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It's Still Rock 'N' Roll To Me

I was giving another blogger at another site some grief for their Palinoia, when another author at that site chimed in with a figurative "oh, yeah, wise guy? Then what would YOU like to see us write about!" One result was he posted what he considered the five best albums ever made.

I thought that was a fun idea, so I'm going to lift it. With a typical modification, of course.

I'm going to list the five albums I find myself listening to most. I make no claims about their "greatness," or any other subjective standard. Just that they are five albums I can (and do) listen to, over and over and over again, and enjoy tremendously.

Presented in no particular order:
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- Born In The USA

Springsteen's first monster hit album, with the iconic Annie Liebovitz cover. It's a brilliant piece of work, one that encapsulates a hell of a dichotomy at its core. On the surface, it's a hard-driving, pure rock and roll album with tremendous energy and power. Below the surface, though, it's a perfect thematic companion to Springsteen's "Nebraska," a largely acoustic, damned-near folk album that was filled with bleak images and people trapped in desperate straits.

Born In The USA? Big, patriotic anthem? Hardly. It's about the incredibly shabby treatment of Viet Nam veterans.

Cover Me? A cry of loneliness and need.

Darlington County? Two country boys out for a good time in the big city, but one runs afoul of the police.

Working On The Highway? Poor boy dares to fall in love with a powerful man's daughter, ends up in prison.

Glory Days? Nostalgia that leads to being trapped in the past.

Dancing In The Dark? The despair of living a life that's going nowhere, the desperation of trapped in a rut.

The most "honest" track is "My Hometown," which actually puts slow, melancholy music to the tale of a dying city.

The album would be successful with either element. Springsteen, by combining them, guaranteed an album that would stand the test of time.

Genesis -- The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

Peter Gabriel's final album with Genesis. An incredibly ambitious double concept album, it manages to tell a surreal yet coherent tale about a half-black, half-Puerto Rican street punk who gets swept into a fantastic adventure. The sheer diversity of the music, which goes from whimsy ("Fly On A Windshield") to rage ("Back In N.Y.C.") to eroticism ("Counting Out Time") to sheer chaos ("The Waiting Room"), with some truly brilliant lyrics (I've lost count of the quotes I've lifted for blogging -- I think my proudest was linking John Kerry to "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging," but "Back In N.Y.C.'s" line "your progressive hypocrites hand out their trash,/But it was mine in the first place, so I'll burn it to ash" is almost always relevant.)

The album has songs that go from the good to the brilliant, but they all sustain the narrative. (That the narrative is a combination of several dreams of Gabriel's and reads like an acid trip, but it is internally consistent.) It's fine to listen to select tracks, but every now and then you are morally obligated to listen to the whole thing, in order, from start to finish.

Footloose (soundtrack from the film)

Sue me. Unlike the first two, this album has no pretensions. It's just a solid collection of great rock songs. Pretty much every track has "hit" written all over it. And is it just me, or is Kenny Loggins at his best when he's writing songs for movies?

George Martin -- In My Life

I've talked about this album before. George Martin, the main producer for the Beatles, put together an album of other people doing covers of Beatles songs. Some are mediocre, but most are astonishing. Of the four instrumentals, the only one worth raving over is Jeff Beck's "A Day In The Life." And from the professional musicians, Phil Collins' medley of "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" is exceptionally unexceptional.

On the other hand, Celine Dion's "Here, There and Everywhere" is fantastic. (Oddly enough, the only times I can stand her is when she's covering other's songs. This one, "I Drove All Night," and "It's All Coming Back To Me" are the only songs I can stand.)

It's the non-musicians whose tracks really shine. It opens with an a cappella version of "Come Together," joined by appropriately creepy vocals. Bobby McFerrin, joined by Robin Williams. Then comes a slow, sultry, jazzy, almost loungy "Hard Day's Night" by Goldie Hawn. Billy Connolly becomes a carnival barker as he shouts out "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," and Sean Connery does a seductive dramatic reading (I've used it to melt several women into puddles) of "In My Life." But the real standout is Jim Carrey totally cutting loose and bringing a very-appropriate insanity to "I Am The Walrus," a version that I prefer to the original.

Meat Loaf -- Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell

Jim Steinman writes huge songs for singers with huge voices, and they haven't gotten much huger than Meat Loaf. The Second "Bat" album holds all the passion and energy of the first one, but it brings with it a maturity that carries it far beyond the teen angst. This is the grownup's version of Bat, with the pain and rage and loss that can only come through years.

Plus, Steinman almost seemed to set himself a challenge by coming up with impossible song titles, and then writing songs to those titles that actually worked. "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I won't Do That)." "Life Is A Lemon and I Want My Money Back." "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are." "Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)." "Everything Louder Than Anything Else."

Meat Loaf's voice was in its prime back in 1993, and I don't think any other singer could have pulled off this album. And when Meat Loaf is doing songs by anyone other than Steinman, it just doesn't work as well.

OK, a bonus track. One final album, one that I doubt more than a handful of you have even heard of. But to me, it's a masterpiece.

Tony Banks -- The Fugitive

Tony Banks is the amazingly gifted keyboardist from Genesis, and a brilliant songwriter both on his own and with the group. He put together "The Fugitive" between Genesis albums ("Abacab" and "Genesis"), and the tracks fit with the progressive-moving-towards-mainstream mood of the band at the time.

Banks, as I said, is a fantastically talented composer and keyboardist. But he's also a mediocre singer. His vocals are the weakest part of the album, but he has no illusions about that. He's a great enough songwriter that he crafts the songs to best fit his vocal talents, making "Man Of Spells" and "Say You'll Never Leave Me" exceptionally haunting, "By You" and "This Is Love" quirky and charming, and the two instrumentals -- "Thirty-threes" and "Charm" -- downright enchanting.

Those first two tracks I mentioned, though -- "Man Of Spells" and "Say You'll Never Leave Me" -- are the ones that absolutely cement Banks' legend. They create some of the most haunting imagery I've ever encountered in song. And Banks' admittedly-weak voice is perfect for them,

Phew. I'm exhausted. I think I'll put on some music and lie down for a bit.

But I have no idea what I ought to listen to...


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Comments (17)

Hmmm...Time Out (D... (Below threshold)
Rodney G. Graves:


Time Out (Dave Brubeck Quartet)

Eye in the Sky (Alan Parsons Project)

The Turn of a Friendly Card (Alan Parsons Project)

Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits)

Fields of Gold (Sting)

Highest Hopes: Best of Nig... (Below threshold)

Highest Hopes: Best of Nightwish - Nightwish
Heart - Heart
Ah Via Musicom - Eric Johnson
Streets of Fire Soundtrack - Various
Hysteria - Def Leppard

I wouldn't give a lefty blo... (Below threshold)
LeBron Steinman:

I wouldn't give a lefty blogger the time of day.
I'm finished engaging these people on any level.
And I couldn't care less what music they like.
IMO, this is the only music that should be applicable:

A Curious Feeling is better... (Below threshold)
Jeff Medcalf:

A Curious Feeling is better, if you like Banks' solo stuff. "Somebody Else's Dream," in particular, is just amazing.

Ooh, and I see another Nightwish fan! Excellent. My favorite is Oceanborn.

OK, here's my top 5, although it means leaving out dozens:

Fleetwood Mac, Tango in the Night
ELO, Time
Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls
Rush, Counterparts
Yes, Fragile

And bonus what I'm listening to most right now:

Muse, The Resistance

Good idea. It seems some pe... (Below threshold)

Good idea. It seems some people just put out stuff to get noticed.Being outrageous gets notice but who needs outrage?

Rush-Exit Stage Left<br /... (Below threshold)
Donavon Pfeiffer:

Rush-Exit Stage Left
Iron Maiden- Power Slave
Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon
Ted Nugent- Double Live Gonzo

Jay, a great idea. I tend ... (Below threshold)

Jay, a great idea. I tend to be a little eclectic.

1. Bob Schneider - Lovely Creatures. He dated Sandra Bullock for awhile, so he can't be all bad.
2. The Mother Truckers - Broke, not Broken. What a voice, and a real underrated guitar player.
3. Dierks Bentley - Up on the Ridge.
4. Susan Tedeschi - Just won't burn. She's lost a little edge after marrying into the Allman's circle.
5. Clapton or Collective Soul - pretty much anything be either.

Keep it up, Jay!!

How about that, we're cuddl... (Below threshold)

How about that, we're cuddling to Kenny Loggins' movie song play list.

I figure there are four times I listen to music, and each has its own particular 5 best albums, though my playlists usually don't have the entire album:

workout/hard physical labor

Globe Sessions -S Crow
Jagged Little Pill -A Morrisette
Give it Up -B Raitt (though I add my bootleg of Blender Blues first heard on WHYY on Fresh Air before Terry Gross got famous)
Nickel Creek- N Creek
All the Right Reasons -Nickelback

Driving Places so I can sing along off key and I don't care who hears::
Best of Beach Boys (OK, so maybe that's cheating, but I sure as hell am not going to listen to Pet Sounds in my car)
Hot Rocks (gotta keep up with the pattern here) - Rolling Stones
Its a Long, Long Road - Blue Highway (for Appalachian or any Mountain Roads, for that matter)
Shady Grove - Garcia/Grisman (I can almost sing as well as Jerry on this one)
At Fillmore East - Allman Bros - (Hey, I was there)

Then there are those private times with my honey, who influences the choices...

Living in Clip - Ani DeFranco (I grit my teeth over some of the politics, but the raw power is amazing)
October Road - J Taylor
Back on the Bus Y'All - I Girls
Not Too Late - N Jones
Nick of TIme - B Raitt

For Acoustic NO Words times 'cause I'm writing or talking:

Chopin Complete works - Ashkenazy
Beethoven Sonatas - Barenboim
Tone Poems II - Grisman/Taylor
Into The Cauldron - Marshall/Thile
Perpetual Motion - B Fleck

Jesus ... I have a vinyl al... (Below threshold)

Jesus ... I have a vinyl album collection of around 1,500 and a lot of CD's so picking a single group of 5 favorites? Nah ... not ever gonna happen.

This is the rotation of late off some of my CD's in the car.

1. Pink Floyd - "Lost for Words"
2. Allman Brothers - "End of the Line"
3. Ted Nugent - "Stranglehold"
4. Boston - "I Had a Good Time"
5. Alison Krauss - "When You Say Nothing At All"

5 Favorite Albums....tough ... (Below threshold)

5 Favorite Albums....tough to narrow it down

American Beauty - The Grateful Dead
Boston - Boston
Leftoverture - Kansas
Just One Night - Eric Clapton
Candy Store - Candy Dulfur

Those of you into Clapton a... (Below threshold)

Those of you into Clapton as I used to be before he turned into a crooner, might want to consider Widespread Panic, especially the CD "Light Fuse Get Away". Check out "Traveling Light" and "Diner" for some unbelievable guitar work.

Allman Brothers- Eat A Peac... (Below threshold)

Allman Brothers- Eat A Peach album. All great.
Led Zepplin II- Again all great.
Beck, Bogart and Appice- Amazing.
Beatles White Album- All songs.
Eagles Hotel California- all hits. Great songs to sing with or whistle.

I have many more but if I was to try to cut some out of the pack, the above would probably be it.

Joe Walsh-You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish is great.
Leon Russell-Shelter People

etc., etc., etc. ww

Springsteen? Zzzzzzzzzzz.... (Below threshold)

Springsteen? Zzzzzzzzzzz.
Genesis? ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

#1: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II(the very best rock album of all time
#2: Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
#3: Deep Purple - Machine Head
#4: Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
#5: Queen - A Night at the Opera

Honorable Mentions:
Montrose - Montrose
SRV - Greatest Hits (1995)
Aerosmith - Get Your Wings
Van Halen - Van Halen
Pink Floyd - Animals

And on the lighter side...

The Mothers of Invention - Just Another Band from L.A

Great selections, but I thi... (Below threshold)

Great selections, but I think 'you can tune a piano, but not a fish' is REO Speedwagon.

Although Joe Walsh has plenty of albums that are fantastic start to finish (maybe you were thinking of 'the smoker you get, the drinker you play', but 'so what' is also pure gold all the way through).

No list should be considered without mention of 'Electric Ladyland' by Hendrix, a double album with no weak tracks.

If you can stomach the lack of professionality in garage bands and you have never heard 'the Replacements' (Paul Westerberg is one of the best songwriters of his generation) take a listen to 'Tim', good stuff all the way through here as well.

Aerosmith (who had to have set a record for longest continuous streak of original band members) has both 'Dream On' and 'Get your Wings'.

Beatles, "Abbey Road," but ... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Beatles, "Abbey Road," but leave out "Maxwell's Silver Hammer."

Van Morrison, "Moondance."

Waylon Jennings, "Dreaming My Dreams."

Bob Dylan, "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan."

Led Zeppelin, "Led Zeppelin."

Can ya tell how old I am?

#1 Led Zeppelin--ANY Led Ze... (Below threshold)

#1 Led Zeppelin--ANY Led Zeppelin. (Special favorites: "Kashmir" and "The Rain Song")
#2 Rush, 2112 (Every song)
#3 Aerosmith, Rocks and Toys in the Attic (Special favorites: "Round and Round" and "Last Child")
#4 Yes, The Yes Album and Fragile (Special Favorites: "Starship Trooper", "Heart of the Sunrise")
#5 The Who, Who Are You and Who's Next (Special favorites: "Who Are You" and "My Wife")

So many good lists! But th... (Below threshold)

So many good lists! But these seem to be the ones I listen to the most...or so says my computer.

Peter Gabriel - Secret Garden Live. If only for Paula Cole's amazing vocals which carry this concert to an entirely different level.

Rush - 2112. From the beginning to the end, it still gives me chills. More so today than the first time I heard it.

Blondie - Live. She may not look as good as she did when she was on my ceiling, but she still sounds amazing.

The Cars - The Cars. I dare you not to grin when "Bye Bye Love" fades into "Moving in Stereo."

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon. It's "Dark Side of the Moon."






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