caused as much controversy or drawn as many lines in the sand. White Light/White Heat is a noisy, chaotic explosion of sound, void of the spacey trappings of VU & Nico… a completely original monster feeding at the trough of addiction and personal crisis. After their departure from the reigns of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” collective, The Velvet Underground returned to the studio to create a mesmerizing sonic wonder that feels more like a meth-lab explosion in an urban parking lot than an actual record. The Velvets are often considered to be the godfathers of punk rock, it’s with this album that they earned that moniker.

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59. Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell

I can’t think of another album in which the songwriter receives credit on the jacket cover. The pairing of Jim Steinman and Mr. Loaf has never been better than it was in this, possibly the most epic and daring solo debut in history. Sitting here, I realize that I could write an entire full-length post on this album alone, but nothing could quite sum it up like the Pizza Hut jukebox. In the last days of the jukebox, I’d regularly make my way to a neighboring town to enjoy a slice of pie from our closest pizza hut. In the aforementioned jukebox sat a copy of Bat Out Of Hell, with one major problem… the length of Paradise By The Dashboard Light necessitated spending a whopping THREE PLAYS to hear the song in its entirety. How good is the song? It gobbled up three of my five plays nearly every time.

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58. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?

I don’t know how to play a guitar. I’ve tried, I’ve been given lessons by the best guit-fiddlers I know, I’ve failed every time. However, if there was ever a reason to learn, it’s this particular record. Knowing nothing about how the guitar is actually played doesn’t prevent someone from knowing when it’s being played well, and no rock and roll album has ever featured a better sound. The songs of Are You Experienced are classic, but nonetheless alive. Each listen of this 1967 masterpiece shines light on a new corner of Hendrix’s genius, and makes me really wish that I could play guitar.

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57. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

In my younger days, I knew Adams as “the guy from Whiskeytown.” After the band’s breakup (on the heels of the brilliant Pneumonia), I worried that I’d never again experience the wonders of which I’d grown accustomed… that is until I heard Heartbreaker. From the opening discussion of great Morrisey tracks, to the closing licks of Sweet Little Gal, Adams did the unthinkable as he eclipsed each of his previous efforts, giving birth to a solo career that (with a few hiccups) seems to grow with age. He may never be as good as he was, but pair any modern singer/songwriter against Heartbreaker, they probably won’t either.

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56. Ice Cube – The Predator

In the wake of the L.A. riots, mainstream white America turned to newspapers and co-workers to make sense of what was happening in the streets. They overlooked the single greatest record of the entire incident, The Predator. For those in the know, Ice Cube had been forecasting such an event for years as the seeds of rage were sewn and began to grow in inner city America. With access that Anderson Cooper would step over your grandmother for, Cube brilliantly expressed the sentiments of the streets without a ten second delay. When my children one day learn of those events in school (which, of course, they won’t) I won’t try to explain what happened, I’ll simply suggest this record.

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55. Television – Marquee Moon

Lexington, Kentucky (my surrogate home) has played an oft forgotten, yet important role in American counterculture. It was a frequent haunt of Hunter S. Thompson, it’s where Herbert Huncke came to kick his junk addiction, and in 1949 it gave birth to one of the most important figures in punk history, Richard Hell. Hell made his way to New York, founding no shortage of legendary and influential acts, not the least of which, was Television. The sprawling influence of this record cannot possibly be overstated, without Marquee Moon many of the records that will come in its wake could never have been possible. As much a jazz record as it is a punk record, Television inspired every listener to change the world without pretension, crushing convention and spiraling into new territory with every note.

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54. Dolly Parton – The Ultimate Collection

“Best Of” compilations have no place on a list like this… I’m very aware of that. However, in pop music’s early days, albums simply didn’t exist. I can’t make such a list without including the exploits of such artists, and with no albums to speak of, you make due with what you have. In this collection, the best works of Dolly Parton are exhibited in all of their soft, yet powerful beauty. Parton’s voice is a once in a lifetime sound, an instrument all to itself. She bends a note in the same way that Hendrix bends a string, creating something completely unique in this collection of heartfelt and often heartbreaking tales of life in and from the Great Smoky Mountains.

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53. New York Dolls – New York Dolls

Without the New York Dolls, we would never have known Poison. That in itself makes this album worth its weight in gold. I say that with tongue only partially in cheek, as the significance of The Dolls has unfortunately been somewhat lost to the ravages of time. These aren’t just punk rock songs, these are bar room punk rock songs. They lack the snarl of The Sex Pistols or the youthful bombast of The Ramones, but they seem to more than compensate with a unique, glam-punk sound that has never been successfully repeated. I honestly believe that if you can listen to Pills without tapping your feet or pumping your fist, you’ve been dead for quite some time… there is absolutely no saving you.

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52. The Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Recently I found myself in conversation with a long time friend (and rabid hip hop fan) about how exactly this album came to be popular. It feels as if it was recorded in a basement, in a trash can, and recorded on Scotch Tape. It’s dark, sprinkled with odd samples from obscure kung-fu films. Thematically it’s dangerous, hyper-violent and intimidating (even by early 90’s hip hop standards). To put it bluntly, there is absolutely no reason for this album to have ever made it out of the underground, much less into the Billboard charts. I guess it just goes to show that every now and then, we truly underestimate the listening public.

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51. Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted

Slanted & Enchanted is one of those records that you are, quite simply, not allowed to dislike. Honestly, that’s the only negative that I can find to say about it. It’s a great band at their quirky, vibrant best. The sound of the album does more to sum up 90’s era “indie rock” (note: I hate that term) than any compilation or trade paperback could ever hope to do. Each track is exciting, filled with surprises and, most importantly, thoroughly enjoyable. In later years, Slanted & Enchanted has joined the likes of Bee Thousand, Daydream Nation and There’s Nothing Wrong With Love as a type of litmus test of 90’s rock music. Here’s a tip: whether you love or hate all or some of these records makes absolutely no difference… I promise.

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50. Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle

We reach the half-way point with one of the best and most cohesive works of the 1990’s. This album loomed on the musical horizon like an invading army. Our thirsts weren’t adequately quenched by Snoop’s presence on The Chronic, we needed more. In the days before my friends and I had come to understand such things as “release dates” and the awesome power of “Tuesday,” we would regularly storm into record stores throughout Central Kentucky, begging the clerk to let us know if Doggystyle had been released. Each passing day seemed more brutal than the last, but one fine day in 1993 we were finally granted our only wish… Doggystyle was in stores. With that kind of anticipation, any album would clearly be primed to disappoint, somehow it didn’t.

Note: I’m trying to listen to each album as I write about them, just to get in the right state of mind. Several albums later I’m still stuck on Doggystyle, I can’t turn it off… perhaps I’ve rated it a bit too low. Just for fun, try writing about the influence of Bjork while listening to Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None).

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49. Bjork – Post

With Post we found Bjork paired with trip hop icons Nellee Hooper and Tricky (her future husband). The results spun a crisp, borderline perfect voice into parts unknown, which is quite a statement when one reviews Bjork’s prior record and the entirety of her career with The Sugarcubes. In Post, we’re given the rare treat of seeing artistic vision realized. The power of Army Of Me rivals the greatest works of Black Sabbath, while It’s Oh So Quiet begs to find itself front and center in a Tony Award Winning Broadway production. In her 2nd solo release, Bjork answered any questions about her ability to function without her legendary support system, establishing herself as one of the most inventive yet accessible artists in the world.

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48. The Ramones – Ramones

Before every fifteen year-old longhair with a ride to the mall owned a Ramones t-shirt, they were a simple four piece emerging from New York’s beloved CBGB (before the gift shop). Ramones is a masterpiece of 14 tracks played in about the time it takes you to say “a masterpiece of 14 tracks.” How good is this album? Well, I’m glad that you ask! This album is one of such power that it actually ranks above “Anthology” on the Amazon.com sales list. It’s the kind of record that crosses every single line without any attempt to do so. It’s the kind of record that you never actually get tired of, admit it, you’d like to be listening to Judy Is A Punk right now, wouldn’t you?

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47. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

When grunge was king, when hip hop was emerging as an intense and powerful artform, one band seemed to get it. One band seemed to understand that genres were meant to be torn to pieces. With their debut album, Rage Against The Machine did what had never been done… they paired excellent rock music with excellent hip hop lyrics. What had once been kitsch, a goof thrown together by the likes of Aerosmith & Run DMC was now alive and remarkably different from everything else. The politics, the music, the rhymes… it was intense. In a time when bands relished in the feeling of hopelessness, staring at their shoes and whining about nothing in particular, Rage Against The Machine kicked over a rack of designer flannel shirts.

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46. Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet

Long before Flav whored himself out to the great, modern-era minstrel show that is/was “Flavor Of Love,” he actually participated in one of the most controversial and important hip hop acts of all time. To his credit, no one ever accused Flav of being a revolutionary. He was simply the sidekick, the wacky neighbor if you will, to Chuck D’s “scare the hell out of white America” rhetoric. Somehow it worked, as the pair created some of pop music’s most indispensable classics. 911 Is A Joke, Burn Hollywood Burn, Welcome To The Terrordome, Fight The Power… it’s not a “best of,” it’s an actual record. It’s this record… one of the most important and astounding creations of the 90’s.

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45. The Stooges – Raw Power

The sound of Raw Power, paired with the album’s cover and title, may have stood to represent what made Detroit’s unique take on rock music the force that it was… even if it was just for a few years. Was it punk? Was it rock? What was it? It didn’t matter… it just was. Raw Power is the rare record that lives up to the hype, and while their self-titled debut and follow-up, Funhouse, may typically rank among the great masterpieces of the late 60’s and early 70’s, nothing compared to this 1973 punch in the gut. This is a band at their zenith, ready to collapse at any moment, screeching out the best that they have as they spiral back to earth in epic fashion.

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44. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

The annuls of popular history have clearly given this album its due, so let me instead share with you a story about a unique experience I once had, being a life-long Johnny Cash fan. In September of 2003 I received a distressed phone call from a friend of mine… he found himself in Nashville, his band was breaking up around him and tomorrow the aforementioned band was to be part of a music showcase. His frantic call asked me to quickly find a bass player, teach said bass player their setlist and get him to Nashville. After solving the problem, I went to sleep, expecting nothing more than a trip to Music City and a few drinks… something I’d done more times than I have time to mention. At around 7:30 the next morning I received a call from Kevin Hall (of So… There I Was) alerting me to the fact that Johnny Cash had passed away. In a somber mood, I loaded the aforementioned bass player into the car and made my way to Nashville, somehow never realizing that I was entering a town that’s vibe could only be described as that of Vatican City after the loss of Pope John Paul II. As we stepped on to the main drag, attempting to find the hotel, a passer-by looked at my friend, bass slung over his back and his possessions stuffed into a trash bag and uttered “I never really thought that I’d see it, you come to Nashville, but you don’t think you’ll see it.” I can only imagine that Johnny smiled a little.

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43. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory

Devendra Banhart covered Don’t Look Back In Anger, citing it as one of his greatest “guilty pleasures.” At risk of being permanently banned from pitchforkmedia.com, I must hereby call Devendra Banhart a wiener head. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory is one of the truly astounding accomplishments of the early 90’s Brit-Pop movement, offering something for everyone. Although, at the time I was more of a Blur fan, I can’t help but admit… Oasis won the duel. Their 1995 release managed to be bigger than they were, which makes it considerably bigger than all of Brit-Pop and arguably more significant than the entire tenure of John Major. From now until the end of time, drunk sorority girls will belt out Champagne Supernova in karaoke bars throughout America, truly a remarkable achievement for five monkeys from Manchester.

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42. The Hold Steady – Boys & Girls In America

Rarely do you fall head-over-heels in love with an album. I’m not talking about the kind of love that you typically reserve for inanimate objects, I’m talking about the kind of love that you feel for friends, family and significant others. The first few listens of Boys & Girls In America sent my clamoring for The Hold Steady’s previous output, Separation Sunday in the same way that you find yourself constantly comparing a new love to the one that got away. However, just like that new boy/girlfriend, time sheds light on the situation, making you realize that what you have is truly beautiful, and though you loved the other with all of your heart, this is better… this is where you need to be. Now, listen B&GIA, if you ever leave me I’ll be forced to stab myself in the heart like Elliot Smith.

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41. Primal Scream – XTRMNTR

In the first month of the first year of the new millennium, my roommate returned from a trip to the local record shop with an import copy of Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR. In the first minute of Kill All Hippies, I had heard all that I needed to hear. I knew that what I was hearing was special, that it was brand new and so incredibly far ahead of its time that I’d have trouble discussing its merits even 20 years from thens. It felt as if a space ship had landed, giving me a treasure from another world and encouraging me to free Satpal Ram. Most of all, I knew that the moments I spent listening to this album were truly something that I’d never forget, and over 7 years later I haven’t. I can tell you the time of day, the placement of the furniture, the scent of the room, but most of all I can still remember the feeling of the hair standing at attention on the back of my neck.

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5 Responses to “60-41”

  1. david Says:

    i just wanted to point out that without #53, there would be no morrissey.also, i received #46 as a present, christmas i think, in mrs. fain’s class. i wish she had been the one to give it to me. if wouldn’t be too much, i would like to have her make a whole album of P.E. covers. she’d bring an untamed edge to them that chuck would never see coming.

  2. Zack Says:

    Good call on the Meat Loaf. I don’t really know anyone else who enjoys the Loaf other than me. Good list so far.

  3. Warren Says:

    Glad to see the man in black made in there. Of course, knowing you, I had no doubts that he would make at least one appearence in the countdown.

  4. Aaron Says:

    Plenty of good decent churchgoin’ folks love the Loaf. Also plenty of nasty motherufckers.

  5. Kevin Says:

    To the woman who said there was no good music or bad music, only music, I offer this as definitive proof that there is shitty music:

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