40-21

Sorry for the lack of jams yesterday, even blogs need the occasional day off. However, we’re back in the saddle with another installment, jam-packed with the best records you’ve ever heard. We’re drawing ever-closer to the elusive Top 20… can you feel the electricity in the air? I certainly can, and it’s giving me an owwee.

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40. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

Before he became an icon in the Latin Gangster community, Morrissey fronted one of rock music’s greatest acts. In this release, Johnny Marr’s guitar matches Morrissey’s eternally forlorn vocals in a way that served to be Britain’s only real export of the late 80’s. In a rock community that found itself stagnant, The Smiths offered an anti-establishment, anti-Thatcher voice to disaffected youth throughout the UK. Without The Smiths, every great British record of the 90’s may never have been born, and the perfect pairing of artists exhibited in this release clearly demonstrates why.

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39. AC/DC – Back In Black

Arguably the greatest AC/DC record in history (which puts it in the running for greatest rock record in history), Back In Black aggressively asserted itself as the 2nd coming of a band coming to terms with the loss of their iconic front man, Bon Scott. This album not only redefined AC/DC as a band, it gave classic rock radio stations useful material with which to create playlists well into the 21st Century. To explain the power of this album requires not a single word from me, but simply the track listing… click here to see for yourself.

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38. R.E.M. – Murmur

The debut album from R.E.M. is significant. Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest understatement in history. With the birth of Murmur, “college rock,” “indie rock” and “nerd rock” were also born, in an horrific conjoined manner, leading Robert Ripley to send a team of investigative journalists to Athens, GA. The age-old question comes up at every turn, “Between U2 and R.E.M., who was more important in shaping music in the 1980’s?” If you’ve chosen to answer that question in an Irish accent, then I regret to say that you’re incorrect… sorry Daylan.

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37. Lou Reed – Transformer

There may never have been a more desperate, sad-when-it’s-happy album than Lou Reed’s Transformer. The hollow sound of Reed’s voice blends perfectly with David Bowie’s production, giving life to songs that had gone unrecorded by The Velvet Underground. Transformer will break your heart at every turn, lifting it up just enough to crush it once again. Is it the sound of a man on the edge, at the end of his life? As Reed clearly survived, maybe not… however, Transformer remains history’s greatest musical agony. Banned in some countries, hated in others and rejoiced worldwide, it stands as irrefutable proof that Lou Reed is the king of cool… even when he slumps into a corner.

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36. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

Anger, revolution and electricity… the three words that best surmise Dylan’s sixth studio album. With Highway 61, Bob Dylan exploded, tossing away the restrictions of folk music and crashing through the gates with Like A Rolling Stone. That song… that incredible song. Surely you can remember where you were when you first heard it, if you can’t, I’m sorry. With this one album, Bob Dylan defined exactly what youth culture, Vietnam and 1960’s pop music in general actually was. Highway 61 Revisited turned on far more than it turned off, creating a soundtrack to America’s greatest movement since 1776.

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35. Steve Earle – Jerusalem

It often seems as if Steve Earle can do no wrong, in his 10th release he did very little to dispel that myth. While many chose to address the events of September 11th with overzealous jingoism, Earle took a contemplative approach. He studied our merits, exhibited our flaws and let the world know that earnestly, we as a people have done the best we can… despite the flaws of our leaders. Jerusalem’s content led to nationwide radio bans, album burnings and general ill-will from the very same fans that had once embraced Steve Earle as a renegade, country outlaw. Years later, the bite of this album still hits like an uppercut, our imperfections on display… but isn’t that what free speech is all about?

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34. The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy & The Lash

With rockin’ numbers like Body Of An American and sway back and forth with a pint in your hand numbers like Dirty Old Town and Rainy Night In Soho, it’s no doubt that Rum, Sodomy & The Lash is the the highlight of an astounding career. When he’s on, and capable of standing under his own power, Shane McGowan truly is better than anyone in the world at what he does. He’s a formidable songwriter with a unique, slurred and cigarette stained Irish drawl, twisting beautiful words into heartbreaking confessions. A night with your favorite Pogues record is much like a night at the pub listening to an older, wiser gentleman tell his life’s story.

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33. Todd Snider – Songs For The Daily Planet

Before his record label squabbles with Garth Brooks, before his concert squabbles with a giant in Alaska, even before his domestic disputes with wacky neighbor, Steve Earle, Todd Snider was an up and coming singer/songwriter from Oregon. All these years, countless radio appearances and more live shows than the Grateful Dead later, Snider has evolved into a lovable yet poignant songster. He’s yet to release a bad album, but none have matched the start-to-finish quality of Songs For The Daily Planet. Three of the tracks contained on this record were covered, becoming hits for other artists… one was outright stolen by Chris Knight (who we’ll forgive, being that he did a fine job with it), but no matter who’s voice is on the track, you can always pick a Todd Snider song out of the crowd.

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32. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Armed Forces

Armed Forces is widely regarded as Costello’s masterpiece, loaded with more classic tracks than most artists create in a lifetime. However, if you’re forced to isolate one moment of this record, the moment when it truly peaks, it has to be the moment of evolution between Two Little Hitlers and What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding. What’s So Funny… is clearly Costello’s most popular song, but in a rare occurrence, it actually happens to be his best as well. Granted, I may be skinned alive for such a statement, but the song itself is a few moments of pop bliss, coated with a wonderful message and accessible to absolutely everyone. Further proving that isolating your audience is not a requirement in great songwriting.

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31. U2 – Achtung Baby

In the 90’s, U2 took a drastic turn for the worse. The classic feel of what may be the greatest band of the 1980’s disappeared, leaving us with absurd club jams and a maniacally overdone “POP” tour. However, for one moment the band stood both in the past and future, making the present a magical place to be, at that moment they recorded Achtung Baby. Even if you ignore the fact that this record contains the single best pop song ever written (One), you still find enough material to easily make it onto this list. Mysterious Ways, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, and Zoo Station are good enough… but One truly makes it perfect.

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30. The Clash – London Calling

In the winter of 1979, at least two major developments occurred in the world of popular culture… I was born, and The Clash released London Calling. Historians will no doubt argue for decades, if not centuries as to which of these had a greater impact on a global scale, but for right now Joe Strummer seems to be eeking out a narrow lead. With this album, The Clash cast off the restraints of “punk rock,” letting creativity explode from the studio and crafting one the greatest records/statements of the decade. More than just an album, London Calling was often ominous. It felt like a warning, a loud declaration that things were about to change… with Reaganomics, Thatcherism and the wasteland that was most of Western Civilization over the next 10-12 years, they were right.

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29. Simon & Garfunkel – The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings

This compilation reflects the true greatness of American songwriting. In an era defined by singles, instead of albums, Simon & Garfunkel produced some of the most beautiful and timeless music that we’ve ever heard, or ever will. Their beautiful harmony changed a minimal, often two men and a guitar, sound into an orchestra capable of filling every corner of the room. Utilizing everything from pianos to hand claps, Simon & Garfunkel have found their way into every cross-section of world society. Very few bands can sell the same record to both your grandmother and African dictators, whether the latter is a positive or a negative is up to interpretation, but the point remains.

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28. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

A few weeks ago I asked the question, “how long does an album have to be in wide release before it can take its place among the greatest of all time?” It was that question, and this album, that spurred this entire list. Neon Bible is the closest thing to outright perfection that’s passed through my ears in a very, very long time. As their popularity grows, you have to wonder if right now, this band could be on the cusp of becoming the greatest band in the world. Musically, they have the ability. Their stage presence is 2nd to none, and with a fan base that increases nearly exponentially each day, it’s hard to ignore the writing on the wall. Frankly, I’ll be very shocked if I ever regret placing this album here, and if it doesn’t slowly move up the list in later years.

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27. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

I’m not really a jazz fan. I like it, but much like blues music, it’s a scholarly art form… one in which I’m far less than educated. Having said that, I know what I like. I picked up a copy of this record several years ago after seeing it near the top in every imaginable other top 100 list. Although I’m certain that I have no real idea of what’s going on or what makes it so remarkable, I do know one thing… at its most basic level, Kind of Blue is a pleasing and enjoyable record with infinite replay value. It’s the one jazz record that everyone should own, if for no other reason than to give yourself a relaxing evening at home with a glass of bourbon and a pipe.

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26. Hank Williams – 20 Greatest Hits

An old clip of Hank Sr. belting out Cold, Cold Heart opens with a gentleman in some serious western apparel calling him “A fella that writes just as many songs as anybody else in the country, and sings ’em just as well when it comes to the country style of singin’.” As strangely and uncomfortably worded as that may be, it’s perfectly accurate. Hank seemed to write a classic every time that he picked up a guitar, and nobody could out do his country style of singin’. In fact, to those unfamiliar with the roots of country music, it’s almost always the voice of Hank Williams that they hear in their head when someone brings up the topic. He defined what it was to be a country singer, thank God Kenny Chesney was born many, many years later.

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25. Outkast – Aquemini

I’ve been a loyal follower of ‘Kast since Andre & Big Boi were two teenagers in an Atlanta basement. Their first two records, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens were refreshing, breathing life into a down-south hip hop scene in dire need of oxygen. Needless to say, when I first saw the video for Rosa Parks, I was stunned. Nothing had ever quite had this sound… it was interesting, it was progressive, it was daring… why can’t I stop dancing!? From that moment forth, Outkast became the “Radiohead of Hip Hop” (a tag that I’d imagine neither group is particularly comfortable with), constantly experimenting and moving the genre into new directions while never forgetting the lessons from ATLiens; “If you don’t move your feet, then I don’t eat.”

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24. Steve Earle – El Corazon

Quite simply, this album contains 12 of the best songs I’ve ever heard. On his 3rd post-prison release, Steve Earle addressed each track as if it was to be placed on a completely separate album, by a completely different band. In El Corazon, Steve Earle acts as a vessel, embodying the spirits of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Bill Monroe, Robert Johnson, Joey Ramone… and occasionally Steve Earle. Each track rolls beautifully into the next on this genre-busting, logic defying album. El Corazon is as musically schizophrenic as Earle himself, proving that it isn’t always necessary to cater to one specific style of music… as shocking as it may be to every studio executive in the world, people actually like ALL KINDS of different sounds!

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23. Spiritualized – Let It Come Down

I was fairly certain that I’d never hear a more beautiful/unusual song than Spiritualized’s Ladies & Gentlemen… We Are Floating In Space, that is until I heard this album. Jason Spaceman (yes, I know…) managed not only to out perform himself, but to out do everyone else in 2001 with this stunning, gorgeous, epic, brilliant, (insert adjective of your choice) masterpiece. On the same day in 2001, I purchased The Strokes’ Is This It, System of a Down’s Toxicity and this record… even though I eventually grew to love the other two, it was quite a while before I ever heard them. Every track stands on its own as a work of art, worthy of this list all on by itself. However, none is more beautiful than this one… thus far the only song I’ve felt the need to include on this list.

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22. Dr. Dre – The Chronic

It’s tough to really describe this as a Dr. Dre album. Granted, he’s the genius behind the entire production, crafting each song from start to finish. However, from Kurupt & Daz, The Lady of Rage, RBX, Snoop Dizzle himself and an often forgotten appearance from Bushwick Bill, this album is the work of a collective. The Chronic not only sold a hell of a lot of records, it defined exactly what hip hop would be for the rest of a decade. It ushered in an age of quality, songwriting and anticipation that had never before been seen in the world of rap music. BUT, even if it hadn’t… even if this album had never made it out of local release, the absolutely perfect production paired with once in a generation vocals would have never been any less significant.

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21. Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run

Of the 8 songs on this record, six of them are nearly always in constant competition for my “All-Time Springsteen Top 20,” which may make a grand post in itself one day. There’s little explanation for exactly how this happened. I’m actually starting to believe the story that Bruce likes to tell during the live breakdown of 10th Avenue Freeze Out, wherein he’s given this band by a mystical old lady somewhere in the woods. Outside of mystic gypsies, it’s tough to imagine how so many talented people could come together at their absolute best at the same place at the same time. I guess it’s just best not to question something like that, but rather to sit back and enjoy Jungleland for the 100th time.

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7 Responses to “40-21”

  1. Zack Says:

    I’m seriously beginning to agree with your musical choices here, great job so far. I’m still worried though but I trust you.

  2. Zack Says:

    That was so crytic and I really didn’t mean for it to come off as creepy.

  3. corygraham Says:

    Bahahahaha! No worries, I know exactly what you mean. I feel like we’re speaking in some sort of spy-code now.

  4. Kevin Says:

    The red cow flies at dawn, but only in Dr. Dre’s pinata…

  5. Daylan Says:

    Say what you will, but I doubt Stipe ever made cowboy hats fashionable.

  6. Cory Says:

    True enough. But by those standards, Toby Keith may be the biggest star in recent history… good lord, tell me that isn’t true.

  7. Daylan Says:

    Do you really want an answer to that?

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