Saturday, May 05, 2007

Mister Trend's Top 10 Rock Albums

Here's my list. As Erik Mentioned, this could shift from time to time, but the main thing for me is, none of these has one "filler" track on them. My youth may also lead to a bit of scorn, but I defend every one of these choices with no regrets.

1. Sonic Youth – “Daydream Nation” – I don’t know what I can say about this that I haven’t said in public 1000s of times before. There are many albums out there that have great tracks, start to finish, but there is absolutely nothing like this one. The great, noise-hook chime of “Teenage Riot,” Thurston’s snarl on “Silver Rocket,” the brilliant fuck-off of “The Grudge,” the careening, out-of-control guitars and wails of “Burning Cross the Bridge,” the three Lee tracks (part of what makes the album so great – three Lee Ranaldo songs,) the sheer beauty of “Candle.” And the masterstroke – closing with “Trilogy,” moving from speedy cacophony to slow-burn noise to Kim Gordon coming through the speakers to rip your ears out. Some partisans say Sister is their greatest pre-major label, but Daydream Nation is not only their best – it’s the best.

2. Funkadelic – “One Nation Under a Groove” – this was really hard b/tween this and Maggot Brain, and while I’ve said elsewhere that “Maggot Brain” is the greatest solo ever, I think this is a better album, top to bottom. The rollicking of “One Nation Under a Groove,” the understated beauty of “Groovallegiance”, the long guitar work of “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The DooDoo Chasers)” [which hides some cutting political commentary behind its scatalogical title, one of Funkadelic’s masterful ways to be critical of society, the government, racism), the funk of “Cholly (Funk Get Ready to Roll)…it’s all just a masterful rock album, start to finish. And “Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” hit directly upon the issue at hand – funk was as much rock as everything else, and the tune backs that up.

3. Bob Dylan – “Bringing It All Back Home” – This may not be Dylan’s best album. But it’s my favorite (and quite frankly, I think you can make a strong argument for it in the “Highway 61 Revisited”/“Blonde on Blonde”/“Blood on the Tracks” debate). I love the variation from his then-new shift to more rocking material like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Maggie’s Farm,” while still hanging on to a bit of his earlier work with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, as well as political-charged metaphors of “Gates of Eden.” And I absolutely love the zaniness that is the second-take (with the laughter from the prank the studio band played on him on the first take included) of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”.

4. Dinosaur Jr. – “You’re Living All Over Me” – while they certainly aren’t hurting in the reputation department (certainly not as forgotten as Hüsker Dü), I never understood why Dinosaur Jr. didn’t become as mythically great to later generations as the Pixies did. The sheer force of this album – from opener “Tiny Fury Things” to the tempo-change of “Sludgefeast,” from the classic melody shifts of “The Lung” to the paranoia and fear of “Lose,” this album delivered 10 unbelievable songs that sound as advanced and radical today as they did 20 years ago. It’s even more impressive in that it was only the band’s second full-length. And the sheer volume of the album – Spinal Tap talked about turning it up to 11. I think J. Mascis and Lou Barlow and Murph did it. This may be the second-best album of the often-underrated, often-overlooked 80s underground scene.

5. Neil Young – “On the Beach” – To me, in some ways this is even more depressing than “Tonight’s the Night.” That album was recorded in a drunken stupor after the death of XXXXX, and the haunting immediacy of his death was felt on that album. However, on “On the Beach,” Young had had even more time to think about things, and his depression may have sunk in even further, leaving him feeling disgusted with his own life (“Vampire Blues”), isolated (“On the Beach”) and resigned to futility in the world (the brilliant criticism of himself and others in album-closer “Ambulance Blues”). Plus, he may have written the greatest and least-cheesey criticism of life in California in “Revolution Blues”. Often overlooked for “Tonight’s the Night,” I can’t find a better album by Young than this one.

6. The Breeders – “Last Splash” – It’s unfortunate that “Cannonball” became so tied to the grunge period, simply because the Breeders end up as one of the numerous grunge-one-hit-wonders in the narrative. However, this album was as original as anything coming out in the first half of the 90s, and showed a lot more variation than its grunge siblings. Everybody knows Cannonball, but there are so many other tracks people should know – the sheer “summer-is-here” joy of “Saints,” the ferocity of “I Just Wanna Get Along,” the banjo (yes, banjo) beauty of “Drivin’ on 9” – nobody else in the early 90s showed themselves not only so willing to try different sounds, but so wonderful in their endeavors. And, like Dinosaur Jr., all this on only their second album. Who knows what would have happened if heroin hadn’t derailed Kim and Kelly Deal in the mid-90s.

7. Pixies – “Surfer Rosa” – It is so hard to pick between this and “Doolittle” for me, but I think the fact that this still sounds as twisted as a pig’s tail now gives it the edge – as if Doolittle is the mildly-less-noisy (emphasis on “mildly”) cousin of “Surfer Rosa.” “Where Is My Mind”, “Broken Face,” “Gigantic,” “Brick Is Red,”….and so much more. And the sheer drugged, speed-burnout of “Vamos”. There has never been anything like the combo of Black Francis’s yelp, Joey Santiago’s guitar matching it, all while Kim Deal and David Lovering push it along with their grinding rhythm section.

8. Bruce Springsteen – “Nebraska” – To me one of the most haunted and haunting albums out there. Lots of people have commented on the blue-collar nature of Springsteen’s lyrics, but they were never as stark, before or after, as they were here. I still consider it rock - it's just rock stripped to its rawest. From the depressed longing of the title track to the jail-narrative of “Johnny 99” to the separation of friends on “Highway Patrolman” to the desperate plea of “Reason to Believe.” Doing this all as demos (just Bruce and his accoustic guitar in the basement on most tracks) was the masterstroke. Lyrics aren’t generally that important to me, but the lyrics here are some of the strongest on any album ever, and the music fits them perfectly.

9. Neutral Milk Hotel – “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” – Much is made about the “newness” of indie rock in the market and magazines, but this album is 9 years old, and is still the best the “indie rock” scene has ever produced. You know you’re in for something different when Jeff Mangum starts by singing, “When you were young you were the king of carrot-flowers,” but the sheer effervescence and conviction in his voice makes it sound as sincere as anything else out there. His voice, surrounded by the horns, accoustic and electric guitars, driven by beautiful melodies, makes Neutral Milk Hotel greater than the sum of their parts, as evidenced by tracks like “King of Carrot Flowers” (Pt. 1 and Pt. 2), “Oh Comely,” “Holland, 1945,” and “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2”. Like any list like this, there isn’t a single misstep on the album, and Mangum & co. gave a refreshing look on rock in the 90s in the wake of grunge.

10. The Who – “Who’s Next” – I’ve always been a Who guy in the “Who/Led Zepplin” debate (though I admit readily that at least Page and Plant and Jones had the decency to hang up the band after the drummer died). However, some of their work could be spotty, but not this one. As I said when Erik did his list, this is, to me, the greatest “straight-up” rock album ever. And I’m a purist – give me “Baba O’Reilly,” “Bargain,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Also, while most “re-issued with bonus tracks” albums are garbage, the outtakes from this session are ungodly-good too (especially “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “I Don’t Even Know Myself”). Nobody ever sounded like Townsend/Daltrey/Entwhistle/Moon, and this is them at their best.