Sunday, May 10, 2009

“Ira’s Hot 100, part three” or “Three friends like this link”

Continuing my countdown of the 100 most important albums of my lifetime. I’m really enjoying finding representative video clips for all of these albums. YouTube seems to have something applicable to just about everyone. (Well, everyone except Prince, whose legal staff is allegedly quite draconian about removing any trace of the Purple One from video sites.) Remember a few years ago when YouTube didn’t exist? My god, what kept mankind alive?

49. Black Randy and the Metrosquad – Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie

I grabbed this out of a used bin because the title and cover art – Black Randy striking Bowie’s Hunky Dory pose – made me chuckle. Turns out it’s the best punk-funk fusion album ever made, all weird and sleazy and sassy and totally late-‘70s California. I can’t hear “Marlon Brando” often enough.

48. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

I love a post-apocalyptic concept album, and this is the greatest of all time. From the opening poem about fleas the size of rats feeding on rats the size of cats to the final chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family, Bowie’s Orwellian future vision is so bleak and ugly that I just can’t help but grin.

47. Otis Redding – The Very Best of Otis Redding

“These… arms… of… miiii-iiine…” That’s all I have to say on the matter.

46. The Smiths – Singles

Why should the poetic musings of a disaffected, sexually ambiguous British millionaire be such a universal balm to the insecure souls of small town teenagers? Damned if I know, but Mr. Morrisey was a godsend when I was 16, clumsy and shy.

45. Trainspotting – Original Soundtrack

As I’ve mentioned before, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was one of the most important movies of my life, and the soundtrack was a big part of that. The atmospheric blend of Brit-pop, glam rock and electronica set the mood for many a late night cruise in my great big Chevy sedan.

44. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)

For a while in 2002, WWOZ in New Orleans seemed to play “Elvis Presley Blues” every time I got into my car. I was mesmerized enough to buy the album, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful, harrowing records I’d ever heard. The lyrics to “April the 14th, Part One” never fail to make me shiver.

43. Eels – Daisies of the Galaxy

I think E is my favorite personality on the contemporary music scene. He has no trouble with announcing to the world that he’s an unfriendly, unhappy person, and I respect the hell out of that. Electro-Shock Blues is generally the critical favorite, but for me this album does all of the same things with a bit more subtlety. “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” alone would earn it a spot on this list.

42. Tom Waits – Bone Machine

Amazed by the creepy brutality of “Earth Died Screaming” when I first heard it used in 12 Monkeys, I ordered this album immediately and was pleasantly horrified to find that Tom Waits could go even darker than that. “Roadkill has its seasons, just like anything / There’s possums in the autumn and there’s farm cats in the spring.”

41. Digable Planets – Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)

I didn’t have cable growing up, so videos didn’t much figure into my music experience. But when I caught an episode of NBC’s “Friday Night Videos” featuring that super-cool black-and-white beatnik clip for “Rebirth of Slick,” I knew then and there that I would love this group. I’ve come to regard Blowout Comb as the better DP album, but this was the one that originally got me jazzed.

40. Buddy Holly – The Buddy Holly Collection

Care to hear genius boiled down to 50 songs? Right here, pal. One of my lifelong fantasies is to be a teenager in the 1950s listening to “Rave On” for the very first time.

39. The Beatles – Abbey Road

My brother and I were big Beatles fans already when we found this record in a stack of LPs in my grandparents’ attic, and we couldn’t have been more excited if the sleeve had been spun from pure gold. Abbey Road stayed on the turntable for pretty much the entire summer of my 7th grade year. Looking back, it’s not the band’s best work by a long shot, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.

38. Lou Reed – Berlin

Lou’s epic of bitterness is the most exhilarating downer of an album ever made. I can still recall the icy horror that rolled through my gut the first time I heard “The Kids.” Right around the point when those terrified children start screaming for their mommy, Berlin becomes legitimately hard to listen to but impossible to turn off. I don’t think I can say that of any other album.

37. Charles Mingus – Epitaph

I got into this one while working a daytime jazz and blues shift at KQAL. The idea of a jazz-classical hybrid had never really occurred to me before, but when I heard it, I loved it. Mingus’ vision is remarkable, even if it took a handful of Marsalises to make it a reality.

36. Victoria Williams – Swing the Statue!

My pal Nathan introduced me to Victoria via the Sweet Relief tribute album. I soon found that I liked her music best in its original format. No cover could do justice to that strange, chirpy voice of hers. She delivers her impeccable lyrics with something between naïveté and wisdom. The whole album is a masterwork, but I place “Summer of Drugs” among the greatest songs I’ve ever heard.

35. Pavement – Wowee Zowee

When this album dropped, Pavement was as close to the cutting edge as I’d ever gotten, and the distinctly different sound of Wowee Zowee both freaked me out and fascinated me. As the years have passed, I’ve become increasingly convinced that it’s their crowning achievement. Nearly every track is some kind of mini-masterpiece, with the whole album covering an amazing range of musicology. It’s hard to say if Stephen Malkmus’ methods are unsound when you can’t see any method at all.

34. Crooklyn – Original Soundtrack

Not only is Crooklyn one of the few Spike Lee joints not bogged down by an interminable Terrence Blanchard score, it’s a film buoyed by a genuinely great soundtrack. A lot of these soul and R&B cuts are standards for anyone who listens to oldies radio, but this is also where I discovered lesser known artists like Manu DiBango and Joe Cuba.

33. Crosby , Stills, Nash & Young – So Far

It wasn’t called “classic rock” yet, but this album was my introduction to it. I was about nine or ten when my dad got this cassette from a brief BMG membership. Up to that point, my rock and roll tastes were understandably juvenile (I think the Beach Boys’ “409” was my favorite song at the time). The chilly darkness that runs through CSNY’s best work was revelatory to me. “Guinevere” both scared and seduced me, and “Ohio” made me want to run out and make something happen, even before my mom explained to me what it was all about.

32. The Coasters – 20 Greatest Hits

A key “bridging the gap” album for me. This was one of the first albums I ever bought, back in my grade school days. The original appeal was wacky stuff like “Charlie Brown,” “Love Potion Number 9” and “Yakety Yak,” but as I got older, I started to really dig on rarer ‘70s cuts like “Soul Pad,” “One Foot Draggin’” and “Down Home Girl.” The Coasters deserve to be known as more than a novelty act.

31. Neil Young – Zuma

Music for cold autumn days when the sun never makes an appearance. Coming in from a chilly walk in the woods, I’d flop down on my parents' bed, crack open a comic book and melt into the sublime despair of “Danger Bird.”

30. The Kinks – Soap Opera

The first Kinks tape I owned, plucked from the cut-out bin at Best Buy. I love concept albums in general, and the theme of an artist battling the crippling mundanity of a workaday office job becomes more relevant to me with each passing day. “Drinking helps us to forget who we are / We leave the office and head straight to the bar.” Amen, Brother Ray.

29. Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender

I had no idea who she was when I saw her open for Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at the Logan Square Auditorium, but that funny-voiced hippie chick with the harp stole the show. Her use of alliteration and wordplay far outstrips anyone else recording today. Lord help me, I just can’t fully embrace the overstuffed Ys, but The Milk-Eyed Mender might be my favorite album of the decade.

28. Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy

Dude, the second track on this album is a piano-driven ballad about a Norwegian soldier-of-fortune seeking revenge on the traitor who shot off his head. There is nothing about that that was anything less than amazing to 16-year-old me, and the rest of the album kicks just as much ass.

27. Various Artists – Goofy Greats

The first album I ever bought was this cheap-o collection of re-recorded novelty hits. You know, songs like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Alley Oop” and “Surfin’ Bird” – stuff that little kids can dance and sing along to. Although, really, looking over that list, that’s not a half-bad roster.

26. Wally Pleasant – Houses of the Holy Moley

First of all, Wally was funny, and that went a long way for my youthful musical tastes. Second of all, Wally was friendly. He put his phone number in his liner notes, probably as a service to booking agents. My pal Nathan, however, took the initiative to call up Mr. Pleasant and chat about life, music, and our fledgling rock band, Inflatable Grandpa. Even if his songs weren’t pretty great – and they are – Wally’s willingness to mentor a couple of dorky teens from Wisconsin would make this album hugely important to me.

Tune in tomorrow for the eagerly awaited grand finale!

- Ira Brooker

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