A Momentary Lapse in Picture Postage
Last week Matt asked me in the Comments what I thought about a list of the "top 10 albums of all time." Man, I love getting questions like this. The problem is, my answers are never satisfactory for my own obsessed musical appreciation. It would be easier to ask "your favorite LPs" or "best album covers" or even "most influential metal albums." But best 10 LPs ever? Wow.
Well before I tackle that, I will have to share the ground rules. First of all, no greatest hits or repackages of any sort can be considered. Second, I am not going to consider sales or chart position in my decision making. Third, I am voting the LP as an album... not as a collection of singles. That means the total package matters most. Fourth, just my opinions and no ass-kissing... so no Clash, Beach Boys, Bruce Springstein, Elvis, or Van Morrison. Sorry, I just never got into those cats.
Lastly, I cannot avoid considering sentimentalism but I will try. As proof, notice Queensryche "Operation Mindcrime" is not on the list. Please post comments on my list about albums or the list itself. As I said, even I am a little wary of this list... but it is what it is. Boatdrinks...
1. Led Zepplin "IV" (I sort of hate to do this, but it is such a great album. Overplayed, over lauded, but great. It set the tone for all metal, hard rock, and crossover rock to come since. And as an LP, there is not a single low spot. My favorite track, and one of the few on the LP that still captures my attention, is "Battle of Evermore.")
2. The Beatles "Rubber Soul" (You could fight that the whole top 10 be littered with Beatles LPs, and no one would agree which was better than another... but to me "Rubber Soul" is the last great Beatles record before drugs took over. The album is rock, pop, balladry, and even some playful foreshadowing to the psychedelia to come. My favorite track here is easily "In My Life" a song that chokes me up most of the time.)
3. Radiohead "OK Computer" (Radiohead saved mainstream music with this LP. It completely lacked formula or genre and appealed to indy fans, wanna-be indy fans, critics, and the pop listening public all at once. Someone once wrote to save rock and roll, Radiohead had to tear it down. That is exactly what this LP does. Favorite track is "Paranoid Android.")
4. Guns 'n' Roses "Appetite for Destruction" (G'n'R didn't crossover from gritty streets and seedy clubs to rock radio, they drug rock radio into their gutter. Unapologetic, aggressive, dirty, and technically sound... this rock album in many ways is better than the best offerings of much better, and more respected, bands. Where AC/DC was seen as brash and incorrigible, G'n'R was raunchy, but could still write hooks. Their songs are as memorable and combustible as they are because the bandmates themselves bordered on cartoon characters; out of control. I will figuratively spit on anyone that says this ranks lower than "Nevermind" on any list! This LP changed rock and roll, and no one has ever repeated the epic nature of this LP. Not even G'n'R. Favorite song is arguably "My Michelle.")
5. The Mothers of Invention "Freak Out" (No one seems to want to give Frank Zappa any props, so I will. Not only was he one of the best rock and roll guitarists ever, and an incredible musician in every way, he was also a social commentator of the bravest type. It would be a long time before rock songs would be this critical of government, society, fads, and religion. He also ushered in an age of creativity and continuity that was unheard of prior to "Freak Out." Zappa created a vibe that allowed future bands to exist, such as Mr. Bungle, The Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Coldplay, The Residents, The Mars Volta, Beck, Butthole Surfers, Radiohead, and Dave Matthews Band. And he would have hated all of those bands. Best track on here is probably "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here," but it changes every time I hear the LP.)
6. Minutemen "Double Nickels on the Dime" (The Minutemen made it cool to be smart if you were punk, and cool to be DIY if you were smart. This album sounds like anything but punk, but at its very core is the essence of punk rock... DIY, strong work ethic, and a lot of questions that the system needs to answer. The music is surprisingly tight, the words alarmingly poetic, and the band is vastly under appreciated. This is why I hate The Clash. My favorite track is "Two Beads at the End.")
7. Bob Dylan "Highway 61 Revisited" (Dylan did the right thing by going electric. Even at its peak, the folkie movement was a self-referencing joke. Much like the criticism leveled at jam-band fanatics, the fans so rarely took the message and put it into action. So to add some artistic growth, some power, and to throw off the trappings of stale "folk" he went electric. This album, in my opinion, is his best with or without electricity. Best song for me is the title track, but "Like a Rolling Stone" is a monster in its own right.)
8. Stevie Wonder "Talking Book" (Wow. Almost everything he did was magic, but this LP really stands out to me as special. My favorite track is "Superstition." Nothing that groovy has ever been recorded since. The ballads break your heart, the jams make you completely rock out.)
9. The Doors "s/t" (The first Doors album, to me, launched a great tradition in rock and roll... the frantic shaman unleashed upon pop listeners. It was dark and edgy but embraced. When nice little Jr. High girls sported Korn shirts or Eminem beanies decades later, it was thanks to Jim. It wasn't the first time a larger than life, dark prophet was let loose on Top 40 listeners...which were not yet officially invented yet..., but it was one of the strongest events of this type in my opinion. The songs were both "of the day" and original, but the personality cult that would be built around Jim would rarely be matched. He was on another level than most of us, both in the gutter and in the stars... and yet he managed to win acclaim with the lay people. He introduced the masses to philosophy and poetry and art of all sorts, as well as the dangers and thrills of self medicating. Because of The Doors, there will always be that one rock idol you hate that your innocent daughter is into. Best track, hands down, is "Break on Through.")
10. U2 "Achtung Baby" (U2's greatest miracle... they saved pop music. In a time when the majority of the youth culture decided to become neo-hippies, complete with horrible dress, fake social agendas, fads, and distrust of industry and adults, U2 showed that true musical talent and attitude can exist outside of grunge. In pop music, there is no selling out... as the goal is to sell out. While fingers were being pointed at bands who were getting too big, U2 decided to go all out and be the biggest band of all time. Every song on this LP was a grand spectacle, and it was all minuscule compared to their subsequent tour. Bono was a rock and roll icon before this LP, he was a god afterwards. In my summation, "Achtung Baby" is probably a better LP than The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds." which gets too much sentimental lip service. Sorry Brian. Favorite track on this LP is easily "One.")
So there you have it. Not my favorite LPs of all time, but my guess at what a top 10 would look like. I feel bad that I left off Public Enemy, Loretta Lynn, The Ramones, Paul Simon, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Kyuss, Bjork, Marvin Gaye, Pixies, Black Sabbath, Johnny Cash, The Cure, Steely Dan, Beck, and many others. That is why it is hard to do a cross-genre list like this. And frankly, stuff that is too old has to be pretty great to still seem magical, and stuff that is too new suffers from not having enough wear and tear.
So why no Rolling Stones? None of their LPs really stand out to me as "great" even though their library is stuffed with rock and roll greatness. Why no Pink Floyd? Well, I just haven't spent a lot of time with them. As a cultural phenomena I should list "Dark Side of the Moon" but as an album, I am not very familiar with it. And it kills me I didn't list any Prince, but every one of LPs has both the best and worst songs ever recorded. The guy was just too prolific. And why no Metallica? Because they suck. Any given Iron Maiden LP would be a better choice than anything Lars and James have done. Hell, Meatloaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" would rank higher than any Metallica LP in my book.